If it’s not staring me in the face, I probably won’t get round to reading it

In the constant battle with interesting posts I see online and want to read but not now, when I discovered Instapaper I thought it was the answer – so easy to just add a post to my Instapaper so that I can read it later, it even lets you set up folders so you can organise the stuff in a meaningful way, and it lets you add a description so you can make a note to yourself about what this post is about, why you want to read it, even how you came to stumble upon it – all well and good, but how often do I actually open it and read the stuff I’ve put there for later? When exactly is this “later” that we’re talking about anyway? There just isn’t enough time to read all the stuff that I’d like to read, so I glance through what’s new and I pause and read the odd thing that seems interesting and then I see something interesting but I’m running out of time/mental energy so I find some way of keeping it for later and… whichever way I’ve tried, I find that I hardly ever get round to reading them. If I leave a post open in a browser tab, it stands a better chance because I’m actually seeing some kind of heading which reminds me of it – it’s not quite staring me in the face but at least I notice it now and again waving at me.
I’ve found a similar principle with my emails – I have subscribed by email to a whole load of blogs, and at some point I decided to create folders for them, so for example I’ve got a folder for WordPress blogs, and I’ve been putting the updates in there, but that means these emails are filed away and it’s a lot easier to ignore them. Yes, I see the name of the folder in bold and the number of unread items, but, a bit like dust, once it gets past a certain level you stop noticing it. (I recently had a long period of hardly finding time to read blogs because of being busy with proofreading, so a lot of stuff has accumulated.)
So, no, I don’t really have an answer to this, all I know is what I’ve found not to work for me…
And one thing that is becoming increasingly clear is that there are never going to be enough hours in the day for reading everything I’d like to read. I just wish I could feel I’m making wiser decisions about what to read when – I feel that a lot of the time I’m just going with the flow, but there is so much stuff that I don’t even know how to decide, so letting the flow decide for me is the easy route…

WordPress have been changing things around again.


I don’t like that Subscribe is now called Follow. I do like that when you subscribe to a new blog, the email confirmation also gives you links to previous posts you may have not read yet! Cool!


Like! Shelfari have changed the settings


so now when you register that you’ve finished reading a book, you’re automatically invited to put in character descriptions. So much easier to do that when it’s still fresh in your mind!

My Google Plus Confession

I posted this yesterday on Google+ and am copying it onto here in case my G+ profile gets suspended, in which case my posts there will vanish into the ether.

oh, by the way, I am one of those – those awful pseudonymous people, the ones that some suggest simply don’t belong here, the ones that some have even told me shouldn’t be on the internet at all.

yes, I feel it’s time to say this out loud: my name is not Meirav Berale. There. Now you know. And if you hate me, you can go and report me and get my account suspended for the crime of using Berale instead of my real surname. I hope you won’t, because I really like it here, I’ve been enjoying this place – it’s a fabulous platform for interacting with strangers and for gradually building friendships, but you see, in order to interact with strangers and possibly build friendships I need to feel safe, and this is the basic boundary I need for my own safety: I need to be able to talk to you without disclosing my surname.

Which, come to think of it, is pretty much the way it goes in real life – unless I’m talking to the bank or something, I don’t normally introduce myself by my full name; and there are lots of people I know just by their first names – neighbours, friends of friends, people I know from church, etc etc. A surname is something I’ll ask for if I need to write you a letter or look you up in the phonebook, it’s a formality which has nothing to do with friendly interaction – at least not in life as I know it; of course there may be cultures with different levels of formality, I’m speaking from my own experience of life both back home in Israel and here in England.

So why do I feel I need to use Berale instead of my real surname? I’ll try and cut this very long story as short as I can…

My full name is unique. My first name – Meirav – is a very normal Israeli name; but I’ve married an Englishman, and his surname is not very common. So the combination is very very probably unique: out of the few people in the world with my husband’s surname, it’s extremely unlikely that another one will have married an Israeli at all, and it would be super duper unlikely that she would also be called Meirav.

Now, this would not be such a huge issue if I didn’t have reason to expect some people to actually want to track me down and harm me.

No, I’m not paranoid. I’m just a Messianic Jew, i.e. a Jewish person who has chosen to put her faith in Jesus. In Jewish culture, this choice is considered unacceptable (to put it mildly). There actually are people out there who make it their business to track down people like me and to make our lives as difficult as possible, by whatever means – including violence, including spreading malicious lies about us, anything will do.

I could, of course, simply keep quiet about this particular subject online.

I have chosen not to keep quiet about my faith. I am very passionate about this issue, and I have sometimes blogged about it. But in order to do that, I have chosen to keep to that boundary of not disclosing my surname online.

Cowardly? maybe. I’m not a very strong person and there is a limit to the type and level of risk I consider it reasonable to expose myself to unless it’s absolutely necessary. I find it hard enough emotionally to cope with some of the reactions I get to my blogs online – but at least when it’s just words on the screen, I can deal with them privately, I can sit down and cry if I need to and the people who posted them won’t see, and they won’t turn up on my doorstep to continue hollering their insults at me.

So I’ve been careful. I’ve been expressing myself online – my real self, as I am, including those things that some would rather I’d shut up about – but I’ve been withholding two items of personal info from strangers: my surname, and where I live.

I see no reason to change this policy.

So, if you don’t want to talk to people without knowing their real surname, feel free to ignore me. (Oh, it’s ok, I’ve already been ignored by someone once in real life. It was someone Jewish, when I mentioned my faith: she just looked through me as if I wasn’t there, and walked away. But there are others who have suffered far greater abuse, so I count myself fortunate. My family have not disowned me, and so far no one has spat at me or beat me up for my faith.)

There are so many people who need to exercise this kind of caution. There are those whose political views could get them or their families into serious trouble, including prison or torture or execution in some places. There are those whose sexual way of life could cost them their jobs or their personal safety – sadly we live in a world where some people feel it’s ok to be violent towards someone just because they’re, for example, living in a homosexual relationship. There are those who have suffered abuse from family/spouse/partner and need to be able to communicate with people without worrying about their abuser finding them. There are lots and lots of other examples, you can look it up here: Who is harmed by a Real Names policy – I’m just one of the people under one of these many categories. I thought it was time to share my own personal perspective.

So now you know.

I had some lovely comments there – well worth reading.

EDIT @ May 2013: I’m pleased to say that this is no longer an issue – Google did eventually change the names policy on Google+ to allow the use of pseudonyms. Yay!


Why the Google+ Name Policy is important to me

just posted this on G+ and thought I’d put the link here for safekeeping as there’s no archiving system there.

Me, a name I call myself

Okay, I wouldn’t go as far as regarding the word “me” as a name I call myself, whatever that song says, but seriously – if you ask someone what their name is, you can get a whole range of answers. They might say: my name is Joseph but my friends call me Joe. They might tell you that their family have a pet name for them, which none of their friends even know about. They may have a name their friends from college call them, a name only used by friends from their football team, or the knitting circle, or whatever. If, like me, they’re Jewish, they may have a Hebrew or Yiddish name which is only used within the Jewish community. If they’re Chinese, they may have both a Chinese name and an English name.

Years ago I had a neighbour whose name was John. His friends called him Hat. When he turned up at the pub they wouldn’t say “here’s John”, they’d say “here’s Hat, hello Hat, what are you having, Hat?”
Google say that in the name section of your profile you should put the name you are commonly known by, as though there is, for each and every person, one such name. To which I say: fiddlesticks.
Ah, they say, but you can put the other stuff in the “other names” field, and if someone looks for you under any of those names they’ll still be able to find you. Sure, that will work if they’re looking for you. But what happens if they just bump into you in conversation somewhere? How are they meant to recognise you if you’re not allowed to show all the names you are known by? My ex-neighbour would, under Google’s regulations, be forced to sign up as John Butler, and put “Hat” under “other names”. His friends wouldn’t know it’s him.
And as I look at this example I’ve just used, I’m smiling to myself, because of course the surname Butler was originally used very much in the same way that this guy’s friends use the name Hat – to distinguish which John you’re talking about. That’s how surnames evolved.
In some cultures people just don’t have surnames. Clearly they manage fine without them.
In some cultures people have surnames, but use an extra name to identify themselves by, like “son of” or “daughter of” – I’m aware of this practice both in Arab culture and in Russian culture. (And of course some of the existing English surnames actually started out as exactly that: Johnson, etc.) In Arab culture there is even a custom of taking on a new name when you have a son – you stop being known by your first name, and become “father of” (Abu) or “mother of” (Um).
But I wasn’t going to get into different naming conventions in different cultures – I wanted to focus on the fact that Google’s insistence on the use of one name, made up of a first name and a last name, is not consistent with what goes on in real life. Even leaving aside the issue of people who don’t have a first name+last name combination at all, the idea that each person has one name by which they are known in all contexts is just not realistic.
I think at this point I’d like to give the floor to the wonderful writer Alexander McCall Smith (hmmm… there’s a name I guess Google would have some issues with…) and his gloriously hilarious character Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, the esteemed philologist. In the book The 2½ Pillars of Wisdom we find the German philologist, amongst his many adventures, visiting Ireland, where he is greeted warmly by Dr Patrick Fitzcarron O’Leary, a fellow academic. He is taken aback when O’Leary addresses him by his first name, and is rather unsure about how he should address O’Leary.
We then follow them to the local bar, where the barman greets O’Leary with:
‘Now then, Paddy. What is it this evening for you and your Teutonic friend over there?’
Paddy! thought von Igelfeld. That must be the name to use, and he replied to O’Leary’s offer of a drink: ‘A beer, if you don’t mind, Paddy!’
but then O’Leary bumps into two friends, and one of them greets him with: ‘Fitz, my friend…’
Fitz! thought von Igelfeld. Perhaps this was an alternative name which close friends used… If that were the case, then he should avoid it, as its use would claim an intimacy which did not exist and the Irishman would think him rude. But just as this was resolved, the other man said:
‘Pat, if it isn’t you…?’
Poor von Igelfeld frowns and tries to work it all out, when the friends’ attention is turned to him. O’Leary makes a light comment about von Igelfeld being a rather tall person, and one of the two friends says: ‘You’re right there, O.’
Von Igelfeld put down his glass. O? Was that yet another contraction? Really, there was something very strange – and unsettling – about Ireland.
I wonder if von Igelfeld was involved in setting up Google Profiles…

What’s in a name – a late night rambling

Conversation overheard at a charity shop yesterday, between a lady working there and some guy who had bought some furniture and was asking to have it delivered. She had taken his address and then asked his name. Shane, he replied. Ah, Sean, she said, writing it down. No, it’s Shane actually, he said. Oh, can’t you be a Sean? she said.

Amazingly, he didn’t hit her.
Names are a serious issue, people have a strong emotional attachment to their names. One of the most annoying things is having people get your name wrong, especially when they do it repeatedly, even when you know they just can’t help it as your name is from a very different culture to theirs and difficult for them to pronounce – which is the way it’s been for me, living amongst the Brits, who are generally not very good at getting their tongues round foreign names. (But from American friends I hear that it isn’t just a British trait…) I try to be patient and understanding about it, I’ve got totally used to mispronunciations (I’ve yet to meet anyone English who is capable of pronouncing my name the Israeli way, but considering the way many Israelis pronounce English, that seems a fair exchange…) but what really annoys me is the attempts to Anglicise foreign names – like when people meet me and hear my name is Meirav and ask, their voice filled with hope, if it’s a version of Mary. grrrrrrrrrr… no, it’s not. Mary is the Anglicised version of the Hebrew name Miriam. Meirav is a different name, also from the Bible, but, guess what, in the English translation she’s spelled “Merab”… Don’t get me started on what happened to a whole load of Hebrew names in the English translation of the Bible…
And then there was that guy I knew when I lived in a small Welsh town and some Turks had opened a kebab shop there. What’s your name? Jim, he said. Yeah, right. A very authentic Turkish name, Jim. My bet is on something like Jamal, and my guess is that his choice to use the name Jim was the result of the draining experience of, again and again, being asked what his name was and finding that people were making a total hash of it. If you can’t beat them, join them, a lot of immigrants end up deciding.
I actually tried it for a while – using an English-sounding name, as a way of blending in. It certainly made life easier. I never got asked how to spell it, how to pronounce it, or what it means. But it was a kind of pretence, that name wasn’t really me, it was hiding my national identity. Going around as Meirav means I get asked where I’m from, which can result in interesting conversations in all sorts of ways, and sometimes I feel I could do without that – going to the hairdresser’s and having to talk politics instead of the usual “where did you go on holiday” is a bit tiring – but it feels more right to carry a name which says who I am and where I’m from.
Why am I thinking about all this stuff? Because one of the outrageous things that have been going on lately on Google Plus – where I’ve been spending a lot of my time – is the attempt by Google to police the names people use. And, quite naturally, people have strong reactions when they’re told they can’t use the name they wish to be known by.
It’s all been very weird and very confusing – with Google claiming that they want people to use the name they are commonly known by (not necessarily their legal name) but then suspending people’s profiles for all sorts of infringements of the Google “community standards” which demand that you use a name that is made up of one first name and one last name, ignoring people who use more than that, and at the same time ignoring people from mononymic cultures, who simply do not have a second name; and also ignoring the convention in English usage of adding a nickname in the middle, either in quotation marks or in parentheses. So the policy requires you to use the name you are commonly known by, but in some cases does not allow you to use the name you are, indeed, commonly known by.
Oh, and there are all sorts of other things you’re not allowed to do, like adding Dr. in front of your name, or using a series of initials in the first name field – even if that is, in fact, what people normally call you!
This whole thing is supposed to be a way of helping people who know you to recognise you when they see you there, but if everyone knows you as, say, Fred “Bonzo” Jones, how will they recognise you without the “Bonzo” in the middle? If people know you as JR Ewing, how will they know it’s you if you are forced to use your full first name instead of these initials? It’s crazy.
And then, on the other hand, there are those who simply can’t afford to post publicly online under the name they are commonly known by – the concept of making it easy for people who know you to find you is not one that appeals to everyone, it doesn’t appeal to victims of stalking, it doesn’t appeal to those who have suffered domestic abuse and fled from their abusers and absolutely do not want to be found by them, it doesn’t appeal to people whose political views/religious beliefs/sexual lifestyle are things they need to keep quiet about in their culture, it doesn’t appeal to, oh, so many people!
So Google is, at the same time, upsetting people who would like to use the names they are commonly known by but are not allowed to because their real names don’t fit the Google name pattern; and also upsetting people who need to use pseudonyms for their own protection, and are forced to either (1) give up on using G+ (2) use a pseudonym and risk being found out and turfed out (3) take the risk of using their real names anyway, and be very very careful about what they say on any public posts.
Of course when you mention the need for pseudonyms, you immediately get told that all you have to do is use an inconspicuous fake name, something that wouldn’t alert the names police. Which means having to be less honest than you’d like to (if pseudonyms were allowed, you could admit openly that you are using a pseudonym) and it also means that you will be forever looking over your shoulder and waiting for the day that someone will get annoyed with something you said and will report you. (They don’t need any grounds for reporting someone’s profile, it’s just a matter of quietly clicking a button. Some people thrive on the sense of power that gives them.)
Of course on Multiply we have the luxury of being able to choose who can see our last name, so using a real name here is not such a big deal. And though they do ask that people use their real names here, it has never been enforced. There’s a big difference between making a polite request, as is done here and on Facebook, and getting all bossy and controlling and suspending people for infringement when they’ve dared to put their nickname in parentheses in the middle between their first name and last name.
Oh, and when your G+ profile gets suspended, you also lose a whole load of other Google services, like Google Reader and Buzz and Picasa. Not to mention what happens to people who have an Android phone. And there isn’t a warning when you sign up – at least there wasn’t last time I looked.
This is why I’m not inviting people to Google Plus. Not until they change this draconian policy.

a rambling about pseudonyms and openness

One of the things that keeps coming up in discussions on Google+ about their names policy (requiring that people use their real names, despite the fact that for many people for various reasons this can be seriously dangerous) is the suggestion that all you have to do in that case is just use a fake name that looks real – which of course people have been doing on Facebook and also on Google+, but on G+ doing this comes with a risk: someone doesn’t like something you say, they report your profile for being fake (they can do this without knowing it’s fake, they can do it just out of spite), Google suspends your account and demands proof of ID, and that’s it – you can’t prove a fake ID.

Now here on Multiply I have a friend who uses a name which is not his real name, but he has stated this quite clearly and explained on his blog why he needs to do this. So there’s nothing underhanded there, no deceit, no attempt to pretend that the name he is using really is his name. Which feels so much nicer, so much more open and transparent – so much more pleasant than the cloak & dagger stuff people in that position are encouraged to engage in on Google+, pretending to be, say, John Smith, because you can’t openly say you’re using a pseudonym as that’s against the rules.
This reminds me of when I was new in England and I’d done a fake marriage to get a visa. Soon after that, I got a new job. Because I knew that if the Home Office found out about my fake marriage I could get deported, I had to be careful. I couldn’t just trust a whole load of people I’d just met and tell them my secret. So to my new colleagues I was Mrs McGregor, newly married, and living in the part of south east London where this guy lived who I’d officially married, whilst in reality I was in west London – it meant having to keep remembering to lie, to talk as though I’m married, and to somehow dodge the friendly invitations from someone who worked with me who suggested it would be really nice for them (her and her husband) to have “us” round sometime.
I kept that charade up for a year. After a year, I was given a permanent visa and I decided I could risk being open with my colleagues about what my life really was like. Mostly they seemed to take it in their stride, but that one who had really showed friendliness and talked about having us round – she turned suddenly very cold towards me, and could I blame her? We had worked quite closely together, sharing a room in the office, chatting whilst we worked, she had shared things with me about her own life, and then a year later she discovers that actually what I’d been telling her about my own life was a pack of lies.
Of course there are situations in life where you have to hide things from people, but it’s never easy, and in the long run it doesn’t help towards building friendships.
And Google+ is a social networking site, where, in terms of the technology, it could be really easy to get to know people and to gradually build friendships. One of the major selling points of G+ is the circles system, which allows you to choose who you want to share each bit of your profile with and each item you post (a bit like here on Multiply, but even more flexible) so you can add strangers without worrying about your privacy – an ideal set-up for making new friends. But if you have to introduce yourself as John Smith and pretend it’s your real name because you don’t know who you can trust, because if you’re caught you risk being thrown out and also losing access to some other Google services, this means you’re building these friendships on a shaky foundation. Yes, some people will understand – like most of my colleagues did back then – but some might not, some might feel hurt that you had not been truthful with them about this.
It would be so much nicer, so much more pleasant, so much more grown-up, to be able to say openly, as my friend here on Multiply does: I am using a pseudonym here because I’d be in danger if certain people find out that I’m posting these kind of opinions. This is the kind of openness and transparency that the Google names policy is denying us. Which is a real shame.