Thursday, November 23, 2006

Protection racket

Those awfully nice people from the Red Triangles Bank wrote to me today with a new offer for credit cards. They have decided that I need protection against death or permanent total disability. After two months of this unsolicited free insurance, the brochure says, I'll be charged 0.2% of my credit card balance per month.

I wonder how Red Triangles' claims lawyers define 'permanent total'? "Sorry Mr Goat, you can voluntarily move your left eyelid. Your disability isn't total."

And as for the list of exclusions, I trotted along to and learned that the list of non-approved activities includes scuba diving, and also participation in any sport that involves an engine. Note that: 'participation'. Not 'competing'.

So if I go diving and travel to the dive site in a motor boat, I'd not get my credit card balance annulled if I died. Similarly if I were squashed by Carlos Sainz whilst photographing the Desert Challenge. And I suspect the loss adjustors would take a very dim view if I permanently totally disabled myself whilst chainsaw juggling.

I rang the Bank, as instructed in the leaflet, and asked to opt out of the feature. "Certainly Mr Goat. Just fax us a letter and..."

"No, I don't think so. You have given notice that you intend to charge me for a feature that I don't want. I have complied fully with your instructions by telephoning you. Please cancel the Credit Cover."

I shall watch my card statements. I have absolutely no intention of paying any Credit Cover premiums, nor interest accrued through their non-payment.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Desert Challenge

I first got involved in the UAE Desert Challenge in 2005. This five-day cross-country rally is an annual event that takes place around the Liwa crescent in deepest, darkest Abu Dhabi. It's so far south as to be almost in the Magic Kingdom.

Last year I took a couple of days off and spent these taking photos of the cars, bikes and trucks competing in the event. This year, because the opportunity was presented through the pages of ME4x4 I volunteered to be a member of the sweep team. I needed to take the whole week as leave. My duties, and there were two of us doing this, were to tow a trailer to various points where the rally route crossed roads and tracks, and to meet the other sweeps who had removed dead or crashed motorbikes from the course. These would be loaded on to my trailer and I'd return the machines to the bivouac at Moreeb so that they could be repaired in time to re-start the following morning.

Sometimes there was nothing wrong with the bike, and it was the rider who was exhausted or injured. On more than one occasion the rider was taken to the nearest road and he was then able to ride back to the bivouac.

I also got involved with Passage Controls. The PC's function was to stamp each competitor's time card to prove he passed through the PC. In addition, all times were recorded and radioed back to Rally Control so that everyone knew in which section each competitor was. As sweep, I had to be at a particular PC in time to meet the last bike (and therefore the sweep pick-ups) but by getting there early I was able to help out with running the PC, much to the relief of the PC chief who was chronically short-staffed.

I should add that all competitors and various marshals had Iritrac installed in their vehicles, a satellite-based tracking system telling Rally Control, among others exactly where everyone was in real time.

The rules of the rally allow anyone who starts on a particular day to start the following day. In practice, this means that provided you can get your vehicle through the start gate, you can then go back to the bivouac to continue to repair it. Of course, time penalties are incurred for each PC missed, but as more and more competitors drop out having destroyed their rides, just finishing becomes an important target.

I was there for the entire week. Accommodation was provided at the Liwa Rest House. Although very basic, spring mattresses on the floor of an air-conditioned majlis were nevertheless extremely welcome and beat the pants off sleeping on the sand at the bivouac, being constantly regaled by unsilenced internal combustion. Starts at the extremely uncivilised 0430 entailed a couple of mornings of driving in some pretty thick fog. Small wonder that on two occasions the rally start was delayed.

It can be hard work. It can also be extremely boring, waiting in the middle of nowhere for a pick-up to appear. But the rally simply cannot function without the hordes of volunteer marshals and the gargantuan efforts put in by more people and organisations that I can sensibly list here.

What did I get out of it? The satisfaction of a job well done, mainly. Plus lots of photo opportunities and a chance to get involved. I'm looking forward to the announcement of the dates for next year's Desert Challenge so I can book my leave well in advance.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Free press...

...with every ten packet tops.

I have just returned from marshalling on this year's UAE Desert Challenge. A blog about it, possibly with a photo or two, will follow once I've recovered from the sleep deprivation and jet lag that a week in Liwa entails.

This incident somewhat marred Thursday morning's proceedings, but, as reported in 7Days, most of the people in the chopper walked away and the pilot and co-pilot were taken for hospital treatment after a rather bumpy landing.

So the fact that an Abu Dhabi Police helicopter came down in an unplanned way is now public knowledge. Why then did the police find it necessary to stand over any and all photographers present and demand that all photographic evidence be deleted? Surely the crash hard landing investigators would have found photographic evidence invaluable? But no. Apparently, by expunging all pictures, it's as if the incident never occurred.

Speaking to a journalist working for one of the UAE national papers covering the Desert Challenge and in particular helicopter operations, I suggested that he might like to try some UnDelete software and apply it to the memory card in his camera. Whether pictures ever appear in the press is another matter.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Worldly wise

Reclamation of land to make the ambitious, some might say audacious, World development continues apace. We are promised by the developer, Nakheel, that reclamation will be complete by 2008. The plan, three hundred man-made islands surrounded by a barrier reef that form the shape of the earth's land masses, is supposed to become some of the most desirable pieces of real estate on the planet. Each island will be so exclusive that it can only be accessed by boat or helicopter. Obscenely rich people only need apply.

One of the things that concern me is the major discrepancy between the Ambition (as per Nakheel's website) and the Actual (as per Google Earth).

The Vision

The Reality

Yes, of course it's not finished yet. But shouldn't the outer barrier reef be aligned in one smooth curve rather than with an obvious break in the middle? Even if the gap is deliberate, I'd have expected the two halves to look like they'll join up.

Won't it be fun for the residents as they pick their way between the islands in their expensive boats? The layout is confusing enough on plan; nightmare navigation from the point of view of within the development. And that's in daylight. what about at night?

Doubtless I have no real concept of quite how rich the World's residents will be. Unlike the rest of us, who have to leave our apartments and go to work in order to pay the rent, these Über-rich won't need to find parking spaces for their speedboats and helicopters while they spend all day at the office. Which is just as well, given the chronic shortage of marina berths and airspace.

Having your own private island is a wonderful fantasy. I hope that the reality works out better than I foresee. If I could afford my own private island, it'd be one with a proper rock foundation and a history of not being washed away, not a small pile of sand.


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