1.36 CR service charge for a 1-bedroom apartment?

I recently logged on to a portal dedicated to those of us who own an apartment in a building called Lakeshore, in JLT Dubai. While the building is generally well-maintained, we have recently had issues with the developer on air conditioning charges from 2009, hefty bills that were sprung on us a few months ago.

I wanted to see if there were any updates on the AC billing issue; it affected all owners and our association had taken up the matter with the developer. To my complete horror and shock, the outstanding amount was not AED 3,600 as on my last visit to the portal, but a mind numbingly large AED 1.36 CR (see below an image grab from the bill).


CR for us Indians is Crore; 1 Crore is 10 million and 1 AED is approximately 17 of our Rupees. Multiply the two together and the sum (Rs 230 million) is substantially more than my net worth! And all on account of maintenance for a silly little 1-bed apartment.

I called up the company in charge of maintenance. A youngster from the Philippines took the call, calmed me down, pulled out the bill on his computer, and confirmed my worst fears, “yes Sir, you are right, balance is AED 1.36 CR”, and to really rub it in he says, “what’s the problem, Mr. Rahul, why you are so upset”?

Upset was a mild word for my state of mind. An unpaid bill of 230 million, even in Indonesian Rupiah (approximately 10,000 to the dollar), is enough to induce a serious cardiac event. That something was wrong with the bill was clear to me, that it would be difficult to get the bill reversed even more so.

Thankfully for me, the issue got sorted out eventually. It was a case of mistaken understanding on my part. The CR in the bill meant ‘Credit’ and not ‘Crore’. So the company owed me AED 1.36!

Read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. We think in two ways – we jumps to conclusions (system 1 thinking) and we sometimes reason our way through (system 2 thinking). My brain had resorted to system 1 thinking, with potentially alarming consequences for me. System 1 thinking is intuitive and our brains are wired for it; system 2 thought processes came much later in evolution and are therefore much tougher for all of us.

Charlie Rose interviewing Daniel Kahneman.

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“I worked the weekend, can I take two days off?”

How would you respond to a request for compensatory holidays for weekends spent in the office? The question is unthinkable in the advertising industry; long hours and weekends spent fretting over silly client demands are par for the course.

So I was quite surprised when a colleague of mine asked me precisely this question? We had worked very hard on the weekend and as we were winding up, he wanted to know if the two days could be added to his annual leave?

My colleague is a hard working sort, with 15 plus years of experience in India and Dubai. He has worked in agencies that barely escape being called sweat shops, he knows the score in our industry, so where was this strange question coming from?

It seems that his previous employer was an enlightened creative, and if someone worked a weekend, the days (spent working) were added to the annual leave. My colleague had spent nearly eight years in this company, and compensatory days off were perfectly normal from his perspective.

I advised him to let the matter rest, lest his bosses see him as a work shirker, a Leftist of sorts, a trouble maker and possibly all three. And so he did, he is not one who will needlessly pick up an issue.

But the incident does illustrate a point we often overlook; till you know  where somebody is coming from, you will find it very difficult to understand them, leave alone develop any kind of empathy.

Posted in Business, Jobs, Life, Psychology, Worklife | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

“We don’t alter the waist” explained the retailer

Most of my clothes come from a well-known British retailer in Wafi mall. Their selections are decent, the quality is good and the sizes fit me pretty well. Recently, in the spirit of Eid shopping, I picked up some wonderful linen trousers, lovely fabric, great feel, they fit me perfectly, but for the waist, which needed a bit of tightening.

So I was more than a little surprised when the sales girl informed me they don’t alter the waist, only the length they can fix!  When I mentioned to her that they have altered the waist in the past, she had no explanation for a change of policy that is frankly counter-intuitive.  Out of curiosity, I decided to speak with the manager of the shop.

The manager’s explanation was odd, to say the least. The company outsources alterations to a tailor who is apparently not good at fixing the waist. “Too many customer complaints” said the manager “so now we only fix the length, we don’t alter the waist”.

I have worked very hard to lose an inch in the middle, what am I to do, I enquired? The sales girl smiled, the manager shrugged, and that was that.

So what was the real problem here? Customer feedback that the tailor can’t fix the waist properly? Or that customers need a decent alteration service? The company took the former to be the problem, and ended up with a solution that is plainly ludicrous!



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How long should a tweet be?

Twitter’s best practices cite a Buddy Media research report that 100 characters or less is the ideal length of a tweet. The findings are consistent with a Track Social study on 100 well-known brands that are popular on twitter; the sweet spot seems to be 70 to 100 characters and that’s when you are most likely to be re-tweeted.

What about Facebook? Up to 80 characters can get you 66% more engagement than a longer post. Facebook friends who are in the habit of penning long posts, please note…

Here’s some related trivia on ideal lengths:

  • Blogs: 1,000 words (not characters)
  • Google+ headline: 60 characters
  • Headlines in general: six words
  • Paragraph width: 40 to 55 characters
  • Email subject: 28 to 39 characters
  • Presentations: max 18 minutes (remember TED talks?)

Lots more detail in this FastCompany article.

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The rise and rise of the hash sign (#)

The hash sign  (#) seems to be making a hash of normal English, particularly with folks on the wrong side of 30.  Tweets and FB posts are now liberally sprinkled with any number of hash signs, so much so that it is getting difficult to make out the meaning.

#too #many #hashtags #meaning #getting #lost #doyougetit? Hashtags are now threatening to enter speech, and here are two hilarious examples.

  1. # Hashtag with Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake: every sentence has several hashtags in this sitcom
  2. Nayak 2, a spoof on upcoming Indian politician Kejriwal: innovative use of hashtag at 4 min 30 sec in this film

Hilarity notwithstanding, such examples are rare exceptions. Hash-tagging in speech sounds stupid, unless you are an outstanding comic.

So where did this humble sign come from and how has it risen to a position where it threatens to upend the English language?

The symbol first appeared on push-button telephones in the 1960’s, along with the asterisk. Another rarely used name for the hash sign is octothorpe. The origins of the term ‘octothorpe‘ are quite interesting and worth a read if you have a few spare minutes.

In American English the hash sign has generally meant pound (lb.) and in English it means number (# 1 = number 1). In August 2007 open-source advocate Chris Messina proposed using the hash symbol to tag topics on Twitter. Also in August 2007, web anthropologist Stowe Boyd is credited with coining the term hashtag. Beginning July 2009 Twitter began to hyperlink hashtags in tweets. In 2010 Twitter introduced “Trending Topics” and the world (or the English language) has never quite been the same.

I have nothing against the hashtag, if used correctly. And how exactly should the hashtag be used? Here’s a primer from Mashable. Happy hash-tagging!

#Hashtag etiquette: 8 people who are doing it wrong

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Amazon demonstrates drone-based delivery

Amazon is experimenting with drone-based delivery systems, as the video below demonstrates. Packages of up to 5 lbs will be delivered to destinations within 10 miles of an Amazon distribution centre. The service (dubbed Amazon Prime Air) could be operational in 4 to 5 years. One helluva of an innovative company, Amazon is!

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Expo 2020: unintended consequences

A cousin of mine, who has a contracting business in Bahrain, called me up yesterday and said he was expanding his business to Dubai. Reasons? He thinks a construction frenzy is about to start and there’ll be a shortage of experienced contractors.

Two other friends of mine, who live in Dubai and have shown no signs of entrepreneurship in their decades-long careers, suddenly want to start restaurants. Dubai is well served with restaurants so why food? They have no answer, except that there’s a boom on the horizon.

Another friend of mine, who owns a real estate business, wants to organise a match-making event, to bring buyers and sellers together. Buyers and sellers of what, I asked? He doesn’t really know, except that lots of buying and selling is about to happen because of the Expo, and he wants a cut on the transactions.

An ex-colleague also wants to do a matchmaking event, but to bring ideas and capital together. Why would capital look for ideas, I asked him? If you have spare cash, isn’t it better to just invest in real estate and sit back? That’s not the point, he explains, it’ll be an annual event and I want to make money off the sponsorship revenue.

Every single person I have spoken to in the last 72 hours is thinking of how to profit from Expo 2020. If even a fraction of this greed and opportunism gets converted into viable businesses, Dubai will benefit for a long time to come.

As to me? Why, today is a holiday, and I am off to meet some friends, to brainstorm on an interesting new business idea!




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