Saturday Jan 14 (Happy Birthday Laura!), and it's the first day back at school here after the Christmas break, so it's also Elliot & Abigail's first day at the British International School, Riyadh (see links section on the right for the school's website).
School starts early here (0750), and it's a 25 minute drive away from home, so all that meant getting up at 6am to be ready in time for our driver to pick us up at 0710 - not sure I can do this every day!
Got to school and the children were warmly received at Reception by their respective form teachers, and after a brief chat we waved them goodbye as they were led by the teachers off to their classrooms. Karen said she felt just like she did when a 5-year-old Elliot had his first day at primary school.
Karen and I got back home before 9am, and while Karen went off to her first day's work at the Embassy, I steeled myself to resume my battle with Saudi internet access.
Those non-techies among my readership can stop reading now, as the rest of this post is very geeky.
Broadband is available here but the maximum speed available is 256Kb, and that costs around £40 per month. I am ordering that but it'll have to wait until I can get it installed into our permanent house, so for the next few weeks I'm stuck with either dial-up at home, or trying to get on a wireless network in the Embassy grounds; both of which work after a fashion but each has it's own pitfalls and frustrations, and between the two of them I'm being driven slowly bonkers.
Commercially available dial-up is in the form of pre-pay cards: you buy a credit card sized plastic card at the supermarket in your choice of access time: anything from 10 hours to unlimited for a period of time.
I bought one month's unlimited access for the equivalent of around £15, and all you do is use the phone number and proxy server printed on the back of the card, and scratch off to reveal your userid and password.
The service is pants. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. It's slow, unpredictable, prone to disconnection without notice, and several protocols are blocked or otherwise disabled by the Kingdom's filtering system. For example I can't use Citrix or NX client to remotely access demos or Windows apps, but I can use VNC (but if you saw how VNC works from here you wouldnt want to use it).
I later found out that the Embassy has free dial-up internet access, so I've switched to that now and it's quite a bit better, but still not great; roll on DSL!
Also, the modem on my Linux Thinkpad doesn't work, so I'm having to use a spare Windows XP machine, which I haven't used for email in over a year. That means I can't use the remote mode and have to operate in on-line mode because my local mailbox is way out of date and it would take WEEKS to re-sync on this connection.
So I switch between GroupWise on-line mode, WebAccess, and GroupWise on-line via a remote NODS session (in Dublin), depending on which one is working best at the time. On my own machine GW Messenger won't connect so if I want to do IM I have to do it via the NODS session.
All of which means I'll be a bit slow to read and respond to emails for a while, and only on instant messenger infrequently.