Archive for August, 2009

How to get through to Citibank Dubai

31/08/2009

Citibank have removed the option to speak to a human being when you call them.

This is a bit irritating – Citibank are otherwise quite good, with all the info I need being online or sent via email, so if I need to call them it’s generally for something out of the ordinary that only a ‘real’ person can help with.

I can confirm, however, that shouting at the telephone and repeatedly jabbing the ‘*’ button angrily twenty times or so seems to get you through to a person who can help.

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Come and visit Ras Al Khaimah, Larry Ellison!

30/08/2009

Here’s an interesting article in the New York Times about the America’s Cup being run out of Ras Al Khaimah.

My soon-to-be new boss, yacht owner Larry Ellison, is worried about the security aspects, what with Iran being rather near and RAK’s general location in the Middle East.

I would say that Mr Ellison’s fears are unfounded. He and his crew will be perfectly safe, if not safer than they might be in Europe, the US or elsewhere – after all, few of his current Sun and Oracle employees located here would live in this part of the world if it was truly dangerous. RAK, in particular, is a calm place, with a rather less hectic approach to life than some of its neighbouring emirates.

Mr Ellison has a standing invitation to pop up the road to Dubai to visit me and Mrs Saul, where I will do my best to suck up shamelessly to my new boss of bosses, flaunting my long involvement with the concept of the Network Computer, a subject that his been close to his heart for years. And to mine.

So, come on over Mr Larry (as you would be known). I guarantee you’ll have a great time. After all, If Paris can make it over, anyone can.

Final part of business plan

30/08/2009

Our local delivery shop has executed the final part of its excellent business plan – it shuts down tomorrow.

This is a real shame – having a local delivery place is very handy. Not something I was used to back home, the ability to have your local supermarket deliver all sorts of things at all times of day is incredibly useful, especially when it comes to heavy stuff such as water, cans of drink and so on.

There was a classic example of a small Dubai delivery place near where we used to live. Their business model was as follows –

– Have a small shop with most of the things customers need at reasonable prices, certainly not more expensive for commodity items than the branded supermarkets.

– Keep longer opening hours than the branded supermarkets.

– Have free delivery, with no minimum order.

– Treat your delivery ‘boys’ well and let them keep the tips they earned.

– Leaflet nearby buildings to advertise the services offered.

This place has been around for years and is still going strong.

I built up a very special bond with the man who answered the phone, during five years of ordering 12 big Masafi bottle, carton soda soda water and litre low fat milk, no, no low fat milk. At first, his grunts down the phone all sounded the same, but after a while I was able to distinguish between ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’ grunts. The delivery time was always ‘five minutes’, which meant anything between ten to twenty, but that was always fine by us, okokokokok.

Let’s contrast this supermarket’s business strategy with the soon-to-be-closed place near us.

– Have a small shop without most of the things customers need, with what is there being sold at ridiculously inflated prices.

– Keep exactly the same opening hours as the more conveniently located and cheaper local branded supermarket.

– Have a minimum order of 15Dhs (about $5USD) and take about 30 minutes to deliver (as opposed to, say, having a small delivery fee for orders that were less than 15Dhs sp that people still ordered small things they needed urgently).

– Have only one delivery ‘boy’ and tell all your customers he’s busy when they ring to order something.

– Never do any marketing or advertising.

Granted, I don’t know what their rent was and I know that our development is far from being fully occupied, so maybe they just didn’t have enough customers in the area to be viable. That might be why they are shutting down, but I can’t help thinking that the reason is that this particular outlet simply wasn’t run very well. Shame.

I’m in charge, really

30/08/2009

I have to sign a ‘no objection letter’, giving Mrs Saul permission to carry on working. She’s renewing her labour card and needs my continued permission.

Being the magnanimous type, I will sign.

It’s nice to entertain the thought that I am in charge, at least from time to time.

Want one

26/08/2009

Please may I have one of these?

I wonder what the warranty is and whether after six years the fuel pump, alternator and engine coils will all fail within 6 months of each other?

CCTV’s effectiveness

24/08/2009

An interesting article on CCTV from the BBC.

Whilst back home for two weeks over the summer, I was shocked to see CCTV cameras absolutely everywhere, compared to when I left in 2002. I found myself wondering about the cost involved and their effectiveness.

I don’t mind the odd camera here and there, but I found their new omnipresence a little unsettling.

There’s a small shopping centre near my parents’ house. When I was younger I used to try and avoid that particular area, as it was a bit run down with local yobs hanging around – if you locked your bike up to use one of the shops, you couldn’t be sure it would be there when you got back.

The area now has a CCTV camera watching over it. Over the last year or two, the precinct seems to have attracted a fair amount of investment, with a German delicatessen, Italian ice cream cafe and some much smarter shops there than before. Even the fish and chip shop’s* pretty decent.

Does the camera’s presence have anything to do with this, scaring off the local hoodies, or is this just economic regeneration which would have happened anyway?

* The fish and chop is run by some Kurdish people. Prior to that, it was Chinese owned. I bet you the owners before that were Indian or Vietnamese, then Greek or Turkish Cypriots, with the first owners being British. Interesting how you can chart immigration trends in Britain by who runs the local chippy. I didn’t check, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the supermarket around the corner had a large Polish section 🙂

Fascinating shoe update

24/08/2009

Thanks to a lengthy search back in the UK this summer, I am now the proud owner of a pair of traditionally shaped smart office shoes. It took a while, but I found them.

If you go shoe shopping in Dubai, the only shoes on sale are ‘fashionable’ options, where the shoe is twice as long as your foot and culminates in a ridiculous point – rather like what Ali Baba would wear if he gave up his team of forty thieves and applied for a job as a secondhand car salesman.

Whilst on the hunt for ‘normal’ work shoes in Dubai I encountered some great salesmanship –

– Hello, do you have some more traditional shape shoes? I don’t like these points.

– Ah yes sir! You are meaning the boring shoes? This is not coming in Dubai, only fashionable models that are not outdated for stylish people we are having.

…onto next shop.

– Hello, do you have some more traditional shape shoes? I don’t like these points.

– This one. (Hands me something extremely pointy)

– No thanks, I want something without the points, the thin end. I want the rounded ends.

– This one. (Hands me something that takes pointy shoes to a new level of pointyness).

…and so on.

Never mind! Loakes of London rescued me and I now have a pair of unfashionable, normally shaped office shoes. Personally I think that particular style is classically timeless, but I am not know for my dress sense.

Hopefully, by the time this pair wears out, the rounded look will have come into fashion again and the next round of office shoe purchasing will be less painful.

Ramadan’s here again

24/08/2009

Saturday saw the first day of Ramadan for this year.

I enjoy Ramadan, although a lot of Westerners here say they find it frustrating. It’s just one of those things – you have to go with the flow. Business will slow down, things will take longer to get done and there’s nothing you can do about it except try to take part in the elements you can enjoy and benefit from.

All office workers, Muslims or not, are entitled to shorter working hours. This doesn’t really affect me as the Middle East is only one of the regions I cover, so I am still expected to take calls or respond to emails as I would normally. That’s fine – I enjoy the flexibility Sun offer in terms of being able to work from home and being objectives based all year round, so I don’t feel hard done by. That said, this part of the world does generate most of the revenue for my product set, so work will definitely be a little quieter, which can make things a bit dull.

Mrs Saul will have shorter working hours, so she’ll be more relaxed and we’ll be able to enjoy the odd iftar buffet here and there, as well as time with our friends.

Unless you’re a fasting office worker who has to be at his or her desk during the working day, traffic will be a lot lighter. The rush hour simply shifts to match the shorter office hours, with the roads being a lot less congested during the rest of the day.

All in all, it’s a pleasant month, with the fun of Eid at the end.

There is one aspect to Ramadan here that I don’t like – a massive increase in dangerous driving. This tends to manifest itself in two ways.

Firstly, you see people driving home at insane speeds just before dusk. This causes accidents every year and is completely unnecessary.

Secondly, driving in the evenings, when people tend to go out more than they usually would, generally deteriorates. During the last couple of evenings I’ve seen a big increase in the kind of tailgating, headlight flashing, speeding and weaving nonsense that used to be the norm all year round but which has died out somewhat over recent years. I appreciate there are lots of blokes out and about, enjoying driving around with their friends of an evening, but come on guys!

There was a huge accident this evening at the junction that leads out of our development, where two people had crashed head on into each other. Sadly, I don’t think it’ll be the last we’ll see over the next four weeks.

More business genius

22/08/2009

I’ve just re-read the letter from our cleaning company (mentioned here earlier).

Their genius for business is even more geniusy than I originally thought.

At the bottom of the page there is a form I have to fill in, agreeing to the new rate. Failure to do so will be seen by the company as a rejection of the price increase and they will simply stop sending the cleaners over.

Two clear steps to business growth –

– put up your prices by 16% for no apparent reason.

– put a mechanism in place by which you automatically lose your customers, either because they simply forget to fill the form in, or because they do disagree with the increase and you make it really easy for them to cancel on you.

Bizarre.

Equally bizarre is a local Chinese restaurant’s strategy for growing its take-away business.

– leaflet the entire Old Town area with a very well produced, professionally written menu.

– when customers from the Old Town ring up, inform them that you don’t deliver to the Old Town.

Power cut

19/08/2009

I feel for the people affected by the powercut in Sharjah.

I’d love to see a campaign here to help cut power consumption, based simply around AC. I’m sure there are lots of simple things that could be done just to reduce the load generated by air conditioning. Some basic insulation, doors that shut automatically and some basic training in how to use a thermostat would make a big difference.

An end to fixed pricing for cold air is needed too. I’ve mentioned here before that I pay a fixed price for my AC – cold air pricing is calculated based on average consumption in the development, with each resident taking a share of the cooling needed for common areas. I pay for the electricity used to power the fans, but pay the same as everyone else for the cold air that comes out. There are no meters in the apartments, which means people pay the same whether the apartments are occupied or not, insulated or not, face the sun or are in shade.

Individual metering would be a start, but I’m sure that margins could be increased in conjunction with lower costs to residents, simply by putting some insulation around people’s front doors and the doors in the public areas. Small steps that would make a big difference, but until there’s some financial incentive, it’s going to be hard to get anything done.

I’d love to speak to an expert and see some figures, but I reckon a little would go a long way, with everyone benefitting financially before we even start to think about the green aspect of things.