An Open Letter Regarding the State of MUFIX Community

To whom it may concern,

As you may know, I have rejoined the MUFIX Community ranks as the community’s Social Media Manager earlier this year; taking charge of MUFIX’s online presence, including, but not limited to, the community’s Facebook page and Twitter account.

I asked to take on this position when it came to my knowledge that several people in my network- who were not affiliated with MUFIX or Menoufia University in any way- were aware of MUFIX’s existence, yet did not know much information about. It was- and still- my firm belief that maintaining a robust presence on the social media channels would significantly contribute in establishing MUFIX as a booming IT community in Egypt.

I was greeted with great understanding by Ahmed Nagy, the leader of MUFIX Community for the 2010-2011 season, to the extent of being given complete creative freedom over the social media strategy. However, during my four-month tenure, I discovered that MUFIX had much bigger problems than merely its social media presence. These problems, which I am pointing out here, in my opinion, present considerable challenges towards branding and establishing the MUFIX name.

1. The Lack of a Clear Goal/Direction: when MUFIX was first founded, it was billed as a community promoting the use of open source technologies, with great focus on the Java programming language and the Linux operating system, as alternatives to other non-free closed source tools. The sessions, events, and speakers reflected that theme. Currently, MUFIX has no focus, theme, direction, or clear goals. The weekly sessions held cover a variety of topics that have absolutely nothing in common. Saying that “we aim to provide the students with knowledge” is not a goal. There must be a clear and focused theme/direction for the community in order for it to be correctly categorized and as a result, branded.

2. The Lack of a Hierarchical Administrational Structure: this has been a problem with MUFIX since I first joined it in 2009. The MUFIX team consists of a community leader, a vice-leader, and about 20 organizers. Apart from two or three team meetings (max) held every year, the decision making process is almost entirely being done by the community leader. Such a management approach does not provide much room for creativity or growth. An alternative approach would be for the community to have a management team- each with a specific specialty- that gets involved in the decision making process with the leader and vice-leader. This approach was already in place during my tenure in the 2009-2010 season, where some of the experienced team members-me included- were managing different aspects of the organizational tasks, yet none of them participated in the decision making process.

3. The Lack of Inner Communication: This is a direct result of the previous problem. At any given moment of organizing an event or working on a project, the team members would not be on the same page, no one would be knowing the full details or who is doing what except for the event/project manager(s).

An example of this is when I was contacted on June the 5th by Ahmed Salem, MUFIX Leader for the 2008-2009 season, to proofread a document summarizing his tenure as the MUFIX Leader. On June the 19th, I received the same request from Basem Elsherbeny, MUFIX Leader for the 2007-2008 season. When asked about the purpose of these documents, I was told by Basem that the MUFIX Alumni group is working on a “web page” that illustrates their efforts. I explicitly asked Basem if they were working on the MUFIX official website (mufix.org) and I was confirmed by him that they were not. On June the 26th, I met Abbas Adel, MUFIX Co-Founder, at the Google Serve Not for Profits event in Cairo, where he told me that they were indeed working on the MUFIX official website.

4. Focusing on Brand Extension Instead of Brand Establishment: in six years, the MUFIX Community logo and slogan were changed over three times, making it extremely difficult to establish the MUFIX brand name. Instead, much attention has been given in attempts to affiliate MUFIX with other big “names”, such as JUG and GTUG. To well-establish a community, its logo and slogan must be consistent enough to stick in audiences’ mind, and then consider affiliating with other brands.

5. Taking Pride in Half-Baked Events: for about three years now, members of the MUFIX team has been taking pride in their ability to organize a “major” event in a few days. This approach results in predominately amateurish events that may appeal to the student of Menoufia University, but garner little or no interest from people unaffiliated with the community, and hence get no publicity and end up like they were never held.

A prime example of that is the Egy Techs Meetup event, scheduled to take place on the 23rd of this month. A quick look on the event website is a clear indication of the level of amateurism the organization of this event suffers from. I have absolutely nothing against the concept of the event, on the contrary, I think it is very interesting and I firmly believe that such an event would significantly aid in placing MUFIX Community on the map, but ONLY if it was held in September as I suggested numerous times to Ahmed Nagy, the leader of the organization team. The event is too big to be planned and organized in only one month. Pushing to do so will only result in another half-baked event that would only waste resources and eventually promote MUFIX as a community unable to organize an event that can live up to its promise.

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Due to problems aforementioned, and my firm belief that my efforts would be ineffective as long as these problems remain unaddressed, I have decided to step down as MUFIX Community’s Social Media Manager. However, I would still act as a consultant like the rest of the MUFIX Alumni members when needed and when my time allows.

Last but not least, my recommendation for this period is to suspend all of MUFIX activities, including, but not limited to, the Egy Techs Meetup event. The MUFIX team for the 2011-2012 season should address these problems as soon as possible for a fresh and focused start in September.

Thank you.

Ahmed El-Sadek

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Reviewing TEDxCairo 2011 Talks – Part II

This is the second part of my four-part review of TEDxCairo 2011 talks. If you haven’t read part 1, read it here.

Ahmed Abdalla: Half a Kiss:

The first talk of the second session was by movie writer and director Ahmed Abdalla, famous for his two award-winning independent movies Heliopolis and Microphone. Ahmed talked about censorship and how the Egyptian society reacts towards (the lack of?) it. He mentioned that getting a clear identity of who we are as a nation will help in deciding on the society’s relationship with press freedom, interfaith marriage, authority and gender equality.

It was a very good talk; Ahmed was very captivating and touched on very important issues. The thing I did not like was him ending the talk with “See you on the 27th”; clearly encouraging the audience to attend the May 27th demonstrations. Here is one of the main rules of organizing a TEDx event:

TEDx events may not be used to promote spiritual or religious beliefs, commercial products or political agendas.

Ahmed and all of the other speakers should have been informed with this rule; or else the TEDxCairo team could get their license revoked.

Verdict: Half a Kiss: Good.

Sherif Abdelazeem: Volunteerism:

Next was founder and chairman of Resala NGO Dr. Sherif Abdelazeem. He began by criticizing what he called the “wana maalyah” (it’s not my business) attitude whenever we (Egyptians) see something wrong but not personally affecting us. His talk was focused on promoting volunteerism in Egypt, mentioning that it is the habit of highly developed nations to dedicate part of their time to voluntary work, and that showing your love for your country should not be done only in football stadiums.

“Volunteerism” was another great talk at TEDxCairo. The stories Dr. Sherif mentioned of their activities at Resala were both touching and inspiring. The only thing wrong about it was that it was difficult to keep up with the talk as Dr. Sherif was talking too fast at some points of the talk.

Verdict: Volunteerism: Good.

Haytham ElFadeel: What If Machines Think?

Haytham, founder and CEO of the amazing semantic search engine Kngine, raised the issue of computers’ (lack of) intelligence, and how, unlike any other science, advances in computer science cause advances in other sciences. He then went on to express his love for artificial intelligence and how his belief that “smarter” machines will improve our quality of life lead him to create Kngine, a search engine described by TechCrunch as a “direct assault on Google“, one that has achieved great success despite its relatively small budget, and a project that is 100% Egyptian!

Haytham’s talk was one I was really looking for. He wowed the audience with the demonstration of Kngine’s semantic searching capabilities. He spoke easily, confidently, and enthusiastically. Haytham should have mentioned though the differences between Kngine and Wolfram Alpha, as I overheard some people in attendance saying that it does the same that Wolfram Alpha does. Haytham also kept going back and forth between the middle of the stage and the laptop to change the slides of his presentation instead of using the clicker, which was a bit distracting- maybe the clicker was malfunctioning, but if so he should not have held it during his talk!

Verdict: What If Machines Think? : Good.

Fatma Said: The Day When the People Changed:

The first performance of the day was by the award winning (and relatively young) opera singer Fatma Said. She performed her operatic Jan 25 revolution song “Youm Mal Sha3b Et3’ayar” (The Day When the People Changed). Words cannot really describe the song or her voice. Her performance was the only one that got a standing ovation.

If you haven’t heard this song before, do it now! This is definitely one artist that I would love to hear more of.

Verdict: The Day When the People Changed: Outstanding!

Yasmine Said: Forgetful and Forgotten:

Yasmine Said is a Biology scientist from Oklahoma Panhandle State University, USA. She worked at an elderly psychiatric disease unit at a hospital in Kansas where she developed an interest in Alzheimer disease. Yasmine’s talk was a thorough description of Alzheimer’s symptoms, mentioning that it is dubbed “The Disease of the Century”, and that because of the difficulty of handling an Alzheimer patient, such patients are often neglected and “forgotten” by their close ones.

The talk was very informative AND touching, very close to what you expect from a TEDTalk. However, the talk lacked a crisp clear message; Yasmine did not explicitly say something like “Don’t forget your Alzheimer patients” or made the talk relevant by mentioning stats about the state of Alzheimer patients in Egypt, and personally Yasmine came out a bit too cold to me. Nevertheless, the talk shed a much needed light on a dangerous disease that people barely know anything about.

Verdict: Forgetful and Forgotten: Good.

Essam Youssef: “1/4 Gram” Message:

The last talk of the second session was by Essam Youssef; author of the bestseller “1/4 Gram”, a book described as “an honest insider’s account on Egypt’s drug world”. Essam is also conducting a drugs awareness campaign in which he had visited over 30 schools and universities and met over 2000 students. He talked about the stages of drug addiction as well as some stats related to drugs in Egypt.

This talk could have been outstanding, but it was NOT. Essam’s attempt at breaking the ice at the beginning- “jokingly” saying that he will not abide by the topic he agreed on with the organizers nor the 18-minute time limit- his attitude during the talk, and his final remark “If I made it to heaven, I would ask God for 2 cms (a drug shot)” felt unprofessional and put me off the whole thing. This talk will NOT be featured on the TEDTalks web page, even though its content could have got it there.

Verdict: “1/4 Gram” Message: Bad.

The star of the second session was definitely Fatma Said, her outstanding performance got everyone talking. Kngine’s impressive search results also got people very interested in it.

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for part 3!

(Photography by Ahmed Naguib)

Reviewing TEDxCairo 2011 Talks – Part I

TED, short for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is a global set of conferences held to promote “Ideas Worth Spreading” by bringing the most interesting thought leaders to give an inspiring talk in 18 minutes or less. TEDx is a program designed to give communities, organizations, and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at a locally organized, planned, and coordinated event.

I was privileged to receive an invitation to attend TEDxCairo 2011 on May 21st. In this four-part post, I will be reviewing the talks of the event from a TED Talks (big) fan point of view. In my opinion, a TED talk should be evaluated according to how successful it was in fulfilling the following criteria:

  1. The talk is about Technology, Entertainment, and/or Design
  2. The audience WILL be touched, moved, and/or inspired

That, and how the talk compares to/how likely it is to be added to the talks featured on the TEDTalks web page.

The theme of TEDxCairo 2011 was “Resurrection: Laughs, Tears and Hopes”. As a whole, the speakers and the talks were extremely successful in conveying the laughs, tears and hopes feelings. However, if you dissect and rate them individually, the talks and performances would be ranging between outstanding, good, bad, and plain ugly.

MC:

Upon hearing that Reem Maged- the recently-famous TV presenter- would be the MC (Master of Ceremonies) of the event, I became skeptic. I was not completely sure that she would be able to pull off good intros/outros, especially that when she hosted the TEDxCairo co-founders on her TV show, it seemed that she did not know much about the TED/TEDx concepts.

Unfortunately I was right. She was NOT a good MC. She did not introduce TED and TEDx good enough, her introduction of the speakers did not seem well-prepared, and her after-talk jokes and remarks were just off. The only thing she did well was keeping the “overly excited” Tarek Shalaby on a leash during the interview that should not have happened in the first place. But I will get to that later.

Verdict: Reem Maged Hosting: Bad.

Mohamed Abdel-Mottaleb: What Newton Didn’t See Coming:

The first talk was by the founder and director of the Nano Materials Masters Program at Nile University and the forefront figure of Nanotechnology in the Middle East Asst. Prof. Mohamed Abdel-Mottaleb. His talk revolved around Nanotechnology; its effects on other fields of science and the endless possibilities provided by embracing it.

Needless to say, the talk was full of information; too much information, to the extent that it became very difficult to follow him, leading to the whole thing becoming incoherent. Now, the talk itself was really good, what I have a problem with is selecting it to be the first talk. In my opinion, you need something light and catchy to start a TEDx event with, and then work your way up to the heavily-informative talks. If this talk was scheduled to be at mid-day for example, it would have caught much more attention than it did.

Verdict: What Newton Didn’t See Coming: Good.

Gihane Zaki: Primeval Ocean:

The second talk was by Egyptology professor Gihane Zaki. She captured the audience attention by mentioning a revolution in Egypt around the year 2011 BC when a king ruled ancient Egypt for 94 years and his son succeeded him but reigned only one for year before getting murdered. She also spoke of the ancient Egyptian belief in the circle of life and how our revolution in 2011 was part of that cycle.

The talk was very interesting and informative. The thing is, though, according to Wikipedia, the information she presented was not very accurate. But some experts say that the information on Wikipedia is generally not very accurate. So I am giving Prof. Gihane the benefit of the doubt!

Verdict: Primeval Ocean: Good.

Ali Faramawy: Top Ten “Belmasry”:

Next was Ali Faramawy; VP of Microsoft International. Upon getting on the stage, Ali declared that he does not have a “PowerPoint” (Microsoft ad anyone? :D) or use any “Tofa7” (apples)- referring to the Apple Mac on the stage! His talk covered the feelings of Egyptians before, during, and after the Jan 25 revolution, and how the feelings before the revolution (amnesia, uncertainty, and fear) are the same now, but for different reasons. He also stressed on the importance of communicating with the Egyptians abroad and benefit from what they can give to their country.

I really liked that talk. It was light, funny, informative, and inspiring without being overly “touchy-feely”. In my opinion, this should have been the first talk on the agenda. The only thing that I did not like was that he was mostly reading from papers. Not a nice thing to do when giving a TED talk..

Verdict: Top Ten “Belamsry”: Good.

Fadel Soliamn: Bread and Salt:

Fadel Soliman is an international Islam speaker and evangelist (why are we hearing about these people for the first time?) He is also the director of the Bridges Foundation; specialized in presenting and training speakers on how to present Islam. Fadel’s talk was mainly about the commonalities between Egyptian Muslims and Christians, and how the unity in Tahrir square during the Jan 25 revolution “The Republic of Tahrir” was an integral part of its success. He also stressed on the fact that the word “Copt” does NOT mean Christian, but rather an Egyptian.

This was definitely one of the best talks on the event. Fadel had a charm to him that it was really difficult not to give him your full attention. The talk itself was interesting, insightful, inspiring, and had a strong message all while being light and witty. An excellent example of how a TED talk should be like.

Verdict: Bread and Salt: Outstanding!

Mena Shenoda: An Egyptian Tale:

The last talk of the first session was by Mena Shenoda, co-author of the bestseller “Astigmatism in the Brain”; a book that collects a set of tales about the sectarian disputes in Egypt. His talk (apparently) was a narration of one of the tales mentioned in the book.

In my opinion, this was not only the worst talk at the event; it was the worst TED talk I have ever seen. The story was supposed to be touching, but the overly-theatrical, overacting style of Mena that was closer to a Lady Gaga performance than a touching narration of an inspiring story diverted everyone’s attention from the story and did not leave the best of impressions about the speaker. A massive fail.

Verdict: An Egyptian Tale: Plain ugly.

The first session ended with Fadel Soliman as its star, Ali Faramawy leaving a great impression, and the people splitting in their opinion on the talks of Gihane and Abdel-Mottaleb.

Thanks for reading so far, part 2 coming very soon.

(Photography by Ahmed Naguib)

Reviewing Startup Weekend Cairo – Part II

This is the last part of my extensive two-part review of Startup Weekend Cairo. You can read part one here.

So day two started, almost all ideas that people voted for the night before had their teams formed, with stress on almost, as it seems that there were ideas that their owners did not find people that would join their teams, which I find odd since voting for an idea should indicate that people liked it, and liking it should indicate that people would want to work on it, so yeah. Anyway, most of the teams were formed and people started getting to work.

Now, I have to really hand it down to National Net Ventures (N2V)– one of the event sponsors- for the great work they did throughout the event. Not only did they have the coolest thing I have ever seen in an event/workshop called the N2V Car, which is a small cart filled with candy that… moves around campus for people to get candy!

But also the N2V people were walking around giving away juice to people while they were working. I cannot really say anything but R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

The second day went on- fast, may I add- and it was time for two quick speeches by Fadi Ghandour, founder and CEO of Aramex, and Bo Burlingham, Inc. magazine editor-at-large. Now, I have to be honest here, Bo’s speech was very good, but in my personal opinion, it was done injustice by making it come after that of Fadi Ghandour’s speech. Fadi’s speech was so interesting and he himself was so lively that Bo’s speech felt “pale” in comparison. Again, I am not saying that Bo’s speech was bad, I am just saying that Fadi’s left too big of an impact more than that of Bo, I mean, I have not been a big supporter of entrepreneurship before the event, but Fadi’s speech DEFINITELY made a believer out of me! To know what I am talking about, watch it:


Also, here is the speech of Bo Burlingham:

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One of the things I was wondering about before the event was how the mentoring system would work- one mentor per team? All mentors working with all teams? To answer my question, on the second day, each team was handed a piece of paper with the line “Mentor needed here” written on it. If the team needed a mentor, they would put the paper on their desk with the text side up; if not then the blank side should be up. I thought that was a great idea as the mentors- who were making rounds at the teams working places- would help the teams that needed help but not interrupt the ones that did not, except that it did not go that way. Things went very smooth on the second day, the mentors provided VALUABLE help when people needed and left them alone when they did not. On the third day though, it was not so smooth. Almost all of the mentors along with Omar Christidis– one of the judges- made rounds and asked each team to tell them about the idea they were working on. I am pretty sure that each team leader talked about their idea at least ten times on the third day. The interruptions sometimes were annoying and teams could not object because they had to be nice to the mentors and of course the famous judge, which makes me wonder; what was Omar Christidis doing?! The judges should make their decisions based ONLY on the final presentation, in my personal opinion; the judges should not interact with the teams before the presentations, as doing so would give some teams an unfair advantage. For example, assume that during his round, Omar liked the work/idea of some team, but during their presentation, the team did not successfully present their work and eventually did not “sell it” to the other judges. In the judges room, Omar would try to convince the other judges to vote for it because he knows there is more to it than what was shown in the four-minute presentation. To me, this translates to unfair advantage. As I believe the reason for having only four minutes to present you work is those four minutes are actually the period that an investor needs to decide whether or not to invest in your startup.

Busy? No? Good! Get up and tell me watcha doin'!

Another interruption, but one that was actually good, was when were told to head outside for group pictures, the results were AMAZING as can be seen here:

Now, I have to take a shot at my friend Abdelrahman Magdy, CEO of Egypreneur regarding something (and hope he forgives me!). As a media sponsor of Startup Weekend Cairo, Egypreneur people were responsible for things like tweeting and taking pictures and videos, those videos included quick interviews with some of the mentors and team leaders. That is good, I have nothing against that. My take on it though is that those interviews sometimes took place at the rooms where the teams were working. Obviously the rooms were noisy because PEOPLE WERE WORKING, so instead of taking the interviews outside- where practically no one was making any noise, Abdelrahman was actually asking people to be quiet! I know that Egypreneur is a sponsor and everything- and we are thankful for the exposure it was giving to the teams- but you just cannot ask people working their butts off to be quiet! It is just not… cool!

The third day went by- too quickly!- and it was time for the final presentations. A nice touch by the organizers was making the order of presentations random so that everyone gets a fair chance. Again, it was obvious that the specified time (4 minutes) was not enough for the presentation that the judges sometimes asked the presenters to use their 1 Q&A minute to continue their presentations.

Since I’m new to this entrepreneurship world, I will not talk about the ideas, presentations content, or my opinion regarding the judges’ choices of winners here (you can see a complete list of projects and winners here). What I will say, however, is congratulations for all the winning teams- specially the Inkezny team, my favourite idea :D- and for everyone who worked hard for the weekend to turn out the great way it did. It was definitely an amazing experience, one that surely got me and everyone that participated very excited about entrepreneurship.

Some photos from days 2 and 3:

The great view at the AUC campus

Fadi Ghandour

Bo Burlingham

Judges: Hanan Abdel Meguid and Omar Christidis

Inkezny team, moment of announcing the result

Inkezny team, the winners of Startup Weekend Cairo 2011

And finally, a BIG group picture:

Looking forward to seeing everyone soon at the next Egyptian Startup Weekend :)

Reviewing Startup Weekend Cairo – Part I

Startup Weekend is a non-profit organization that organizes 54-hour weekend events in various cities around the world. During the event, groups of developers, designers, marketers and startup enthusiasts pitch ideas for new startup companies, form teams around those ideas, and work to develop a functioning prototype, demo, and/or presentation by the end of the weekend. The event judges pick the winning startups, which receive various awards. The event also attracts speakers and panellists, as well as mentors that help the teams on their startups during the weekend, who are usually highly-respected members of the local startup community or notable names in the tech industry.

On the April 28th, 29th, 30th weekend, Startup Weekend came to
Egypt for the very first time, held at the new campus of the America University in Cairo in New Cairo. I was lucky enough to attend the three days of the event work with a team on developing a startup. In this two-part review I shall talk about the highlights of my GREAT experience at Startup Weekend Cairo.

First, I really liked the choice of the AUC new campus for the event venue. It provided a great working atmosphere with the very neat working rooms and outstanding outdoor scenery far away from Cairo’s downtown madness. It was a very well-thought decision by the event organizers, which brings me to my second point; the organizers. In my opinion, the event organizers and volunteers were the heroes of this event. Startup Weekend Cairo was the best-organized event I have attended so far. It was almost perfect. The only thing that I did not like was the fact that not all event ID cards were printed even though confirmation e-mails were sent a whole week before the event. Also, something that really puzzled me was that it was mentioned on the event’s website is that attendance costs 100 EGP (75 EGP for students), yet neither me nor anyone I knew there paid anything! Other than that, everything was just in place and the organizers and volunteers made sure that we had everything we needed. Chapeau to them!

The Heroes of Startup Weekend Cairo

After registration, the event kicked off with a couple of speeches, one of them was really boring that I cannot even remember who gave it or what it was about. Something worth mentioning though is that ALL the speeches, even the ones delivered by Arab speakers, were almost completely in English, which I found particularly annoying. One tried to recap the speeches in Arabic, but apparently someone gave him a “look” because he abruptly stopped midway and continued in English. Way to preserve and take pride in our Arabic identity.

Next were the pitches; individuals and teams had 60 seconds to pitch an idea and attempt to convince the audience to vote for it and join their team. When I first heard about this 60-second time limit, I thought it was unfair; the first ideas pitched will be forgettable, the last ones will stay fresh in the audience minds. However, that was not the case, it was even worse. Having to sit there and listen to about 50 ideas in a 60-second rapid succession was a chaotic nightmare; no one was able to keep up with the ideas or properly evaluate and compare them to decide which to vote for, not to mention that the ideas themselves were a bit disappointing, not what you expect after a GOING THROUGH A REVOLUTION. The ideas themselves were not bad, just… ordinary.

Your time is up, kid! NEXT!

After everyone pitched their ideas, it was time to give our votes, the old school way. Knowing practically nothing from the 60-second pitches, people had to cram up the voting space to talk to pitchers and know what they were talking about. The most-voted 32 ideas were chosen to continue and the pitchers had to build their development teams. A really weird phenomenon was the shortage of designers at the event; people were literally fighting over designers and eventually had to call for help from their own designers outside the event. In my opinion, this can be interpreted in only one way; designers are NOT interested in entrepreneurship, which I believe is an issue that should be addressed by the event organizers.

The first day ended with great dinner under the lovely night sky of New Cairo, it provided opportunity to chat with people that we do not usually see in our everyday lives. Startup Weekend Cairo was actually a huge Cairo Tweetup with an entrepreneurial theme!

Some Photos from Day 1:

Registration

Geeks love sugar, specially when in the form of cupcakes!

... or ice cream!

Event Sponsors

 In part two I will be talking about the second and third days of the weekend as well as my experience in working with the “Ma3Ba3d” team. Stay tuned!

Update: part two is now available, read it here.

The Difference Between A Good Professor And A Bad One

Earlier this week, Dr. Kamel Arram, former head of Information Technology department, and one of the oldest staff members of the Faculty of Computers and Information, passed away after over a 6-year spell at Menoufia University. Dr. Kamel was one of the most respectable staff members at our faculty, known for his kindness, fairness, and tendency not to overcomplicate the subjects he taught, always well-dressed and wearing a nice perfume. He was a favourite to many, and loved by all. His door was always open to any student who needed help or advice.

Now, I do not have many memories with Dr. Kamel, since he only taught me one subject in my four years at the fculty- and I did not attend most of its lectures anyway- however, one event is clearly present in my mind.

It was the last lecture of the semester, I was sitting in the middle of the classroom almost half asleep, only to find him stop what he was doing and asks me to stand up, asking him what was wrong, he told me that he saw me talking several times during the lecture, accusing me of being a disturbance and disrespectful to him. Being the rebel that I am, and especially since I did not do what he said, I refused to swallow his accusations and apologize like what most of my colleagues used to do. Instead, I firmly told him that I did not do what he said and that I respected him just right. He stared at me for a second, then surprisingly, unlike what most faculty staff members do in such situation- kicking your ass out of the classroom- he asked me to sit back down. Right there and then, I knew I was screwed.

You see, in situations like that, especially when the teacher does not give a furious reaction, one of two things are bound to happen to the student, he either gets a very low grade at that teacher’s subject, or fails it altogether. To my complete and utter surprise, that did not happen to me; I got a B+ at the subject, exactly the grade I deserved. Needless to say, my respect for him was immeasurable.

Upon receiving the news of his passing, many of the faculty’s former and current students paid tribute to his memory on Facebook by praying for him using their status updates and changing their profile pictures to his picture. Someone even started an event suggesting fasting and praying for Dr. Kamel’s soul this Thursday. Already over 180 people have RSVP’d to the event as “Attending”. You can clearly see that this man was truly loved and respected.

Now, let me shift gears to another person; Wael Shawky. He is also an old staff member at the faculty and the current head of the Information Technology department, and the person I despised the most at the faculty.

Allow me to elaborate, despite being a very, very well off person, he does not look the least bit like a department head in a respectable faculty; always dressed in disordered, unironed clothes, having uncombed hair, unpolished, dusty shoes, and smelling like a bucket of garbage. He is an egomaniac disrespectful control freak that is famous for his deliberate tendency to overcomplicate the subjects he teaches and taking pleasure in making as many of his students fail as possible except for a specific group of students. This group, I used to call “The Lackeys”, is a group of students that do nothing but behave obsequiously towards him. You see, this is a win-win situation, the students get a free pass in the subjects he teaches, and maybe even given a slack with their master studies, and he gets to be shown the respect he will never earn.

Wael Shawky is also one that I (gladly) did not have any kind of relationship with, except for this one event. It happened on one of the finals last semester, I was standing on the door of the exam room, leaning on the nearest desk to get my pens and calculator out of my bag- like I always do- before he stepped into the room, looked at me, and rudely told me to get my stuff out of the bag outside the exam room. Knowing that I was not doing anything wrong, I paid him absolutely no attention, I did not even look his way and continued what I was doing. He said the same once again and again I paid him no attention until I got my stuff out, put my bag where it is supposed to be, and went to my seating, only to find him saying that I am an impolite, ill-raised person. I turned my head towards him, stared at him for a second, then turned around and continued my way.

Needless to say, I failed his subject, one that I completely deserved to pass. You see, the likes of Wael Shawky- and unfortunately they are a lot in our faculty- expect to be respected and feared unconditionally, he was probably angered that I did not tremble in fear and said “Yes, sir!” like what his lackeys do, so he decided to make me fail his subject in my final year, making me graduate in September instead of July. He is that sick.

Now, assume that Wael Shawky was the one who passed away instead of Dr. Kamel, would we have seen this burst of emotions from the students? I do not think so. I have not met a single person in the faculty that truly likes him. I do not even think his lackeys would grieve for him, since it is the benefits they respect and love, not the person.

All that we leave in this life is our legacy, Dr. Kamel left a legacy of love and respect. What Wael Shawky has left so far is a legacy built with despise, hatred, and contempt. With death so near, specially that he is not young at all, Wael Shawky should start working for what he is leaving after his inevitable death, that’s if he does not want to be remembered as the scum of the earth he is being now.

One last thing, when I heard about Dr. Kamel’s passing, I prayed for Allah to have mercy and forgiveness upon his soul. If I heard of the death of Wael Shawky, I would pray to Allah to avenge me for what he had done to me and hundreds of other students who suffered injustice by that tyranny.

Rest in peace Dr. Kamel. May Allah forgive and have mercy upon your soul.

On the New Vodafone Egypt Ad: Why I Am Not Offended

A few  days ago, Vodafone Egypt started a new ad campaign for its new unlimited streaming internet bundle. The campaign primarily relies on the use of celebrities- similar to Mobinil and Etisalat Egypt- by using the young actors of “Samir, Shahir, and Bahir” movie as the campaign stars. Vodafone also aimed at giving the campaign a humorous flavour by re-narrating some historic events. One of the ads mocks the failed attempt of Abbas Ibn Firnas to fly:

Personally, I did not find anything wrong with the ad, I even thought it was a very creative way to capture the audience’s attention. However, I was surprised to find that many people did not like it as much. Their main point is that Abbas Ibn Firnas is a great scientist with great contributions to the history of the science- which I personally knew none of, did you?- to be made fun of like that, and that “Vodafone Egypt owes an apology to the educated who knew that that man was truly a scientist and to the uneducated viewers who need to know who that man was”.

I respectfully disagree. Let’s look at things from an “abstract” point of view. First, Vodafone Egypt is a privately owned company that its first and most important goal is and should be maximizing its profits; it is not- and should not be- its role or duty to educate the public with the “great” achievements of past scientists.

Second and most important; advertising 101: when you start an ad campaign to sell/promote something, the campaign must appeal to the targeted audience. In this case, Vodafone is promoting internet; something for its young customers- hence the use of young actors and the attempt to make it funny. So, do the young customers of Vodafone Egypt know about Ibn Firnas’ water clock or glass planispheres? No. Do you they care? NO! Ask any young male/female walking in the street- or any age really- what they know about Abbas Ibn Firnas, and you are guaranteed to get the failed flying attempt answer- that is if you got an answer at all. It is unfortunate but it is true.

Vodafone Egypt was smart enough to capitalize on the little knowledge its targeted audience have and turn it into something relevant, something they can relate to. That IS smart advertising. Also, come to think of it, Vodafone did not claim anything Ibn Firnas did not do. The guy did cover his body with feathers, he did get on top of a hill and jumped to attempt flying, and he did fall. Maybe that was not the only thing he did, but that is the most known among the public; the public that Vodafone Egypt is targeting with its ad campaign.

Looking forward to your comments on this one.

 

Update 1: apparently Vodafone Egypt has removed the video from its Youtube channel. Could this be the first step towards admitting they made a mistake?

Update 2: the video is back online only an hour after it was removed. Still no official word from the company on its Facebook or Twitter accounts.

Update 3 (16/11/2010): the video is deleted again from YouTube, but it can still be viewed on TV.

Update 4 (17/11/2010): Vodafone Egypt released an official statement on their Facebook page, implicitly apologizing for offending people with the Abbas ad, vowing to gradually remove the ad from TV channels. The statement can be read here.

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Smoke-Free Alexandria: The Worst Business Decision Ever?

A man sat in the smoking room of one airport to have a cigarette before boarding his plane, on his way out, another man approaches him:

  • Man: How many cigarettes do you smoke a day?
  • Smoker: Do you smoke?
  • Man: No.
  • Smoker: Do you own this plane?
  • Man: No.
  • Smoker: Then why do you ask?
  • Man: Well, if you had saved all the money you spent on smoking, that plane on the runway could have been yours.
  • Man: Thanks for the advice. I smoke and I OWN this plane. My name is Richard Branson (owner of the Virgin brand).

Those who know me know that I rarely criticize the decisions of our decision makers. However, when a decision maker comes up with something that would hurt our already unstable economy, I’m more than willing to make an exception.

A little over a month ago, Adel Labib, the governor of Alexandria, started some sort of a campaign to free Alexandria from the ill effects of smoking. To achieve that goal, two major decisions were made:

  1. Banning smoking in closed public places, including but limited to public transportation, restaurants, and coffee shops.
  2. Banning “Shisha” from ALL coffee shops in Alexandria.

Now in theory, that may sound like a good thing. I mean, smoking, with all its shapes and forms, is deadly harmful for health, not only for the smoker but also for everyone around him/her– the second-hand smokers. Europe understood that and banned smoking in public places long ago. Us catching up now cannot be a bad thing, right?

Before answering let’s take some facts into consideration; in Egypt, cigarettes are not a luxury, but rather a primary commodity– for reasons we all know. I don’t have the exact numbers but a huge percentage of Egyptians, probably even more than half, are smokers, and most of them fall in the 18-40 years age group. Such group tends to meet outdoors and usually end up sitting on some sort of a coffee shops, where they will eventually have a smoke, either shisha or cigarettes, with their drinks.

This guy, along with thousands just like him, is or will be out of work

Let’s be realistic here, most of the coffee shops regulars go there for the smokes. I mean let’s face it; you can drink almost anything at home except shisha. So if you ban the shisha from every coffee shop in Alexandria, and force people to sit outside if they smoke cigarettes, the number of customers will inevitably decrease, especially in winter, where the Alexandria’s weather will make it impossible for smokers to sit outside. That decrease will cause significant losses for the coffee shops owners, eventually leading most of them to close their businesses, which will have two devastating effects. First, a massive damage will be done to the Alexandrian economy, as its primary source of income is the tourists, who consider having that perfect shisha in front of the amazing night sea a main part of their yearly visit. Second, closing those coffee shops will force the release of their workers, who are usually either young newly graduated guys who couldn’t find a decent job, or older ones that work there as a second job to get by.

Now, let’s assume that public ban of shisha from Alexandria is the first step towards its public use ban in all of Egypt. If that happen, many of the factories manufacturing the shisha- yes, they are manufactured in factories, did you think they grow on trees?- will be closed, also leading to the release of their workers, and this time we are not talking about a dozen of guys, but hundreds of workers living below poverty line and mostly supporting big families. Putting them out of work is just not right.

Do not get me wrong, it is not like I am supporting or encouraging smoking in any way. I just believe that there are smarter, less damaging ways to reduce the ill effects of smoking in Egypt. I was actually delighted when the tax rate on smokes’ sales was increased. That was a smart way to reduce the number of smokers– as not everyone, especially the light smokers, was willing to pay the extra money. In addition to that, the government can enforce strict laws to prevent the sale of smokes to kids younger than 18 years, make clever ad campaigns, ban smoking in the media, and so on.

Yes, smoking is bad for both our health and for the environment. But, unemployment and starving to death is much, much worse.

So, what do you think? Is the Alexandria smoking ban- and eventually moving on to every major city of Egypt- harms more than it helps, or is it a necessary evil?

Your comments are much appreciated.

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MUFIC Batch #6 Graduation Ceremony: A Mediocre End to an Epic Era

  • Date: Thursday October 14th, 2010.
  • Time: 10:00 AM.
  • Location: Menoufia University Ceremonies Hall, the one where President Hosni Mubarak announced the amendment of Article 76 of the Egyptian constitution in 2005 itself!
  • Event: Faculty of Computers and Information batch #6 graduation ceremony.

You would know it a mile away, the guys were overdressed, the girls were overusing and abusing makeup to the point that it becomes a hard task not to throw up whatever you had for breakfast, and everyone was seen wearing ugly red and blue coats similar to the uniform of the French Campaign army that invaded Egypt in 1798. It was THE annual graduation ceremony of the Menoufia University’s Faculty of Computers and Information students.

Now that's what I DON'T call fashion!

Now, our faculty is famous for two things regarding its graduation ceremonies: first, it is the only faculty in Menoufia University that organizes a separate ceremony for its alumni. Second, these ceremonies are guaranteed to be the worst 2-3 hours of your life! They almost always suffer from chaotic floor organization, feeble speeches, and horrendous acts performed by our so-called theatrical team. That year was no exception, although I have to admit that it was slightly better than last year’s nightmare.

The organizers spent over an hour queuing us (graduates) outside the hall so that we can be seated in order, which didn’t happen! I can almost assure you that none other than the people in the first two or three rows where they were supposed to!

The ceremony started with the presence of the faculty dean and vice dean, I could not help but notice a big sign in the background saying that the ceremony is sponsored by the Menoufia University president, who was NOT present, nor any official representative of him or the university administration!

Things kicked off with a speech by our ranked-1 student Ibrahim Abdullah, which felt more like hearing someone read the phonebook rather than a speech. I have absolutely nothing against Ibrahim, he is one of the politest, kindest people you will ever meet, but he was reading his speech with absolutely no heart or enthusiasm, making it so obvious that he was given that speech to read, and maybe even given it an hour or so before the ceremony!

Next were the speeches of the dean and vice dean, which were, least to say, forgettable. At an event like this, you expect the speeches of the big guys to be… big! You know, to give you a sense of achievement, make you feel how well you did, and inspire you to take your next step. And that simply did not happen.

The speeches were followed by honouring the top ranked students and then calling out everyone else to get their certificates. At that moment I was confused; you see, the reason any graduate of Menoufia’s Faculty of Computer and Information sits through the 2-3 hours of hell, also known as the graduation ceremony, is getting their certificate and taking a picture with the honourable dean so that they may print, enlarge, frame, and hang it out on the wall so that they may tease the neighbours coming to say congratulations whose kids are majoring in Arabic at the Faculty of Arts or something. So if they get them their moment then, what would make them sit through the not-so-jolly rest of the ceremony? Then I realized it, a four-letter word; FOOD! The “benefits” we get in exchange for the ceremony fees- yes, we pay to attend our own graduation ceremony- included a lunch meal, and sure as hell no one would go home without having their lunch. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are a nation motivated by our lust for food, not scientific degrees or even the desire to brag about them!

The ceremony resumed, and as soon as I saw the faculty’s own theatrical team on stage, I knew that the nightmare would truly begin; unfunny people trying- so hard- to be funny by doing acts that are NOT funny. This year though, it was not that bad, as matter of fact, the three acts they gave were surprisingly really good, funny, and well performed. The reason behind that was the fact that the acts were COPIED from a great but not so famous play called Qahwa Sada (Black Coffee). I had absolutely no problem with re-doing parts of good plays, what I had a problem with, however, is exploiting the obscurity of the play and take credit for the acts by NOT mentioning that they were from another play.

Other segments of the ceremony included a forgettable poem, some religious song, and a song by a kid who can play the violin well, but trying to be the next Tamer Hosny, enough said!

What really caught my attention was a poem given by one of our students called Hagar, who is famous for being one of the faculty’s political activists and a fierce attacker of our government. As expected, the poem contained implicit and explicit attacks directed at the government. I could not believe that someone gave her the green light to read such a poem in the biggest faculty event of the year. Someone must have definitely been on crack, and a good kind as well.

All in all, it was not horrible. I actually quite enjoyed it. It was not great, but definitely better than last year’s chaos. It was nice having all the students of batch #6 under one roof for the last time.

And, to my dear fellow graduates, congratulation on the big achievement. It has been an epic four-year era, but we are finally done. The rest of our lives begin now, make sure you make the best of it.

Cheers.

Shofha: The Next Big Thing or a Big Disappointment?

Go to Shofha.com

Earlier in February, LINKonLINE, a subsidiary of LINKdotNET and a major online services provider in the Middle East, launched Shofha.com; the first legal service of its kind in the Middle East to buy, rent, and watch Arabic movies instantly from anywhere in the world, you can say it is the Middle Eastern version of Netflix and Hulu. Before Shofha; you had two options if you wanted to watch an Arabic movie on your computer; you either buy the DVD, which is sometimes ridiculously expensive, or you simply download a pirated version of the movie from any of the massive number of Arabic forums that exist only for this purpose, completely free. Of course, people download the pirated versions, even though most of the times the movies’ quality is very poor. What Shofha did is providing a legal, high quality, Silverlight smooth streaming option for a very low price, 12 LE to buy, 8 LE to watch, and 6 LE to rent to a movie. You even get a 50% discount if you are a LINKdotNET ADSL subscriber. According to Shofha manager Mostafa Kamel, streaming on Shofha works well on 512k ADSL, great on 1MB, and perfect on 2MB and higher. He also said that downloading a full movie takes 2 hours on 1MB ADSL and described Shofha as “one of the greatest leaps in the history of Arabic internet”.

Now, let’s not go overboard here, people have been downloading pirated movies for years. The fact that they are of poor quality is a little price to pay for not actually paying to see the movies. When you come now and tell them, hey, you are gonna have high quality movies, but you will pay for it because it’s legal. How many of them will choose the legal option? The fact that it is relatively cheap is irrelevant; the vast majority of people will still choose the illegal option, simply because in the Middle East- and probably the whole world- free is always better than little money! Also, the only bad thing about pirated movies- besides being illegal, which is not that big of a problem here!- is their poor quality. With the availability of a high quality option, what guarantees that some guy will not find some way to actually use Shofha to provide high quality pirated movies for free online? The fact that it uses Silverlight instead of Flash will not prevent that for long, someone always finds a way. Should that happen, not only will Shofha fail in solving the piracy problem, but also contribute to its severity.

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