Wednesday, December 28, 2005

I like bouncing. Boing! Boing! Boing!

I was given a pair of Powerisers for Christmas. A cross between stilts and strap-on pogo-sticks, the blurb promises that I should be able to jump six feet into the air, take nine-foot strides and run at 20mph. The manual also suggests that I should avoid carpets, soft grass, stairs and the public highway. I guess the beach is right out too.

At the moment I'm trying to learn to walk again from scratch. The trouble is, this time I'm 7'3" tall so when I hit the ground I do so with rather more force than I did fortysomething years ago. These things are not for indoor use, at least not where there are items of furniture to blunder into and damage.

If not compulsory, a helmet and elbow and knee pads are definitely recommended. I look like a refugee from a Judge Dredd cartoon strip.

Officially, the springs - huge fibreglass leaf springs that act like Achilles tendons - are rated for users who weigh between 70kg and 90kg. They have the imaginative part number 7090. I am assured that although I'm heavier than 90kg the additional weight won't hurt the Powerisers, but I won't be able to jump as high. I'm also advised that my additional post-Christmas bloat will soon disappear as a result of the full-body workout that using Powerisers requires!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, there lived a lot of happy citizens. They had a kind, good King and everyone had a decent standard of living. The King taxed his people, but used the money to provide doctors and schools, and help for anyone who was unfortunate enough to be between jobs.

Unfortunately, despite the King's benevolence, there were two problems afflicting the kingdom. One was that a tiny minority of villains broke into other people's houses and stole their belongings. The other problem was that some citizens enjoyed driving fast on the King's highways.

So the king summoned his Chief Constable. "Last year there were five thousand reported burglaries," said the King. "I want you to recruit some Constables and deal with the problem!"

So the Chief Constable did so. A year later, he was summoned before the King, and explained what he had achieved.

"We caught and convicted a thousand burglars, Your Majesty," said the Chief Constable. "But it has been difficult. Most break-ins occur at night and there are no witnesses. Unless we catch someone red-handed, it's almost impossible to secure a conviction."

The King was unimpressed. "A twenty percent crime clear-up rate is nowhere near good enough! I pay you and your Constables to control crime, so go and improve your performance!"

So the following year, the Chief Constable invested in a lot of stopwatches, measuring tapes and fast horses. He instructed that all his Constables were to go out and ticket absolutely everyone they caught driving too fast.

So successful was this venture that at the end of the year, twenty thousand speeding drivers had been caught and fined. The Chief Constable happily reported to the King: "Your Majesty, we detected twenty thousand offences and secured twenty thousand convictions. The offenders were fined, which has swelled your treasury's coffers."

"But five thousand reported burglaries went undetected," noted the King.

"This is unfortunately true, Your Majesty," replied the Chief Constable, "But you can't deny that within a year and with no additional budget I have improved my clear-up rate from twenty percent to eighty percent."

There is a moral to this story. In the Real World, faced with similar pressures and budgetary constraints, what real Chief Constable would not be tempted to tread a similar path?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Fifteen minutes

Last week I managed to become a published author!

In addition to being picked as the supplier of the first line for the Lunchtime Limerick on the BBC's Magazine I also got a letter published in the local newspaper. (Ooooh!)

An friend suggested by email that maybe I've used up all of my 15 minutes of fame on the BBC website. This may be true. For the past year I've been contributing regularly to the BBC's on-line magazine and getting the occasional limerick published. The Lunchtime Limerick sort of replaced the Lunchtime Bonus Question, in which a tagline from a recent news story would be printed and offers invited to supply wrong, hopefully amusing, questions that could legitimately elicit that answer. The best one of the week would then receive the coveted LBQ keyring (gasp!). I finally won a keyring, although it took months to arrive.

Recently one of the other LBQ keyring winners sold his on eBay to raise money for the BBC Children in Need appeal. It raised an astonishing £102 . My own keyring is not for sale.


Edited on 7th Jan to note the demise of the Lunchtime Limerick :-(

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Ask not for whom the road tolls. It tolls for thee

Today’s Gulf News reports that Dubai is apparently planning a wall around the entire emirate so that it’s impossible to drive in or out without paying a toll. Well, that is what Dubai Municipality will have to do in order to stop the huge numbers of 4x4 drivers from simply driving across the desert to avoid the toll gates.

One particular hot spot is Al Ittihad Road, a four-lane (that’s four in each direction) dual carriageway that links Dubai with Sharjah. Fences, bollards, high-containment kerbs and walls force the commuters to queue to get from Sharjah to Dubai every morning, and then again every evening if they’re going out to a restaurant, cinema, shopping mall, concert, or whatever people do for fun. All the traffic on Al Ittihad Road is shoehorned into a two-lane underpass just over the border. Four into two clearly does not go.

Many people living in Sharjah do so because they either won’t or can’t afford to pay the Rahmanian rents demanded by Dubai’s landlords. But Dubai has so much more to offer than Sharjah in the entertainment arena, and is the region’s commercial hub. Dubai is where a lot of the jobs, shops, offices and sports facilities are.

Despite Dubai’s continued efforts to alleviate traffic congestion by building ever grander highway schemes, the increase in population and car ownership outstrips highway capacity – just like everywhere else on the planet where the traffic congestion disease has been treated by building more roads.

So Dubai is going to build the DLR – Dubai Light Rail. Huzzah: a metro system to augment the existing bus service. I’m sure we look forward to 2010 when the metro is to become operational. In the meantime, Dubai Municipality is intent on netting between US$80M and $110M a year from motorists.

I thought that the idea of congestion charging was to discourage private car use. Provided that there is a viable alternative, this may be true. There is currently no sensible alternative to driving between Sharjah and Dubai.

Queues: How much would you be willing to pay to do this?

From my apartment in Sharjah it is around 5km to the existing bus terminus, and a similar distance to the proposed metro. Let’s assume that I wish to go to a theatre in Dubai one evening. I can either drive or use public transport. A five kilometre walk in the sand alongside a motorway does not appeal, especially in the summer when the temperature at night is around 35C with 90% humidity, so I’m looking at driving.

Queue to pay the toll, pay to park in the Park and Ride, pay a third time to use public transport. Having paid to drive into Dubai, why don’t I drive all the way to the theatre?

“Aha,” you protest, “but what about public transport from Sharjah to Dubai?”

Well, I can hail a taxi, drive 5km in the wrong direction to the bus terminus before sitting in the same queue as before to pay the toll. Bus lanes are non-existent here, primarily because it is impossible to enforce them. Drivers can and do use every piece of asphalt including breakdown lanes, hatched gore areas, parking bays and the sand alongside the roads to push to the front of a queue.

Tolls, runs the Gulf News article, are to be collected through booths at the borders or by pre-paid smart cards. Of course, it will be impossible to whiz through the express lane because the queues to pay manually will expand to fill every square inch of asphalt. I can’t imagine Sharjah or Abu Dhabi going much on providing queuing space for Dubai’s money-making scheme.

It is even suggested in the article that an annual fee of US$550 to $820 is to be levied at annual registration. How this would discourage private car use and boost public transport patronage and car sharing is anybody’s guess. If I’ve just forked out that sort of money I’m darn well going to get my money’s worth – doubtless along with the other half a million car owners. And I don’t imagine the vehicle registration authorities (i.e., Traffic Police) of Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah, Umm Al Quwain, Ajman or Abu Dhabi will much enjoy acting as tax collectors on behalf of Dubai.

Maybe the plan is to levy the annual charge on Dubai-registered vehicles, and toll the ‘foreign’ cars from the other emirates. This is not clear from the Gulf News article.

Perhaps part of the solution to Dubai’s traffic woes is to reconsider the pace of development. Great forests of high-rise residences are rising near Jebel Ali and elsewhere. Trapped between the sea and existing ribbon development along Sheikh Zayed Road, there is nowhere for the residents to travel except along this corridor. It is already a traffic congestion nightmare. The effect of perhaps an additional seventy thousand households on the same transport corridor can at present only be guessed, but it ain’t exactly rocket science.

So what am I whinging about? I am not averse to the principle of congestion charging per se. But imposing such a charge on a population that has no practical alternative means of transport is surely a revenue raising scheme with no benefit in terms of reduced traffic congestion.

Into the closet...

I have just received a short movie review of The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe from one of my spies in England:

"It was completely superb...The BBC version of a few years ago is now officially knocked into a cocked hat. "

The movie isn't scheduled to arrive in UAE cinemas until January 2006 (which isn't particularly clever for a plot that is orientated in part around winter and the arrival of Father Christmas). Yet there isn't a peep out of all those keen moviegoers about this late arrival. They're all screaming and shouting about the latest Harry Potter.

I just hope that the Powers That Be don't suddenly notice that Narnia is an allegory and send great chunks of film to the editing suite bin.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Fan Club

Today saw the Dive Club's Champagne Brunch. This annual festive event involves bottles of the eponymous fizzy beverage (or at least an Australian copy of the French stuff) plus enormous quantities of English fry-up.

One group went diving first, so the boats were trailed back to the clubhouse at around noon and the festivities got well and truly under way.

At one point, a large glass jar was filled with an unholy concoction of liquids from the bar, and consumed by various volunteers through a hose pipe. The syphon principle ensured that no-one could fake drinking anything.

Syphon: Down in one, down in one, down in one...

And the Fan Club bit? I was taking photos and climbed up on to a table to get a view over everyone's heads. This, I discovered far too late, put my own head in range of the whirling metal blades of the ceiling fan. I am now the slightly embarrassed owner of a two-inch gash in my scalp. Luckily it's below my hair line so the sticking plaster isn't going to rip my hair out in the next day or two.

That was Friday. It is now Saturday and the office has been bombarding me with questions concerning the hole in my head. I have made my usual remarks about no-one on the planet having skin that is the same colour as skin-coloured Band-Aids, and have also grown tired of telling people that I cut myself shaving.

The current story is that I've had a horn bud implanted, and will be going back next week to get the other one done.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is scheduled to open in the UAE on 28th December. Whatever the actual reasons may be, the official line is that it clashes with Peter Jackson's King Kong, which has just opened.

The local free newspaper, 7DAYS has been campaigning to get the release date preponed: "Why should we have to wait for six weeks?" Today's paper is triumphant. The headline appears to suggest that the UAE release is now 21st December, before Christmas (Huzzah!)

But as the big print giveth, the small print taketh away. There will be one special one-off showing on 21st December, at which the cinema will be packed, doubtless with the Annoying Ring Tone Owner's Club. Hoi polloi will still have to wait until the 28th or later.

On page 2 of the same newspaper, an article reports how s0rryduba!.b10g$p0t.c0m (with digits and punctuation changed into lower-case letters) has been banned here. A blow to free speech it may be. But criticising the telecomms monopoly is criticising the government, and the latter is against the law.

I shall have to be careful about what I post!

Edited on 11th December 2005 to add: I see that Eisalat has unblocked s0rryduba! But the owner of the blog has now taken down the entire text.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

We've all got to start somewhere

Here goes with my first ever blog entry on my first ever blog. It's something of an experiment, and will make a change from posting long e-mails to all and sundry.

Maybe I'll get things out of my system by jotting them down here. Who knows? Someone else might even find my various random jottings amusing enough to read.

In due course I'll post some photographs. I can't access my old FlickR account because my ISP has banned the site - and there is a monopoly on internet service provision in the United Arab Emirates. Gosh, thanks, Etisalat! No matter; there are ways around this problem, and you are reading one of them.

I have just spent the past hour downloading Picasa and uploading an avatar. Part of the problem is the newness of all this, another is my dial-up connection (Dial-Up. How quaint!) but a third is Operator Error. One of my work colleagues calls me a Liveware Virus - someone who can't do anything with a computer without it going wrong. It isn't true. I deny everything. As usual.


The opinions expressed in this weblog are the works of the Grumpy Goat, and are not necessarily the opinions shared by any person or organisation who may be referenced. Come to that, the opinions may not even be those of the Grumpy Goat, who could just be playing Devil's Advocate. Some posts may be of parody or satyrical [sic] nature. Nothing herein should be taken too seriously. The Grumpy Goat would prefer that offensive language or opinions not be posted in the comments. Offensive comments may be subject to deletion at the Grumpy Goat's sole discretion. The Grumpy Goat is not responsible for the content of other blogs or websites that are linked from this weblog. No goats were harmed in the making of this blog. Any resemblance to individuals or organisations mentioned herein and those that actually exist may or may not be intentional. May contain nuts.