Thursday, December 31, 2009

I need a Scotch. I mean whisky.

The range of reactions we got when we told folks we were planning to drive from London (where we had our Very Bow Christmas) to Edinburgh (where we are settling in to celebrate Hogmanay) basically broke down into two camps:

1) "Oh, that will be nice! A drive through the English countryside! (North Americans)
2) "You're driving from London to Edinburgh!? (British)

That second response was then accompanied by some detailed reasons why this was foolishness, ranging from "there's not a lot to see" to "the roads off the M-6 aren't that great" to "the weather in Scotland changes suddenly and you will be dodging livestock on two-lane roads."

It turned out, both responses were right.

Rather than try to make the entire journey in one go, we stopped about five hours' drive north of London in the Lakes District. A few twisty, hilly roads away from the M-6 was a tiny hamlet called Ambleside that was cast out of industrial-strength quaintness. Yet it managed to avoid the usual accompaniment of cheesiness. We stayed in a nice, simple B&B, we ate at a "localvore" restaurant down the way called Lucy's on a Plate, we drank at a local watering hole that had nearly as many dogs in the place as people. Beautiful.

The next day, yesterday, we struck out for Scotland. There was plenty more wonderful scenery, even though--I swear--as soon as we crossed the border it started sleeting on us. We ate lunch in a small town called Moffat, then decided to take the "scenic trail" to Edinbrough. This entailed a winding road through the hills, one lane in each direction, at sunset. I have it on good authority that the Scots invented winding roads.

Marveling at the rolling, snow-covered, sheep-dotted hills, we set out on our way.

Five minutes in, it started raining. Fifteen minutes in, it started snowing. About 30 seconds after that, it was a full-blown blizzard, and the sun was down. Oh, no. The scenic route ended with our Volkswagen Golf parked behind several other cars backed up behind a massive snowdrift that had formed across the road... a four-wheel-drive truck was stuck in it.

So we turned around. And did I mention I was driving at this point? And that the steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car, which drives on the wrong side of the road?

As it turned out, even the non-scenic route entailed about an hour on yet another two-lane, windy, country road with plenty of oncoming traffic and snowdrifts on either side. I finally was able to breathe normally after we somewhat magically found a parking spot in front of the place where we're staying here in Edinburgh.

And now? Now I would like to go find some good whisky. Sounds like I'll need it to keep me warm tonight. The weather changes suddenly here, you see.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

What 10p will buy you

Last night we met one of our Abu Dhabi compatriots for drinks and noshes in Camden Town. It's a lot less quaint than it sounds, which is good--think a slightly edgier version of Lincoln Park, with a bunch of alternative/goth clothing stores, record shops, bars and storefront restaurants. Friend of the Blog Nick ran into Amy Winehouse in a pub there a few weeks ago.

Anyway, after a night of low-key revelry, we were headed back to the Tube stop when a woman approached and asked for change. Other Friend of the Blog Pete dug into his pocket and handed her some silver. She thanked him and walked away...

... then, after about 15 feet, turned around and gave him his change back. "I'm not that desperate," she said as she returned his 10 pence.

The moral of the story, of course, is that beggars really can be choosers.

Off to Buckingham Palace today... we'll say hello to the Queen for you.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's Christmas Eve, babe...

... and for the 33rd consecutive year, I'm not in the drunk tank! That's cause for celebration, right there. So, per Read Ink tradition, I present to you... a growling Irishman singing about living in New York.



Happy Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

England, land of cold, damp and festive

So here we are in Day Three of our sojourn to Great Britain. And it's been pretty great. So far we have done touristy stuff, like pay way too much to ride in a giant Ferris wheel on the Thames that commands great views of the city, everyday stuff like drink pints in tiny pubs with funny names and stuff we thought we had left behind in Chicago... specifically trudge through snow and get stuck in traffic.

But it's very festive and wonderful. There is an energy here that you find few other places in the world--New York is the first that comes to mind. And of course lots of pubs.

Can't wait to see more of it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Avatar

Tonight, we fly to London Towne.

Last night, we drove to Khalidya Mall. That part was awful. I swear, it's like every mall designer in the UAE didn't realize that literally 90 percent of the people who would go shopping would do so in a car. The parking lot was a nightmare, so was the parking garage, and we ended up in the parking lot of a blood bank (!?) down the street.

But whatever. Our friends gave up waiting for us, as they should have, but left our tickets to the UAE 3-D premiere of "Avatar" at the box office. And so we settled into our seats, funny-looking glasses in hand, about five minutes after the opening credits.

From there, though, the experience was immersive and impressive. I know I will be mocked for this (looking at you here, Mrs. Blog), but I would even say it was moving. Here's why: It submerged you in a rich, well-thought-out world that made you forget you were in the theater.


3-D looks much better on the screen than on my head.

Yes. I know that's pretty hyperbolic. And I'm not prone to hyperbole at the movies. But the last sentence in the above paragraph is literally true.

It's not just the 3-dimensional aspect (although it's hard to imagine seeing the movie in any other way at this point). I have seen 3-D films before, the last being a kind of random nature film at the Shedd Aquarium that included a "fourth dimension" of real-world effects like water sprayed in your face and air riffling through your hair. That just seemed gimmicky.

This was, I swear, barely noticeable after the first 10 minutes. And that's a good thing. Because rather than make you think about the cinemagraphic trickery needed to pull something like that off, or cause you to duck as a randomly thrown object hurtles "toward" your face, it just established that you weren't watching a movie. You were in a movie. A silent observer pulled along into a brilliantly realized world.

And about that world. I am a sucker for space opera. I love sweeping planetscapes, multiple suns and bizarre landforms. Yet the planet that was the setting for the movie, a moon called "Pandora" that appeared to be orbiting a gas giant, for all its technicolor animals and neon nighttime vistas, seemed less like an attempt to impress with its weirdness and more like an imaginable place.

Those two factors--3-D that immerses you in the world and a world that is fun to be immersed in--are the movie's strongest points. They are magnificent. And even if you ignore the plot (which I'll get to in a sec), it's still magnificent. A National Geographic special on Pandora would have me on the edge of my seat, chowing down on Moose Crunch.

The characters are broadly drawn, and I won't get into them too much except to say that they are clearly defined as good and bad, and that the main character is truly an avatar. All the actors were fine, and I never got the sense that they were staring at a green screen as they worked... although many times they surely must have been.

And the plot. Well, I don't think I'm giving too much away by saying it's "Dances With Wolves" guest-starring 12-foot-tall blue aliens. But that's fine. It's a serviceable story with lots of archetypical conflicts that resonate, even if only at a superficial level. It hits the right notes, like a pop tune you find yourself subconsciously humming along to.

The most compelling element of the story is the romantic arc between two of the lead characters, which, I have to say, came off surprisingly well considering they were both rendered by some massive server bank deep in a Tokyo CGI farm.

Not that the aliens really come off as computer generated. Like the 3-D factor, the massive amounts of digital content don't seem like animation. They seem real--or as real as the aforementioned Smurfs of the Forest can. A lot of that has to do, if my understanding is correct, with the way that content was created. Rather than motion-captured bodies with the world filled in around them, the new technology, whatever it is, worked to capture all aspects of the actor's work, from body language to facial expressions. And it shows in every CGI sequence.

I guess that's what James Cameron was talking about whenever he talked about this movie as a "game changer." The first motion pictures weren't impressive story-wise, but holy crap! The pictures were moving! The first talking pictures... same thing. People! On screen! Talking! Whatever the hell Cameron did to put this movie together, it literally opens up a new world of filmmaking. In the right hands, this kind of technology moves the audience out of their seats and into the scene. If you just focus on that, "Avatar" is a towering, 600-foot home run.

So let's nutshell it, shall we? GO SEE AVATAR. The plot probably won't impress you. But the world you find yourself thrust into almost certainly will.

Also, I hated "Titanic." Have a great weekend....

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Have video editing software, will travel

To Hollywood. With a $32 million check.

That might not have been the plan of Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez, but, thanks to a horde of marauding robots and the smoking ruins of Montevideo, that just happened to be the way it worked out. He had this vision, right--a vision of a missile-shooting robotic invasion--and so he sat down to realize it.

$300 later, this is what he came up with.

Boom! Whoosh! Aye carumba!

He said he posted the video on YouTube last month just before a weekend. By Monday, his e-mail inbox was choked with mail from bigshot types in Hollywood. And that is how he, his editing software and a bunch of unpaid extras ended up winning him a deal to produce a sci-fi action flick with the blessing of Sam Raimi.

You can't buy that kind of publicity.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sweet

I'm usually not one to get carried away with commercial airliners--my dorkiness is fueled by more exotic machines--but I have to say... the new Boeing 787 has a certain sleekness to it. Witness its maiden voyage:

Wheels down, rain falling, over. Niner.

The coolest thing about it, I think, is the upward cant of the wings. They're bending because, well, they can. Lightweight materials: making planes lighter, faster and niftier looking.

As an aside, because I just can't help myself, I think the chase planes are A-37s (maybe T-37s), which were featured in the latest Air&Space. OK, I'm done.

Hey, look--it's a post about writing!

An article in the latest issue of what might be my favorite magazine ever, Air and Space Smithsonian, got me thinking about a shelved short story idea. It has been a long time since I've worked on any short fiction... I couldn't tell you why. It just seems like every concept or setting or twist that works its way into my brain seems connected to a much larger narrative. Not sure what to blame that on. I'll go with "globalization" for now.

Anyway. The issue with this story is that I have a beginning I love and an end I love and a middle that doesn't really ratchet up the tension the way I would like. Part of the issue is that it's just two guys on a space station, waiting for someone from the ground to talk to them and turn them away from a horrible mission. There is atmosphere (not pure oxygen, of course. Ha.) but nothing sweat-inducing.

So I find myself reintroduced, in a way, to the mechanics of making a relatively small story arc generate conflict and high stakes. It will be a fun exercise.

Or maybe I'll just turn it into a novel.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The flooding of Tanker Mai

I woke up this morning--refreshed after a day of shopping in Dubai yesterday--and noticed that there was still rain speckling the windows of our apartment. "Ah," I thought. "This will be the first time in, like, six months that I will walk to work in the rain."

But when I got outside, I realized it was a lot more than just rain. It had been raining ALL NIGHT, and the neighborhood... well, it was partially underwater.

Same water, different neighborhood.

That's right. There is roughly a foot of water in some places in Tanker Mai. On my way to work, taking a bit more circuitous route than usual, I could see where the water line had reached overnight into several shops and building lobbies. Serious stuff, considering we live in a desert. I just looked it up, because that's what I do, and the average annual rainfall for the entire country is 6.5 cm.

Abu Dhabi could have as much as 4 cm by the end of the week. And then it's off for the sunny skies of London....

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Briefly unidentified flying objects

This week in Norway, folks got an interesting show in the early morning sky. A spinning disc appeared to rise over the horizon, trailed by a tail of bluish light. It floated there for a few minutes, then disappeared into an expanding circle of blackness. No sound was heard.

The science-fiction aficionado in me would have loved it if the aliens had landed shortly thereafter. The space aficionado in me said, "hey, that looks like a tumbling rocket."

So let's sort out what actually happened. Here is a time-lapse photo of the event:

You are getting sleeeeepy....

A huge alien pinwheel with a tractor beam, right? It's an impressive display. Video, though, showed that the most striking elements of the photo were, for the most part, artifacts of taking a long exposure:


Spin, spin, spin, poof.

It sure looks like something venting gases, dunnit? A rocket, maybe? But the Russians--the only people with North Sea-based launch capability--shrugged and said, "it wasn't us." Hmmm.

Meanwhile, here is a computer simulation of a rocket stage with a semi-functional booster engine and a propellant leak or misfiring guidance rocket. Look familiar?



Physics at its most dizzying.

In the end, it turns out that the Russians were just shrugging for public benefit. They had, indeed, launched a rocket from a submarine in the North Sea and it had, in fact, not worked precisely as it was designed to.

So there were no aliens. But at least it was a pretty light show for a cold December morning.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Of Killers, shisha and 70-degree weather in December

Last night was the second concert I have attended in Abu Dhabi, stops in the lairs of various cover bands notwithstanding: The Killers, stopping by at the end of a world tour.

I wouldn't describe myself as a massive fan of the band, but let me tell you why it was a great show.

The thing about going to a concert in Abu Dhabi is that most of the crowd--say four-fifths--are there just because it's a concert in Abu Dhabi. They probably know the band's hit singles, but don't celebrate the band's entire catalog.

As a result, pretty much any band is walking uphill when it comes to getting the crowd involved. Last night was no exception. The Killers came out with a lot of energy, flashing lights and oddball background videos, but the crowd seemed content to basically sway and clap. I did my part by waving my hands in the air in a manner that suggested I had no great personal stake in the situation's outcome.

But. The Killers are from Las Vegas, the home of showmanship, and frontman Brandon Flowers is a showman. Over the course of the evening--they played for at least an hour and a half--he cajoled more and more energy out of the crowd with sing-alongs and general onstage bounciness.


Somewhere between "quiet crowd" and "rocking crowd."

By the time the encore came around, everyone's hands were in the air. And they cared. The three-song extra set concluded with "When You Were Young," a fine song by itself, which was amplified by some serious pyrotechnics. Contrast that to Kings of Leon, who I like better as a band, but who, despite playing to a much bigger audience, basically just came out, strummed an hour of music and walked offstage.

So last night's show was beautiful. And then we walked through the extremely manicured and extremely enormous grounds of the Emirates Palace Hotel to its beach bar for shisha and post-concert cocktails...

... and were joined a half-hour later by the band, who sat at the next cabana over.

I have been struggling through this entire post not to make a pun on the band's name, and I'm not going to blow it now. Let's just say it was a ki... great night.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It's beginning to look nothing like Christmas

I woke up this morning not to a light dusting of snow and prancing reindeer (half of which are common in Chicago this time of year) but to... a sandstorm and no prancing of any kind.

Apparently there are very few sandstorms in the winter. I already sat through a three-day storm in the summer that was less a storm and more a giant cloud of grit. Today's sand event involves more windswept particles, complete with little eddies drifting across the road. Almost like snow, but not quite.

I did, however, spend a good two hours mailing packages this morning, proving that no matter where on Earth you are, the holiday traditions remain the same.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Getting culture at the mall

On National Day, I gently complained that the UAE wasn't doing enough to make its culture accessible--at least in the form of tourist trinketry--to visitors and non-native residents.

Yesterday, I got my first bit of exposure to actual Bedouin tradition. Of course, it was in the mall.

A group of Emirati drummers had formed a drum line and were parading around the mall's central fountain. They were chanting rhythmically in Arabic. They were bobbing to the music. They were prepared to twirl canes and swords and axes, at least based on the objects stacked nearby.

It looked like this, but with fewer fake guns:



And that's really all I want. A little flash. A little dance. A little culture. I don't even care if it's at the mall--at least we could sip Barista coffee as we watched.

Friday, December 4, 2009

More DIY

I know I have probably bragged about this stuff too much. And I already have a (literally) big head.

But I can't help but feel pretty good about fixing the rattle in our car's door. I did this by taking the door paneling off--something I never would have considered doing, say, a year ago. But what can I say. I watched a Filipino speaker-installation guy do it, so what was stopping me? Besides, of course, a fear that I would unplug something important or not be able to put the door back together or simply, you know, burst into flames or something.

Happily, neither of those scenarios emerged. I saw that the power-window motor had a loose bolt in the doorframe. I tightened it. I replaced all the door paneling. I high-fived myself.

And that is the story of how I did something useful on my day off. All by myself.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Made in the UAE--or not

Happy National Day, world. Today is the 38th anniversary of the formation of the United Arab Emirates, and an occasion for great celebration and car-decorating.


The eyes of the sheikhs will guide the driver.

It's kind of remarkable. Consider what it would be like to take part in the Philadelphia festivities in 1816. There are plenty of people out there waving flags who lived on this island when it was just Abu Dhabi, not really a nation, not really a state, just a place with no roads and lots of oil.

The country has come a long way in a short amount of time. A lot of things have been done right--a focus on education, a liberalization of views toward women, building infrastructure, health care, social programs of all stripes. Some things have gone badly--I'm looking at you, Abu Dhabi street planners.

But one interesting facet of life here has become evident in my recent travels. Here in the UAE, we consume. People elsewhere, they manufacture. That, I suppose, is why the announcement of a massive airplane parts plant in Al Ain a few weeks ago was such a big deal.

This dichotomy has been made sharply evident lately. In Oman, there was a lot of stuff for sale that was Omani. Made in Oman. Used by Omanis. And so on. While doing some shopping for Christmas presents (have you been good this year, Friends of the Blog?) in Abu Dhabi, everything was made elsewhere. Even the shibriya, or traditional Arabic daggers, carried by the Bedouin for centuries, are made in Syria. Yes, even the antique ones.

But Damascus is good at steel, you say. OK, fair point. How does that explain all the Lebanese hookahs, then? The incense burners made in India?

So, on this Dec. 2, big ups to Sheikh Zayed for cobbling together a country from nothing. Tall glass buildings do not the soul of a nation make, however. Preserve the traditions. Sell them to tourists if you have to. But don't import Arabia when you ARE Arabia.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The desert, it is large

No pics from Oman. Yet. Be patient, grasshopper.

Meanwhile, a word about the Empty Quarter.

Most of it, as far as I can tell, is in Saudi Arabia. It is a vast place. Vast and, you might have guessed, quite empty. So empty, in fact, that a huge meteor blew up a chunk of it a while back in an explosion big enough to have obliterated a medium-sized city... but no one noticed until the crater was discovered decades later. True story.

Just before Thanksgiving, we stayed at a hotel about 10 kilometers into the UAE's bit of the Empty Quarter. The place was called Qasr al Sarab, which means Mirage Palace (roughly) and it really is in the middle of nowhere. So much so that if you set off walking in most directions, you would die of thirst before you even saw another living thing that wasn't a scruffy looking bush.

Here's a view from the hotel:


That pool of water? It's manmade.*

So. In short, it was a trip. Majestic dunes, absolute desolation. Of course, it's a lot easier to be awed by such things when you're sitting poolside with a mojito.

*No, I didn't take the picture. But I was with the people who did.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A milestone

OK. Just opened the balcony door to collect some laundry that had been drying. The laundry was dry. Not shocking.

What WAS shocking was this observation: It is the exact same temperature outside as it is inside. Twenty-two and a half degrees Celsius, or about 72 degrees Fahrenheit. That's pretty remarkable, considering it hit 122 degrees F at one point this summer.

Unfortunately, we don't have any screens, so the windows remain oh-so-tragically shut.

Oh, man

It has been a week since I last posted. I have a good excuse, but no good pictures (Mrs. Blog is in charge of those at the moment).

We have had friends in town of the old, dear variety, visiting us from New Zealand. Naturally, we wanted to show our digs off to them, so the last week has been filled with mosque visits, beach lounging, camel riding--yeah, I know that's where the lack of pictures really hurts--and a ton of driving.

Also, I fixed a tape adapter for a car stereo. I think.

Anyway, although life remains busy, as soon as I have some digital images in my possession, they'll be up here, amazing and entertaining you. The sand of the Empty Quarter, for instance, would work perfectly as a screen saver. It's that beautiful. And sandy.

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and rather than cook a turkey and be American, not that there is anything wrong with that, run-on sentence, we are packing up our Audi and heading to Oman. Oh, man, indeed.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A twenty-four-point shot

What does 24 hours of college basketball mean to you?

For me, it means laughing a little as I watch St. Peter's and Monmouth play at 5:30 U.S. time. I salute you, two schools I know nothing about, for waking up early to keep me entertained.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How living abroad enhances my dorkiness

First of all, I had a nice post about a Disco Camel all queued up and ready to go, but for some reason my phone stopped being able to e-mail photos. So that bit of glitter will have to wait.

As for the subject of this post, it's simple. I have written at some length about my weakness for barbecue, basketball and space flight, not necessarily in that order. Being a dork, I think, means knowing tons of useless information about a subject... possibly a subject that excites you but not, you know, the rest of the world.

Although I'm not alone in enjoying basketball, I was probably--literally--the only person in the Middle East to have awakened at 5 a.m. to watch an exhibition game.

How do you say "posterized" in Arabic?

Of course, as the above clip indicates, it was in many ways worth it. I was tired (and went back to sleep after the game was over), but there is something cool, maybe even extra cool, about waking up early to watch a sporting event. I felt the same way about 3 a.m. World Cup matches. And with any luck, inshallah as they say here, there will be more highlights as the season progresses.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Disco Camel!

[editor's note: in the wake of several inquiries asking "what's a disco camel?" I have tracked down a picture of the beast from the Internet. It's not the one I took with my somewhat-functional cell phone. Thanks for listening.]

Once again, I have fallen behind on keeping you, dear reader, abreast of life in Abu Dhabi.

We took our first road trip--to Dubai--in the new car. This time, the destination was a hotel in the middle of the city. The takeaway: it's more fun to be by the beach. But we did see a rare species of camel.

My eyes! My eyes!

In other news, all the curtains have been hung. We are now hunting for art, big art, to decorate the living room with. Giant portraits of Sheikh Zayed are popular here, but it's a matter of finding the right one. You don't just go out and buy the first velvet painting you see. Suggestions are welcome.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

This is how we roll

It seems there is a little confusion over our new vehicle. "Does it transform?" people want to know. No, no... I just wanted to find something more interesting than the obligatory magazine cover shot.

So, to clarify:

1) It does not turn into a robot
2) It is black, not orange
3) It is an Audi A6


Note: There are no wet streets in Abu Dhabi.

Today we took 'er to the gym, and I have to say, it makes the whole experience a lot more pleasant. No more hunting down a cab to get there. No more waiting on notoriously cab-poor Al Saada Street for a cab to take us back home. And of course there are leather seats.

Anyway. As much as it hurts my soul to be part of the car problem here, having a car solves a lot of problems. And because Abu Dhabi is the land of a million daily annoyances, that goes a long way... and a longer way, now that we're not walking.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The importance of attending an event when covering it

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix went off yesterday. No one was hurt, a German guy won the race, it was great weather and Aerosmith played their first Abu Dhabi show. All the local media, including my employer, covered it--the F-1 was perhaps the biggest event, and certainly the biggest sporting event, in the country's short history.

This is the Khaleej Times' version. See if you can spot a couple of obvious problems here.

DUBAI — At 5pm on Sunday as the sun began to sink shyly behind the mountains, the top stars of the world’s Formula One Race Circuit were ready for ignition, so they could set the pace at Abu Dhabi’s impressive Yas Marina Circuit. Spot on, as thousands watched, the F1 first ever day-night race was flagged off.

It is a magnificent obsession. It isn’t just the groupies and the fans and smell of gasoline and exhaust spiralling into the air, the brilliance of the pit teams as they pamper these metal monsters and the mighty roar of all that rampant horsepower that creates the ambience. It is the speed and the thrill, the sense of ‘being there’ at what is truly an international event that generates the pulsating excitement.

Note the dateline: Dubai. The race was in Abu Dhabi. Note the mention of mountains. There are mountains in the UAE, but they are several hundred miles away from the race (and Dubai, for that matter). I also suspect that gasoline fumes didn't waft all the way into the next emirate. Solid work.

Equally funny, at least to me, is that the Gulf News devoted a blog post to complaining that the media had to pay for their food, beverages and Internet connections.

There was a time when visiting sports journalists had described the facilities and hospitality in the UAE while covering international events as ‘Mother of all freebies’.

But things have changed over the years and the Media Centre at the Yas Marina Circuit did catch many by surprise.

Internet connections were charged at Dh275 for the weekends while phone connections are charged. Local scribes were not spared either and the larger chunk of scribes from the region will be in for the minor shock when they come in this morning. And for the first time in my 18 years in the UAE, media persons will also have to pay for their snacks and food!

A visiting motorsport-specialised reporter remarked, ‘Maybe they should have made it free for this inaugural edition.”

However an Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management official, in private said, “Well these charges are nothing compared to what journalists have to pay at media centres in other Formula One venues around the world!’

And when Bernie Ecclestone is involved, nothing comes for free!

Yes, not even two "light-hearted" exclamation points can conceal the irritation. But at least the reporter was actually at the track.

First, I tried the Hitler look

Last month, I kind of sort of promised a friend here that I would grow facial hair as part of a fundraiser to fight prostate cancer, Movember. The problem is that I already had facial hair. And the solution, well... it meant turning back the clock 17 years.

Yes. I have had my goatee since I was 16-ish. Anyone who has met me since high school has witnessed whiskers on my chin. Many of my dearest friends have literally never seen me clean-shaven.

And so it was with great trepidation that I picked up a razor.

What would my face look like? Would I appear older? Younger? Uglier? I tried to make it a bit of a game: Start with the edges of the mustache. Hmmm, no, the Hitler 'stache does not become me. (and I suspect he kind of ruined that look for everyone, forever) Next came no mustache, goatee only. That wasn't bad, but my upper lip looked pale and lonely. Finally I got down to just the soul patch, decided I looked like a jerk, and took it all off.

The result was... this.


The new intern at The National. He never smiles.

I have gotten reactions ranging from "Oh, my God!" to "You are never allowed to shave that again" to "Hey, mate"--the last coming from a guy who knows me but clearly had no idea who I was post-shave. (to be fair, I had just gotten a haircut too)

Personally, I think I look OK but would have trouble buying alcohol without ID back in the States. Don't worry, though... stubble is already taking root.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Vroom

And so it was that yesterday--Happy Halloween, by the way--Mrs. Blog and I headed to the race track for the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Our first impression: It seemed kind of unfinished. Lots of roads to nowhere, gravel instead of sidewalk and newly planted vegetation. But our shuttle bus dropped us off exactly where we needed to go, and we headed inside.

Our second impression: F-1 cars are LOUD. And high-pitched. A knowledgeable co-worker told me the engines run at about 18,000 rpm, which is ridiculous. And loud. Did I mention loud? Fortunately they handed out earplugs at the door.


We were close to the track, but not this close.

But despite the brutal power of the F-1 cars, impressive enough in its own right, I guess, the qualifying laps, Saturday's main event, just weren't that interesting. Probably because we had very little clue what was going on. An example: At the end of the last qualifying round, a car crossed the finish line and the stands erupted in cheers. Mrs. Blog and I looked at each other. Shrugged. And later learned that the pole had just been won in some extremely cunning fashion. Okeydoke.

The undercard race, a bunch of souped-up Porsche 911s, was much more interesting. And since our seats in the South Grandstand were right at the end of a long straightaway, we got to witness some jostling for position and spinning out. Good times.


Actual racing.

Outside of the cars going fast--and the beautiful company and weather--I have to say that I was underwhelmed by the track experience. The food wasn't great, but whatever... it's stadium food. Beer, though, you could only drink in the beer tent. Not in the stands. And there was a line several hours long to get into the aforementioned tent. And although there were volunteers all over the place, the operation wasn't very organized.

This was most evident after the post-race Kings of Leon show (which was great, and pictures of which I will post as soon as I have them in hand). There was a massive herd of buses waiting to take people away from Ferrari World, where the concert was staged.

But the vast majority of the buses, at least when we came out, were empty and not moving because they were lined up in a single-lane parking area. The buses we needed to get on were all the way back by where we had entered the track--maybe a mile from the concert venue--so we shrugged and instead of waiting on a bus for an hour we went to a nearby hotel for a cocktail.

And then, after paying a stranger to cart seven expats to Abu Dhabi in his shiny new Tahoe, we retired. Today we will watch the actual race on TV.  And tomorrow Abu Dhabi will return to normal.

Or maybe after tomorrow.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Transportation stories


LEAD: I was on TV here yesterday, talking about--of all things--yacht racing. "Are you an expert on yacht racing?" an expert on me asked. The answer is "kind of."

Mostly because I found myself in the middle of coverage of how a lawsuit filed in the U.S. by the San Francisco yacht club challenging for the America's Cup more or less eliminated the UAE as a venue for the race next year. Kind of a bummer. Although I haven't had a ton of luck sailing boats myself, I was excited about seeing someone else do it. So much for that. But at least I got some air time.

DOWNPAGE: We have wheels. Four of them, specifically. Our car looks like this:


Except it's black and doesn't unfold.

BRIEF w/pix: The Ares I-X test launch went flawlessly. Check it out:

 
Big rocket did, in fact, go whoosh.

So that's the news. This weekend, we are headed to Yas Island to watch more vehicles: Specifically  the built-for-blinding-speed Formula One cars. After all these months of run-up, I'm curious to see if these wheeled cheetahs are any fun to see up close.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bummer

The Ares I-X launcher--designed to be the first new manned rocket since the Space Shuttle took wing back in the 70s--did not go whoosh today. High winds and minor technical difficulties mean it will be on the ground at least another 24 hours.

It's not outwardly unusual, this rocket, but it is momentous beast because it marks another step (jump?) into space by mankind. Before I am 40, it will have tossed an astronaut into orbit. And before I am 50, it will have helped another crew land on the moon.




It's pretty in the air, too.

So. Let's hope that when the big, red button finally does get pushed, all systems are go. Remember, even the Saturn V started with a test launch.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

March seems right around the corner

There are college basketball games on TV just about every day here. Sure, they are a year or two old and randomly chosen from conferences I don't care about. Yeah, it's not like I have much time to watch TV during the day anyway.

Fortunately, the real thing is just around the corner.




I realize that, like many things I post here, admitting that the above video makes me excited about watching basketball qualifies me solidly as a dork. But that's OK. As long as I'm a dork who can watch the games live on the Internet.

Friday, October 23, 2009

It comes earlier every year...

... even in Abu Dhabi. Witness the display I saw at the mall today:


Non-native species of pine tree.

No sign of Halloween costumes, though.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Things that have nothing to do with Abu Dhabi

I will say, this would be a nice change from the cavalcade of Filipino cover bands here:



I would settle for being able to play the flute OR beatbox.

I don't think I could pull this off with a trumpet. So for the time being I'll just stick to furniture construction and amateur electricianship.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Doing it myself

In the weeks since Mrs. Blog has arrived in Abu Dhabi, I have become intimately familiar with all the various Ikea fasteners.

But there have been many other things to take care of besides furniture assembly. I have installed lights, removed shelves, hung mirrors and configured routers. But this week saw the completion of two of the most challenging UAE endeavors this side of Yas Island: The hanging—and wiring!—of two massive Arabic lanterns in the living room and the wiring of an Ethernet connection in the home office.

The lanterns are a big deal because they are heavy, brass and fitted with a convenient head-impaler on the bottom. They’re also antiques, so the light inside is nothing more than a naked bulb on a cord, which I spliced into the junction box. (there were no wire nuts to be found on the island, however, but that’s another story.) The hanging hook went neatly through a cover plate, and, well, see for yourself:

The living room is now 33 percent better lighted; my ego is now approximately 100 percent larger.

Meanwhile, our concrete walls, though solid, prevent a good wireless signal from reaching the back room. That means the home office is occasionally a barren, Internet-free wasteland… a problem when one is, say, working from home and connecting to an office on another continent.

The solution: digging a cable out of the wall—it turns out all the rooms were wired, but they only bothered to install jacks in the living room—and crimping a connector onto it. Several hours, a newly purchased crimping tool and a set of Internet instructions on Cat 6 four-pair pinouts later, this was the scene:

Yeah, the second chairs was probably extraneous.

What you can’t see is the newly activated wireless router in the office, which is happily pumping bandwidth. And although my Arabic skills have barely advanced during my time here, I can definitely say I have become more handy. Which I don’t know how to say in Arabic.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

So much for the camels

Well. Back from a weekend in Al Ain, a border oasis town in the eastern part of the Abu Dhabi Emirate.

It's a sleepy place. Literally, for us, because we slept away most of Sunday, and figuratively, for the people who live there, because it's a bit of a hamlet. Sure, there is traffic and lots of places to go shop, but it's tiny and not very vertical.

That makes it a little embarrassing that we didn't find the camel market. We had two conflicting sets of directions, followed the most up-to-date set and wound up at an Omani border checkpoint. We did see some camels grazing and sleeping by the side of the road at one point, but it wasn't the same as getting to smell them up close. Oh, well.

The highlight of the trip for me was our trek--and by trek I mean "drive"--up the mountain outside of town. There is a resort at the top, but the really interesting part was the drive and the view from the summit. You can see forever up there. And the rocks are jagged, poking up from the sand like the teeth of some long-dead desert monster. The result is that when the sun sets, sinking into an orangish haze, it's a bit like being on another planet.

And as we headed back down into the city, watching the sun set, it reminded me that this kind of thing is why we're here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Too much busy

You know, I thought of a clever post title before going to bed last night, but it totally escapes me now. That's not surprising. Life has gotten quite busy.

It's sort of the opposite of what happens in Chicago. Come mid-November, things start to get uncomfortably cold. By January, everyone is inside drinking whiskey and pretending the Bears are in the Super Bowl. Then, like some magical Daley flipped a switch somewhere, the city comes back to life again in April (and occasionally March). Festivals, concerts, parties, holidays, sports.

Same thing here. Except in the winter. All of a sudden, Mrs Blog and I are booked many weekends in advance. This weekend we're headed to Al Ain, where they have mountains and camels and Scots.


Two out of three.

Next weekend, we're going to see the New York Philharmonic, because, well, we can't see them in New York. Weekend after that, we're going to see car racing and Kings of Leon here:


Yes, the track goes through the hotel. No, I don't think it's safe either.

Then we have visitors... are considering Thanksgiving in Oman... and so on. Oh, and there is an international film festival going on in Abu Dhabi right now, too. We have seen two films, one Serbian-Albanian and one Canadian. More to come on Friday.

In the meantime, we are strongly considering ditching the taxi system--authentically Abu Dhabian though it might be--for wheels of our own. Anyone with insider information on this process is welcome to speak up.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Take a number

Mrs. Blog and I spent most of the morning at (or at least near) Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, where various medical tests were required for our ongoing battle against the difficulties of obtaining a visa.

My experience was quite different. The whole thing only took about 30 minutes; this morning, we spent more than an hour waiting in line, I mean queue, for No. 187 to be called and the testing process to begin. Note: When Mrs. Blog was assigned 187, the next number in line was 133. "Oof," her text message said.

Text message, of course, because men aren't allowed in the ladies' waiting room.

Anyway... inshallah, that will be the last step we need for everything to get processed. And a whole new world of driver's licenses, gym club memberships and credit cards shall open up.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

My kingdom for a _______

You move to a foreign country, and you leave a lot of objects behind. Furniture is an obvious one. Vehicles. Liquor supplies. And so on. Some stuff you can replace; some stuff you tell yourself it's not worth replacing, because who wants to tote--for example--a six-foot ladder back to the United States? Not this guy.

That's why this guy needs a ladder, badly. See, the building watchman/super is on vacation. It's not totally clear when he'll be back. This week, we think. In the meantime, all the handyman accouterments that I'm used to getting from him are, well, not gettable. When you're assembling a home, that's tough.

For instance, I need to change the light socket in one of these lanterns we just bought and hung. But I can't do it without a ladder--we have 11-foot ceilings. There is a mirror that needs to be hung in the pink office. But it's not gonna get done without a power drill. (or a hand drill--thanks, IT Support of the Blog Wes.) I need to spackle, but it's not happening without a putty knife. Well, that's a bad example. I bought a putty knife.

A Home Depot would make a killing here, if for no other reason than even the biggest hardware store in town has a more types of barbecue grills than it does sizes of nail... and I'm not exaggerating.

Anyway, ladders, drills, screws, hooks, anchors, spackle--turns out that's called polyfilla in this part of the world--all are needed in the Budget building. Meanwhile, our neighborhood is crowded with enough furniture stores to outfit 100 Budget buildings. I guess in a pinch, I could just stack gaudy chairs on top of each other....

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Overheard on an Abu Dhabi street

One gets stuck in traffic quite often in Abu Dhabi. It's an artifact of a town built for cars, ironically enough--it's just that it was built for about 1/10 the number of cars that actually exist. But c'est la vie.

And speaking of French, we pulled up next to a Peugeot last night, prompting me to look at its logo and say: "Hey, it's a lion driving a car."


Two paws on the wheel.

Mrs. Blog's response: "Lions don't drive standing up, you moron." And that's how you laugh at a traffic jam.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Every organization needs one

That's right. When the zombies attack, will YOUR office know how to handle it? The University of Florida might end up being the safest place in the world during the undead apocalypse, thanks to good planning.

ZOMBIE ATTACK
Disaster Preparedness Simulation Exercise #5 (DR5)

E-Learning System Support Team:
AT-ICS, AT-LSS, CNS-OSG, UF Help Desk



Purpose

The purpose of this exercise is to discern appropriate strategies for responding to a zombie attack and/or infection that might affect the University of Florida campus.


Participants
 All AT-LSS staff
 Appropriate AT-ICS staff
 Appropriate CNS-OSG staff
 Representatives from the UF Computing Help Desk
 CNS emergency planning representatives
 EHS emergency planning representative
 UF Zombie Response Team1


Process
This exercise consists of a single event: a table-top exercise in which the science (e.g. neurobiology) of “zombieism,” or zombie behavior spectrum disorder2 (ZBSD) will be discussed and the stages of an outbreak identified, with follow-on discussion of how an outbreak of zombie attacks might affect maintaining support for the campus course management system.

This disaster exercise may draw upon the Campus Closure Exercise (DR4) current in the preparations stage.

Having lived in Florida, I can say assuredly that this would not be the weirdest thing to happen down there.

Friday, October 2, 2009

An Olympic moment

A few hours from now, the Olympic Committee in Copenhagen will announce the host city for the 2016 Games. All the participants--Chicago, Rio, Tokyo, Madrid--have just about wrapped up their pitches. You can watch the proceedings live here.

Honestly, from a tourist's perspective, I don't see how you could go wrong with any one of those options. As a recent Chicagoan, though, my feelings are mixed. On the one hand, it could do wonders for the city to upgrade the CTA (hello, Circle Line!). On the other hand, it would make life pretty miserable for some Chicago residents, and outright unbearable for others--most notably the South Siders who would be run out for the construction of Olympic facilities.

Tokyo, meanwhile, would be cool for the "Akira" novelty factor.

On second thought, maybe not such a great idea.

Anyway, we'll see what happens. I guess I won't be disappointed either way. And if the Games do come to Chicago, I'm pretty sure we can find someplace to crash if we want to visit.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

IMO, et al

Language has been changing since some caveman decided it was easier to grunt than gesture. Words that were innocuous develop less-innocent meanings (I'm looking at you here, "gay"), words that don't exist get invented--radar--and words that were common disappear.

Now, thanks to the Internet, or maybe cell phones, or maybe just "kids, get off my lawn!" words that aren't words at all become words. Wisconsin recently discovered that this can be a problem.

The folks at the Wisconsin Tourism Federation, a 30-year-old tourism lobbying coalition based in Sun Prairie, couldn't possibly have predicted how the Internet would change the lingo.

While its abbreviation, WTF, was fairly innocuous a few decades ago, it means something entirely different these days.

That meaning - a phrase that can't be printed in a family newspaper, even though kids all over the country are texting it on a regular basis - isn't what anyone in tourism wants potential visitors to associate with Wisconsin.
Yeah, Wisconsin has never made me think "WTF?" either, except maybe the Mars Cheese Castle.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I used a hand-cranked drill to hang a cabinet and mount a shelf

That's why you will now watch a music video of DJ C-Saga feat. $tephen Hawking.



Who knew the universe had a nice backbeat?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Peace harbor

Ah, Dubai. You are apparently in a permanent state of construction and traffic jams, yet your beaches and sci-fi skyline make those problems seem so distant sometimes.

We spent the weekend at Mina a'Salaam--Peace Harbor, Harbor of Peace, Peaceful Harbor, something like that--at the Madinat Jumeirah. Even those of you living in a place that isn't a desert may have heard that name... it's where the Burj Al Arab is. Our room had a nice view of both the Burj (which we didn't visit) and the beach (which we very much did). Proof:

It's like a giant sailboat, except with a hotel instead of a sail.

Downtown Dubai wasn't too far away, but it was pretty hazy. Still, though, I think you can see the "is that REAL?" quality that the half-mile-tall Burj Dubai elicits from a distance.

Not a matte painting. (also not a great photo--taken with my cell phone)

We had a wonderful time. Ate a meal in a beautiful restaurant at the end of a long pier between the Palm and the Burj Al Arab. How long was the pier? They insisted on driving us back to shore in a golf cart. Superlative.

Now we're back in Abu Dhabi, awaiting a couch and pondering hardware choices for hanging lamps. But the peaceful glow will stick for a while.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Dear fire alarm,

I appreciate that you are loud enough to wake me up in the middle of the night if there's trouble. That reassures me that, should an emergency arise, we can hustle out to safety.

However, in the future, I think it would be best if you didn't randomly go off at 4 a.m. because of a short circuit or something. Being an alarm system, you never sleep, and that's cool. But the occupants of this building do. And predawn Saturday morning is no time to be awake for just about any reason.

Love,

Apartment 101

P.S. Dear guys trying to fix the alarm this morning: 9 a.m. on a Saturday is only marginally more acceptable for fire alarm tests.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Funny things happen here

For one, Mrs. Blog and I found ourselves drinking beer and smoking shisha in the Middle East last night. That's not so surprising today, sure, but it's not something either of us would have predicted, say, last year.

For another, I have a can of regular Coke sitting on my desk--the vending machine was out of Diet--and I can't really finish it. I'm as big of a soda fan as I am a hater of high-fructose corn syrup, so faced with the choice of embracing no-sugar sweeteners or abandoning fizzy drinks altogether, it was a pretty easy decision. The result is that I have been drinking diet sodas for a while now... and all of a sudden the regular stuff tastes like a sugar bomb. I'm not sure what any of this means, but I thought you'd like to know.

And I most likely will be mounting a shoe cabinet to the wall of our second bedroom using a hand drill. Yeah. The kind that runs on elbow grease. Again, not something I would have predicted.

Finally, we're heading to Dubai this weekend, to a hotel on the ocean nicely situated between this:

Fronds to the left of us.

... and this:
Sailcloth to the right.

An island made to look like a palm frond and a tower made to look like a sail: how's that for a funny thing... and a great way to celebrate a whirlwind month.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I'm not sure which is more bizarre:

Moammar Ghadaffi's speech--in which he pulled a Fidel-esque rambler of a nonsensical oratory, suggesting at one point that Obama should be made king for life...

or

The football and basketball teams of my alma mater getting in not one, not two, but THREE inter-squad scuffles in the last 24 hours. One of which put a basketball player in the hospital with a dislocated thumb.

I'm going to go ahead and vote for Ghadaffi, just because of the unintentional comedic value of making a long speech to a body (the UN) that he explicitly points out he does not recognize as legitimate. I wonder how his jumpshot is....

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

In which I ignore professional courtesy for a moment

Dan Brown makes a tremendous living from his work. I would be happy with 1/10 of his financial success.

And yet. And yet. And yet... the man's writing drives me nuts. To me, it seems slapdash, awkward and often just inaccurate. But don't take my word for it.

16. The Da Vinci Code, chapter 4: A voice spoke, chillingly close. "Do not move." On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly. Only fifteen feet away, outside the sealed gate, the mountainous silhouette of his attacker stared through the iron bars. He was broad and tall, with ghost-pale skin and thinning white hair. His irises were pink with dark red pupils.

A silhouette with white hair and pink irises stood chillingly close but 15 feet away. What’s wrong with this picture?

This cracked me up. How couldn't it? And have his publishers given up on editing Mr. Brown altogether? This is the stuff an editing novice would pick up on in one pass where I come from.

Great moments in video game advertising

A couple of years ago, I wrote this.

That was an ad for a video game. Its live-action, documentary feel gave it a broader emotional appeal than you might expect. Now, with Halo 3: ODST hitting the market soon, Bungie has commissioned another live-action ad. And again, I'm impressed with the production values and use of something besides raw gameplay to get people interested.


Halo 3: ODST Live Action Extended Trailer - Watch more Game Trailers

Anyone agree? Or am I just thinking about this too hard?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Bits and pieces

So the apartment is coming together. Sure, there's still no couch. And yes, there are various screws, fasteners and bits of cardboard lying around from the mountain of Ikea furniture we have assembled over the last two weeks.

But on the two-week anniversary of our bleary-eyed arrival in the UAE, progress has been made. Today, for instance, I installed a chandelier in Mrs. Blog's pink office. Tomorrow I will be hanging a full-length Hello Kitty mirror.*

Ramadan is over now, and that's a relief for everyone, I think. For those who were fasting, the option of a daytime bite is now on the table. For those who weren't, random Ramadan store hours (closed from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.? Why? WHY!?) are now off the table. Of course, now it's Eid time. Eid was actually on Sunday, and the government declared Monday through Wednesday a public holiday, so I imagine Thursday will be the first opportunity I'll have to, say, visit a post office that is actually open when it says it will be.

In the meantime, though, at least we can drink water on the street, enjoy indoor light that doesn't come from a naked 60-watt bulb and explore the neighborhood in weather that continues to creep below the triple-digit threshold.

*only one of those last two sentences is true.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Let's get Iftarded in here

Last night, we ate Iftar.

What's Iftar? It's the sundown meal during Ramadan--a month of daytime fasting. At the end of a long (and in the UAE, excruciatingly hot) day of not eating or drinking, Iftar is the moment when you can sit down and finally give your stomach what it wants.

Or, in our case, about 10 times what our stomachs wanted.

When the fast-ending prayer sounded, the crowds headed to the buffet, stacking their plates toward the heavens and washing it all down with coffee, water, and mystery beverages (which we later, with the help of Google, discerned were mixed berry and tamarind juices).

Appetizer.

The meal began with dates and ended with a plate of sweets. The more or less complete damage, in the order it occurred:

-Dates, apricots, laban (yogurt drink)
-Lentil soup
-Cheeses, breads, crackers
-Pita, hummous, baba ganoush, foul (beans), a mint salad (I think), stewed zucchini salad
-Shrimp, lima beans, falafel, samosas, grilled steak, grilled chicken, "chicken Harris"
-Lamb, rice, chicken jalfrazie, potatoes au gratin, kefta kabob, macaroni and cheese
-Gulab jamon (Indian sweets), sugar cookie, pineapple, I know I'm forgetting some desserts here


Foreground: assorted spreads. Middle ground: a concerned blogger with plate No. 3. Background: Iftar madness. (photos courtesy Mrs. Blog. All rights reserved)

The end result was a serious Iftar coma and the feeling that we would be just fine without eating for the next 24 hours. But that's all part of the fun.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

33--more difficult than I thought

We hit the gym today for the first time since arriving here. It was also my first workout since I headed back to the States... and since I turned 33. The point was driven home when the stationary bike told me that my target heart rate for a cardio workout was now one beat per minute slower than it had been for my 32-year-old self.

I clicked it back to the old target, started pedaling, and survived.

Pedal and survive: It's not a bad mantra when getting re-settled into a place like Abu Dhabi. Things that I kind of took for granted or tuned out--the heat, the occasional maddening paucity of taxis, the basic unwalkability of the city, the view from our front window--can accumulate into a big pile of frustration quickly for someone experiencing them for the first time. The good stuff too, from friends to sights to restaurants... that needs to be accounted for all over again.

It's a transition, and you have to keep rolling with it. Although no one is going to be dumb enough to ride a bike around in Abu Dhabi's streets.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Concrete is mostly sand

I know this not just because I have thoroughly mastered the obvious, but because I drilled through about six inches of it today in hanging a mirror in our bedroom. Concrete is the primary building material around here (No. 2 being tinted glass), and it makes perfect sense, given that it's mostly... sand. And we live in a desert.

But it's a huge pain in the butt when you're trying to make a house a home.

For instance, in most circumstances, if you need to hang a picture, you drill a hole in the drywall and screw in a hook. If it's a massive picture--Center High School Class of '95, for example--then you use a drywall anchor. And if it's a mirror big enough to signal the International Space Station, then you find a stud and cross your fingers.

Here, in the land of concrete, you drill and then pretend that the drywall anchors you buy at Carrefour are actually masonry anchors. You also ignore the fact that the drill you borrowed doesn't quite hold the bits steady, so that 1/8" hole is closer to 1/4" than you'd like it to be. And finally, you'll ignore the fact that everyone apparently uses wood bits to drill into sheet rock, concrete and, who knows, glass, metal, lettuce and styrofoam too.

Up next: installing a new light fixture knowing for certain only that the blue wire connects to the blue wire, and the brown wire connects to the brown wire.

Jet lag: It's not just for breakfast anymore

In fact, at the moment, it's rearing its bleary head around dinner time.

The most obvious manifestation of jet lag is, quite simply, that your body thinks it is one time while the world--we'll call it reality--reflects something different. It's 9 a.m. in Abu Dhabi: Time to wake up! It's midnight in Chicago: Time to (probably) go to bed!

When I first arrived here, I was up early every morning because, well, that's what my body wanted to do. And I spent enough time walking around during the day that by the time I got home from work (or the Cellar), I was ready to crash. So over a couple of weeks, a routine took shape, and I was good to go.

A week into this most recent arrival, Mrs Blog and I have encountered some annoying stuff like sleeping until 2 p.m. or not being able to sleep at 4 a.m. And in circumstances like that, not even the adrenalin blast of wrangling with Etisalat's customer service can keep a guy conscious.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Similarities and differences

Sunday night with Mrs. Blog in the UAE:

We went out to dinner. Had Italian, as a matter of fact. Her dish was way better than mine. These things, they are not much different from life in the United States.

After dinner, we walked along the Corniche, a long waterfront park in Abu Dhabi that overlooks the Persian-I-mean-Arabian Gulf. It was about a million degrees out (although it didn't feel that way at first). We took pictures of Ramadan decorations. These things, they are very different.

And so that is how our first weekend in the UAE went. Yes, I'm leaving out the fun stuff, like buying, building and moving furniture. But that's not the same or different--it's just part of getting settled into a new home... albeit one that happens to be equidistant to a mosque and the Spike of Prosperty (cq) grocery store.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The easier solution is just close the restaurants

I don't know where this sign is actually from--other than failblog.org--but it wouldn't be out of place in Abu Dhabi this time of year.

It's like a sign prohibiting signs.

We were at the mall today procuring some groceries and electronics, and I have to say it was a little odd to walk by all the shut-down restaurants. No gelato, no coffee, no Fuddrucker's... until sundown, your capitalism had to find other outlets.

So we bought a TV.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

On football

The start of both the football and "American" football seasons is upon us. While I assembled Ikea furniture last night, England pasted Croatia 5-1 and qualified for the World Cup. Meanwhile, tonight (tomorrow morning if you are in country code +971, holla), the NFL season begins.

I'm not sure I'll be able to watch any of the games--only partly because I do not yet own a television--but I've already had an interesting conversation about fantasy football with the guy sitting behind me. We'll call him Cherry Bear, because that's what he named his fantasy team. Anyway, it was interesting because he's British, and I'm American, and we're supposed to hate soccer and football, respectively, but there we were, talking about World Cup qualification and whether Kerry Collins or Brady Quinn would be a better backup quarterback.

It's enough to make a guy want to go drink some beer, eat a chili dog (but not during daylight hours) and watch grown men tackle each other.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Kansas City, there I was

It has been brought to my attention that I didn't do justice to the two days I spent in my hometown, Kansas City, during this most recent sweep through the beautiful United States of Health Care Confusion. And it's true. I mentioned barbecue, but I didn't mention:

-happy hour with my 97-year-old grandmother
-enjoying homemade chocolate pudd... er, mousse
-to paraphrase a line from Mrs. Blog, a "wonderful meal with wonderful company" at the River Market
-green grass, lush gardens, bubbling fountains and reasonably priced cocktails
-my parents and their hospitality
-barbecue

So there you have it. Kansas City was fun but brief. Ideally, the next time we swing through town we'll be able to see some old friends, relax a bit and maybe even see the Royals slip further into last place.

I'm back, and I'm hungry

Mostly because it's hard to find a daytime meal during Ramadan here. In fact, my desk at work is next to the "eating room" at the office, which is used for eating, because eating in public during the daytime is considered offensive. This also means that the food court at Ikea--where Mrs. Blog and I spent about four hours and [REDACTED] dirhams today--will not serve-a da svedish meatballs.

In short, I'm back from the United States.

I said goodbye to an old home, hello to a new life, watched California burn, ate barbecue and eventually landed back in Abu Dhabi to greet our newly painted apartment (now with pink guest bedroom!). Oh, and I took a bunch of pictures too... although naturally the only ones I have handy at the moment are of...

Bonus points if a) you can pick my favorite aircraft out of this bunch, and b) you can name every plane in the picture.

... airplanes. Specifically, on the deck of the USS Midway in San Diego.

Another California shot:

What has palm trees and water, but is not Abu Dhabi?*

Anyway, despite the lack of easy snacking and the abundance of yet-to-be assembled furniture, life is good. Now let's just hope that I can get NFL games on TV....

*Newport Beach

Friday, August 28, 2009

The good, the bad and the I-need-to-do-this-every-day

So Mrs. Blog and I have arrived in California. Chicago is a memory, albeit a beautiful one, filled with great friends, great food and amazingly temperate summer weather. (one of the first things a Chicago friend said to me: "How can you be wearing shorts? It's freezing!")

The good part: arriving back in the states, seeing dear friends and eating bacon. Oh, glorious bacon. How I missed you. Bacon even met me at the airport--I'm not even making that up. I'll tell you about it over drinks sometime. Big, excellent, momentous things happened in Chicago. It's a wonderful place.


In transit through Heathrow. Part food court, part refugee camp.

The bad part: Moving. I hate moving in the same way I love bacon. Packing, carrying things, stressing out about what to keep and what to give away, realizing that you totally forgot about the hall closet--it's for suckers. And this is despite hiring professionals to actually haul my stuff into storage. Also bad was flying with our pets to Southern California. They were traumatized (or "traumatised," in case your name is Karl and you are worrying that I have rediscovered my American spelling roots) and we were stressed out of our minds. Fortunately, this was waiting for us:


Background: mountains. Foreground: beautiful greenery. In my stomach: a margarita.

This is the part I should be doing every day. Sitting by a "water feature"--you might know it as a "hot tub flanked by small waterfalls"--drinking a cold beer and looking out through beautiful, sunny air into a distance dominated by hazy mountains.


Evidence.

It's nice to finally be free of serious obligations and able to just, you know, be on vacation. And to celebrate that point, I'm going to go get another beer. Cheers.