Chapter 0: Egypt

My stay in Egypt lasted ended up lasting 24 days. I wish I had been more diligent to write more about my experience. I am now flying out to Beirut, which will be my home for the next few weeks.
I don’t have a particular agenda writing this post. It’ll mostly be random thoughts that pop in my head around my experience thus far.
– It’s not as scary I thought. Not even close. The thought of leaving my job at Twitter and leaving the country with no plan was daunting to me and it took me months to build up the courage to do it. I was particularly worried about waking up in the morning and face the hard fact that I don’t know where life is taking me, that I don’t know what I am doing, that I am wasting my time, that I have no job, that I gave up my career, that I no longer have a paycheck, etc etc. But, having done it, it doesn’t feel that bad at all. It’s actually quite exciting – at least for now.
– I am very very glad to have made it to Egypt at this time. I was very fortunate to visit my grandmother – twice – prior to her death two weeks ago. It gives me a lot of comfort and peace that I cared for her and stayed close till the last minute, as painful as it was. There were a number of deaths in my family circle over the last few weeks, and each one was a stronger reminder for me that, in the grand scheme of things, nothing matters. And, as such, nothing ought to be taken seriously.
– I really enjoy being close to family. Even though the cultural differences between us had grown over time, I really enjoy being around them more regularly. I want to keep that in my life. I don’t want to always be away as I have been the last nine years.
– I love my circle of friends in Egypt. They are all forward thinking, ambitious, working on interesting projects, and are super fun to hang out with.
Lebanon will my first “experiment” post the stable days of San Francisco. It’ll involve exploring a new part of the Middle East and doing work that I suspect I would deeply connect with. I’ll share more details soon. I’ll leave this post at that – plane is landing!

Review: Seven Brief Lessons on Physics

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very simple and brief read on modern physics. The author primarily discussed two major developments in physics in the 20th century: general relativity and quantum mechanics. He later used both of these theories to describe our current understanding of very big things (cosmos) and very small things (subatomic particles).

In later parts of the book the author talks about how both of these theories view the universe in a fundamentally different way. General relativity views the world as curved space where everything is continuous, and in quantum mechanics the world is a flat space with discontinuous amounts of energy (quanta).

The last two lessons were unrelated and felt to me a bit out of place, but aside from that the book did definitely peak my curiosity and is pushing me to learn more about the subject.

My favorite part of the book was the lesson introducing the theory of general relativity and how it refined our understanding of the universe. The theory lead to predicting that the sun causes light to deviate, that time passes by more quickly high up than below, that space can expand and contract, that space cannot stand still, that space is currently expanding and that the expansion has been triggered by the explosion of an extremely hot and small universe (i.e. the big bang). The simplicity and elegance of how one theory could explain so much is breathtaking.

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وفاة جدتي و عزاء النفاق

من أسبوع تقريبا كنت أنا و مجموعة من الأصدقاء نستمتع بغروب ساحر على شاطئ لاجونا في دهب بسيناء. كان غروبا مليئا بالسمر و المرح. بعد ساعة تقريبا من قعدتنا على الشاطئ وجدت هذه الرسالة متروكة لي على تليفوني:

لا يسعني أن أقول سوى أنني شعرت بحزن ساكن. شعرت بالحزن على فراق جدتي، و شعرت بالسكينة لأنني كنت على تواصل شبه دائم معها لمدة سنين. شعرت بالسكينة لأنني كنت في مصر وقت وفاتها و تمكنت من زيارتها مرتين – مرة قبل خروجها من المستشفى و مرة في بيتها قبل أن تُتوفّى بخمسة أيام.

للأسف لم أحضر دفنتها و لكن حضرت عزائها، و للأسف وجدت منسابة العزاء هي ليست إلا مناسبة نفاق. أغلب من حضروا العزاء هم أُناس لا يمتّون لجدتي بصلة، و إن كانوا يمُتّون إليها بصلة فقليل منهم كانوا يكترثوا بها أو يسألوا عنها وقت حياتها. و حينما يعزون يعزونك بمشاعر باردة و لا ينظرون إليك نظر العين. حتى الشيخين الذين كانا يرتلا القرآن كانا يتسامران معا بين تلاوة تلك الآية و تلك، فبالنسبة لهما العزاء مجرد “بزنس” لا أكثر و لا أقل، و للأسف لا يمكنني أن ألومهم على تفكيرهم هذا.

هل صارت مناسبة العزاء كما هي عليه الآن غير ملائمة لعصرنا هذا؟ ربما. للأسف سادها النفاق كما يسود أغلب عادات هذا المجتمع.

ثاني يوم لي في مصر

و ها قد مضى اليوم الثاني، و أظنه مضى أسرع من اليوم الذي سبقه. قضيت أغلب اليوم مع العائلة – من صلاة العيد بعد الفجر إلى آخر الليل حينما وصّلنا أخي و إسراء و الأولاد إلى المطار. يذهبون الليلة إلى كندا و يقضون هناك الصيف كله. كم أتمنى أن كنت أقضي معهم وقتا أكثر.

هذه صورة التقطها اليوم مع أبناء أخي:

من الغد يبدأ العمل. للحديث بقية.

أول يوم لي في مصر

مضى يوم كامل على زيارتي لمصر. أخذت قسطا كبيرا و مستحقا من النوم، و قضيت وقتا ممتعا مع عائلتي و أبناء أخي الصغار و زرت جدتي في المستشفى. لا أستطيع القول أنني أشعر بالسعادة لأن عقلي لا يزال منشغلا بالمستقبل الغامض الذي ينتظرني، و لكنني بسعتي أن أقول أنني أشعر بالسكينة.

و الليلة هي أول ليال عيد الفطر. كل عام و أنتم بخير.

“This is not Cairo”

I am sitting at the Swiss Business Lounge in Geneva as I am writing this. I was supposed to be in Cairo about twelve hours ago, but my Lufthansa flight from Munich kept being delayed, and then when we boarded the pilot said that he is unable to fly the plane and we had to get off.

The way Lufthansa dealt with the situation was a complete shit show in my opinion, contrary to all my expectations. Instead of offering hotels to us they offered us pillows and blankets so we can sleep in the terminal (it was late at night then), and given that all restaurants were closed they offered us “water and chocolate”.

Unfortunately things got chaotic very quickly, as is usually the case when you have a crowd that is predominantly Egyptian. Passengers were yelling at the Lufthansa service crew, and understandably so. What disappointed me though was that the crowd had dedicated their effort to complain rather than calm down and look into resolving the situation.

What I found most disappointing, however, was the manager at the Lufthansa service desk, who got angry in response to the crowd’s protests and shouted “This is not Cairo!”

As expected, this comment added fuel to the fire and the crowd was enraged. I was very angry with this comment myself, yet deep inside me I knew that he was right. Objectively speaking, Cairo is one giant mess of a city, and it’s hard to compete with Egyptians when it comes to chaos and lack or organization.

I am sad. I am sad that Arabs disrespect themselves in their own countries and as a result are disrespected internationally as such. I want to fix this. I am not sure how exactly just yet, but I really hope to see this change during my lifetime.

Anyways, I’ll be shortly catching my flight to Egypt. A new chapter in my life is about to begin.

The Space Balloon Experiment

I spent the bulk of today with Nishanth, Carlos, Nick Pisarro, and Sai. We went to Tracy, California. Or, more specifically, we went to 37.642266, -121.395005.

Today was the launch date of project “Space Dust”, where we were going to launch a weather balloon carrying a payload with cameras + other sensors to an altitude of roughly 100,000 feet to record footage.

I brought up the idea of this project after reading guides on how to do it, and I felt it would be a great way to do something fun and that involves teamwork.

The planning for the project wasn’t as thorough as I had hoped, and with a project this complex this was a dangerous sign. Nonetheless, I think we got pretty far. We had everything set up – filling the balloon, securing the payload, electronics, spot tracker, radar reflector, etc. Everything came to a halt though when we realized that the helium we had wasn’t enough to lift the payload. Oops.

On a related note, I tried out the new Spectacles that the team at Twitter had (very thankfully!) gifted me to document this experience. I must say, it’s a pretty dandy piece of hardware. One thing I learned from this is that I need to say the word “alright” a lot less often.

A New Beginning

I have been anticipating this moment for so long. A few days ago I formally gave notice to Mark Kent, my then manager, that my last day at Twitter will be Friday, June 16th – yesterday!

Yesterday was surely a bittersweet day. Lots of farewells and goodbyes with people whom I love and enjoyed spending the bulk of my waking hours with. It made me realize more and more how I should invest more time and energy in fostering relationships with those around me.

The structured life that I have been accustomed to for the last three years has now ended. I no longer have a job, no source of income, and no stable home. I don’t even have plans for what I’ll be doing next. I have a flight to Egypt that leaves on the 21st so I can spend time with family, but that’s all there is.

In some way, this may sound like I am recklessly rebelling against my current lifestyle or committing some mild form of suicide. There is undeniably some truth to that, but there’s also more to it than that.

There’s so much on my mind but I’ll leave it at that for now. It’s 3am already and I spent all night with Nishanth and Nick Pisarro at Noisebridge where we were preparing for our space balloon launch. We have to wake up in less than four hours and launch this baby! Stay tuned.

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.