28 October, 2009

Birdcage goes Bollywood

Spring Carnival week in Melbourne, Australia is one of the biggest events on the world's horse-racing calendar.

As one of the major sponsors, Emirates Airlines goes all out with their VIP tent.

This year, the theme is Bollywood. Just for Paraglider who reads blogs at work, I've disabled the video's autostart, so click the Play arrow at the bottom left to view the video!

While the whole concept is exciting and colourful, and not to take anything away from the Indian nation, wouldn't this have been a perfect opportunity to promote the U.A.E. and Arab culture?

"UAE is top Arab state to live in"

If you were too busy to read the paper today, here's what you missed. According to The National

An international study has rated the UAE as the best place in the Arab world to live (in)... (It) topped the list of Arab nations, coming in 47th place overall. It was the only one to break into the top 50, ahead of Kuwait (52), Tunisia (68) and Saudi Arabia (81). 

A few scores resonating with me personally were: 

  • Safety and security- ranking 18th, ahead of America, Britain, Germany and France
  • Second lowest homicide rate worldwide - leading to reports that 95 per cent of the population feel safe walking alone at nights (the highest rate worldwide)
  • It earned praise for its tolerance, too, with 87 per cent of the population under the impression that their area was a good place for immigrants to live, and 71 per cent believing that ethnic minorities were welcome
  • It ranked 47th for education, earning praise for gender equality 

UAE hosts nearly 4.8 million people from 197 countries and provides for them a place to coexist. It does the job so well that most people forget this is not home and that they are here only as guests (then they start whining on the community blog). 

I personally think UAE has done a fabulous job and deserves all the praise it gets. You may or may not want to argue these findings - knock yourselves out. 

N.B. Road safety was probably not a factor worthy of consideration in the survey. 

Ras Al Khaimah loses America's Cup hosting

A New York State Supreme Court has overturned Ras Al Khaimah as Alinghi's choice of sailing venue, citing a ruling in the 1887 Deed of Gift which states that the race may not be held in the Northern Hemisphere between November 1st and May 1st.

Ironically, it may shift to Valencia - another Northern Hemisphere port, but one that met no objection from Alinghi or Oracle earlier in the court hearing.

More in this report

27 October, 2009

One reason that too many Arabs are poor is rotten education...

I'm wondering just how our native Emiratis feel about this one ... especially the highlighted section!

One reason that too many Arabs are poor is rotten education
October 26, 2009

Laggards trying to catch up

A recent issue of Science, the weekly journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was devoted to research into “Ardi” or Ardipithecus ramidus, a 4.4m-year-old hominid species whose discovery deepens the understanding of human evolution. These latest studies suggest, among other things, that rather than descending from a closely related species such as the chimpanzee, the hominid branch parted earlier than previously thought from the common ancestral tree.

In much of the Arab world, coverage of the research took a different spin. “American Scientists Debunk Darwin”, exclaimed the headline in al-Masry al-Youm, Egypt’s leading independent daily. “Ardi Refutes Darwin’s Theory”, chimed the website of al-Jazeera, the region’s most-watched television channel. Scores of comments from readers celebrated this news as a blow to Western materialism and a triumph for Islam. Two or three lonely readers wrote in to complain that the report had inaccurately presented the findings of the research.

The response to Ardi’s unearthing was not surprising. According to surveys, barely a third of Egyptian adults have ever heard of Charles Darwin and just 8% think there is any evidence to back his famous theory. Teachers, who might be expected to know better, seem equally sceptical. In a survey of nine Egyptian state schools, where Darwin’s ideas do form part of the curriculum for 15-year-olds, not one of more than 30 science teachers interviewed believed them to be true. At a private university in the United Arab Emirates, only 15% of the faculty thought there was good evidence to support evolution.

The strength of religious belief among Arabs partly explains their reluctance to accept the facts of evolution. Until recent reforms, state primary schools in Saudi Arabia devoted 31% of classroom time to religion, compared with just 20% for mathematics and science. A quarter of the kingdom’s university students devote the main part of their degree course to Islamic studies, more than in engineering, medicine and science put together. And despite changes to Saudi curriculums, religious study remains obligatory every year from primary school through to university.

Such choices carry a cost that goes beyond ignorance of Darwin. Arab countries now spend as much or more on education, as a share of GDP, than the world average. They have made great strides in eradicating illiteracy, boosting university enrolment and reducing gaps in education between the sexes.

But the gap in the quality of education between Arabs and other people at a similar level of development is still frightening. It is one reason why Arab countries suffer unusually high rates of youth unemployment. According to a recent study by a team of Egyptian economists, the lack of skills in the workforce largely explains why a decade of fast economic growth has failed to lift more people out of poverty.

The most rigorous comparative study of education systems, a survey called Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) that comes out every four years, revealed in its latest report, in 2007, that out of 48 countries tested, all 12 participating Arab countries fell below the average. More disturbingly, less than 1% of students aged 12-13 in ten Arab countries reached an advanced benchmark in science, compared with 32% in Singapore and 10% in the United States. Only one Arab country, Jordan, scored above the international average, with 5% of its 13-year-olds reaching the advanced category.

Other comparative measures are equally alarming. A listing of the world’s top 500 universities, compiled annually by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, includes three South African and six Israeli universities, but not a single Arab one. The Swiss-based World Economic Forum ranks Egypt a modest 70th out of 133 countries in competitiveness, but in terms of the quality of its primary education system and its mathematics-and-science teaching, it slumps to 124th. Libya, despite an income of $16,000 a head, ranks an even more dismal 128th in the quality of its higher education, lower than dirt-poor Burkina Faso, with an average income of $577.

Well aware that their school systems are doing badly, Arab governments have been scrambling to improve. In an attempt to leapfrog the slow process of curriculum reform and teacher training, many have taken the easy route of encouraging private schools. In Qatar, for instance, the share of students in private education leapt from 30% to more than 60% between 1999 and 2006, according to the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Syria has licensed some 20 private universities since 2001; 14 are up and running. Yet their total enrolment is dwarfed by the 200,000 at state-run Damascus University alone. Oil-rich monarchies in the Gulf have spent lavishly to lure Western academies to their shores, but these branch universities are struggling to find qualified students to fill their splendidly equipped classrooms.

Not to be outdone, Saudi Arabia has launched King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), a city-sized institution with an endowment of $20 billion. Intended as an oasis of academic excellence, it enjoys an independent board and is the kingdom’s only co-educational institution. This augurs well for the Saudi elite, but one fancy new university will do little to lift the overall standard of Saudi education. And it has been attacked by religious conservatives. A senior cleric who decried the mixing of sexes at KAUST, declaring that its textbooks should be reviewed by religious scholars, was forced to resign from government office.

Source: The Economist Print Edition
Web: http://mahmood.tv/2009/10/26/one-reason-that-too-many-arabs-are-poor-is-rotten-education/

24 October, 2009

RIP: Her Say

In news that seems to have passed everyone by, the locally produced tv show "Her Say" is apparently no more (as of at least 3 months ago)

The much loved tv show will obviously be greatly missed by Dubai; you can watch the final episode here.

Slightly more interesting is that you can actually watch all the locally produced TV shows online on the DMI website now; not sure how long they've been doing that but I haven't seen it before.

20 October, 2009

The Yas Marina Hotel

Looks pretty good...

The glass panels and the space frame that holds them really look like something you'd expect to see on Mars in fifty years or so. Up close, the panes of glass don't seem like solar panels at all, but they might save on air conditioning costs by reflecting a fair bit of sunlight off. But the 'sheath', as I like to call it, looks quite funny. It looks like the whole thing is a giant razor blade. A feminine one at that too (Venus, anyone?).

Some more pictures of the world's largest feminine shaving razor:

It glows in the dark too!

19 October, 2009

Etisalat announces 30mbps

Etisalat has just announced 30mbps internet through FTTH connections.

"Available in the FTTH connected areas and priced at AED 699/month, the new 30 Mbps package will also be made available for existing customers in the FTTH coverage area, who are keen on upgrading their account."

"FTTH will also allow Etisalat to launch a much faster package of 100 Mbps in the coming months"

Is anyone else worried that we might face monthly bandwidth caps with the introduction of these higher speeds? (It happened in Bahrain with the Boycott Batelco movement in 2006)

iPhone 3Gs in the UAE, why NOT

I'm not a mobile geek so please excuse me if I don't use the right lingo. The point of this post is the price of the new iPhone now being launched by Du.

It appears to be the very latest Apple model--great, as we sometimes have to wait months for such things. On checking the price of the top model offered by Du I get Dhs 2869. On checking the same model on the Apple website, I get a price of US$ 199. Comparing the prices in the same currency, the Du model sells for a whopping 2.6 times more!

That put a big damper on my enthusiasm. The fact that Apple products always cost more here has effectively destroyed most of my enthusiasm for any new Apple or Mac releases. But this huge surcharge seems way over the top.

GeekFest 2.0

GeekFest 2.0 is to be held at The Shelter on the 22nd October, which is next Thursday.

As you may remember, we put GeekFest 2.0 back to give Twestival Dubai some space. Now it's full steam ahead for the 22nd.

GeekFest is intended to be an offline social for online people and would be interesting for anyone who's involved in the online world and in using technology to create, educate, entertain, inform or just play around.

The event remains resolutely un-organised. We're suggesting a 7pm start, but you can please yourselves when you turn up. We have added a couple of aspects to the event, mainly to cater to the feedback that while everyone loved GeekFest 1.0, they thought some things to give it more, well, purpose might be in order. Your wish is our command...


We have, as previously reported, brought in two technology companies to mount technology showcases at the event. Both Nokia and Lenovo will be there showing off their snazzy new gadgets. Both have promised not to hassle the geeks - the idea is that they're there for you to talk to if you want to - no aggressive marketing, shouting or anything. If this works, we'll do more of these next time.

After 8 o'clock, we'll have a number of speaking slots for people to share interesting technologies, projects, thoughts, ideas, practical things or disgusting personal habits. Each slot will be 15 minutes long maximum and it will be up to the speaker to invite his/her audience, start on time and end on time. This will either work perfectly because of the collective will for it to do so, or will descend into absolute chaos. Either way, we're not taking responsibility.

There are a total of four talks booked for the night, details are here if you want more info. They'll take us into the worlds of HDR photography, TEDx, the future of publishing and The National's mysterious new project.

Windows 7 Launch Party
As you may or may not know, Microsoft's Windows 7 operating system launches around the world on October 22nd and Microsoft has earnestly been soliciting participants for a number of launch parties around the world. You can find out more from this gloriously inept video.

Sadly, our plans to host a Windows 7 Launch Party have had to be cancelled following a violently outraged reaction to the idea from the Macintosh community. You haven't heard the last of this, Mac Freaks.

The Shelter, as you probably are aware, has many enviable features - including its very own More Café.

The Shelter is in Dubai's Al Qouz industrial area. Here's a map!

Are you kidding? Just turn up...

If you want to get updates and stuff, you can follow @GeekFestDubai on Twitter and there's a GeekFest FaceBook group too, for no particularly good reason. You can also email either myself or Saadia Zahid at the addresses given on the GeekFest Twitter page.

Good news

"From November 1, trucks, buses and light vehicles such as pick-up trucks, minibuses and taxis will face severe punishment if they exceed the speed limit by 10km per hour, said Major General Mohammad Saif Al Zafein, Director of the Dubai Police Traffic Department."
--read more here

Also according to Gulf News/RTA people will now be able to plan routes using public transportation via Google Maps

16 October, 2009

TEDxDubai - An Idea Worth Spreading

Not many events (let alone free media events), make the cut, here in Dubai. And by ‘cut’ I metaphorically refer to that fine, slice of meat; perfectly extracted, excluding everything unnecessary to produce a prime, well-done steak.

The purpose of TEDxDubai was to do justice to the concept of TEDx (an abbreviation for Technology, Entertainment and Design; the ‘x’ representing an ‘independently organized event’), a non-profit convention that started out in California, with the intention of hosting ‘forward thinkers,’ all connected by the common goal of spreading the power of positive thinking. 
What TEDxDubai aimed to achieve was to bring together like-minded individuals from the emirates under one roof, and bounce off ideas that would otherwise seem unfeasible.

Delegates entered the event location with high expectations, but frankly, expecting the worst. As is the norm with most conferences / events / concerts here in ‘Dubayy,’ a parking predicament was expected, lousy customer service was anticipated, and a disappointed lot of speakers was prophesized.

But boy, were we pleasantly surprised. 
Parking was plentiful, the volunteers were always on deck, the catering was delectable, and the line-up of speakers was nothing short of mind-blowing. 
So obviously, the atmosphere was proportionately abuzz with intellectual conversation of TED-happy delegates.

What does it take to pull off this successful an event? The organizers obviously knew what they were doing when they set down the guidelines:

(a) Remove the price tag: Your delegate badge had to be ‘earned’ by filling out an application form on the TEDxDubai website; one that never asked for your nationality and social standing, preferring instead to deem you worthy depending on what you thought was an ‘idea worth spreading.’ 
(b) No black market sales: Since your invite to the event was non-transferable, and valid photo identification had to be presented on entry, not a soul even attempted to sell their tickets; even if they wanted to (which is hardly conceivable).
(c) First-come, first-serve seating: Self explanatory. The earlier you arrived, the better view you got. And if I recall right, the 1,000 seats of DMC’s Palladium were almost completely filled up before the session even began.
(d) Come-as-you-like mentality: No stated dress-code, meant that you were free to wear whatever it was that kept you comfy throughout the day. Presence of flats amongst the ladies and flowered shirts amongst the men were proof enough.
(e) Enlist speakers not on the basis of their job title, but on the principle of the vision / message they have to relay: Speakers varied in nationality (Emarati to Indian), age group (13-40), and subject matter (biophotonics to comic book characters); each speaker more inspirational than the next.

Bruno Guissani, European TED director, inaugurated the event introducing the audience to the concept of TED, and the many projects that have launched as a result.
Leo Laporte advocated the benefits of new media vs. old, while Paul Bennett stressed on the importance of ‘moving beyond scale and into substance.’
The Al Awadhi brothers of the contemporary Shawarma store Wild Peeta, and Mohammed Saeed Harib of Freej fame, all highlighted the significance of having faith in your dreams, and running it through.
13-year old Dubai Abdulla Abuhoul, took the stage as living proof that it was not age that mattered, but instead the drive to succeed, while Dr. Naif Al Mutawa, creator of THE99, planted humour into his talk with the same ease with which he glided us through the creation of the region’s first internationally-renowned comic strip.

Masarat Daud shared with us the vision and success of her 8 day Academy, emphasizing on the need for ‘education that functions,’ while Samar S. Jodha drove us to tears with striking visuals from the Indian village of Phenang, and his message of ‘finding the larger cause in your art.’
Bashar Atiyat brought to our attention the need for breaking stereotypes, while Jamil Abu-Wardeh had the audience in splits with his witty take on the importance of comedy in the region.
Mohammad Gawdat addressed the crowd on the internet’s role in non-manufactured information, and Ian Gilbert achieved his goal of making our brains hurt while underlining the necessity of promoting ‘independent thinking’ in today’s classrooms. 
Jiochi Ito advised us to ‘invest in our failures in order to achieve that Google’ while Abed Ayyad brought in the science factor to the conference, delving into the ‘magic’ of Biophotonics.
Khulood Al Attiyat spoke of her innovation to bring back a Renaissance in Dubai, and Qais Sedki talked us through achieving every goal on ‘life’s table of contents.’
Ernst van der Poll helped us comprehend the importance of bringing today’s youth to explore nature in order to better understand it’s value in the circle of life, while Thomas Lundgren walked onto the stage barefoot, and stressed on the gravity of true happiness; stating that ‘without passion, nothing extraordinary in this world can be achieved.’

When the final speaker left the stage, and it was time for the organizer’s curtain call, the entire Palladium rose for a much-deserved standing ovation in honour of the Mad Men behind the scenes; Giorgio Ungania and James Piecowye. Mad because they took up the challenge of putting together a world-class act, purely because they felt it was their duty to make sure the Emirates was not deprived of such a phenomenon.

We, the delegates walked out an inspired lot; now reassured that we’re capable of achieving whatever it is we aspire for, provided we’ve got the passion to back that dream. ‘If they can do it, so can we!’ 

It just goes to show that it’s not the monuments we erect that put us on the map, but projects like these that put us on par with the rest of the world. Here’s hoping that the success of a humble event such as this will motivate our GCC counterparts into bringing the TED experience into their region.

And I’m quite certain I’m not speaking for myself here when I say, I was actually quite disappointed. Disappointed that the much-awaited TEDxDubai had actually come to an end. 

Turns out the best things do come for free after all.

For more information on what you missed out on, visit: www.tedxdubai.com
For more inspiration, visit the main TED site: www.ted.com

15 October, 2009

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

With all the talk about quietness I thought I'd post something....So what do you all think about this multi million dollar event coming to UAE...

I personally think it's fantastic and would love to get my hands on some tickets... :D

13 October, 2009

Pretty Quiet Around Here

What's happening?

05 October, 2009

Nobody's Bothered About A Nuclear UAE, Then?

Scares me to death.

03 October, 2009

A Cup in a storm

The America’s Cup is something like the Formula 1 of sailing. It’s a playground of grizzled billionaire playboys, buxom marketing girls in swim suits and brightly coloured monster machines. The big money involved attracts myriads of hangers-on like flies around the proverbial excrement.

The choice of a Gulf country for next year’s re-match between titleholder Team Alinghi and challenger BMW Oracle was seen by many as apt. Bling does as bling goes.

Ras Al Khaimah was delighted to have been picked by Team Alinghi as venue to host a world class sports event. A press conference was promptly held and even the venue was presented to the press. Or what was thought to be the venue anyway – it’s currently a stretch of sand by the beach called Majan island which strangely resembles a stretch of sand by the beach. But as the old adage goes: “Build a sandcastle and they will come”, assurances were made that “everything would be ready” to welcome the sailing Formula 1. (Not unlike the Metro that would be “ready” on 09/09/09 – “ready” in this case meaning one of two lines and a mere quarter of stations and no feeder buses.)
However it seems that the challenger’s team is opposed to Ras Al Khaimah on other grounds and not because of concerns over readiness. BMW Oracle has filed a suit in a New York court to get an injunction against Alignhi’s choice of Ras Al Khaimah, citing security fears over the proximity of the sailing venue (that would be the sea) to Iran.

Ahhh, geopolitics! It’s funny that it took BMW Oracle more than one month to figure out that Ras Al Khaimah is close to Iran and that sending an American-based team to “that part of the world” could be seen as inconsistent with the State department’s tack (haha, sailing pun!) in dealing with “Ayran”.

(Although it is even funnier that Ras Al Khaimah went public before a formal decision on the venue was made. Duh…)