Thursday, March 29, 2007
All I've done is made a few adjustments so that the vehicle is slightly more agile over the dunes than it was when stock.
In September 2005, I had the springs and shock absorbers replaced with Old Man Emu units. Aside from stiffening the ride, I got a suspension lift of around 50mm. Bigger lifts are possible. Just look at some of the Jeep Wranglers and American pick-ups that are around. However, big lifts go hand in hand with a whole plethora of additional suspension and transmission adjustments, whereas keeping the lift moderate avoids a lot of these.
2. Bash plate
While the GoatMobile was in the workshop having the suspension done, I had some under-engine protection fitted. A sheet of 10mm aluminium replaced the ridiculous spindly tin thing from Toyota. I found out in July 2006 that belting the underside of the vehicle with a large rock will even bend thick aluminium, but at least it saved me from a repair bill.
Despite the increased ground clearance, I was finding that the front bumper kept hitting the sand dunes, and the rear acted as a huge sand shovel. Following a couple of trips to the body shop, I figured that it might be a good idea to install metal replacement bumpers. The original plastic ones can be stored in Grumpy Goat Towers until the car goes up for sale. "One careful owner, FSH, never been off road, etc."
So in March 2007, the GoatMobile was booked in for some surgery.
The bottom of the new bumper is rather higher off the ground than the factory item. This exposes vulnerable and expensive items such as the radiator, oil cooler and air conditioning plumbing. Accordingly I needed an extension to the bash plate that would serve to reinforce the old one, which in turn was being beaten straight.
The interesting thing about the bumpers is that Sharjah police told me that steel ones were 'forbidden'. And then when I protested, an appropriately senior officer decided that it would be OK for me to have them. I have a letter signed and stamped by the man with the comfy leather sofas and the thimbles of tea. I await this year's Tasjeel time with interest.
A side-effect of driving in the Lands of the Sand is the enormous quantity of dust that gets ingested by an engine, hence the need for a decent air filter. The air intake is traditionally in the engine bay or in one of the front wheel arches, the latter being precisely where a lot of road dust will get kicked up. The snorkel moves the air intake up higher, hopefully out of most of the dust and thereby giving the air filter an easier life. And if the intake air is cooler than the contents of the engine bay, it might even be slightly denser. More oxygen --> more power. Ha ha ha.
As an aside, does any one remember speculating when young as to whether a front-facing air inlet could increase engine power? I certainly recall wondering if a big funnel poking out through the radiator grille into a cool breeze and connected to the airbox with a vacuum-cleaner hose was feasible. Kawasaki first made the dream a reality in the early 1990s, where slots in the front of the ZZR-1100 motorcycle fairing, a ram air induction system, pressurised the airbox and measurably increased power. Like a bike that would do 170mph needed to be any more powerful.
According to Land Cruiser Owners On Line, a similar effect is measureable after fitting a snorkel to a Prado. Personally, I reckon the effect will be nigh-on unmeasureable and certainly not perceivable from the driver's seat. But feeding the engine with cleaner and slightly cooler air could be beneficial. LCOOL also notes that when an after-market front bumper is fitted, it increases the risk of the original air system ingesting water when fording streams, and this is definitely something to be avoided.
All of the modifications were carried out by Icon Auto Garage in Al Quoz.
In my opinion, the loss of the beach at the hands of developers is a side issue. Of much greater significance is the loss of beach because of Palm Jumeira.
Natural action of the sea moves sand along the coast generally from Jebel Ali towards Sharjah. The Palm provides an enormous barrier to longshore drift. As the prevailing current now has to go around the Palm it drops its load of silt and sand on the Jebel Ali side and picks up more along the Jumeira sea-front. The net effect is that a formerly gently sloping beach is disappearing, and not so slowly either.
The solution has been to dump desert sand on the beach to replenish that lost to erosion. Alas, dune sand is the Wrong Type of Sand and turns into ghastly sticky sludge the moment it gets wet. So the Municipality has to excavate sand from the south side of the Palm and transport it either by barge, or more likely by tipper truck, through the posh residential areas of Jumeira to dump it on the foreshore there. The sea-front residents must be delighted at the prospect of trucks, dozers and excavators regularly appearing on the beach from now until the end of time.
There is a longer-term solution. Build a glittering edifice (q.v.) on the beach and ensure that its beach is protected from erosion. Mixing cement with the sand to make a concrete sea wall is effective.
EDITED on 1st April to note that the glittering edifice appears to have been cancelled.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
This post has very little to do with the internet, and rather more to do with my aquarium's denizens. I last posted about the aquarium here, since when the tank has been successful. I regard a major part of the success being the low numbers of dead fish. My Siamese fighting fish Betta splendens were not successful. The three females and one male only lasted a week before they went belly up and ended up riding the porcelain express. I suspect that the fish were on their way out when I first bought them; none of the other residents have perished, at least not since I removed the crayfish, which was less fish and rather more Kray.
I found a shoal of clown loach Botia macaranthas in my local aquarium shop and duly took five of them home. I'd read somewhere that these are naturally shoaling rather than solitary fish, so would be a lot happier in like-minded company. The same book suggested that clown loach are timid by nature. They prefer to cower under things at the slightest provocation, and they're also crepuscular (most active at twilight). They can eventually be coaxed out over time, or so I'm advised.
Not my loaches. That would be too easy.
The tiger barb Puntius tetrazona comes in several flavours. Several of mine are the classic tiger-striped orange and black. Tiger barbs are extremely boisterous, constantly chasing each other and anything else. They're 'in yer face'. "Look at me. Look at me! I'm a tiger barb!"
One of the features of the clown loach is its orange colour with black vertical stripes. This pattern appears to be close enough to the barbs' pattern for the loaches to have decided that they must all be the same species as the barbs, and should therefore exhibit the same behaviour. And there we have it. The supposedly timid clown loaches, all up at the front of the tank demanding constant attention in a "Me, me, me. I want attention!" sort of way.
Not that I'm complaining. I think it's excellent that the fish are visible and not hiding under or behind the aquarium hardware.
As if crazy loaches aren't odd enough, the aquatic asylum also features a surface-feeding catfish Hypostomas plecostomas. Two of these are supposed to keep the algae under control by slurping it off the inside of the glass, and this indeed is what one of them does. The other prefers to swim upside down just beneath the surface, sucking up flake food instead of eating the sinking pellets specifically provided for the bottom-feeders.
This link is to a 38-second video of the aquarium's occupants. There's a lot of movement, so at over 13MB it's not recommended for Ye Olde Dial-Uppe.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
The quality is very poor; it should be writ on bog-er roll.
I loudly broadcast my complaints like some demented cockerel,
And yet about the source of my displeasure I do bugger all.
I'm very well acquainted with the letters page of 7DAYS.
I fill those column-inches with complaints about the rent I pays,
And how I think the driving's worse here than in Walton-on-the-Naze,
And how Dubai would much improve by mimicking all Western ways,
Except, of course, the ones I disapprove of, such as income tax,
The need at any time of year not to forget our plastic macs;
Not having an address (I send my friends a map by telefax);
Remembering to lock my car, lest it's not there when I get back.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
It's very tempting. The Japanese step-through bike is everywhere, and unlike in the UK where there is a major social stigma associated with grown adults riding chicken-chasers, these machines are the practical transport of the masses. Given the riding style, however, I dread to imagine what would happen if the major motor manufacturers got their way and managed to prise everyone off bikes and into cars.
Of course, people ride bikes out of necessity rather than choice. Two, three or in extreme cases even four-up on a Honda C90 are common occurrences, as are riding helmetless and in flip-flops.
The law demands that riders and pillion passengers wear helmets, but as the local constabulary chooses not to enforce the law, it is widely flouted. Does this sound like anywhere else? It reminds me of everywhere else.
With a maximum payload of 170kg, I was advised that Mme Cyn and I really ought not to share a moped. And the only big bike I saw for rent was an ancient Hardly Ableson with bald tyres. But it was the flip-flop issue that convinced me not to rent a motorcycle. Neither of us had any proper shoes, and in my mis-spent youth I have learned the value of foot protection while on two wheels. But not while elsewhere. Being an inveterate nelipot, I packed my flip-flops away on the bus trip from Phuket airport and didn't find shoes necessary again until I got back to work.
We rented a car, and spent a couple of days exploring the astonishingly small island of Phuket.
You still have to be a bit careful when renting a car in Thailand...
It turned out that the west coast bays were rather commercialised. This is where to go if you like posh hotels, souvenir shops, bars and nightclubs all jostling for space on the seafront road. Chalong, which is where Mme Cyn and I stayed, is rather quieter.
The roads are still loaded with shops, this time offering diving, dive kit and Thai massage (sometimes all in the same venue), but there was a lot less of the 'in your face' pandering specifically to the rich foreign tourist who wants a suntan, a souvenir and a shag. Are cormorants indigenous to Thailand?
Thai silk, I am reliably informed by Mme Cyn, is the souvenir. After dragging up to a new shopping mall, Jim Thompson informed us that we should go to the factory outlet, and gave us directions. Souvenirs and gifts for the folks back home all sorted. Job done.
We visited Wat Chalong, the major local Buddhist temple, where I took photographs.
I wonder why it remains necessary to have the Hot-Pants Police on permanent duty? Do people really not understand that thing about respecting other peoples' beliefs? Based on my observations, it seems not.
I really like the local habit of setting of very loud fireworks inside an enclosed space as shown above, in order either to attract the attention of supernatural beings, or in the case of evil spirits, to scare them off. Just as well I'm not an evil spirit; I'm a great fan of irresponsibly loud pyrotechnics.
Elephants were on my to do list. Whilst very familiar with the elephant in principle, I'd not seen one close up since about 1969 in Singapore, when I was extremely small. Our hotel manager gave directions to a recommended elephant emporium. We chose the short, 20 minute ride, which turned out to be a wise decision given the terrain. Elephants don't do downhill very well. The animal's handler alighted from his beast partway through the short trip and took photos with my camera.
Some of the shots are not of his thumb. He tried to encourage me to get off the saddle and sit astride the elephant's neck, but I declined, fearing that moving my large and ungainly bulk might unbalance the payload and cause me to fall off. Thai elephants aren't very large, but it's still a long way to tumble.
After taking the punters for a ride through the woods it is, of course, necessary to get a good wash down.
In the bar at Pachyderm Central were some other funky creatures...
We managed to get horribly lost in downtown Phuket, but the town not very large so the principle is to keep going in a straightish line until a direction sign is enountered. Traffic lights have countdown numbers, which seems like a brilliant idea until you realise that everyone waits until the red numbers get down to about five seconds and then jumps the signal. It's disconcerting to drive through a green with several seconds to go, and to have a horde of mopeds accelerate straight at you!
We eventually found our way to Phuket aquarium, where it was possible to see some of the fish that we'd missed while diving. The major tank is one of those with a transparent tunnel. The water was full of leopard sharks, white-tip reef sharks, eagle rays and trevally. It proved impossible to get a satisfactory photo of any of the aquarium's denizens.
We also found a butterfly farm. In order to see the insects it was necessary to pay for admission and then to run the gauntlet of various live tarantulas on display in acrylic domes. I'm not an arachnophobe, but it's beyond me why anyone should wish to keep a large spider as a pet. It's furry and has long legs, I suppose. The same as a saluki. Anyway, the highlight for me was the world's largest moth.
The atlas moth, that metamorphoses from this gigantic caterpillar, was capable of dwarfing my beer gut, and that is some achievement.
It is enormous. And so is the moth.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Thanks to Qatar Airways and my copious collection of frequent flyer miles the return trip to Bangkok cost me a mere Dh600; the cost of airport taxes. Thai Air Asia dealt with the Bangkok-Phuket flights at a mere Dh350 return. Thai Air Asia is very much an equivalent to SleeziJet, in that the baggage allowance is a minuscule 15kg and on-board refreshments involve the exchange of cash.
I met Mme Cyn in Bangkok, and together our excess baggage charges cost more than the original tickets. But I had brought some of Mme Cyn's additional diving goodies as requested. On the return trip I transported some of Mme Cyn's purchases back to Dubai, exploiting the 40kg baggage allowance that frequent flyer members get with Qatar Airways (and everyone else too, I suspect). But despite Phuket International's baggage handlers loading my 39kg bag and Bangkok's unloading it without a problem, I was advised at check-in to Dubai that the rules prohibited any single bag being heavier than 32kg. Why can't everyone employ burly stevedores as baggage handlers as they apparently do in Phuket? I had to unload some of the luggage and mummify it in about a kilo of clingfilm before it could be checked in.
So much for the flights. The holiday itself consisted of a stay in a small resort bungalow either side of a three-day liveaboard trip to the Similan Islands. I booked all accommodation, diving and transfers with Sea Bees. Having picked them out of the small ads of a diving magazine virtually at random, I was very pleasantly surprised at how the entire holiday went like clockwork. Perhaps it's something to do with Sea Bees being run by some legendarily efficient Germans. This is meant to be a compliment, not a racist slur.
It was perhaps a little unfortunate that the sea around the Similan Islands was cloudier than I'd been led to believe. A plankton bloom was in progress, together with upwellings of cold water that made a wetsuit necessary despite the sea surface temperature being a Speedo-friendly 28 degrees (or 82F in old money). At least all the crap in the water would encourage the appearance of the large planktivores (who do not, as the name suggests, eat nothing but long, flat pieces of wood).
Sure enough, on two separate dives manta rays appeared. On one occasion a manta loomed over me out of the red tide, but alas was so close I didn't have time to get any decent pictures. Most of the dives involved mucking about among the coral and rocks, seeking out minor denizens and trying to photograph them.
It seemed rude to have a week in a tropical diving destination and only to dive over three days. Mme Cyn and I went on a day-boat trip south from Phuket to Racha Noi and Racha Yai. I loved the boat, Excalibur II, and spent a lot of my time aboard fantasising about how I could convert it into a luxury yacht for my own personal ownership. Maybe I'd repaint it not banana yellow for a start. Again, the diving was very well organised, and we got three decent, albeit a bit murky, dives. I spotted one leopard shark, cruising languidly in the distance too far away to photograph with any chance of success.
I took around 500 photographs. I'm ever so glad I bought a 2GB card for my Sony DSC-T1. With a capacity of around 800 high-res shots, or about 90 minutes of 640 x 480 MPEG video I didn't have to worry about having to download the photos every day. The photos weren't limited to underwater stuff. Driving around Phuket, elephants, gibbons and a Buddhist temple were included in the itinerary, but I'll leave those for a separate post.
Giant stride off the boat, and there it was, just below the surface
This turtle hung around the boat, being fed bananas and cucumbers
A forest of Christmas-tree worms
Shocked at being caught with a cleaner wrasse in its mouth
That's one enormous hermit crab in a full-size conch shell
An octopus, being timid
Here is a short video clip of a different octopus. A broadband connection is recommended...
Stonefish? Scorpionfish? Ugly and with tons of attitude
I think these are coral shrimps. They're less than an inch long
A nervous blenny peeking out of its hole in the coral
Oral hygiene, tropical reef style
This is a banded cleaner shrimp, I think
The minuscule coral crab, spotted on a night dive
A group, or at least a brace, of coral groupers
Monday, March 19, 2007
Now all that remains is to get international roaming sorted. I am told by Du that everything is active and I should have had no difficulty in getting mobile roaming in Qatar or Thailand.
Alas, this was not the case. On my recent visit to south east Asia my attempts to phone the UAE were met with a recorded message in English telling me that "international calls are barred, at [my] request." An email to Du resulted in the traditional robot response followed by stony silence. And upon my return to the Emirates, I find that Du is allegedly unaware of any barring password.
Any help from someone who understands GSM technology would be appreciated. Naturally, it will be impossible to test whether or not roaming is working until I'm abroad again. And that won't be for many months.
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
I applied for my Du mobile phone SIM card back in December, and to my delight received notification in January that my preferred number had been allocated, and that the SIM would be couriered to Grumpy Goat Towers in March.
Then a courier company, whose name sounds a lot like 'Are-A-Mess', for reasons that will shortly become apparent, telephoned me on Wednesday last week to sort out a delivery time. Now, because I would be busy all Saturday, I suggested that instead of Grumpy Goat Towers, perhaps Are-A-Mess could deliver to my office address on Sunday at any time between 07:30 and 17:00.
Are-A-Mess concurred, and asked that I fax a location map, and to include on the fax the waybill reference number. "Sharjah. Above the bank and the pie shop" is apparently not a good enough location.
Sunday, 5:30 pm:
GG: My package has failed to arrive. Do you know where it is?
AAM: Sorry, Mr Goat. We were unable to schedule delivery for today, but it will definitely be delivered tomorrow without fail.
(GG notes the absence of "inshallah" and is hopeful. Poor hapless fool.)
Monday, 5:30 pm:
GG: Where's my package? You promised before 5pm.
AAM: Du has instructed us to hold back on SIM card deliveries. Anyway, we don't know where to deliver it. Can you fax us a location?
GG: Like I did last Wednesday? Please phone me back without fail to confirm that you have this second location map.
AAM: Certainly, Mr Goat.
GG: You said you'd call me back, and you haven't. Do you have the map?
GG: And when are you going to deliver my package?
AAM: Tomorrow. Between nine and six.
I called Du to see if this alleged instruction to hold back on SIM card deliveries had any relationship with the truth, but I hung up after being told for ten minutes that my call was important and that I was in a queue and would be attended to. Presumably some time prior to the ultimate heat-death of the universe.
And anyway, what would have happened if I'd had the SIM delivered on Saturday as per the original plan? I smell an animal, and I suspect it's male and bovine.
GG: Are you going to deliver my SIM card or what?
AAM: I'll call the delivery boy and find out... He says he'll deliver it within 20 minutes.
Wait. Time passes. Thorin sits down and starts singing about gold.
Courier: Hello? Mr Goat? I'm at Grumpy Goat Towers. Where are you?
Needless to say I complained to the extremely apologetic manager over at Are-A-Mess. It's just a good job this delivery wasn't a live kidney for transplant or the tender for a mega-million dirham project to be delivered before noon.
I finally resorted to dealing directly with the delivery driver rather than the clowns in the Are-A-Mess office. He said he'd return to Grumpy Goat Towers between 7pm and 7:30. [IRONY] I am astonished to report that I've been here since 6:30pm, and at 8:15pm there's been no sign of him.[/IRONY]
I shall not be using the services of that particular courier company until hell freezes over. Another reference to the heat-death of the universe.
And if anyone from Are-A-Mess happens to be reading this, you may find the following pictures useful.
Addendum: At 8:30pm the SIM card was finally delivered. In a package the size and weight of a house brick.