Mohammad Al-Ubaydli’s blog

The only time Ghandi condoned violence

Posted in History, People / organisations, Places by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on April 8, 2009

I came across several fascinating stories about Indian women recently and grouped them into one blog post.

India ArrivingFirst, here is the story of India’s first woman stock trader:

It was a man’s world in those busy days. The arrival of the first female stockbroker on the floor of the stock exchange in the late 1980s created a sensation. A tall woman in a sari, she confidently strode toward a particular counter to make her first trade. I was on hand and, to my consternation, the brokers treated her like one of their own. Like any male newcomer, she was disregarded initially; when she tried to force her way into the center of the counter, she was again disregarded, meaning that she had to fight her way in along with two dozen others competing for the jobber’s attention. As I watched her getting pummeled along with the rest as she drilled into the center of the crowd, I wondered how she felt and whether she would be back the next day.

She returned and had her strategy perfectly worked out. She came with a megaphone in hand. Her sari was firmly draped around her so it would not come undone! Standing on the periphery of the counter, she calmly turned on the megaphone to full volume and called on the jobber. The jostling crowd was momentarily stunned into silence, the jobber called out the information she had sought and she made her trade. Since then, she has become a very successful broker.

This is from the charming book India Arriving by Rafiq Dossani which is full of other such accounts from his experience as an investment banker, technocrat and journalist in India.

The next story is from a wonderful two-part interview from Australia’s Philosopher’s Zone radio interview with American philosopher Martha Nussbaum. In the first interview she discussed the social contract in human societies, and in the second she discussed the implications for animals.

Philosopher's Zone

I know that there was a lawyer, the first female lawyer in India ended up defending an elephant, because she wasn’t hired by the usual bar association, and so she ended up working for a Maharajah and he just thought it was fun to put the elephant on trial for trampling the bamboo grove. But I think that was just an entertainment.

Imagining IndiaThe final quote is from Imagining India, the deliciously intellectual book by Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani. It is from the chapter about population growth, now understood as a demographic dividend, but in the last century interpreted as an impending disaster. In 1960 India consumed one eighth of the USA’s wheat production, and by 1966 it consumed one fourth. In frustration the government tried all kinds of actions, beginning with persuasion and culminating in the dictatorship of Indira Gandhi and her forced mass sterilizations in the country side. One of the earlier, gentler, acts of persuasion was to teach women the rhythm method. From this teaching comes perhaps the only statement from the great man, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, advocating violence:

Wives should fight off their husbands with force, if necessary.

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Driving in Yemen

Posted in Places by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on October 8, 2008

One of my strongest memories is of a taxi drive between Syria and Lebanon. The driver was racing the car because we were desperate to get across the border, the airport having been closed off that day because of bombing. And the racing was on a mountain road. I must have been 6 or 7 years old but the memory is vivid.

But it was never as scary as this slideshow of driving in Yemeni mountains. My uncle sent it to me and I am awed by the drivers in the photographs. I am also trying to avoid imagining where the photographers would have had to stand. Extraordinary photographs, well worth looking at.

Starbucks committee meeting

Posted in Management, People / organisations, Places by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on July 7, 2008

Last week I went to Seattle and saw, amongst many other interesting sites, the original Starbucks coffee shop. Apparently, this is the only Starbucks that still has the original logo:

You can click on the picture to see the details. Compare this to the more discrete current logo:

Can you imagine the committee meeting in which they discussed why they were switching to this logo?

Reasons why women think men are disgusting: number 73

Posted in Books, Economics, Places, Society by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on July 5, 2008

A charming example from the book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness describing the success of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport in reducing spillage at urinals by 80 percent.

There the authorities have etched the image of a black housefly into each urinal. It seems that men usually do not pay much attention to where they aim, which can create a bit of a mess, but if they see a target, attention and therefore accuracy are much increased.

It gets better.

According to the man who came up with the idea, it works wonders. “It improves the aim”, say Aad Kieboom. “If a man sees a fly, he aims at it.”

Internet advertising spending per capita

Posted in Economics, Management, Places, Technology by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on June 23, 2008

Here are some interesting data about internet advertising spending per capita: the UK spends the most, at $213 per year per person, vs. the USA, fourth at $132.

I got this from a TechCrunch article evaluating the true value of social networks, and find it useful as I create a business plan for my new company, based in the UK and advertising-supported. The UK’s lead is reflective of a more mature market. South Kore and Japan may lead in broadband deployments and the USA may lead in venture capital spending but the UK market’s ability to monetize new media has impressed me ever since BSkyB began using Google for its television advertising platform back in the 2006.

Alexandria: a city before its time?

Posted in History, Places by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on December 25, 2007

I keep on finding out interesting things about the history of Alexandria. For example, it was the “first city ever to have numbered addresses“:

Its banks oiled the commerce of East and West alike, its freight terminals churned with the trade of the world. Its celebrated library boasted seven hundred thousand scrolls and had been built in pursuit of a sublime: that every book ever written might be gathered in one place. There were even slot machines and automatic doors.

Now I read this quote, from President Abraham Lincoln in an 1860 presidential speech:

The advantageous use of Steam-power is, unquestionably, a modern discovery. And yet, as much as two thousand years ago the power of steam was not only observed, but an ingenious toy was actually made and put in motion by it, at Alexandria in Egypt. What appears strange is, that neither the inventor of the toy, nor any one else, for so long a time afterwards, should perceive that steam would move useful machinery as well as a toy.

I first found the quote in the “Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism” book.

How to interpret this? 15, maybe even 10 years ago, my chest would have swelled with pride over the achievements of early Arabs, partly because back then I did not know that the Alexandria described was a Greek creation. During my childhood I read a book that described how so many of the scientific discoveries of the West during the Renaissance were actually rediscoveries of what Arab scientists had already written about. It wasn’t all exaggeration.

But now, I just get annoyed. There is no point in inventing or discovering something if you do not use it.

On holiday in Bahrain witnessing all the work done

Posted in Places by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on December 14, 2007

I am on holiday in Bahrain for a few weeks and the place is buzzing. From landing in the airport the adverts are different: more, more expensive, and for a real local economy rather than just imported goods. The trip home showed more of the same, and then of course the most important thing to me: the internet connection at home. What a difference 16 months make.

The house was newly built in a new neighbourhood so the previous telecoms monopoly has still not provided DSL broadband to the house. Last year my parents’ only connection was a 3G Vodafone PCMCIA card. The download speed was around 256 kb, the limit was 2 GB per month (I kid you not) and the monthly cost was 40 BHD ($100).


This year the 3G Vodafone SIM card connects to the PC through USB, the download speed is much higher (the software claims 3.6 Gbps, an exaggeration), the limit is 4 GB, and the monthly cost is just 15 BD ($37.50). Oh and the Kuwaiti multinational MTC Vodafone is rebranded as Zain and have moved their head office to Bahrain.

Before I sleep, allow me to introduce, and recommend, the 3G Phoebus Portable Cellular Wi-Fi Router:

3G Phoebus Portable Cellular Wi-Fi Router

I put the new SIM card into the old PCMCIA card, which in turn goes inside the Phoebus. It takes a little fiddling, but we now have the Vodafone 3G signal always on and broadcast through WiFi to most rooms in the house. So now all the family can be connected and browsing at the same time and we’re all sharing download speeds of around 70 kbps quite comfortably.

I think I’ll be blogging a lot during this trip.

Trip to London

Posted in Books, People / organisations, Places by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on April 9, 2006

I’ve been in London for the last few days, teaching the advanced track of the RSM workshop. Always fun because of the people I get to meet, but also because of the repeated shocks I get from being in London rather than DC.

For example, the London underground always has amusing adverts. On this trip tax advice compay had several adverts about how somethings ought to be left to the experts. Public speaking, for example, whence a picture of President Bush looking confused with a microphone.

I don’t know why but I was momentarily spooked by the poster. Harmless fun and a joke at the expense of the powerful, but being in the USA I have not seen such images. In London it is a common joke. Not that no Americans make such comments, nor that all Brits believe that Bush is stupid, but a mass market joke depends on the masses believing its assumptions. I guess that such adverts that surprise me are part of the signals that make Americans complain about anti-Americanism.

I also found a charming little book called “Is it Just Me Or I Everything Shit?“. It is full of unnecessary swear words and oh-so-English cynicism – but is so funny! And surprisingly informative too. For example, the entry on Alpha Males (“the Marquis de Sade with a flip chart”) includes this reminder of historical origin:

Dominance hierarchies in the animal kingdom were discovered in the 1920s by Norwegian scientist Thorleif Schjelderup-Ebbe. Studying flocks of hens, he noticed how each member recognised its place above and below its peer; the upper echelons got first dibs at the corn (hence the phrase ‘pecking order’) and peace generally reigned. Clever hens, thought Thorleif Schjeldeup-Ebbe.

Another entry, “Equality of Opportunity”, told me that Michael Young was inventor of the term meritocracy, against which he wrote the satirical book “The Rise of the Meritocracy“. Every now and then I get another glimpse of just how impressive this man must have been, the Open University and the Consumers’ Association being some of his other achievements. And then there is his son, Toby Young, author of one my favourite books, “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People“.

Finally, this morning I read a newspaper article (about the shortage of female “facilities” in the House of Lords) and caught the mention of Thomas Crapper, apparently a Victorian water closet engineer. I know, this is the stuff of primary school playground jokes. But I found very funny after five hours of sleep. Perhaps I’ll pen an apology tomorrow but for now I am unrepentant.

Google’s “medical facts”

Posted in Medicine, Places by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on April 3, 2006

My wife showed this to me today – searching for “medical facts” on Google brings up a pro-life website. The site seems dedicated to telling women the “medical facts”, no doubt the result of some campaign by Christian bloggers to get to the top of Google’s rankings.

It is interesting to see what searching Google’s country-specific websites brings up:

National mapping agencies

Posted in Places, Technology by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on November 18, 2005

UNESCO has a nice page listing national mapping agencies and their contact details. It is interesting to see the different policies. The USA has the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which makes all its data available in the public domain as is usual with American government agencies’ data. Britain’s Ordnance Survey (OS) is sophisticated but expensive and proprietary. Senegal’s Direction des Travaux Géographiques et Cartographiques (DTGC) sells its maps in Euros, which seems suspiciously like a colonial hangover.

And then we have the Middle East. Bahrain’s Survey Directorate does not even have a website, but nor does that UAE’s Ministry of Public Works and Housing or Saudi Arabia’s Aerial Survey Department. The latter is part of the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, which probably means that the data is highly secret under a national security excuse (to avoid terrorists attacking the oil fields).

Now, navigating around Bahrain is difficult. Everytime I go there it is hard to find any map of the streets. I wish the GCC countries would make their maps available in the public domain – it would help their economies as private companies build services on top of the data, and help the tourists as they visited the different cities and countries.