Monday, February 28, 2005

Hemlock Pickard

No, not the Captain of the Starship Enterprise. I'm talking about the behemoth that makes my printers. I know they make some other stuff too, but I don't own any of that so I can't comment on it. But for sure, HP is a company that has lost its way. The recent dismissal of Carly Fiorino has nothing much to do with it.

My first HP purchase was 3 or 4 years ago. I wanted a new printer and a new scanner. The guy in the shop pointed me at a fairly substantial machine. A thing called an 'all-in-one'. It was, he said, a printer, scanner and colour photocopier. All in one machine and at a very attractive price. I said I would buy it if it worked with Windows 2000. He pointed to a big yellow sticker on the box that proclaimed it did do that. So I got it home, set it up, and Windows 2000 absolutely refused to have nothing to do with the damn thing. It's a PSC500, by the way. I still have it, and it works fine with WinXP.

I got onto the local service agent who insisted that I bring the machine to them (right across town they are, of course). I explained that it was not a physical problem with the machine, just a simple driver thing. But no, they could not do anything without having the machine in their grubby little hands. So, when I got there, I saw about 10 other PSC 500s huddled in a corner. The guy explained to me that some of these machines would work with Win2K, but others wouldn't - something to do with the internal chippery. HP's office in the Netherlands were working on a driver that would actually work and it would be ready 'any day now'. Yeah, right, bollocks. I have things to scan, stuff to print, and deadlines to meet. They actually loaned me a scanner while they kept my machine hostage.

The weeks went by, the driver was never written, and HP plummeted in my estimation. Eventually I got the machine back, and could use it only by installing Win98 on one of the machines in the office. Hah!

Years went by. HP bumbled its way into Compaq (one of the most insane 'mergers' I've ever heard about). Six months ago, BetterArf decided she wanted a printer at home, and decided to buy the baby brother of the behemoth, an HP PSC 1200. It's a wonderful little machine, really cheap, but with one really irritating flaw - it cannot pick up one sheet of paper - if you put 20 sheets in the tray, then it will grab the lot and squeeze them through the rollers. Not terribly efficient if you want to print multiple copies of something, and probably not very good for the machine either. I've heard it said that nobody makes money out of making printers, all the profit is in the ink cartridges that you have to keep on buying forever. I know someone who would throw away a printer when the ink ran out, and buy the latest model. I think HP are wise to this now - the cartridges supplied with the PSC 1200 were only about one-third full.

But the final straw came a few days ago when I read about a lawsuit against HP - someone is suing HP because they have allegedly coded an expiry date into their ink cartridges - no matter how long the carts you buy have sat on the shelf in the store, and no matter what amount of ink they contain, the printer will refuse to use them after a pre-determined time since manufacture. It's not as if we're talking about time-expired chickens here. You're not gonna die if your printer ink is out of date. It's all about greedy, money-grabbing extortion.

I doubt I'll ever buy anything else made by HP. So they'll go bust, won't they?

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Disappearing Bloggers

Another of my favourite bloggers (Legomen) has just upped and gone. That's the second in a fortnight! The previous one was Raised by Chaffinches, where the author had been writing (presumably unflatteringly) about one of his friends. Said friend had found out and was upset by it. Hmmm.

I'm still fairly new to this blogging lark, having been doing it for only about six months. So I don't know if it is typical that people get fed up after a couple of years and just pack it in. Or maybe these shutdowns are related to fears about job security .

I have read a few bits and pieces where bloggers have described the various phases of bloggery. You start off keen, and publish your entire life story in the first month. Then you settle down a bit, talk about the weather and what you bought at the shops today. Then maybe you get bored and your posts become less frequent. Maybe your life gets a bit more interesting (because you are spending less time blogging), so you blog about it some more.

There's a lot of tosh talked about blogs, especially the journalism aspect. It is true that blogging is a new form of journalism, but only in the literal sense of keeping a journal. To think that it can replace newspapers and broadcast news, as some pundits have claimed, is utter garbage. True, if you are a blogger on the spot when some great catastrophe occurs - the Asian tsunami is a case in point - then you have a channel to instantly tell the world what's happening. You might even get your fifteen minutes of fame. But the great majority of blogs are not about news.

Anyhoo, time to update my Blogroll.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Secret Holiday

BetterArf and I decided a few weeks ago that we really need to take a proper holiday this coming Easter / Spring Break. We've both been so tired and stressed that we'll probably die if we don't do it.

When it comes to organising travel I am Mr Last-Minute, so BetterArf volunteered to sort this one out. I was quite happy to be surprised (I used to hate surprises, but I'm a grown-up now).

So I was surprised when I got an email from the travel agent a few days ago, addressed to KeefieBoy and BetterArf, and giving full details of the itinerary for the proposed holiday. I didn't mention it to the boss because I wasn't supposed to know. Anyway, in the car this afternoon, she said that in view of certain recent unexpected and massive expenditure (I'll maybe tell you about it when we have left this country), we ought to think about scaling back the planned holiday and just go somewhere local.

'So Kenya's off, then?', say I. 'How did you know about Kenya?' says the boss. I explained about the errant email. 'Dang', she says, 'why didn't you tell me? I've been waiting for that for a week!' I said that I knew it was meant to be a surprise, so I thought it best to keep quiet about it. But I was surprised she'd not also had a copy of it.

BetterArf went on a conference in Nairobi a couple of years ago and raved about it, so I was actually quite keen to have a look. Ach well, another time maybe.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Appallingly Bad Movie

I was just thinking the other day that I hadn't seen or heard anything of Woody Allen for a very long time. And a few days later one of his films popped up on MBC2. I'd never heard of it. It was called 'Scenes in a Mall' or something like that, and I absolutely, utterly, completely, hated it from start to finish. Yaaaakh. In the olden days I had a bit of a soft spot for Woody and his angst-ridden New York life.

Now I find the soft spot has hardened somewhat.

This movie, first of all, began with the utterly preposterous premise that Woody Allen's character was married to a character played by Bette Midler. As if that wasn't hard enough to believe, they were living in California. And Woody had this little bulge at the back of his head, which close-up shots revealed to be a pathetic attempt at a pony tail.

Slight pause while I do bit of online research...

Well now, it seems that this was meant to be a comedy! I think it says something about the quality of the movie if someone who is seriously into laughter (c'est moi) couldn't spot the humour without being told about it by external sources.

Keefieboy Rating: AWFUL AWFUL AWFUL AWFUL AWFUL (that's 5A to the uninitiated). The worst film I have ever seen. Ever. Shite doesn't even begin to describe it. I feel so let down! OK, I've been protected from this movie for the 14 years since it was released, but now it haunts me. How could anybody make anything so bad! Graaaagh!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

About Abu Dhabi

As cities go, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are as alike as chalk and cheese. The people who live in each place tend to dislike the other (this doesn't stop hordes of youngish Abu Dhabians making the trip to Dubai on a Thursday evening for the nightlife).

Having lived in Dubai for 11 years, I've spent a miniscule amount of time in Abu Dhabi. I only go there when I have to, which is usually when I need to visit a client there. Mind you, I took my Arabic designer there last week, to do final corrections to a job on-site with the client, and he told me that he had only ever been to Abu Dhabi once in the 14 years he's lived in Dubai. And that was only to visit the Canadian Embassy to apply for a visit visa.

But in the last six months we have had two clients in Abu Dhabi, so the visits have been more frequent. And in the last month I've been five or six times. Do you know what? I'm starting to like the place!

In the olden days (six years ago), the trip was a bit of a nightmare. You had a very decent highway as far as the Abu Dhabi border. Once inside Abu Dhabi Emirate, the road was only two lanes each way, dotted with potholes and absolutely littered with speed bumps. There would always be a few wrecked cars by the roadside where people assumed it was safe to do 120 kph (or more), only to encounter a speed bump with almost no warning. It was scary. These days the only difference between this road in the two emirates is that Dubai's speed cameras are facing you, so you don't get too much warning, whereas Abu Dhabi's cameras take pictures of your tail.

The other thing about Abu Dhabi six years ago is that there were literally no shopping malls. Now they've 'caught up', and they have some bigguns.

But what I really found endearing was the trip I made with my Arabic designer. We had to be at the client's office as early as possible. We left Media City at 7.30 am. Thinking we would likely hit morning rush-hour traffic in Abu Dhabi, I told the client to expect us 9.30 - 10. We arrived at the client's office at 8.45, having seen no congestion whatsoever. The client was a bit surprised to see us when he arrived at 9. When we left at 5, I was sure we would get stuck, but no, plain sailing all the way to Dubai. I'd mentioned this to my client, and he said the only time you get jams into and out of Abu Dhabi are when there's been an accident. That's why he loves living there and dislikes Dubai.

In fact, six years ago, Dubai was a bit like that - you could go anywhere in town at practically any time, and not get held up unless there was an accident (I'm not talking about getting to / from Sharjah, that has always been a problem). You could even cross the Creek without thinking about it. But these days, Diera is perpetually gridlocked, the Creek crossings are permanently jammed, and the infrastructure is struggling to keep up.

In Search of the Perfect Pie

I'm a bit of a sad git when it comes to pies, specifically those of the steak and kidney variety. There's nothing much to beat a really good s&kp. But such things are very hard to find.

Here's my definition of what makes a good s&kp.
1) Pastry top and bottom. The top pastry can be puff, but savoury shortcrust is preferred. Anything served in an earthenware bowl with a puff pastry 'lid' is not a pie. The top pastry should be golden-brown, with a milk or egg glaze. Part of the appeal of a good pie is that the pastry absorbs the flavour of the filling - glazed ceramic pots tend not to do that.

2) The filling should be about 4 parts steak to 1 part kidney in a rich thick oniony gravy. The steak should be tender, and not have any fat or gristle in it. The pie should be not less than one inch deep, and not more than two.

I'm writing this because today my wife and I experienced the worst s&kp ever. We happened to be in Abu Dhabi, at a pub run by one of the world's leading hotel chains. We'd ordered the pie because of a flyer on the bar, that compared the search for the perfect pie to the Brit equivalent of the search for the Holy Grail. And it showed a picture of what looked like a pretty good example of an s&kp. We discovered later that the flyer referred to a promotion going on in another outlet in the hotel.

When our pies came we were first of all surprised that there were no potatoes or vegetables with it, only two chunks of bread that were toasted dark brown on one side, and not toasted at all on the other. No butter or anything. And OK, the menu didn't say anything about accompaniments, but the price suggested that there ought to be some. The 'pie' had been made in/on something like a side plate. The shallow recess of the plate contained a slim layer of filling. The filling itself was not too bad, but way too salty. The puff pastry top, though, was from another planet. The inch or so of it that was stuck to the rim of the plate was impossible to cut through. The central area was equally tough. The whole thing was extremely greasy - it was actually more like a paratha than anything else.

Unusually, for me, I didn't make a fuss. The staff didn't look like they'd be very interested. So we just paid and left, and more than likely will not be back.

So, I have say the best s&kp's are still those i make myself.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Oh dear.

Dubai has been criticised by Sir Michael Hopkins (renowned architect in the UK) and George Ferguson, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Hopkins has said that "In Dubai, it is really hard because not only have you got this terrible stuff going up around you, but it is very hot and there is very little to deal with architecturally."

I have seen several of Hopkins' buildings in the UK, and the man is a bit of a genius. But possibly a fish out of water here in Dubai. It's reported that he has designed 60 villas at Emirates Lakes.

Poor baby. We can't do anything about the climate. But I understand his point that really great architecture (in the developed world) has a lot to do with the contextual relationships between neighbouring buildings. If this is handled sensitively, then you get towns and cities that hang together and basically 'look right'. And I can't think of any recent developments in Dubai where this would be true, or even relevant.

What Dubai is about, for developers and architects alike, is building big, bold, thrusting whatnots that make visual sense on their own, and do not feel obliged to pay homage to their neighbours.

You could say exactly the same thing about Manchester or Liverpool or any other big city in the 19th century. The fact that these cities seem to have some kind of architectural unity is because of the materials used - brick or stone for the walls, and tile or slate for the roofs. But I do not think that architects in that generation gave any thought to making their building fit in with its neighbours - it was more to do with technology - your rooms were 8 feet high, your floors (planks on joists) would be 9 inches thick, you didn't need to build in space for a/c ducts), your roof was pitched, not flat. These days there is a much greater range of materials and technology available, all over the world. Architects who cling to the idea of 'local materials and techniques' are on a bit of loser really.

Hopkins is right to say that there is some terrible stuff going up. But you can say exactly the same thing about any city on the planet. You will always get a mix that goes something like this:
Bottom 5%, absolutely horrible, pull it down now.
Bottom 5-15%, just plain yukky.
Middle 15-85%, mediocre, not great, not outstandingly horrible.
Top 85-99%, very good-looking buildings.
Top 99-100%, icons.

Now, don't get me wrong about the last category above - icons are not necessarily good buildings. I would cite the Burj Al Arab as one these. A huge number of people worldwide would recognise the Burj from a picture, and would know what and where it is. That doesn't make it a handsome building (not much could really), but it does make it important. Here's my list of iconic Dubai buildings:
Emirates Towers
National Bank of Fujairah (less than 10 storeys, but my goodness it's gorgeous - not big enough to be an icon really, but I just love to look at it whenever I'm in a traffic jam on Bank Street)
National Bank of Dubai HQ
Jumeirah Beach Hotel
Creek Golf Club
Dubai Airport Sheikh Rashid Terminal
Burj Al Arab
Madinat Jumeirah
21st Century Tower (Al Rostomani HQ)

Hopkins says "If you haven't got a building next door that needs to be preserved, there is not that starting point. It is very hard. You have to start with the sun in the desert as a reference point."

I don't know what prompted him to say this, maybe the a/c in his car wasn't working. Maybe he just never wants to work here again. But he is wrong to say that the sun in the desert is the only reference point. And he's also wrong to say that thing about the building next door. Possibly he didn't notice that this is a very new city - there's virtually nothing here over 30 years old. We are not talking about a city that has grown over 200-300 years. When you are designing in this context, the sensible approach is to ignore what's next door. And you also need to realise that there are architects working in this city from all over the world - there's a staggering number of international cultural influences going on, and there is virtually no useful indigenous historical context.

Until 30-40 years ago, Dubai was a few small houses built out of mud, wood and straw, with a windtower for cooling. The windtower theme has been absolutely done to death, and there's precious little else for you to go on. You will see Islamic decorative themes kicking about, but these are common throughout the Gulf.

At the end of the day, I don't see the problem as being unique to Dubai. It's more to do with globalisation. The availability of modern materials and building technologies is always going to overwhelm the traditional. You simply cannot build a 50-storey building out of mud.

And the RIBA President said:
"Hopkins is absolutely right. Dubai is a model of unsustainability. It is exciting for all the wrong reasons. Dubai is like a great theme park."
And your point is?
Yes, it might be like a theme park, but it's not one yet. Conservation areas in the UK are closer to being theme parks, the theme being 'old stuff'. Dubai's theme is 'new stuff'.

Get a grip, chaps.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Don't Meet the Fockers

BetterArf wanted to see it, there was nothing else on at the right time, so we Met the Fockers. BetterArf lurved it, I didn't. Apparently it's a sequel to 'Meet the Parents'. I've never seen that movie, but BetterArf has, and she thought it was lousy - she obviously wanted to give it a second chance, to see if it had improved.

Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand were outstanding in it - they really made a meal of the meagre bits of script they were given. But I found the level of humour to be a combination of crass and gross. Maybe I'm getting old, but poop gags, fart gags and numerous lines like 'you are a stupid Focker' just don't do it for me anymore. If they ever did. It reminded me of Austin Powers 3 (which I suspect may have had the same producer or director, but I can't be bothered to check right now). And the baby's first words are 'ass-hooooole' Ach. Yuck.

I was also a bit uncomfortable about the rating of the thing - I would have put it at no less than 15, but we had an auditorium containing several young ladies who were clearly less than 15. And there were audible gasps at some of the more risque gags/poops/farts/bonks (little dog bonks everything). Sheesh, I don't know. Just a lousy film, in my opinion (no, it's not humble, this is my blog, and I'll tell it like what I see it).

I was intrigued though, to find that my normally hyper-intelligent, brainy, gorgeous and cuddly missus actually liked this drivel. I decided to check out some web reviews (I don't know if you can get it where you are, but we have this thing called the interweb - it's like TV that you read). is usually a good source for movie reviews. They collect lots of reviews and pronounce whether the movie is good or bad. MtF scored 39% bad. I could be an optimist and say 'hey, this movie's reviews were 61% positive!'.

Yeah, right. It was funny in parts. Parts of it were even funny.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Blogging at Work

News this morning of another blogger fired from his job at Google for blogging. This follows the Waterstone's bookshop manager, and an air hostess who worked for Delta Airlines. I am sure there are many other cases.

What I don't get about these dismissals is that all of the victims think they have a right to blog about anything they want, including their work. When I was Mr Corporate, working for several very large companies in the UK, there was always a clause in my employment contract that said you risk immediate dismissal if you give away company secrets or otherwise denigrate the company and/or its employees through any medium whatsoever.

That could basically be characterised as a restriction on your freedom of speech. But it's part of the deal about working for an employer. They will also restrict your freedom to lie in bed all day doing nothing. And if you don't want to experience a restriction on your freedom to receive a salary, then you have to accept it.

Having said that, I do enjoy reading several work blogs, and marvelling at how these folks can get away with it. I know it can be very frustrating working for a large organisation, and very few people are proud to do so, so it's no good expecting bloggers to act as corporate spokespersons.

One of the great things for me is that I own my own company, and I am very unlikely to fire myself for blogging. But then again I am most unlikely to ever write about anything bad that happens (unless it's perpetrated by Eitsalat!).

I think the real problem with this kind of thing is that there is absolutely no-one standing between what you publish on your blog and your global audience. No editor, no corporate lawyer, no adviser. The decision on what you publish is entirely your own. Never forget that corporations do not have a sense of humour, and frequently have a tenuous grip on reality. Be careful!

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

At Last - a Post About Etisalat!

The UAE is fortunate in having one of the most progressive, efficient and downright wonderful telecommunications service providers in the world. I refer of course to Etisalat (which apparently is short for Emirates Telecommunications Corporation). When you only have one phone company, mobile network and Internet Service Provider, you just have to love them. They struggle bravely on, and occasionally turn a small profit.

Etisalat has a peculiar place in the business environment in the UAE - they are probably the biggest company in the country, they certainly employ the most locals, and they are expanding overseas (they recently won, as leader of a consortium, the licence to print money build Saudi Arabia's second mobile phone network). The reason for Etisalat's peculiarity is that they were granted an official monopoly on telecoms services when the country was invented. And the price of this monopoly is that they have to pay half of their profits to the Federal Government every year.

Just over a year ago, the monopoly was cancelled. Other players would be allowed to enter the market and compete with Etisalat. Whoop-di-do. Since then absolutely nothing has happened, because the Government announced that any competitor would have to give a 51% controlling stake to the Government. Yeah right, anybody would think that made economic sense.

Anyhoo, it amazes me that I have not blogged about Etisalat before, maybe I've been happy about everything. In fact they should have got a mention in my posts about the webcast a few weeks ago, because they really pulled out all the stops for me - couldn't quite get me enough bandwidth, but many thanks for trying Mr Pinto and crew, and for being on-hand all day long.

But today, Etisalat pulled a blinder. They really did. As you know, if you've been paying attention, we've recently been fiddling about with the company structure. As a result of which, we needed to register a local domain name. You cannot register a .ae domain name with anyone but Etisalat. And you would think, wouldn't you, that in this Interweb age, that would be a simple matter, something you could do on one o' them thar website things in a matter of minutes.

Ha! Foolish mortal!

No, what you can do is download an application form, print it out and fill it in by hand. Then you have to take it to one of Etisalat's bigger offices, hang around in a queue for a while, and then discover that you're in the wrong place. So you go to the right place, where thankfully there is no queue, hand over the form and a copy of your trade licence. Oh, and quite a lot of money. Eventually the transaction is complete and they print out a letter for you. This has your order number and other details, and three phone numbers on it that you have to call when you want your domain name activated.

Fortunately we are not buying one of Etisalat's hosting packages (there's barely enough money on the planet to pay for one of those!), we're hosting it on one of our servers in the UK. So I had the UK boys set up the site, and then it's a question of calling Etisalat and telling them to activate it. Not.

The first number I called was not answered.

The second one was answered, but by a guy who knows everything about leased lines, and nothing about anything else. 'You wanna activate leased line, wassa numma?', 'no, not leased line, domain name!', 'no dummy name, leased line wassa numma?'. Sheesh. I try the first number again, and the guy is back from his cigarette break. He knows everything about domain names.

He cannot find my domain name or work order on the computer. He is baffled. He sounds like a nice guy, and we have a bit of banter about how useless Etisalat can be at times. After a bit it occurs to him to ask when I did the registration. This morning, I say. You could almost hear the sharp intake of breath. Well, obviously it can't be done in a day, this is Etisalat, we have many sections, they are far apart and communication is sometimes difficult. I explain to him that my company does domain name registrations and hosting, and we can set up an account in ten minutes. Our sections are 4,000 miles apart and we can manage it.

Then he hits me with the sucker punch. Normally this could be activated tomorrow. But tomorrow is a Public Holiday (Islamic New Year, 1426 already). Thursday and Friday they are closed as normal. So it'll be Saturday, if I'm lucky and he can find the work order in the computer.

I love Etisalat, they are so entertaining.

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Friday, February 04, 2005

Small Change

Like all currencies where the big unit is worth somewhat less than a pound or a dollar, the UAE Dirham has a problem in dealing with small change. One Dirham is worth 36.7 US cents (the Dirham is tied to the US $), and currently about 15 UK pence.

A problem arises when you are dealing with the small currency unit. One Dirham equals 100 fils. This means that 1 fil is worth .38 US cents, or .15 UK pence. Clearly, the cost of making a coin to represent this exceeds its face value.

In general circulation we have coins worth 25 and 50 fils, and 1 Dirham. Then we have 5, 10, 20, 50 , 100, 200, 500 and 1000 Dirham notes. Whenever you buy anything for cash, what you actually pay will be rounded up or down to the nearest 25 fils. And by the way, we still have two versions of the 1 Dirham coin in circulation. The old 1 Dh coin (about 1 inch in diameter) was supposedly replaced by a new, smaller one about five years ago. But for some reason we still get the big ones turning up. I think the big ones were given a stay of execution so that vending machine operators could have more time to modify their machines. But really, five years!

There used to be small copper coins worth 5 and 10 fils, but I really haven't seen any of those for about 5 years. At that time, Spinneys supermarkets made a big deal out of using these coins when giving change, and gradually my pockets filled up with this stuff. I decided to try to spend some of it one time. I'd had lunch in an hotel that was not one of my regular haunts. I hadn't enjoyed the lunch or the service, so I spent quite some time counting out the exact amount of the bill in small change, including quite a lot of the copper stuff. I left it on the table and departed. I was stopped in the lobby by a security guy who was pretty insistent that I should have a quick meeting with the manager. The manager was ranting on about how these little bits of copper were not legal tender, so I invited him to quit wasting my time and to sue me if he still had a problem.

Haven't heard from him since.

The Aviator

We went to see The Aviator this afternoon - it's one sensational movie. I'm always concerned when films are longer than the regulation 97 minutes, because I know I'll either get bored, or go to sleep, or a combination of both. So at almost 3 hours, The Aviator was a bit risky for me. But I'm happy to report that I didn't nod off even once, and it didn't get near my boredom threshold.

So there you go Mr Scorcese, you get the Keefieboy Seal of Approval 'The Aviator is Not Boring and it Kept Me Awake'.

PS I've been aware of the name 'Howard Hughes' for quite some time, but never really known who he was or what he did. After all, all of the events in The Aviator happened before I was born. But I just thought I'd check him out on the interweb, and I found this interesting biography . Seems like there's pleny of scope for a sequel or even a trequel. I'd be surprised if this one doesn't run and run.

Thursday, February 03, 2005


My goodness, what a week it's been. I've been to Abu Dhabi twice, once on Saturday and again today. I've been whizzing around delivering artwork to my printer, CD masters to the pressing plant and collecting and delivering the finished goods. And in between times we've been making some changes to the company structure that have involved a lot of messing about with bureaucracy and banks. And also trying to get some real work done.

On my return from Abu Dhabi this afternoon my first port of call had to be the local boozer. And that's where I was when BetterArf showed up. She's also had a helluva week, and we sat there like zombies. We were supposed to be going to a party tonight, but decided we were just too tired to manage it. So we've blobbed out.

BetterArf has a new project on. Her school holds an annual 'International Day', when staff and students all dress in their national costume and they have different stalls from all the countries that are represented. Now the problem with being a Brit is that there is no such thing as a 'national costume'. So BetterArf has decided to go as the Jebel Ali Pearly Queen. This slightly obscure London tradition involves people sewing thousands of white buttons onto black suits to form patterns. When I say thousands, it's actually about 35,000 per suit! BetterArf went to Satwa and came back with a bag of 1,500 buttons, so the suit might be a bit skimpy, but you get the idea. Ish. It's going to be a sewing weekend.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Environmental Stuff

You would think that a sun-drenched place like Dubai would be awash with solar power wouldn't you? Well, it ain't. Possibly the most prominent use of solar power is on parking meters and a few speed cameras.

I was talking to a friend of mine about this subject yesterday. He is primarily an energy consultant, but also operates a little shop selling solar-powered doohickeys. He was bemoaning the fact that he has almost no solar panels in stock, and he will have to wait 2-3 years for delivery of new stock, at a price that would only be confirmed shortly before delivery. And the reason?

Reason 1) The technology required to produce very pure silicon is hideously expensive, and not easily obtainable on the open market. We are talking about gas centrifuges here - they are commonly (and I guess much more profitably) used to enrich uranium. You can do other stuff with them too, and purifying silicon is possibly the least profitable of those things.

Reason 2) Germany has introduced a subsidy scheme. If you have some solar panels that produce electricity that goes into the national power grid, the German government will pay you quite a bit of money for every kilowatt that you produce. I don't remember what the figure is, but it's very attractive and it means that half of the world's supply of solar panels now goes to Germany.

So, Dubai and the UAE won't be bothering with alternative energy sources any time soon. We'll just keep on burning the gas and oil that pops out of the sea until it runs out. We have an incredibly wasteful lifestyle here. Dubai Municipality, for at least the last 5 years, has been running a campaign to try to get household waste down to 555 kgs per year per household. I'm not aware of them having achieved that (and I don't even know how much trash we produce on average - it might help if we knew what the starting point was). Recycling is almost an unknown concept.

We try to do a bit of recycling - there are a few bottle banks and can banks scattered around, and a waste paper collection point. Probably one of the worst culprits for waste generation is the supermarket plastic carrier bag. Whenever I go shopping I insist that they use the least possible number of bags. This always puzzles the bag-packers, who seem to have been trained to put every single item into a bag of its own, and then put a bunch of those bags into another one. We always keep our plastic bags, and periodically (when we can't get into the kitchen anymore), we will sort them out, flatten them a bit, and take them back to the shop that gave us them in the first place. The staff at our local Choithram's think we are slightly insane, but they do take the bags back.

The other major source of waste is water. There is a tiny bit of underground fresh water (some of the older villas in Jumeirah have artesian wells in their gardens). Our tap water is desalinated seawater. Desalination is an extremely energy-intensive process, and desalinated water is produced as a by-product of electricity generation. While the tap water is said to be 100% pure, most people buy bottled water for drinking. Most irrigation water comes from a separate network. This is actually semi-treated sewerage water, and it's amazingly good for vegetation. But you wouldn't want to drink it.

And of course we are very wasteful of petrol and diesel. Yes, we have good bus services in Dubai now, and will be getting a light rail system in about 5 years' time. But for now, the primary mode of travel is the good old motor car. Government policies actively discourage car-sharing (if you take money to carry a passenger then you become technically a taxi, and you cannot operate a taxi without a hugely expensive licence). Cheap petrol means that nobody worries about how much it costs to fill a gas-guzzling 4-litre four wheel drive.

The main problem is just total lack of awareness - everybody here thinks this is a land of plenty. And they probably think they can continue this extremely wasteful lifestyle indefinitely. And the expats, of course, are mostly only here for a limited time, and have no incentive to think about tomorrow at all.