Sunday, February 26, 2006

iopblogs banned?

Omantel has blocked the I'm on a plane blog aggregator website which includes the Omani Blog Aggregator.

Mistake from Omantel's side or fully intended action? I emailed them on Friday and still haven't received a reply. I hope it's a mistake. Omantel's proxy usually concerns itself mainly with porn and sex and nothing else.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Bad call

20060218.jpg

Picture: The Executive Director of the Sanad program "inaugurating" a Khimji Mart supermarket in Madinat Qaboos.

According to the Oman Chamber of Commerce website and Omanet (the government's official information website), Sanad is a fund for supporting and developing small projects. The fund provides loans to unemployed Omanis between the ages of 18 and 40 to develop and own their own businesses. The fund works with the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Manpower, and in fact both ministers are on the fund's board of directors. To put it in simple terms every year the Ministry of Manpower adds certain professions in certain areas to the Omanisation list, and the fund trains and finances Omanis to takeover those jobs. This has been most visible in one particular area: grocery shops.

As I have written before, the Omanisation of grocery shops has forced most of the Indians who used to run neighborhood grocery shops and corner shops to close down. Unfortunately, at least where I live, I haven't seen any Omanis take up the opportunity to open shops where the Indians used to be. This has become a boon to supermarkets and gas station convenience stores. And now, some of the supermarket chains have decided to open smaller stores in the middle of residential areas. For example Al Fair has announced plans to open a few small stores in 2006. And here we have an example of Khimji Mart, a supermarket that only had a handful of stores for more than a decade but which in the last year has expanded at a very fast pace outside the capital in areas where the Omanisation of grocery stores has eliminated competition. And now they're in Madinat Qaboos. And they have the head of Sanad opening their store! Good PR for Khimji Mart, very bad PR for Sanad. Bad call, dude.

You might want to read this)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

This and that and this

So its been a REALLy long time since I've last updated you guys. BUT (its not gramatically correct to beign a sentence with the word but, BUT just ignore), I have been sooooo busy. Anyhoooo, here is a run down of stuff that's been occupying my time/mind:

1. I attended the 7th UNEP Global Civil Society Forum in Dubai. It was such a wonderful experience. I met so many wonderful people from other NGOs and made lots of new contacts as well as some promises for future ESO project funding *fingers crossed*.

The only negative was that it was the first time I left Faisal alone and it was awful!

2. The Muscatis was voted #1 Omani blog ;) (Just wanted to say it again, hehe).

3. My friend was attending a workshop in Dubai and got a marriage proposal from one of the other participants! My friend, who is married with kids, very politely informed him of this rather unfortunate (for him) obstacle. Mr. Participant says, its ok I'm married as well. Naturally, my friend was speechless. And just when she thought it couldn't get any worse, he says to her, you can divorce your husband and marry me, I promise I'll make you happy.

4. Al Awadhi was here from Kuwait to give a couple of lectures. I missed them :(

5. I'm trying to get Faisool to crawl but he doesn't seem to be too keen. He is quite content with just rolling over and looking cute. I'm also trying to instill in him good manners and social responsibility, so I drag him with me everywhere (Breakfast with my friends, visiting relatives, visiting anyone who is sick, supermarket shopping, etc). Soon I'll take him with me to ESO and possibly a beach cleanup. And, high five to me and my husband, we have him in bed by 8pm maximum :) *Mashallah*

6. Construction on our house is yet to start. Partly my fault. I found that in the construction drawings there was a column in the second floor family lounge! A column! I hate columns. I specifically told them no columns. Anyhow, they had to recalculate all the balances again and it had to be re submitted for approval. Its ok though, I don't mind the delay as much as I would have minded a column in the middle of our lounge.

7. I love the Shangri-La. I want to be on their board. I'm sure they need an environmental perspective (although they seem to be doing fine). Mux told me they don't have a board and burst my bubble.

8. My car agency called me saying that it must be time for my service. My last service was at 90000. Next service is at 105000. I just hit 100000. Its been over a year. I need to drive it around more often.

9. Saw Memoirs of a Geisha. Although I liked it, I have to say, the book was SO much better.

10. I missed the female bloggers get together :( I only saw the email after I got back from Dubai, and just couldn't make it. What a shame! Big hello to all you female bloggers whom I missed meeting.

And thats a wrap!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Omani Blog of the Year 2005



We've been voted no. 1 in the Omani Blog Awards 2005!

A big Thank You to everyone who voted for us. And congratulations to all the other finalists: Illogicist, Kazablanka , LYM and Wardat Al Khaleej.

From now on we're going to copy the Khaleej Times and refer to our blog officially as "your favorite no. 1 Omani blog." - (just kidding).

Thanks again from the both of us.

Nikon Coolpix S1 for sale



Features:

5.1 megapixels
Bright 2.5" LCD screen
Compact slim metal body - only 3/4 inch thick
Fast start-up time

Nikon Exclusive Face Priority Autofocus
The S1 can distinguish when the subject is a human face and sets the focus accordingly. Now all your portraits will have tack-sharp focus on the subject's face (rather than the wall behind them!).

Nikon Exclusive In-Camera Red-Eye Fix
A hands-free solution for red-eye; this powerful software analyzes the image data and corrects most typical instances of red-eye in less than 3 seconds! The In-Camera Red-Eye Fix feature turns on automatically when the red-eye reduction flash mode is selected.

Nikon Exclusive D-Lighting
The Coolpix S1 incorporates D-Lighting, which automatically compensates for under- and over-exposure due to insufficient flash or excessive back lighting in a picture.

17 Scene Modes, 4 with Scene Assist
Selecting a scene mode automatically sets the camera for the optimum performance in most popular picture-taking situations. Scene assist further aids with composition, exposure and focus. Scene Modes: party/indoor, dawn/dusk, back light, beach/snow, sunset, night landscape, copy, fireworks, close up, panorama, museum, underwater and voice recording. Scene assist modes: night portrait, portrait, landscape, and sports.
____________________________________________________________


We bought this camera from Khimji Ramdas for RO. 145 in mid October 2005. Want to sell it to upgrade to something with more manual controls. Willing to sell only if we get a good offer.

We still have the original box. Comes with docking cradle, original cables and software, instruction manual, etc. Note: the camera doesn't come with a carrying pouch or a memory card. I can throw in an 128mb card depending on the offer.

If interested post here or email: themuscatis@gmail.com

Thursday, February 09, 2006

reBlog: Residential Flat Licenses Scrapped

LYM has posted on a topic which I had been wanting to write about for a while. I ended up putting my entire argument in my replies to her post so I'm going to cut and paste from it here.

The issue:
the Ministry of Housing, Electricity and Water has made a decision to scrap all former approvals for building residential flats- on plots of residential lands (not commercial ones). The deadline was set to be on the 31st October 2007. The reason of this act is to so-called ‘organize residential planning by defining usages of lands’.
LYM's opinion:
I personally don’t see that the reason justifies this action. Individuals have planned for so long to build flats as a form of an investment and now that ‘dream’ is being shut down without a proper validation. First of all, flats are very similar to a villa in a way except for the infrastructure. I don’t see how building a flat will inhibit ‘organizing residential planning by defining usages of lands’ if it is actually very similar to a villa- in size, appearance, or usage. Secondly, I see this as a setback. By this decision the government is limiting the citizens’ choices in the way they could use their lands. I know many parents who want to build so many flats to accommodate their kids and secure them in a ‘home’ in which they could call theirs. How could they do that now?

My opinion:
  • The scrapping of residential flat licenses is an excellent decision and long delayed. I even think it should have been a complete and immediate one, not a prolonged scrapping going on into 2007.
  • People who buy a regular residential plot of 400 or 600 meters that's supposed to be used for building a house should not be allowed to build 2 or 3 storey small building with 4 or 6 flats. Apartment flats should only be built on residential/commercial plots or plots which have specific approval for building of flats, not in normal residential areas. The decision on whether to allow the building of an apartment flat should be based on factors such as the size the of the plot, the present use of the area, what kind of properties already exist in the area, the building density in the area, etc.
  • Areas which were initially zoned as a family residences have been turned into areas where mostly single people are going to live. Most of these buildings don't have parking within the plot so every building will have at least 4 to 6 six cars parked outside. The areas will end up having lots of movements with people coming and going. Families that had built houses in those areas will end up suffering from the noise and the lack of privacy. The streets aren't safe for kids to play anymore.
  • If people start renting these small flats and turning them into offices. It will become a nightmare.
  • All countries have zoning laws that limit how you can use your land. I don't think any country tells you once you buy a land you can do anything you want with it. For example in the UK when you go to a residential area you will usually see perfect rows of equal height houses. Here in Oman you can have a one storey house and your neighbor can build a 3 floor apartment building next to you. That's not right. In some areas single storey houses are now surrounded by apartment buildings from 3 sides.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

House Facilities

According to Gulf News a growing number of Indian bachelors in Dubai who can no longer afford the rising rents have taken to sleeping in their cars. To compensate for these people's lack of homes other enterprising Indians have come up with the concept of a "house facility" wherein they have turned their flats into a place where others who don't have homes can store their luggage, use the bathroom, shower and iron their clothes against a fee of only 50 to 75 dirhams a month.

I see a scope for something similar here in Oman, but for Omanis not expats. And not because they don't have a place to stay but because they live so far away from where they work and can't afford their own transport. For example, I know a few Omanis who are currently jobless and come from great distances to Muscat every day looking for work. They tend to walk in the sun, hitchhike, and go from one cheap minbus tax to another.. By the time they get here to Muscat they are in no state to be entering anyone's office looking for a job. How about if they had access to facilities where they have a locker where they keep a couple changes of clothes and a shower. They can get to Muscat from wherever they've come from, take a shower, put on a clean dishdasha and then go to their job interviews, job hunt, or even their jobs when they find them all clean and proper.

It would be good income for owners of older apartment buildings whose rent might have come down too much. Fill the bedrooms with lockers in place of furniture. Put some ironing boards and irons in one room. Maybe even tie-up with a laundry. Make extra income from selling soap and shampoo, etc. It might be a good idea for mosques to take up this business too. For one they will be doing a great service for the people, and secondly they'd earn some income to help with the upkeep of the mosque and the salary of the imam.

How's that? Think it might work for just 5 rials a month per person?


Frackin' good stuff


Seriously folks, those of you who haven't seen the new Battlestar Galactica tv series, you're missing out on one of the best shows on tv these days. The first half of Season 2 is now out on DVD and I finished all ten episodes between Saturday and Monday. Trust me, this is nothing like the hokey original BSG show that ran in the 70's and was nothing but a Star Wars knock off that only lasted one year. Even if you generally don't like sci-fi tv shows you might probably end up enjoying this one. Fact is there's very little Sci-Fi in the show compared to others like Star Trek. It's a very intense action packed drama. Very smartly written. And much more aware of current politics than any other show on tv. If you like intense shows like 24 or Lost you should check out Battlestar Galactica. Start with the 3 hour miniseries which you can get on amazon.co.uk for just £5.97

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Speaking of shopping...

In case you're wondering what's the latest in our pathetic retail environment, here's the lowdown from BusinessToday magazine:

City Center is expanding from their present 44,000 square meters of retail space to between 69,000 and 74,000 square meters. Not exactly doubling the size like the rumors said, but a 60% increase nonetheless. Should be ready by the year's end.

Markaz Al Bahja is expanding its cinema from 2 screens at the moment to 5 screens within the next six months (I guess that's the area currently taken by the Bowling Alley which they shut down) which would make it the largest cineplex in Oman. God that's depressing.

Bahja's also negotiating with 2 new international brands to open anchor locations in the mall.

Sultan Center will be starting a Just Ask service like what they have in Kuwait.

And that's it. Nothing more's happening.

25% increase in price of soft drinks

20060204.jpg

I took this picture at the Oman Oil Quickshop this morning. Later today I read on Omania.net that Shell's Select stores and Al Maha's Souq shops have also effected the price increase. However when I was doing my grocery shopping today at Lulu Hypermarket and later at Al Fair in MQ softdrinks were still being sold at the same prices like before.

Is this just a scam from the operators of gas station convenience shops to make evern more money from people, especially now that so many neighborhood shops have closed after the Omanisation law, or is it possible that all corbanated drink producers in Oman decided to increases their prices all at the same time?

I sent an email to the address on the note. Let's see if they answer.

Update 5/2/06:

This is the email that I sent to MCS:

I'm writing in reference to your notice in the Oman Oil Express shop stating that the price of all carbonated beverages has been increased due to supplier price increases which I saw this morning. Tonight I was in Al Fair in MQ and noticed that you continue to sell softdrinks for 100 baisas in your supermarket. Can you please explain: 1) if this price increase is only for your convenience stores, and 2) if the price increase are from the producers themselves or otherwise from a distributor? Thanks

And this is the reply I got from them today:

Firstly, I would like to thank you for taking the time to send us your queries with regards to the above mentioned subject.

Secondly, with regards to your two queries mentioned below I would like to clarify that we Matrah Cold Stores LLC. is no longer linked to the Al Fair Supermarket business as it was sold last summer to Al Seer Group Dubai operating under the Brand AL Fair LLC. So obviously you will not find that prices are in line with our Convenient Stores (Omanoil Quick Shops). I would also like to confirm that the price increases of the Carbonated Drinks were due to local distributors being hit by inflation of the variable and fixed costs such as Omanisation of Drivers, the increase of Raw materials, other ingredients and other packaging materials (As informed by the local distributors). For these reasons mentioned we the Retailers of Convenient stores (Omanoil Quick Shops) were forced to increase the selling prices to compensate for this Profit loss. And with much higher running costs than Supermarkets, Hypermarkets and Local groceries we were forced to pass this down to our consumers. And from the communication received from the distributor these cost increases were across the whole country and across all channels.

I hope that this clarifies all your queries and I would also like to take this opportunity to apologies for any inconvenience caused.

Boots, Gap and Banana Republic coming soon to the Gulf

According to Arabian Business magazine, Kuwait's AlShaya Group, which presently owns and operates Starbucks, Body Shop, TopShop, TopMan, Rover Island, Claire's, Mothercare, Debenhams, Liz Clairborne and Next in seven middle eastern countries, Turkey and Russia, has now signed up to bring Boots to the Gulf with plans to open 10 shops in Dubai and Kuwait this year and approximately 200 shops in total within 5 years. Even better, Al Shaya is finalizing an agreement with Gap Inc to bring The Gap and Banana Republic stores to the region. It will be the first time that Gap allows anyone to franchise their stores, they currently own all their stores in the US, Canada, UK, Germany and Spain.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Questions

20060204.jpg

Are you boycotting Danish products, or is the boycott being done for you by the supermarkets that have taken all Danish products off their shelves?

What's your view on other Danish companies that are operating in Oman and contributing to this country's economy- Are you boycotting them as well? I don't just mean Nawras which is partly owned by TDC (incidently recently bought by a US buyout fund and no longer Danish-owned), but also companies like Salalah Port Services- owner and operator of our pride and joy, Port of Salalah, which we brag about to the world being one of the most efficient ports in the world, which is 30% owned by Denmark's A.P. Moller.

Why are we reacting so passionately to the "Danish issue" so long after the fact? The offense took place in September 2005, and yet no one said mentioned the word boycott till late January 2006.

How can we hold a whole non-muslim nation accountable for the decision of one single newspaper? And why should the government in a country that values freedom of expression and free speech apologize for the newspaper especially when that country's law protects what the newspaper did?

Copenhagen has expressed regret for the furore over the cartoons, but refused to get involved, citing freedom of expression. “The government can in no way influence the media,” Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Sunday.

“And the Danish government and the Danish nation as such cannot be held responsible for what is published in independent media,” he added.

Does Denmark's free speech laws give blanket freedom of expression on all topics or are there some topics which are not covered as free speech? Do they have laws on hate speech? Would the law equally protect cartoons which are anti-semitic or articles that deny holocaust, gay bashing, etc?

I read that Denmark has 174,000 muslims, many of whom have been there for 30 to 40 years. Why didn't these muslims rise to the occasion and challenge the matter legally? Wouldn't it have been better to have dealt with this issue in a more civil manner like that? You have gunmen in Gaza storming the EU office and demanding an apology. They're threatening the safety of all Danes. What kind of image are we projecting- as if it wasn't bad enough before!

Are we not hypocritical to the whole free speech issue. After all our dissedents always run away to countries where their free speech is protected when their rights are curtailed at home. How do you choose what speech should remain free and what should be limited?

Don't you think the governments of the Islamic states are loving every single moment of this controversy? What's better than having their repressed citizens vent out their frustration not at their own governments but at a nation thousands of miles away. If you're a muslim in Indonesia don't you have much bigger problems in your life that you should by worrying about instead of wasting your time marching on the Danish embassy?

Worker safety

Not a helmet in sight

I took the above picture four months ago. This building is currently under construction in the CBD area. The picture's not very clear because it was taken by my phone's camera, but you can clearly see that there are workers hanging on flimsy scaffolding outside the 6th floor level of the building. The scaffolding on the most part is just a steel skeleton with very narrow wooden planks for the workers to stand on. None of the workers are wearing any safety equipment. No hard hats. They're not even wearing work coveralls.

Yesterday around noon the scaffolding collapsed on one side of the building and a worker fell from around the fifth floor level. I'm not sure if the worker died but it's a nasty fall and most likely killed him.

Who's responsible for occupational safety and worker health in Oman? Is it the Ministry of Manpower? Whoever it is who's responsible why can't they make it mandatory for companies to look after the safety of their workers. Most of these companies know all about the safety requirements but don't enforce them unless they project is for a party that requires. For example PDO and most of the oil companies are very strict about HSE. Someone needs to take charge and make one standard for all.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

OBA 2005 - Final Vote



Our blog is a finalist in the Omani Blog Awards. Please visit the above link and vote for us, or any the four other finalists. Voting ends on Feb 6, 2005 (these guys are very strict on their timings, they said 7 days for the first round and that's exactly how long they kept the voting open. I didn't get to vote for my own blog because I procrastinated!).

You don't have to have a blog to vote. Voting is open to anyone registered with blogger.com.