Friday, September 14, 2012

Doha Part Deux - Boy Are My Arms Tired



So, I am back in Doha again.

I opted for 1) the shortest total travel time and 2) no transfers in a foreign country.  That had me flying out from Dallas on American Airlines to Houston, then on to Doha.  The flights were somewhat close, which meant a short overall travel time, as long as nothing delayed me...

A few minutes before the American Airlines flight boards, I find out we are delayed 12 minutes.  No problem, I have 90 minutes to spare.  I get on the plane, sit down...wait...wait...the middle seat is empty, w00t!  Still waiting.  Hmm, what are those guys in overalls doing in the cockpit?

At about the half hour delay mark, we are told there was a minor maintenance issue that was resolved and once the paperwork is done, we will be on our way.  Cool, now I am down to 60 minutes of breathing room, or less, *and* I get to take off in an airplane that was suffering a mechanical problem.  Well, it's certainly less boring than I expected.

We finally get to Houston and I blaze to the Qatar Airways terminal as fast as I possibly can, hearing my name called over the public address system repeatedly throughout my trip between terminals.   show up and there are quite excitable about me almost missing the flight.  they remind me that boarding stops 20 minutes prior to departure; lesson re-learned.  However, I look at the clock and see I still had 40 minutes until departure.  Nonetheless, they hurriedly hustle me through the gate as if the plane is starting to roll down the runway...to stand in a line of well over a hundred people walking down the jetway at a speed that is akin to George Romero's zombies.

Hurry up and wait.

The police dog seemed nice.  Too bad you can't pet them.

The 15-hour flight was made a bit easier by once again having no one in the middle seat.  Dare I say, "w00t!" again?

The weird thing is how different it is to return to Doha.  The first time I was here, it was a mysterious new place.  Now, it's just a dusty, hot workplace that is prohibitively far from home and my stuff, where I have to go to great lengths to create opportunities to execute my workouts.  Here's hoping the assignment passes/ends quickly.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Why the Concept of "Legitimate Rape" is Evil and Todd Akin is a Bad Man



Todd Akin.  I did not know this man until he slipped up and spoke his mind on the topic of rape.  If you don't know who Todd is, well, let me help you out.  In an interview on August 20, 2012, he communicated his belief in the fallacious concept of "legitimate rape".  Here is a link to a video of the comments.


“It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare.  If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.” [Emphasis mine]
Now, most reasonable people would probably perk up and say something along the lines of "WHAT  did he just say?"  However, he does a good job of adding in some language that may cause a pro-life person to let it slide.

But what he is saying is that in the case of a legitimate rape, a woman should be physically incapable of getting pregnant.  The concept of legitimate rape was advanced by some scholars...in the 13th century.

Now, you may think that sounds crazy, and I would agree with you.  But let's keep thinking about it and see where this goes.  Let's do some quasi-Socratic discourse here.

Why would you argue that a woman cannot get pregnant from rape?

Well, in this case, it's pretty obvious.  The discussion was around the candidate's views on abortion and if there should be an exception for rape, an exception that even many religious, conservative voters think is acceptable.  There has been a strong push among the staunch pro-life members of the GOP to create a constitutional mandate completely outlawing abortions.

In the discussions around how to refine the platform, the topic of exceptions is a common point of contention.  Two key exceptions have a great deal of support - 1) an exception to save the life of the mother and 2) an exception in the case of rape.

No matter how well you can craft a speech, it's pretty hard to convince someone that forcing a woman to risk death to have a child is not reasonable.  So, they may be stuck with that one.

However, if you embrace the 13th century concept of "legitimate rape" being unable to result in conception, then you can conveniently dismiss women seeking abortions for rape and you are one step closer to completely banning them altogether.

Consequence 1: If one accepts that a woman cannot get pregnant from a (legitimate) rape, then one can more easily justify foregoing an exception for abortions in the case of rape, under the presumption that, since rape cannot get one pregnant, all pregnancies must be from consensual sex.

Is it reasonable? Nope.

Does the data support it? Nope.

Does common sense support it?  Nope.

But it is mighty convenient if you want to ban abortions for rape victims and feel good about it.

However, the concept of "legitimate rape" is not new.  It apparently dates back to the 13th century.  I am pretty sure there was no Planned Parenthood back then, so why did they propagate this lie back then?  Well...it disenfranchises women in a big way.

Consequence 2: It gives rapists a "get out of jail free" card because if a rape victim gets pregnant, then, by their logic, it could not have been rape, i.e., if a rape victim gets pregnant, then she must have been lying about being raped.

That is a misogynistic and evil outcome, especially when you consider that, in the times when this concept was first formally advanced, women were often second-class citizens.  It's a sad, tragic thing to even ponder.

So, why do I say Todd Akin is a bad man?

Look, he very clearly advocated this "legitimate rape" belief.  He's old enough to know better, but it supports his political agenda, so he propagates it anyway.

When he was called out for it, he tried to pretend it was a matter of "mispeaking".  This is indicative of someone that actually does not understand why what he said was wrong.  He thinks we are getting bent out of shape because he said "legitimate".  He does not understand that he is 1) communicating a ridiculously incorrect idea of female biology and 2) effectively condemning women that get pregnant from rape as liars.

If this was some idiot sitting on his porch, spewing vitriol, it would still bug me, but it would bug me less.  Unfortunately, propagating ignorance is not a crime.

So why isn't Todd just an idiot?  Why is he bad?  Because he is in a job where he is dutybound to know better, especially if he is going to make laws based upon the idea.

When Todd Akin made those remarks, he was running for US Senate and had already served in the US Congress.  Our representatives are supposed to 1) represent the best interests of their constituents and 2) act as trustees when issues require more than the opinions of their representatives (e.g., a complex policy issues that defy sound bite discussions).

They make the laws of the USA.  They must be held to a higher standard.

The concept of legitimate rape is evil.  People who propagate it should not be given positions of power.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Obfuscating Facts With Politics

I am a fan of Fareed Zakaria.  So, when I saw an article not just criticizing, but insulting his Global Public Square (GPS) special on saving America's healthcare system, I was taken aback.  I was further disappointed when the author did inappropriate things like speculate and imply insults, slights, etc.  For example, "he implies that conservatives are nutty and misinformed".  Comments like those were the ones I felt crossed the line from critique to insult.

However, being a fan of getting at the truth of the matter, I decided to try and evaluate his objections.  I picked what I thought was a simple one, the validity of citing life expectancy as a metric for the quality of healthcare, something the critic feels he has thoroughly debunked.

Life expectancy is a very commonly-used metric for the quality of healthcare in a country, as is infant mortality.  Fareed did not cherry pick those facts, it is established as reasonable and expected.  But let's examine the question - is life expectancy a reasonable number in this context?

Fareed's critic points out that people die for non-medical reasons.  Some, perhaps many, would suggest that any death is ultimately related to medicine because one's ability to avoid dying is typically strongly tied to the ability to get adequate medical care in a timely fashion. Even when one is shot, a resulting death may still be due to poor access to healthcare.

Let's look at the numbers for mortalities. As of this post, the most recent "final" data is for 2009.  The total deaths for both sexes over all races in 2009 was 2,437,163 (source).  The top ten causes of death were:

  1. Heart disease: 599,413
  2. Cancer: 567,628
  3. Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 137,353
  4. Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,842
  5. Accidents (unintentional injuries): 118,021
  6. Alzheimer's disease: 79,003
  7. Diabetes: 68,705
  8. Influenza and Pneumonia: 53,692
  9. Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 48,935
  10. Intentional self-harm (suicide): 36,909
Let's see if we can stop there and make a reasonable observation.  Suicide data could easily be argued as part of the problem, given lack of access to therapy, etc., but I'll throw that out to avoid controversy.  So, let's just take the top nine causes of death, which I hope we can all agree, being due to diseases, are likely related to our healthcare system's quality.

Just those nine total to 1,801,602, or 74% of the deaths, far and away a huge majority.

Now, I would be pretty content to stop there and say that life expectancy is a fine relative measure and move on, but let me speak more on the relative aspects of it.  You see, every other country is being judged in the same way.  So, they also have people dying in various ways that one might not attribute to healthcare.

The critic also goes on to show data and make claims that are inconsistent.  Case in point, he looked at this chart:

And made the simplistic statement that if your country is wealthier, then you have a higher life expectancy at birth.  On the contrary, it looks more to me like the USA, which is at the top for wealth has a stunning amount of competition for life expectancy from countries with a small fraction of its wealth.  Note: it's GDP per capita, so this is not a big vs. small country thing, it's wealthy vs. poor.  In fact, once you get to about 1/3rd of US wealth, there is not a lot of deviation around the USA baseline.

In general, I found the critique to be clumsily misleading and I expect better.  The more important point, to me, was that this is just one of many tiny points the critic makes.  Some of his points may even be 100% correct, but he has delivered in a way that reeks of the kind of commentary you expect from not-so-subtle opinion commentators with clearly partisan agendas.

So, my punishment is to leave the critic faceless in this post and simply point you to Fareed's commentary. :-)

Time Magazine Article "Health Insurance is for Everyone"

At the very least, it is a very thought-provoking view.  He also has podcasts of this GPS shows and specials.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Geek Spasm - Running, the New Style



There have been some relatively recent changes in conventional wisdom when it comes to the technique and footwear that is considered ideal for running.  In the words of the Beastie Boys, "It's the new style."

/geekspasm=start

Executive Summary

  1. Buy these shoes.
  2. Run this way 
  3. Make a playlist of 90 beats per minute music to help your timing (a bpm database can help)
  4. Win

Disclaimer: I Do Not Consider Myself a Runner

 

And yet, I have run quite a bit and know a good deal about it.  So, why do I have this perception?

Back when I was in the US Army, I had no problem acing the push-up and sit-up portions of the fitness test, but I was usually just happy to pass the running portion.  I preferred to lift weights, cycle, and swim.  Our formation runs in the morning for PT (Physical Training) were more for maintenance, esprit de corps, and discipline than enhancing performance.  I ran enough to do well on my test, but never really pushed and I knew many folks that were like gazelles.  I have run many miles; the longest to date was a 10-mile run, but that was a random "I wonder how far I can run in this many hours" experiment I did one night.

I have never run in formal competitions and have never had an interest in it.  When we broke up into fast and slow groups in the Army, I never yearned to be in the fastest group.  It just did not interest me.  Seven and eight-minute miles were fine.

Currently, I am happy with a 9-minute mile...but I confess that I might try pushing to 8-minute miles soon.  But that is the extent of my current ambition for running.

Running is just another cardio choice for me, and I do it hard enough to get a good workout.

So, I don't think of myself as a runner, but most non-runners might disagree.

The Old Style and the Heel Strike


No, heels have not, nor do they intend to, go on strike.

As it turns out, people are not born with thick, padded heels or orthopedic shoes on their feet.  So, one might question why one would slip on a thick pair of running shoes with all sorts of awesome technology packed into the heel, based on gels, air pockets, etc.  Well, it had to do with how we ran.

For some reason, it had become commonplace to stretch our leg pretty far forward of our midline when running.  This causes your heel to strike first, out in front of you.  When you do that, there are some negative consequences:
  1. It causes a bit of a "braking" motion that opposes forward momentum
  2. A good deal of superfluous shock is transmitted into your heels and often your knees and back
  3. It can lead to a gait in which they are transferring work/shock from their muscles to their joints

Born to Run


About three years ago, Christopher McDougal put out a book, Born to Run, on his quest to understand why an old Native American from the Tarahumara tribe was kicking ass in a 100-mile foot race wearing very primitive/simple sandals.  I saw this guy on the Daily Show, during an interview back in August of 2009.  When I saw it, I thought, "huh, interesting" but that was about it.

The interesting thing to me was that McDougal was being given lots of rationales for why his pain and difficulties running made sense to the sports medicine community.  His age, build, etc.  However, what he learned about running with this tribe allowed him to overcome those things.

There is a group of runners that practice barefoot running, which has been associated with McDougal's book.  There are similarities, but at the same time, I am not a huge fan of trying to run barefoot because I live among other humans, which means sharp, pointy things on the ground every now and then, and plenty of running on unpleasant surfaces.

Adopting Minimalism


I watched as New Balance put out it's Minimus line in Spring of 2011.  Since they put out those shoes, about a year ago, I have probably run no more than two dozen times.  A big part of this is that I live in an area where the nearby streets are all inclines or declines.  This can be a dangerous way to get back into running, because of the extra danger of joint injury, especially running down hills, with the "old" style of running and shoes.  I ran more when I was visiting Doha for three months, because it was incredibly flat, I had limited access to good cardio equipment, and running along the bay was nice.

Then, last week, I decided to take the plunge.  Part of this was due to the recent release, two months ago, of their "Minimus Zero" line.  Basically, there is no heal to mid-foot drop, e.g., it's flat.

Step 1, Get the Gear


I picked up a couple of pair of Minimus shoes, one for road and one for trails, and started researching proper form.  The road shoes:



The trail shoes:



Step 2, Learn the Form


At the recommendation of the gentleman at New Balance, I headed over to goodformrunning.com and reviewed the pages and videos there.  The keys are as follows:
  • Good posture, straight and aligned
  • Slight forward lean, but again, with good posture, so your body should lean as a unit, not hunch
  • 180 steps per minute, or 90 steps per minute for a given foot
  • Your foot should strike the pavement at the mid-foot, not the heel; and should be approximately in line with your body
The videos are pretty good and cover the form in detail.
Watch the videos at least twice and be 100% sure you understand before you start.  Seriously, it's just a few minutes and your health is worth it.
For me, the pace is key.  When you kick up your pace higher, it's harder to step out in long strides, which means it is more likely you will more naturally shift into the mid-foot strike you are supposed to have.

Step 3, Get 90 bpm Tunes


Go ahead and try to reliably count out 180 steps per minute.  Go ahead, I'll wait.  Sort of a pain, huh?

Well, I have a solution.  Create a playlist of music that has 90 bpm (beats per minute) and time your running off of one foot.  For my fellow veterans, you will probably time off your left foot.  This is great because it also facilitates unconsciously maintaining the proper pace.

You don't know which songs are 90 bpm?  Well, you could Google up some, or you could just head over to a bpm database and see what they have.  Note: Exactly 90 bpm is not necessary, so just get as close as you can.  Me, I went for exactly 90. :-)
  • Maybe Someday (The Cure, Bloodflowers)
  • Down With the Sickness  (Disturbed, The Sickness)
  • Whatever (En Vogue, The Best of En Vogue)
  • (Can't You) Trip Like I Do (Filter/The Crystal Method, Spawn: The Album)
  • Y'All Ain't Ready Yet (Mystikal, Prince of the South...The Hits)
  • Gorillaz on My Mind (Gorillaz/Redman, Blade II)
  • Shoots and Ladders (Korn, Korn)
  • Modern Love (David Bowie, Changesbowie)
  • World Full of Nothing (Depeche Mode, Black Celebration)
  • I Feel You (Depeche Mode, Songs of Faith and Devotion)
  • Rock Me Amadeus (Falco)
  • All Night Long (Stereo MCs, Connected)
  • In My Room (Yaz, Upstairs at Eric's)
  • Closer (Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral)

 

Step 4, Run and Win!


I took this approach for a spin in my neighborhood, you know, the crappy place to run with all of the declines and inclines that are hard on the joints.  Well, I felt fine.  In fact, even though it has been four months since I last went running, I was able to match my fastest time in Doha and I was not trying to run fast; rather, I was 100% focused on good form and the proper foot strike.

I REALLY like wearing the Minimus shoes too, they remind me of Ninja-esque tabi socks, sans the toe split.  Which is to say...wearing Minimus shoes makes you more Ninja, which should be all of the argument I need.

/geekspam=end

Have fun!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Doha Diaries: Outtake - VPN Is a Traveler's Friend


So, you may or may not be familiar with VPN, virtual private network.  In essence, it is a secure connection across the Internet between your machine and a network; this results in your machine, for all intensive purposes, acting as though it is just another local machine.  For more information, wikipedia's page is more than adequate.

Those familiar with this have most likely used a VPN provided by their work so that they can safely check mail and access coporate-network-only stuff.

But there are other reasons to do this.
  1. You want greater security
  2. You want to mask your actual location, or convince someone you are somewhere you are not
Those are the biggies, and those are both good reasons to have VPN, whether or not you travel.

However, when you go overseas, there are added benefits.
  1. Security is even more important, especially if you are uncertain of your environs
  2. Depending on the country, you may be locked out content or censored based upon your location (this can be a problem because of where are or where you are not)
  3. Because sites think you are in another country, they may render their pages in the native tongue, as opposed to your own, which can kill your ability to use them effectively (especially if you have your browser set to wipe all cookies every time you exit)
Which brings us to Qatar and why VPN is nice to have here.  You see, there are a few hiccups you might experience.
  1. Content that is unavailable to you because you are in Qatar
  2. Content that is unavailable to you simply because you are not in the USA (e.g., Pandora)
  3. Various pages are too smart and they render text in pure Arabic, often with no link with "English" or a little flag to guide you
So, where does one get VPN?  My colleagues from work swear by StrongVPN, so I tried it out.  Very simple plan, $7 a month for 3 months, detailed instructions with screenshots, and constant instant chat support.

Are there reasons you might not want VPN?
  1. Extra cost, albeit trivial for most
  2. Slight increase in latency, this looks like it varies 200 to 300 Mbps
  3. You don't want to bother turning it on/off (but it's pretty darn easy)

Using Strong VPN


I went with StrongVPN.  There are three protocols - L2TP, PPTP, SSTP.  SSTP is only available on Vista and Windows 7.
  • SSTP is the most secure; only on Windows 7 or Windows Vista
  • L2TP is the next most secure - best for iPad, iPhone
  • PPTP will generally work when the other don't
Here's what I did...

Laptop: On my laptop, I went with the SSTP protocol because it is the most secure.

Mobile Devices: They have two main protocols from which you can choose for your mobile devices, L2TP and PPTP.  Each has pros and cons; they will explain them to you.  I recommend setting up both in your devices because sometimes one protocol will be blocked, but very rarely will both be blocked.  So, with both protocols set up, you can almost guarantee you will be able to use VPN on your mobile devices.  I always try L2TP first, because Strong VPN's staff reports that it is a bit more secure and faster than PPTP.

Still Using It In the USA


Back in the USA, I am still using Strong VPN, because I like the extra security, especially on my mobile devices.

The Point


If you are traveling or just want more security when using your portable devices, Strong VPN is just too cost-effective to not use.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Doha Diaries: Days 92-95, A Fond Farewell and A Decent, Affordable Blowjob

[Days 92-93] Sunday, January 29-30

Work, work, work.  These days were spent making sure everything was wrapped up before my return to the USA.

[Day 94] Tuesday, January 31, A Decent, Affordable Blowjob

The last day of my assignment!  The day was spent with more wrap up of work.

From work, it was off to the Carnegie Mellon - Qatar campus for a lecture on fostering innovation...which ended up being more of an advertisement for a campus in the USA.  Oh well, I am 0-2 for good lectures in Doha so far.

"Fun"

My fellow team members from work and I had plans to meet at the Old Manor Steakhouse in the Grand Mercure hotel.  I had never heard of the place but one of our team members had a coupon and he was very eager to use it.  So, we planned on that.

What we did not plan on was that everyone would have difficulty finding the place.  Myself and the team member that went to the lecture with me showed up exactly on time, just barely.  Everyone else was up to 30 minutes late.  Google was partly to blame, but the weird traffic and construction in the area played big parts too.

The comical part about this chapter was that at one point I was standing at an intersection guiding drivers in over the phone...

Actual Fun

OK, so we all finally assemble.  The hotel, formerly a Sofitel hotel, has a strange air of aging opulence to it.  We hop in an elevator, go up, switch elevators, and voila!

When we walk in, it looks more like a bar that also happens to serve food.  Here is a long view of the place.


 

Cultural Interlude - Muslims and Drinking

So, you may notice that the bar has a few men dressed in full traditional garb sitting there.  That is not allowed.  Muslims frown on such things...and yet, here we are.  I guess this place serves a similar role to the tea house for a Samurai - as long as you maintain your public face, who cares what happens in private?  That said, I would probably changes clothes, if it were me.

Now, don't get me wrong.  This was HIGHLY unusual.  This was the first time in my three months that I saw this.  Sure, I did see fellows at some bars that were probably natives and almost certainly Muslim, but they had the presence of mind to at least dress like the rest of the people in the bar.

And thus ends the interlude.

Real Men Straddle

I finally remembered to capture a picture of a men's room door.


Apparently, in Qatar, men strike action poses. Oh, fine, I guess it makes it easier to distinguish from the women's room symbol, but I still find it amusing.

Oh Yeah, The Blowjob

We were all surprised to find out that they had a blowjob on the menu.  So I ordered one.  Here I am, about to enjoy my blowjob.


What, you didn't think I was talking about a drink? Well, it was not the best I have had, but it was not bad for the price.


That's right, a blowjob for less than nine dollars and completely safe!  What a deal!

The food arrived, and it was great.  The service was lame, but the "people watching" was surprisingly interesting.

[Day 94] Wednesday, February 1, Back Home

The next day, early in the morning, I flew back to the US.  What an incredibly memorable three months.  I made some great friends and a lot of great memories.  I am not sure I can outdo the novelty and wonder of this trip, given the dramatic change in culture and surroundings, but I sure look forward to trying.

If you have never been to the Middle East, I would definitely check out Doha, Dubai, or Abu Dhabi.  They are all relatively tame and cosmopolitan places, so the cultural whiplash is not too painful.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Doha Diaries: Days 90-91, The Abu Dhabi Trip, Days 2 & 3, High Tea, Art, and a Disappearing Abaya


[Day 90] Friday, January 27, High Tea, Art, 49'ers, and Tex Mex


"High Tea"


No, it's not a wacky comedy about Cheech and Chong waking up in Sri Lanka.  In fact, the interwebs tell me that what the folks at Time Out Abu Dhabi, the hotels, and even my UK team mate in Doha call "high tea" is, in fact, not actually high tea.  If you want the low down on the correct usage of low tea vs. high tea, go read this page or this page.  Apparently, high tea historically referred to an actual meal, blah, blah, blah.  Regardless of historical accuracy, the term "high tea" seems to be used to essentially mean "fancy afternoon tea" and that is what I understood it to mean from context; in practice, that is what it ends up meaning.  That was the type of high tea I was after - scones, finger sandwiches, etc.  Fancy tea!

As luck would have it, there happened to be an article comparing and contrasting some high tea locations in the city.  Based upon what I read, I decided on the St. Regis hotel, over on Saadiyat island.  Of course, I wanted a fancy tea where I could dress casually, because...I am an enigma, don't try to understand it!  The location convenient too, as I wanted to visit a museum on the same island.  It was great!  Witness the fancy!


I took my time, relaxed, and enjoyed the scenery and the tea and snacks.  Oh my, it was wonderful.  On the way out, I spied an interesting chandelier...like...thing.



While I waited for a cab to the museum, I snapped a picture of a nice fountain in the St. Regis main entrance.


The Manarat Al Saadiyat (an art museum)

I visited an art museum on Saadiyat Island, the Manarat Al Saadiyat.

Ninja Birds

When I arrived, I was welcomed by ninja birds, so-called (by me) because they made a cacophony without being seen.  This video does two things - 1) gives you a sample of their sounds and 2) shows you why you should not hold an iPhone at arm's length while shielding it from the wind if you want a steady shot.


Emirati Expressions

The main exhibit on display was Emirati Expressions.  It consisted of ten native UAE photographers that were given the opportunity to express themselves through photography, with guidance/mentoring from...some (presumably awesome) Western photographer...whose name I forgot...the article tells me it was Stephen Shore.

It was a fine exhibit.  Some stretched themselves artistically, some didn't.  One seemed bound and determined to be downright silly.  Here is the video that was shown in the exhibit, at the start.  It explains the exhibit and the various artists speak about their motivations and work.  Overall, it was inspirational, not so much for the work as the intent and meaning behind it.  My favorite quote was this:
I do not believe the UAE is losing its identity, but rather creating a new one.
- Salem Al-Qassimi
I don't know if his thinking is typical or highly unusual for the region, but just knowing that at least one native thinks this way gives me hope for a harmonious global future.

I felt weird taking pictures of pictures, especially ones that comprise an art exhibit...so I have no photos of this exhibit.

Future Plans for Saadiyat Island

There was also a static exhibit showcasing the development of the island.  This is where I learned about:
  • A future Guggenheim location in Abu Dhabi
  • A future Louvre Abu Dhabi (in coordination with the French government)
Also, there was a collection of nifty models of the future development.



And lest you think it's safe in model land...witness the carnage!



Where are the bodies?!  They must have been attacked by miniature cannibals.

The modelers did a good job with using epoxy for their water effects (not trivial, by the way).

Parting Shots

As I waited, and waited, and waited for my taxi, I took a couple of pictures of the front.



I trust that the words in the next picture translate into "Manarat Al Saadiyat" and not "Photography Punishable by Death".


In Search of "Tex Mex"

For some reason, I have decided that it is important for me to evaluate the Tex Mex offerings in any foreign city I visit.  Insanity? Maybe, but it's something to do and who better than a Texan to embark on such a quest?

So I opened up Time Out Abu Dhabi and picked the place with the strongest reviews. The phrase "one of the best Tex Mex outlets in the city" sounded pretty strong.  I hopped in a taxi and headed over to the Armed Forces Officers' Club (AFOC), where it is housed.

Note: If, like me, you jumped to the silly conclusion that it was US armed forces officers, then, like me, you would be wrong.  This club was for the officers of the UAE armed forces.

The AFOC is huge, extravagant, and beautiful; the exact opposite of what I expected.  One local explained to me, "The government put too much money into this."  Maybe, but it would be neat if all buildings were as aesthetically pleasing.  Check out this picture I photographed.


Yeah, I thought it was a concept photo too; if it is, it is pretty realistic.  Check out the Google satellite image.


Amazing, huh? And the place was barren.  I saw a dozen patrons, at most.  I saw more staff than patrons!  It was like a ghost town in there.  The foyer was huge:



But on to the dinner at Taverna, the "Tex Mex" restaurant inside the AFOC.  Here is a picture from my table capturing every last scrap of Tex Mex aesthetic.


This was comically tragic, and consistent with the theme I have found in the region of, "hmm, it's like they made this based on a *picture* of the food, but I don't think they actually had the recipe for it."  However, this was a novel experience for me.  It *is* the first time I have had beef fajitas with what I can only describe as a barbecue sauce...

Apparently, if your menu contains 1) nachos, 2) quesadilla's, and 3) fajitas, you may be able to qualify as "one of the best Tex Mex outlets in the city" in the *print* version of Time Out Abu Dhabi, even if your restaurant's name is "Taverna" and printed on the Italian tricolore.  Granted, the Mexican flag has the same color scheme with a big ol' emblem in the middle, but this restaurant's special was fried calamari and salmon with an aioli sauce.  OK, there was a "Texas Chili" on the menu, but the menu also housed about 40 other non Tex Mex things, and not one taco, burrito, enchilada, relleno, chalupa, sopapilla, tamale, taquito, etc. be found.

As I wandered out from dinner, I heard and felt the rhythmic thumping of dance music upstairs.  I thought to myself, "all right, I know where I am spending the rest of the evening!"  I jogged up the stairs, eager for the experience I imagined.  I craned my head to figure out the angle from whence the music was coming and took off towards an open door.  A short, nondescript woman was sitting there.  She looked at me as if I had been on an Interpol briefing she just read.   Her eyes grew wide, she hopped to her feet, and she rushed to intercept me.

"You cannot go."

I pointed at the door.

"Is that a dance club?  I can't go in?"

"No, for women only."

After the shock wore off, I turned about, crestfallen, and headed back to the entrance to get a taxi.  During the half an hour or so it took a taxi to find the place, I learned that what I was trying to crash  was an all female "coming of age" party.  The little monkey lurking in the back of my brain pondered if it might have been worth getting in trouble to crash it...

49'ers

I returned back to the area of the city where I was staying and wandered about a bit, revisiting some of the places I saw last night.  I checked out a new place, called 49'ers, because, as a Texan, I am obligated to investigate foreign establishments that claim to be "Western" or in any way associated with cowboys.

The Magical, Disappearing Abaya!

So, I hopped into the elevator with a man and a woman (not together).  The woman, dressed in an abaya, turns to me and asks, "Do you mind?"  I have no idea what she means, but like any confused man confronted by an attractive woman (well, what little I could see was attractive), I went with the default assumption that I should go along.  I answered, "No?"

She glanced at the other, equally-confused, guy who shrugged and shook his head "No."

She then proceeded to reach down to grab her abaya and pull it up over her head, revealing a short cocktail dress.

Many times I had heard the story of a woman wearing an abaya somewhere and then whipping it off to reveal sexy clothes beneath.  Finally, just a few days before heading back to the USA, potentially for good, I had a chance to witness it.   Cool.

A Good Old Fashioned Pick Up Joint

Once I got inside, I found that it was basically a place to pick up women.  The only wrinkle in that was that I was pretty sure that many of the women might be prostitutes, so tread carefully.  How do you even screen that?  Casually mention how much you dislike paying for sex?

Well, that's all I can remember of that night...

[Day 91] Saturday, January 28, Back to Doha

I am certain that I had plans for Saturday, but once Saturday arrived, I just wanted to sleep as late as possible, then get on the plane home.  So I did just that and caught an earlier flight back "home" to Doha.  Before I headed to the airport, I stopped by the mall for some "fast food". I love that in the Middle East, this yummy, healthy meal is "fast food".


Mmmm, lamb shank.

As we moved to take off, I managed to grab a quick picture of their pretty traffic control tower (well, that is what I assume it was).



And thus ends the Abu Dhabi trip!

Doha Diaries: Day 89, The Abu Dhabi Trip, Day 1, Rock and Roll Abaya, Vampires, and Mothra's Cousin





Pre-Amble

I had a friend stationed at the U.S. Air Force Base in the United Arab Emirates.  It's so super sekrit, that it has a Wikipedia page. Which is to say, it is not.

Anyway, he and I had grand plans (well, my plans were grand; like The Hangover movie grand) to get together in either Abu Dhabi or Dubai for a weekend and hang out (and wake up with a hangover, a tiger in the bathroom, etc.).

Week after week would go by and some new wrinkle would postpone the plan.  He had TDY, I have to go back to the USA for an eyes-bleeding 10-day visit to consultants and partners, he can't leave base for X time, and so on.  But then, it all came together. We would both be free and able to go to Abu Dhabi on MY VERY LAST WEEKEND IN THE MIDDLE EAST! Yay!

I booked a room at the Beach Rotana, researched activities, booked a ticket on Qatar Airways, bars, etc.  Then, with very little notice, he was told he would not be able to leave base that weekend.

/frownyface

Well, I turned that smile upside down and decided to make the most of my (now completely paid for so I might as well enjoy it) Abu Dhabi getaway!

[Day 89] Thursday, January 26, Abayas, Pubs, Vampires

If you recall, with the Muslim work week, which runs from Sunday through Thursday, this is our "Friday".  Well, the work day was done and I hustled to the airport.  Apparently, I was on the abaya express flight, because about half of the passengers were women in abayas.


This picture is actually really cool; be sure to click on it and see it zoomed. I was almost tempted to post the raw file so you could zoom in a bunch, but I will just narrate with a few highlights.
  • Notice that most of the abaya are unique, whether it's black patterned stitching, white stitching, or bedazzling, they had some distinctive flair
  • Also, the women all have varying levels of bling; the women at the top right has like 20 bracelets, the woman below her has a GIGANTIC ring, to her left, a snazzy fashion watch
  • Almost anyone in an abaya has a snazzy purse
But here comes the pièce de résistance of distinctive, the rock and roll abaya:


That's right, those are shoulder spikes!  They are made from cloth, but still, just the same, rock on!

It was a short flight, a long taxi ride, and there I was at the Beach Rotana.  A decent hotel, clearly designed for vacationing, with a small private beach, beach- and pool-side bar, full gym, tennis courts, and more.

Once night fell, I headed out to see the city.  The first thing that hit me was that Abu Dhabi felt more familiar than Doha, in the sense that it reminded me more of cities I experienced in the USA and UK.  It was more crowded, with more of that city smell and dirt.  And taxis were abundant.

The street outside the main entrance of the hotel.


The intersection down the street, near the Le Meridien hotel.


My first stop was Le Meridien.


But first, I visited the little sculpture (?) / fountain in the middle of the intersection.


While there, I met a distant cousin of Mothra.


I finally went into Le Meridien.  My target destination was the Captain's Arms Pub(a British Pub), and it was also the site of an Australia Day celebration.  Well, an *imminent* celebration which, technically, had started, but consisted of a bunch of people at the pub looking over at the empty stage and seats in the sectioned off Australia Day area, wondering when something interesting would occur.

The pub was quite lively and everyone seemed pretty nice. I found a table and ordered the pub's fish and chips with a Stella Artois.  The food arrived after quite a while...with no malt vinegar.  Harrumph!

Malt vinegar was obtained, but then things got weird.  You see, there had been a bug flying about the area.  Well, as I ate, that turned into, oh, a dozen bugs flying about.  My guess is that they were fruit flies and my vinegar was cider-based, you know, the stuff you use to make fruit fly traps? [Trust me, these work very well, I have done this in the past to great effect.]

Anyway, I fled the gathering swarm, slid past the still dormant Australia Day celebration, and advanced to the next site on my list o' expatriate hang outs, P. J. O'Reilly's Pub (go on, guess what kind of pub it is) at the Royal Meridien (I guess the local hoteliers love that word).  It was decent, and they had small dance floor with a DJ.  Things were slow, so I headed on to the next place on the list...

Al Ain Palace, aka Ally Pally.  This place was described as an absolute dive.  TimeOut Abu Dhabi had this great description along the lines of "don't bring your women here, because it is such a dive" (I am paraphrasing).  It was nestled in the most modest hotel I had seen that night and, humorously, it was the first one that confronted me with a controlled entrance and a cover charge.  I glanced in the door and saw a very disappointingly brightly-lit, unremarkable bar.  I turned about and headed back towards Royal Meridien.

When I arrived at Royal Meridien, I was inspired by a strange desire to just walk around the city, so I hopped out of the cab and started walking back towards the Beach Rotana, a trip that would take about 30 minutes or so without any sightseeing.

Vampires in Abu Dhabi?

Apparently there are vampire coffee drinkers in Abu Dhabi. How else can you explain the Transilvania Cafe?


After a minor obstacle course of construction barricades, I wandered down some back streets and found this tiny little grocery store.


Strange as it may sound, the thing I found most remarkable was that it had tennis balls by the can.  Here is a tiny store where you can barely take a deep breath without knocking anything down filled to the brim with snacks and the usual essentials (bread, milk, etc.)...and tennis balls.  I guess folks gots to gets themselves some tennis!

Another back road and another haven for vampires...that eat shawarma, here at Transilvania Shawarma (I apologize for the picture, my iPhone 4S seems to have trouble with brightly backlit signs).

 

A Whole Lotta Sheikh Zayed

One thing you get used to in Abu Dhabi is seeing a LOT of things named after Sheikh Zayed, the person most credited for the formation of the United Arab Emirates.  I would not be surprised at all to find an intersection of Zayed Road and Zayed Street.  I kid you not.  And it's not just the name, check out the film store I wandered by in my meanderings.


A whole lotta Sheikh'ing going on.

"Wild West Parking"

Around the corner and through some buildings...and my first encounter with what I call "wild west parking".


Yes, those cars are parked right in the middle of the driveway.  No, there are no marked spaces there.  No, they are not supposed to be parked there.  Around the corner, it gets worse



Yes, they are doubled up a few cars down.  I watched some poor people struggling to get in and out of the actual, LEGAL parking spaces.  Wacky.

To The Mall For...More Vampires!?

I decided to stop by the Abu Dhabi mall and see what the movie theater had to offer.  Hey, another Underworld movie...at midnight!  I stopped in the food court while I waited for the movie to start, to discover that the capacity for McDonald's to put "Mc" in front of things was just as strong here with the McArabia.



*This* Is The Exemplar Adu Dhabi Family?

After the movie, on the way back to the hotel, I spotted this ad for the mall.  Apparently, the typical family they are targeting consists of a vaguely Arabic-looking husband, a possibly European wife, and what seem almost like Scandinavian children.  Do they have enough money for custom genetic engineering of their offspring?


And then it was back to the hotel for some much-needed sleep...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Doha Diaries: Days 81-88, Dominating Washer-Dryers, Chicken Anus


[Day 81] January 18, Communication Via Icons Is Not Ideal

I had been having ongoing issues with mastering the demonic beast known as a combo washer/dryer, as pictured below.


I was using regular detergent, but I changed to one that had a combo washer icon on it, like so:



But apparently, that was not good enough.  This detergent generated too many suds, leading to a tiny amount of spillage, nothing as amusing as you might expect from an episode of a sitcom, though.

So...back to Carrefour to buy a detergent that *only* has a combo washer-dryer icon.  Hmm, only two choices, both that are completely new to me and the description is, once again, in Arabic.  Umm, let's pick this one:



[Day 82] January 19, Washer-Dryer Dominated

Yes, finally.  I have mastered the beast and I can actually wash and dry a load of clothes effectively. Huzzah!  Excelsior even!

So, here's my approach.  First, it is accepted that these machines only dry effectively with 1/2 to 2/3 of a load.  Second, the dryer will not automatically start when the washer finishes unless you push in the button to use half as much water.  OK, so I limit my loads to about 1/2.  I don't like residual detergent though, so I flip the switch for extra rinsing.

The end result is clothes that are either dry or are just very slightly damp and dry very rapidly after being removed and laid out.  The joy of clean clothes is dampened by the horribly inefficient, and thus probably not Earth-friendly process.  Meh.

[Day 83] January 20, Chicken Anus

Yes, you read that correctly.

So, Eric, a buddy that works at Shell, and I head to Thai Snack.  After selecting our curries, we decided to examine the menu more closely.  And we found this:


Being professional, adult, cultured, Western men...we found this far too amusing.  Hence the picture.  Neither of us was brave/foolish enough to try them, but wow, what a deal!


[Day 84] January 21, No Idea

Yes, you read that correctly.  I have no recollection of what I did today, so I assume I was just killing time, relaxing, and coding for OwlCon.

[Day 85] January 22, Gold Souqs

Ed took me on a tour of the Gold Souqs and showed me some cool, off-the-beaten-path places for souvenirs and such.  I shall return...

Note: I may not have bought anything, but it appears that, in hindsight, they gave me some free germs, as I was on the verge of becoming very sick for the rest of the week. 

[Addendum: whoops, forgot to include some pictures]

Here are some examples from what I call the "wedding bling" shop, which is full of complete sets of gold jewelry for that special day.  The numbers on the stickers show the grams of gold in the jewelry.  I love the craftsmanship on the 106.74 g set in the middle of this first picture.


This second one is all about a shape theme.


Again, I favor the middle one.  The gold tassel hanging from the loop just looks cool to me.  The tear drop theme would be a close runner up, though.

[And thus ends the added content]

[Days 86-88] January 23-25, OwlCon

For the most part, my days were focused on busting ass to get my work done before the weekend and my evenings were focused on coding for OwlCon.

I credit exercise and diet with allowing me to fend off what seemed to be a potentially very bad illness that kept creeping up but never quite taking me down.  I did have to sleep in a bit extra one day, but I still managed to get in a full work day.  Hooray for fitness!

All went well, and the way was clear for my trip to Abu Dhabi...

Monday, February 6, 2012

Doha Diaries: Day 77-80, A Day of Art, Condom Tower, Getting Domestic

[Day 77] Saturday, January 14th, Ponderosa and Islamic Art, Two Great Tastes?

Today, Bob and I headed over to Ponderosa.  Yes, you read that correctly; Ponderosa.  I opted for the buffet + T-bone, both of which were mediocre.  So, a pretty accurate rendition.

Then we headed off to the Museum of Islamic Art.  I have put up a bunch of pictures in a Picasa album, but here are few samples.  Here is a picture of the main building containing the art.


Some textile magic.


A fancy pants pen box.


And a lot more (again, see the album).  One thing I can say for sure is that they have wayyy too many candle holders in that museum.

The little cafe inside the museum was very cool.  The beautiful surroundings, chill couches, and a lovely view.  Good stuff.


[Day 78] January 15, Sunday, Beams of Light, a Slippy Floor, and a Delivery Bike

On the way to work, I passed by a building as light was flooding through it.


A common site in Qatar is misapplied use of the English language.  Here is a good example.


The traffic in Doha makes you wish you were driving an armored car.  In many places, it feels like the automotive equivalent of a rock concert stampede.  The people that drive these things are some combination of crazy, suicidal, or desperate.


On a related note, you can get quite a lot of food delivered to you in many parts of Doha.

[Day 79] January 16, Window Washer, Corniche at Night, Condom Tower

While at work, I spotted a regular window washing cart, as opposed to the suicidal dangling from a rope I saw earlier.


While running, I managed to get a couple of night time pictures, one of the Corniche...


...and a picture of the "Condom Tower", a nickname it was given, well, for obvious reasons... *cough* reservoir tip *cough*.


[Day 80] January 17, Getting Domestic

In any foreign land, produce can be a problem, especially a developing country like Qatar.  Many, if not most folks, will tend to just avoid it to be safe, unless they end up staying on a long-term assignment.  When I was briefed by my travel health nurse, the advice was that anything that did not grow on a tree was dangerous, but I think their information was for the Qatar of 10 years ago.

Either way, I finally broke down and picked up some produce from Carrefour because I wanted to make 1) a salad and 2) guacamole.  Now my refrigerator looks a little less bachelor-ey.


And I made a salad!


Even here we have some cultural and regional quirks.

Cultural quirk, red wine vinegar - you cannot find red wine vinegar because it is based on an alcoholic beverage and this is a Muslim country, so I picked up "grape vinegar".

Regional Quirk? While the produce may not be as dangerous as some might think, the lettuce is fantastically more dirty than what I get in the USA.  I had to run a washing sink (just a few drops of soap) and a rinsing sink, then peel apart every leaf of the lettuce and carefully, meticulously clean then rinse each leaf, which had a significant amount of dirt and grit trapped within every leaf.  When I was done, there was a layer of fine dirt across the bottom of the washing sink.

Regional Quirk? The avocados are like little green rocks, miles from being ripe.  I am told that there may be a place to get riper ones.

Regional Quirk? You won't find Cilantro at Carrefour, but you will find Coriander.  However, my experience is that the Coriander I can find at Carrefour has a significantly less bold taste than the Cilantro I have had in the USA.  I am not sure if that is just how it is here or if Carrefour has weak herbs...more exploration is necessary.

If and when I do end up with ripe avocados, I am all ready with my ingredients for guacamole, to include the spices you see in the picture above.

Stay tuned to see if the guacamole comes to fruition...