Saturday, December 6, 2014

First adventure in the Sea of Sand!

I just turned on the air conditioning and instead of having cool air chill me out after today’s sandy adventure was, well, sand blowing into my face and eyes. My hands are still dirty and hurting from pulling wires and changing tires.

That’s all because I chose today to do something different and actually start exploring the world around me. I learnt a lesson: do it again! Although it was messy and painful, I learnt a few things about Al Ain's desert and my car and I met a nice man and his playful children in the process.
The desert is beautiful and it was around 3PM and I thought of wisdom and inspiration. I was working on one of my applications as usual and things were going smoothly and I was learning some new things as well about how… oops, I almost fell again in my habit of geeky talk! I thought of the desert and how people learn things from it. I think they learn from it because it is vast and open and its waves of dunes make it look like a sea of sand. It is inspiring, and people learn because they are inspired by the desert.

I was drinking coffee an working on one of my apps.

I wanted to experience the desert. So I just drove with just a slight idea where I’m going. I thought I’ll drive and even if I’m lost I’ll reach somewhere where I can experience something different than my computer screen. I had music on and was enjoying my ride on the beginning of Al Ain – Abu Dhabi road near Al Bateen. The air was so fresh you enjoy it with every breeze and whenever you breathe.

I reached the area where I thought I can enter the dunes. I saw some around-abouts and some tracks running from under a bridge I was just about to go over. I decided to go left at the next circle and try to follow the tracks. I reached under the bridge after going down steeply at an edge of a valley that went under the bridge. I realized that I just started a new chapter of my life, a chapter wherein I am not just an employee in an office typing things on his computer all day but an adventurer with the actual readiness to undertake an adventure.

After the steep slope into a valley, I got under the bridge headed to the desert.

Not that I’m not a daring adventurer, I am by heart and one can see it in my driving stunts and generally in my personality and the way I talk and behave. The fact that I like the serenity and peace of being alone doesn't mean I am a dull person. I think I am just letting out the adventurer inside me by actually doing an activity that for some reason didn't undertake until today despite having talked about it before to many others. I even asked some people to join me once I get my car. I have been driving for 3 months now and we didn't go out together.

I don’t have friends in Al Ain so I went alone this time and I thought this is a perfect opportunity as I can peacefully contemplate by myself, and in case something goes wrong no one would be annoyed or complaining. It is very easy for me to be patient and accept exceptional situations, even the dangerous ones, without much panic and frustration unlike some of my friends to whom dirt on a desk is comparable to the end of the world.

Rocky area as soon as I got out from under the bridge.

Once I drove from under the bridge and through to the dunes, I started driving on the harder parts of the sand, especially the rocky areas. I thought even if I am able to switch on the 4WD mode in my small X-Trail, is it still small and I should avoid getting stuck. I drove briefly on sandier areas and enjoyed how the car drifts left and right because the sand is so… slippery!

I was driving at constant speed, trying not to slow much and going around the steeper dunes until I am able to find a moderate path deeper towards the desert. I was looking forward to being able to take some beautiful pictures and breathe some cool desert air while I watch the sunset fall unto the golden sea of sand. I was looking for contemplation, wisdom and inspiration. What I got instead was a sandy lesson and a valuable experience that I am grateful for: at least I learned something and enjoyed the thrill.

The beautiful desert where I was looking for inspiration. The sea of sand!

As I was driving, I was drifting over the soft sand which was shooting from the sides of the car near the wheels, because they spin faster than the car moves and drag sand with them. I thought since I had the 4WD switch turned on that I am safe.

Powered with my 4WD switch, I thought I can easily enjoy the beauty of the desert.

The thrilling part starts when I decided not to keep looking for a gentle path between the dunes and just go up a rather small rise in the sand. I thought I can just go over and start maneuvering deeper into the desert. I went ahead with this move and I got stuck.

I enjoyed observing the splashing sand over the wind shield. I didn't forget to close the side windows for too long as the sand shooting all over was a good reminder. I tried to charge forward and then backwards and realized that I need to get down the car and see how it is positioned. I found out that it is pretty stuck but that’s fine, I will just dig up some sand from under the wheels and continue reversing down the tiny hill that I succeed to go up only half way. I noticed other kids playing on a moon buggy and I thought that that was cool. There was also a big SUV in the distance.

The sand was shooting all over, including the wind shield. I had a little desert on top of my car.

I dug through silky golden sand. Actually it was a bit yellowish and reddish, with some hint of orange color. It was so soft that I recalled when I told one of my friends about fluidity of sand but remarked how that application of the term is not correct as sand is not a liquid. I was scooping sand with my arms and it really felt like a fluid. It was so easy to dig but it was also easy for the sand to get back where it was! The sand was also cool and seemed very clean. I remembered “Tayamom” which is an Arabic and Islamic hygiene technique that you use whenever you are unable to access water: just use sand or dust!

After I thought I had enough sand from under the wheels, I still noted that underneath the wheels is still a lot more sand: it’s like I’m in a lake of sand that no matter how much sand I get from underneath the wheels, there will still be lots of sand remaining. At least what I did for now is remove the sand so that the wheels aren't sitting in little holes each. I don’t have any choice but keep on trying to get my car out.

I started to reverse again, and lacking much desert (or driving) wisdom I dug four other holes again, but this time I tilted the car around 30 degrees at the slope I was stuck in. I felt nervous for a second but then calmed down as I realized that if I flip over at this standing speed, I will not really get hurt and the car won’t get damaged. My second idea was to take off a big cover from the back trunk and use it as a prop to allow the wheels to spin on it instead of just shuffling sand around.

Speaking of spinning wheels, I also discovered that there are “kinds” of 4WDs. I thought that since my car has a 4WD switch, I am as “much” 4WD as a Land Cruiser or a Patrol but with thinner wheels and lighter weight. The lighter weight is an advantage indeed, but the fully blown (30-40 PSIs) thin wheels are more like digging drills than they are a movement mechanism.

I have still much to learn about how my car works and about the different four-wheel drive systems. I was surprised, really surprised, at one point when I noticed that even though my 4WD was on, only two wheels were spinning while I was pressing on the gas. The wheel that was stuck deep in the sand didn’t move, while the one on the opposite side which was almost in the air (because my car was so tilted), spun freely just to blow sand around. The same issue with the two back wheels, only one of them spun. I’m still not sure how it works, but I guess I had some kind of combined back-wheel and front-wheel drive capability, but not a real 4 wheel drive capability.

I got the rear trunk cover that covers the spare wheel out and put it aside and started digging again. The two kids with the moon-buggy passed me, stopped briefly in a friendly exchange of eye contact, and then moved along as I continued to dig. After a minute or so, the large SUV from the distance approached and a guy inside of it saluted. I was wishing that they would not come to help me, as I am shy. But I accepted their eager help which they offered kindly and enthusiastically. I soon felt that they considered it their problem as much as mine. What an admirable kind of behavior.

Our first attempt was to push the car down. We pushed while Rashed, the man in the car, pressed on the gas while it’s on reverse, but it moved only a little bit and splashed his eldest son with sand all over. I felt guilty so I asked him to switch positions with me as he was nearer to the wheel where the sand was splashing. We tried a little again, this time Rashed not pressing so much on the gas.

He seemed to be completely committed to getting my car out, and he almost took over the process: I guess he assumed my helplessness, but for me I am never in that situation even if I have no clue what I am doing because I would have just kept on trying forever. I would have ended up with building a path of rocks until the harder areas where the car could move without digging itself into the sand. It would take forever, but it is the only way that I could do by myself without asking for help. He also had much experience with these kind of situations as he expressed when I asked him if he ever been in such a situation.

I told him it is my first time here and we both expressed our admiration of the desert’s beauty and love for adventure. I went back to the car and put the car gear on Park to hear a hard creaking sound: the wheel was moving fast. The wheel’s movement was covered by the fact that the car was still. I was embarrassed by such mistake and explained that I have been driving for only 3 months now and sometimes I make stupid mistakes like these. We talked a little about his strategy in teaching his kids how to deal with problems. He told me that they are stuck right now with their moon buggy, pointing at them in the short distance, but he leaves them to deal with it. I approved and said that that teaches them to depend on themselves and to become problem solvers. He agreed and added that it also teaches them to not keep doing it again.

Rashed explained to me several things about how easy it is for a car like mine to get stuck and was not really convinced that I had any kind of 4WD capabilities. I showed him my magical 4WD switch that he didn’t know much about but as a Land Cruiser owner he had the right to be like: “meh.” He said that even it had 4WD drive, it doesn’t work in a cross way in which two tires from the front and back in opposite directions can drive at the same time, which is what we kind of needed at the time. An X-Trail with a 4WD switch is still no match for a Land Cruiser. He sent the eldest of his kids to the nearby gas station to get something. I continued to dig and then tried yet again to get the car out. He told me that it’s pointless at this stage and he was astonished that a 2WD car like mine made it this far.

He was sitting and waiting while the kids were driving off. I didn’t think he had any kind of obligation to help me out and I think he thought I can’t do much to help myself, but since he asked me not to bother trying to get the car out while he was just waiting while the kids where driving off to the gas station, I assumed that he sent them to get something. When I asked, he told me he will try to pull the car out so they were getting a rope. We spent a minute looking for a connection point in my car and then hooked both our cars together. His son started to pull forward and then reverse to do it again while I gently press on reverse with every shock. He was giving instructions to his son that I wasn’t able to hear. He seemed aware that this is a learning experience for his children but he was obviously driven by the traditional values of humility, generosity and reaching out. The car finally got out after a few pulls.

It was all over. Now I can just leave the desert just like I entered, after all I got stuck when I tried to climb up a slope. He told me he’s going to stay and check if I am actually able to make it out so he got in his car and I in mine and we drove off.

After a hundred meters or so, the car got shakier and so did the sand underneath it. It was bumpy but there was no room to slow down because if I stop, but might get stuck. But still, I had to stop because I was not moving much anymore but just digging holes for my wheels. I stopped after the lesson that the more I dig myself in, the more I will have to do to dig myself out. They stopped as well and he asked why I stopped? I told him I got stuck again. I noted that the ABS light was on, although I was not sure what that did, I didn’t like it because it might have been interfering negatively with my movement. Rashed said it is normal since my wheels are spinning without control.

It was easier this time, as I was stuck just a little. We hooked the cars again and started to pull. We kept the cars hooked this time while his son drove off. I felt how easier being pulled makes it to move. Rashed and I were in my car and I was steering the car following his son. We were headed towards the main road, on a path different than the one I used to enter but I thought it was a good idea to trust Rashed and his kid as they were much more familiar than a newcomer like me.

When we got nearer to the gas station a sudden screeching sound started and the car’s movement became very heavy and we quickly came to a halt. I thought something broke down in my car that isn’t well equipped to handle off-road situations but when we got down we realized that we got stuck in the metal wires of a broken fence that were laying on the ground. The Land Cruiser was able to cross but the X-Trail wasn’t. What a disappointing X-Trail. Rashed also noted that the left front tire had a huge tear, and it was flat.

I got stuck in wires and had to borrow pliers from a nearby tire repair shop.

We needed to loosen up the tough wires that clung tightly to the base of the wheel, and so we reversed up a bit and tried a bit to pull the wires out. We needed a cutting tool so I grabbed some money and I ran to the gas station to get something to cut with. I couldn’t find anything useful in the Adnoc Oasis shop but I found pliers in the FastFit tires repair shop. The mechanic there was a bit unsure whether he should give me the pliers because he was afraid that I’m not going to return it back. I understood his fear because it’s so easy to just steal a plier that you say you want to borrow and he had to be careful because he doesn’t own the shop. When I told him that I can give him money as assurance in case I don’t return the pliers and so he agreed to give them to me but refused to take money. I think my offer made him trust me.

I came back down to Rashed and the kids and this time the car was stuck with the wires at the front wheels still, but at the other side of the wheels’ base where it connects with the rest of the car. He told me that they got stuck from the other side of the wires when they tried to reverse. I felt guilty for all the time he spent helping me, and I thought I can just try to call a services company that can get me out of here so that I would not take much of this kind man’s time, but I hesitated to actually do this because I didn’t want to make him feel like I am not appreciating his efforts to help. I ended up making this suggestion a little later, but he said that there won’t be any in this area. We started to cut the wires and it was a very hard job since the pliers were very weak against these strong fence wires that wrapped well around both front wheels. The plier itself started to break near its sharp cutting area.

He started to release some air pressure from his car’s wheels and asked me to do the same for my car handing me a small stick that I can use to press on the wheel’s nozzle this was to make the car less likely to get stuck again in the soft sand. He was wondering if we could find a better cutting tool. I went back the tires shop and the mechanic there seemed to be excited for my return, I asked him if there was a stronger cutting tool but we didn’t find anything. I found another plier at the oil change shop so I took that (the mechanic at the oil change shop didn’t hesitate to give me the pliers without questions).

We started cutting and we managed to cut 3 or so wires but there were still many more and there were those rusty barbed wires that were much harder than the other seamed wires. Rashed asked me to hurry up and try to reach that recovery truck that has parked at the side of the main road. I started running towards it and then I heard Rashed whistling and calling so I stopped to see what he wanted, that was stupid of me as he was signaling the truck driver who was about to get back on the road. He told me to keep going so I did but the truck started to move before I was able to reach it.

I was disappointed and so was Rashed. I felt stupid. We were hoping that the recovery truck could offer some kind of help, maybe they had a better cutting tool or anything that we can make use of. At that point I thought I’ll just call my father and brother who live nearby and see if they could help me find a recovery services company. My brother had this usual you-are-a-screw-up kind of attitude, but my request was simple: I didn’t’ want their help or anything; I just wanted a number if they could send me anything. If I’m afraid to get stuck in the sand, I’ll never really do anything fun in my life, so to speak. But I didn’t need anything as Rashed was so persistent and committed to getting me out. Rashed said he also tried to call someone but could not find a services company that can get on the sand to get us out. They don’t go off-road.

We thought for a moment and realized that our primary problem was the wires so we need to get them cut. I suggested running to a nearby Spinneys to look for something but he and his son agreed that Spinneys would not have cutting tools and that we will need to go to Al Sinaiyaa (the industrial area). Rashed said that’s the best course of action and decided to leave the kids with me and go find a cutting tool.

He told his younger son that he was going to go, and the little kid started to complain about ice-cream or something like that. Rashed got him something and start to move. He forgot that our cars were still connected so he started to drag as he tried to continue moving. I quickly called out to him and told him to wait for me to detach the hook from his car.

I was left with the kids. I thought it was amazing that Rashed left me with the kids and it could mean more than one thing. It could me that he trusts me with his kids, or more likely that he trusts his kids to act responsibly. Anyways the eldest brother who was playful but still responsible was there. Another meaning is that he left them with me as an act of courtesy as he didn’t want me to be alone: another sign of high tradition and values that I admired.

I told the kids that I am sorry for taking much of their time. They were on vacation and come here every once in a while. The eldest kid who was in the 8th grade was happy to give me some advice about my car and adventures. He mentioned Wadi Adventure and that I should get a moon buggy if not a bigger car. He was happy to mention that they got a moon buggy from the USA. I thought that that was a good idea since my car is not a good option for this kind of adventures. I lightheartedly admitted that I need a better suited car for this and the next time I come it would not be using this car.

The kids started to play around. The moon buggy seemed to be a lot of fun and the sun soon started to set and soon it was dark and still no sign of Rashed. When the eldest got his turn to drive the moon buggy, he started to chase the kids around pretending to want to run them over. They seemed to be having a lot of fun and I was glad of that.

The moon buggy playing around and chatting with the kids.

I was chatting with the kids and when I expressed that I appreciate their help, one of the kids told me that he went back to his father to tell him about my issue when he saw me stuck while he was driving his moon buggy. So I told him that they were my rescuers and I am very grateful for their help. I was glad to see a satisfied shy smile on his face. It seems their father is doing a good job teaching them high values.

At one point the eldest drove away up a little hill and pointed the moon buggy in our direction and started signaling with the headlights in a distance. The younger kids and I watched for a moment and then I started to worry as maybe he was signaling that he needed us. I decided to inhibit my worry and not act like an overly worried mother. The kids decided to sneak up near him so they lowered their heads and ran towards him. After a little bit I heard them joyfully screaming and running away from the moon buggy that was chasing them once again. I thought that that was very funny and playful.

My parents soon arrived and we started to think about how to get the car out, my Dad gave me a few pieces of advice especially about the flat tire and the fact that I don’t even have a spare as I blew that one before and didn't even replace it (yet).

Rashed soon arrived with a huge cutting tool that made it look so easy to cut the tough wires. I was amused and so happy how powerfully it worked. We started cutting here and there and trying to track where the wires went and how we need to cut them to free the car up. After making sure that the car was free, we hooked the cars again and with the Land Cruiser’s help I was able to get to the road. While he was pulling me, I was so excited I tried to take a photo but had to unlock my phone so unfortunately I couldn't take a picture in time.

I was very excited that we finally got the car out. I felt I wanted to hug the guy! Rashed asked me if I heard something unusual and I told him nothing except the rubbing of the flat tire. He asked me about any strange motor sound and I said no. It was mission accomplished. I expressed my deepest gratitude to him and told him that he indeed rescued me from a hard situation. I am very thankful for this kindness and lucky to have run into someone who would not give up and was committed to really help me. I learnt afterwards that his behavior was consistent with his position at his work as a leader, but I will keep that out to remain respectful of his privacy.

I think he is like me in the sense that he is stubborn and does not give up and once he starts something he insists to stay on it until it completes and once the mission is accomplished, he moves on. And that’s what he did. After I thanked him and he made sure I was OK, he was quickly in his car on his way to get the kids and go home. My dad thanked him and offered any help in case he needs and I did the same saying that he has my number in case he needs anything. He had a welcoming smile and was very respectful to our appreciation. And off he went.

Luckily, my dad’s car is the same as mine and I was able to borrow his spare tire. His Bridgestone tire was brand new and made a loud squeaking sound at the slightest turn. Admittedly, I enjoyed that. I went straight to the FastFit shop near my dad’s house where I was spending the night and got a new tire fixed for me.

My tire was torn badly by the wires! It was an old 2008 spare tire, the mechanic at the tire repair shop remarked.

Lessons learned:

  1. Wider wheels are better when driving on soft sand.
  2. Softer wheels are more suitable on soft sand as they are less likely to start digging holes.
  3. There is more than one kind of four wheel drive.
  4. Desert sand is beautiful and so soft that it can be compared to a liquid.
  5. X-Trails are not really the best off-road vehicle even with the 4WD switch turned on.
  6. Going out and trying something new will cause you to have an enjoyable learning experience.
  7. Holding the camera button on the Nokia Lumia Windows Phone causes the camera application to turn on even if the phone is locked. Good to know for quick clicks.
  8. The tires has a date label on them that indicate how old they are.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

النجاح الفردي لتكوين مجتمع جميل

يهمني أن أكونَ مُحاطاً بأشخاص ناجحين. أعذروني لاستخدامي المصطلح غير الواضح "ناجح" لكننا نستطيع التعامل معه بِحَرْفيّة على أنه يشير الى أي نوع من النجاح في تحقيق الأهداف مهما كانت (إلا لو كان الهدف تقليل 
الأهداف و تصغيرها، أو التظاهر أن لا يوجد لديك أحلام لتلاحقها).

أريد أن أكون محاطاً بأشخاص ناجحين لأني أريد أن أعيش في عالم يستطيع الأشخاص فيه القيام بالأشياء، و فعلاً يقومون بها. أريد أن أنتمي الى مجتمع قادر يحوي أشخاص مثيرين للاهتمام و يقومون بأشياء مثيرة للفكر، و يتمتعون برؤى عميقة على الأمور التي يخوضون فيها، و من أستطيع أن أستمتع معهم في تجارب فكرية مثيرة للاهتمام و العقل.

ذلك يعني أني سأسعى أن أجعل من أصدقائي الناجحون. و هذا يعني شيئين: جذب ناجحين كاصدقاء جُدد الى دائرتي الاجتماعية، و أن أفعل قدر استطاعتي لمساعدة اصدقائي الحاليين في النجاح فيما يقومون به و يسعون إليه، أو على الأقل التمني لهم بالخير و تشجيعهم على العمل للنجاح.

الحيوية، الإلهام، الرغبة في تحقيق الأهداف و النجاح بشكل عام هي أمور قابلة للانتشار كالعدوى، و المزيد من الأشخاص الذين يعملون من أجل أحلامهم يؤدي الى تَكَوُّن مجتمع رائع من أشخاص رائعين، و هذا المجتمع سيكون مجتمعنا. مجتمع سيكون من استطاعتي أن اسميه مجتمي أنا مثلما يستطيع كل عضو آخر، و سأكون فخوراً و أنا أَقِرُّ بِعضويتي.

أريد أن أرى كل أصدقائي و معارفي و حتى الأشخاص البعيدين أكثر و حتى الأشخاص الذين لا أحبهم لكنهم موجودون في دوائري الاجتماعية أن ينجحوا. هذا بكل بساطة في صالحي: سأصبح جزءاً في عالم أستمتع بوجودي فيه.

إجعل لكل يوم من أيامك وزن و قيمة؛ حياتك هي أيامك.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Technology Related Science Fiction Musings

I'm going to start writing segments of stories that randomly come up to me while I'm waking, jogging, working that relate to my profession and passion of software development. I've had lots of such fantasies of advanced software technology or great minds but I'm just going to start today with whatever comes to my mind and list it here.

These are going to be story segments. Some are descriptions of places or technology or emotional scenes, or just what imaginary characters are saying.

The list of Tech Science Fiction Story Segments (i'm going to tag them with TechSciFi)

The necessary meta-existence

Every day I face very interesting situations and use scenarios of technologies. Sometimes really interesting ideas come up to my head and I usually write it down somewhere I never go back to. I experience the urge to delve into the details of something, but at the same time being overloaded by tasks (from both my formal work and my personal work) inhibits me.

I unfortunately do not have the luxury to arbitrarily entertain my curiosity and my desire to know more.

This all pushes me to think about the ways I approach learning, contemplate my own thinking patterns and reflect on my behavior as a programmer. This is where my interest in meta-programming, developing software development tools (programs that developers use to help them develop programs).

But lately the inclination to think this was has gotten more intense, especially because I am loaded with more work and because I want to do more. I don't want just to do my job. I want to exceed it and much more! I want to be able to handle much more work. I need to explore how my brain works, and my psychology as a programmer and perhaps one day summarize my thinking patterns, problem-exploration and solution-generation methods using abstraction techniques that I can automate. This is cognitive modeling, neuroscience and computational psychology.

The paradoxical situation that I am in arises from the fact that exploring the metaphysical aspects of my life in an attempt to find ways to make me more able to handle work, will be a lot of work in itself that is out of my professional domain. Simply put, I'll be battling on a front that I have no experience in, getting myself into a lot of work trying to optimize the way I do work.

I am proud with my attempts to automate some aspects of my work, completely refusing to doing it manually. But this is certainly not enough; especially when I think about all the great things I want my life to be about.

This is one of the reasons I feel that I meta-exist, because I meta-think all the time. One of my friends told me I thinking abstractly too much.

Even in social conversations, I find myself much more comfortable reflecting upon the fact that I am engaging socially rather than actually doing it. So I end up with a conversation in which people tell me how deep I am, and how I need to take things more simply. I make people uncomfortable; except those who can handle thinking about thought or conversations about conversations with a pen and paper in my hand trying to keep track of how the conversation evolves.

This is an experience that is common between programmers, physicists and mathematicians and perhaps one of the reason that they aren't usually called social butterflies.

I need to turn my attention to how can I approach adding the activities  of exploring my psychology and thinking patterns (with all the learning I need to do) into my schedule effectively. This better be formal and systematic, because I need results! Here we go again, another meta-layer.

Inputs are outputs and meta neural networks

Excited and out of breath, the employee meets the professor and says:

I’m happy for this opportunity to meet you.

The system uses non-trivial AI techniques neural networks and an expert system. The expert system is just a database but what’s interesting is the neural network whose activation functions are calibrated using a neural network itself. This was important because we reused the different segments of a neural network so the transition functions at each level of the hidden layers was important because they were both outputs to other NN or algorithms and inputs to the succeeding hidden layers. There was  a lot of activation functions to be designed and calibrated so we decided to create  a neural network to help us create those functions for the networks we are actually aiming to create.

And that’s the thing that I think warrants me a Master’s Degree.