A Night at Cowell Ranch Beach

This weekend I ended up camping with Imad, Omar Fahmy, and Omar Shaker. It has been a while since I’ve gone camping, and I’ve been seriously craving it for some time. In fact, last week I have been reading the book “Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips” in anticipation of extended backpacking trips that I’d like to arrange at some point in the near future.

We ended leaving late Friday night to Cowell Ranch Beach. The beach is closed at night, but we sneaked in. There was no one else at the beach, so we set up camp fire and spent the night.

It was a magical night. The darkness, the stars, the ocean waves, the company, it was all just… magical.

One of my favorite moments is when we used the drums Imad brought and played it along some medium tempo music.

Another favorite moment is observing Omar Fahmy sleeping. It’s quite entertaining.

نمت في العراء خارج الخيمة و كان نوما في غاية الراحة و السكينة. استيقظت في الصباح الباكر و السكينة تملأني. استيقظت على صوت البحر العذب و تغريد العصافير و الندى الذي كان يكسي الرمل و الزرع.

هذه الليلة كانت تذكرة بسيطة لي أن السعادة لا تتطلب الكثير.

Winning at TechCrunch Disrupt

Last weekend was a weekend full of serendipity and life lessons. I flew out to NYC from San Francisco to visit two of my best friends: Amr Saleh and Motaz Elewa. Both Amr and Motaz were visiting NYC from Egypt to showcase a new product they’d been developing together at TechCrunch Disrupt.

Amr and Motaz were both arriving late Sunday and I arrived Saturday morning. My plan was to catch up with a few friends until they arrive. What actually happened though, was slightly different.

While I was taking a cab from the airport to Queens to meet one of my friends, I was looking up events that are happening in NYC that weekend. I remembered then that TechCrunch Disrupt holds a hackathon the weekend before the conference, and that it’s big. I checked out their website and, of course, the hackathon was fully sold out.

The hackathon was going to start in less than an hour, and a voice in me told me to go and try to get in, despite not having a ticket. Another voice told me to not bother, because it’s a very popular hackathon and it’s sold out – unlikely for me to make it.

As I was grabbing lunch with my friend, I decided to listen to the hustler in me. I quickly a took a cab to the hackathon, a to the hackathon I went. I told them that I took a red eye flight from San Francisco and I thought I had a ticket to the hackathon. With enough begging, they let me in.

Lesson #1: Ignore the inner voice that hold you back!

There was very little risk in going to the hackathon and attempting to get in. Any inner voice that tells me that I shouldn’t try is simply afraid of rejection. On that note, there’s a quote from Seth Godin that I came across that I really liked:

If the only cost of being rejected is the experience of being rejected, it’s a foolish compromise to err on the side of doing only the things that are guaranteed to work.

Seth Godin – What to do when it’s your turn

I formed a team with Isma and Christopher. Erica Lee, a friend and former couchsurfer of mine, learned that I was at the hackathon from Facebook and also decided to join.

Lesson #2: Have clear goals.

When Erica joined the team, we were developing an idea around event discovery. The first question Erica posed when she joined the team was, what were our goals? We all mumbled something along the lines of “we’re hear to have fun and do something cool.” I felt a bit unsatisfied when I said that, and I think that’s partially because the answer wasn’t immediately obvious to me when I it was asked.

I knew I also wanted to win, but I don’t know why I didn’t say that. Maybe it’s because I have this noble thought that aiming to win shouldn’t be a goal, but should be an artifact of you doing what you want to do.

Erica didn’t shy away from telling us that her goal was to win, and we didn’t disagree. I knew that winning would feel good, and I didn’t see why I shouldn’t set it as my main goal. Moving forward, I’ll be sure to be a lot more clear and more bullish about what my goals are out of an experience.

Lesson #3: Understand what people want.

Erica suggested that we look into the prizes offered by sponsors. A quick scan of the prizes attracted us towards Verizon, who were the only sponsor that offered prizes for the top 3 teams as opposed to the top team. We realized our probability of winning is significantly higher if we were to focus our efforts on their prize.

We went to the Verizon booth and chatted with them to build a personal relationship. We asked them about their APIs, how it’s used, and what kind of projects they’re looking to see. I was surprised to see the breadth of applications of their APIs to be honest. We ended up building a solution for car insurance agents that help them better understand where the liability in an accident is.

I have to give credit to Erica. She’s great at understanding what people want, and that’s a very valuable skill. She knew that these sponsors are looking for publicity, and that the winning hacks will need to be “cool” and show to the world that the sponsor’s APIs can be used to solve “cool” and interesting problems.

That’s exactly what we optimized on delivering, and nothing else.

Lesson #4: It’s going to suck.

There were at least 3 moments that night where I would’ve surely quit if I were working on my own. I remember it being 1am, everyone else on the team had left, and I was working by myself and no code had been written yet. I was super tired given that I took a red eye flight the night before, and I really craved just calling it quits and getting a good night’s sleep. It sucked. I pushed myself through, and I need to learn to push myself through things when I am uncomfortable. There’s no way around that.

We’re capable of creating work that matters only if we’re willing to be uncomfortable while we do it.

Seth Godin – What to do when it’s your turn

Lesson #5: The end feels amazing.

Getting what you want after pushing through the discomfort felt amazing, and I felt that I became a better person given what I’ve been through last weekend.

At this point of my life, I am hungry to hustle, hungry to push myself forward, hungry to try new things, and hungry to make a meaningful difference. I am even hungry for rejection. I am genuinely fine with that. What I am no longer ok with is to not try at all and to keep following the inner voice in my head that tells me not to do things.

Onward.

 

The Saxophone Guy

I remember the time when I first lived in San Francisco. It was in January 2012 that I first moved here to do an internship at ContextLogic (now known as Wish). I was living at the Park Hotel and, at the time, I was going through some emotional and spiritual turbulence.

The Park Hotel was in the middle of the financial district, and for a $1000/month it was a really good deal. Work was 10 minutes away and I was in the heart of the city. Despite the great price and location though, there was one thing about the place that I hated, and that was “the saxophone guy”.

The Saxophone guy is an Asian man who would stand a couple of corners away from the hotel, and for years since then I only heard him play one song: The God Father Song. I know nothing about the movie, but what I do know is that this song is depressing. It was especially depressing given the turbulence I had been going through at the time.

For years I kept hearing him in different parts of the city, and every time I encounter him I start thinking to myself “يا دين أمي”.

Last Thursday though, I had just come back from NYC and met up with Omar Fahmy for dinner. And, guess what? There was the saxophone guy. Omar knew the story and this time around he insisted that we go talk to him. I really disliked the guy’s music, and very reluctantly went with Omar to him to say hi – after five years of hearing him around the street.

And what was the result? It was so rewarding! The guy turned out to be from Shanghai and we had a good exchange in Mandarin. Omar told him that I’ve been hearing him around the city for years, and fortunately he didn’t tell him about the part where I disliked it.

Anyways, we ended up shooting a video of all of us together and with him playing a “special” song for us. This was the first time I ever saw him playing a song other than the Godfather.

My feelings toward him have completely changed. I now look for the saxophone guy on the street, and I do see him I’ll be sure to say hi. We’ve developed a connection!

As silly as this story may seem, this was a gentle reminder for me. Sometimes confronting the little things that annoy can feel so rewarding, and this was a clear example of that.

So much to write about!

I have way too many experiences to talk about. So much is happening! It’s time to get this blog back on the rails. I am now sitting at the cafeteria at work on a Sunday with the sole goal of documenting some of my experiences over the last few days and weeks. I won’t be writing about everything I want to write about in this session, but it’ll be a start.

Let’s do this.

Jazz Horror Stories, Running Back Home, and Lessons in Physics

Yesterday I met up with my friend Maysa after work. She’s here for a brief visit from the UK. Even though Maysa doesn’t live here, she seems to be quite well connected and is aware of events going on in the city that are somewhat unorthodox to me. The last time I saw her we went to a poetry gathering, and this time around we went for a jazz and radio show.

The show was really neat. It was at the “Bird & Becket” bookstore near Glen Park. A few musicians played jazz music, and between every jazz songs there was a radio show. I am very foreign to radio shows. Maybe the last one I listened to was on radio “هنا القاهرة”, an Egyptian radio channel, some 15 years ago, and it was by accident.

Watching a radio show live was very entertaining. In fact, in the show they shared two horror stories. It reminded of the “حكواتي”, the story-telling profession from the Middle East. It made me wish there was some kind of Arabic radio show meetup, particularly stories in traditional Arabic and along the lines of Arabian Nights.

Here’s a little snippet from the show:

The bookstore itself had an interesting collection of books. I rarely buy physical books, but I managed to snatch this little one that I pretty excited about:

Also, as of this week I am training for Tough Mudder (more on that later). According to their training schedule, I was supposed to run yesterday but I didn’t have the time. I did, however, decide to run back home from the bookstore to compensate for it. It was not an insignificant run. Here’s the track:

For someone who’s very new to running, this was challenging especially with all the elevation. But, it felt like a million bucks by the end of it!

Maybe I should just run to all my destinations moving forward. It’s cheaper than taking a Lyft or Uber anyways.

Day 10,087: A Great Day

Today was a great day. A lot of progress at work, I went to a great deep learning meet up (screenshot of the details below), caught up with Maurice, an old friend of mine, and I trained hard for Tough Mudder that’s coming up next month!

 

Today has been a clear example of how putting oneself in the right environment and setting clear goals is key to progress and productivity. One goal I have set is going to Tough Mudder next month. And being present at the book club and engaging with an author on deep learning was very fascinating. I’ll be doing more of this moving forward.

As part of my Tough Mudder training today, I went running for 4 miles. I don’t remember the last time I went running, and I was pleasantly surprised as to how easy it was. Whenever I thought I was tired and can’t keep going I just kept pushing. To the point where, in the last mile, I was running at near top speed feeling an ever exploding energy as I my legs were racing against the treadmill. I nearly felt like a leopard!

I am super tired right now, so I’ll save the analysis and more detailed thoughts to a later day.

Back from the World Trip

It’s now around 4.30 in the morning here in San Francisco. I arrived here yesterday noon after a round-the-world trip that spanned 36 days. In those 36 days I have been to Brisbane and Sydney in Australia, Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the UAE, Oman, and NYC.

I come back with a mind full of experiences. Experiences like the MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp in Brisbane, the NYUAD hackathon in Abu Dhabi, the crazy cliff-jumping that we did in national parks near Sydney, the refreshing nature hikes that we did in Oman, the dune buggies we drove around Maliha in the UAE – the list goes on and on and on.

Now that I am back, I’ll be spending a chunk of time reflecting on these experiences, distilling them into learnings, and ultimately decisions. More to come.

I am still here!

My time in Australia so far has been life-changing. I can safely say that the MIT bootcamp last week was one of the most profound weeks of my life – so many learnings that I have had that week and so many friends that I’ve made whom I plan to keep and cherish for the rest of my life.

I realized I went completely off the grid since the bootcamp started, and that’s due to the intensity of it and how busy we were those days. It’s now been a week here in Sydney, and my time here has been extremely busy yet extremely rewarding as well.

I’ll be dedicating more time to diving into these experiences in more depth, but for now I just wanted to throw this out there to say: I am still here! I haven’t yet disappeared off the edge of the internet.

Today Sucked…

This post may end up sounding like a rant, but it’s not.

Alright, so today sucked. It completely sucked. I barely did anything useful at work, and I also barely did anything useful after work. It just… sucked. It sucked so much that I didn’t realize how much it sucked until now – almost midnight.

Let’s see what I did today:

  • I sent some emails. One of them I left as a draft because I “didn’t have the time” to finish it up and send it.
  • I watched a few videos from the “User Innovation” course at MIT. I was planning to read parts of the book (I didn’t) and go through the exercises (I didn’t either).
  • I aimlessly played a few times with my dragon staff every couple of hours.
  • As I was watching one of the MIT videos, I wondered how cool it would be to watch it on my Gear VR. I wasted 30 minutes trying to get it to work unsuccessfully.
  • Ghania invited me over for a yoga class, but I was “too busy”.
  • I didn’t do the hard things. It’s a lot easier to mindlessly watch a video than actually go through the thought process in the exercises of the course. It’s a lot easier to defer more brain intensive work like thinking of how to coordinate the tech talks for the NYUAD hackathon that’s coming up, and even the less brain intensive and more important work like reaching out to people I’ll meet at the MIT bootcamp in a few days.

I basically got nothing done today. I am writing this to tell myself that this is complete bullshit. This day has been completely lost and I am very annoyed.

Now that I got that off my chest, I want to reflect a little bit. I think I got nothing done today for two reasons:

  1. There is lack of direction. I didn’t have specific things I needed to finish today. I had some vague idea of things to do, but the objective behind these things wasn’t articulated or clear.
  2. There is lack of accountability. There’s nothing directly at risk by me doing nothing today. There’s no pressure on me to perform.

I know that I can do orders of magnitude more in the presence of direction and accountability. The key now is to make it present all the time – or at least as often as possible.

I’ll begin by waking up early tomorrow and enumerating what I want to get out of my day for starters, and then I’ll spend more time thinking about how to build accountability.

The Poetry Gathering

Last Sunday my friend Maysa, whom I had met at the Techwadi conference in January, invited me to a poetry meet-up at a bookstore here in San Francisco.

That Sunday was the 10th anniversary of a car bomb that exploded on Mutanabbi Street in Baghdad, its historic bookselling center, killing 26 people.

There was a crowd of maybe 30 people in that bookstore. It was an older crowd and I enjoyed their company. The bookstore itself was very pleasant. I felt a bit of nostalgia when I encountered books like this fine one:

All the poetry was in English. While I objectively thought that some of the poems recited were nice, they don’t quite resonate with me in the same way that Arabic poetry does. I keep finding that surprising given that I write and read significantly more English than Arabic.

Of the people at the gathering I met up with Deema Shehabi. She is a Gazan as well and was one of the organizers. Despite how short my conversation was with her, I immediately felt that she is a very wonderful woman and is incredibly nice. She’ll be informing me of an upcoming dinner/gathering. More on that when that happens.

Here’s a picture of how the meet-up was. The one reciting poetry to the group was Deema.

I don’t want to get unnecessarily philosophical, but while I was there I kept them thinking about an article I read the other day about putting a dent in the universe.

I started thinking to myself, did this gathering actually matter? More broadly, did any of the poetry they shared actually matter? Was the purpose of this gathering to spread awareness around the bombing incident or issues in Baghdad? Or, was it only for pleasure? I argue that it was the latter.

The reason I am arguing that this work isn’t changing the world is because it seems to me that the primary consumer of the output of these poets/literature enthusiasts is other poets/literature enthusiasts.

I share the hypothesis with the author of the article I linked to above that, in order to make a dent in the universe, your output needs to be free. Free in the sense that, people who are potentially very different from you find utility in your output in ways that may perhaps surprise you.

I don’t know why I went off on this philosophical tangent. This thought process isn’t yet crisp in my head, but I am sharing it here in its rough form nonetheless.