Friday, August 31, 2007

A Wedding in Mussandam

I got a call asking if I could help out on a project in Dibba. Getting to Dibba was easy, I just took a bus to Masafi (for €4), where several taxis were waiting to take all the bus passengers to Dibba (for €2). The entire trip took about 90 minutes, during which time I read the newspaper and slept. The scenery is quite different from the area around Dubai. In fact, after Dubai, I’d say the scenery is spectacular, though in comparison with other parts of the world, that’s probably overdoing it.

As one approaches the north-eastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, the terrain changes from flat to mountainous. These are desert mountains, not high enough to have seriously green summits or regular snow, but they make a nice change from the uniformly flat area around Dubai.

When I got to Masafi, I called Dibba, and was told to wait at the clock tower. My host picked me up and drove me to Mussandam, which is actually part of Oman. Since we were in an expensive Land Rover, no one asked any questions as we crossed the international border.

My host drove me to his villa where a large party had been invited to see the Westerner, and a lively conversation in Arabic took place around and about me. Westerners aren’t seen all that often in the native parts of Mussandam.

After a bit more than an hour, lunch was served, chicken mandi, which means chicken and rice. They set a huge plate in front of me, containing as much as I normally eat in a week. I had to share with two other people, but still…

Then we went to a Mussandam Wedding.

First, we had to pick up my host’s young son, and then we had to go to where the men were gathering. From there, we all went to the wedding site. A large party armed with an arsenal that would make Lucy Liu or Rambo think they were most inadequately equipped with ordnance was determined to make as much noise as possible.

Some had traditional, single-shot, bolt-action rifles. Others had Kalashnikovs, AK-47s, RPGs, and IEDs. People without guns had battle-axes or swords. Small boys were tossing swords in the air and catching them as they came down, and all the time people were shooting in the air. Several men were beating out a rhythm on traditional Arabic drums. It was like the soundtrack to an old western (complete with tom toms), mixed with ‘Guns of Navarrone.’

I do not understand the physics of shooting a gun into the air. Some authorities say that, as it falls back to earth, the bullet picks up all the velocity and penetration ability it had when it first left the muzzle of the rifle, so that being beneath it is identical to being directly in front of the rifle’s muzzle as the rifle is fired; others say that air resistance slows the bullet to the point where it cannot break the skin. I personally prefer that someone else conduct research into which of these competing claims is correct, someone at least two kilometres distant from wherever I happen to be. This, however, was not an option presented to me during the wedding.

We straggled into an air-conditioned tent, though the air-conditioning was inadequate to cool a tent in the 43-degree heat. As we entered, most people removed their shoes. There was another long period of talking in Arabic, after which a plate of food with enough to last for at least a week was placed before me. My companions began to dip bread into a sweet substance that was either from bees or from dates. I was overstuffed from lunch, but the host (I think) insisted that I eat (in Arabic, of course). Then, after about ten minutes, the tray of food was removed.

After another half hour, we left the tent. I have no idea how, or if, one is supposed to find ones own shoes, or if the custom is to just take any pair lying outside the tent, and we wandered among the men who continued to discharge more ordnance than the Allies on D-Day while the tom-toms continued to beat and small boys continued to throw swords into the air, as high as they could manage. So far, I had seen no one of the female persuasion.

About we’d spent about two hours at the wedding, we returned to my host’s villa, where he showed me my room where, he said, I could sleep for the next few days.

Unfortunately, the A/C in my room in my host’s villa was elderly, and the room was in the mid 30s.

There was another problem. My wealthy aunt once took my mother to Europe, and my mother was shocked to find that most restrooms only provided toilet paper that was a) exorbitantly priced and b) had the texture of an hedgehog’s back. When she returned, my mother warned me to always take my own toilet paper when travelling. She did not warn me about the places east of Europe, places like Mussandam, where the prudent (Western) traveller must take not only his own toilet paper, but also his own toilet.

I decided I was ready to return to Dubai. My host was very disappointed, but I was directed to the huge SUV of someone ‘driving to Dubai.’ We actually drove back to the wedding. This driver went around the back way, where I actually saw a couple of women, completely covered in black as they dashed between their vehicles and the women's tent.

The trip to Dubai was not to take place until the wedding was over, i.e., after several more days, a period referred to in Arablish as ‘about ten minutes.’ The shooting and other celebratory explosions were still going on, and showed no sign of any letup.

I walked until I found a cab, but, since the cab wasn’t a Range Rover, we had to go through customs at the border. The entire return to Dubai was quite complicated when compared with the ease of getting from Dubai to Dibba.

I finally got home at 11:30 p.m.

The ‘project’ I was supposed to work on was a bit of stereotyping. My host just wanted me to visit and enjoy Arabic hospitality for a few days, but assumed all Westerners are avaricious money grubbers who would only consent to a visit of several days if the prospect of money were dangled before them.

He didn’t realize that money is not required to persuade me to come to Dibba to enjoy a good mandi, nor did he realize that no amount of money could persuade me to stay in a place without Western plumbing.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ismaili Centre and Landscape Park

One of the world's largest Ismaili Centres is currently under construction in Dubai, and, directly across from it and by the same developer, a Landscape Park. Both are constructed using a white stone, but I'm not expert on identification of stones, so I'm not sure what kind of stone it is.

The outside of the centre looks complete, and the grounds are nicely landscaped, but the centre is not yet open.

The Landscape Park also looks complete, except that there is no water in the complex system of channels and fountains. There is, however, a line of clothes drying, apparently those of the night watchman.

Beside the Landscape Park are several pallets of brick, though I can't see anywhere in the park to build anything else. There are several covered areas for people to rest, and a winding path about the size of the track around a football field for people to walk around inside the park.

But over each entrance to the park is a sign that says 'Closed,' and the gates are locked.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Return of the Cyclone (FX: Spooky Music)

On 15 April 2006, The Desert Weasel accurately predicted the demise of The Cyclone.

On 15 April, 2007, The Cyclone closed its doors; however, the staff that had formerly collected the hefty cover charge remained to tell potential patrons that The Cyclone was closed.

Sometime during the week of 15 May 2007, the staff disappeared, and The Cyclone seemed to be as deceased as The Desert Weasel had predicted.

The Cyclone website remained active until July, 2007. Then it too went down.

So I called the old number, which is still in the phone book (and on the brochures that The Cyclone once passed out, and which had been on the website), and was told that The Cyclone will reopen sometime after Ramadan.

For which the purveyors of Cialis and Viagra must be grateful.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Water Buses (2)

In July, the RTA took out an extensive series of ads for a new service: air conditioned water buses. Service was to begin on 15 July.

Sure enough, the water bus ran on 15 July, but only for HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed and entourage.

The next announcement was that the public would be permitted to ride on 16 August, so I straggled to the Dubai Old Souk station. No water bus. Ticket dispensers for the water bus were still wrapped in the original plastic.

I called the RTA, and was told it only operates at two (of the planned 7) stations. So I plodded to the only open station on the Bur Dubai side of the creek and bought a ticket.

I had to wait about 20 minutes in the sauna that is Dubai in summer. During that time, an enthusiastic RTA employee promised me that, eventually, there would be water bus service to the other Emirates, alleviating the Dubai traffic problems. Soon, she promised, the water bus will run from Bur Dubai to the end of the creek (Arabic, Ras al Khor) where a large car park will allow commuters from Sharjah to leave their cars and ride into Dubai, avoiding both the traffic and the Salik.

Finally, the water bus arrived and I got on. Of the 5 official routes, the bus operates over route 6 for now, until the other stations open and it will be able to ply an official route.

The water bus is large and very comfortable, once one gets aboard. This is a very posh way to cross the creek. The boarding pier is even carpeted.

The seats are large and the A/C works. Life vests are available under every seat.

For nocturnal use, a glow-in-the-dark sign saying 'PYROTECHNICS' marks the first aid cabinet.

The water bus costs four times as much as the older water taxis, called abras. (The plural is an Anglicization, since I have no idea how to form the correct plural of abra in Arabic.)

So I made my way back on an abra.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Lunch with Farook

Farook has a new job working for a magazine based in Media City. The Arabic content is original, and Farook says it's full of mistakes. Farook asked me to analyse the English content, which is simply downloaded from well-written websites, so there's nothing ungrammatical about it.

After we'd looked at the magazine, Farook asked me if I knew of a cheap place for lunch, and I recommended The Highway Inn. I'd never eaten there, but I've often seen their sign, 'All You Can Eat Buffet: €2.40'

It was cheap. As we entered, a departing patron complained about the lack of A/C, although, if one selected a table directly in front of the vent, it wasn't too bad.

However, Farook only likes Arabic cuisine and pizza, and the Highway Inn offers neither, so, after we'd eaten, Farook said he would not be returning.

Still, it's not bad for the price.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ramadan is Coming

Today, I saw quite a few of my neighbours entering the lift carrying lots of shopping bags. They are planning to spend Ramadan back in their home countries, and the custom is that they must return laden with gifts.

That the gifts were produced in their home country, exported to the UAE, and are now being purchased and carried back in overburdened suitcases is beyond the point: they must return with gifts.

And, in some cases, for reasons which escape me, prices in the UAE are actually cheaper than where the goods are produced, so this custom actually makes a modicum of sense.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Back to Skull

Today, I bought a six-pack of diet soda, and received, as a free gift, a 'back to school' kit. On the outside of the kit was printed:

Made in China

I am glad I got the kit as a free gift, as my flat is infested with roaches, and I trust the back to school kit will dispatch the lot of them.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Future Shock?

Many years ago, (in 1970, to be exact) Alvin Toffler wrote, first for the magazine Playboy, then a book, called Future Shock, about what Wikipedia describes as 'a personal perception of "too much change in too short a period of time".'

When I read my father's copy of the book, I thought Toffler had gone too far, had ascribed too much to the changes gradually creeping over the world.

Now, here in Dubai, I feel that Toffler's descriptions are, if anything, too mild to describe what is happening.

I am not sure, however, if that's because I am far less callow than I was when I read the book and thought things were changing far too glacially, or if Dubai is really the culmination of what Toffler warned about.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Pyramid or Ponzi?

A pure pyramid scheme is one where one purchases memberships, which allow one to sell memberships. One is paid a commission on each membership one sells, and a commission on the memberships sold by the members to whom one has sold memberships. A true pyramid scheme actually pays the commissions. The most famous pure pyramid scheme was to sell mink oil, only there was never any mink oil. The members soon found, after about five layers of membership were sold, that everyone was already a member, so there were no more memberships to be sold, and no way for the bottom layer to recoup any of their membership fee. Most members found themselves on the bottom layer, because this is the basic geometry of all pyramid schemes.

A Ponzi scheme is one that promises investors a large return, and actually delivers the return for a short time, attracting many more investors. When the number of investors levels off, the Ponzi absconds with all the money that's left. The original scheme promised a return of 5% per month from arbitraging international postage stamps.

A 'legitimate' Multi-level Marketing (MLM or Network) scheme has both products for sale and memberships for sale. The promise is that members will earn large amounts of money selling memberships. The reality is that members can earn small amounts of money selling product.

Andy was 'hired' to help with accounts and marketing of what he described as a marvellous MLM scheme. It was so good, he agreed to work without a salary for a percentage of the profits, and the founder of the scheme made him a partner.

Memberships were US$250. After three months, members had sold 1,000 memberships. The initial US$250 went to the company, which promised to then pay commissions to the members. With 1,000 members, the company (obviously) had US$250,000 in the bank before commissions.

So the CEO absconded, taking the entire US$250,000.

As Andy said, if they could make US$250,000 in just three months, how much money could they have made had the CEO not absconded? And (like all pyramid schemes) month three had been much better than month two, which had been much better than month one as the members sold to their friends who sold to their friends.

Andy had co-signed the lease on the office for US$27,000. The CEO had paid the first quarter, but Andy was liable for the balance, plus the unpaid utility bills. In three months, the company had not provided him with a residence visa, nor with any share of the profits. The members all accused Andy of cheating them, thinking he was keeping the money they were owed for commissions.

At this point, Andy was desperate, and went to Farook, because he'd heard that Farook had flats that did not require a residence visa (they did, however, require a 50% retail mark-up on the rent). Once Andy got his residence visa, he quickly departed Farook's studio for a place that was much nicer and also cheaper.

Since Andy still thinks the pyramid could have succeeded had the CEO not absconded, I question the requirements to obtain a degree in accounting in his home country. Of course, I can say the same about the holders of advanced degrees from Harvard University, since one of them put his name on a book that promises that MLMs will be the businesses of the future. Probably, dot com MLMs at that (the book was written in 2000).

And I'm not sure if one should call the scam in which Andy was fleeced a pyramid or a Ponzi, since it doesn't meet the narrowest definition of either scam.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Visit to Giza with Farook

Farook invited me to join him to learn about an opportunity to make money. Needing something to write about, I reluctantly skipped the City 7 Wednesday comedy and went.

The presenter said he was from The Sudan, but I believe he was from Giza, since the opportunity definitely involved pyramids.

Many years ago, a programmer asked me if I would like to be in business for myself. I thought he was going ask me to partner with him in a technology business. He picked me up, saying that the location of the presentation would be very hard to find. We drove some distance, while he said it was impossible to make money in technology (Ross Perot was just getting started back then.) I was stuck for hours at a presentation about making money selling people the opportunity to sell soap. For $100, I could buy a sample kit, then, if I sold just two kits, and each of those two kit-buyers sold just two kits, & etc., I would get a commission on the two kits I sold, and on all the kits my customers and my customers' customers sold, and I would be rich beyond the dreams of Croesus.

The math requires logarithms, but, in short, a king (or perhaps a Sultan or a Raja, I forget which) was out riding when his horse was spooked on the corniche and the king (or Sultan or Raja) fell into the sea. Someone saw him fall and rescued him, and the king offered his rescuer a reward. The rescuer asked for just a chessboard, with only one grain of rice on the first square of a chessboard, then double that on the second square, and double that on the next square, etc. The king thought this a trifling reward for saving his life.

As it turns out, the total amount of rice on the 64 squares of a chessboard would have been more than the entire world production since the first rice harvest, so the king (reluctantly, I'm told) had to have his rescuer executed.

For the pyramid scheme, by using logarithms, one can calculate that in about eight months, every person on the planet will have purchased a kit, and there won't be anyone left to buy another one.

In Dubai, it cost €2 to get in to listen to the presentation (back home, it was free). Farook wanted me to listen and tell him if he should invest $700 for a single channel, or $1,500 for two channels. If you can sell two just two people the first week, and they sell to just two people the next week, etc., each channel pays $250 a week. With those first six customers selling to just two more people each week, the $250 doubles, then quadruples. They said one lady earned more than $90,000 in one week. The math says this is impossible, except for the people who start the pyramid scheme, and even then it's difficult.

The presenter said he offered the opportunity to a tea-boy, who used logarithms to show that the scheme couldn't work. The tea-boy, the presenter said, is still a tea-boy, while the presenter now earns more than $120,000 a year.

Unlike the soap presentation I heard 30 years ago, this is a totally web based business, operating out of Hong Kong. Being on the web, they'll sell almost anything, as long as they can mark the price up by 10,000%.

Farook, after listening to the salesman in Arabic, was ready to hand over $1,500. After listening to me, he now wants to set up a similar scheme to sell Dubai properties like The Light House.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Icebergs in the Creek (2)????

The Dubai Transit Regulatory Authority (TRA) announced that, as of 15 July 2007, there would be new air-conditioned 'water buses.'

On 15 July, only Sheikhs were allowed on the 'water buses.' Riff-raff (such as Dubai@Random) were excluded.

The latest is that, as of 16 August 2007, the new, air-conditioned water buses will be available to anyone who wishes to cross the Creek in style.

We'll see.

Crossing the Creek was, traditionally, a ride of €0.10. Now the price has been increased to €0.20, a 100% increase (or a 50% retail markup).

The luxury 'water buses' will cost €0.80.

For the typical €150 a month workers, the 100% increase to €0.20 is far more than they can afford. Charging them €0.80 will force them to swim or walk through the pedestrian tunnel.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Dubai in the NYT. Again.

When the US put the UAE on it's condemned list for Human Trafficking and Human Rights back in 2002 because of the child camel jockeys, the UAE responded with a series of infomercials in the local newspapers (which aren't allowed to run anything except infomercials about local news). This worked for one year, until the US Human Trafficking scouts actually went to see a camel race, whereupon they realized that the local newspapers were not altogether reliable when it came to reporting local news.

Now that the child camel jockeys have been retired, the main US concern is over workers' rights. The UAE authorities have responded with the usual infomercials in the local newspapers, but the Dubai authorities feared that limiting the series to the local papers would not have the requisite effect, so they managed to get an infomercial in The New York Times.

As with the case of the child camel jockeys, the infomercial says that all the former abuses are being effectively addressed. The article says there is a new labour minister who has both the authority and the inclination to enforce international standards of workers' rights.

And since the news article is in The New York Times, it should have some impact on next year's reports by the US State Department.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Summer Reading

Someone gave me the novel, Beyond Black. The novel is in very colloquial British, the argot of the current youth of that island nation, and I find it as accessible as Madame Bovary, in the original. Or Homer, for that matter, and not the new movie.

For example, in the novel, someone is 'scratching his barnet.'

I tried looking up 'barnet' on, and was told I must be looking for Barney, and was given several sites for a purple dinosaur, a few for a gay US politician, and a few for a department store recently purchased by Dubai.

Before, would ask, 'Did you mean ...' and give you the option of clicking on what it thought you should have typed, but now it just decides what you should have typed and gives you that. Even if you did not make a typo, but just asked for something doesn't know. And does not know anything about 'scratching a barnet.'

I liked the old much better.


I finally found out what a 'barnet' is on I think it means 'hair.'

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Internet in the UAE

One of my former Directors of IT said the UAE only has 3 class C Internet licenses. That means only 765 people can be connected to the Internet at one time. I thought he didn't know what he was talking about.

When the Internet started, every computer connected to the Internet needed a unique 12 digit number, called an IP address. Those who have visited Lamcy Plaza should have seen the confident prediction that the world would never have more than six computers. It soon had more than six, but most people believed the jist of the six computer argument, so no one thought there would ever be more than 10,000 computers on the Internet.

In the early days of the Internet, most companies only put one computer on the Internet and let everyone in the company share it.

But the people who designed the Internet had quite a bit of foresight, and created more than 4 billion Internet addresses.

Which were soon all used up as the PC (and then the Internet phone) became ubiquitous. Initially, each PC needed it's own IP address. And, since the US invented the Internet, most IP addresses were given to US companies.

Around 1999, a new technology called Network Address Translation (NAT) became common. A company need only pay for one IP address, then they could share it among all the computers in the company using NAT. In setting up the standards for IP addresses, it was agreed that internal, fake IP addresses must start with or with These addresses cannot be real IP addresses. The NAT translates all the 10. or 192.168. addresses into a real IP address, like (or anything else that doesn't start with 10. or 192.168.)

This means that an address that does not start with 10. or 192.168. should normally be 'real.' Only, in the Gulf, they usually aren't.

When I ask my computer, my address is Since this isn't a or a, it should be a real address, but it isn't. When I use an Internet test site, my address is The is a fake address, sent to a TRA NAT and then shared with thousands of other UAE users as And some of the people sharing are not very nice.

Google said I was a virus, and would not let me conduct a search. Wikipedia said I was a vandal and would not let me edit a badly worded article.

So the UAE assigns IP addresses that look real, that do not use the standard fake addresses and

However, almost all the IP addresses assigned in the UAE are 'fake', sharing a different, real IP address with botnets and vandals. Which means legitimate Internet users are perceived as bots and vandals.

And it looks like my former IT director may have been telling the truth.