Archive for January, 2007

I’m a Barbie girl, in a lobby world

30/01/2007

Budding musicians the world over tend to be ambitious. In common with most early intentions, it’s only a select few who make a career playing their own music, or who make a living playing the music they choose to play.
All of which makes me wonder what was going through the mind of whoever was playing the keyboard on the muzak version of Aqua’s ‘I’m a Barbie girl’ that was playing in the Moevenpick Istanbul restaurant this evening. Surely a cultural lowpoint in any self-respecting pianist’s career – although possibly one notch above recording yet another rendition of Elton John’s ‘Nikita’, surely the lobby number one, the world over.

Into the Dragons’ Den

30/01/2007

Emirates is running an excellent BBC 2 reality show at the moment – Dragons’ Den.
The premise is simple. 5 potential investors hear pitches from people who want money for their businesses and decide whether to invest or not.
Various ‘reality’ TV tricks make the show very entertaining. Some aspects are a little cruel – contestants need to climb some rather steep steps up to the room where interviews take place for example, which means most find themselves standing in front of the panel completely out of breath – on top of being nervous. The catchphrase from the panel is ‘I’m out!’, usually spat out in disgust when they’ve had enough of what’s being pitched to them.
Some contestants have good ideas but no business sense. Many are really inventors who should be selling their ideas rather than trying to create a business to produce sell what they’ve created. Some are downright appalling, standing in front of the Dragons with no idea what they’re really selling, how much they’ve sold or how they think they can sell.
Reality TV is meant to be entertaining and tends to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Dragons’ Den avoids the worst excesses of other shows, but I found myself a little put off at times. Whilst the potential investors might not like what they see, occasionally they can be downright rude and unpleasant to the people standing in front of them. Call me pretentious, but it can all get rather rude and – yes I’ll say it – rather un-British at times.
At one point an investor makes a comment along the lines of ‘I’d rather stick pins in my eyes than invest in you.’ The contestant replied that he wouldn’t want to work with someone who spoke to people like that anyway. I found myself cheering the contestant on. His point was valid.
Yes, business is a hard nosed, tough environment and reality TV isn’t much fun when everyone’s all rather polite with each other. Despite that I don’t think treating people badly makes business work better or make a programme any more entertaining.
I’ll still be watching every other episode I can though…

Flickr blocked

29/01/2007

Apologies to any UAE readers who can’t see photos I post here. I use Flickr to host my pictures – the uploader makes it easy to get my photos on the site and arrange them into sets and I’ve also paid up $24 or so for the premium edition.
Unfortunately though Flickr is blocked again in the UAE. Hopefully the content that is responsible for the site-wide block will either be removed or the UAE’s filter will be adapted to block only the offending pages. I do hope this happens soon, as for the most part Flickr’s content is clean and it’s an excellent service. I know that many UAE based Flickr users find it invaluable for sharing their images of life in the Emirates with their family and friends abroad, for example.
If I have the odd pic I’ll upload it to Sun’s blog site, but for more than that I’ll still use Flickr – fingers crossed that it’s able to be unblocked again in the near future.

Tashkent

29/01/2007

I had my first trip to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, last week.
The journey there and back was a bit of a nightmare – I flew via Istanbul on the Sunday and got to bed at about 0500 local time (0400 Dubai time) on the Monday morning. When waiting to leave my hotel at 0130 on Thursday morning to catch the 0400 flight back to Istanbul I found myself wishing that Turkish airlines had an afternoon flight on Thursday instead – that would have allowed me to get a decent night’s sleep and get some work done during Thursday morning. Be careful what you wish for – I did fly to Istanbul on Thursday afternoon in the end, but only thanks to my morning flight being cancelled due to fog. Fortunately the hotel had called ahead to check so I went to sleep instead of going to the airport and back.
I got to the airport as instructed for 1030 the next morning, but my flight only left at 1600… Turkish airlines were great though, even booking me onto one of their flights out of Istanbul to Dubai later in the evening in case I missed my connection with Emirates. Fortunately I made it to Istanbul in time and was safely home with Mrs Saul as scheduled.
Uzbekistan is in an interesting linguisitc situation at the moment. Uzbek is the national language – it’s written in the Latin alphabet following a switch from an adapted Arabic script in the early 1900s, to Cyrillic during Soviet times and back to Latin after 1991. Uzbek is apparently sometimes written in Cyrillic still and that’s what most older Uzbek speakers can read. Signs in English seemed to be available at critical points. That said, Russian is widely spoken and is the effective lingua franca of the country. All this means that in the airport signs for toilets, cafes and entrances and exist are in Uzbek and English, but the departures board is in Uzbek and Russian. My hotel taxi dropped me by mistake at the arrivals area where the only signs I could see were in Cyrillic and presumably Russian. It took me a while to find out that I was at the arrivals area. I eventually made it to departures.
Arriving was interesting. The arrivals area has an internet cafe which was full of people playing Counter Strike, so as I walked towards the exit from customs all I could hear was guns firing, which left me wondering what I was about to walk into. Fortunately the only gun fire was virtual and I eventually found the hotel driver that had been arranged.
The hotel staff were very friendly and spoke excellent English, but it wasn’t a very welcoming building and most of the items on the room service menu weren’t actually available. I think they are in the middle of a management change, so I’m sure things will get better in due course.
I felt very welcome and most people were keen to talk to me and practice their English. Whilst standing outside the hotel in the evening I got talking to two guys who walked past. I also had a good chat with the two lads working at a kiosk I bought some drinks at. Everyone seemed excited to hear I was from London and were keen to know what I thought of David Beckham.
I spent some quality time with the partner I met. Nickolay, the tech team leader, is an Uzbek citizen of Russian background. His English is top notch and is accompanied by a very dry sense of humour. We had a good time together – he took me to lunch and dinner with one of the business managers, Atakeb, also a fluent English speaker. The food was excellent. Kebabs and lots of side dishes were the order of the day. I particularly enjoyed going to a small restaurant near their offices for lunch. The building was run down, but the food was excellent. Ahmet was cooking the kebabs and asked me to take a photo of him.

Most of old Tashkent was destroyed by an earthquake in 1966 and the city was rebuilt on Soviet lines. I’m told that much of the old city looked like this area, where we had lunch.

The new city was built using Moscow architects, with wide boulevards and large buildings.

Cars are a mix of old Russian Volgas and Ladas, with modern cars being Daewoos made at the local factory. The contrast between the square designs of the Russian makes and the Korean style ‘bubble cars’ was quite striking.

As mentioned in an earlier post, I spent a pleasant afternoon at Ye Olde Chelsea Arms. Probably one of the nicest English pubs I’ve been in outside England.

I wasn’t sure what to do with the glass of flaming liquid that was served with my meal there. Pour it on my food, drink it or just admire it? It turned out it was burning vodka that was simply there for decoration.

Local drinking habits are different to the UK’s. Vodka is typically served with meals in 500ml bottles. The cafes at the airport served soft drinks, beers and spirits, with vodka again being purchasable in half litre bottles. By my reckoning 500ml of 40% vodka’s the same as 8 pints of premium strength lager. Definitely something to be shared with travelling companions. 8 pints of Stella for lunch or before a flight would be a bit much even for George Best.
We have some good business opportunities there and one university is already using Sun Rays, so I hope to be back in the near future.

Jonathan’s blog in Arabic – now available!

29/01/2007

Would you like to read Jonathan’s blog in Arabic? Mafi mushkalla habibi, it’s now available.
It’s free too, so it costs mafi faloos to read it.
Khallas! Enough from me, go and enjoy it

Taliban tanks

29/01/2007

I’ve seen lots of photos on news sites recently of the Taliban driving around in brand new 4×4 pickups. It makes me wonder what the export regulations are for these kinds of ‘products’?
Sun and other IT companies are subject to strict export compliance rules – everything we sell has to have the end user detailed and export approval granted. These things are strictly monitored and even minor breaches can result in major disciplinary action from the US government. Do similar rules apply to the manufacturers who make these vehicles?
I realise that anything and everything can be smuggled and that there are always countries willing to sell to all kinds of middlemen, knowing full well that the end user’s not particularly popular.
That said, it strikes me that since these kind of groups favour certain brands above all others, surely the manufacturers would prefer their logo not to be associated with the Taliban? Second hand vehicles making it over the border I can understand, but seeing a group like the Taliban happily equipping themselves with such gleaming new kit is a little surprising.

Richmond upon Thames daily photo

28/01/2007

Mr Saul senior has started a ‘daily photo’ blog.
Richmond upon Thames Daily Photo has just had its first post.
Richmond and the surrounding area is what I call home. My parents moved to Ham when I was only a few months old and then to Petersham when I was about 5 or 6. Both ‘villages’ are part of the greater Richmond area. Fellow residents are Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood, Richard E Grant and others. Their houses are bigger than ours. The UAE’s president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, maintains a residence next to the Ham gate entrance to Richmond Park. It’s a discrete building that must be one of the most desirable locations in the area. The Saul family is yet to receive an invitation to tea!
Richmond’s a great place to live. Central London is a train or underground ride away, Heathrow a 45 minute taxi ride and access to the UK’s motorway arteries is easy. This is no grey conurbation though – Richmond Park and the Thames are nearby and Richmond town centre itself keeps its own identity despite the invasion of Starbucks and other big brands. eBay UK’s headquarters are down the road in Kingston. I expect you’ll see plenty of pictures over the coming weeks that will help you get to know the place.
Thanks to Bluey and his Dubai Daily Photo for inspiring my father to makes his first steps into the world of Web 2.0.
ps You may notice that my father is driving a Wrangler in his photo. He took the wheel for a trip to Fossil Rock when my parents and sister were over at Christmas, a visit I will write up in due course.

Mouse joy and despair

28/01/2007

My heart leaped this evening as I entered my room at the Moevenpick Istanbul. Someone in management has obviously been reading my blog and taken notice of the comments that optical mice don’t work on hotel desks that have glass tops – hence the shiny new mousepad there for me to use.
Only one problem… I appear to have left my mouse in the lounge at Dubai airport. Since the touchpad mouse on my laptop is broken, this means that mouse activities are seriously curtailed. As I type the cursor is wobbling wildly across my screen. Hopefully the business centre will take pity on me and lend me a spare.

Mouse joy and despair

28/01/2007

My heart leaped this evening as I entered my room at the Moevenpick Istanbul. Someone in management has obviously been reading my blog and taken notice of the comments that optical mice don’t work on hotel desks that have glass tops – hence the shiny new mousepad there for me to use.
Only one problem… I appear to have left my mouse in the lounge at Dubai airport. Since the touchpad mouse on my laptop is broken, this means that mouse activities are seriously curtailed. As I type the cursor is wobbling wildly across my screen. Hopefully the business centre will take pity on me and lend me a spare.

Could I have written like this?

22/01/2007

A couple of the blogs I enjoy reading are written by teenagers. One of them is Falapeno.
I’d guess that Falapeno is probably between 14 and 18, based on info from his posts. I assume it’s a ‘he’ as it’s Falapeno and not Falapena. Could I have written such thoughtful entries if I’d had a blog at that age?
Even if I’d not written such well thought out pieces and even if most others of the same age or much older don’t, I love the fact that blogging and other net activities seem to get so many people writing and ‘interacting’ rather than simple ‘consuming’ by sitting goggle eyed in front of the TV. I don’t have children, but if I did I’d expect to be much happier seeing them chatting, reading web pages and blogging rather than simply sitting in front of the box, which was the alternative to running around outside when I was younger. That’s not to say that kids shouldn’t be outside getting some exercise, but when they’re back in I’d be much happier to see the TV off and something creative going on instead.
I hope these comments don’t come back and bite me in a few years.