Saturday, July 30, 2005

A Load of Old Blocks

There's an interesting bunch of comments going on on secretdubai. That well-known commenter 'anonymous' has been having a go at SD and hopes she has 'learned her lesson' after being blocked and unblocked by Etisalat.

What I cannot get my head round is why Etisalat is still trying to act as some kind of 'moral guardian'. Being blocked by them is not the big deal they seem to think it is. Anyone in TECOM/Emaar/Nakheel properties gets unrestricted interweb, as do companies with leased lines. Nobody in the rest of the world knows nor cares what Etisalat is. People who really want to see 'bad stuff' can find ways around the proxy. It will be interesting to see whether 'Etisalat2' feels obliged to implement a proxy.

I think the UAE is grown-up enough to be able live without Etisalat's random and frequently inappropriate censorship. But I also understand that more conservative families feel the proxy is beneficial. So as a first step towards normality, Etisalat could make the proxy optional. As a second step, if you really want a cut-down version of the interweb, you could pay a small monthly fee to Etisalat for the privilege. Or, given that most subscribers would probably opt for a proxy-free life, maybe they should pay for that privilege (joking).

This is all a bit bizarre, though. Here in the UK, you can get unlimited, high-speed ADSL for about 16 pounds a month (Dhs 103), compared to the Dhs 250 / month that Etisalat charges. Regrettably there is no option to have your interweb experience messed up by random censorship.

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Back in London

We arrived at London Stansted at midnight last night, and then spent three hours getting home using a combination of coaches, night buses and a taxi. Yesterday was apparently the coldest July day in London in the last 25 years, and today isn't too hot either. In fact it is 100% overcast, cold, and a bit drizzly.

I love it!

Monday, July 25, 2005

Bozos in Barcelona

We arrived in Barcelona a few days ago, and decided to spend our first full day on the beach. Normally in the UAE we hide from the sun as much as possible, so we forgot about the benefits of sunblock. If you see three lobsters wandering around Barcelona, wincing at every step, that´ll be us. Eejits.

It´s somewhat depressing reading some of the other UAE blogs now. From a European perspective where art, culture and life ooze out of every pore of every street, the news that Secret Dubai Diary has been blocked by the small-minded mandarins of Etisalat makes no sense whatsoever. How does this enhance the global reputation of the UAE? Not positively, that´s for sure.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Adventuras en Espana

Greetings constant reader.

I am in Valencia, having an utterly splendid time - if you´ve never been here, you must give it a go, but bring your hiking boots! People are very friendly and relaxed, and not many of them speak English. We´ve had some very interesting conversations with a few Valencianos. Fortunately BetterArf took the trouble to learn a bit of Spanish before we came. I myself have complete mastery of the essential phrase ´una cerveza y una Jack Daniels y Coke, por favor´.

I´m sitting here in an Internet cafe in the old quarter of Valencia. Across the road is a public library built in and around the ruins of a very old hospital. I´m having a little bit of bother with the Spanish keyboard - the @ sign is particularly hard to find (you have to press the ´alt gr´ key at the same time).

I had a wonderful time in Dublin. The weather was mostly bright and sunny with temperatures reaching 26 degrees at times. On the last two days there it started getting a bit moody, and would go from brilliant sunshine to horizontal ice-cold rain in nanoseconds.

No such problems here in Spain, the sun has shone all day, and the temperature today peaked at 37. Fortunately we have an air-conditioned room.

We arrived in Valencia with our usual high level of forward-planning. We had not got round to booking any accommodaton, so the plan on arrival was to get a map, find the main railway station, and work outwards from there knowing that the hotels close to the station would be outside our budget, but eventually we would find one that we could afford, and then a bit after that we would find one we could afford and that had vacant rooms.

Same drill tomorrow: we are taking a train to Barcelona and should be sorted out by mid-afternoon. Wish me luck.

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Saturday, July 16, 2005

London - day three

Not a lot to report today.

I worked this morning (shame!). Offspring slept. Around three pm we knocked off, and took a short walk to the local pub, The Coppermill, which serves an excellent pint of London Pride, and has a fine collection of nutty clientele. We sat outside: on one table was a bunch of tree surgeons, on another, three guys who could well have been the Polish Plumbers that everyone is worried about. (People are worried because these guys have the skills, but are undercutting local tradesmen - see my previous blogicle about competition). Last year it was refugees, who all get given a fabulous deal by the Gubment.

It's a bit past midnight now, and Uncle Chris has taken his two twin boys and Offspring to a local bookshop to buy the new Harry Potter. Before I left Dubai, I read that Magrudy's Bookshop would be opening at 3am (ie midnight GMT) to do the same thing. Oh come on!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Keefieboy in London, day 2

This morning we took the Tube to Camden Town. As we neared our destination, the train announcer kept reminding us of the two minutes' silence in remembrance of the dead in the bombings a week ago. (Is it only a week - the bombers have been named in the press, and they all come from the Leeds area).

We emerged onto Camden High Street at exactly noon - and an eerie scene greeted us. Every single person on this busy shopping street was standing still and silent. The traffic was not moving, but the sentiment was

We walked up and down Chalk Farm Road, and then around Stable Market, where Offspring bought some Double Apple flavoured tobacco for the shisha pipe that he'd asked me to bring over from Dubai. He didn't reckon much to the charcoal that was on sale at this stall, and declined to buy any. Later on he finished up buying a couple of kilos of barbecue charcoal from Sainsbury's - not entirely successful!

There are many markets in and around Camden, and they all sell slightly off-the-wall products. If you want a tattoo or a bit of body-piercing, this is the place to go. And somebody did ask us if we wanted any mumblemumblemumble, but we declined.

Part of the Stable Market is like an open-air food court - it does have a roof of sorts, but no walls. The various outlets will offer a free sample of their food, and the prices at all the outlets are very similar - about £3.50. Very good value.

We returned to base via Mornington Crescent tube, which has no escalators but does have 89 steps. A sign tells you this. When you reach a landing, another sign tells you how many steps there are to go. I must remember never to get off at this station in case they don't have a lift. 89 steps is OK when gravity is on your side, but definitely not when you have to go up!

Keefieboy in England

I arrived safely and on time at Heathrow, and so did my luggage (yay!). I passed through Customs unhindered, there were no staff on view, but apparently they all hide behind screens and only leap out when their electronic gizmos pick something up. Or they were having a tea-break.

I stepped out of Terminal 3 into a crisp but sunny morning - it was shortly after 7 am, and the sun was just starting to get its act together. I was expecting at least some chaos on the Underground, especially as it was the morning rush-hour, but the ticket clerk at Heathrow's Underground station was extremely patient and helpful, and figured out a working route to get me to Walthamstow, which is in the northeast corner of London, almost diagonally opposite Heathrow itself.

The trip across London took almost two hours, and involved a fair bit of trudging between various platforms and trains, and you'll be pleased to know they still have not found a solution to cooling all of these tunnels. I know I was. Not.

So, I arrived at the home of my bruvver- and sister-in-law and OffSpring just in time to have a cup of tea, a wash and brush-up, unload various gifts and then head out the door to find a pub. We took a bus up to Wood Green, and sat outside a JD Wetherspoon's pub in glorious sunshine. OffSpring and I watched the world go by for a few hours. It seemed that half the women walking by were pregnant, and the other half were pushing babies in push-chairs.

We took a bus home. No air-conditioning, very hot and uncomfortable, and I retired to bed for a much-needed snooze. No air-conditioning, very hot and uncomfortable.

I bought a pre-paid SIM card from Vodafone on my way across London, and here's a lesson for Etisalat. They didn't want to see passport copies of me and my family stretching back 3 generations. They didn't want any documents at all. I didn't even have to fill in a form. All they wanted was five pounds for the card, and an optional sum to load it with credit. Fantastic! And it is set up for international roaming and GPRS so I can check my email on my mobile.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Leaving on a Jet Plane

At last, the departure day has arrived (I'm like a kid at Christmas aren't I?).

I've done all my running around, equipped myself with pounds and euros, paid a few bills so we don't return to a non-electric house, emptied the fridge and freezer, cancelled the milk and the papers and turned off the gas. (I'm lying about the milk and the papers). For mental stimulation I've bought a brick of a Steven King novel called IT, I think it's about being scared of computers.

I've packed my suitcase, which was full of cuddly toys whose whereabouts I've been wondering about for ages. It has passed the weight test. Keefieboy can lift it!

And I still have 3 hours before I can reasonably leave for the airport. I could do some more work, but having actually read my itinerararary I have a couple of days before I go to Dublin, so I can do that in our UK office.

I've got the lousiest timings for the outbound trip. It's going via Abu Dhabi. So I have 2 hours messing about at Dubai Airport, then a very short hop to Abu Dhabi, and then a 3-hour wait before actually leaving for London at about 2am. I've never actually been to Abu Dhabi Airport, but BetterArf tells me it's a bit grim. Hmm.

Anyway, dear reader, watch out for Adventures in London, Dublin, Valencia, Barcelona, England in general and Points North in particular. Coming soon to a blog near you.


Sunday, July 10, 2005

More on the London Bombings

I'm stealing this link from Your Man In Dubai .

A Letter To The Terrorists, From London

A lot has been said about the indomitable spirit of Brits in recent days, and I think that little article encapsulates it.

In case any terrorists are interested, I will be flying into Heathrow in 2 days' time, and spending 3-4 days in and around London. Catch me if you can.

Not The Competition

I have just received a bit of spam from a 'reputed' web design company, offering to design pages for as little as Dhs 75 each. This probably means nothing to you, but to me it means they will not last ten minutes in the business. In fact, given the quality of their 'copywriting', I think maybe three minutes would be a better guess. This is the headline of the email: Outdated Websites Creates Bad Impression For Your Reputed Organization. It's ungrammatical and they misused the 'r' word - reputed instead of reputable - why does it seem that nobody from the subContinent gets the difference?.

I had a look at their 'website'. They claim to have branches in Dubai and Sharjah, and a 'web division'. The link to the Sharjah branch is a '404 nope, never seen that page, doesn't exist' error. The link to the web division shows a pretty boring bit of Flash, and nothing else. No links, no information, no nuffink.

What I object to in spam like this is that thousands of potential clients will also get it and will think 'aha, a web page costs Dhs 75. So I can get a 30-page site for 2250 dirhams.' Then they contact a bunch of real web design companies, and we might well be one of them, and they fall off their chair when our price is 10 times what they thought it might be. So it wastes everybody's time.

This market is intensely price-conscious, and we have a hard time winning jobs at a decent price. We never compromise on price, though, because we never compromise on quality: we are not remotely interested in chucking out any old rubbish. Over the last year I have had two long-established clients (both Arab, haha) berating me for what they perceive as being high fees (heck, they should hire a local legal advocate sometime). I have suggested to both of these guys that while I love them to bits, I cannot afford to work for them anymore, please go elsewhere. They both did, and honestly, I was relieved, I really cannot spend all of my time arguing about money. But they both came back with their tails between their wossnames, having had bad experiences with other folks, and realised the truth of the thing about peanuts, monkeys, typewriters and the Compleat Workes of Shakspear.

A few months ago I got a similar bit of spam from an outfit in Jebel Ali, promising miraculous results for almost no money. I decided to string them along a bit, and responded to the email. I had a few calls from their sales guy and was really hoping to squeeze in a meeting. In the end I just couldn't do it because of pressure of real work. But I asked the guy if he'd ever read the signature block on my emails to find out what we do. No, he hadn't. I asked him to do so now. 'Oh', he says, 'web designers and developers!' 'Yes' I said, 'and I want you to know that your marketing drags the business down and reduces it to the level of a low-level thing. So kindly desist'.

Now I'm going to get comments from a bunch of folks telling me that pricing of professional services should obey the same rules as pricing of commodities like tea or copper. C'mon then, I have my gloves on...

New Bloggers

SecretDubai's been doing a great job of finding good new blogs in the UAE. I don't know how she does it, possibly looks under stones or in search engines for them. Whatever, it's great to see them popping up, and I wish 'em all well.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Barbaric. Uncivilised. Cowardly. Insane.

Some of these words have been quite rightly used today to describe the arsewipes who carried out the attacks on London today. Barbaric. Uncivilised. They will not, cannot win. No religion can condone this, no god will let these criminals into any kind of heaven. They are deluded, irrational, insane.

May they burn in the hell of their choice.

Joy and Despair

I was pretty happy yesterday when London was awarded the 2012 Olympics.

I'm pretty shocked and upset now at the ongoing terrorist attacks in London. There are some very sick fuckers on this planet. BBC World is still saying 'it might be a terrorist attack'. Of course it bloody is! And I don't think it's the IRA.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

2012 Olympics

In London! Can't believe it! Brilliant!

And we can't even cook!

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Poetic Error Messages

Thanks to Deepak (comment on previous post) for inspiring me to dig out these haiku error messages. Haiku is a Japanese poetry form consisting of three lines. The first and last lines have five syllables, the second line has seven. An oddly pleasing combination.

First snow, then silence.
This thousand dollar screen dies
so beautifully.

No-one can tell
what God or Heaven will do
If you divide by zero.

A crash reduces
your expensive computer
to a simple stone.

The Web site you seek
cannot be located
but countless more exist.

A thousand flower petals
writhe in the wind
- disk C: not found.

Wind on a blossom
scatters the petals -
hard drive corrupted.

Three things are certain:
Death, taxes, and lost data.
Guess which has occurred.

The Tao that is seen
Is not the true Tao - until
You bring fresh toner.

Chaos reigns within.
Reflect, repent, and reboot.
Order shall return.

I will tell you
What doomed your printer
- if you first get a pen.

Out of memory.
We wish to hold the whole sky,
But we never will.

Serious error.
All shortcuts have disappeared.
Screen. Mind. Both are blank.

You step in the stream,
but the water has moved on.
This page is not here.

Your file was so big.
It might be very useful.
But now it is gone.

With searching comes loss
and the presence of absence:
"My Novel" not found.

The ten thousand things
How long do any persist?
Netscape, too, has gone.

Yesterday it worked
Today it is not working
Windows is like that

Login incorrect.
Only perfect spellers
may enter this system.

This site has vanished.
What is not temporary
is of no use.

Having been erased,
The document you're seeking
Must now be retyped.

Program aborting:
Close all that you have opened.
You ask far too much.

Your vast achievements
are now only dreams
- The network is down

Windows NT crashed.
I am the Blue Screen of Death.
No one hears your screams.

Seeing my great fault
Through darkening blue windows
I begin again

To have no errors
Would be life without meaning
No struggle, no joy

Borrowed from

Next week, iambic pentameter.


Out of Cheese Error

Computer programming can be a very rewarding activity - there is nothing quite like the feeling of writing a few lines of code and seeing them work first time. Well, there is actually, it's called 'smugness'. But most of the time the stuff you write will be flawed, and you have to tinker with it a bit to coax it into action. And some of the time you can spend hours or even days on something only to find that you have a comma in the wrong place, or you've uploaded your files to the wrong folder (yes, even rocket scientists do it).

I was taught the rudiments of programming by my buddy Mark. He's a great fan of Pterry Pratchett (moi aussi) and a bit of a nutter.

In some of the early Pratchett books there's a bunch of young wizards who think they are developing some kind of a computer (actually it is developing itself). The computer is called Hex. It is powered by ants, and has a label on it that says 'anthill inside'. There are mice involved also.

When Hex gets stuck, it prints out a message - Out of Cheese Error - +++ Redo From Start +++. The mice need cheese, I guess. The young wizards have no idea who Redo is nor do they know the location of Start.

There was a time when Mark was helping me out with a bit of programming. He used to put these stupid error messages into the software. Things like 'out of cheese', 'redo from cucumber', stuff like that. It kept us amused during the development process, and we knew that a quick search and replace would get rid of the stupidity when the product was ready to roll.

So imagine my mortification a few months after this product was done and dusted, and I had a call from someone who was using it - 'it says it's out of cheese, what do I do?'.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Jumeirah What?

There was a time when Jumeirah was about 5 miles of coastal strip to the west of Dubai Dry Docks. Then it became extended halfway to Jebel Ali when the Chicago Beach Hotel was demolished and replaced by Jumeirah Beach Hotel. (Chicago Beach was so named because in the 1960s it was the home of Chicago Iron and Steel Company). And extended some more when the Jumeirah Palm Island was announced. This Palm is actually near Mina Seyahi, about 20 miles away from the 'real' Jumeirah.

Now Jumeirah is spreading across the world. The holding company that owns the Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Emirates Towers Hotel and some other properties in Dubai, as well as two hotels on London (the Carlton Towers and the Lowndes), is undergoing a re-branding exercise. It is changing its name from 'Jumeirah International' to 'Jumeirah'. And it expects to own 50 properties worldwide in the near future. All will be branded as 'Jumeirah This or That'.

So does that mean the Jumeirah Beach Hotel will become Jumeirah Jumeirah Beach Hotel? I ask only for information.

The Real Thing

An outfit called London Fish and Chips opened recently at Ibn Battuta Mall, and this lunchtime I got around to test-driving it.

It's exactly the same as an English fish and chip shop, except in England
1) The chips are chips made from potatoes, not French Fries made from who knows what
2) The batter can be detached from the fish - it is not welded on by some mysterious culinary process
3) There is the possibility of augmenting your meal by the addition of mushy peas and maybe a deep-fried Mars Bar to follow.

A valiant effort which can only be enhanced if the operators actually visit a real fish and chip shop in the UK, or even The Chippy on Sheikh Zayed Road.

More Live 8

Sheesh, almost 3 a.m. here in fantasyland. Just watched the reunited Pink Fluid - amazing. Grey-haired / balding, reunited after all these years. and they can still do it! It was amazing to see all these yoofs mouthing the words to the Floyd songs. They finished with my absolute favourite Pink Floyd dance number 'Comfortably Numb', although I still think the Scissor Sisters' version is better (soz Billy).

Now Paul McCartney is on, still playing his geetar upside down, so I guess this is the last act.

But what a gig! The audience in Hyde Park resembles the queue at Bank of Baroda, it's not raining, and it looks like everyone's having a great time.

Now if only the financiers / politicians will give Africa a break, things can only get better. BTW Geldof should wash his hair or cut it off.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Live 8

Today's the day - didn't it come quick!

I've kinda promised myself that I will watch the London Live 8 gig on TV. But there's a problem. In the Middle East it is being broadcast exclusively by MBC 4. MBC 4 is a free-to-air satellite channel. A few months ago we bought a satellite decoder thingy, and tried to set it up. Out of the 287 (no kidding!) channels it found for us, only BBC World is worth watching. It didn't find MBC4.

I'm having another go at finding MBC 4. It shouldn't be too hard, they're in the building next to mine at Media City, and I still get a million wrong numbers every month from Saudis trying to win something from an MBC radio channel. And we can pick up channels from all over Europe and the Middle East.

But failing that, no doubt I'll find it on one of the dodgy Italiano channels that we get. Or maybe not. In which case I shall retire to DjeliBeybi Clubb.

[Some time later]

Couldn't find it on any the 310 channels that we now have, so I went to the Club.

Wasn't on at the Club, so I'm back home and have been crawling through a hundred or so channels. Gottit! Slovenian TV-1, methinks. Annie Lennox strutting her stuff.

Prolly fall asleep on the sofa now...

I'm Nearly Famous!

Thanks to Amrit(raj) for pointing out an interesting feature on blogging in the UAE in Communicate magazine, a local trade mag for marketing and advertising folks.

The two-page article is based around an interview with a Ms X whose identity was not revealed (but we know who you are!!!). Adventures in Dubai gets a couple of mentions, it's described as one of half a dozen moderately edgy blogs, and the story about the embarrassing abscess seems to have struck a chord. The article complains that UAE blogs are somewhat tame and lacking in satire. Well of course they are - you might try pushing the envelope, but the consequences of actually breaking it can be very severe indeed. Communicate quotes my concern about not crossing the line - you know the line, it's the invisible one that wiggles about quite a lot - without a letter from Sheikh Mohammed saying it's OK.

So, Communicate, blogging has become a major hobby of mine, but biting satire and local political comment are out of the question as long as I am living here. And you know very well why.