All your dates are belong to us

28
Sep
2012

File this under creepy. Where to begin? We all know the world is getting smaller, and privacy is harder and harder to control, especially on the internet. It doesn’t help that every time Facebook makes some site change they seem to erase all your carefully setup controls and start sharing everything with everyone. And oftentimes, our conception of privacy is not about certain information being public, it is more about the ease of accessing that information. It would definitely have been possible in a previous age to gather a bunch of personal information about someone with a trip to the county courthouse, but who other than some rich asshole going to the expense of hiring a private detective would have bothered?

So I guess just file this under one more chip in the wall: With the recent release of ios6 and Mountain Lion, one can now easily link one’s Facebook account to one’s contacts, and pull all info from Facebook into these contacts. While at first glance this doesn’t seem like a big deal, I have discovered a few areas where it is a little disturbing. Case in point: people in my contacts for whom I only have phone numbers, many times without a last name. Why would I have such numbers littering my contacts? These might be people I met randomly at a party or professional function, or online and exchanged just the minimal amount of information necessary. They might have been to call later about a website or other work, or more likely to set up a coffee or dinner date. And my contacts list (and most people’s I would wager) are littered with these past partial contacts that we rarely if ever get around to cleaning out.

Here is where it gets interesting. I noticed after linking my contacts, that a bunch of extra information was pulled down for these contacts. Info that I never had before, based on nothing other than the phone number. So suddenly I had profile pics and last names and some other info for these people. I hadn’t realized this before, but according to one’s privacy settings (those again!) on Facebook  if your phone number is in there, you can actually be found right on the Facebook website, just by entering that number as a search. No name or email even required. So I spent part of the morning revisiting my past dating life, learning things about these people that was not shared with me previously, and in most cases deleting these entries from my contacts.

If I were you, I would go into your Facebook privacy settings right now (and perhaps once a week given the capriciousness of Facebook tweaking) and make sure what is shared is what you want to be shared. Or just let it be. We are clearly headed for a Borg-like future anyway.

Little things

25
Sep
2012

There is always a slight disconnect when returning from a long vacation. Things seem so familiar and so foreign at the same time, and one needs time to re-adjust. The first couple of days for me are always rather low on productivity, between the jet lag and the sorting through mail and catching up on news, both personal and national. And it probably didn’t help that I just got a new iPhone that was waiting for me when I arrived. Geek that I am, I have been playing with it quite a lot (speaking of which, I feel a longish blog post coming up soon on the laughable shortcomings of Siri, stay tuned). It is nice to be back though, there are some things that I miss when I am away from home. My bed, the view from my window, the energy of New York City, and of course my friends.

One month later…

23
Sep
2012

All good things must come to an end. And other good things must begin. This year’s epic travel was thoroughly enjoyable, and I really felt that I learned a lot from the places I visited. I write this from the airplane on my way back to New York, after a full month outside the US. This trip was exactly what I needed, in so many ways. It was relaxing, it was challenging, and most importantly it shook things up and made me look at the world in a new way again. Each year, when I travel to some place I have never been, I realize that it almost does not matter where I go per se, but that I go. Forcing myself out of my normal routine, experiencing the new, shaking up my habits — these are the things that invigorate my life, and it is why I do them as much as possible. It is in the break from tradition and routine and ritual, and the exposure to new ones that I find the most meaning in life’s experiences. The old ones that I go back to, the new ones I integrate, and the ones I let go or modify with new information.

I come back to a heavy work schedule, but feel not at all daunted or bothered by this. I feel invigorated by the past few weeks and ready for a new look at both old and new projects in my life, whether they be professional or personal. Onward.

Bursa

23
Sep
2012

The first day being a rather wet one in Bursa with all the rain, we were perhaps a little down on our choice to go there. But yesterday the weather was great and we took a walk down from the hotel to see the town. Although many of the buildings are quite ugly, there are some very interesting and historical ones in the city center, and we ended up really enjoying our little side trip here. Bursa is definitely a regional city, and it had a less hectic pace than Istanbul and many fewer tourists. Bursa is also home to one of Turkey’s famous national food dishes, Iskender, and we found a well known local establishment. Although delicious, if people eat this everyday I suspect the stats on heart disease here must be through the roof.


From Bursa

Hamam II

22
Sep
2012

The hotel we are staying in is attached to a really beautiful centuries-old hamam fed by natural hot springs. Along with our hotel booking we had the right to a visit, so we went yesterday evening. What a difference this place was from the last one I went to! This one had several rooms, all large and in beautiful shape. After hanging out in the main one with its hot pool and alternating rinsing, we decided to go for a scrub. These guys obviously take delight in smacking the tourists around a bit, and occasionally make very loud noises that echo through the hamam by loudly slapping their sandpaper like gloves on the patrons as they scrub. My guy in particular seemed to relish digging his elbows into my back and scrubbing furiously to remove the top layer (or two) of my skin. And in the brief pauses between exfoliating me he would throw buckets of boiling water at my face. After the final rinse off, we were dressed up again like the last hamam I was in (but in a more manly fashion) and headed off to the well appointing cooling off room, with its recliners and beautiful domed space. I felt refreshed and relaxed, if slightly beaten up. If you are ever in Bursa, I highly recommend this hamam.

A rainy day at the politburo bath house

21
Sep
2012

Since we needed to checkout from our hotel in Istanbul today anyway, Olaf and I decided to take a quick trip to a nearby city. My friend Emre suggested we check out Bursa, so we hastily booked a hotel (attached to the historic baths) and a boat trip. This morning the weather was pretty crappy with rain and the seas were a bit rough, with more than a few green faces to go around on the boat. We were supposed to then connect to a bus when we got to the port, but just hopped in a cab and made our expensive way to the hotel here, which is not exactly centrally located, but is rather on a hill about 7km from the town center. Pretty much everything about this place is just slightly off, but in a way that makes me giggle non stop. Even though it was recently renovated, the decor and feel of the place is very retro socialist chic, the kind of place  I imagine politburo members would have vacationed to in the early 70s. As it is raining rather heavily, we decided we would wait til tomorrow to see the town, so we took a walk around the rather sad neighborhood we are in, treated ourselves to some kebab and the disbelieving stares of the locals. Later we will go to the historic baths (they are luckily included in the price of of our stay) and perhaps even agree to a vigorous scrubbing by some burly Bursian body worker, stay tuned.

Fortified

20
Sep
2012

Having quickly given up on the idea of seeing the Princes Islands this time around (see previous post), We decided to take in the Rumelihisari Fort a bit north on the Bosphorus. It was totally awesome. This place is beautiful to walk around and has some of the most fantastic views over the water. It was really a treat and highly recommended. We took a bus most of the way there and then had a stroll along the Bosphorus for the last leg of the journey. And what a nice part of the river (strait?) bank, not at all cut off like the section on the way to Ortaköy we took the other day. And it all felt a bit like the Italian Riviera, this is definitely a rather upscale part of Istanbul.

If only you had arrived 4 days ago…

20
Sep
2012

Olaf and I thought we would take in the Princes Islands today, and we were told that it is better to take the fast boat, as that would give us a lot more time there. After checking their website, we found that we had many times to choose from, so we made our way down to catch the 11am fast ferry. When we got there, and went to the counter to buy our ticket, the man informed us that the next one was at 6pm. When I showed him the screenshot I had taken of the ferry times, where it was clearly marked that there were several ferries between now and then, he smiled and nodded and told us cheerfully that this information was no longer correct. That ferry schedule was only valid in the summer, and apparently summer in Turkey end on September 16th, as opposed to the rest of the world where its last day is the 20th. I helpfully suggested that they might want to update their website, and he smiled and nodded as if I were the insane one for relying on something so ephemeral as a website schedule.

Limoncello hair spa

18
Sep
2012

One of the guys I had met here recommended his barber, and I thought it couldn’t hurt to go for a trim, so I went about an hour ago. It was a tiny underground place at the corner of my street, really like an old man’s barber shop, nothing special at all. I got in and no one really spoke English, but I think I got across to them what I wanted, and they motioned me to sit in a chair. Then one of the mean wardens from the hamam I was in last week (well, he looked a lot like him) came over to begin my haircut. The first part of it, while very thorough, seemed to go as a normal haircut would. And then he moved onto my eyebrows before I could stop him (and worried a little that I would end up looking too plucked), and then to my ears (yes, as we get older hair grows there as well), and finally (I kid you not) to my nostrils with a special pair of scissors. He spent a fair amount of time there before dusting me off in a huge cloud of powder, then removing my many wrappings and cleaning up the lower back of my neck. I thought at this point I was done, but he pushed me gently back into the chair and moved to pick up a bottle from the counter. He then squeezed a lot of some very strong smelling lemon verbena alcohol pledge bug repellant liquid into his hands. He then wiped a bunch just under my nose (like the way they would kidnap people with chloroform back in 70’s action movies), and what was left he rubbed all over the rest of my head and began a very vigorous massage. I thought I would pass out from the stuff I was inhaling, so I wiped my nose a bit and started to come to while he was pounding away at my skull, face and neck. I have to admit that after it was over I felt mightily refreshed, if a little dizzy. And the whole thing was about 5 bucks! That was the best cheap spa treatment I have ever had. And my haircut looks pretty damn good, if I do say so.

Hagia Sofia mini me

18
Sep
2012

Rather unfairly I think, I have come down with a cold the last two days, and it has made me cranky. I am not good as a sick person. Nevertheless, we took a few hours yesterday to walk through some new (to me) parts of the old city and visited a place called Küçuk Ayasofya (Little Hagia Sofia), which I absolutely loved. It is called the Little Hagia Sofia because it is thought to resemble the larger one and could have been used as the testing ground for it, as it was built a few years prior. While there are a few similarities, I really didn’t find it as alike as the name would imply. What we saw was not close to what the original must have been like, except in the floor plan and spacial arrangement, as it has undergone many changes and a recent restauration to repair earthquake damage. But still, I loved it.