Friday, December 31, 2010

Reflections on the year and a look forward to 2011.

As 2010 comes to an end, I wanted to summarise what transpired in the past 12 months, and what my expectations are for the coming year (personally, for the family and for business).

This was my second full year in charge of the business, and after a tumultuous 2009, 2010 felt more settled. We enjoyed some significant business growth and I felt I was managing our geographically diverse business much better. My travel (remaining extensive) comprised of a number of shorter trips, and I avoided too many weekends away from home. I have to give great thanks to all our country MD's for this also, as they took up their respective challenges and made my job much more manageable.

Significant issues during the year included our move to a new office in China. A culture shock at first for those who moved over from the HK office, but it has proven to be the right move and I am excited by the promise our new enhanced China office is already showing.

The purchase of Freeplay was also a significant event in the year. I felt swamped in August and September immediately post acquisition, but things settled down as we grasped control of what we had taken on (which includes some really great people). It's a business that has given us a different distribution model to what we are traditionally used to, and brings us into the USA for the first time. It is also fulfilling to know that there is some great humanitarian work being supported by this business and I am keen to see how we can expand on that as we move forward. The Freeplay year ended with some significant developments which keep us poised for a very promising 2011.

On a family front, the kids turned 9 and 11, and Reena insisted she is still 21 ;) We had our first skiing holiday together, and it was a blast! It was immediately confirmed as an annual tradition for us.

Summer saw our usual exodus from the Dubai summer, and a lovely holiday in the USA.

Back to school in September saw Shaan start a new school (which we feel very comfortable with) and Tia continues to excel in her gymnastics and netball.

For Christmas and New Year we ended up staying in Dubai, after planning to be in London. At some point in November we decided there is no point to leave our beach front home when the weather is at it's most perfect! I only just made it back in time for the holidays after being stuck in the snow in London. It was the right choice to be at home. We had a great relaxing time with some friends visiting, and I managed a few rounds of golf :)

For me personally, I feel satisfied. I feel it was a year of accomplishment in work and I kept my family time in balance throughout. I took care of my health, lost a lot of weight and have been playing football 2-3 times a week (when at home). I feel good about myself. Relaxed and energised to start again in 2011!

2011 … What will that bring?

The business has growth plans, which needs to balanced with a knowledge that the global economy remains unpredictable. We have to be ready to capitalise on any growth that may appear, but our conservative culture keeps us keeps us "cautiously optimistic".

The UK office(s) are due for a move. We will consolidate the Magic Box and Freeplay offices into a single premises early in the year, and Binatone Ghana will move into a new purpose built facility.

Shaan and Tia will get a year older, and I struggle to hold on to memories of my "babies". We have planned skiing in Flims in February (as tradition now dictates), a Caribbean cruise in the summer, and already thinking of Orlando for next December.

I need to keep my weight off (there are enough friends who have challenged me, and that's enough motivation), and I have to finally break 100 in a round of golf. I will continue to try and minimise my travel and get as much time at home as possible, and most importantly I will continue to do all I can to keep myself and my family happy and healthy.

Thanks to all of you who have been reading and supporting my blog … I wish you all a great 2011.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Office Parties !

So I'm back home now, with the greatest of luck beating the terrible weather disruptions, and my last journey this year is complete. It's been a good trip overall, but it had its moments. It was rushed and tiring. Badly affected by weather, but on the bright side I attended 3 fantastic office parties.

From Hong Kong to Moscow to London, I come away feeling immensely proud of our business and the people who comprise it.

Starting with China, the teams from Hong Kong and Shenzhen had taken over a cosy little Italian restaurant a few minutes walk from the HK office. Organised diligently in typical Hong Kong fashion, the evening was orchestrated within a perfect timetable. Speeches, prizes, some great team games at the table timed exactly to fit between courses. A couple of great volunteer comperes ensured the evening went off smoothly and with everyones involvement this became a very memorable event.

Sadly I had to leave prematurely for a flight, but I understand the party continued and everyone had a great time, and I will be sad to miss the Chinese New Year party that is just a month away !

So directly from HK to Moscow, in time for a couple of days of rounding off work for the end of the year, and in time for their end of year party. Our team members from all over Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan came for this annual tradition.

For the FSU team, this party has always been a grand and key event organised between HR and the marketing team. This year the aim was for something a little different from the usual "dinner and dance" theme and they chose the setting to be 1920's Chicago ... and the world of prohibition and Al Capone. It was gangster night and the details were what made this night so special. From the outstanding costumes to the small boy handing out newspapers.

The evening started as a casino (I had the pleasure to host the poker table), followed by an auction (with people bidding for prizes with their casino winnings) and then a vote for the best costume before a good meal and dancing with music from the olden days and then something more contemporary.

As always, and like in China, I love to see the team spirit amongst everyone in the group, and also the individual friendships that people have built up with each other (which shouldn't surprise me as 9 more people crossed either 10 or 15 years of service with us this year).

Then from Moscow to London ... I am not even sure how I made it. My flight landed, but it must have been the last before Heathrow Airport was shut. London had been hit by a snow blizzard like it had never seen, and accordingly, had no way of coping with.

This unfortunate weather meant that 5 of our 13 planned guests for the party were unable to make it into Central London where I had booked the popular Floridita Cuban restaurant.

Nevertheless, the 8 of us made an evening of it. It was a good lively venue and great food, and the Magic Box and Freeplay teams got to mix and get to know each other better ... but sadly no pictures taken :-(

So, I am home now, and looking forward to a bit of rest and relaxation (before the travels start again on January 4).

I want to take this chance to thank all the people at Binatone, Magic Box, Freeplay and Euro Suisse for their hospitality over the past 10 days (in those offices I was able to visit), and for the overall efforts and dedication of everyone throughout the group  over the past 12 months.

I wish each and every one of you, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


Monday, December 20, 2010

I lost 11kg in 11 weeks (and still going strong) !

The last I can recall, my lowest weight was 82 or 83kg about 7 or 8 years ago, and its slowly pushed its way up and in the past 12 months I have around 89kg and have struggled to keep myself below 90kg (admittedly that horrendous number has shown its ugly face on my scales on a couple of occasions following some heavy nights out!).

I have been promising myself, at every opportunity, to reduce. I've kept a mental target to get back to 85kg, and would be happy to be there and maintain that for the next 20 years plus ... but my weaknesses (late night snacks, chocolates, cheese, steaks, full English breakfasts and for the potato in any shape or form) were really making this a pipe dream. Perhaps I was destined to just slowly grow the inches around my waist for the rest of my days.

That is until September this year. On a trip to Istanbul (think delicious kebabs), a newly made acquaintance mentioned that he had managed to lose 20kg in 2 months ! Apart from my not believing that was even possible, I did as him how. The answer was that he read a book by Alan Carr. He had quit smoking after reading Alan Carr's book on that subject (a book I had heard a lot about), so he was keen to try the weight loss book.

The wonders of technology helped next. My iPad was out and searching Amazon for this book, and a couple of minutes later it was in my hand (had it not been for this, I probably would have made a mental note to buy this book at some point, and would then have never got around to it).

Anyway, I started the book that day. An easy read, very repetitive and hypnotic in its message, but it makes a lot of sense and is easy to follow.

There are 2 main messages in the book:

The first, do not consider this a diet. It is a change in lifestyle and habits. As long as you think you are "dieting", you always feel deprived. You are always waiting for that day you can come of your diet, or when you will hit that target weight. Alan Carr professes that with a few simple habits you can eat "as much as you want of what you want and still achieve your target weight". That's a very bold claim and sounds too good to be true, but what could I lose by reading through the book and trying out what he was offering.

The second main message is to look to nature for the answer. As some simple examples, animals don't overeat, only humans do! Squirrels will gather nuts, but will eat only enough to fill them up ... no more. Additionally, look to nature as to what to eat. You can see some fresh enticing fruits on a tree and feel like plucking them and eating them. Their colour and smell tell you when they are ripe and ready to eat. On the other hand, when they are spoiled, their colour and smell tell you clearly not to touch them. Similarly, when we see a cow, pig or sheep, our mouths don't naturally water ... we need those meats to be prepared to make them "edible".

Now saying this, the book doesn't profess to make you into a vegan. It simply informs you of these things to make you aware and make the right decisions at the right time. As an example, my clear takeaways from this are thus:

1) Eat fruits in the morning.
2) Eat when you are hungry (that could mean skipping a meal if you aren't hungry, or equally, eat in between meals if you feel like it), but eat only what you need to.
3) (which leads to this point) Don't over eat. Eat enough and stop.
4) Don't eat when bored (so gone are the late night snacks and eating junk when in front of the TV).
5) (perhaps most important), Eat what you want!

This last point is certainly not contradictory, but in fact is crucial to make the whole "new lifestyle" workable. If I'm out with friends and am tempted with something particularly mouth watering on the menu, I will indulge (a recent steak and fries meal in Entrecote testifies to that), but you just need to be aware. Don't over eat, and then be conscious the next day to balance it out (in any case the book stipulates that upto 30% of your daily meal can be "junk" or "imperfect" foods). A very workable system.

So what difference has this made to my life (apart from feeling lighter, healthier, fitter, having more energy generally and sleeping better)? I notice on each of my trips I am lugging a heavy briefcase with me (which weighs about 7-8 kg) and I just imagine that this was permanently strapped around my waist. I can only imagine the positive difference this has nade to my my back, legs, knees and heart !

So its now 11 weeks and I am 11kg lighter (79kg). I dipped below 80kg 2 days ago, and the buzz and motivation I am getting from seeing the weight drop off (and have others tell me that I look thinner) is phenomenal. My "lifestyle" is easy and very natural now, and the inches keep reducing.
The big test will be this week over Christmas ... I must admit that the Turkey and trimmings in my mind do make my mouth water!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Revenge is a dish best served cold !

So the Champions League draw has been for the first round of the knockout stages. I suppose it was too much to hope to get Shalke! Instead, we got the next best thing ... Barcelona !

I still vividly remember the game last year at the Emirates (click for my blog on that day). We were totally outplayed and outclassed in the first half, to a level I have never seen before, but Barca didnt make the most of that and we were still (barely) holding on at 2-0 at half time.

The Arsenal team that emerged for the second half was a rejuvinated, Fabregas inspired team of heros. We fought back and got that memorable last gasp equaliser. Fabregas scoring a penalty with a broken leg (a hindi movie couldnt have made it more dramatic!).

Unfortunately, a fortnight later on the return leg, we took a beating. Lional Messi was at his brilliant best and Barca tore us apart with a 4-1 win (despite Arsenal taking a first half lead).

So last year remains fresh and the 2006 final is still a painful memory, but again we have the chance for revenge. It promises to be a classic game again ... the BIG draws of the round. Will this Arsenal team show they have come of age and do us all proud? I am away skiing for the first leg at the Emirates, but I'm booking my tickets for Barcelona now and looking forward to the chance to visit the Nou Camp and see us break free of our demons!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A day and dinner in China.

A long day in the China office yesterday. I flew in overnight (to HK) and then drove straight into Shenzhen in the hope of getting to sleep quickly and being able to have a relatively leisurely morning before a 9.30am start in our SZ office.

As usual, however, the first night in HK/China is always turbulent. I did manage to sleep by 3am, but just couldn't hit the snooze button enough times at wake up time in the morning.

The day went well. A series of meetings with key suppliers. Already discussing products for next Christmas already ... that's how our industry works.

I was exhausted by the end of the day and when I reached my hotel, I pondered about a meal in the bar, in the coffee shop, or in the room.

I was feeling lazy and didn't mind something light, so opted for the room. I immidiately ordered a grilled chicken sandwich (believing it to be a healthy option) and then got on the phone and worked on email.

While I would normally be in a dressing gown within 2 minutes of entering my room, I don't know why I remained dressed this evening, but it was a doomed fate as my healthy (rather tasty) chicken sandwich dropped a large globule of mayo right onto my khaki pants ... the only pants I have with me on this trip!

So all during today, I have kept my jacket on, as the mark can be surreptitiously and strategically covered by its overhang ... and I have learned a lesson to NEVER travel with only one pair of pants again (especially if they are light coloured)!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

As the year approaches its end ...

Its been a good week in Dubai. Reena has been in London, and I have been minding the kids. Its been a challenge to manage everything, but its been fun and it's my work that probably took most of the back seat.

But now I'm getting ready to "hit the road again" for my last trip of the year.

Its going to be a tiring one! China, Moscow and London, all in 10 days and an office Christmas party in each place (oh the things I have to do in my job!).

I'm not looking forward to the travel, and a couple of long haul red eye flights, but I am looking forward to the parties.

There is a nice excitement in each office towards each of their own events. Each takes great pride in putting on a good party and I like attending these to bring a close to the year. I get a  chance to catch up and share a drink and a meal with all those who do so much for the business ... especially those more "behind the scenes", but without whom things would grind to a halt.

It's also, of course, a nice chance for the whole company to celebrate together, and let their hair down (although not too much ;) ) and reflect on what has been achieved over the past month and celebrate the "wins" and move on from the problems ... especially in this continuing difficult economic climate - they have done well and should take this opportunity to look back, draw in a deep breath ... and get ready for the new year!

At the end of the trip, I will be eager to get home, and look forward to some time off in Dubai during this quiet period. I will get time with the kids & Reena, time on the golf course, time to sleep, time to tie up any loose ends from the year, and time with friends and family!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Back to Blackberry - and the Samsung Galaxy goes in the bin !

So my experiment is over ! Android has failed !

My initial test was with the HTC Wildfire. Chosen for its diminutive size, it's a nice piece of hardware, but I found it underpowered and it had a woeful battery. Nevertheless, the apps available and the set up for Exchange sync was fast, simple and effective ... so I ran with it.

However, the temptation to continue to try something new and the fact that I am constantly looking for "the perfect device" led me to buy the much acclaimed Samsung Galaxy S. A nicely made phone. Many reviews have complained about its "plasticy feel", but this helps it remain light and nice to hold. Its excellent screen and crystal clear phone quality impressed, but it too had a totally substandard battery. Nevertheless, the phone worked (with its pre-installed Android 2.1 software) and I soon found out that by switching off 3G and using GPRS only for data (which is fine for chat and email), the battery life extends to 18 hours with heavy usage ... and this is fine for me.

So for the past week since, using GPRS, I have been content with the phone. It stuttered from time to time when opening programs, and would crash occasionally, but it basically did all I needed and now had acceptable battery life. So why, on Sunday morning when I saw the FROYO (Android 2.2) update available, did I have to tamper? The much vaunted upgrade claims to increase battery life and speed up the phone ... what a load of b******s !

My phone is ruined ! As soon as it upgraded (to be fair, the upgrade process was fairly painless - fast and smooth and all my data remained intact) the phone slowed to a snails pace. Literally a 20-30 second wait to open a programme, and the battery life was being sucked (using GPRS only) faster than the old software using 3G. The battery was draining at about 15% per hour, and this was AFTER I had switched all background syncing ... and on a Sunday ... the lowest usage day of the week !

I was frustrated all day and was trying all types of settings to improve things. I may have been able to forgive the power drain, but this slower speed had made the phone totally unusable. I lasted till about 4pm with my tampering, and then went out and bought a new BB handset. For all its weaknesses and shortcomings. It is a limited device with limited apps, but the BB works as a phone, an email device and an organiser reliably ... and that's all I ask !

Why oh why oh why over develop something to level where it doesn't work?

So I have lost my patience with Android and specifically the Samsung Galaxy, but will keep my HTC as a back up device for travelling - but have already deleted all apps and will use it purely as a phone !

So my recommendation? If you are looking at an Android phone, or a Samsung Galaxy S ... forget it !

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A sad day (captured by my Sony Alpha 55) !

Not since the Barcelona game earlier this year was I so looking forward to a match.

what a match !

Today, Arsenal vs Tottenham. It's a big game in any case, but this time, it was our chance to top the table with a victory and also the first chance to use my season tickets.

perfect use of the excellent panoramic feature on my Alpha ... and how about these seats !

We arrived just a few minutes before kick off and the atmosphere was electric. I hate to admit it, but compared to many other grounds, the Emirates does usually have subdued atmosphere. But not at this game ... it was loud, and there was optimism and excitement in the air.
The first half, it all came together. 10 minutes in and Samir Nasri put us ahead with a mixture of grit, determination and skill, and 10 minutes later, we had another! Chamakh put us in a very comfortable position after a fine run from Fabregas down the middle who played the ball wide to Arshavin who slid an inch perfect cross to Chamakh and it was 2! It was all looking so sweet. Fabragas was controlling the play, looking sharper than he has been for the past 2 games. Nasri continued his brilliance, Arshavin was starting to show a bit more effort, Chamakh was getting into dangerous positions, and the defensive line was holding well, with Bale and Van De Vaart not being allowed to get into the game. The only problem was, we didn't kill it off when we should have!

Fabregas in control.

But then it all turned sour. The second half started off poorly. Jermaine Defoe was on for Tottenham and Arsenal appeared to be over confident with their lead and lost focus. Fabregas was off his best. Tackling late and letting passes go astray. The team were too happy to pass backwards when they had the ball and didn't appear to have the drive to go for a bigger win, and we paid the price. Sloppy defending and weak goalkeeping allowed Gareth Bale to bring Spurs back into the game. An unnecessary handball by Fabregas gave Spurs a penalty and their equaliser, and classic Arsenal weakness on set pieces allowed Spurs their winner with a free kick floated in to the area and a clean header to beat Fabanski ! Arsenal didn't show the spirit required to come back into it, and towards the end too many long balls were being pumped up the field. Van Persie and Walcott arriving was too little too late.

It could have (should have) been so sweet !

We had our chances to finish it. A fine solo effort by Fabregas was miraculously tipped around the post by Gomes, Koscielny put an open header over the bar, and a well taken set piece led to a disallowed goal.

It was a sad and disappointing end to an afternoon that started so well, but there is some consolation that Chelsea also lost today, but we needed to have done more to take advantage of that.

Anyway, it ain't over till the fat lady sings, and she hasn't even drawn an intake of breath yet. We are still in with a chance to take the title ... but Rednapp thinking that Tottenham have a chance ! The man is delusional.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape !

What a classic !

Flying on Etihad last week, I scanned through the "classic" movies, and there is was ... "Planet of the Apes" (the original, not the spoiled Tim Burton / Mark Wahlberg ripoff).

A month earlier, Emirates was showing "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly".

I'm a great movie buff, and think there are some worthy modern "classics" (read everything by Martin Scorsese, Guy Ritchie and Quinten Tarrantino), but there is something special about coming back to a film after so many years, especially one that was ground breaking and left such an impression when first seen.

PotA is a great example of this. With the lack of special effects (just outstanding wardrobes), the movie is reliant on the storyline, actors and the dialogue to engage the audience, and that entire execution makes it a very watchable film even today.

The classic lines ("Damn you ... Damn you all to hell"), Charlton Heston's superb portrayal of Taylor ("Bright Eyes"), the outstanding makeup (I still think the make up / costumes from the 1968 orignal beat the remake), the characters of Dr Zaius, Corneleus and Dr. Zira, and that soundtrack and theme tune ... all fantastic.

So much was its success, that they made 4 sequels and a TV series !

I have downloaded all 5 films for watching with the kids this half term week ... Their enjoyment of it will reveal a lot towards its true timelessness (as opposed to my nostalgia), and I hope they will enjoy it as much as I did at their age ...and beyond.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My brand spanking shiny new camera - The Sony Alpha 55.

So after smashing and drowning my original Sony Alpha this summer (trying to take a dramatic shot from the middle of a Colorado river!!) I finally chose my replacement.

I was considering between a new full size SLR, or one of the new breed of micro four thirds cameras. All the selection, from the Olympus PEN, the Panasonic GF1 & 2 and the Sony NEX5 look superb, and have been re-sized excellently for the (alleged) quality pictures they produce.

I came closest to selecting the Sony NEX5 - if I'm honest, based mostly on it's look and metal construction - but if this was to be a multi-lens camera for me, then I couldn't really figure out the benefit of going with the smaller body (and the compromises that comes with), when it will anyway be too big to pocket when it has a mega zoom lens attached.

As I am also a very proud owner of a Leica D-Lux 4 (a generous birthday gift from my brother) which superbly fills my need for a compact camera (excepting only the woeful zoom), so I chose to go again with a full size and function SLR and picked up the newly launched Sony Alpha 55. For an SLR, It is still a relatively compact format and incredibly light. I chose Sony over the highly rated Canon, mainly so that my collection of Sony lenses wouldn't go to waste (and I had experienced 4 good years of service from my original Alpha).
So with my new camera in hand, Diwali day was to be the test day. It was going to allow me a variety of testing scenarios, albeit more in the genre of "family snapshot" than "Alpine panorama". There was the father son golf tournament for an outdoor sunshine test, Diwali gift giving at home for inside low light testing (using the built in flash) and family celebrations at home in the evening to test outdoor low light settings and the cameras ability to capture ambiance. I also got a chance to test the HD video recording to capture the kids running wild.

In all cases, my new Alpha performed superbly. There are subtle design changes to the original model and some nice material usage. It feels great to hold and has solid clicks with all the button presses, and am especially satisfying shutter click sound.

A couple of picture samples are shown above. Very sharp and clear (if not re-sized and viewed on my two lovely new HD LED monitors), and I can also testify that the HD video results were simply outstanding. Amazingly clear audio and excellent video with sharp, clear focus, even in low light.

A key problem with the micro four thirds cameras is the lack of an optical viewfinder, and the problem with my original Alpha was the lack of an LCD viewfinder. This new Alpha has both, although the optical viewfinder on this product is actually another LCD screen. This allows you instant previews of your pictures through the "optical" viewfinder. Very clever and very useful. The LCD screen is hinged and will allow you to take pictures with the camera held high or low, in addition to self portraits (for the very vain of us!).

The other settings are as to be expected on a top end camera (admittedly put to very limited use by me), and there is a fairly logical menu structure, including the options for a 10 fps burst mode and a panorama sweep mode, both of which I am yet to fully test.

I have not yet been able to test the battery to it's full, but can only hope it as good as my previous version (with could carry me through a weekend of heavy clicking).

I'm off to Europe in a couple of weeks, and will get a chance to really put this thing through it's paces - I can't wait.

Friday, October 29, 2010

So the Galaxy is flawed

Following my earlier post on the Samsung Galaxy S, it seems the honeymoon period is definately over !
First of all, I am trying to find a way to make a phone call to someone in my contact list in less than 8 or 9 clicks ! First select the phone app. You can find the person in the contact list easy enough. Type in the first few letters of a name, and the phone finds those people fast (very fast to its credit) ... but then you have to try and call them. Press the person, select which number, then press call and then again press confirm. I know I am being pedantic, but these things are phones primarily after all (or maybe THAT is a big question), so I would have thought you should be able to make a call without much hassle.

Second, while I am getting used to not being able to file emails on my phone, there has been a very annoying issue of emails not being sent ! There is an outbox view (which is hidden and can only be seen in the "combined inbox" app). When I finally found that, after about 10 days of using the phone, I saw a number of emails stuck there (I was wondering why I had no replies to those messages !). There was nothing I could do to "release" those messages. I scanned different chats and blogs on this subject, and found that I was not the only owner to face this very critical issue. The only solution was to uninstall and then reinstall my user account. Hugely inconvenient, but it APPEARS to have fixed the problem. My only concern now is that I have to check the outbox each time I send a message, as I fear something could get stuck in there any time.

(on the flip side, having found this combined inbox, it is a very good app - and for once I can synchronise a number of different exchange accounts on one device).

Another issue is the battery. After my first few days, when I was impressed, I am now struggling to get a full working day from the device. I find myself reducing screen brightness and shutting down push mail (and syncing only periodically) to make the battery life longer. Make the phone thicker and heavier, but don’t make such a critical sacrifice in designing a smart phone (especially a top end one).

However, I remain happy with the excellent screen, very good voice call quality and the Swype keyboard.

With Windows Mobile 7 about to be launched, I may switch again in my search for the perfect smart phone ... I already have reservations though, as I understand they have no cut and paste. With such sophisticated devices, I remain curious how each platform falls just marginally short. As long as they do, my hunt and trials and tribulations will continue !

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Will I see my daughter?

So after 10 days in HK and China, I'm exhausted and dying to get home.

I am on the overnight Emirates flight which should get me in at 4.35am. Plenty of time to get home and see the kids before they go to school.

But today the plan has gone wrong. After a decent sleep on the plane, I woke up at 4am with an announcement that we were going to land, but due to excessive fog over Dubai, we ended up circling for an hour !

We were finally touched down at 5.40, and as Tia leaves for school at 7am, there remained an outside chance I was still going to make it home in time ... but that didn't factor in the 15 minute taxi the plane had to make. All the while, my legs are twitching and my frustration building. Why can't all this be moving faster. The fog was so dense that you couldn't see more than 10 feet out of the window, so I couldn't even get my bearings. Finally, the plane came to a halt, and low and behold, we aren't at the terminal. Down the stairs and onto the bus ... could they have found somewhere further away from the terminal. I wanted to scream to let out my angst, but I just stood against the bus door ready to jump off and run as soon as they opened.

We reached the terminal at 6.20. If I hadn't any suitcases, getting home in time was very possible ... but I did, and I was going to have to wait. I was hopeful that the usually reliable "priority" tags wouldn't let me down this time, and as it turned out, they didn't. What did let me down was my e-gate card. Why wasn't it working? I had to go the desk to ask, and found it had expired ! How could all this happen today / this morning ?

It took a few minutes, but he stamped my passport and I was through. I grabbed a trolley and saw my bags just coming out. Was my luck this morning changing? Straight out, no hassle in customs and my Emirates car was waiting.

My drivers name is Hayat. Credit to him. He has put his foot down ll the way from the airport and has done everything in his ability to get me home fast. It is now 6.55am and I am entering Palm. I have had a chat with Tia on the phone. She's waiting at the front door and we both hope we will at least get a fleeting chance to meet before she leaves .......

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

MY review of the Samsung Galaxy S

So after a bad experience with the HTC Wildfire, I changed to the Samsung Galaxy S.

Having used the Nexus One and the Wildfire, I like the Android platform, but was disappointed with the sluggish performance and poor battery life of the Wildfire. I think HTC made too many compromises to hit a size and price requirement.

So my decision was between the HTC Desire HD and the Samsung. Lucky for Samsung that there model was available in the shop I went to buy it, and that was the sole deciding factor.

Out of the box (considering I bought it in HK) the phone booted up in Chinese! Luckily I had my Wildfire and I used that to follow the menu trail and get the language converted to English. I was also peeved that they don't ship with an additional SD card. Its hardly any cost nowadays, but is a required convenience for consumers.

The main things of note:

Fantastic AMOLED screen. Big, bright and easy to read.
Easy to set up and sync with MS Exchange.
Very good. loud and clear speaker.

The size is a question for me. The housing accommodates the excellent large screen, but any bigger I would be struggling to fit it in my hand ! It is however very thin and very light, but does have a  bit of a "plasticy" ... making it feel cheaper than the iPhone and the Desire HD.

The email reader is good (although it does take a few seconds to open up), and has a yellowish background to make reading easier, but its infuriating that they have taken away the functionality to let you file mails !!!!!

SWYPE is a fantastic keyboard assistant. I can't stand on screen keyboards, but this is really convenient and really fast. Just drag your finger over the keys and it has a surprisingly high success rate of guessing the word you wanted. The more you use it, you start to pick up nice little tricks on how to make it work even faster for you. Very nice ... shame its not in Android market yet for other phones.

I did have some issues with the screen freezing as the processor took time to "think" (especially when opening the mail program). I didn't expect that, but its nothing like as slow as my Wildfire.

There is also a great feature that can make your phone into a WiFi hotspot. This is standard on all Android 2.2 (FROYO) devices, but this product currently ships with Eclair (2.1) - so it's good that Samsung added this feature.

After 3 days and heavy usage, the battery is certainly better than my Wildfire's. So far its giving me more than 24 hours of life, but whether that performance will deteriorate is yet to be seen ... it does ship with a second battery (although I have no idea how they expect me to charge that).

The actual voice call quality (lets not forget this is a phone after all!) is impressive. Very clear, but the proximity sensor is less than perfect, as I hung up a couple of calls as put the phone to my ear ! The dialing app is good. Easy to tap in a name on the number pad and all the matching names pop up ... but this time with an option to choose which of the number to dial of the selected person.

I think Android has a lot to offer. I know all the Apple evangelists out there are going to give me 101 reasons why Apple is better, but I am not comparing the two. Between Android, iOS, Symbian and then upcoming WinMo 7, I think they all have positives and negatives. Most are off putting for petty little points, that to my non-programming mind, would appear to be easy to fix.

I will just conclude to say that after 3 days of heavy usage, the Samsung Galaxy S has proven to be a good purchase ... lets see if the same is true after 3 weeks or 3 months.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Etisalat has made me really angry !

Customer service in Dubai is generally been a disappointment, but I encountered something today that really made me fume !
While travelling in Hong Kong and China, my roaming service was cut off. I called Etisalat to find out what was going on, and I was told by a very "helpful" lady, that I dont have a roaming subscription and if I want to have one applied, then I need to send them a FAX to apply!

I explained, as calmly as I could, that I have had a roaming service for the past 10 years and it was working until the day before yesterday. The lady refused to accept this and continued to insist that this can't be the case. My argument back was to tell her to look at my phone bills for any previous month, and with the amount I travel she will always see some amount of international roaming. "I can't look at phone bills" came the helpful reply, at which point in my 30 minute international call, I insisted to speak to her supervisor. The lady I was speaking to agreed, but instead of transferring me, cut me off !

So I called back and had to spend another 5 minutes to re-explain my situation to a new operator this time, but at least he successfully transferred me to the supervisor. The supervisor did prove to be more sympathetic to my plight and did also manage to look at my file and see that I used to have a roaming contract in place. However, he told me that the only action he could take was to file a complaint on my behalf and then proceeded to give me another phone number, for the enterprise division, that could switch on my roaming.

So I have now spent nearly an hour on the phone, god knows at what cost, and the enterprise division promptly told me they cant help and I need to call the number that I had previously been speaking to.

Backwards and forwards, and in the end it was just better to give in and ask someone in my office to go to the Etisalat office and discuss and apply for a roaming service for me! This would take a couple of days, but that is what you have to put up with when you are the customer of a monopoly.

So I am stuck on a trip without my main phone, and the people on the end of the phone, the so called customer service reps, have shown no desire or ability to help me beyond reading what limited script they have in front of them, and the most senior person ready to come forward was bound by bureaucracy.

Shame on you Etisalat. You have inconvenienced a high revenue customer ... but you obviously don't care because you live in the luxury of knowing that i have no alternative choices available to me!

Monday, October 11, 2010

City of Life !

I had heard about this movie. Reena had seen it when I was out of town, and I finally got the chance to see it on my flight this weekend from Dubai to Hong Kong.

An excellent movie. Not only well written, acted and produced, but also bold enough to address some real social issues in Dubai which I would believed to have taboo to address in a movie in this way and be shown in the Emirates.

The movie follows the lives of 3 very different people in Dubai. A cab driver, an Emirates stewardess and a local boy from a prominent family.

The story holds no punches and deals with the real hardships and ruthlessness the labour class has to face with life in Dubai. The "empty" lives the expat professionals sometimes have to face being posted away from home for the sake of a career, and the social paradoxes local families face dealing with their own culture and background in a rapidly modernising and "westernising" city.

Basu is an Indian taxi driver with a talent for acting, singing and dancing along with movie star looks. A nice guy with a big heart, always seems to have a stream of bad luck on his side. Working in Dubai to earn a small wage to send back home to his parents, he dreams for a break in show business, but a lack of attention on his day job puts him on constant trouble with his employer.

Natalia is a young Romanian lady working as an Emirates stewardess. Her job pays a decent salary and gives her the chance to travel the world, but she is not happy and has a hole in her life. She dreams to go back to being a ballet dancer, but doesn't seem to have the drive or courage to make the change in her life. Circumstances occurring with her room mate and a new romantic interest do finally push her to make a move.

Faisal, a young man from a local family (his on screen father bearing a striking resemblance to Sheikh Mohammed), is struggling to grow up and take responsibility in his life.

In this, the most revealing of the tales, the movie addresses the trappings of growing up in Dubai as an Emirati in today's Dubai with tremendous wealth in a protected society and where the youth have little moral pressure to take up morally responsible positions.

It will prove to be an eye opener for foreigners in the country who would typically look at the local population as privileged, with everything they desire falling in their lap. Indeed, all is not what meets the eye.

Faisal's father is an upstanding Emirati citizen and strives for his son to achieve something with his life. His friends, however, with no such pressure, continue to lead him astray.

In this vain, and with refreshing openness, the movie deals with a selection of rich locals drinking, fighting, womanizing and leading aimless lives and the challenges this can cause in the city and with society. It brings a fresh, more sympathetic eye onto a very serious issue.

By raising these issues at all is a great start. Every city and society has issues and room for improvement, and rather than hide from them, the way to deal with them is to bring them into the open and accept that they exist.

Well done Dubai for allowing this movie to be made and shown, and it is a must see for all those living in Dubai. It is as educational and emotional as it is entertaining.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Blackberry survives the ban!

PING, PING, PING! The handsets are ringing in celebration as Dubai society lives to party on for another day ... thanks to the continuation of Blackberry services in the UAE.

The 11th hour reprieve came on Friday with a message being sent to users that Blackberry services now comply with the telecom authorities requirements, and this begs the question as to "who caved"? Did the telecom authority relax it's requirements, or did RIM (the makers of Blackberry handsets) succumbed to pressure and opened it's security codes to the government ... something they stated would never be done.

Either way, users of the service won't really care as they can now continue to BBM away, but the question really should be asked as to what happened.

A couple of months ago, there was a strong statement from the UAE that Blackberry services would be cut off in the country. The reason given was because of security concerns. Blackberry encryption was too tight and the UAE government could not read the messages being sent via these devices.

To my my mind, there is nothing wrong with the UAE's (or any other governments) concern on this. While we may all wish for our privacy to be protected, let's not be naive - all governments are looking at phone message, text messages, instant message and emails etc..

If you are one to be concerned about this, and therefore use Blackberry because of this security, what are you really trying to hide?

Once this call for a ban came from the UAE, RIM were very fast to say that the will not compromise on their security and will not allow any government access to their servers and encryption. Who are they kidding? Does anyone seriously believe that the USA government, for one, doesn't have the full ability to tap into any Blackberry message they want?

The problem here has arisen because the discussion about access took place in the public domain instead of behind closed doors, where a sensible and discreet settlement could have been arranged. However, with the way this played out and now that Blackberry services will continue, did the UAE relax it's rules (and is now no longer concerned about security), or has RIM given in and allowed access, destroying their key differentiator from Apple and Android etc...?

My money is on RIM giving in, and they will be forced to with India as well ... and then all other countries in the world in which they operate.

But should this be a worry for people? In today's day and age, I cant believe that any information we have is secure, and people buying Blackberries for THIS reason are being unrealistic. The service RIM offers may be the most secure of all its competitors, but the security they claim to offer is by no means impenetrable. We all have enough weaknesses in our data and communications systems anyway to make the need for this imperfect protection virtually null and void.

With such a crack in it's defences, is this then the beginning of the end for Blackberry and RIM? For companies, there may now be a second thought about exclusive implementation of RIM's platform, but for my wife and the rest of Dubai society, "long live Blackberry and BBM"!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A trip down memory lane !

I woke up at 3am this morning with my mind buzzing with so many pending projects I am working on. One of these is a review of the Binatone brand vision and so I spent the early hours of this morning scanning the internet for some historic stuff to give me a perspective. I stumbled accross an article which is an interview I gave in the Gulf Marketing Review shortley after moving to Dubai in 2002.

Here it is:

Sunil Lalvani`s bright yellow Porsche is reminiscent of the colourful home appliances he has helped make into a global enterprise. Clearly, as far as the Binatone MD for Europe, Middle East and Africa is concerned, being passionate about marketing the humble kettle, hairdryer or steam iron is not an issue.

Dubai-based Lalvani explains that Binatone is a global player. Founded in the UK by his father in the late 1950s, the company shifts around 5 million units each year - of which 2 million are kettles - and its design team have earned numerous design awards and patented a variety of new technologies.

Binatone`s answer to the Sony Walkman, the HipFi, outsold its rival in the UK back in the 1970s, and British thirtysomethings will doubtless remember its TV tennis game, all the rage before home computing took off. One of the latest Binatone gadgets is a funky kettle that glows red when it boils.

"We`re world leaders in kettles," says Lalvani proudly, without a hint of irony. "Before, the strategy was on internal growth, developing new products and distribution within existing markets. During the last five to seven years, we`ve tried to grow the business internationally, and technology has been a driving force."

Now the GCC market is in focus, and so are neighbouring countries like Iran, Algeria and Libya too. Binatone has recently opened a support office in the Dubai Airport Free Zone and regime change in Iraq has boosted the potential for regional expansion as new borders open up and regional tensions show some prospect of easing. Binatone, which also makes office automation and telecom products, has agreed a distribution deal with Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group (ESAG) of the UAE to push the brand initially in three important Gulf markets: the UAE, Oman and Qatar.

Binatone plans to use the scale of its manufacturing capabilities to offer local consumers a wider choice than the competition. Kitchen appliances are expected to be big sellers and Lalvani is setting his sights on making Binatone a top three player within five years. There are more than 100 different home appliance products in the Binatone portfolio, from hotdog-makers to foot massagers.

"There is a strong home-making culture in the region and that`s great for our business; anything that improves the cooking experience is well received," says Lalvani. "We did an exhibition recently in Tehran and the stand was flooded. Because a lot of homes in the Gulf have maids, there is a high rate of replacement, though this tends to drive consumption towards the lower end of the market."

Binatone products do not claim to be the cheapest but Lalvani is eyeing the lucrative B-class brand segment of the market. "It`s virtually ignored [in the UAE] because it`s the hardest to crack; there is always a considered decision being made.

"But if you develop trust and attach a value to the products in the mind of the consumer, you`ve got a winner. You can speak to all consumer audiences, and that`s a great place to be."

Binatone hopes to win market share from its A-class rivals by claiming to offer comparable quality at a lower price. The company`s products come with a two-year guarantee and all meet stringent European safety standards. The brand`s UK stamp of origin is also expected to drive equity.

The arrival of Binatone coincides with the unveiling of a new ESAG retail chain, Better Life. According to the group`s retail and marketing manager, Ajai Dayal, ESAG is phasing out its existing Al Gurg Electronics and Scientechnic stores in order to develop the feminine side of its sales appeal. One Better Life outlet is already open in Dubai and five more stores in the UAE are planned over the next 12 months. Oman and Qatar will get one each.

"Electronics marketing is quite male orientated but women tend to be the decision-makers when it comes to home appliances. Marketing at the moment isn`t very lady friendly so Better Life is going down the softer route. The branding and the design of the stores will reflect that."

Better Life will bring together a portfolio of complementary domestic appliance brands under one roof, including Siemens, Scandinova, Admiral, Terin and Wolf, as well as Binatone. Better Life will also provide wholesale services and more brands will be introduced as the chain progresses.

"We`re not competing with the likes of Jumbo," says Dayal. "Home appliances are where we`re going to grow and that hasn`t been developed very much."

Lalvani also sees the arrangement as a perfect compromise. "Easa Saleh Al Group knows distribution, not us. We understand marketing."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Angry and frustrated !

People ask me why I blog and how I choose my subjects. It's a simple answer. I write for enjoyment and choose subjects that either interest me or move me in some way. Today is a perfect example. I have been moved, but negatively. I am angry and frustrated !

An early morning start today for a 9am flight to Moscow (flight BA872) saw me struggle out of bed before I was ready (admittedly i take some responsibility for the late night before, the nice wine and rich food), but this was necessary for the short trip which was to start with meetings straight off the plane in the afternoon.

On this flight sector, I always opt for GBP300-400 economy ticket versus the GBP1200 "business class", which offers little more than a printed tissue on the seat informing you of the premium status you hold. However, when I checked in online, there was a special offer of GBP200 for a one way upgrade. Although I thought this was a reasonable offer (valid only at that moment), I figured that I will get to the airport with no time to spare before the flight and will get no use of the lounge, and I don't really value the head tissue alone for that much money.

As predicted, I stumbled into Terminal 5 at the last moment and cleared security and had to run to the gate with not even enough time for my ritualised Starbucks! Right on time! The lady at the gate picked up the mic to make her announcement, but to my rude awakening, it was to announce a 2 hour delay for the flight .....because BA didn't have a plane! At Heathrow, in their home town and dedicated terminal, British Airways didn't have a plane!

The lady gracefully dismissed us with a very generous GBP5 voucher for food and drink, which was quickly donated to Starbucks as I then went on the hunt for a lounge a could use. I have an Amex Centurian card, a Priority Pass Card, a Skywards gold card, a Star Alliance top tier card, a Skyteam top tier card and a Cathay Pacific silver card, yet there was nothing accessible to me at Terminal 5. The CX card isn't a high enough level, and BA have you captive in their terminal and gives no other lounge option (for payment or otherwise).

In any case, I spent the time making calls and shopping (my Tumi luggage collection grew again), when I heard of another 2 hour delay! This was now a major inconvenience. An afternoon meeting and dinner appointment needed to be cancelled, and I was in need of a power socket and wifi (I wasnt able to connect to the generic Terminal 5 wifi). I went to the BA customer service counter and asked about the ability to take up their offer of an upgrade. I was told the price was now GBP1000, and so asked to see the Duty Manager. Remaining calm and reasonable, I asked what possibility he may have of allowing me an upgrade at yesterdays offer price, or any other "sensible" price. I explained that I was aware that it was a limited time offer, but that it was also based on the fact that the flight was supposed to fly at 9am. While I was told that this special price upgrade could not be made available, I was shocked at his arrogance, his unbelievable attitude clearly indicating that he couldn't care less about customers inconvenience made me exceptionally angry. I knew I was not entitled to use the lounge, but what about showing some courtesy or understanding to hugely inconvenienced passengers? Had I been politely informed of his inability to help on this area, I would have been satisfied (I had to try and get a benefit, but would have accepted if I was politely declined). Instead, his manner was smug and totally unsympathetic. An attitude "these things happen" is totally unacceptable for an airline like British Airways. To my mind, they have a responsibility of duty to take passengers to locations ON TIME and understand that plans and commitments around this, and there are real costs for delayed passengers. For them not to care, is simply unacceptable. Beyond the token GBP5 gesture they gave at the beginning, there was no consideration from BA as the money that had to be spent on phone calls and not to mention what the time cost was for me missing 2 meetings!

If that is the courtesy and attitude that customer facing staff at BA show, then they don't deserve the pay increase they are asking for, and if BA corporate can train their customer facing staff correctly, or indeed empower them with a little authority to deal with situations (as opposed to arming them with a "there's nothing I can do about it" tool), they may not be in the slump they are in now.

I am on a plane once or twice a week. I fly all classes and on airlines ranging from the so called "best" (Emirates, Singapore, Cathay etc..) to discount airlines and fledgling airlines from the developing world (including, BMI, Easyjet, Air Berlin and Arik Air in Nigeria, Huangzhou Air in China and S7 in Russia), and I can honestly say that BA has the worst attitude to customer care of them all. The smaller airlines may not have the resources of the larger ones and accordingly may lack in training budgets, but there is a genuine caring attitude towards customers, and a willingness to help and sympathize in difficult situations (including a 3 hour on board delay aboard an internal Chinese flight I had 2 weeks ago). I suppose it is perhaps not even as deep as training, but perhaps as simple as being caring towards another person. BA ha shown it's ability to find people to work on their airline who lack this common courtesy, and can't but help to vent my anger and frustration on this.

BA remains firmly as my last choice of airline to travel on any route, taken only as a last choice when i have no other option, and I can easily see the writing on the wall for the future survival if they don't change and understand they are not representing the British Empire, but a faltering company that needs to wake up and reinvent itself .... fast.

I am writing this now aboard the flight, which finally took off 4.5 hours late. The only saving grace, and a caveat to the above, is an excellent stewardess named Tracy who has been exemplary in her behaviour and service to me and my fellow passengers. If only she was the rule and not the exception!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My cycling adventure in London !

About 3 weeks ago, a number of "cycle stations" started popping up around the streets of Central London. This initiative by the Mayor of London had me fascinated, and I was an early sign up to the scheme. After a simple online registration, I received my key about 10 days ago. It has been in my pocket ever since. On each occasion I may have had a chance to use a bike, I have either not been alone, had too much to carry, or the weather has let me down!

Not so this morning ! As I set off on an early start, it was a cool London morning with a light spattering of rain, it was the perfect chance for me to test the scheme and do "my bit" for the environment and London's traffic.

My "local"
My local cycle station is just a 3 minute walk from home, and suitably located to take me to my office down the quieter back streets of London, rather than the usual busy Marylebone Road and Tottenham Court Road that I would normally walk down.

The system is a breeze to use. Choose a bike, insert the key, a green light comes on, and away you go ! The bikes themselves are sturdy and comfortable. They have adjustable seats, 3 gears, lights on the front and back and nice little "tray" to keep a small bag or briefcase.

So away I went on my adventure. Feeling a tad self conscious as I wobbled during the first leg of my journey, I soon got comfortable and started to enjoy the ride. It doesn't take long to notice how many cyclists there are in London ... something I noticed immediately when I was one of them. I also noticed how well cycle lanes are marked out (although less well obeyed by motorists). It is an interesting sense of freedom to move around Central London on a bike. You are faster than you would be on foot. You can use the road network to your advantage, but then can bypass it when it works against you (I confess to having made short journeys on the pavement when I had to go the wrong way down a one way road, or simply ignoring a no entry sign to go down some quiet streets that would take several minutes to navigate around in a car). Nevertheless, the times you do have to cross into heavy traffic, you do need to be spatially aware and be respectful of the faster moving heavier vehicles around you.

My first bike :-) 
Upon arrival to my destination, although having done my research before I set off, I opened an app on my phone to find the nearest docking point to park my bike. Amazingly convenient, as the app told me which of the 3 nearby stations had empty slots available and then guided me there.

I arrived to my meeting on time (but out of breath ... 2nd gear was a struggle at times!), and of course had an ice breaker to start the conversations with.

Over the past 2 weeks I have spent a lot of time in London and have been impressed with how many cycle stations have popped up. I think this is an excellent initiative that will not only contribute in its own small way to the environment and keeping London moving, but it is a genuinely convenient facility to have around town and it put a little smile on my face this morning !

I hope the forthcoming winter doesn't slow down the take up of this scheme ... I will certainly be ready to keep using it as long as the skies remain dry.

Thanks Boris, for a job well done !

Monday, August 9, 2010

The LKF Hotel ..... not all its cracked up to be !

So I checked in to the LKF (Lan Kwai Fong) Hotel in Hong Kong yesterday afternoon, after a long sleepless overnight flight in from Dubai.

I was looking forward to an afternoon of relaxation in what was promised to be a luxury boutique hotel.

Check in was harmless enough – fast and efficient, but the first bad sign was the 15 minute wait thereafter for my suitcases to arrive. I know it’s a small matter, but it’s a serious pet peeve for me … having to wait for suitcases once in the room.

I quickly forgave this, as the room was nice. A good size for Hong Kong (about 60 square metres) with a good desk, nice seating and a big soft comfortable bed.

I don’t know what it is with these boutique hotels, and how close they come to being so good … but inevitably fall short. In addition to this LKF Hotel, the beautifully located Miramar Hotel in Barcelona is another that falls agonisingly short. On the other hand, a shining example is the Upper House in Hong Kong …. They got it right !

So what’s wrong with this hotel? Firstly, I should disclose that I am probably not their target audience. Its location is right in the heart of Lan Kwai Fong … the heart and soul of Hong Kong’s nightlife. I chose it because it is 20 steps from out new Hong Kong office. The hotel is modern and very slickly decorated. It has a great bar on the top floor (which I only saw as it becomes the breakfast room in the mornings).

After ordering a rather acceptable Linguini Bolognese from the room service menu, I had an early night and was asleep by 9pm. Predictably I woke up at 2am. This may have been from jet lag, or maybe from the noise outside. If it wasn’t the noise that woke me, it was certainly the reason I couldn’t go back to sleep! I should have known this was going to be an issue when I was given ear plugs at turn down service instead of a chocolate. This will be the single main reason I will not stay here again … that kind of disturbance is not acceptable for me in a hotel, and I was on the 17th floor !

But I also feel this hotel has fallen into an all too common trap. They have hired a great designer, and at first glance, everything is aesthetically pleasing but …..

The iPod / MP3 option in the room is via a loose cable attached to an old style amplifier (not concealed), and at full volume, is just about the right sound level for casual listening.

There is a great desk and nicely concealed section for power ports, but only 2 !!! ? and no other power points in the room anywhere else ! I even had to unplug my computer from the desk to use the iron. Why can a new hotel not get this right? No power points by the bed at all !

On the contrary, an over elaborate array of buttons by the bed side to control the room lighting. You can have any setting you like, for any mood or moment, but at night when you need to turn on a simple light to get to the bathroom …. there is no way to know what button to push, other than by guesswork and trial and error,

The bathroom is beautiful. Spacious and a big size tub. Powerful taps also that filled the tub promptly (not usually the case in most hotels), but the way it is positioned, you have to get into the tub to access the taps thanks to a well positioned shower screen ! And the shower rail is set about a foot too far back and most of the water misses the tub and splashes around the edge of the bath. Apart from being a cleaning nightmare for the housekeeping staff, it means bending and stretching to get your head properly under the shower head !

On the plus side, the internet is fast (although wired access only), the TV is a good size and positioned on a clever hinge to allow clear viewing from all over the room. The bed is very comfortable, and an Aaron chair provided at the desk. The room service was fast (and tasty) and the valet service was fast and efficient when I asked them to polish my shoes.

However, I can’t endorse this hotel as it falls short on detail. I may be nit picking, and for many people these points are hardly enough to write off a hotel, but for me, in all products and services, it is the detail that makes or breaks a business. Getting the big picture right is easy. Sweating the detail takes effort and dedication, and required consistency to keep a set standard. It’s from examples like this that this lesson is reinforced in my mind.

So LKF hotel …. Thanks, but no thanks.