Thursday, October 29, 2009

Still there

When I posted a photo of an abandoned BMW back at the end of August it had obviously been in the parking spot in Dubai Marina for some time.

The last fines the owner racked up were in December '08 so I'm guessing it was probably left to its fate around the beginning of this year.

It's still there, gathering even more dust and graffiti:

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dangerous road management

Over the almost four years of this blog I've often complained about poor management of our roads which adds immeasurably to the dangers and chaos.

A lot of it's simple basic stuff - bad road design, merging lanes far too short, misleading signage, that sort of thing.

There was another classic example this morning on Al Sufouh Road, the stretch between Dubai Marina and Knowledge Village.

For many months they've been digging the road up and diversions have been in place, which we've all got used to.

This morning it had all changed.

Not a word of warning, no sign saying 'Changed traffic conditions'.

Suddenly we're on a stretch of road we don't know, with no idea where the road we need is, no idea which lane we need to be in.

Inevitably there was confusion, lots of slowing down, lane changing, last-second swerving.

It's not rocket science is it, it's simple admin, a procedure.

"If we change a road layout we must alert motorists to that fact with a warning sign".

Yet they can't do it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

They're still out there.

I'm sure I've noticed a reduction in bad, inconsiderate, dangerous driving over the past year.

The main reason is probably the reduction in frustration because the gridlock we were experiencing everywhere has largely disappeared. The major contributors to that I'm sure are the opening of so many new roads and the migration back to Dubai from Sharjah and the northern emirates since the rents here came down.

But morons are still out there.

In the last eighten hours I've had three close calls.

Three 4X4s. Two Dubai and one Abu Dhabi. Two women and one man, all Caucasians.

First, coming in to the southern end of Dubai Marina from SZR and onto the one-way system. Look left, all clear, proceeed, miss by a few centimetres someone taking a short cut and ignoring the No Entry signs.

Second, on the 60 kph section of Al Sufouh Road going into Knowledge Village. Just coming up to the turnoff to Palm Jumeirah when I was passed by a Jeep doing at least 90kph which then pulled across in front of me, slammed on her brakes and took the turnoff. Again a few centimetres.

Third, in the car park of Marina Mall I pulled out of my parking space, turned the corner and there was a moron coming in at far too high a speed through a No Entry sign and against the arrows. Emergency stop required.

By the way, I identified the ethnicity of the drivers because it's 'Europeans' who think they (we) have the sole ability to drive correctly. The letters pages, dinner party conversation, radio callers routinely blame 'locals' for all the problems on our roads.

Monday, October 26, 2009

That's better

Daytime temperature around 35C with humidity down to about 30%, bright and sunny.

Now if only the wind would drop so the air was clear of cement dust...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

VoIP. Don't get too excited

Recently the TRA and now our two ISPs have said we'll be getting VoIP international services before too long.

From conversations and media reports over the past few years it seems to me that most people are assuming we'll be getting very cheap international calls, like those offered by the banned Skype and others.

The reality is that the cost of using VoIP is decided by the provider.

I'll be very surprised if Etisalat and du offer anything like the cheap rates charged by Skype, MyWebCalls and the others.

Gulf News has the latest here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Friendly efficient government service

That heading related to dealing with government departments anywhere in the world sounds like an oxymoron.

But it's what I've experienced this very morning.

In Dubai.


I had a message on my mobile the other day reminding me that my e-gate card needed renewing.

Thumbs up for that.

This morning I went to the DNATA building on Sheikh Zayed Road to renew it, expecting to be gone some time.

No queue so I was beckoned immediately to the desk by a friendly smiling Emirati lady. I gave her my existing e-gate card and passport. She did a few seconds on the computer, asked me to read the screen to check that my name was correct, asked if I'd like a new photo (I declined), then she printed a document and gave me clear instructions of where to take it to pay.

I went downstairs, paid the money, went back to the e-gate section and handed over my receipt.

The lady handed me my passport and new e-gate card, I said "shukrun" she smiled and said "goodbye".

It didn't take much longer than it's taken me to type this.

Another thumbs up.

And by the way, if you live here and you don't have an e-gate card, do go and get one.

You avoid the queues at airport immigration and get in and out instantly.

You simply go to the e-gates, tap your card to open the entry gate, put your index finger on the pad for it to read your fingerprint, the exit gate opens and that's it, you're through.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Here's something I miss...

"A MOTHER humback whale and her calf were spotted frolicking off the coast of Terrigal and Avoca Beach on Wednesday as they made their journey south."

Photo: Matt Lloyd, Express Advocate

Each year the whales cruise past Terrigal, our hometown, heading north and then later coming back south.

The local radio always announces when whales are in the area but we often just spotted them when we were sitting on our balcony. Here's the view from our balcony, which has a clear view across the bay:

The whales are easy to see through the binoculars but a quick drive down to the rock platform gives an amazingly close-up sighting of them.

It's some sight.

I found the story here.

Australia burning again

Photos: Chris Ison, Courier Mail

Photo: ABC

Not long after the country's deadly worst ever fires in Victoria, (which I posted about here) there were warnings that this year's fire season could be the worst ever.

It's looking ominously as though those predictions may have been accurate, with big bushfires already in Western Australia, in New South Wales and even up in tropical Queensland.

Worst hit is Queensland where there are over fifty fires blazing, but there are other big fires in northern NSW and down to my home area just north of Sydney.

Yesterday the fires were reported as easing but today the firefighters' worst enemy the winds have strengthened and residents are being told they face days of threat.

It's happening very early too, the fires are usually at their worst around Christmas time.

There's a gallery of photos and the stories here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

This is a car crash

We have plenty of car crashes in Dubai but nothing so far to match this one earlier this morning in Sydney.

A Holden Commodore (which are re-badged as Chevrolet Luminas in the Gulf) was obviously speeding. The driver lost control, the car went over the median strip, crashed through a traffic light pole and over the footpath. Then it hit a large mound of dirt and took off.

It landed on, or I should say in, the roof of a house 90 metres from the start of the crash...

Photos: Shaw Daniel Sunday Telegraph

The couple in the house and their three month old baby were unharmed, the two morons in the car are in hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Another emergency evacuation

I hate to think what would happen if we had a real emergency.

Last month I was in the emergency evacuation incident at Dubai's Terminal 3 and I posted about the problems.

Yesterday we were in Souk Madinat Jumeirah and at 7pm had just placed our order in Dome coffee shop when the automated alarm started.

The recorded voice told us "An incident has occurred in the building...don't panic...don't use the lifts...go immediately to your designated assembly points"

Friday evening is a busy time at Souk Madinat so there were plenty of people eating, shopping, wandering about.

The people working in the shops and restaurants obviously knew what to do and where to go, to their designated assembly points. That's what they did.

For the rest of us it was confusion.

Some, maybe most, people ignored the message. Others wandered outside and stood around wondering what to do next.

Not a sign of a security person, no indication that anyone, a real live person, was in control. Just an automated message repeating itself.

Outside the main entrance there were three security people standing around, allowing pedestrians and vehicles to continue to pour into the building.

My guess is that they were unaware of the instruction to evacuate.

Chaos reigned for a while. People leaving were milling about by the entrance, some sitting on the steps, while newcomers were trying to push their way in.

Still no sign of anyone in control, no security or safety people directing or giving information.

After 10 minutes we gave up and went back to Dome. The staff were back in and told us there was a gas problem, it was being fixed and the kitchen would be working in a few minutes.

It's the basics being wrong that worries me.

You need someone in control, who is seen to be in control.

A real live person on the PA system, not a pre-recorded tape.

You need visible security/safety people directing, explaining, in control.

If the building is to be immediately evacuated you need to stop newcomers from entering. So security people need to be stationed at the entrances.

Obviously they need to be informed of the situation, so they need to be equipped with radios linked to the control room.

If it's a real emergency there's urgency involved here. Action has to be immediate.

Get people out and well away from the danger, quickly and in an orderly fashion, prevent newcomers from coming in, divert traffic.

None of that happened.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Spinning the news

Feel free to ignore this bit, I first need to rant about the dreadful new Gulf News web site. Again.

I can't believe how bad it is, it's now without doubt one of the worst newspaper sites on the web. I simply don't understand how anybody involved can think it's better than the one it replaced.

I'll get to the real post in a minute, which was triggered by a story in the India news section of today's Gulf News.

That section extends over four full pages, about a dozen stories.

What does the website give us in the India news section? Three of today's stories, then it travels back in time to old stories from earlier issues.

So much for the modern, up-to-the-minute, instant internet.

I tried searching for the story I want but: "Sorry your search did not find any results"

A dozen of today's stories are considered worth publishing in the paper but for the website only three are deemed worthy, and old stories dominate.

Anyone else as frustrated with it as I am? How about a petition to encourage them to scrap it and go back to the sensible, useable design?

And so to the real post.

There's an interesting example of how spin is put on stories, how facts are presented very differently, an example of why getting our news from one source is dangerous. A demonstration that we need to get information from a number of sources and use our brains to work out what's really happening.

The stories relate to a survey of over 6000 students from eight countries, including 1,100 from India, conducted by IDP Education.

Gulf News uses a wire story from PTI, the Press Trust of India, headed:

"Australia could see 50% fall in Indian students"

The spin on the PTI report is transparent if you give it any thought at all, or if you balance it against other reports.

It begins "In the backdrop of a spate of racial attacks in Australia, Down Under could witness a 50 per cent drop in Indian students in the next session."

Immediately you get the way they're going with this.

It goes on to claim the CEO of IDP Education: "...felt the fall in numbers might be entirely due to safety issues, global slowdown could also play a part in it."

That's followed immediately by what he actually said: "We have the GFC (global financial crisis), which has obviously impacted upon families in India and that’s evident by the fact that the applications for other countries are way down, particularly the US."

What he said and what they say he said are two totally different things.

The GN PTI report itself ends with another quote from the CEO, basically contradicting its own spin on the story. It says: "The somewhat surprising result and indeed promising result is that they believe Australia to be the safest destination of all the English speaking destinations - and by quite a margin."

In Oz the story says:

"Australia tops poll for student safety.

Despite media coverage here and overseas of violent attacks on Indian students, nearly 40 per cent of respondents ticked Australia as the safest place when asked to choose from a list comprising Australia, the US, Britain, New Zealand and Canada. The US ranked last for safety, with 4.3 per cent.

IDP Education chief executive Anthony Pollock said the findings in relation to Indian students reflected the 'private opinion of students which may be a little better disposed towards Australia than the public opinion in the press'.

He said IDP was expecting a 50 per cent drop in Indian student enrolments next year because of negative media coverage in India of attacks on Indian students, the global economic squeeze and a government crackdown on bad practices in the international education industry."

Same story about the same research but two very different impressions given.

Thanks to the failings of the new Gulf News website I can't give you a link because the story isn't there. I can give you a link to a different site which has part of the PTI story though, so I'll do that.

You can find a story based on the PTI report here.

The alternative interpretation is here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pricing Emiratis out of a job.

The National has a story this morning about security guards in Dubai protesting because they are payed much less than their colleagues in Abu Dhabi.

At the beginning of the year the the Ministry of Interior declared a minimum salary for expat guards at Dh2,000 a month, but that hasn't yet been applied in Dubai.

However, there was a particular sentence in the story that intrigued me:

"In January, the Ministry of Interior announced that expatriate security guards would have to earn at least Dh2,000 a month and Emirati ones Dh6,000 as part of a new accreditation scheme for private security companies. "

Now I can see that maybe the Emirati salary was introduced in an attempt to encourage Emiratis to apply for employment. But I can't imagine any company owner tripling his salary bill simply to employ them.

Counter productive, surely?

The story is here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

GN's new web portal - what a mess.

I planned to post about a story in today's Gulf News (which I'll get onto in a minute) but the proudly trumpeted new web portal has tripped me up.

They have a double page in the printed paper with plenty of people involved in the new design telling us how wonderful it is.

Here's how wonderful it is from a users perspective.

It isn't.

The story I'll get to shortly is the lead on page 2, so they obviously think it's of some importance:

As always, I want to give you a link to the full story but their sparkling new wonderful better-than-ever web site doesn't have it.

Inevitably the new design makes it harder to find stories than did the design it's replaced. This story isn't there anywhere though.

I've looked at all the relevant pages. Not there.

I've put everything I can think of into the search engine and every time I get: Sorry your search did not find any results.

The stories are also all over the place, out of date, no longer news.

For example, under 'Environment' the lead story is "Public warned against exposure to dusty weather." It's a story dated August 1st.

Lead stories in Housing & Property section dated four days ago, in Crime dated three days ago, the Weather section lead story is dated September 24!

Like so many new web page designs it was both unnecessary and is much harder to navigate than the original. Why is it that so many companies can't resist the urge to do it?

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

GN, scrap it and re-instate the design you've just dumped. It looked better, it was more user-friendly, it was up-to-date and relevant.

Anyway, to the story, which is about an interesting departure in the way we're used to laws being written.

It quotes the Dubai Police CID Director as saying that they want victims of money doubling scams to be prosecuted.

Yes, victims.

Of course 'everybody knows' comes into it too: " convict victims of money doubling since they are aware that the process of doubling money is illegal."

The process of doubling money is illegal?

The jails should be full of property speculators, investors, businessmen...

Apparently the proposal has been under discussion for many years and the Brigadier believes a law for charging the the victims will soon come into effect.

Back to the drawing board on this one too I suggest.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ajman proposing property visa changes.

They've left it a mystifyingly long time but Ajman Real Estate Regulatory Agency has asked for changes to the federal property visa regulations. They're the first official body to do so and I hope the others follow their lead without delay.

The new regulations were announced back in May, when I posted about the aspects which needed revision. Others said much the same thing because the mistakes were blindingly obvious.

ARRA has come to much the same conclusions because they're proposing changes to the same unfair clauses.

They're the minimum price of Dh1 million, the minimum salary (anywhere in the world) of Dh10,000 a month and the requirement to leave the country every six months.

I also disagree with the fundamental structure of the visa, that it's just a six month visit visa. It should be a standard three year residence visa in my opinion.

Here's hoping the other emirates' authorities join the call for revisions and that the feds listen to them.

It's really very simple. It should be a standard residence visa and the law should be equally fair to all owners.

EmBiz247 has the story here.

They also have a more detailed report which suggests that ARRA has given it more thought than went into the original law. That story is here.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Emirates' Aussie resort opens

One of the big stories in today's Aussie newspapers' travel sections is the opening of the Wolgan Valley Resort by Emirates.

It's about 190 kilometres west of Sydney in the Blue Mountains, a stunningly beautiful huge National Park.

The area was named because oil from the eucalyptus trees which cover the area give the air a blue haze. The air has a very nice perfume too, as you can imagine.

Photo: The Australian

Photo: Sydney Morning Herald

If you fancy having a few days there for your next holiday you'll need to start saving. The cheapest suite is A$1,950 a night, which is about AED6,000, full board and including a couple of 'nature-based activities' each day.

The Sydney Morning Herald has one of the stories, which includes some good photos

Friday, October 09, 2009

An apology from Etisalat!

A company lets its customers down by not delivering the service it promises and for which they pay.

It apologises publicly.

Hardly worth commenting on.....except in this area where the normal procedure is to say nothing hoping that ignoring the problem will make it go away. Only if pushed do you then comment, to deny that any problem exists.

I came across this full page ad in Gulf News this morning:

So for once a thumbs up for Etisalat, for at least breaking with tradition, admitting there was a problem and apologising.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Dubai, expat Utopia

There are two stories in Khaleej Times today demonstrating again the accuracy of the survey that said UAE is tops in providing luxury to expats.

One from Abu Dhabi is on official labourer accommodation and says that many companies are ignoring the basic standards required by law.

What a surprise.

Of the 100-plus accommodation sites inspected "many" were found not to be complying with the standards.

All the companies are required to do is basic stuff. To provide accommodation which has good ventilation and adequate sunlight, with floors high enough off the ground to avoid being flooded, and have electricity and water. Rooms must be adequate to accommodate the maximum allowed of six people. They must have a minimum ceiling height of 2.28m, be equipped with beds, elevated from the ground, plus wardrobes. There must be at least one toilet and wash basin for every 10 workers, the toilets equipped with exhaust fans and be located far from the kitchens.

It's just basic isn't it, nothing draconian.

Yet "many" are not even providing this basic level, which demonstrates yet again that laws are ignored unless they're rigorously enforced.

The other story is from Umm Al Quwain and is about unofficial accommodation. Like the other emirates, UAQ does not allow 'bachelors' to live near families.

The story begins: The Umm Al Quwain Municipality has disconnected water supply to 25 houses in Old Al Salama to punish 2,000 bachelors living in a locality designated for families.

Twenty-five houses, two thousand people?

I make that an average of eighty people living in each house. Even if they're large enough to have ten rooms that's eight to a room.

In Old Al Salama, up to 95 bachelors lived in one house. The houses were partitioned and each room was packed with up to eight workers. Landlords of these houses have flouted the housing committee’s regulations.

Both landlords and tenants apparently ignored warnings, so the Municipality has decided to force the issue. The tenants are obviously being exploited and they're now being forced out of their accommodation by a lack of water.

I wonder what action is being taken against the landlords. Are services being cut off to their houses? Are fines being issued to them? Or do you think it's only the 'bachelors' who'll be punished and the exploiters will simply get away with it?

Here are the stories:

Labourer accommodation.

Bachelors denied water.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

"If I kill people, so be it"

Apparently 21 per cent of all road fatalities in the first three months of this year involved minibuses and Gulf News has stories today on the subject.

Of course, that figure means that 79 per cent of deaths are not caused by minibuses but by other drivers.

There are quotes from a freelance minibus driver that sum up the problem, not just with minibus drivers but with drivers in general here.

It's about attitude.

It's about too many drivers being irresponsible, inconsiderate, brainless.

Here's what the driver says:

"...I am taking the risk. If life is lost, so be it."

" a driver it is my responsibility to drive them safely, but if an accident happens I can't do anything, can I? It is an accident isn't it - there is nothing deliberate."

"If I die on the roads it is my fate."

And of course, other people drive dangerously so we can all do the same:

"I don't think that the entire fault lies with the minibus drivers. We are not the only one who might be changing lanes without indicating."

Unless there's a change in that kind of attitude we'll stay at the top of the world's most dangerous roads list.

The problem is, the attitude isn't going to change.

We need many more traffic police, better trained, to get these people off the roads. Permanently.

The Gulf News story is here.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Dubai, ghost town

You'll recall the confident predictions, from sections of the British press in particular which was gleefully repeated by people living here, that the economic meltdown would destroy Dubai.

With absolute certainty they insisted that Dubai would rapidly become a ghost town, abandoned by its expats and reclaimed by the desert sands.

The hysterical reports told us there were three thousand cars abandoned at the airport by fleeing expats. Hundreds more maxed-out expats were sleeping at the airport and in the desert.

But worse was to come because tens of thousands more would flee at the end of the school term.

All absolute nonsense of course.

Thousands of cars were not abandoned at the airport, there were not hundreds of homeless, jobless, maxed-out expats living in the airport or the desert.

And the thousands who were only staying so that their children could finish the term's schooling, well, they're still here.

We're at the start of the new school term and the schools are still full.

Many more roads have been completed but the traffic is still heavy - and chaos when there's one of our regular crashes.

The cafes and restaurants are still doing good business as people still eat out.

In a post at the beginning of December I said I thought there would be an upside to the downturn, that it would force a pause in the frenzy of development, allow for better planning, allow time for infrastructure to catch up.

A downturn and slowdown yes, a ghost town no.

I've posted many times that the predictions of Dubai's collapse were gross exaggerations with no understanding of its history. The evidence I see backs me up.

Plenty of traffic this morning in New Dubai around 10 o'clock after the peak...

And there was no evidence of a ghost town at The Walk at JBR early Friday evening...

I'm not holding my breath that the writers who made those confident, often spiteful, predictions will bother themselves with a retraction.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Ain't that the truth.

In his New York Times column, Thomas L. Friedman talks about the frightening divisiveness and rise of extremism in American politics.

Amongst it is a spot-on comment about the blogosphere, and the internet in general:

...a blogosphere that at its best enriches our debates, adding new checks on the establishment, and at its worst coarsens our debates to a whole new level, giving a new power to anonymous slanderers to send lies around the world.

The column is here.