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.


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.


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