Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The really tall building by that one mall in Dubai

Conversations involving directions are always a bit comical in the UAE. Taxiese, for instance, exists solely because there is no other way (besides learning Urdu) to navigate via cab.

Food delivery is also an adventure, mostly because there are no addresses. It's all "after Delma bridge" this and "opposite mosque" that. And even navigating by landmark is difficult, as the definition of landmark varies from person to person. Some landmarks, however, should be universal, as illustrated by this conversation related to me by a friend (note--"Du" is one of the two telecoms providers in the UAE):


What is your location, ma'am, so we can send our engineer?


Burj Khalifa.


And what is your landmark?


I live in Burj Khalifa.


Yes, ma'am, but we need a landmark so our engineer can locate you.


I live in Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.


But we need a landmark.


Really? OK, Dubai Mall. Are you actually in Dubai?


Yes, ma'am. And how do you spell Burj Khalifa?




S for sugar.


No, F for Freddie.


OK, we will send our engineer to you at Burj Khalisa near to the Dubai Mall.

Now, in Abu Dhabi, they are considering addressing (ha) this problem by using GPS coordinates for mail delivery and, it is assumed, things like emergency services. I guess if you throw enough money at that solution, it could work. Still seems a little more expensive and complicated, however, than just putting numbers on all the buildings....

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The optician of the future

We have been watching a lot of TV these days. Some of it is entertainment--thanks to the miracle of torrenting (and the disaster that is satellite TV in the Middle East, unless you're a Marine) we have watched several complete seasons of some great shows that we missed simply by living here.

A large part of it is also, of course, news. You might have heard of a minor event called the Egyptian Revolution. Well, it most definitely was televised and streamed online... Mrs Blog and I found ourselves glued to the TV or my laptop screen more than once, watching protests convulse Cairo.

It is riveting in two dimensions. But how much would it hurt our eyes in three?

Squint hard and you can see Princess Leia.

Yeah, I get a headache just thinking about that. Not to mention the annoyance of audience members literally seeing the show from different points of view. Villains couldn't lurk in the shadows (because you could see the action from over their shoulder) and a "surprise" bunch of roses held behind the protagonist's back would be visible for the world to see.

So holography is cool and all, but maybe it's better left for things like delivering secret messages and detailing space station plans. In the meantime, we'll rely on the Internet for both news and Glee.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The fiyl* in the room

The last week and a half has been an interesting one in the Middle East. In what amounts to an unprecedented wave of popular unrest, crowds of ordinary people have challenged established regimes across the region... and won.

Tunisia's Zine Ben Ali is long gone. Yemen's Ali Abudullah Saleh has said he won't run for the presidency again when his term expires.

And Egypt. Oh, Egypt. I have been trying to figure out what, exactly, I wanted to write about the situation there. It has been uplifting to see so many people get involved, asking directly for change in a regime that has the window-dressing of a democracy but the innards of a harsh autocracy.

It has also been saddening, at times, to see evil acts unfold in places where we have actually been and recognize. Mrs. Blog, I, and my parents walked through Al Tahrir Square (and by walked, I mean frantically looked for a way to cross the impossibly busy street) after getting off a train one afternoon. The day before, we had dodged hustlers on the same stretch of sidewalk near the Egyptian Museum where protesters hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at each other this week:

Wednesday night.

So much anger and hostility. I don't know how things will turn out, but I hope the throngs of people who have repeatedly gathered this week in Cairo and Alexandria are able to use their sheer mass to bring about change and a better life for their countrymen.

*Elephant, as pronounced in Arabic