A favour for Taner Kiliç

If you do nothing else this weekend, do this. Take action to free Taer Kiliç from a Turkish cell. You can do so here. I don’t care if you’re a friend, acquaintance, or just someone whose stumbled by this blog. It doesn’t cost you anything, and you’ll have a feeling of having done something positive afterwards.

Here’s why

Taner is the Chair of Turkish Section of Amnesty International. He was detained in the early hours of 6 June 2017, along with 22 others, on suspicion of involvement with what the authorities are calling a “terrorist organisation”, Fethullah Gülen. Shortly afterwards, he was charged with membership of the organisation and remanded in pre-trial detention.

Fethullah Gülen is a political organisation with very different views than Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Those views maybe contrary, but they are definitely not extreme. There’s no evidence that it has been involved in any terrorist activity.

What’s more the evidence that Taner Kiliç was a member of Fethullah Gülen is flimsy at best. The only claim that supposedly links Taner to the Gülen movement is that Bylock (a secure mobile messaging application that the authorities say was used by members of the group) was discovered on his phone in August 2014. He denies having downloaded it.

Didn’t I hear he’d been released?

Well yes. On 31 January a court in Istanbul ruled that Taner should be released on bail. However in an unprecedented move by the judiciary, the prosecutor appealed the decision. The end result was another court ordered him to be detained once more. So with his wife and family waiting to greet him outside prison, he was taken again to a nearby police station pending the appeal outcome.

Amnesty International’s UK Section Director Kate Allen said:

“The decision to rearrest my colleague Taner is a complete disgrace.”

“The court yesterday released him on bail because there was no evidence produced against him. Yet his rearrest raises more questions for the Turkish authorities to answer.”

“It is not Taner that is on trial, it is the Turkish justice system.”

“We will stand alongside Taner and his family, and we will continue our work until this travesty is brought to an end.”

It’s personal

Taner Kiliç is a lawyer and human rights defender whose brave work threatens Turkey’s oppressive regime. He is being targeted because of his work as Chair of Amnesty International Turkey.

I am a former Board member of the Amnesty International UK Section, and at one time considered standing for the position of Chair. Although I never applied for the role, I am well aware of what it takes to fulfill such a position. I deeply respect the work of human rights organisations like Amnesty International, and completely understand how easy it would be to undermine their work by doing something like the Turkish authorities suggest.

The post of AI UK Chair is a fortunate position. The holder doesn’t live in a country where the fear of ISIS or a Kurdish independent state results in an oppressive judicial system carrying  out the will from on high. They can go about their role without fear of arrest. In all my years of campaigning, the worst I’ve had is being filmed from inside the occasional embassy.

Take action……..now!

So please, do it! We can win this battle and get Taner back where he belongs; back with his family and protecting the rights of those who need them.



Activism British Style

As a long time activist for Amnesty International, I’m no stranger to attending public events designed to draw attention to human rights. Whether it’s campaigning for a Turkish journalist imprisoned for writing an article critical of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, or campaigning for Argentinian women to be given the right to sexual and reproductive healthcare, I’ve done it all.

Last week I took to the streets of London in a march targeting the US President Donald Trump. Unlike some there, I didn’t want to see the visit postponed. Like it or not, he is the democratically elected leader of the USA. He has the right to come here, but so have I to demonstrate against everything he represents.

Some say activists are a special breed. We spend hours, days, months, and even years campaigning on something. It can be a frustrating exercise when there doesn’t seem to be any success in sight. That’s why a sense of humour and a thick skin helps.

These qualities were very much in evidence in the anti-Trump march, but with a British twist. The British sense of humour is often understated, cutting, and anarchic; often all at the same time. Take these as an example:

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The Online Chameleon shows his real colours

I write this the morning after Croatia’s win over England in last night’s World Cup semi final. I’m also, as if you need reminding, Irish. So I can write about the game with a degree of detachment, despite having lived in England since three years of age.

Well to a degree. There is no doubt where my loyalty lies when Ireland play England in any sport. Just in the same way most British born Indians want India to beat England in a cricket test, I want to see Ireland trounce England in the Six Nations.

This World Cup is different. For a start, Ireland didn’t qualify. If they had, I’d feel different. Until England progressed and Ireland were knocked out that is. I’m Irish first and foremost, but can support the team that represents where I live, has provided me with a living, and where my family live.

Having a split nationality has it’s advantages. I don’t get hyper at the slightest chance of success. The euphoria ever since England’s 6-1 demolition of Panama, the England media has scented World Cup success. The fans loved this, and happily sang The Lightening Seeds unofficial England anthem. “It’s coming home. It’s coming home. It’s coming. Football’s coming home.” It was everywhere.

My response to such hyperbole was, “Yes, but where to?”

Don’t get me wrong. I wanted England to succeed. It would have been great for this team of inexperience youngsters, and the manager Gareth Southgate. It is just that I could clearly the problems the England team had compared to others. Even the rather laboured win against Tunisia in England’s first game perfectly demonstrated the issues.

We (sorry England!) have talented players. In Harry Kane they’ve a world class striker. In players like Jordan Pickford, Harry Maguire and Kieran Trippier, they have young players that have yet to reach their full potential. That’s a scary proposition for the European Championships in 2020.

Our (there I go again) problems are also the youth and inexperience. On occasions the didn’t manage a game as well as they should. Certain players, should I mention Raheem Sterling, didn’t pass when there were better placed players. Small margins maybe, but these win you games at the top level.

This morning I can go into work with my head held high. My team didn’t lose last night. The same can be said of all England fans. Yes they may have lost a World Cup semi final, but the overall winner was the pride the country showed in their team. The last few weeks have united the country in a way not seen for many a year, and long may that continue.

10 July 2002: In the Wider Interest of Football

In the wider scheme of things, the 10th July 2002 won’t go down as a major historical date. In fact the only significant event according to onthisday.com was the sale at Sotheby’s of Peter Paul Rubens’ painting The Massacre of the Innocents for £49.5 million.

In football circles however, the rise of AFC Wimbledon was about to start. The story of this football club is the stuff of legend. It’s about how Wimbledon FC was allowed to move 60 miles from its home, change its name, and alienate it’s entire fan base. All, according to the English Football Association, “in the wider interests of football”.

Not lying down quietly, the fan base set up their own club, held player trails on Wimbledon Common, and organised on this day 16 years ago a friendly against Sutton United. No one knew what to expect. Would anyone turn up?

As it happens, yes they would. Some 4000 fans queued outside Sutton’s ground on a balmy Wednesday evening. So many in fact that the kickoff was delayed by almost an hour to allow them all in.

The rag bag mix of players ran onto the pitch. They weren’t fit, hardly knew each other’s names, let alone where they were supposed to play, but we didn’t care. After a long hard battle to keep our club, we fans just wanted to watch football.

We lost the game, fairly easily as it turned out, but it didn’t matter. Never had a defeat seemed like a victory until that evening. I was there that evening, and the smiles on the faces as we left the ground, is a sight I’ll remember until my last breath.

We knew we were onto something special.

Roll on to 2018 and our club has multiple promotions under it’s belt, turned professional, and maintains a position in the third tier of English football. We’re not the biggest or wealthiest club by some margin, but it was never about wealth or prestige. We just wanted to get back to watching our team play football.

Whether this changes remains to be seen. It is a fact that with our success comes expectation. The sense of anger and injustice over the original decision to allow the club’s relocation is still there, and it manifests itself occasionally in a greed to get back to the Premier League.

We may well have been founder members of the Premier League, but that was almost 20 years ago. These days the league is a different place. Money abounds. Money we don’t have. We run our club on a shoestring. Our playing budget is around £3,000,000. With some Premier League players on £250,000 a week, our budget wouldn’t last long.

So for now we do our best to maintain our position. We’ve got a new ground to look forward to in around 18 months. It’s just down the road from where the old ground was before it was knocked down to make way for apartments. Whenever we play that first game back on Plough Lane, it will be another lump in the throat moment in the life of this incredible club.

Mimecast & Ataata: A TechComm match made in heaven

Today Mimecast announced it had bought Ataata, a cyber security training company. It’s a common sense acquisition for one of the leading cyber security companies, but from a technical communication perspective, it’s so much more.

Ataata provides short videos aimed at educating users about all aspects of cyber security. There’s lots of training companies who provide educational videos, but Ataata do so in a way that’s engaging and fun. Users love them. In fact they look forward to receiving the next one! Take a look at one and see for yourself.

Mimecast has been looking at how it can educate its users. We recognize that having the means to prevent threats from entering an organisation is only part of the solution. If you personally don’t fully engage in identifying where threats exist, you’re asking for trouble. In short, the weakest link is you.

I’ve been involved in projects at Mimecast looking at educating users about cyber security. We’ve embedded copy into the user interface to warn them about phishing attacks, and written white papers on steps companies can take to protect their data. It’s not just about using our cloud solution. This has been a focus of our CEO, Peter Bauer who’s been quoted as saying, “Our customers desperately need help training their human firewalls.”

It’s as a technical communicator that I’m interested in the Ataata acquisition. Our job is helping our users use our software, but achieving this is so much more than providing help. Mimecast recognizes the need to provide assistance where it’s needed most. Yes we provide online help, but we also provide embedded user assistance in the user interface.

This takes the form of text and video tutorials, but we’re also redesigning our user interfaces from the ground up. Gone are the dialogs with 20-30 fields and options, and in come wizard type dialogs with user friendly questions. By answering a few questions, we can identify the configuration a user needs, and set the options for them behind the scenes.

All this is designed to deflect support calls. Support calls cost money. End users spend time looking for content, and if they can’t find or understand the content, they contact our support staff. Whether it’s the cost to our users trying to complete a task, or our support staff dealing with queries, time is money. If we can prevent our users ringing us, it’s a win win solution.

This acquisition may not directly educate users in how to use our software, but the preemptive nature of Ataata’s solution means users should have less issues. The most expensive support call category involves data loss. Phishing, whaling, and impersonation attacks can take time (a lot of it) to recover from. Our software has solutions to prevent these attacks, but we want to provide another layer of protection.

In the ideal world, our cyber security solutions should never be needed. If we’re all vigilant 100% of the time, companies like ours wouldn’t be needed. The fact that companies like ours exist, shows how delusional that view is. Having a multi faceted approach to protecting your data is the way ahead, and from a technical communication perspective there’s so much scope to integrate our content in a fun and engaging way.

Marital strife of my brother in law’s making

I’ve a bone to pick with my brother in law. My wife and I met up with him and my sister for a meal the other day. During the course of the evening, my bearded brother in law described a recent visit to get his hair cut. It’s a frequent bone of contention, with my sister making increasing levels of threats in order to get him to go.

So why am I thinking ill of my brother in law?

He was describing how the barber asked if he wanted his eyebrows trimmed. “No thank you.” he replied. “They annoy my wife.” The barber laughed and responded with his own reposte, “Ah but a happy wife, is a happy life.”

After the laughter died down, I’d never have thought that my wife would store that in her memory bank. Within the next 24 hours it’s only been used about eight times! For example:

My wife: “Can you take the rubbish out?”

Me: Yes in a minute.

My wife: OK but remember a happy wife is a happy life.

I’m going to need your help to come up with a suitable response. Answers on a postcard please!

Holiday Day 2: Chatsworth House and Bakewell

We received a lovely surprise at our breakfast table this morning with these beautiful flowers placed on each table. It wasn’t expected from a hotel like this. It’s a smallish family run affair, but has excellent friendly staff. The breakfast was OK if not outstanding. My wife had an oatcake with poached eggs. It was a bit dry, and the eggs were a little overdone. I had the Full English complete with real black pudding and fried bread. It was the sort of breakfast I’d have thought nothing of eating 25 years ago, but now felt guilty eating.

After breakfast we drove the short distance to Chatsworth House, home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire for 16 generations. It is regularly used as a film set, with Pride and Prejudice with Kiera Knightley a prime example. Set in stunning gardens, the house has changed a lot since the first Duke bought the house in the mid 1700s. There’s a stunning collection of art and antiques through the ages. The staff are all very knowledgable too, and are always available to offer insights into life of past residents.

Having gone around the house, we sat in the garden with an ice cream. Then it was time to wonder around the extensive gardens. To be honest we didn’t see most of them, largely because we were feeling tired. The good news is that the fairly priced entry ticket allows you to return within six months with a hefty discount. Not that we’ll be back anytime soon.

If you’re visiting with little ankle biters, the adjoining farmyard is well worth a visit. Apart from the usual rabbits, guinea pigs, and goats, there are cows complete with regular milking displays, a large adventure playground, and a loads of hens. It will keep youngsters amused for awhile.

Leaving Chatsworth, we headed for nearby Bakewell, a lovely market town. We spent a couple of hours wondering the streets and sitting by the river. We even found a Viennese Sausage cafe, unfortunately just as it was closing.

Tomorrow we have to head home, due to a family member falling seriously ill. Cutting short our holiday wasn’t an easy decision, but it is for the best. So we won’t be going to Buxton, and will have to wait to visit the Lake District for another day.

Holiday Day 1: Surrey to Matlock

This year we decided on a “staycation” for our holiday. We’ll probably go aboard later in the summer, but for now the weather is pretty good and England has so much to offer. We decided on a road trip around the north western side on England, taking in the glorious countryside of the Peak District, Lake District, and Yorkshire Dales.

Setting off for the 170 mile trip to Matlock, the weather was a mixture of cloud with occasional bursts of sunlight. Pretty good driving conditions, as I hate driving in the rain. The M25 behaved itself for once as we made it past Heathrow airport inside 50 minutes, and onto the M1 in one hour ten minutes. Admittedly it was a Sunday morning, but apart from the usual slow spots it was an OK journey.

We stopped off at the Newport Pagnell services for a comfort break and a bite to eat. You’re never short of a service station on the M1, especially in the southern section, with one roughly every 25 miles. I always find motorway services pretty soul destroying. They’re full of fast foot outlets and shops selling 1980s compilation CDs. Newport Pagnell isn’t an exception. Bizarrely everyone has heard of Newport Pagnell, but only because of the service station. Before the M1 opened, it was just a mere pin prick on the Buckinghamshire map. How many folk even realise it was mentioned in the Doomsday Book as they zoom past at 70mph?

As the distances between the motorway exits increased, so the weather deteriorated. Occasional short bouts of drizzle broke up the monotony of driving. We’d stopped off in Kegworth, Derbyshire. Why? Purely for nostalgic reasons. Back in the 1980s I used to have to come here for work. Back then it was a fairly sleepy town snuggled between the East Midlands Airport and the M1. I used to stay at the Yew Lodge Hotel at the top of the town, which was a fairly standard 3 star hotel. Now the place has become gentrified, with a large extension and a Marco Pierre White restaurant. The town still has a few nice pubs and some smart looking shops and cafes. Unfortunately it looks like the tiny (in every sense of the word) pub we used to drink in has gone. Probably for health and safety reasons, as with more than six people in it playing darts by the bar was a risky strategy. Not that it stopped us back in the day.

From Kegworth we decided to avoid the motorway and head through Derby on the A6 before heading on to Matlock. We did drive through Derby, but didn’t stop. Perhaps we should have, but we were got a bit fed up with the ring road. These abominations are the scourge of post war town planners. They may have thought they were a clever idea, but no one else has since. If you see signs saying “Ring Road West” and “Ring Road East” and nothing else, how the hell are you supposed to know which way to go?

Our hotel for the next few nights is a delightful little place in Cromford, about three miles south of Matlock. It used to be Sir Richard Arkwright’s home whilst he was building nearby Willersley Castle. Set in a peaceful valley yet just off the A6, the hotel is a lovely place with good facilities. They obviously cater for lots of weddings judging but the large gazebo and arboretum in the garden.

In the evening we drove into Matlock for dinner. As it was a Sunday, Cromford was largely shut, with only a couple or large pubs open which we didn’t fancy. Matlock wasn’t much different, but we did find a nice looking Italian. However we chose a place called the Herd Steakhouse just around the corner from the bridge. There’s a bar downstairs, and a restaurant upstairs with some wonderful views over the River Derwent. We chose a seat by the floor to ceiling window to get the full benefit of the wonderful vista. The food was OK if not spectacular, but then we didn’t go for their speciality steaks or meat skewers.

Returning the our hotel, we got speaking to the night manager. He said that Sir Richard Arkwright built the place as his family home, but as he became more wealthy decided to build himself Willersley Castle. Unfortunately it burnt down before it was finished. He started rebuilding it, but died before completion. An unfortunate happening, as the building itself is an imposing and stunning example of Georgian architecture. It’s now a hotel run by a Methodist charity.

Tomorrow we’re off to Chatsworth House near Bakewell, the home of the tart!

Choosing the “right” CMS

I’ve spent a couple of hours looking through the wish list items added by users of a well known CMS. What stands out, is how users want more from their CMS. Whereby in days gone by they were happy with a simple editor that allowed them to capture content, now they want (to name just a few trends):

  • A richer editing experience (e.g. indented list items, image / video, and table formatting).
  • The ability to import / export from / to more file formats.
  • Reusable content (e.g. variables and text snippets).
  • Smoother workflows for editing, reviewing, and publishing content.

What strikes me about this list, is how all of these could be achieved with one of the specialist technical writing applications. This begs the question why more content curators aren’t using them.

There’s no simple answer to this. It depends on the requirements and culture of the organisation. Maybe it’s a need to keep all the content in one place, or maybe it is ignorance of what a specialist technical writing application offers.

Whatever the reasons are for mot using one tool or another, there is one question everyone looking at CMS providers needs to ask. And it isn’t, “Can tool a do x, y, and z?”

The classic mistake many make, is to focus on the technology before considering the requirements. To use a slightly crude analogy, there’s little point in buying a family friendly Hyundai saloon car, and then wondering if it is the right car for a trip across the Sahara desert. Instead you should consider what you’d need by way of four wheel drive, storage for water / fuel, and the ability to pull yourself out of a sand dune. Once you’ve done that, then (and only then) you can look around at the vehicles best suited to your needs.

There are a variety of methods to ascertain if a CMS meets your needs. For example:

  • Search the product’s user forums.
  • Look for online user groups, particularly those not controlled by the vendor.
  • Look for wish list items to see what users are wanting that isn’t currently delivered.
  • Attend user group meetings or conferences.
  • Ask your peers.

If after all this you find yourself in a situation where you must host the content in a particular CMS, don’t be fooled into thinking you must author it there too. Look into the CMS’s import / export functionality. Even if this isn’t there out of the box, perhaps there’s an API that can help. Admittedly this normally requires additional resource from elsewhere in your organisation, but if the major stakeholders have the organization’s interest at heart, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Choosing a solution for your content curation needs isn’t easy, but an quick easy decision could prove disastrous and lead to a repeat of the exercise further down the line.

Could you be fooled by a phishing email?

Online safety should be at the forefront of all our minds. It only takes one momentary slip up to make the most secure environment go belly up. So what action would you take if you received the following email?

Spoof Email

Looking at the example above, you could be forgiven for thinking it looks like a legitimate internal message. It asks you to do something you may be expected to do occasionally (e.g. sign-off a policy). It even gives you advice about an application (e.g. Centrify) used to do this. So it must be legit.

Except in this case it wasn’t. It’s a test message created by our company’s security team to test we are paying attention to our online security. Thankfully quite a few of us asked our security team if this was a phishing scam before doing anything.

Email is a popular method of gaining access to personal or business data. Here are some key points to help you identify suspicious messages:

  • Check the sender’s email address. Look carefully to make sure the domain is correct. Hackers are smart and use lookalike domains.
  • Your gateway may be configured to block messages coming from the internet but using your domain. If so, if you can see it is a legitimate internal address, you know it has come from an account on your domain.
  • The steps above are highly effective, but fail if the sender’s account has been compromised. Don’t blindly trust that internal messages are always legitimate. The same advice applies for messages received via business or personal chat applications, especially those like Skype. You may have got the message because your friend or family member’s account is compromised, and you’re one click away from being compromised yourself.
  • To guard against a compromised account, check the message and any links in the message. Ask yourself, does the message make sense? Is it expected? Is the grammar correct? Do the links look suspicious? Use the Virustotal website to check if they are known bad links.
  • If in any doubt, ask your manager or phone the person who “sent” the message. Don’t use email / chat to ask if they meant to send it. If the account is compromised the hacker will reply!

Remember once you click it’s too late to think!

Think before you click
Think before you click

Has Irish Catholicism lost the knack?

Yesterday’s referendum on repealing the 8th amendment of the Irish Constitution may not be a watershed moment in Irish history, but it does say a lot about how we Irish want the country to look like in the 21st century. For decades Ireland had some of the most socially conservative laws in the world.

But why was that? To answer that, we need to look back around a hundred years.

The Ireland of 1918 was a very different to that of today. It was still ruled from London. There wasn’t a split between the 26 counties of Ireland (The Irish Free State – later to become the Republic of Ireland and then just Ireland) and the six counties (Northern Ireland) until the Anglo-Irish Treaty was ratified by the Irish Government (The Dáil) in 1922.

Gaining independence from the United Kingdom wasn’t quite as straight forward though. There was a sizable minority who felt there should be no independence deal, unless all 32 counties of Ireland were included. The non-acceptance of the split between the north and south was a major factor is the year long civil war. This ideal of a united Ireland is something that colours Irish politics to this day.

With the major fighting over in 1923, the Dáil started to build a country from a broken, impoverished state. Less than a century before, the country was ravaged by several famines. Many left Ireland for other shores. In the early 20th century, the continued independence struggle had taken its toll on the country’s infrastructure. The stand out conflict was the 1916 Easter Uprising, but even before then there was guerrilla action. After World War One, the IRA saw their chance and started the Irish War of Independence which ultimately lead to Anglo-Irish Treaty.

The first Dáil had a real issue. How do they rebuild a country, when there isn’t a lot of money. Thanks to the Catholic Church, which had suffered none of the financial upheaval, they were able to make a start. The quid quo pro was the cultivation of a one-dimensional type of nationality, culture and religion. In particular the Catholic Church was able to use the education system to foster this. To this day the majority of Irish schools are Catholic schools, run and largely funded by the church.

Roll on 50 years or so, and a series of scandals rocked the Catholic Church, and none more so than in Ireland. For the first time in a long while, Irish Catholics started to question the legitimacy of their faith. A growing number of couples couldn’t remarry after ending previous relationships. Divorce only became legal after the 15th constitutional amendment in 1995.

As the Celtic Tiger moved into the 20th century, the spotlight was shone on Ireland and the world liked what they saw. An young, educated, and hard working population seized their chance and made hay whilst the sun shone. Whilst the scandals certainly affected the association many had with the Catholic Church, so did this sudden feeling of financial and social independence.

The vote to allow abortion in Ireland up to 12 weeks pregnancy, is the latest in a line of revolts against the Catholic church’s stance on issues like divorce and homosexuality.

Perhaps the most telling of all is the Catholic Church’s own faith survey. The 2016 survey showed that whilst 78% still identified as Catholic, this is over 13% down on the 1991 survey. Furthermore less than half of Irish Catholics attended mass at least one a week, down from 81% in 1990. The fact that the Catholic Church’s doctrine describes this as a mortal sin, meaning the individual is likely to end up in hell unless they repent, seems not to worry most folk.

Whilst the education system may still be largely run by faith organisations, it is clear their influence is waning. So is the pull of the traditional faith system of attending services. The end result is a population unable or unwilling to hear a religion’s theological teaching.

Last Friday, the Irish nation said to the world it was no longer accepting of the past. It wants to be a modern, progressive society. It may still want to be identified as Catholic, but not in the same manner as before.

Could this have been prevented? Maybe. The current Pope seems to be the church’s best chance of progressing its theology, but that’s a big ask. If Pope Frances had arrived 30-40 years ago, he would have a better chance of making real theological chance, but then he wouldn’t have been elected back then. The Catholic Church can appear to be like a super tanker trying to turn around in the middle of the Suez Canal. The Catholic Church clearly hasn’t kept up with the times, and maybe has paid the price.