Archive for September, 2005

Dear man in the silver sedan

27/09/2005

If you drive one foot behind me on the main roads of this wonderful emirate, flash your lights, toot your horn and swerve from side to side, I’m not going to move out of your way.
Even if I’d wanted to move, I couldn’t. For a start, you were too close, so it wasn’t safe to move. There were people on my right and people ahead anyway, so there was nowhere to go. Finally, if you’re going to drive like that, you’ll find most people will just stick to what they’re doing and stay in their lane. Why should we do you a favour whilst you do your best to put a premature end to your life?
Your spoilt brat behaviour is simply going to get you killed one day. I have to admit, I wouldn’t be too bothered if you were to wrap yourself around a lamp post, but please don’t take me with you.
If you’d driven up behind, kept a safe distance and waited about 30 seconds I’d have moved out of your way at the next feasible opportunity. Bear that in mind next time please. And let all the others know whilst you’re at it.
One final thing. When you did get passed me, what was the point of then pulling in front of me, nearly smashing into my car and then slamming your brakes on whilst waving your hands? If you were trying to be a living sterotype, you managed to do everything right.

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Crumbs, I sound posh

26/09/2005

Good Lord! Crumbs! Do I really sound like that?
I gave a presentation the other day which was recorded by the event organisers. I, however, hadn’t realised it had been recorded. During lunch I heard a rather posh voice booming over the speakers from the meeting room, telling the world all about Tarantella and Sun Ray, so I walked in to see who on earth was speaking. I realised that it was me – the organisers were playing back a portion of my talk to see if it had been recorded properly.
Most people are surprised when they hear a recording of their own voice, but I was quite surprised at how Britishly posh I sounded.
Wikipedia describes posh thus:
“The adjective “posh”, particularly in Britain, describes the somewhat over-the-top affectations of pretentious or upper-class people.”
If you’re ‘speaking posh’ it tends to mean you sound rather upper class and privately educated. It’s not meant as a compliment. I am not upper class, but I was privately educated for the most part.
I prefer to think of my style of spoken English as being more or less ‘standard, BBC English’. I don’t try and put on airs, or take on an accent that’s not my own. Like it or not, I’ve always been accused of sounding posh, right from when I joined the cub scouts. My family isn’t part of Britain’s aristocratic classes and I didn’t go to Eton or anywhere like that. At school I got teased for sounding posh by people who were much better off financially than my family was. It must just be a mix of the way my parents speak, coupled with my natural voice.
It has its advantages, particularly when working with people who don’t speak English as their mothertongue. My way of speaking typically matches the voices people hear when learning English at school, unless their minds have been poisoned by a curriculum consisting of American English and its associated linguistic horrors.
All the same, I was very surprised at quite *how* posh I sounded. It got me thinking about some of the vocabularly I often use. I realised that I’m pretty much the only English person I know who says ‘crumbs’, as in ‘oh crumbs, we’re late’, or ‘oh crumbs, I forgot to reboot the machine after installation!’.
Does that make me old, posh, or just plain silly?
Dubai has a few old British expats who sound like people do in old 70s sitcoms. Presumably their accent has stagnated during their time away from home, whilst the rest of the country’s move on. I can see the same thing happening to me.

What’s poisoning me?

26/09/2005

Something in my flat is trying to kill me.
I’m not a particularly ‘allergic’ person. I grew up with cats in the house and never had any bad reaction to them. Now I’m a bit older I find I sneeze a bit if I go into a room with cats, but it usually subsides pretty quickly. This summer I had some irritating hayfever, but that’s about it.
In Dubai I’ve had no problems at all until the last few days – something in my flat is giving me a severe reaction and I can’t work out what’s causing the itchy, runny nose!
We’re in a tower block with sealed windows and the AC keeps the place fresh, there are no animals inside, no carpets or curtains to get dusty. All I can think of is that it’s some new ingredient in some household product we use that’s either changed or suddenly decided to make being in my own home a misery. As soon as I go outside it clears up.
This is driving me potty.

My favourite Sun Ray customer

25/09/2005

I was lucky enough to visit a customer recently who are really using Sun Ray to its fullest potential. What’s more they’re very happy with it and it’s working well – the days of rushing around fixing PCs are long gone for the IT team. They are doing pretty much everything it’s possible to do with Sun Ray and are reaping the benefits.
We’re hoping to do an official write up as soon, but here’s an anonymous summary of what they’re up to for now.
The Sun Ray set up currently runs to several hundred seats, principally used by people in their
‘Network Operations Centres’. The NOCs monitor the company network’s health, take services calls, etc. Other users access a variety of applications through their Sun Rays.
Most users have multiheaded set ups, with 3, 4, or 5 monitors on the desk displaying Solaris, Windows and other flavours of Unix on their desktops.
One office even has three Sun Rays working fine at the end of a 128Kbps link, connecting back to a central server.
Citrix is used to deliver Windows applications and where required, Tarantella is used to deliver Unix apps to Sun Ray and PC users on the end of thin lines.
Some custom code has been written so that users’ usb drives are automatically mounted and appear as an icon on users’ Windows desktops.
Some scripting has also been written to integrate with the internal phone network. When a user inserts a card, their extension is automatically set up so that they can use the phone on the desk they are at without needing to log into it – simply inserting your smartcard into the Sun Ray sorts everything out.
What’s interesting about the whole project is that it’s very much been driven by the IT team ‘on the ground’ rather than by senior managers, from what I understand. The guys were constantly rushing about managing the ‘cheap’ PCs they had. This was expensive, time consuming and frankly rather boring. So they looked at alternatives…
I’d love to say I had a hand in the project, but the praise goes to the local partner, as well as Sun’s local Solutions Architect.
I can’t wait to be able to have an official case study done, as it should help us replicate the solution elsewhere quite easily.

I’m a victim of American crime

24/09/2005

…American crime fiction, that is.
I can’t seem to get enough of James Ellroy, Ed McBain and Elmore Leonard at the moment. I’ve also just finished Raymond Chandler’s ‘The Long Goodbye’, which was excellent. I loved this quote from Chandler –
“Chess is as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you can find outside an advertising agency.”
Elmore Leonard’s stories often focus on the story of the criminals themselves, as opposed to the detectives hunting them down. They’re not sophisticated criminal masterminds plotting revenge a la David Baldacci either, they’re thieves, drug dealers and liquor store armed robbers. My world is so completely different to that of 70s/80s Detroit, but he takes me straight into it. I’ve recently ploughed through Freaky Deaky, 52 Pick Up, Swag and several others. Great stuff.
James Ellroy’s novels must be amongst the most complicated in terms of plot and number of characters that I’ve read in a long time. Next time I pick one up I ought to start keeping a note of who’s who. If you leave the book for a day or two for whatever reason, it can be hard to pick it up and remember all the characters. Maybe a ‘cast list’ at the start of the book would help make them easier going. The last two that I’ve read, American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand, have an even more staccato tone to them than the Black Dahlia and the Dudley Smith books. It’s amazing how much he packs in in terms of plot in such a short number of words. White Noise is next on my list to read.
Dubai has a great secondhand book shop that will buy your book off you for a reasonable price. If you buy a book from them, they’ll refund you half the price if you return it to them – rather like a compromise between a public library and a standard book store. I hope someone else in Dubai is reading as many books by these authors as I am and is visiting the same shop. If not I’m going to be spending a lot of money on new editions.

I’m a victim of American crime

24/09/2005

…American crime fiction, that is.
I can’t seem to get enough of James Ellroy, Ed McBain and Elmore Leonard at the moment. I’ve also just finished Raymond Chandler’s ‘The Long Goodbye’, which was excellent. I loved this quote from Chandler –
“Chess is as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you can find outside an advertising agency.”
Elmore Leonard’s stories often focus on the story of the criminals themselves, as opposed to the detectives hunting them down. They’re not sophisticated criminal masterminds plotting revenge a la David Baldacci either, they’re thieves, drug dealers and liquor store armed robbers. My world is so completely different to that of 70s/80s Detroit, but he takes me straight into it. I’ve recently ploughed through Freaky Deaky, 52 Pick Up, Swag and several others. Great stuff.
James Ellroy’s novels must be amongst the most complicated in terms of plot and number of characters that I’ve read in a long time. Next time I pick one up I ought to start keeping a note of who’s who. If you leave the book for a day or two for whatever reason, it can be hard to pick it up and remember all the characters. Maybe a ‘cast list’ at the start of the book would help make them easier going. The last two that I’ve read, American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand, have an even more staccato tone to them than the Black Dahlia and the Dudley Smith books. It’s amazing how much he packs in in terms of plot in such a short number of words. White Noise is next on my list to read.
Dubai has a great secondhand book shop that will buy your book off you for a reasonable price. If you buy a book from them, they’ll refund you half the price if you return it to them – rather like a compromise between a public library and a standard book store. I hope someone else in Dubai is reading as many books by these authors as I am and is visiting the same shop. If not I’m going to be spending a lot of money on new editions.

Hummer H3 spotted

24/09/2005

Whilst off on a trip to Wadi Tayyibeh yesterday I spotted the new Hummer H3 whilst filling up at the petrol station.

Apparently the owner had managed to get hold of one a few weeks before they start shipping officially to the UAE. From the look of it, I can imagine it’ll be a much more sensible car for desert driving than it’s behemoth cousin, the H2. There are tonnes of H2s in Dubai – I have to say I really don’t like them. Far too over the top. The rest of the group had some very nice looking Land Rover Defenders.
At the opposite side of the offroad scale, I spotted this little Suzuki Jeep just before the village of Tayyibeh.

Polar opposite to the Hummer!
Although it’s not that long since we’d driven down Wadi Tayyibeh, it was fun to do the route again.

Hijaz Railway Trek

24/09/2005

I’d love to do this trip, but can’t, sadly.
In case it’s not possible to view the link if you’re not registered, here’s the text describing what’s planned –
“Hijaz Railway Trek
Thursday, October 20 2005 All Day
5 Day Event
Absolutely no single females ….. sorry
This will not be as demanding as Liwa but other challenges lay ahead. Be prepared for the unexpected, simple things in Saudi can become complicated and preparation prior to this trip is essential.
Highlights will be historical train wrecks as TE Lawrence left them during WWI along with a visit to the Nabitean tombs at Al Ula, not as dramatic as Petra, but certainly less busy.”
Sounds great fun. I’m looking forward to seeing the photos.

The City of Seven Hills

24/09/2005

The beginning of September saw my first ever visit to Amman. Up unitl the trip I’d made it to all the other countries in the Middle East that Sun can sell to, with the exception of Lebanon and Jordan, so I was really looking forward to the trip. I’ve worked with lots of Jordanians in Dubai – Jordan’s well educated population seems to be its principle natural resource.
I was presenting at a conference at The Jordanian University, discussing how Sun’s desktop solutions meet a lot of the problems that Universities encounter with providing IT services to their students. The presentation seemed to go down pretty well, I’m pleased to report.
The flight from Dubai is only two and a half hours, I was met at the airport and everything went very smoothly as I was transferred to the Interncontinental. The hotel was great, with some very nice restaurants and a hotel bar that you’d actually want to visit even if you weren’t staying in the hotel, which I find is a pretty rare occurrence. I even forced myself to go to the fitness centre, as part of a new drive to get back in shape after an indulgent summer.
Amman itself, or what I saw of it, is very attractive. All the buildings are built out of the same white stone and my view of the city seemed to stretch for miles from my hotel window.

Both the guys who drove the hotel/airport transport car spoke excellent English and were very chatty. We spoke a lot about the relationship between Britain and Jordan. I hadn’t realised the King Abdullah was half English, although I knew that he’d gone to Sandhurst, like so many princes in this region.
The driving was pretty chaotic, as I’d expected. It still seemed safer than Dubai though, as the average speed was pretty low. I have to admit I did shut my eyes on a few occasions as various Taxis wobbled up rather close to whichever car I was in, or simply pulled out in front of us on the roundabouts. All the taxis seem to be cheap Korean makes for some reason. Painted yellow, with the combination of the ‘unique’ Korean approach to car styling, they gave the impression of lots of dented, dirty insects crawling around the roads.
A lot of the cars, which were mainly mid-sized European and Japanese saloons, had stickers on the back with a capital ‘D’, indicating that they’d been imported from Germany and sold on the secondhand market. When I pointed this out to my driver he told me that whilst that was often the case, a lot of people liked to stick the ‘D’ stickers on as it was percieved to be cool, even if they often didn’t know exactly what the thing meant.
On my second evening I decided to get out of the hotel and go to the area known as the ‘Ab Doon Circle’. This turned out to be a roundabout with several restaurants and bars clustered around it. There was a reasonable Irish Pub and a place describing itself as a ‘Pup and Restaurant German Beer’. I was quite intrigued to see which pups would be on the menu so I went in to have a look, but only discovered a dark bar populated by several friendly ladies. I made my excuses and left.
My taxi ride to the Ab Doon circle was quite exciting. We argued about the price for about ten minutes until I got fed up and agreed to a vastly inflated fee just so we could actually leave the hotel and get there before everything had shut. My driver then informed that all the restaurants were actually shut and that I should go to a special place he knew of where I would be well entertained but shouldn’t tell my wife I had been there. This argument lasted for most of the trip. Finally he actually dropped me where I wanted to be – sadly, however, he had to accept a lower than agreed fare, as I had no change. Served him right! Not surprisingly, everything was open.
Jordan’s so close to Dubai and so full of things to see and do, hopefully we’ll do a tourist visit next year. I thoroughly enjoyed this trip, both from a personal and work point of view – what a shame it’s taken me three years living in the region to get to visit the place. Jordan, I’ll be back!

Firewall for my phone

08/09/2005

I saw this entry at a fellow Sun blogger’s site and it reminded me about something I wish were available for my mobile phone.
I need the a firewall type application for my mobile. I’d like to be able to assign different categories for different numbers and have various settings which would allow me to choose who gets through to me at any given time.
For example, if I’m in Dubai during my official working week I’ll have the phone completely open between 0730 and 2300. I don’t really mind who calls during that time, even if it’s work during the evening. Sometimes however, I might want to block work related calls after 1800, for example. I’ll usually want to block them on Friday as my weekend is Friday and Saturday. I’d like to have my phone on 24 hours a day in case there’s an emergency, but that doesn’t mean I want someone who’s forgotten about timezones calling me at three in the morning. I wouldn’t mind if certain people got through to me at that time though. I don’t understand why a certain telco would want to text me at midnight on a Monday, waking me and my wife up, just to tell me about some special deal they’re doing on calls to a country I never need to call. I do understand why friends or family might need to get through.
I can imagine an easy to use app that lets me assign descriptions to numbers in my phone. I’d then be able to adjust the phone’s ‘firewall’, allowing the calls I want to get through to get through and the text messages and unwanted calls to be blocked or sent straight to voicemail or file as appropriate.