Archive for March, 2007

Barcelona

31/03/2007

In Barcelona this week for an education team meeting on Monday and Tuesday. Mrs Saul and I arrived on Friday – I’ll take a couple of days off and we’ll fly back on Saturday 7. As Mrs Saul is a teacher and this is an edu sales meeting, it’ll be interesting for the sales guys looking to sell to the K12 market to talk to a teacher with experience in the field – and lots of opinions.
I’m enjoying being in a city with some real history behind it. Today we ducked into a small cafe to avoid the rain lashing the Gothic quarter. I found myself wondering about the human history of the building we were in – how many lives had played out their dramas there? Lots, I expect. I doubt many of those people drank decaff capuccinos though.
In our own small way the Sauls will be kicking off the human history of some of Dubai’s apartments. We were the first to live in our flat in the UP Tower and will be the first occupiers of our soon-to-be-built place in the Old Town.
Let’s hope those buildings stand the test of time as well as those we visited today.

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The most amazing toilet in the world ever

28/03/2007

As an addendum to my recent post on total quality Deutschland, I thought I’d mention the ‘rest room’ we visited on our trip to the Black Forest.
My first memories of motorway services stations are generally positive. The family Saul used to stop at Little Chef and Happy Eater when on long journeys in the Austin Princess and I used to enjoy eating chicken nuggets made to look like smiley faces. I have no particular memory of the toilets, which suggests to me that they were always pretty decent.
When I was twelve we went to the French Alps to stay in what was a ski resort during the winter and a pleasant mountain retreat in summer. Apart from a holiday in Portugal when I’d been a toddler, it was my first trip abroad. On the way (in the new Montego Turbo) we stopped to use the toilets besides one of the motorways. They were in such an extraordinarily disgusting state that I was almost mentally scarred for life. I can still remember the sheer horror and sense of revulsion as I went in and saw the hideous vision of festering faeces piled up in front of me. How could anyone leave toilets in such a state? Why was Britain a member of the European Union, if this was the sort of thing that went on? Why did we have to learn French at school, if this was the way they left their toilets?
Fortunately the rest of the holiday went well. I realised it was wrong to tarnish an entire nation thanks to the behaviour or the 100 or so people who had continued to use the facilities even though it was obvious they were blocked.
All this brings me on to the roadside loos we visited en route to Haslach. First off you had to pay €.50 to get in, but you got a receipt that you could redeem in the shop upstairs. The whole area was pristine and apart from pushing the door open and pushing it shut, you didn’t have to touch anything – everything from toilet flushing to paper towel dispensing was handled with infra-red sensors. Even the taps switched on with a simple wave of the hand. The whole experience astonished me – this was a simple roadside cafe area, but the investment in the toilets alone must have represented 1,000s of Euros.
Britain’s a great place, but the Little Chefs and Moto servicestations of today have a long way to go before we can catch up with our German neighbours’ toilet talents. Klo-tastic.

Taxi Watch

28/03/2007

Dubai’s taxi fleet is changing a fair bit at the moment. Gone are the days when the Camry ruled supreme with the odd Peugeot and Mondeo skulking in the corner.
Whilst the 2005 Camry with a nice V6 engine and rear AC is still the standard, a large number of Nissan Altima’s are now to be seen. The drivers prefer the Altimas as they say they’re more comfortable, but there’s considerably less room in the back. Three adults in the back of a Camry can be done relatively easily, but it’d be a squeeze in the Altima.
The Altima is a nice looking car – possibly the only Japanese saloon I could see myself buying amongst a sea of reliable but ugly blobby things.
Also recently appeared on the roads are some Chevrolet saloons – Caprices I think – and Chevrolet people carriers, mostly operating out of the airport. The Mondeo estate’s also keeping its hand in as an airport car.
I’m sure the Camry will bite back – I’ve already seen some of the new 2007 models picking up passengers. I notice that the designers of the new model have hit back at European criticism of the last model’s blobby unstylish looks by making the new one even more blobby and unstylish.
The cabs here get used pretty intensively. Most operate 24 hours a day, split between two drivers. A model that’s only a year or two old will usually have 350,000Kms on the clock, but still be going strong. I wonder where they go after they get too shabby to Dubai?

Doha

25/03/2007

In Doha for two days. Things have developed a great deal since I was last over – airport immigration was much smoother for one thing.
The skyline is taking on a Dubai-like feel.
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The Land Cruiser seems even more popular here than in Dubai, practically the default vehicle on the roads. Taxis are nice new Ford Mondeos.
As all over the Gulf, many labourers are transported around in what were probably once school buses in the US. Some of them still have signs on them asking drivers to be careful as kids are on board.

Fire on Sheikh Zayed Rd

20/03/2007

We woke up this morning to see this –

More videos here.

11 jailed Indians home per wicket taken

18/03/2007

The UK’s Daily Mail might take a leaf out of this Dubai based company’s book – 11 [jailed] Indians fly home when Sreesanth takes a wicket.
This has to be one of the oddest stories so far this year!

Disaster recovery – it’ll never happen to us

18/03/2007

During my course in London the other week the class got to talking about disaster recovery. A sys admin on the course works for a company used to have a data centre at Buncefiled, site of the largest explosions ever to occur in peace-time Europe towards the end of 2005.
He told us that the two admins on duty were thrown right across the server room – they were shaken but uninjured. The whole datacentre was destroyed and it took weeks for the company’s IT to be back up and running. One team managed it more quickly than the others by evading the firemen and sneaking in to fetch one or two of their servers. Although the boxes were in a rack that had fallen over, they still worked.
All this lead on to a discussion on the merits of fireproof safes for storing back up tapes. In theory a great idea, but in reality not much use, unless you’re planning to use them to cook whatever’s inside…
In my line of work, most larger companies now have disaster recovery processes in place. The desktop’s always forgotten though, which means a lot of business still out there for me to address!

Shisha ban

17/03/2007

Thanks to Grapeshisha’s blog, I came across this online petition to exempt shisha cafes in England from the upcoming smoking ban, due to be implemented across England (and Wales?) this July.
Since the whole point of the ban is supposedly to protect employees from secondhand smoke it would be a bit ridiculous to exempt shisha cafes. One look at the ‘shisha boys’* in the cafes around Dubai and it’s clear that the ‘it’s safer than smoking cigarettes’ argument doesn’t really hold water. The cafe next to our building wafts delicious shisha smells around from its outside smoking area, but working in an enclosed shisha smoking place wouldn’t be much fun.
I was surprised that such a draconian anti-smoking law got passed in England. Whilst I can see its benefits, part of me finds a total ban rather ‘un-British’. That might sound pompous, but so be it – surely some kind of compromise could have been made? That said, I expect in twenty years people will wonder what all the fuss was about and shake their heads in amazement at how smoking in public was ever allowed in the first place.
If I were a UK based entrepreneur, I’d be investing in the makers of these devices.
* The men, usually Egyptian, who prepare shisha pipes for customers and usually start the pipe going. They all tend to look rather ill and out of breath.

Shisha ban

17/03/2007

Thanks to Grapeshisha’s blog, I came across this online petition to exempt shisha cafes in England from the upcoming smoking ban, due to be implemented across England (and Wales?) this July.
Since the whole point of the ban is supposedly to protect employees from secondhand smoke it would be a bit ridiculous to exempt shisha cafes. One look at the ‘shisha boys’* in the cafes around Dubai and it’s clear that the ‘it’s safer than smoking cigarettes’ argument doesn’t really hold water. The cafe next to our building wafts delicious shisha smells around from its outside smoking area, but working in an enclosed shisha smoking place wouldn’t be much fun.
I was surprised that such a draconian anti-smoking law got passed in England. Whilst I can see its benefits, part of me finds a total ban rather ‘un-British’. That might sound pompous, but so be it – surely some kind of compromise could have been made? That said, I expect in twenty years people will wonder what all the fuss was about and shake their heads in amazement at how smoking in public was ever allowed in the first place.
If I were a UK based entrepreneur, I’d be investing in the makers of these devices.
* The men, usually Egyptian, who prepare shisha pipes for customers and usually start the pipe going. They all tend to look rather ill and out of breath.

South Africa trip

16/03/2007

A productive trip to South Africa this week. Some good meetings and some good fun as well. I haven’t eaten so much meat in a long time – one ostrich steak in particular needed about two days to digest, such was its size, but it was absolutely delicious.
The flight there was miserable – eight and a half hours at the back of the plane with a neighbour who kept sticking his elbows into me. What made it worse was Aaron’s free upgrade at the gate, leaving me to lounge in cramped economy class hell. Thankfully on the way back I had a whole aisle to myself.
I don’t know if it’s partly due to the size and nature of the region the guys in the Johannesburg office have to cover, but it is without doubt the most ‘stressed’ office of all the Sun places I visit. People seem to look tired and rushed in a way that other Sun employees don’t. Given their travel schedules around Africa, I suppose it’s not surprising.