Dec 12, 2006

Finally, a way to sync files easily

A friend of mine brought my attention to this product, which Microsoft has bought very recently (November 2006). This very nice website service will allow you sync folders between multiple computers over the internet seemlessly. It also allows a group of people to share documents easily.

Finally, a solution for the file-sync nightmare. Now if they can just make windows home networks easier to setup (without using a login server)!

Some Interesting new Technologies

Interesting news to share:

1- Solar Cells' efficiency is up to from 28% to 40% and the cost is lowered considerably (i.e. 40% of the light that falls onto the cell is turned into electrical energy)

2- A breakthrough in nano-tubes manipulation techniques. Nano-tubes are expected to become the main material of choice for making almost any product - from blood-cell-size robots to computers to finger-tip size cameras to car bodies.

3- Pocket Projector: a laser technology that would allow embedding a whole projector inside a cell phone.

4- A new record was set for Machine Translation Quality (using the BLEU test This goes to Meaningful Machines, a score of .65. I have to admit that the advancements in this field will still take a while to materialize in realistic usable products.

Dec 11, 2006

AlJazeera on Gramin's Nobel Prize

Aljazeera LOVES controversy!
The way they presented today's news item about Mohammad Yunus's nobel prize (founder of the Gramin bank) was so weird.

1- They were asking the question "why Mohammad Yunus?". They interviewed a Bangladeshi reporter saying that there are many pioneers in poor community banking field in Bangladesh. He said that Yunus won because he makes the most noise and pays a lot of attention to foreign relations and the public image.

2- The Aljazeera anchor asked an Egyptian expert with these words "How come he won a Nobel prize by giving few dollars to few poor people?"

3- The Egyptian expert said that Mohammad Yunus was not a pioneer, and that Egyptians have pioneered micro-loans in the 1950s from the Nahhas-Pasha days.

4- The Egyptian expert said that Gramin became famous because they gave loans to women who were able to make goods that ended up being exported to foreign countries. Otherwise, it's not that special.

5- They interviewed Mohammad Yunus... BUT, out of the whole interview, they showed ONLY ONE SENTENCE. This is how they presented it:
"In the 3rd largest muslim country in the world, Mohammad Yuus chose to create a bank that is based on Interest. Mohammad Yunus: Islam does not say explicitly that Interest as a whole is Haram; it's a controversial issue and many scholars say that some of it is halal."

6- They also said that the "televised happy reception of Yunus by the poor residents at one of the villages" is "most likely a well-orchestrated PR show"

7- They ended the report by asking "Is Mohammad Yunus using the Gramin conglomerate's reputation and influence to run for presidency?"

That was it!

ya akhi... some times, I just wonder how these Aljazeera people think. Why to present the story in such a manner!?
Even if there are question marks about this guy's Nobel Prize, present a balanced story, present the apparent positive light of it (A MUSLIM GUY winning a Nobel Prize for work in a Muslim Country!! this is huge), and THEN, present the doubts and the questions.


Nov 13, 2006

I need a new Camera.. what should I get?

This cry for a new Camera is not the usual geek-instinct to upgrade (as Joe, my programming professor, used to say "You mean they make'em bigger?" - he ended up buying a jeep from the Swiss Army that is made in 1950 and has a mere 40km on it!)

No, my need for a new camera is for ... Layan, the little angel of my life. I was very disappointed the other day when I found out that almost all the in-door pictures of her were below par. My warrior, the Pentax Optio 555, while usually great, did not cut it this time.

Here's an example of the noise I get for in-door pictures (people taken out):
Do you see how the wall is grainy? With low light, any 'smooth colors' look grainy - even people's faces or clothes.

This drove me crazy. I don't have this problem with outdoor pictures. My camera does very well there (and it seems that until one has children, most of one's photos are outdoors):

So, with this great reason in mind, I start drafting my requirements for a new camera:
1- Should be able to handle low-light situations gracefully (no flash or ambient flash - I hate flash pics)
2- Should be able to take the 'portrait' shots - where only the person's face is in focus, and everything in the background is nicely fuzzed out.
3- Should be quick - important to capture those invaluable children's face impressions.
4- Image stabilization is possible: shaky images are rather common, especially in low-light indoor situations. A camera with Image stabilization feature - I hope - should help.

With these requirements in mind, what should I get?
After looking through - which is a great site, I found few interesting options:
1- Canon S3 IS: the S1, 2, & 3, are Canon's family of consumer long-zoom cameras (~10X). My uncle has one, and it's very nice. It has image stabilization (thus, the IS in the name). It's quick (2.5 images per second). It's big (downside, but not very important for now). The low light (high ISO) quality is so-so (check the test here).

2- I'm also thinking about the super compact Canon SD700 IS. It's super compact, and fast with ~2 frames per seconds. The IS seems to work nicely (IS test). The noise, however, it not impressive (test).

3- While reading about the SD700 IS, I read about it's competition, the Fujifilm Finepix F30, as one of the most impressive consumer noise-reduction cameras. They even compare it to the SLR Nikon D50 at ISO800, the the fuji does pretty well (test here). It's fast ~2.2 fps (it seems all new compact cameras are fast). However, the review concludes that the Fuji F30 is really good in low-light, but so-so with out-doors pictures. And this camera does not have Image stabilization.

4- My fourth option is to get a Digital SLR system (single lens reflex camera). Those cameras are bulky, expensive, require additional time to fix images, but... supposedly, they produce the best quality pictures possible.

Between these 4 options... I will start my investigation. As some know. I take a very long time to make such 'electronics' decisions. I expect I won't make a final purchase until the end of the year (1-2 months from now).

I will try to blog as I go. If you know of a good camera, please send your recommendations.

Aug 31, 2006

Dignified Exercise!

"There must be some kind of movement I can do standing up, with the dignity of a human being,"
How to Make and Use a Shovelglove

Take a sledgehammer and wrap an old sweater around it. This is your "shovelglove." Every week day morning, set a timer for 14 minutes. Use the shovelglove to perform shoveling, butter churning, and wood chopping motions until the timer goes off. Stop. Rest on weekends and holidays.

I do 50 shoveling motions, 50 right then 50 left; 15 to 20 butter churns, right then left; 20 woods chops in both directions; and then 5-8 curl like movements for which I haven't thought of a good name yet. Then I repeat the cycle until the timer goes off.

Hilarious... caught cheating!

When people saw this in Chicago, they thought "oh.. don't miss with a Chicago woman!"

Some even followed the unfolding story on Emily's blog, AS IT HAPPENED! (

But then... this same billboard appeared in 5 different cities in the US! which slowly proved to be dram-vertising for Court TV!
the details:

amazing... what is next in advertising land?

Aug 30, 2006

Nice poem, to Children of Palestine by I. Tamimi

it's not a great poem in the classical sense, but its brilliance is in its sincerity. These are not the crafted words of a dreamy poet, but are the true words from the heart of a real person.

Aug 29, 2006

"price-tag" on the UN Security Council Seat

from (Freakonomics blog)

Consequently, it comes as no suprise that now, as a Ph.D. student at
Harvard, she is producing cutting-edge economic research. With
co-author Eric Werker, she has written a paper entitled “How Much is a Seat on the Security Council Worth? Foreign Aid and Bribery at the United Nations.” In this paper, they find that when a country takes over one of the rotating seats on the UN Security
Council, U.S. foreign aid jumps by almost 60%. When the country leaves
the Security Council, the aid falls back to the old levels. The impact
on aid is even larger when there are important international events
(like invasions of Iraq) that put the Security Council in the spotlight.

Aug 26, 2006

Skeptic Magazine on AI interesting article

oh ye of little faith!

Skeptic: The Magazine: Featured Article (why Artificial Intelligence won't make it)

I actually highly disagree with the article. I hope to get to write a response soon.

Aug 14, 2006

Dear Lebanon, Thanks God

Dear Lebanon,

It seems absured to say Hamdellah Ala Assalameh (Thanks God for your safety), but in a way, it does have a meaning. War is like a disease; stopping it is the first step, and next is the recovery.

Yes, I see your scars and broken bones, but you have brave children, who believe in you and love you. They are smart and hardworking, and I believe in them, and I believe in you, and I believe you will be glorious again.

Regardless of who claims "victory", you have been the real loser. The ceasefire decision seems to have focused on "securing Israel." I hope that more decisions and actions will be taken on healing your scarred limbs and rebuilding your strength.

Sorry I did not write you during this month. It has been real hard to read the news, or even the blogs, every morning. I tried to isolate myself and just read history - hoping to see what has brought us to this state. I promise I will write you more often now, and I hope to visit you soon.

I heard an interview with an Israeli professor on NPR (national public radio) this morning. He said that there's a wide-spread feeling in Israel that this is not over. I think I can see how the Israeli army still wants revenge. Allah Yostor. Allah yjib elli feh elkhair.

ma3afah ya Lobnan.

Like your son,

Jul 17, 2006

Latest in advertising... check your egg!
IN September, CBS plans to start using a new place to advertise its fall television lineup: your breakfast.
The network plans to announce today that it will place laser imprints of its trademark eye insignia, as well as logos for some of its shows, on eggs — 35 million of them in September and October.

while this seems bizarre at first glance, ... it's not that of an idea. what do you think?
(intended overlooking of current events)

Jun 26, 2006

Welcome, Layan Arrabi

Leaving the hospital
Originally uploaded by arrabi.
Alhamdullilah, God has blessed us with the sweetest baby Layan on Friday 23rd at 11am. Mother & Baby aare healthy and back at home. A new life has begun, and it definitely has a new refreshing flavor.

What should her nickname be? Layan is just soo.. easy. Suggestions so far: Lolo, Loli, Layano, Layyon, Laylon!?, lonlon..
can't stop :-)

We took this pic on Sunday as we were leaving the hospital. My dear 7amati is with us, which is really great at this point.

Muhammad, Afnan, and Layan Arrabi :-)

May 27, 2006

nice article on Jordan's independence day

Out of the several articles I read on the topic of Jordan's independence day, I like the article titled " في ذكرى الاستقلال...تحديات ماثلة أمام الدولة الأردنية" by Batir Wardam the best.

Nice job Batir.

May 24, 2006

Magical HDR images

Our eyes see a huge amount of light-shades, but digital cameras can save only few of them at a time. The problem is exaggerated when an image has dim spots and strong-light ones. If the camera focuses on the dim spots, the strong-light ones are too white. And if the camera focueses on the strong-light spots, the dim ones are too dark.

A solution by HDR Soft company is to take several pictures with different exposure time/intensity, and then use their plug-in to merge them. Thus, the image will have 3x (or more) the number of light shades in a picture.

The resulting images are MAGICAL. Check this guy's album of China.

May 17, 2006

Pic of Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum, Jordan
Originally uploaded by malachei.
A picture of Wadi Rum. One must always wait for sunset/sunrise in any natural place. Pictures like this do not come with perpendicular rays.

May 12, 2006

Nancy overtook Amr Diab, according to Google

According to Google Trends (thanks to Humeid for his article)

Nancy Ajram's popularity over took Amr Diab's in the first quarter of 2004
And Haifa Wehbe is no match!

Ah, technology, how useful art thee...... ;-)

Apr 29, 2006

petra-opera - any more info?

Originally uploaded by yanaljr.
Amazing photo by YanalJr!
Does anybody have more info on this event? when is the next one?

Israel Lobby influence in Washington

Recently I came across an article titled "The Israel Lobby" (March 23rd, 2006), authored by professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt from Harvard and U Chicago. The topic is one not very foreign to many, the "influence of the Israel lobby on the American foreign policy'.

Apparently, and unlike several other books and articles on the same subject (see Findley, Chomsky, Finklestein, Shlaim, etc.), this one is making a lot of noise. Just go to and you'll see.

Why? it seems to be the stature of the authors within the think-tanks in Washington and political thought in ivy universities. The authors are known 'centerists' and 'realists', thus they are harder to discredit than the 'socialist & leftist' authors. It'll be interesting to follow the 'sobre followup' (not the angry reactionary) posts on this subject. I found this recent article in The Nation to be very interesting:

Ferment Over 'The Israel Lobby' by Philip Weiss (April 27th, 2006)

Apr 27, 2006

Book review: Malcolm X: Autobiography

Malcolm X's autobiography (I listened to the audio book), is a very interesting piece of work - and MUCH more informative than the movie, but is also incomplete. The book leaves you with more questions about the history of Blacks in America, Nation of Islam, and Malcolm X himself than before reading it. Alex Haley's integrity, the co-author and editor and publisher of the the autobiography, is put under question because of his own agenda (pro-integrationist and pro-civil rights, the opposite of Malcolm X's early thought), and his relationship with the FBI. Furthermore, Haley has intentionally omitted 3 chapters of the book that are supposed to shed much more light on Malcolm's ideas during his last years. Unfortunately these chapters are still not publicly available (see Dr. Manning Marable's interview). I'm looking forward to Dr. Marable's biography of Malcolm X, which is due in the next few years.

Besides all that, the book is a GREAT read, and I have few thoughts about it:

1- Malcolm was an exceptional genius - he's one of those people who would have become Nobel Prize laureate if it wasn't for the circumstances. If Malcolm were to be born into a normal family of this age, he would have went to top schools and did great things. Just imagine what would have happened if Einstein was forced to leave school at age 15 and go live in the ghetto. That was Malcolm. Want proof? obvious things first: he was top of his class by end if junior-high. More, just read or listen to one of his speeches. Can you believe that this guy has finished ONLY 9th grade!? Malcolm was able to re-educate himself while in prison. He did so all by himself. He finished several long-distance courses, one of which was in Latin. Listening to him, one thinks he's a university graduate. Attaining that on your own while in prison... is very impressive. Another indication: his amazing success first as a drug dealer, and then, after conversion, to expanding the Nation of Islam following massively. I would love to see an educated IQ estimate for him.

2- The book paints a GREAT picture of the average African American's life in the ghettos and on the streets. The book does a much greater job than the movie on this point.

3- For example Drugs: I've always asked myself, how can somebody become a drug dealer. It seems so hard and a really big deal, at the same time, the kind of characters who do it seem so average - or even below-average. Malcolm describes in the book how he moved from using drugs, to selling them, to even creating an inter-state base of clientele, and finally the head of an armed-robbery gang, all while he was UNDER 20 years of age. 20 YEARS!!!

4- Nation of Islam (NOI) had a different interpretation of prophethood than mainstream muslims. They believe in a modern prophet, Elijah Mohammad, who learned Islam from W. D. Fard, who in turn claimed that he was God's incarnation on Earth. I say "had" and not "have" because I know they have changed afterward, however, I don't know how much.

5- One of the funny quotes from Elijah Mohammad, explaining why Muslims shouldn't eat pig, is "A pig is a graph between rat, cat, and dog." hm...

6- Charisma: I've learned about the gift of Charisma, but never met a person who had it. Not just affluence or influence, but great Charisma. I've heard that Steve Jobs, Clinton, and King Hussein had it. The story I usually get is that, in their presence, people feel like "water in their hands - they can tell you to do anything and you would do it." Malcolm X must have been one of those few people. His ability to 'feel' the crowd and say just the right words is amazing. He was the Nation of Islam dynamo. His job was to go to new cities, establish a Nation of Islam following, build a mosque, and then move on to the next city. Some claim that Nation of Islam was Malcolm X, and with his death, it became dormant.

7- The big picture of history: now I really want to read more about African American history in the US. I want to know exactly, and from an unbiased observer, what was Malcolm's real role with Nation of Islam? What happened to the 'orthodox muslims' organization he left behind? what was his relation to the civil rights movement? how did it go after his assassination? Is there a 'new Malcolm X' out there? people who accept Malcolm X's thought, where are they now? what are they doing?

I hope to find a worthy book to read on the subject... and then I would write another book review blog.

Apr 25, 2006

A trip to Mecca .... California!

Believe it or not, after driving for 7 hours only, we made it from Santa Clara to Mecca! :-)

We went on a fun-filled roadtrip to Mecca, CA to enjoy their Annual Dates Festival ( ! it sounds surreal, right!
As we drove south in California, we were surprised by two things: it was hot and dry, a LOT like Jordan

and from the middle of the desert, this Oasis of tall green palm trees emerges

Apparently, the spanish missionaries brought few Palm Trees with them as they travelled north in California. The palms needed hot weather and lots of water - making Mecca, CA a perfect place for it. But nothing major came out of that. The story goes that around 1900, a plant scientist who owned a planeterium, sent his sons to Iraq and North Africa to bring palm trees. They brought a whole bunch. These palm trees grew so well they were enought os tart several dates farms.

Later, as the Medjool date tree was nearing extinction from North Africa because of a disease called "Mbeidin", the French & US governments sent and brought 9 healthy offshoots. These offshoots, to their amzement, grew so well in Arizona & California. The Medjool date soon became the most expensive and sought-after variety of date. And I don't exagerate when I say that some are as big as apples, and they are very sweet and succulant (not dry). I was surprised when I had them during my first Ramadan in the US (back in 1998).

In February of every year, Mecca, CA throws its annual Dates Festival! The festival is both a celebration of dates, (everything dates! date-milkshakes, date-icecream, date-cake, date-with-rice, date-cookies, etc.) ....

and a typical farm-land county festival, complete with cowboy hats and cattle!

they even have Camel, Osrige, Alpaca, and pig races!

It was also great to get a feel of real California there (San Francisco is very different). The people looked Jordanian (well, Latinos ;-)) - and that's not a coincidence, since California used to be part of Mexico until it was forcebly bought by the US in 1846 (along with New Mexico). Interestingly enough, shortly after the Mexican War, the US got into its deadliest, most devastating war - the Civil War between the Northern Republicans and the Southern Confederates. General Ulysses S. Grant (of the north) said (scroll down):
"The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times."
Ah, if only they read history!

Is that a tree?

Is that a tree? look carefully...

I love it when I spot one of these every now and then, a well-hidden wireless phone antenna. I think this solution is very creative. The picture on the left is in Santa Clara, CA, and the other is in Mecca, CA.

Apr 20, 2006

Very nice lightening photo

lightning over the capital city
Originally uploaded by muha....
it's not just the lightening... the whole image, with the water reflection, and the glowing sky, it speaks to you...

good job Muha...

Mar 28, 2006

Marriage is for white people!?

A very interesting article:
The marriage rate... has been dropping since the 1960s... In 2001, according to the U.S. Census, 43.3 percent of black men and 41.9 percent of black women in America had never been married, in contrast to 27.4 percent and 20.7 percent respectively for whites... In the period between 1970 and 2001, the overall marriage rate in the US declined by 17 percent; but for blacks, it fell by 34 percent.
My sociology professor said that for all societies on Earth, the more "industrialized" the society, the HIGHER is the DIVORCE RATE. Japan was a very conservative country with very low divorce rate... until it became industrialized. US apprarently is getting to the next step: avoiding marraige all together.

I know that divorce rates have been increasing in Jordan... God knows if we'll reach the US rates at one point.


Mar 27, 2006

"Think outside the Box" ... Bingo!!!

This is a follow up to Wael's post "DON'T THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX".

There are like around 20 buzz phrases (e.g. "Think outside the box", "customer-focused", "results-driven", "leadership", "empowerment") that every incompetent manager LOVES to use, in both fluent & broken English, and can't say a sentence without them. To make these managers stop, I suggest using the Buzzword Bingo cards! Dilbert tells us how to use them:

Supposedly, the MIT students used one during Al Gore's lecture in 1996!!
A nice buzzword generator:
enjoy ya Wael!

Mar 23, 2006

To be a Palestinian

I was born in the suburbs of Akka, in a house built by my grandfather right before his wedding in 1940. Outside the house lies our orange farm, and further down is grand-uncle's. While working as a child in collecting oranges from our own farm, I loved playing at my uncle's. His farm sat at the feet of a moderate hill in the shape of a crescent. At the edge of the land stood my grand-uncle’s house, right on the road that led to the downtown. Behind the house was a small olive garden. The trees there are very old. My grandfather told me once that the first of the Arrabis, Sa'eed, who moved from Arrabah village to Akka around 1700, is the one who planted them. Sa'eed worked with Al-Ardah family, the ruling family in Arrabah, the capital of the Ottoman area of Jineen and the towns around it. He came to Akka to start a new life as a farmer. But it's said that towards the end of his life, he became a sea-trader. He loved to sail in the Mediterranean.

In the summer after I have graduated from elementary school, my father took me in a special visit to the city. As we drove downtown, we passed by several Arrabi farms on the way. About half of the Arrabis lived in the suburbs, but then the other half preferred city life. In the downtown, we made a stop at the Jazzar mosque, and then we entered an old office next to it to pay our respects to Shiekh Khalil Arrabi, the eldest and the guardian of the Arrabis in Akka. I remember meeting some of my distant cousins there; couple of them worked as lawyers; one had just come back from France at the time where he had gotten his diploma. And over there, my father introduced me to his brother-in-law, the principal of the secondary school of Akka, where I would be spending the next 4 years of my life.

Later that summer, I went with my mother to visit her family in Jerusalem. My mother's family, Khalidi, is well established in that great, ancient city. My great uncle, Rohi Khalidi, was one of the few Palestinian delegates in Istanbul, and later the Ottoman ambassador to France. Right next to Al-Aqsa, we visited the Khalidi public library. On a wall in the library, the big Khalidi family tree is carved. The tree extends all the way back to Khaled bin Al-Waleed. Apparently one of his grandsons fell in love with Palestine and stayed here.

In that visit, I met one of my uncles, Natheef, a political activist and the current principal of the Arab Teachers College in Jerusalem, which is the first higher-education institute in Palestine. He suggested that I should go to college in France. He assured me that my uncle Ibrahim over there would help me out. I've never met my uncle Ibrahim, but I know one of his sons. He has immigrated to France a long time ago. I understand he helps many Khalidis go to France to study there. He also said that I may come to Jerusalem to work with him in future summers - maybe learn the Khalidi secrets of trade in politics.

This my life that I have never lived; my great grandfather's olive trees that I've never seen; the oranges I've never collected; the uncles I've never met; the family houses I've never lived in; the ancestors' manuscripts I've never read; the family tree I've never extended; the family entity I've never been part of; the real Palestinian I've never been.

Instead, I am the first Arrabi to be born in the Arab Gulf. The Arrabi dwelling around me was that temporary, British-style, copy-and-paste, house loaned to my grandfather for working at the Kuwait Oil Company. The Arrabi extended family is my grandfather and his sons and grandsons. The oranges are a bedtime story my grandmother would tell before sleep. The family tree wall is a vague myth. Walking down the street to my elementary school, attending my classes, accepting academic awards, fighting during break-time and defending my little brother: I was creating the history of the Arrabis in Abu-Hulaifah. I was striding down new territory no Arrabi had walked before. There were no 'secrets of trade' to be learned, but I was creating them as I went along, for future generations, possibly my to-be nephews. Nothing seemed familiar in that part of land; it was familiar to me as a person, but not to me as a continuation of the legacy of brave men, the long chain of fathers and sons who lived and roamed in our lands.

Nonetheless, I did feel home neighboring the waters of the gulf. The view of the blue sea and the mixed nature of its sand, the smell of seaweed and taste of salty water, that big encompassing body provided me with a connection back to my family. It showed me the common bond between Sa'eed, the first of the Arrabis in Akka, and me, the first of the Arrabis in Kuwait.

Being a Palestinian is like being a budding flower in a jar on the dinner table. You think that it's normal to live as you are living. You think all flowers, just like you, must be growing up on a table surrounded by other creatures going about their daily lives. But one day, while the wooden table is being cleaned and polished, you are put by the window. You look outside, and low and behold, you see fields of flowers. You discover that what you have taken as granted all your life is, in fact, a state of abnormality. You see the flowers in their real life cycle of summer and winter, water and sun, insects and animals, and of course other flowers. You see the old tall sun flowers. You see the new young seeds flying around. But then you look down, and you see the jar you are in, and you realize you will never be able to jump out the window.

To be a Palestinian is to be a Hobbit living on Earth. You have read of the Shire in The Three Books, but you know you will never be able to go there. At times, when multitudes of your Hobbit relatives gather in one place, you sense an emerging unique dynamic of relationships and behavior. You feel that a micro-universe has been created in that exact place, at that exact moment. But soon, reality sets in as soon as the group disbands, leaving you with a glimpse of the Shire and an unfulfilled longing for a place you're not even sure of; a place that might no longer even exist.

To be normal is to be born into the legacy of your people.

To be normal is to be part of history, the bridge between what has come and what will come.

To be normal is to realize the bigger picture, the pattern of humanity, and to carry on your role in that picture.

To be normal is to have relatives, to walk down the street to factories built by your grandfathers, to see art by your ancestors, to live in a house that has evolved from the Earth it stands on and the souls that inhabit it – not mere, mass-produced cubicles of cement, steel and glass.

To be a Palestinian…

To be a Palestinian is to live thinking you are normal, when in reality you are not.

Muhammad Arrabi

Special thanks to Hala Khalaf and Jennifer Hamdi for great feedback and suggestions to refine the piece (4-23-2006).

Feb 23, 2006

Ugly people are Criminals, more often!?

I stubled upon this very interesting article in the washington post called The Ugly face of Crime.. The shocking news:
Not only are physically unattractive teenagers likely to be stay-at-homes on prom night, they're also more likely to grow up to be criminals, say two economists who tracked the life course of young people from high school through early adulthood.
I don't think we can take this study at face value since "attractive looks" are a result of both genetic makeup AND self-cair (clothes, hair style, clothes, etc.). Another way of reading the result of this study is:

People who have criminal-tendencies are less likely to take care of their looks (being less attractive, care less about what others think).
And, unfortunately, I can see how some people can get into a vicious circle as a result:

People who are born somewhat unattractive can grow hateful-tendencies to the world (because how it reacts to them), and thus care less about their looks and become even less attractive, .... and then turn into criminals.
This is very ugly thing to say... right?

Finally: I want to point out that the criminal-tendencies differences mentioned in the survey are SMALL. This means that there are so many other causes that drive people into crime that are much stronger than looks. And, these are statistical studies. It doesn't mean it'll happen to every person.

My own theory is that beauty is all in our minds (in the eye of the beholder). Thus, I can see any person as very nice is I connect his person with nice-deeds. And vica-versa. In a way, a nice person's look is the definition of beauty.

Feb 21, 2006

Fibonacci Numbers are for Rabbits!!!

In Highschool we studied about Fibonacci Series until it haunted us in our dreams... but I never knew that the origin of these numbers is ..... RABBITS!!
From Fibonacci's Liber Abaci famous book (English Translation, pages 404, 405):
How many pairs of rabbits can be produced in a year from a single pair if each pair produces a new pair every month, each new pair reproduces starting at the age of one month, and rabbits never die?

On a more serious note, The Liber Abaci (Book of Calculations) is considered to be the book that brought Arabic Numberals to the west. But how did this book do it?
- It was NOT the first to introduce Arabic numerals
- It did NOT include any profound mathematical discoveries (e.g. Fibonacci Numbers go back to 500 BC)
- It did NOT baffle the scientists of the time.

The book simply appealed to the merchants and not the academics. The book showed how Arabic numerals were much easier to use for commercial use, like profit-margin calculations and compound interest, than latin number.

This idea of making science "relevant" and useful to the people is very powerful and mostly overlooked. During 12 years of school, knowledge was forced into my mind because the teacher considered it "important" and "noble"... but very few things were actually useful and relevant to a boy living in Jordan. I know now much more about "Pteridophyta Plants of the Dinasour era" (سرخسيات وأبواغ) than the plants of the Jordan valley.

Universities are not better. Universities seem too busy getting through a "curriculum" they overlook the big picture of why students are here to learn. As Wael Attili (Sha3tili) put it:
In graphic design, we prefer candidates with institute diplomas over university graduates. Commercial institutes teach all the skills that are actually needed to do the job. University students usually need another year of training to get going.

We need a new original look at our curriculums to connect them to the real markets around them - to create that feedback cycle between what is studied, researched, and implemented. I've heard that JUST does a better job in that than UJ... I don't know, but I hope so.

Feb 9, 2006

Mosullini from Iraq! and Marco on Yemen

After the previous two Macro Polo posts (on Islam and Magic), I'd like to conclude with these amusing narrations of his book.

Mosullini, the great fascist, is originally from Iraq!

Chapter VI: All those cloths of gold and of silk which we call muslins are of the manufacture of Mosul, and all the great merchants termed Mossulini, who convey to another, are from this province.

So, somehow, Saddam Hussein and Mosullini are relatives... hm....

Baghdad, the great city of learning
Chapter VIII: The mohamotan law is here regularly studied, as are also magic, physics, astronomy, gomancy, and physiognomy. It is the noblest and most extensive city to be found in this part of the world.

It's saddening to see the state of these cities today and the ruins of their many historic sites. Anyways, Marco follows this sentence with a whole chapter on how the Tartars captured Baghdad... aah!

Yemen, where Cattle is fed fish!

In chapter XL of the third book, Marco described the Province of Aden. He goes to (or just narrates about - not sure, since maps never show his route to Africa and Yemen, although he describes them in his book) Hadramout, Mukalla, and then off to Oman. He mentions that the daily food of the people there was almost only fish and rice. Even the animals were fed dried fish ' which he found very weird. He goes on to describe also a kind of bread that Yemenis make out of crushed dried fish.

In 2004, and to my amusement, my Yemeni roommate confirmed that until today fish and rice are the foods of Yemeni people (especially in the south). Not just that, but he even confirms that until today the herds are fed dried fish. The bread made of fish is kind of rare now but can still be found.

Read 9-1-2003
Reviewed 5-27-2004
Edited & Blogged ... today

Marco on Magic and Weird Hospitality!

Marco Polo's book, while filled with descriptions of old nations and amusing stories, strikes the reader with his vivid and many narrations of works of Magic! and here's one from Chapter LXI (last chapter of the first volume):
Now when the Lord desires to drink, these magicians by the power of their magic cause the cups to move from their place without being touched by anybody, and to present themselves to the Emperor! This every one present may witness, and there are ofttimes more than 10,000 persons thus present. 'Tis a truth and no lie! and so will tell you the sages of our own country who understand necromancy, for they also can perform it.[NOTE 11]
The Yule Translation (a nicer translation here) adds a commentary of others who support Marco Polo's narration:
[Note 11] In a letter dated 1st December, 1875, written by Mr. R. B. Shaw, after his last return from Kashgar and Lahore, this distinguished traveller says; "I have heard stories related regarding a Buddhist high priest whose temple is said to be not far to the east of Lanchau, which reminds me of Marco Polo and Kúblái Khan. This high priest is said to have the magic power of attracting cups and plates to him from a distance, so that things fly through the air into his hands."
I find this very different from Ibn Battota's travels, where he never says he witnessed acts of Magic or the supernatural. He only narrates them as stories told to him. The weirdest thing Ibn Battota talked about was seeing the bones of a giant man. The man must have been 2.5-3 meters tall.
Marco Polo on Weird Hospitality!

Marco mentions some of the weirdest habits of some tribes in the middle of Asia (not sure where). The men of some of these tribes (chapter #tbd) supposedly invite any travelers to stay in their houses while they wait outside the city. The travelers are expected to live in the houses as if they were the men of the house ' including performing marital "obligations”!! (I love how old writers had "gentle” words for these matters). The travelers, at the end, were also expected to leave a "present" (well, more like a fee) for the stay. Not even just that, but when the Great Khan ordered these tribes to stop this "obscene habit”, they begged him to return to it since they feared the anger of the gods. He ended up giving up and letting them do whatever they found fit. Pure weirdness!

Feb 8, 2006

The art of taking a car apart!

We found this car in Shoneh. It has been STRIPPED TO THE BONES! what else could happen, you may ask!?
well, not surprisingly... this:

Feb 7, 2006

Crisis of the Arab Book - what is not

Roba, in an interesting post, brought back to my attention this quote of the UN Arab Human Development Report, that I don't really agree with:
Here's something that made me stop and think;
الكتاب العربي.. متى تنتهي أزماته؟

أسباب أزمة الكتاب العربي-17% من إنتاج الكتاب بالعالم العربي وفق تقرير التنمية البشرية ينحصر في الكتب الدينية والتراثية وهي كتب في الغالب لا تحتاج لأي مجهود فكر
"The reasons of the demise of the 'Arab Book'- 17% of the books produced in the Arab world fall under the category of religious or cultural genres that don't require any mental effort from the reader."

The number of books published in Arabic is already very small. The solution is NOT to criticize those who are publishing!! but to convince more people to publish and read. We arabs LOVE to pick up fights with each other and point fingers. Instead of working on those who DO NOT read, we seem to focus on criticizing those who do.

Every civilization has its share of leisure-reading. We Arabs love religious easy-readings. Americans in general love Romantic Novels (similar to Riwayat Abier in Arabic), which are much simpler and naive and empty compared to our leisure-time religious books. Many Americans are hooked on comics (e.g. Superman). And a good portion of middle-states love Bible-related books & hymns.

There's nothing wrong in finding amusement in reading. At least people become fast readers, which helps when reading more serious books. Much better than playing Trix and smoking Arguilah all night long (in my humble opinion).

My suggestion is to really think about the main questions:
1- How come Arabs do not find reading books useful?
2- How come people who read books usually end up with close-to-minimum-salary jobs!?
3- Is it strange that, if books are unuseful, people tend to read them less?
4- If reading books is for amusement, then why not just watch "TV" instead? (watch Najeeb Mahfouz instead of reading him).

I personally blame the Educational system on marginalizing the importance of non-curriculum books (and to an extent Engineering Departments of US colleges). I have my own amateur theory on why Education became so unrelated to everyday life. Inshallah I'll discuss it later. But I think it's rather simplistic and needs much more professional treatment to be of real value.

my 2 cents...

Feb 3, 2006

Marco Polo on Islam

I read Marco Polo's travels a while back, and I'll be presenting my thoughts on it in 3 blog articles. In the first one, I talk about Marco Polo and Islamic World.

Marco Polo visited many countries, from Russia to China to Yemen. His narration of the Muslim cities he passed through was especially interesting, because he gives the Christian European Medieval perspective on Islamic Society. It’s not how “Muslims saw themselves”, but how “Christian Minorities and Europeans saw Muslims”: a look of mostly fear, misunderstanding, and hate. (look for old accurate translations – the new ones are often made ‘politically correct’).

Since Macro stayed with the "Christian minority" of Muslim cities, he had very interesting stories to tell. A summary of one of the funniest (chapter VIII):

In Baghdad, while the Christian minority was repairing a church, they used a big black round stone to hold the main pole. Later on they found out that the stone actually belongs to a Mosque, and Muslims were very mad and wanted the stone back. The Christians couldn’t take it out, since it would demolish the church, and refused to give it up. They all went to the Abbasyd Khalif to solve the quarrel.

The Khalif ruled that the stone must be returned. Muslims cheered up, and chrsitians didn’t know what to do. This is when this poor mystic Christian sage showed up, and said he would do it. In front of the Khalif, this sage, using the power of prayer, was able to lift the church, replace the stone, and then put it back again. Upon witnessing this "miracle”, the Khalif embraced Christianity, but kept it a secret. And to the last day of his life, the Khalif wore a Cross underneath his garment.

This story reminds me of Muslims claiming that King Edward of England in the 14th century was a Muslim in hiding, or that the Native Indians of America were originally Muslims. Even if all these stories are true, they had no impact on the progress of History!

Another very funny passage by Marco was about Eastern Muslims. As is known, Islam spread very quickly in the area between Iraq and India. Marco provides his own "explanation" of this phenomenon:

In (chapter IX), he says that those people, who have always been outlaws (thieves), became Muslim because Islam allowed them to raid Caravans as long as the latter were not Muslim.

In other areas in the book Marco continues to present Islam as a false, bad, and at times evil religion. He never mentions anything positive about Islam or Muslims, which makes me think ... how can somebody who lived amongst a people for so long still have such stereotypical and suspecious image of them? ... maybe the book has been edited by the Catholic church at the time (or was written with the church's censorship in mind) to make it sound so Islamophobic. I don't know, but it's an interesting question.

(Marco Polo presenting his book to the Church)

Feb 2, 2006

Sharabi on "Why are Arabs so unsuccessful?" (book review)

My mother told me about Hisham Sharabi (History Professor at Georgetown University) long time ago, but I didn't get to read some of his books until recently, and I have to say I am extremely impressed.

Sharabi simply tries to answer the question: "Why Arabs behave in a way that lead them to be so unsuccessful in the past few hundred years?"
The answer to a large extent is "We are raised to be dysfunctional". The solution that follows is "to revise the methods of raising our children and revise the values the society forces on them" in order to change our situation in the future.

All this seems a bit "too obvious". But Sharabi's brilliance shows in his attempt to scholarly analyze the Arabic Society in terms of psychological and sociological forces, and come up with clear and detailed recommendations. His diagnosis does NOT apply to ALL people in the society - but it applies to the majority of "normal" people, who go to school and graduate and just go on living and multiplying until they die.

His theory can be roughly summarized in three points: (see Patriarchal Society book)

1- Our society is mostly "patriarchal", in that there's an "oppressor leader" in all social sittings (father in the family, teacher at the school, and government in the country, etc.). Social values teach us to respect this leader and not to disagree with him - largely to be subdued.

2- This continuous oppressing authority causes followers to feel:
  • Inability: one feels he cannot do anything on his own.
  • Reliance: one feels he's in constant need for others' help to do anything.
  • Blame-game: since one feels unable and does not take-initiative, one becomes good at learning how to blame others for all problems.

3- These behaviors cause many of the society-wide problems we see today:
  • Consumerism: our society feels "unable" to make things. We are not an industrial society. We do not "make", but mostly just "consume".
  • Khawaja-syndrome: We "need" foreign expert help. Anything foreign must be great. Anything local must be worthless.
  • Conspiracy Theory: We are a "great nation" but all these people are conspiring against us. It's never our fault. We blame "others" for the misery we live in.
  • Condemtation: "Nashjob Wa Nastanker" - we are very good and quick at showing our dissatisfaction of any "change" in the world that went wrong. We never seem to put ourselves on the "side that attemps the change".

I do not fully agree with Sharabi's books (I think he goes a bit too far at times). But I love two major things about his books:

  1. I really commend him for a very accurate and clear Arabic writing. Most (and I mean 90%) of Arabic texts today are filled with hollow and ambiguous statements that add no meaning at all. Sharabi's book feels like an English textbook for its accuracy and lean style. Every word has a very specific meaning that will not get confused or reused differently throughout the book. It gave me faith again in Arabic as a scientific language.

  2. Sharabi's method of using classical Psychological and Sociological frameworks to analyze Arabic society is eye-opening. Questions like "how would slapping a kid on the face affect his relationships 20 years later?" are discussed in a very scientific way and backed by real social studies. I have a new respect for psychology after reading this book.

Bottom line: Highly recommended. 4.5 out of 5.

Feb 1, 2006

Funny Syrians, but again creative

(You can guess that I've just come back from a trip to Syria :-))

Now, check this out... This elevator has a Lock!! And it's clear that it was manually added later on.

As cheesy as this might seem, but it's very creative. Things are not suppsoed to be in any certain way, but they should be practical.

A video-rental shop opened doors on the second floor of this building. Tenants got mad at the times the elevator broke down, so they decided that the shop's customers shouldn't use it. And to do so, they simply called a locksmith and installed this door-lock on the elevator.

Isn't it creative? ;-)
tell me you've seen this in Amman!

Syrian Creativity - take two

This is another example of what I term "Syrian Creativity".

The restaurant managers took an old Arabic house and rennovated it in a very professional and authentic manner, and turned it into a great restaurant. The whole experience is so complete - from the moment you enter the place, walk around, get the food, see the lights, the decor.. to the time you leave.

Why Damascus?

I can find over 10 makers of Ouds in Damascus, but only 1 in all of Jordan. Why?

Even books - there are many more yellow-page books in Damascus. Books that are cheap and accessible to all economic groups. But in Jordan, books are clean, white, imported, and expensive?

I'm not trying to hint to anything, or say that Syria is better than Jordan. I think we are much more organized and effecient in Jordan. But there's this "thing" that fascinates me about Syria, that I can never put into words. Something mysterious, an "originality" that I rarely see elsewhere.

Possibly, this is what people call "civilization".

What is so great about this pic?

Syrian Barbie Bed"
Originally uploaded by arrabi.
No, I'm not a 9-years old girl – not that there’s anything wrong with it ;-)
But I still think this is a great pic. Why?

Syrian Creativity!

This Barbie bed was designed and built by a Syrian carpenter around 10 years ago. It's part of a full Barbie-room, made locally from wood - a lot like real furniture.

The greatness of this humble piece is the spirit behind it. We've always seen Barbie and its very expensive accessories. We've seen the cheap Chinese frail replicas. But, instead of the consumerism-mentality of importing them and re-selling them in the market, this carpenter had a creative-mentality of building his own and entering the competition.

This carpenter went out of his daily routine of making full-size couches and beds and was thinking out of the box. There are many carpenters in many other cities, but I rarely see them expand beyond the traditional.

Where does this creative-spirit come from? The spirit of “I am ABLE - and I can make it better”?
And how come I don’t see it in other cities? What makes Damascus so different from, let’s say, Kuwait city? or even Amman?