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Walking the shore

One of the most pleasurable things my wife and I do while on holiday is walk!

I know, sounds so mundane doesn’t it? But we love it. We walk, we talk we watch people, observe the surroundings, interact with the locals, or just join hands and silently amble. Walking, we’ve discovered, is one of the best ways to know the locality we’re visiting.

These walks last anything from as little as half an hour to hours on end but almost always don’t have a predetermined route. We look around and let our legs carry us to a destination. Yesterday we did just that. We went to downtown Victoria, found a walkway at the harbour and struck off. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the path carried us along the harbour to the Blue Street Bridge from which we observed that the path carries through to the very end of the inner harbour! We estimated the distance to be around 3 kilometers long so it was shaping to be an excellent walk!

My friends, let me say this again, this is a constructed path for the PUBLIC. It snakes its way at the edge of the shore and rocks of the harbour. Very high end apartments, condominiums and town houses are packed on one side of the path – some of which I’m told are worth over a million dollars – and water is on the other. While there, tens of people were walking together, jogging, walking their dogs or simply sitting on one of the many benches or on the rocks talking, laughing, communicating with each other. Frances and I were in heaven! Beautiful location, beautiful people and very beautiful weather.

Coming home, I traced the route on Google Earth:

According to Google Earth, the path we took was 3.23 kilometers long and is marked with the white line with red dots on the map above. We spent a lovely period of 3 or 4 hours walking to the end, and of course walking back. A good afternoon’s exercise of over 6 kilometers. Beautiful.

I can’t help but wonder why we don’t have such a thing in Bahrain? With a country which is a collection of over 30 islands, shouldn’t we at least be able to have a properly prepared and constructed walkway along the shore of those islands for us to enjoy when we can?

Why is it that the only development we get along the shore is those which essentially adversely impact the environment, some irretrievably so? No sooner than one such project falters, another is announced and yet, none offer public access – other than Diyar Al-Muharraq which publicly announced public access walkways and beaches, but that is very much in the future.

A beautiful construction from flotsam installed at the Inner Harbour Walk protesting against a proposed high-class marina development.
The damning things about these developments in Bahrain is that the public are never consulted. No hearings take place. Unlike the situation in Victoria where the public is consulted for just about everything. A developer submitted an application for building a high class marina and development within the inner harbour, that immediately was placed online and placards were posted at the location of the proposed development announcing where the public might get more information and the dates of public hearings. These applications could take a long time. I understand this marina project was tabled in 2000 and it’s still under review with active public opposition, one of whom displayed his objection in a very innovative way near where the marina was proposed, as you could see from the picture on the right.

If there is such a process in Bahrain, I’d like to know about it. Because I couldn’t remember seeing any public consultation notices about any of the mega-developments in Bahrain. I think it’s high time that we get involved in this. We can’t really do any worse than the chaos we have at the moment with everything from road systems through to the hodgepodge we see in Juffair and other places. No regard is given for access, emergency services or public access. Or even simple pavements we can safely walk on when not being used as impromptu car parks!

Let me leave you with some of the pictures I took yesterday for you to get the feeling of what I’m talking about. Call this inspiration, if you would.


A Panorama of Victoria Harbour

Victoria Harbour

A Panorama of Victoria Harbour

Harbour Walk

Protest Art installation at the Harbour Walk

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Victoria Inner Harbour Walk

Harbour Walk

No to Mega Yachts!

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A&W Cruisin’ for a Cause

The A&W Canadian restaurant chain did something wonderful last weekend by launching a fun event for the second year to help the MS Society of Canada by launching an innovative event which invites people to bring their classic cars to their local A&W. A good strategy to generate interest.

A&W also pledged C$1 for every Teen Burger they sold. With that, they raised C$400,000 last year! I expect that they will probably raise more this year. By all accounts and by what I have witnessed myself, the afternoon was a lot of fun with a lot of people turning up to support the cause.

Good work!

We should emulate this idea in our part of town too. Anybody want to help me organise such an event in Bahrain?

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Tattooed people aren’t scary, they’re cool!

Tattooed people aren’t scary, they’re cool!

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Discovering a tattoo convention by chance at the Amsterdam RAI convention centre, I determined to go and have a look, and thank goodness I did!

Tattoos are cool. Tattooed people aren’t scary. They’re just using their own bodies to tell their stories and show their thoughts in a lasting manner for as long as they live.

The artists there were incredible. Some of the traditional methods of tattooing looked quite painful, but the participants were emphatic that the pain – if it exists at all in that experience – is minor and worth the suffering. They wanted “an original” tattooing method to add to their memories.

I spent just a few hours there and I can tell you that I came very close to getting inked!

I didn’t. But had I done so, what do you think I would have had done?

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Amsterdam reflections

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Blackcat

Blackcat, originally uploaded by malyousif.

Home!

After a very hectic but immensely satisfying week, I am back home again. It’s good to be with your family and good to sleep in your own bed again.

In the week we’ve been away, we produced two news reports [1·2] which were aired on the same day they were shot, while another 3 are in progress and shall be released soon based on the footage we acquired during the Power-Gen Europe exhibition and conference at the RAI.

It was a nostalgic trip as well. I’ve been going to the RAI to attend the International Broadcasters Convention for years. I just missed the last 2 years due to my changing the business direction of the company. It was good to be back in Amsterdam. It was different this time too, Apart form going to the city centre on the first and last day of the stay there, we spent all the other time near the RAI. An expected thing really as we started work at around 5.30 am and didn’t finish until about 10pm every single day!

Just by chance, while the exhibition was being set up in the RAI, a smaller hall there was hosting a Tattoo Convention. I didn’t require much encouragement to take some time off and visit! I met some very interesting people there. Some even allowed me to take videos of them being tattooed and others pleasantly posed for my photographs. Unfortunately all I had with me then was my iPhone. I know. Ironic, considering what we were commissioned to do in Amsterdam! I’ll finish and post the video once I get some time. Enjoy the pictures for now though…

I am absolutely proud of my crew. Every single one of them pulled an ace out of their hats and worked well under immense pressure and succeeded to deliver fantastic products which exceeded the client’s expectations.

It’s fantastic working with clients who continuously challenge us and allow us to innovate and push the envelope. We’re looking forward to two more international productions with PennWell Corp; Doha and Singapore are coming up in October and November this year. We can’t wait!

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Wir werden uns wiedersehen, Berlin

As I leave this lovely city and bid adieux to new friends, its time for a reflection.

I came here at the invitation of the German government’s Foreign Office through their embassy in Bahrain. I came rather hesitantly as I had to take ten full days off work at a time where we’re rather busy preparing for an important project. It took some convincing but I’m now very glad that I accepted to participate. Of course this would not have happened without the excellent team running the office, they’ve really stepped up to the mark, which not only made the trip possible, but actually quite pleasant and without worry.

Nevertheless, I felt that 10 days for a conference is far too long. Normally I would attend a 3 day conference and be itching to return home at the end the first day! That feeling was shared by my colleagues here too, but when the time came to wrap up, we all felt glad to have been invited for this period. In 3 days you hardly start forming a relationship, while the 10 days gave us good time to get know each other, explore Berlin and participate in many cultural activities. It gave us the chance to gel together as a group and become good friends.

The program prepared for us was comprehensive, but not overwhelming, it was designed to give us time to enjoy each other’s company while visiting various Berlin venues and cultural events. The program’s structure and contents were outstanding with obviously a lot of thought put into it to make it relevant to us all.

From a naturally skeptical crowd, the tone and quality of the next ten days were set on the first day of business with excellent presentations from some of the luminaries of the field. The first day brought us in contact with the German political blogging scene through Robin Meyer-Lucht, a communication scientist who runs the influential carta.info, a group blog with some 40 contributing writers, 3 editors and one editorial assistant. The editorial staff are fully employed by the site. The site now serves about 60,000 unique users per month and is monetised by using various techniques. It is currently experimenting with both Kashingle and Flattr as new revenue streams and the initial results are encouraging.

Overall, in Robin’s estimate, the German political blogosphere, although still evolving, is driven by passionate bloggers who have become influential in the field. Business enterprises and their supporting services like some PR agencies hoped to ride the blog popularity wave by initiating their own blogs and twitter streams but have been largely discredited as “astroturfers” whose intention is to create content which migrate appear genuine at first, but ultimately shown as either subtle or brash attempts at promoting a product, service or business, something bloggers and general Internet consumers find distasteful if not deceitful.

The German blogosphere is no different from the worldwide phenomenon. It too has its memes, aggregation sites which provide an easier way for consumers to find relevant content quickly and offer an appropriate venue to expose new blogs and of course the obligator rankings, be those generated non officially or through established ranking sites like Technorati.

When it comes to the legal structure of blogging; however, the situation can seem quite daunting to the uninitiated. If not farcical at times, but as those gathered for the seminar are political bloggers with each one of them with experiences running into the law, Jan Mönikes presentation was eagerly awaited, even though some started with the usual skepticism, once Jan got going, his engaging style and relevant information presented soon captured our full attention. I know some have emphatically commented that it was t he most important presentation in the whole program.

The third and forth presentations after lunch were equally interesting. One dealt with the political blogging scene in Germany presented by Jens Berger of http://www.spiegelfechter.de and the other was about the relation between citizen journalism and classical journalism in Germany by Matthias Spielkamp of www.immateriblog.de which generated an intense debate given that his topic is the classic goading cry for bloggers: “relation between citizen journalism and classical journalism in Germany”. He almost got lynched! The end result; however, is that everyone had his own opinion about the subject with no clear resolution being adopted, as expected. It was a lot of fun though!

Saturday and Sunday were tour and food time. We were given a guided tour of Berlin and the Heavens cooperated as well by making the tour authentic. It incessantly rained! That gave me the chance to prove that my Canon 50D is good for use underwater without modification. It still works!

Checkpoint Charlie

To make every meeting opportunity fruitful, the organisers always included relevant and interesting people for us to meet and talk with. On Sunday’s dinner we were joined by Germany’s Managing Director of Reporters Without Borders, Mr. Christian Rickerts, whose experiences he shared together with the various cases his office handles, from championing the freedoms to express oneself through to actively helping defenders, journalists and bloggers who have fallen foul with their governments, and boy those are many. It seemed to me that the whole world has increased the pressure on basic human rights freedoms, or is it because of modern communications that we actually get to hear of them more often now?

Guided Tour of the Stasi Archive

The hairs on my neck stood stiff when I first read that activity in our program. A natural unmitigated revulsion for the idea of state organised spying. That feeling was made even more so when one realizes that the perception of what happened in the GDR, is still being actively pursued by various governments around the world. With the most oppressive now neatly contained in our lovely patch, one doesn’t need much imagination to know what’s being kept on whom, and the natural instinct to continuously look over one’s shoulder is not alien at all.

But Germany did something better with this. After reunification and against concerted efforts to destroy the millions of records, the new government preserved them with the clear intention of transparency and making those records available to their owners. Germans could still individually apply to the BStU Archiv to find out if the Stasi did have them under surveillance and wether the record is available for their viewing. A lot of people apparently took the opportunity to look into their lives from the Stasi’s point of view. That experience brought with it painful discoveries; some of those who gave up information and informed on them were in some cases not only colleagues and friends, but close family members like spouses, siblings and parents.

Archives the Stassi left behind

There are many warehouses full of these records all over Germany. The Berlin bureaus for instance contains some 18 million records. If just the A5-sized index cards were placed side-by-side, it is estimated that the resulting line would extend 5,000 kilometers! Of course those cards led to other confidential cards leading to various folders kept on individuals. Apart from the paper trail, the Stasi also kept film, photographs (over a million in Berlin alone), video, audio and probably some DNA samples all of which were meticulously categorized and cross-referenced.

These centres now offer deep research material of the era where several scholars are investigating. What they will get out of it will probably be very interesting to note. One of the results of these research efforts I should think is to preserve the German consciousness so that this kind of unauthorised state spying will never happen again.

I promise you that the hairs on the back of my neck continued in their erection and the sense of revulsion at such methodical voyeurism by the state never left me while we were at the BStU Archiv. Yes, I know it’s over now and Germany has made huge strides at coming to terms with itself, but the over-riding feeling I had then was, if the Stasi did that then, what the hell are our governments doing now, given the plethora of technological devices available at their fingertips now?

The visit to the BStU Archiv convinced me more than ever that legislation must be inculcated which protect against such intrusions. People have a right to their privacy. People have a right to expect and demand transparency from their governments. People have a right to access information. But unfortunately what our parliament here seem to be more content with is the reversal of all of these universal rights.

Does anyone know what’s happened to that legislation that Andrew Hearn wanted to pass through to demand high-court approval before the State Security here spies on people’s communications?

A visit to the source of the news

The afternoon was more pleasant and much closer to our cups of tea I think. After a nice lunch, we visited DPA, the German Press Agency (Deutsche Presse Agentur) and were received by its editor-in-chief and managing director Mr. Christoph Dernbach. Christoph gave us a short presentation about the history of the DPA then opened the floor for questions and answers. Needless to say, we all had many questions. Herr Dernbach was very accommodating and not only answered them comprehensively, but also gave us a tour of his newsrooms. That afternoon was very interesting for me personally and opened my eyes on the mechanics of such organisations.

We also saw how progressive the DPA is. I guess it being independent gives it the opportunity to chart its own paths, and one of those is to provide 300 of its journalists with 300 small video cameras in order for them to produce video content for their subscribers websites! The cameras they received were the small Sony Xacti CG10s. Journalists are of course trained on how to use them in the field, top and tail the material shot if need be then simply upload the raw footage directly to their bureaus in Germany for craft editing. Once the editing is completed, video packages are then released on appropriate websites and sold on to clients.

It’s good to see that “old style journalists” are cajoled into new technologies. They seem to be quite fine with the idea too. I guess to a professional journalist, a video is yet another tool in his quiver and if he can tell a story with the pen, he most certainly will be able to tell it through video as well.

Other than the DPA, we also visited Deutsche Welle TV station and given a guided tour of the facility culminating in a presentation and discussion led by Gabriel Gonzalez, the Project manager of the Deutsche Welle Blog Awards “BOB’s” regarding the awards, which some found controversial.

Deutsche Welle TV BOBs Awards presentation

On another day, we also visited Der Tagesspiegel offices and took a valuable hour of their online chief editor’s time in which we discussed their online strategies and their continuous efforts of integration between print and online. Their overall strategic direction, wisely I think, is to completely remove any distinction between those two worlds and gradually motivate their journalists to be fully conversant with the online world so that they can contribute to either medium whenever required.

Der Tagesspiegel Newspaper Offices

Der Tagesspiegel, like the DPA, also provided their journalists with video cameras to file video reports in the field. In fact, on the same day we visited, they had a journalist abroad who was trying (unsuccessfully at the time, a condition which I hope is resolved by now) to upload video content to their office for editing and processing.

Meeting with the officials

As we were in Berlin at the invitation of their Federal Foreign Office, it was only expected that we would spend some time meeting with their officials, and that we did on several occasions.

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Our first visit to the Federal Foreign Office coincided with a Palestinian delegation visit, I am told that Mahmoud Abbas was there that day, so they were a bit careful in corralling us through the complex to get to our meeting destination. However I did glimpse a press conference in progress on our way out. I didn’t; however, was able to discern who was in it and what it was about.

Motorcade for the Palestinian Delegation

The first Federal Foreign Officer to meet us was Herr Eberhard Pohl, the Deputy Political Director of the Federal Foreign Office who briefed us on their politics a bit, but none of us felt other than his interjections were classic politicospeek. Saying much but stating nothing! Or, as my fiend Milos said in his blog about the occasion:

Welcoming the bloggers by the German Foreign Ministry: “It’s tremendously exciting to meet you. I must say that I don’t often meet bloggers. I even looked up Rasmussen blog last night to see what this blogging thing is!”

Likely translation: “You are the bloggers? Really wish I knew who it arranges these meetings. What are you really? Yeah and I wonder if today we will have eintopf or gulášovka in the cafeteria?”

liberal paraphrasing and help from Mr. Google as my Czech is still not perfect!

For the first time, the Federal Foreign Office has invited a group of 15 internet bloggers from all over the world to Germany. They come from Russia and China, African and Central Asian countries, the Arab region, Latin America and Europe.
Today the flow of information and public debate increasingly take place outside the traditional media. In many parts of the globe this also happens as a consequence of local conditions that impede the work of a free press. Here bloggers take over an important function and confront authoritarian regimes with particular challenges. However, even in countries where press freedom is guaranteed, bloggers enrich the media landscape with their particular take on things.
German Foreign Office blog

I’m glad to say that the other two gentlemen we met at the foreign office were more interesting and most engaging. Herr Markus Löning, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office was demonstrably very passionate about his job, very well travelled and knows his stuff. Although he has taken up this task very recently, he was very aware of our areas, especially the happenings in the former Soviet republics around the Caspian Sea. Not only that, he knew exactly who was imprisoned where and for what! Upon hearing of the death sentence delivered in Singapore against Yong Vui Kong for drug trafficking, he immediately offered to send a letter to the Singaporean president to ask for clemency and to register Germany’s stance against the death penalty. He listened with attention to other bloggers feedback on the human rights situations in their countries and promised to take up various issues at the first opportunity he has when meeting respective countries’ representatives.

The other gentlemen from the Foreign Office we met and have had the pleasure of having lunch with at the Foreign Office International Club was Deputy Minister Herr Michael Zenner, Commissioner for Communication of the Federal Foreign Office, who is also the person directly responsible for inviting us to Berlin. We had a wonderful lunch with him as he was interested in everyone’s story and chatted about his experience with the web and his department’s efforts at modernising the communications structure for the better.

Berlin Blogger Tour 2010 Group Picture

Conclusions

The last day of the tour was interesting. The organisers invited Claus Hesseling to talk to us. Claus is a journalist, lecturer for multi-media and online journalism at inwent and at the Technical University of Berlin.

Final Presentation

Claus split us into teams and got us to do presentations about topics related to the last 10 days’ experience and conclusions which were all very similar more or less. Our team presentation was about the effects of blogs on traditional media and the challenges they face. The presentation is available here should you wish to view the bullet points, but we concluded that generally the German media websites have some growth potential as they are not as advanced as those available in the UK and the States. Examples were given for comparison like The Guardian in the UK and the Washington Post in the States.

We also concluded that the media laws in Germany are obtuse, even though Article 5 of their constitution was – to our mind – quite unambiguous.

Every single one of us enjoyed the trip. What we all agreed on is that we have formed good relationships both with each other and the excellent organisers, specifically Lucien Koch, Lisa Moldenhauer and Deniz Ulusoylu.

We agreed that this initiative must continue as each one of us has a lot to offer and there is excellent potential for us to cooperate. Therefore, we decided to start a group blog which will be dedicated to those invited in this initiative and each of us will frequently post relevant articles. The details of this project are still in discussion, and I shall be happy to share the outcome of these discussions with you once they are concluded.

So even though we started this trip with a lot of skepticism, we end it now with a solid outreach program through which we hope to contribute to world understanding.

On behalf of my colleagues, I wish to thank the German Embassies in the participant’s countries and His Excellency Dr. Hubert Lang, the German Ambassador to Bahrain, the German Foreign Office and Kaiser Communications for making this program happen. They all made this trip unique and completely useful.

We’re so looking forward to doing this again soon and to keep up the momentum gained through the last 10 days. It has been a real pleasure indeed.

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Overflowing emotions. Blame Fidelio

Overflowing emotions. Blame Fidelio

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It’s taken me exactly 9 days to fall in love with Berlin. And when you consider that I was only there for 10 days, that was cutting it pretty fine.

The reason?

This was the reason:

These are two scenes of the excellently executed Beethoven’s Fidelio opera. As you can probably tell, it has been produced with a completely modern twist to it; unlike “traditional” operas where the performers wear period pieces and the whole ambiance is of a bygone age, the Komische Oper Berlin Fidelio’s production has had some modern elements inserted in it from props to method to I suspect the way its treated.

It was doubly more pleasurable for both my friend Tolkun Umaraliev and I as our seats were front and middle. On the first row. I swear that sometimes we could both feel the music and the voices reverberating in our chests, especially when the stage filled with over 100 singers some of whom came down from the stage and performed right in front of us, about a foot or so away!

And although the opera is in German, we could follow the dialogue quite well, no, not because we suddenly became fluent in German, but the opera seats had small LED screens built into them where the subtitles are displayed in synch with the voices! What a brilliant invention! I must confess that although I peeked at the translation once in a while, it wasn’t really necessary as you can follow the excellently expressive performances and get the gist of the story quite readily.

It was a very emotional experience for both of us. It was fantastic, easily one of the most memorable moments of my life and one that I would love to share with my wife. Gives me an excuse for another lightening quick trip out of Bahrain, and soon!

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Lessons in Citizenship

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School children listening to the Speaker of the German Government

Yesterday was a full day with us starting with a visit to Der Tagesspiegel and chatting with its editor responsible for both online and print media and then to the Bundespressekonferenz to listen to about a dozen ministerial spokespersons, who each in turn presented the latest news from their ministry and fielded questions from the audience.

As special guests at the Bundespressekonferenz, we were also joined by a class of young German students. Both our groups were invited to stay after the official part of the conference was done, and then listened to and questioned the government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm.

The Bundespressekonferenz is an NGO created by journalists just after the 2nd World War. Its members are invited to listen to the government programs presented by the invited government representatives and are given the opportunity to ask questions during these fixed meetings which occur every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Guests are permitted but are not allowed to ask questions. It’s held in a building directly opposite the parliament.

What impressed me most about this event is not only the presence of German youth, but the special attention given to them – they were especially welcomed by the chairman of the session and recognised – but also the time the government official took to address them, talk to them about the current issues discussed at that session and answered their questions.

This, to my mind, served two very important purposes: [1] it demonstrated the transparency of the government, and most importantly [2] without having the youth waving German flags and carrying pictures of their PM, they were given a very subtle and much more effective lesson in citizenship; one that will be deeply ingrained and doesn’t require overt and most of the time excessive demonstration of forced loyalty to ones country.

I’m starting to love Germany…

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Postcards from Berlin – 1

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Berlin’s way of remembering the past to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself while honoring those who made sacrifices in the country’s turbulent history.

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Visiting the Rotary Club of Berlin Humboldt

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I had the pleasure of visiting the Rotary Club of Berlin Humboldt on Monday evening at the Berlin International Club and in Rotary tradition, I’ve exchanged flags with the sitting president Prof. Dr. Dieter Stassen.

I took the opportunity to introduce our club, the Rotary Club of Adliya and some of our projects in service or our community.

It was an excellent evening with good Rotarians.

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