Thursday, March 27, 2008


How difficult can it be to buy a DVD player?

The Goat's three-year-old machine suddenly went wrong last week. Mid-movie, it decided that it didn't want to play discs any more and 'No Disc' appeared. The disc would spin up OK but refuse to play. Cleaning the reader lens had precisely zero effect, and the quote from the shop to open the box, investigate and probably install a new laser was going to exceed by far the cost of a new unit. Always assuming that the spare parts are coming in Dubai, that is.

So here are the requirements:-

  • Region free. In the multinational household of the Crumbling Villa, half the DVDs are Region 1 and most of the others are Region 2.

  • 5.1 surround sound. This input to the home theatre audio system is a must.

  • S-video. Needed in order to display the picture on the telly at reasonable quality.

    The Goat and his Beloved Wife spent all Wednesday evening trawling through every electronics shop in Festival Centre and Deira City Centre. Every DVD player we looked at didn't have all of the above features. The quest for a Blu-ray player was abandoned when it quickly became apparent that none of these were region-free.

    I have been shopping in Dubai before. Prepared and armed with a Region 1 and a Region 2 disc, it was possible to demonstrate on several occasions in different shops that variations on a theme of "Yes sir, it's region-free" actually meant "This unit won't play Region 1 discs."

    And then, at nearly midnight we found a horrid al-cheabo Chinese player that purported to do everything I wanted. Perhaps this would suffice until a multi-region Blu-ray player appeared in the local market in a year or so. However, this Cyber-Home DVD-300 (who?) is going back to Carrefour this evening. Four of the six audio outputs produce precisely nothing. Another evening wasted. Grump, grump, grump.

  • Thursday, March 13, 2008

    Sea, sand and suffering

    We dig, dig, dig, dig,
    Dig, dig, dig.
    The car is mired up to
    The axles, so we
    Dig, dig, dig,
    It’s what we like to do.

    In keeping with Dubai’s famous ability in the departments of Firsts, Forward Planning and Fcukwittedness, the Dubai Boat Show car park was in a sand pit just past Mina Seyahi. Road works require that all traffic into Jumeira Beach Residence and Dubai Marina goes down to one lane. After sitting in the queue for twenty minutes, Beloved Wife and her Goat had rather tired of posing with the roof off the Eos, and finally turned off out of the queue and into the car park. Car park attendants directed us towards the ‘free water taxi to the boat show’ and we spent a further ten minutes trailing around a completely full car park back to the main entrance.

    One attendant asked me if I was wanting parking. “No, I want an ice cream. That’s why I’m sitting in my car in a car park.”

    We were then directed to the half-empty overflow car park. I turned off the hard-packed aisle, and the front wheels of the Eos dropped into the soft sand. I couldn’t reverse out because of White Van Man stuck across my stern. Of course, I’ve got a full load of recovery kit parked in Mirdif in the Crumbling Villa. This is of limited use. We pushed, we pulled, we dug. In my fury I asked the car-park attendant what sort of imbecile directs two-wheel-drive vehicles on to soft sand. All I got was an impertinent grin and a rapid exit. Presumably the sort of imbecile who doesn’t fancy a diet of hospital food. It was then that I noticed that rather a lot of two-wheel drives were not so much parked as dumped. The whole car park resembled an elephant’s graveyard of expensive German machinery.

    Beloved Wife went off to do her Damsel In Distress. Lots of people in 4x4s were willing to help, but didn’t have any tow ropes. :sigh:

    A couple of years ago, the shuttle buses ran from the American University of Dubai car park. Oooh, asphalt! This year, the triumphant idea of using water taxis apparently trumped any and all suggestions that this might not be the best idea since sliced bread.

    Eventually, after my extremely ugly temper tantrum had subsided, I asked a couple in a Hummer H2 for assistance. Meanwhile a kind Indian gentlemen had managed to scavenge a few metres of horrible polypropylene rope. The removable tow-hook on a Volkswagen Eos screws into the front bumper with a Left-Hand Thread for some unfathomable reason. A couple of tugs and broken ropes later, the ‘tow rope’ ended up stuck to the Hummer with a Gordian knot.

    Anyway, with the car out after three quarters of an hour of trying, and copious thanks expressed, we parked on a hard bit. There was no way out except over the soft stuff. So no way out at all, then, until the car park emptied.

    We got half an hour in the Boat Show and Diving Middle East Exhibition (DMEX) before it was chucking-out time. We’re going back again tonight, only this time taking the Goatmobile.

    Going back to the subject of expensive machinery, I have fallen in lust with a Princess.


    Saturday, March 08, 2008

    Power to the people

    How much are my utilities bills going to go up as a result of DEWA’s recent decision to penalise heavy consumers? I did some basic calculations on energy and water usage. I compared the consumption of the Crumbling Villa with typical tariffs for domestic energy and water in the UK. The latter were lifted off the internet.

    British water costs around 90p a cubic metre, which equates to Dh0.03 per gallon. The same price as DEWA charges for expats’ water. And despite the almost complete absence of rain, we don’t get subjected to the annual Festival of the Hosepipe Ban that runs from about Easter to August Bank Holiday. South East Water charges an astonishing £1.70/cu.m (Dh0.56/gallon) during the summer months and then forbids hosepipes, sprinklers, car washing and drinking without due care and attention. Or was that the government’s policy on binge-drinking?

    Electricity is a bit more complicated to compare. Every summer month the Crumbling Villa consumes some 3500kWh, which drops to 500kWh in the winter when the air conditioning is off. So interior climate control uses 3000kWh per month, which costs around Dh600 at DEWA’s expat rate. Running the same aircons on British electricity would cost a rather scary Dh2175 a month.

    But help is at hand, even in Rip-Off Britain. Gas is cheaper than electricity. If (and this is a very big if) the same number of energy units were used for central heating as for aircons, and utilising my fantasy gas-powered A/C, the monthly gas bill would be about Dh565. This is broadly in line with what it costs at the hands of DEWA. The cost of cooking gas is so minuscule I’ve ignored it in these calculations.

    So even given DEWA’s new price rises, the costs aren’t wildly in excess of famously-expensive Britain. I haven’t been able to find out if the UK tariffs quoted are inclusive or exclusive of VAT. They’re certainly exclusive of the insidious Standing Charges that some UK suppliers slap on the bill even if you use nowt. Perhaps we should stop whingeing and realise that the bills aren't stupidly high.

    Why has DEWA jacked up its tariffs anyway? I estimate that the Crumbling Villa will cost around 20% extra over the year. According to DEWA’s own figures and based on two people sharing, in order to avoid the high rates, consumption will have to be below 60% of average consumption. Apparently average consumption is considered excessive. Is the price rise to discourage profligate usage? Or to save the planet? Perhaps to jump on the ‘save the planet’ fashion bandwagon whilst making no appreciable difference to any carbon footprint? Or perhaps – and this is easily the most plausible – to make money.

    According to the 22-28 Feb 2008 issue of the Middle East Economic Digest, the decision to hike the tariffs was ‘…triggered by DEWA losing Dh223M in the first seven months of 2007.’ Essentially, a lack of local gas forces DEWA to buy expensive oil from Abu Dhabi. At the thick end of $100 a barrel this ain’t small change. Certainly, a price hike ostensibly to curb consumption needs to be more wide-ranging if it’s to be effective.

    MEED again: An Abu Dhabi industry source said “[Emiratis] are the biggest users by a long way. Unless they include Emiratis, it does not really make sense, especially for water. Their per capita consumption is much higher because of the kind of accommodation they live in.”

    Another source in Dubai said “Even though they are a minority of the population, locals are the majority of water users. The biggest users are the palaces. The government is now pushing sustainability in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It needs to get a handle on government consumption.”

    UAE nationals in Dubai get half-price water and pay about a third of the electricity tariff that expats have to pay. In Abu Dhabi, domestic electricity is cheaper than in Dubai. It’s Dh0.15 rather than Dh0.20 per kWh, and nationals pay a third of this. Water is cheaper too. Expats pay Dh0.01 per gallon, as opposed to Dh0.03 per gallon in Dubai and for nationals it’s free.

    Of course, UAE leaders can set up whatever rules they choose, and if this includes charging one part of the population more than another for basic amenities, then so be it. I would suggest, however, that adopting a similar approach to everybody – usage of electricity and water above a predetermined limit incurs higher rates – would go a long way in discouraging waste and introducing the perception of fairness.


    Monday, March 03, 2008

    Two things are certain

    They can’t tax you when you’re dead,
    So they tax your heirs instead.
    And they claim that they are taxing the deceased.
    It seems quite clear to me
    Through income tax and VAT
    That the system is designed to have you fleeced.

    Image from here.
    I should state from the outset that I have not inherited a stately home or an immense wad of cash, neither have I or anyone I know been obliged to give away nearly half of it to the UK government treasury.

    It seems to me that the whole issue of inheritance tax is fundamentally unfair, because it punishes people who have been prudent (or lucky) with money. Putting aside my tax-free expatriate status for a moment, imagine some hypothetical Goat who earned say £20k a year for 40 years and paid tax on it at 30%. That’s a £240,000 lifetime donation to H.M. Gubmint’s coffers. He spent the remaining £560,000 on accommodation, transport, food and living the caprine good life before popping his hooves and leaving a house worth say £300,000.

    Assume forty percent inheritance tax payable on the entire estate. Ugh! Current UK inheritance tax only rears its ugly head once the value of the estate exceeds £300,000, but with property prices going apparently ever upward, this rule will sneak up and pounce on more and more people.

    Why should this hypothetical hircine only be allowed to give £180,000-worth of house to his wife and kids? What justification is there, apart from a possible need for the Gubmint to donate money to the Gay Whales Against Nuclear Power fund, to steal £120,000 from the kids? That 30% tax has effectively become 45%.

    “Ah,” argue the supporters of high inheritance tax, “why should the wastrel offspring of the Rich [where ‘Rich’ is traditionally defined as ‘more money that I have or expect to have in the near future’] be given free money to continue their profligate lifestyles? They should earn everything they receive. I have never inherited anything, therefore no-one else should.”

    Why? If the Goat chooses to give away his hard-earned, tax-paid cash, surely that’s his own business? Indeed, if the Goat chooses to give it to Oxfam by Deed of Covenant, the charity can claim the tax back. Does the Gubmint take 40% of the Book Token given to some nephew on his birthday? I rather think not. So I don’t see why the gift of a house that the Goat no longer needs should be any different.


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