Kaddee’s Cairo Chronicles


February 20, 2011

Winter Fun

Filed under: What the...? — Kaddee @ 12:03 am

for a good cause.

On February 12th 2011, for reasons I can’t fully recall, I participated in a fund-raising event at Stevens Pass.  When I say, “I can’t fully recall”, what I really mean is that I do not know what possessed me to register for this event.  I remember *when* I learned about the event and decided that it would be fun to do.  That would be when gozi and I went to the Mountaineers Demo Days event in January.  Tubbs, Atlas, MSR and a few others were giving FREE demos of different makes and models of snowshoes at the Mountaineers campus at Snoqualmie Pass.  We went up to try out different shoes, and “Romp to Stomp Out Breast Cancer” had a tent with flyers and information.  I *still* am unclear as to WHY I decided to register, but… I did.

Less than a month later, I was registered and raising money for the event.

In the end, I raised $745 (My “goal” was $500 – which I *thought* was pretty optimistic!) and kicked my own butt for the 5k  course.  For a brief look into the event, check THIS out.  I was AMAZED at how FAR 5k was on snowshoes, but I have to admit, I’m already planning on doing it again next year!

June 13, 2009

Kubla-Ross

Filed under: What the...? — Kaddee @ 10:34 am

MAJOR WHINE BELOW – YOU’VE BEEN WARNED

I thought I’d managed to make it thru all stages to “Acceptance” – I was wrong.

Maybe it is just cabin-fever.

Maybe it is PMS.

Maybe it is the fact that this “quarantine” is a joke – as the students are congregating in large groups, the dorm sponsored a “dance party” the other night where everyone was invited to get together for snacks and soda on the roof terrace, and there has been no “re-testing” of any of the residents to see if this extended incarceration is even NECESSARY.

Or maybe it is the complete idiocy of this entire event.  The students who precipitated this lockdown – 2 on Sunday the 7th and 5 more on Monday the 8th – have been hospitalized, treated  AND RELEASED while the rest of us rot in quarantine.  So the infected individuals are out on the street, able to move about freely, and those who ALL tested negative are still locked up.  WTF.

May 25, 2009

Don’t drink the water

Filed under: What the...? — Kaddee @ 4:07 pm

I’m not referring to Cairo – the water here tastes like you are drinking from a swimming pool due to all the chlorine, but it is SAFE.

I’m talking about the multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art New Campus.  Just out on e-mail:

Water Quality Issue on AUC New Campus
As part of AUC’s routine monitoring and testing of its domestic water supply, a bacteria (protozoa) has been discovered in the water system, which needs to be removed.  This bacteria may present gastrointestinal type issues. Until testing determines that the bacteria has been removed, please do not drink the tap water on the New Cairo Campus. Boiled tap water may be safely used for purposes of making tea and coffee.
A team from facilities and operations, environmental health and safety, and our medical clinic are working together to effectively resolve this issue in as timely a fashion as possible. We will keep you posted on our progress in correcting this issue.
I should be (and to some extent AM) glad that they are monitoring the situation, however I find it unsettling that we are discovering significant HEALTH issues on an actively functioning and (may I remind you) BRAND NEW campus.  This is not an issue of old plumbing, which I would have expected on the downtown campus.

Also – as a biologist – I would FAIL, even a 100-level, student of  mine who called a BACTERIA a protozoan.

From Wikipedia (the wealth of all modern knowledge): (from Greek ?????? proton “first” and ??? zoa “animals”; singular protozoon) are microorganisms classified as unicellular eukaryotes.[1] While there is no exact definition of the term “protozoan”, most scientists use the word to refer to a unicellular heterotrophic protist, such as an amoeba or a ciliate.
So – what is in the water?  Don’t know, but I’m sticking with the bottled stuff.  At least there I’ll only find mold spores and regular, old, everyday DIRT.  The things that my  system is USED TO!!!

May 2, 2009

Mafeesh Pork!

Filed under: How it works,What the...? — Kaddee @ 9:46 am

In an unprecedented (and almost definitely ill-advised) move, the Egyptian government decided that the way to prevent swine flu in the country was to kill all the pigs.  I am simultaneously stunned and not about this knee-jerk over-reaction.

These actions demonstrate a distinct lack of:

  1. Understanding of the virus and its epidemiology
    1. There have been NO CASES of swine flu in Egypt.  Unlike bird flu, this one is not present in the country.  (Some say, it is  not here YET!!  So let’s kill all the pigs before it gets here!)
    2. This flu is NOT the flu that pigs get!  It is a chimera of human, pig and bird.  It is similar to pig flu, but IS NOT THE SAME.

    Michael Shaw, the CDC’s associate director for laboratory science states, “Everybody’s calling it swine flu, but the better term is swine-like. It’s like viruses we have seen in pigs — it’s not something we know was in pigs. It doesn’t really have any close relative.”

  2. Understanding of the longer term effects of eradicating the pig population in Egypt
    1. Pigs here are the main organic waste recyclers.  Pigs are kept by the zabaleen (garbage collectors) and are fed the organic wastes – kitchen scraps, fruit rinds and pits etc.
      1. For those who are wondering – most of the zabaleen are Christian, and therefore do not abide by the Islamic ban on pigs and pork.  They raise the pigs on the organic wastes, and then sell the pork products to restaurants etc.  Many Coptic-run restaurants in Cairo serve pork.
    2. Eradication of the pig means that the disposal of garbage will also be decreased or eliminated.  Obviously, the health risks of growing piles of garbage have not been taken into account.  (Remember the garbage strike in Naples about a year ago??)
    3. The sale of pork is also a mainstay of the zabaleen economy.  Interestingly, since the slaughter of the pigs began on Wednesday (April 29), the SALE of pork products in the usual places has ALSO been eliminated.  A critical thinking individual would wonder WHY?????  The virus cannot be passed via eating pork products.

We encountered this unfortunate reality yesterday at Maison Thomas – our 2nd favorite pizza place (1st favorite for delivery).  I attempted to order the Croque Monsieur for lunch yesterday and was told, “No ham – international bans.”  Whatever that means.

The conspiracy theorists in Egypt are saying that this is the working of the Brotherhood to eliminate all the pigs in Egypt, and insure that pigs will never be raised in the country again.  Others are saying that this is a Zionist plot and that the flu has been engineered.

I don’t think it is all that sinister.  I think it is the two most commonly mixed ingredients of bad decision making: ignorance and fear.

For me, it simply means no more pork products until we leave Egypt.  <sigh>

February 19, 2009

Bassily Hall

Filed under: How it works,What the...? — Kaddee @ 2:26 pm

We now “live” on a huge state-of-the-art campus in the middle of the desert.  That is what the PR people tell us.  I’m still not sure what state they mean, nor which art.  And it is not just the whiny, soon-to-be-leaving profs that are wondering about the choices for this move.

All that, however is water under the proverbial bridge.  We are there and we have to deal with it – in whatever way we can.

My most recent “Dealing” was in relation to the Core class that I coordinate.  Each week, we have  a General Lecture – general in the sense that everyone in the class goes to this lecture.  It is given 2 times during the week, so 300+ students attend the each presentation of the lecture.

Last semester the “grand lecture hall” was not yet complete, so we were put into the “next biggest hall”.  That hall (Mansour Hall – for those who know AUC) is a raked lecture hall that seats 225 people.  For those who can do simple arithmetic, you see that there is a problem.

We spent the entirety of Fall Semester shoe-horning students into Mansour Hall for the lecture.  No-one was happy with the arrangement – but we had no other options.

At the end of Fall Semester, we got the OK to schedule into the “grand lecture hall” – a.k.a. Bassily Hall.  Il hamduli’allah!!!!!  This hall was designed to seat 1400 people – should be no problem for 300 at a shot!  FINALLY things are getting easier.

So Spring semester begins and…. guess what….. we can’t have the hall for the first of our lectures because it is being used for the inauguration of the campus and graduate student mid-year graduation.  So much for reserving the hall!  Ok, so we go BACK to Mansour Hall, but only for the first General Lecture, then….AHHHH… into the big hall.

An unfortunate glitch was revealed to me as we were preparing for our first lecture in Bassily Hall.  After talking with everyone regarding using Bassily Hall for the General Lectures, the numbers of students we would need to accommodate, and double/triple checking (and being ASSURED) that the hall would be ready and available, I was informed less than a week before our first use of the hall that….
“Oh, by the way, there is no sound system, projector/computer/screen or any other type of AV equipment in the hall.  It was never installed.  I hope that doesn’t cause you any inconvenience.”

WHAT!!???  How are we supposed to give a lecture in a 1400 seat hall without any type of sound system?  There isn’t even WIRING in place for a sound system.  HOW THE HELL DID THEY DO THE INAUGURATION HERE?

Answer: AUC rented all of the equipment from a 3rd party source.

When is Bassily going to GET the equipment for giving lectures?
“UHHH, we don’t know, the campus is over budget.  It won’t be this semester.”

OK – <breathe> – then we need budget authorization to rent all the equipment from the 3rd party company, twice a week until the end of the semester.

“That seems like a fine solution – go ahead.”

WHAT!!?? Can you say “Penny wise and pound foolish”  Oh well, bottom line is that I get what I need for my class.  <WHEW> Catastrophe avoided.

Or not…

This week was the first time for us to get into Bassily Hall.  I was all atwitter to have the big hall.  Think of how much easier seating, attendance, and “riding herd” on the students will be when we can give each section a specific seating area that does not overlap with other sections!

I double checked with my secretary about the equpiment delivery, figured out seating for each section, made seating charts and went to Bassily to make sure everything was ready for the lecture.  And what to my wondering eyes should appear when I walked into Bassily Hall?  A tiny portable projection screen (you know the ones, your grandparents had them to show family movies on.  They fold up and stand in the front closet.  About 1.5 meters square – maybe) and a desktop projector.  FOR A 1400 SEAT AUDITORIUM.

I nearly had an aneurysm.

After my tirade in English to the equipment vendor, who spoke only Arabic, and frantic phone calls, and an Arabic tirade from my friend and close colleague, we settled what would be needed for Wednesday.

The lecture occurred with the tiny screen, an incredibly calm speaker who kept telling me, “Malesh, all will be fine” and a bunch of very confused students.

Wednesday was better – equipment wise, but Egypt happened in that lecture too.  That is for another post.

December 3, 2008

Chuckles in Cairo

Filed under: What the...? — Kaddee @ 6:05 pm

I posted these pictures elsewhere, and got a great response.

This TRULY is Cairo – in all its glory. Be prepared to be amazed.

In the supermarket:

So maybe there IS truth in advertising….

Or, things you see while walking down the street:

Nice, family-friendly billboard (advertising a comedy movie)

So THAT’S how chandeliers get moved!

Look closely at the writing and….

“Read my Leps!”

Whole houses get moved in one truck.

Motorbikes carry a full-size spare.

Elevators have a NO-NO switch.

And my FAVORITE:

I can’t even explain what this is because I don’t know – some sort of children’s toy…

Welcome in Egypt.

November 17, 2008

Things piled in trucks

Filed under: What the...? — Kaddee @ 8:21 pm

Today’s commute had an unusual number of unusual items piled in trucks.

Things piled in trucks is not unusual in Egypt. The piles are often WELL BEYOND what most (read: Western) would consider prudent. Still, life goes on and most of it doesn’t fall out of the truck.

Today’s list of “Things Piled in Trucks” includes some of the usual:

  • Garbage – in bags, lashed to the truck, and piled more than 100% of the height of the truck itself!
  • Eggs – more flats of eggs than you can imagine or count. They FILL a pick-up truck and are piled well above the sides of the bed. All flats lashed down to the truck, going over some of the worst roads in Cairo (Giza). I’d be amazed if half of the eggs make it to their destination
  • Vegetables – onions, turnips, tomatoes, all literally overflowing the truck bed.
  • Furniture – entire households worth on ONE truck frequently with the residents and family.
  • People – workers on their way home from work. There are frequently so many men in the back of a truck that they are all standing up, holding onto each other, hoping that the guys at the front are actually holding on to the top of the cab. It is not unusual to see 15 to 20 men and boys in the back of a truck on the highway!

Today added a few new items:

  • Sheep – filling the bed of a pick-up AND tied to a platform on top of the cab of the truck – with a boy standing in the back, tending to the sheep. (I WISH I could have gotten a picture – it was unbelievable)
  • Sod – probably a hundred rolls of sod in the back of a flatbed. Being from Seattle this didn’t strike me as too odd, at first. Then I realized, Cairo is a DESERT! Sod isn’t farmed here, nor does it last very long here. Where the HECK is that sod from? going?
  • Aluminum stock pots – I know this doesn’t sound odd, but imagine, if you will, pots large enough to render down small children. Now imagine them stacked in the back of a pickup – 3 high by 3 wide by 4 deep! All careening down the ring road at relatively high speeds.

Welcome in Egypt.

September 30, 2008

Adventures in Stupidity – part 2

Filed under: How it works,What the...? — Kaddee @ 10:30 am

Transport-stupidity

After my nearly-aneurysm-inducing meeting with the Bb specialists, I decided it was time to go home. New Campus is in the middle-of-nowhere-Sahara-Desert. My commute is between 1 hour 15 minutes and 2 hours 30 minutes EACH WAY. It is Ramadan, so there are only 3 scheduled departures from NC to my neighborhood. However there are hourly shuttles to the old campus in downtown. I could bear no more, so I decided to take the shuttle.

I boarded a nearly full bus, which rapidly completed filling. Departure time was scheduled for 3:30pm. The bus was full by 3:10 or so. There were other buses also filling for the 3:30 run, so our driver departed once his bus was full. This has been standard practice for the last 3 weeks, as long as there are other buses to take passengers up until the scheduled departure time.

We had driven for about 15 to 20 minutes, the traffic was not too bad, and we were nearly at the Ring Road which leads to Cairo when the driver’s phone rang. He had to pull over to answer, as it is now a LE500 fine for talking on the phone while driving. After the call, he pulled a U-turn and started to drive BACK TO NEW CAMPUS!

Needless to say, much chaos ensued – all in Arabic. What was finally translated to me, by a student who was on the bus, was that the driver had left before the scheduled time and the dispatcher was going to reprimand him for it by making him return to NC!!! We tried calling the dispatcher from the bus to explain that if we returned to NC, the bus would ARRIVE there after the scheduled departure time – making the bus now LATE. We tried to explain that the bus was FULL, so in returning we could not take any other passengers. We tried to explain that people on the bus have other scheduled appointments in downtown that will be missed or severely delayed if we returned to NC. We tried to explain that this was an egregious waste of gasoline, time and resources. The dispatcher didn’t care – he must assert his authority and reprimand the driver.

So we returned to NC. When we arrived, I got off the bus to “have a few words” with the dispatcher. Of course, he spoke no English, or would not admit to speaking English. I asked for his supervisor’s mobile number, but, not surprisingly, it was turned off when I called. There were no English speakers available from the transport company to explain the rationale for why the bus had been turned around.

And the bus sat. Full of people with plans and destinations. The bus sat.

I eventually managed to get a seat on the 4:30pm bus to my neighborhood. The 3:30 shuttle bus, which had been brought back to NC was STILL SITTING THERE WHEN I LEFT AT 4:30pm.

I went to the transportation company’s website to lodge a complaint. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but when I clicked on the “Comment/Complaint” button I got a “404″ error. I had to laugh out loud. That pretty much sums it up.

Adventures in Stupidity – part 1

Filed under: How it works,What the...? — Kaddee @ 9:57 am

Techno-stupidity

I am frequently amazed to find that my “technical expertise” is substantially beyond that of others in my field (although the empirical evidence is vast), however I usually assume that the IT/ACT/Tech people know more about the systems and software than myself. I have been proven wrong.

The university has changed its “Classroom Management System” from, the now defunct, WebCT® to Blackboard®. (While moving to a new campus, etc, etc, etc – just to make life that much more fun for faculty, staff and students) This has been a VERY STEEP learning curve for everyone, aided by the fact that none of us were given access to Bb or our courses until after the semester began. So here we are with new technology that we know nothing about, no FM to use even if we WANT to, and a heavy reliance by many of us on the technology for delivery of content and presentation within our courses. Sounds like a winning combo! LOL

Having used Bb prior to coming to Egypt, I have an ever-so-slight advantage. However the product has gone through many upgrades since I last used it.

I am managing a 20 section class (although not teaching in it) and asked the Bb specialist to make me a “designer” on the class site. This seemed like a reasonable request, it was eventually granted, and I busily removed much of the outdated information and simplified the exceedingly laborious pathways (4 or 5 “clicks”) to access files. I had been doing this for over a week, thinking that it was being seen by all parties in the course. I WAS WRONG. Only instructors could see the changes, and only in an “instructors only” course that no-one looks at.

So I went to the Bb specialist and asked why this was happening. I explained that I wanted to be able to post “Global” content that would go out to all sections. All I received in return was a blank stare, and the response, “That is not possible.”

After 30 minutes, 3 phone calls to higher and higher levels within the tech support office, and the incessant repetition of “That is not possible”, my head nearly exploded. The final result was that I was told that there is no technology to support what I want to do and given a look that said I must be smoking crack.

My final effort was to go to the Blackboard webpage to see what I could find. On the front page of their Higher Education section was a banner, “Streamline multiple sections for large courses”. HMMMMMMMM how interesting. When I clicked on that banner I got:

The Blackboard Content System streamlines managing multiple sections of a large course. For example, an instructor may create a learning object for use in 15 different sections of a large course. On most campuses today, that would mean creating 15 different files, one for each section. With the Blackboard Content System, the learning object is created and stored just once. The instructor then simply links to it from all 15 course sections. The result: more effective use of the instructor’s time. When the instructor wants to update the learning object, he or she does it in one place and only one time.

I don’t know if this is going to work – or if I can get the techies to believe it, but I’ve gotta try.

September 12, 2008

Gem or Coprolite?

Filed under: What the...? — Kaddee @ 4:19 pm

UNCHARACTERISTICALLY PESSIMISTIC RANT TO FOLLOW – READ AT YOUR OWN RISK

I am just past mid-week of the inaugural semester at AUC’s “Gem in the Desert” New Campus.  According to the university website, the New Campus is:

Built at a total cost of $400 million and spanning 260 acres, the new campus provides a world-class academic environment to the university community and offers state-of-the-art resources such as modern classrooms, lab and studios, and lecture halls to support the latest teaching methods, curricula and educational technologies.

I do not dispute the cost or size of the campus – however I must take umbrage at the rest of the description.  Especially as it indicates a fait accompli.

Upon arrival at the “world-class academic environment” on the first day of classes (7Sept08), I entered my “state-of-the-art” science department to find a construction zone.  Construction workers milled about ineffectually, wearing hardhats and safety vests.  The halls were filled with garbage, food left-overs from the workers and globs of plaster and dust.  Laboratories had no electricity or insufficient numbers of plugs or bare wires at junction boxes, no equipment in place, and were stacked waist-deep in boxes and construction materials.  The science departments have been asked to “postpone” teaching our laboratories until after the Eid – October 6th.

Is this how a “World-Class University” functions?

The lecture halls, touted to “support the latest teaching methods”, range from having no computers, projectors, or chairs for the students or professors to being fully technology ready.  Of the 140 “technology equipped, SMART classrooms” that were planned, 48 of them are functional for the first week of classes.  This is one of the “success stories” of the move, however I must point out that such a success rate is not a “passing grade” in most university classes.

If I just focus on “me and my world” – I have no office space and no functional lab.  I have been assigned a room, but it is still under construction, there is no electricity, no computer, no wireless access, no phone, no air conditioning, and the door does not lock.  All of my teaching and personal items that would normally be in an office are in boxes.  Said boxes are stacked in one of the non-functional labs, however I cannot access any of my belongings.

So – I am squatting in a friend’s office.  She has a door that locks, a computer and furniture.  Still no A/C, but I no longer have to carry my laptop with me everywhere I go.

In the long run (read 1 to 2 years from now), this campus will be gorgeous.  It usually takes the better part of a year to work out the “kinks” of any new construction.  The biggest problem for this campus is that we are on a site that IS NOT READY FOR USE YET.  The university is trying to function on a campus whose basic academic facilities and infrastructure are only partially completed.

Insisting on beginning this academic year with the new campus in it’s current state was ill-conceived and ill-advised.  The construction/moving schedule had already slipped by 2 YEARS, another semester would have been a wiser move than insisting that students and faculty “make it work” on a new campus that is only partially done.  But alas – we are there.  Administration is telling us to “do the best we can under the circumstances”.  I have to ask, “How do I teach university-level science classes without laboratories and basic facilities?”