Archive for October, 2009


October 31, 2009 Leave a comment

This is my first “I haven’t posted in a while because…” post, and I’m sure there’s more to follow. Well, I haven’t posted in a while because I was a bit under the weather and generally busy.  So in true Lifehacker style here’s a roundup of what happened this past week or so.

Last Saturday my wife took her RTA driving test.  The real thing, not the assessments / mock that driving schools put you through and on the basis of which subject you to further lessons.  Long story short she didn’t pass.  Not being there in the car with her I will stop short from saying that the examiner was at fault.  It is however very commonly heard that very able drivers are still failed and only manage to get their license after two or three attempts.

On the day I dropped her off at the driving school and, anticipating a very long wait (it turned out to be over 3 hours), I headed over to Times Square where I planted myself in Caribou Coffee and pretended to look busy on the laptop.  I enjoy doing this from time to time (wife permitting) – sitting unnoticed in a corner, just watchig people pass by, trying to guess what people do and if they are regulars. 

One such instance:  A couple of ladies strolled in, one behind an empty pushchair, the other (very visibly pregnant) holding an infant.  They were greeted warmly by the staff behind the counter, as always happens, and the manager (or so I assumed due to his lack of uniform and previous shuffling of papers) did the baby-talk thing and held out his arms.  The mother without any hesitation whatsoever obliged and handed over the package, to the delight of said manager.  He went on to croon and entertain the kid, going over to show him off to the other staff. They spent a good five minutes enjoying the baby’s laughter, after which it was duly returned to the mom. 

Now this is what surprised me – in this day and age of H’s and N’s, airport infrared checks, pandemic alerts, campaigns advocating less contact with strangers and fear of the almighty germ, this lady trusted her most precious possession in the hands of a stranger.  Granted, she could have been a regular and known the manager for a long time.  Also granted, working in a food preparation environment one expects a certain level of hygiene.  But still.  I doubt that I could have done the same thing.  It shocked me in a truly positive way, and left me feeling upbeat. Until I learned of my wife’s exam outcome of course.

On Thursday I had my first serious near-crash experience, through no fault of my own.  I was at the exit from Emirates road going to Qusais waiting for lights to change, when I see a Prado coming up fast behind me.  It skidded, missed me by an inch and ended up beside my car.  Don’t know if the skid took the Prado to the side or the driver’s skill.  These are the things that one risks on the roads of Dubai I guess.

Friday saw us meet up with a bunch of cool people I speak to on Twitter at Wild Peeta, for a #wildtweetup.  The company was great, met like-minded folk, and the food was brilliantly fresh – both in concept and in preparation.  It was the first time I saw an Emirati (actually two – they’re brothers) running the show AND working behind the counter.  Had a killer breakfast peeta (at 1pm) and a fusion cold green tea / juice comonly known as the Magic Juice.  Now if they can just confirm delivery to my office.



October 23, 2009 Leave a comment

This is what I was talking about

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Harking Back

October 23, 2009 Leave a comment

This morning I took my wife to her driving lesson, as became customary every Friday.  To kill time instead of heading back home I went over to Caribou Coffee in Time Square for a coffee, and while there hooked up on the wifi.  I was immediately taken back exactly a year ago, after my first arrival in Dubai.

At the time I did not have internet at home, being a temporary accommodation until suitable quarters were found.  My boss lent me his Etisalat 3G modem, but it was very unreliable and slow.  I used to trek it to Uptown Mirdif (30 minutes walk) and camp myself at Caribou’s to catch up with my wife on Gmail chat.

I find this happening to me on a semi regular basis.  I’d be going around minding my own business, when something triggers a memory recall.  Mostly it’s songs or smells.  When I hear certain songs they take me back to certain points in my life, or remind me of something I was doing while hearing that song (or album).  I used to listen to the same album ad nauseam, so if while doing so I was also (for example) playing a PC game, then the two would become linked.

One particular case is the album Albertine by Brooke Fraser.  I had picked it up while honeymooning in New Zealand, and we used to play it during the long trips between our stops.  Since we spent a month on the road, and had only a couple other CDs to rotate, I ended up listening to it quite a lot.  It is a beautiful album by a very talented artist, and I am still kicking myself for not going to see her play live. She happened to be touring and had stopped in Wellington during the same time we did, but we were exhausted by some field trip we did and turned it down.  So nowadays any time I put on her songs I’m instantly reminded of those beautiful times, the rolling roads, the stunning scenery, and the occasional roadside cattle.

My wife is already pining to go there for another trip (it has only been two years), but I have my reservations.  I fear that it would not be as memorable to us as the first time round, and I do not wish to spoil the memories.   Besides there are many other worthwhile destinations, I just need to convince her.  Maybe South Africa.

Long Queues and Nice Windows

October 22, 2009 Leave a comment

Being amateur techies we decided to ignore the naysayers and pay a visit to this year’s GITEX Shopper on Tuesday.  While there I had planned to get my hands on the latest Windows edition, but somehow I had missed the detail in the press which said that it was going to be launched on Thursday 22nd October.  Oh well.

Unsurprisingly we encountered traffic on the way there, not because of the particularly large volume of cars heading towards the Airport Expo, but because the access to said premises is a one lane road acting as funnel and resulting in longish tailbacks. This is a planning shortfall common to other projects in Dubai, most notably International City.  Said project is a housing development built from scratch, accommodating thousands, but only accessible via a small 20 kph two-lane road.  If one were to stick to traffic rules it would take over 30 mins just to get in.  Circumstance dictates that you should try and speed ahead on the faster lanes and try to get in closer towards the entrance.  It always works.

I digress.  Had to elbow my way towards the front of the ticket queue, or suffer being skipped by everyone else.  At each point of contact with the event or exhibitors one is given a coupon to fill in to win guaranteed and exciting prizes.  Wow.

This is the sight that met us on entering the main hall.

It is funny how Etisalat and Du seemed to be jostling for front row seats

It is funny how Etisalat and Du seemed to be jostling for front row seats

The two big telecoms launched the iPhone 3GS.  I haven’t gone into the details of their offers, but the grapevine seems to agree that du has the edge on the plans and prices.  Good riddance for the iphreaks.

I think overall there was a good selection of products, and the prices seemed fair.  The Lenovo G550 at a cool Dh 1999-.  Others complained that offers were not much different from pre show prices, with a just few bundle offers with old stock thrown in.  For myself I managed to find a nice BlackBerry bluetooth headset.  It was bundled with a car charger, which I already have, but seeing that it was so worth it I went ahead and bought it (Dh 149- for the lot).  We do have two cars anyway.

One thing which was apparent after visiting a number of booths was the lack of knowledge by the peddlers.  The retailers seem to reach into some unrelated labour pool to staff these temporary stores.  I liked asking them detailed questions and watching them stumble or BS their way out of it.

We stopped at Emax to buy the cheapest item on show, a pair of PC speakers.  The salesgirl was arabic, and after hearing us commenting on the merits of the speakers in Maltese she started her pitch again in arabic.  We told her, sorry we don’t speak arabic, and continued talking to each other.  Springing the most baffling reaction to our language yet, she just turned and left us there in the cold.  She must have assumed that we’re pulling her leg and took offense.  We had to carry on and ask somebody else for assistance.

I ended up buying Windows 7 today (from a mall, not from the show.  Traffic was much worse and wasn’t going to pay another entrance fee just for a quick buy), and am not regretting it so far.  Best feature? It is now possible to uninstall Internet Explorer.  Enough said.

Linking Malta to Dubai

October 16, 2009 Leave a comment

Last Wednesday we were invited by the Consulate of Malta to a reception at the Monarch to commemorate our Independence Day.  The holiday itself is in September, but who am I to bemoan free drinks? I look forward to these events because they always serve Maltese foods & sweets that you don’t find here in Dubai.

The event was tied in with the opening of an office in Dubai by the Malta Tourism Authority, who want to capitalise on the availability of daily flights by Emirates.  The MTA website is nice and functional, but I would have preferred more immediate access to imagery from Malta.  There is so much more to offer.

As happens in such events the Consul gave a speech about the deepening ties between the two countries, and lauded the investment by TECOM in Smart City.  Poses for the cameras, smiles, handshakes.  They even made a special cake for the occasion, in the shape of a traditional Maltese luzzu. It was a pretty big one, and was ceremoniously cut by a sword.  I didn’t check on this, but I assume the sword was traditional Emirati.

Image this as a cake

Imagine this as a cake (image via Wikepedia)

We got to meet other Maltese expats, and also the artist Stephanie Borg who is based in Oman but dropped by.  She was showcasing some beautiful work.

They were also presenting work by the Maltese photographer Kurt Arrigo, who I’m sure contributed to MTA at some point.

Hopefully the exercise will prove fruitful for the national tourist industry.  From our part I hope we bag a good deal for our upcoming holiday trip.

Drive Through English

October 16, 2009 Leave a comment

Today my wife’s driving school, Al Ahli in Al Quoz, signed her up for the RTA traffic sign test.  This is a multiple choice answer theoretical test, taken on a PC touchscreen and is over in one minute.  The actual time allocated is one minute per question, ten questions total, but it’s very straightforward and (should) often takes much less time.  A sample of the test is hosted on Emirates Driving Institute website.

My wife was given a study guide by her driving instructor, in preparation for the test.  It is hilarious. Here follow samples of the text within the guide:

Section title: Compulsory Qustions (failed from first mistake)

Q1. Near Schools, hospitals and residential areas driver SHOULD NOT USE?

A. UNNECESSARILY HORN so they don’t disturb the public

Q3. When you face the school bus using STOP SIGN, what should you do?

A. Come to a COMPLETE STOP and let the children cross road

Q4. On the CONJESTED JUNCTIONS the moment signal turns GREEN, What should you do?

A. DO NOT ENTER THE YELLOW area unless your path is CLEAR

Q5. When you see a car running with HAZARD LIGHT IN, what should you do?

A. Access the RIGHT most lane.

Q8. When the STOP sign is seen, what should be the driver do?

A. Make a complete STOP, make sure the road is COMPLETELY CLEAR and then enter the road.

Section title: Non-Compulsory Qustions (Failed from the third mistake)

Q4. If a driver is driving at speed 80km/hr. what should be the HEAD DISTANCE?

A. The head distance SHOULD NOT BE LESS THAN 25 METERS.

Q7. When the driver’s BRAKES FAIL what should he do?

A. Warn other vehicles using HAZARDS LIGHT and putting warning TRIANGULAR SIGN at the back of the car.

(MH: WTF?? My answer would have been: wish he had bought a manual instead of an automatic so he could engine brake.  And how do they propose to put the warning sign at the back of the car while it’s in motion?)

Note: all formatting and spelling copied as is from the leaflet.  I will scan it tomorrow and upload it, but I couldn’t wait.  Handing the copy to a natural English language native / speaker would have produced a more professional result, even without going to the expense of hiring a translator.  I’m sure there are many more instances of this, waiting to be discovered.

Having said all of the above I must praise Al Ahli for the speed with which the process is moving.  My experience was much more frustrating (vide previous posts).

It’s all about Etisalat (and Gulf News)

October 13, 2009 2 comments

Local (leading?) telecoms provider Etisalat has been making the news recently for all the wrong reasons.

First the BlackBerry service stops working:

gulfnews : etisalat BlackBerry disruption latest in a series of problems, say subscribers.

Then mobile services in general:

gulfnews : Etisalat mobile services in UAE restored after disruptions.

Etisalat upgrade affects connections – The National Newspaper.

It is necessary to go back a few weeks to get more context on Etisalat’s behaviour towards its esteemed clients:

Etisalat BlackBerry update was indeed spyware, RIM provides a solution.

Competing carrier Du didn’t think twice before trying to capitalize:

Du launches special offer for BlackBerry users – Telecoms – News & Features –

Uncharacteristically Etisalat took out a full page advert apologising for the muck up faults.

Life in Dubai: An apology from Etisalat!.

I couldn’t help wondering then, how with all this consumer confidence to reclaim they were running this sort of crappy ad:

Taken somewhere off

Taken somewhere off

I mean, large skyscraper space in business section, say something enticing, reconciliatory, whatever.

Unrelated side news (both puns intended): Gulfnews site running Google Ads?