Friday, January 26, 2007

Genetically Modified Dubaians

Today's Gulf News carries an astonishingly misleading article. The headline says "40% of food is genetically modified". But if you bother to read it, you will learn that the sample tested was of 35 items bought in the UAE, Oman and Qatar. That's a pretty tiny sample. When you get to the bit where they tell you what the 'contaminated' products are, you'll laugh. To save you the bother, here's the list: Munch King Nacho Cheese, Tostitos Tortilla Crispy Rounds, Funyuns Frito Lay Onion Rings, Quaker Yellow Corn meal, Doritos Nacho Cheesier, Fritos Corn Chips, Doritos Nacho Cheese. I wouldn't describe any of that as 'food'. Anybody who buys and eats stuff like that deserves to grow two heads.

I'm really disappointed by this article. It's based on a report from Greenpeace. I don't know if it was Greenpeace people who suggested their survey proved '40% la la la' or what. But I am suspicious of GM food and I think it is something we should be wary of. Sadly, this report by GN is either trying to be sensationalist by exaggerating any claims made, or the reporter just didn't get it. Or the Greenpeace report itself presented the data in those terms. Hmmm.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007


No, not the fluffy things that love to be chased around the pond at Jebel Ali Village, and not the Little Yellow one that loves to...ahem!. I'm talking about the kind of duck you can eat. We had a bunch of people round for a buffet lunch last weekend and one of the things I did for it was Half Man Half Beer's brilliant recipe for Beijing Duck. It seems like a lot of effort, but believe me, it's worth it - especially the little pancakes.

My original plan had been to buy a couple of frozen ducks but, come the time, our local Choithram's had none, and neither did Géant. So I got a pretty pricey fresh duck and two very cheap frozen breasts from Géant. In fact the breasts were so cheap that when I went back today to get a freezer-full, there were only three left. And now there are none, hehehe.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007


I had to go to the Jumeirah Jumeirah Beach Hotel this morning, so I took my shiny new camera to get some pics.

I'm quite proud of the pic below - the helipad near the top of Burj Al Arab: hand-held, 12x zoom, image stabilisation on.

There's a prototype air-conditioned bus stop outside Wild Wadi:

Apart from the ludicrous waste of energy this represents, I spotted a bit of a design flaw. Well, all of it really, it isn't the most beautiful thing ever built. No, I mean, the door. It's a sliding door, and it's not self-closing. When your bus finally arrives, you'll rush out to stop it and you will not think about closing the door behind you. Mind you, you could do what I did: grab the handle, pull the door shut, and bruise your fingers as it slams against the door-frame: there is no door stop. Ouch!

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Burj Al Arabi

Notwithstanding the blatant rip-off of the name of this building, I read the announcement of this project with a snigger that spread my drink all over the room. Had I not lived in Dubai for these last thirteen years, my reaction would been just plain disbelief. But now I know that anything can be attached to the end of the phrase 'a building in the shape of...'. So this one is 'a building in the shape of a UAE National man'. Except it clearly is no such thing. It's a very poor attempt at it. The real things are a bit rounder, their headresses much more flowing. I mean really, it's not going to win any architectural awards now is it? And it looks a little bit like a statue, which is haram. This comes hard on the heels of the replica of London's Parliament Clock Tower (the one that has the Big Ben clock at the top) being built near the Emirates Towers on Sheikh Zayed Road, and Falconcity of Wonders (buildings in the shape of The Eiffel Tower, The Taj Mahal, The Pyramids etc) being built in the desert somewhere. OK, I give in: we live in a theme park, what should we expect?

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Apple Combuter has announced its version of a mobile phone. I want it! Now! As you'd expect of all things Apple, it's a sleek and sexy beast. It's all screen and no hardware buttons. Not only is it a phone and internet/email client, calendar and notebook, it's also an iPod. Truly awesome.

Go to and be amazed.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Fixing Stuff

It is often said that when things go wrong, they do so in groups of three. I’ve had three things to deal with in the last two days – not things that have gone wrong, necessarily, but stuff that I would have preferred to have dealt with one at a time.

Thing 1) My Trade Licence. You may or may not know that to do business in the UAE, you have to have a Trade Licence. It’s best to think of this as tax in advance for the coming year: the cost of a licence varies depending on how big your company is, what business you are in, etc. My licence is done through Dubai Media City, and it was due for renewal four months ago but we’ve been having a bit of a dispute over how much I should actually pay. It has been quite hard to resolve but for the first time ever I have a client who actually wants to see a valid Trade Licence before releasing payment, and that brought the issue to a head. So I spent the whole of yesterday morning getting the licence sorted out.

Thing 2) In connection with the above, I noticed that my passport had expired the previous day. Thank God I noticed it then and not at an airport check-in counter! First thing to do, organize photos. I checked out the requirements on the British Embassy website – light background, no smiling, no masks etc. And also they are now doing biometric passports and iris-scans, fingerprints or DNA may be required. OK, I lied about the DNA, but it meant that BetterArf’s offer to whizz down to the Embassy and do the job on my behalf could not be accepted.

Anyhoo, BetterArf took a picture of me looking glum (proper Brit-style), I Photoshopped it a bit, and then attempted to print it on our Sony photo-printer: no dice (no ribbon). Huh.

Plan B: take the file on a chip and get it printed at the fag kiosk outside building 2 at DMC. No dice: they no longer offer a passport photo service (translation, the guy on duty didn't know how to work the kit - he let me have a go myself, but the ancient laptop they use refused to recognise my chip and wanted a driver).

Plan C: have a fresh photo taken at the photo shop in building 8. This I did, but they were hugely busy and it took an hour to get the job jobbed. Back to my building: no Brits around to countersign the back of one photo saying 'I know this geezer'. So I finished off the stuff with DMC - the important bit, giving them money, and went home. I called an old friend who lives nearby to get him to countersign the photo and complete a part of the form. Sorted.

Up bright and early this morning to get to the Embassy. I hand over the form, the photos and the fee (dhs 640, if you're interested), and they give me a receipt and send me on my way. 'What about the biometric doodad?' I ask. 'Oh, we do that by scanning the photo'. No way! You can barely tell what colour my eyes are, never mind anything else! Whatever, new passport ready in two weeks, offers invited for old one (joking!).

Thing 3) Now this is a killer. I confess that I have not been to a dentist for treatment for an obscenely long time. Although I do have two clients who are dental clinics and I've seen their charges. Which is why I don't go! But for the last month or so, one of my molars has been a bit iffy, to the extent that I've had to avoid eating with that side of my mouth. Two days ago I happened to chomp down on the offending molar, and the pain was agonising and lasted about an hour. Some time later it happened again. Clearly this was not going to go away, and something had to be done.

A friend recommended a new and reasonably-priced clinic in Satwa, and I called them to make an appointment for this morning. The clinic was pleasant, the doctor very professional and anxious to avoid unnecessary pain. The equipment was state-of-the-art - the chair has an x-ray machine and a video screen attached (I was watching 'Hitch' when my eyes weren't screwed shut in pain). But the job is a root canal. Ow, ow, ow! I'll spare you the details, but one of the nerves was inflamed, and I had about 45 minutes of intermittent pain as the doctor tried to numb the nerve and then work on it. Finally it was done and a temporary filling bunged in. I have to have two more treatments for this, the next one is next Saturday when I'm expecting more agony, but the one after that will be ok - that's when they nail a crown onto the remains of the teeth. And after that I guess I'll have my other two amalgam fillings replaced with nice shiny whitish ones.

BetterArf had heroically gone with me to hold my hand (ie make sure I didn't bottle out) and we went for lunch when it was all over. I had lentil soup. How's your soup? 'Tastes like lidocaine' How's your bread? 'Tastes like lidocaine'. Etc.

Hours later, everything still has that antiseptic dental flavour, but I don't have toothache anymore. Yeehaa!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Another Moonshot

According to the moonbox on BetterArf's blog, moonrise was supposed to be at 8.28 pm. I was up on the hill with camera and tripod, all ready to go with fifteen minutes to spare. It was late! I saw it peeking out from behind a building ten minutes after the appointed time and I took a bunch of shots, none of them terribly inspiring. This is about the best of them- I love the craters at the top.


Friday, January 05, 2007

Shoot The Moon

BetterArf gave me a book on digital photography for Christmas (just a hint that I'd better use the Sony H2 digital camera she also got me). There's a lot of great stuff in this book, but I was particularly interested in one example piece: how to get a detailed picture of the moon but still retain a decent foreground image. The sample shot showed the White House at dusk with a finely detailed moon just over its shoulder. The text described how you could get such a shot of the moon. And then the different requirements for how you could get the foreground image. And then the steps you would take in Photoshop to blend them together. Huh!

Anyhoo, as soon as I got the camera and read the book, I was keen to do some moon shots. At Christmas we only had half a moon: I took a pretty good test shot, but tonight the moon is 95% full, waning gibbous, so I wanted to have a go at the whole thing. I could not see the moon from our balcony, so at about 9.30 pm I went out to see if it had risen and was visible from some other location. It had and it was, so I went back to the apartment to pick up the camera and the tripod.

We ventured out a little bit and tried a shot or two, but light pollution from the street light was a problem. So we ventured across the perimeter road and a few hundred metres into the desert. I must admit the guidance given in my book was a little bit vague, and I must have taken a dozen shots before finally getting one that worked.

Good eh? You can almost see the London Bus and the remains of the Lunar Module that are parked there! Now I want to try to get a shot just as it is rising. A couple of years ago I spent New Year's Eve on Jebel Ali Beach. The moon rose exactly at midnight and it was gigantic - an amazing sight, but nobody had a camera! If I could get a shot like that I would be a happy bunny indeed.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Peas on Earth - Goodwill To All Men

I could hardly believe my eyes when I wandered out onto the balcony this morning. My recent spate of gardening has not so far yielded any fruit (or veg), although there is a bit of parsley kicking around. The healthiest plants in the garden have been the peas: they flowered about a week ago, and this morning I noticed that the flowers have turned into pea pods! Just amazing. Lovely plump pods, possibly enough for an entire serving! Whatever: there is nothing to compare with fresh peas, and we haven't had any such thing during our sojourn in the Sandlands. We'll just wait a few days to see if we get any more, and then we'll harvest them. Yayy!