Monday, February 15, 2010

Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture

Zoeller 507-0005 Basement Sentry Battery Backup Pump SystemIstanbul has been designated as a "2010 European Capital of Culture" by the European Union. There are a lot of cultural things to see and do in Istanbul, but you would be hard pressed to find them from the official web site. Most useful is the calendar of events. See also my Istanbul by Public Transport.

There are two official documents. Unfortunately, while these must be magnificent in printed format, with high quality photos of the city, they are too large and cumbersome when translated into PDF documents. It is a shame some of this effort was not put into making a more usable web site. The official web home page had 255 HTML Validation errors and is not mobile friendly.

One document is the "Istanbul 2010 2010 European Capital of Culture Program". This is 137 pages of PDF (15 Mbytes):
Hayati Yazıcı / 6
Hüsamettin Kavi / 7
Sekib Avdagiç / 8
Yılmaz Kurt / 9
Pécs / 16
Ruhr / 18
Vısual Arts / 22
Musıc / 40
Theatre and Performıng Arts / 62
Fılm Documentary Anımatıon / 76
Tradıtıonal Arts / 84
Internatıonal Relatıons / 92
Urban Culture / 108
Educatıon / 120
Lıterature / 126
Cultural Herıtage and Museums / 136
Urban Implementatıons / 150
Urban Projects / 166
Marıtıme / 184
Corporate Relatıons / 190
Promotıon / 198
Parallel Actıvıtıes Supported by Istanbul 2010 / 210
The second publication is the Istanbul 2010 Magazine (49 pages, 14 Mbytes of PDF):
10 Cultural and art events calendar
14 Private museums
20 Interview HAYAT‹ YAZICI, Minister of State:
“2010 is the year in which change begins”

28 Yenikap›: Istanbul 8,500 years ago
Discovering the future in the trails of the past
Tsunami and pickle effect
36 An ArcheoPark in Küçükyal›
40 Sur-i Sultani will be protected
The Story of the Strategic Plan for Sur-i Sultani
44 First city museum to be founded on the Islands
46 Interview ‹LBER ORTAYLI, President of Topkap› Palace Museum “2,000 Years of Common Heritage”

50 Interview
"Istanbul will be a stage for arts and life to act upon"
54 Interview PAUL MCMILLEN and HAKKI MISIRLIO⁄LU, creative directors of Istanbul 2010 ECOC Agency's domestic and international promotional campaings
60 Literature
40 books, 40 authors, 40 districts: “‹stanbulum”
64 Art is Everywhere!

Works and Lives in Istanbul
Portable Arts
Photography Parade
Kad›rga Art Production Centre
70 Cinema
1001 Istanbuls in My Binocular
Cinema Lies as the Heart of Istanbul
At›f Y›lmaz Studio
74 European Culture Award goes to “41º-29º ‹stanbul Network”
75 Istanbul’s Century-Long Transformation: 1910-2010 exhibition
76 Istanbul on the stage!
First Istanbul International Opera Festival
Seond Istanbul International Ballet Competition
Dance, theatre, music: Barbarossa
80 Classical Turkish Music is being archived
82 Inspired
84 Symbols of the City
90 Books and CDs on Istanbul
92 Leaving trails behind
EU Culture Capital is a well deserved honour, but curious as:
  1. There are three such capitals for 2010: the other two are Essen in Germany and Pécs in Hungary
  2. Istanbul is not a member of the EU
  3. Only half of Istanbul is geographically in Europe, the other half is in Asia.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Islamic Science and Technology Museum

Islamic Science and Technology MuseumThe Islamic Science and Technology Museum gets a mention in "Fathers of Invention: What the Muslims Gave the Scientific World" by Jennifer Hattam (Wired magazine, of June 2009). The museum celebrates scientific and technological discoveries from Islamic scholars and makes the point Islam is not anti-science. Examples from the ancient world include the Alembic, for the distillation of liquids and the Astrolabe, a mechanical calculator for navigation. I was fortunate enough to visit the museum in Istanbul shortly after it opened, in May 2008. It is well worth a visit.

Also there is the Timeline of science and engineering in the Islamic world in Wikipedia. I added the museum to the timeline and in the entry for Gülhane Park, where it is located.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Science in Islam Hapmered by Poor PR

The Collins Class Submarine StoryScience and Islam: A History by Ehsan Masood (Icon Books Ltd , 2009) gets a good review in New Scientist ("Time to acknowledge science's debt to Islam?, Jo Marchant 25 February 2009). Both the book and the reviewer look for explanations for science not being as prominent in the Islamic world. However, I doubt this is a real phenomenon and may be just bad marketing on the part of science. As an example I visited the Museum of Technology and Islam the day after it opened in Istanbul. By now I assumed I would easily find details of the museum and its fascinating exhibits on the web. But the museum seems to be hard to find and Masood's book has no mention of the Museum.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Turkish undersea railway earthquake warning system

According to International Railway Gazette, the control centre for the new Marmaray rail tunnel linking the European and Asian part of Istanbul will receive earthquake information from the Kandilli Early Warning System. The railway runs under the Bosphorus in a very earthquake prone region. The trains will be automatically stopped by the control centre when an earthquake warning is received. The tunnel is equipped with flexible joints and flood gates to protect against earthquakes. Last year I visited the Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute, at Bogazici University who run the earthquake warning system for Turkey and looked at their warning system and discussed how to use new technology to get emergency information out quickly. The Institute provides a very valuable service.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

International Emergency Management Society 2009 Conference

The International Emergency Management Society 2009 Conference is being held in Istanbul, Turkey 9 to 11 June 2009. This is an appropriate location, given Turkey's experience in emergency management. Last year I visited the Kandilli Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute, to talk about Wireless Internet for Emergencies for use in Tsunami warning. If visiting Istanbul, also take some time to see the city.

Unfortunately, the conference web site has not been optimised for fast download or easy viewing, the web designers need to apply the lessons of emergency web design to their own site. The web site has an animated flash header, which takes a long time to load and then distracts the viewer from the content. The main menu items scroll partly off the screen when selected.

The conference call for papers, at 3.8 Mbytes of PDF for a 2 page phamplet is excessively large. The document appears to have been provided as an image with no text, so that in addition to being a large file, taking a long time to download, it cannot be copied, indexed, searched or translated by web software. But then the call for papers is now closed.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Istanbul Kadiköy to Kartal Metro

International Railway Journal's October edition features "Building Istanbul’s Kadiköy - Kartal Metro" as an online supplement. In May I saw the work under way from the window of the Thessaloniki to Istanbul Train. At the time I assumed this was some of the work for the Marmary Rail Tunnel, but it is work to link up other parts of Istanbul's public transport.

The IRJ's articale is also interesting for the way it is provided as an online suppliment to the print jounal. The article is listed in the table of contents of the print edition, with a note saying "online edition". Presiumbly this is desinged to encourage people to read the online version. The online version is provided using Nxtbook Media, with Adobe Flash. This provides a facsimilie of the print edition, which is hard to use compared to ordinary web pages and which takes a long time to load on a slow Internet connection.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Sultan Hostel Istanbul

The Sultan Hostel, Istanbul, is a classic hostel, from the rooftop garden overlooking the Sea of Marmaris (and the Blue Mosque), to the dubious plumbing. The best part of the hotel were the very helpful staff, with useful tips, such bas taking the metro to the airport, not the slow tourist bus.

The street cafe is a great place to meet other travelers (you will not meet a local unless they are trying to sell you a carpet or a trip to Anzac Cove). The rooftop cafe is blissful in the twilight. The free cybercafe is hectic. The rooms are cramped, but usable. The bathrooms are improved after a recentl renovation, but not without problems: some helpful person had straightened out the flexible drain under the handbasin, which removed the trap and allowed smells to come up the pipe.

According to the Lonely Planet guide, some rooms have excellent views of the sea. I didn;t see one of those. One room had a view of a brick wall, while another had a much more pleasant view of the internal courtyard behind the busy street. More of an issue than the view is the noise from the rooftop cafe and adjacent ones at night. The top floor rooms are just under the cafe and very noisy. The best solution to this is, of course, to join the party. ;-)

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Tria Hotel Istanbul

The Sultan Hostel was full, so the manager put us up around the corner at the Tria Hotel for our return visit to Istanbul. As the Lonely Planet guide says, this is a new, well appointed hotel, with objets d'art. The staff are very good, the new lift works, it is very clean and most importantly smoking is banned.

But the hotel is not without problems. The room was around the back, on the top floor, just under the rooftop cafe of the Sultan Hostel opposite. On the night Turkey was playing soccer, it was very noisy. Also the on-suite toilet was blocked and the elelctronic switch kept turning the lights off every few seconds (wiggle the switch and it worked for half an hour and then turn the lights off).

You might as well have a room for about half the price at the Sultan, with lower quality fittings, but which work (mostly) and share in the fun on the street front and roof top cafes.

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The Bridge: A Journey Between Orient and Occident

Cover of The Bridge: A Journey Between Orient and Occident by Geert MakGeert Mak has written the book "The Bridge: A Journey Between Orient and Occident" about the Galata Bridge in Instanbul. I crossed the bridge a few weeks ago. It is not a great bridge, in terms of engineering or architecture. What Mak concentrates on is the culture of the parts of the city connected. One aspect of the bridge is that it is lined with food stores underneath and people catching fish on top. The new Istanbul tram crosses the bridge and ferries to Asia cross underneath.

The book was featured on the ABC Radio:

A bridge between orient and occident - Geert Mak

Dutch writer, journalist and historian Geert Mak has written several books exploring particular places, including Amsterdam and Jorwerd: The death of The Village in Late Twentieth Century Europe. His latest book is called The Bridge and in it he focuses on one bridge in the city of Istanbul and the people who cross it, who work on it and who are drawn to it.

From: The Books Show, Radio National ABC, 26 June 2008

See also: Travel books about Istanbul.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Islam Science Museum

Look out for the mural on the wall of the Islam Science Museum about the history of flight on one of the walls of the museum: it starts with an ancient figure with cloth wings strapped to their arms and works it way through the centuries to a F35 stealth fighter, just glimpsed disappearing off the other end of the mural. If it seems fanciful to include an F35 in a mural about Islam, keep in mind that Turkey is a member of NATO and has advanced military aircraft.

One of the best exhibits of the museum for me were the Astrolabes, which were the notebook computers of the ancient world, used for calculating the position of the planets. Like a notebook PC, these were expensive and intricately made devices.

Some of the mundane aspects of the museum could be improved. As an example the toilet doors have difficult to operate fragile looking locks which should be replaced before they break. The liquid soap dispensers could be moved 100 mm closer to the mirrors, so they drip soap into the hand basin, not onto the bench.

The museum could do with a gift shop/cafe, ideally near the entrance/exit. The globe of the ancient world which features outside the museum would make a good logo for the organisation and in miniature would make a good souvenir to sell in the gift shop.

The door to the museum is difficult to find and some banners would be useful. This might be combined with some umbrellas and a kiosk.

There are stone towers of the original building used as stairways at regular intervals. These are dark and would benefit from a skylight or light tube directing natural light into the building (suitably filtered to protect the exhibits).

The multimedia content showed on screens in the museum are excellent. This might be combined with the text information to provide an online resource for schools. To save on the cost of maintaining this information, the same content as used in the museum could be used online.

An online catalog would also benefit visitors who have difficulty reading the signs in the museum, due to eyesight or language difficulties. They could have the text displayed on a hand held device, translated into their language or read out to them through a headset. This is commonly done in large museums, but at great expense with the special guide material needing to be prepared and provided on specially rented electronic devices. Instead the museum could simply make the same catalog content for people to use on their own devices.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Istanbul by Ferry, Funicular and Antique Tram

Istanbul is a treat for the light rail enthusiast. As well as the modern metro and light rail transit system, there are two antique tourist trams and two funicular railways (cable drawn train up a steep hill). You can take the metro from the airport into the city and then change to the LRT to go over the Gatata Bridge to Kabatas. You then change to the funicular up to Taksim Square. One disappointment is that the funicular is entirely underground.

European Shore Funiculars

You then walk across the square to the antique tram stop for a ride part way down the hill to Tunel. In contrast to the very modern and spacious funicular, the tram is a little rattler, with the driver having to continuously ring the bell to get pedestrians, cars and scooters out of the way as it runs down the street.

At Tunel there is what looks like a bank with the glass missing from the windows, which is the entrance to the second funicular back down the hill to Karakoy. This also is underground and was recently refurbished. You can then get back on the LRT, or walk back across the Gatata Bridge, looking at the hundreds of keen anglers catching what look like sardines.

Asian Shore Tram

There is another antique tram of the Asian side of Istanbul. Take a ferry to Karakoy, then walk up the main street to the bus interchange in Karakoy Square. The tram does a loop up the hill to the trendy suburb of Moda and then back in a loop down and along the waterfront.

The metro, LRT, funiculaie,trams and ferries all use the same ticketing system, with tokens or the electronic Akbil. It is curious to get on an antique tram and press the smart chip Akbil device into the electronic reader, squeze past the driver on the tiny wooden platform and then see him turn a large worn brass handle to put the tram in motion.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Getting Past the Carpet Sellers

One confronting aspect of the tourist part of Istanbul are the carpet sellers. The Istanbul Lonely Planet City Guide warned me, but I was still not ready for the reality of being stopped every few metres and offered carpets, souvenirs, shoe shine, food and tours. The sellers have a carefully developed technique of getting your attention, engaging you in conversation and then getting you into a situation where you feel you must buy something. After the first few hours of this I was ready to get back on the aircraft and never visit Turkey again. But after a day or so I got more used to to brushing off the requests, with a polite "no thank you", or six. Perhaps after a few more days I would have got to the point where I could simply ignore them and say nothing.

However much you may have been warned it is difficult to not react naturally to what appears a genuine, friendly and helpful greeting. This is a face to face version of the scams conducted on the Internet, which play on human reactions. A little like the ELIZA program which mimics human intelligence with a few stock phrases. The sales people have a set of stock phrases ready to respond to key phrases from the tourist. This includes standard responses if the person fails to react. After a while you can predict the exact response you will receive to any think you say.

If you are someone who can't help but stop to help a stray kitten, then it might be best to have a paid guide to protect you from carpet sellers of Istanbul, or go as part of a tour. Alternatively avoid the major tourist areas completely and visit the less traveled areas. In the markets where the locals shop you are unlikely to be bothered.

In a way the carpet sellers are just an extreme version of all sales techniques. The seller attempts to form a relationship with the potential customer. From the skeptics point of view this is just a way to make a sale. But a sales professional would say this is about ensuring the customer obtains satisfaction, which involves a personal interaction, not just an exchange of material goods. Web based e-commerce does essentially the same thing.

Systems such as find out about the customer either directly via an online survey, or by observing the user's interactions. The system then sends helpful information to the customer. If they do not hear from the customer for a wile, systems, such as, will send some product suggestions, based on the user's previous behavior. This is much like the carpet seller.

ps: After escaping the carpet sellers of Istanbul, my telephone rang. It was Tim Hopcraft from Logic Australia Pty Ltd. to say he had some new samples of some samples of interlocking flooring I asked him about for a flexible learning centre to ANU might be building. The new flooring has space to run computer cables underneath and a carpet square attached to its surface. Afterwards I realized that makes him a carpet salesman and so I had not escaped at all. ;-)

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Architecture of Istanbul

The Istanbul Lonely Planet City Guide told me to prepare to be stunned by Aya Sofia, but it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. Like St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, it is a vulgar display of wealth for a religion which supposedly values humility. What is remarkable is that such a building has survived this long, but in a sense it hasn't. The original dome fell down in an earthquake after 30 years and was replaced. The building is still being repaired today, with descendents of the stonemasons who build the place no doubt thanking the vanity of the commissioner's of the building and the folly of the architect for more than a thousand years of repair work.

It was good to be able to freely walk around such a famous and ancient building, but I worried if the visitors had a little too much access and would be wearing out the floor, as well as damaging other artifacts. There were signs that the building is carefully monitored, with corner reflector stickers on the columns, so a laser can accurately measure any movement. It is a shame that the repair work on the building is hidden away as I found it the most interesting part. There were also some glimpses out onto the roof, covered with plants and small trees.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) was a little more to my tastes. This is still a working place of worship. I was worried all the tourists would intrude, but there is a well regulated system to keep them out of the way of the worshipers. The unadorned grey stone was more aesthetically pleasing than Aya Sofia's gold mosaics. The mosque is one big carpeted room, with one may pushing a very old upright vacuum cleaner from one end to the other, in what must be a full time job. It was disappointing to see the tourists who had been politely asked to wear head scarves removing them as soon as they got in the door. On the way out I made a donation (entry is free) and was surprised to get a receipt and a small book of translations from the Koran.

Outside the Blue Mosque, between it and Aya Sofia are a set of wooden covered concrete benches. Each evening at 9pm there is a free sound and light show about the building of the mosque. The commentary is in a different language each evening: French, German, Turkish and English. The light show is a bit dull (they need to invest in some lasers) and the sound track is a bit scratchy, but it is worth sitting there in the twilight.

While the Church and Mosque are Istanbul's big tourist attractions, I found the modest secular buildings more interesting. The Basilica Cistern, Grand Bazaar and many lesser buildings share the same design as these grand buildings: a shallow brick dome, supported by columns, but only a few meters across. To make a larger building the basic unit is repeated on a grid pattern, making a building of any size, with a roof of hundreds of dozens.

Basilica Cistern

In the bazaar, the columns are brick, in the cistern they are recycled stone ones from demolished buildings. The cistern is a disused part of the water supply being an enormous underground rectangular water tank, long forgotten under a city square. It is entered from what looks like a public toilet, but leads down into the large cool, dim space. This is a good place to escape the heat, noise and carpet sellers of the streets above.

The floor of the cistern has a few cm of water over it, with fish swimming around. There are elevated walkways between the columns for the visitors. Colored lights have been installed to accentuate some rows of columns giving interesting reflections in the water. There is water continually dripping from the ceiling. Over the walkways there have been plastic sheets attached between the columns to keep the visitors dry. These are formed into tent like structures matching the dome of the roof and fit in with the architecture.

One section of the floor has been drained so that two Medusa statutes in the base of two of the columns can be seen. There is a cafe near the exit, which appears to have a stage for musical performances built out over the water. The drinks are expensive, but it is worth it to be able to sit in this amazing space.

Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar appears the prototype for the world's shopping malls. There is a grid pattern of arcades with shops on either side. Commodities are grouped in different areas (gold, leather and so on). The building is a simple square module repeated, adjusting for the sloping ground. It is worth looking up at the roof, to see how it changes in the different bazaars.

Around the Grand Bazaar are others for spice, clothes, even electrical goods and hardware. As you get away from the tourist areas, there are the shops which the locals buy things in, including shops servicing the traders, selling plastic disposable containers and ones making the gillers that fast food is cooked on. These stores lead out onto the waterfront, where there is the suburban bus station.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Istanbul Public Transport

Not so modern as Dubai, but still quite functional, Istanbul's Atatürk International Airport has a few surprises. Visitors from Australia require a visa, but this consists of more of a entry charge than any sort of security check: just pay your 15 euros and you get a sticker in your passport.

There is a very fast and efficient rapid transit system (Istanbul LRT) in the basement of the airport. But to find it you have to go out the building and down a not well marked escalator. Most of the tourists did not seem to notice and got straight in a taxi or shuttle bus. I only found the LRT using the Istanbul Lonely Planet City Guide.

Unlike KL and Sydney, the LRT is part of the regular city transport system, so there is just the same flat fee (less than $2) for a trip to the city center. You can use the same electronic ticketing system (Akbil) as for the rest of the city's trams, trains, buses, ferries and even two Funicular railways. But to get an Akbil device you have to go to one of the main transport hubs, which the airport is not.

The Akbil system is what Sydney should have installed instead of their failed smart card ticket system. The key to the success of the Istanbul system is the standard flat fee for different modes of transport. You press the Akbil device (a contact smart chip in a small metal can, on a key fob or credit card) into the reader at the turn style to board the train, tram, bus or ferry. There is no need to scan it again at the other end of the trip, the same fee applies to the end of the line. In practice you pay several fees for a typical journey: one when getting on the LRT, train then another transferring to the tram, then the ferry and perhaps a bus at the other end.

Like KL, the Istanbul public transport system is overloaded at peak hours. You have to swim though the bodies to get out of the very modern trams at peak hour. There are some very old trains with rust holes in the doors (but very tidy and comfortable otherwise). The ferries are comfortable and the LRT very up to date.

Perhaps the low-floor Bombardier Flexity Swift trams could be improved by doubling their length. Currently two, two car, vehicles are used coupled (the tram stops are designed for this). As a result there are two unused driving cabs in the center of the four car unit. If the driving cabs were eliminated, about an extra twenty passengers could be accommodated. This would also be cheaper, as the driving cabs with their complex electronics cost much more than passenger seating. One pantograph could also be eliminated.

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