FinFisher and the absence of morals

Some enterprising netizen took umbrage at the machinations and outright lies of Gamma FinFisher, the Anglo-German privacy-thieving and national-aspiration-crushing software supplier so he hacked their servers and walked away with 40GB of their crown jewels.

To put it in perspective, 40GB means that “you could hold approximately: 10,000 High-Quality MP3 Songs -or- 25,000 High-Resolution Digital Photographs -or- 120 Hour-long (43 minute) television shows in high-quality. -or- 700,000 Word Documents between 3 and 5 pages long” [source]

In the Bahraini perspective, one of the prime governments supporting that poor Anglo-Germanic enterprise to the tune of €1.4 million a go, not including the training they could subscribe to at the cheap cheap price of €27,000 per session, the most important revelation that the Bahraini government discovered after all this expenditure and generated bad publicity was, wait for it, wait for it: that they need to send their “agents” (I know, double oh what the hell kind) to English language school!

For 10% of that figure – actually, I’m feeling damned patriotic this lovely Friday morning, I’d inform them of that need for absolutely free. What I would also tell them is to save their citizen’s money and just sit down with those whose opinions they don’t agree with, have copious cups of tea and simply have a chat. The proviso is to have (a) the political will to find resolution, a genuine one please, and (b) there is no “b”, “a” would do quite fine and will get this country out of the quagmire it is still suffering from. Doing nothing isn’t really an option. Carrying on with mistrusting your own people, well, apart from being costly, isn’t really sustainable. No, bringing others in and calling them Bahrainis to replace an indigenous population won’t work, believe me. The “new” Bahrainis’ loyalties will never be with the country they’re forced to adopt. Square blocks and round holes kind of logic. A two-year old would tell you that for free too.

Anyway, to those 77 whose privacy’s known to have been breeched with FinFisher, rest in the knowledge that whatever they gained, is actually their loss. The loss of your trust and respect. What you gained, is the continued respect of the whole community. You win.

As to Gamma, do I blame them for hawking their wares? Well, like arms dealers, the most unscrupulous ones of those in this case, they both lack any modicum of decency and morals, their main motivator is and always was. Whores, in fact, are saints when compared to Gamma and their ilk.

rubber stamps

Rubber Stamp Culture

In an era where electronic signatures are passé, what is the unbridled fetish the Bahraini government has with rubber stamps? I’m not meaning those stamps which indicate that a paper has been seen, approved or rejected, but the stamps that companies use to stamp their invoices and other documents before they be accepted within the government’s systems. Isn’t the original letter-headed paper and signature enough to affirm its authenticity? Is a company stamp really necessary to add to that authenticity? Why when the manufacture of those stamps is completely unregulated and anyone with a little bit of knowledge could either create a duplicate at will, or even take a stamped paper to a vendor and the vendor would happily recreate it without asking for any form of verification? You see where I’m going with this?

Company stamps are useless. Get rid of that requirement and stop rejecting papers just because they don’t have “an official company stamp”. What official company stamp? Is it registered with an authority? Is it in a computer record somewhere? What if I create a stamp with Mickey Mouse on it with my company’s name around it, will that do? Will that authenticate an already verifiable piece of paper?

Tamkeen are you listening? Get with the program please and stop delaying SMEs payments for such a ludicrous excuse.

And government et al, tell your functionaries that company rubber stamps are no longer a necessity of doing business. You too get with the program. Please!

Panorama of Innovation Home in Saar Mall

Hidden Gems and Treasure Troves in Saar

Once in a while you’re pleasantly surprised by locating a shop with really nice stuff packed into it. A treasure trove really, and I’m not talking about those second hand shops or a car boot sale. I’m talking about shops that are elegantly designed and fitted, but recessed and tucked away from the normal beats. That’s what I discovered this afternoon.

Saar, like the rest of Bahrain, has tremendously changed over the last ten years, let alone over 30 or 40 years. Maybe it’s a bit late to catch up with the various other areas of the island probably due to the mass exodus of the majority expats who preferred this area of the island and made it their own, especially in the seventies to the naughtees. They were so prevalent in this area then, to the extent that a phrase was coined to identify some of those busy-body expat women as “Budaiya Betties” or “Saar Sallies”; spaced-out and closer to fishmonger-mannerisms than class and royalty they proclaim to have. Anyway, to each their own.

So Saar has developed into a business attraction lately. First came the Najibi Centre, then a little down the road we had St Christopher’s School and between the two several shops, restaurants and even shopping malls popped up. The latest addition to that class of properties is the quaint Saar Mall, just a few steps from St Chris and Alnakheel Mall, the second mall to be inaugurated in the area, I’m not counting the Country Mall, it’s on the Budaiya Highway of course, but not in the Saar area.

Saar Mall has quite a number of shops already open, we thought of exploring a bit before we had our coffee at Costa, our preferred coffee destination. This mall sports the customary food hall which is quite unexpected. I was under the impression that “provincial malls” are more low key affairs. They do contain restaurants of course, but I didn’t expect a full fledged food hall. Or maybe it’s just me.

Upstairs in the food hall, they have quite an attraction: a huge fish tank with salt water fish. Nimo and the like. Though I’m really unsure why that tank also has mollies and guppies. I thought those were fresh water fish, no? Maybe they’re food for the little shark with its permanently attached sucker? A weird feature on both sides of the main tank are open sub-tanks with fish in them as well. I shudder to think how those fish will fair. I have a vision that people will be trying to catch them, or “feed” them by tipping their food trays in, or even squeezing their left-over mayonnaise and catchup packets there too. I hope no one does. It will be a shame to vandalize that feature. It would be good too if the mall management spent some time properly cleaning that installation. The green algae is building up, and the water, as of this afternoon, is a bit murky.

It is on the same floor that we discovered quite a nice shop. Innovation Bahrain. I must confess that I have a fetish for interior decor and furnishings shops. I love nicknacks; though I’m banned from buying any because Frances says that our house is stuffed and can’t take any more. I ignore her once in a while, and she tolerates my “rebelliousness”, but I know that she has the final, silent, word. I notice the disappearance of some of the items I purchase sometimes. I am also pretty sure that the BSPCA thrift shop has been the beneficiary of some of my trinkets too.

Anyway, have a gander at this lovely treasure trove:

Panorama of Innovation Home in Saar Mall

Quite cool right? I’m definitely going to visit again, if not to buy, then it will be for inspiration.

As to the mall itself, I just hope that its owners become a bit selective to create a nice variety of shops. There is an indication that is not on their mind at the moment, with three phone shops and two phone pods upstairs, something that the nearby Alnakheel seems to be much better at in their selectivity. I also hope that it keeps its cleanliness and not transform into a villager backwater where no one would choose to visit unless they’re compelled to do so.

It was a pleasant afternoon.. and the coffee was good too.


To the gym at last!

Today marks the completion of three whole months since my iconic Athens Half Marathon. Forgive me for going on about that, but what have YOU done lately! ;)

And this week marks a month since I’ve had my hip operation. Visiting my doctor yesterday, he assured me that it’s ok to go back to the gym, but use common sense and don’t impact the hip. I told him that common sense isn’t all that common! Being German, he just grunted.

So off I went to the gym this morning. It was a wonderful feeling! Up at five and in the gym by 6:30. I did a whole hour of work, starting with the upper body I did the weight machines, then just the rotational leg exercises: abduction, adduction and extensions. I was careful to ensure that I loaded only light weights and concentrated on repetitions for now. That took about half an hour. It was great! After that I did 30 minutes on the bike, at 80 rpm and the lowest friction setting. I can tell you that I felt really invigorated after that simple workout.

I can’t wait for the next time, hopefully tomorrow :)

Company Culture - Excellence

Recruiting the wrong type of people

There are so much resources availalble now for entrepreneurs but I still get it wrong a lot of the times! Nothing beats experience I guess; however, that’s the expensive route.

Without a doubt, the most expensive mistake I keep on repeating is recruiting the wrong people. Time after time. How can I get out of this spiral?

Let me explain to you my process of recruiting at Gulf Broadcast:

  1. Advertising in industry sites
  2. Sift and filter the CVs
  3. Check portfolios
  4. Connect with interesting prospective employees
  5. Ask for a referee list
  6. Conduct an initial Skype/In-Person interview
    1. If possible, invite other staff members to sit in so we can cross-check each other
  7. Contact referees and ask them pointed questions and most are good enough to respond (see below)
  8. Call referees and double check details
  9. Conduct a second interview and drill down into the details
  10. Take a cool-off reflection period of 3 or 4 days and consider whether chemistry and potential exist in the person being interviewed
  11. Conduct final interview and pose any concerns
  12. Double check responses if anything warrants that with referees
  13. Negotiate salary and benefits
  14. Send out the legal documents
    1. Offer Letter
    2. Confidentiality Agreement
    3. Employment Contract
    4. Employee Handbook
  15. Reach agreement and sign documents
  16. Initiate induction process (documented in our Employee Handbook)
  17. Start mentoring and on-boarding process
  18. Start producing

Recruiting reference checklist:

  1. Could you briefly describe your relationship with ___________?
  2. When did you work together and in what capacity was ____ working?
  3. How long did ____ stay in the job?
  4. Would you evaluate ___ as a good team player?
  5. What is the best thing you remember about ___?
  6. The worst?
  7. Would you hire her/work with ___ again?
  8. If ___ left the job, why did ____ leave?
  9. What would you evaluate as ___ strengths?
  10.  ___weaknesses?
  11. What is his general competence level? Does ___ catch on to what is required quickly?
  12. What is the level of his creativity not only in the art of creating films, but also problem solving and dealing with people?
  13. What was __ attitude to work? Was there any issue in working within office hours, attitude to call-outs and working outside of the regular office hours?
  14. How would you evaluate ___ relationship skills with the clients?
  15. Would you like to comment on anything else?
  16. How highly would you recommend her for being our producer and director? (score from 1 worst – 10 best)?

You would think that with this careful process, I’d be able to limit the “bad apples” before they hit our office. Right? Well maybe I do, especially when you consider that it’s not just my opinion that is taken into consideration when we employ people.

But no.

To be fair to myself. The “bad apples” in almost every case aren’t discovered immediately on employment. In most cases, the enthusiasm of a new employee starting is electric and everyone is affected by it, but, reflecting on the situation as I type this (who said blogging is not therapeutic?) they manifest themselves a bit later, from a few months, to even over a few years.

Let me analyse:

The ones that get weeded out after a few months are almost always sales people. Although they are mentored by me personally with sincerity, those who don’t survive with us are those who do not achieve their sales quota. Some, unfortunately don’t sell a single fils before they are cut out and bid farewell to a hopefully more fulfilling future elsewhere. A lot of those, for some reason, become disgruntled employees and  flip the coin to try their luck in court. This has become such a regular occurrence that we started to add a legal contingency fund in our annual budgets, if they naively go into gambling, we’re determined to be more than ready with our royal flush. Unfortunately this attitude is much more prevalent with Bahraini employees.

The technical and creative employees are easier to deal with. It’s very easy to find out their capabilities within the first week of their landing. If they have the right chemistry, we heavily invest in them to bring them to our standard. We continue to monitor their output and eek out the best we can out of them and help, guide and mentor them to a better state. We’ve seen some employees really shine. A lot started with just technical capabilities and low self esteem, low belief in their creativity and talent and I nurtured them to be superstars by the time they moved on. If the chemistry isn’t there, I cut the losses short and wish them luck in their next position and off they go.

The fact remains that every time I go through this recruiting process, I get exhausted. Running the marathon is nothing to on-boarding new staff. This is emotionally and physically exhausting. It’s also hard for me not to take employee failures personally. Whenever we had to release them for whatever reason, I feel betrayed. Maybe because of the level of passion and time I invest in them. I guess this is one thing I have to learn not to do. I should learn not to take things so personally and treat them as “just” employees. Hard, but doable. It might require the installation of a “layer” between me and them, something I do not cherish. And this is not me. I’m an “all in” kind of person.

Going back to the problem, if I can call it that, I’ve got to find a way to employ successful sales people. Sales people who authentically feel the responsibility bestowed on them, and who have the deep rooted need to succeed and revel in the challenge. Looking back, it feels to me that a lot of them were not motivated by success, but by how much secure salaries they can draw. They were averse to installing a performance-based pay system. They wanted a fat basic salary, and little or no commission. Maybe this is the insight into what I should be looking for!

The best I’ve employed were motivated first by how they can use our products and services to contribute to a larger cause, rather than the money they potentially can make off the sale. In some cases, in time, some succumb to getting as much as fast as possible. That’s when the problem with their character manifests itself and the writing gets clearly written on the wall counting down to their departure. Invariably, their sales suffer and almost stop. It gets easier to see through them and their motives; thus, lose that important trust they create with clients. I need a better radar to see this faster and release them before they damage not just their careers but also our own reputation. I need to find the right language and communication method to reset them and their expectations and remind them why they got involved in this business in the first place.

So what’s the solution? How can I stop the time wasting and energy sapping process of on recruiting unfit employees?

I don’t have the answer and I would love to hear your input into this.

What I can conclude with, is something a wise man once told me: “You get what you inspect, not what you expect.” Thank you Mr Redha Faraj. Although I do have metrics and KPIs that every position has to live by, the mistake I have done in the past, and must correct going forward, is that these KPIs aren’t methodically adhered to. What happens, I think, is that over time I get lulled into a sense of comfortable trust. That trust, ultimately, time after time, gets abused. Therefore what I shall do going forward is document all agreements, expectations and processes and hold people responsible to their KPIs.

What else can I do to get out of this cycle? What are your experiences, rather than advice?


Bahrain welcomes ISIS

Oh yes it does.

With open arms too.

And their modus operandi is to quell the demands for democracy.

Someone should really tell those in power to be really careful what they wish for. The oft used “divide and conquer” strategy doesn’t really work in this day and age. For one thing, people are a bit smarter due to the ready availability of information. More than that, people now ask questions and read dissenting views to make up their own minds.

First, Understand that the human spirit will always espouse democracy and respect of human rights. Nothing will change that. So get that through your heads.

Second, in 2011 I have witnessed two of the most courageous decisions ever made by a Bahraini monarch. The king apologised for a citizen’s killing, and he ordered an international commission of enquiry to find out what happened in an impartial way.

Third, something happened which derailed that nobel initiative.

Fourth, for goodness sake, understand that those who derailed those initiatives are not your friends, and it’s because of them that people are suffering and unfairness rules.

Bahrain now is literally living under apartheid rule.

How is that conducive to the propagation and safe handover of rule, is beyond me.

This void must be addressed, and it will only be addressed by recognising that those machinations do not and will never work.

How is it that now Bahrain is exporting terror? With citizens actively encouraged to join the ranks of that morally bankrupt ISIS? Or any other war for that matter? How is it that we get intellectual mercenaries preach hate and are actually encouraged to do so, and do so with impunity? How is it that monsters cloaked with religiosity actively encouraging and condoning death and destructions be allowed to do so? How is it that the majority of the population be allowed to live under constant fear and subjugation? When all it takes is doing the decent thing to reverse wrongs?

What do we need to get that courage we witnessed in 2011 back?


The Most Important Video About Israel Ever Made

Dennis Prager represents the the other side of the Arab/Israeli argument.

In this video, the scholar argues that there never was a Palestine, and he contents that every Arab wants the Jewish state and people to cease to exist. Citing the various other wars against Israel since 1948, and the Arab response to its declaration of statehood with their “famous three no’s: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it. He also bases his arguments with the assertion that Hamas’ doctrine is to refuse to recognise Israel. Hamas is on record to accept the existence of Israel, within the 1967 borders, so that debunks the majority of his argument.

The other is that every Arab wants to exterminate the Jews and Israel. That is preposterous of course. Speaking for myself, I never have and never will ask for that. Apart from having many good Jewish friends all over the world whom I love and respect, as I have friends who happen to be Muslims, Hindu, Atheists and every colour in between, what benefit is there from hate? Everyone has a sovereign right to exist, without having to declare that fact and without having it bestowed on them. Every human does have a right to exist. Period.

The issue I have with what Israel is doing to the Palestinians now is denying them their human rights. The Israeli government has proven time and again that if any government was bloodthirsty, it tops the bill in that department. The most unfair government there is, and certainly the only one which operates under an apartheid regime, and does so with impunity. Unjust. Unethical and completely rogue.

What started this whole war this time was the killing of three young Israelis. The Israeli government decided that Hamas is to blame, so it levels Gaza. Well, it’s been confirmed that Hamas didn’t have anything to do with that heinous incident. Yet, Netanyahu and co’s desperation for another bloodletting took that excuse to kill over 600 human beings and maim thousands more.

As tragic as it is, their deaths has not gone in vain. People now question Israel and its policies and the support it once enjoyed has certainly waned.

This conflict need to be resolved. Put down your guns and sit down and talk! Difficult as that may be, people in power need to have the real courage to do so. Having this conflict go on for tens if not hundreds of years isn’t going to benefit anyone.