The Arts & Life team tests the mettle of a new, text-message information service for the UAE.
Questions of text
Who am I? Why are we here? If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? All valid questions of the sort that might be bandied around a philosophy class, but the happy news, trivia boffins, is that they can now be answered at the touch of a button too. The "send" button, to be precise, because the UAE now boasts a mobile text and answer service. Britain has AQA (Any Question Answered) and Texperts, America has Johnny27 and ChaCha, Australia has 199QUERY and now we have The Question Company. Or TQC in text-speak.
The guidelines are so simple that your octogenarian grandmother could master them. Think of a question (bearing in mind they can't give out legal, financial or medical advice), text it to the number 4646 and stand by for the reply. "We were targeting less than 10 minutes," says Andrew Meikle, the founder and managing partner of the service, "but at the moment I've got software that shows our average response time is 6.55 minutes." The cost? Dh3 a shot.
Eight months in planning and launched at the beginning of April, The Question Company is run by Meikle and his old friend James Oliver, who is the head of sales and marketing. Text messages to their Dubai office filter through to a bespoke computer system, where they will be divvied out to whoever happens to be free, with up to six of the team working at any one time, around the clock. All questions posed are saved on the system for future reference, although they aim to personalise responses. "The thing is we don't want to appear a joke line, we want to provide information," explains Meikle. "But we think there's quite a good balance now." So whether you're lost, looking for a takeaway number, cinema times or simply wondering about the meaning of life, whack them all through.
There have been teething problems. Right now, the service is only available to Etisalat customers. Those with du can jump aboard in about 10 days but this means the number will have to change from 4646 to 4644 for both Etisalat and du customers. "It's a bit frustrating," admits Meikle, "but better to do it now so we have a common number." So, never shy of a challenge, the Arts & Life team set about trying to surprise, baffle and ultimately outwit The Question Company team with a mixture of some serious, and some not so serious, questions. Did we manage?
It is a new service, so the Arts & Life team wanted to subject it to rigourous testing. Below are the more philosophical ponderings with which we tried to catch TQC out. For the most part, they managed ably. Aside from their generosity with exclamation marks, they're clearly an intelligent bunch. We also appreciate the fact that if they're not quite sure about something, they'll let you know and come back with an answer later.
What is the meaning of life? Hi there. We'll need to get back to you on this one. And then the following morning: Life is what you make of it so the meaning depends on you! Enjoy it and live each day as ur last! Which is heavier: a kilo of lead or a kilo of feathers? Same amount of weight! The measurement is the same! Haha! Good one! I think I'm having a nervous breakdown. What's the point in anything? Don't say that! Examine why you're anxious, try not stressing, there is no point in THAT!
What is the probability of drawing four aces consecutively from a shuffled deck of cards if none are returned between draws? Your chances are 1 / 270,725. Good luck with that! What age will I live to? What you eat determines your age. Lots of colourful veggies in your diet, avoid alcohol and de-stress.
What is the most unkindest cut of all? Brutus was Caesar's friend & to be stabbed by him was more hurtful than some1 more intimate. What is the smallest country in the world? Vatican city which is 0.2 sq miles and has a population of 770. It is surrounded by Rome, Italy. "Piratical adventurer" (nine letters across, last letter is probably an R) Buccaneer??
What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and drives a little shopping buggy at dusk? We think it's a homeless guy. We're fighting over who got it right so pls let us know! Correct answer: a man. This is our version of the riddle of the Sphinx. How did the leopard get its spots? These spots are genetic. It enables them to blend into vegetation in the wild to avoid detection.
What does it mean if you keep dreaming that your teeth are falling out? It symbolises a fear of getting older or impotent or losing sexual attractiveness. Why do single socks go missing in the washing? They gather static in the dryer and stick to other items. Go through your closet between the piles. Should I stay or should I go? "...darling you got to let me know." Great song by The Clash written in 1981. We say stay! When will the maintenance man turn up? Maybe you need to call him on his mobile phone to see if he's stuck in traffic? Thanks!
They got two questions wrong here, including a typo that was wildly misleading. Our questions were tricky, but on the subject of the UAE the report card reads "could try harder". How many people commute from Dubai to Abu Dhabi daily? Hi there, stuck in traffic? The numbers of commuters from Dubai to the capital varies everyday. the current average is 7,140.
I need to impress someone on a date in Dubai, where do I take them? Romantic Pierchic if looking to spend some money or Left Bank @ Madinat for a less expensive meal! Where is the best place to smoke shisha in Abu Dhabi? Tche Tche in Abu Dhabi has the best Mint Sheeha. You can call them at 02 681 1994.
What is the highest point of the United Arab Emirates? Jabal Yibir is the highest point in the UAE which measures 15,427 metres. Whoa! Correct answer: the highest point is an unnamed knoll which is 1,892m, located between Jebel Jais and Jebel Bil Ays on the Musandam peninsula. Jabal Yibir [near Dibba] is 1,527m; 15,427m would be higher than Everest. Which emirate has the best drivers? Dubai has quite a huge population of "good" and "safe" drivers who know the rules. So I'd say DXB!
How much gold is served to customers at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi each year? The whole interior of Emirates Palace is covered with 86,114ftB2 (6,000mB2) of 22-carat gold leaf. Yes, but we asked how much was served to customers. How many daughters did Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan have? According to The New York Times, he has 21 daughters and 19 sons.
What's the fastest speed ever recorded on Sheikh Zayed Road between Abu Dhabi and Dubai? The RTA would never want to reveal that! We don't want anyone breaking it now! Which emirate has the highest camel population? There are over 250,000 camels in the UAE, most of which are located near Al Ain.
How many taxis are there in Abu Dhabi? Why can I never get one? Presently there are about 7,000 taxis. Call in advance 02 444 7787 (Al Ghazal), 02 622 3300 (NYC). Hmm... a little avoidance there. What kind of falcon is shown on the UAE flag? Peregrine Falcon. It has a UAE flag, a symbol of unity. Also represents high birth and luxury! Who wrote the UAE national anthem? Saad Abdel Wahab composed the UAE National Anthem!! It's got the most amazing patriotic lyrics!
Where can I get a bow and arrow? Nowhere in the Middle East. To take up Archery call Ray Bellion from Dubai Archers on 0507210622. Why does the UAE have so many opticians? Strong sunlight damages your retina which might play a factor in this. Wear sunglasses!
Where can I recycle my newspapers? DIC has recycle drop-off boxes across TECOM Business Park, including KV and Dxb Media City. How do I get from Abu Dhabi to Fujairah without a car? There is no direct bus. You will have to go to Sharjah or RAK first and take a bus from there! What is the name of the most valuable postage stamp ever issued in the UAE or Trucial States? Penny Black, dated back to 1840AD, is currently owned by Nasser bin Ahmad Al Sarkal who is 16 years old!
Which emirate has the most roundabouts? Dubai is the Emirate with the most roundabouts although the number is ever decreasing for safety! Is now a good time to start buying property in the UAE? Depends. If you're looking to invest in a long term home, now would be a good time.
What's the easiest way of selling my car in Dubai? Put an ad in Auto Trader or Dubizzle. Placing it in Safa Park with a For Sale sign worked for me! Where's the Beijing Restaurant in Abu Dhabi? Its next to Shoe Mart, Madinat Zayed. You can call Beijing Restaurant @ 026210708 for more info. What is the actual speed limit on the Corniche (not the one on the sign but the one you will get flashed at?) Apparently you can go 9km/hr over the limit but they change at times to catch you out. Drive safe!
Looking for directions to the best Lebanese in town, or just feeling indecisive about what to have for dinner? Have a general food query or need a particularly concise recipe? We asked them all these and more. Why aren't free range eggs the norm in UAE shops? Free range eggs need a cooler climate so chickens have space to run around without dying of heat!
Bananas are herbs. True or false? A banana is a herb containing potassium, which is very healthy. Yum! What should I have for dinner tonight? Order a home delivery! Nando's is such a good shout but watch out for that peri peri hot sauce! What is your favourite food? Italian for me! ravioli with ricotta and sun-dried tomato filling! Mmmmm...
Big Mac or Whopper? I like the char-broil taste so I would go for whopper. Which is the best Lebanese Flower restaurant in Abu Dhabi? Ooo, the best would have to be in the tourist club near Abu Dhabi Mall. Call them on 02 644 0269. What's the recipe for hummus? Chickpeas, tahini and sesame are the main ingredients for hummous! Don't forget the naan bread! We think you mean flat bread, TQC.
If you mix Iron Bru with Masala Chai, what's the pH balance? pH depends on temperature, so the pH of Masala Chai is between 4 and 6.5. Iron Bru is pH 2.5. What temperature? What's the best place to get schwarma in Abu Dhabi? Try the Seashell Cafeteria behind Khalidiya Tower (only Dhs 4). Contact them on 026215243 Who invented saltwater taffy? We have Joseph Fralinger to thank for Salt Water Taffy who created it in 1870 in Atlantic City!
Does the Atkins diet actually work? Does any diet? Avoid Atkins. U aren't getting a well balanced diet. Yes diets work, if u stick to them & exercise.
Looks like their current affairs knowledge needs a little brushing up, but we give them points for their cheery nature and confidence. Who will win the UK election? David Cameron is hot favourite according to the news. All will be revealed come June. How quickly things changed? and they should have said May, not June. Where's Osama? Osama who? My neighbour is called Osama and he lives in Satwa. Will the All Blacks choke once again in the Rugby World Cup next year? Unlikely! A rugby nation like NZ doesn't take lightly to getting beat. They'll come back strong!
Facebook or Twitter? Facebook! So much more to offer than just your usual updates. What's the future of print media? Print media is DOOMED thanks to SMS question and answer services such as The Question Company. We beg to differ. My monthly iPhone bills are outrageous. How can I reduce them? I recommend you text rather than call people abroad. Also avoid late night dialing!
Question and answer services such as TQC are not much liked by those who are partial to a general knowledge quiz on the basis that they make it easy to cheat. How well did they know their stuff? Pretty well, as it turns out. How did the word "Arab" originate? The etymology of the term is closely linked to the place name "Arabia". Can mean "nomad".
Who's the most famous person to come from the South America state of Paraguay? Joan de Ayolas because, with help from his men, built Asuncion in 1537. Which Queen of England died following surgery for an umbilical hernia? Queen Caroline, wife of George II of England died following surgery for an umbilical hernia. How did the 13th Century Mongol invasions of Japan affect the fighting traditions of the Samurai? They usually attacked with long range with arrows and on horseback, but adapted to swords and close range.
How many eggs does a falcon lay each year? A peregine falcon lays 3-5 eggs and they start their family when they are only 2 years old! What's India's biggest non-agricultural export? This would be labour. For both manual work and for services such as call centres.
We pitted celebrities against one another, quizzed them about television shows and tried to find out whether Lady Gaga would be coming to the UAE soon. Again, we laughed most at their personalised answers. Top marks. While filming Hitchcock's Psycho, what substance was used for the blood? The blood was Bosco chocolate syrup. YUM! Who would win in a fight between Kate Bush and Britney Spears? Not Britney, she has been crashed, burned, in rehab and a lot more. Defo Kate Bush!
Lost or 24? Lost has higher ratings than 24 but in 24 the bad guys always die and the end is "fair". Is Lady Gaga coming to the UAE? Lots of rumours but nothing is confirmed yet! Keep checking in and we'll confirm when it's true! What does the actor who played Worf in Star Trek: The Next Generation do now? Michael Dorn (Worf) currently serves on several organisations, including Air Force Heritage Foundation.
Who would win in a fight between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris? Chuck Norris! Some people wear Robocop underwear. Robocop wears Chuck Norris underwear. Will Simon Cowell get married to his new girlfriend? Yes he will. Lucky lady is Mezhgan Hussainy. Bet his ex isn't chuffed having been with him for yrs.
John Lennon or Paul McCartney? Sir Paul McCartney! The Guinness Book of Records says he's the most successful songwriter ever! Are you lonesome tonight? Are You Lonesome Tonight is a popular song by Lou Handman and lyrics by Roy Turk! Jedward? Two brothers who were both widely popular and unpopular on X-Factor in the UK. We don't like them! When is the film Kick-Ass being released in UAE cinemas? Kick-Ass will be showing from May 6th, at Cinestar theaters! Enjoy! Immediately after that, we asked them: How do I know if she likes me? Ask her to go watch Kick-Ass with you. If she says no then it's not looking good. We liked this a lot.
Both Clint Eastwood and Sir Michael Caine fought in the Korean War. Do you think they met? Unlikely as Caine joined in '52 and Eastwood left shortly after a plane crash in 51.
Wolverine versus Green Lantern: who wins? I prefer DC comics so I say Green Lantern. Although Wolverine would put up a fight. What's the best Lou Reed solo album? We think it's his debut 1972 solo album as we love "Going Down" and "Berlin". Blur or Oasis? Blur! Blur sold 274,000 copies and Oasis sold 216,000 copies in one week. But personally, I like Oasis!
We give The Question Company a B+. They're not perfect yet, and stumbled on a couple of our questions. But it is a new service and presumably you won't be using it to pass an exam or answer any weighty moral dilemmas. In that case, use them to find a pizza delivery number on Friday nights or resolve a matter of pop trivia. Just remember, nobody likes a know-it-all.