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The Reason Innovation is Dead in Bahrain

The Reason Innovation is Dead in Bahrain

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A 300MB movie takes ALL EFFIN’ MORNING TO UPLOAD.

Tell me how this is helping innovation in Bahrain?

The slow speed and high cost of broadband Internet here ensures that innovation is dead in Bahrain. Shouldn’t someone pay attention to this? Isn’t knowledge capital the only thing we could have in Bahrain as every other resource is either depleted or just not available? Isn’t the fix more than readily available? Shouldn’t an island as small as ours be encased in free wireless broadband that will strategically encourage innovation?

This is so frustrating.

Ridiculous.


Update: After that tirade, I called my ISP (MenaTelecom) and they chirplilly told me that I’m out of bandwidth. Their suggestion? I’m on a “very old package” that has been replaced now with a lower price and more bandwidth capacity and newer devices. Yes. It doesn’t seem to be their policy to tell their incumbent clients of this new thing, but only do so when they complain.

I’m paying BD45 for 60GB per month at 10mbps. The new package is BD40 per month for 200GB and higher speed!

Go. [email protected] figure.


Meanwhile in other places in the world:

According to Starkloff, “Everyone has a bit of a different definition of what 5G is. But it’s the next iteration of cellular standards, with a goal of a 50 times faster data rate than the most advanced Wi-Fi networks today. To give an example, the expectation is that a 5G network can stream a two-hour movie in less than three seconds.”

start weeping by reading more about 5G

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My favourite apps

My favourite apps

iphone-appsI can’t live without my iPhone. It has become an invaluable business and personal communication tool. Like most, I use the computing functionality of the device much more than the telephone. I suspect that I do most of my internet usage through it, rather than my laptop or iPad.

Like most, I suspect, I must have evaluated hundreds of apps over the years. Only a handful remain faithfully in my iPhone that I use on a daily basis. Here is my list:

Primary apps

  • Evernote
    This is my main application. I’ve got it running on all my devices and it receives my braindump on a regular basis. It also holds many in-progress projects; from scripts to blog posts as well as web clippings and information gems that I might require from time to time. Its beauty is extended in its integration into web browsers so much so that if I search for something on the web, it puts out any relevant search results on the very same page too. Absolutely brilliant product and a must.

  • Dropbox
    I do everything on the cloud, and Dropbox – which is an Amazon services front end – is where I put everything. Secure and safe. I don’t particularly care what happens to my computer or any other device as most of my files are stored on the cloud. The practicality of this is astounding. I’m at my desk, virtually, any where I sit at a computer or get a connection through whatever device.

  • Reminders
    A native app now in iOS and on MacOS; I find it very useful for creating lists of todos. Its beauty is that you get a list of current and overdue reminders at a click of a button, and you can assign priority and date/time for each item. I would have liked a third dimension to the Reminders; attaching notes or pictures would be nice, but I guess that’s where EverNote comes in.

Utilities

  • 1Password
    I don’t use any normal passwords and don’t bother remembering any. With 1Password I just use it to generate and remember 16 characters. Try breaking that!

  • DocScanner
    I use this to scan everything: invoices, receipts, magazine articles, my hand-written notes, etc and get them fed directly into EverNote as PDFs where I can further mark them up. EverNote of course has an intelligent OCR function which actually understands a lot of my scribbles. Makes it quite handy!

There you have it. My most important apps. Do you have any preferences? Please share.

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Bye VIVA, it’s not been fun

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After a year of painfully using Viva’s mediocre but much over-hyped internet offering in Bahrain, I’ve terminated both contracts for my home and office. The best speed I could get out of Viva was something like 4mbps and that was flaky. As far as the uploads are concerned, I don’t think I got much more than 512kbps, and yes, that was flaky too. As a media company with daily uploads and downloads of large files, we couldn’t take it any more. To prevent a complete riot (the guys were suspiciously building a platform in our back garden, when I saw a trap door being modelled in its floor, I knew I had to do something!)

VIVA Bahrain internet broadband offering is a disappointment

So I wend back to Batelco. Paying more than five times the price (BD160 for a business line at 8mbps) is a pleasure for at least having a dependable (well, mostly dependable) connection with an upload speed of approximately 1mbps (well, most days) although the promise was double that.

Here’s the result of a speedtest I did just now:

Batelco internet speed test
What irks me most about these continuous episodes of disappointment with operators and their prices, is the TRA who’s supposed to oversee these companies and force them to at least live up to their promises doesn’t seem to be doing much.

Why is it that Viva is allowed to advertise “Up to 48Mbps” and “Fastest internet in Bahrain” when in real life their dismal speed in most areas I’ve looked at doesn’t even exceed 10Mbps? Certainly both at my home (Barbar area) and office (Abu Sayba area) all we experienced was 4Mbps almost throughout the one year of installation.

When asked by the attendant this morning while cancelling both lines and told him that I was dissatisfied with the speed, he repeated what I got to know as the “Viva party line”: “but even if you get 2Mbps, it’s good enough as our promise is up to 48Mbps!”

Yes sure. Have it your way. Mine is – as a customer – is complete disappointment. And the way I vote, is through my wallet and you’re no longer getting that.

TRA, do what you’re supposed to do, otherwise cowboys will continue to rule the scene and the country will continue to suffer the uncompetitiveness which has become its way of life.

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The efficacy of Internet filtering

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If there ever was a reason not to trust Internet filters, even from a world authority like McAfee in this case, then the blocking of my friend Amira Al-Hussaini’s website is a case in point. For some reason, the “smart filter”, which is purportedly used by most telcos in the Gulf, has mistakenly categorised her site as pornographic! How utterly ludicrous.

What’s even more ridiculous is the government’s insistence on a big-brotherly attitude and its taking our place as human beings, parents, teachers and mentors and arbitrarily deciding on what is proper for us to view on the Internet and what is not. So it’s not too much of a surprise to see it using such software which is configured most probably to be have a free hand in controlling what a whole nation should be allowed to witness.

Is this not an embarrassment on their part? Will they ever learn and give us the option of choosing what we wish to view and what to ignore?

I’m afraid with their current method of thinking, there’s not much hope.

Someone, please manually remove http://sillybahrainigirl.blogspot.com from your infernal lists, and while you’re at it, fix that so called feedback form so that situations like this can get resolved in a civilised manner.

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Bahrain redefines the WWW

Yes, it’s that time of the year again. A new information Tzar at the helm of the “Information Authority” (or if you prefer, the Misery of Information redux); hence, the very first thing which happens is…. yes, you guessed it: ban some web sites, blogs and even political society websites. All that just ahead of the national elections too. Brilliant. The excuse for closing them is not different from all the previous occasions; however, the new new thing is…

أكد عضو الأمانة العامة في جمعية الوفاق الوطني الإسلامية محمد المزعل، أن رئيس هيئة شئون الإعلام الشيخ فواز بن محمد آل خليفة أبلغه بأن إزالة الحظر عن موقع الوفاق الإلكتروني مرهون بوقف بث المواد الفيلمية والصوتية
على الموقع، والتي تأتي في إطار البث المباشر لفعاليات الوفاق، الذي أعلنت عنه قبل أيام وأطلقت عليه اسم «الوفاق TV».

 

قال المزعل: «الشيخ فواز اعتبر أن إعلان الوفاق عن إطلاق بث تلفزيوني على موقعها الإلكتروني مخالفاً للقانون، ووعد بأنه في حال إلغاء هذا النوع من البث سيتم إلغاء الحظر عن الموقع الإلكتروني في اليوم نفسه»، وأضاف «من جهتي أبلغت الأمانة العامة للجمعية بما أكده الشيخ فواز وهي بدورها ستقوم بدراسة الموضوع للرد على الهيئة»

Al-Wasat – 5 Sept 2010

 

The Information Authority stipulates the removal of the live broadcasting functionality from alwefaq.tv in order to reestablish access to Al-Wefaq’s website

According to Mohammed Al-Mizaal, an Al-Wefaq secretariat member, the head of the Information Authority Shaikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa told him tha the removal o the ban on the Al-Wefaq’s website is subject to them stopping the live broadcasting of video and audio on their site, as has been recently announced which the society dubbed “Al-Wefaq TV”

Al-Mizaal said that he was told by Shaikh Fawaz that Al-Wefaq’s announcing this functionality is unlawful and that once Al-Wefaq rescinds that decision, the website will be unblocked on the same day. Al-Mizaal informed the secretariat which will in turn study the situation before tendering their response to the Authority.

Shaikh Fawaz didn’t come with anything new as he re-iterated what Dr. Abdulla Yateem, the Undersecretary of Press & Publications has previously said about a recent similar recent incident when he warned another website not to use the term “broadcast” or “TV” in advertising its functionally.

Worrying, isn’t it? On several levels. One that it doesn’t seem to matter who the minister or head is, the policy never changes, we’ve gone through more than 5 ministers in that ministry, and all have toed a very similar line. The second, which is more dangerous and unwieldy is that what was supposed to be a World Wide Web, something which was supposed to shrink the world into a small informationally-connected village, is, as far as Bahrain is currently concerned, is more like a “WALLED Wide Web” with only the sanctioned and sanctified information allowed to be seen, heard and interacted with. And thus, another window of opportunity for innovation is resolutely shut.

Quite unfortunate really. The whole Internet now is about rich content. About interactive video, gaming, animation, and live programing one could access from a simple smart phone through to affordable personal computers, allowing people to connect with each other, building bridges and crossing cultures increasing world understanding which is the bedrock of peace. Yet, in our country what we find are high walls being continuously built to deter people from even approaching the possibility of cross-cultural understanding.

Is it then a surprise that we continue to be a physical and virtual island in the midst of a highly connected world? What does an action like this tell the world about us? A retarded and afraid society unwilling to open up to the world? Or does it really only reflect badly on the government as the will, tools and knowledge are widely and readily available to all and sundry in Bahrain with which the circumvention of those unreasonable walls is easily achieved?

I once again urge the government to rethink its Internet strategies and take the courageous steps to ensure easy and unfettered access, because it has been proven once and again that none of the adopted measures so far actually worked, and they never will.


Blogged at above 40,000 feet, in an American Airlines 767 with integrated and uncensored WiFi Internet connectivity flying from San Francisco to New York on Sept 5th, 2010.

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The Blackberry Ban

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Bahrain started it. UAE happily followed, and of course Saudi rushes headlong into the gap and slaps an apparent full ban on the Blackberry services. Now, one country after another is announcing or at least mulling how they too can find an excuse to apply their band on a service that has revolutionised how people communicate on the go.

The scariest device so far invented to authoritarian regimes?

The ever [wannabe] creative Lebanon now ups the anti a bit further, and says that it’s mulling banning the Blackberry services because:

the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority chairman said Beirut will assess security concerns about the smartphones following the arrest of several telecoms employees suspected of spying for Israel. AFP/MSN

There you go, now the remaining 18 Arab countries will all be “contemplating” and many Muslim countries in our illustrious Umma will take this lead (which now officially contains the required passwords: spying and Israel) and will run with it. But they won’t stop at banning Blackberry services, oh no, as their intention is to cut us off from knowledge, choice and the rest of the world, they will expedite their encroachment on curtailing the Internet under this and many other guises.

If we pause a little and try to think about this latest situation rationally, I think one thing which is not said will ultimately be understood: our countries are built on notions of Big Brother. From the way that the religion is applied through to the current crop of political systems, they are all built on the state’s requirement to know every single insignificant thing we do and even think! Their security apparatus is built to serve that requirement, watching every single subject (we really don’t have any “citizens” in our countries, just subjects) is watched. They know every single thing we do, good and bad, and am sure that should they wish, they can blackmail us with information in their files, something that they’re not too shy about doing, and of course, regard for the country’s image in international spheres is immaterial.

With the advent of encryption such as those used by Blackberry and other devices, they suddenly realised that they no longer have immediate access to that information pipe. No matter how much money they throw at decryption and monitoring devices, it’ll take those devices a long time to decode messages, and if and when they do, that piece of information’s useful life would have already expired.

I’m sort of glad that the people who are put in charge of the security apparatus in our countries, are almost always political appointees. Almost no consideration is ever really given to appointee’s technical knowledge, management expertise or even common sense. Loyalty and the ability of the guiltless application of brute and overwhelming force on the other hand, are the top considerations. Therefore, it’s natural that high technology was not molested beyond the usual ham-fisted bans on the usual ogre: block dissenting sites and obfuscate the ban with imbecilic explanations as “corrupting the youth” or “pornographic” or “anti-Muslim” or “anti-Culture”. Of course, these blocks are easily circumvented, thus showing the frivolity of the tools employed to effect the ban, and much more importantly, demonstrates their complete misunderstanding of how the Internet actually works.

It’s too much to hope that with this latest brouhaha around the Blackberry services that they’re starting to actually understand how things work. Not by a long shot. They once again applied 18th century brute-force and blackmail methods to try to “solve” a 21st century technology. These countries’ resort to threats against the Blackberry, apart from making us all as Arab and Muslim human beings the deserved laughing stock of the world, have increased the animosity and disdain the world holds us in.

What is it that the RIM chief said?

“This is about the Internet,” Mr. Lazaridis said. “Everything on the Internet is encrypted. This is not a BlackBerry-only issue. If they can’t deal with the Internet, they should shut it off.” WSJ.com – 5 Aug 2010

Indeed.

If they can’t deal with the Internet, they should shut it off.

And they shall. Given half a chance. And you know what, the sheep that we have been conditioned to be over centuries will just take it in our stride, won’t complain, and will actually start suggesting “alternatives” and that we don’t need the “Western model of the Internet. We’re going to do our own Islamically sanctified version which – by the grace of Allah – will be much better and more secure than the Western decadent version.”

And our incumbent telecoms company seems to be doing just that, or at least preparing for that eventuality:

Batelco responds to Blackberry Customers Concerns about possible Suspension of Service

In response to continued speculation, Batelco has announced that it is working to ensure that any inconvenience will be minimized for its Blackberry customers if Batelco is directed to suspend some Blackberry services such as the popular messenger or email.

“We want to assure all our Blackberry customers that Batelco is working on alternative offers to minimize any inconvenience should some services be suspended,” said Batelco Group General Manager Media Relations Ahmed Al Janahi.

“We will fully comply with any directive to suspend some Blackberry services, should such be issued, as this is a legal obligation on Batelco,” continued Mr. Al Janahi.

“It’s not proper to speculate what the specific alternative offers will be at this stage. Our Marketing and Sales teams are finalizing such offers. We believe that no Batelco customer should be financially penalized if limitations are placed on some Blackberry services – we will address all customers’ concerns as quickly as practicable,” he stated.

Batelco confirmed that no formal directive has been received to date.

“At this stage it is prudent to plan for such a scenario and proactively inform our customers to minimize any concerns they may have. Our commitment to our customers is that we will minimize their inconvenience,” concluded Mr. Al Janahi.

All updates on this matter will be posted on our website http://www.batelco.com/blackberryupdate

What did you expect? They release a statement contesting the ban on the basis of unconstitutionality and the direct negative consequence to their shareholders’ profitability? Do you really expect that any other operator in our country would do such a thing? No of course not. They’ll continue to submissively acquiesce to governmental dictates, regardless of how farcical they are. The situation is very much the same – or actually worse – in every other Arab country. Without exception.

So what are we to do?

  • I would suggest that we secure ALL of our electronic communications: you want to surf? put an “s” in the URL and surf securely. Almost all sites will have this already enabled and you would be able to access a site if you use “http://” or “https://” – try it, it’s the easiest thing to do.
  • If that doesn’t work, use a Virtual Private Network tunnel to access the Internet and send/receive your email – VPN uses encryption which is hard to break
  • Surf the Net using a program like Hotspot Shield, if you find this link blocked, you now know why! By the way, as this application uses VPN to “hide” your source and destinations, it’s an effective application to circumvent website blocks. Surf to your heart’s content!
  • Encrypt your email

What else is there that you can do as a human being who respects himself? Easy, send a short email or fax to the TRA or whatever government organisation overseeing telecommunications in your country. Simple tell them that as a “citizen” you oppose any governmental interference to access to information, including the blocking of services or websites. If enough people do this, they might – just might – put public opposition in their psyche and they might – just might – think a little longer before blocking a site or service. Even if they don’t, at least YOU have done YOUR duty.

In Bahrain, please send an email to the TRA at the following address:

Telephone: 80088888
Fax: 17532523
e-mail: [email protected]

A sample letter might contain the following:

Dr. Mohammed Ahmed Al-Amer
Chairman
Telecommunications Regulatory Authority
Kingdom of Bahrain

6 August 2010

Dear sir,

I believe that the only way that our country can prosper in a highly competitive global environment is by its clear and unequivocal adoption of modern and secure communication technologies, unencumbered with governmental control.

Therefore, I strongly urge you to remove any ban applied to websites, data communication ports or communication devices’ services and refuse the application of such restrictions should they not be demonstrably and justifiably obtained through the respected judicial apparatus, always keeping in mind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its attendant rights to access to information. Doing so, the TRA will indeed go a long way into establishing a communications environment that enriches the social and commercial fabric of the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Yours sincerely,

Your Name
Address

UPDATE: Bahraini Crown Prince Shaikh Salman Al-Khalifa weighs in on the debate and terms those who block BBM services as “Ignorant, short sighted and unenforceable.” via FM @khalidalkhalifa Twitter account:

Crown prince Salman personally insuring that BBM service will not stop.”Decision to stop it is ignorant,short sighted and unenforceable”

Good! Excellent! Now let’s take this to the next step and codify it so that no one else dares suggest it in the future. And while on the subject, it’s high time to approve the new Press & Publications law which enshrines freedom of the press, unblock the thousands of sites which are administratively banned and ensure that any further website blocks are only done via the judiciary (and not administratively) and unblock the “Breaking News” service on BlackBerries which has been blocked earlier.

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Blocking sites gains momentum

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and Pakistan (as well as Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iran I suspect) are going frantic over blocking websites they find… uh… offensive to their delicate sensibilities:

“Before shutting down (YouTube), we did try just to block particular URLs or links, and access to 450 links on the Internet were stopped, but the blasphemous content kept appearing so we ordered a total shut down,” he said.

Quite natural isn’t it? They block hundreds of websites, they admit that the adopted measures don’t work, so what do they do? Fuck it, shut down access to the whole global site which is enjoying 2 billion views a day. What the hell, their (and our) people don’t need this shite anyway right? Numerically, we’re about 600 years behind the world (according to the literal numbers on our calendars) so why not change that esoteric figure into an actual condition?

But the YouTube shutdown was in 2007. What, one might ask, do the innovative Pakistani authorities have in their magic turban for this year?

Well Facebook of course!

A Foreign Office spokesman condemned the publication of caricatures of the Muslim prophet on Facebook and urged countries to “address the issue” which he said was an “extremely sensitive and emotional matter for Muslims.”

“Such malicious and insulting attacks hurt the sentiments of Muslims around the world and can not be accepted under the garb of freedom of expression,” the spokesman, Abdul Basit, told a weekly briefing.

cloaked? for heaven’s sake cloaked? Freedom of expression need to be cloaked? Did the guy never hear of the Human Rights declarations at all? Oh I’m sorry, if it comes to attacking our illustrious and great religion our method of confronting that is not negotiation, promoting understanding or simply ignoring the jibes, but no, we have to demonstrate how weak our religion is by summarily banning, outcasting, boycotting or even executing those who “dare” to criticise; thus, confirming the now common precept that Islam is weak.

Stupid. Disgusting. Un-Islamic even.

But wait, there’s more!

After the PTA’s directives against Facebook and YouTube, Pakistani mobile companies blocked all Blackberry services on Wednesday night but restored services used by non-corporate users later on Thursday.

Now I wonder where they got that particular idea from? Oh wait! It’s us! It’s us! We – the great Bahraini Nation – are the pioneers in blocking Blackberry services! Yippeee, we have something to be really proud of!

You know what also worries me about this? The people in the picture. People demonstrating in favour of giving up their god-givin human rights.

I fully expect that Bahrain, already blocking hundreds if not thousands of sites under the precept of protecting us from ourselves, will now take head of the “Pakistani model” and go ahead and block the most important sites on the Internet, because, wait for it… blocking specific URLs didn’t work…

Read the full Reuters report here.

Gute Nacht.

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Continued frustration with throttled connections, solved?

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I’ve done everything I could to limit the use of the internet in the house just so that at least we go past two weeks before I get the dreaded “you’re it” message from our beloved Batelco.

The record was 12 days.

Since they upgraded the package to 4MB, which is just a few weeks ago, we got the 75% warning yesterday, so I doubt very much that we’ll get to the record 12 days this time. The kids swear that they’re not downloading much, just watching YouTube sometimes and surfing. Just normal Internet activity to them really, they haven’t been reared on a 300 baud connection with BD600 a month telephone bills, so what do they know? To them, it’s like the air they breath, just second nature.

They got incensed when I limited their Internet access between 8am to 8pm with a complete blackout after 8pm.

Weird. Even with that, we bust the limit. Something I am highly skeptical of. No, we don’t have viruses nor trojans that I know of. We’re exclusively on Macs, one desktop and 4 laptops (5 with mine when I bring it over), so the only thing that is permanently connected is the iMac.

What is a man to do then? Especially when my business depends on the Internet and I have to carry on working when I get home? Well, get a higher bandwidth limit of course. Therefore, the call went to Batelco yesterday to upgrade our package to 8MB which comes with a 40GB limit. That should get us to approximately a 3 week limit before we bust that at the rate we’re going.

They checked the line and called me today: our lines coming into the house can’t handle more than 5 and a bit Mbps. Damn. Well, as the main reason for thinking of this package is really bandwidth rather than speed, I told them to just go ahead. Those 15GB/month extra would easily make up the difference in price.

Today, the deed was done.

Let’s see how long it lasts.

If you have any ideas why we’re eating up bandwidth like this, I would like to hear them.

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