Archive for June, 2010

Eat Jamie style

30/06/2010

I don’t understand the new health secretary’s reasoning.

Jamie’s approach means that schools serve healthy stuff at a good price.

If people don’t want their kids to eat that, fine – you will see them giving their kids money that they will spend in the local chippy. There are limits to how far the government can get involved.

Lansley wants people to take responsibility for their actions. That’s fine – you can’t stop a parent poisoning their child if that’s what they want to do. You can, however, make sure that what the government is serving them is decent.

I’m sure Lansley’s an intelligent chap and that there is more to this issue than is in the article. Based on the tone of the article, he seems to be saying that since a lot of kids go off and eat rubbish, the government should serve them rubbish at school.

Surely the government needs to do its best to provide a healthy option, at the very least? If parents and kids ignore that, there’s not a lot you can do, but you can at least provide them with a sensible option.

If you can get hold of the series Jamie Oliver did – Jamie’s School Dinners – I urge you to watch it. Fascinating stuff. I had no idea that so many British kids were eating such absolutely awful rubbish.

Welfare

24/06/2010

A short piece from the BBC talks about families on welfare in the UK.

The families interviewed seem pretty decent and are clearly stuck in a situtation where working doesn’t make financial sense, which is clearly not a good thing for anyone.

The things that I don’t understand, though…

– Why so many kids? If you don’t have any money and are with a woman who has three kids already, plus one of your own, why have another child when you’re unemployed?

– Why spend 2,000 quid on credit every Christmas on branded rubbish, just so your kids don’t ‘feel poor’. This seems crazy.

– Why not move where there is work? Fair enough, with children you have issues with schooling and the like. I totally understand that. But if the work in that town is drying up, does it not make sense to look elsewhere? The world is bigger than Stockton-on-Tees.

I’m not trying to come over all Daily Mail and high and mighty. I just think these are obvious questions that will occur to most people watching the report and it’d be interesting to hear the responses.

Kuwait turns off the lights

22/06/2010

Irony in action – a country awash in energy reserves is running out of energy.

It’s all very well cutting public sector working hours, as long as someone turns off the lights and AC when they leave at midday – if not, you’re just increasing the power that’s being used, as everything will stay on at work, as is the norm in the Gulf, whilst people go home and use more power in their uninsulated villas.

The Gulf countries could do so much more to save energy. Even before we talk about things like solar powered water heaters and the like on people’s roofs, simple things like doors that close properly would be a good idea.

The prime example of this is Mall of the Emirates – a building housing an indoor ski slope in the middle of the desert has lots of doors at its various entrances that don’t close automatically and aren’t well sealed when someone does bother to push them to.

Our building, two and a half years old, has no metered AC in the apartments, so there is no incentive to save energy. Front doors are not insulated, doors in public areas do not shut properly, lights are left on and have no timers or motion sensors.

It’s my understanding that the prevailing attitude up until now has been that energy is essentially a product being sold at a profit to consumers. There is no incentive to have people save it – you want your populace to use it. It might not be expensive, but you still want to shift volumes of Kilowatts you can make some money. This model can’t continue. My fear is that we’ll simply see prices go up in the Gulf, whilst landlords leave their buildings uninsulated and governments provide no incentives or assistance to ‘ordinary’ people to save energy.

My usual presentation to customers has a section on how my products save energy. Today in Beirut, the power supply obliged me by failing around about the slides on how we reduce power consumption. That helped reinforce the message.

Breastfed drivers

22/06/2010

This is, without a doubt, the best article I have ever read about Saudi Arabia.

“If the demand is not met, the women threatened to follow through the fatwa which allows them to breastfeed their drivers and turn them into their sons.”

Most cutting Amazon review ever?

21/06/2010

I suspect this review didn’t do much for the book’s sales.

If anyone knows of a good book on the same subject, I’d love to hear about it – I won’t be buying this one…

Failed taximen

21/06/2010

I do feel sorry for these taxi drivers. I get the impression that they are dropped into a fairly alien environment and expected to know about ‘the rules’ intuitively with little training. With the best will in the world, someone coming from Peshawar to work as a driver is unlikely to be familiar with the latest in customer management skills and is likely to treat traffic regulations as general guidelines. To be fair, sensible driving is not always something every car with Sharjah plates practices, either.

Based on conversations with taxi drivers, in Dubai at least, the discipline used to knock them into shape can be fairly harsh. I imagine that many of the guys that end up in Sharjah are those that couldn’t get a job with the Dubai based companies, which would make things harder.

Dubai’s taxis have certainly improved in leaps and bounds since I arrived. Gone are the days, in my experience, of driving down the hard shoulder of Sheikh Zayed Rd, insane speeding, ‘interesting’ smells and so on. In 2002 I used to find myself admonishing the driver during pretty much every journey. Now that’s very rare. Better training, I presume.

I would rate the service you get at Dubai’s airport as being, hands down, the best in the Middle East and Africa. Excellent cars, responsive call centre for central bookings, well trained and (generally) safe drivers, all very well priced. Most of them even use their indicators, these days.

Certainly better than the Beirut airport experience I had this morning. As soon as you exit the airport, you’re surrounded by various men quoting vastly inflated prices, shouting at you, grabbing your bags and trying to rush off with them. Once you negotiate a price that you know is fair – something you’re able to judge after being ripped off several times in the previously – the driver you end up with is inevitably driving something that is falling apart. When you arrive at your destination the price then has to be renegotiated if you want a receipt. It’s an awful way to be introduced to a country – if you’re travelling for work, get whoever you’re meeting to book a trusted company to meet you!

Gulf wives of Kerala

19/06/2010

An interesting article in The National.

The hardest part must be when the men come home for good, upsetting thirty odd years of routine and generally getting in they way.

Two weeks as an Oracle employee

15/06/2010

I am travelling this week, which generally means blogging resumes. Expect a few more fascinating posts soon, including my thoughts on now being part of Oracle.

In the meantime, this blog post posted over five years ago is interesting, to me, at least.

Talk the vision by all means, but get a Purchase Order this quarter. Oracle seem to know how to do that far better than Sun did – by which I mean getting paid, not coming up with great ideas that someone else could run with, get paid on and which didn’t mean we could stay viable.

As a consumer with more money to spare than I had in Feb 2005, one of my main drivers for gettiing an iPad currently would be the ability to subscribe to The Times and read it nightly, wherever I am. The bandwidth was there five years ago – devices are catching up and ease matches convenience matches form factor.

I still need Mrs Saul to approve the budget, so some things have not changed.

Stats

15/06/2010

I appreciate the need to protect sensitivities, but the stats at the end of this article would make more sense if they were accompanied by a figure mentioning the percentage of the population each nationality represents.

Entrepreneurs

15/06/2010

Sultan Al-Qassimi writes excellent columns for The National.

This column struck a chord.

Whenever it’s a Westerner or Emirati being featured in a newspaper or magazine by dint of them having started a business, they are always called ‘entrepreneurs’. I admire those people who have started their own schwarma shop, clothing business, ice cream delivery round or bakery in Dubai. I enjoy the magazine features, generally accompanied by pictures of people looking serious and crossing their arms and I sometimes wonder if I could do the same thing myself.

We are surrounded in the UAE, however, by people from India, Pakistan and elsewhere, who have started their own cafes, restaurants, tea stalls, laundries, bakeries, garages, fixing fixing companies, IT consultancies and so on. These guys are also entrepreneurs, often succeeding in the face of far more adversity – lack of capital, lack of alternatives, lack of education, racial stereotyping and the like. Despite the bureaucratic and financial hurdles they have succeeded, the key factor being that they had no choice but to. These guys are entrepreneurs in the truest sense and we shouldn’t overlook them.

The same goes for the UK. A trendy bar or restaurant is run by ‘a young entrepreneur’. The Balti House round the corner, founded in 1973 after its owner arrived in Britain after getting kicked out of East Africa, qualifications unrecognised, far from home, with no leg up to speak of, taking his place in the local community – that’s entrepreneurship that also deserves to be recognised.