The Weekend Project

It's around 4.30 in the morning right now. I woke up around an hour ago after taking a five hour "nap". I was supposed to go to the Techshop with Omar and work on some art projects, but I saw him falling asleep at around the same time I did too. I guess it wasn't meant to be.

I am not feeling particularly great. I came back home yesterday after a long brainstorming session with Sean. Sean and I have been spending a lot of time together lately. We're both passionate about building impactful things that will help change people's lives, and we've been conducting some brainstorming sessions to see what kind of projects we can work on together.

For this weekend, we thought we'd do an experiment where, instead of trying to do something big, we'd try to do something small over the weekend and sell it, whatever that small thing might be. One thing we talked about building, as a joke, is to make coasters made of cork with logos of "unicorn" companies and give them a hefty price tag. In a way, they'd be overvalued, just like some of the unicorns out there.

We did create a prototype, but the prototype didn't excite us. It felt cheap and there was nothing unique about it. In addition to that, there was this raging voice inside me inquiring why on earth am I wasting my time making a coaster. It's just not significant to me nor is it something I care about or would use.

Instead of refining the prototype, I think we silently disregarded it and were brainstorming another idea, and then another, and then another until we parted ways later that night. We didn't even commit to meeting up tomorrow to finish up this weekend project, and so it seems like this weekend project failed.

But, why did it fail? Is it because I wasn't excited? Is it because I didn't persist hard enough? Is it because the experiment itself was flawed? I think that's something worth diving into.

There's no question that my excitement clearly faded soon after we started working on the project, and it's also very clear to me that we didn't persist enough in trying to make things work. But, what about the setup of the experiment itself?

The experiment, as I remember it being phrased Thursday night when we thought about it, is to build something over the weekend and sell it. It is by no means meant to be a long term project, but the process of building something end-to-end and selling it, we thought, would be an interesting exercise.

As we started working and, now that I think about it, I realize there were fatal flaws with this experiment:

1. The objective wasn't clear.

What metrics we can look at to measure whether or not we succeeded? How many do we need to sell for us to call the experiment a success? Is selling just one to a friend sufficient, or should we aim to sell a dozen? Do we have to build the product ourselves, or is just selling an existing product sufficient? Does the product have to meet a particular quality bar - something what we're proud of sharing with the world?

None of these questions were things that Sean and I had discussed beforehand. As a result, we wasted a lot of brain cycles focusing on things that, in retrospect, don't really matter much. If we just cared about selling one, do we really need to spend a lot of time thinking about how we make it polished? Does it need to a generic product that can be used as a coaster, a trivet, a placemat, and a piece of art to hang on your wall all at the same time? Probably not.

Had we been very crisp about the objective from the very beginning, a lot of these discussions could have been avoided.

2. The goal wasn't clear.

Not just the objective was unclear, but also the goal that we're striving towards by accomplishing the objective was unclear. Is the goal to learn how to build products quickly and ship it? Is it to be resourceful and scrappy? Is it to be a better salesman and learn how to market a product? Is the goal to make money? Is the goal to be an entrepreneur? Is the goal to just help people in general?

These things matter - a lot. I know it might be too simplistic to have one very specific goal and nothing else since all these goals are often intertwined. For example, to be a successful entrepreneur you need to make money, and to make money you need to be good at selling, and you probably want to work on something that helps people as well, and to be helpful for people a sense of creativity and ability to build products quickly would be a substantial advantage, and so on.

The point here though is to have a clear sense of prioritization. Out of all these goals, which one matters the most, and how would I stack the other goals? At first stab, I'd say that, for myself, my top priority would be to impact as many people as possible, but even that's inherently vague. Not only that, but when people say they want to "impact people", I feel like it's often really just a generic altruistic-sounding umbrella that covers their real intention, which could be less altruistic - like being famous or making money (and there's nothing wrong with that).

Anyways, writing the last couple of paragraphs about goals were a bit of struggle for me, and I take that as a signal that I really need to brush up my goals and prioritize them. Otherwise I, in every sense of the word, don't know what I am doing.

Time for me to go watch the sunrise.

Cardboard Etching

I've been in talks with Omar for a while about how we wanted to add an artistic touch to our room. But, up until yesterday, it was all talk and no action.

I was at the Techshop last night working on my tax return and, as I was about to head out, I decided that it was time to bite the bullet and do something that we can use in our room. And, since I've been playing with laser etching the past few days, I decided to etch Arabic calligraphy, since it's an art form that I love.

I found this beautiful Arabic calligraphy art piece online


I then decided to try out etching on cardboard, mostly because it was cheap, and partially because I was wondering how it look like. The results were much better than I expected. Check this out:

Not bad, right? Super economical too. In fact, Omar and I are now considering covering entire walls with cardboard tiles with various works of art. Maybe arrange the different pieces like a bee hive or something.

Laser Cutting Goodness

They don't call it a habit unless you stick to it, and I am sticking! I shall never stop taking these notes and documenting my life, for I have found clarity and peace of mind through this.

Now, enough of being poetic. Last Saturday night was a great night. I was at the Techshop for nearly 5 hours working with the laser cutter there and playing some board games with extremely nice people.

I think, finally, I can say that I have become very comfortable using a laser cutter. I love its simplicity, speed, and the vast scope of applications it has.

That night I worked on etching a photo and my roommates Omar, Kate, and Jennifer. Here's a video of how it turned. It took me a while to figure out how to format the picture in a way that it would look well and detailed on the MDF I was cutting on, but I'd say it turned out pretty good!

Also, Omar came to the Techshop later that night and on piece of acrylic I helped him etch an owl that he wants for an LED project he's been spearheading. Looking forward to seeing how that turns out!

Not only that, but this morning I remembered that it was our roommate Kate's birthday! I used my newly acquired laser cutting skills to etch her a "happy birthday" frame. It took me a good number of tries to make this print. It would etch the picture perfectly but for some reason it wouldn't cut out the frame, that's when I realized that I set the thickness of the material incorrectly in the software.

Note to self: always always always measure the thickness of your material before cutting it.

That's been my laser cutting adventure the last few days. A lot more to come (and by a lot, I mean a lot). I am pumped!

Hacking Laundry

The laundry machines we have in our building have always been an inconvenience. Not only is it costly, but you better have a couple of dozen quarters at hand to get one load done. And, given that my laundry stars seem to align on late Sundays, when all banks are closed, getting a hold of all these quarters wasn't exactly the most exciting pre-laundry workout.

While I finally stepped up to solve this problem by piling a mountain of quarters in my room, I wondered how hackable were the coin slide machines used by these laundry machines. If I feed it something the size of a quarter, would it work? I 3D printed a quarter to answer that question, and it turns out that, yes, it works!

For this one-off experiment, I 3D printed one quarter and tested it out on one machine that had an extra quarter slot open. Not that I intend to rip off the laundromat, but I was curious how hackable these mechanical machines were.

Zen and Zennifer

Earlier this evening I met up with Jennifer Shtaway, the girl I met and traveled with the bulk of the time I was in Ecuador. Jennifer also lives in San Francisco, and this evening was the first time we caught up since our Ecuador trip.

Lately, Jennifer has been going to Zen classes at the Zen Center in Hayes Valley. She asked me to join her for the class today. Having done some light reading about Zen, I thought it would be an interesting experience.

The class was about 90 minutes long. The first 20 minutes we meditated, focusing as much we can on our breath. It reminded me of the concept of "mind waves", which I read about as I was skimming a book on Zen a number of months ago. A deficiency in the human brain is if you want it to stop thinking about something, you in the process think more about it. In this case, if you're trying to focus on your breath but are getting distracted, trying to force your brain to stop thinking about the distractions often distracts the brain even further. Instead, you should consider these distractions as a wave in your mind. Just let it go, let your brain think about it as it wishes, and then the wave will diminish and you'll eventually get back to your breath.

Anyways, I thought the twenty minute meditation session was mildly soothing. Michael, the person leading the sessions, gave a talk about being present, and that served as a reminder for me. He gave an analogy of him going to a restaurant, but having to sit in the waiting room until he gets seated. In the waiting room, all he is thinking about is when he's going to get seated, and the great times and delicious food that awaits him inside. The waiting room, on the other hand, is boring and crammed. In that state of mind, Michael was spending the bulk of his energy thinking of the future, and has to deal with the unfortunate circumstance of the present (waiting in the waiting room) to attain the better future.

The vast majority of our effort and our energy is spent thinking about what we're going to do next or what we've done in the past, and very little of it is spent on the now - on the present. In Zen, he mentioned, the focus is always on the now.

It's getting late and I need to get to bed, but I thought I'd write this to serve as a reminder for me. I am focusing on the future far more than I am focusing on the present, and finding that balance of focus between the two is something I'll try to be more deliberate about moving forward.

The Egyptian Breakfast

I went to Palo Alto this morning to go to breakfast with the gang at Stanford. I always enjoy meeting up with those fine folks. Jawad, Abood, and a bunch other people really make my Sundays and put it off to a great start.

There's certainly a lot to learn from Jawad, the organizer of this near weekly breakfast. The breakfasts he organizes continue to be what I'd consider a backbone for a great network of beautiful souls in the area. I have made a number of very valuable connections through it - friends whom I would love to keep for a lifetime.

Here's a picture from our last breakfast:


Taking the basic metal class

Earlier today I went to the techshop to continue playing with metals. Last week, I learned how to operate a Tormach CNC milling machine. This time, however, I dived into simpler and more manual machines around the shop. I played with a lot of similar machines while growing up and working in my dad's factory in Cairo, but it was a great refresher nonetheless. Needless to say, the machines I worked with are way waaay safer than their counterparts in Egypt that I used to operate.

The teacher came in late, however, and we had a lot less time than we typically would. Here's what was supposed to be a bottle opener. It's cut from 1/8" steel but the cut was very rough, to say the least.


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.