Thursday, December 31, 2009

The end is nigh

The Goat is suffering from a kind of festive Blogger’s Block. There are plenty of things to write about; the problem is finding something coherent to say that hasn’t already been done to death by other bloggers, newspapers, commentators or internet forums.

How about the Curious Case of the Algeria Street Speed Camera? The road runs from traffic lights at Tripoli Street to Uptown Mirdif. It’s a dual carriageway with a posted speed limit of 60kph owing to the curves, U-turns and junctions. But trust me: you’ll be run off the road by some hoon if you drive it at less than about 80kph. Do the authorities stick a camera halfway along the road, where it would catch almost everybody and make a tidy sum of revenue at Dh600 a pop? No. The camera is next to the Uptown Primary School junction where there’s invariably a tailback of U-turning vehicles and traffic speeds are approximately 15kph. I have a sneaking suspicion that the camera is meant to catch speeding motorists heading south, down the hill, but it’s been incompetently erected to face the wrong way.

Continuing with traffic and transportation, the last refuge of the Blogging Charlatan, I wonder what makes it OK for some people to display their tarmac tantrums (road rage, but a more appropriate name to illustrate their childishness) but not others? Having sounded my horn so that an erratically-piloted Lexus didn’t knock me off my bike one morning, the driver chose to sit about six inches behind the bike at the next red light and rev his engine against the limiter. And then to direct obscene gestures at me through his windscreen. Obviously I didn’t reciprocate. I know what happened to the Kiwi nurse.

How about the uniformed senior police officer, weaving all over the road in an entirely different erratically-piloted Lexus because he can’t drive with a phone stuck to his ear? Over Dh18,000 traffic fines currently outstanding, sir. You are clearly an exceptional driver.

I’ve now started keeping a written record for each memorable incident, the vehicle registration number, make and model, what the incident was and where it occurred.

I could also go on ad nauseam about my motorcycle accessories. The extended mudguards, the cruise control, the frame sliders in case it all goes pear-shaped. The sliders, or ‘crash mushrooms’ are already approximately pear-shaped, but might save the expensive plastic from excessive damage in the event of a low-speed get-off. Actually the bike is probably going to be farkled to the max once the sliders arrive from Germany. They're being shipped via Arizona because the shipping works out cheaper that way. I have no real need for an on-board radio, iPod, radar detector, heated grips, ape-hanger bars or beverage holders.

And then there’s the Gulf News Fun Drive. Details remain a secret for now, but all will be revealed in the newspaper early in 2010. Meanwhile the Goatmobile is stuck at the Crumbling Villa awaiting either warm or wet weather, or sand under the tyres. That’s where I’ll find the on-board radio and beverage holders.

The restaurant service charge fiasco has been discussed elsewhere on the blogosphere. Not that it would make one iota of difference how much I pay when I eat out, I’d prefer that gratuities go to the waiting staff, rather than be siphoned off by the proprietor.

Another piece of news is that petrol is going to be sold by the litre from tomorrow instead of by the gallon. This will leave the USA as the only country in the world still selling motor fuel in non-metric volumes. Unless you know different. It means that green petrol will cost Dh1.3748, and blue will be Dh1.4848 per litre.The change will make precisely zero difference to most drivers, who either “Fill ’er up!” or buy by the value: “Twenty dirhams of Super, please!” I shall be pleasantly surprised if petrol prices don’t get rounded up to Dh1.40 or Dh1.50 for green and blue respectively.

In an allied thought, I read recently that only the UK and USA still specify highway distances and vehicle speeds in imperial units. Everyone else, apparently, uses kilometres and kph. E&OE as usual.

Finally, on the subject of resistance to the metric system, here’s a little puzzle.
    In a field the shape of an equilateral triangle whose area is half an acre, there is an unspecified grazing animal. The beast is attached to one corner of the field by a rope, so that it can graze exactly 50% of the area of the field. To the nearest foot, how long is the rope? Show your working.

    (You can ignore those parts of the rope around the animal’s neck, around the post and making the knots, and you can assume as zero the distance between the rope and the animal’s mouth. It’s a straightforward geometry puzzle with no tricks.)

And that’s my lot for 2009. Happy New Year, folks.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

First impressions last

Beloved Wife declared last evening that we had to run an errand to the Mall of the Emirates. Having just spent all day on a Gulf News Fun Drive marshals’ run-through I was in no mood to drive. I thought of the nightmare of attempting to park in a busy mall car park, and, on a whim, brightly suggested trying the Metro.

We’ve not used the Metro before. My understanding is that all ticketing is electronic, with pre-paid credit being deducted from a so-called ‘NOL’ card.

But neither of us had a ‘nol’ card. We walked from the Crumbling Villa and waited in the ice-box bus shelter for the feeder bus. When it arrived, the driver said he couldn’t take our cash, and suggested that we go and buy our ‘nol’ cards from Spinneys. That can’t be right: surely it must be possible to buy a card from the bus driver, as Beloved Wife’s friend managed to do a couple of weeks ago?

No, apparently. Ah, well. Perhaps the driver’s English isn’t good, although how much of any language do you need to take money from the customer and issue a ticket/smart card/receipt? So I asked a bus passenger. He confirmed what the driver had said, except that it was Carrefour, not Spinneys. Neither one of these emporia is within walking distance of the Crumbling Villa, which is less than convenient.

There might be a bit of a logic leap here, but this was not as if I’d boarded the bus and attempted to buy 20 Marlboro. What kind of half-baked system exists to encourage people out of their cars on to public transport, and then refuses to sell them tickets to use that public transport?

The reason for my quandary is obvious. The bus driver was clearly an imbecile. Not a good way to sell your product, is it? But then again, Dubai is full of examples of retailers who populate their shops with staff who know the square-root of sod all about the product they’re selling, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised.

I felt spurned and snubbed, and was all for rejecting Dubai’s public transport system for ever on the basis of this encounter. However, Beloved Wife still had to run her errand, so we walked home, drove to Rashidiya, parked the car, and bought our ‘nol’ cards at the station. From then on, using the Metro was painless.


Monday, December 14, 2009

The lazy doth protest too much, methinks

The Crumbling Villa continues its slow and inexorable descent into chaos, in full compliance with the Laws of Thermodynamics. As the landlord’s only apparent function it to receive his rent each year, it is incumbent upon the Goat to deal with repairs and maintenance.

GAMI (Get A Man In) is sometimes preferable to DIY (Damage It Yourself), such as when the work involves split-unit air conditioning units that were originally fitted in the Ark, or when the job involves shovelling pigeon poo off the roof, but as both Beloved Wife and Goat have full-time jobs it is sometimes difficult to arrange for tradesmen to turn up when we’re not out. Especially when “We will arrive at 5pm.” often actually means “At 3pm, or tomorrow at 10:30, or maybe not at all.”

So when the plumbing went wrong a while ago, Muggins replaced the hot water tank single-handed. My other hand was busy grasping for any handhold: the ladder, window frame, stopcock… At least the new tank wasn’t half full of limestone, so weighed less than the old and leaky one: a bonus when teetering atop a stepladder in a bathroom that’s swimming with water. Did I mention that the stopcock won’t fully shut off the water; merely reduce the Niagaresque torrent to a mere dribble? And yes I did turn off the water pump.

Just last week it became the shower’s turn to malfunction. The plastic (Plastic? What were they thinking?!) screw thread attaching the shower hose to the mixer tap snapped off. Initially it looked as if the entire mixer tap assembly would have to be replaced at enormous expense and inconvenience, and then I discovered that it was possible to unscrew the remainder of the plastic fitting.

Armed with this, off I went to the Plumbers’ Central.

So this is where my laziness creeps in. I don’t want to go to the time and effort of replacing the entire tap fitting when changing the screw adaptor takes only a few seconds, so I drive all over Dubai from Ace Hardware at Festival Centre, over to Speedex on SZR, thence into Satwa. All this in the huge traffic congestion that is an inevitable consequence of rainy weather. Twenty shops, three hours and about two gallons of petrol later, I was forced to conclude that this silly little tuppeny-ha’penny fitting was indeed Not Coming In Dubai. Just as you suspected, dear Reader.

Not to worry, tomorrow is another day, and it’s a well-known fact that you can get anything in Sharjah (with the possible exceptions of booze and pork). The trouble is, no-one who knows where is telling.

So this morning I got much the same story from any number of emporia of plumbing supplies. I eventually ended up at the same shop where I bought the hot water tank. The Man asserted that the thingummy I wanted was simply not available (big surprise). So I bought a whole new mixer tap – for the wallet-crippling price of sixty dirhams.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009

These boots aren't made for walking

Rider's Eye View

This post is about GPS navigation, so it’s only fair that Abdulla Mohammed Ibrahim General Trading Est. (AMIT) is located using Lat/Long. The showroom is at N25 15.978' E055 17.715' where traffic is hideous and parking is a nightmare unless you’re on two wheels.

I originally bought my Garmin 276c way back in late 2004. It came with the City Select Europe map and a kit for mounting it on a car dashboard.

Naturally the Europe map was of only academic interest here in the UAE, so I immediately bought a copy of City Navigator Middle East. This of course went out of date almost immediately, but nevertheless remains of use especially away from the latest piece of concrete spaghetti. There are no roads in the desert or on the ocean, which is where I originally intended to use the unit.

In August 2007 I took the GPS to the USA and discovered that the base mapping was close to useless. Actually, the main lithium ion battery had also died after three years of abuse, cooking on the dashboard of the Goatmobile: luckily I’d found a supplier of a replacement, ordered one on line, and had it mailed to me all the way from California to Virginia.

And then late in 2008 the internal battery died. There’s a watch battery soldered to the circuit board whose purpose is to keep the internal clock running while the unit is switched off. That way, when it is switched on again, the GPS already has an idea of the correct time and can thus work out where to look for the satellites. Why this isn't user-replaceable like on a computer mother board remains a conundrum.

I found all this out from a GPS forum on the Interwebs, and perceived wisdom was that it would cost many money to get the internal battery changed and I’d be better off replacing the entire unit. Aieee, expense!

And then I remembered AMIT. The GPS mechanic took the unit for a few days, returned it good as new with a new internal battery, and charged me Dh75. Huzzah!

The 276c has performed faultlessly ever since. I bought a motorcycle mounting kit rather than a new Zumo. I also bought the North America road map for use during last August’s road trip. And that was when Beloved Wife and I started calling the machine ‘Clarissa’.

One shouldn’t anthropomorphise machines. They hate it when you do that.

To my disappointment the internal battery died last week, so I took Clarissa back to AMIT and explained. Instead of keeping track of the correct time, Clarissa was waking up and looking for satellites based on the date being New Year’s Day 2000 at 4am. AMIT advised that this time it would only take half an hour to fix, so I wandered off to the Naif souq to do some other shopping, and gave myself some blisters. Motorcycle boots are certainly not made for walking.

An hour later, and I was invited upstairs at AMIT to be shown that the wire connecting the battery to the printed circuit board had become mysteriously disconnected and I’d have to buy a new GPS. This was clearly unacceptable, and I began to prepare for a heated argument. Obviously the wire had been pulled out by the technician when either installing a battery two years ago or while trying to remove it today. He wished to imply that I’d somehow broken the wire myself, and was rather surprised when I told him the date AMIT had previously done the work and how much it had cost. Some of us never throw away old receipts.

Garmin mapping software is expensive and only works on a specific GPS receiver. After buying the data disks and uploading, it’s necessary to register the software with Garmin and tell the website the GPS’s unique serial number. It’s then impossible to upload the data and get it to run on to any other machine without buying another licence. This is all to stop the nefarious from buying one map and giving (or selling) copies to all their mates.

I was therefore forthright in that I wanted my unit repaired. I also had no real desire to replace the car mounting kit, the bike mounting kit and replacement mapping software. I left it with the man and his fine-point soldering iron. There’s no way I could repair it myself; my soldering always looks like it’s been sprayed on from ten paces.

Three days later, and I received a phone call. Clarissa was all better: repaired, fully working with a new backup battery, and there would be no charge. Huzzah again!

So what do I conclude?
  • I’ve had several GPS receivers, and the 276c has proved to be excellent for road and marine navigation. It has a long (8 hours or more) battery life and is easy to read and to use. The battery can be recharged by plugging it in at home, or using the fag-lighter socket while on the move.

  • Despite the Garmin mapping software being expensive and single-user, the maps are useful, usable and accurate.

  • AMIT can supply the receivers, all sorts of creatively-designed mounting hardware, and will carry out software upgrades and hardware repairs. They’ll do this in-house, quickly, reliably, and won’t charge the earth.

Clarissa is now five years old and is on her second main battery and third backup battery. I’m looking forward to at least a couple more years of use before my next foray into GPS repairs. I also hope to get lots more use out of my maps.


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Turkey and chips

The tourist shot.
It might take a while for the desert sands to reclaim this little lot.

What news? What news indeed. The Goat’s brief blogging hiatus has been caused by Nanny Goat’s visit over the past two weeks. So no comments here about defaulting on loans or the alleged imminent demise of Dubai to be reclaimed by the desert sands. For further reading on the above subjects, please feel free to read what Seabee and The Real Nick have had to say.

Anyway, Nanny Goat. She arrived bearing gifts from Faun Parts: a small white goat that sits on its haunches and sings about A Lonely Goatherd, doing a passable imcaprination of Julie Andrews. Also motorcycle farkles, and new batteries to replace the old and dying items in various old and dying mobile phones. A ‘farkle’, incidentally, is a Fancy Accessory; Really Kool; Likely Expensive, and is generally to be found adorning a motorcycle. New extended fibreglass mudguards now keep more road crud off the expensive bits of rear suspension and the front of the engine, and a grille over the radiator protects against extremely expensive impact by stones and errant birds.

There’s a previous blog about the new zorst. Since then the bike went over to the Aprilia shop way over past the Autodrome in Dubai Investment Park, for a session on the dynamometer. It is gratifying to note that the gainsayers were wrong. The new exhaust pipe does not cock up the carburetion so that the engine runs super-lean and risks burning holes in pistons. Isn’t digital fuel injection wonderful? The air/fuel ratio is perfect up to 8000rpm and runs just slightly rich above that. Given that 8000rpm equates to about 240kph in top gear, doing anything about the rich mixture doesn’t seem worth the effort or expense. Over 130 horsepower isn’t bad either, although using it all on the public highway might be.

Bad for the fuel consumption; bad for the wallet; bad for the licence...

Not that the bike’s been out much during Nanny Goat’s visit. One morning there had been some spots of rain overnight and Diablo Black had become smeared with Dubai Beige, which was rather off-putting. I don’t like riding in the rain, particularly in an environment where most people don’t seem to be able to. The clouds have been a welcome change, though. Actual blue skies with fluffy white things make photos that include sky so much more interesting than the usual plain brown.

Following a week when the Goat was obliged to go to work (Keeps away the lupine pest) and Nanny Goat stayed at home and made pasties (Huzzah!),we’ve been swanning around the Emirates seeing the sights and doing that whole touristy thing either in the Goatmobile or with the roof of Beloved Wife’s tin-top convertible folded away. On her first evening here, there was a desert barbecue out past Bab Al Shams that was tricky to find in the dark even abetted by GPS. A separate BBQ over an adjacent dune proved distracting and confusing at first.

Later, we drove around almost the entire length of Palm Jumeira’s barrier reef. We didn’t go into the Atlantis, and will not do so until after the whale shark has been released.

Sharjah Heritage Village and its souq was available for use, so Nanny Goat and I wandered around buildings recently restored in the style common in the 1850s, or possibly even the 1950s. The door to the Heritage Museum was shut in our faces, and the Islamic Museum seems to have disappeared.

It was diverting to wander around the aquarium in Dubai Mall. The Goat tried and failed to take decent photographs with Nanny Goat’s new compact camera. There was a long and protracted session with Photoshop(TM) afterwards, trying to get the colour balance back to something approaching plausible. Incidentally, the same problem afflicted all the photos taken under the blue-glassed atrium of Mercato Mall. Messing with the white balance and other settings met with little success.

On the subject of said camera, it was astounding to see how cheap memory cards have become. So cheap in fact that 2GB was given away with the camera (an Olympus with 12 megapixels, if anyone’s interested) along with spare rechargeable batteries, a charger and a carrying case, and all for well under Dh500. Merry Christmas, Nanny Goat. Unfortunately such beneficence was not displayed when I enquired about a new Nikon DSLR body. That will have to wait for some considerable time, given that it’s probably Dh6500-worth cost of D300.

What else happened? Beloved Wife threw a massive and traditional turkey dinner on Thanksgiving Friday. We have now at last more or less got rid of all that food. There remain the final remnants of a pie that the Goat made from turkey leftovers, but the potatoes, cranberry sauce and squash have now gone the way of all food.

The blog’s normal service - complaining about stuff that gets up the Goat’s nose - will be resumed following Nanny Goat’s departure.


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.