Archive for January, 2011

Bye bye Bloglines


I’ve used Bloglines to view my RSS feeds for years now, so I was pretty upset when it was announced last year that they were going to shut down.

What I liked about Bloglines was that it was simply laid out, you had a whole page to read an article in and it was easy to add new feeds to.

I never liked Google reader because of the layout issue – you view posts in a frame that doesn’t fill the screen, meaning you are reading articles in two thirds of your screen real estate. This is a waste, as well as being annoying. Photos never quite fit. I just don’t like it.

For obvious reasons, I was very pleased when Bloglines were ‘saved’ by another company. Sadly, this has meant a revamp of the general look and feel and page layout, making it more Google Reader-like.

I am baffled as to why this was done. The clean layout was obviously the only reason to use Bloglines over Google Reader, so why change it? They have ruined Bloglines.

Fortunately I have discovered Feedly, an extension to Firefox. It is brilliant. It is simply laid out, you have a whole page to read an article in and it is easy to add new feeds to.

It actually ‘sits on top’ of Google Reader, so you can use Google reader to view your content whenever forced to, with everything staying in synch.

RIP Bloglines, long live Feedly.



Stunning to see the developments in Tunisia. I’ve visited Tunis many times, working with the local Sun partner and various customers.

You could never directly discuss the political situation. Occasionally a colleague would say something while we were in the car together that would suggest frustration with the way things were. I may be completely wrong, but I felt that negative comments made tended to be directed at the fact that the president’s family were buying up or being handed government assets that were being privatised. Yes, it’s a dictatorship, but the economy’s ok and life’s all right, but all this handing out stuff to your family is a step too far.

Portaits of Ben Ali are/were everywhere. The photos of his images being ripped down send a powerful message. Here is one from AP.

Tunisia Riots

Maybe I am naive, but I was shocked to read about the looting and general criminality that has been occurring. I hope that my friends and colleagues there are safe and well and that they will be able to get back to work and carry on earning a living soon.

One story from my time there…

In IT we talk a lot about ‘downtime’ – the idea is that you ‘architect’ a computer solution in such a way that if a machine, disk or other component breaks, the service the computers are running can keep going. Another component can handle things on its own, another device takes up the work being done, that sort of thing.

Typically systems running big databases are ‘clustered’. Two servers, so that if one breaks, the other one can handle the work that is being done.

When selling our clusters, we would talk about ‘99.999% uptime’. These figures would represent the average time that a solution from us would be unavailable in a typical timeframe.

At one customer meeting in 2003, I was talking about ‘la haute disponibilite de cinque neufs’. That’s ‘five nines uptime’ in my probably incorrect French. The senior guy from the customer’s IT team we were meeting with smiled and said something along the lines of those figures sounding like the results of Tunisia’s presidential elections.

There was nervous laughter around the table at this potentially critical political comment. It was clearly meant to be mocking the results and making the point that the elections were anything but free and fair. The IT manager diffused the situation wonderfully by smiling and pointing to the official portrait of Ben Ali hanging on the wall and adding that the figures we were talking about certainly did match those seen in presidential election results, as those results clearly reflected the will of the Tunisian people and their love for the wise leadership of their president. This seemed to satisfy everyone, regardless of which side of the fence they sat on. We moved back to discussing clustered databases.

I hope Ben Ali enjoys living in Jeddah(!) and that Tunisians get the government they deserve. It’s a great place, in my experience, with friendly, well-educated people, a growing economy and a wonderful holiday destination – everything is in its favour.

Immigrating graduates


Some interesting comments from some US CEOs on immigration here.

Immigration is finally becoming a topic that can be discussed in the UK again. The topic always seems to frighten people away, as it always carries the danger of being accused of being racist when discussing it.

There’s nothing racist about having an immigration policy. You can have a policy that is racist, or right, or wrong, or flawed – simply having a policy is not racist.

My layman’s, Brit-abroad-in-the-Gulf view is roughly this.

We should be encouraging foreign students to study in the UK, particularly from the Gulf. We don’t want these guys going to the US – it’s in our best interest that they study in the UK.

Regardless of where you’re from, simply having studied in the UK doesn’t mean you should automatically be able to stay and work there, but if we have good graduates that can contribute to our economy, people should be able to stay.

Simply having right of residence in the UK should not mean that children born here are automatically entitled to British citizenship. I perceive – and I may be completely wrong – that once you are here in some capacity, able to reside in the UK, your children born here are able to become British citizens. This leads to people effectively being able to stay for the rest of their lives, as they now have dependents, whether it is in society’s interest for them to do so or not.

If we have positions that need to be filled by experts from abroad, we need experts from abroad. The current intention to restrict visas needs to be looked at again. The process needs to be managed by some kind of sponsorship system. I don’t think the UAE system of handling expats working and living here is perfect, but this is the kind of model we need. The idea is to welcome expats who can contribute, but keep control on where the country is going in the longer term. Simply inviting someone over to work for a period of time, which is to their advantage and to ours, should not mean that they and their dependents are automatically able to become British citizens or stay here for the rest of their lives.

Britain has a long history of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers. This should continue, but be implemented properly. The current apparent system of not granting people the right to stay, but then, sort of, well, letting them, needs to stop. Do this properly.

We have to sort out the way we are educating our own population. I have my own views on how education policy should be handled, possibly a topic for another post. Whatever people’s views on how we should be educating people, it’s fairly clear that we’re not doing a very good job of it. Once you get out of the UK, it’s astonishing to see the value people from developing countries put on education, how it’s seen to be so important and how it genuinely helps people improve their prospects. That culture doesn’t exist in Britain for the majority of people. Kids are leaving school unable to read, write and count properly – they are unemployable.

I feel a lot of Brits have their heads in the sand when it comes to their futures – they’re not guaranteed any more, if they ever were. All around the world, universities are producing well educated graduates who also speak excellent English. Simply being a native speaker and having a reasonable degree isn’t going to be enough, particularly if you have ambitions to travel or work in a role that covers a number of countries.

Cancelled ceremony


This is an odd one.

My favourite line –

‘According to El Bashayer, the father sat silently and refused to join the guests for the dinner while the bride had a nervous breakdown and tore the wedding dress.’

There’s an interesting comment in the comments section, presumably from a Saudi, effectively saying ‘why focus on all the nutty stories in Saudi and ignore the more positive news’. I used to think that the US suffered from that a bit from the UK media. We used to listen to Radio One whilst driving to school – after the ‘normal’ news, there was always something funny, usually about some whacky occurrence, almost always in America. For some reason, a story about a couple adopting their car always sticks in my mind.

Who invented this word?


One of the funny things about living in a country where English is the lingua franca, but not the mother tongue of most people speaking it, is that you end up using words and phrases that are not ‘standard’ English, but which everyone generally understands, or can easily come to understand even if their grasp of English is limited. It’s a kind of setting aside of linguistic quirks and inconsistencies and making language into a tool, rather than a work of art.

It’s not as extreme as a pidgin – it’s just a natural simplification of things, with various influences. The English spoken here – and in most of the Gulf – has, principally, influences from people who speak Urdu, Hindi, Tagalog and Arabic as their mothertongues.

Hence finding it normal, after a while, to say things like ‘go straight straight then signal right’, or ‘park in my backside, now now I am coming’. (Carry on down this road for now, old boy, then hang a right at those new-fangled traffic light thingies’ and ‘Park the Rolls at the rear of the premises, James, I shall be right down as soon as this G and T has worked its magic’).

A classic example of a word I’ve found myself using is ‘parking’. I’ve stopped saying ‘car park’ and now just say ‘parking’, even when back in England. I can’t explain why this doesn’t bother me. Perhaps it’s because I am used to saying ‘le parking’ in French, and the hideousness of having to say that wore off years ago – even if ‘le shampooing’ still makes my skin crawl.

One phrase I can’t bring myself to use, for whatever reason, is ‘a training’.

It’s not ‘a training’, it’s a training course, or a training day, or training in X. You can do ‘on a training course’ and you can ‘need training’. You just cannot, not, not, not, say things along the lines of ‘he needs a training’. I cannot ‘advice you’ on the ‘trainings’ we offer, or give you a ‘free training’ even if you will buy too much units if I do.

I can understand why it might be ‘a training’, if you’re not a native speaker, for the same reason that ‘a parking’ is used, as opposed to ‘a car park’ or a ‘place to park’, or something similar. ‘A training’ just annoys me. That’s not an insult to non-native speakers at all. My German’s all right, my French a bit worse, but I would struggle if forced to start writing business emails in either of those languages. However, I give native speakers of those languages free reign to correct any major, grating errors I regularly make in their languages.

Still, at least ‘a training’ is just used here (and possibly elsewhere, but not in the US and not in the UK) and certainly not in official emails from Corporate.

Or so I thought.

Today, however, I received an email, sent by a man in America with an American sounding name, which leads me to think he is a native speaker of English, even if his spelling lets him down and he might not be able to spell ‘colour’ properly. His email told me that –

Our NAS Divisional Process Owner for Quoting will be offering a training for NAS Hardware Sales (both OD and Field)’.

What leapt out ar me from this email was not the fact that I have no idea what a NAS Divisional Process Owner is, or what NAS Hardware Sales is, or whether I am OD or Field, or whether, if, or why I needed instruction in whatever instruction was being offered for.

What leapt out was the fact that he used the phrase ‘a training’.

A training? What does that mean?

Next, Almighty Corporate Americans will be telling us to ‘do the needful‘. This will be interesting for linguists studying how language changes, phrases are transferred and suchlike, but infuriating for me.

Cadbury’s disgrace


This is just disgraceful.

I wonder if there’s anything the government can do?

What a load of pathetic old flannel from Kraft about not even being able to do something around the final bar coming off the production line.

The BBC has a very interesting article on how Cadbury’s and other Quaker run businesses came to be so prevalent in Britain.

I like the mix of being practical in business, but doing your best to take care of your staff – it’s just good business to do so.

Scott McNealy had the same attitude – he looked after his staff as best he could, whilst remaining a typical brutal American IT capitalist. (Yes, Sun was bought in the end, but this had nothing to do with employees being treated well.)

Harry Brown


I’ve just watched Harry Brown.

Violent and quite horrible, but absolutely brilliant. Inspired casting of Michael Caine in the lead role.

Highly recommended, but not a ‘date night’ movie. I nearly made Mrs Saul watch it, but she didn’t like the sound of it – luckily we watched Downton Abbey instead and I saved Harry Brown for me, later.

The way the kids on the estates speak fascinates me. When I left the UK, you have white kids speaking like white kids, the black guys generally speaking with their own style and Asian kids speaking like Asian kids, innit? All the dialects seem to have merged now, so everyone’s lahk chattin’ de same way now bro innit, blud for life my bruvvah, dont let dem pigs get you down shank de man what disrespect you blud, aiight?

Baggs’ legacy


This last series of the UK Apprentice was a cracker.

The show’s managed to stay entertaining and stick to its original format – none of the gimmicky nonsense that was introduced to the US version, such as having losing teams sleep in tents and suchlike. Same basic format, beautifully produced, with a full hour’s show, thanks to not needing to break for ads.

Stuart Baggs’ was the undisputed buffoon of the show. As Lordsugar said himself, I’m sure Baggs will be cringeing at some of the things he said when he looks back in a few years’ time. I have no doubt he’ll be successful though – definitely a ‘doer’, if a bit of a twit at times.

His legacy is already living on in Dubai – I received a real estate agent spam email today. This particular outfit appears to have taken on Baggs’ most cringeworthy phrase. ‘Whatever I touch turns to sold’ now lives on in Dubai as ‘whatever we touch turns to sold’. Hilarious.

Pete Postlethwaite


Sad to read that Pete Postlethwaite has died.

An excellent actor – and always great to see a Brit pop up and add some class to Hollywood.

He seemed to be what I would call a ‘real’ actor. Aside from Hollywood, he was a also a regular on stage, taking on all sorts of roles, as well as British TV series.

We enjoyed watching him in ‘The Town’ and ‘Inception’ recently.

I will have to dig out The Usual Suspects and watch it again.

2010 in review


The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meterâ„¢ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 9,800 times in 2010. That’s about 24 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 143 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 1384 posts. There were 36 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 8mb. That’s about 3 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was February 3rd with 141 views. The most popular post that day was Taliban buy out fund.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,, Google Reader,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for donkey ride, dubai panorama, qat, kamaz, and toyota pickup.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Taliban buy out fund January 2010


Ouch! June 2009


Dubai Panorama February 2008


Five years today April 2010


Yet another Gulf bashing article April 2009