Random Thoughts

I recently want to write about many things. Some ideas are controversial and will lead to tension with some people. But I recently made the decision to do less self censorship. As Nassim Talib puts it:

“There is No muscles without strength, friendship without trust, opinion without consequence, change without aesthetics, age without values, life without effort, water without thirst, food without nourishment, love without sacrifice, power without fairness, facts without rigor, statistics without logic, mathematics without proof, teaching without experience, politeness without warmth, values without embodiment, degrees without erudition, militarism without fortitude, progress without civilization, friendship without investment, virtue without risk, probability without ergodicity, wealth without exposure, complication without depth, fluency without content, decision without asymmetry, science without skepticism, religion without tolerance, and, most of all: nothing without skin in the game.”

Opinion without consequence. 

Speaking of Nassim, I felt a vacuum after finishing “Skin in the game”. I finally decided what I am reading next. In the middle I bought three books “Thank you for joking Mr. Feynman”, “Girl, wash your hair”, and “Win Bigly”.

Win Bigly was Scott Adams story of how he predicted Trump’s winning and why he supported him. He considers Trump a “master persuader” which there aren’t many like him on the planet. I tried reading the book but it was so boring for me because it was explaining lots of psychological concepts that I already know and many of the examples were from the days of Trump campaign which I wasn’t following.

Girl, wash your hair was on the most read list of Amazon. I picked it up because I am interested in what feminists talk about. I don’t know if I can be classified as a feminist because the word lost its meaning (same with racist). I tried reading it but it turned to be Jordan Peterson for females. Probably that’s why it has so much appeal. Sorry, self help isn’t my genre.

And last but not least, Thank you for joking Mr. Feynman. It is the biography of Feynman. It was boring for me because I don’t feel any connection to him. I am not that interested in Physics either. I bought Einstein’s biography but never listened to it. So I couldn’t continue that one.

On the weekend I watched this Marty Cagan talk “Ordinary people, extraordinary results“. I felt pressure to watch it because everyone at work was talking about it. I watched it and was so disappointed (and I don’t use “so” lightly). It sounded to me that he was stating the obvious and I still fail to see the reason people are impressed. Maybe it is because the European audience is not exposed to the valley culture much. Maybe because I have been thinking recently about the same topic and wrote about it two days before the talk. I don’t know.

I still have three long form posts to write. One about stakeholder management, one about my experience writing and sending the developer newsletter inside the company, and one about how much product managers should intervene in the team’s work (that one was based on a discussion I had with a coworker).

BTW, I forgot to tell you which book I settled on. Because this post is random thoughts I decided to not edit and add a paragraph in the middle. So we will continue the conversation here.

I ended up picking another Nassim book “The Black Swan”. I also ordered “The book of why” which I think is arguing on the opposite side. Nassim argues you can’t rationalize to find causality. The 2nd book argues you can. I will hopefully read both and have my own thoughts on what makes sense when. Will see.

One final thought is that those random thoughts posts sometimes scare me. I feel I emptied everything I have on mind and won’t have something to talk about tomorrow. I am sure this is not true. I think, I exist, I write. As long as I am thinking, I will have something to write about.

The most tolerant loses

I am still reading “Skin in the game” by Nassim Talib. I was bored in the middle and switched to “12 rules for life” by Peterson. I am now taking a break from it and went back to Talib.

One of the chapters I really like is “The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority” [1]. I read it before buying the book as Nassim published it on Medium. It explains what leads something dictated by a small minority in a society to become the norm of the majority. For example why most food in US is kosher, and why most food in Europe is becoming Halal. Even though both Jews and Muslims are minorities in both societies.

The tl;dr is that there are certain conditions need to be met for something dictated by a minority to become the norm of the majority.

  1. They need to be really intolerant: they won’t go to a party unless it has Halal/Kosher food. They won’t go to a restaurant if it has no wheelchair accessible bathroom. They won’t go to a meeting unless everyone speaks English.
  2. They need to be spread out: If it is a minority concentrated in some area, the rule won’t spread. The minority needs to be spread out across society so that in every sub group, there is at least one person representing the intolerant minority.
  3. There has to be an asymmetric relationship: Halal eaters can’t eat non-Halal, but non-Halal eaters can eat Halal. German speakers can speak English, but non-German speakers can’t speak German.
  4. The switching cost must be small: The cost of making food Halal doesn’t increase its price. Switching to English in a meeting isn’t a big effort for most people.

I am now thinking about myself. As a minority in a society (wheelchair users), my intolerance isn’t as high as sometimes people expect from me.

It is both good and bad. It is good because it gives me a piece of mind since I have low expectations. It is bad because I sometimes give up my own rights for my peace of mind, and sometimes I feel it is bad because as someone who can influence and change things making them better for others many times I don’t do that for the same reason of having peace of mind. It is what Essam[2] keeps nagging me about as my “moral responsibility”.

The reason I am writing all this is because the neighbors in my apartment complex are signing a petition asking the owners to install a gate at the entrance to prevent the repeated thefts that are happening from time to time.

I voiced my objection to the gate since my building’s door is directly on the street, and if I need to throw the trash away I have to get into the complex to what the Germans call “Müllraum” (waste room). The room already have a heavy door to the level that I just open it a little and throw the trash inside without putting it in the right bin. If I get inside and the door closes I will be locked inside or will have to fracture my shoulder to be able to open the door. Adding a gate will just force me into opening two heavy doors instead of one, and it won’t prevent thefts because all doors of the buildings on the street can lead to the inside of the complex and the garage. There are still more entry points that a gate will just make my life harder and won’t stop those motivated thieves.

I voiced my concerns and they decided to go with the petition anyway due to the rule of the majority. I am now thinking of whether I should do a counter-petition and side with the owning company that gates won’t prevent thefts and will strip me from my right to throw my own garbage (which they will love as they won’t want to pay for the installation of gates). I can also send them an official letter in German showing them how easily my bones get fractured and making them accountable for any problems that may arise as a result of installing this gate. Such a letter will make them so confused that they will think a 100 times before installing it.

There is also the hypocritical option of claiming that the building is pretty safe and those thefts are resulting from people’s complacence in protecting their belongings (which the owning company will also like). This is the beauty and curse of the post facts era we live in.

As you can see it is a typical situation of how intolerant one should be. Unfortunately the minority rule doesn’t apply to most situations related to wheelchair accessibility because conditions #2 and #4 don’t apply to most societies. There aren’t many wheelchair users spread out in every group of people (maybe it will be the case in Europe in 50 years when the median age keeps going up and as a result the % of wheelchair bound people), and the cost of making something wheelchair accessible is sometimes too high to justify the value (see my tweets above).

I am still making up my mind and didn’t decide what to do.

[1] https://medium.com/incerto/the-most-intolerant-wins-the-dictatorship-of-the-small-minority-3f1f83ce4e15

[2] https://twitter.com/neo_458

Short random thoughts

I am unable to think about topics to write about. It is not writer block but rather a result of sleep debt from last week. I can’t wait for the weekend to sleep well.

I am recently debating universal basic income with friends. I am a believer it doesn’t make sense and will just lead to higher inflation. My friends believe it works and if there are the right mechanisms, there should be competition between businesses to attract customers money, leading to cheaper prices. I was also surprised it was going to happen in the US in the 70s but they didn’t proceed with the idea. Happy to discuss any thoughts you have.

I am still on twitter and LinkedIn break. I won’t open any of them till the end of the month. I am having withdrawal effects, but I am holding tight.

I want to make my writing habit consistent in timing. I want to start my day writing something. The problem is being a night owl makes me always wake up late for work. And I can’t force myself to wake up earlier for the sake of writing.

I am currently spreading my vocal advocacy for night owls and how the modern work schedule doesn’t fit them. I discovered many people don’t know it is mainly genetic, and they can’t do much about it. It now makes other owls feel less guilty about themselves when I tell them about the genetic fact. I am feeling like Rick when he said “I am a pickle”. I keep telling people “I am an owl“. #teamOwls

I am also thinking about detachment. I noticed I am becoming defensive in some meetings recently. This stems from being with the same team for almost a year, and taking pride in the work we do. There is a fine line between defending the work being done and thinking of what needs to be improved. The problem is after a while we become part of the system. We let the waves move us in their direction. We should keep an open mind, and instead of going with the flow or resisting, we should surf to rise high above those challenges and arrive safely to our goals.

I have two long form posts that I never finished. One is about stakeholder management. I recently wrote a paper on how we manage stakeholders in our department that went viral inside the company. It is too specific that makes it useless to be published publicly as is. I have a draft for the public one, but it needs half a day to finish. The second post is about writing the developers newsletter inside the company. I took this task from a colleague that went on parental leave, and I didn’t imagine I would enjoy it that much (it is ironic the extrovert, talkative, vocal guy didn’t think he would enjoy writing a monthly newsletter to 200+ teams). I experimented some ideas, and wanted to share this experience. I hope I will get to publishing both of them.

Short random thoughts

I don’t have time to write much but I want to keep up with the habit. So here is a short random thoughts post.

These days I am thinking about London and comparing it a lot to Berlin. It is really good to be in a place that speaks English but the public transit system sucks in terms of wheelchair accessibility.

I am thinking about self censorship. I delete many thoughts after writing them. I don’t know how much self censorship is good or bad but I think I am doing more censorship than necessary.

I am reflecting on my decision to delete Facebook in 2015. Before Trump became a president, and before GDPR. It is one of the best decisions I made but I didn’t think enough of its impact. This needs another post.

I might elaborate more on those points later. I might not. But right now, those are my random thoughts.

Scalability of ethics

I was watching Peter Thiel interview with Dave Rubin. Part of the interview was Thiel talking about seasteading, a libertarian Utopia he wants to build in the middle of the sea.

The first thing that came to mind upon hearing this was Talib’s “ethics don’t scale” argument from Skin in the Game.

There is also

A libertarian Utopia can not scale, or it will turn into a dictatorship or something else.

That’s one of the reasons I don’t understand humanists that keep saying we are all one. No we are not. We are different. There are infinite factors that determine our position in society and our life path. We can’t control for most of those factors. We live with other human beings. They have different desires and incentives. They have different genes. Their ethics are different. They act differently.

The only way we can all be one is in a dystopian world. A world in which we are all trapped together having to abide by rules dictating we all should behave in a certain way. In such a world I will probably be unconscious. This makes life meaningless. And I don’t want to live a meaningless life. Sorry, we are not one.


Disappointments happen because of the delta between expectations and reality. You can’t control reality, but you can manage your expectations. Lower your expectations, only by doing this you are liberated from the confinements of disappointments.

It turned out for better

I was having a conversation with a friend and we opened up and shared some of our darkest moments. There was a moment of silence and I broke it by saying “but you know what, it turned out for better”.

That’s when my friend said he isn’t sure if it turned out for better, or we overcame the hardships at the time. We tend to undercredit ourselves when we get through hard moments. We credit the circumstances for our survival.

It is true that circumstances have a big say in passing hard moments, but it is our perseverance that really brings us forward. So next time you pass a tough moment, credit yourself by remembering how much perseverance you put into becoming where you are today.

Random Thoughts

It has been a while since I wrote something. This is normally a good trigger for a random thoughts post.

As much as I like writing, and really love what Fred Wilson has been doing blogging daily for the past 10 years, I am recently questioning my ability to follow the same path. It is a hard to build habit. It has enormous benefits that I talked about earlier, but I don’t have the persistence to keep doing it daily. I also observed that there is a negative correlation between the number of posts I published, and how much is going on in life. I write more when I am at a sweet spot of interesting conversations, and free time. Which I am currently not at.

There is also the same negative correlation between how much I write and how much Arabic content I am exposed to. I recently unmuted everyone I muted on twitter, which included all my friends and one of my sisters (I muted anyone posting content I don’t like and would keep me in touch with what’s happening in Egypt). This made me exposed to a lot of Arabic content, which resulted in whenever I want to write, I expressed my thoughts as an Arabic tweetstorm.

I am always torn between writing in Arabic or English. In Arabic I know I can reach bigger audience, because not many people write on the same topics I do, and I think I have the ability to write what’s to the point. However, English has better long term benefits like improving my English, and career opportunities by people approaching me because they read something I wrote.

Work is so interesting these days. I never thought developer tooling can get this interesting. We launched new features on our platforms that allow our developers to operate at scale (I hope I have the time to publish some of this on the Zalando blog). We also screwed up a couple of times especially with changing stuff without communicating before. I discovered that some features you need to announce before releasing because it leads to confusion even if it provides better experience. And now it is getting more interesting as we are analyzing the tech stacks and thinking how easy it would be for a team to move to the Kubernetes infrastructure provided by my team. When you have a lot of data you can do lots of interesting stuff. Unfortunately this part of the post is a bit vague because I am afraid to break confidentiality, but the takeaway is it is getting more interesting for me. And BTW, I am hiring a product manager to join my team, come join me or refer someone you know.

I started learning German. After 20 months in Germany I finally signed up for my first German class. It is level A1.1 and I am a bit bored. I already know most of what’s being taught. A second problem I have in general with all language learning techniques I tried so far (Audio courses, Duelingo, Babbel, Rosetta stone, and classes) is the lack of gratification that would motivate me to continue learning the language. You have to invest a lot upfront before you are able to hold a meaningful conversation with someone, which leads to losing motivation in the middle and making language learning  tedious. I am saying this and I am the extroverted butterfly who talks to every random person on the street. I can imagine it is far worse for people dealing with social anxiety. I don’t know the solution, but I think my next step will be a private tutor.

A random thoughts post can’t be without talking about books. I finished “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck”. I liked it. It was an easy read, and follows a stoic approach to life, which is quite similar to my and my father’s approach to life. It got boring a bit in the middle, and the author tried being deep at the end, but it didn’t have the desired impact on me. I couldn’t relate to death the way from the way he wrote about it. Overall it is a good light read.

I am currently switching between “The upside of stress” and “Skin in the Game”.

The upside of stress is by the same author of “The willpower instinct”. The book is about an interesting point of view towards stress. A more positive one. However, it can be summarized in 50 pages instead of the 200+. The book is full of personal anecdotes, and studies that seem far from having the argued impact. With psychology having a reproducability crisis, I wonder how much of it stays true over time.

Skin in the game is the second book I read by Nassim Talib after Antifragile. Nassim has this interesting way of stating the obvious in a convoluted way that makes it sounds too deep. I like reading him because he is a contrarian and normally has different ways to explain the same thing (Fat Tony, Greek mythology, history, modern day events…etc).

I am swamped these days between work, German, and my sister who is visiting me in Berlin.  I like it.

Unpopular Opinion: Stop Patronizing Users

I think this is fine by Facebook. It can be considered a dark pattern, but it serves its goal which is getting as many users as possible past this screen.

Facebook is a company that prioritizes growth (signups, engagement, time spent…etc) above all else. They measure everything and they know what they are doing.

I expect they tested multiple versions of that page and found this version to lead to the highest acceptance rate, without hurting engagement or leading users to leave the service.

I deleted my Facebook account two years ago. My feed became too toxic because of what’s happening in Egypt. I felt way better after doing this and I encourage everyone I know who is going through some depressive episodes to do the same.

However, this is only my perspective, and it doesn’t make the wellness argument right (the argument that spending time on Facebook makes people feel worse).

One point that didn’t get enough attention in Mark’s EU hearing is when he mentioned that Facebook researched the wellness topic. He said one of their findings is that people feel worse if they mindlessly scroll through their feed watching news and videos. They feel better and less lonely if they see content from their connections. That’s why Facebook altered the news feed algorithm to show more of this content.

I don’t like the current tone in the industry that patronizes users by considering them unable to decide for themselves. There is some truth to this argument but it is a slippery slope if we start thinking we know what’s right for people.

The internet is an open space and people are able to decide what’s good for them. If you think you can do better, do it, otherwise stop patronizing others considering them stripped of their free will.

Human Uniqueness

Someone asked me what’s unique about myself. I started my answer by saying “unique” is a strong word. There are 7 billion people on the planet so probably there are many people that can do the same things I do, or think the same way I think.

I gave it more thinking, the first thing that came to mind as unique is my fingerprints, then came the fact that actually my genetic combination is unique.

But the one thing that makes a human being really unique is their life journey. No two humans ever will have the exact same life journey. And the respective perception of each journey an individual lives is what gives life its meaning. That’s what make each individual “unique”.