February 17th, 2010 • General
It’s been nearly two years since I last wrote anything public aside from my Twitter timeline. Writing this only reminds me how rusty my fingers and brain are.
I could of course cite excuses. Lack of time, excessive driving around the streets of Dubai, clients to keep up with, decreasing interest, or extraterrestrial captivity. But I’ll choose the less common path of admitting negligence.
I’ve never wrote for fame or fortune; that’s what my daily job is for. I’ve started Scatterism back then, before blogging was hip and it’s since been my public dump of thoughts, ideas and opinions. I’ve written with moderate activity since 2003, up until April 2008, which ended with a comment on Pidgin’s support for voice chat. Not a glamourous exit I’d say.
I have neglected this blog for longer than I care for. I’ve even reached the disparate measure of taking down the front page and redirecting to my less formal, more active and trivial Tumblr blog Scatters & Confetti.
Before I get back to blogging and restart Scatterism, I’d like to share with you a few highlights of my past couple of years in Dubai:
Conversion to Twitter
I was a little hesitant at first. Twitter seemed to me like a lost world of disconnected social activities. It’s difficult to explain to those who don’t use Twitter why they should care about who had what for lunch, and why bus stop small talk is dead because of Twitter and BlackBerries.
Then this happened and changed how I view Twitter and Twitter people: I was at a bookstore with half an hour to kill. I walk in and cluelessly start browsing books and judging covers. I send an update to Twitter that reads “I’m at a bookstore and I’d like to buy a non-fiction book for my weekend.”
Within minutes I receive a bunch of @cubex replies with recommendations to read. I’ve bought nearly all the books recommended to me on that day and not one disappointed.
It turns out that if you let Twitter people know you, they can beat Amazon, Pandora and any other service that tries to figure out who you are and what you like. Surprisingly, people usually know you better than computers. They know what you read, what you’ve read, what you like and what you would like within a very slim margin of error.
I was hooked. Twitter began to grow slowly in the Middle East, especially in Emirates, and it’s still steady. And because it didn’t pick up as quickly as elsewhere in the world, I had the opportunity of meeting most Twitter people in person and have some of the most interesting conversations.
The diversity is astonishing. I met with a biker-looking writer whose passion is Apple (the company) and Tea (the beverage). I’ve also met his wife who blogs about their traveling. They both relocated from the US and are indefinitely stuck in Dubai.
I’ve met with two brothers who left their high-paying 9-to-5 jobs and created a fusion shawarma at WildPeeta. They have quite a die-hard following on Twitter. In fact, they earned loyal customers even before they opened their restaurant, and some of their recipes are suggested by the Twitter community.
I’ve met the guys behind TEDxDubai who managed to fill an auditorium with 800 people and passionate speakers within merely two months, despite the recession, the summer vacation and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The entire event took place without exchanging a penny or a dirham and was only announced on social networks.
I realized among the useless comments, the brain farts, and the careless angst, among all the noise, the faint hint of signal is worth watching for.
I’ve been @cubex since May 2008.
Conversion to Mac
Four years ago I purchased an Asus W3J. It perfectly fit a geek’s criteria: Not too heavy, an extra battery, a dedicated graphics card, and ooh-so-nice carbon fiber. It can still run some of 2010 games, but I’d rather keep it in storage.
My first Apple was a Macintosh Classic II, but I quit Apple when they released the G4 Cube. I kept eyeing Apple’s releases from a distance, secretly lusting after the shiny aluminum. The hardware is beautiful and the specs are impeccable; Mac OS X I wasn’t so sure of.
It didn’t matter. My goal was to buy one of those books, POP in Ubuntu and replace the default, dumbed-down OS. MacBook Pro manages to pack a punch in a 15″ shell: 2.8 GHz, 4GB of DDR3 memory, 500GB of storage, two graphic cards, and a “7-hour battery.” I pulled off five hours, and never reached the theoretical seven hours, but that’s still a huge improvement over most laptops available in the market.
To cut the story short, and leave some for a dedicated post. The keyboard on a MacBook Pro is fantastic. It earned me an average of 5-8 WPM over my record. The buttons are perfectly spread out, the key travel is short but obvious with a click, and the system is responsive enough that I don’t have to wait to see what I just typed.
MacBook Pro’s multitouch trackpad also became part of my workflow. I’ve carried a Logitech bluetooth mouse anywhere I had my laptop, and I didn’t think that a MacBook would be any different. Trackpads suck. You need to move your hand away from the keyboard to navigate, and they’re inaccurate at pointing to stuff.
MacBook’s trackpad is different. This thing is huge, and yes, size does matter. The trackpad has the same dimensions as the screen I’m working on, and swiping four fingers downwards shows all my running apps. Alt+Tab (or on OSX Cmd+Tab) is dead to me.
I gave Mac OS X a shot, queuing Ubuntu as a contingency plan. It was a little difficult to navigate with a keyboard, but as soon as you get used to it (and install either LaunchBar or QuickSilver) it’s a breeze. Nowadays, I run Ubuntu inside Parallels Desktop for development purposes, Windows (also on Parallels Desktop) for a few games like Torchlight and Diablo II. I’m slightly less satisfied than I was with Ubuntu, but then again, I can run Adobe Photoshop without having to reboot.
Events in Dubai
The first Twestival in Dubai gave away money for charity: water and auctioned a golden metro ticket which sold for a 1,000 AED (approx. $274 USD). I’ve been on Dubai’s driverless metro the second day after its opening.
I’ve spoken at BarCamp UAE about virtualization and cloud computing. At BarCamp I met the lady behind Disruptive Play who gave a lecture using Lego bricks about mapping passion. I later helped her facilitate at an event on leadership. It was pleasantly surprising to find how the next generation in this region thinks, what they love and how strongly they feel about building upwards and moving forward.
I’ve helped a little at MENA Labs, which was about change and development in Dubai. If you’ve missed it, check out the galleries and installations on the website. MENA Labs are releasing a DVD soon.
I’ve attended TEDxDubai, which was a blast. We’re looking forward to another round of TEDxDubai in 2010.
I’ve witnessed the opening and renaming of the tallest building in the world, Burj Khalifa (formerly Burj Dubai.) The fireworks were beautiful, the observatory makes you take a moment in awe, but nothing beats the stranded look on people’s faces when the renaming was announced.
I’ve participated at NaNoWriMo. Although I didn’t reach the end goal of 50,000 words, I’ve managed a decent 32,000. The novel matters, but it matters more to try. Give it a shot next year, I’m sure you’ll surprise yourself. Let those neurons grow new webs.
Finally, the most difficult event was one that lasted nearly a year. We usually don’t say the “R” word around here, mostly because it brings teeth-gritting memories, and we realize that it isn’t over yet. On the other hand, the worst seems to be behind us, and I’m glad none of my friends had to beg or stoop to unwanted levels, despite some losing their jobs.
Recession brings out the best in us, the fight or flight instinct. We get creative in managing money, and find creative ways to generate it. Corporates are now more open to trying new things, and are conscience about unnecessary expenses. They’re becoming smart investors in IT, and that’s opening many opportunities to small and medium IT companies. Do you see me grinning?
Back to Blogging
Even after proof-reading this post, I’m not entirely sure how to improve it. I guess I need to write more to shake off the pile of dust, which is the current plan of action.
I love my blog. It’s quite the listener when it wants to be. It’s also a rascal that I don’t seem to handle very well. I’m back to blogging because I enjoy it. Because my MacBook’s keyboard makes me want to write. Because I discovered OmniWriter. Becasue WordPress 2.9 can handle itself like an adult.
Most importantly, I’m back to blogging because if you find one article useful, and it helps you learn one tiny new thing, I’ll be the happiest man on earth.