Istanbul: A Retrospective

New Mosque
in Istanbul

From a deluge of kebaberies and sidewalk repairs to a wealth of customs and history, Istanbul is a city I found to be both exciting and intimidating at the same time. It’s exciting because there’s a significant amount of change occurring in the city, and it’s intimidating for not only that same reason, but also because the city’s history and culture constantly remind you there’s something much deeper to Istanbul than kebaberies and mosques. It’s a city grappling with finding just the right prom dress for a good old-fashioned call to Islamic prayer.

A note, before continuing: this is the author’s first time in a Muslim country, though definitely not the first time traveling abroad. Therefor these stories are painted through the goggles of an inquisitive and curious mind looking for something beyond the norms of Western society. In many ways I found something different.

There are many stories I can share with you about my experience, but they are often merely brief revelations and “oh yeah!” moments. Being woken up shortly after 6:00 a.m. by the call to prayer over the loudspeakers, despite expecting it, is an example of such a moment. “The practicing faithful pray five times a day at least, early in the morning at that,” I pondered as I tried to tuck in another hour or two of sleep. There are a couple of stories I’ll share with you, though I’ll try to keep them brief. Afterwards, you’ll find a few more stories and anecdotes mixed in with some travel advice to any of you considering going to Istanbul in the future.

Since I mentioned the call to prayer, I’ll talk about my experience entering a mosque for the first time as an agnostic yet respectful Westerner. It’s actually two separate moments, the first at the New Mosque (Yeni Cami) and the other at the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii).

At the New Mosque I happened to be outside when the call to prayer was made. For the uninitiated, this is essentially a chant broadcasted from loudspeakers mounted atop one or more minarets of the mosques of the city. I watched as people walked up to the bathing stations where the pious wash their hands and feet before entering the mosque. I happened to be drawn to a man and woman at one of the stations, the man handing off coat, shoes, and more to the woman as he proceeded to wash. She then returned the clothing to the man, he nodded at her, and then he walked up the stairs and into the mosque, while the lady — wearing the typical hijab — made her way to one of the benches outside.

I suppose up to that moment it hadn’t occurred to me women may or may not accompany men into mosques. As I later discovered women have a separate area where they pray inside the mosque, apart from men. Before arriving to Istanbul I knew there was some separation in the society between men and women, but for some reason it didn’t occur to me it extends so far. After ten minutes or so, the man appeared from inside the mosque, he greeted the woman, and they walked away together. But I turned my attention to the entrance during those ten minutes to see if any couples were entering. I didn’t see one. Upon returning to the U.S. the experience still struck me a bit oddly, as talk of feminism and women’s rights is always present in my group of friends. Reconciling my support for those concepts with the “that’s the way it is” aspect of Istanbul (and surely other parts of Turkey) has been a bit tough. I suddenly have the urge to research what progressive actions are being headed by women in Turkey and other such countries.

Much more behind the cut! Click here to continue.

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Posted in Society, Travel

The grey areas of sharing information in a free and open way

Information paywall, via
wawoodworth, Flickr
Creative Commons

I try not to let my emotions get the best of me, but when it comes to the topics of informatics and data preservation, my passion sometimes gets in the way of making a cogent statement.

I just had one of those little fits that, in retrospect, now looks like a childish temper tantrum. After ranting about my disdain for research paywalls on Facebook (while also mentioning I understand someone has to pay for information curation and distribution), some predictable and perhaps deserved comments were made, including (paraphrased):

• The library is free; you should use it.
• You’re another example of the “I want everything for free” crowd.

I feel compelled to address these valid points of view while also explaining my primary frustrations involved with the current state of information access and preservation. I keep in mind (and ask you to do the same) I likely represent a small percentage of people with interest in the subject of information curation and preservation, and I’m obviously biased by my own perceptions and experience.

A little background

I’m conducting historical and, to a lesser degree, scientific research for a free-to-use online wiki about laboratory informatics. It includes information about data acquisition and management as it relates to science and industry, incorporating articles about informatics, informatics tools, vendors, and open-source projects. When writing about these topics on the wiki, I’m expected to follow similar standards to Wikipedia: leave out the marketing and weasel words, incorporating facts backed up by references. Using tools like search engines, Google Scholar, Google Books and the Internet Archive, I’ve typically been able to find the references I need to support claims like “Company X was bought by Company Y in 1997″ or “modern laboratory information management systems (LIMS) now permit users to import and manage raw assay data.”

Much more behind the cut! Click here to continue.

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Posted in Data archiving, Internet, Research, Society, Technology

Musings on Bradbury's ʻFahrenheit 451ʼ and education

I just re-read Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.” Many have said it’s about censorship, but it’s not, at least at the core. It touches on anti-intellectualism and a society which lets itself — not solely by governmental influence — fall into a state of disrepair while attempting to find happiness in a grossly distorted, vapid commonality.

The best excerpts from the book come when protagonist, Guy Montag, is confronted by boss and antagonist Captain Beatty about a recent book and building burn they (the Firemen) completed. During this dialog both these characters act as Bradbury’s mouthpiece, casting warnings about the potential direction of society. In the following excerpt, Beatty explains how attention spans faded across the media spectrum, leading to a decline in intellectualism:

Once, books appealed to a few people, here, there, everywhere. They could afford to be different. The world was roomy. But then the world got full of eyes and elbows and mouths. Double, triple, quadruple population. Films and radios, magazines, books leveled down to a sort of paste pudding norm…

Picture it. Nineteenth-century man with his horses, dogs, carts, slow motion. Then, in the Twentieth Century, speed up your camera. Books cut shorter. Condensations. Digests. Tabloids. Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending.

Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten- or twelve-line dictionary resume. I exaggerate, of course. The dictionaries were for reference. But many were those whose sole knowledge of Hamlet … was a one-page digest in a book that claimed: ‘now at least you can read all the classics; keep up with your neighbours.’ Do you see? Out of the nursery into the college and back to the nursery; there’s your intellectual pattern for the past five centuries or more.

But how did media devolve to a “paste pudding norm” in the characters’ world? How did intellectualism come to die? Beatty continues to explain to Montag. Words in bold are my own emphasis:

With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word ‘intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar. Surely you remember the boy in your own school class who was exceptionally ‘bright,’ did most of the reciting and answering while the others sat like so many leaden idols, hating him. And wasn’t it this bright boy you selected for beatings and tortures after hours? Of course it was. We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind. Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man? Me? I won’t stomach them for a minute. And so when houses were finally fireproofed completely, all over the world (you were correct in your assumption the other night) there was no longer need of firemen for the old purposes. They were given the new job, as custodians of our peace of mind, the focus of our understandable and rightful dread of being inferior; official censors, judges, and executors. That’s you, Montag, and that’s me.

With misgivings about where the conversation is going, Montag asks Beatty about the curious, “different” girl he met early on in the story, the one who provoked Montag to ask himself if he is happy. In this excerpt Captain Beatty responds, at the same time shedding much light on the state of education in the characters’ world, as well as explaining further the people’s intent to eradicate unhappiness by quelling intellectual thought. Again, words in bold my emphasis:

Clarisse McClellan? We’ve a record on her family. We’ve watched them carefully. Heredity and environment are funny things. You can’t rid yourselves of all the odd ducks in just a few years. The home environment can undo a lot you try to do at school. That’s why we’ve lowered the kindergarten age year after year until now we’re almost snatching them from the cradle. We had some false alarms on the McClellans, when they lived in Chicago. Never found a book. Uncle had a mixed record; anti-social. The girl? She was a time bomb. The family had been feeding her subconscious, I’m sure, from what I saw of her school record. She didn’t want to know how a thing was done, but why. That can be embarrassing. You ask Why to a lot of things and you wind up very unhappy indeed, if you keep at it. The poor girl’s better off dead.

Luckily, queer ones like her don’t happen, often. We know how to nip most of them in the bud, early. You can’t build a house without nails and wood. If you don’t want a house built, hide the nails and wood. If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the Government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy. Any man who can take a TV wall apart and put it back together again, and most men can nowadays, is happier than any man who tries to slide-rule, measure, and equate the universe, which just won’t be measured or equated without making man feel bestial and lonely.

Bradbury much later brushed attributions of censorship themes aside, stating the story was more about the dumbing-down effect of television. However, I find the book to be much more than just how media may be dumbing us down. In it are also strong themes of grappling with social acceptance, anti-intellectualism, and personal happiness, just as there are notes on “tuning out” with vapid entertainment, as well as self-imposed censorship.

Despite being almost 60 years old, the particulars of the story — regardless of how you wish to interpret them — all seem extremely relevant to America, 2012. The musings on education are particularly poignant given today’s current educational atmosphere.

For example, Bradbury’s antagonist goes on about filling students “so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information.” Sound familiar? Searching the news on any given day will reveal complaints of how students regurgitate rather than understand. In Bradbury’s characters’ world, higher education is cranking out more athletes than creatives and intellectuals. Maybe that sounds familiar also? It should: this is another hot topic of debate in higher education, with people on both sides of the table.

That said, “Fahrenheit 451″ is definitely worth a read and then some self-reflection. It’s a book that remains significantly relevant to our times. Afterwards, it leaves us to ask “could we slowly be headed down the same path?” Bradbury frequently saw signs of it after writing the book. Do you? Or will his science fiction world remain purely that: fiction?

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Posted in Education, Society

Data protection: More than saving data, it's saving culture

Digital storage, via Danny Nicholson,
Flickr Creative Commons

I made a plea to my Facebook friends a few weeks ago to donate to the Internet Archive. Realizing thousands of entities petition us for our money, I also told them I’d write an article about why the Internet Archive — a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of humanity’s digital culture — and other entities like it are so important. After all, why should I expect people to blindly donate money to a cause if it’s not soon shown to be a relevant and functional cause?

But before I dig into the relevancy and functionality of preserving our digital culture, let me lay out the canvas, giving a little background to the topic. That background may not be as attractive as Bob Ross’ happy little trees, but it should do the trick.

Ready to dive in? Click here to continue.

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Posted in Data archiving, Internet, Technology, Web Content Creation

British English and the use of the word 'holidays'

Those of you knowledgeable in British English: I need to know what word or words you predominately use to refer to “a day often marked by a general suspension of work in commemoration of an event.”

I’m cognizant of the fact that in British English, a “holiday” is often a vacation. Thus, a headline like “How the Internet has changed the holidays” may result in an expectation of news about travel agencies and online travel bookings changing the way people go on vacation. Rather, I mean to talk about how the Internet has changed how we prepare and celebrate officially sanctioned days of commemoration.

Would simply changing the headline to “How the Internet has changed the celebration of holidays” make the topic clearer to users of British English?

As a side note, it’s often difficult to remember these sorts of subtleties across dialects of a language. Keeping audience in mind, as well as the significance of words used for that audience, becomes vital, especially when dealing on a more global scale of Internet writing.

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Posted in Linguistics, Web Content Creation, Writing to participate in American Censorship Day

The United States Congress is going to hold hearings on what could potentially be the U.S.’s first Internet censorship system. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) (related to the former senate version, the PROTECT IP Act) is being rapidly pushed through by corporate interests who hope it’ll slip by mostly unaware citizens without being noticed as extremely flawed. As the EFF summarizes, “SOPA could allow the U.S. government and private corporations to create a blacklist of censored websites, and cut many more off from their ad networks and payment providers.” While there’s nothing inherently wrong with businesses attempting to protect their copyrighted material (though that’s not to say that copyright law in the US is in great shape because it’s not), SOPA goes beyond simple copyright policing and into the dangerous territory of violating U.S. citizens’ right to freely express opinion. recently put together a video recently that attempts to clearly explain what PROTECT IP (and now SOPA) intends to do and what damage it could do for U.S. innovation and creative development:

Due to the dangers this legislation poses to U.S. innovation and creative expression, I can’t help but throw in my support to American Censorship Day on November 16, 2011. Users who go to the base website on that day will see a “Stop Censorship” black box over the site logo, which will link them to information on how to contact their congressional representatives.

Regardless of whether you’re a blogger, writer, tech enthusiast, or general Internet user, this malicious legislation should worry you. Do your part to stop SOPA.

Further reading:

EFF: American Censorship Day is this Wednesday — And You Can Join In!
TorrentFreak: Perhaps The Copyright Industry Deserves Some Credit For Pointing Out Our Single Points Of Failure
BoingBoing: Internet giants place full-page anti-SOPA ad in NYT

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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Posted in Internet, Technology

On education, technology, and their crossroad

Hey all! This is a super-quick update to let you know that I’m doing some guest writing again for I mentioned it previously, but for the short-term at least it appears I’ve been bumped up to writing twice a month there. Today I posted a long-ish piece about how e-books are making progress, especially in the library and education sectors. Check it out. And while you’re there, don’t be afraid to peek around at the additional content.

As for the next post here, I’m hoping to explore the benefits of using the wiki architecture and when it may not be so adequate for presenting your information. More to come soon.

Image via Cloned Milkmen, flickr Creative Commons

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Posted in Education, Technology

Opera, Opera Turbo, Google Chrome, and the WebP Image Format

Hey all! Something just came to my attention while doing some work for a client, and I thought I’d bring it up as it doesn’t seem to be well known or documented. Note beforehand that though I’ve been using computers for most of my 36 years of existence (my first computer was a Commodore 64), I don’t claim to constantly keep up on changing Web standards. That’s why I probably haven’t heard much about a new endeavor by Google to improve lossy image compression. Try to follow along as I’m going to toss out a lot of information and links, some of it which may be confusing.

On September 30, 2010, Google announced their WebP standard as something “that promises to significantly reduce the byte size of photos on the [W]eb, allowing [W]eb sites to load faster than before.” By the spring of 2011, the WebP lossy file format became natively supported in the Google Chrome and Opera Web browsers. Specifically, Opera Turbo — a feature added to the browser in mid-2009 that compresses Web data to increase load speeds — uses the WebP standard extensively, though mostly behind the scenes.

Opera Turbo essentially works likes this: you request a Web page be loaded from a server, then that request is redirected to special Opera servers, which grab the page, quickly compress it, and then direct it back to your Web browser. This usually doesn’t result in anything drastically different in the view, and the conversion of images to the WebP format goes unknown. But there’s a point where this breaks down and becomes intrusive to someone who doesn’t have a clue about this process.

See my experience, which has brought me to typing this out. I’m doing some freelance writing, editing, and wiki maintenance for a client, and this has included downloading images from his existing Web site and uploading them to his wiki page. Aside from actually being given access to the client’s current server or being e-mailed an archive of the images, this process seems the easiest, especially given that my client is extremely busy. Yesterday I right-clicked and chose “Save Image…” from the Opera menu without issue, each time defaulting to a .jpg save type. That experience changed today, much to my confusion. The default save type when I tried it today was “.webp”, confusing me greatly.

“What the heck is a .webp file format?” I asked myself, “And why is it defaulting to .webp when the file is obviously a .jpg file?” It wasn’t until after I performed a Web search that I found that this new default was related to Opera’s turbo setting. Indeed, I had turned Opera Turbo on shortly before seeing this strange new default. Unsure of how to proceed, I turned off Opera Turbo, refreshed, and wala! — no more .webp default format.

Granted, this may be too specific of a case (and thus may not represent a realistic situation for most Opera users), but I was still shocked by both how intrusive this change was and later how undocumented the change was. The only places I found reference to this change were a handful of news articles and the change log for the 11.10 version of the browser. As for the intrusiveness of it, I was further annoyed as the browser gave no notice that the default image format had been changed. Now that I’ve researched the issue, I better understand what’s going on and why, but it doesn’t lessen the surprise and frustration of the experience.

Now, aside from turning off Opera Turbo, one could also remove the .webp file association from Opera in order for the browser to default back to the .jpg format in the “Save Image…” dialog. (Tools>Preferences>Advanced tab, uncheck “Hide file types opened with Opera”, quick find “webp”, Edit…, remove text from “File extensions”, OK, OK) However, this seems rather defeatist as you’d essentially be gimping the inherent purpose of Opera Turbo; at that point you might as well just turn it off.

By the way, Opera might be be doing similar format conversions (I haven’t confirmed this yet), converting other files into formats like WBMP and WebM during its content conversion for Opera Turbo. Don’t be surprised if a similar issue could arise when trying to do the same thing with other types of online media. I don’t use Google Chrome, but I make the uneducated assumption that Chrome isn’t utilizing this sort of behind-the-scenes conversion unless the user has enabled it somehow. I need to research this more, but it leaves me to believe that Opera is the first browser to truly utilize WebP so actively in the background.

To close, this isn’t so much a complaint as it is an advisory. If you find yourself in a similar situation, scratching your head as to what the heck WebP is and why you’re seeing it as a default save format on Opera, this is why. I’ll leave the technical discussion of whether WebP will ever/should overtake the .jpeg/.jpg format to someone else. However, this experience was yet another reminder to me that when it comes to the Internet, Web standards do indeed change, and sometimes it’s a Goliath corporation like Google leading the charge.

Further reading: Get the WebP codec for Windows

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Posted in Technology, Web Content Creation

Autumn 2011 Write Edit Teach Update from the Author

Hello, all! I just wanted to give you a brief update on what’s going on with me. I just wrapped up over two months of English teaching at a summer camp in Spain. In fact, it’s the same camp that I’ve been going to for four summers now. Teaching English to Spanish kids (anywhere between the ages of 6 and 16) is a delightful but sometimes overwhelming experience for me, especially when there are more than 170 children running around at one time. (No, I don’t teach that many children at once. Rather, we try to keep class sizes no larger than 12 to 13 students.)

Now I’m back to my freelance ways. I consider myself fortunate to have established trust with some folks already. For example, — a long-standing and important tool for folks who are new to the Internet or are trying to make sense of the rapid social changes occurring there — has taken me on as a guest writer again after a bit of a hiatus. You can find me writing about the Internet and education once a month on their related news site Today I posted some news there about how the U.S. is seeing further adoption of online education, but not without challenges.

While I’ve never been very good at updating my blog here, I still have intentions of posting something here at least once a month about writing, editing, teaching, journalism, publishing, and more. Stay tuned as I try to increasingly present my thoughts about topics like the current U.S. education crisis and how authors are turning to self-publishing.

Also, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter, a place where I tend to be most active! And of course there is always the Facebook page for Write Edit Teach

Image via Horia Varlan, Flickr Creative Commons

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Posted in Teaching and Tutoring, Technology, Writing

Consistent web design, writing of web content (redux)

I know its bordering on passé to write blog posts criticizing people and businesses for their shortcomings, but I feel it necessary to present another example of what I discussed over a week ago. In that post I discussed how brand confusion can be created by a company that’s sloppy with its online content. I stated that web designs and written web content that are clearly and consistently created could potentially translate into increased sales. I also posted a few examples of sites that lacked consistency and clarity.

Yesterday I found another example of inconsistency in branding, which reminded me to talk about an underutilized editing tip.

Check out this page from an Italian informatics company:

  • The title image at the top has the company name stated as “eurosoft.”
  • The text has the company name as both “Eurosoft” and “EuroSoft.”
  • The contact information at the bottom states the company as “Eurosoft.”

This is the name of a company, something that you would imagine would be treated consistently well in the public eye. Instead the company has three variations of its name on one page. I have no idea how to formally document the name of this company for my current project without communicating with someone at the company. I shouldn’t have to do that.

And now on to that editing tip I mentioned. If I were in this company and were calling the shots, I’d have had the material edited pre-live, in a web-ready format. This editing step gets overlooked frequently. Typically a body of text (if edited at all) will be sent for editing as a text document. Revisions to that document then will be pasted into a web page and called done. But one of my golden editing tips for web content is (if possible) to perform a final edit in the environment it will finally be posted to.

The easiest example of this is a blog post or article being posted through a content management system (CMS). There’s frequently a preview opportunity in a CMS, allowing the writer to see what the content will look like in its intended environment. Editing in this intended environment provides a fresh perspective on the text, often resulting in the observation of errors or inconsistencies that were missed while editing the original text document.

In the particular case of eurosoft/Eurosoft/EuroSoft, I imagine that someone may have edited the web copy in a text document format and then passed it off to the web developer. Sure, the text consistently uses “Eurosoft,” but once placed in its intended environment, things go awry quickly. Had a final edit been performed within the intended environment, I would like to believe someone would have pointed out the inconsistencies in the name throughout the entire page.

As I said at the beginning, I don’t necessarily relish in picking apart a person or business, but this seems like a strong example of brand confusion that could have been avoided by an on-page, “intended environment” edit. Of course there are other things that could have been done to prevent this. Perhaps a simple policy update by upper management regarding how the company name should be used in all correspondence would have also prevented this inconsistency. But then again, I’ve never been that qualified to talk corporate policy.

(Also, there’s an additional inconsistency with the actual domain name used: However, I speculate they chose to use this domain name because a very similar company exists [or existed; it seems to have been acquired] at called Euro Soft. [This company suffers a similar situation: instances of "Euro Soft," "eurosoft," and "EUROSOFT" make me scratch my head.] It’s also an Italian company. I haven’t been able to determine if there’s a connection between the two entities.)

Update: It’s October 6, 2011, and I updated the link to eurosoft/Eurosoft/EuroSoft. It originally pointed to, but it has since been changed by the company. Note, however, that despite this opportunity to correct their branding with the updated page, the new page is just as bad. Again, I see all three variations of the company name on one page. Additionally, the old page had the company name at the bottom as “EuroSoft,” but the new page now has it as “Eurosoft.” This is simply inexcusable.

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Posted in Editing, Web Content Creation, Writing

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