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    March 10th, 2013adminAmerica, Hackbright, San Francisco, Technology

    The Hackbright ladies on International Women’s Day


    How do I feel? The short answer is very, very excited.

    Am I nervous? Do I feel intimidated by all there is to learn?

    Of course.

    But I also feel such joy about the learning that is now my life.

    Before I left Istanbul, my friend, Ilkay, gave me an interesting definition of time. He said, “Look, when I was in school, and I was studying law and languages, I was learning so many things. Now, I work all the time. Everything is fast, and everything passes.” He said, “When you’re in San Francisco, and you’re studying, you’ll have a different sense of time. You will live time in the right way.”

    And he’s right. This past week was undoubtedly challenging, and I have only begun to make sense of many of the concepts. Just today, I sat down, pen and paper in hand, and went back to the basics. I asked myself, What do I understand? What do I think I understand (but perhaps need to further clarify?). And I went through my code, line by line, forcing myself to articulate the logical progress.

    But I have felt such pride in my use of time.

    Me, week 2?

    Me, Week 2?

    Right now, I especially want to focus on retraining my brain. As a writer, I’ve rarely looked at my work as something defined by logic, by things like loops or if-else statements. And I know that, even if I weren’t a writer, I would still struggle with the gap between the way our brains vs. our computers register commands. One of my classmates said, “This stuff is is not intuitive.” And, for many of us, that’s probably true. So, now, I’m interested in slowly training myself — going through my work, and the work of others, and understanding the story behind the results, one line at a time.

    Meanwhile, I’ll learn alongside amazing classmates and instructors. I can’t complain about that. Okay, it’s going to be a lot of work — that’s one thing I know for sure. But it will definitely, and without a doubt, be worth it.

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    March 5th, 2013adminHackbright, San Francisco, Technology

    After a very extended vacation from blogging, I am back! But now I am in a new city (or maybe an old one?), San Francisco, for an exciting reason: I’m learning how to code at Hackbright Academy. Yup, after nearly three years in Istanbul, I came to the end of my strange and wonderful journey. I already miss the street cats and the minarets and the Bosphorous. I especially crave the Turkish breakfasts, with the varied cheeses, laced around tomatoes and cucumber, as well as the menemen and infinite cups of piping hot tea. But, most of all, I miss my friends. It can be an incredibly challenging (though rewarding) experience to be a foreigner, and it makes all of one’s personal relationships all the deeper. So, it was admittedly very difficult for me to say goodbye, and it’s brought me to truly appreciate this next step in my life.

    Yesterday was my first day at Hackbright, which I will blog about later. But, in brief: The group of women is a fantastically varied and interesting bunch, and I was happy to learn about some of them over lunch at Shalimar. We spent the second half of the day reviewing the Command Line Crash Course, followed by some fun maze games on Blockly. The mazes challenged us to “think like a programmer” — in other words, to logically determine how to find a solution, based on creating rules/statements that a frustratingly stubborn man would follow across the maze. My partner, Meggie, and I got to the tenth exercise, which left us (and the whole class, it seemed) rather confused. And this was where we left off — knowing that Exercise 10 presented where we would like to be — with the mental and programming tools to look at the problems presented at Number 10 — to ask the right questions and determine the proper steps to taking apart the issue and, ultimately, finding the answer.

    Now, off to my bus for another day at Hackbright!

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    Mieun in San Francisco (spring 2010)

    I miss the alleys in San Francisco… I took these photos last year, walking through the Mission district with my friend, Mieun — a lovely SF transplant & graphic designer, originally from Seoul.

    Me in 2010... seems like a really long time ago...

    This photo was taken at the Women's Building on 18th Street -- a "woman-owned and operated community center," founded in 1971 and *very San Francisco*

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    I took so many great photos at Carnival last year (see last entry for more info). So, I’ll just post a few more… Today, I’m hopefully going to a barbecue in Cihangir — my flatmate is an English teacher at a school here, and he has organized an English-language get-together for them. Anyway, enjoy the Carnival photos!

    Every parade needs an Asian drag queen in historical costume.

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    A young girl at Carnaval, San Francisco 2010

    This is Carnaval Weekend in San Francisco — a spectacle of sequins, feathers and Latin American culture. In celebration, I’ve posted some photos taken from last year’s festivities, parading down 24th Street in the Mission district.

    This (chubby, older) guy was really excited about dancing with this (young and cute) girl. It was his lucky day.

    Unfortunately, SF Carnaval is not nearly as bawdy or playful as it once was. It has been replaced by a “family friendly” alternative — which, as someone who *grew up* with the risque carnival (in my family-oriented youth, I might add!), is not something I’m crazy about… But it is still Carnaval …a time to go to Victoria’s Bakery …to eat enchiladas and get drunk and flirt with Cuban and Honduran guys… to laugh at people even more drunk than you are…

    Everyone knows Brazilian Carnival — the hedonistic celebration before Lent. People dress in masquerade costumes, cover their bodies with jewels, sequins (and not much else) and dance atop monstrous floats. There’s also New Orleans Mardi Gras — the beads, the boobs and the Southern-ness.

    San Francisco Carnaval is uniquely “San Francisco.” Established by hippie-ish artists in the late ’70s as a way to “connect with the ancestors,” it has evolved into a city-wide celebration. Really, it is a hodgepodge of Latin American/Hispanic cultures — “The four Carnaval Cities with the greatest influence and presence in the San Francisco Carnaval are Port of Spain, Trinidad; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Salvador, Brazil; and Oruro, Bolivia.”

    Bringing on the party...

    When I was a kid, I remember being happily scandalized by Carnaval — topless women, men with painted bodies, tiny g-strings on both sexes. And, just in case you missed the flesh show, Mission Street stores pasted photos of the naked/mostly naked people on their windows, which stayed up for months (sometimes, all year-long!).

    This was one of my favorite parts of Carnaval last year -- these fantastic headdresses.

    Of course, Carnaval is not (or was not) only about sex —  just mostly about sex! But there’s also a strong cultural element. Actually, I was really impressed by these dancers from last year. They wore these magnificent, feathered headdresses, shaped as if to capture the sun or the heavens. The dancers twirled with their headdresses (with one hand up, to support their heavy load!). The dances were mesmerizing; I wish I could remember where the dance & costume was from… Does anybody know?


    Last year, Benjamin Bratt was also promoting his movie about the Mission District (and low-riders), appropriately called “La Mission.” So, a series of low-rider and cholo cars were also featured in Carnaval… which, I guess, they always are… but, this time, Benjamin Bratt was inside, in case anybody notice or cared… He wore a t-shirt that stated “Stay Brown” (in other words, “We’re not into white hipster/yuppie gentrification”).


    cool wheels

    The cool thing about Carnaval is the inclusion of the SF dance studios and cultural organizations. For months, dance studios work on their choreography, costumes and music — a huge process with, usually, fantastic results. Meanwhile, Brazilian drum ensembles will prepare, capoeira fighters will train and young children will learn traditional Aztec, Mayan or Caribbean dances.

    Pure joy

    Again, it is not what it used to be. I know I may sound old (or old-er) — but I mean it! When I was a kid, dance troupes came from all over the world for the San Francisco Carnaval. I remember seeing troupes from Latin America, Europe and the farther reaches of the States. They were announced with pomp and celebration — “and noooowwwww, the XYZ troupe frommmmm Belizzzzzzzeeeee!”

    But now? No way.

    What a shame.

    And you know what? The city did the same thing with the Castro Street Halloween Festival! It used to be a late-night, costumed, gender-fluid, city-wide bacchanalia extravaganza. Then, some people ruined it for everybody — brought guns and shot people. I still remember that Halloween …I was 16 years old (but not in the Castro that night). So, the city got involved and, basically, stopped the whole damn thing.

    Anyway, that was a tangent!

    Here are some more photos of Carnaval — which is still wonderful (just less sexy, less big and less cool). But, still, it is CARNAVAL!

    I love the guy on his cell phone.

    Definitely the coolest dancer/coolest costume/coolest person at Carnaval 2010.

    Welcome to San Francisco!

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    August 5th, 2010adminEconomy, Istanbul, Money, San Francisco
    Trump Towers in Istanbul

    Computer-Generated Image of Trump Towers in Istanbul (yet to be completed), apparently financed by Arab investors who purchased the Trump name. Definitely a sign of the changing/growing economy. In the picture, look below at the low-level buildings directly under the towers. That's where I live!

    What’s expensive in San Francisco? Well, just about everything (except solidly good Chinese, Vietnamese & Thai food). So, it’s funny to come here and realize that I have an affordable life! While Turkey is a fast-growing economy — in fact, the 2nd fastest in the world, after China, according to the NY Times — it is still very affordable. My rent is affordable. My food is affordable. And my clothing is dirt cheap, thanks to the Turkish textile industry. Yes, this is very strange to me.

    Living in San Francisco, I resigned myself to low economic expectations. In large part, this was due to the economic crisis, as well as changes in my own industries (i.e. journalism, editorial management and general writing/editing). Okay, I wasn’t always negative. But, as the US economy worsened, I lost a great deal of my faith in the “American Dream.” It may come back (maybe!). But I’m content to be on hiatus at the moment.

    As I wrote, Istanbul is obviously cheaper. But there are two notable exceptions: Petrol and alcohol. Late-night joints, particularly in trendy areas like Taksim, serve very expensive cocktails. Of course, you can get a reasonably-priced Efes (the main beer brand here, named after the famous classical city that once boasted the Temple of Artemis). People complain about Efes but, if you prefer light beers, it’s fine. And I would say it’s better than the main Greek beer, Mythos.

    The second is gas. The average prices here, according to my friend, Fatih, are the following: $2.48 per liter (petrol) and $2.00 per liter (diesel). Now, remember, this is LITERS not GALLONS. In the USA, we measure oil by gallons.  There are 3.78541178 liters in a gallon. If you do the math, it doesn’t look too pretty. So, driving a car here is a luxury.

    But I don’t drive. And I’m not a big drinker. Yet, I am a renter. And guess what? I love my apartment — and, best of all, I love what I pay for it.

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    August 3rd, 2010adminIstanbul, San Francisco
    Smoking narghile in Tophane, Erica & I

    Smoking narghile in Tophane, Erica & I

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    Grandpa reading the paper

    My 92 year old grandfather engaging in an arcane hobby: Reading a newspaper.

    I’m surrounded by technology fetishists. Why? I live in San Francisco — ground zero for Google-level geekery. Just take any bus Downtown, and you’ll be inundated with popular technology. And I mean the whole spectrum of trendy gadgets, glorified like holy grails on tech blogs. So, on the bus, you’ve got the clean-shaven “suit,” faithfully reading Thomas Friedman on his Kindle. And the admirably on-top-of-his-shit dude, fiddling with his iPad. And the PR girls, wrapped in Marc Jacobs wools, doing *something* on their iPhones. And I’m sure there’s some Japanese or German innovation, which I’m too inattentive to notice. And it’s an eerie sight, sitting on the bus. Everybody is so “plugged in.” They’re typing, talking — so seemingly “involved.” But, in the process, they seem “tuned out.” Distracted. Distanced. Out of it.

    And I wonder …is this making us more stupid? Okay, I’m not a Luddite. I support machines. Seriously, where would I be without the polio vaccine, birth control pill or Gutenberg’s printing press? And I’m immersed,  too! Really, look: 1) I’ve worked for multiple online companies 2) I know basic web design 3) I own tech items 4) I ‘m good friends with professional techies  & I often respect their work (it is definitely more useful than 90% of the garbage coming out of the movie, music and finance industries).

    But I don’t think we need all this digitalization. Or, I’ll get off my soapbox and say that, personally, I don’t need it. So, how will I feel living in a place, like Istanbul, where people don’t just SAY that tech can be “stupid”? Instead, they actually DO live outside a 24/7 tech bubble. How will I socially interact, living in a place, like Istanbul, where tech doesn’t dominate the public sphere? Will I feel better about things? About our future? Will I miss how “accessible” everybody seems? Ideally, I’ll spend more time on the “good stuff,” like web design and digital photography, and less on the junk. But we’ll see.

    As much as I love technology, I think we’re using it incorrectly. It should enhance our lives. But it shouldn’t become a detached human organ, serving as our universal portals, enveloping and overwhelming  us. And, ironically, the more tech-savvy I become, the more strongly I feel this way. That’s because I see the beauty of technology. I’ve gained the power to actually MAKE what I have passively viewed for years (i.e. web pages). That’s massively empowering. But I also see the limitations of the Internet. It is an infinite network, probably the most tangible way for me to understand the expansion of the universe — and that’s pretty deep stuff. But, due to its infinitude, it is a void. There is no end and there is no control. Somehow, we fall in deep. We’re victims of its immensity.

    Scientists think black holes are created by TOO MUCH.  They occur when an object can’t resist its own gravity. So, it collapses under its own weight. Now, apologies, if I sound apocalyptic. But, in a small way, this is how I perceive the “Information Age.” We’re not miraculously enlightened. The world seems just as impoverished, hardened and cruel as it was 25 years ago. But, now, the privileged countries are infected with something new: an onslaught of information. It bewilders us. In turn, we can’t help but succumb — or, to hammer home the analogy (sorry!), we “collapse” under the weight.

    There’s a reason, after all, why the Luddites raged through England, smashing stocking frames. They perceived a real threat to their livelihoods. They foresaw the incredible industrialization of the 19th century. And they didn’t like it. But the machines came, one after another. And they were powerful. And influential. And undeniable.


    Related stuff to check out:

    Frontline Report: Digital Nation — Who doesn’t love Frontline?

    Neo-Luddites — As the name implies, they’re Luddites for the 21st century.

    Transhumanism — They’re all about machines & technology …kinda  like the anti-Luddites.

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