Sunday, May 22, 2016


A weekend of planned motorcycling failed to come to fruition.

As usual, I arrived back in Dubai late on Thursday evening and connected the bike to a charger to top up the battery. Then on Friday morning I kitted up, removed the bike cover, fired up the Black Beast, and noticed fluid on the ground where no fluid should be. Upon closer inspection, the said fluid turned out to be antifreeze. It might have been coming from an overflow; I had topped up the reserve bottle last time I rode the bike, but no. It was still dribbling after I took the bike around the block. So off came all my bike gear and out came the tools.

Then off came the plastic, and I eventually exposed a slight dripping of coolant from the water pump. Staining on the engine nearby indicated that this leak had probably started last time I rode the bike, which would go some way to explaining the low coolant level in the expansion bottle last time.

So motorbikes would be off the agenda this weekend. “Sassa, rassa, frassa, rassum…” etc.

On Saturday I rode the bike over to my friendly neighbourhood Kawasaki workshop. I figured I could get that far without losing all the coolant and cooking the engine. Beloved Wife followed me in the car that contained all the bike’s plastic that I hadn’t bothered reinstalling. There seemed little point, as the mechanic would only have to take it all off again. He took one look, nodded in agreement of my diagnosis, commented about a drain hole, and disconcertingly sucked air through his teeth. My cursory glance through the workshop manual had alerted me that removing the water pump would involve dropping the coolant and the engine oil, so I have left the bike to have a service too. And new rear brake pads. And a tyre pressure sensor/transmitter because the front one’s dead. 

I have also checked Cradley Kawasaki in Birmingham, where it is revealed that a TPMS would set me back £154 and a water pump (assuming that the problem isn’t merely a gasket that Sod’s Law says it isn’t because the parts fiche shows the water pump as a single irreducibly complex item with a single part number) a further £174. Naturally, I’ll probably end up paying about 30% more than these because they’ll have to be borne upon velvet cushions by rose-petal-scattering handmaidens all the way from Japan. Theoretically at least, brake pads and filters should be in stock.

There is a silver lining to this dark and pendulous cloud, and it is this: owing to the impending Holy Month of Ramadan, I will be unable to get away from Qatar throughout June, so I’d not be able to ride the bike anyway. Ergo, having the Black Beast in bits awaiting new bits is of no real inconvenience. And it’ll be spending the next few weeks in air-conditioned comfort rather than mouldering under a plastic cover at the Crumbling Villa. And of course I can save up in preparation for the wallet-wilting invoice that will be heading my way.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The games people play

It is a game.

A game, in which two players have different victory conditions.

One player wins by providing a robust design to a limited cost and time budget, and the other wins by delaying and frustrating progress as far and for as long as possible. To this end, the first player works to produce his best; he has no incentive to delay and incur additional costs. Meanwhile, the longer the second player is able to impede the first, the more money the latter receives.

It doesn't actually matter if the final built product ever emerges out of the ground. Neither does it matter how well the first player plays. If the second player can find anything - anything at all - right down to a misplaced punctuation mark in a document, he can delay while the entire document is rewritten, recopied , reissued, and reviewed to see if a different player on the second player's team can find anything else. The second player is also allowed to change the rules of the game at will to maintain his advantage.

With luck, the second player can extend the game usque finis mundi, and the first player will always lose.

When you play the Game of Roads, you win or you die.


Friday, April 29, 2016

Hours are the fury

My employment contract includes a requirement to work a minimum of 48 hours a week over six days. In keeping with plenty of senior posts, overtime isn’t payable, and we all put in additional hours as required to get the job done. The contract also allows 30 calendar days of paid annual leave, which amounts to roughly 22 working days off, and public holidays can bump this back up to 30.

Actually, deducting short Ramadan working days and public holidays results in around 2100 billable hours per year.

Fundamentally, a 365 day year amounts to 335 working days, which is around 4.3 – call it five - weeks off every year.

I work in a smoke-free environment. As smoking isn’t illegal, any smokers have to leave the building and stand outside for their nicotine fix. And that too is fine, because I don’t wish to work in a smoky office and it would be gross hypocrisy if I, an occasional pipe, cigar, and shisha smoker, demanded that tobacco be banned. So this is not an anti-smoking rant.

How much time do smoke breaks take? It certainly adds up:

Total 10 minutes seems not unreasonable, from desk to lift to outside and back again.
Assume four breaks a day. Two in the morning, two in the afternoon. Pre-work, post-work, and lunchtime don’t count.

Over a five day working week, that’s 3h20’.
Over a year that’s 47 x 3h20’ = 156 hours or over 18 working days; three working weeks.

And throughout this time, the non-smokers continue to sit at their desks and presumably work.

So here’s my suggestion for equity in the workforce. Non-smokers, or at least those employees who never take smoke breaks, get an additional three weeks of paid annual leave booked to the project.

It’s only fair, innit?


Sunday, April 10, 2016

That's sandy

Back in Doha after a week’s welcome break, the Goat finds it necessary to put hoof to keyboard in a brief “I went to that Desert Challenge again” web diary entry.

As he flew into Sharjah late on Thursday night on an astonishingly inexpensive Air Arabia, The Goat was unable to get up at sparrowfart on Friday and go to Yas Marina to help out with the scrutineering. Instead, he charged up his bike’s battery and pottered around the Crumbling Villa in Beloved Wife’s absence. The said Beloved Wife was jollying around St Petersburg at the time: that’s the baroque one in Russia and not the one in Florida.

The cats were both out when the Goat arrived and settled down for a quick pie and a pint before bed. They came in through the cat flap and when they discovered that the Goat had landed, it was as if all their birthdays had come at once on Christmas Day. A long session of cat-lap later, the Goat retired to his bed and slept the deep sleep of the extremely relieved not to be in Qatar.

Saturday would see the Desert Challenge Super Special Stage in Al Fursan, Abu Dhabi around a dirt track that included some extremely damp areas owing to recent rain. But first some running around Dubai by motorcycle on some errands. The Goat arrived in Abu Dhabi too early, and was assigned traffic control duty all day. This – unfortunately – meant that he saw precisely zero racing and missed delights such as this.

OK, so now all the competitors had been around the track two at a time and their times recorded, their positions for Saturday’s start were determined. The Goat picked up his goody bag full of this year’s marshals’ shirts and his car numbers, and then headed back to Dubai, running the gauntlet of ya shabab on the Abu Dhabi to Dubai road where there is allegedly an enforced 140km/h speed limit.

An early night was mandated by an incredibly early start on Sunday. The Goat had to be at White Sands ADNOC by 0730, and that’s halfway down Hameem Road in the back of beyond. He was up on his hind legs before the sparrows had even finished their sprout curry, and rendezvoused with the rest of the Finish Team. The convoy set off a further 30km south to the Special Stage 1 finish. They set up the Flying Finish and Finish Stop, and waited for the first competitor to arrive. Once everyone had been through the gate and got their finish times, the Finish Team packed up and headed to the bivouac near Qasr Al Sarab for luxury camping. Electric light and power in the tent, nearby warmish running water and for now civilised loos, and food.

Finish post. In the rain!
And repeat for five Special Stages across the planet Jakku. An Imperial Star Destroyer crash landed here some time back, but it has now been dismantled and removed.

The bivouac. Probably a remark hereabouts concerning a hive of scum and villainy
At closure of SS-05, the Finish Team headed back to Yas and dropped off all the marshalling kit. The Goat drove to the Ceremonial Finish, but arrived too soon and was selected from a host of applicant to undertake traffic control. Generally speaking, competitors had to queue up their tired and damaged vehicles in reverse order over here, whereas spectators and support teams would be parking over there. The Goat was somewhat amused by the catastrophic inability so many drivers have in the skill of reversing.

And then the after-show party with food and beverage, prizegiving, applause, live jazz quartet, and a stagger back to the Rotana. The Goat really did not fancy a drive back to Dubai after a hard day and a skinful of lager.

Beloved Wife had by now returned from Russia, so when the Goat arrived in Dubai on Friday morning, she cooked him a splendid Breakfast of Champions before he went and got the car washed and the wheels swapped around.


Saturday, March 26, 2016

I aten't dead

Esmerelda Weatherwax
The blog has been quiet of late because nothing of any significance has happened.

Six days shalt thou labour, and on the seventh day shall thou be confronted by the Client, who has a proper two-day weekend, and verily shall he insist on talking Shop. Yea, and verily shall there be a full, frank, and extremely profane exchange of views.

That was the excitement last weekend.

This weekend, such as it is, consisted of me adding to my collection of musical recordings and uploading them to YouTube. I have at last figured out how to get the EWI to sound reasonable when piped through the computer. Increase the sampling rate. A welcome side effect is the sound that now comes out of the machine is no longer delayed, so I hear what I’m playing pretty much immediately rather than a fraction of a second late, which makes playing to anything like a sensible tempo a questionable ability.

My own ability remains fairly questionable, but abetted by a microphone, some coaxial cables, a computer, a webcam and sound card, and Audacity I have been having some fun recording and mixing. A recent effort produced three tracks of Muggins playing Misirlou on three tenor recorders. Actually one recorder, recorded three times and then multi-tracked. Arranged, mixed, and performed by me.

Interesting that Dick Dale and the Deltones (who did the extremely electric version of Misirlou that you know from Pulp Fiction) hold the copyright. I’m amused that a tune that existed before 1919 and is performed by me off sheet music published in 1936 can be copyright DD&D in 1963. However, I’m not a copyright lawyer, so I guess I’ll suck up the ads that may pop up on YouTube.

For what it’s worth, anyone who wishes to see and hear my eclectic collection of musical work may search for my real name on YouTube with the word ‘recorder’.

The job continues to stink. The Minister of Paper Clips, who says he’s desperate for all the designs to be completed, delights in finding further and more ingenious ways to delay his approvals. A recent one was to resubmit everything he’s already got in a slightly different format. He’ll be getting it in 16-point Comic Sans  if I get my way, along with a plain brown envelope containing some non-toxic crayons.

That’s it then. Day in, day out. Six days a week. I’ve not been out of the region since August 2015 and I’m getting a little stir crazy. There is a trip to UK planned, but that’s not until September 2016, and I have insufficient annual leave to go anywhere else between now and then.

I am holding on to my life, but my sanity is in tatters.


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Horse Ballet

I really do know very little about horses, beyond them all having a leg at each corner, a hoof on the end of each leg, and they're generally big enough to ride. Not that I've ridden one in probably 25 years, and that was for an hour of light-duty pony trekking in which the animal knew the routine and did precisely what it wanted. This was to do the same old circuit of the bridleways around Queen Elizabeth Country Park near Petersfield in Hampshire.

Anyway, fast-forward to Doha in 2016, and my friends Nix and Pegz suggested that I might like to go along to an international horse tournament over at Al Shaqab. As Beloved Wife was in Doha that weekend, we agreed to meet at the venue.

In the traditional way, we arrived at Gate 8 as signposted, to be told that the parking was full, and to go to Gate 9. There, another officious Bottom Inspector declared that we'd have to drive halfway to bluddy Shahhaniya and get the shuttle bus back. So I parked outside on the street. The same jobsworth declared that we weren't allowed to enter the car park on foot from Gate 9; I drove back to Gate 8, entered on foot, and we made our way to the entrance halfway between Gates 8 and 9.

No, I don't understand it either.

Having met up with Nix and Pegz, we sat and watched some horses going over jumps, and I took photos. As I said, I'm completely Jon Snow about how to do it, but I do get that instructing the animal to get its stride exactly right in order to clear 1.6m hurdles takes a lot of skill. And to stay aboard whilst doing so: that also helps. At least the rules are fairly easy:

Fastest wins, assuming nothing gets knocked over and nobody falls off.  If nobody gets a clear round, fastest still wins with minimum faults. And these are world-class performers, so falling off is probably extremely unlikely.

We'd arrived for a final jump-off against the clock, and when that was over we went to the indoor arena to watch the horse ballet.

Dressage, as it is more properly known, is more difficult to understand than jumping. There are stopwatches turning, there are judges in several different locations, and there's a loud music track that keeps changing.

The horse dances. Not in a 'bouncing around on its hind legs' way like the Lipizzaner stallions at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, but a lot of hoof-pointing, high strides, and a whole lot of other stuff that must have names. See Jon Snow for more details.

I noted double reins, and a lot of very, very subtle moves from each rider. Nix assures me that the tiniest movement allows the rider to tell the horse what is required. The performances obviously were the result of months or years of training and practice. I couldn't do most of it, and I've only actually  got one pair of hooves.


Monday, March 07, 2016

Waste of space

What does the Goat do for a living? Paperwork. He ticks boxes and fills in forms. He writes action plans and risk assessments. He checks designs for compliance with standards. He proof-reads documents for language, spelling, grammar, and content. He even writes technical reports.

How much of the Goat's work over the past 18 months has been accepted by the Client? How many items have been approved?

None at all. Despite consents from the many layers of checkers and reviewers, the actual Client has rejected everything. There is nothing of the Goat's work that has allowed this billion-dollar project to progress.

'Perfect' is the enemy of 'fully compliant with the Terms of Reference'.

And this upsets the Goat, whose personality requires due diligence and professionalism.

If an airline pilot screws up, people die. Same for doctors and also bus drivers. If the Goat screws up, it creates paperwork. If the Goat doesn't screw up, the Client will still reject his work for failing to meet the Clint's latest whim. Then more paperwork.

So the Goat adds precisely no value to anything. He is merely here to take money, spend it on rent and food, and then die. And once his employer fogures this out the money will stop.


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