Monday, April 30, 2007

2 Years Old

Today marks my Nephew's second birthday - I can not be with him today so I am immortalizing it in my blog.

Below is a picture of him having just finished his first ever piece of Birthday cake - complete with crumbs on the chin. I was told by his Mum that he kept wondering why people kept saying "Happy Birthday" to him - he was just pleased to get more toy trucks!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Marina By Night

With the purchase of my small Canon Ixus 850 it has more or less relegated my rather nifty Sony DSC-R1 to dust gathering duty, particularly on some of the 4x4/camping trips I have been on recently. It is just so convenient to have close at hand due to its size.

After a lot of looking at the photos on Picasa - I felt that there was something "missing" from these photos. On first impressions they looked good - however on real inspection they were somewhat disappointing. So the other evening in an effort to avoid upgrading immediately to some form of Digital SLR I dusted off the Sony R1 and took a few night shots of the Marina. For me the results were startlingly. Here is my favorite and currently my windows desktop:

This and a couple of other photos I took can be found here at their full resolution. In comparison with the same picture taken with the compact canon (it is here )- the difference is basically night and day. The megapixel count is not too far apart (10.1 vs 7.1) - but you just can not beat great glass.

(Prediction - I will be writing something similar about a Digital SLR vs a fixed lens digital camera in the not too distant future)

Monday, April 23, 2007

View From The Top

Took this today from the Sky View bar at the Burj Al Arab. A really stunning vista.

Posted by Picasa

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Hatta Pools Strikes Back

Hatta Pools as I have previously mentioned is a place of outstanding and rugged natural beauty. The clear, warm pools attract numerous visitors. On my visit there today I was really shocked to see the litter. Below you can see a group of people have had a barbecue and just left the whole detritus from it in situ....disgusting:

I would urge the local authorities to impose heavy fines on those littering - it is really destroying a great tourist attraction. It was no fun swimming in the pools with my mouth closed in case I swallowed a floating Choitrams bag.

Into The Empty Quarter

One of the nice things about working with a number of rugged South African colleagues is that they all like camping. Every time I talk to them about vacations in Africa I am often told about their time in Mozambique out in the wilderness with nothing but the stars for company. It seems that they often yearn for this type of wilderness and so there are often trips organized to the far reaches of Oman and the UAE.

Last weekend saw us take a trip Liwa also known as the Empty Quarter home of the largest sand desert on the planet. The directions from Dubai are straightforward. Drive to Abu Dhabi then bear left and then drive 200km into the desert (if you reach the Saudi border you have gone too far)

Liwa is the home of some mighty 200-300m sand dunes and as a good friend puts it “Liwa is the proper desert” and as such requires the right amount of respect and safety precautions. Before setting off – I checked I had all my recovery gear, my GPS was working, walkie talkies were charged and I had a car charger for my cell phone. I was also careful to ensure keep my vehicle fueled up at every opportunity. After a long drive (nicely broken up by a trip to the car museum) we arrived at Moreeb Hill.

Moreeb Hill is the home to annual hill climb challenge and on seeing it I can see why people turn up with 1000BHP vehicles. Apparently the hill climb record is 12 seconds. I would love to see that – but have my doubts about being in the vehicle! Here Carol has a go in her Nissan Patrol:

I did not even bother trying it in the Hummer as I had the worlds amount of camping gear in the car – and it is not the most powerful vehicle, even unencumbered. After Carol had finished playing on the hill, we aired down our tires, then drove into the dunes searching for a suitable camping spot. After 30 minutes of the trickiest dune driving I have yet to encounter, we found a fairly flat spot and proceeded to set up camp:

There was no escaping the fact we were in the desert as the sun beat down hard upon us. The temperature was registering 42c with precious little shade available to offer us protection. While setting up I heard a noise that I could only describe as a helicopter. However what crested a dune was something much more impressive. It was a Chevrolet Avalanche 2500 – it sports an EIGHT point one liter engine and with no muffler the awesome engine and exhaust notes echo off the dunes giving an attack helicopter like sound. The Avalanche is owned by a very jovial gentleman called Jamal who is a committee member of the Dubai 4x4 forums. Carol was pleased he arrived as he was able to lead our afternoon drive through the dunes of Liwa.

I had taken one look at the dunes and made the decision that I was not going to drive this time. I felt I still do not possess the desert driving skills yet and the Hummer is not the ideal vehicle for some of the climbs that are required. Also perhaps the more compelling reason was I could get to ride along in the Avalanche!

Once camp was done we set off in seven car convoy. We drove through some very tricky dunes and bowls. The avalanche was so powerful it just ate up steep inclines with ease. However it was challenged by not only its huge weight and long wheel base but the the transfer case would not engage into four wheel drive. Jamal's twenty plus year of desert driving experience soon put pay to these hindrances however we still had a few “stucks”:

Shaukie (another long time Dubai 4x4 member) who drove a heavily modified red wrangler was the recovery vehicle “par excellence” - these guys simply do not hang around. Shaukie shoots up to the scene of the stuck, the recovery rope was out and shackled up. A quick beep of the horn, the tow was engaged and the vehicle was recovered. Average time was probably less than five minutes. One recovery was not quite as smooth:

On one particularly tricky bowl Craig in his diesel turbo Land Cruiser had a nasty stuck with the vehicle in danger of tipping over:

Shuakie and Jamal got on the walkie talkies in a flash and instantly started issuing safety instructions. Four guys provided counterbalance by standing on the running rails of the Land Cruiser while Shaukie towed out the car. Here is the recovery in progress:

Some of the standout moments during the four hour desert drive was descending several 200m tall slip faces:

Seeing a real camel train snaking its way through the desert. A truly memorable site:

A land based oil rig burning off the natural gas in the still of the night:

Once we got back to camp we fired up the barbecue and recounted tales of the day until long into the night. I am no real fan of camping but the stars you can see late at night and the seemingly endless sea of sand dunes that presents itself in the morning makes the discomfort worthwhile.

I was a little disappointed not to be with Chris and the drive through Area 53 – but the pull of seeing Liwa before the summer sets in making it too hot camp was irresistible. Liwa was an unforgettable experience, but it made me realize I am not really a die hard outdoor type – however once a year I will go back and remind myself of the beauty of the desert.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

On the way to Liwa it is only a short detour to Sheikh Hamad bin Hamdan al Nahyan's or the Rainbow Sheikh's car museum. I can clearly remember Jermey Clarksons Motor World some 10 years ago and being in awe at the collection that the Sheikh had put together.

As you drive through the desert the first thing you notice is the top a pyramid glistening in the distance. Not what you might expect in the UAE but certainly not surprising for this country. It turns out this pyramid houses the car museum.

Checking in the UAE off-road guide it is suppose to be open 7 days a week – but when our convoy of cars arrived it was decidedly closed. Carol (a British expat who has been here for 17 years) used her jedi mind trick and powers of persuasion on a bored looking Indian chap to let us in. To be honest he would never have been able to disappoint the children we had along for the ride. We were kindly let in and basically had our own private tour of the car museum. It was just great.

Here is the largest pick-up truck in the world which actually contains a house and even is able to be driven short distances:

This more regular sized pick-up sports the Rainbow Sheikh's motif:

As well some sort of moon buggy/car/MPV that the Sheikh designed himself:

Outside was parked a real Mercedes monster truck – which I think would be great fun to ride around:

And for me the signature vehicle the huge globe trailer:

I had always wanted to see this car collection in the “metal” since the Clarkson feature on it. In fact you can watch the original TV show has it has been immortalized on google video. Just a couple of comments on this video:

  1. Jeremy Clarkson's buffon hair do is utterly ridiculous

  2. Jerermy Clarkson's attempts at driving a wrangler through the desert are hopeless

  3. Some of the crazy driving featured in the video has not changed an iota in ten years

Here is the video:

I think it is great gesture that the Sheikh has made this car collection available to the public. I would hope that though that anyone making the long journey from Dubai there could guarantee it being open on their arrival.

Overall – 8/10 – you can not get cheaper than free, would have been nice if all the lights were on when we walked around.

The rest of my photos from this trip can be found here.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Rise of the Mega Projects

With anything that I have a vague interest in, I like most people, will research it to death on the internet. With the purchase of my property I spent a lot of time trawling through the useful UAE forum at a site called Sky Scraper City. I found it highly educational for not only the Marina development but also the other "Mega Projects" in Dubai such as the Burj Dubai, Dubai Land and the various Palms.

While poking around these forums I came across a link for a rather excellent video compiling all the Mega Projects computer renders and promo spots into one film. I found it rather compelling to watch.

You can find it on Google video here.

Despite everyday living in an environment where I seem to play "dodge 'ems" with plant and cement mixers, the video really helped me visualize where this amazing city is heading. Mind boggling.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Did You See....?

I have had the pleasure of spending the last two weeks in Dubai - actually a first for this calendar year. This has allowed me to establish a small routine which will be broken when I get a chance to visit Budapest later this week.

Part of this routine was spending some time catching up on TV. Namely the start of the new Apprentice series in the UK. I enjoy it watching this show as it sparks a curiosity as to how I would perform in some of these challenges - however the language and bickering in the latest series has made me glad that I am best out of it and job interviews on TV are perhaps more influenced by the Editor than your performance.

Either way I did enjoy watching the show - which led me to realize that what I wanted to do was chat to my friends about it However Dubai has a myriad of different TV packages and suppliers. Hence rarely does anyone watch the same TV show I might have the previous evening. This leads to two things:

1. A prevalence of the DVD boxsets for popular TV series
2. I never have a "Did you see xyz show last night" conversation around the water cooler

Not really much of a shame - just an odd abscence from everyday life in the UK.

House Mates

It is rapidly approaching that time of year when one's rental lease is due and the inevitable price hike will need to be negotiated. I find myself in a slightly tricky position where the apartment that I purchased should be completed (god willing) about halfway through any year long lease agreement. However it could well be delayed which would not be uncommon for Dubai. Also the thought of handing over another substantial amount of cash for rent was less than appealing.

So it was with great pleasure that yesterday I agreed to rent a room from one of my friends (Duncan). Aside from giving me the flexibility to move when I need - it will also give me a chance to experience some "Jumeriah Expat" lifestyle. Not to mention that living with Duncan and Rupert will be brilliant fun - I am really looking forward to it.

Have a look below at the advertisement Duncan listed on Dubizzle and you will see why he had an overwhelming response. I am fortunate he chose me!

House share in Jumeirah!!!!

Date: Apr 12, 07

Description: We're looking for a third housemate to join us in our fantastic villa in Jumeirah. The villa is about 10 minutes walk from Mercato and 5 minutes to Choithrams- we're just behind Beach road. If you are a beach-lover this place is ideal- there is a really quiet open beach just 5 minutes walk away. The rent covers all bills- DEWA, drinking water, maid (visits 3x a week to do all ironing and cleaning), broadband internet (skype!!!) and the pleasure of our company. We have an outdoor bar and a lovely garden built by my own fair hands, which is great for BBQ parties of which we have quite a few. So who are we? I'm Duncan, a 27yr old Landscape Architect from England. I'm into playing footie, windsurfing, camping, cooking, snowboarding and stuff like that. Rupert is also 27, from England and is a TV producer- he's into dressing gowns and lie-ins. We're looking for someone like-minded- easy going (but not a freeloader/too messy-been there done that!), sociable and someone who is keen to get involved in stuff-wadi trips, camping, dinner parties and all that kind of stuff. Call me (Duncan) on 050-xxx-xxxx if you fit the bill!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Laugh? I nearly...

...died of embarrassment last night. I had a very enjoyable evening at the Laughter Factory which is hosted at the Zinc night club at the Crowne Plaza.

The format for these events was a trio of comedians who typically appear in a "save the best for last" order. The poor chap who appeared first, Mickey Hutton, was simply not very funny. I really wanted to laugh but he was just not giving me any reason to. However my moment of embarrassment was for Mickey Hutton, at his finale he wanted to play some guitar, sing a song with accents from his harmonica. Sadly, the guitar did not work and the technician could not get it going. Mickey tried hard to recover from the situation by basically humiliating the technician. I really felt for both of them.

I wondered if I had wasted my 95AED but the other two acts Tom Stade and Terry Alderton were both great and made it worthwhile.

I have not reviewed anything for a while - so here goes:

Mickey Hutton - enthusiastic, but not really funny. Shame his guitar did not work. His only redeeming feature was he looked incredibly similar to a chap I work with. 4/10

Tom Stade - a cool, smooth talking Canadian. His observational humor particularly around airplane flying had the large proportion of the EK crew in the audience laughing. 7/10

Terry Alderton - a cross between Michael Winslow (The man of a 1000 sound effects from Police Academy) and a regular British comedian. Terry's impression of "Speed garage" had me grinning from ear to ear and the overall technical excellence in his performance was clear to see. 8.5/10

Overall Laughter Factory Experience - some good laughs and 25AED drinks. I will be going again. 8/10

Monday, April 09, 2007

Offers Me Protection

In a storage sales environments, often the leading question is what are the two most important elements in your company?

Typically the top two answers are 1. Our People 2. Our Data - not always in that order though. For me if I look at the data stored on my PC the single most important collection of files for I own is my photo library. Shortly behind that are my email archives, my personal documents and even my collection of bookmarks (while not critical it is always a pain if you lose them)

For relatively small amounts of data (less than 650mb) - then a combination of burning CDs and using an online storage services such xdrive or idrive will suffice.

However the challenge I was facing with 18.5GB of photos and 9500 files is that on a 512kb upload speed it will take days to upload that much data and equally as long to retrieve it. In fact Jonathan Schwartz illustrates this point very well in a recent blog posting.

I have tried to do this online backup in any event by opening up a pro account with This promises unlimited online photo storage but in reality limits you by allowing you to upload only 2gb a month. Sadly the other problem with is that currently Etisalat has this excellent photo sharing site blocked in the UAE. So not the best solution at the moment.

With my move to Dubai I have seen my photo folder nearly doubled in size in the last ten months caused by
1. lots of things to photo
2. images at either seven or ten megapixels

The use of a single 4.5GB DVD is simply not enough and copying to multiple DVDs is a tedious process with fresh photos being added regularly. The other option is to copy them to an external hard drive however hard drives sadly fail on occasion and I have had suffered this a couple of times. Also I have yet to find an easy to use backup program to replicate folders without in depth knowledge of the ILM (Information Lifecycle Management) process.

That was until I recently read about This essentially allows you to replicate folders between PCs. It relies on a small application download and a little configuration on a website which is nicely described on here.

The underlying technology is encrypted P2P which gives me the added benefit of being able to access my files anywhere via this site. I applaud Microsoft for making this application free to use following their acquisition of ByteTaxi a few years ago.

Now with the use of this I am replicating both my photo and document directories between my two home PCs, my work laptop and even my iPod. A little extreme but it is nice to have local access to my photos on all my devices. Sure I should make regular DVD copies, but with such a high level of replication and zero manual intervention I am much happier than just a few weeks ago. Like most people, I imagine, previously I had no cohesive backup strategy for my most precious digital memories.

To quote David Pogue from the New York Times - "There are only two kind of people - those who back up their computers and those who will"

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Costa Del Hatta

The UAE never ceases to amaze me with the variety of natural beauty spots it has to offer. Far more than the big city and rolling sand dunes most people think about it. Yesterday a group of us drove up to Hatta for a day trip. After a relaxed start to the day we stopped off at the Hatta Fort hotel for some lunch. Whilst the food was nothing to write home about we enjoyed the deliciously kitsch seventies decor of the restaurant and splendid scenery afforded by Hajar mountains.

After thirty minutes of completely failing to follow the very detailed instructions on how to get to the Hatta rock pools we finally got on the right track and the Hummer again proved it is really at home on the trails transporting our party in relative comfort over the rough road. At one point just before a steep descent there was a spectacular vista which begged to be photographed:

We parked up alongside numerous 4x4's and even some regular saloon cars - however I am sure that their undercarriage would have taken some knocks. We grabbed our gear and took the short hike down to the pools. When we first went down I could only see some very shallow pools and was initially a little disappointed:

However on climbing down a little more there was a sort of "rocky beach" which was the entrance to the Hatta Pools proper. A couple of regulars to visit here were surprised by the number of people visiting that day - it certainly had a beach holiday feel to it:

We all took the plunge and swam the length of the pools which were quite deep at times. It was really invigorating and made a pleasurable change to be in water that was not salty and not full of chlorine. The Hatta pools are more of a "Hatta Channel" and it was very picturesque:

We took a little walk along the wadi above the pools when Matt decided he wanted to take a leap across what can only be described as a chasm. It was a little scary for both of us as on his first jump it was a little further than he expected and when I heard a cry of "S@$!" I could only respond with another expletive! He made it though...definitely not one for those who have not spent most of their lives bouncing across rocks like human spring.

Below gives you an idea of the chasm Matt leapt across:

It was a really fun day and definitely a must do to anyone who has the time to get out of Dubai and see a little more of what the rugged UAE countryside has to offer. I am looking forward to taking my next slew of visitors there.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Easy Rider

Dubai has had a real "buzz" over the last couple of weekends. Though the Easter break is not observed as a whole in the country there appears to be plenty of holidaymakers taking the opportunity to come and visit the UAE. So it is without coincidence that this weekend there were at least two major events happening.

The first of which was the Red Bull Air Race held at Abu Dhabi which a fellow UAE blogger has a nice write up here. I had made an arrangement to meet friends later that evening so chose to spend the evening at Dubai Bike Week being held just down the road from me at Media City.

Whilst I am not a motor bike rider I was intrigued to see what this was all about - also I had received an invitation from Hummer so I took the 10AED cab ride over. There I met up with a colleague from the office who is a Ducati owner and he told me about the "ride out" that morning. The count was some 86 bikes going on a three hour ride out of the city and into the desert. Seemed to me that they re-enacted part of the Canonball Run with the police deploying mobile radars, forming roadblock, asking for license and registrations and even sending up the helicopter to ensure the ride out was run safely. I was entertained by these stories all day.

Dubai Bike Week is predominantly about the Harley Davidson marque and oddly the best place to see them was in the car park outside the entrance. Here are some gentlemen from the UAE "chapter" :

I am a secret viewer of the Discovery Channel program American Chopper and was pleased to see a number of fine examples. This was my favourite which sported Qatar number plates:

Inside the show were a number of others:

I really like looking at these choppers and see them more as works of art as opposed to something one would ride around looking cool on.

Though I did not see stay into the evening when the bands Firebrand and Puddle of Mud played the highlight for me was seeing Craig Jones perform amazing bike stunts, which he provides commentary whilst doing them. I was particularly impressed by the wheelie he pulls on a 2.6m Harley. Below is a two minute montage of a few of the stunts he performed. It was also nice to see Eddie the Kid there.

Unlike the other large events that have recently happened in Dubai i.e. Shakira and the Dubai World cup here there were no huge queues for toilets, taxis, food, beverages or even to get in. But then there was hardly anyone there...shame really as Craig Jones was excellent.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


I have finally migrated to one of the new Blogger templates last night. This gives me the distinct advantage of now being able to use their "layout" facility. This means that I can make some changes to my Blog template without being a HTML/Javascript guru - hence you can see a Blog Roll listing and My Media lists in the side bar now.

As an aside from this, the template refresh finally gives me permalinks for each post, has generally tidied up the appearance of the Blog and made it easier to navigate.

Good job Blogger/Google - now please give me a better editor then I will be really happy.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

I Like to Fold It, Fold It

I have been involved in distributed or GRID computing for sometime now and was actually involved (in a small way) in the GRIDs currently running at the University of Nottingham and also at the University of Sheffield.

A long time ago I tried SETI but looking for ET seemed a little empty for me so I then tried United Devices which was for more worthwhile causes however at the time I found the client would use up all my system resources then refuse to give them back. A little frustrating. With that I left it until the recent release of firmware update 1.6 for the PS3 brought with it a Folding@Home client.

What is that I hear you ask?

Answer: Folding@home is a distributed computing project designed to perform computationally intensive simulations of protein folding. The project’s goal is to add greater understanding to protein folding, misfolding, aggregation, and related diseases. Such diseases include BSE (mad cow), Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, among others.

Folding@home does not rely on powerful supercomputers for its processing; instead, the primary contributors to the Folding@home project are many thousands of personal computer users who have installed a small client program. The client runs in the background, and makes use of the CPU when it is not busy. In most modern personal computers, the CPU is rarely used to its full capacity at all times; the Folding@home client takes advantage of this unused processing power.

The Folding@home client periodically connects to a server to retrieve “work units.” These are packets of data upon which to perform calculations. Each completed work unit is then sent back to the server. (text taken courtesy of the overclockers distributed computing forum)

Below is an illustration of the graphical display (hardcore users do not use this and go for console/text installs):

To get folding on the PS3 was just a short download and very easy setup and it is now folding full time - which is great seeing as it all it did before was mostly gather dust under my TV.

Gripped by the fever of success I then installed the client on my 2 desktop PCs and my work laptop. With all this dual core processing power at my disposal, the fact that the Windows OS can barely take advantage of one of these cores and seeing that my DEWA bill is a paltry 100AED a month I figured that this is a worthwhile cause - and of course the folding clients are now well behaved.

I am folding for Team ID: 10 which is a British based team who have been folding for a number of years and are ranked the 33rd folding team in the world and have nearly 900 members. I am amazed at the top contributors who must have their whole corporate desktops folding for them!

I would encourage you to participate as the average desktop PC runs at less than 5% utilisation so we can all spare the compute cycles and when I looked at the global map of IP contributors there only appears to be one for the UAE. Now this maybe because Etisalat only presents that one IP address to the rest of the world for the UAE - but nonetheless lets get the UAE on the folding map! (this plea is to the 40% of visitors to my humble blog who reside in the UAE)

Happy folding.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Killing Me Softly

On my recent trip to Dresden I mentioned that Nthabeleng provided us with an excellent rendition of Killing Me Softly. Thanks to the wonders of digital cameras, video compression and youtube I can share with you a little bit of magic from that evening:

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. You can also see Nthabeleng perform "If I Ain't Got You" - check out the crowd response at around 42 seconds to "Some people want all the AMD boxes"

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Go you good thing

After a marathon of six weeks constantly travelling I was looking forward to a relaxed weekend in Dubai. I was in the midst of mooching around Ibn Battuta shopping mall looking for somewhere to get my ever growing under control when I got a number of text messages urging me to go to the Dubai World Cup horse racing meet.

I had been interested in going but I had failed to secure corporate tickets - however I wanted to go and have a look as I was told it was a "do not miss" event. After a text message exchange I dusted off my best suit, most ridiculous shoes and hopped into a cab to Nad Al Sheeba.

The International Village is where it seemed the majority of people were and I was impressed. It was very spacious with a number of the major bars from around Dubai being present such as The Irish Village, Barasti, Double Decker and Waxy O'Connors to name but a few. The weather turned up for the day and sun glasses and big hats (for the ladies) were de rigeur:

The last time I went racing in the UK - the only thing that remained in common between both trips was the large amount of alcohol I managed to consumer. I certainly did no gambling or studying the "Racing Post" for the form. Though there was plenty of other form on show to be looking at...

With over 50 000 people in attendance it was difficult to meet up with people but my group decided to give it a try and we ended up in the "Bubble Lounge" where only Champagne was being sold. When in Rome...

We were quite fortunate to be in the Bubble Lounge when the fireworks prior to the main races started. It was spectacular and made a nice accompaniment to a glass of Bollinger!

Once the formality of the World Cup race and awards ceremony was done with - the International Village then proceeded to turn into the largest outdoor nightclub I have ever been in. Here Tamsin, Rawan and Catherine stop from dancing for two seconds to pose for a photo:

It was great day out, if

1. You like to get dressed up
2. You enjoy people watching
3. You like to have a drink
4. You like to have a dance
5. You can put up with the toilet queues

It seemed to me that everyone was partying extra hard - maybe it had something to do with the wash out of the last Dubai 7's or more likely six hours drinking in the sun. Either way I will be back next year.

EDIT: Part of this post was quoted in the Gulf News 4/4/07