Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Uncharted territory

There isn't much of it anymore, at least on Earth. Although we continue to discover new things (like arsenic bacteria!), mankind's boots have pretty much stepped everywhere they can.

Off the planet, though, it's a whole different story. And one of the first space probes is on the verge of taking the biggest step in the history of the species. It's leaving our neighborhood--the Solar System--for good.

Voyager 1, the most distant spacecraft from Earth, has reached a new milestone in its quest to leave the Solar System.

Now 17.4bn km (10.8bn miles) from home, the veteran probe has detected a distinct change in the flow of particles that surround it.

These particles, which emanate from the Sun, are no longer travelling outwards but are moving sideways.

It means Voyager must be very close to making the jump to interstellar space - the space between the stars.

On a separate note, 33 years and it can still send a strong data signal more than 10 billion miles? I want me some of those batteries.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I missed the space-boat

I lived in Florida for two years. There were many things I did, and didn't do, that went well. Others not so well. But let me tell you my biggest regret: I didn't make the three-hour drive to the Cape for a Shuttle launch.

The video below, pointed out to me by The Guy Who Sits Next to Me, really drives that point home.

Big rocket go whoosh, 1981-2010.

And now, of course, the whole program is being retired. That's a bummer (unless it is replaced with something niftier--a doubtful proposition in the short term).

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmastime is here!

And I know this because carolers came to our door last night. As we were watching the latest episode of Glee, in which the cast went... caroling. Life is weird sometimes.

It was an especially surreal experience here in the Middle East, where there is no snow, are few seasonal decorations (no, National Day doesn't count) and churches are semi-required to keep it low-key. Hell, even when we lived in Chicago carolers never came to our door... of course, this is mainly because our door was up three flights of stairs and behind two buzz-in doors in the foyer.

The carolers last night were from a Filipino Catholic church here in the 'Dhabs and included our former cleaning lady. And although they were armed only with a guitar and maracas, they put on a nice, festive show.

Guess it's time to put up our non-denominational holiday wreath....

Sunday, December 5, 2010

(Very) little green men

As promised, let's dork it up.

Last Thursday, NASA announced it had discovered a new form of life. This new beastie was not found on another planet, however, but right here on Earth, in California's Mono Lake.

That environment, while not extraterrestrial, is certainly interesting. The water contains tremendous amounts of arsenic, an element that normally acts as a poison on your basic Earthbound animal. The reason (and forgive me, Mrs. Howk, if I screw this up) is that literally EVERY BIT of known life on Earth is built from and operates using six elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur. All are crucial. In human biology, for instance, phosphorus is an essential part of our energy-generating mechanism, fueled by ATP, or adenosine tri-phosphate.

But look just below phosphorus on a periodic table and you see arsenic. It is remarkably similar... but dissimilar in too many ways to simply substitute. In fact, the reason arsenic is so deadly is because the body mistakes it for phosphorus and tries to use it in normal metabolic processes, which doesn't work.

Until now.

This new microbe can use arsenic to survive. Here's how one of the scientists put it:

“These data show that we are getting substitution across the board,” said Dr. Felisa Wolfe-Simon. “This microbe, if we are correct, has solved the challenge of being alive in a different way.”

Tiny bug, big discovery.

And what THAT means is a) all life did not necessarily evolve from a common ancestor, i.e. there were, at some point, at least two separate "tracks" viable life was taking, and b) we now have a lot more environments off our planets in which we could conceivably find life.

How cool is that?

So although NASA didn't trot out E.T., a Gray or, heaven forbid, something out of a Ridley Scott movie, it's still an exciting discovery. Here's to more big announcements. I can't wait to blog about faster-than-light travel and aliens made of silica-arsenate.

Friday, December 3, 2010

How I Spent My National Day

First of all, don't worry--I'm planning to blog, at some point, a bit about my thoughts regarding the new arsenic-metabolizing life form NASA discovered in a California lake. It is, needless to say, pretty mind-blowing considering that literally ALL life uses phosphorus (along with five other elements) as its building blocks. This new bug subs arsenic for phosphorus. It is, literally, a unique life form... at least for the time being. Awesome.

Now then. Let's talk about the last couple of days, starting with yesterday, National Day. The natives, and, let's face it, everyone else took to the streets for a colorful and noisy celebration of the UAE's 39th birthday. It's weird--you never see Emiratis acting so unreservedly happy until Dec. 2 every year. And boy do they take it to the extreme.

A VERY tame vehicle.

The fireworks were shorter this year than last year; the walk to find a cab (several miles) was longer and there was more backfiring. So much, in fact, that when I came home, Mrs. Blog--who sat it out because she was not feeling well--commented that I smelled like a gas tank. Which, upon close reflection, was accurate.

Today involved a lot less silly string and engine revving. We have wheels this weekend, thanks to a generous friend, and we took advantage by heading out for a picnic in the park. It was packed! But we found some nice shade, settled down, ate some snacks and watched a spirited game of pickup basketball at the nearby court. Mrs. Blog practiced her Arabic with me as flash-card holder and I daydreamed about walking onto the court and showing these guys how a KU grad can hoop. (in my case, slowly and with a gradually worsening limp.)

It looks like the evening will end with a delicious meal, the only kind Mrs. Blog knows how to make, and a funny movie. Not a bad start to the weekend. The UAE will be fortunate to have as good a start to its 40th year.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Here's how you know it's UAE National Day

You come to work, get fitted with a patriotic baseball cap and handed a falcon.

I'm glad the falcon can't see me.

Tomorrow is when the fireworks begin (literally) and all the nation's white SUVs are decorated with stickers, decals and streamers declaring them the most patrioticest vehicles in all the land.

One of this year's celebratory Big Deals is the world's largest convoy of school buses. And yes, I'm totally serious. How can they possibly top that next year, the nation's 40th anniversary?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

On the Occasion of Visiting the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi

It's my third time there. Every time I'm struck by something new. Today, I:

-Was taken by how peaceful and large the landscaped inner grounds (surrounded by a high wall and inaccessible except through a triple-reinforced indoor security station) are, especially now that it's nice outside. Of course, it also means that anyone from the second floor or higher has an unobstructed view of anyone below, but I didn't think too much about that.

A trapezoidal monument to freedom.

-Almost saw my hearing aids confiscated. I had to explain several times that no, I wasn't deaf--no matter what Mrs. Blog might say--but that I could hear much better with them. Eventually they relented.

-Saw only two firearms, both carried by UAE military personnel, both outside in the parking lot. Nary a Marine in sight. All the internal security was through a private firm that was, I would estimate, about 100 times more professional and efficient than what you usually see in this country.

-Had an almost overwhelming urge to ask every American accent I met where they were from. It was like, "Hey, so you wound up in Abu Dhabi too, huh? What's your story?" Of course, the answer would be something like, "I work for the embassy, dumbass," so probably not the best way to phrase that question.

In the end, I was in and out in less than a half-hour, and the biggest hassle was the hearing aid issue. The place is impressively bulletproof and the staff is pleasant. I never thought I would say this, but HSBC, take note--the U.S. government is more efficient than you are.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rob Evans, 1973-2010

"Everyone grieves in their own way." It's a truism, but that doesn't make it false. Some people post on Facebook. Others cry at home or in the embrace of a loved one. Others find solace in numbers, music and conversation.

What I found, when my dear friend Rob Evans died here in the UAE, was that the act of writing his obituary brought me some peace. Talking to so many people who loved him and hearing their stories – and there were countless stories, all punctuated with laughter – maybe helped my subconscious focus on who he was, not what happened to him.

Mrs Blog and I were dancing with him at a Prince concert on Friday night less than an hour before he died. Before that we had enjoyed his company, his wit, his antics on two continents.

We spent Saturday crying and remembering. Below is the story of his life and the people he touched.

Rob and his son, Seren.

Gerry Doyle

Robert Evans had a knack for finding happiness and adventure without really trying, his friends and family said.

Never one to formulate a careful roadmap to his destination, he instead took joy in simply experiencing life as it happened. During a trek through Spain with his brothers and father this summer, he illustrated that with what he packed – and did not pack – for a 100-kilometre walk.

“I brought an enormous rucksack ... prepared for any eventuality,” said his brother David, 47. “He had a very small bag. I think he had a T-shirt. I don’t think he even had a towel or a toothbrush.”

While his brother struggled under the weight of his gear, Rob “was able to walk around at just an incredible rate. I asked him, ‘What if it rains?’ He said, ‘It’s not going to rain. It’s Spain!’

“And he was right.”

Rob, 37, an assistant photo editor for The National, died unexpectedly early Saturday morning during a concert on Yas Island.

Born in 1973 in Gibraltar, where his British father, Jeremy, was stationed in the Royal Air Force, he grew up in a half-dozen locales, from around the UK to Belgium and even briefly back to Gibraltar.

He went to boarding school from 1982 to 1991, visiting his family on holidays wherever they happened to live. When he finished A-levels, however, his mother, Jean, was gravely ill. She died a few months after he graduated.

“It made his teenage years quite difficult in a way,” his brother said. “He was trying to start life out as an adult, but he didn’t have mum there to help him.

“He wanted to try different things. He had difficulty finding something to settle down into.”

He lived with his father for the next year and a half, then went on to attend Middlesex University in London, where he later graduated with a BA diploma in American Studies and Art History.

“He’d got very kind of arty-crafty in his ideas and thoughts and pursuits at that stage,” his father said. “He was always so strongly attracted to America and American life ... I think it was a combination that appealed to him.”

It was a turnabout from his childhood dreams, in which a fascination with aircraft led him to receive a flying scholarship from the RAF, he added.

After graduation, he stayed in London and worked a series of jobs as he tried to settle on a career. At one point he was driving a taxi around the city and working for a company that sold butcher knives, his father said.

“We were always terrified because he would come around to see us, and he’d open up the back of [the car] this thing and we would see the most horrifying collection of blades,” his father said, leading them to worry what would happen if his taxi were hit from behind.

His love of music led him to gigs that included a five-year stint as assistant to the event director of the EXIT music festival in Serbia.

That is where he met Reetu Rupal, 32, his girlfriend of four years.

“Rob was a massive music fan, and was sort of in his element in those sort of things,” Ms Rupal said. “I was over there DJ-ing. My DJ partner couldn’t make it so I was there on my own. ... [Rob and I] hit it off, swapped numbers and stuff. And when we came back to England, he came to see me play.”

She said his love of music, adventure and American culture played a huge role in his life. He lived for a time in Memphis and San Francisco, went to services at Al Green’s church and took a Greyhound bus from America’s West Coast to the East.

“Rob loved being surrounded by his friends. He always had a story to tell and would always contribute sort of long stories about the times in his life,” she said.

“He told me how he got to New Orleans once,” she said. “He arrived with a little bag and a Lonely Planet guide. He went into a bar and ordered a scotch or something, then went off to the toilet to read his guide so no one could tell he was a tourist. Then he had some sort of mad moment and literally tore out the pages listing the youth hostels and threw the rest of it in the toilet.”

“That kind of summed up Rob. He was such an adventurer.”

The birth of his son, Seren, in 2002 changed his life, his father said.

“Seren gave him an emotional focus, outside his social life and his attempts to get settled into some kind of career,” his father said. “He’s been a wonderful father. Absolutely devoted to the little lad.”

Helen McLaughlin, a friend of Rob who worked with him at The National, said his curiosity about the world and appetite for knowledge bolstered his connection with his son. So, too, did his tremendous sense of fun.

She recounted one of his favourite stories: “He took Seren to [the London toy store] Hamleys. But he told Seren, ‘We’re going to go to this really, really big toy shop. The thing about it is, though, is that I know sort of where it is, but not really.’ They got off the Tube early and Rob took Seren down the opposite side of the road, deliberately missing the store.

“Finally they were across the street from it, but Rob was looking in the wrong direction,” apologising for not being able to find this wondrous store, Ms McLaughlin said. “Seren was there tugging at his trousers, pointing across the street, saying, “There! There! I’ve found it!”

In 2005, Rob began his first job in journalism, as a picture editor and head of assignments at the Press Association in London. He came to work at The National in 2008. Photo editing was something he loved, his family said, and in recent years he had “really started to realise his potential in a big way”, his father said.

“If you looked around and tried to find all the bits that made Rob, Rob, you couldn't find it in a dozen people,” said Mark Asquith, a co-worker and close friend of Rob. “Music, football, politics, recent British history – there wasn’t any topic about which Rob wasn’t able to talk intelligently.”

That wide range of experience carried over into his work, Mr Asquith said: “He was a guy I could always turn to when I was stuck for ideas. ... you could see [Rob’s personality] in his work.”

“Rob’s wit was surpassed only by his keen eye for images that brought our foreign pages, and more recently M magazine, to life,” said Hassan Fattah, editor of The National. “He was a friend and a colleague who always lived life to the fullest and embraced the best the world had to offer. He made life’s troubles and challenges bearable and surmountable. I will miss him immensely.”

His father recounted the end of their 100-kilometre hike through Spain to a traditional pilgrimage destination known as Cape Finisterre – a name derived from the fact that thousands of years ago, it was seen as the edge of the world. The lighthouse there is actually marked “The End of the World”, he said, and is about five kilometres outside town.

“It was a tough walk,” he said. “Rob arrived first, then I staggered in, then the other boys an hour after that.”

As they waited in a pub for Rob's’ brothers to arrive, “I said to him, ‘Rob, the other boys aren’t here yet, and I just don’t think we’re going to be able make it [to the lighthouse] in what’s left of the afternoon”, his father said.

“Rob said to me, ‘Well, it’s not the end of the world’.

“And I was able to trump that by saying, ‘Well, actually, Rob – it is.’ And we all laughed.”

Other family members include a brother, Paul; his stepmother, Kate; two stepbrothers, Tom and Will Kerry; and a stepsister, Emily Kerrigan.

Services in the UK are being planned.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Things that happen in Abu Dhabi

You stumble across one of Mrs Blog's favorite (or favourite, if you're British) bands playing a free concert on the beach. Yep, The Beat (or The English Beat, if you're American) landed on our shores as part of the massive F1 race festivities. We aren't exactly sure how many of the original members were actually onstage for the couple of songs we caught, but we did ID Ranking Roger.

Very-shaky-cam footage.

Between sets, the crowd got down to dance music. A bit more enthusiastically than they did to the band, actually, if we're being honest with ourselves. The kids were out, and they were waving their hands in the air in a manner that suggested they did not, in fact, care.

Laser beams make dancing fun!

There may yet be more concert footage coming. Lots of musical folks in town for the race, and we have a shiny new high-def handheld video camera thanks to some dear Friends of the Blog. I'll try to hold it more steady next time.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

You know what really sucks?

Not having a car in the UAE. Yes, we unloaded the Audi--she is now making daily trips between Abu Dhabi and Dubai as the primary commuting vehicle of a co-worker--which means we are on our own for transport around the city.

Now, taxis are cheap. You can get from one end of the island to the other, 20 kilometers or so, for about $8. The same ride in Chicago would cost $30, easily. But they are not always convenient. For instance, if you don't know exactly where you're going, including several nearby landmarks, you're out of luck unless the cab driver is experienced and speaks good English.

Or if you want to just go somewhere non-specific, i.e., "Let's go find a cup of coffee," you're forced to decide on a destination before you head out the door. It takes a lot of the fun and spontaneity out of random weekend drives. And of course road trips become a matter of either renting a car or, if you're going someplace like Dubai, just ponying up Dh250 ($68) for one-way taxi fare.

And that doesn't even count the inconvenience of ordinary errands if you don't live within walking distance of the places you're going. Fortunately, now that it's winter, foot travel is a little easier. So when Mrs Blog heads to the market (and by that I mean the nearest mall), she can hoof it over there through beautiful, scenic Tanker Mai and the greater Al Wahda neighborhood without breaking a sweat.

Getting the groceries back is another issue altogether, although at least the malls have regular taxi stands.

Anyway, the upshot of all of this is that:

1) Abu Dhabi is not a pedestrian-friendly city...
2) Taxis are cheap but not always convenient...
3) Re-adjusting to life here is always a bit of an exercise, but it's especially exhausting when you don't have wheels.

So shall we start a petition for the Municipality to start work on the Abu Dhabi Underground?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

False flag?*

As a lover of thriller novels, science fiction and apocalyptic storylines, this tidbit out of California caught my attention: what appeared to be a missile trail heading into space off the coast. Missiles aren't just launched willy nilly. Especially not missiles carrying large thermonuclear packages.

And most space launches are made from the East Coast, which allows the Earth's rotational velocity to aid the booster and makes sure debris lands harmlessly in the Atlantic.

So what is this?

The final countdown?

In the end, the generally accepted explanation was that it was a jet contrail seen from an odd angle, making it appear vertical instead of horizontal. I guess that works, physics-wise, but I still wonder why there appeared to be a glowing rocket motor at the tip of the smoke trail.

Here's an example of an actual contrail that looks like a missile launch...

Harmless, unless you're a high-flying bird.

... and here's what a real ICBM launch looks like... you can see that it does, in fact, move quite a bit faster than what was spotted in California.

The final countdown. (test-firing edition)

But if it is a missile, why are all the branches of the military, including U.S. Space Command, saying they know nothing about it? Could it be a vast conspiracy aimed at generating a hot new novel?

*is a great book title

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Paradise City

Oh, hello. I didn't see you sitting there.

It has been a while. The last few weeks--almost a month, really--have been spent in North America, the land of awesome weddings, awesome beaches and awesome food.

Awesome beach, with awesome dog.

Now Mrs. Blog and I have returned to the UAE, the land of... well... awesome weather. At least this time of year.

There's no gentle way to put this, but it is never an easy transition. Abu Dhabi really is the land of a million daily paper cuts in a lot of ways. For Mrs. Blog, especially, it is a firehose of icy water blasting away the comforts of Southern California, where she has stayed the last few months. Now instead of playing fetch with our dog in the morning, she is faced with playing a game I like to call "catch a taxi and try to explain where you want to go without using an address." It's not fun, but can be rewarding.

But we need to be fair to Abu Dhabi here. This is the best time of year to be in the UAE--the temperatures are perfect, the humidity is almost zero and those qualities draw all the fun out of hibernation. Last night we went to Arts Abu Dhabi at the Emirates Palace Hotel and wandered (along with thousands of others) among masterworks by artists like Jeff Koons. Our favorite bit, though, was an "art sensation" labyrinth they had set up on the beach... complete with cocktails!

Then there's the F1 race this month. And a concert by Prince. And all of those things (combined with the great weather... did I mention that?) make the transition back from the land of pork and beer just a little less traumatic.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

An Actual Conversation with an Employee of the Mardi Gras Bar, Starring: Me

I swear I only go to this place once every six or eight weeks. But the ground-floor bar of the Capital Hotel (home of the best booze-allowed Indian restaurant in town) has karaoke, and they are quite aggressive about getting people in. Once when I was there with a bunch of people, several of us were asked at the end of the night to give the manager our names and phone numbers to be in a karaoke contest the next week.

Hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time. But the result is that every Wednesday, I get a call from Mardi Gras. Last night's installment went a little something like this:


Hello, sir. Mr. Matthew?


It is the Mardi Gras bar, sir.

Oh. How are you?

Fine, sir. Calling to remind you that karaoke is tonight.

OK. Thank you.

Will you be coming, sir?

Uh... I'm not sure. Sill making plans.

[this is a blatant lie. I was running errands when she called and had no time for frivolity, let alone karaoke. -ed.]

You have other plans, sir?

I haven't decided yet.

May I ask why you are not coming, sir?

I didn't say I--look, I don't know whether I'm coming. I might be doing other things.

[at this point, I'm not sure why I didn't just tell the truth. but whatever, the truth would clearly have hurt, based on the rest of our conversation. -ed.]

You are working?

No! I might be doing other things. Maybe dinner. Maybe meeting friends. Maybe nothing.

So... you will come if you are able?

(sigh) Um, sure. Yes, fine.

OK, see you tonight, sir. Thank you, sir.

And that was that. Someone had obviously told her not to take no for an answer, and the result was that I, for the first time in my life, had to justify my lack of social plans to... a bar.

Monday, October 11, 2010

This looks fun

Remind me again why I became a writer instead of a test pilot?

Humanity, we have glide-off.

Pretty sweet moment. I can't wait to see them light the fire on the back of SpaceShip One.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

W@yn3 N3wt0n pwns

I have, on occasion, written about impressive video game commercials. Those examples struck me as more subtle, interesting and ultimately attractive than most of what you see on TV--most of which revolve around an overly simplistic "buy this and be cool" message.

Well, here's another one.

Poppin' space caps.

Funny, right? And it sort of plays up the idea that people playing video games online aren't dorks--they're rap stars. (and nerdy movie stars) I don't have this game yet--thanks, PAL formatting in the Middle East!--but when I do I'll be expecting a marching band on my doorstep the first time I jump online.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Yes, I realize it's football season

The Chiefs' young defensive players have figured out how to play football. The team is 3-0. The Jayhawks are adjusting to a new coach and new coaching scheme. They are 2-2. Hell, even my fantasy team is 3-0.

But none of those teams have their own music video featuring a rapper who was not paid by the athletic department.

GameON from Kansas Jayhawks on Vimeo.

Hip, hop, dunk.

And that's my sports post for the week... at least until the Chiefs win again.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Never start a land war in Asia...

Not sure if I ever have complained about this, but there is very little high-quality advertising in the Middle East. As Mrs. Blog put it, the industry seems stuck in the 1950s: literal and message-driven.

But today I stumbled upon these:

... and never say no to Panda.

Brilliant. Surreal, memorable, funny. I love the direction--the way the camera subtly tracks The Panda as he zeroes in on his victim and the almost deadpan way The Panda attacks. Good stuff. Now, off to the grocery store... I have a sudden urge to buy some cheese.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Homemade boomstick

When I was a kid, I would build stuff. Mostly non-working stuff, like an airplane I kind-of-sort-of assembled out of plywood and washing machine parts, or various ghost-detecting apparatuses.

My most successful projects were various types of launchers--usually just tubes or rails that channeled rubber-band-accelerated projectiles. I did manage to assemble a crossbow once.

But this... this is every child builder's dream (and the ATF's nightmare):

Crucial question: will it kill zombies?

This might be a little bit (OK, a lot) beyond even Adult Gerry's technical expertise, but I love the idea that you can build a functioning energy weapon using ordinary household items. I could even mount it on my flying dishwasher.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Put this on the "Things to Do Before I Die" list

The Reno Air Races are wrapping up today. I'm not a huge fan of car racing (although, to be fair, I have only been to one race in my life)--cars going around in variations on a circle don't do much for me. Airplanes, on the other hand....

Feel the breeze from that second flyby?

Yeah. Awesome, right? Vintage planes, souped-up engines, earth-hugging flight... what's not to love? The only thing better than watching from the ground would be sitting in the cockpit. Here's hoping that someday I'll have enough cash lying around to buy one of those sweet P-51s for myself....

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Old Guy Basketball and the Art of Knee Maintenance

It's been a long time. Almost a year, I think. Sometime in late summer 2009, I laced up my sneakers, strapped on my knee brace and hit the court.

I was playing ball regularly back then, once a week, sweating profusely in the 110-degree nighttime heat and polishing my mid-range game--a key part of training for any 6'3" guy who doesn't have the handles to be a guard or the height to be a post player.

Also, I'm 34. Mid-range is a key part of old-guy basketball. As is, I learned on Tuesday, major knee pain.

But first, the good. There were three of us. We arrived on the court at the health and fitness club to find a bunch of teenagers already playing. As they watched us mope onto the court, they started nudging each other.

"Hey, man--wanna play?" they asked. You could hear the predation dripping from their tone of voice. These guys are ancient, it said. Let's humiliate them.

But something strange happened.

Me in Game One.

We smoked them. Annihilated them. Game was to 11 and they scored two. I had five points, kept my guy from scoring, got some rebounds, felt pretty good. We passed a lot and played good D. One of the teens twisted his ankle and sat down.

Oh, and did I mention there were six of them? They subbed in and out several times during the game.

Anyway, they took off after that. And that's when things headed south.

Games Two through Four.

I won't go into the gory details, but I quickly lost my ability to jump... run at more than a jogging pace... hit easy shots... even make layups. And then, to literally add injury to insult, when I woke up the next morning I couldn't (at first) stand up out of bed. On the positive side, the knee I had 'scoped years ago has recovered much faster than the other one--thanks, Dr. Bowen!

So what is the lesson here? There are several.

1) The mid-range game will always pay off.

2) Passing will get better shots.

3) Stretch before playing if you are in your fourth decade of life and have knee problems.

4) There is still no excuse for missing a lay-up.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Four airports, three continents and 25 hours later...

... I'm back in the UAE after three weeks in the United States of Awesome. And what a journey it has been.

Let me illustrate. In Chicago, the Cubs lost.

Taken out to the ballgame.

In Kansas City, bourbon slushies.

Best accompanied by home-smoked ribs.

In the Pacific Northwest, MiG-29s.

The aggressor squadron has landed.

In Orange County, homebrew!

Tastier than it looks.

Then, on the way back, I managed to get an Irish immigration stamp in my passport--odd, because the half-hour I spent in the airport was entirely in security lines. Which is not how I have typically thought of Ireland.

So now I'm back--and just in time for Eid. Here's to cooler weather and food consumption during daylight hours....

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What a trip back to America means

First of all, it means relaxing. I posted once that daily life in the UAE can be like death by a million paper cuts... here in the United States of Awesome, all the paper has nice, rounded edges that don't injure the clumsy. Ramadan, for instance, is a religious observance that the faithful adhere to, not a government mandate against fun and drinking coffee at my desk. Hell, I even have a five-bar wifi signal outside, as opposed to what is usually provided by the good people at Etisalat.

And as I mentioned in my last post, it also means a million mundane but wonderful events, like being able to walk to breakfast and visiting restaurants that serve amazing food without the pretense of being "five-star luxury." I'm looking at you, Uncommon Ground meatloaf.

So far, it has meant taking pictures of everyday things--a baseball game! A pool table! A sun-dappled backgammon board!--and posting them online as though they were interesting to anyone but me.

Boring to look at? Maybe. Excellent way to spend a Friday afternoon? Definitely.

It has also meant wishing our friends from the 'Dhabs were here to enjoy it all. Besides wishing Mrs Blog were here (as I type this, she is cruising around Napa with some girlfriends, drinking the valley's finest and basking in the glow of gourmet cold cuts), I find myself thinking several times a day, "wow, Person X [not a real name--ed.] would love this." Sometimes "this" is a most excellent local beer, sometimes it is a friend's DJ set, sometimes it is farm-raised pork.

So there you go. Sure, constitutional protections and the super-awesome "citizens only" line at customs are great. But, you know, in reality, joy comes from the little things. And there are tons of little things here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I just flew in from Abu Dhabi, and boy are my feet tired

This is Day Two of my sojourn to the United States of America. I already feel like I have been here weeks, and I mean that in the most positive of ways.

The one thing I was a little nervous about, renewing my about-to-expire driver's license, went smoother than any bureaucratic process has a right to. And then I went out with a dear friend and had celebratory margaritas and Mexican food--real Mexican food, made by real Mexican(-Americans) using real ingredients like, say, pork chorizo. On top of all that, Mrs Blog sent me the perfect birthday present, which I am listening to right now.

And if that weren't awesome enough, somehow some Cubs tickets fell into our laps. Because I am able to use my awesome U.S. smartphone, I was able to document this blessed event:

I win! But Cubs lose.

Today is a very special day, and I celebrated by running errands... but not before buying an Elmore Leonard paperback at a neighborhood bookstore down the street and reading it as I enjoyed my breakfast at a Lincoln Square cafe. Breakfast, in this case, was a bloody mary, skillet potatoes and a bacon, egg and cheese croissant. Then I hopped on the Brown Line and headed downtown.

This... is Western. Doors open on the right... at Western.

Chicago is a wonderful city. And it is basically perfect summer weather. Downtown was the ideal kind of crowded--a concentrated blend of locals, tourists and conventioneers. After taking care of a few things, I settled down in the park behind the museum of contemporary art and read my book. Later I got the perfect haram sandwich, a spicy pork number from the Vietnamese bakery around the corner from our old apartment in Chicago.

Being back here is refreshing and invigorating. Life in Abu Dhabi puts life in the U.S. into sharp relief: You see the diversity more, you see the relaxed atmosphere, you see people of all social strata rubbing elbows--literally--on the L, and you appreciate it all a lot more. Chicago is a comforting place, and I would be proud to show anyone around here.

As for my feet, they are tired because of one other distinction between Abu Dhabi and big-city life in the U.S. I have walked more in the last 24 hours than I probably do in six months in the UAE.

And that's a beautiful thing.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Nicer than "Red Asphalt"

One of the great things about being involved in a developing media environment is watching media develop. In this case, a young reporter is thrust into the role of being both the subject (of going through driving school) but also the reporter (about what it takes to go through driving school).

The end result will be posted to serve not just as entertainment--ha, ha, look at him slide down the chair of death!--but also as a guide for expatriates trying to navigate their way through the impressively dense tangle of red tape that surrounds every bureaucratic process here.

So, to recap: a useful and entertaining use of technology. Almost as good as 8-bit Halo.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I'm not lazy, honest

Just busy. I mean, really busy. The past week has taken us from dinner parties to goodbye parties to Filipino dance halls to a margarita-off (I won) and back again. There were many highlights. The easy lowlight was getting turned away from a hotel bar (let me say that again--A HOTEL BAR) because I was wearing sandals.

Let me remind you that I live in the desert and it was like 110 degrees outside. And these were nice sandals. And I was wearing the clothes I wore to work. Which also were nice.

But enough complaining. You know what's fun, besides traipsing around the UAE doing fun things?

(thanks, Friend of the Blog Chris)

Next week--if I'm not lazy--I'll tell you all about staying at the Atlantis this weekend.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Novel uses for a Flip video camera

I was going to make a journalism post today. But, you know, the weekend is almost here, and with it, at least 24 hours of (mostly indoors) relaxation and recreation. So let's look at something... a little more fun.

Remember how I'm an aviation dork? Being the guy holding the camera here would make me the happiest aviation dork on the planet.

Notice that no one tries a split-S below 2,000 feet. Looking at you, here, Adam.

You know, even the takeoff roll is fun to watch. The precise (and tiny) gaps between the plane are goosebump-inducing. The way the formations turn as a single unit is impressive. And all of it makes you forget how much kerosene they burned during the course of the show.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Summer: It's Not That Boring!

It's not that nothing has happened, it's that I haven't had any way of illustrating it. And because it's my blog, and not the newsroom, I can't just talk to the miracle-workers on the photo desk about fixing it.

First off, the World Cup turned into a karate match.

Your kung-fu... is better... than his.

Mrs. Blog arrived back in the UAE, just in time for a few 115-degree days and a major sandstorm. On the plus side, though, there was a backlog of people wanting to hang out with her, and we indulged them with a birthday bowling bash at the Abu Dhabi Country Club.

That was great fun, and I wish I had some pictures on me to post. Not only did we own that place for like five hours--confusing the staff, who apparently had never seen people enjoy bowling before--but thanks to Direct Supervisee of the Blog Matt, we had some great music to listen to.

Then we went and played poker. I lost Dh50; Mrs. Blog won Dh54. A great night indeed.

Last summer, things seemed to slow down quite a bit. This year, there is a lot going on--including planning for our annual joint pilgrimage to the homeland. That's good. I don't want the hot months to just dissolve into a doldrums of Etisalat battles, overpriced hotel meals and air conditioning.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy America's Birthday Day

It's that time of year again. Two hundred and something something years ago, the United States went from being a backwater colony to a backwater nation.

Since then, many great innovations have been innovated and progresses have been progressed. Electricity. The cotton gin. Jazz. The airplane. Space pens.

And, of course... the Muppets.

Happy Fourth of July. (and yes, I think this is going to be a tradition.)