Decluttering my life

Sharing a room and having no closet space means that I have to be especially selective about the things I possess. For the past number of months there has increasingly been random items all over the room – on the table, on the chair, on the floor, by the couch, etc. Furthermore, our kitchen has a ton of storage space that’s being used inefficiently.

I felt the sudden urge to do all this decluttering on a Saturday night because I felt a strong urge to declutter my mind. I need to get rid of things in my life that don’t matter – be it physical belongings, useless or uninteresting outings, activities that aren’t engaging, and (unfortunately) people that add no value to my life.

So far I’ve packed about 20% of my clothes to give away and have thrown out two cabins worth of useless fluff from the kitchen – a lot more to come in the next little while.

Aga the Spiritual Healer

It’s been some time since I hosted people from Couchsurfing. This weekend I hosted a woman who runs by the name Aga La Magica. Aga is a shaman healer, a photographer, and an artist. Since I haven’t really interacted with spiritual healers before, I thought I would be in for a fun weekend by hosting her.

In the past few years I lost touch with and completely disregarded spirituality. However, my experience in Ecuador brought something incredibly important to my awareness – having the “zen” state of mind. I say “zen” in quotes because this isn’t necessarily the state of mind associated with Zen Buddhism, but rather the state of mind where I felt extremely content and present. I definitely reached that state of mind on New Year’s eve in Ecuador (for reasons too long to mention in this post). In addition to being very present and content with myself, I was so “on” and open to people, very confident – a super human!

I have been wondering and researching since how I can attain this state of mind in a natural and sustainable way. Meditations sounded like a good candidate.

Aga spent two nights with me and we talked a fair bit about meditation and her experience with vipassana. I can definitely sense that she is a very content person and at peace with herself. Not to mention, she looked beautifully young for someone her age.

Aga is a vegan, and learning more about her veganism and observing her meals are swaying me a bit towards that – the meals looked so healthy and delicious!

I didn’t have the time to fully understand Aga’s spiritual side yet, but we meditated together last night after a deep stretch yoga session. The deep breathing she asked me to do gave me a nice tingling feeling inside. I felt abnormally alert afterwards and also had very good sleep that night.

Aga will be moving to San Francisco soon, and I’ll be spending more time with her to understand her persona and mindset better – definitely something to learn there.

In the meantime, I’ll be sure to drink more of the delicious chai she recommended and incorporate more essential oils in my life (frankincense was a favorite of hers).

My first CNC Milling Class

Today I went to the Techshop to attend a class on CNC milling. I must admit, I barely knew anything about CNC machines (or milling in general, for that matter). A lot of the vocabulary and terminology used was a bit over my head, but it was an amusing challenge.

We created a bottle opener from a thick sheet of aluminum. It turned out to be super sturdy and the finish was excellent.

Notes to self:

  • Bayshore metals is a great place in SF to get raw materials.
  • G Wizard was highly recommended by the instructor for feeds and speeds.

Hello from Fairbanks, Alaska

Tonight is my sixth night in Fairbanks, Alaska. I must say, I am in love. I feel like I have been missing out very much on the beauty of Winter – it’s the kind of beauty I never grew to appreciate. So far in Fairbanks I have been to Chena hot springs, went dog mushing, did some car sledding, snow shoeing, cross country skiing, night gazing in a hot tub, and witnessed strong auroras multiple times.

The nature and mono-color beauty I am finding here is giving me peace. I am with the company of 7 other TellApart/Twitter colleagues and 2 of their companions, and I couldn’t have asked for better company.

Today we were all working from University of Alaska Fairbanks, had dinner at a Hawaiian restaurant, and at night Wei, Craig, and I enjoyed being in a hot tub sipping hot chocolate and star gazing in -25 degree weather.

I am trying to get into the habit of writing every day for five minutes. I have a lot more to talk about, but I’ve been through my five minutes today. Onward.

3D Printing Nuances

I learned yesterday a lot about the nuances of 3D printing. A few things I learned:

  • Masking tape + glue isn’t nearly as good of an adhesive as double sided tape.
  • How to change the filament. At first I was inserting the filament in the wrong hole.
  • How to command the 3D printer to extrude or retract the filament.
  • Carbon fiber prints are so much better than plastic prints (more expensive as well)
  • How to handle a filament jam.

I spent a full hour waiting for the index finger of the inmoov robot to print, but then the filament got jammed near the end. Frustrating.

On a more positive note, I printed a shoelace lock – basically something that keeps the shoe laces tight, so you don’t have to tie your shoe laces again.

Taiwan! (aka “I’m still alive”)

It’s been well over a year since I last blogged. Now that I am forced to write a blog post for my school, I might as well update you (and myself) with what I’ve been up to the past 15 months.

So many events happened since my last blog post in October of 2012. Here are the highlights:

  • November & December 2012: Worked at the Evernote office in Beijing, China
  • January 2013 – April 2013: My 4B semester at the University of Waterloo in Canada
  • May 2013 – August 2013: Started kottab.org, an initiative dedicated to improving the quality of education in the Arab World
  • September 2013 – January 2014: On exchange for my final semester of school at National Taiwan University in Taipei, Taiwan

In addition to the highlights above, I managed to squeeze in trips to Jordan, Korea, Japan, California, Germany, Austria, and the Philippines.

The reason I am writing this blog post is because NTU, the school I have been studying at for my last semester, requires me to write a blog post to document my experience. Therefore, my exchange experience in Taiwan will be the primary focus of this post. I won’t be writing anything too personal, but I’ll rather focus on observations I have made about this beautiful place.

Taiwan is now a place that’s very near and dear to my heart. I fell in love with my university, the people I met there, the culture, the landscape, and even the weather!

The Education

My exchange to Taiwan is the second exchange experience I have. My first exchange experience was in Singapore in early 2011 at National University of Singapore (NUS). While I immensely enjoyed my exchange experience in Singapore, I was very disappointed by the quality of education that I received at NUS. Aside from the Mandarin course that I took there, the technical courses were way too easy and I benefited little from them. This is a huge contrast compared to my experience at NTU. All the courses at NTU, be it Mandarin or computer science related courses, were top notch. The courses were very demanding, well structured, and I benefited a lot from them. In fact, the quality of the courses that I took at NTU is better than most of the courses that I took during my fourth year at the University of Waterloo, my home university.

Two of the three technical courses that I took at NTU were taught in Mandarin. Assessments and lecture slides, however, were in English. This was a bit challenging, but was a very interesting experience. I realized it’s actually doable to take these courses without being terribly fluent in Mandarin. The English slides, combined with the few words that I can understand from what the instructor is saying, I can imagine in my head the context and the general message the instructor is trying to convey.

One thing I really admire at NTU was how seriously they take sports and art. You can take courses there in, say, Rumba dancing or ping pong, and you’d be given credit that can count towards your degree.

The People

I found the Taiwanese very hospitable and welcoming. I had two language exchange partners there and one of them, 彭新韵, I spent a considerable amount of time with. A friend of mine was a Taiwanese Canadian and she also introduced me to her family, whom had generously invited me over dinner and took me on a trip to Jiufen, a beautiful gold mining town off the northern coast of Taiwan.

A couple of other observations:

  • Honesty: I found the people in Taiwan a lot more honest and direct than those in Mainland China. When I was in markets in China, I usually had to bargain down to one third of the price initially proposed. In Taiwan, although more expensive, sellers propose reasonable prices and leave little room for bargaining.
  • Beauty ideal: I observed that the Taiwanese adopt the Western beauty ideal and it was something that I, an Arab, was able to experience up close. Whenever I am accompanying Westerners, I very often notice how the Taiwanese would often give them a more “special” treatment compared to the way they would treat me. That’s not to say that they weren’t super friendly to me, but that a slight disparity in treatment (compared with those who are tall, blue-eyed and/or blonde) was noticeable.

With Mainland China

How the Taiwanese and Chinese perceived each other was a matter I was really curious about, but it was something very difficult to observe first-hand. My Mandarin was not good enough to tell apart Mainlanders from Taiwanese. From what I have gathered though, the Taiwanese didn’t think very highly of Mainlanders and consider them less developed. On the flip side, I have seen several cars driving around Taipei with a huge flag of mainland China. They had large microphones mounted on top and giving speeches that are presumably trying to persuade the Taiwanese to be part of China again.

For the Taiwanese, it’s easy for them to visit China. China even offers big incentives and high salaries to those who wish to move and live in mainland China. The Chinese, on the other hand, need a visa to visit Taiwan and, from what I heard, might need to be part of a tour group to visit.

Cleanliness

I found the streets of Taipei very clean (or, at least relatively, given that I moved there after months of living in Cairo, Egypt). It didn’t take me very long to notice though that there are very few trash cans. From what I understood, the reason is they don’t want households and shops abusing it for disposing their own waste. It ends up being a slight inconvenience having to carry an empty cup for an hour after you finish a drink, but you quickly get used to it. Recycling is a big thing in Taiwan as well, and that’s something I highly admired.

Food

There were tons of food options in Taipei, especially in Gongguan where I was living. Aside from the traditional Taiwanese food, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese cuisines are available in abundance.

Sightseeing

I fell in love with the nature in Taiwan. From hot springs to geological parks to gorgeous little islands, Taiwan has an excellent transportation system that makes all these places easily (and cheaply) accessible.

Here are some quick highlights of places I have seen in Taiwan:

  • Jiufen (九份): A town on the northern coast of Taiwan. Jiufen used to be a gold mining town at the time of the Japanese, but it has now turned into a tourist destination thanks to its scenic views of the Pacific ocean.
  • Yeliu (野柳): A geological park also on the northern coast of Taiwan. The rock formations (known as hoodoo stones) are a very distinctive feature of this place.
  • Taroko (太魯閣): A gorgeous national park with very beautiful nature. There there is a place known as the “Eternal Spring Shrine”, a shrine built on top of a waterfall and considered one of the scenic landmarks in the area.
  • Green Island (綠島): An island off the coast of Taidong in Eastern Taiwan. Aside from the beautiful landscape, it is home for some really nice scuba diving spots.

As you can probably tell, I wrote this post in a bit of a hurry 🙂 I’ll try to discipline myself to post more updates in the future.

San Francisco Startup Weekend

I participated in a startup weekend event last weekend in San Francisco and, I have to say, I feel like I have learned so much in 54 hours.

Our team originally consisted of five members – myself, Steen Andersson, William Martin, Cyril Dorsaz, and Maurice Mauser. We were set out with a task of creating a digital photo frame. Our differentiator was that, instead of pulling photos from a memory card, we’d pull it wirelessly from Facebook, Picasa, iCloud, or whatever. After doing some market research, however, it turns out that similar products already exists and that the digital photo frame market isn’t a particularly growing market.

The bulk of Saturday was spent brainstorming until we settled on an idea in the afternoon. We created GetSlide (www.getslide.co), a tool to help presenters share their slide decks online and helps attendees annotate these notes online. By then, there were three of us left on the team: myself, Steen, and Will.

A few key points:

  • The biggest lesson I learned during that weekend, as obvious as it may sound, is that building the product didn’t matter very much. It was the customer validation, surveying, the business model and how to acquire the first key customers that mattered.
  • Worked and met some great people.
  • I pitched three times during the weekend, which was some good practice.
  • I went through the frustrations of pivoting from one idea to another (and another).
  • I did surveying with another team called “Split my tab”. We marched down the streets of San Francisco asking people if they had any problems in splitting their bills.

Skiing in Tahoe

In 2009, I put up a tutorial on youtube on how to stitch a gigapixel image. Aside from the fact that the tutorial was really cheesy and that I never actually finished it, the image in the tutorial was of the beautiful lake Tahoe.

Now, almost three years later, I finally made it out to Tahoe with Tim McKague, Sally Lee, and Sean DyStanley Chan, whom I worked with at TellApart last Summer, also managed to join us for about half the trip. We all went to Squaw Valley to ski and snowboard for the entire weekend.

My track in Winter sports isn’t really the best. I have only went skiing twice before then and performed so poorly that strangers were yelling at me telling me that I “completely suck”. Nevertheless, I decided the “bite the bullet” and see how things go.

On Saturday, the first day of skiing, I think I fell ~50 times. Everyone helped in instructing me, especially Stan. I think Stan was bored enough that he decided to document my struggle. Like this one:


 

And this one:

 

On the second day though, I felt a lot of improvement and I didn’t fall nearly as often. I managed to join Tim and Sean on their skiing/snowboarding adventures. Sally decided to snowboard for her first time that day and was left to struggle for the rest of the day on the green hills. I guess Winter sports aren’t that bad after all.