Archive for January, 2008

Area 53, again

27/01/2008

We had a great trip to Area 53 again a couple of weeks ago. Why Area 53 again? Because it’s great fun to drive around!
I love this picture, courtesy of Mrs Saul, of Simon being de-stucked. Note he’s attached to another stuck car. This is why you go out in threes….

Pete had a sticky moment too. Whilst we were digging him out before giving him a push, some helpful guys on quad bikes drove up and asked if we needed any help, which was very friendly of them. I declined as we were fine. ‘Push him down the hill’ was their helpful advice. Thanks chaps, I’d never have worked that one out.

Unusually we saw some camels right at the top of a big dune ‘hill’. Usually they stay around the base of the steeper hills, but they were obviously feeling as adventurous as we were.

So far we’ve had some great drives this season. I’m that bit more confident and am happy to lead trips where previously I would only have followed.
Up and over.

Congratulations, Richmond Daily Photo

27/01/2008

My father has just completed one year of photos on his daily photo blog of our home town Richmond upon Thames, near London.
One of the things I enjoy about reading blogs is ‘listening’ to people’s written thoughts on subjects you wouldn’t normally talk about, or, conversely, reading things people have written which you might normally have talked about with them. Reading people’s thoughts and comments is quite different to having a chat with them – you get to see sides of a person you wouldn’t normally see, or which you didn’t know existed.
Keep it up, ‘rooney!

Welcome to the US, scumbag

27/01/2008

Let me make it clear from the outset that this post is not an anti-American rant. If I were anti-American, I wouldn’t be working for the company I work for, or travelling to the US in the first place. What this post discusses is the impression made upon visitors to the US, when this kind of thing happens. In my experience, this does not happen when people arrive in the UK, or other countries equally concerned and affected by the current ‘terror’ situation. It is totally unnecessary and does nothing to improve the US’ standing in other people’s eyes, at a time when some positive PR would doubtless be a rather good thing.
Today’s arrival at JFK was the most unwelcoming and downright insulting I have ever experienced on coming here.
On leaving the plane we were told that immigration officers would be checking passports. Fair enough, although I don’t see what the point of this is when we’re all going to be going through a ‘proper’ immigration check later anyway. Never mind, somebody supposedly knows what they are doing and thinks these checks worthwhile.
Posters from the US immigration control plastered around JFK claim that the organisation pledges to greet people cordially and explain processes clearly. Sadly the two officers who ‘greeted’ me and everyone else did neither.
Their supposed welcome made me feel as if I were a prisoner, disembarking from some kind of airborne prison transport vehicle, as opposed to a perfectly legitimate visitor to the US. I expect other people felt the same way. I also expect that US citizens probably felt even more annoyed than me, as everyone was treated with the same disrespect.
Officers Mo Ron and Half Wit stood at the end of the gate, checking passports. Whilst doing this we were subjected to loud shouts of ‘get in line’, ‘form two queues’, ‘come on so we can get this done’ and other semi-coherent, shouted grunting. There was no ‘please’ and no ‘thank you’ and their tone was distinctly condescending. There were no efforts to speak in clear English, despite the fact that it was English was not the first language of the majority of the passengers getting off the plane. I’m a native English speaker and I found it hard to understand what they were saying half the time.
After my passport had been examined and I’d been grunted at, I stood near the end of the gate, waiting for my colleague. At this point the officers seemed either to give up checking people, or had found someone they were looking for, as they were walking towards me with someone who had been sitting near me walking next to them. They were talking away at him in a hostile manner, again making no effort to speak clearly to someone who was clearly having difficulty understanding them. “Dintyouhearmesayyougottagetyawpassportout!??”
When they saw me standing at the end of the gate, one of them grunted at me loudly, saying something I failed to understand, not being fluent in New Yoik immigration officer grunt-speak. I asked him politely to repeat himself.
“Gowalkdownthecorridor, donstandthere!” was the shouted response.
“I’m just waiting for my colleague – he’s right behind you”, I replied.
“Walkdownthecorridernow! I told you to walk down the corridor!”.
I shrugged and walked slowly down the corridor.
“Man see a man in uniform he supposed to do what that man say. I say it five times already, walk down the corridor but he don’ do it!”, went the general discussion behind me, obviously intended for my benefit.
What is the point of making people like this the ‘face’ of the US? Being secure doesn’t mean shouting at people, being rude, being aggressive and being unwelcoming.

Palo Alto for the week

27/01/2008

I have just arrived in Palo Alto, ready for a week’s well deserved training in Sun’s Menlo Park campus, staying in the Sheraton.
The marathon trek wasn’t too bad and went more quickly thanks to having a colleague from Sun Dubai travelling the same route. The first time I came this way from Dubai I flew with Lufthansa the whole way via Frankfurt, with no in-flight entertainment, no iPod, jammed in the middle aisle, an experience it’s not hard to improve on.
Minor irritations were the guy next to me on the Emirates flight from Dubai to New York and the stewardess on the United flight to San Francisco. Major irritations I will write about in another post.
Every twenty minutes after our 0230 take off, the chap next to me on the Emirates flight would shift position, delivering me a massive jab to the ribs in the process, making sleep impossible. After an hour of this I woke him up and politely asked him not to poke me in the ribs every twenty minutes, although I appreciated he was probably doing it accidentally in his sleep. He apologised and managed not to do it again. Whilst I was pleased that he didn’t, I did wonder why he was doing it in the first place? Did he know he was elbowing me? If he’d been doing it accidentally, then surely it would have continued? Odd.
The stewardess on the flight from New York seemed to conform to all the stereotypes of bad service I’ve encountered on US flights, the overriding impression being that as a passenger in economy you are an irritation for the cabin crew and are simply to be tolerated for the duration of the flight. I’m always lead to believe that America is such a customer focused, service lead kind of place, so it always surprises me when I find exactly the opposite.
Relating the story of how she annoyed me sounds a bit petty written down here now, so I won’t go into the details of how a simple misunderstanding over a glass with ice ended up with me fuming. Suffice it to say that it was totally unavoidable and bloody irritating.
Oh dear, this is a grumpy post. I’ll leave on a high note – I’m really looking forward to the training I’ll be on this week, particularly as I’ll be meeting lots of people I either only know via email or who I’ve only had the chance to meet once or twice before.

Here girl

24/01/2008

This article is hilarious.
I love the clash of images – the cold, dark Goth-style dress, the gloomy music, the pale faces and black clothing… And a bus pass for t’bus in Yorkshire, like.
I’m sure her parents are pleased – what a nice young man she’s stepping out with.

Sana’a part two

21/01/2008

My trip to Sana’a last week was probably the most interesting I’ve had for a while.
The full set of pictures is here, but here is a subset.
As mentioned in my earlier post, all the buildings stick to similar ‘design rules’, meaning even newer, cheaply constructed places fit in.
Here’s a ‘new old’ set of shops.

And here’s a building in the Old Town. A much older Old Town than the Old Town I live in!

Lunch was delicious. We started off like this –

I was given a plate and cutlery in the end as I wasn’t managing very well eating with my fingers directly off the table. The side dishes in particular were excellent and included various dips and sauces I’ve never eaten before. I wish I could describe what went into them but I honestly have no idea. The bread was particularly impressive – basically a huge naan bread that’s just folded up and put on the table, rather like a scrunched up bread table cloth.
After lunch.

Pudding was some kind of flaky cakey thing with local honey and bananas. I think I consumed more sugar in one day than I usually would in a month.

As expected, I saw lots of people chewing qat all over the place, but wasn’t able to get a picture of anyone with their cheeks full of leaves. Bits of qat were everywhere, including the stairs to our restaurant.

Whilst the traffic wasn’t bad, driving was a bit erratic for my taste.


Sadly I was only there for one day and had to leave the next morning, after being woken up at at 6am by the call to prayer and kids’ chanting from the school next door to the Movenpick I was staying in. I’ve never been woken up to people shouting ‘Long Live Yemen’ before.
Leaving was quite exciting – I literally had to fight my way through the first baggage x-ray machine, jumping over people’s bags and slipping between people who were pushing and shoving each other to get through. At the Emirates check-in a fist fight broke out in the group of 50 or so Chinese labourers who were flying to Dubai. I’ve never seen anything like it.
Can’t wait to go back.

More Old Town pics

21/01/2008

Mrs Saul took some nice pictures of where we live the other day, granting permission for me to post them online.
Apologies to UAE residents who can’t access Flickr, but the set is here.
Some highlights –
The view of the Burj Dubai from outside our building’s entrance.

Decoration.

The shopping area around The Palace hotel.

Burj Dubai and Lake Towers.

I have this overwhelming sensation that we’ve managed to slip under the radar and shouldn’t really be living somewhere like this.

iTunes irritations

20/01/2008

iTunes is really beginning to irritate me.
Not surprisingly, video takes up a lot of space. To solve this, I’ve moved my iTunes folder onto a central NAS – a nice little Linksys NSLU2 with two 500GB drives attached to it.
Every so often iTunes resets the default folder from the music folder on my networked Y drive to being on my PC’s C drive. This means that after I’ve encoded a few video files and copied them over to the ‘proper’ music folder on the NAS, when adding them to iTunes, iTunes promptly wastes hours copying them all back to my C drive.
When resetting iTunes to point back to my Y drive, iTunes then takes about twenty minutes ‘updating’ the library.
I think I need to untick the option to consolidate my library to stop this happening or mattering. The consolidate library option’s quite helpful though, as it does keep everything in on place automatically. What’s annoying though is that you have to have everything in one place. I’d like to have my music on one drive and video on another to improve performance and to make space more manageable.

Smoked out

18/01/2008

Dubai’s transformation from smokers’ paradise to California style smoking restrictions is continuing apace.
Now that smoking’s banned in malls, shopping is much more enjoyable – apparently the ban was applied to restaurants in November. This passed me by at the time, but it’s also great news. It has also been extended to hotels, according to this article. It may even be applied to bars and pubs.
Our swimming pool has had ‘no smoking’ signs put up near the loungers. I was astonished by this – it’s an outdoor area, after all. That said, it’ll be much nicer if people don’t smoke there.
I do feel a bit sorry for Marlboro Marwan and Srini Silk Cut – 6 months ago they could happily smoke everywhere and now they can’t. I’d have expected the new laws to restrict smoking to defined smoking areas rather than to implement an outright ban, particularly considering the number of smokers here. That said, you probably have to go for one thing or the other to make it workable.
The speed of the change is incredible, as with most things in Dubai. Not so long ago we were sitting in the non-smoking area of a restaurant, surrounded by smokers. When we asked why so many people were smoking in the non-smoking section we were just told that they had to sit there and smoke as the smoking section had filled up. On another occasion, when asking to be seated in the non-smoking area, the waiter brought us to our table and simply removed the ashtray.

The Dirtiest Hotel in Britain

16/01/2008

I was in stitches today after a friend forwarded me this news.
I can’t believe the good old Nanford (to be pronounced in a gruff, scary voice) has moved up from number 2 last year to number 1 as the dirtiest hotel in Britain. How can you not clean up your act, so to speak, after being so publicly named and shamed? Brilliant.
After finishing at Keble I stayed at The Nanford two or three times when coming back to see friends who were still studying. I found it by accident – I can’t remember if I just knocked on the door or found it in the phone book, but it was very cheap and fitted my budget.
Even ten years ago it was, quite frankly, awful. But cheap. Not quite that awful for the cheapness to be worth it though, on reflection.
The first time I stayed there was after Keble Ball in 1998. I’d booked a room with a double bed by mistake, having asked for a double instead of a twin, not knowing much hotel lingo back then. The landlord, who was probably in his late thirties and who matched the comments made in <a href="http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g186361-d193762-j3-r6543308-Nanford_Guest_House-Oxford_Oxfordshire_England.html"these reviews, looked at me and my friend very oddly when we both turned up. I always got the impression that he didn’t really want to be there and had inherited the place somehow and decided to stay on.
Highlights of my other stays were –
– a dog walking into the room early one morning, even though I’d locked the door.
– parking in the filthy car park behind it and seeing the cook smoking whilst cooking food.
– the collection of odd people living and apparently working there.
– the disgusting breakfast. Bacon is not meant to be served rare.
– the completely clashing furntiture, wallpaper and paint. It wasn’t bad taste, it was just a case of using anything to hand.
– hair embedded into the paint in one bathroom.
– showers and taps not working properly.
– filthy towels.
I’m amazed it’s still going. Given it’s prime position I’d have thought the owner would be better off selling up than keeping up the hassle of running it.
Still, at the time it was cheap and served its purpose. In 1998 its sign post was already leaning over precariously and rotting away. Ah, those golden years.