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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Egypt Day 6: Alexandria - The City - The Meme - The Tee-Shirt

Itinerary Day 6:  Alexandria
"Once you have had your breakfast your guide will meet you and escort you to your air-conditioned vehicle for the day long trip to Alexandria. Upon arrival you will have the opportunity to visit the following sites: The Alexandria National Museum with Old ismalic, Coptic, pharaonic antiquities, Citadel of Qaitbay Montazah Gardens, Pompey’s Pillar and Serapeum, The Roman Amphitheater, The Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa. You will stop for lunch (optional) when the opportunity arises, Once the tour is over you will be driven back to your Cairo hotel."

Despite a longish drive and packed agenda, Adham counselled us that an early start would not be necessary for the Alexandria day trip.  Early morning fog closed the road to Alexandria for a couple hours the day before. Today's forecast was the same. After a leisurely and indulgent breakfast buffet, we hit the road and hit the fog shortly thereafter.

The road from Cairo to Alexandria is a busy major multi-lane thoroughfare that compares with any major interstate highway in the U.S. I understand the road was constructed, is owned and operated by the Egyptian Army. When they close this road, they back up a lot of traffic. No doubt to the joy of the operator of the coffee concession strategically located at the point the road is blocked.

We were only stopped for about an hour, but while this travel journal is stuck in virtual traffic, I'll beg the reader's indulgence on a digression and a bit of nostalgia.

I've been looking forward to this day as the name Alexandria has always held a magical reverence for me. This was in no small part due to Carl Sagan and the first episode of his 1980 series Cosmos, where he longingly describes the historical importance and meaning of the lost library of Alexandria:

Carl Sagan - The Great Library at Alexandria on Vimeo.

It is this idea of Alexandria, more so than the city itself that is so compelling.  The idea that at this time and place - over 2,000 years ago - the Alexandria library was a repository for the study and transmission of virtually all human knowledge. This is the place where modern, scientific thought supplanted mysticism and became the prism by which we strive to understand our universe.

The idea of Alexandria surfaced again in 1995 while I was working at Oracle Corporation. This time the romantic ideal of Alexandria was appropriated as a marketing tool. The mid-nineties were an inflection point in the communication of information. The "Information Highway" was being hyped and marketed by telcos, cable companies, media conglomerates, and technology companies like Oracle.

I managed a team selling to the Baby Bells. That year our team closed the biggest commercial software deal in the company's history to that point. Oracle and US West agreed to work on a partnership to build the infrastructure for a new repository of human knowledge - code named "Alexandria". Oracle CEO Larry Ellison described it in a contemporaneous interview for the Smithsonian Oral History Archive:
"We've named our project the Alexandria Project; it is the digital rebirth of the great library at Alexandria that was destroyed a long time ago. The goal of the Alexandrian Greeks was simply to collect all of the books, all of the histories, all of the great literature, all of the plays, all of the mathematical and scientific treatises of the age and store them all in that one building; to take the sum total of mankind's knowledge and make it available in one place. And they came very, very close to achieving that. In fact, at one point, they had about a half a million volumes. After the library was destroyed in the 5th century, 500 years later, the largest library had less than 1,000 volumes. It took a long time before we could claim a library of equal endowment. The New York Public Library is larger than the Alexandria Library, but, even today, there are very, very few libraries that have anything like the collection at Alexandria nearly 2,000 years ago.   
I think we have the same ambition as the Alexandrian Greeks. And, of course, the world is much wealthier today in terms of knowledge in science and mathematics and literature. We've been around a lot longer. So the library is much more extensive. Buts it's not only a textual library, it's an audio library, with wonderful music; it's a video library, with documentaries as well as the latest hit motion picture. All of it, everything; all forms of media will be stored in the digital library. And this time you won't have to travel to Alexandria to get it. 
Not only will we warehouse the information, but we'll also distribute the information democratically across the world, to whomever has requisite communicational law and whomever is in sight of a satellite. So this information, again, will be collected, stored and made generally available. And it's not a far-out dream. It is not media hype. It is real. It is certain to happen.  In fact, when the information highway finally arrive - or, I would say 10 or 20 years after it arrived - people will have a hard time remembering what life was like before its arrival. Most certainly it will change everything." - Larry Ellison - 1995
Well, the "Information Highway" did arrive. And it is now 20+ years later. And it has changed everything. But the new virtual Alexandria library is not housed exclusively in an Oracle database nor delivered exclusively via the US West AT&T network (although both organizations have pieces of the infrastructure).

I found that 1995 Larry Ellison quote about the "new Alexandria" by hitting a few keystrokes on my phone, where the "new Alexandria" can now be accessed by anyone.  The biggest corporate database at the time was the AA Sabre system with about 100 gigbytes of data.  I downloaded about 100 gigabytes of photos and videos from this trip alone.

It was a fun time to be in tech. My sales team blew out our quota on that deal, I was Sales Manager of the year, and I also got a tee-shirt from the Product Marketing Manager for the Oracle Alexandria project. The guy was one of the most brilliant marketeers I've ever met. His name was Marc Benioff. Not sure whatever happened to him. Anyway, it's still my favorite tee-shirt. Oracle on one sleeve, US West on the other, Alexandria written on the front, and a large iconic Egyptian hawk graphic on the back.  I wore it all day during our tour in Alexandria.

Some pictures from the day:

 The misnamed Pompey's Pillar in Alexandria

Some friendly locals wanted a picture with us, we don't know why.
The Catacombs of Kom El Shoqafa:

Alexandria Street Scenes:

This might be a candidate for San Francisco's F-Line

The Roman Auditorium / Lecture Halls at Kom el-Dikka:

The Citadel of Qaitbay:

Another long day. Another great day. And a sunset over the Nile delta as we head back to Cairo.

Editors Note: I intend to pre-load and schedule automated blog posts with the daily itinerary for our Egypt and Jordan adventure. For those interested, this may be an easy way to follow along. Internet access is always a crapshoot. My hope is that by pre-loading the itinerary it will be easier to add some pics and journal commentary as time and the internet permits. If there are no pics or commentary, you'll just have to wait until we get back. Further!

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