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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Finding Roommates

Who knew that finding a place in SF would be so difficult! As an effort to find potential roommates, I am creating this post which has more detailed information about myself.

I was born in Long Beach in southern California while my dad was on a two year project in the States. My parents returned to Egypt shortly (less than a year) after I was born because the project ended and not because I was born. I was raised in Cairo and lived there most of my life till I transfered to UCLA after my sophomore year. I heared all kinds of misconceptions about Egypt, the most interesting ones were that the president lives in the pyramid, Egyptians speak Egyptian and ride camels. After I graduated, I realocated to the bay area as part of my new job. I have to say, the bay area really rocks and is orders of magnitude better than LA. For the past two years, I have been living in San Mateo within close proximity to work. I decided that this is enough suburb life for me till I retire.

I have wide range of interests that keep evolving over time. The most recent ones are salsa dancing, 3oud or the lute (a middle eastern musical instrument) and painting, all of which are work in progress. I have taken 7 years of french at school and sadly I don't know how to say that in french without going to google translate. I started taking classes again to recapture my previous glory with the romantic language. I enjoy the outdoors from sailing to hiking and I have yet to snowboard at Tahoe. I follow soccer news religiously (mainly the premiership and la liga) and I am a big Barca fan, Go Roonie. I used to play squash regularly at UCLA and for quite some time here till Stanford became more strict letting non students use their courts. I currently work as a software engineer with entrepreneurial aspirations. Its a bumpy road but I won't stop till I get there with there being a constantly moving target. I have interests in technology, business and the AI part of neuroscience. I am in a constant learning phase and in the past two years I have taken classes in tennis, public speaking, improv acting, salsa dancing, painting and french.

I use Pandora for my music needs. You can check my profile here:

I use librarything for documenting the books I have read. You can view a catalog of books I read recently here:

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Brilliance of A Writer

I am not much of a fiction reader. I always thought there are better ways to get entertained like watching a movie or a sitcom. Well, I was chit-chatting w/t a co-worker the other day when he mentioned that reading helps him get to sleep faster, so I thought why not, let's give it a try. Now, who do I start reading for? That was easy, Mahfouz was an obvious first choice. Having been raised in Egypt, Naguib Mahfouz for me is a cultural icon to say the very least. So, I drove to the local Barnes and Noble book store and I was very proud to find a whole section dedicated to Mahfouz's work all translated in English. I picked up Midaq Alley the shortest novel I could find. Lemme first mention that I have not read any of Mahfouz's work except for a short story that I studied at high school and I can't even remember which one that was. And man oh man, have I been missing out! The first couple of days reading the book, I was enjoying it so much to the extent that I was looking forward to bedtime everyday. Its really nothing specific to that book, its Mahfouz's writing style that is quite the extraordinary. A typical fiction story consists of two things: dialogue between the characters and description by the author. I usually skip the description part cuz I find it boring and does not add any new information. Well, Naguib Mahfouz is an exception. I would say 90% of his talent lies in his characters description. He presents a very real and deep descrition of the characters that made me feel like I knew the characters for ages. And, to compare that with any other author's descriptive skills would be like comparing a 2d image to a 3d hologram, excuse my geeky analogy. I don't need to add any further praise for a writer whose work has been translated to 6+ languages and has a Nobel prize in literature among his long list of awards. Here's a snippet of his writing in Midaq Alley describing, one of the characters, Uncle Kamel:
"He is a hulk of a man, his cloak revealing legs like tree trunks and his behind large and rounded like the dome of a mosque, its central portion resting on the chair and the remainder spilling over the sides. He has a belly like a barrel, great projecting breasts, and he seems scarcely to have any neck at all. Between his shoulders lies his rounded face, so puffed and blood-flecked that his breathing makes its furrows disappear. Consequently, scarcely a single line can be seen on the surface and he seems to have neither nose nor eyes."
What's next on my reading list? Either The Thief And The Dogs or The Day The Leader Was Killed.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

On Intelligence

Wow, it has been a long time since I posted anything. I have been pretty busy with work and classes. Now, that the African Cup of Nations is over, which Egypt won by the way, I have more free time to blog again. So recently, I started reading IMPRO by Keith Johnstone. Its on improvisation and the theatre. The author has a very interesting view on intelligence. Here is what he said with some editing for the sake of length.

.. when I was in my early twenties, I saw a performance of the film, Dovzhenko's Earth. There is a sequence in which the hero, Vassily, walks alone in the twilight. We know he's in danger, and we have just seen him comforting his wife. There are shots of mist moving early in the water, and silent horses stretching their necks. Then, amazingly, peasants lying side by side, the men with their hands in the women's blouses and motionless, with idiotic smiles on thier faces as they stare at the twilight. Vassily, dressed in black, walks through Chagall village, and the dust curls up in little clouds around his feet. He walks and walks untils he walks out of frame. Then Vassily walks again and after a short time he begins to dance, and the dance is skilled like an act of thanksgiving. The dust swirls around his feet and he is like an Indian god. In one moment I knew that valuing of men by their intelligence is crazy, the the peasants watching the night sky might feel more than I feel, the man who dances might be superior to myself. From then on I noticed how warped many people of great intelligence are, and I began to value people for their actions, rather than their thoughts.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

We Can Do It!

This is gonna be a short and sweet post. I just wanna show my solidarity with the Egyptian soccer team who is now playing in the African Cup of Nations. We Can Do It!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Leveraging Users' Intelligence

I have been using Babylon for few years now. Its a pc side dictionary that can translate between most languages. Its fast with a nice user interface and lots of cool features. You can click on a word and it would give you the translation from different sources. It has spelling correction and pronunciaton. There is one feature though that really made Babylon stand out and that is user created glossaries .You can think of a glossary as a small dictionary for a particular topic like medical terms or bird names. Instead of providing all the content themselves, Babylon created a file standard that users can follow to create their own glossaries. The glossaries are shared with other users through Babylon's website. The website also keeps track of how many times a particular glossary was downloaded and that's an indication of its quality. Now all the sudden, Babylon offers very rich content with very little effort from their side. And believe me there are glossaries for almost everything from sports to animals and pets. The ones I found most useful are the slang glossaries cuz you won't find those in a regular dictionary.

The idea could be generalized to be taking advantage of users to enhance the service being offered. Off course that has to be done in a way to leverage the power user without creating a burden on the average user. I can think of three ways where that concept can be put into practice. The first way, which I described in the example of Babylon, is letting the users create most of the content. That content does not have to be only data, it could be skins for an application, graphics for buttons and so forth. Did I mention Wincustomize? It has super cool docks, widgets and icons. The second way is to let the users create most of the functionality. Wow, really? Its true, if you are the service provider all you have to do, is to design your application in the form of a platform where users can add features on top. The best example for that is firefox where most of the plug-ins are created by independent develpers. Third way is to take advantage of users' intelligence to do some, and usually the most difficult part, of the logic. Instead of implementing the logic through lines of code, it would happen in users' brains. How does Gmail know if a message is a spam or not? Let the user decide and use that information to mark that message pattern/sender as a spam in the future. Which results does Google show first when you type in a certain keyword? Use past information of what other users have selected in correspondence to a similar keyword.

So why would a user be willing to do all this work for free? Well, users like to be associated with successful applications, because that in turn makes them successful. Second, its a huge source of personal gratification to know that something you created is being used by alot of people. Third, they get rewarded through fame as they get name credit for their contribution especially if its popular among other users. The best part is that its not only free contributions from users, its also free marketing because users would be marketing their own work. So in summary, designing a service in a way that enables users to contribute yields to reduced cost, richer features and content and better marketing.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Lessons From The Past

I love this story and its implications. Its from the life of prophet Mohamed (pbuh). Many of the problems the Prophet faced in his life are very similar to what we experience today. There is alot to learn if we analyzed the strategic thinking of the Prophet. So the story goes like this: When the prophet was assigned with the task of spreading Islam, he started doing so in secret first. Few people, mostly black and slaves, started converting and rumors started to spread about the new religion. The rich and wealthy in Mekka were not happy about this new religion mainly because it calls for equality between the rich and the poor, the slave and the free. Their natural response to maintain their status was to fight Islam and they started torturing the prophet's followers to force them to convert back. The Prophet's decision at that time was to move from Mecca to the neighbouring city of Al-Madina. This decision is really the key of the story. The Prophet did not say, I am gonna stay and God will help us. He did not say it does not matter if the followers died because its for a good cause and they will eventually be rewarded in the after life. Instead, the Prophet was practical. He had a plan and long term goals. He recognized his weakness and that staying in Mecca would slow down the spreading of the religion. He decided to move to Madina where muslims can grow in size and power. And it did not exactly happen over one night. It took around 8 years before Muslims were strong enough and went back to Mecca but this time victorers. What's interesting to note from this story: is that it is not enough to only have a just cause, you need strength as well. Otherwise your voice won't be heard and the facts could be distorted and you won't have the means to correct that. In the Prophet's story, when the Muslims seized back Mecca, the Prophet did not take revenge but instead set his enemies free. That had an enoromous effect in making more and more people convert to Islam. Can we learn from this story and apply it to what's happening in our lives today?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

How To Create Wealth

Recently, I finished reading Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham. Paul Graham is an essayist, painter and programmer. The book is a compilation of articles he wrote on his blog. He writes about random and diverse topics that he finds interesting. Some of his good articles are: Why Nerds Are Unpopular and Hackers and Painters where he draws the analogy between programming and painting. However, the one that really got my attention was this one: How to Create Wealth. Graham first describes the difference between wealth and money and explains how wealth is not fixed (i.e. we can all be wealthy). He then argues that the fastest way to create wealth is through start-ups and explains why start-ups are usually associated with technology. One of the memorable quotes from his article:
"Economically, you can think of a startup as a way to compress your whole working life into a few years. Instead of working at a low intensity for forty years, you work as hard as you possibly can for four"
Great article and worth checking out.