Archive for the ‘Personal Bloggers’ Category

Another Sharjah Shipwreck

Posted on the February 5th, 2017 under Personal Bloggers by

Cometh the storm, cometh the shipwreck. It’s happened almost every year for a few years now, although we missed out last year. It seems like every time there’s a decent storm around here, some poor mug ends up beached on the sandy Sharjah or Ajman corniches. I don’t know what it is that attracts them to this particular stretch of sand, but it does.They’re currently digging up the beach along Sharjah’s corniche, installing what looks like a drainage system. Absent any explanation whatsoever, we can only conjecture it’s to support further hotel development (Boo!) on what is a much-loved stretch of public beach used every weekend by thousands – unless they’re going to expand the corniche road, known locally as Muntaza Road. We can only hope they’re going to put the beach back neatly the way they found it.There was absolute chaos on Friday night as a combination of roadworks and rubberneckers who’d heard there was a beached ship to stare at brought traffic to a standstill on the beach road and all the roads that feed into it. The police were trying to impose some sort of order on everything, with the wind still doing a pretty good howling impersonation and the sea still dangerous. Earlier in the day, the wind was so strong out to sea, you could lean back into it and not fall over.The name of the beached boat looked like ‘Hira’, which would make it an 867 tonne offshore supply/anchor vessel sailing under a St Kitts and Nevis flag, although this is by no means certain – there’s also a Turkish Hira and an Indian one, neither of which look anything like this one. Another time I read it as ‘Hide’ but couldn’t find anything under that moniker. It’s firmly stucked in the sand in the shallows a hundred yards or so away from the beach proper. There’s nothing about it in the news, which is odd as The National and Gulf News have both made much of past beachings.Anyway, by Saturday pretty much everyone had got over it and the crowds had thinned. It’s still out there, presumably waiting for a high tide, a tow or Godot. You can imagine the poor captain calling the owner: ‘Hi boss. I’ve got got good news and I’ve got bad news.’

The Second Router

Posted on the January 23rd, 2017 under Personal Bloggers by

English: A Cisco Systems ASM/2-32EM router in ...This is a Cisco router in 1987. Today this device is the size of a Higgs Boson bla bla bla. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)A ‘rooter’ routes network traffic but the implacable march of Americanisation has us calling it a ‘router’ as in the Rout of the White Hussars. And, living in a house with thick concrete walls, we found ourselves in need of extending our increasingly ubiquitous home network. For suddenly our lives are filled with Apple TVs, bluetooth speakers, iPads in every corner and a burgeoning collection of laptops. Sitting at the centre of all this stuff, like a spider in the centre of a web, is Alexa the Amazon Echo.The trouble was upstairs. The distance and concrete mass was simply too much for a nice, simple wireless repeater, what we needed was a second router up there so we could stay connected to the source of all cat memes in our sleeping hours.In order to extend your network with a second router, you run an Ethernet cable from the primary router to the secondary location (in our case upstairs) and then all you have to do is configure the second router. This is a process no normal human being should have to go through, involving hooking up the router to a PC, rolling up your sleeves and getting under the bonnet. It’s not nice in there, I can tell you. Not having been under a bonnet in many, many years, I found myself struggling. Quite what someone who hadn’t spent their lives around computers would make of this stuff, I really don’t know.It sort of boils down to this, in case you’re interested: you need to turn off any DHCP settings and switch the router to ‘fixed IP’, then give the router a different IP address to the primary router. So if your main router is 192.168.1.1 (which most are these days), you call this one 192.168.1.2. You need to switch the router to ‘access point’ or ‘bridge mode’. You should change the channel, too, unless like us your house is built like a Peenemunde bunker and contains huge wireless free zones. Having done all this, you plugs the Ethernet cable into the Internet ‘in’ plug and Robert is your father’s brother. This process should be documented somewhere in your router manual, but it’s usually not ‘up front’ for some reason.While you’re doing all this, you should probably change the default password on your router (all routers have ‘admin’ as their default password, like all dogs are called Malcolm*). It’s amazing how many people don’t. And write the new password down somewhere you’ll be able to find it easily in a couple of years when you’ve finally got over the trauma of configuring routers. Again, it’s amazing how many people don’t.Why, oh, why this stuff still – after all these years – doesn’t just plug in and work out of the box is beyond me. When we’re running around talking about the age of AI and the wonders of IoT (Internet of Things. It’s linking pencil sharpeners and hairdryers to the Internet so they can talk to your Amazon Echo. Why? Don’t ask.), to find the most basic building blocks of domestic networks still require hard configuration and demand people get to grips with IP addresses, channels and network settings is beyond belief.Never mind. Battered, bloodied and bruised, I sorted it out in the end and now we can gently fry ourselves in high frequency radiation upstairs as well…*This was a gag in, admittedly crap, TV comedy ‘My Hero’, which starred the admittedly brilliant Ardal O’Hanlon as Ardal O’Hanlon. It tickled us for some reason, and led to us taking to constantly calling The Niece From Hell’s Jack Russell terrier – which she had Christened ‘Holly’ – Malcolm to the point where poor Holly even answered to Malcolm. The dog was soon cruelly abandoned by said niece and, mentally scarred for life, was sent to a foster home where nobody calls it Malcolm any more.

Fake Plastic News

Posted on the January 12th, 2017 under Personal Bloggers by

English: A set of online ads featuring fake ne...(Photo credit: Wikipedia)There’s an awful lot of talk about fake news online, a background rumbling that occasionally erupts as indeed it has this week. We have all enjoyed the controversy surrounding the US intelligence dossier that purportedly places the future President of the land of the free and home of the brave in a Moscow hotel room watching gleefully as a number of ladies of dubious reputation perform vengeful lewd acts involving micturating on a bed previously used by the previous President of the LOFTAHOFB.The fun thing about the story, which is more than likely total bunkum, is how deliciously fun it is. Liberal America would just love to believe it. So would most of us, no?The trouble is that it’s getting very hard indeed to sift the wheat from the chaff. But fake news is nothing new: we’ve always been rather surrounded by it. Was King Richard III really a vile, drooling hunchback who murdered two little princes? Probably not, but we’ve been just a tad under 500 years late coming to that conclusion. At the time, the spread of rumour was mostly by word of mouth – Gutenberg had only just invented the printing press and printed his celebrated bible – and so it was word of mouth, together with a wee dose of Shakespearean bile a hundred years later, that was to seal Richard’s poor reputation.Gutenberg’s press – and pretty much every innovation in media and communications since – merely accelerated the process.Richard was just one of a million historic examples of fake news, many of them classic examples of history being written by the victor. Sitting in Dubai, the issue of the Al Qassimi ‘pirates’ comes to mind – opposed to the invading British, they were quickly labelled brigands and pirates and so, for a good hundred years, the whole area was happily referred to as ‘the pirate coast’. My own novels have often played with the idea that my freedom fighter is your terrorist and vice versa.From Gutenberg to the Internet we see the rapidly evolving role of news media – from the invention of the ‘newspaper’ through to the era of press barons and the dominance of media by politics and big business. Idealistic journalists have constantly found themselves challenged by repressive forces, from political interference through to commercial censorship, our media has represented a combination of people telling truth to power and power telling lies to people.We used to depend on those solid journalists and their editors to help us better understand the world around us from an informed viewpoint and we were, up until pretty recently, happy to buy whatever narrative they decided to shape for us. If we suspected any interference behind the scenes, we tended to gloss it over. For our media and governments would never tell us porky pies, would they? Our government, after all, governs in our name, does it not? Represents us? Why, then, would they lie to us?It’s not just governments, of course. Big business loves fake news. Advertising and PR agencies have long placed fake news stories in media. You can spot the weasel words, ‘studies say’ and ‘most folks agree’ are just two of many sure-fire signs that studies don’t and most folks wouldn’t. Palm oil, gun lobbies, Israeli settlers, big pharma selling GMOs to Africa – you name ’em, they’ve been manipulating news by seeding untruths and obfuscation disguised as surveys, research and expert opinion.As the Internet has whipped the news cycle into a news cyclone, we have seen the erosion of trust in ‘mainstream media’ and politics become a dominant force in our society. Last year’s two most savage political upsets were arguably driven by public anger and disaffection with politics, following on from the waves of disaffection which washed around the Middle East and made their way to Europe with the riots in Britain and Occupy Wall Street in the US. We’ve seen growing disaffection with big business, too. That wave of disaffection has moved with blinding speed because of the Great Networks of our age.In the face of that disaffection, our media has been failing – plummeting revenues and the slow death of print have led to staffing cuts and a growing pressure to keep up with the twin-headed Gorgon of Twitter and Buzzfeed. We need clicks, boys, and we need them fast – realtime if you please.If you want to see the result of this dual pressure to make old media models perform in the new media age, you only have to wander around the Daily Mail, the world’s most popular news website. It’s not a terribly edifying experience, especially if you believe (as I do) that we tend to get the media we deserve. The difference between the Mail’s mainstream content and the stories in the ‘Taboola’ tabs is getting frighteningly slim. Real ‘news’ is starting to mimic fake news.Making it all worse, alongside these pressures we have the very nature of the Internet. Ubiquitous, always-on, filled with people, animals, trolls and lice and all their spurious motivations and agendas. What would have been irrefutable proof in Richard’s day (a letter, say) or Nixon’s (a tape, say) is worthless today. We can Photoshop images, edit sounds, manipulate documents and fake testimony.We can harness the news cycle and network effects to put untrue stuff out there and by the time anyone’s got around to saying, ‘Wait, what?’ it’s too late. Site X has run it, sites A-W have picked up from site X in the relentless rush to harvest those early clicks and suddenly the whole Web is full of the Spurious Thing. You can probably correct Site X, but that’s about as far as you’re going to get in terms of actually slipping a cork in the bottle. By about now you’ve got yourself a nice little hashtag and you’re the talk of the town.But this all has just democratised demonisation. We’ve always had fake news. It used to be the preserve of the wealthy, powerful and the victors. Now spotty Herberts in tenement bedrooms can do it. And there are companies out there who are harvesting clicks by the million by intentionally creating alarmist rubbish and pushing it with ‘clickbait’ headlines. Filtering the truth from the fake these days can be a bewildering game. And most people couldn’t be bothered.Which is, to be honest, a worry…

That British Airways Belfast Customer Experience

Posted on the January 2nd, 2017 under Personal Bloggers by

Tails of British Airways Jumbos lined up near ...(Photo credit: Wikipedia)Sometimes an organisation’s priorities are all too evident in the way it comports itself. Let’s be clear here – comportment is what you do, not what you say.Some of the most egregious customer service behaviours I have seen in my professional career have been on the part of organisations which spend a lot of time and money broadcasting their customer-service values and claiming they put the customer first.These have mostly been Middle Eastern banks and telcos, which tend to pay a lot more money pushing ‘we are customer-centric’ messages than they do on actually helping customers in any way. This common attitude to ‘customer experience’ has always confused me, to be honest. It tends to have made its way from the analogue to the digital world, BTW – these organisations under-invest in UX, search and content compared to old-fashioned one-way communication efforts and still tend to consistently confuse outreach for broadcast. And they tend to see public relations as a way of managing and obfuscating their failures rather than as a positive force.Critically, the pain resulting from this behaviour rarely gets felt by the management taking the decisions on where to allocate resources – the customer-facing front line is stuffed with minimum wage drones who have no escalation path. Rather than listen to them, the company will issue customer opinion surveys direct to customers which invariably result in initiatives to squeeze more out of the drones rather than drive any fundamental change in behaviour.In the case of an airline like British Airways, it’s understandable that the big expensive flying machines are what matters most. You’ll claim it’s all about the people, but that’s not really the case (comportment, remember?) – the money’s in the capital equipment and shifting that equipment around with optimal efficiency (slots/routes/lading) is the ultimate key to success.When things go wrong, for instance when your home airport is closed through fog or any other circumstance, the operational challenges can be immense. Suddenly you face the collapse of the carefully stacked house of cards that is your optimal routing/resource utilisation. Minimising time to recovery is key and, despite your loud protestations, customers tend to be one of the great inconveniences to this process. They have a nasty tendency to be where they’re not supposed to be and fail to be quite where you’d like them to be.They get, in short, in the way.When we arrived for our scheduled flight from Belfast to find the usually minimal check-in queue was a long, snaking affair stretching almost out of the airport door, we were puzzled. We’d not been keeping up with the news – too busy doing Christmas – and found out from friends online that there had been flight delays at Heathrow due to freezing fog. British Airways – which had our email address and contact number – hadn’t reached out to advise of any delays or issues.The queue wasn’t moving and there was nobody from BA ‘working the line’ and telling people what was happening. The boards showed later flights to LHR than ours that day had already been cancelled, which had us trying to call a friend we knew was connecting from BHD through LHR to DXB later on. Clearly her travel plans were already scuppered, even as ours still held out a dwindling prospect of hope.After an hour or so, a tannoy advised us that check-in was slower than normal and assured us that ‘we would be processed’ as soon as possible. This would be my first piece of ‘customer experience feedback’ to British Airways. Processed is not, as eny fule no, a ‘feel-good customer experience’ word.A long time later, we were duly processed and went through security to the departure lounges. We were on the 15.05 flight and watched the 12.05 flight departing shortly before we were due out. There was clearly a delay in the offing here, but we took heart on not being cancelled. Minutes later, the tannoy rang out – our flight was cancelled and we were to collect our bags and a ‘rebooking form’ from the baggage area.The rebooking form was an A4 sheet being handed out by harassed looking baggage handlers who assured me that they had no information beyond the form, didn’t work for BA and weren’t responsible for anything. Repeated requests to speak to someone from BA were ignored or refused. The form itself had been knocked up in an annoying, hard to read ‘handwriting’ style font and carried a wrong number for the call centre and the instruction to ‘call between XX:XX and XX:XX’. As the primary instrument of communication to passengers of a cancelled flight, it was pretty shoddy and almost utterly useless. At this stage the BA app and website were equally useless, showing the flight as either still departing or delayed. There was no rebooking option available on either platform. The British Airways call centre was dropping calls with a message that they were too busy to talk to us.We hired a car and fled back to Newry for our unscheduled night’s layover. By the time we arrived down the road (it’s an hour’s drive away), the flight was no longer showing as cancelled, but as delayed to 6am the next day. After 30 minutes on hold, we finally got through to the call centre, clearly managed at a distant location, which could only confirm the delayed flight or refer us back to BA.com. Because your flight is delayed and not cancelled, the message was clear, rebooking isn’t really an option.With no information other than this, we had no option but to get up at 3.30am to arrive at the British Airways check-in at Belfast City – both officially and fondly known as George Best – in time to present on time for the revised 6am flight. Once again, a long, long queue and no BA staff on hand. Getting to the front of the line, we learn BA1417 is a ‘free’ flight – a plane is on the tarmac surplus to requirements and they’ll fill it as soon as possible and get it off when they can. As it turned out, this was finally to be at 5.30pm that day.In all that time, BA staff were notably absent. Information and updates were just as sparse. Throughout, our fellow travellers were anxious and unsure how to act in the total absence of information, given no option but to hang around and wait for the next reluctantly divulged snippet. Families, old people, kids and all – confused, concerned and effectively marginalised – were all systematically kept in the dark.The overwhelming theme throughout this whole process was the lack of communication or concern for the messy carbon-based life forms which British Airways claims sit at the very centre of their business. The BA app was less than useless, the website poorly structured and lacking in any useful information, transactional capability or interactivity – especially given the circumstances. The BA Twitter team pushes out platitudes but there’s little empowerment on show here – they had as much information (or as little) as we did.BA’s only attempt at ‘customer communication’ was a badly formatted letter packed with errors and carrying no useful information. There was no proactive outreach, no attempt at interactive person-to-person communication or ‘Customer Experience Management’ (at one stage the Twitter team told me they’d share my comments with their ‘Customer Experience Managers’ which had me in stitches and, to be honest, rather fed my Twitter output for a while. I managed some 100 tweets in all, a flow of admittedly somewhat therapeutic scorn that eventually drew the attention of the dear old BBC).It was clear time after time that BA staff had knowledge of the developing situation which they were not prepared to share with their customers. BA.com was often updated before any communication was attempted with customers waiting in the lounge, while staff would only offer information in response to direct questions – literally, if you didn’t ask (pointedly), you didn’t get.We couldn’t face a long haul flight directly after the BA debacle and so re-booked our subsequent flight with Emirates. It took 5 minutes using EK’s website. BA followed up the whole frustrating experience with a customer experience survey yesterday (twice, for some reason), which actually just confirmed my views of them as an organisation. Did the pilot serve us well? Was he proactive? Chatty? Good at making us feel warm and welcome?I don’t care, BA. That’s not his job. His job is to drive the thing effectively and safely, not to make up for your lack of investment in customer service by bantering and pandering to your ill-served customers.I’d like to think they could learn something from this: listen and perhaps even consider changing their behaviour as a result of the feedback. But they won’t. British Airways didn’t learn a thing from the Eyjafjallajökull debacle, which cost us four days of BA-induced hell back in 2010 – because every single awful lack in communications and customer care or customer experience management evident then was evident now.So much could change and for a relatively small investment. Because an organisation is judged not on how it acts when everything’s going as expected, but how it acts when the extraordinary happens. British Airways’ performance in the face of the extraordinary has been consistently, arrogantly, infuriatingly sub-par.All it would take is reviewing British Airways’ operations from the customer’s point of view. It’s a serious suggestion – it so clearly hasn’t been done, ever.Meanwhile, my abiding takeaway is that a ‘Customer Experience Management’ team is employed by this company.God forbid. What do they do each day?

Alba Car Care: Dubai’s Ultimate Car Detail Shop

Posted on the February 19th, 2016 under Personal Bloggers by

alba-car-careI wanted to get my car detailed for quite some time and, after randomly watching a small billboard of Alba Royal Car Care at Al Quoz Industrial Area 3, I decided to turn the wheels to that direction and try them out. From what I saw while entering the premises, they have a fairly large facility and a sizeable staff wearing a sharp-looking uniform. Proclaiming themselves as the “number 1 car detailing service in Dubai”, they had a nice and quick desk service.

I was given a small form to fill regarding the basic details and also asking for any special instructions I’d like to specify before they begin.  I found their car detailing process to be pretty meticulous and lengthy with the manager constantly briefing me about the specifics such as the use of pH-balanced soap and special microfiber towel while washing the exterior. The next step included careful detailing of dashboard, door panels, console, seat panels, headrests, rubber mats and cargo area. The windows, also, were given a “water-repellent” treatment and I was quite impressed with the shine. While the three guys were detailing the interior, I was shown the exclusive German waxes, cleansers, polishes and conditioners they would use for car polishing after a hand dry finish.  The stuff appeared to be quite expensive and of premium quality.

To sum it up, I was very happy with what I got for only 450 AED and particularly liked the wheel wax treatment which, like everything, lasted quite longer than I had expected. My car interior smelled fresh, pleasant and rejuvenated for various weeks. If you’re looking for a high-quality car detail package in Dubai at a highly economical price, visit Alba Royal Car Care. These guys also provide other services such as window tinting, car wrapping and dent & scratch removal.  Check ’em out and let us know what you think!

Al Nakba

Posted on the May 15th, 2015 under Personal Bloggers by

Nakba 1948 oldman and baby tentNakba 1948 oldman and baby tent (Photo credit: Wikipedia)She talked to the table, her voice low. ‘My father was born on a farm in Palestine in 1946, outside a village called Qaffin. It’s the farm we have today. My grandparents left during the troubles in 1948, what we call the Nakba, the disaster. You know this, right? The Nakba?’ I nodded. ‘When the Zionists threw my people from their land and declared Israel a state. They had a saying, you know, “A land without a people for a people without a land.” But it was a lie.’