Thursday, October 29, 2009

Transportation stories

LEAD: I was on TV here yesterday, talking about--of all things--yacht racing. "Are you an expert on yacht racing?" an expert on me asked. The answer is "kind of."

Mostly because I found myself in the middle of coverage of how a lawsuit filed in the U.S. by the San Francisco yacht club challenging for the America's Cup more or less eliminated the UAE as a venue for the race next year. Kind of a bummer. Although I haven't had a ton of luck sailing boats myself, I was excited about seeing someone else do it. So much for that. But at least I got some air time.

DOWNPAGE: We have wheels. Four of them, specifically. Our car looks like this:

Except it's black and doesn't unfold.

BRIEF w/pix: The Ares I-X test launch went flawlessly. Check it out:

Big rocket did, in fact, go whoosh.

So that's the news. This weekend, we are headed to Yas Island to watch more vehicles: Specifically  the built-for-blinding-speed Formula One cars. After all these months of run-up, I'm curious to see if these wheeled cheetahs are any fun to see up close.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


The Ares I-X launcher--designed to be the first new manned rocket since the Space Shuttle took wing back in the 70s--did not go whoosh today. High winds and minor technical difficulties mean it will be on the ground at least another 24 hours.

It's not outwardly unusual, this rocket, but it is momentous beast because it marks another step (jump?) into space by mankind. Before I am 40, it will have tossed an astronaut into orbit. And before I am 50, it will have helped another crew land on the moon.

It's pretty in the air, too.

So. Let's hope that when the big, red button finally does get pushed, all systems are go. Remember, even the Saturn V started with a test launch.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

March seems right around the corner

There are college basketball games on TV just about every day here. Sure, they are a year or two old and randomly chosen from conferences I don't care about. Yeah, it's not like I have much time to watch TV during the day anyway.

Fortunately, the real thing is just around the corner.

I realize that, like many things I post here, admitting that the above video makes me excited about watching basketball qualifies me solidly as a dork. But that's OK. As long as I'm a dork who can watch the games live on the Internet.

Friday, October 23, 2009

It comes earlier every year...

... even in Abu Dhabi. Witness the display I saw at the mall today:

Non-native species of pine tree.

No sign of Halloween costumes, though.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Things that have nothing to do with Abu Dhabi

I will say, this would be a nice change from the cavalcade of Filipino cover bands here:

I would settle for being able to play the flute OR beatbox.

I don't think I could pull this off with a trumpet. So for the time being I'll just stick to furniture construction and amateur electricianship.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Doing it myself

In the weeks since Mrs. Blog has arrived in Abu Dhabi, I have become intimately familiar with all the various Ikea fasteners.

But there have been many other things to take care of besides furniture assembly. I have installed lights, removed shelves, hung mirrors and configured routers. But this week saw the completion of two of the most challenging UAE endeavors this side of Yas Island: The hanging—and wiring!—of two massive Arabic lanterns in the living room and the wiring of an Ethernet connection in the home office.

The lanterns are a big deal because they are heavy, brass and fitted with a convenient head-impaler on the bottom. They’re also antiques, so the light inside is nothing more than a naked bulb on a cord, which I spliced into the junction box. (there were no wire nuts to be found on the island, however, but that’s another story.) The hanging hook went neatly through a cover plate, and, well, see for yourself:

The living room is now 33 percent better lighted; my ego is now approximately 100 percent larger.

Meanwhile, our concrete walls, though solid, prevent a good wireless signal from reaching the back room. That means the home office is occasionally a barren, Internet-free wasteland… a problem when one is, say, working from home and connecting to an office on another continent.

The solution: digging a cable out of the wall—it turns out all the rooms were wired, but they only bothered to install jacks in the living room—and crimping a connector onto it. Several hours, a newly purchased crimping tool and a set of Internet instructions on Cat 6 four-pair pinouts later, this was the scene:

Yeah, the second chairs was probably extraneous.

What you can’t see is the newly activated wireless router in the office, which is happily pumping bandwidth. And although my Arabic skills have barely advanced during my time here, I can definitely say I have become more handy. Which I don’t know how to say in Arabic.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

So much for the camels

Well. Back from a weekend in Al Ain, a border oasis town in the eastern part of the Abu Dhabi Emirate.

It's a sleepy place. Literally, for us, because we slept away most of Sunday, and figuratively, for the people who live there, because it's a bit of a hamlet. Sure, there is traffic and lots of places to go shop, but it's tiny and not very vertical.

That makes it a little embarrassing that we didn't find the camel market. We had two conflicting sets of directions, followed the most up-to-date set and wound up at an Omani border checkpoint. We did see some camels grazing and sleeping by the side of the road at one point, but it wasn't the same as getting to smell them up close. Oh, well.

The highlight of the trip for me was our trek--and by trek I mean "drive"--up the mountain outside of town. There is a resort at the top, but the really interesting part was the drive and the view from the summit. You can see forever up there. And the rocks are jagged, poking up from the sand like the teeth of some long-dead desert monster. The result is that when the sun sets, sinking into an orangish haze, it's a bit like being on another planet.

And as we headed back down into the city, watching the sun set, it reminded me that this kind of thing is why we're here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Too much busy

You know, I thought of a clever post title before going to bed last night, but it totally escapes me now. That's not surprising. Life has gotten quite busy.

It's sort of the opposite of what happens in Chicago. Come mid-November, things start to get uncomfortably cold. By January, everyone is inside drinking whiskey and pretending the Bears are in the Super Bowl. Then, like some magical Daley flipped a switch somewhere, the city comes back to life again in April (and occasionally March). Festivals, concerts, parties, holidays, sports.

Same thing here. Except in the winter. All of a sudden, Mrs Blog and I are booked many weekends in advance. This weekend we're headed to Al Ain, where they have mountains and camels and Scots.

Two out of three.

Next weekend, we're going to see the New York Philharmonic, because, well, we can't see them in New York. Weekend after that, we're going to see car racing and Kings of Leon here:

Yes, the track goes through the hotel. No, I don't think it's safe either.

Then we have visitors... are considering Thanksgiving in Oman... and so on. Oh, and there is an international film festival going on in Abu Dhabi right now, too. We have seen two films, one Serbian-Albanian and one Canadian. More to come on Friday.

In the meantime, we are strongly considering ditching the taxi system--authentically Abu Dhabian though it might be--for wheels of our own. Anyone with insider information on this process is welcome to speak up.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Take a number

Mrs. Blog and I spent most of the morning at (or at least near) Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, where various medical tests were required for our ongoing battle against the difficulties of obtaining a visa.

My experience was quite different. The whole thing only took about 30 minutes; this morning, we spent more than an hour waiting in line, I mean queue, for No. 187 to be called and the testing process to begin. Note: When Mrs. Blog was assigned 187, the next number in line was 133. "Oof," her text message said.

Text message, of course, because men aren't allowed in the ladies' waiting room.

Anyway... inshallah, that will be the last step we need for everything to get processed. And a whole new world of driver's licenses, gym club memberships and credit cards shall open up.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

My kingdom for a _______

You move to a foreign country, and you leave a lot of objects behind. Furniture is an obvious one. Vehicles. Liquor supplies. And so on. Some stuff you can replace; some stuff you tell yourself it's not worth replacing, because who wants to tote--for example--a six-foot ladder back to the United States? Not this guy.

That's why this guy needs a ladder, badly. See, the building watchman/super is on vacation. It's not totally clear when he'll be back. This week, we think. In the meantime, all the handyman accouterments that I'm used to getting from him are, well, not gettable. When you're assembling a home, that's tough.

For instance, I need to change the light socket in one of these lanterns we just bought and hung. But I can't do it without a ladder--we have 11-foot ceilings. There is a mirror that needs to be hung in the pink office. But it's not gonna get done without a power drill. (or a hand drill--thanks, IT Support of the Blog Wes.) I need to spackle, but it's not happening without a putty knife. Well, that's a bad example. I bought a putty knife.

A Home Depot would make a killing here, if for no other reason than even the biggest hardware store in town has a more types of barbecue grills than it does sizes of nail... and I'm not exaggerating.

Anyway, ladders, drills, screws, hooks, anchors, spackle--turns out that's called polyfilla in this part of the world--all are needed in the Budget building. Meanwhile, our neighborhood is crowded with enough furniture stores to outfit 100 Budget buildings. I guess in a pinch, I could just stack gaudy chairs on top of each other....

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Overheard on an Abu Dhabi street

One gets stuck in traffic quite often in Abu Dhabi. It's an artifact of a town built for cars, ironically enough--it's just that it was built for about 1/10 the number of cars that actually exist. But c'est la vie.

And speaking of French, we pulled up next to a Peugeot last night, prompting me to look at its logo and say: "Hey, it's a lion driving a car."

Two paws on the wheel.

Mrs. Blog's response: "Lions don't drive standing up, you moron." And that's how you laugh at a traffic jam.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Every organization needs one

That's right. When the zombies attack, will YOUR office know how to handle it? The University of Florida might end up being the safest place in the world during the undead apocalypse, thanks to good planning.

Disaster Preparedness Simulation Exercise #5 (DR5)

E-Learning System Support Team:


The purpose of this exercise is to discern appropriate strategies for responding to a zombie attack and/or infection that might affect the University of Florida campus.

 All AT-LSS staff
 Appropriate AT-ICS staff
 Appropriate CNS-OSG staff
 Representatives from the UF Computing Help Desk
 CNS emergency planning representatives
 EHS emergency planning representative
 UF Zombie Response Team1

This exercise consists of a single event: a table-top exercise in which the science (e.g. neurobiology) of “zombieism,” or zombie behavior spectrum disorder2 (ZBSD) will be discussed and the stages of an outbreak identified, with follow-on discussion of how an outbreak of zombie attacks might affect maintaining support for the campus course management system.

This disaster exercise may draw upon the Campus Closure Exercise (DR4) current in the preparations stage.

Having lived in Florida, I can say assuredly that this would not be the weirdest thing to happen down there.

Friday, October 2, 2009

An Olympic moment

A few hours from now, the Olympic Committee in Copenhagen will announce the host city for the 2016 Games. All the participants--Chicago, Rio, Tokyo, Madrid--have just about wrapped up their pitches. You can watch the proceedings live here.

Honestly, from a tourist's perspective, I don't see how you could go wrong with any one of those options. As a recent Chicagoan, though, my feelings are mixed. On the one hand, it could do wonders for the city to upgrade the CTA (hello, Circle Line!). On the other hand, it would make life pretty miserable for some Chicago residents, and outright unbearable for others--most notably the South Siders who would be run out for the construction of Olympic facilities.

Tokyo, meanwhile, would be cool for the "Akira" novelty factor.

On second thought, maybe not such a great idea.

Anyway, we'll see what happens. I guess I won't be disappointed either way. And if the Games do come to Chicago, I'm pretty sure we can find someplace to crash if we want to visit.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

IMO, et al

Language has been changing since some caveman decided it was easier to grunt than gesture. Words that were innocuous develop less-innocent meanings (I'm looking at you here, "gay"), words that don't exist get invented--radar--and words that were common disappear.

Now, thanks to the Internet, or maybe cell phones, or maybe just "kids, get off my lawn!" words that aren't words at all become words. Wisconsin recently discovered that this can be a problem.

The folks at the Wisconsin Tourism Federation, a 30-year-old tourism lobbying coalition based in Sun Prairie, couldn't possibly have predicted how the Internet would change the lingo.

While its abbreviation, WTF, was fairly innocuous a few decades ago, it means something entirely different these days.

That meaning - a phrase that can't be printed in a family newspaper, even though kids all over the country are texting it on a regular basis - isn't what anyone in tourism wants potential visitors to associate with Wisconsin.
Yeah, Wisconsin has never made me think "WTF?" either, except maybe the Mars Cheese Castle.