Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Technology Update

Thanks to all the commenters on the previous post who advised to get a Mac.I'm sure I could break one o' those too.

I had a brainwave the other day: why not resurrect my old laptop and see if FTP works on that? So I did, and it did, mostly. There's a few sites that it cannot connect to but it can connect to sites that I'm working on now. So, for working at home I now have my new laptop that I do the work on, my old laptop with its non-functional screen beside me, connected to a 17" monitor that is sitting on a chair because I don't think our glass-topped dining table would take the weight. So when I need to upload a file (this only happens about 500 times a day) I copy it onto a memory stick, plug the stick into the old laptop, swap the LAN cable from the new machine to the old one (reminder to self: get another long LAN cable), and then do the upload and swap the chip and cable back to the new machine. It's an almighty pain in the ass, but it works for now.

On the mobile phone front, I bought the cheapest phone I could find: a neat little black Motorola for a paltry Dhs 99! Sadly, it would only offer SOS/emergency service. Ping! went a thought in my head. Maybe I should pay the bill, it's that time of the month (although the Interweb and landline were still working so it would be a bit odd for them to just disconnect the mobile). First thing the next morning I go to Itisalot in Gerbil Alley, and before handing over any cash I ask a clerk whether I've been disconnected. No, he says, not yet. Ah, so why do I only get SOS service on this phone? He asks me how long I've had my SIM card, and I have no idea - 7, 8, 9 years? Ah, he says, it'll be worn out. You need a replacement: dhs 50. Surely, I say, it should be free: it's not my fault it's worn out! But, he says, you've been using it for 789 years haven't you? Hmm, can't win against Itisalot.

So I fill in the form for a replacement SIM card, wait in a queue for a bit, and get the new one. The guy says it will be active in half an hour. Actually it was activated 10 minutes later when I got a flurry of voicemail alerts.

Anybody want to buy a Motorola C113a: never used?

Labels: , , ,

Friday, March 23, 2007

Technology Hates Me

My apologies for the complete lack of blogging for almost a fortnight, I’ve been having serious problems with my laptop and the Interweb.

I blogged earlier about my problem with using FTP from my ‘broadband’ connection at home. After two weeks of whingy emails from me, Itisalot finally sent an engineer to have a look. Of course, when he plugged in his laptop, everything was fine. His conclusion was that I might have a virus on my machine, so he downloaded AVG and set it off on a mighty scan. I have gazillions of files and after two hours it was only halfway through the scan, although it had found a worm by then. The engineer took that as his cue to leave, saying ‘it will work after the scan is finished’. Hmm, well no, it bloody well didn’t work. And he had not explained to me why it works just fine using my Media City connection.

I had forgotten about the clever Windows feature known as System Restore. This lets you roll back the configuration of your system to a point where you know things were working fine. I decided to do a restore to a few days before I had the FTP problem. It made no difference, but it did stop the Interweb from working at the office.

DMC’s IT dude had a play with it and got nowhere.

Then I thought it would be a bright idea to re-install Windows. I had forgotten, of course, that when you do this you lose all the emails and the address book that you have built up over the years, and the Registry forgets about all the software you have installed. The software is still there, but the computer no longer knows where to find it so you have to install everything again.

Re-installing Windows did not have the desired effect. FTP was still not working and wi-fi is totally buggered. I can connect using a LAN cable at home, but not at the office. Strangely the computer tells me, with great delight, that it has found some new hardware every time I boot up. I offer the drivers for the Ethernet Controller, but it declines to take them because that device is already installed.

So, my Interweb is muxed ip big time. I cannot even access the Blogger edit page from home right now, and when I’m at the office I don’t have time to do any posting.

I cannot begin to describe how frustrating this is. It looks like I’ll be doing a format c:/ on the beast(ard) this weekend and then re-installing all my software and files. And, as if that wasn’t enough shit, my bloody phone packed up three days ago. The Palm Treo 650 that was my pride and joy when I bought it almost 2 years ago, is now reduced to being a PDA without the phone facility. I cannot get a signal of any kind, no matter where I am. I did some research yesterday on cheapie mobiles: the cheapest one is a plasticky Motorola at Dhs 117. Next up is a blue plastic Nokia at dhs 130. I’ll have to get one of them, because nobody will touch a Palm in this country and to get one fixed you have to send it to Slovakia or Slovenia. Dammit.

And, and, and...I have the world's worst cold! Ah well, mustn't grumble.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Cultural Overload

I never thought I'd say this, but I'm feeling swamped by culture, right here in Dubai. After a decade and a bit of believing the place to be a cultural wasteland*, suddenly it's not any more. There is so much stuff going on right now that it is impossible to decide what to go to. Or you could just be sensible, stay home, and save your money for the Departure Fund. And now that the stretch of Sheikh Zayed Road between Jebel Ali and Mall of the Emirates has assumed some kind of normality, at least early on a Friday evening, we can actually get to Media City or DUCTAC without too many problems.

Two weeks ago: Roger Waters.

One week ago: DDG Romeo and Juliet at DUCTAC.

Yesterday: Desert Rock at the Country Club, International Jazz Festival at Media City and Carl Orff's Carmina Burana at DUCTAC.

Ongoing: Art Fair at DIFC.

We opted for Carmina Burana last night, and it was wonderful. It was a joint effort by the Dubai Chamber Orchestra and the long-established Dubai Singers. Both are amateur groups but their standards are very high. The first half comprised Mozart's 'Abduction of the Seraglio', followed by the world premiere of 'At Last They Rest' by Barnaby Priest. It was a wonderful piece, and I really hope there's a CD or DVD of the gig that we can get our hands on. The second half was all Carmina Burana, performed by about 68 Singers, 24 Dubai American Academy students, and the orchestra of about 26. Without any amplification, the wall of sound they produced was breathtaking.

And today DUCTAC is hosting a Palestinian Children's Orchestra. BetterArf has gone to that this afternoon: I have to get some work done!

*For certain ethnic groups: the BBC actually made a documentary on this topic about 8 years ago - it was heavily biased and ignored efforts by groups like The Singers, Dubai Drama Group, The Harmony Chorus and embryonic Orchestras. I cannot speak for Asian cultural groups, but they are plentiful and productive. And now both Abu Dhabi and Dubai have realised that people need more than just work to sustain them, and that there is money in art, they are both hurling funds at projects to build theatres, galleries, entire Cultural Districts.

It's a good thing.

UPDATE: BetterArf just got back from the gig. It was performed by students of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, which has branches in Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Guess what? Three of the students were not allowed into the UAE because they had Israeli passports. No real surprise there, but can somebody please explain to me what is the point? Everybody knows you can go to Israel if you want to, and they'll stamp a visa on a separate piece of paper rather than in your actual passport. Some governments will even give you a second passport if you need to move between Israel and Arab countries frequently.

But how does stopping three students from entering our country help further the cause of peace?

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Louvre in Abu Dhabi

A few months ago it was announced that The Louvre, Paris, France, was going to open a branch at Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi. The Guggenheim chain of Art supermarkets will also be opening a branch on Saadiyat. Yesterday Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE, had a meeting with Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, French Minister of Culture to talk about the Louvre project.

Picture the scene, a few years hence: the Museum is finished (and it looks like a very interesting building, by the way). The first consignment of paintings and sculptures has arrived at Mina Zayed. Crates are being opened and examined by Customs Officers (CO) in the presence of a Museum Official (MO).

CO: What's this? Looks like a constipated weasel...

MO: Eet ees La Gioconda, ze most purrfect painting everr made!

CO (on phone to imam): Imam? Look, having a problem here, some geezer from the Louvre wants to bring in a painting of a lady...

IMAM: Has she got her kit on?

CO: Yes, but, she's uglee.

IMAM: Hmm. Figurative art. Not allowed mate. Chuck it in the sea.

Splash. Next.

CO: By crikey, that's a big crate, what's in it?

MO: (gulp) Le Venus de Milo. Ees a two-zousand-year-old statue.

CO: Statue? Of a person?

The crate is opened

CO: Hell's teeth, looks at those Charlies! Ermmm, where's her arms?

MO: Eet was discovered in 1820, dug up from under ze ground. Zey could not find zee arms or zee plinth.

CO: (on the phone again) Imam? Me again. Look, this geezer's got a statue of a neckid woman.

IMAM: I'm coming...

CO: But listen, she ain't got no arms!

IMAM: Yeww. Chuck it in the sea.

Splash. Next.

CO: What a small box! What's in it?

MO: Ze Regent Diamond. Eez 140 carrots.

CO: I'll take care of that, shukran.

MO: !

CO: Next!

MO: Ah! Ze Frieze of Archers, from Persia, 522 AD

CO: Figurative! Sea! Next! (pause) Ah, this is a huge box, what's in it?

MO: A wardrobe

CO: Oh, right, that should be ok! (crate is opened, CO observes human figures portrayed on doors). Bugger.


MO: Right, you cannot object to ziss. Eet ees a metal basin from 1320, made by an Arab called Mohammed ibn Al-Zain! Surely ziss iss fine?

CO: Lemme see...looks like a procession of Emirs decorating the sides there.


And so on. The Louvre is packed solid with figurative art, it's what they do. How does Abu Dhabi plan to square the circle? Islam prohibits figurative art because it might encourage idolatry (yeah, right, I'm gonna worship a wardrobe). It is also robustly opposed to the idea of depicting people in their natural state. If this move by the Abu Dhabi Gubment is meant to presage some kind of shift in policy then that is seriously good news. Otherwise the Louvre in Abu Dhabi is a non-starter.

Curators at the Louvre are none too pleased about this either.

Labels: ,

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Middle East Madness

Two things struck me in today's Gulf News

1) The Grand Mufti of Egypt (and I'm sorry I cannot find the link in the online GN) says that women cannot be Judges. Oh yeah, why's that? Apparently it's because the source of law in Egypt is Shari'a (I thought Egypt was more or less secular). And Shari'a says that a woman cannot be alone in a room with unrelated men. Since Judges frequently work on a panel of three, and need to consult each other in private, it is not possible for women to be Judges. Well, listen Mr Mufti. A Judge can sit alone, yes? So no problem. Or there may be two lady Judges and one bloke. Who's wrong now? I find this whole thing incredibly demeaning, and I know I will get into trouble for this, but...why does Islam presume that a civilized man and a civilized woman cannot be alone together for whatever reason without instantly leaping on one another to have hot sex? It's even more insulting for this Mufti guy to suggest that highly-educated Judges of whatever sex cannot control themselves.

He then goes on to say that the propensity of women to get pregnant and have children is also a problem, although he does not specify why. Can somebody please tell me why Islam always places the blame (or at least the punishment) on women?

Those damned Jezebels, temptresses, I'm only a bloke, my willy does the thinking, how can anything be my fault!???!@!

2) The UAE Ministry of Education has announced that from the beginning of the next academic year, public and private schools will all follow the same holiday and examination schedule. With the greatest respect to the honourable Ministry, this is complete and utter bollocks. How can a private school following Indian board courses hold their exams on the dates/times specified by MinEd? Or British, European or American schools? The exams are set by external bodies, and are run worldwide at the specified times.

Sadly, this is yet another case of MinEd announcing first, consulting later, rescinding thereafter.

You would think they would learn, given the business they are in, but no. Every two or three years, they have a go at enforcing segregated schooling. Schools are given something like two or three weeks' notice, when really they need two years. But in any case, parents of kids in private schools pay a shitload of money in fees so that their kids get the education they need, not what MinEd thinks they should have. And if I wanted my child to grow up as some kind of dysfunctional weirdo in a single-sex school, I'd have sent him to Eton!

If it was up to me, the Ministry of Education would have no role whatsoever in private education: they don't understand the concept, hell they don't even seem to know that international exam boards cannot change their exam dates to suit the whims of a local in the UAE MinEd. Why they are involved in trying to regulate private education at all is a complete mystery to me.

Labels: , ,