Friday, July 31, 2009
Walking to work through this stuff, my main observation is that there is no discernible sand in the air. It's not as though I could just stick my hand out and gather up some grains to, say, make an hourglass with. But it does make you cough a little. There is basically no wind, and visibility is about one block; for reference, in that photo there are 50-story buildings maybe a kilometer away. This can't be good for the paint job on a Lamborghini.
Well, looky here. Abu Dhabi just took some of the pile of cash it has and spent it on investing in a spaceport for Virgin Galactic. That's right. I might soon be able to actually fulfill my lifelong ambition of shooting myself out of Earth's gravity well.
Tourists could soon be travelling into space from Abu Dhabi after the Virgin Group and Aabar signed a deal yesterday that gives the capital exclusive regional rights to host flights.Aabar has also committed $100m to fund a launch station for satellites.
Aabar Investments, owned by the Abu Dhabi Government, will pay US$280 million (Dh1.03 billion) for a 32 per cent stake in the world’s first commercial spaceline, Virgin Galactic, which values the company at $900m. The deal is still subject to regulatory clearances.
Khadem al Qubaisi, the chairman of Aabar, said: “The partnership not only falls in line with Abu Dhabi’s larger plans [for] technology research and science at a grassroots level, but also complements its aim to be the international tourism capital of the region.”
No, Khadem--it's so much more than that. It complements MY aim of being the first journalist in space. Thanks, guys.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
I'm glad I did. Unlike the impressive-for-different-reasons mosques I visited in India, this one was filled with elaborate and expensive touches, like expensive marble floors inlaid with other expensive marble; chandeliers weighing several tons hanging like bejeweled jellyfish over a football field's worth of hand-stitched carpeting; arctic air conditioning.
The white marble was Taj Mahal-esque, although not as graceful and beautiful. Inside, a tour guide talked a little bit about the mosque and a lot about Islam--it was a much an outreach and education effort as it was a "look at this bit of pretty architecture" speech.
All I regret, really, is dressing appropriately. If you show up looking immodest (shorts, T-shirt, etc.), women get an abaya and head scarf and men get a kandoura. I missed my big chance to dress like a native without offending anyone. I guess there's always next Wednesday....
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
The summary is that this is a complete run down the "mountain" of Ski Dubai. We took the long way--i.e. the easier route--to try to stretch the run out. The expert route is narrower, steeper and faster, but not particularly challenging.
Things to watch for in Part One:
-Nick's wife, Fiona, lying on the ground on the little plateau by the hot chocolate chalet
-The Girl Who Couldn't Turn, as we called her, flying by Nick and wiping out spectacularly
-Nick unable to keep from chuckling.
Things to watch for in Part Two:
-The author throwing his hands up as he goes over a lip, trying (and failing) to get airborne
-That's pretty much it
As a bonus, I tracked down a video on YouTube of the water show we witnessed at the foot of the Burj Dubai. I'm not really a fan of Andrea Bocelli or massive wastes of fresh water in a desert, but it's impressive anyway.
About an hour before running into some harried and sweaty reality show participants.
When I'm feeling ambitious, or at least back around my laptop, I'll post some more of the photos from Dubai. It's an interesting place--far more interesting than I was giving it credit for. And unlike Abu Dhabi, which basically exploded from a temporary fishing village into a forest of concrete mid-rises overnight, Dubai has tangible heritage in the form of centuries-old buildings.
What does all of that mean? I haven't quite sorted it out. But you can definitely ski in Dubai.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
And worse, I have no idea how it happened. I arrived at work wearing them, took them off to greet a friend in the lobby and, as far as I know, carried them to my desk. And somehow, despite not leaving the newsroom for the next seven hours, I misplaced my eyewear.
On the plus side, I guess I don't have to worry about raccoon tan anymore.
But some Friends of the Blog are arriving tonight from London, and we will be heading to Dubai for the weekend. A guy needs sunglasses in Dubai. Crap.
Well, anyway. I will be showing these London transplants around, and it should be a lot of fun. I have already explored bits of Panama with these two, not to mention some of Chicago's booziest booze joints. UAE skiing will definitely happen. So will trips to the Emirates Palace, various large mosques, beaches and souqs. Outside of buying myself some new sunglasses, what shall I do with them? Open to suggestions here.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
So why is it such a big deal that some random basketball player dunked on him? Such a big deal that James' people apparently tried to seize all the video of the dunk? It's not even that vicious.
Who is going to put that on a poster? It would be like tacking a picture of a Ford Taurus to your wall.
So let's talk real posterization. To me, that means having the ball bounced off your head or finding yourself face-deep in the dunker's shorts. To wit:
Poor Scottie Reynolds.* **
Or the classic, John Starks dunking on Michael Jordan:
Say hello to my little friend. (actually 6-foot-5)
The point is this: I have no personal opinion on LeBron James in general. I've never met him. I can't dunk on him. But come on, if you're the best in the world, you don't need to pretend that you're bulletproof. Just shake it off, say something about the other guy's sister and hit a three-pointer right in his face. That's what I would do.***
* Carl, be thankful North Carolina didn't make the mix here.
** Foreign friends who don't watch much basketball, this is a great example of a well-designed play.
***if my range didn't max out at about 18 feet.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
But the real defining moment of weirdness came as I rode the stationary bike 15 kilometers to nowhere. There is a TV set built into the thing, and being a creature of multitasking, I set out to watch some sports while I pedaled. Replayed soccer match... nah. Sailing... maybe. Basketball... ah ha! Yes, some Spanish league was playing.
And holy crap, there were Omar Cook, Robert Archibald, Marcus Haislip and the pride of Manhattan, Kan., Jeremiah Massey. (who Wikipedia says is Macedonian and has been nicknamed "Air Massey." Who knew?)
To sum up, there I was in a gym... in Abu Dhabi... listening to Cypress Hill... and watching former U.S. college stars play Spanish basketball. It's like jet lag of the soul.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Maybe the best thing about them, though, is that they bear fruit. Dates, specifically. In fact, the government here has a massive program that rewards innovative date-growing techniques, and there is an annual date festival at the Liwa Oasis. Feel free to make a match.com joke here.
So I thought, hey, there is free food growing in the streets.
That is a picture of the parkway across the street from my gym. It seemed like a reasonable place to start, and sure enough, there were plenty of date palms. Most of them were a bit tall for me to reach, though, and because I didn't have a ladder handy, I had to choose my target carefully.
I have to say, under most circumstances I would feel a little self-conscious about picking public fruit in, well, public. But I was the only one on the parkway--it being in the middle of the day, when only an idiot would be hanging out in direct sunlight--and at any rate, I don't think anyone would care. They're there for the picking.
So how does this story end? I went home, washed the dates and ate some. They tasted like... dates. And since it has been almost 24 hours now with no horrible afflictions being visited upon me, I think we have to consider this experiment* a success.
*credit to "Karl" for suggesting I try this.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
And so it was that I paid an Indian guy whose name I didn't quite catch to cut most of my hair off and nick my neck with a straight razor
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
And the stuff you can buy. This actually just occurred to me as I sit here listening to recordings of the radio communications of the Apollo 11 mission. Random? You bet!
But anyway, the thing is, it's hard to find a good pair of cheap headphones. Sure, the cheap part is there. But I would say 90 percent of the headphones you see on the shelves are actually headsets for VOIP. So that's why these Dh10 earphones have a microphone built into the cord. Which then hangs in front of my face. It's annoying.
But at least I can hear Buzz Aldrin clearly.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
And of course those of you who attended Red Bridge Elementary (Roadrunners, holla!) witnessed, one spring day, the prelude to that aftermath: the launch of a model rocket. Hey, if I couldn't shoot myself into space, I was at least going to build something and launch it into the sky.
But this guy had bigger ideas.
Slightly smaller rocket go whoosh.
I have no idea who this dude is, but he built a 1/10-scale replica of a Saturn V rocket and launched it. One-tenth scale, in this case, means 36.3 feet. By contrast, I think the biggest thing I ever shot off was maybe 36 inches. It's probably just as well; anything remotely life-size, and there's a good chance I would have tried to climb onboard.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
At 9:32 a.m. (not sure of the time zone), 40 years to the minute after the Apollo 11 mission was launched, www.wechoosethemoon.org will go live. July 16, 1969, went a little like this:
Big rocket go whoosh.
And ended... well, we all know how it ended. But that doesn't make it any less spectacular to see the most powerful machine in human history switched on. I'm excited to see how this site, run by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, uses the thousands of hours of archival footage, piles of photos and other documentation surrounding the Apollo program. The mission will be re-created in real time.
My roommate, the Aussie, said he remembers his mom insisting that he come to the TV to watch the first steps on the moon. My parents sat me on the edge of their bed as we watched the first Space Shuttle launch on a black-and-white set. What adventure will the next generation of kids watch?
Whatever it is, I hope someone puts it on YouTube.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Somehow it gets hotter at night. I know this because as I walked out of work yesterday, about 10 p.m., water started condensing... on my exposed skin. Again, the conclusion is that it was damn hot. Or that the air conditioning in the office is a little too effective in cooling me down.
Anyway, as I walk into the office today, I say hi to Nadr, the Emirati guy and fellow Saturday night basketballer at the reception desk. He asks me how I'm doing. I say, "Eh, you know... a little hot." He stops me with one empthatic finger and says, "No! It is very hot."
And of course, he's right.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Instead I was exposed to something so horrific, I have to share it with you.
Yes. Canada's queen of pop is trying to not just cover but imitate a guy who, at least during the "Bad" era, sweated more panache changing a light bulb than Celine Dion has mustered up in her entire career. The whole performance, really, is summed up by her hair, which I pray to the follicle gods is a wig.
None of this, by the way, should serve as commentary on the Jackson-fest that we witnessed a few days ago. It was a little embarrassing how over the top everyone, including, perhaps most offensively, the media, went in mourning (celebrating?) the death of a guy who wrote some good songs and got weird when he was older.*
I guess you can count this as my contribution. Now... off to go contemplate bacon.
*And speaking of embarrassing, that was quite a comma-tastic sentence. Sorry.
Friday, July 10, 2009
One group was playing cards ("go hammour"), another group was playing Parcheesi. If I see someone with Scrabble I am totally crashing the game.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
But lately I have noticed a new one. When the guy sitting next to me, code named "Karl," calls someone, he'll say, "is that so and so?" when the call is connected. Me, I say, "is this so and so." And 10 minutes ago, I got a call from a bank in which the caller asked, "is that Mr. Matthew?"
So, as editors tend to do, I'm sitting here trying to figure out who is right. On the one hand, there is a certain logical harmony to saying "is that x?" because, well, "this" would refer to the speaker (this is Mr. Matthew speaking) whereas "that" would refer to some external person (that is the person to whom I am speaking.)
On the other hand, if you hear an unidentified voice on the other end of the phone, wouldn't you ask, "who is this?"
On the third hand--yes, just pretend you're an alien for a second--grammatically speaking, the answer is a little vague. "This" is to be used for something close to the speaker; "That" is to be used for something far from the speaker. It's just a matter of mental gymnastics. The telephone speaker is a half-inch from my brain, yet the person on the other end of the phone is, say, in Chicago.
So, whatever. We're all correct. Except for all the people who try to put a "u" in "favorite."
Anyway, the point is, I have been up to nothing at all. Except sleeping. My roommate, on the other hand, relayed this story to me after I woke up this afternoon (not a typo) and found two huge boxes of fried chicken in the fridge:
He fancied some fried chicken to nosh on after a night celebrating one of our co-workers' birthdays. So he stopped at Texas Fried Chicken--known in the U.S. as Church's--on the way home. The problem, however, was that after procuring the aforementioned fried chicken, he no longer had enough to pay the taxi driver. Specifically, he was Dh4 short... a little more than $1.
The solution is obvious. The driver got the fare, less Dh4, and my roommate made up the difference by giving him a liter of Coke, a bag of potato wedges, a container of cole slaw and (I think) some mashed potatoes.
File under "things that would get your ass kicked in New York." Or a thing that makes you smile in Abu Dhabi.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Which is what I have been doing.
On the plus side, though, my walk to work now has a dual function as a steam bath. It counteracts the next seven hours of sitting under an Arctic air conditioning vent.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
This is what he gets:
The upshot is that the nearest bar to the paper has a really nice beer garden but uniformly awful service. I wonder--assuming a guy could jump through all the right [flaming] government hoops--what it would take to open a bar here. Because I'm pretty sure I could hire a staff of journalists and have the best drinks in town.
This is where I usually give the disclaimer about how I don't post often about politics--and I don't--but I think I can make a good case that this post is simply about being good at your job. If you are supposed to represent a national political figure, shouldn't you be able to string together a few coherent sentences?
And don't get me started on the tortured analogy about basketball. First of all, I take personally anything that impugns basketball. And second of all, it doesn't make a lick of sense: Palin is the... point guard... who is a leader... so she passes the ball, which allows her to... go to the hoop of "whatever she wants." Ooooookay.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
So celebrate, go blow some stuff up, rig an election--make the Founding Fathers proud. I will do my part by trying to consume some American beer (a sacrifice) and watching a basketball game of which I know the outcome.
But hey, good news--we have gone back. And by "we" I of course mean an unmanned probe with a really great camera.
No sign of the Apollo landers yet, which I'm sure some will take as evidence of the GREATEST HOAX IN HISTORY, but if the orbiter passes over the Apollo landing sites, we'll see 'em. Right now the resolution is only 73 cm, or a little over two feet, but when the probe settles into its final orbit, the resolution will be even better... about 18 inches. You could pick out a German shepherd at that resolution, let alone a giant piece of space hardware.
Of course, if we found a dog on the moon it would be even bigger news.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Not bad. Not great, but not terrible. It lacks the hard edge of good hip-hop, and in an article about these guys, you can see it's deliberate. But the production is decent. So you could say I am lukewarm to Desert Heat. But perhaps after the UAE develops a properly oppressed underclass in need of artistic expression, there can be a proper musical backlash against the establishment. Or at least a few swear words here and there.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
For a group of paleontologists, a tour of the seemed like a great tongue-in-cheek way to cap off a serious conference.
But while there were a few laughs and some clowning for the camera, most left more offended than amused by the frightening way in which evolution -- and their life's work -- was attacked.
"It's sort of a monument to scientific illiteracy, isn't it?" said Jerry Lipps, professor of geology, paleontology and evolution at University of California, Berkeley.
I mean, that's just painful. I knew about this place before, but the silliness is driven home by the reactions of the scientists touring it. And I know silliness is not a uniquely American trait, but geez, you know, in a country where my modest word-slinger's salary is the equivalent of eight taxi drivers', misspent funds--not to mention misguided ideals--sting just a little bit more.
But hey. It's Canada Day. So let's all just take a deep breath, pop open a Molson and relax. Ten million years from now, we can look back on all of this and laugh.