Tuesday, December 30, 2008

And Still the Drums Keep Beating

I've put this up before, but it appears it's worth putting up again, and again. I'm not entirely sure when this poem will stop being relevant.

Enemy Drums

I woke up to the sound of drums,
But it wasn't music, they were bombs,
Yet with precision was the rhythm of their sound,
Every two seconds, three would hit the ground.

Four of my neighbor's five children died,
And the only one that had survived,
Buried his siblings all day long,
Wondering what it was they did wrong.

The sound of bombs muted our own,
And this was no longer for us a home,
But there’s no escape from where we are,
The helping hands and hearts are far.

But it wasn’t that which choked our souls,
To hear the news was like eating burning coals,
Three were wounded from the enemy’s side,
While a hundred of my neighbors died.

Yet the story of those three was written in one big page,
Condemnation was bitter and it was told with such rage,
And the hundred were mentioned in half a line,
All tears for us just had to be dried.

We’re dying but terrorists is what we’re called,
They play their drums, but we’re appalled.
The voices of hundreds who died unheard,
Pleads of wailing mothers deferred.

The news, it burns, it tells their story,
And it seems as though they suffer with glory.
But in our land we’re slaughtered and killed,
And their lust for murder is never fulfilled.

So hear my voice or let me die,
Listen to my truth and decide if it’s a lie,
But don’t keep me waiting for too long,
I’m dead very soon, and I’ll take you along.

I’m a rat in a cage, tortured without end,
The torturer kills and for help he will send,
He'll cry like a victim and torture again,
Strong are his allies and feeble are my friends.

Not a word of those four children was said,
They’re sleeping in their graves, their killers in their beds.
Those innocent dead are criminals in the world’s eyes,
And still the drums keep beating with lyrics made of lies.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

7 ½ Reasons Why I Hate My Lovely iPod

Every time the word iPod is mentioned in a conversation someone has to interrupt, sigh and say dreamily: 'I love my iPod', as if this line were as mandatory the Ezzat Abou Ouf appearance in every new Arabic movie released. The truth is that the iPod is one of the most overrated devices known to man. Most people have been brain washed into thinking that the best MP3 players are produced by Apple Computers, so much so, that the word MP3 player has been conveniently replaced by iPod.

This couldn't be farther from the truth and it might startle some to read that the super expensive iPod they just bought isn't the best player in the market and that he could have bought something better for a lesser price. There are many MP3 players out there and have surpassed iPods in many aspects.

For example, the player with the best features as reviewed by CNET is from Creative; Sony has the player with the longest best battery life, not iPods and much to the dismay of iPod owners who take pride in quality, Creative provides the players with the highest sound quality. Although iPods look sleek with appealing simplicity, beneath their shiny exterior are enormous shortcomings that have been masterfully camouflaged solely by good marketing.

I need an MP3 player that works as storage and a player simultaneously, one that can record and tune in to the radio. I'd like to features that make my life easier since I'm already carrying the damn thing with me all the time. Is that too much to ask? Apparently Apple thinks so.

Since MP3 players are very personal, let me list a summary of reasons why I personally hate iPods:

1- No Radio

Other MP3 players can tune in to a radio station, why not mine?


2 - No Voice Recorder

Whether you're interviewing someone or want to record a business meeting, or just someone who wants to create voice memos, you'd like to be able to do that using your MP3 player that you already carry around. Not with the iPod.


3- Unintuitive Media Transfer

Why can't I just drag my music to the iPod? I do that with most other MP3 players. Heck I even do that with the iPod when I want to use it as storage, why then must it be so difficult to transfer an MP3 to my iPod? Even techies find it tedious and that really says something!! Which brings us to…


4- Either Player or Storage

Once it's on the pod it can never go back. If you transfer a song to your iPod you can't copy it back to your PC, it's not an option, not in a straight forward manner anyway. You can transfer the song as a file using your explorer but then you can't play it on your iPod. You have to choose between using your iPod as storage or as a player.


5- Very Proprietary

Proprietary software, gadgets or formats are the reason why I have a stack of Sony's failed Betamax tapes unable to play them except on an old Sony VCR. It is also the same reason why some of you might have a stack of the now defunct mini discs also by Sony (but Sony and proprietary gadgets is another story).

iPods are reminiscent of such a disaster, without the proprietary iPod cable I'm completely lost. I can't charge my iPod nor connect to a computer. A standard cable can connect your camera, your hard drive and your MP3 player to the computer and is widely available with other products, this kind of connection is provided by Sandisk's Sansa players for example. If Apple chooses to discontinue these cables then you're in a jam and might have difficulty finding places to buy these cables if you value an old iPod.

But even with the proprietary cable packed you still need iTunes, you can't simply copy music that you like from a friend's PC to the iPod. You either need your laptop or iTunes everywhere you go. As if that's not enough, you need to register your iPod on any new iTunes on a new computer which means you have to carry around more software and information.

Most people I know have suffered from iTunes in one way or another. Even though iTunes is freely available the internet there's no version of iTunes under Linux.


6- Lacks Other Features

To record a radio program is obviously not available and transferring a video to iPod is a hassle. You can't transfer a video of your choice, the formats supported are limited. But that's not all, there are some innovative features provided by other MP3 players that have probably not even been considered in iPods. Some MP3 players have a memory slot of SD cards for example, others create a playlist for the most played songs automatically.


7 - More for Less

 With such a limited feature set, you end up paying much more for much less.


7 ½ - Pretentious

This is the most subjective of all of my reasons, and that's why I will count it as half a reason. People don't look for features, they just simply pick the iPod knowing that Apple products are hard to pick up just anywhere in Egypt. There is a halo around the iPod which no one wants to desecrate only to sound like a fool. I know the choice can be a result of not knowing better or just not seeing enough MP3 players, but to accept that iPods are the best based on reputation is dogmatic to say the least and something I find resentful.

iPod users have faced many more problems while using the iPod for example updating the firmware, conversions and battery life. Most iPod reviews are about look, feel and usability. But in all fairness to the just defamed iPod, the concept of 'the best' is subjective. One might prefer lack of features of the iPod (aka simplicity) and another might actually enjoy tediousness of using the non intuitive and proprietary method of connecting the iPod to the computer.

But in the end, anyone half as frustrated as I am with the overrated iPod will be happy to know that they have a choice and it's nowhere close to just settling for the next best thing.

*Expanded from the form published on The Daily News Egypt


Please observe the numerous negative comments at the end by hardcore iPod users, highly entertaining.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Note From The Underground

Apparently the coins I have aren't real money. This is a note from the underground. But let's start at the beginning. Out of Ramsis I decided to take the metro to my place. I had a 20 pound bill and some coins amount to 1 L.E. so I decided to use the coins consisting of a 50 pt coin, four 10pt coins and two 5pt coins to buy a metro ticket. All of this amounts to 1 L.E, the price for a metro ticket

When I went up to the ticket booth and handed the employee my coins amounting to 1 L.E, he protested and refused to take the money. The reason he protested was that I had given him coins to purchase my ticket. He told me that this wasn't money and that there was no way he could give this to someone as change. He directed me to his manager upon my request and I started my discussion.
I said, "I want to buy a ticket".
He responded, "I can't give this money to a customer, I'm sorry I can't accept it."
I said, "But this is money."
He said, "Who says this is money?"
I replied, "The Arab Republic of Egypt says that it's money. Who are you to not accept it?"
"How can I give this change to someone? Would you accept this sort of change?"
"I would," I said, "You just have to deliver this change to the right people, right?"
"No," he said, "The smallest bill I deliver is a 5 L.E bill, so this is unacceptable."
"Where's your manager?" I asked.
"He's on the other side, take the next staircase right," he said indifferently.
I went to the police station and asked for the person in charge, I had time and I wanted to get to the bottom of this. I asked them how it was possible that people working in the Metro, which is a public form of transportation, not accept the coins issued by the Arab Republic of Egypt. I used the full term, the Arab Republic of Egypt and sounded like an idiot using it but I didn't care, I had coins that were issued by the government and I wasn't going to let some employee at a booth tell me I wasn't allowed to use them.

The people in the police station were complacent. They really didn't care at all about my problem. It was too trivial and too inconsequential for them. Apparently I seemed so infuriated and unrelenting that the guy who seemed to be in charge told the other plain clothed policeman to handle it. "This is nonsense of course," he said nonchalantly, "this is money and should be accepted."

The plain clothed policeman simply went over to another booth and asked for a ticket with my change, problem solved. This wasn't the solution that I'd hoped for. I don't want to be the exception to the rule. I'd rather that the metro people took the money or the government stopped making these bloody coins.

But such is the case of our country. The man at the booth silently took the money and gave the officer a ticket. The officer then looked at me sordidly and said, 'Kol Sana Wenta Tayeb', which means may every year find you in good health. It was Eid. Before I walked off completely he added, "This is the principle of the Pharoahs, people need to be intimidated to do their job."

It was very sad because it was very true, all solutions are exceptional. People aren't willing to do what's right without the intimidation. The gap between the government and the people is growing wider.

I went back to that manager and told him I bought the ticket. "Have you no fear of God," I asked. Since he had a beard he was deeply offended and thought he'd get back at me. "Have you no fear of God, for giving me all these coins?" he asked.  What ensued was an exchange of words all very un-insulting and full of blame. I blamed him for not taking the money since they were what the government gave us and he blamed me for trying to pass around this money (as if it were counterfeit).

I don't know now if I acted correctly claiming my ticket with this money. It seems that these coins mean nothing to the people anymore. The guys in the booth care nothing for it and they've stated explicitly that people on the metro want nothing of it either. Are we rich enough to discard the small change? In Europe I still get the change of 1 cent when buying things from a supermarket.

What startled me most is that the government or something like public transport doesn't accept the money produced by the State. The good news is that a State divided upon itself cannot stand, the bad news is that till it falls, its people suffer. This has been a note from the real Egyptian underground. The summary is that small coins don't really work underground.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Birell Promotes Stupidity

I just finished watching a much talked about Birell ad and I'm completely disgusted. Never have 28 seconds so fully summarized the entire problem with Egyptian men in Egypt as did this advertisement. The advertisement shows a beautiful girl saying hello to one of four guys, the remaining three look back at him with disgust when he says she has a great personality. The advertisement tells us that the girl's personality is the last thing you can comment on if you're a man. 

Don't get me wrong, I'm not that touchy about humorous sexist remarks, I can laugh at them as much as the next male chauvinist pig (I found the one about Tamer Hosny singing at the wedding funny for example). The problem with the advertisement isn't only that it was extremely sexist, stupid and not even funny; the real problem is that the situation was too real for comfort, reflecting an existing attitude with the result that any hint of sarcasm or humor was simply unreachable. In effect the advertisement is just a documentation of real life situations that I myself as a man experience, and much like those real experiences this advertisement nearly caused me to puke.

There is as much humor or wit in the ad as there is alcohol in Birell, which is needless to say ZERO. It's sad how Birell is trying to imitate the alcoholic beer ads abroad but just as the product is lacking in the most lively component, the advertisement lack in intelligence all of its bitter taste none of its wit. The result is a despicable mindless advertisement that can only be found to be amusing by idiots. 

I feel insulted as a man because this advertisement tells me that I have to be a complete bonehead if I am to be a man and to only think of a body when thinking of a woman; to treat a woman as a person is not manly apparently. Well I'd rather not be a man if that's what a man is expected to be. 

But seriously though, who are they kidding? Could anything be more pathetic than a bunch of kids trying to be men by drinking non alcoholic beer? Ever thought of a real beer advertiser looking at this ad? I'd bet he'd be thinking, be a man, drink REAL beer. I could do the same and call them a bunch of sissies, but rather than revert to their juvenile ways I would rather point out their hypocrisy since drinking beer isn't the macho standard. 

The reason why Birell exists should have been to enjoy the taste of beer without necessarily getting drunk after drinking a few. Either that, or come as close as possible to being a real man (drinking beer) without invoking Islamic guilt. Now, if morality is so important, what kind of message are they spreading by encouraging young kids to be mindless and think of women as sex objects? So it's okay to think of sex with a woman but not to drink alcohol? What a skewed sense of morality, and indeed this is exactly what's wrong with our society. Morals are skewed in young minds that have been shut down in the face of dogma.

People choose a moronic attitude towards anything where ever a norm has already been established. They choose not to think when it comes to women, they choose not to think when it comes to religion and slowly this attitude of stupidity is seeping into aspects of every day life. The end result will cause the Birell ad to be almost prophetic, young mindless kids pretending to be men and eventually running the country.

There is already a mounting pressure in society for conformity; the pressure of being a man through the eyes of society is evident through this ad. Many of the men I met are just that way, extending their moronic and dogmatic views to women's sexual appetite, virginity, language and so on.

Double standards are certainly the easiest key to identifying an inactive mind. The same people who put pressure on men to act like 'men' and ignore a girl's personality claim to value their mothers greatly. It seems that even the concept of a mother is objectified in a society too mindless to realize that mothers are female and were once girls whose personalities were demanded to be ignored. 

I'm not sure if I can demand an apology from Birell for insulting men and women that way, because in a sense their defense can be that this is reality. I think it's wrong for media to promote these ideas not on the grounds of any censorship but based on the common sense that when things are illogical and insulting, they just shouldn't be allowed on television.