Monday, November 19, 2012

Sound the alarm

“My husband tried to use the fire hose but there was no water. Not even one drop came from it…It is just there for decoration.”

So said one of the residents of Tamweel Tower in Jumeira Lake Towers, as reported in 7DAYS.

It’s a miracle then that no-one died or was injured in the fire early on 18th November. Over six hundred residents, but according to news reports everyone got out safely.

Questions will inevitably be asked about how a building made of steel, concrete and glass managed to burn so comprehensively. One resident cited the cladding, which “…is cheap fibreglass and it just erupts into flames…”

Well done to the ‘amazing’ Dubai Civil Defence for dealing with the fire and then helping to search the building for people and recoverable belongings.  

It’s incidents such as this that make me realise how fortunate I’ve been when living in various apartments. My first place was in a 12-storey block on Al Wahda Street in Sharjah. I noticed that the fire extinguishers on my floor and elsewhere had pressure gauges pointing at ‘Empty’, and I expressed my concerns regularly to the building management on the Mezzanine floor of the same building. Nothing was done. I went and complained to Sharjah Civil Defence (which is the Fire Brigade) but was told it was the building owner’s responsibility. I also complained that the fire escape stairways were completely blocked at ground level by old mattresses and moribund bicycles. Again, nothing was done. I moved out.

The next place, Grumpy Goat Tower in Sharjah was much newer and much better appointed in the Department of Fire and Life Safety, with smoke detectors on each landing, sprinkler systems and a fire alarm. Not that the alarm was ever tested in the three years I was there, but at least the hose reels and fire extinguishers had stickers showing that they’d been signed off as operational. Here, the problem was limited to blocked fire escapes. There seems to be a habit of parking supermarket trolleys, stepladders, bicycles at the bottom of the stairs. This might be OK from day to day, but what if everyone in the building comes piling down the stairs in the dark following a fire alarm at 2am? People will die in the crush.

My place in Doha was extremely well appointed with smoke alarms in every kitchen, a sprinkler system that extended into every apartment as well as the common areas and under-building parking, and even a fire main. I guess that the Qatar authorities mandated comprehensive fire protection in all new builds.

What about fire alarms? I used to work in a building where the alarm was tested for a few seconds every Thursday at precisely 10am. If the bells rang at any other time, or if the 10am bell didn’t shut up after a few seconds, it was to be treated as a full evacuation. The firm even had appointed fire marshals whose job was to drag people from their computers (“Leave me alone; it’s only a drill”) and force them down the fire escape.

What should we do, in the aftermath of the Tamweel Tower fire? Get a smoke alarm. Check that fire hoses and fire extinguishers are signed off as in date. Insist on regular fire alarm tests. Consider a fire safe for the really valuable documents such as passports and certificates.


Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Fly me to the moon

Someone suggested that if I wished to move away from Project Management, and all the financial crystal-ball-gazing that that entails, perhaps I should divert my energies in the direction of a more technical and less managerial role. I can already drive AutoCAD, and I'm also a dab-hand at Excel and PowerPoint. I even taught myself how to use MicroDrainage and SYNCHRO. Perhaps I could learn Civil 3D?

Some of these might be a bit of a mystery to anyone who lives beyond the borders of Civil Engineering, but shall I say that they're technical software packages.

I have a copy of AutoCAD 14 on my little laptop. This is a very old version of the program, and was probably the release used by Noah in the preliminary designs of his ark. Newer versions of AutoCAD and the increasingly popular Civil 3D won't run on my little laptop, a device that has enormous difficulty with Photoshop Elephants (version 2 - how quaint!) because the disk drive is nearly full and the machine is approaching a decade old.

I checked online for Civil 3D and AutoCAD, and was very alarmed at the cost, and also the rather demanding specification of a machine that would run them. Further alarm, then, when I saw how much a suitable computer would cost.

At this point, I had an epiphany: AirMiles.

I've been slavishly presenting my AirMiles card at every possible transaction for many years. In fact, because I started with AirMiles Qatar, it must be over ten years, and those miles have piled up. Beloved Wife has been contributing to the same account, and by using credit cards for everything except petrol, I had managed to amass approaching a million of the things. AirMiles wrote to say that in 2013 there would be a session of "Use 'em or Lose 'em" so there was now some pressure to buy something expensive.

Such as a new computer. The eMax shop does direct exchange of AirMiles. I was expecting to have to apply for vouchers, await their eventual arrival by mail, and then go into the shop to be told that there were terms, conditions, restrictions, and all that other stuff in the small print.

I was really over the moon to learn that eMax exchanges AirMiles for toys at the face value of 14000 miles to AED100, which is the same rate as for gift vouchers.

So it was extremely gratifying to come away from eMax last evening with boxes containing a new and powerful laptop and a second monitor, all for an outlay of less than AED50. And I even have enough AirMiles left over for a bean-grinding espresso machine (but I don't actually want one of those because I'm a fan of the moka pot). Hilariously, no-one in the shop really seemed to believe that I wanted a home computer for work-type stuff; they all seemed to think I want it to play Gears of War or Skyrim. Hey, I don't even play Solitaire or Minesweeper. Honest.

The delight fell over once I got home, when I discovered that AutoCAD 14 won't run on a Windows 7 64-bit system. At least Photoshop does. And I fortuitously remembered that my Office 2010 had one remaining licence, so I'm up and running with a full version of Office too. Apparently AutoDesk doesn't support their software running under the all-singing, all-dancing Windows 8, so I think I'll stay away from Microsoft's latest operating system pro tempore.

Now, Civil 3D and AutoCAD 2012 remain an expensive proposition. I wonder if the nice people at AutoDesk would let me have them on the extremely cheap? It is only for training and non-commercial use. I have a demo version, but that's only good for a month.

The plan, then, is to devote time at home with a powerful computer and a big book of "AutoCAD and Civil 3D For Dummies" until I'm an expert. I may be some time.


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