Archive for April, 2005

Blog fame at last


Lots of the blogs you read tend to be rather self-referential in the sense that people often seem to write blogs about blogging.
Well, this is another self-referential, blogging about blogging post.
I was thrilled to see just now that my blog has made it to the bottom of the ‘Hot Blogs’ list on the list, with 1072 hits! Was it the picture of Dubrovnik, the mention of my bad connections on my recent flight to the States or everyone I was at school with simultaneously looking me up on Google? Who knows.

Getting grilled at JFK


Despite the white face and British passport, I got a polite but very detailed grilling from the passport stamper at JFK.
He asked me twice what I was intending to do in the US, who I worked for, did I have a company ID badge, did I have a ticket home, could he see it?
They also take a picture and prints of both index fingers.
Thorough stuff.
I’m not complaining in any way. The whole process is also really well organised – a lady directs you to the right queue and the questions are all asked politely and efficiently.
My last two trips to the US didn’t have quite such detailed questioning. Maybe they’re on the lookout for 30 something English systems engineers this week…

En route to Santa Clara


Writing this from the food court in JFK, waiting for my abysmal connection to San Francisco, where I’m spending the week with other Desktop and Mobility bods, flying back on Saturday..
My flights ended up being a nightmare due to some communication problems with my travel agent.
There are two options we use to fly from Dubai to San Francisco.
1. Dubai, Europe, San Fran. That’s about 22 hours’ travelling from take off in Dubai to landing in San Francisco.
2. Dubai, JFK, San Fran. That’s a slightly shorter flying time and you get to leave at 0800 in the morning instead of flying out at 0200 – providing your travel agent books decent connections…
I like the Dubai, JFK, San Fran route. It’s a 14 hour leg to JFK, but the new Emirates planes are comfy and have video on demand. On this flight I got a good seat (16J!) just before Business Class, so I had plenty of legroom. You also get lots of Skywards miles.
However, instead of arriving at 1400 in JFK after the slightly mind-numbing 14 hour flight and jumping on to the 1545 to San Fran, my connection is the 1800 flight, so I have to waste time sitting around. Worse still is my flight back. To keep the cost down, the travel agent put me on a flight that leaves at 0745, which means I have to get up at around 0430 in the morning on Saturday and wait for 6+ hours at JFK for my connection! I could have left San Fran at 1200 or even 1545, but those flights pushed to cost up to more than the more standard route Sun Dubai use, flying via Heathrow or Frankfurt.
I’m pretty cross, as I asked the travel agent to book whatever was practical and met company policy, but added that I had a preference for the Dubai-JFK route. Instead I’ve ended up with the worst of both worlds – longer total travelling time and a longer leg, in order for the flgiht via JFK to cost the same as the flight via Europe. Since the route via Europe is cheaper and doesn’t involve endless hanging around, he should have booked that.
At least this trip bumps me up to a gold card.
Next time I’ll make sure my instructions are more specific.

Popping a tyre back on the rim


When driving on sand you lower your tyre pressure to get more traction. On my Wrangler I’ve been running them at 12psi without ever having any trouble. Running at 12psi and using third gear in low range makes negotiating the dunes so much easier than when we first started out, typically using 16psi and first gear in high range.
One of the dangers of running at low pressures is having a wheel pop off the rim of the wheel. This usually happens when you’re descending a sharp slope and ‘land’ at the bottom with the front wheels at an angle, for example when you discover a large hillock at the bottom of the dip and have to make a sharp turn to the left or right to avoid getting stuck by wedging the car between the slope and the bump.
Fortunately for me, I’ve never popped a tyre… Until yesterday. We did a trip in the area between Big Red and the Maha resort and had really bad luck with tyres coming off the rim – of the three cars on the trip, each of us popped a tyre, even though we weren’t particularly running at very low pressure. I had started the trip on 13psi and the heat had pushed them up to 14psi.
Providing the tyre hasn’t been shredded, it’s easy to get it back on, so I’ve posted some pics below showing our friend Julie’s Galloper having its tyre popped back on during a trip to Pink Rock in March.
Here’s my and Anna’s Jeep at Pink Rock –

Julie poppped a tyre shortly after as we made our way back through some big dunes towards Big Red. Julie was quite excited as it meant she could use her recently purchased ‘air jack’. Here she is with me, proudly displaying the tyre in question –

Now the real work started. We needed to jack the car up and dig the sand out from underneath the wheel so it was free spinning. As usual, the boys did the work and the girls supervised.

The air jack is deployed. They inflate surprisingly quickly, using the gas coming out of the exhaust.

You can see my Max Air in the bottom left. It’s excellent, reinflating a tyre from 12psi to 32 in a minute and a half.

After the sand was dug out and the Max Air attached, we held the tyre forward, holding it against the rim while it inflated, a loud ‘pop’ signallng it was back on. Job done!

Stuck in the desert!


The ME4x4 Club we often drive with is holding its annual ‘Golden Spade Awards’ for the best stucks of the past season. You can find them here.
I’m surprised that this one wasn’t in there.

One of the guys on a trip we did to Liwa decided to move his car in the dark and didn’t notice this dip. Two other guys then decided to try and rescue him, which ended up getting all three cars totally stuck, still roped together… I’m in the red t-shirt trying to extract the Pathfinder and Patrol from their failed rescue attempt. You can see my sand mats on the ground just in front of the two cars. They turned out to be pretty useful.

BBC offering shows as Podcasts


This is fantastic news!
Can’t wait to download these shows to listen to on long trips.

Ten signs of a civilised country


Here are my ten signs that measure how civilised a country is.
What’s a ‘civilised country’ you ask? ‘How do you define one’? The answer’s obvious – any country that meets the criteria set out in my signs will be civilised. It’s a virtuous circle.
Number one is the most important sign. The others follow in no particular order.
1. Cars stopping at zebra crossings to allow waiting pedestrians to cross.
2. The public transport system is useful, efficient, clean, affordable and politely staffed.
3. Well placed smoking areas are to be found in public spaces, with people actually paying attention the signs and not smoking.
4. A choice of drinks without alcohol, sugar or caffeine is available in shops, cafes, etc.
5. Drivers drive in a respectful, anticipatory manner.
6. Officials behave politely and courteously with people.
7. Street signs are clearly worded and easy to understand.
8. Pedestrian zones in town centres are the norm as opposed to the exception.
9. Pedestrians do not spit their chewing gum, phlegm, etc on the ground.
10. The average adult you see on the street is not overweight or obese.

Yugos and Zastavas


Whilst in Croatia recently I enjoyed seeing the various cars on the road dating from the days of Yugoslavia. I presume some were relatively modern Yugos brought over from Serbia in the 90s. They looked new – although the design made them look like cars from the early 80s that had been garaged for most of their life.
Here are three pics of two of the better looking and one of the worst example. The white and red cars are Zastavas, the dilapidated yellow one, still apparently in use on the island of Sipan, is a Yugo.

It’s interesting to see how stylish the older ones look. Skoda went through a similar thing – great looking cars in the 60s, hideous stuff in the 70s and 80s, although the Rapide looked pretty good.
A good history of Yugoslavian cars is here

I’ve joined the iPod revolution


Well, several months after everyone else, I’ve finally joined the iPod revolution after my wife offered to get me a decent mp3 player as a wedding present. Fair exchange – I gave her two rings and pledged eternal love and devotion and got a 60GB iPod Photo in return.
It was a toss up between the iPod Photo and the Sony Network Walkman. The advantages of the Sony were its appearance, which I prefer to the iPod’s. I like the Sony’s general styling, which matches my Sony camera, along with the fact that the brushed steel exterior is easier to keep looking good than the iPod’s.
What swung it in the end was that for not much more money the iPod comes with an extra 40GB of capacity and displays photos as well.
The iPod’s sound quality is excellent, particularly after I used this utility to get rid of the ridiculous volume cap that’s imposed on European iPods thanks to the French. iTunes is easy to use and everything’s worked as it should. This is the first Apple product I’ve ever used and the only confusing thing about it is that everything’s been almost too easy to set up!
My only whinge in terms of hardware is the lack of ‘extras’ the iPod comes with. I would have expected at least a dock and a remote control on the headphones. Not supplying a case is a little odd too, but I presume the strategy is to have lots of other companies create peripherals and create an iPod community around that. If that’s the case, it seems to be working. I’m in the States next week and have ordered a Griffin iTrip, a dock and a case to be sent to the Sun office there via, which is half the price of or the shops in Dubai.
How things change – 5 years ago I compiled cdda2wav and Lame and used a binary for XMMS I came across for Solaris 8, all running on my Sun supplied Ultra 5 at home. I then started busily ripping my CDs across, naming them by hand. Then I moved onto using Grip and XMMS on my Linux laptop, still playing things at home on Solaris, moving to WinAmp when I was forced to use XP at home due to my DSL modem.
Unfortunately, I’ve ended up having to rerip most of my CD collection… When ripping most of my CDs with Grip I appear to have forgotten to tick the ‘include id3 tag’ option. This wasn’t a problem with XMMS or Winamp, as they had a ‘sort by path and filename option’. All my songs went into folders and the individual files were always named 01_Bandname_Albumname_Songname, so even though the ID3 tags weren’t there, it was easy to sort and find things alphabetically in XMMS and WinAmp. Not so in iTunes, which has trouble ordering anything that doesn’t have ID3 tags, apparently.
iTunes also won’t let me rip songs using the naming format above, which is a pain. I like to be able simply to read a filename and know as much about it as I can. I suppose this comes from being used to moving files around using a terminal and basic Unix commands.
Anyway – three days of ripping CDs and I now have nearly 9 days’ worth of music to listen to. My fourteen hour trip to New York on Monday should give me ample time to test things out…
I’ve been trawling around some of the ‘Podcasts’ out there too. If only I could download BBC Radio 4 programmes via RSS… That’s something I’d happily pay for.

Honeymoon in Croatia


This blog isn’t really meant for personal stuff, but I thought I’d write up a bit about getting married on April 2 and the lovely honeymoon we had.

Dubrovnik, taken from the nearby island of Lokrum

The weddng day was perfect – the second day of sunshine in an otherwise wet and windy week. Everything went well and the guests enjoyed themselves. Wonderful.
We had a lovely 10 days in Dubrovnik following the wedding. We toured the general area, stayed in a lovely three star hotel, the Hotel Kompas and generally had a relaxing time. It was great to be in a European setting again – much as I love Dubai, it’s nice to get out of there from time to time. We did tonnes of walking. Usually when I get back home following a break, I go for a swim in our building’s pool and feel totally unfit. This time, all the walking around islands in the Adriatic meant that I breezed through my forty lengths.
I’ve never been so close to war before. Many of Dubrovnik’s buildings still have bullet holes in them, although the old town has been beautifully restored. We also took a day trip to Mostar in Bosnia, where evidence of the war is all around you. Shocking stuff…
All in all an emotionally draining, but perfect wedding day and a very happy two weeks.
I can’t add anything to what you’ll find in all the guidebooks, but here’s a list the sort of things I usually can’t help noticing and find interesting, even if they are allegedly sometimes rather ‘boring’, according to certain people 🙂 :

  • Cars are mainly small European saloons, lots of diesels, lots of Golf Mk 1s, tonnes of hideous Renault 4s
  • Croatian & Bosnian Police are Land Rover users – excellent…
  • Great public transport
  • Good driving standards
  • Inexpensive, fresh, tasty food
  • Plenty of mobile phones, but few people seemed to spend their time bellowing into them, which was refreshing
  • Shops selling branded products, but very few ‘branded’ stores and restaurants
  • Great English spoken, polite people