A Hologram for the King

Friday night is family movie night in our household, not that that’s the only night of the week we watch movies, we often watch movies on Saturday night too, but well we don’t have a name for that, and that’s ok, because… well the laws of logic get a bit loose when you have kids.

Anyway, this past Friday, we watched ‘A Hologram for the King‘, starring Tom Hanks. It was movie of the week on iTunes, rentable for just $0.99, the trailer looked interesting, and I had heard some good things about it, so we went for it.

The movie is about a washed-up corporate salesman, who looks to change his luck by traveling to Saudi Arabia to try and sell his company’s holographic teleconferencing product to the King.

It was a light, nice comedic movie. Not Hanks’ best by far, but was still fun to watch, and gave us some good laughs here and there.

Most of all, I was really impressed by the co-star of the movie, American actor Alexander Black, who plays the role of Yousef, a Saudi chauffeur who befriends and drives Tom’s character around in the movie. He was really funny and truly nailed the Arabic language dialogue parts; even doing the Saudi dialect better than some of the non-Saudi native Arabic speakers in the movie.

Usually, all Arabic dialogue in movies and TV shows is very bad and extremely cringe-worthy, sometimes even when they have native speakers in them, where they just butcher the language and the dialects they’re trying to use, so this was definitely a pleasant surprise. Lots of respect to Alexander Black!

There was a romance portrayed between Alan (Hanks’ character) and Zahra, his saudi doctor (played by Sarita Choudhury), and even though I get the idea of introducing an element like this in the movie, it just felt a bit rushed, and wasn’t developed enough, considering the characters and the context.
Given the story unfolds in Saudi Arabia, it would have been a lot more complicated for Alan to meet Zahra the first time, let alone keep easily meeting her on several other occasions, and starting a relationship with her.

The movie was based off a Dave Eggers novel, so I just might throw that onto my to-read list, to check out soon, and see how the events play out in the book, hopefully in a bit more detail.

It was also good seeing Tunisian actor Dhaffer L’Abidine make an appearance in this movie, even if for a small and secondary role.

Overall, I’d say it was a good movie, and worth watching if you’re looking for something light and fun.

Departing Employees, Competitors And The Trust Factor

One of the misgivings I have about some companies’ corporate cultures is the notion that if an employee tenders their resignation and informs their manager that they have accepted a job at a competitor, that they automatically need to be pushed out of the company.

The main idea being to limit the possibility of the employee accessing any more information or any future plans and strategies that they might then go ahead and share with their new competing employer.

While the main premise of this may be valid in some cases, it should be very far from being the default automatic rule.

Not all companies deal with information or plans that are sensitive to such a high degree, not all employees have access to top secret data, and some employees already know all there is to know about the space they operated in. Long story short, there isn’t always something to hide or protect.

In the end of the day, every case is unique, and although the context of the company and the sensitivity of the information it deals with are big factors to consider, the biggest and most important factor in all this is the employee in question.

Are they trustworthy or not? Do they have strong work ethics or not?

Telling an employee that, just because you’ve told us you’re going to a competitor, you need to go right now, simply amounts to telling that person that you don’t trust them.

Regardless of how much time they’ve worked at the company, what kind of effort they’ve devoted to doing their job, the level of loyalty and trustworthiness they’ve displayed during their tenure at the company, and ignoring the fact that they were willingly transparent and honest regarding their next employer, you’re just dismissing it all, and saying that you don’t trust them, that you don’t believe they’ve got the integrity, ethics or morals to do what’s right and what’s professional!

That is a huge blow!

Putting myself in such a person’s shoes, I would find that insinuation highly offensive. I’d most definitely prefer to be fired for a valid reason or laid off, than for someone to shed any shadow of doubt on my trustworthiness, integrity or ethics, which are all values I live by and pride myself on.

If you have reason to believe that the person is untrustworthy and would leak company information, then they probably already have, and you probably should have done something about it sooner.

Otherwise, depending on how well you know the person, your level of trust in them, how loyal they’ve shown they are, how much they already know, and how involved they’ve been with decision-making or strategy-building, you can draw a line that defines how involved you want them to be during their last days at the company, and what you need their focus to be on; even if all that amounts to is knowledge transfer and tying up a few loose ends.

Trust your good people, and show them that you do, and they’ll live up to your expectations and very rarely, if ever, let you down. Don’t offend and alienate them, running the risk of losing their trust, and pushing them towards the scenario you’re trying to avoid.

Trust and respect are key in all our human relationships; and as hectic as things get at work, as much as we get carried away with the nitty-gritty details of it all, and as important as we think all those big projects and associated strategies and deadlines are; we need to always remember, that at the end of the day, we work with other human beings, that we build and foster human relationships with them, and that we need to do that with trust and respect.

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” – Stephen Covey

Walk Off The Earth – R.E.V.O

R.E.V.OCouple of days ago, I got home to find that my awesome wife had gone on and bought me Walk Off The Earth’s new album R.E.V.O, which was just released this week.

For those of you who don’t know Walk Off The Earth, they’re a very talented Canadian band that formed in 2006 in Burlington, Ontario, and has gained success around the world by making low-budget music videos of covers and originals. Their 5-people-playing-one-guitar interpretation of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” exploded on Youtube garnering well over 35 million views in under 2 weeks.

I’ve been hooked on the videos they’ve been posting on their YouTube channel for quite a while, and listening to some of their songs on Grooveshark; and both their original songs as well as their covers are just great music. I actually like their covers more than the versions by their original performers in most cases (e.g. Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble“).

The album has a combination of songs that Walk Off The Earth have recorded over the past while, some of which would be familiar to fans who follow their YouTube channel, and ones that are new tracks. It also includes their acoustic, 5-people-playing-one-guitar, cover of “Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye.

I’ve been listening to the album the past couple of days, and I totally recommend checking them and the album out. Some of my favorite tracks off the album are: Red Hands, Gang of Rhythm, Speeches, Summer Vibe, and No Ulterior Motives.

They’re another great example of an indie music band or artist that used YouTube to get their music out there, build a huge following, and then through that get a record deal to be able to further their dream of making more music at a more professional level.

It used to be gigs at clubs and auditions and such that would get the word out about new bands and artists, and even though that still happens obviously, there’s more and more reliance on the internet and specifically sites like YouTube and SoundCloud for the build-up phase.

And I think that’s the going to become the norm for all new music acts, where record labels only sign up bands and artists who have garnered enough attention and interest from people to take it to the next level.
It also gives some power to the bands and artists, where they have a bit more choice as to whether they want to go with a record label or not, and puts them in a stronger position during deal negotiations as they already have a fanbase and exposure to build upon.
Yet another way in which the music industry is being changed because of the internet.

Anyway, long story short, make sure you check out Walk Off The Earth and their music; and let me know what you think.

King Abdullah Of Jordan: Monarch In The Middle Of Controversy

King Abdullah IIA feature on The Atlantic about King Abdullah II of Jordan, “The Modern King in the Arab Spring”, was all the fuss on Tuesday all over Jordan’s news sites and on social media.

As someone who lived, studied, worked and got married in Jordan; there’s always a little place in my heart for the country, and I tend to try and catch up on what’s going on there every now and then.

I only got to read the full feature, which is pretty long, yesterday; and whoa, was that something!
The full feature can be found here “The Modern King in the Arab Spring”, and for some quick highlights, you can check out the New York Times’ article.

The article basically lays out what the king thinks of the internal players in Jordanian politics, the tribal leaders (whom he calls Dinosaurs), the General Intelligence Department (GID), the royal family, regional leaders, the Muslim brotherhood and more, painting them all mostly in a negative light.
Now all of these things aren’t that shocking in the sense that the king or anyone else thinks that way, heck I agree with most of the opinions in the article; what’s more shocking is that they’re released and made public this way, bypassing any of the usual PR or diplomacy filters we’ve gotten so used to from political leaders and their offices.

After the article was published, the Royal Hashemite Court responded saying that the article included “many fallacies and took matters out of their correct context.” Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote the piece, confirmed on Twitter that both he and the royal court have recordings of the interviews, and that they’re well in context.

All that in mind, I’m going to lean more towards thinking that the Royal Hashemite Court is just scrambling to contain and get rid of this internal nightmare situation, while the article remains mostly accurate.

Many people think that maybe the king’s comments were made off the record, and they do really seem like things that would be said off the record, rather than on the record; but I don’t think that’s the case, I actually think the king intended these comments to come out exactly the way they did.
Why he’d do that? What exactly the reasoning and objective behind it is, isn’t that clear; but what’s for sure is it’s quite a gamble.

Continue reading King Abdullah Of Jordan: Monarch In The Middle Of Controversy

Tunisia’s Political Confidence Crisis

Tunisian FlagIt’s been just over two years since the Tunisian revolution that overthrew Ben Ali took place, almost a year and a half since the election of the constituent assembly, and the country just got its fourth temporary government.

The economy, security, and the whole country in general aren’t in good shape at all, to say the least. And there’s nothing so far that suggests things are going to get any better anytime soon. To be fair, this can’t all be blamed solely on the governments the country has had over the past period, but on the other hand, those governments only seem to make things worse somehow.

The constituent assembly is behind schedule in getting the new constitution ready, and the elections have been pushed back too. The latest announcements mention the end of April as the target date to get the draft of the new constitution ready, and the end of June or early July as the date it could get adopted on the first reading; If that happens, legislative and presidential elections could maybe happen end of October.
However if the constitution only gets adopted through a second reading or a referendum, that would push back the date for the elections even further.

From all the bickering that’s been going on within the constituent assembly, I think it might be safe to assume that it’s pretty improbable the constitution will sail through easily and get adopted on the first reading. If we’re optimistic, it might go through on the second reading, assuming the constituent assembly want to save face and not further demonstrate how utterly useless they’ve been, and if not then referendum it is.
I won’t go into the possible scenario where the constitution gets shot down by the people through the referendum, so I don’t sound too pessimistic.

Anyway, election-wise, we could be looking at December or January of next year for the elections to happen; People will be asked to go out and vote for who they want to run the country, who they want to see in parliament and who they’d like as president.
And that’s where a big problem arises, do the Tunisian people really trust anyone for those responsibilities at this point?

Continue reading Tunisia’s Political Confidence Crisis

ThunderCats Are Back With A New 2011 TV series

Of all the animated series I watched as a kid back in the 80′s, ThunderCats was probably the one I enjoyed the most, and that popped up first in my mind whenever I took a little trip down memory lane throughout the years.

I’m not sure what it was exactly that fascinated me about it all and what got me so hooked on it and attached to the different characters and storyline; but it’s safe to say that it stuck to me, and still is to this day in some way; in fact, one of my favorite t-shirts that I wear whenever I can is a ThunderCats shirt I bought a few years back from an HMV store.

Enough about the past though, let’s return to the present; the ThunderCats are back!
Yes, Warner Bros. Animation have rebooted the series with animation provided by the Japanese Studio 4°C, and it’s currently airing on the Cartoon Network every Friday night.

I realized this after the series had already started, and only got to catch up with all the 7 episodes that have been aired so far this past weekend. And it was really fun watching it; the little boy in me just loved it!

Initially I was afraid they’d mess it all up and ruin it for me and other fans, but I have to say they’ve done quite a good job with it. The only thing that irked me a bit is the new look the different characters got, I like their looks from the original series much better; in this version they all have this Japanese anime elf-like look, which is annoying and doesn’t fit some of the characters at all (especially Lion-O and Cheetara).

Other than that though, it’s really good and fun; they took the story back and gave the characters more history and personality, developing the story slightly differently than the original, but still in an interesting way, where instead of the Cats being stranded on a new planet as in the original, they actually rule Third Earth and are seen by some as the powerful oppressors, who are attacked and their city of Thundera targeted and destroyed.

The story at this point follows Lion-O as he takes on the role of King after the passing of his father, and as he goes on a quest to find the Book of Omens.

Another great thing about this new 2011 series is that I got to introduce my 5 year old son Adam to it, and he just loved it too. In fact, as I was writing this he saw the image I included above and started asking if we could watch some other episodes of ThunderCats today.

At the end of this post, all I can say is that I really enjoyed watching the new series and will be making sure to watch the new episodes every week.

As for you dear reader, if you were a fan of ThunderCats in the 80′s, then you should definitely check this out; if you weren’t, well this is your chance to redeem yourself and discover a great series.

On Hiring & Keeping Great People…

…If you want to hire great people and have them stay working for you, you have to let them make a lot of decisions and you have to, you have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy. The best ideas have to win, otherwise good people don’t stay.

Steve Jobs

Circumcising Ministers & Members Of Parliament

As someone who spent a good chunk of his childhood years in Zimbabwe, and who holds very fond memories of the country, I always have an eye open for developments happening in that spot of southern Africa.

Unfortunately, the news coming out of there for the past couple of decades has been nothing short of depressing most of the time, as the country continues to be driven deeper into crisis by a leader who totally lost the plot, and went from a position in which he’d have been regarded as a great man in the country’s history to yet another dictator whose end will be greatly celebrated.

However, a quirky piece of news grabbed my attention about a new initiative that’s being introduced in Zimbabwe.

The Government has introduced a new initiative that should see all male Cabinet ministers undergoing circumcision; Members of Parliament and councillors are also earmarked for the second round of the exercise.

There is a reason behind this, which is that it’s part of a new programme that seeks to promote this mode of fighting the spread of HIV and AIDS. According to research, male circumcision is one of the ways of preventing the spread of the virus with reports indicating that the reduction can be up to 60 percent.

Pretty extreme take on leading by example, and yet another instance of the kind of madness the likes of Mugabe and Gadhafi represent.

But imagine if this initiative was taken and applied as a policy across the world, not to promote HIV/AIDS prevention, but rather to promote recycling of governments and ministers? I bet if ministers and members of parliament had to get circumcised at the beginning of every new term in government, past their initial one, we’d see a lot less of them clinging on to their seats, and a lot more fresh blood in governments (no pun intended).

Tunisia: The Land Of A 1001 Political Parties

It’s been just a bit over 55 years since Tunisia got its independence from France; 55 years through which the country and its people, almost three generations of Tunisians, knew only 2 presidents, 1 political party and no options whatsoever.

Sure, there were a handful of other political parties in the country, some recognized as legal opposition and others banned and illegal; it didn’t matter what their status was though, other than occasionally hearing their names around play-election time, the average Tunisian on the streets had no idea who they were or what they stood for; after all, why bother when they had no chance, and were either willingly or unwillingly nothing more than puppets in a game of “let’s act like we’re a democracy”, that would end with the mighty “chosen one” winning yet another mandate.

And even though it seemed like things would go on forever that way defying all laws of nature and logic, it all started crumbling down and falling apart suddenly and to everyone’s surprise. The date of January 14th 2011 earned a place in history books, marking the end of an era and the beginning of a new one for the country.

Following that, and in full post-revolutionary spirit, raising the banner of freedom and political pluralism, the doors were thrown wide open for all existing political parties to be recognized, and well for everyone and anyone who would like to take a go at it to register their new fresh political party too. The more the merrier, or something like that.

Political parties started popping up like fungi all over the place, putting in applications and getting legalized in batches of tens and dozens. Some of the names leading these new parties are ones Tunisians are slightly familiar with someway or another, some are members of the old guard who served for years on the dark side but yet seem to think Tunisians will believe they weren’t in on the action or that they hold the secret to a post-RCD cleaning and purification process, and then there are the ones most Tunisians never ever heard of.

All of a sudden, Tunisians went from a situation where the political scene was a quasi-empty one and it was normal that they knew no one, to a situation where the scene has burst open at the seams with new parties joining the carnival every day and yet they have the feeling they still don’t really know anyone.

A very important election on July 24th 2011 is inching closer and closer, an election that will carry enormous ramifications for the country and its future, and yet the Tunisian political scene is a big mess and in total disarray, buzzing with a variety of political party names most people can’t translate into positions or agendas they can identify or not identify with.

Political pluralism is great, but too much political pluralism kills political pluralism, or however the saying goes; there’s no way people are going to be able to keep up with over 65 political parties (as of today, who knows about tomorrow); and as we really need as many Tunisians as possible to get involved in the process, exercise their rights and vote for the future of the country; this is obviously not the right way forward.

Now, I think it’s very obvious that there’s no way all these parties will or can come up with entirely different agendas and platforms; in fact once they actually get around to putting their agendas together, it should be pretty easy to put them all in buckets of parties that pretty much stand for the same ideas and principles. Logically, these should be merged, and should pool whatever resources they have to be able to get their message out and start rallying supporters around a clear programme.

Consolidation. That is the keyword; that’s what the next step should be, and it should be done quickly, so that things can be taken to the next level, and so people can start making more sense of what’s out there.
Even though it might seem slightly counter-intuitive to many politicians, but logically speaking they have better chances of getting to power when grouped and merged together, with more resources, more exposure and less competition spitting out the exact same recycled message.
It’s starting to happen already, with a couple of parties who just announced their union and who might be getting a third party on board with them; but we need all political parties out there to be thinking the same way: who could we potentially team up with to win?

By doing that, not only would these political parties increase their chances of winning, but they’d also positively contribute to creating winning conditions for the country and the people, by making it easier for all Tunisians to get involved, make their informed picks and vote for the future.

Tunisia, Canada, Elections And I – Quick Reflections

Unfortunately, I haven’t been writing as much as I used to or want to on here; a combination of being busy with life and work, distracted by the rise of Twitter and me getting tired of following the daily news of the world for a while.

Anyway, in the past few months, true to my inner nomadic nature, we’ve picked up and moved again, this time from Dubai, UAE to Ontario, Canada. We’ve settled down in the city of Mississauga, part of the Greater Toronto Area, and things have been going good so far; almost settled down.

During the period that I’ve been here, a revolution took place back home in Tunisia, which then started spreading across the Arab world; while over here in Canada, the country was plunged into an unscheduled national election, which has been very interesting to witness for me.

I don’t get to vote in the elections here, but still, I’ve been following the campaign very closely, watching the debates both in English and French, looking at the platforms the political parties are putting forward, watching interviews with leaders and MPs, reading opinion pieces and blogs, and making my own opinions on issues and who I’d vote for if I were able to.

I have to say, I’ve been truly enjoying the whole process; maybe it’s because I never got to experience something similar back home in Tunisia, or maybe it’s because I’m living here now and actually do care about who will take over power and what they’ll do with it, or most probably it’s a combination of both.

However, and even though the Canadian election system might not be entirely perfect, I always find myself thinking every time: how I wish we could have something like this in Tunisia; how I wish we could have real engaging debates, real talk shows and reports asking the hard questions, very well written opinion pieces and analysis published in the media, …etc.

How I wish we Tunisians could go into an election we don’t already know the results for!
This year hopefully we will, on July 24th 2011, Tunisians will get to vote and choose a constituent assembly that will rewrite the constitution and chart the country’s transition and future.
The hope is that the interim government, political parties and Tunisian media step up to the plate and give us a great free election experience that opens the doors for a better and more mature political system in the country.

It’s going to be a real challenge because neither the people, nor the officials in the current government, nor the leaders of the political parties, and especially not the Tunisian media have any experience with a free and democratic election; but this is the occasion to go for it, aim for the stars, learn as we go and make Tunisia the first Arab country to hold truly democratic elections that produce results that represent the will of the people.

As citizens our responsibility is to find out as much as we can about every party, what they stand for, what their plans are and to push the media for better coverage and reporting on the elections and require the government and parties to provide higher transparency on every issue. So let’s make sure we all go out and do that.

Oh and on a final separate note, for those of you who are curious who I’d vote for if I could in Canada; well even though the Liberal Party of Canada is generally more aligned with my ideas and opinions, I’d vote for the NDP (New Democratic Party) because their leader Jack Layton won me over in the debates and I believe he would make a better Prime Minister and leader for Canada.