elmarschraml.com

Occasionally updated personal site and blog

Coptic Cairo

Coptic, what’s that, you say? Well, I had to look it up, too – turns out Egypt has not only at least 10% Christians, but it’s a special branch of Christianity that’s unique to northern Africa, with their own language and their own pope – pardon, “Patriarch of Alexandria on the Holy See of Saint Mark“, but “Coptic pope” sounds much cooler.

So I went to so-called “Coptic Cairo”, an are full of coptic churches and monuments.

museum interior.JPG

Also conveniently reachable by the metro, since I was a little sick of walking in cairo traffic (crossing a roundabout? Imagine a giant game of Frogger. Like in other decidedly non-european places, waiting for a gap in traffic does not work. But unlike in e.g. India, there a too many big, fast-moving cars to just walk into traffic and rely on everybody to get out of your way. Waiting for a local to cross in the same direction, and using him as a human shield, works well, and you learn some road-crossing instincts at the same time.)

Funny things about the cairo metro:

  • There are no ticket vending machines. The human vendors can, unlike most vending machines, unfortunately not be switched to English 🙂 I gave up enquiring about zones or fares, just signed how many trips I wanted to take, and ended up with a bunch of single tickets. Which worked, and cost about 10 eurocents each.
  • The platforms have big signs saying “Ladies”. Which, after some initial confustion, is not a sign for a conveniently located toilet, but indicates that the middle part of the train is reserved for ladies only. (Unfortunately, a policeman on the platform prevented me from photographing said sign. “no taking pictures of infrastructure” is another of those weird but universally applicable out-of-Europe things)
  • Oh, there’s cops everywhere. And metal detectors at each metro entrance. I wonder how well that works during rush hour…although I’d say the vast majority of the at least dozen bag searches and metal detector checks at various entrances today was extremely half-assed. The police presence feels more like a combination of jobs program and showing presence to assure tourists than checking for any real danger.

museum entrance.JPG

Entrance to the coptic museum. So clean! and well-maintained! and quiet! with actual green spaces! – sorry cairo, but most of you is not exactly like that, so I almost wept with joy..

me church door.JPG

Most of the coptic churches look like a mosque at first glance, with the typical ornamental and decorative artwork – beautiful! But then you notice the icons of saints, and crosses, and other church-like things. Sort of a weird combination, but beautiful.

maze.JPGMost of the coptic monuments are inside an old fortress, connected by a maze of narrow alleys. This one has a bookseller offering everything from arabic languae courses to the latest Stephen King novel, or a bootleg DVD of the pyramids’ light and sound show.

entrance coptic.JPG

The stairs on the left are the entrance to 90% of the coptic area – did I mention most of the cool stuff in Egypt seems to be hidden in some out of the way corner?

There was a fair number of tourists around, but mostly Egyptians. Most foreigners (of which there are generally very few – not sure if out of season, or scared off by the political situation) only seem to make it to the pyramids and the egyptian museum.

park with goats.JPG

A quite pretty park, found behind an busy ugly bus station. No idea why there’s goats wandering around the park – there was nobody around besides a few gardeners, who did not seem to mind me wandering around, but whose English did not extend beyond “Which country?” and “Welcome to Egypt”.

mosque.JPG

Not another coptic church, but an actual mosque – the oldest one in Cairo. Could not go inside, since it was just starting prayer time. But note the impressive loudspeaker array on the minaret – when they call to prayer, they mean it!

ahwa.JPG

An “Ahwa”, as in a coffee place where people hang out and smoke Shishah. Unfortunately, I never found one as relaxing as often described in guidebooks – most seem to be nothing but a whole in the wall, and a few plastic chairs on the sidewalk. This is pretty much as cozy as it gets.

banana guy.JPG

Guy on the street selling tiny, but super tasty, bananas. The endless variety of people is really the coolest thing to see. But it feels intrusive to just take pictures of people on the street – though when asked, people you buy something from are cool with it.

Pro tip: When travelling to a country with a non-roman alphabet, it’s a good idea to at least learn the numbers. Arabic digits are everywhere, and NOT comprehensible..

dates dude.JPG

The area around Cairo has a lot of date palms, and people sure take their dates seriously. The guy here was happy to let me try a few varieties – though do be honest I could not detect much difference in flavor. The ones I chose randomly were good, though.

shop window.JPG

Some beautiful inlaid wood boxes in the window of a shop selling everything from perfumes to kitchenware. Picked up a nice little plate with calligraphic ornaments here. Almost failed due to the shopkeepers complete lack of English, and my complete lack of Arabic – but his wife turned out to speak some French.

With this, enough Cairo – tomorrow I’ll be off to Abu Dhabi.

Cairo: Pyramids

This will be a pretty straight-up touristic post, so why not start with the obligatory me-in-front-of-famous-stuff photo?

me both.JPG

The pyramids of Gizah – the big league, the grand slam and the olympics all rolled into one – not just of antiques, but also of tourist touts, “guides”, trinket sellers, hawkers of camel rides, and everybody else after some tourist dollars.

Which is understandable given the state of the Egyptian economy, and the crazy exchange rates for hard currency, but still super annoying. I hired a driver for the day, and the first thing he did was warn me about all the scams – the solution to which would be, of course, to hire a tour with a guide, who would then shoo all the other would-be guides away…

I respectfully declined – a good decision, since most people who book a tour or a ride just go to the same few obvious photo spots, while I found the unexplored nooks and crannies the most interesting parts. The pyramids are fine – but, well, it’s just a big-ass mountain made of rocks, that looks not that different from the standard postcard view.

cheops.JPG

The building on the left houses a wooden barge excavated near the pyramid. If the sky looks a little washed out, it’s due to the persistent smog in the air – which I today was very glad existed, if only because it disperses the sunlight – with temperatures close to 40 degrees, much welcome…

cairo behind pyramids.JPG

Speaking of smog – in this view from the edge of the pyramid area, you can see the suburbs of Cairo in the hazy distance.

camels on horizon.JPGThe other direction IS actual desert – real movie cliche desert, utterly dry rocks and sand, with hot desert wind blowing from the hazy distance. Although the camels so romantically perched on the horizon are not exactly trading bedouins, but tourists being taken to a photo spot.

pyramid interior.JPG

Yup, I did get to go inside, too – although only tried two, because it’s at least as steep and cramped as it looks, and the inside is completely bare – more one of those things you do so you can say you’ve done it.

sphinx unromantic.JPG

While we’re at ugly realism: this is possibly the most unflattering shot of the sphinx you can get. It’s pretty eroded from the back, and to the left of it you can just about make out the neon sign of a local Pizza Hut franchise in the distance.

And yes, it is not that large, more a large statue than a mountain – you can almost see the thought bubbles saying “I had imagined it to be larger” going off everybody’s head..

saqarra.JPG

This one’s not at Gizah, but at Saqqara, a few kilometres further outside of Cairo. Also pretty huge, but not that impressive – except that it just happens to be the oldest pyramid in Egypt, and at the same time the oldest standing stone building in the world.

desert view dahshur

But much more interesting was the field of tombs and excavations off to the side of the step pyramid at Saqqara. In apparently typical egyptian fashion, there are no signs, maps or explanations – I almost would have missed it completely, if not for taking a random side turn and then ending up in a huge desert area full of more-or-less recognizable ruins. The pyramids in the distance seen in the picture above are yet more pyramids, the red pyramid and the bent pyramid at Dashur. Is it weird that I was most fascinated by the endless views of empty desert?

hole hieroglyphs.JPG

And then you come accross e.g. a completely unassuming hole in the ground, which in closer inspection reveals some intricate and finely preserved carving of hieroglyphs on the doorway. (Although it’s definitely a good idea to check for a way back up again before jumping down – pretty much nobody else was coming that far from the step pyramid, and it’s not like there’s any guards around).

tomb entrance.JPGNever mind, just another random entrance to a tomb that happens to be 4000 years old.

memphis road.JPGOn the road to another stop – Memphis. Things got decidedly less glamorous than in downtown Cairo…

ramses.JPGNot much left of old Memphis, and the excavations were all closed – but there’s a pretty good, if small, museum with e.g. a big-ass statue of Ramses II (who apparently was a bit of an egomaniac, and left big-ass statues of himself all over the place).

ramses egomaniac.JPG

Another Ramses, I think.

lunch and driver.JPG

I’ll finish with this picture of my friendly driver for the day, and an excellent roadside lunch. For which, since the driver took me there, I probably criminally overpaid – but that’s just a fact of life in Egypt, and rather than get mad about it it’s much better to just accept it, and enjoy the fact that even after criminal overcharging I enjoyed that feast for less than 8 euros.

Cairo museums

Benefits of a downtown hotel: Can walk to the first few attractions to visit without having to figure out public transport, or haggle with taxi drivers.

First up: Museum of Islamic art.

islamic art room.JPG

A beautiful, recently renovated museum showcasing art in the islamic style (think lots of calligraphy, floral and geometric designs rather than pictures) from lots of different regions and time periods.

restored after bombing.JPG

Recently renovated? Ah yes – the sign with the red dot in the picture above says “This mark signifies exhibits restored after the bombing of 2015″… Apparenly that bombing targeted the police headquarters next door, but the museum was caught in the blast.

Things have been politically…volatile in recent years – although I saw no sign of unrest.

The only military presence I saw was a somewhat surreal battle tank standing in front of a bank that had long queues – no idea why, did not want to ask, since “never get involved with people in uniforms carrying guns” is one of the more universal travel instincts.

But you realize the impact of political turmoil in all sorts of little things – taxi drivers proudly pointing out that this is where the protests happened when crossing liberation square (which on normal days is just a giant, traffic-choked roundabout), or the plan for replacing the ageing Egyptian Museum with a grand new one being delayed indefinitely only because it was championed by the previous regime.

islamic art.JPG

Just one more beautiful carving from the museum of islamic art.

toilet paper ladies.JPG

As far as I cant tell, it’s the exclusive job of the two ladies sitting in the far corner to hand out a carefully measured three sheets of toilet papers to people entering the restrooms.

 

costa coffee.JPG

Aaaah, a well-earned respite in the local overpriced Starbucks clone. Cairo is the kind of place that makes you wish teleporting was a thing – teleport in, wander around in wild-eyed wonder soaking in the sights, sounds and smells, and then two hours later when you’re overwhelmed teleport out to more familiar surroundings. Since teleportation has not been invented yet, I’ll take “overpriced coffee with A/C for rich hipsters” as a local Western escape.

Side note: People smoke in cafes and restaurants, everywhere. Seems really weird that that was happening at home not so many years ago.

egyptian museum.JPG

The Egyptian museum – not A egyptian museum, but THE egyptian museum, the big one, the grand-daddy of em all. Pretty much every famous piece of Egyptian art (that did not end up at the Louvre or British museum) is here – the most important statues and artworks from tombs, temples and excavations all over Egypt.

egyptian museum 2.JPG

Pretty much every single piece here would be a treasured centerstone of any art museum anywhere in the world. There’s just soooo much here – you inevitably end up going “yup, another priceless statue that’s thousands of years old, just like the other few dozens”.

em attic.JPG

Some of the collections are a little less..ahem…organized – feels like some archeologist returning from a dig a hundred years ago just dumped a bunch of stuff in vitrines, and then never got around to going through it again. Combined with ongoing repairs and renovations, it feels a bit like digging through Indiana Jones’ attic.

em mask

Nope, not the famous one – King Tut’s mask is here, too, of course, but you cannot take pictures there. But as I said, there’s plenty of almost equally magnificent more of any kind of egyptian artifact.

em mummy.JPG

Though I did sneak in this picture in the royal mummies gallery. Even more creepy in real life than it looks here.

schaufenster unterwäsche.JPG

On the way back to the hotel, just one of the many stores selling surprisingly racy lingerie in a conservative country. Let’s say things are extremely diverse here, in everything from luxury to poverty, skin color between almost european and deepest African, architecture from impressive to depressing, and everything else.

Cairo

Starting a world tour in Cairo definitely means starting by jumping into the very deep end of the pool.

Wednesday morning was spent having coffee on my quiet, peaceful balcony in Munich. Wednesday night saw me desperately scanning the taxi line at cairo airport, trying to figure out what had went wrong with the airport ticket promised by my hotel, while dodging all the other taxi drivers smelling the blood of a disoriented recent arrival.

One of the less reputable guys approaching me was waving a cell phone in my face, showing Whatsapp messages in arabic, when I realized that my name was spelled out in one of the messages in roman letters. A few seconds later it was clear that the guy spoke no English whatsoever, but communicated with a series of smiles and thumbsups that he would drive me to my hotel. A second guy joined him – possibilities for his participations flashed through my mind: Is it a) look at the crazy foreigner, b) use the opportunitiy for baksheesh, or c) team up to rob me in an alley. It turned out to be a little bit of a), but mostly d) sit on the passenger side, and wave his arm out the window to signal an intended lane change. I was not sure whether the driver was not aware of the existence of turn signals, or considered that just too impersonal. But it left the driver free to pull up to cars on the left (left “lane” being to fluid a concept to be accurate), to what I interpreted as a mix of asking for directions and trading colorful insults.

  • Crazy traffic? Check.
  • Crazy heat? Check.
  • Crazy exchange rate, leading to everything being either quite expensive if priced for tourists or expats, or dirt cheap if priced for locals? Check.
  • Communication reduced to pointing and smiling? Check.
  • Things are just….different? Check.
  • Sticking out as a white guy like a sore thumb? Check.

third world problems

Yup, definitely not in Kansas anymore.

I cannot thank my 23-year-old past self enough for having spent enough time in India to aquire some useful outside-of-the-rich-western-world instincts that mostly translate surprisingly well to Egypt.

hotel street.JPG

The street in the middle of downtown with my hotel – think “beautiful turn-of-the-century colonial architecture after a few decades of crumbling”.

 

aufzug.JPG

Speaking of crumbling: The elevator “shaft” leading up to my hotel room. Can confirm it works, but have used the stairs ever since.

hotel room.JPGAn actually very nice room for about 20 Euros a night. AC is my new best friend  – was taking a short walk around the hotel at 10 at night, in complete darkness, and returned sweaty as hell at only 34 degrees – supposed to go up to 40 degreees the next days. Sadly, the door leads to a beautiful balcony, but has no actual window pane in the window, so need to keep it closed and dark to keep out the heat and noise.

 

drinks snacksTrying out some local snacks is half the fun of travelling. With food, the good old method of “point at stuff that looks appealing, then shove money in small bills at the vendor until he smiles or gives change back” luckily works pretty universally.

bakery.JPG

 

Food shopping, intermediate level: Took a minute of watching other people to figure out that yup, not a distributor, you can buy stuff here, and you’re supposed to just grab pastries off the racks, then pay the guy in the red shirt.

food stall.JPG

Food shopping, expert level: Snack place round the corner that seemed popular with locals. Pointing and smiling not being sufficient to convey that I really wanted to eat, I escalated to the “seem lost enough to for them to call over a friend that speaks a few words of English” technique.

food stall2.JPG

And found myself with dinner for about 40 eurocents. Unidentified kind of meat or vegetables, but definitely fresh and tasty.

Round the world in 40 days

Since my employer has a very generous policy for going on a 2-month mini-sabbatical [insert obligatory mention that we’re hiring], I find myself with the whole of May and June off. Also, being in my thirties and single, this is an excellent opportunity to do something a little crazy – visiting 10 cities on 4 continents equals 40 days of travel… (technically ended up being 39 days (flight schedules are weird sometimes), but I like the Jules Verne vibe..)

Since people have been asking for my itinerary, to e.g. hopefully not call me in the middle of the night due to expecting me to still be in a different time zone, here’s the list:

  • May 2nd Munich -> Cairo
  • May 6th Cairo -> Abu Dhabi
  • May 9th Abu Dhabi -> Kathmandu
  • May 13th Kathmandu -> Kuala Lumpur (just an airport stopover)
  • May 14th Kuala Lumpur -> Singapore
  • May 17th Singapore -> Osaka (onwards to Kyoto by train)
  • May 22nd Osaka -> Hongkong
  • May 25th Hongkong -> Las Vegas
  • May 31st Las Vegas -> Orlando
  • June 3rd Orlando -> Reykjavik
  • June 8th Reykjavik -> Copenhagen (stopover during the day) -> Munich

Stay tuned for updates here, plus my instagram account might finally see some use (although you really should support the open web rather than posting your content in somebody else’s walled garden – but that’s a rant for another day)

Slides from code.talks commerce

Thanks to everybody attending my talk “Commerce as a Service vs Commerce as a Monolith – 2 Flavors of Hybris compared in Practice” at the code.talks commerce conference 2017 in Berlin.

Feel free to download a PDF of the slides used in the talk:
hybris_monolith_microservices

Images are compressed to reduce the file size; if you’d like a high-res version, or just to talk about any of the topics mentioned, get in touch with me.

Falsehoods Apple believes about professional mac users

In the spirit of great posts pointing out the difference between programmers’ assumptions and the real world (like namesaddresses and time), here’s a more satirical, but sadly true, take on Apple’s new Macbook Pro.

16GB of RAM should be enough for anybody. After all, nobody has more than a handful of browser tabs open. And hardly anybody uses virtual machines. All browsers for testing run on macOS. Application’s memory footprints are not growing.

When you ask professional mac users what their biggest problem with their mac is, they all tell you “I wish my machine was 2 millimetres thinner”.

Shaving off half a pound of weight really makes a huge difference once you have put the computer in a bag, together with its charger and a bunch of accessories.

Every computer user wants a thin-and-light laptop. We should never, for any reason, compromise on thin and light.

Battery life is more important than power, memory or ports. But not more important than a second screen and an extra ARM chip to drive it.

Customers do not care if the brand new computer they paid premium prices for contains outdated chips. I mean, come on, it’s like so uncool to know what a processor is.

Nobody ever forgets to bring along an adapter. And all conference rooms are equipped with mac-specific inputs to brand-new projectors anyway, so you never have to be afraid to be stuck without a way to connect your computer to an ancient VGA port.

Everybody uses Wifi everywhere, even conservative, security-conscious large organisations (i.e. the kind of organisation paying top dollar for custom software development)

Nobody needs Ethernet, since WiFi is always as fast and as reliable as a cable.

When you order a computer, you always know exactly what you will need in the next 2 years, so there’s no need to upgrade. And computers are so cheap you buy a new one every year or so anyway. Especially since setting up a new computer with your applications and configuration is so quick and fun we don’t even provide Firewire transfer any more. All your data lives in the cloud anyway.

A touch surface is just as good as a button. I mean, who touch-types in this day and age?

The cursor keys are hardly ever used, so we can make them any size or shape that makes the keyboard look nice and symmetrical. Symmetrical is, like, super important.

When we switch to all-new ports, within a year or so people will get all-new devices anyway, so that problem goes away really fast. I’ve never seen a peripheral older than a year or two in the wild.

Since everybody has a smartphone, nobody uses cameras any more.

What else would you need ports for besides charging and displays? All data is easily transferred via internet, and a laptop is super ergonomic to use all day without an external keyboard or mouse. Speaking of mice, it’s all about touchpads these days, everybody prefers those over a mouse.

Still complaints about ports? Fine, get a Thunderbolt 3 docking station. Lots of choices for those, and super cheap.

Magsafe was a nice idea, but it turns out it has no practical use, since people tripping over a laptop’s power cable is only a theoretical problem. In practice, you only plug in to charge overnight anyway. Batteries last a long time used that way, no need to ever replace them.

If you’re an apple user, you won’t care if we charge a couple hundred bucks more.

We DO give people choices. You can choose between “no power and no ports”, “3 year old hardware” or “more than 2000 bucks”.

All this is coming from from a position of love, not hate. I’ve been using Macs since before it was cool, and I’m still hoping to again see a “Pro” Mac where Pro means “for Professionals” rather than expensive and fashionable.

Slides from WJAX

If you’ve seen my talk about web application architecture at WJAX 2015, and would like to download the slides, you can download them here:

WJAX 2015 – Mobile, microservices and multichannel.pdf

If you are interested in learning more about some of the topics mentioned, I’ve previously collected a list of blog posts, articles, videos and other resources here:

https://elmarschraml.com/2015/03/25/shownotes-for-my-talk-at-mobiletechcon-2015/ 

And if you’d like to talk about any of these topics, I’m always happy to talk shop on Twitter (@elmarschraml), via email or whenever we meet in person.

Slides from my talk at MobileTechCon 2015

Thanks to everybody attending my talk “Mobile, Microservices und Multichannel – warum Web-App-Architektur sich ändern muss” at the Mobile Tech Conference 2015 in Munich.

Feel free to download a PDF of the slides used in the talk:
MobileTech2015 – mobile, microservices, multichannel (images compressed)

Images are compressed to reduce the file size; if you’d like a high-res version, or just to talk about any of the topics mentioned, get in touch with me.

“Shownotes” for my talk at MobileTechCon 2015

In the tradition of podcasts providing a list of links to things that were talked about, here’s a few pointers for further information about some of the topics I mentioned in my talk titled “Mobile, Microservices und Multichannel – warum Web-App-Architektur sich ändern muss” at the Mobile Tech Conference 2015.

Html5 browser support:
http://caniuse.com/

Mobile hybrid apps
https://signalvnoise.com/posts/3743-hybrid-sweet-spot-native-navigation-web-content

Single-page applications:

Twitter pedaling back on SPA
https://blog.twitter.com/2012/improving-performance-on-twittercom

 

Microservices

List of presentation slides from microxchg.io conference
https://gist.githubusercontent.com/sebeichholz/a107d81d4cc0bf0327de/raw/c8632c21b543c28319d84300810385f29257cd46/gistfile1.txt

Netflix on microservices:
http://techblog.netflix.com/2015/02/a-microscope-on-microservices.html

The twelfe-factor app:
http://12factor.net/

 

New approaches to architecture

Reactive manifesto:
http://www.reactivemanifesto.org/

 

airbnb on isomorphic apps:
http://nerds.airbnb.com/isomorphic-javascript-future-web-apps/
http://nerds.airbnb.com/weve-launched-our-first-nodejs-app-to-product/

 

Eric Sink on Zumero:
http://ericsink.com/entries/announcing_zumero.html
http://erikej.blogspot.de/2014/04/shop-talk-with-eric-sink-zumero-for-sql.html

 

Dropbox APIs presentation from Nordicjs 2014

 

Middle end:

http://blog.getify.com/what-exactly-is-the-middle-end/

 

InnoQ on self-contained systems
https://www.innoq.com/de/links/self-contained-systems-infodeck/

 

Tools

Facebook BigPipe:
https://www.facebook.com/notes/facebook-engineering/bigpipe-pipelining-web-pages-for-high-performance/389414033919

 

Compoxure:
https://www.npmjs.com/package/compoxure
View story at Medium.com
http://dejanglozic.com/tag/compoxure/

 

Introduction of React native:

 

Packaged apps:
Dropwizard http://dropwizard.io/
Spring boot http://projects.spring.io/spring-boot/
docker.com

 

Facebook on Apache Thrift:
https://code.facebook.com/posts/1468950976659943/under-the-hood-building-and-open-sourcing-fbthrift/

 

Log Aggregation:
http://brewhouse.io/blog/2014/11/04/big-data-with-elk-stack.html
http://www.sixtree.com.au/articles/2014/intro-to-elk-and-capturing-application-logs/
https://www.graylog.org/

 

Distributed tracing:
Twitter Zipkin https://blog.twitter.com/2012/distributed-systems-tracing-with-zipkin
Google dapper paper: http://research.google.com/pubs/pub36356.html

 

Hystrix circuit breaker:
Intro by Netflix: http://techblog.netflix.com/2012/11/hystrix.html
Tutorial by InnoQ: https://www.innoq.com/de/articles/2014/08/hystrix-artikel/

 

Twitter finagle:
https://blog.twitter.com/2011/finagle-a-protocol-agnostic-rpc-system
github: https://twitter.github.io/finagle/

 

Netflix Chaosmonkey etc:
http://techblog.netflix.com/2011/07/netflix-simian-army.html

 

Best blog on all things javascript and ES6:
http://www.2ality.com/

 

Web components:
tech site: http://webcomponents.org/
implementation: https://www.polymer-project.org/0.5/