Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Fighting Fit / Shopping Failure

:-) Recovery
It's amazing how quickly people adapt to a change in environment or circumstances. When I injured my leg back in the Spring it was only a few hours before the limping gait I had to use to move around started to feel natural, like my "normal walk". In fact, the rather Long-John-Silver-like way in which I had to climb stairs during that time persisted, even after I regained full use of my calf muscles. Similarly the cold I've had for the last few days has brought shivers, aches and congestion, resulting in a weakened state that after a while felt like the "normal" me.
How great it feels then, when the cold symptoms start to disappear, your old strength returns, and you experience what seems to be abundant energy and strength because of the contrast between what you are now able to do and the "normality" of being ill.

I feel better today!

:-( Bloody Riyadh shopping again!
Ramadan's over now, so shopping should be back to normal, right? Right, except in Riyadh there's no such thing as normal.
I went out this morning to buy Karen's birthday present (I can't tell you what, or which shop I planned to visit because it would give the game away). I left deliberately just after 10am, knowing that very few shops here ever bother opening before then, and also mindful that they would be closing at around 11.45 for prayer time, then staying closed until around 4-4.30 pm. I drove about 5 miles into the city, queued up to get into the underground car park, spent 20 minutes searching for a parking space, only to find that the shop I wanted was closed anyway! Aaaarrgghh!!!!
Now I'm going to have to either find a different outlet or go out present-shopping at 10 o'clock at night.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Cuppa / Bad Timing

:-) Rosie Lea
When I'm feeling under the weather nothing perks me up like a nice hot cup of tea. My cold is starting to get better but I'm still ill and thus thoroughly deserving of all the sympathy I can get. When you're feeling off colour your outlook on life changes. Factors affecting your immediate personal environment become more important (am I warm enough? Too hot? How do I catch up on the sleep I missed last night and still get my work done?), so in this context the humble cup of tea takes on a whole new significance and becomes something I rely on to get me out of bed in the morning -- literally. I can feel the hot liquid lubricating, soothing and invigorating my insides with each swallow: it gives me the energy to face the day.

I wish I had a bigger mug!

:-( Clocks go back... or do they?
You will all know that everyone put their clocks back by an hour last Saturday night/Sunday morning, to return to normal after six months of daylight savings time. Well, not everyone! Saudi Arabia (and most other countries in this region) do not oberve daylight savings, so the clocks never change here, forward or back. This means that Saudi is always GMT+3, hence three hours ahead of UK in winter and two hours ahead of UK in summer.
This causes havoc with scheduling meetings and conference calls, because the computerised system we use tries to "correct" appointments to account for the change from daylight savings, with the result that everyone except me now has our regular weekly meetings shown in their calendars as an hour earlier than they should be. Now I've got to spend an hour tomorrow re-scheduling all our team calls to the correct times.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Book at (Sick)bed-time

:-) Eats, Shoots & Leaves
This little book about punctuation has been around for a few years, but somehow I'd never gotten around to buying it until this week, when I found it in the airport bookshop in Abu Dhabi.

The author, Lynne Truss, is a self-confessed "stickler" for punctuation, and she proceeds to give a potted history of each punctuation mark, along with rules for its proper usage. It's not as dull as I'm making it sound, particularly if you -- like me -- are a bit of a stickler yourself who cringes at the increasingly garish uses of the Greengrocer's Apostrophe (e.g. Apple's, Banana's & Pear's).

I fancy myself as a reasonable grammarian and punctuationist (is there such a word?), but I learned a lot of new things from this book, as well as receiving a welcome refresher course from what I learned at school, back in the days when kids were taught grammar and punctuation.

I have great respect for anyone who can take such a dry subject and make an entertaining little read out of it. If you haven't got this book and you care about punctuation, you know what to do...

:-( Still Ill
Cough, wheeze, sniff, sneeze.

You're lucky I can manage even these few words!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Techno-bargain / Sniffles

:-) ATC-D650
I owe my new cheap Taiwanese DVD player an apology. All of the so-called teething troubles I described earlier turned out to have been user (me) error. I think I must be getting old; I never used to make user errors. Anyway my slim, white "I-play-anything" DVD player is going from strength to strength. I can play discs of any region encoding, it's much faster and more responsive than my old one, I can toggle DVD subtitles on and off without interrupting playback, and I can display a slideshow of my photos on the TV just by sliding my SD memory card into the slot on the front. I've even got Dolby Digital 5:1 sound working.

I love it when a plan comes together! ...who can tell me where that saying comes from? (hint: it's from a '70s TV show).

:-( I'm dying!
I brought some kind of "lurgy" back with me from Abu Dhabi. It's either a cold or a fever, not sure which, because I can't remember which way the rhyme goes. Is it, "Starve a fever, feed a cold.", or, "Feed a fever, starve a cold."? Whichever way around it is, I've got the one you feed. I never seem to get the one you're supposed to starve...
Feeling down in the dumps. Got sniffles, sneezing, coughing, shivers. I think a medicinal whisky and an early night are on the cards.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Gulf Air

:-) Gulf Air Lounge, Abu Dhabi International Airport
Just got back from a three-day Eid trip to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. On the way home, had occasion to spend a goodly amount of time (see below) in the Business Class lounge at the airport. The Gulf Air Lounge is quite small but very well formed, with comfortable leather sofas spread about in informal clumps, a full bar (Yay!), hot and cold food on tap, its very own Duty Free Shop, a Business Centre with free (and fast) internet access, and - to top it all off - waiter service. We spent a very enjoyable afternoon ligging here: reading, surfing, sleeping, eating, drinking.

:-( Flight delays
The journeys to and from Abu Dhabi were both fraught with delays and missed connections. I have a stress scale for air travel that goes like this:-
Alone on business - Low
With family, direct flight and no hitches - Medium
With family, first flight delayed and risk of missing connection - Very High

In over eight years of frequent air travel, both business and leisure, I have become used to things going smoothly and to schedule. I regularly read/hear of people who suffer massive inconvenience due to delays caused by industrial action or increased security measures, and feel fortunate never to have been majorly affected by them.

This erstwhile smooth sailing (well, flying) has left me with high expectations of airline efficiency, but that came toppling annoyingly down when my travels took me to and around the Middle East. Our journey to Abu Dhabi took five hours longer than it should have, and the journey back took twelve hours when it should have taken six.

I'm starting to really hate airlines.

Full story on Neal Of Arabia

Monday, October 23, 2006

Eid Mubarak! / My Poor Feet!

:-) Holiday
Ramadan comes to an end and today we are now in the festival of Eid al-Fitr. Eid is the Islamic equivalent of Christmas in the Christian world, in that it is the most important festival in the religious calendar, so, "Eid Mubarak!" to a Muslim is like saying, "Merry Christmas" to a Christian. (the two festivals are completely different so it's not the best analogy, but you get my drift I'm sure).

The Embassy is closed for three days so we're taking the opportunity to go on a short break to a new Middle East destination: Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

I will try to post here while I'm away but can't promise. In any case you can expect normal service to resume on Friday, when I'll tell you about the Abu Dhabi trip and post some pictures on Neal Of Arabia.

:-( New Shoe Blues
Bought a pair of Converse All-Stars shoes the other day - in a pathetic attempt to appear hip and with-it. They felt great when I tried them on in the shop, but since then have been rubbing my heels raw. Oh well, back to Hush Puppies...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Dad 'n' Lad

:-) Quality Time with Elliot
Spent a nice hour with Elliot this afternoon. I needed a good photo of me rollerblading (I'll tell you why one day), so Elliot came out to the street with me: me with my skating gear and he with my digital SLR camera. I've been teaching him some of the rudiments of photography: aperture, shutter speed, depth of field and what affects it, focal length etc. for a while now, and he practised by taking photos of me as I skated up and down. He has one of my hand-me-down digital cameras to use as his own, but he'll jump at any opportunity to get his hands on my Nikon. He has a real eye for photography and it wouldn't surprise me if he does it professionally one day.
Here are a couple from this afternoon...

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Made in Taiwan

:-) New Toy
Remember I've been having problems with my DVD player? Discs either skipping or not playing at all - was really winding me up. Not likely to be able to get it repaired here either.

I was wondering what to do about it while walking round the supermarket today, when we found one of those slim, cut-price DVD players: DVD, VCD, MP3, CD-R - you name any kind of disc and this baby'll play it. Plus it's multi-region AND it's got slots on the front for USB devices and memory cards, so you can take photos on your digital camera and play them back right through the TV. And all this for 179SR (about £28). Can't go wrong! Got home and hooked it up to the amplifier as easy as pie, so now I've got two DVD players hooked up, just in case my main one decides to play up again.

:-( Quality Workmanship?
It's now been installed for a few hours and I'm starting to have my doubts. Every DVD I load plays with subtitles whether I ask for them or not, and the sound keeps "hicupping". And the remote control only seems to work if you hold it about six inches away from the front panel - great!

Friday, October 20, 2006

At a Loose End

:-) Nothing to do, and all day to do it in
Our weekends here are much busier socially than they were when we were in the UK, generally. There's hardly ever a weekend without a "do" of some sort - whether a party or a swim meet or a desert trip. This weekend however, was one of those rare occasions where we had absolutely nothing planned. Today (Friday) was just great: Slept in, went to the pool, had a late lunch, did some email, did some photo printing, had dinner with the family, watched a movie, read some of my book, and here I am blogging about it just before going to bed to read some more. Sometimes it's nice not to have an agenda.

:-( Nothing else to do
Of course, if we were anywhere else in the world we'd have been able to go shopping, or to the movies, or to a concert or a play!
I'm not really pissed off, and we have had a lovely lazy day, but it doesn't feel right if I don't have the occasional moan!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Retail Therapy

:-) New stuff
Sitting here blogging in my new pyjamas with a glass of single malt whisky at my side.

Bought the PJ's, a shirt, two ties and a pair of shoes today (shopping is Riyadh's favourite pasttime in case you didn't already know), and unusually everything fits and nothing's faulty. You can't try clothes on here so returning stuff takes up almost half our shopping time.

:-( flippin' Ramadan shopping hours again
...having to plan your shopping trips with military precision. We arrived at mall #1 at 1.30, giving us an hour and a half's shopping before prayer time at 3pm. During prayers, drive to mall #2 to be standing outside Marks & Spencer when the shutters raise again at 3.30. Get your purchases quickly, because the shops close again at 4pm, not re-opening until 8.30.

Ramadan is almost over; should finish on Sunday or Monday, followed by Eid Al Fitr - a three-day holiday. After that the shops get back to their normal four-times daily closures.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Frequent Flyer

Frequent Flyer programs - and all loyalty cards for that matter - have but one objective: to stop you taking your business elsewhere. That's fair enough I guess - free enterprise and all that - as long as the benefits are shared equally between you, the punter, and them, the airline/shop/hotel/car rental company. I belong to (too) many such programs and can promise you, there is more in it for them.

:-) At the Airport
Two of the benefits provided by my bmi Diamond Club gold card alone make it worth persevering with them and putting up with all the other crap: priority check-in and lounge access.
My membership entitles me to use First/Business Class check-in counters when flying with any Star Alliance airline, even when I only have an economy ticket (which is most of the time). The thing I hate most about air travel is queueing so this is a real boon. I can't remember the last time I had to queue for more than five minutes to check in for a flight (Riyadh airport excepted but that's a whole 'nother story). It makes me feel special to strut past snaking lines of the great unwashed and up the eight feet of red carpet to the Business Class check in desk. Often I've got my boarding card and am heading for passport control before the guy who entered the terminal before me has found his place at the back of a long queue. It's worth its weight in gold.

Airline lounges are another little luxury that I can't imagine doing without. A relatively quiet, peaceful sanctuary from the pushing, jostling, chilren wailing, sweating throng that is the main body of the terminal. Once in the lounge you can pour yourself a drink, sit back, and relax in peace and quiet while waiting for your flight to be called. A full range of complimentary refreshments is usually on offer, including sandwiches, croissants, biscuits, crisps, nuts and fruit, plus hot and cold drinks including a fully-stocked bar (Riyadh airport excepted, but that's a whole 'nother story). Free newspapers and magazines are available and most also have wireless internet access (although for a fee - when are they going to wake up and provide it for free?).

Of course this benefit does not extend to my family, so - gold card or not - when we're going on holiday we have to slum it. I have blagged our way in to the lounge en famille a couple of times but I don't see why I should have to. Come on bmi - here's another tip from a loyal customer: provide all gold card holders with two family lounge passes per year; you'd be very popular!

As with priority check-in I have mixed feelings about the class culture that the lounge implies. I don't think I'm better than other people but I like to be treated better than other people. It goes to feeling special, valued, wanted, and I'm not alone. In fact I'd be willing to bet that anyone in that seething mass I can see out of the window below me would jump at the chance to swap places. The airlines know this of course, and make every effort to vaunt their top services as something all their passengers can aspire to, but which - in the real world - few can afford.

I guess the thing to remember when you feel about to be swept off your feet on a wave of adulation is that it's not you they love, it's your money.

:-( Terms & Conditions Apply
Ironically the frequent flyer benefit that the airlines tout most is actually the least valuable: air miles. They reel you in with promises of free flights around the world, and it's true; you do indeed earn air miles every time you fly with them, purchase items using their credit card etc. The catch comes when you try to actually redeem them for free flights.
This is what I alluded to at the start of this post. Air miles help the airline out more than you, because they decide which flights are eligible and it's always those flights that they cannot fill any other way. We want to fly back to the UK for Christmas, and bmi fly direct to Heathrow from Riyadh, and I've got over 200,000 bmi miles in the bank - perfect, I can even afford for us all to fly Business Class! I go to their website to book the flights, only to find that all flights in December are "blacked out" for miles redemption. In other words the airline is saying to me, "Get lost. We can fill these flights with paying passengers so we don't need your miles. Come back when we're desperate to fill seats, then maybe we'll let you in."

See? It's for their convenience. You can fly for free but only when it suits them. To add insult to injury they even hike their prices at busy times like December, so not only can I not redeem my miles but if I want to fly with them at all I have to pay a premium - forget it bmi!

Airlines should treat their best customers like,... well... their best customers, and let them have unrestricted access to redemption flights. The airline that does this would truly have an edge over the competition, but unfortunately I think they prefer to collude in deciding "standard practice" precisely to prevent this happening.

So, we are coming back to UK for Christmas, but with Gulf Air via Bahrain. I'd rather take an indirect route that doesn't earn me any miles than play bmi's game.
I think I'll save my air miles for that weekend break in Southampton next February I've been promising myself. As long as it's OK with bmi, that is.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

An Apology


Dear reader,

I feel I must apologize for an error I made in the last post about the nonsensical slogans printed on children's garments in Riyadh's supermarkets. I listed my favourite as a pair of boy's pyjamas bearing the legend:

The Darkest
Three days old
Has trod fish smell

This is, of course, nonsense.

I returned to the supermarket last night (Karen sent me out to get chocolate), so thought I'd take advantage of the opportunity to do a little sanity checking by having a second look.

Of course I was mistaken and had not grasped the full text (perhaps I was the victim of some censorial shoulder-stitching). The correct slogan is:

The darkest hour is da
Are three days old
Black ox has trod fish smell

Glad to have cleared that up, and sorry for the confusion.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Shopping During Ramadan

Author's note: I know what I said yesterday about not writing about Riyadh on this blog, but it is, after all, for me to talk about what cheers me up and winds me up in daily life, and daily life is in Riyadh, so I guess it's OK for this blog and Neal Of Arabia to cross-pollinate from time to time...

:-) Lost in Translation
Outside of Ramadan the shops close four times per day for prayer time, re-opening after about 30 minutes. Every store or mall has either a mosque nearby or a prayer room with mats facing Mecca so that the staff can pray. During prayer time the shutters come down, new customers are not admitted and no business can be transacted, but in some shops customers already inside are allowed to remain there and browse until prayer time is over. We regularly time our supermarket shopping trips to coincide with "lock-in", so that we can work around prayer times and still get our weekly food shopping done. It's quite nice being shut in a large supermarket: the lights dim, the staff all disappear and you are more or less alone in the store (there are others partaking in the lock-in, but in a superstore the size of Carrefour you're not likely to see them).
This happened to Karen and me the other day, when we had almost finished our shopping, forcing us to spend the half-hour of voluntary captivity browsing the non-food section.

At times like this and when we've got nothing better to do (and there isn't much better to do here), we like to amuse ourselves by reading signs and labels that have lost something in the translation from Arabic to English, such as this message on a little wooden sign sticking out of the ice on the frozen fish counter:


Even funnier are the children's clothes. The Saudi budget clothing market seems to have latched on to the idea that it's cool to have children's T-Shirts, pyjamas etc. with slogans printed on them in English. Sporting an English slogan on your chest must tell fellow Saudis: "Hey, look at me. I'm sophisticated and cool because I'm into English fashions!" This is quite sad because, not only are these the worst taste garments imaginable - with fringes in places that should be a fringe-free zone (i.e. the entire garment), and colours that I never knew existed let alone should be allowed out in public - but they also bear the most bizarre legends that have obviously been written by someone who cares more about spattering the front of the shirt with English characters than delivering a meaningful message. Here then are some examples of real phrases that you can buy printed on bad-taste clothing in Riyadh (and I guarantee there are NO typos here - every one appears exactly as I've written it):

On a girl's T-Shirt (bright orange with the slogan down the left and a Bratz-style cartoon chick down the right)

On a toddler's T-Shirt (various dayglo colours available):
how nice you look
a friend is

On a teenage boy's shirt:
hip hopchaofa boys king

On a small boy's shirt (age 5):
Served hot wateroff
Should be served
toooed off
Morning Pleasu
Hot water esoresso served
This was obviously once about espresso being served with hot water and topped off with something, but somewhere along the line the tails of the "p's" were lost and no-one noticed. The same no-one also noticed that it is complete gobbledegook.

On girl's pyjamas
All the splendour in the world
is not worth a good frinds

And my personal favourite, on a pair of boy's pyjamas:
The darkest
Three days old
Has trod fish smell

It's like each phrase began life making some kind of sense to somebody, but got hideously mutilated during its journey from conception to hanger. I have a picture in my mind of the phrase's epic journey, beginning in the mind of a "designer" in the clothing company, then travelling to the place where the slogan is printed via a tortuous route of fag packet scribblings, coffee-stained faxes and muffled telephone instructions.

Whatever slipshod, half-hearted, error-check-free process they follow, the end result makes us giggle in supermarkets.

:-( Closed
Apart from the odd consolation (see above), shopping hours are a pain in the neck for expats. This is especially true during Ramadan, becuase the shops all close for about 4-5 hours from 4 - 8.30 or 9pm for Iftar so that Muslims can break their fast at sunset. This is in addition to the regular prayer time closings - not instead of. They try to compensate by staying open late, most until 2am, but thats not much use to us when the children have school next day.
Yesterday I got to Saco World at about 3pm to return a faulty humidifier, only to see the shutters coming down as I pulled into the car park. I managed to squeeze in past the security guard in time to get locked in, so that I could spend the half-hour browsing for a replacement. All went well until the shop re-opened at around 3.40, only then to announce that it was closing again at 4pm until 9 that evening! I managed to make my purchase and dash out before being locked in forever!

Sunday, October 15, 2006


:-( Frustrating
Having set this blog up for daily postings I'm now starting to feel the pressure of HAVING to write something every day. It's even more annoying in light of the fact that I really want to get into the habit of blogging on a daily basis but I can't seem to get my thoughts organised within that timeframe.
I've got so many things that I like and dislike, and I know I want to write about all of htem, but which first, and what do I want to say on each subject?

There's my Top & Bottom Ten, which I feel warrants some explanation, but I can't get motivated to do that right now. I find what comes easiest is to write on whatever topic has been foremost in my thoughts during the day, but that too is difficult right now because the two things I'm thinking about most are: shopping hours during Ramadan here in Riyadh (because those postings belong on Neal Of Arabia, not here), and the leading scientist, author nad atheist Richard Dawkins, whose latest book - The God Delusion - I have just started reading. I don't want to write about Religion and the Creation vs. Evolution debate because that's not what this blog is about.
The difficulties of posting good stuff every day is what has been occupying my thoughts most today, so I guess that's why I've written this.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Another Fine Mess / Marvellous

:-) Laurel & Hardy
Masters of Comedy. There really is no other way to describe the genius partnership of Laurel & Hardy. Even though their heyday was in the 1930s they still hold a special place in most critics' comedy Hall of Fame.
Whenever I feel like laughing I have plenty of high quality comedy at hand: Monty Python, The Office, Phoenix Nights, Fawlty Towers, I could go on and on. But when I want a real belly laugh from beginning to end I choose Stan & Ollie.
There is so much to love. The relationship between Stan's head-scratching, eyebrow-raising, self-effacing fool and Ollie's pompous, self-important buffoon. Ollie is convinced that he's in charge and that Stan couldn't do anything without him. Stan has him sussed really but lets him get away with it nonetheless. The big stuff - the relationship - is funny in itself but there are so many little details that make me laugh too: Ollie's tie-twiddling and chuckling anytime he meets a young lady, his intricate and graceful body movement and hand gestures (despite his large frame). Stan's simple smile and expressive eyebrows. The bowler hats - keystone of many a gag.
Their timeless humour is as endearing today as it must have been eighty years ago; I'm smiling just thinking about it.
If you have never really got into L&H then I heartily recommend that you do. Their official website (not sure who decided this should be the official one, since they both died before the internet as we know it was born, but still) is a good source of background info, and there are many DVDs available quite cheaply on Amazon each containing three or four shorts.

Here are my Top Ten L&H classics:
Towed In A Hole
Twice Two
Oliver The Eighth
Tit for Tat
Busy Bodies
Way Out West
County Hospital
The Music Box

:-( Marvellous
I have a confession to make. I don't actually say, "Bloody marvellous!" very much. In fact I hardly say it at all. I just say, "Marvellous" on its own. Why then is my blog called, Bloody Marvellous? Good question. Because "marvellous.blogspot.com" was already taken, that's why.
That's the thing about blog names and websites - each name has to be unique, so if someone has already taken a name it's not available to anyone else. I visited marvellous.blogspot.com to see what all the fuss is about, and what do I find? Dreary Steven of Dublin.
About all I can say that is positive about this blog is that the background is a nice design. The rest is just awful. For a start it contains only one entry, and that - as far as I can gather - was written in 2001! It's also depressing, going about how miserable he is, not looking forward to going back to school etc. What a waste of a good url!
Surely Blogger must have some kind of statute of limitations or something so that people like me who say "Marvellous" all the time and want to moan about stuff can have the blog name they really want, and people like Dreary Steven need to earn the right to continue using a name by actually using it.


What if poor Steven was really depressed about his life and starting the blog was a call for help? Perhaps if he never wrote again after the first entry then... oh dear.

Steven, if you're out there leave a comment to let us know you're still around, and if you are still around, either use your blog properly or give the name back to Blogger so I can use it!

Is it bad taste to suggest the establishment of a domain/blog name donor card?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Conversation / Conversation

:-) Party Talk
I attend a lot of parties here, much more than when we were in the UK. I guess the main reason is that there are a lot of parties going on, but it's also because I'm very popular. :-)

I've never been very comfortable engaging in small talk with people I don't know very well, so this recent social activity has forced me to work on my conversation skills so that I have something interesting to say, while avoiding boring people to death.

A good conversation is a roughly equal exchange in which both / all parties are interesting and interested in the other(s). I want to come away from it having learned something about the other person while they too have learned something about me, and ideally both our perspectives on life are modified a little from hearing what the other person has to say, no matter how small the change.

It feels nice when others show an interest in me and my life (as long as it is sincere), and I, like anyone I suppose, like to talk about myself. The trick is to tell a little then return the favour. In this way both parties feel interesting and interested, and time can fly by.

I've met some very interesting, bright, lively people since moving to Riyadh, people whom I would never had had the chance to meet in the UK. People who have lived all over the World, who have fought in recent conflicts, who have met Presidents, Prime Ministers and Royalty, and people whose job it is to protect others.

Party conversation doesn't come naturally to me so I have to work at it, but it's worth the effort.

:-( Bores
Who's the most interesting person in the World? Why, Me of course! Don't we all think that? Sure, we admire friends, teachers, movie stars and politicians, but deep down the person we care most about is ourselves. Isn't it natural therefore to want to tell the world how interesting you are? Of course it is. However, for you to be able to hold a good conversation you have to acknowledge that, while really you know you're the most interesting one in the exchange, the other person mistakenly believes he or she is, so in order not to turn them off asking more questions about you (which is what you want) you have to stop talking about how great you are and let them have a go once in a while.

A Bore does not have this awareness. A Bore knows they are the most interesting and thinks everyone else around the table agrees with them. They're wrong, very wrong. How can people be so self-centered and insensitive? Is there more to it than plain insensitivity and egotism? Maybe people become Bores as a symptom of some unpleasant past experience. Maybe it's a defence/coping mechanism for some hang-up. I don't really care, I just want them to shut up and recognize that there are other people in the room. True, you may be able to make your excuses and "mingle", but it isn't always that easy to get away, and it can ruin a night out for me to get stuck with a Bore all evening.

Bores don't have to be boring people who have boring jobs, that's not the point. I'm not judging anyone's life to be boring. What's boring is they never shut up about it. Uh-oh, just felt a sting of self-consciousness: isn't "talking about onesself incessantly" what defines blogging? Oh my God, I've just realised that, in blogging, I'm likely to exhibit Bore behaviour. I'll try to minimize that but, essentially, Bloody Marvellous and Neal Of Arabia are all about my favourite subject... Me.

Want to turn this monologue into a conversation? Leave a comment.

I'll start:
"So, where are you going on holiday next year?"

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Good time / no time

:-) Busy weekend
Quiz night (our team came second)
Meeting at school to prepare for Abigail's first Swim Meet (she's in the Senior Elite team)
Shopping for a friend's birthday present
Halloween Party
Grown-ups birthday party
Swim Meet

:-( No time
No time to blog properly!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Poker / Googlewhacking

:-) Men Playing Poker
Spent a very enjoyable evening on Monday playing Poker with three buddies. I brought my own Poker parephenalia with me when we came out to Riyadh but have only recently blown the dust off to provide the menfolk with a refuge during the monthly Book Club meeting where our wives drink books and talk about wine.
My "kit" consists of a fold-out poker table complete with chip racks and drinks holders that I bought from Firebox, and an aluminium case of 500 casino-grade chips that I bought in the Walmart in Orem, Utah last year for $30.
Playing poker with other blokes is a fascinating, absorbing and - dare I say it - intimate experience that can teach you a lot about your friends and yourself. The poker face, bluff and double-bluff, randomly altering your bluffing behaviour or level of betting to prevent other players from "sussing you out" (a bit like running away in an erratic zigzag pattern to avoid being shot). All of this evasive action being done at the same time as trying to suss out the others around the table: "Is that guy really a conservative player who folds unless he's got a high pair, or is he just fattening me up for the kill?" It's a great way to get to know people, and even better if you have a regular ebb and flow of well-known and less well-known players.
...and we don't even play for money! (yet)

:-( Googlewhacked Out
To paraphrase Douglas Adams, The internet is big. Very big. I mean, you might think it's a long way to the end of this blog entry (and it is), but that's just peanuts to the internet"
There are a lot of web pages out there. I just went to Google and typed, "How many web pages are there?" into the search box, and got 231,000,000 hits. So that means there are over 200 million web pages just about how many web pages there are (I wonder if they counted themselves?). Anyway the point is that there are a lot, about 11.5 billion in total (I haven't counted them personally but I know a couple of people who might have tried). In all that massive amout of text, what are the chances that any combination of two words exists on only one page in the whole internet?
This is the anatomy of a Googlewhack - a combination of just two words (without quotation marks) that, when typed into Google, returns one - and only one - hit.

The phenomenon isn't new. In fact people have been finding Googlewhacks for years. Dave Gorman even wrote a book about his Googlewhack adventures.

The thing is, as time passes and the internet continues to grow, Googlewhacks are becoming more and more scarce. I don't know what brought this to mind this morning (that's how my mind works - things pop in and out uninvited), but I decided that, since I have a kind of netherworld period between 8am and 10am during the week when I'm the only Novell person awake, I should invest an hour or so in trying to find my very own Googlewhack.

What a complete waste of time!

The trick is to think of two unusual or archaic words that probably don't appear that much on the internet at all, then combine them in unlikely ways to further extend the odds of both appearing on the same page. For example, supernova splashdown is a bad combination choice because both words have space exploration connotations and are therefore more likely to appear on the same page. Faeces splashdown is similarly not to be recommended. Better by far are combos like candelabra motherboard: two completely unrelated words on the face of it but I found 16,800 webmasters who would disagree.

If you actually find a Googlewhack you can register it in the whack shack at Googlewhack.com: 15 minutes of fame indeed!

So, here are the edited highlights (and I do mean edited: the full list is very long) of my fruitless hunt for a Googlewhack this morning:-

1. fairy microphone - 423,000
what a pathetic first attempt. Neither word is very unusual and I can think of, ooh around 400,000 examples of why fairies would use microphones. Must try harder.

2. candelabra transmission - 45,700
Better, I'm now down to sub 100,000 hits which in internet numbers is pretty darn small. Disappointed with choice of "transmission" but like "candelabra" Who says candelabra these days? let's press Hold on candelabra and mix up the second word.

3. candelabra virus - 47,300
Idiot. Virus, Internet, HELLOOOO!

4. candelabra geyser - 815
NOW we're cooking with gas! Under a thousand hits! This is going to be easier than I thought.

5. candelabra splashdown - 414
Almost there...

6. candelabra flange - 21,600

7. candelabra eruption - 14,600
coming back down

8. candelabra checkpoint - 941
that's more like it, back under the 1,000 mark

9. candelabra biometric - 1,490
believe it or not there are lots of sites that talk about the light from candelabras messing up light sensors on biometric security devices. Learn something new every day.

10. candelabra subroutine - 292
New Record! that's the ticket - combine something beautiful and ornate with a computer term. Let's try another one...

11. candelabra motherboard - 16,800
WHAT?? Bang goes that theory!

12. candelabra pothole - 709
13. candelabra orbit - 20,700
there I go again, choosing unwisely. Maybe having candelabra at the front is jinxing me. Let's make that the second word...

14. robust candelabra - 30,300

15. digested candelabra - 708
back on track...

16. stalwart candelabra - 13,200
getting a bit fed up with candelabras

17. faeces candelabra - 379
better but still not good enough. I'm finding the word faeces strangely attractive

18. balletic faeces - 179
faeces is the new candelabra! I'm onto a winner

19. domineering faeces - 503
20. overcast faeces - 905
21. interstellar faeces - 1,330
22. regalia faeces - 810
the top hit reads, "Carol Vorderman to eat own faeces for Oxfam." The page doesn't load. I know, let's give my computer terminology a try

23. faeces subroutine - 339
damn. Going to drop faeces - back in ten minutes

24. bilious subroutine - 275
25. dispepsia subroutine - 11
!!! Only 11 hits! I can almost taste the Googlewhack!

26. conjoined subroutine - 761
27. tricycle subroutine - 612
Hmm, unicycle must be rarer than tricycle.

28. unicycle subroutine - 1,500
didn't expect that. First hit is Nat Friedman's blog. Nat works for Novell and is a luminary in the Linux/Open Source world. I'm not at all surprised that he talks about unicycle subroutines.

29. foxglove subroutine - 397
liking foxglove. It takes over

30. foxglove vagrant - 733
31. foxblove rudimentary - 700
32. foxglove dementia - 166
33. foxglove dispepsia - 34
There's dispepsia giving me a good score again! It takes over

34. railing dispepsia - 16
good old dispepsia!

35. awning dispepsia - 16
I notice the first line of the results page, "Did you mean awning dyspepsia?" Gaahhh! I've been mis-spelling it! couldn't live with myself if I got a bogus mis-spelled Googlewhack. I'm too much of a perfectionist. Better retry all my dispepsia combos with the correct spelling.

36. awning dyspepsia - 807

37. railing dyspepsia - 10,600

38. dyspepsia subroutine - 247 (up from 11 first time)
Bloody Marvellous!

Time to start work. If you manage to find a Googlewhack I won't give you anything. I'll just hate you.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

DNRC / "What did he say?"

:-) Dilbert's New Ruling Class

My favourite funny writer has to be the late, great, Douglas Adams. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Dirk Gently series were just brilliant, and he was a Macintosh user too - what more can I say? Also somewhere deserving of mention in my top ten is Tom Hartman - once my manager and still a friend and colleague at Novell who writes hilariously about his life and travels at Symbiotic Publishing. He's not going to win any spelling competitions but he makes up for it by being very funny.
Anyway, I mention this to plug my second-favourite funny writer: Scott Adams (Wow, my number 1 and number 2 are both called Adams. If you write funny stuff and your name is Adams drop me a line, and if you make me laugh you stand a good chance of being in my Top Ten Writers Called Adams). Scott is the creator of the famous Dilbert cartoons, in which Dilbert survives from day to day despite the antics of his Pointy Haired Boss and numerous other characters. Adams uses the alter-ego of Dilbert to lampoon modern-day management fads and jargon, particularly as it relates to the software industry, and they regularly cheer me up by falling into my inbox every day.

Go on, cheer yourself up by subscribing to the Daily Dilbert.

An added advantage to doing so - and even funnier actually - is that you will also get the monthly Dilbert's New Ruling Class newsletter, in which Adams celebrates that lower life form known as In-DUH-viduals. To whet your appetite here are a few excerpts from the latest newsletter, reproduced here with kind permission of Mr. Adams:-


Here now, more true tales of Induhviduals as reported by vigilant DNRC members:

There was a question in our company newsletter asking about whether they could water the flowers in the bathrooms since they were looking wilted and sick. The response was "The flowers are artificial."
[Editor’s note: Evidently some employee created a restroom gas cloud powerful enough to wilt artificial plants. You have to admire that on some level.]


So a few friends and I were at a museum, and they had this wall of analog clocks with a city name written under each one, showing what time it was around the world. We had about ten clocks in view, when my friend looks at a clock, looks at his watch, looks at the clock again, and says, “Well, this one’s pretty close, but all the others are way off.”


While working for a leather company, we were chatting in the lab about food. One of the other lab technicians pondered aloud, "I wonder why you never get the skin on beef?"


Every time my husband gets a new temp assignment, he gets a new security badge. The temp stands against the wall and the camera – generally in a fixed position – snaps the ID photo. My husband uses a wheelchair. So his security picture features the blank wall above his head.


On a canal boating holiday, the boat had a shower, with a stirrup pump that pumped excess water through the side of the hull.
A friend (an engineer) asked “Why didn't they put the hole in the bottom of the boat?”


I went to a local pizza restaurant and asked about the difference between a large and a medium pizza. The Induhvidual told me the large pizza had 10 slices and the medium had 8 slices. I told her to take one of the large pizzas, cut it into 8 slices, and I would pay for a medium. She just stared at me like I had asked her a question about Euclidian Geometry.

If you would like this in your inbox every month, go to dilbert.com and subscribe. You won't regret it.

:-( Mumbling Actors

Something that Scott Adams and I - and thousands of others judging by the comments on his blog - have in common is an exasperation with actors who mumble. For a while now I've been wondering if I'm going slowly deaf (my family would support this diagnosis but they're wrong), because I'm find it increasingly hard to hear what people are saying in movies. I now know it's not just me. Not only has Scott written about it on his blog but Karen and I have been to the film club in Riyadh a couple of times recently and both times the organizer had to pause the film a few minutes in and re-start it, with subtitles. This happened with Capote (great film), and also with The New World (turgid, you'll sleep right through it).

What is it with filmmakers these days? It seems almost as if the actors have been told to mutter/whisper their lines. Anyway, Scott describes it better than I ever could: read the blog entry.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Bloody Marvellous!

Welcome to my all new second blog. If you haven't come here from my other blog Neal of Arabia then go there immediately and do your homework before proceeding!

In writing Neal of Arabia I've found that I seem to rant a lot about stuff I like and stuff I hate, so I thought I'd give those thoughts their own series!

Every day (well... maybe) I'll list here something that has brought me pleasure and something that has pissed me off. The idea was kind of inspired by Clare's Three Beautiful Things, which has just made it to Blogger's Blogs Of Note - congrats Clare. In 3BT she lists three things that have brought her pleasure every day. That's all well and good but, well, I'm just not that happy. Well I guess I am happy but I also like to wallow in my grumpy moments and rant about things that get my goat. Enter Bloody Marvellous, where you'll get a slice of reality, warts 'n' all, with (I hope) joy and moans in equal measure, and a laugh either way.

OK, here goes....

:-) Shiver of anticipation
I've always been a keen photographer, but have recently decided to get a little more serious about it (the new camera helped). So I've entered some of my existing work into the British Journal of Photography Award competition, and also submitted a small number of images to their Reader's Gallery. I don't expect to win anything but the waiting-to-hear is a pleasure in itself. Does that make me weird? I remember even as a small child getting a real buzz out of waiting for a parcel to come in the post, with the feeling when the post arrives minus-parcel more good than bad, because it meant I'd get another 24 hours of anticipation. I still get it now, waiting for stuff to arrive from Amazon, only now it's once a week instead of every day.

:-( Broken gadgets
Last night Karen was out so I decided to watch one of my favourite films: Koyaanisqatsi. Made in 1982, this masterpiece by Godfrey Reggio with music by Philip Glass contrasts the tranquil beauty of nature with the hustle & bustle of modern life. If you haven't seen it, go and buy it.
The name Koyaanisqatsi apparently comes from the Hopi Indian language and means, "Life out of balance".
I dropped the DVD into the tray of my Philips Home Entertainment System and sat back, ready for my senses to be assailed, then: DISC ERROR appears on the screen. NNoooo! After several attempts at cleaning the disc (which looked pretty clean to start with) it still doesn't work, although it plays perfectly on our Macintosh computer (go figure). Does this mean my pride and joy home cinema is about to go kaputt??? I hate it when essential gadgets like telly stop working! It's well out of warranty but - this being Riyadh - the warranty would be worthless here anyway.

Talk about life out of balance!