Archive for February, 2006

Cracking Customer Service Shocker!

28/02/2006

In Dubai it’s not uncommon for most of the links in the chain that leads to good customer service to be completely broken, to wit the difficulties my local bank have in supplying replacement atm cards or changing the addresses they have for their customers in their database.
This week I’ve had some thoroughly excellent experiences. After getting the mandatory police report for the dent I caused to the front of the Jeep the other week I poppped over to my insurers, Norwich Union and had the paperwork sorted out in less than five minutes. No wobbling of heads, blank looks, no mystifying requests for passport and visa copies and no hassles whatsoever. Very refreshing.
Things got even better on visiting 4×4 Motors Garage on Sunday to sort out getting the repairs done. For starters they don’t close during the afternoon and for seconds the whole process of examining the car was quick, clear and easy.
The usual Dubai practice is to tell you something will be ready in one day and then actually deliver the required result three days later without proffering an apology. I’ve always found this approach mystifying. Surely it’s irritating to any customer, regardless of his nationality and culture. Francis, however, was a paragon of customer service virtue. He told me the car would definitely be ready on Thursday and that I should drop it in the next morning, Monday. I asked if Weds afternoon would be possible and he said he’d do his best but couldn’t promise anything. Fair enough.
Today, Tuesday, Francis gives me a bell to say my car is ready to collect. Two days early. Brilliant. Set the customer’s expectations and exceed them and you’ll have a happy customer.
The workmanship is also excellent and there is no sign that there was any damage, aside from a suspiciously new looking bumper and fender. To my shame this is the second time that 4×4 have repaired the Jeep. The last time was after I squashed a metal pole that was blocking a parking space, which crushed the left hand front side of the car. Today 4×4 were fixing the same area, but on the righthand side on this occasion.
4×4’s repair shop have a customer conundrum now – excellent service, that noone ever wants to be in a position to need. Rather like an ambulance service…

100 miles an hour down a 10Km track

25/02/2006

During the course of a conversation with Mrs Saul today I was reminded of how absurd the state of play is for most Brits with regards to how we measure things. I managed to use metres, kilometres, stones and miles within the space of a few sentences, without seemingly sticking to one standard.
At school we were taught the metric system and never formally covered the old Imperial system, although you become familiar with it through everyday life. The only other country I’ve been to that still uses the Imperial system is the US, which further complicates things either by using measurements we never use, such as fluid ounces, or by having slightly different sized versions of measurements we do use – their pint and gallon are not the sames as ours, for example.
Whilst some measurements are interchangeable, there is a pattern I and others seem to use for what to use when.
* We typically measure our personal weight in stone.
* We typically measure our height in feet.
* Most people think of their fruit in terms of pounds and ounces, but sugar is measured in kilos. Personally I measure fruit in terms of numbers – 1 apple, two peaches, that kind of thing. I’ve never bought a ‘weight’ of either.
* I’ll measure distance and vehicle speed in miles per hour, but if running in a sprint I’d use metres, although a marathon is in miles again.
* I’ll use metres to measure the length of something that’s roughly a metre in length, feet to measure something that’s roughly a foot in length and so on. Which ever unit is nearest to making a nice round number tends to get used.
* Most Europeans are able to visualise the size of an apartment by using square metres. I have trouble with square metres and am only able to get a rough idea of the size of a flat when you tell me how many bedrooms it has and whether it’s large or small or normal. Things are a bit better with square feet. Maybe this reveals more about me than it does about international standards.
* When the pilot of my plane tells me he’s flying at 30,000 feet I have trouble visualising that distance. Convert into metres and things become clear.
* I like to buy milk in pints. Pints are used to measure beer bought in pubs, but beer in off licences would be measured in mililitres.
* Soft drinks come in mililitres too. I know where I am with 330Ml.
* I happen to know that 1lb is roughly 454 grammes, as every jam jar has the metric weight on the side, but the weight clearly comes from a ‘sensible’ weight created by using a nice round imperial measure.
* The temperature in our family has always been measured in centigrade. Some members of the older generation still stick to fahrenheit.
I don’t think things have changed much since I left school. I wonder when the average set of bathroom scales in the UK goes fully metric? Not for some time I expect.

Smiley’s Engagement Architect

25/02/2006

I’ve just started reading John Le Carre’s ‘Smiley vs Karla’ trilogy, with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy already finished.
As with most of the Le Carre novel’s I’ve read, ‘Tinker’ took time to get into, but was more than worth sticking with.
What really struck me was the fact that just over 30 years later I am now freely travelling around the ‘enemy’ countries, working with the local Sun guys who are all employees of a large US company and even getting involved in government related projects. How times have changed.
My father is a big John Le Carre fan, but when he was reading the George Smiley books he was probably travelling in the same countries Le Carre’s characters are running about, as his (perfectly legitimate) work in the 70s and the very early 80s took him to Eastern Europe and Russia. Travelling for me in 2006 must be much easier than it was for him in 1976…

More rain excitement

24/02/2006

This fantastic picture from a Dubai blogger says a lot about living in this region. I think it captures a lot more than the fact that we’ve had some heavy rain recently.

Rain!

23/02/2006

Writing a blog entry about rain would be rather dull in England, but here in Dubai it’s quite an exciting topic – it also gives us something else to talk about than traffic.
First off, I’m glad I live on the 34th floor of my building. Others haven’t fared that well during the last couple of days’ downpour.
Everything falls to pieces when it rains here, with the roads being the worst offenders. Since it rarely rains in this part of the world, the roads aren’t optimised for efficient drainage, so you get sudden pools of water appearing in the middle of your lane, which can be quite disconcerting. For some reason people always put their hazard lights on when it’s raining, the result being a sea of flashing orange lights on the motorway, lurching in and out of lanes, with half the people driving ridiculously slowly, whilst the other half continue to drive at their normal warp speeds.
We had planned to do an offroad trip today, but it was still raining this morning and likely to rain on and off during the day, so being the hardcore offroaders we are, I decided to cancel it. I’ll be going next week though, which should be fun. Driving in the dunes after heavy rain is great fun, rather like driving through a large skateboard park. Since the ground is so much firmer than usual you can race up dunes that would normally not be so accessible. Hopefully I’ll have some nice pics after next week’s trip…
Here’s what the dunes looked like the last time we went out after rain.

Receipt hell

23/02/2006

I’ve put it off long enough and there’s nothing pressing that can be done instead – yes, it’s time to my expenses.
It’s in my own interest to do them, obviously, but the pile of receipts at the bottom of my bag is really off-putting…

Receipt hell

23/02/2006

I’ve put it off long enough and there’s nothing pressing that can be done instead – yes, it’s time to my expenses.
It’s in my own interest to do them, obviously, but the pile of receipts at the bottom of my bag is really off-putting…

Thank goodness for working from home

22/02/2006

I’ve really appreciated working from home this week.
Aside from the need to pick up my mail (no door to door delivery in Dubai) and the social element of bumping into colleagues, there’s really no need for me to be there unless I need better network speed than my vpn connection from home can provide.
Driving home took me an hour today, had to use my horn about 5 times to stop people randomly wobbling into me, with a minibus driving inches from my back bumper for around twenty minutes.
I like the office atmosphere, but with traffic the way it is at the moment my 30 second commute to the desk in the living room is my preferred option.

More gadgets!

19/02/2006

As part of my ongoing gadget fest, thanks to all my stuff getting stolen recently, I’ve been reunited with my old Nokia 6310i, a model dating from 2001, which I was amazed to see is still being sold. Clearly a bit of a classic.
After using my Sun supplied Sony T6310 for a year and continually being frustrated by its unintuitive user interface and semi-functioning joystick, using the 6310i again was like meeting up with an old friend. Incredibly easy to use, no unnecessary features getting in the way. I can see why it’s still available.
Still, it’s a little too big for my pockets these days, so I’ve borrowed a 6230 from a friend, which is equally as easy to use as its older brother, but packages modern features in a way the Sony didn’t manage.
My only problem is negotiating a decent permanent replacement phone from the Sun office. Although some other people have been supplied a 6230i, which is what I want, the current crop in our office manager’s draw consists of the definitely unbusinesslike 6600, as supplied by the mobile shop we deal with, for some unknown reason. I’m sure it’s a decent phone, but it’s just too big and bulky for my liking. It looks more like a toy than a business tool. I was offered a 6610, but Bluetooth is now a necessity for me, plus the model I was given was used by someone who’s just left and is rather dirty and rickety now.
I’m probably being fussy, as I know a lot of people don’t get supplied mobiles by their companies, even if they’re expected to be contactable all the time. I just want the right tool for the right job – and if Gerard who sits next to me got a 6230i, then I want one too!
Although I hadn’t backed up the stolen Sony, the old 6310i still had most of my contacts on it. Copying numbers from the 6310i to my PC and over to the borrowed 6230 should have been a breeze, but for some reason Nokia’s PC Synch software didn’t want to do it. I was able to back the 6310i up, but restoring to the 6230 gave a funny error about ‘making sure my phones spoke the right language’. This was a bit of a let down. Nokia really ought to provide tools that work with their previous models, although looking at the number of third party packages on the web for managing mobiles they may intentionally be leaving that market to others to populate.
I got things synched in the end by copying the 6310i to Outlook and then Outlook to the 6320. Still, it’d be nice to be able to use Nokia software to manage your Nokia phones without having to buy an Outlook licence.

Palm T|X review

19/02/2006

I bought a Palm TX the other day to replace the stolen Palm Vx that I’d been quite happily using since around 2000. Now that I’ve been using it for a few days, here are my thoughts.
The reviews on the web were good and I had all my data backed up via Palm Desktop so I knew that getting back up and running would be easy – and it was. I bought the device from a Palm store when I was in the US, for $299, which seems pretty much the going rate.
What I like –
* WiFi and Bluetooth.
* Ability to browse the web.
* Ability to check my mail, if SunIT change the way my mail’s handled.
* Ability to change the viewing angle from portrait to landscape.
* Left handed support when changing viewing angle.
* Lovely bright screen.
* Usual easy to use Palm calendar, todo list and other utilities.
* SD card slot which means I can use the Palm as an iPod lite if need be – we’ll see.
* It’s a Palm – it just works and it’s easy to use.
What I don’t like –
* Main central button is already a bit loose, which makes the unit feel tacky and cheap.
* Plastic frame not as stylish as the Palm Vx’s brushed steel.
* Leather case doesn’t attach via the spine of the device. Instead the Palm sits in a pocket, which looks less stylish, as well as being quite bulky. The assistant sold me a Tungsten case, claiming that the TX is the same size, but the case doesn’t really seem to fit perfectly, which for $30 it should.
* Changes to Graffiti 2 don’t generally seem to be for the better, although this may simply be a case of me needing to get used to writing differently.
* Word completion still doesn’t come as standard with Graffiti and I can’t find a free tool on the web to replace what worked with the Vx. This is really something that should be standard by now.
* Battery life seems a little disappointing compared to the Vx.
* Web browser isn’t fully left handed enabled – when viewing in landscape mode, you have to press on the right side of the screen to scroll. Since I have left handed mode enabled the scroll bar should be on the left side.
* Device shipped with a US only 110V adaptor, so I can only trickle charge via usb until I fork out for a proper adaptor to replace the one that went phut.
* Device doesn’t ship with a cradle.
* The cover that ships with the TX is appalling – incredibly cheap looking and doesn’t cover the unit properly. I’d rather not ship anything than ship something of such poor quality.
What I don’t like but isn’t Palm’s fault –
* Synching with Sun ONE calendar using the latest version of Palm Desktop isn’t supported, which means I have to use an older version which Palm supposedly don’t support, but seems to work, but sometimes doesn’t, which leads to things being a bit messy.
Of all the complaints, the loose button and the case issues are the most annoying, which shows that all things considered I’m very pleased – a nice incremental improvement. Let’s hope it lasts me at least another 6 years, as did my trusty Vx. Let’s also hope in doesn’t get stolen from a hotel room, as did my trusty Vx.