Archive for July, 2005

Re-learning to write


I’ve realised that email has nearly destroyed my ability to write descriptive English well.
The other day I finally edited a blog post about an offroad trip we did in January. I found it quite hard to write a ‘story’ as I’m so used to writing straight to the point, short messages.
The evolution of my written English seems to reflect how technology has advanced and affected me. I’m not complaining at all, I’m just commenting. I found the experience of writing a descriptive passage quite interesting.
At school I was always good at creative writing and never once used the phrase ‘and then I woke up and it was all a dream’. My A-levels were French, German and History, all of which involved extensive essay writing, as did the work for my degree, the writing for which involved lengthy essays on French and German literature. My tutor, Dr Hawcroft, gave me a wonderful complement. After I’d read out one of my essays out during my weekly tutorial, he said, peering at me over his glasses, ‘You write very well. Perhaps too well!’. Tee hee – I’d nearly hoodwinked him by writing rather nicely, whilst covering up the fact I hadn’t really covered as much intellectual ground as I should have done.
After sneaking into a technical role by the back door, thanks to Britain’s wonderfully flexible approach to education and future employment*, I started to write emails. This meant that I had to learn very quickly to make my point extremely as clearly and as succinctly as possible. My essays on Moliere weren’t ‘flowery’, but I had plenty of time to make my point in a pleasing style. Now I had to give a quick explanation to someone who had no time for and no interest in what the ‘Sun Truck’ needed to allow it to function well as a mobile demo centre at such and such a location, or why we needed 15 plug sockets to set up our Ultra 5s with the 24″ monitors. (God bless Sun Rays and flat screens, what a difference that made in terms of the physical effort required to set up a ‘web cafe’.)
Moving to Dubai took things one stage further; now the majority of those reading my mails were not mother-tongue English speakers, so mails had to be as clear and easy to understand as possible.
Short sentences. No big words. Clear instructions with a minimum of sub-clauses, adjectives and complexity.
The paragraph above isn’t meant to sound patronising. If I’d gone to work in France or Germany, I’d have welcomed a similar approach from colleagues who appreciated that their mother tongue wasn’t mine and that chatting in the pub was not the same as justifying a partner strategy, configuration, or choice of Linux distribution.
I sense the opportinity for a great PhD thesis on the development of written English in an email age!
* In the UK it’s fair to say that it’s often not what you’ve learnt, but the fact you’ve been taught how to learn, question the facts and then justify your opinion. Sure, if you want to be a nuclear physicisist, a doctorate in nuclear physics is handy, but for most other jobs, you can learn on the job. I implement and sell what clever people have created, I don’t create it myself.

Great aerial photos of Dubai


I’ve just come across some great aerial views of Dubai.
This link shows the Sheikh Zayed Rd ‘strip’ where I live. You can see one of the buildings that form the Emirates Towers complex, the largest tower in the picture, just right from the centre. The slightly smaller pointy tower on its left is the building I live in. We’re on the 34th floor, facing the Gulf.
You can also see the beginnings of the man made islands that are forming The World. (Flash site that you can’t bookmark properly, but check out the ‘Projects’ link and choose The World). Crazy stuff.
Right behind our building are the structures that will be Dubai’s new financial centre. A City of London or Wall Street for the Middle East.
This pic foundations of the Burj Dubai, which will be the tallest building in the world. We have bought a flat in the ‘Old Town’, part of the general complex being built. It’ll be ready in two years’ time and if we lean out of our balcony and manage not to fall out we ought to be able to see the Burj Dubai.
The amount of construction here is astonishing.

Crawling and wading through Wadi Assimah


I’ve finally got around to writing up a great trip we did early this year.
Crawling and wading through Wadi Assimah
The UAE isn’t known for having regular rainfall, but so far the winter of 2004/2005 has been quite an exception.
In January, Tabu and I went for a trip with friends Anna and Duncan through Wadi Assimah to see if the recent rains has turned a normally straightforward wadi trip into something more exciting. We weren’t disappointed.
Anna’s 1997 Wrangler Sport and my 2001 Wrangler Sahara set off on the Friday morning and quickly made it to the start of the trip, which is clearly detailed in the Off Road Explorer, a book you can buy in most Dubai bookshops. It is full of fun trips, most of which take you through the UAE’s gravelly tracks, far away from the pristine skyscrapers and tarmac that typify Dubai city. The Off Road Explorer goes throu two wadis – Wadi Assimah and Wadi Tayyibah. We though we’d see how far we could get, starting with Wadi Assimah.
When you leave the tarmac road at the start of the route you have a short drive over gravel tracks through a small village. The first time we drove this route a couple of years ago it proved to be the most dangerous stretch. We happened to drive through it just as everyone was coming out of the mosque after Friday prayers. This can be pretty chaotic to say the least, as you try and inch your way forward past people for whom the concept of driving on a fixed side of the road appears totally alien. Today we managed to miss the post prayers chaos and headed straight out onto the track that leads into the wadi.

We took a short detour up to the ‘head’ of the wadi to see if the water was flowing further up. Tabu and I had been there before but the rock formations carved out by thousands of years of flash floods had been dry. This year, instead of the flat gravelly wadi bed, we got to drive through large swathes of flowing water up to 6 inches deep. This was pretty exciting in itself and made a great spectacle, although it turned out later that 6 inch deep water was to be the least of our worries.

At the head of the flat part of the wadi bed, where the track ended and the waterfalls began, we found a large group of men enjoying their lunch. I think they were Iranian, not that it particularly matters. They looked very happy indeed, sitting next to their rented Pajeros and happily scattering plastic bags and plates around the wadi and generally littering the place up to usual UAE levels. For some visitors, it can appear that the yellow plastic bag is the national flower of the UAE, as it decorates most shrubs and trees around the country. The men were very hospitable and we had to decline their offer to share their lunch quite firmly. We checked out the rivulets flowing down through the rocks into the pools further down. It would be a nice walk on another occasion to follow the rocks and wadi bed further up, but we wanted to move on to see what was in wait further along the track.

The next couple of kilometres showed signs that rain had recently fallen. The usually easily drivable gravel track was bumpier than on previous visits, but still posed no problems to the Jeeps.
Then we hit the big stuff.

A car was up ahead with two occupants who had stopped to have lunch next to what looked like a small pool. I happily drove on through the pool, making a huge splash, before bumping up onto the rocky wadi bed in front. Anna’s voice squawked over the walkie talkie telling me that the water had gone right over the rims of my rear passenger side wheel. The little pool was deeper than it had appeared, something that I should have learnt from, bearing in mind the terrain I’d encounter later.
The last time we had driven here, this section had been a simple gravel track with the wadi walls on either side. The rains had washed away all the previous mud and gravel and revealed a long stretch of undulating rock filled with little pools of water. I’m no geologist, but it resembled a flow of lava that had stopped and cooled quickly. On each side the walls of the wadi, which resembled hard packed mud filled with pebbles, reached up to about 10 metres high, with the odd palm clinging to the side.
The rocky stretch continued for about 60 metres. Further up was a narrow path passing a concrete dam, with rocks and palms on one side and the high mud and pebble wadi walls on the other. The last section of the path had fast flowing water running over it, with a two foot drop into a large pool on the left, followed by ten metres of deep looking water before the ‘track’ reemerged, dry, on the other side.
We left the cars standing and went to investigate.

The rocky wadi bed looked passable if driven carefully, but it was debatable if we’d get through the path section further up – it looked wide enough for a Jeep, but only with an inch or two to spare either side. Providing we were able to get through that, there was also the stretch with the fast running water, also not much more than a Wrangler wide, followed by the deep water stretch, which looked to be full of rocks.

Anna rolled up her trousers and paddled through the deeper final section to see how deep it was. It came up to her knees at the deepest section and there were some nasty looking rocks to negotiate as well.

We debated what to do. None of us had every driven over anything like this before and it would be very hard to turn back if we started out and found ourselves unable to go any further and needing to backtrack. There was the danger of scraping the undersides of the Jeeps on the rocks underneath, the sides through the narrow stretch and getting stuck in the deep-ish water, which would leave the exhaust submerged.
We decided to give it a go – after all, what’s the point of owning a Jeep if you’re not going to use it for what it’s good at? Maybe that’s what they mean when they say ‘it’s a Jeep thing’?
I started out first, with Duncan guiding me on the walkie talkie, using first and second gear of low range 4 wheel drive, letting the engine pull the car along, my foot off the accelerator unless absolutely needed.
Duncan’s careful guidance led me safely over the rocks and up onto the narrow stretch.

My heart was really beating now as it was very hard to see where I was going and the car was lurching up and down over every bump, but I’d made it.

Now I had to negotiate a very tricky section.
The thin stretch had a very deep groove on the right next to the wall and on the left a large boulder of compacted stones and mud gave me little clearance.
I drove on, letting the car pull me in 1 lo. In retrospect 2 lo might have been better – 1 lo has so much torque that just touching the pedal can make the Jeep lurch forward.
I squeezed up on to the track and moved forward cautiously, scraping the hood slightly on a palm and bending the right wingmirror back, but getting the car part of the way forward and wedged between the large rock on my left and the wadi wall on my right.
Duncan waved me to stop, I got out and we gathered around to evaluate the situation. At this point some helpful young UAE nationals appeared and started to give us all sorts of advice, including offering to drive my Jeep for me. Thanks but no thanks guys!

After some discussion we decided that it was clear that the only way I would be able to move forward would be my cutting away some of the rock on the left. I would then reverse back and have enough space to make it past.
I got out my sand spade and half heartedly hacked at the rock. By this time we had a bit of a crowd around us, including two Pakistani guys who had driven up to the start of the rocky stretch in a old Series III Land Rover pickup and walked over to see what was going on.

Before I knew it, various orders had been issued by the UAE lads and one of the Pakistani guys had contemptuously pulled my spade from my hands and had squatted down to hack away at the rock. I felt a bit embarrassed at this and the locals clearly thought it was hilarious. I remonstrated a bit, but the two guys had started to hack away much more efficiently than I had and were making significant progress. They seemed quite happy to be helping, so I left them to it.

Before long they’d hacked a good chunk of the ‘rock’ away. It was quite easy really, as it was just compacted mud and gravel. They stood back to admire their work and I thanked them. Duncan and I had a good look around to judge what I should do next, wedged some rocks into the dip on the right hand of the Jeep and decided that I could carry on.
During all this the kids had been generally pestering us and making Tabu, who had been appointed team photographer, take various pictures of them. Or rather pretend to, as we were running out of battery power on my camera.

I hopped back in the Jeep, feeling quite anxious. I had to reverse a bit, move forward taking care not to hit the rock, yet fast enough not to get my wheels bogged down on the right in the dip filled with rocks. After passing the rock I needed to go left pretty sharply onto the stretch covered with water but avoiding going over the metre high ledge into the pool, drive forward on the bumpy concrete ‘path’, then splash through the knee deep water filled with boulders and up onto the dry gravel path ahead.
I inched forward in 1-lo, with Duncan guiding me on the walkie talkie, made it past the rock, made it onto the ledge safely and then into the water, feeling scared and confident, tense and relaxed all at the same time.
The water stretch was the part that worried me most, due to the rock in pool. I kept my foot at the same position, slipped into 2 lo to get some speed up and powered forward steadily. The Jeep bumped forward as if being towed by a winch, devoured the rocks without hesitation and heaved me up onto the path.

I jumped out of the driver’s seat, feeling fantastic – I’d made it! I was thrilled, as were the others. The only damage to the car was a bit of palm trunk smeared on the roof. Hooray!

That was one car across – Anna still had to follow.
We trooped back to Anna’s car. By now some more Nationals had appeared in their own cars. One just drove straight past in an old Daihatsu, crunched over the rocks, past the rock/wall dodgy bit, through the pool and off past my car. At first I was pretty impressed. Then I realised that judging by the sounds coming from his vehicle he clearly didn’t care about his car in the slightest, had probably been doing that kind of thing all his life and was frankly just showing off.
Next up – Anna. I tried to guide her forward over the rocky stretch and realised how hard it had been for Duncan. He also did a better job than me as I managed to get Anna’s Jeep slightly wedged on one raised section of rock. Part of the suspension was touching a rock and she was able to reverse off easily without any damage – just a nasty scraping sound.

Soon she made it through the first stretch. She got out to celebrate whilst I checked for damage. Luckily there was none.

A lunge up past the palms and she was at the rock/wall section and feeling a bit nervous.
I was on the walkie talkie and after she had walked the route on foot she set off with me guiding. Just like me, the Jeep charged past the rock with Anna keeping it at a steady speed, then powered up through the pool.

Success – both Jeeps had made it past. We all felt elated. So far things had been quite nerve racking, new to all of us. What I’d most enjoyed was that it was a total team effort, with each person playing their part calmly and safely.
We were through and feeling pretty good. Then I started thinking about what lay ahead. Would we be able to make it any further? Did we have 10 Kms of the same terrain ahead or would we have to turn back.
As it happened, the rest of the route was child’s play compared to that initial stretch.
First though, I was going to be taking the Jeep for a bath, both inside and out.
A short way up the gravel path we got to what had previously been the only ‘hard’ part of the route before the rains had come. A new dam was in place but the old path that crossed the wadi bottom up over some rocks and around some palms was still there.
This time however, just before the dam where previously you had crossed the riverbed, there was a large puddle. The puddle didn’t look too deep and there was also no real need to go through it as you could edge around it on the left and up on to the rocky stretch.
By now, the kids who had been ‘assisting’ us earlier had walked ahead of use and we now found them sitting on the dam as I drove up. I looked at the dry route, at the puddle and then at the lads on the dam. One of them smiled and pointed at the puddle in a manner which said ‘oh, just splash through, it’s not that deep.’
Rule no 1 when driving though water – get out and check it before you proceed.
I ignored the rule and drover forward in 1high. The bonnet of the Jeep plunged down before me with water almost rolling over it, I revved but felt nothing but soft gravel underneath, but managed to get the nose of the car up and out and almost onto the dry.
The wheels turned, the car juddered and we went nowhere. I stepped on the clutch, terrified I would stall and that water would get sucked up the exhaust. There was an ominous bubbling sound, a combination of water pouring into the car from the back.
I reversed in high, but couldn’t get the exhaust up out of the water.
Forward in 2lo, but couldn’t get high enough to get a grip and drive out. We sat in the middle of the pool.

‘There’s water pouring in next to me!’ announced Tabu’
‘That’s the least of my worries’ I barked.
Two more tries back and forth, but still stuck. I was considering getting out, but opening the doors would have completely flooded the car. One more try back – reverse in lo.
I was a little further forward than after my first entry into the pool, so I used the extra weight the car would give me to make one last effort to reverse up and back. I floored it and the Jeep shook and ground its way back and further up. I could feel us level up, then sensed the back of the car get higher. My foot was to the floor, revs at about 4K, water splashing around us, me gripping the wheel, Tabu gripping the safety handle above the glove box, both of us praying we’d make it out.
With the car juddering up, the noise of the exhaust changed and I knew we’d make it clear of the water. I eased off and the car stalled. We both got out to look – the exhaust was clear.
I was very relieved.
We used a tow rope and Anna easily pulled the Jeep up and out of the pool.

We both used the route around the pool to head off to the next stage.
I’d learnt a lot during those last few minutes…
We bumped easily around the palms and stopped for a break, elated, yet quite exhausted from the excitement earlier.
Driving on for the next 20 minutes was easy, thank goodness. After lunch we saw a lovely stretch of shallow water and used the opportunity to take the picture that’s at the top of the blog.

There were still some very rough sections before we finally left the wadi, but they were simple to cross. We just stuck the Jeeps in 1 lo and let the engine pull us over the bumps, keeping an eye out on each side so as not to veer off the navigable sections and onto the boulders that were slightly below us on each side.
At around 5.30 we hit tarmac.
It was a great day out. Great scenery, great route, lots of excitement and lots of fun. We all worked really well as a team too, as I mentioned earlier, which was a highlight for me – that might sound a little cliched, but having everyone club together and (fairly) calmly take on what for us was quite a task, was a real pleasure.
Thanks to Tabu, my expert photographer, co-pilot and wife, for taking the great pictures of what was a memorable way to spend a Friday afternoon.

What I want from a hotel


Here’s what I want from the hotels I’ve been in recently when travelling for business –

  • Be friendly, but not familiar.
  • Don’t waste time at breakfast. I just want some scrambled eggs on toast and a fizzy water, after which I want to leave, not wait ten minutes to be seated, ten minutes to be asked what drink I want and then ten minutes to sign a receipt.
  • Stop charging me $25 for breakfast – I don’t want to spend an hour stuffing everything that’s on the buffet. If I’m really in a hurry, paying $25 for my scrambled eggs is excessive.
  • Let me open the windows in my room. I like fresh air and I promise not to leave the AC on.
  • Try to schedule maintenance work involving loud hammering some time other than first thing in the morning.
  • Place a switch next to the bed that turns off all the lights in one go. I don’t like settling down to sleep and then realising I have to get up again to switch off a table lamp.
  • Lower the price of Internet access. $25 for a 256Kbps connection for 24 hours is a rip off.
  • Tune the TV properly.
  • Have decent non-smoking areas and don’t make non-smokers walk through the smoking area to get to them.
  • When designing your bar and restaurants, try to design something that you yourself might actually want to visit.
  • When you have 250 people from a coach trip to check out, check me out first. The 250 people on the coach trip aren’t in a hurry to go and do a presentation on how not to sell Sun Rays, but I am.

Jinns and Medicine


This blog’s very interesting – written by a UAE national who appears to have studied in the UK. The article discusses the belief in Jinns in some Islamic societies.
Here’s the link.
I hope I never get slapped by a Jinn.

FY06 – the year of the Sun Ray


It’s been the ‘year of Sun Ray’ for several years now, but this year it really will be 🙂 If it isn’t I’ll eat my hat!
I’m all fired up after having spent three days in Warsaw meeting with all the edu and health sales teams for EMEA. I was able to get in touch and decide on activities with the guys for SEE (Southern and Eastern Europe Middle East and Afica), my region. There’s some very interesting stuff going on in Africa in particular and I’m really looking forward to getting involved. Other regions are doing well too.
I’ve been able to meet and do basic sales training with most of the country sales teams and their partners, or the local client solutions teams have met with me and then conducted the training themselves. I’m in touch with the partner managers and we’re starting to get partners focused on attacking key verticals – education, health care and contact centres. We’re starting to work better with marketing to collect all the great references out there that noone knows about. The move to Client Solutions has settled down well and the model’s being tweaked to make things work as well as possible during this coming year.
We’ve also got the products nicely sorted – the forthcoming Tarantella benefits and plans for RDP connectivity, SRSS 3.0, with 3.1’s beta proving very stable and working well with Solaris x86. Where Sun offices have a good Citrix relationship we’re making very good progress.
In short, with focus, Sun sales teams talking solutions and partners with good Sun and Windows skills, I’m predicting big stuff.

Rendered useless


Ten day away from home and I’ve left my iPod and Palm Pilot sitting on my desk in my flat in Dubai. How will I function?
In just a few weeks I’ve become completely used to having all my music in my pocket to liven up dull journeys, particularly now that the BBC have started releasing podcasts. In the last five years, I’ve been used to a todo list, memo pad and calendar in my pocket at all times too – I can’t even write properly any more, as I tend to write in Graffiti, Palm’s way of entering Latin characters with a stylus. This can be embarrassing when filling in visa entry and hotel forms…

You might fall out of the window!


Come on hotels, let us have some fresh air! I promise that I’ll switch the AC off and won’t chuck myself off the fifth floor.
This is a real bugbear of mine – windows sealed or locked shut in hotels. I flew to Dubai from the UK yesterday, returning from a week’s holiday, had two hours’ sleep and flew to Warsaw via Munich for the Sun Edu meeting here (which I’ll write a bit more about later). I’m tired and bored and I want to lean out of the room and sample some reasonably fresh Polish air…
The windows are locked shut. When I called and asked why, the nice lady told me it was for safety reasons, as people might fall out. I think this is taking things a bit far. Secretly I suspect the reason is that people open the windows and leave the AC running, which drives up costs. I just want some fresh air for a change!

What’s it’s supposed to achieve?


The stupidity of it all makes you want to weep.

VMWare has changed my life


A little bit of hyperbole maybe, but VMWare means I can be so much more productive. I can’t believe it took so long for me to get around to getting a licence.
Need to test rdesktop load balancing between Windows Terminal Servers? Want to look at LTSP? Want to play with Solaris? Fire up VMWare! I’ve got an extra gig in the laptop and a usb drive to store my isos and images. Now I can make some real use of ‘dead time’ in hotels and airports and keep doing the technical stuff that I’ve had to spend less time on recently.
What a great product… It’ll be interesting to see how customers go about using the server edition, which is now certified for our Opteron kit.