Saturday, February 23, 2013

Blogging about Blogging

It's not strange you know, to blog about blogging. It's perfectly natural. It is so natural in fact that there are entire blogs, websites, and businesses dedicated to blogging and how to do it right. For me, I don't think they've ever been much help, but that doesn’t mean I'm not going to talk about it too.

The reason I AM talking about it is because it is an important part of my life. In addition, some of the articles on my blogs are important to some of my friends. Maybe they're flattering me, but they'd be REALLY overdoing it if they were. Don't worry, this is probably the last time I'd be blowing my own horn in this blog post, but no promises.

I wrote a paper on digital content in Egypt for a course during my masters degree, the one I never completed, back in 2009, way before activism was so well known in the mainstream. A nice chunk of that paper was about blogging, especially the Egyptian blogosphere, you can read it here, or you can skip to the next part if you like, dear reader.

On a more personal tone, when I started blogging, I thought I’d be a famous blogger, because I was a good writer after all, wasn’t i? That is not the case, thank God! Most famous bloggers are either activists or people who make a business out of it. I’m neither. I just write because I like to write, post because I like getting praised, and really hate it when a blog goes unnoticed or if I get a bad review, and occasionally find a friend sharing a blog post of mine with his friends through a third friend who doesn’t even know me and they don’t even know I’m the author. It actually happened twice, TWICE! Finally, I guess the purpose of me blogging is maybe somewhere words can help, which is something I believe in since I practically live inside the books I read. I write about my friends and make them teary eyed and speechless. I write about my quite insignificant life and my totally quirky views on it, as if my opinion is the only one that matters in the world. Guess what, on my blog, it really is the only opinion that matters in the world.

Even though I’m mostly active on one blog, this one, The Blue Column (I like to pretend I’m a columnist in a hotshot newspaper or magazine), I got two more blogs. My first was a blog about testing. I started it because I used to get into so many debates with my boss and I thought if I share my thoughts on testing and pass them on to the world, it won’t really matter if we have long debates, I still would have said what I wanted to say to the world. I wrote a couple of posts and they were successful, I got good feedback and it had one of the posts that I caught a friend sharing it with another friend of his without them knowing it was mine. Then, I lost interest in testing altogether or at least in writing about it. I guess I wasn’t having as many healthy debates about testing that would inspire me enough to keep doing it.

The second was a quasi-religious blog where I decided to document a bit of my spiritual thoughts. It is easier to be religious when you write about how you feel, again, for me at least. I kept thinking that maybe someone somewhere out there was going through feelings similar to what I was going through on the spiritual level and would benefit from reading my own experience. It isn’t informative, not really, and I got a lot of negative comments about it; one was “bateekhy” which typically means that it was absurd and made up; plain nonsense. But I also got positive feedback which kept me going for a while, but it was very difficult to write about religion, because it’s so sacred and so beautiful and I really am not a scholar, and I didn’t want to feel like a fake. So even though I haven’t abandoned it altogether, I write there scarcely.

The blue column was the last blog I created, it was the hardest to initiate because it is basically me; total exposure. But I am loyal to it because it gives me peace. Sometimes I write for the sake of posting anything, I can go a whole month without posting, and sometimes I post up to seven posts a month. I think the best moment of my blog life was when one of my friends called me up and told me, “Why haven’t you written anything lately? I really need to read your stuff because it makes me feel good.” My good happy blogging days are probably behind me (I was going through a hippie phase that didn’t really last long) but I do write from the heart, even if I am writing about boring old software testing, and if just one piece of writing touched someone, I am content in making a tiny microscopic dent in the universe after all.

So aside from the praise, do you want to hear why it really matters that I blog? On Saturday, September 1st, 2012, I posted my first short story in a long long time: Of Lady Moon and Master Sea. It was a compiled version of 4 tiny chapters that I posted on facebook earlier that week and got great feedback on. A little while before that, a friend of mine told me I wasn’t an artist, and I am not ashamed to say “IN YOUR FACE!” On Sunday, November 4th, 2012, I posted my second short story’ Pygmalion’s Statue. Inspired by a very close friend and even posted on a writing forum with not so bad feedback. On Friday, November 9th, 2012, I wrote one of my strongest pieces: 8 portraits of Longing. Not the easiest to write or post, but definitely the bravest. The point is; blogging has helped this scared little girl open up a few doors and face herself. Doors she has believed to have long been locked and forgotten in the back of her head, and maybe remembered that she had talent after all. Writing this post, right here, right now, as reminded that scared little girl of what really matters, and that is, no matter who says what, and no matter what she faces in her real life, she will always have a life here that is completely hers, and that is not controlled by anyone else.

I am giving out a big thank you to all of you who are reading this now, to all of you who have ever read any of my stuff, and to every single one who gave me good or bad feedback (at least you cared enough to give feedback and if it was bad, it got my stubborn side to kick me in the tushy and prove to them that I am better than what they perceive, and that maybe they need to look a little closer before they judge).

I am braver because of you.

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The Egyptian Blogosphere back in 2009

I found this paper I had written for a Masters course before I abandoned it. It was about Egyptian Digital Content and it was back in 2009. The next part is an excerpt of it relating to the Egyptian Blogosphere. It was written back in 2009 and I thought maybe someone somewhere would find it interesting.

According to a study published by the Middle East Centre, University of Oxford, the Egyptian blogging era started around 2003 with a few bloggers who were “experimenting” with the idea. Before 2005, there was about 40 Egyptian blogs in total. In the following year, the political incidents arising in the country; the amendments in the constitution and the first presidential elections under the new laws) and in the middle east in general; the war on Iraq, has led the Egyptian activists, now speaking out, to go to blogging to get their voices heard. Kifaya movement and human rights activists were starting to gain international exposure, shortly followed by the Muslim Brotherhood who, by the end of 2006, have gained considerable attention. The diversification and fragmentation phase could be noticed by the end of 2006. The Egyptian blogosphere started to contain segments of bloggers with specific directions; leftists, copts, muslim brotherhood, cultural and poetic bloggers, personal bloggers, social commentators, even Bahai and homosexual divisions.

The starting Egyptian blogs were one of two types. The first would be technical blogs, introduced to IT people through their interaction with the internet. This makes sense since blogs now are considered to be a source of technical support to anyone who needs it. An open source technical tool called WatiN practically does not have any documentation other than what WatiN users are blogging about it. The second type of blogs belonged to leftists, urged by the Iraqi blogs about the war, describing the situation, then, in Iraq. Most of these beginning blogs were in English; directed to an international audience in addition to friends. The minority of Arabic blogs are meant to go out to fellow Egyptians, as the Arabic bloggers say, in addition to them being more comfortable blogging in their mother tongue.

By 2005, there were 400 blogs as estimated by experts, and by 2006 there were three times as many blogs. At that time, the Egyptian voice of citizen journalism has begun to mature, forming a personal, opinion based source of insight into Egypt’s political and social status.

By 2006, now that blogging has gained huge momentum across the country, Egyptian internet users were beginning to blog about everything there is to blog about. With the former activists giving way to some freedom of press and speech despite the arrests of several bloggers, allowing topics that were once (and still are) taboo in the Egyptian society like sexuality and religions such as Baha’ism, and their Egyptian practitioners to speak out and communicate.

To sum up, the Egyptian blogosphere consists of techies, activists, leftists, and other distinct groups sharing similar interests or promoting their own ideas. There are also the occasional personal blogs, online diaries, cultural blogs and some pure nonsense. With the arrest of activist bloggers and even facebook activists who promoted the 6th of April strike, internet based citizen journalism is facing the same difficulties as any other form of journalism in Egypt, leaving room on the internet for shallower topics like the latest album release of a singer, or which celebrity got a nose job. Maybe blog publishing systems such as Blogspot or Blogger should start working on providing higher security measures for the tracking of bloggers to keep them anonymous. Or bloggers should have the awareness to use anonymous proxies to access their blogs and use fake names and identification techniques.



Egypt has a considerable amount of digital content online. Ranging from government based content to corporate websites to a force to be reckoned with blogosphere. The question is how well is it advertised, utilized, and brought out to the world. Egyptian internet users are not interested in using the internet as a vast learning realm as much as they use it to get the latest on football and singers, and maybe as a really big newspaper. What is the point of the government’s huge Arabic content repository if no one accesses it? What point is it if they do not rank on Google search results? How will the people, Egyptians or other, know that it even exists?! If a portal like Luxor portal, meant to show the world what Luxor is all about and to help the tourism industry, is only advertised on a website related to the Egyptian government where probable tourists will most likely never go online, then how will it serve its purpose?!

However, not everything related to the Egyptian content is related to the Egyptian government; organizations such as the ones owning Masrawy should also act to increase the proper use of the internet in Egypt. Although something like, a blog publishing system created and maintained by LinkdotNet, directed to create and support the IT technical community in Egypt, would be considered a giant leap in the direction of creating and utilizing constructive content, there is still so much to be done with the Egyptian digital content to help all Egyptian internet users and increase them as well. From web applications designed for children to online college workspaces, the Egyptian digital content is rather poor compared to other countries in the Americas, Europe, and Asia.

On the bright side, the blogosphere in Egypt could actually be a force to be reckoned with. Political entities such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Kifaya have used the blogs successfully. Shouldn’t there be other trend setters out there directing the blogs to more rewarding topics?

In my opinion, digital content should be treated like any other industry. It requires marketing, sales, finances, human resources, and well-set system to be able to harvest its amazing potential.

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Friday, February 22, 2013

I’m Crazy (1) Theory of Islands

I'm crazy. It's a fact not a prop, if you know me personally, there's a 90% chance you said to me in the face and a 99% chance (the statistics guy tells us there is no 100%) you've thought it.
I don't mind, but if you are wondering why, other than my obvious eccentricities, this is to give you a bit of a clue. I'm giving you a tour of one of the rooms inside my head. You are therefore, of course, privileged.
I used to have an identity crisis. I felt like I didn't know who I was, what I was, what made me who I am, and what made me tick. I used to get upset without knowing why, and happy without knowing why either, and claim they are just mood swings. Now, I know who I am, and I know where my feelings are coming from, even the ups and downs. Again, just for the sake of the statistics guy, let's say I am fairly sure, and when I'm not, I have a pretty good idea where it may be coming from. How I came to know that is through a lot of reading, a lot of diving into my own psyche (no wonder I'm crazy, right?), and going through a lot of shit, excuse my French, which is by the accounts of so many people, A LOT OF SHIT!
So here I am. Ready? GO!
Let us assume that all these bits and pieces that are me are called La Fille En Blue Island. Now, this island has a lot of islands surrounding it, and all those islands including little old La Fille En Blue are connected with bridges. However, these islands are not really islands in the normal sense, they are more like cubes or prisms or any other 3 dimensional shape you like that is NOT a sphere or a cylinder, which means they must have edges. Each bridge is connected to only 1 side of this island. So if I am standing here on my island and I am looking at island A, I see only 1 side (I can't even see that there are edges). This side, to me, is everything about the island. Now, La Fille En Blue engineers are really really bad at building bridges, so the bridges are really really dangerous to cross, however, the citizens of La Fille En Blue are okay sometimes with traveling to other islands (the ones they can only see 1 side of).
When they do, they discover this great catwalk that goes all around the island and they decide to walk it first because the doors to the inside of the island are all booby trapped and it would be too dangerous to try and open any of these doors just yet. When they start walking, they discover the other sides, each one with a totally different image than the one before, and no 2 sides to this shape are identical. So if we assume a citizen of island La Fille En Blue moved to island A, and walked around the corner of the island, they would no longer see what island A really looks like, they would see what island A looks like to island B. They walked around the next corner and they saw another totally different side of island A, and so on. If the brave citizen who travelled across the dangerous bridge and accepted all the sides of island A finally decided to open one of the doors to the inside of the island, risk the traps, and go inside, by this time having the notion that what is on the inside of island A is probably totally different that what is on the outside, but doing it anyway, then this citizen of La Fille En Blue will get hurt and suffer, because the inside is always (almost always for the statistics guy) ugly, and the inside of island A or B or any other island out there is no place for citizens of other islands.

Here we come to the conclusion that the problem is not with me in any way, or my island for that matter, it is in fact with you! I have come to an agreement with the ins and outs of my island, and I am willing to walk the rickety bridges to get to your island. If you believe you can handle mine, then it’s your turn to try.
Finally, I would like to say 2 things:
A. If you have understood the above, then you understand that I am indeed crazy.
B. if you haven't, then only a crazy person would think the way I do, and so I am, indeed, crazy.

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Monday, February 4, 2013

Blaze of Glory– Not Settling

Here’s the thing, I’m not settling!

Political or otherwise, I am NOT settling!

I always keep getting this comment, “you’re young!”

Why, yes, I am, and I don’t intend to have hypertension at 24 or 26 or even at 30. Life is short, I won’t be “young” forever, so why is it are “older” people so willing to give up on all that is better for the sake of whatever is offered, and trying to pass it on as wisdom in the sense of “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” especially if that bird in the hand is a sickly thing that hardly sings and the simply having it makes me give up on the birds in the bushes, or at least makes me too lazy because, after all, I’ve settled for the ugly bird in my hand.

By the way, I’m all for freedom of birds. I just do not understand how we seem to handle the series of disappointments everywhere. In politics, people are settling for a poor excuse of a constitution to avoid too much conflict. They’re agreeing to meetings and negotiations with a terrorist government that kills, humiliates, and mutilates citizens, in addition to violating every law or simple humanitarian rule the world has ever known; from traffic to rapes to mass murders. Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Why avoid conflict instead of transforming it to constructive tangible results that take us to diversity and growth? Why should we submit to the dictatorship of the majority, or even the dictatorship of the minority? WHY?!!! It’s not about giving second chances and time; these things are granted when:

a) an honest intent for change is touched,

b) action is taken in that direction,

c) mistakes are made, and

d) there are attempts to fix them.

Again, it’s not just politics; it’s a way of life. At work, in the current economy and with the scarcity of job opportunities, companies are telling their employees to thank God they have a job in the first place, to take their escalations where the sun doesn’t shine, and that they are welcome to leave if they don’t like the treatment… maltreatment is more like it! Basically, stay miserable and if you don’t settle, then we’d be happy to not pay you. So, with all due respect, I will try to find the job that satisfies me with the environment that makes me feel comfortable; and if I can’t find it outside, I’ll make it inside, even if I have to force it. There is no settling when it comes to the right thing; it has to FEEL right, no matter how hard it is to achieve, or else it is simply not enough.

I don’t think I need to highlight the people that get married and settle for “the ok guy” or the “good girl” because society tells them that there is something wrong with them if they don’t get married at a certain age, and other nonsensical cultural rules. Nor do I need to highlight how parents pressure us to settle for the “safe” roads in life instead of taking the risk of doing what we want or what we’re comfortable with, what makes us content. It’s all the same message: settle for a safe and secure life.

The result of all that is simple: I, you, they, we will settle for what we are not worth, will settle for what is less than the best, will settle for less than OUR best!

Not anymore!

As the great and eminent Bon Jovi says “I’m going down in a blaze of glory”

Bon Jovi - Blaze of Glory

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