Monday, October 20, 2014

Scambags!

The Goat was recently issued with a new credit card. The previous one, which had worked faultlessly for several years, was now deemed by the bank not to be secure enough, and so a new one with an embedded chip was issued to replace it.

The Goat has hardly used the new super-secure card. He rented a car from AVIS, he paid a month's rent at a major Doha hotel complex, and he paid a couple of phone bills over at Itisalot. He has certainly never used the card to buy anything from some outfit apparently calling itself the Igenetix Corporation, and was thus a little surprised when his phone bleated on Thursday to alert that a payment of $50 had been presented.

It startled the Goat even more when four further $50 charges appeared in as many minutes, but by then the Goat was on the phone to the bank and getting the card blocked.

When the Goat makes a card transaction on line to a foreign retailer, the bank almost invariably phones him to check that the transaction is genuine. Yet five quick-fire transactions didn't ring any alarms this time.

Fail.

"A new card will be issued to you after five working days, Mr Goat."

"I won't be able to receive it. I'll not be in Dubai for several weeks."

"No problem. Give us your current address and we'll get it to you there. You'll need to provide some sort of photo ID."

Hahahahaha! Meanwhile, back in the real world...

"Oh, no, Mr Goat. It must go to you personally in Dubai."

Fail.

In short, the local and yet global bank is incapable of delivering the replacement card to anyone except the Goat's own hoof and only in Dubai. It can't be sent to the bank in Doha for collection; it can't be sent to the Goat's temporary address (business or residence) in Doha; it can't be mailed; it can't be delivered at the weekend in Dubai; it can't be delivered to Beloved Wife, even though she has her own card for the same account.

Fail. Fail. Fail.

Eventually, 40 minutes into the third long phone call to the bank's call centre, the Goat was told to write a letter to the bank, get it stamped by any branch of the bank, and send the letter to Beloved Wife. "Please deliver the replacement card to Beloved Wife on the Goat's behalf...etc."

Except in Doha, apparently, they don't do that. Never mind this outfit being a major international bank; they do it differently in Doha. They're special. My, these crayons are yummy!

Fail.

The Goat was now instructed that he'd have to rewrite the letter, addressing it to the bank in Dubai. He should get it stamped in Doha, wait four days for the letter to be mailed, and then all should be well.

Enter the Bank Manager: "You have a joint account? yes? Good; there's no problem. Beloved Wife can go to the branch and pick up the card. All you have to do, Mr Goat, is go to your home branch in Sharjah to arrange this."

Fail.

"Or send a secure email using the bank's online banking website to instruct the bank to give your new card to Beloved Wife. Oh, but despite the fact that I can see you, your face, your old and cancelled card, and your ID card, you can't send a secure email because you don't have your Secure Key device. How silly of you not to bring it to the bank, when all you'd been told was required was a rubber stamp."

Fail.

DHL rang the Goat on 20th October to say the card was ready for delivery. But no, they absolutely would not deliver it to Beloved Wife. The bank confirmed (eventually) that they received the Goat's secure email on 19th October, but had not seen fit to communicate this piece of irrelevance to DHL.

Just imagine a parallel universe in which the customer of a major international bank can have his credit card replaced wherever he is on the planet, and without every bank representative coming up with a new and unique set of widely and irregularly-spaced flaming hoops. One of the Goat's friends says American Express can do this, so why not Red Triangles?

]}:-{>

Monday, October 06, 2014

What a senseless waste of human life

Welcome once again to the Monty Python sketch in which the customer fails to find the thing he's trying to buy. This time it's rear shock absorbers for Beloved Wife's Volkswagen Eos.

The car went into a workshop to have its front suspension repaired and emerged with horrible clonking coming from the rear end. This, it turns out, is because the rear shock absorbers became unaccountably broken while the car was up on the ramp. As VW shocks are Not Coming in Dubai and the VW dealer never answers any of his phone numbers, this morning I tried BMW Street in Sharjah.

I went into a shop advertising VW spare parts: "The salesman is not here."

I tried another shop advertising VW spare parts: "We don't sell Volkswagen.

And a third, in which the 'assistant' pointed vaguely at the corner of his shop. I gazed quizzically at the AC Delco air filters, then to be told that he was in fact pointing at the first shop.

And so on. Eventually, after many more failures in Customer Service: "Do you sell VW parts?"

"Of course, sir."

"Do you have parts for VW Eos?"

"Naturally, sir. It's a VW spare parts shop, sir."

"Do you have shock absorbers?"

"Indeed we do, sir."

"Excellent. Two rear shock absorbers for a VW Eos please."

"We don't have."

Brilliant.

]}:-{>

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Déjà vu all over again

When I resigned and left Qatar in 2012, the arseh- crazy people I worked for said that they'd provide an NOC: a letter confirming no objection to my changing sponsorship to work for someone else in Qatar. As this promise eventually turned into a statement to the effect that "We told you we wouldn't give you an NOC," I was banned from working in Qatar for two years.

Welcome to 2014, and here I am back again. I'm working for a different firm and in a senior position, so hopefully I'm in a position to avoid a repeat of the previous unpleasantness.

The rest of the situation is eerily familiar:-
  • Beloved Wife can't join me for a year because of the enormously long lead times for teachers;
  • I have a motor vehicle (two actually) in Dubai that can't be imported to Qatar because of an arbitrary rule that says you can't import anything that's more than five years old;
  • I'm living in a furnished apartment, probably for a year.
However, this time there are some significant differences:-
  • My apartment is within walking distance of work, so the nightmare commute across Doha is neatly avoided;
  • The said apartment is a hotel apartment, so someone comes in and cleans it twice a week, bed linen and towels are provided, and all utilities including internet are included;
  • I have several very old friends in town so I'll not be BillyGoat NoMates;
  • I don't have a boss who stands in the middle of the cube farm and screams about how everyone is incompetent.
Being a hotel, the place has a 50m pool, gym, Kwik-e-Mart, numerous restaurants, and also 24-hour room service. Now my complaints have been answered the fridge actually makes ice, there's a proper cooker instead of an electric camping stove, and the washing machine works. I think I shall avail myself of the on-site laundry to get my ironing done by professionals who are better at it than I. As I'm right at the top of the building I even have a view. It would be better without another tower in front of me, but how much time does one spend looking out of the window?

I rented the cheapest 4x4 I could find because a Nissan Sunny won't get to the Inland Sea loaded with dive kit, and I'm investigating devious but legal methods of getting my motor vehicles from the UAE to Qatar. The Kawasaki dealer reckons that I can import my motorbike (again) because the fatuous five-year rule only applies to cars, and it isn't a car. However, when I tried that suggestion at the traffic police I got the same sort of look that sprouting antennae might have achieved. I could perhaps drive around on Dubai plates but, despite there being prima facie evidence that this is possible (vehicles with non-Qatar plates in Doha), my previous attempts to get this to happen have stopped with some wag at the Saudi consulate telling me that this is "imbossible."

Meanwhile I'm entertaining the prospect of buying another motorbike, but until I get my Residence Permit this is also imbossible.

I guess I'll have to go back to Dubai every couple of weeks and get by motorcycle fix in the UAE. The roads are better there, actually. In the mountains there are actual bends.


]}:-{>

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Galaxy Song

I’m standing here in Jumbo,
eMax, or Sharaf DG,
And I’m viewing the bewildering display
Of smartphones, tablets, netbooks, phablets,
Laptops and PCs.
It’s so confusing; what more can I say?
I want a new computer,
I want something small and light,
But it’s got to have a legible display,
And whichever one I choose
In three months will be obsolete,
So make a choice and take that choice away.

The iPad, I am told,
Is a high-quality machine,
But it demands you use its own electric strings.
And everybody else, it seems,
Has Micro-USB,
So charging and uploads are easy things.
I've heard so many stories
Criticising Windows 8
I think that I will pass that product by,
And the Google Nexus recommended
By some friends of mine?
Alas, it Isn’t Coming In Dubai.

So I chose to own an Android
In a Samsung Galaxy.
It’s a bigger version of my mobile phone.
I've got a data SIM card,
So there’s WiFi and 4G;
I’m connected in my house, or when I roam.
And meanwhile, back in Blighty,
I learned that Nanny Goat
Has bought one too; the first she’s ever owned.
We've been exchanging emails,
And last night spent hours on Skype,
Which cost less than picking up the telephone.

]}:-{>

Clouding the issue

The Goat has been suspicious of 'cloud computing' since he heard of the concept. At a fundamental level, the internet was invented so that the Soviets couldn't drop an ICBM on a single massive computer and knock out the West's entire computer capability. By storing data on millions of computers dotted all over the planet and allowing them to talk to each other by telephone, we have a worldwide web that's pretty much impossible to shut down.

So, argued the Goat, keeping your data on a massive server farm in Oregon rather than on your own hard disk is a step backwards; a step towards centralisation. What happens to the Goat's data if the server farm goes down?

One of the Goat's friends - one of the several who have worked with computers and networks since the days of the Commodore PET - advised the Goat that the concern was unjustified. Server failure is extremely common and Google, for example, is constantly replacing broken computers. The solution to potential loss of data is backups, and backups of backups, and to paraphrase Terry Pratchett: "Every week a man comes and carves the new stuff on to stone tablets and buries them in the back garden."

There remains the issue of security. Having just acquired a tablet - a Samsung that runs Android; not a stone one, nor a prescription one - as a birthday present from Beloved Wife, the Goat is tentatively dipping a hoof into the world of cloud computing, and is experimenting with Google Drive as a way of ensuring that regularly updated spreadsheets are accessible from the desktop machine at home and from the tablet while he's out and about. He's also messed a little with Dropbox.

The current scandal of celebrities' on-line accounts being hacked and private photographs being stolen is, of course, a clear illustration that if you put anything out there, it can never be absolutely 100% secure. But, come to that, even if you keep your most private compromising images on an encrypted memory stick in the bottom of your underwear drawer, this doesn't stop a burglar from stealing it, hacking it, publishing it.

"It's their own fault for putting the pictures on the internet," 'joked' Ricky Gervais.

Now, the Goat can think of another widespread example of personal data held on remote servers that you can access from any internet-capable device: on-line banking. The Goat is easily convinced that if someone hacked into his bank account and stole his life savings, he wouldn't be lambasted by Mr Gervais that it was his own fault for using on-line banking.

The Goat has been happy to use webmail for many years. He is generally satisfied with on-line banking, not least because it's easier than schlepping down to Red Triangles and dealing with the parking and the queues. He'll even share his video and still photography, and now even has a hoof-full of documents in the cloud.

As for files containing scans of passport, credit cards, travel documents, passwords... the Goat isn't so sure. Having copies in case of catastrophic loss has its benefits, but these listed items could be of use to malefactors who might break in. Is the Goat now being paranoid, or are his concerns unfounded?

]}:-{>

Monday, September 01, 2014

Park and riled

The multi-storey car park at Mirdif City Centre, and indeed everywhere else, gets very busy of an early evening. So, like everyone else who had the silly idea of going shopping at that time, I found myself cruising slowly up and down the aisles in search of somewhere to put the car.

I stopped at a STOP line to wait for a gap in the constant, unrelenting stream of vehicles and pedestrians crossing my path.

"Beeeeeeep! Beep! Bip-bip! Beeeep!"

Ah, Mr Impatient was stuck behind me, and I hadn't moved in nearly fifteen seconds.

"BEEEEP!"

Yes, Mr Lexus With Abu Dhabi Plates, I know you're there. I imagine I'm just as keen as you to get a move on. What do you want me to do? T-bone a passing car, or mow down a bunch of pedestrians?

Eventually, after a few more seconds, a gap appeared, and I was at last on the move again. It was a big gap; big enough for Mr Lexus to follow me. But that wasn't good enough. The driver now forced his car down the aisle barely wide enough for one car in order to overtake me, scattering pedestrians and shopping trolleys.

And now the inexplicable bit. Having got in front of me, all thoughts of his being in a hurry evidently evaporated as the driver predictably cut in front, slammed on his brakes, and blocked the aisle. Predictably, of course, which is why I failed to put a gigantic dent in the back of his Lexus.

That's just dandy, sir. I'm glad to have contributed a little unnecessary unpleasantness to your day.

]}:-{>

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Hungary for some sightseeing

W!ZZ Air is Hungary's answer to Ryanair, EasyJet, FlyDubai, and any number of other budget, no-frills airlines. Checked bags are extra. Hand luggage that goes in the overhead bin is extra. Guaranteeing an empty seat (the middle one in a row of three) is extra. Food and drink on board is extra, although tins of Heineken still cost half what they charge in the airport bar. The seats don't recline, and Wizz flies in and out of Dubai's other airport, DWC. This is a bit of a trek from Mirdif, but the airport is huge and very quiet.

Beloved Wife had booked her trip to Budapest months ago when flights were 50p, and she pointed out that as the airport transfers by taxi and the hotel room would cost the same for one or two pax, would I like to dredge up the airfare and come along? I'd never been to Hungary, so I checked flights and discovered that I could get on the same outbound flight as Beloved Wife - although Priority Boarding and Guaranteed Empty Adjacent seat were not available. As it happened, I was one of the last to board, so I sought Beloved Wife
in her aisle seat and asked for the window seat. Hey presto! Empty seat between us. By good fortune, a similar thing happened on my return flight.

Having arrived at BUD, we awaited Beloved Wife's loud orange bag, and then took a €30 taxi ride into town and the five-star Corinthia hotel - formerly the Grand Hotel Royal - and grabbed forty winks before the sightseeing started.

The First Day

After an alfreso breakfast in a street café, we headed into town, looking at the late 19th and early 20th century architecture. Caryatids and Atlantes are everywhere. At the Opera House, one of the statues was of a sphinx, apparently doing a very feline thing.

Sphinx: playing with a ball of wool?

Then we encountered St Stephen's Basilica, a late 19th century church. We went inside, and I realised that I'd never seen a real Holy Relic before. It's the mummified right hand of the eponymous St Stephen (d. 15th Aug 1038; Canonised 15th Aug 1083) who founded the State.

St Stephen's Basilica exterior. Stern-looking saints.
Main entrance to St Stephen's.
Reliquary. Flash photography forbidden,
so you gotta put cash in the slot
to fire up the lights to make photography possible.
We paid to go up the lift into the dome, from where there are some excellent views.


View to the west, towards Buda from Pest 

Parliament building rather out-Gothics the one in London.
Under the dome.
I took the spiral staircase back down to ground level. There are so many spiral staircases in Budapest!

Here's just one of them.
We noted that there was to be an organ recital at 5pm, so we headed off to the tourist shops, mindful of the need to be back for Bach.

Busker 1
Busker 2













There were several buskers out and about, displaying varying levels of competence. These two were pretty good. Very popular items for sale were silly hats, plus traditional Hungarian embroidery and the inevitable "My [insert relative] went to Budapest and bought me this T-shirt". Oh, and this:

Smoking dragon.
We eventually found our way right down to the Danube, which was fast-flowing but nowhere near as blue as Johann Strauss would have us believe.

An der schönen braunen Donau
Back to St Stephen's for the organ recital, and then we went in search of food and then back to the hotel for sleep.

The Second Day

St Matthias and Fisherman's Bastion.
Beloved Wife and I emerged from the arms of Morpheus eventually and, after a streetside breakfast of Hungarian omelettes we headed over the Chain Bridge and up the funicular railway to Buda Palace.

It seems that lovers swear their undying allegiance
by clapping a padlock on to the Chain Bridge


Funicular railway and (unnamed) tunnel
(although the Adam Clark Tunnel after its designer might be appropriate).
We arrived just in time for the Changing of the Guard, which we stopped and watched, and then went over to St Matthias' Cathedral and Fisherman's Bastion, from where excellent views were to be had.

What a glorious nation!
St Matthias' roof.
View of the Parliament building from Fisherman's Bastion.
According to Beloved Wife's guidebook, the oldest extant cake shop in Hungary was nearby. It was too: just down the road about 50m.

It was also Beer o'clock.
I foolishly chose to ignore the advice to catch a bus and then a tram to get to Margaret's Island, and we ended up walking around 2.6km down some very steep, uneven cobbled streets until we found the bridge. The island is basically a park, where locals and tourists alike go to get away from the noise and smells of the city. There are bicycles and electric golf buggies to rent by the hour, there's a dancing fountain, there's candy-floss and other junk food for sale, and there's a thermal bath complex. This last one was what we were aiming for, heedless of the fact that it was a further 1.5km walk up the island.

Dancing fountains on Margaret's island.
Bikes for rent.
The Palatinus pool complex has various pools at a selection of temperatures and depths, with fountains and air bubbles. And picnic areas on the grass under the trees, and food and beverage outlets. I went down all the water flumes, including an extra steep one that delivers the participant into the bottom pool at about 30km/h, briefly doubling the number of my tonsils...

A slightly unusual, although perfectly decent thing from my point of view was the unisex changing rooms. You change in a private cubicle and then put your outdoor stuff in a locker, but there's no separate Ladies and Gents.

Having walked "bloody miles," we attempted to get a tram back to the hotel, only to discover that we had to pre-purchase tickets at a main station. So we walked back, stopping halfway at an Italian restaurant near the main railway station.

By the time we got back to the hotel, "bloody miles" turned out to be over 10km on Shanks' Pony, plus another 400m of breast stroke. Quite a lot really, but it probably burned off the beer and cake.

The Third Day

After breakfast at our new favourite café, we bought a book of ten tickets at the metro station by the opera house. Beloved Wife decreed that we should visit a shopping mall so that she could pick up some comfortable shoes that are inexplicably Not Coming In Dubai™. We rode the metro to the end of the line; she bought shoes. "Ooh, these are comfy. I'll take three pairs."

Opera metro station.
Now back into town and the Hungarian National Museum.

Roman tombstones.
Elsewhere in the museum, a "No Photos" rule was being strictly enforced by armed Bottom Inspectors, so I wasn't able to take very many, and I didn't use flash. It irked me that I should have bought a photography permit, but when we paid our admissions, I was told that the permit wasn't necessary.

Overly ornate meerschaum pipe.
Armour plating.

Having finished with the museum, we went back to the basement to recover our left luggage comprising a bag full of ladies' shoes, and then there was an enormous clap of thunder and the heavens opened. Beloved Wife had an umbrella; I had my hat. But there was nothing for it but to sit in the café and drink wine at €0.50 a glass and wait for the rain to ease off.

Budapest in the rain.
When it failed to stop, we headed off into the rain, and were actually fairly damp by the time we got to the Hard Rock Café and decided that enough was enough and we needed dryness and food.

Picture disc: Warren Zevon - Werewolves of London
I'm told that the (obviously heavy metal) sheet music
welded on to this railing is by KISS.

The Fourth Day

Another bath? Aren't we clean enough?

Apparently not. This time we took the metro to the Szechenyi Spa, a huge complex of indoor and outdoor baths, steam rooms, and saunas in a gloriously neoclassical building.

The outdoor baths.
Care was necessary. Some of the tubs were at 36°C or more; others were at a gonad-shrivelling 16°C. Great fun was to be had in a couple of the pools where water was delivered in jets to cause the entire pool volume to rotate, dragging the bathers with it in a circular drift dive.

Having spent enough time here to dissolve, Beloved Wife and I wandered around the park.

Vajdahunyad castle and moat.
Vajdahunyad castle.
There was still more to see and do, so after a beer, we boarded the metro and headed back into town and the market hall at Vamhaz Square.

Market exterior.
They love their ornate roof tiles, don't they?
Market interior. Regrettably, all these hats were too small.
It wasn't only Communist-era hats for sale. Beloved Wife purchased a handbag and some candied fruit. Not from the same shop, obviously; this isn't Dragon Mart.

As we were both by now getting the munchies, we crossed Liberty Bridge into Buda, and found a small traditional Hungarian restaurant next to the dead-posh Gellert Hotel. Beloved Wife informs me that the Gellert was typically cheaper than the Corinthia, but that when she checked, they only had single rooms; grotty concrete boxes around the back, and no opulent rooms as per the brochure.

Over the Liberty Bridge.
The restaurant was deserted when we arrived, but soon became filled with a coachload of German tourists. There was traditional live music laid on, presumably for these tourists. The musical trio was nonplussed to discover that when we got up to leave, the Germans were rather more interested in my kilt.

Yes, I've been wearing my Utilikilt around Budapest every day, and why not? It has deep, pickpocket-resistant pockets.

It was too late to go into the main synagogue by the time we got back to the city centre, so I had to satisfy myself with exterior photos followed by an early-evening walk through the Jewish quarter back to the hotel.

Synagogue.

The Fifth Day

That was the lot, really. We went out to breakfast, and then returned to the Corinthia for our luggage and a taxi to the airport. I flew to Dubai, while Beloved Wife headed off two hours later for a girls-only week in Amsterdam.

As I didn't have any checked bags, it took the grand total of ten minutes from touchdown at DWC to hailing a taxi. I was even home at a civilised hour, and Luna the cat was pleased to see me back.

]}:-{>
 

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