Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Pontoon poltroonery

Finally, someone else has noticed that a floating barrier stretched across Dubai Creek provides an impenetrable obstruction for boat traffic. Not a problem for the abra service; these motor up and down between Bur Dubai and Deira, and can refuel at the dhow moorings next to Maktoum Bridge. Getting to the abra maintenance yard at Jadaf is a bit more tricky. Presumably the RTA in its mercy considers that an abra can make that journey in the middle of the night. The same attitude has clearly been imposed on boat owners with their gin palaces berthed at enormous expense in Dubai Creek and Festival City marinas. It's impossible to get to and from the sea except in the middle of the night. I was planning to use a boat to view this year's Flugtag in November, but boat access from Jumeira to Creekside Park is now impossible at a reasonable hour.

Any thoughts of going fishing (or diving, or water-skiing) on a Friday, perhaps, are scuppered very early in the morning because the creek is blocked by 6am. OK, on Fridays the floating bridge isn't open to road traffic until 9am. Nevertheless, assuming a start at some ungodly hour, it'll be a very long day, not getting back until after 10pm. Suppose the weather turns a bit ugly during the early afternoon. Do we have to sit on our boats in the creek and wait for perhaps ten hours until the floating bridge is opened for maritime traffic? It would seem so.

The new Garhoud Bridge is being built with plenty of air draught so that the taller vessels can access Festival City marina. It eliminates the need to use the lift span on the existing Garhoud Bridge. In an unprecedented attack of forward planning, Business Bay Bridge is similarly provided with loads of headroom. Unfortunately, apparently no-one has noticed that Maktoum Bridge has limited headroom, except for a lift span that only ever gets opened during the wee small hours, and then only with special permission and the inevitable form-filling.

Traffic chaos will ensue while I move my sloop Grum P down the creek to the Gulf. Both Maktoum and the floating bridges will have to be opened while I pick my way delicately between the buoys and gulls some time after the witching hour.

And another thing. It's already over five nautical miles from Festival City marina to Shindagha. That's at least an hour's travel at the maximum speed limit in the creek, not including evasive action to avoid the abra fleet's Brownian motion. It'll be over 6.5nm at 5 knots once the reclamation at Palm Deira is complete.That's nearly three hours of valuable leisure (or maritime business) time just getting to and from the ocean.

What seems likely to happen? Despite the appalling shortage of marina berths along Dubai's ever-increasing waterfront, it seems more than possible that Festival City could have enormous difficulty in drumming up customers for its marina. Perhaps the clients that are attracted intend not to use their boats, except as floating Tupperware platforms for the sole purpose of consuming Bombay Sapphire.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Son et lumière

When I flash my headlights, this means:-
  • I'm going faster than you.
  • Get out of my way!
  • My car is better than yours.
  • Come on.
  • Stay back!
  • You can pull in front of me.
  • Don't pull in front of me!
  • There's a speed trap just ahead.
  • Turn off your high beams.
  • I haven't noticed my high beams are on.
  • My screenwash bottle is empty.

When I sound my horn, this means:-
  • Wakey wakey!
  • I want a shwarma.
  • Your taxi has arrived.
  • Stay out of my lane!
  • The traffic lights have turned green.
  • You drive like a senile old crone.
  • The car security is now armed.
  • Please open the gate.
  • How dare you steal my parking space!
  • Please move your car. It's blocking me in.
  • Help! Help! This car is being stolen!
  • F***w**!
  • Any of the reasons for flashing my headlights.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Green flash

RED: Stop.
AMBER: Stop. Unless you're so close to the signal that to stop would be hazardous.
GREEN: Go. Provided it is safe to do so, take care when turning left or right and give way to pedestrians.

And then there's FLASHING AMBER. Appearing at pedestrian crossings, this has exactly the same meaning as a Belisha beacon: Stop if there are any pedestrians crossing the road.

If a GREEN light changes to AMBER as you approach it, what should you do? Slow down and stop, or drop a gear and accelerate into the junction? Only one of these constitutes the correct, safe, legal answer.

The caveat is that the above are the rules for the UK. Other countries' rules might be a bit different, although as far as I know the basic RED = Stop, GREEN = Go is universal.

So what the blue blazes is a FLASHING GREEN supposed to mean? Stop? Slow down? Accelerate? It tells drivers that the lights are about to change to AMBER, and might well encourage them to accelerate to beat the RED. They'll be going too fast to stop safely when the AMBER light appears and thus have a perfect reason not to stop. How sensible can it possibly be to encourage drivers to accelerate into a road hazard? It seems to me to be an exercise in accident promotion. Mind you, I bet that anyone who slows down at a FLASHING GREEN in anticipation of the AMBER and RED will get hooted, and in extreme cases rammed from behind. If there's a need to provide additional warning that the lights are about to change, what's wrong with increasing the AMBER time? It's already three seconds, although if the braking distance chart in the UK Highway Code is to be believed, three seconds isn't enough time to stop from more than around 40kph. Of course, the Highway Code chart was originally written donkey's years ago in the ancient times of drum brakes, no servo assistance, and gripless crossply tyres. The arithmetic produces a deceleration of around 0.3g to 0.5g, which a modern car and a dry road should easily be able to exceed.

Some comments on the Gulf News article cite south-east Asia and Ajman as having the allegedly splendid idea of countdown timers on the signal heads. My own experiences in Thailand and Ajman are disconcerting, at least with regard to traffic lights. Passing through a junction with two or three seconds of GREEN to go, traffic waiting on the other phases suddenly launches into the junction when those drivers can see that there are only four or five seconds of RED still to go.

Amber gamblers and light jumpers do not mix.

Actually, I'm not too keen on the British two seconds of RED with AMBER either because that can also encourage jumping the lights. A change from RED directly to GREEN is perfectly acceptable. Yes, it takes time for the first driver in the queue to react to the appearance of a GREEN. Believe it or not, traffic engineers are aware of this, and factor it into the calculations of cycle time and phasing. Signals are not deliberately designed to cause maximum delay, nor to optimise inconvenience to the maximum possible number of road users. The lights do that all by themselves; they know when you're late for an appointment and do it deliberately. Resistentialism is the word.

Purveyors of the New York Nanosecond might believe that it's compulsory to take off like a scalded cat the moment the lights change. Believe it or not, Monaco excepted, the public road network is neither a Formula 1 circuit nor a drag strip.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Binary fission

This is the means whereby large cardboard boxes reproduce. It doesn't matter how many we empty, there are always some more cartons full of stuff that needs a home. The bookcases are full, the kitchen cabinets are replete, the DVDs are stored near the TV or on bookcases, and the front yard is bulging with collapsed empty cartons awaiting collection by the removal men.

And yet, as at the end of a weekend of unpacking and putting up shelves, there were still four more boxes to empty. The den, the maid's room and the other bedrooms currently resemble an explosion in Home Centre. The 'to do' list remains monstrous.

The main bedroom now looks fairly civilised, as do the kitchen and lounge/diner. The manuals for the TV and DVD player emerged during the move, so I was at last able to set up the home theatre with a DVI digital video connection and six-speaker surround sound, whose primary purpose actually is not to annoy the neighbours.

Still, the aquarium and fish seem to have come through the moving experience unscathed.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Money For Nothing

"We gotta install microwave ovens
Custom kitchen deliveries.
We gotta move those refrigerators;
We gotta move those colour TVs.

Thank you Dire Straits. All of the above was really easy compared with shifting an aquarium.

Microwave oven?
Small and light. A doddle to move.

Custom kitchen?
I had to customise the 89cm slot for my 90cm stove, and, much to the astonishment and probable disappointment of the removal men, the stove slid neatly into its allocated space. All the existing cupboards are much improved by new Ikea doors to replace the incumbent ghastly, rotten papier mâché items. The wall cupboards are to be delivered, assembled and installed by Ikea's own experts. Then there remains the small matter of fitting a cooker hood cum extract-o-matic.

Two upright fridge-freezers now stand side by side, pretending to be an oversized double-door unit. A third miniature fridge needs a home. Somewhere convenient for the beer. In the den, perhaps?

Colour TVs?
Despite the removers' concerns, the telly was surprisingly easy to move. Fortunately for everybody, when they moved part of the display unit and sent a shelf and ornaments crashing down it missed the TV and only dented a cabinet. The damaged unit is irreplaceable; it's a line discontinued by Ikea ever since I bought one. The removers knocked off some money in compensation, and I managed not to be too profane at the time.

Anyway, the aquarium. I previously blogged about how every time I mentioned my fish tank one of its occupants went belly up. I have decided to risk publishing again. Googling moving house aquarium yields a lot of scary stories and dire injunctions against attempting to shift it with water in. Yeah, like 515kg (water plus gravel plus glass) can be shifted by a couple of guys. "Moving house is one of the most stressful things you can do," I'm led to believe. And that's before a fish tank is included in the equation. To complicate the issue, the tank is 1.5m long and the floor of the lift was 1.4m square. So the tank had to be upended.

The first stage was to remove the ornaments from the tank and to put these along with about 60 litres of syphoned water into a clean plastic bin. While discarding most of the rest of the water with the syphon, I spent a happy half hour chasing some extremely rapid fish around their diminishing home. One at a time they ended up in the dustbin along with an immersed filter and a couple of airstones. So far so good. I only got bitten once. The smart money, according to t'internet, says to put each fish in its own ziplock bag with some water. I decided not to pursue this option because it would have made reconstructing the tank environment a huge rush to beat the fish running out of oxygen.

Having drained all but the last few teaspoons of water I shovelled up the gravel and put it into clean and available polystyrene boxes, which I loaded into the back of the Goatmobile. The fish came next. A dustbin two thirds full of water and fish is unwieldy, to say the least. It took several tries to get it into the car the right way up and secure for a journey. And getting the bin out of the car in Mirdif was even more awkward because there was no security guard to assist, and Beloved was busy elsewhere. Once inside the building I re-established filtration and air supply, and let the fish calm down.

The aquarium was delivered the following day by the removal men. As soon as I could I put the gravel and ornaments back in the tank and mostly filled it with tap water, treating for chlorine as I went. At one point the hosepipe obligingly fell out of the tank and poured several gallons of water all over the floor. Just as well, then, that it's tiles and not finest Axminster. I left the pumps and aeration running overnight to try to get the tank environment stable before introducing the fish to their new home.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

That time of the year

Vehicle registration in the UAE can be a mysterious and Byzantine experience. For a completely stock car (which is totally different from a stock-car, but I digress) the annual trip to Tasjeel involves:-

    1. Drop off the car at the drive-in reception.

    2. Sit in the waiting room while the car is inspected. British readers will be familiar with the MOT test, which is very similar to this bit.

    3. When your number is called, pay for the test, accept the inspection report with a 'Pass' stamp and retrieve the car key.

    4. In Sharjah, take the car's fire extinguisher to be inspected, and obtain another 'Pass' stamp.

    5. Wait to be called to a second desk, pay for the new registration card and cough up for all the traffic fines recorded over the preceding year.

At some point in the process, someone will need to check for valid motor insurance. There has to have at least a year left to run, so insurance companies generally provide 13 months' insurance so that it's still OK if the car fails and has to be re-presented.

The Inspection
The fun and games start if the car is modified from standard. The rules concerning spotlights, roof racks, bull bars, after-market bumpers, wide wheels, performance exhausts, superchargers, etc etc vary not only by emirate where the car is registered, but also on the individual inspector, the discretion of his boss, the nationality of the vehicle owner and the phase of the moon. An after-market supercharger, for example, can pass inspection one year and then be forbidden a year later. Spotlights, whether factory-fitted or after-market, are acceptable one minute, illegal the next, and currently OK provided they're presented for inspection with opaque covers. It seems that you can pimp 'n' bling your Hummer as much as you like with no problems because the after-market goodies are all GMC-approved and therefore come with a Liberty Automobiles certification to the effect that 'The owner of the dealership is a VVIP and he says the mods are OK.'

Many of the desert safari tourism firms and a lot of desert-driving individuals like to replace their front bumpers with something with more strength and ground clearance. The original bumpers tend to be very low to the ground. This is fine on asphalt or even tracks, but over the dunes and through wadis the plastic tends to get torn off the car. Driving without bumpers is clearly unacceptable, so modified items are very popular. The trouble is that steel bumpers from ARB or TJM are officially illegal, at least in Sharjah. That is to say the car won't pass inspection with them. The farce is not only that the kit is widely available from car accessories shops all over the emirates, but that there are workshops that will temporarily fit an original bumper specifically for the inspection, and then replace the steel one for the other 364 days of the year. No-one, to the best of my knowledge, has ever been nicked for having dodgy car accessories outside a Tasjeel inspection.

Not wishing to go through the annual rigmarole of removing the Goatmobile's front bumper, I went to Sharjah Traffic Police with a written request for special permission prior to having the modifications done. This was granted, as a result of which the Goatmobile passed with an after-market steel bumper and a lift kit all installed. Although I think I'll give the supercharger a miss.

The fines
I collected an astonishing three parking and two speeding fines last year. This is unprecedented. Parking offences were my failing to get back to the on-street Pay and Display chez Beloved in time to renew the ticket. I got a nice little bill from Dubai RTA for outstaying my welcome by ten minutes each time. A warning to anyone who bumps his car up on to the hardstanding in the Mall of the Emirates multi-storey car park along with the other dozens of cars: It counts as 'Parking on the Footway' even though it isn't a footway, and despite being on private land, is a Dubai Police matter. It might have been nice to leave the ticket on the windscreen; I wasn't even aware that parking in that particular place wasn't allowed until weeks after the event. And a note to the MotE: some 'No Parking' signs wouldn't go amiss.

I'll put my hand up to getting caught by the ubiquitous speed cameras on two occasions. One was a mea culpa moment. The posted limit was 80kph and I got snapped at 108kph. At seven o'clock on a Friday morning on a deserted dead-straight three-lane dual carriageway. But c'est la vie. I am, however, extremely annoyed about the other one. The Sharjah-Kalba road near the Sharjah Institute of Technology is posted 100kph. I saw the camera and the signs, and I checked my speed. I was and I remain astonished that I was busted for 101kph in the 100kph limit. It is futile arguing with anyone at Tasjeel, who are only empowered to take money. Waiving fines would involve a lot of meeting with important police officers and would certainly take more time than the Dh200 that might be saved.

The official behind the counter tried to cheer me up by noting that most people have to pay upwards of Dh 5,000 a year on speeding fines, and some particularly lead-footed characters have recently been billed upwards of Dh 20,000. Thanks. That's great solace.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A moving moment

Regular readers of this blog will know that the Grumpy Goat and his Beloved are getting married in August. We're also both moving house, condensing the contents of two completely independent two-bedroom flats into one three bedroom villa. Owing to its situation: exactly halfway between where Beloved and I go to work, we've ended up in Mirdif. Or possibly Mirdiff. And not Midriff.

I was impertinent enough to have visited the place while it was occupied by the previous tenant and check all the rooms' dimensions. It is a lot easier to move furniture around in AutoCAD than physically heaving it around the building after paying the removal men to shift it.

"On second thoughts, the grand piano might be better downstairs after all." Quite. None of that, thank you. By being a little bit clever, we've in theory managed to fit all our stuff into the new place, except for one bed set that I've agreed with the new tenant of my current flat in Grumpy Goat Towers I'll leave behind. The new family is upgrading from one to two bedrooms and a free bed set looks like a good idea.

Anyway, we got access in early July. The place was desperate for a clean, the kitchen needing particular attention. The landlord will apparently do nothing, so out came the moribund built-in oven leaving the deposits of at least seven years of cooking on the walls behind. I shall install my own cooker in the space.

Now cookers come in two standard sizes: 60cm or 90cm wide. There are odd 80cm wide, but these don't come with closed-door grilling and electric oven ignition. I hate and detest grovelling in front of the oven or grill with a lighted match or its equivalent. Guess how wide the gap between the kitchen units is. 90cm? 80cm? No, wrong. It is in fact 89cm. What kind of imbecile builds a brick-and-tile kitchen (so you can't shove the cupboards along a bit) and makes the oven gap one centimetre too small? I have had two fun evenings with a hammer and cold chisel, removing the tiles to try to create a 90cm gap and then plastering over the raw concrete to make it smooth. Broken ceramic tiles are ferociously sharp, I have discovered.

The professional cleaners came in this afternoon and gave the entire villa the scrubbing that it hasn't experienced in a long time. Beloved has selected paint colours and the painters are going to arrive tomorrow, it is alleged. Everything must be clean (done) and painted before we start to install furniture next week. It would be nice if the air conditioning worked too. All the split units seem to function except for the one in the kitchen that seems to be totally FUBAR. We're promised that all the aircons will be serviced and working before we officially move in.

I'm instructed by Beloved that some of the kitchen units will have to go. I can't figure out how they're built. I suspect that frames were screwed to the walls and steel boxes were then pop-riveted together, making removing the cupboards a major undertaking. If only the cupboards were deeper, then we'd only have to replace the doors. Still, I have power tools... We also need to replace a lot of the hideous and/or broken light fittings, and to figure out which switch works each part of the building. When Phil The Greek made his comment about electrical wiring a few years back he might just possibly have been referring to our villa.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Mechanical screw-up

The local Toyota workshop has generally been good to me about servicing the Goatmobile. I did once have a minor disagreement with the service adviser about brake pads. If it takes 40,000km to take a pad from 12mm thick to 6mm thick, the pads are unlikely to go down to the 2mm minimum in 5,000km or even 10,000km. But the mechanic changed them anyway. Grrr. And no, I do not want the disc rotors skimmed every time the pads are replaced. That's a sure way of needing new rotors just after the warranty has expired.

There have never been any complaints from the workshop about access problems because of the after-market bash plate believe it or not, I had a hole cut in the plate so that the sump drain plug was accessible.

So it was a bit of a surprise when the Al Futtaim service adviser rang me an hour after I'd dropped the Goatmobile off for its 80,000km major service to say that owing to accident damage (Eh?) the gearbox sump would have to be replaced. And the nearest replacement was in Japan. I suggested that the nearest one was actually attached to a wrecked Prado parked, or rather dumped, in the street outside the workshop. No deal. The workshop would have to omit changing the gearbox oil and I (Excuse me? Surely Al Futtaim?) would have to arrange a new sump to be fitted in a month or so.

"Oh, we had so much trouble," the service adviser told me that same evening when I went to collect the car. "It took us half a day just to remove your damaged bash plate. Here, let me show you."

He showed me some photos on his mobile phone that he'd taken of the Goatmobile's nether regions. Sure enough, there were a couple of dents and scrapes on the bash plate. Better there than on the engine or steering components, I'd have thought. Then we went into the workshop. I was just putting my head under the car to have a look, when the mechanic appeared and explained everything.

"No," said the mechanic, "there was no problem with changing the engine oil. There's a hole in the bash plate, so we didn't have to remove it at all."

"This differs from what I've just been advised. And the accident damage to the gearbox sump?"

"That's not accident damage," the mechanic explained. "The gearbox is way too high to get hit by a boulder. The sump plug was overtightened or cross-threaded when it was last fitted."

"That would have been in the same workshop then. At the 40,000km service. By an Al Futtaim employee. And not chargeable to the customer, unless I am very much mistaken!"

So then I was invited to discuss the matter with the service manager. He wheeled in everyone involved, and then asked the extremely pertinent question: "If we knew about this at eight this morning, when we could have taken the sump off and done the repair in half an hour, why are we sitting here after 6pm with the job not done? Get Mr Goat's car booked in, and we'll do the repair ASAP."

Full marks to Al Futtaim for eventually sorting out the problem and making good their cockup. But I'm left with a rather nasty taste. I vehemently object to being lied to by anyone, especially by people who are taking my money. If I hadn't asked to see the damage, if I new nothing about car mechanicals (and indeed car mechanics), and if I'd been unaware of Helicoil, there would currently be a complete new gearbox oil pan winging its way from Japan at my expense.

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.