Monday, October 24, 2011

Water systems in Oman

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Modern water systems for residential units normally include a plastic water tank mounted on the roof which provides water for the house or flat. The water is either piped in or the tank must be filled each week or so by trucked-in water. There are several "tricks" to learn about the system. Refrigerated tank water is rare, so during the summer the water in the tank becomes extremely hot due to the external temperatures. This is the water which flows to the showers, sinks and toilets. 
Water tank
      Therefore, it is common for residents to turn off their hot water heaters during the summer and use the hot/cold water spigots in reverse. The "hot" water is now cooler because it rests in the hot water heater tank in the cool indoors while the outdoor tank provides the hot water naturally heated by the sun. Also, it is important to keep up with the water level in the case of having to call the "water man" before the supply is completely diminished and one is left with no household water.

      Generally, people do not drink "tap" water, but buy bottles or have spring water delivered in five gallon drums that fit into a water machine. The tap water is safe as far I as know.
Omani Falaj
The ancient type of water system is called "afalaj." which was used in most villages throughout Oman providing water for irrigation and for personal use. Afalaj water comes from wells, underground water reserves and mountain water and is channeled down to villages through small canal like structures. Some afalaj carry warm water.

Omani Falaj

Roof tops with water tank

Omani roof tops in Batinah region

Friday, October 21, 2011

Arabic and Islamic themes in Frank Herbert's "Dune"

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Khalid from the Baheyeldin Dynasty blog has put together a great resource of Arabic and Islamic themes found in the science fiction novel and movie "Dune" by Frank Herbert.  Please check out the link below; it is worthwhile if you have interest in science fiction and/or Arabic language.

'What is not well known are the various Islamic undertones, and Arabic etymologies that Frank Herbert put in Dune. The purpose of this article is to try to list these themes, and trace them back to whatever Islamic concept there is (if any). The following list is derived from the above linked Lexicon, with some of my own addition. I try to explain what the term means in Herbert's novel, and what possible Arabic or Islamic terms it was derived from, and their original meaning.'

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Arabic Language Learning Resources


TOP Arabic Internet-based Resources / Arabic Courses offered in Oman listed at end of post
  1. Arabic Pod  //
    ArabicPod is a website dedicated to providing the most innovative, effective and fun methods for learning Arabic. We use the latest in web technologies to provide a rich learning experience delivering podcasts, videos, games and much more.
  2. Speak Arabic Quickly //
    Here you can learn a new sentence in Modern Standard Arabic every day, from Monday through Friday.

  3. GLOSS Defense Language Institute //
    Lessons are developed for independent learners to provide them with the learning/teaching tools for improving their foreign language skills.  Reading and listening lessons are based on authentic materials (articles, TV reports, radio broadcasts, etc.) and consist of 4 to 6 activities.

  4. Internet Polyglot //
    Internet Polyglot is dedicated to helping our members learn foreign languages by providing them a way to memorize words and their meanings. This helps your memory to grasp more information and retain it for longer time.

  5. Foreign Service Institute //
    Saudi Arabic Basic Course (Urban Hijazi Dialect)

  6. Bareem TV //
    Activities for kids in Arabic

  7. BBC Learning English (for Arabic speakers) //
    Listening and reading activities based upon current events. This site is for Arabic students learning English but works well in reverse. For intermediate to advanced students.
  8. / from Transparent Language
     Free download. Learn through online virtual flashcards with audio and script.
  9.   Read Arabic! //
    Funded by the US Department of Education, the materials of Read Arabic! were developed to provide online e-learning reading lessons aimed at beginning and intermediate students of the language.
  10.  Learning Arabic by Songs 

Arabic Courses in Oman
  1. Polyglot //  // MUSCAT
    Polyglot has always set an enviable standard for its courses in Arabic as a Foreign Language. Our courses are popular with both expatriates and Omani nationals, who may lack in-depth knowledge of the language, alike.

  2. Gulf Arabic Programme "GAP School" // // AL BURAIMI
    'Learn the spoken Gulf dialect of Arabic using a variety of methods and materials fitting a variety of learning styles, with an emphasis on communicating in Arabic with both fluency and accuracy.'

    This school is located in an old villa in Al Buraimi, Oman next to Al Ain, Emirates. They offer a full-time intensive programme for five hours/five days a week or private lessons. The school has developed its own curriculum and materials and teaches the local Gulf dialect as well as standard Arabic.

    Students come from the USA, Asia and Europe from many backgrounds and cultures. The teachers are local Omanis or Emiratis. The complete programme is two years (but not required), and one could achieve fluency to Level 3 as rated by the State Department. The cost is reasonable. If one wants to learn Arabic, this is a good place.
  3. World Learning Oman Center // MUSCAT Offers Arabic language learning courses.  Located in Muscat.

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About: This lists the best Arabic learning resources for Gulf Arabic

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

VOIP underground market flourishes under Omantel's block of Skype

Oman is one of a handful of countries that blocks Skype. Skype is a peer-to-peer phone service using an internet dialer. Even Oman's neighbor KSA allows Skype and does not consider it against the social, cultural and religious morals of the country. It appears the block's rational is based upon keeping up Omantel's profit margin.

Many low-wage expat workers are in need of inexpensive international phone service to keep in touch with their loved ones abroad. It is seemingly unfair these expats have to spend 10-20 OMR ($25 - $50) per month out of their 65-90 OMR ($169 - $234) salary on phone service to chat with their families and friends residing outside of Oman. A call to India is about 50 cents (200 baiza) peak time per minute according to Omantel's rates. So, if an expat called his family for 20 minutes per week in India, he would spend about $40 or 25% of his salary on telephone expense.

Hence, an underground market for VOIP phone service has developed and is flourishing in the Sultanate.  Selling alternate VOIP service has become a source of  "under the table" secondary income for many of the expat workers. One building cleaner I knew increased his salary by 50 OMR per month through sale of these services.

Many internet cafes have login codes for these VOIP dialers (they are printed on snippets of paper generally out of sight which you can discreetly request from the guy working there) for sale for at a cost of 3-4 OMR that give you about 12 hours international talk time. These login details work with VOIP dialers that can be downloaded to one's computer. Some of the dialers work on mobile phones with an operating system. Some common dialers which may work despite the block are:
  • MubarakTalk /
  • SwissVOIZ /
  • Viber / - 'Viber is an application for iPhone®, Android™, Windows Phone and Blackberry phones that lets you make free phone calls to anyone that also has the application installed.'
  • Gmail Voice/Hangouts / Works as of 2013
Pay VPN Services:

An alternate method to reach VOIP phone service such as Skype is to go through a proxy server. 
  • Http://  /  IMO Instant Messenger / Login and chat on Skype  Update: Microsoft (owns IMO) decided to not allow Skype due to competition in 2013.
  • UltraSurf /   or search for "ultrasurf" keyword in Google to get an alternate download site if the main site is blocked. It is about a one megabyte program. After connecting to the proxy, it is possible to connect to Skype or view other blocked sites in the Sultanate. These types of proxies were possibly created with the assistance of governments.

    'The tool was originally designed for internet users in Mainland China, where the internet is heavily censored and internet users' activities monitored. With the advent of Ultrasurf and other circumvention tools, these internet users are provided a lifeline to access and share information freely. After nearly a decade of development, our technology has proven extremely resilient and adaptable in the face of increasingly advanced censorship techniques and aggressive blocking attempts.'
  • Many company's have their own virtual tunnels which also seem to break the block if you are logged on.
In addition, it is possible to purchase an international SIM card (such as OneSim / which works in multiple countries through the internet.  Generally, the international rates are lower through this type of SIM card.

I sincerely hope the Sultanate of Oman will lift the block on Skype and on other censored sites on the basis that Oman considers itself to be a more open country (Oman is one of three countries worldwide that blocks Skype) and is currently spending billions to develop integrated tourism complexes (ITCs) along the Omani coast. It would be a step in the right direction for the country in opening for international tourism and in being more friendly towards international visitors and residents, as well as, in being a gesture of good will. Or, in alternate, provide a VOIP phone service for a reasonable cost through the local carriers.

Most of those who would use Skype are currently using other cheaper services either legally or illegally and have rejected Omani phone carrier service for this purpose. Last September, Omanis staged a "do not use Omantel for the whole day" in protest to Omantel's pricing policies publicized on SablatOman forum. I am not sure how successful it was; however, Omantel ran quite a few promotions that week.

Update 2013: Nawras is now offering international service through VOIP for 30% off - dial 0902 before the number and charging a rate of 49 bz per minute anywhere in the world between 8pm and 10 pm. Omantel has a similiar special. Omantel has unblocked Google Voice.

Skype: Blocked Website in Oman

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