For the heck of it

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Chris Fernando Dot Net Launched!

I have launched a new website - Chris Fernando Dot Net and so have moved this blog onto Wordpress and integrated it into my website. The entire archive has also been moved to the new website. You can visit the website here.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Is it Time to Head Back Home?, an online recruitment site, recently sent me a press release with a headline that screamed "UAE salaries rise by 10.7% - study". I think they forgot to add "Finally After 100 Years!" after the "UAE salaries rise by 10.7%" bit.

Let's face the truth - the salaries are still what people used to get paid probably when Dubai was a desert and when people used horse carts for transport. Here's an excerpt from the study:
  • Regional salaries increased by 9.0% in 2007 compared to 7.9% last year
  • Oman, UAE and Qatar lead the regional trend with pay hikes of 11.0%, 10.7% and 10.6% respectively
  • Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia had pay increases of 8.1%, 7.9% and 7.7% respectively
  • Sectors enjoying the highest pay rise were construction and banking
The salary rise percentage is quite pathetic when compared to annual pay rises in a supposedly "third world country" like India. At least in India, I used to get a pay hike every year. The situation has worsened over the last few months, due to the slump in US Dollar, which has in turn affected the Dirham.

When I moved to Dubai 2.5 years ago, I used to get an exchange rate of about Rs. 11.75 for a dirham - there also used to be days when I used to get as much as Rs. 11.85 for a dirham. As of today, the exchange rate stands at Rs. 10.48 for a dirham, which is awfull. I have to now wait for days when there's a slight increase in the exchange rate, before I transfer funds to India.

Sure, there's no income tax in the Gulf countries - but then, there's a hidden agenda here. We pay an exorbitant amount (sometimes 70% of our salary) as our rent, which I feel is not justified at all. In fact, this place is overpriced for its standards. I can probably buy my own flat for the amount I spend as rent in a year.

Transportation within Dubai sucks. I used to work in Mumbai, which has one of the best transportation systems in the world. The train system in Mumbai is awesome, while the bus system, though not as stylish as those in Dubai, is efficient. Sure, you don't get to travel in air-conditioned Volvo and Mercedes buses, but at least there are buses every 2 minutes or less in Mumbai. In Dubai, there's a bus every 15 minutes to an an hour, depending on the traffic.

It's most frustrating when you want to hail a cab in Dubai. The cab drivers here, give you an attitude as if they are doing a favour by giving you a ride to your destination. Many of them even refuse to pick you up - they first want to interview you and if everything goes right, they will offer you a ride. Before These are some things that will happen, when you try to hail a cab - so be prepared:
  1. Cab Driver: Kidhar Jana Hai? (Translation: Where To?)
  2. Cab Driver: Kyon? (Translation: Why?) (huh?!! None of your business dumb ass!)
  3. Cab Driver: Traffic Hoga Kya? (Translation: Will there be traffic?) (How do I know? Do I look like the traffic department to you?)
  4. Cab Driver: Kya Yaar... Wahan Bahot Traffic Hai! (Translation: Lot of traffic on that road)
  5. The Cab Driver sometimes won't stop - he might just speed off without even looking at you, or worse, point his finger in the direction he is driving to. (So, what am I supposed to understand from that??)
So, think twice before you accept an offer in the Gulf - it might not be your worthwhile at all.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Weekend at Jebel Hafeet

The climate in Dubai is cooling down a bit right now, with winter just around the corner. Well don’t say “Yay!!” yet. The temperature has been hovering around 26-30 degrees – usually it is well over 40! So, if you are in Dubai or anywhere in the UAE, now is the right time to visit places such as Ras Al Khaimah, Al Ain, or better still… Jebel Hafeet. Why? Because according to a study, the Jebel Hafeet road has been awarded “the best road to drive in the world”! So, it was weekend for us, and we HAD to check it out.

The Road Going Towards Al Ain.

We (me and two of my roommates) took off at 3:00 pm on Friday (28th September 2007). A drive to Jebel Hafeet takes around 1.5-2 hours. So we were planning on reaching Jebel Hafeet by 5 pm, because by 6 pm, it would start getting dark and hence we would miss the panoramas and the view of the winding roads from the hilltop. Since it is the holy month of Ramadan here, we figured it would be great if we could pack some munchies from some restaurant. McDonalds was the obvious choice. Then, we went to Spinney’s, grabbed a couple of water bottles, some snacks and candy bars.

My roommate's Peugeot 206.

For those ignorant enough, the holy month of Ramadan spans an entire month. During this month, many restaurants are shut during the day, and they only open at Iftar timings. Smoking, drinking or eating in public is prohibited by law in most countries such as UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, and so on – so if you are caught doing any of these, you might end up in jail for up to 3 months, in the UAE. It might be worse in other countries such as Saudi Arabia. So, we were careful enough to not be seen eating in public.

The beautiful desert on both the sides of the road.

Here's one more view of the endless "sand land".

The introduction of Salik has been a pain in the ass and my roommate didn’t have a Salik tag on his Peugeot 206 – so taking Garhoud Bridge was out of our options. We hit the Business Bay Crossing, before coming on to Emirates Road, and driving towards Al Ain.

Inside Al Ain. Beautiful trees on both the sides of the road.

And we were on our way to Jebel Hafeet. It was amazing to see that on both the sides of the road, we could only see dunes and dunes of sand. We couldn’t resist stopping for a while to snap up some images.

Getting ready for a photo shoot.

We didn’t have any maps on us and this was our first time towards Jebel Hafeet. So, we had to follow each and every sign on the road – we couldn’t afford to miss one.

Yay! We found the desert!!

Luckily the signs were as easy as they could get. Every road sign had an entry such as “Tourist Destinations”. Need we say more? So we followed the “Tourist Destinations” sign, till we came across a sign that yelled “Jebel Hafeet” with an arrow pointing to the left. And we liked what we saw.

I can jump, too!

Though we weren’t yet on the Jebel Hafeet road, we could see a mountain in front of us with beautifully lit winding roads, all over it. It seemed as if the mountain was decorated with a bunch of twinkly lights! So we started to drive up the mountain – the roads were as smooth as butter. It was a piece of cake for my roommate’s hatchback.

The zigzag roads were amazing to drive on. The roads were clearly marked – two lanes going upwards and one lane coming down, with barricades on the edges. Finally we reached the top of Jebel Hafeet – it’s something like a table-top mountain, except that the “table-top” bit is man-made.

The Jebel Hafeet Table Top.

We got a really nice view of Al Ain below and the Oman road. By the time we reached the top, it was Iftar time already. We had a quick cuppa, before we started descending from the mountain and hitting our way back home.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Are You a Tour Guide?

I got an e-mail, from The web site is run by Jeff Goldsmith, a Photographer. The mail that was sent to me, asked me whether I knew of any tour guides in the Middle East, who might be interested in sigining up at as Tour Guides.

The mail also asked me to post the e-mail on my Blog, to spread the word around. Since I don't know any Tour Guide in the Middle East, I went for the "posting"part of the mail. No, I don't know Jeff Goldsmith personally, and so, cannot vouch for the authenticity of this site. But if you are interested, read on. So, Read on!!

We saw your blog on life in the United Arab Emirates and as a foreigner, we thought you might know interesting tour guides who might want to join A "tour" guide can be a professional deep sea fishing vessel captain - or a person who can get you past the velvet ropes of exclusive clubs.

We're interested in signing up both people who help travelers with common experience, like finding great boutiques,to unique idea, like bungie jumping in very remote spots. Both of these experieces are available on the site right now. If you feel this service is appropriate to announce on your blog, please do.

And if you want to pass our information on to people you know in the United Arab Emirates, that would be appreciated.

Thanks so much.

This is what it says on its "About Us"page - helps global travelers find authentic, local experiences and insider adventures - by connecting them with personal tour guides from everywhere. We simply let independent tour guides tell everyone what travelers can see chez eux - and we let travelers rate guides. is, pardon the jargon, a one-to-one destination marketing platform. Go beyond the guidebook. Go everywhere. Get into everything. Pre-launch, VIAmigo signed up 1500 tour guides from every corner of the planet - with a great many more expected soon. Professional tourist guides to diving instructors to archeologist to connoisseurs of every sort, you name the adventure.

So, if you are interested, sign up here.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Saving is Sin. Spending is Virtue.

Came across this piece of reasoning by one Professor Jagdish N Bhagwati, Department of Economics, Columbia University. It's titled "Saving is Sin. Spending is Virtue."

Japanese save a lot. They do not spend much. Also Japan exports far more than it imports. Has an annual trade surplus of over $100 billions. Yet Japanese economy is considered weak, even collapsing. Americans spend, save little. Also US import more than it exports. Has an annual trade deficit of over $400 billion. Yet, the American economy is considered strong and trusted to get stronger.

But where from do Americans get money to spend? They borrow from Japan , China and even India . Virtually others save for the US to spend. Global savings are mostly invested in US, in dollars. India itself keeps its foreign currency assets of over $50 billions in US securities. China has sunk over $160 billion in US securities. Japan 's stakes in US securities is in trillions.

Result: The US has taken over $5 trillion from the world. So, as the world saves for the US , Americans spend freely. Today, to keep the US consumption going, that is for the US economy to work, other countries have to remit $180 billion every quarter, which is $2 billion a day, to the US ! Otherwise the US economy would go for a six. So will the global economy. The result will be no different if US consumers begin consuming less.

A Chinese economist asked a neat question. Who has invested more, US in China , or China in US? The US has invested in China less than half of what China has invested in US. The same is the case with India . We have invested in US over $50 billion. But the US has invested less than $20 billion in India . So, why is the world after US?

The secret lies in the American spending, that they hardly save. In fact they use their credit cards to spend their future income. That the US spends is what makes it attractive to export to the US . So US imports more than what it exports year after year.

The result: The world is dependent on US consumption for its growth. By its deepening culture of consumption, the US has habituated the world to feed on US consumption. But as the US needs money to finance its consumption, the world provides the money. It's like a shopkeeper providing the money to a customer so that the customer keeps buying from the shop. If the customer will not buy, the shop won't have business, unless the shopkeeper funds him. The US is like the lucky customer.

And the world is like the helpless shopkeeper financier. Who is America 's biggest shopkeeper financier? Japan of course. Yet itʼs Japan which is regarded as weak. Modern economists complain that Japanese do not spend, so they do not grow. To force the Japanese to spend, the Japanese government exerted it self, reduced the savings rates, even charged the savers. Even then the Japanese did not spend (habits don't change, even with taxes, do they?).

Their traditional postal savings alone is over $1.2 trillions, about three times the Indian GDP. Thus, savings, far from being the strength of Japan , has become its pain. Hence, what is the lesson? That is, a nation cannot grow unless the people spend, not save. Not just spend, but borrow and spend. Dr. Jagdish Bhagwati, the famous Indian-born economist in the US , told Manmohan Singh that Indians wastefully save.

Ask them to spend, on imported cars and, seriously, even on cosmetics! This will put India on a growth curve. "Saving is sin, and spending is virtue." Before you follow this neo economics, get some fools to save so that you can borrow from them and spend. This is what US has successfully done in last few decades.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Xbox 360 Rocks!!

Yes, I know I am a bit too late in saying this, but I finally got my hands on an Xbox 360. While the gaming console launched in 2005, in the US, it took a little over 2 years for Microsoft to bring it to the Middle East. The gaming console finally launched after a few hiccups in April this year.
We then received the 360 pack at PC Magazine's office some time back from Microsoft. Not that we hadn't reviewed Xbox 360 - we had reviewed the console long time back. But I was hoping that Microsoft could deliver a sample review unit for use in our PC Magazine Labs. This is because, we recently extended our Gaming section in the magazine to a whopping eight pages.

And the console finally arrived. It's now set up at my bachelorpad, where me and my roomates spend hours battling the demons of darkness!! :)

Yes! We are playing "The Darkness" right now, and I agree that the graphics and audio quality is awesome. Expect a full-on review soon!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Free Speech? My A***

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know what Wikipedia is. It's THE best and FREE encyclopedia you can ever lay your hands on. It's the biggest multilingual free-content encyclopedia on the internet, and contains over 7 million articles in over 200 languages - which is still growing on everyday.

Virgil Griffith

Most of the content on Wikipedia is user generated - so you can imagine the size of its content database. Users log on to the web site to contribute new entries and edit and update existing entries, too. With power in the users' hands, it's no brainer that people who already have an entry on their name on Wikipedia, will jump on the editing bandwagon, to make themselves look good.

So, to identify these people, Virgil Griffith - a student and a hacker - created a software program called Wikipedia Scanner, which discovered that Wikipedia entry editors included giants such as Microsoft, Coca Cola, Apple, FBI and the Vatican. These entities altered text on Wikipedia, which showed them in bad light.

Wikipedia Scanner

This list shows some of the things, Griffith's software managed to find out:

  • Apple adds negative comments to entries about Microsoft.
  • The Vatican edits Irish Catholic and IRA leader politician Gerry Adams’ page.Exxon Mobil edits text that highlights environmental damage in the oil spillages article.
  • Scientology removes criticism and negative articles from the Scientology page.
  • Al Jazeera TV station adds that the foundation of Iraq was just as bad as the Holocaust.
  • Amnesty International removes negative comments about its working.
  • Social networking website MySpace removed paragraphs when their website was hacked.
  • MSN Search is “a major competitor to Google”. That’s what MSN added to their page.
  • Dog breeding association deletes whole paragraphs about fatal attacks by dogs on humans.
  • Portuguese government removes entries about Prime Minister’s scandals.

This is just the tip of an iceberg. To find out, who's been editing what, check out Wikipedia Scanner.