Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Sancturary of Efficiency

There are a couple of things that when you are expat you cling onto very dearly. One is your medical insurance card the other is your passport. A little while ago I went through a small stage about being totally paranoid about the location of said passport - including stopping the taxi that was taking me to the airport so I could jump out open the boot and just check it was where I had left it. Irrational behavior? Perhaps, but every time I am forced to give my passport over to an embassy for a visa or hand it over at a security desk in exchange for an ID card at a company I am visiting I can not help but get anxious until I get it back.

As resident of Dubai - the two things you need to do nearly anything to interact with companies with is a copy of your passport and a mobile phone number. Without these things you become a faceless member of society unable to open a bank account, buy a car, get cable TV or even get basic utility services. The thought of having to replace both my passport and mobile left me with rather more anxiety than is reasonable.

In the UK if I wanted to get a new passport - I would have to go and pay a man a totally unreasonable price for a couple of passport photos. Queue for an age in the post office and pay an extra $10 to ensure I had managed to fill out the form properly then wait patiently for two to four weeks for it to eventually fall through the letter box.

I was so impressed by the British Embassy Passport service in Dubai - I can not really see myself going through the rigamarole in the UK again.

After seeing a friendly man who charged me $5 for eight good quality passport photos I headed down to the British Embassy with forms filled and photos "verified". On arrival at the Embassy I signed in and after a quick security check I wandered through the verdant gardens to the consular section. I was greeted by an empty room and a friendly member of staff processed my application at lightning speed and took the 1080AED from me in a matter of minutes with a promise that someone would call me before my travel date to tell me I could collect my passport.

Not even 48 hours had passed when the embassy called me to come and fetch my shiny new jumbo sized, biometrically enhanced passport. I was staggered. I went down and again I was met with an empty consular service desk. I don't think I actually spent more than six minutes in the Embassy in both trips.

Now for the other crucial bit of Dubai identity - a mobile number. I had to get a temporary Du SIM card which for a bargain 1AED gave me 125AED of credit however a pre-paid mobile with no international roaming is not the best business solution for me.

So I went in search of an Etisalat office for a post-paid SIM card with international roaming enabled. I made sure I had several copies of my shiny new passport with me. After locating the office - filling in the form and handing over a 2000AED deposit I was all set. Easy.

Somehow doing both these things made me feel like I was a Dubai citizen again after being in a state of limbo. How very odd, but full marks to both organizations for letting get my identity back so soon.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The World Within

Continuing the line of having fun with my photography I recently filled a gap in my lens collection with the addition of a Nikon 60mm f/2.8D macro lens. This type of lens is often referred to as the "Flower Power" lens as often reference shots are flower stamen or something similarly botanical. For me I just love the way the detail of every day ordinary objects is brought out that makes you look at them in a new way.

I went on a little spree taking some macro shots of "important" things - do click them for a better look:

1. Room Fan

2. Home Cinema Speaker

3. Liquid Refreshment

I am currently on the look out for the large gecko that lives around the villa. I think a macro shot of him will resemble something out of Starship Troopers

Touch Me, Feel Me

The advent of the iPhone has generated more blog postings and technology column inches than any other single item of technology in recent memory.

Having been in the fortunate position to have a "play" with an iPhone from the lucky few who not only managed to get hold of an iPhone in Dubai but more importantly who were willing to spend hours trawling the web to be able to unlock it to work - I salute you.

It is an excellent device. The problem I have with all phones like this - is that you need two hands to be able to use it. This is an issue in daily use when you want to make a quick call or check that sms that has just come in. Also I know I shouldn't really say this - but how can you make a quick call with two hands if you are driving and your forgot your hands free kit?

To this end - while I will inevitably end up with an iPhone - I really want an authorised product that I can update with all the new features apple will undoubtedly release as firmware/software updates. I put the purchase on ice for now.

I have been in the market for some form of mobile media player - my current video iPod while capacious at 60gb and while it is great for Podcasts, music and audiobooks what it really is not good at is video. The tiny screen, while clear, is just to small to watch anything on for any reasonable length of time - all it ever gave me was a headache. Which is a shame as watching your own selected TV/Movies is a great way to while away the time on a flight.

The PVR market is awash with offerings now - Archos has a wide variety of models as does Creative. Also a host of Far Eastern manufacturers have some very nice offerings. But the choice was easy for me, iPod Touch:

While it might not have the largest capacity, biggest screen or most features. It has a desirability, usability and all round coolness that makes you want to pick it up - play with it. Then play with it some more.

The 3.5" screen is crisp and clear and bug enough not to turn my brain to mush should I choose to watch an episode of heroes on it. The mutli-touch interface that it shares with the iPhone is a work of genius - and like the click wheel innovation on the first iPod - will go down as a miracle of 20th Century interface engineering. Though Apple should really include a handy cloth to keep the finger prints off.

The moment of joy when one of your friends discovers how to zoom out a photo with the "pinching" method is pure gold. The effortless browsing of albums with "cover flow" as you flick it with your finger to select your mp3 of choice. The fully functional, fully zoomable web browser. The instant re-orientation of the screen depending on how your hold it. Built in wireless. The youtube.com application. All go to make this the coolest, most funky media device on the planet today.

Others have tried and give you more functions. But none will grab you the way this does. Beneath its child like simplicity of operation is a sophisticated touch controlled media platform. Without doubt the add on applications coming to it will add to its usability - but for now I just want to play. The prices in the UAE are a little dear - 1399AED for 8GB and 1799AED for 16GB. I am glad I got mine from the US - the 16GB model costs $399.

10/10 - The ultimate iPod/mobile video player/mobile web browser. You touch it. You will want it.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Camels to Cheese

An action packed weekend has left me with the odd sensation of the the end of week break being entirely too long. To take it in reverse, there were a lot of bleary eyed expats walking around the city this morning in the wake of late night watching the Rugby World Cup Final.

A big group of us headed down to the Barasti Bar to watch the game and despite fears that there would be queues to get in and we would not be able to see anything the opposite was true. Barasti had gone to great lengths to ensure plenty of screens and staff on hand and the only chaos was trying to get out of the car park after the game. From a match perspective - Congratulations to the Springboks they have been the form team during the tournament and equally congratulations to England.

They had been written off and the first pool games were dire. However the bulldog spirit showed up for the last three games and I was proud to be an English rugby supporter again. Win, lose or draw last night - I felt England had nothing left to prove and it all looked a game too far considering the amount they had given in beating Australia and France.

The Bokke will enjoy their win and I spent all evening marveling at the basketball style skills that the Boks displayed at the lineout. That was world class.I look forward to the Lions touring South Africa in 2009 to test their worth against the world champions

Early in the weekend I took my guests Anna and Matt out for the classic day trip to Hatta Pools with a stop at the Hatta Fort Hotel for a spot of lunch. It is always nice to get a small break into the rugged countryside surrounding Dubai. On the walk into the hotel there was a nicely decorated camel waiting patiently to take tourists on a short ride.

Following a dip in the Hatta Pools and a quick drive back to Dubai we all headed out for "Cheese" at the nightclub called the Lodge. This was the opening night of the club following the Ramadan break. I had never been there with the full place was open. I was amazed at the size of the venue particularly the huge open air dance floor surrounded by bars and VIP Gazebos. The large group I was with and the accompanying 2500 other guests certainly had a tremendous time that evening. Here are the lads from Villa 16 enjoying themselves:

The winter is now well and truly here and we have all ready made sure we have our tickets for the Dubai sevens. The camping trips, dhow cruises and villa parties are all being planned over the next couple of months. With the weather cloudy and 11c in London - I know where I would rather be.

Note: Part of this blog was quoted in the Gulfnews 23rd October 2007

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Virtual Boy in a Virtual World

A lot can change in a few short weeks. For example:

1. Three weeks ago England had been trounced by South Africa in the pool match - now they are the first team in the Rugby World Cup Final

2. I was wondering if my nephew has a tiny Australian accent - two weeks later I know now that he has when he says the word "cake"

3. Three weeks ago I was working for Sun Microsystems - today is my first day with VMware

Over 15 months ago I came to Dubai looking to broaden my professional and personal horizons doing a job I had lived and breathed for several years. It has been a fantastic experience and I have learnt so many new things and been to places I could never have imagined.

Just sometimes - a thing will happen that turns your world upside down. For me that is prospect of working with possibly the hottest software company on the planet today. They IPO'd in August at $29 and as a type this their stock currently sits at $102.98 in less than eight weeks. Remarkable.

Sun for me - was like your favourite tracksuit bottoms. You have had them for years and you are totally comfortable in them. I guess however there comes a time for a change into something new and exciting. This is what VMware offers me.

In my seven years at Sun I have had a fantastic time and met many good friends. The last 15 months working for them in Dubai have been without doubt the highlight of my career. I will miss everyone dearly and I received a very nice send off - but will continue to work with them in my new capacity.

The next 12 months is going to be a roller-coaster. I am the first employee for them in the middle east region - so it is going to be tough. Of that there is no question. But as somebody wise once told me "Aaron - If the thought of doing the job you are going for doesn't make you wet yourself - you are going for the wrong one"

I guess I had better bring lots of underpants with me.