Sunday, November 18, 2012


On my drive up from Los Angeles to San Francisco, I picked a random city and a random Starbucks for my coffee break. Opened my laptop and started typing. As I drove I had this brilliant piece of writing that I was fine-tuning in my mind and just had to stop and write it. It was going to be my best blog post yet.

I sat down next to a well-dressed, middle-aged Indian lady who had a large suitcase and was reading the papers. We exchanged courteous similes and then I started typing away.

"Are you heading down to L.A.?"
"No, I'm actually heading up to San Fran"
"Ah, I'm actually looking for a ride down to L.A."
"Oh, wish I could help you but I'm heading the other direction"
"No worries, you see, I was here on a job interview. Been unemployed for a while now, sold my car, my stuff and now I manage it one day at a time. I was here on a job interview, they paid for my Amtrack ticket up and I have no money to go back"
*speechless* "uhm.."
"I'm sorry to bother you"
"No, no, errr, I'm very sorry to hear, uhm, is there anyway I can help?"
"Well I have no money and if I can't find a ride, I might need to spend the night at a 24-hour iHop, but will need to buy something"
*speechless* "You know, I only have a few bucks on me, can I maybe buy something here in Starbucks with the card?"
"No that's fine, thank you"
*speechless* "Are you sure??"
"Yes, sorry for interrupting"

She walks out to check something, leaves her large suitcase that basically has everything she owns. Comes back, we exchange some smilies again, this time, I can't stop thinking about how this very nice lady is basically with no options and I should help, but I'm not sure how. Should I just go withdraw some money from an ATM?

"Oh you have all your luggage here, are you stuck here?" Asked a heavy, middle-aged man as he sipped on his coffee while he waited for his wife to put sugar in her drink.
"Yes, I'm stuck here, looking for a ride to L.A."
"What happened?"
"I'm unemployed, came for an interview and I have no money to buy a bus ticket"
"Come on then, we're heading to Bakersfield" said the middle-aged man without a second's hesitation.
"Are you sure?"
"Off course, from their we'll put you on a bus to LAX"
"Oh thank you"
"Don't worry about the bus ticket, we'll cover it"
"Thank you, thank you"

Again I was speechless. It was heart-wrenching that this nice lady was with no job, no money and no home, yet this man randomly asked her if she was stuck here and didn't hesitate for second to offer her a ride and a bus ticket. I closed that blogpost I intended to write. Suddenly it didn't seem very impressive. And I wrote this one.

I was never a religious man, but this situation makes you wonder if someone out there does look after us when life is kicking us so hard like this nice, middle-aged lady.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Finally, My User Manual

When I took the MBTI assessment, I was amused by it, but it was no surprise. I always knew I was more introverted, more data-based, more big picture and more of a planner. What did blow me away was stumbling on the wiki article on my personality type (INTJ), the idea there is that the different dimensions of your personality inter-play. Reading the description of the INTJ personality was striking, I resonated with a lot of what was written there. So, yeah, in case you're interested in a breakdown of my personality, there you go. Statements in in italics are copied from the wiki article, stuff in parenthesis/link are my own:

  • INTJs apply (often ruthlessly) the criterion "Does it work?" to everything from their own research efforts to the prevailing social norms. (I agree)
  • Hallmarks of the INTJ include independence of thought and a desire for efficiency. (My Touchy-Feely Bill tackles desire for efficiency and disregard for social norms)
  • INTJs are known as the "Systems Builders" of the types, perhaps in part because they possess the unusual trait of combining imagination and reliability. (I FIFO my Fridge, so, yeah, Systems Builder)
  • This in turn produces an unusual independence of mind, freeing the INTJ from the constraints of authority, convention, or sentiment for its own sake. Whatever system an INTJ happens to be working on is for them the equivalent of a moral cause; both perfectionism and disregard for authority come into play. (Hence my professional nickname
  • They are often acutely aware of their own knowledge and abilities (see "I am awesome" tweet") —as well as their limitations and what they don't know. (see "Bounce, Fesh, Bounce" post and  "My Bouncer Complex" post)
  • They have a talent for analyzing and formulating complex theories. (see "Turned-on by data" tweet)
  • Personal relationships, particularly romantic ones, can be the INTJ's Achilles heel ... This happens in part because many INTJs do not readily grasp the social rituals (*cough* Yeah, that's kinda true, this tweet comes to mind.) 
  • The emotions of an INTJ are hard to read, and neither male nor female INTJs are apt to express emotional reactions. 
    They generally withhold strong emotion and do not like to waste time with what they consider irrational social rituals. (*ahm* True as well, when I told my ex I like her, I was so psyched, I had to tweet about it. Shut-up)
  • In social situations, INTJs may also be unresponsive and may neglect small rituals designed to put others at ease. For example, INTJs may communicate that idle dialogue such as small talk is a waste of time.  (Yeap, I do)

I love how the wiki article concludes with that: Perhaps the most fundamental problem, however, is that INTJs really want people to make sense. 

It's true, we INTJs are awesome, y'all are messed up.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

One Year Later

I'm always surprised with how my brain manages to retain many little details on an eventful day, details that otherwise I wouldn't remember. One such eventful day happened almost one year ago, the Maspero massacre happened, when a demonstration turned violent and suddenly--and surprisingly--the army started running protesters over, resulting in 28 deaths and more than 200 injuries.

I remember the exact project I was working on that day, many of the discussions I had at work. At the time I was a bloodsucking private equity shark. Well, technically not a shark, I was a glorified excel modeling monkey, but that's a few steps away from shark-status. The drive back. Cairo's traffic being the big game of Russian roulette that it is, I opted, for a route that took me thru the heart of Cairo, few hundred meters from where the massacre happened, as it happened. The confusion as the news broke. I remember scrolling thru my twitter feed in disbelief about what I'm reading. Army attacking. Shots fired. Molotov cocktails thrown. The weird feeling of reading about the news as it breaks and glancing up into the distance to see flames go up into the sky as the Molotov bottles hit--or missed--their targets. The realization that I've been completely desensitized. I had a doctor's appointment not far from where the events unfolded, and I was going to make it. The disbelief of how the state media covered the events. As I sat in my doctor's waiting room, I watched the state media report on the events in the most polarizing way, painting the events as Copts attacking the army. The silent, violent anger of hearing how others interpreted the events. "Why are they [ie Copts] doing this to us [ie Muslims]?" asked an older woman in the waiting room. The dialogue that played out in my head about every single thing that is wrong with what was happening that day in the country, how the media/government was portraying it and how it was landing on many Egyptians.

I even remember the nurse's name. I guess I don't have a crappy memory afterall?

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Enter the 7-foot Dominatrix

In case you haven't heard, I'm famous now. With a sweet YouTube blogpost out and news coverage on wired, techcrunch, TNW, etc. I'm quoted in other languages too: German, Dutch, Chinese, HungarianPortuguese and Japanese. I guess I'm literally big in Japan now. 

But this post is not only about shameless self-promotion (phew: justify linking to 10 articles talking about myself, check!) It's also about my experience with a 7-foot dominatrix. This shouldn't come as a surprise, most of my stories usually feature a dominatrix. Let's run with that last bit as being a 'joke'. 

The YouTube blogpost was my first time collaborating on a piece of writing. I can't claim I'm a writer, but I've maintained an on-again, off-again blog for the last 6 years and I have a double-digit number of followers: it's 10. Side comment: 10 is the sweetest of all double-digit numbers, right? You get all the shock value with the least amount of work. But I digress. Point being, a decent blog, been published on an even number of continents: it's 2, again, the sweetest of all even numbers! I promise, last tangent, I think my main point is: working on that post was nothing like anything I wrote before.  

One night, I started punching out a draft. I had a completing message, a sweet narrative and the punchlines to go with it. When I was done with the post, it was love at first sight: the perfect post! Oh, I was so naive. Next came the creative love-making. Bunch of very smart, knowledgeable folks in the organization pitching in with thoughts and ideas to make the perfect post, even more perfect.... yeeessss. It's a slippery-slope though, a creative love-making session with a piece of writing can turn messy if each contributor, you know, has their way with the post. Yeap, at some-point it bordered on a creative-orgy. But don't get me wrong, I love a creative-orgy as much as the next person, but it was my first time so I was a bit shy. But just about when we were about to finish *giggle*, door swings wide-open and the 7-foot dominatrixes--aka the lawyers--walk in. 

Once again, I like a 7-foot dominatrix as much as the next person, but man leave it to lawyers to suck the color out of a piece of writing in exactly 3 mins. The domination was military-grade and very professional too: ie whenever someone yelled the safeword (it's "cat video"), they stopped. But like any good domination session, it was rough and thorough. Something I've never actually did to any of my previous pieces of writing. And I must say, I enjoyed it. 


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

That Tingly Sensation..

I'm pretty open about my nerdiness, hell, I take pride in it. I'll admit that being a systems analyst/product manager isn't the sexiest job out there (damn nuclear submarine captains ruining it for the rest of us), but on the eve of launching a product I feel like a rock star about to go on stage. Some of my fans will love what I'll launch, some will hate it and there's always the chance that I'll fall off the stage and make a complete fool out of myself.

Over the last ten years or so that I found myself in a place to launch something, I think I've had my fair share of those epic wins/fails. In my sophomore year in college, a friend recruited me to build a Stock Market Simulation system for a new conference that the Student Union was launching at school. So, take my basic programming skills, an open-source chatting program that I retrofitted to 'act' as a functional stock market terminal, a 100 or so eager conference participants and a bucketload of good luck and you have yourself one of those epic-win launches. My epic fail? That same conference the following year, I got greedy, had grand plans for many more features, didn't spend enough time with my team testing the system, the result? We were down for the first four hours of the first day of the conference: ah yes, the granddaddio of epic fails.

Today as I slaved at the office working on a major product feature that I am launching tomorrow, it struck me how this feeling never gets old or dull. It's definitely more intimidating that the number of my 'fans' this time around is an order (or two?) of magnitude(s) larger.

Oh boy, wouldn't that be a picturesque fail?
*clears throat*


Friday, September 14, 2012

The Moving Diaries

In the last six years I've lived in three different countries, as fun as that was/is, that entailed packing and unpacking my life exactly five times in those six years, that part was always a tad less fun.

My first time was exhilarating, confusing and over way too fast. Yeap, still talking about the move. I was fortunate enough to live in the same place all my life up to that point, so it was exciting to go thru the packing exercise: boxes, labels, excel sheets (nerd alert), etc. But it was also confusing because I had no clue what I should take with me and what should I leave behind? Seeing that I was heading to the Godforsaken Frozen Wastelands, I actually ended-up packing way too much irrelevant things. For starters I assumed my clothes are relevant in the Wastelands => false assumption, nothing you own in Egypt can protect your giblets from -20C. I also went overboard with comforters, blankets and covers, my assumption there was I'll be sleeping outdoors most nights, also false. Turns out cold countries have pretty sweet heating systems, so, that's that. Over too fast? Well, I ended-up shipping very few things, so instead of going out by sea, it went on a plane, so within few days of landing I had my stuff.

My second time was way cooler. I was in the zone, I've done that before, I knew what I'm doing. I have two words for you: two bags. I just quit my job and joined the ranks of the bums as a grad student.  It helped that I was moving into a fully-furnished dorm room, but I optimized the hell out of that move, hell I didn't even take a laptop or a phone, I got those when I arrived. Needless to say when you go with the 'bare necessities' move mentality you hit a few snags, the one I remember from that move was an interesting curveball: my credit card got blocked before I bought my phone/laptop, so yeah, it's the 21st century, my card is blocked and I need to call the bank back in Egypt, when was the last time you used a payphone for an international call and had to feed it ya-much coins? That was 2009 for me.

My most recent move was the most interesting, I have to say. Due to a minor snafu I packed my stuff almost three months before I moved, and then due to another snafu, my boxes weren't shipped until a month or so after I moved, and due to another snafu--if you can't see the trend at this point, I sure hope your day job doesn't require you to do, well, any kind of thinking really--my container was "bumped" (that's shipping lingo that I picked up being involved in the global hunt for my container) somewhere in Europe, stupid Dutchies, and so it missed it's cross-Atlantic connection. The multiple snafus meant I eventually got my stuff ~8 months after I parted with them and around ~4 months after I moved. It was interesting because who doesn't enjoy living 8 months out of a suitcase, right? In a strange way, it was. Whenever I realized I didn't have something on me, I either decided to wait for it and adapted to it not being there or ordered it off Amazon. When my things finally arrived (today!), it was interesting to realize that the things I missed most were my books, thinking chair and collection of mementos, everything else is optional.

Interestingly when I was unpacking my kitchenware, I realized that my mom packed for me 4 different bottle openers; I'm guessing that's her subtle way of telling me I have a drinking problem.

For my next move I'd like to do it blindfolded, upside-down in a glass container full of water, Houdini-stlyle.