World through my eyes

Archive for September, 2010

Thursday 30th September

This was the Grid day open to all and had attendees from Helwan and other universities in Cairo including Cairo University which has 250,000 students and 22 faculties. It was held at the Guest house. It has a very nice conference room with air conditioning and WiFi. There were about 150 attendees, probably 60:40 women:men, 2 women had full veils, 4 had no head scarf. I was the second speaker and gave a talk on the Internet in Africa. At the end of the morning there was a panel session on computing and networking that I served on. Lunch was upstairs on the 4th floor. I sat next to Professor Salwa Nassar who earlier on had given a talk on High Performance Computing (HPC). She is associated with 2 government institutes in Cairo. We discussed installing a PingER monitoring site at one or both of here institutes, and she was very receptive. We also discussed many other topics including an interesting discussion on the comfort (in the heat) of womens-wear in Egypt. She wore a scarf and a floor length black robe. The afternoon session was mainly on applications using the Grid in the areas of the LHC and space science. The president of the university stopped by and awarded certificates to the students and the lecturers.  Mikhail and I also worked with Ahmed to get a taxi for the next day to take us to Giza and Saqara. It will pick us up at the front of the Guest House at 8:00am on Friday (tomorrow) and the driver will take US $ which we negotiated in advance. Afterwards there was a closing ceremony followed by a photo of the students and teachers followed by farewells etc. When I returned to my room at 6:30pm I found my laundry had been returned. I took a shower and washed some socks since we now had hot water. Dinner at 7:30pm, for the first time since getting to Egypt I felt reasonably hungry so I ate well. I borrowed Monique’s 3G stick (which Ayman had lent to Luc who lent it to Monique) and was able to logon and send the second installment of the blog.  Tomorrow we breakfast at 7:30am since it is Friday the Muslim holy day so we are free and want to get an early start for the pyramids. Outside it is very windy, which may make it cooler, and may make it even more dusty, we shall see tomorrow.



Wednesday 29th September

Up at 7:40am, usual breakfast except the cheese was not in a triangular Kraft like package but cut on a plate. No sign of my laundry yet, Luc Lame says the laundry man was off yesterday so we should get it tomorrow. We were picked up to drive from the Guest House to the Space Weather Center at 8:45am. The morning was spent reading emails, updating lectures, putting together my travel refund request and getting the contact coordinates of our guide in Luxor on Sunday. Lunch was standard fare (rice, lamb, bread roll, apple juice in a carton, mixed vegetable (carrots, peas, string beans, and a cup of coffee). I have decided lunch is not very appetizing, and feels a bit like the hospital food in that it is probably healthy but un-inspired. What with the sweating and food I am probably losing a fraction of a belt notch every 2 or 3 days. At 4pm I gave my hands on presentation on “Diagnosing Network Problems for non-Networkers”. Each student had her/his own machine with Windows XP and not Windows 7 as I had prepared for. This was not a big problem, however, I had intended to link to the demos from Powerpoint but they did not have it, so we had to load that first. However the demo went well, they were able to use the command window and I demonstrated finding your way around networking debugging in Windows (ping, traceroute, pathping, ipconfig, telnet etc.) and explaining all the valuable information buried in the outputs.  It was very interactive, with me rushing around to explain how to enter the commands, how to use the options and explaining anomalies etc. All in all it was a lot of fun. When we got back to the hotel, we found there was no running water so no shower etc. I took an early night, bedding down at about 10:30pm, only to be awoken at 1:30am with a call from Cottage Industries to say the that we had ordered was ready to be delivered. I pointed out I was in Egypt, arranged for them to call Barbara, and quickly went back to sleep.


Tuesday 28th October

Up at 7:40am, with a standard breakfast at 8:00am. I found that the people at the Guest House will do laundry so turned in a few items. Mikhail and I took off for the Metro at 8:30am with lots of water. It was about a 1 mile walk with no shade, probably about 100 deg F outside and humid so by the time we reached the Metro 15 minutes later I was pretty saturated with sweat. This was a good lesson in what we will need when we go to the Giza pyramids (probably Saturday) where there is no shade and we will be there for most of the daytime. We obtained Metro tickets for 1LE each one way (~$0.20) and boarded the train which arrived about 5 minutes later. At the Mar Girgis station we got off and headed to the Coptic museum about 100 yards away. The entrance fee was 50LE (~$10). The museum is well organized and well presented and demonstrates Coptic influences on Egypt. The Coptics appear to be the Christians in Egypt after the Romans converted to Christianity. We also viewed the massive Fortress of Babylon which fell to the Arab conquerors after a 7-month siege in April 640, and the Iron Gate through which the conquerors passed and the Hanging Church (Church of the Virgin Mary) straddling the gate. Afterwards we walked to the nearby Church of St George for which the foundations are about 40 feet below the current ground level. The filling in has been due to Nile floods and movement of the main stream over the last 1500 years. There is a magnificent tourist shop underground (which helps to keep it a bit cooler) next door to the Church. Around 12:30 we headed back to the Metro, bought tickets, just missed our train since we were opposite the women’s section and could not run to the men’s section before the doors closed. We caught the next train about 5 minutes later and arrived back at the university about 45 minutes later. Luckily Mikhail has a great sense of direction and we were able to find our way back to the Faculty of Science building and the Space Science Weather Center in time for him to give his lectures at about 2:00pm. I spent the afternoon catching up on email, and working with our host, Ayman Malhous, to look into installing a PingER monitoring site at Helwan University, and looked at my lectures on “Diagnosing Network Problems” for Wednesday which required substantial modification since the students use Windows and not Linux. We returned to the Guest House at about 7:30pm, had a standard breakfast/dinner. Over dinner we talked about the next school which will probably be in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in Kinshasa in September 2011. Afterwards I worked locally on the blog and a bit more on Wednesday’s (the following day’s) lectures since Monique was using the Etilsalat 3G network connection device, so I had no Internet connection. I took a quick shower and bedded down at midnight.


Monday 27th September

Up at 7:45, after a good night’s sleep. We partook of the standard breakfast once again, then repaired to the main lecture room where I started my presentation on cell phones and mobile computing at 9:30am. I gave two presentations each of just over an hour, one was on How Cell Phones Work, and the other was on Smartphones and Mobile computing. After the same box lunch as the day before (rice, lamb, potatoes, mango drink, bread, grapes and salad – I avoided the latter 2 for fear of them being washed in suspect water and thus themselves being suspect) we decided we should get some money from the ATM since the travel agent wanted hard Egyptian pounds (about 5.5 LE to the US$). Mikhail and I with a guide (Ahmed) crossed campus to a shopping center (about 102degrees Fahrenheit but don’t worry dear it’s a DAMP heat) trying to find any shade we could (it was close to midday so there was none).  However, not so simple the ATM refused us both after trying several times (mine had worked in London). So we repair to the video game Fiat 121 with no seatbelts that has to be hot wired to start and with the driver of two nights before took off for Cairo an hour away to find a big international bank with an ATM, with windows wide open and air in pouring that would have made hair dryers proud. Once we got into Cairo itself, the traffic was like India, the mirrors were all turned in and one could easily walk as fast as one could drive. After what seemed an age and sweating like pigs, we found an HSBC bank. Again no success for either of us after multiple tries and it warning us that if we tried again then be prepared to kiss goodbye to your ATM card. Luckily it gave us a code that said why it was being so recalcitrant, so we duly entered into air conditioned comfort of the bank and found Aliyeh who had studied in the US in Washington, spoke excellent English and Allah be praised was in customer relations. I asked if I could use a private check she indicated it might work but would take 21 days to clear so back to the drawing boards. She interpreted the numeric rejection codes. Mine said I did not have an account, yet it had worked in London. So I tried instead my credit card, it demanded a PIN which I do not have for a credit card. I tried the PIN for my ATM and it promptly threatened to relieve me of my credit card. Finally in desperation I stuck the ATM card back in entered the PIN and figured I should try not asking for Cash but request a checking account and bingo a miracle happened and it dispensed the requested cash. Mikhail had a different rejection code which to him suggested using a different account and he was also successful a couple of minutes later. So back into the car only to find the hot wiring was failing so we got behind and gallantly pushed it into Cairo traffic and jump started it. Then off to the travel agent. She prepared our electronic tickets in exchange for our hard gained monies and sent us on our way after about an hour. As we were leaving I asked for the name and email of the travel lady in case we get into problems later on. At this time I discovered it was the same lady I had been trying to work with earlier via email from the US. This was encouraging since I was getting concerned that I might be double booking. Meanwhile our guide got onto a taxi company to arrange rides between Helwan University and the airport for this coming Sunday, when we travel to Luxor and the Valley of the Kings, and also to the airport on Monday. Then once again back into the car which the driver had left running all the time for reassurance sake, followed by back into the walking speed Cairo traffic and then as we got out of the center back to the hair dryers and video game. But we had our air tickets and tour for the Valley of the Kings so we declared victory.  We got back at about 5pm, logged in, read emails, etc, and returned to breakfast/dinner at the Guest House at about 7:30. Monique lent me the Etilslat (one of the major cell phone carriers in Egypt, this one is from the UAE) 3.5G Internet connection USB stick so I was able to logon and Skype with Liam and Sian. Could notb see anyone else logged on so that was it. Then a shower, wash some socks which last about a day before they threaten to overwhelm one’s olfactory senses, and then to bed at 11:45pm.


Sunday 26th September

I met everyone else Monique Petitdidier, Christine Le Mezaudier, Luc Lame and Mikhail Zhizhin for breakfast (yogurt, one egg omelet, bread, strawberry jam, cheese in Kraft type triangles, milk in a carton, and guava juice) at 8:00am. The guava sachets resisted all attempts to open until Christine Mazaudier produced a tiny pair of scissors from her travel kit. We made our way to the lecture rooms by car at 9:00am. The University is pretty new, started in 1975 and huge with over 125,000 students in 16 faculties. In the institute I was in there are 2:1 females:male students. Most women students had a head scarf and robe to the floor, if no robe then a dress but with jeans underneath and always long sleeves showing no skins except hands and face. About 15% had a black robe and probably about 3% had a full veil. It must be terribly hot. All the men had short hair to assist with cooling I suppose. Must remember next time I am in a hot place to get my hair cut short. The only long hairs were Luc, Mikhail and me. I only saw 1 female student without a head scarf. In town later we saw more women but not a lot, without head scarves. My first lecture on the history of the Internet started at 9:30pm. This was followed by a break at 10:30am, followed by another lecture on how the Internet is performing today. This ran from 11:00am to 12:30pm. This was followed by a light lunch in a box.  In the afternoon I got online and worked to get a hotel booking at London Heathrow for Monday evening October 4th at the Ibis hotel. The rate at the Holiday Inn that I stayed in on the Friday evening had doubled from what I paid, and the Ibis hotel close by was close to what I had paid. Although they have Internet access it is not “free” as the Holiday Inn likes to advertize. I also worked with one of the locals to set up the trip to the Valley of the Kings at Luxor, about 400 miles to the South, on Sunday 3rd October. Mikhail will be coming with me which is good, since we get on well together. We will fly from Cairo at about 7:40am arriving at Luxor an hour later, to be met by a guide and taken on a tour of the tombs etc. We return in the evening at 9:25pm and stay again at the university guest house. On Monday October 4th I fly back from Cairo at 9:35am via Geneva to London Heathrow, where I will spend the night, before catching the 2:10pm flight from Heathrow to SFO on Tuesday 5th October. I missed the afternoon lectures and we returned to the Guest House at 6:30pm. Unfortunately the guest house has no Internet access in our rooms. Dinner was at 7:30pm and was basically a re-creation of breakfast except the omelet was replaced with a boiled egg. After dinner we planned what we would be able to see of Cairo and later on an atheistic friend of Luc Dame, one of the lecturers, came by with cans of beer and we sat around and talked.


Saturday 25th September

Got up at 6:00am after an intermittent sleep and caught the 6:40am bus from the hotel to Heathrow airport terminal one.  I went to the Swiss International air counter checked my bag since the woman said it was too heavy to carry on. I guess there are different rules for United, who let me carry on from SFO-LHR, and Swiss who would not let me carry on LHR to GVA. The plane was about 20 mins late in taking off and arrived at Geneva (GVA) about 20 mins late at about noon. In Geneva I was in the transfer lounge until about 14:30pm when we boarded the EgyptAir Boeing 737-800 for Cairo. It was completely full, the seating was pretty cramped, and until the senses gave in, there was a noticeable body odor smell. It looked clean and seemed to be efficiently run. I watched the film Ghost Writer which was good again second time around. The pilot made a very smooth landing at Cairo airport at about 8:10pm. I bought my visa for $15 at the bank and then proceeded through customs. Actually the first time I tried to go through customs they sent me back to the bank to get the visa. I then picked up my bag. On the way out I looked at all the signs people were holding up for their pickups. I could not see one for me. I made up my own sign and walked around showing my signs to the sign holders. Still no luck. I called our host on my mobile, there was an answer but there was a lot of background noise on both ends and I could not make out anything. I hung up getting a bit anxious, and was about to place another call, when I found my contact. His name was Ibrahim,  Fathy, Abd Sal Ghafar. We then had to wait for another lecturer (Mikhail Zhizhy) who was flying from Moscow arriving nominally 1.5 hours later. It transpired his plane (EgyptAir) was delayed and then getting through customs etc took about 1.25hours. Eventually he arrived and quickly found us. At about 11:00pm we got into a very old Fiat 121, no seat belts in the back, a non working one in the passenger seat where I sat, air conditioning was very green (i.e. there was none just open the windows all the way) and set out for Helwan University on the SE side of Cairo. The ride from the airport to Helwan University is not for the faint of heart and was the closest thing to a video game that I can recall. Lane discipline is interesting. Some people drive between the lines, others place the middle line in the middle of the car, but most seem to oscillate between these positions, if there is a visible white line. I would say about 30% of the time, there was no visible white line, so then it gets really interesting.  At the same time it’s not like India where it’s so congested speed is not possible. In Cairo, as we came through, we must have been weaving between traffic at over 70mph most of the time. Of course there was no visible working instrument in the car to verify this. Just to add excitement every now again, probably at roughly 2 mile intervals, there are vicious speed bumps where everyone slows down to about 10-20mph (again no instrument enabled me to verify this). We reached Helwan University at about 11:50pm, and made our way to the Guest House. Even at this time of night the temperature was about 86 degrees and quite humid.  My room was on the top floor which since heat rises was very hot, however my room was lovely and cool with a serious air conditioner. I got to bed at about 12:30am.

Friday 24th September

On Friday Sue and I chatted and walked into town. I bought a pair of light non-need-to-press-trousers at Marks and Spencers, plus a tie, in case the meeting in Cairo was a bit formal (it is not). We checked at the charity shop down the street and found we could have got the tie for half price. To ensure we would be on time to get to the bus station, we left Sue’s place at about 3:30pm stopping off en route for Sue to run an errand. There was light traffic so we arrived at the bus station in Bristol with 45 mins to spare. The bus left Bristol at 5:00pm on time arriving at the Central Bus station Heathrow at 7:20pm. I caught the Hoppa bus shuttle and checked in at the Heathrow Holiday Inn at about 8:00pm. After laying out my gear in my room, I had a light dinner of a tuna and cucumber sandwich plus an orange juice, afterwards retiring to my room to work a bit on the first two talks for Cairo. The hotel had free Internet for the first 20 mins and after that one was charged. This way they can advertize somewhat misleadingly that they have free Internet. Anyhow I did not use it.

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