Build Better Software By Going Farther Together

Originally published at Traackr Engineering.

TL;DR: Growing up in an immigrant community in the New York Metro area, you never think the unique, random, and crazy experiences you have in such a setting could have a direct impact on your career in tech, until it does. And I’ve learned many lessons, and here’s one of them. If you get out of your own way, you along with your team, will accomplish great things.

Growing up, my family was quite plugged into a faith community that comprised mostly of recent immigrants to the United States from Egypt. Most of the non-liturgical music generated by the community was geared towards the ears and culture of those who immigrated here. I was part of a different generation, born in the USA, but very much Egyptian. It was very difficult to relate to some of the art and music that had been imported and shared with us.

By the time I got to high school, I had different ambitions than my peers. While most kids were out there being kids, I had felt a deep responsibility to help create art that we could connect with. After a few attempts, my work was often dismissed as dissenting, and non-adherent to our traditions. I stayed persistent, despite doors (sometimes literally) being closed in our faces. Despite the initial rejection by community leaders, our work was getting recognition. The youth of the New York/New Jersey metro area started to know and enjoy our music.

Making A Record


In college I had a new vision: an album. My hope was that it would be an album that would embody the values and essence of our traditions, while connecting them with the creation of something original that our generation could resonate with. I wanted to send a message that even though a ton of art and music was handed to us, that we could be empowered to become creators of art and music, ourselves!

I found an excellent team of like-minded individuals. We sought funding, and eventually partnered with a local church who liked our idea. They offered to bankroll an album, in exchange for inventory. This did mean however, that I did not have complete creative control over the outcome. (dun.dun.dunnnnn!)


While most of our ideas were welcomed, quite a few were met with concern. I was often asked to hold back, edit, or even omit, for the sake of not rocking the boat too much. I had to make a choice, was I going to “compromise” on our vision, or was I going to trust this collaboration with an outside partner? This partner was older, a lot more experienced, and had a perspective that was a lot broader than my own. He knew intimately the ins-and-outs of our community, across multiple generations. He obviously believed in me enough to work with me, but seemed to restrict what we were trying to create for reasons I couldn’t understand at the time.

There were moments I really wanted to lead and just create, yet felt like I had to be a team player, and there were a lot of reluctant compromises.

Unexpected Outcomes


We powered through, and the record was produced. The end result surprised me, and was beyond what I could have imagined: two sold-out printings, and an east coast tour that lasted four years. In 2001, I even got a phone call from office of the Ambassador from Egypt to the United States. On behalf of His Excellency, the office invited us to perform at a gathering of dignitaries and officials from all over the world, at an event honoring the music of Egypt. It was pretty incredible and completely unexpected!


But aside from all this “big stuff” that I’m mentioning, it was the people-impact that mattered most to me. We met and received letters from youth all around the world, with stories about how our work had impacted them, or encouraged others to follow suit and create music of their own.

I am convinced that had it been all up to me, and my direction alone, we would not have had the impact we experienced. Another way to say this: if we did this alone, we would have had total creative freedom. But at the same time, we may have never had reached such broad audience. I was satisfied, although there was less “getting my way” and more “getting out of my own way”.

Ok, great. You may be reading this, and thinking “what on earth does this have to do with building software?” and my answer is: “Everything.”

“Don’t Throw The $necessary Out With The $unnecessary”


As a hot-headed 21 year old, although I was commitment to achieve something for my community, there was a blurred line between the overall desired outcome and the means to achieving that outcome. Art is highly personal. Making the art is as much of a goal as the outcome. If there was a particular song that was going to be cut from the record, or a direction that needed editing, I didn’t always handle it gracefully. I nearly quit the project until my mentor told me, “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”. I had no idea what he was talking about. Once it was explained to me, I thought that was the weirdest metaphor ever.

But if you replace baby and bathwater, with the necessary/unnecessary thing of your choosing, the lesson starts to take shape. I was given a choice, if I stayed in this partnership, would the vision still be achieved? As I looked around, and saw how much freedom we actually had, was I willing to throw the whole project out the window because of 1 or 2 cut songs? I eventually decided to trust, and to refocus my attention on the goal, and preserve the relationship through the details. Had I disengaged, or quit, I would have missed out on something huge. The proverbial baby would have been lost.

That piece of advice kept me in the game, but the actual lesson I needed to learn was one that has to do with the importance of “us” over “me”. It’s the fact that if I’m working on something with a group of people, it’s more important for us to be aligned than for each of us to do things their own way.

But, I’m an Artist and I Cannot Be Stifled!


They say that building software is an art. And there are a ton of similarities between those who make art, and those who write software. Unlike the building of a car or a house, where there are clear specifications for how each part comes together, building software retains the imprint of the developer. Even with strict team standards, the developer’s personal style finds its way into the code. By looking at a piece of code, I can usually tell who on my team wrote it. It’s why we say that we “write” software as opposed to “assemble” or “manufacture” it.

When Being Skilled Isn’t Enough


Unless you’re one of the unicorns of 1-2 person teams, who get acquired by multi-billion dollar corporations, it usually requires more than 1 or 2 engineers to create something that can see the light of day. Our VP of Engineering has a saying, “Software is a people endeavor”. We build software together. “Together” would mean, a group of people who have spent various durations of time (from months to decades) perfecting their craft, each with their own sense of “the right way” to do something.

Looking back at the production of that record, yes I had the skills and the expertise, but our partner had a much deeper understanding of our community I was serving. His perspective helped pave a way for this new thing to take root and land on listening ears. Together, we were able to create something that was familiar enough to be mostly* accepted, however different enough to challenge, inspire, and spark conversations among communities in our diaspora. Smart and talented people can accomplish some amazing things, but only if they’re aligned. Make no mistake, getting alignment is challenging.

* Actually, we got banned in one of the dioceses. I received a letter from a well-respected Bishop, telling me that our music was not allowed in any of the churches in his geography. While that may seem like a setback, at the time it reminded me that we didn’t keep it too safe. 

Letting Go: Side-Effects May Include…


Getting on the same page as a group, requires individuals to give up a degree of control. This is required when building software as a team. Usually, letting-go is usually met with the acceptance that comes with being a professional. But software engineering often attracts people who put so much of themselves into their work. Because of this, letting-go can be met in with the following emotional responses:

  • Frustration: Often times, including myself, I’ve witnessed engineers be frustrated when a particular course of action, or even a pull request, is not approved, or requires changes that would move the outcome in a completely different direction. You think to yourself, ”would the Sistine Chapel been what it was today had Michaelangelo been ruled by a committee?” Righteous indignation takes over, or maybe it’s the blow against one’s ego that can happen when work is challenged in its current state. Been there? I know I have.
  • Apathy: Tables aren’t flipped, but hands are up in the air. (And I don’t mean this celebratory emoji 🙌.) Apathy leads to detaching from both the work and the goal. While the impact of this is not immediate as the previous item, it does make teams vulnerable to morale being slowly chipped away. This will have long-term and debilitating effects.
  • Acceptance: There are others, however, who can remain detached enough from their work, but see it as part of a collective, and will welcome changes and advice, because ultimately, there’s a shared trust in the team, and a strong commitment to what the team is trying to achieve.

But Don’t Follow Blindly


We have to be aligned to make great things happen. And alignment means letting go. That’s not to say that blood doesn’t get spilled, or tears won’t flow. That should happen with a team of experienced individuals, however, there’s a mutual respect and striving for what’s best, collectively. And this sort of refinement by an engineer and their peers, can lead to some great outcomes. (I’m not advocating for decisions by consensus, but that’s another blog entry.)

As engineers who work on teams, we have to constantly manage an important balance. It’s one between what each of us brings based on our individual experiences, convictions, and baggage, with the roles we’re assigned, with the goals of the organizations we work for. Now there’s absolutely a place to draw some hard lines, and offer non-negotiables, when you see a particular course of action is going to put the big goal at risk. Those should be rare occurrences. Be sure you understand the difference between risks to the goal, vs. risks to the way you want to do things.

But There Is Hope: Some Helpful Tips


Having trouble letting-go? Like my experience with making music, and my experiences in the present: here are some strategies that help me do just that:

  • Focus on the goal: The shared goal you and your team have, should be one that you really believe in. If you’re not on board with the goal, you may want to reconsider your employment situation. But let’s assume you’re still on board with what your team is trying to achieve. Having a larger goal that drives you is extremely important for satisfaction in one’s career. That goal has to sit a step beyond how you write code. Commit to a goal and it will  help you entertain other possibilities of achieving it. This will make it possible to let go and try things a different way.
  • Make it about the work: Don’t take things personally! It’s not about you, and most of the time, your team isn’t focused on you, it’s about the work. By having the discipline to not take things personally, you allow your team to challenge you, and then it builds trust that allows you to challenge your team. Because collectively you care about the same thing, the work.
  • Get a hobby: Ok, so your team has a norm of doing very strict test-driven development. (I’ve been on such a team, before.) The engineering lead wants to see the tests written out before a single line of code is written. What a drag, right? You love building software by running and gunning it. So do that! Just don’t do it at work. By having interests and outlets outside of what you’re doing at work, allows you to get go of things that may be very personal to how you work, because you have other areas in life where you get to do these things. You can let go of the small stuff, so you and your team can work better together to achieve the big stuff!

Parting Words


Decades later, I barely remember the things I argued about while making that album. I value the music we made and the things we achieved so much more than what we had to lose. I tell this to all my fellow engineers out there who find themselves sometimes frustrated.  In the constant negotiation and struggle, we hope to make each other become better engineers and help refine our individual an collective crafts. By staying committed to a bigger picture, we give ourselves a better chance to achieving the things we want to. And it goes back to an old proverb that has come across my path time and time again: alone, we can move quickly, but together, we can go far.

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Remembering “Uncle Mak”

10 years ago, the world lost a great man.  To most people, he was Dr. Makram Issa Gobrail, but to me he was my Uncle Mak. There’s not a moment in my (strangely precise and photographic) memory of a period in my life where he wasn’t in it; until of course, when he suddenly left us, after a faithful but difficult battle against liver cancer.  There are many stories and lessons I’ve learned through the duration of his illness that have had a huge impact on my life, some of which I’ve shared with others, and some I’ve chosen to keep for myself. About 7 months before he left us, I had my “Tuesdays With Morrie” adventure with him, as we traveled together across the ocean, to Alexandria, Egypt, where he spent time with our family; it was sort of the farewell tour, if you will.  I look back at this decision to join him on this tour, as a validation that when opportunities come, you must seize and cherish them, because in cases like this, opportunities do not come back around.

On this, the 10 year anniversary of his passing, I remember what was the most joyous but bittersweet family reunion that we had when we all met in Alexandria, and I hope a small glimpse of this reunion, through photos, can help share some of the love we all felt being together in that far away place.

My love and prayers are continually with my Aunt Barbara, his wife and partner, my cousin Jim and his wife Jenny and their beautiful children and all those whose lives he’s touched and transformed through his kindness, service, faithfulness, loyalty and good humor. You didn’t have to be his blood to call him Uncle Mak, as many folks reading this will attest to. As I know is true for my family, I will never, ever, stop missing him.

 

 

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Keep That Old iPhone! DIY Media Console

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My downfall as a Pisces is that I have an inherit and sometimes misguided belief that given the resources / knowledge I can develop something better than anything that’s on the market… at least that’s what I tell myself. And I’ve taken myself up on this very notion in the past: lighting, desktop computers, home recording setups, even ramen, once ;) So when I am able to connect the dots between devices and ideas, and I actually have the tools to do it, you better believe I jump on such ideas. And so goes my idea to re-use my old iPhone 6 after Apple decided it would torture me into upgrading to an iPhone X with it’s maddening slowness with the iOS11 upgrade.

The Plan

Create a controller for all my music as a means to play music in any speaker in my house.

The Tools / Ingredients

1 iPhone with iOS11
1 Macbook running iTunes with Home Sharing turned on, running the latest OS
1 Bluetooth Speaker (in my case I have 2: Amazon Echo in my kitchen, and a Smart Lightulb / Bluetooth Speaker on my back deck)

The Approach

See the diagram below as a summary of the plan I have in place:

  • Laptop has all the music

  • iPhone is simply a controller which reads all the MP3s from my Laptop via Apple Home Sharing in iTunes.

  • If I can play the music on the phone, I can choose a speaker

  • Set up a few BlueTooth and Wireless Speakers

  • Play music from my iPhone and transmit it to the speaker(s) of my choice

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Since my phone only holds 64G, and I have a 250G music collection, I decided to leave my phone completely empty and have all my music served via Apple iTunes Home Sharing from my laptop (which is always on and connected) to my phone.  My phone will then transmit the music via AirPlay or BlueTooth to the speakers of my choice.

Phase 1: Media Server Setup

This is the easy part, make sure all your music is loaded into iTunes on a computer that is more or less stationary in your house.  You’ll want this computer to be on 24/7 so you have access to your music always.  If you rather keep all the music on your phone, then you may skip ahead to Phase 2.

  • Make sure you have iTunes installed

  • Make sure you’re upgraded to the last OS, often times if devices aren’t talking to each other it’s because you’re required to be up to date to the latest version of the software or operating system

  • Turn Home Sharing on in iTunes

Phase 2: Phone Setup

Ok, so now what state should the phone be in to be a handy device for controlling music?  In my particular case I decided I wanted to wipe my phone, remove the SIM card, and set it up with only the bare minimum required to serve music.  I decided only a few apps were required:

  • iTunes:  This is a necessity if I want to serve my own music.  I’m a big believer in owning music and I have 250 gigs of music I’ve mostly paid for over the years, or I’ve acquired from friends.  My music collection is extremely important to me, so I rely on this for joy and sanity.

  • Pandora: For when I’m not in the mood for curating and I want to be surprised with something new, I’ll turn to my favorite Pandora stations

  • Spotify: I’m on a family plan with a friend of mine and a bunch of friends of hers.  She is the head of our Spotify family and we are all her harem of Spotify husbands, and of course I’m both her favorite Spotify husband and also her biggest regret. Since upgrading to this family plan, I’ve been able to take full advantage of this service, and I’m really enjoying it!

  • SoundCloud: I’m a composer and I follow other composers on this platform.  I want to be able to listen to the music from this platform

  • EaveScrob / QuietScrob:  I’m a Last.FM user and you’ll notice I have a little widget on my blog that tells you in realtime what i’m listening to. This app enables this integration.  You can read about this on your own here.

App Organization

I wanted a look and feel that was pretty minimal.   My approach:

1. All music apps go in the dock

2. All apps I cannot delete go on page 2

3. Choose a cool background image for the wallpaper

(see Page 1 and 2 below, respectively)

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Very important: Make sure your phone is also configured for iTunes Home Sharing under the same account.

Phase 3: Test Computer / Phone Connection

At this point if you open iTunes on your phone, you should have access to your Computer’s music library.  If you’re not going to take this approach you can skip to Phase 4.  At this point if you are unable to see your Computer’s library, you may need to have debug this on your own. There are a ton of articles on the subject.

Phase 4: Test Your Speakers

Whether you are getting music from your laptop, or you’re streaming from one of your favorite music services, this is the point where you’ll have to test to make sure you can talk to your different speakers.  Depending on the speakers you have set-up, every vendor has their own way of getting music from an iPhone to that speaker.  For both my Amazon Echo and my outdoor speaker, I can easily switch speakers, using the iOS audio output switcher:

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Phase 5: Positioning and Encasing

This is a very important part of the whole operation.  Where is this thing going to live?  The idea is that it’s in a permanent place in your house, and accessible as easy as a light fixture.  For me, I decided (well, my Spotify wife decided) that it should go above the kitchen light, and I thought it was a brilliant idea. Light is a basic necessity for operating in life, and I would say music is a close second.  I also wanted the device in proximity to my BlueTooth speakers (proximity isn’t really an issue with WiFi as I have a mesh network setup in the house).

Now to make this thing look official, I wanted to get a wall mount for my phone. Sure I could use some electrical tape, but that wouldn’t look as nice, would it? I came across a company called newPCGadgets, and they specialize in making various gadgets for computers including housings for iPhones and iPads for use at conferences and other professional events.  This particular product was perfect for what I had in mind! When speaking with the business owner over the phone, he reassured me that I wasn’t some sort of genius and there was nothing original about this idea that I’m writing about. After I recovered from the ego-blow of having my bubble burst, I continued on with the project, and attached my phone to the acrylic case sent to me and I attached it to the wall with damage-free velcro (in case I decided I wanted to move it around, which I will, I’m sure).

Phase 6: Let There Be Music!  

And that’s pretty much it, my inaugural run, of course, was none other than the great Abdel Halim Hafez, the Frank Sinatra of Egypt. And as the sounds of Ahwak filled my kitchen and dining room, I felt pretty good about how I spent a few hours on a Saturday.  I thought it was then time to give some props to my very talented friend, and fellow Noon Project artist, Alec Martini, who just released some music, and listened to his latest on my system.

Remember, kids: Recycle + Reuse!  While this may not be Sonos, this seems to be a lot more versatile a system, cross compatible with BlueTooth and WiFi compatible devices, and you know what? I’m pretty damn happy with how it turned out!

Any questions? Feel free to hit me up in the comments or in my website’s contact form!

 

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Challenging The Impossibility of Coexistence

As the 2016 New Year rolled in, I found myself in the home of the lead singer of a pop-alternative band from NYC, along with around twenty other musicians from various backgrounds and creeds, many of whom had not known each other before that night. After sharing a meal together, we dove into some challenging dialogue, trading stories of authentic connection and the struggle. Just one hour before, we were strangers, but amidst the storytelling and spontaneous jam sessions, the sounds of jazz-piano and 90s R&B a-cappella became a catalyst for new camaraderie. I knew I had caught a glimpse of something really special, and it was the sort of magic that can happen when curiosity, creativity, and compassion come together. On the surface, it looked like a pretty dope party, but really, something bigger was going on. These were the artists of the Noon Project, a musical collaboration of global artists working together to raise support for victims of ethnic and religious oppression in the Middle East. But our story starts a year ago, on a beach in Libya, whose coastline tragically became stained with innocent blood.

On February 15th 2015, ISIS broadcasted a video depicting the beheading of 21 Coptic men on the Libyan shores of the Mediterranean Sea because they were Christian and would not convert to radical Islam. Being a Coptic man, I saw 21 of “my own” lined-up along the shore, wearing orange jumpsuits, kneeling, heads down, silent but strong. I saw not only 21 men, but also a piece of our very nature as humans on the execution block. Seeing my own family in the faces of the 21, people who also left Egypt for their livelihood. After the initial emotions subsided and the dust settled, a few of us, armed not with weapons, but with our voices and our minds, came together with an idea to use art to draw attention to the plight of oppressed peoples, and find a way to support them in a practical way. This was the moment that sparked the birth of The Noon Project later that year. Many told me this was a bad idea—not because they disagreed with the mission, but rather due to the challenges such a project could involve. Despite the pushback, we believe our approach is the only way to save humanity from self-destruction.

The project didn’t start out with such a challenging mission. In fact, it was quite safe. The initial approach was to find Middle-Eastern artists to make music that will help Middle-Eastern victims of oppression. Makes sense, right? However it wasn’t long before I began to feel that this approach was short-sighted. While it is perfectly natural to have Assyrians, Chaldeans, Copts, Shia, Kurds and Yazidi helping out their own kind, there is something problematic about this strategy. This problem wasn’t apparent to me until I began talking about The Noon Project with some close and trusted friends who didn’t share the same cultural ties to the suffering as I do.

One friend in particular challenged me with the idea of creating a project where the team and the end product represent the kind of world we want to live in, one in which all voices are invited to the table; not just the ones representative of those we wanted to help. My initial reaction: Yes! Wait, no! My friend was calling out to a part of me that he himself knows well, because we share these ideals. But despite the growing fire in my heart, I resisted. I knew he was challenging me to do things that would make people uncomfortable, and while my 20-something year old self would relish the enjoyment of being provocative, my decade older self is no longer satisfied with actions for the sake of pushing other people’s’ buttons. I could hear the questions arise: Why would a Muslim want to sing on a record where the proceeds are helping victims of radical Islam? Is it possible for songs with Christian, Muslim, and Non-religious themes to share the same musical space? Why would a non-religious person get involved with helping the victims of religious persecution? In my own heart these questions were irrelevant. A record that brought everyone and every voice together made absolute sense to me, but, I just didn’t think it would be acceptable, or even palpable to others. So I politely set aside the challenge that I had almost taken up.

Soon, I was having conflicting thoughts would not rest. I began to see the world through a different lens, saturated and bleak; there seemed to be division in every aspect of life. Our country was more divided than I ever remember it being. Wars and riots erupted and continued to simmer, hatred persisted. I looked at the Noon Project and suddenly realized: if we don’t make this album inclusive, we might be creating yet another space where people will care about and fight for their own, but lack the space to exercise their empathetic muscles towards those different than them—a “silo of compassion.” And I didn’t have to go far, or wait too long to witness the effects of this silo.

Upon the news of the beheading of the 21 in Libya, my own social networks were flooded with a resounding cry for justice. The Coptic community was shouting to the world that this massacre was part of a greater story where Christian minorities in the Middle East live under constant threat of discrimination or worse fates. We shouted so that everyone would listen to us, that they would not only know what was happening, but that they would also care. United we stood, with our candle memes burning strong on our retina displays. But as we turn our eyes to the United States, where the country is facing a crisis, where young black men are the targets of racial injustice, the Coptic community as a whole becomes incredibly silent on the issue. Being victims of injustice ourselves, we should be the first to recognize when injustice exists, or at the very least have the empathy to relate, and possibly share our voices on the matter.

This behavior is not unique to the Coptic community by any means. We, as humans, do not naturally relate to the struggles of others whom we consider different than ourselves. It’s how we all operate. We focus on the struggles of those similar to us, and minimize, or sometimes ignore the struggles of another, and much of that has to do with our own limitations of airtime, resources, and perceived emotional capacity. You see, many of us share a collective vision for the world, one that involves people of all colors holding hands and singing songs of peace, but we cringe when it comes to what it might take to get there. But it feels like a form of hypocrisy for those who have experienced injustice to knowingly or unknowingly withhold compassion from others who are experiencing it themselves. This behavior contends that my struggle, and therefore my existence, is more important than yours, rather than acknowledging our shared human identity.

It is not my intention to minimize the difficulty of such a task. There are reasons for the separation between people. There has always been enough evil, violence, and greed in the world, that separation in some cases had become necessary for the survival of some. But is this a sustainable model? These were the concerns that I wrestled with for a long time, and which eventually led to a change we had to make in the Noon Project.

While we would maintain our goal of helping persecuted minorities in the Middle East, we decided to open up our doors and invite artists and collaborators from all backgrounds, faiths, and ethnicities to participate in the making of this record. While the Noon Project first and foremost exists as an attempt to grant justice to those who have been stripped of their own, we took on a very important secondary goal: to be a model of coexistence in a divided world.

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The idea was that if we could bring people together from different backgrounds, and invite them to share their own experiences through music and art, then there would be dialogue, inquiry, and new understanding. I am happy to report that this vision is becoming a reality! On January 2nd, 2016, we had our 2nd Noon Artists gathering for NYC, where local bands and solo artists who have made submissions for the record came together to share a night of community and dialogue. At this gathering we began having these very conversations, and many were exposed to stories, and perspective they had not encountered before. Even if this experiment in empathy reaches only as far as within the community of artists working on this project, it could be a small but powerful shift and one that we hope can radiate outwards. We aren’t setting out to change the world, but we are determined to be an example for what is possible when a group of people create something together while recognizing the common thread of humanity connecting them.



What is our response to #‎BlackLivesMatter, the Syrian refugee crisis, the multiple attacks on Paris over the last year, the growing anti-Muslim sentiment in America, the attack against Christians, Muslims, Yazidi, and Kurds in Iraq, the growing suicide and homeless rate of LGBT American teens, and the barriers of education to young women in many parts of Africa? If empathy is a resource, how rich are we? Will we continue to only acknowledge the struggles of our “own kind,” or can we begin to open hearts to our neighbor and begin to see ourselves in them? Maybe then we can begin to shed this illusion of an “us vs. them world” and can start to experience something far better. And this is why our project is built on this foundation.

Unless we model coexistence in a radical way, there is no war, no revolution, nor any amount of political correctness that can actually move the needle of humanity towards peace.


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Follow the Noon Project on Facebook and Instagram

Are you a musician and share in our vision? Apply for a spot on our record!

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10 Ways To Change TheWorld





1. Invest in Education


Education is a human right that is often treated as a privilege. When my friends and I started Seeds For Hope, we had a dream to provide access to those if given just a small chance, could change their world, and the world around them.



Angela’s story, above is just an example of how education can turn a life around. It’s not just about earning a degree, but the confidence that is instilled in a person through their achievements will last them the rest of their lives.

2. Connect Young People to the Arts



Music, poetry, dance, theater: are all mediums for self and collective expression. Joy, pain, sorrow, fear, and celebration are all expressed through the arts. Young people are often not shielded from the tragedies of this world, and art can be an outlet, and a tool for youth, to work through their experiences. SFH’s Arts for Life program, connects arts professionals with Kenyan schools, in order to use music, art, poetry and theater to teach skills, and help deal with the challenges of the world around. The video above is the result of one of these workshops. “You Might Think” is a powerful piece were students expressed in their own words their true identity vs. the way others may look at them.

3. Get out and see the world!



You can only learn so much about the world around you from books, magazines, and reality TV. There are many misunderstandings between people in the developing world and people in the west. Despite our access to social media, you can only go so far with a tweet. SFH connects students with others abroad, through volunteer programs and workshops. The collaborations and dialogue that result from these programs encourage understanding, compassion, and a greater sense of our connectedness on this planet. The video above is a short film about one such collaboration between a NYC rock musician, and a girls school in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya. Watch the trailer above, or the entire mini-documentary, to see how this collaboration impacted everyone involved.

4. Invest locally



Investing in students through a scholars program is just one part of the equation. It’s important to invest in local organizations, in order to see a sustainable changes in a landscape. Local organizations have the most effective means to impact a community. They have the history, network, and most importantly, the relationships, in order to make change happen! Seeds For Hope also invests in local organizations who possess a model for sustainable growth and positive impact in their communities. Kibera Girls Soccer Academy is just one of these organizations, where our initial seed funding helped launch the school to great heights. Learn more about our partners here.

5. Be loyal. Foster relationships.



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While we have over 200 alumni of our SFH Scholars Fund, for us, education and scholarship is not a numbers game. We are a small organization, having large impact in the lives of individuals. One of the things our students have told us that have made the most difference, is that we have committed to each one through the duration of their academic program. Not just on an organizational level, but even as volunteers, donors, we give a little then depart, which sometimes is the only thing we are able to do, with the demands of life. But making a conscious choice to invest in an organization or individual for the long run, we leave the realm of “charity” and enter into the realm of interdependence and mutual respect, which is so much more transformative than any hand out can ever be. When we invest in a student, we don’t just commit to them for a single term or year, but rather, once a student is granted a scholarship, we are committed to them for the duration until they complete that particular level of schooling. With each of our students, we offer guidance and mentorship and other support, so that all barriers to the learning process can be removed in an effort to increase their chances at success. Learn more about how we work with our scholars.

6. Invest In Career Oriented Programs


Survival based employment is a common way of life for many young people. In places like Kenya, young people will drop out of school as young as 12 years old, to begin working as a day laborer, to earn pennies for hours of work. With education being costly past primary school, families would rather have their children work than continue their education. Many charities out there, will help teach young people skills that are not marketable outside of large factory environments. Having hard skills is important for income, but career oriented programs are all about the big picture.


Our scholars are encouraged to not only do well and complete their education, but in addition, know themselves and discover their dreams, so that when they finish, they can begin following them.


80% of our grads have moved away from this mindset of employment as a survival technique but rather, have put themselves on career paths towards making their dreams come true.

7. Invest in girls FIRST.



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There is a saying that when you educate a girl, an educated girl becomes an educated woman, and an educated woman, can become an educated mother, and an educated mother will have educated children, which leads to the transformation of a family, a community, and even a whole society. Seeds for Hope gives priority to young women. In the developing world, women are very much at risk, and at the same time, crucial to the eradication of dependence and poverty.


Education is a gift that continues to give. Many of our scholars will have the ability to put their own siblings and children into school because of their ability to increase their income. What happens is, a family becomes no longer reliant on charity but is now self sustaining. Educating one person can lead to freedom for a whole number of people. Because Our program leads to graduates being proactive in the lives of others breaking the cycle of poverty and dependence.

8. Invest in small businesses


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Investing in community groups and local businesses can achieve longterm economic empowerment through income generating activities that are locally owned and lead. Syana Nzeo (which means Good Children in Kikamba) is a group of elderly caregivers caring for 150 AIDS orphans in the Ukambani province in Kenya. In 2012, They approached us to set up a poultry business that could sustain the educational costs of their children. It proved to be very successful and this business supports education and other household expenses until today! Read more about it on our blog.



9. Invest in programs that promote education on relational and sexual health.





Despite our modern access to information, young people all over the world are still at a crossroads in the decisions they have to make, regarding their relationships and themselves. HIV is still an epidemic in many parts of the world, where young people don’t have all the information they need, that can protect them. When a young person is educated in the realm of sexuality and relationships, they get a better understanding of how to take care of themselves and their partners.

10. Remind a young person that they CAN make a difference



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Through 11 years of working with SFH, one thing that we noticed most, is that our scholars are now part of a generation of people who want to influence the coming generation of dreamers; many of our scholars will volunteer and mentor current students in the program. Read about some of our scholars, as they describe these transformations in their own words. We see clearly that investing in education not only changes the course of an individual’s life, but creates a ripple effect from the student to the world around them.








Seeds For Hope is a 501©3 Non-Profit organization, registered in the United States and Kenya, whose mission is to promote holistic development among underserved children and youth in Kenya through integrated health and social programs that expand access to education, health services and economic opportunity transforming them, their households and their communities at large.


Our vision is for a world where access is a right, not a privilege!

Help us make a difference!


We are competing for a grant with Microsoft, the Upgrade Your World campaign. Cast your votes on Twitter mentioning @seedsforhope with #UpgradeYourWorldKE and #Vote.. We’ve created some great tweets for you here: http://seedsforhope.org/2015/09/13/11-reasons-to-vote-sfh-for-upgradeyourworldke/


You can also make a tax-deductible donation here: http://seedsforhope.org/donate



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Hacking Ebola

Not your typical Friday. Back from a sushi dinner, long overdue, with a close friend. And I’m remembering the first thing I saw on my computer this morning when I opened Chrome:Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 10.22.50 PM

 

My trusty Momentum Chrome Extension was quite adept  in forecasting the course of my day, first of all, with a photo of the Bay Area, the only photo from US soil I’ve seen in weeks, and then the quote by Margaret Mead which reads:

“Never underestimate the ability of a small group of dedicated people to change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Nothing could have been more appropriate or prophetic for what was to lay in store for me that evening.   At 5pm, in a conference room in downtown Oakland, I sat in a room with a lawyer, a technical leader, a healthcare professional, a design thinker, a freelance engineer, a biotech hardware engineer, a techno-cultural community organizer, a marketer, an investor, all brought together by what I would describe as a renaissance man, musician and technolgist, CEO and Founder of Feykena, Dwalu Khasu.  Who has a razor sharp determination to accomplish one goal with this small group of individuals: Eradicate Ebola from the planet.    I’ve never in my life participated in the discussion around something so grand, however I was not overwhelmed, but completely and utterly inspired.    In a few weeks, the plan is to hold a Hackathon in San Francisco, to create practical, and innovative solutions to the various concerns of people on the ground: healthcare workers, those infected, and those who are not.    While Silicon Valley remains silent,  and CEO’s wives pour money into the CDC, there is a small meeting of the minds, but these are not just any regular people, but I felt I was sharing a room with giants.  The brain power, passion, compassion, resources, and influence in this room, just humbled me.

I hear the voice of Boromir: One does not simply walk into Mordor.

One of the very first things that needs to happen, is to change the narrative, stop the fear mongering, and become a voice of calm and reason, and where we can: help and educate.   Keep your eyes peeled, I’m not sure where this is going, but the call has been answered.

This kind of irreverent boldness is necessary in times of crisis.

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MIDI, Time-Travel, and the Simpsons

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I just had an esoteric experience.

Let’s rewind to 1994.  It was a cool autumn night, or maybe it was summer, who really knows?   As a 16 year old, I was obsessed with orchestration, arrangements, and composition…  you know…  like most other 16 year olds.    I would often sit with a piece of music, and try to hear each instrument and learn each part.  Sure, I could have just gotten the sheet music, but this was more fun. It was a way to train my ear, and see how close I can get to the composer’s original vision.  It taught me a lot about composing, orchestration, as well as song-writing.

Obsessed with The Simpsons, it was only a matter of time, I did the same thing with the hit TV-show’s infectious theme music by Danny Elfman.

Well, mission accomplished!  I listened to that song till my ears bled, and figured out as many of those whole-step runs as I possibly could, and saved the results to a MIDI file, to be played with pride on my then brand new Korg X3, which had decent enough orchestra sounds, for 1994.  And MIDI being the resilient format that it is, is still very much relevant 20 years later in 2014, when I found this file and decided to give it some new life.

It was like entering a collaboration with my 16 year old self, negotiating, learning from, and adding to.  And the result is what we have here, same MIDI file, a couple of additions, piped through MachFive+VSL to give it some new life, uploaded to SoundCloud ever immortalized by the inter-webs.

Special thanks to my good buddy Peter Mansour, for taking time this Saturday and laying down Lisa’s breaking-out-of-the-school-walls with her heart wrenching solos, (but this time on the alto sax)

This goes out to all the Simpsons fans, musicians, and time travelers.

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