Project Small Fish Complete!

It’s been a few days already, but I can finally report that Project Small Fish is officially complete! The final deliverable is in the video below:

Here’s a recap of the goals I originally set for myself:

  1. Be in a better mental state
    • In earlier posts I mentioned how I felt that I was mentally weak, and that I needed to improve my mental stamina and clarity.
  2. Be in a better physical state
    • I haven’t really took my physical fitness seriously for a long time, and there can’t be a better time to do this than now.

Here’s how I’ve evolved on both of the above fronts:

1. Be in a better mental state

To contrast my current mental state with how it was prior to Small Fish, here’s a snippet from an earlier post I wrote back in September:

When I left my job almost three months ago I wanted to spend more time focusing on my physical fitness, as it’s something I haven’t been putting as much attention to as I’d like. Here’s how things evolved:

  • I came up with a plan that I wanted to train for Half Iron Man and be ready by next Summer.
  • I ended up procrastinating and didn’t do much training, but a big hindrance for me was that a big pool was inaccessible. Traveling to Lebanon and not sticking around one location long enough makes it more difficult for me as well to commit to a gym for pool access.
  • I changed my plan to do something very simple but over an extended period of time. I decided every morning that I’d spend a couple of minutes doing ab workouts, following the guidelines of the book Convict Conditioning.
    • That plan lasted (with many misses) for 40 days, but relocating several times and the sheer ease of the workout didn’t make me feel like I was actually working out, so I subconsciously made the decision to stop.
  • The whole workout plan fell apart.

As the above points out, I was in a state of mental weakness, and even simple ab workouts I haven’t been able to do consistently.

In contrast, I started Small Fish while I was in Dusseldorf in Germany, and then I moved to Paris, Bonn, Lisbon, El-Gouna, Giza, and Cairo. In all of these cities I managed to find what it takes for me to finish my workouts. Whether that’s a calisthenics park in the city center, a tree, a fence, or a shitty pull up bar from التوحيد و النور. I stuck to the program in all these scenarios despite the very different environments.

I feel like I’m in a much better mental state and in a more positive mood.

2. Be in a better physical state

A number of friends and family members have been commenting that my physique has improved lately, and I certainly feel that as well.

  • I can now easily do 10 pull-ups, and have done 40 chin-ups across four sets on some days. I couldn’t do any of that before.
  • For the first time since my shoulder injury, I can comfortably and easily do a wall handstand.
  • I can now last a lot longer doing a frogstand, and my stance is a lot more stable.
  • There were two skills I haven’t been able to do yet: the elbow lever and the clap pull-up. I’ll incorporate these in the coming fitness project.

This project was the first one that I structured in this formal and written way, and given how well it has worked out it certainly won’t be the last.

يوم متوازن

اليوم كان أكثر الأيام توازنا منذ أسابيع:

  • لعبت مع أبي بلياردو، و أظنها أول مرة في ٢٠١٧.
  • ذهبت، و لأول مرة في زيارتي هذه لمصر، مع أبي و أمي بمفردنا للعشاء. ذهبنا إلى كشري هند قرب الحي الأول في مدينة العبور.

  • حلقت عند “هاني ربيع”، و هو أحسن حلاق رحت له في حياتي.
  • سهرت مع أمير و ابن أخي علي. أنا و علي كنا نلعب بالزهر:

  • و أخيرا و ليس آخرا، قضيت أغلب النهار أعمل على مشروع جديد. سأنوه عنه قريبا في هذه المدونة.

Restoring Balance

It’s a late night here in Cairo. Aside from posts related to Project Small Fish, I haven’t really posted much in a while.

December has been a month where I lost my balance. I was so deeply focused working on one particular project, and I got so consumed by it to the point where I have been falling short on other priorities. Examples:

  • Not spending quality time with my parents even though I’m living with them. I’m also not being a good uncle to my nephews. I haven’t been doing fun activities with them at all.
  • Barely seeing my friends.
  • Very slow in responding and getting back to people’s messages. Similarly, I didn’t follow up much with people whom I met at Riseup Summit earlier this month.
  • Not doing fun activities or adventures to add that extra spice to life.
  • Not keeping in touch with people who are important to me or greeting them on special occasions.
  • Not taking advantage of my time in Egypt (examples: taking oud lessons, calligraphy classes, etc.)
  • Not documenting what’s been going on in my life.

I’ll have follow-up posts to address how I want to tackle each of the above. I started tonight by freeing myself up for the evening and spending more play time with my nephews.

I played with Mido and he was teaching me how to build Titanic out of legos:

And I played dominoes with the little man:

 

Reflections on Europe

I left Europe last night after a whopping 56-day trip. I could not have anticipated that I’ll spend this much time there, especially when I traditionally had little interest in going to Europe. The MIT reunion was really the only major reason that drew me there in the first place.

I arrived to El Gouna in Egypt this morning. I wanted to take this time to reflect on my experience in Europe. Here’s how my itinerary in Europe panned out:

  1. Madrid, Spain
  2. Cordoba, Spain
  3. Seville, Spain
  4. Granada, Spain
  5. Tarifa, Spain
  6. Stockholm, Sweden
  7. Brussels, Belgium
  8. Dusseldorf, Germany
  9. Paris, France
  10. Bonn, Germany
  11. Lisbon, Portugal

On average, I relocated every 5 days, often using long bus rides or flights. Moving around was certainly a huge burden and barrier from me actually doing “work”. Not to mention that, in most of these places, I was staying at hostels, which are not necessarily the most productive of environments.

I am not going to lie, it was hard. Reflecting back, here are some moments that come to mind:

  • Reconnecting with my MIT comrades in Spain
  • Feeling the most lost I’ve ever been after the MIT reunion, and that was especially hard in Cordoba and Seville.
  • Applying to YC with Carlos and having some healthy brainstorming sessions.
  • Connecting with old friends like Lise-Lotte, Linnea, Rafa, and Amelie.
  • Making great friends like Marie and Alina.
  • Getting to know the EdgeRyders crew and experiencing a different model of thinking when it comes to communal living.
  • Visiting the Catacombs in Paris with Bilal, Josephine, et al. – an incredible experience!
  • Attending WebSummit in Lisbon and connected with great people there.
  • Taking some great kite-surfing classes in Tarifa.
  • Visiting INSEAD in France and learning more about their MBA program.

Gains from my trip to Europe:

  • I started becoming more project-based and I think I found an approach that helps me stick with a project and commit to it. The first, and so far successful, example of that is Project Small Fish which involves calisthenics training, and I’ve been sticking to it religiously for weeks now.
  • I experienced the state of total loss, where I had no idea what I was doing with my life – no job, no career, no friends, and no home. I like to think that I’ve become accustomed to that, and I am no longer afraid. I feel a lot stronger and more emotionally resilient thanks to the training I’ve been doing.
  • I’ve identified two projects that have occupied a great deal of my time as I was traveling. It’s still unclear where they’ll go, but at least I have been spending my time doing work that is challenging me intellectually as well as growing my skill set over time.
  • Having the freedom to connect with old friends is a huge luxury that I have, and practicing that luxury while I was in Europe was highly rewarding for me. I would love to visit and connect with more of my friends who live abroad.
  • I learned that I am not asking for help as much as I should be. I should reached out to more friends about questions I wonder about and directly ask for help. I am a bit too independent for my liking.
  • I identified some key questions that I need to answer for myself to help guide what I should be doing moving forward. Two key questions that I am contemplating on are 1) whether I should do more product as opposed to more engineering, and 2) whether I should remain attached to my Arab heritage as I currently am. I’ll be reflecting on both of these questions in more depth in the future.
  • I learned that joining a business school isn’t really what I need right now. After going to that session at INSEAD, I felt very out of place and the crowd that I met there didn’t appeal to me as a crowd I’d like to spend a year with.
  • I should be spending more. I’ve been mostly cost-cutting while I was in Europe, and I think it’s more appropriate from me to invest in myself through courses, experiences, and whatever means necessary. Time should be what I’m optimizing for as opposed to finances in the meantime.

These are just my initial reflections, and having written those down it doesn’t seem like Europe was a time ill-spent. I’ll be digging deeper into some of the points I mentioned above in the near future.

The OpenVillage Festival

Today I went to the OpenVillage Festival that’s organized by the EdgeRyders community. I got referred to this community last week through Bilal, and through online exchanges the people seemed interesting/crazy enough that I knew I had to come to Brussels to chat with them.

I admit, I am still not too clear what EdgeRyders exactly is about. The people that are part of it are clearly ambitious, knowledgeable, and interested in making a positive difference. From what I gather, the way they are aiming to achieve this is by outlining what are the different needs that humans need to be happy, and exploring how these needs can be met through collaboration as well as co-living.

The people I met today were certainly a diverse crew of talented people, and often have ways of thinking that I haven’t been used to, at least for someone coming from Silicon Valley. A reasonable portion of the people I interacted with are anti-capitalist, anti-corporation, and believe that everything should be open-sourced.

While I appreciate open-source, I am also a huge believer in the power of business. Also, while capitalism is far from perfect, I have yet to see a better model by which a society should operate. I’ll be keeping an open mind these days though – would love to observe a better (and more environmentally friendly) alternative.

We did an urgan game today where we split into teams and explored the city. Somehow, I ended up wearing an eagle mask. Here’s a picture with me and Bilal pimping it out in Brussels!

Last Day in Sweden

I just arrived to the airport in Brussels, and writing this in the tight seat of the bus that’s taking me to the city.

My last day in Sweden was quite a ride. Linnea, given her background in international relations, was planning to attend the utvecklings forum, a humanitarian forum. Out of curiosity, I decided to join. I would say it was quite beneficial.

  • I learned about Shahira Amin, an Egyptian journalist who works at Nile TV. She spoke of the struggle journalists are going through in Egypt and how freedom of the press has evolved since the days of Mubarak (it got worse).
  • We did a workshop to discuss how diversity relates to democracy. Everyone in my group presented themselves through their NGO (all the attendees apparently are working for humanitarian NGOs or for the government). I decided to represent “Kayany” since, strictly speaking, I consulted with them in Lebanon this past Summer.

I managed to meet up with Ahmed Elewa, the brother of my great friend Motaz. We’re now exploring creating a DIY youtube series in Egypt.

Towards the end of the day, Linnea was insisting that I try “Surströmming”, a fish delicacy from Sweden that, I must confess, is probably the most disgusting thing I ever smelled and tasted. Here are videos from the experience:

After that painful, yet very authentic, experience. We went for sauna + swimming in the river. The fresh cold water was a great remedy to the horror my taste buds had been through.

Finally, Linnea’s friends Amir and Victoria came over and we baked. I think this is the first time I ever bake in my life. Not a bad start, I’d say:

Anyways, now that I am in Belgium, I am quite tired of “having fun”. Time to change gears a bit.

Sweden Day 2

Today I ended up going with Linnea to the Fotografiska, Stockholm’s Photography museum. I haven’t been to that many photography museums before, but this one was certainly very special.

I got introduced to the work of Paul Hansen. His exhibition featured humanitarian photos from Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, Afghanistan, the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe, Ukraine, and Sub-Saharan Africa – a very memorable collection that left an impression on me.

Aside from the photographs, there was one part of the museum where they had three projects for RGB (Red, Green, Blue). It was a very simple setup, but left a very artistic touch. Here are a couple of photos Linnea and I took:

Later we met up with Sebastian and Joakim for a fine Swedish dinner. It was lovely catching up with these folks. I feel like a have a mini-family here in Sweden.

Catching up in Sweden

Today was a beautiful day. I met with Linnea and walked around the city together. While walking around we ran into Sebastian – what a coincidence!

 

Other than that, we went home for a home-made dinner. Linnea’s boyfriend Amir and friend Victoria came over and we had a great evening chat. I even made my signature tabouleh dish, though it didn’t come out as good as I would like.

This is just a super short update. That’s all for now.

Landed in Stockholm

I landed in Stockholm earlier this evening. My visit to Sweden will be a highly expedited one. I am only here for three days before heading to Brussels to join the OpenVillage Festival in Brussels.

Only two days ago did I decide to come here, and upon arrival I started to get those euphoric feelings of having the ultimate freedom. I feel very blessed and privileged to be able to travel around the world this easily and to have a global network of great friends.

Speaking of friends, I am here to visit my Swedish friends Linnea and Sebastian. We were close friends back in Taiwan when we were all exchange students. It’s been 3.5 years since I saw them. Can’t wait to see them over the next couple of days – so stoked!

Arabic Voice Assistant Prototype + Tarifa

It’s almost 3.30am here in Tarifa. It’s my last night in Spain, and reflecting back, it’s been quite an adventure!

I am realizing that I am not writing as much as I would like, but I’ll make an update on today and try to be more consistent and provide mini-updates.

Today was a very productive today. Firstly, I prototyped my first ever mobile app. Secondly, I prototyped something I have been thinking about for some time: an Arabic digital assistant. Voice assistants (think Siri, Amazon Echo, Google Voice search) will become more and more useful as wearables proliferate and as voice recognition reaches human parity.

Here’s a quick demo of it (in Arabic). The only thing the assistant does is schedule alarms, but that’s already super useful for me to use every day.

Work aside, Tarifa is apparently the kitesurfing capital of Europe. I took a couple of kitesurfing classes over the last two days, and earlier today I went to the beach to see the Kitesurfing League that was going on this weekend.

I also had a great Spanish dinner with Lisette & Ilga, two Dutch girls I met while here in Tarifa. A Spanish guy from my hostel also joined us, and I slowly realized he was gay given how annoyingly touchy he was (and how he’s still sitting on the couch behind me waiting for me to finish working, even though it’s almost 4am and he really should leave).

Anyways, time to sleep. Tomorrow I take the bus to Malaga, then from Malaga to Sweden!