Add to Technorati Favorites expat Abu Dhabi Dispatches: July 2011

Monday, July 25, 2011

The End of an Era?

At the end my last post, I wrote briefly about some signs I noticed that seem to signal the general decline in the American spirit. The economy is in the crapper, unemployment is high, many people have lost their life savings and the government is more unresponsive and corrupt than I have ever seen. I saw first-hand on my trip last month how these things have a negative effect on the individual citizen's and the national collective psyche. The whole country is in a blue funk.

An event happened last week that twisted the knife of despair a bit more; the last US manned space flight mission ended as the Space Shuttle touched down at Kennedy Space Center. It was a good 50 year run that I personally thought would never end.

Final Space Shuttle Landing at Cape Canaveral

I have enough years under my belt to remember most of the manned space program, it was always an interest of mine and I assumed it would always be around to innovate, explore and inspire. Mercury, Gemini and Apollo......those names were known by all and generated excitement all over the world. Obviously, the lunar landings were the pinnacle of the manned missions.

Schematic of Mercury Spacecraft

Original Mercury Astronauts
Gemini Space Capsule
Apollo Schematic
Lunar Excursion Module. Your mobile phone has more computing power than this thing did! Yet they pulled it off!
The Eagle has Landed
Us Americans just HAD to get a car up there

The moon shots would prove hard acts to follow. The Space Shuttle was already on the drawing board during the Apollo program. It was conceived as a vehicle to usher in the next phase of space exploration, sustainability.. The design was to contain many reusable parts. Compared to the sleek Saturn V rockets of the Apollo program, the Shuttle was chunky and utilitarian as befitted its mission of hauling stuff into low Earth orbit.

The Space Shuttle failed to captivate the imagination of the public.The mission was boring but ended up productive.
Saturn V used in the Apollo Program

Saturn V Liftoff, Loud and Sexy!

Predictably, as the excitement and danger of the previous far reaching missions gave way to a "space truck" taking lab rats into low orbit, public interest waned even though a lot of valuable research was done that resulted in many things we take for granted today. The Shuttle program, although productive, just wasn't sexy.

The Space Shuttle needed to be retired. It was old technology even when it was new and proved to be way more troublesome and expensive than imagined. It never achieved the goal of almost monthly launches as envisioned by its architects.We lost two of them, Challenger and Discovery.. Challenger from brittle O rings and Discovery from some bad ceramic heat tiles. Time to put the old girl back in the barn.

Challenger Explosion

What upsets me is that there is no replacement on the horizon. For the first time in 50 years, the US is incapable of sending a human into space. Now we have to hitch a very expensive ride on Russia's Soyuz capsule that was designed in the 1960's. The Soyuz is currently the only game in town.

Russian Soyuz in Orbit
Soyuz Schematic
A Not so Subtle Soyuz Landing in Kazakhstan, Hey, But It Works!!!

Soyuz Post Landing. Vodka consumption  is part of the re-entry checklist.

If they pull the plug on that relic, I hope the last astronaut leaving the multi-billion dollar International Space Station remembers to turn the lights off as it will be awhile before anyone steps foot aboard again.

International Space Station, hide the keys under the doormat when you leave..

The rocket scientists at NASA knew the Shuttle retirement was coming at least 15 years ago and just sat on their hands. Oh, they did waste $9 billion trying to develop potential replacements such as the Constellation and other programs but when things got too difficult for them, progress was not made and the money dried up, they just said "screw it" and went back to whatever rocket scientists do when they are not making rockets. There was much motion but little progress.

Once an Icon,  but has recently lost their way.

NASA has become as bloated and inefficient as the US government so I am not surprised talent and innovation do not thrive there anymore. Too bad, that wasn't the case at one time. It looks like as the NASAsaur fades into irrelevance, we have to look toward the movers and shakers in the private sector to pick up the baton to keep manned space flight alive, Profit is a strong motivator and if there is money in it for these entrepreneurs, they will make it happen. There are already some bright spots on the horizon.

Well, to make a long story short (I know, too late), America's abandonment of its manned space flight program is just another symptom of a general malaise that is lingering in the country.  For 50 years these programs were a source of pride, inspiration, and a large part of America's identity.. The manned space programs motivated people from all over the world to look up to the night sky and maybe forget for a time the dreary details of daily life. We dropped the ball.

It doesn't bother me so much that the Space Shuttle program is no more, its that there were no replacement vehicles seriously considered.  This indicates an abandonment of the pioneer and "can do" attitudes of the past that the US and Americans are known for. Lately it has seemed we are just consumers of Chinese imports, producers of dodgy financial instruments, whiny wards of the State, world policemen and contemplators of our own belly button lint. Not a good path to follow. Remember what happened to Rome when Emperor Nero was plucking his fiddle

 In general, the US has been declining in spirit and purpose for awhile now. Maybe it is the inevitable maturing of a society. We have seen this before with other countries and empires in the past. America's heyday of the 1800s -1900s are over and maybe it is time to take a breather and hopefully we will rediscover the values and drive that made the US and Americans a unique country and culture. I am intolerant of mediocrity and hope that I can see a positive change in my country soon. There is still so much potential there.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Annual Leave 2011 Epilogue

So I was in Florida and enjoyed visiting my mother and some old high school friends that still live in the area. The weather was on-and-off with a mix of rain and sunshine,It was good smelling the the fresh Gulf of Mexico air and not having to deal with the desert dust. I felt more relaxed than I had in a long time and the days flew by all too quickly. On my final day, I was having some beers with friends and it became time for me to leave for my 9PM flight to Las Vegas. I drove home and packed my things and headed for the airport. I checked in at 7:55PM, checked the rental car in and headed toward the security gauntlet.

Gulf of Mexico

Best Beaches in Florida if not the World

This is where my nightmare started. I went through the x ray and metal detectors but at the end of the line I was confronted by a TSA agent holding a factory sealed package I had bought at a pharmacy earlier. He said there were unknown liquids in there and he would not let me go without a further screening. I was unaware of the liquids and asked what I could do to mitigate the problem. He said he had to throw away the item. I said that since I had spent $40USD for it that I wasn't too keen on that idea. A discussion ensued and the agent's supervisor had to become involved. We all finally came to an agreement that I had to put the liquids into a clear baggie and I was finally free to go. As I walked from the security area, another TSA agent gleefully announced to me that my flight had already left. Bitch!

Security Theater

That left me in a pickle as there was not a flight until the next night which would necessitate razor sharp planning to get to Chicago for my Abu Dhabi flight the next day and I was still stuck in Florida. There are a few things wrong with this. First, I checked in on time with Vision Airlines (who by the way lost my bags on the inbound trip), second, TSA delayed me way too long in the security line. It was a small airport and I was the only passenger in the queue. Thirdly, when a passenger checks in and is known to be delayed in security, the flight is held, this did not happen. I have been in the airline business for over 12 years...I know.. 5 minutes earlier and I would have made the flight. They pushed away from the gate anyway.

The 9/11 guys ended up winning anyway because every US citizen is treated as a felon when attempting to board a flight as a result. Now there are backscatter units that see through clothes and exposes the victim to radiation that would rival Hiroshima doses.

Land of the Free?
.The particular airport I departed Florida from recently had some bad publicity by making a 95 year old woman in a wheelchair take off her adult diapers before she could board her flight. I am all for security and stuff but it has gone too far. If any passenger starts acting hinckey during a flight, they will get their ass whipped by the other passengers. If that fails, there are firearms onboard carried by certain authorized personnel. No one is going to get away with another 9/11 stunt again.

So the next night I boarded my redeye to Las Vegas. All liquids were bagged per orders so I got on the flight. I landed in Vegas around 2 AM and proceeded to drive the 2 1/2 hours through an inky black desert night to St. George where I had to leave for Chicago via Salt Lake City to catch my flight to Abu Dhabi.

I got to St. George just in time to collect some of my stuff I left there and get to the airport. I was already tired from the transcon flight to Vegas and the drive so I slept on the way to Salt Lake City. St. George has a brand spanking new airport.


US, Utah and St. George flags

I had a 4 hour layover there before my sector to Chicago so I got a few beers. Salt Lake City is a very passenger friendly airport. Time to go to Chicago and I slept most of the way after this sumptuous breakfast.

MMMM...Three or Four Peanuts and a Can of Beer!

 Another grueling 4 hour wait for my 14 hour flight to Abu Dhabi but the Chicago terminal was nice. I fed and watered for the long time enroute and was happy to get a business class seat. The flight went quite quick and I was lucky to meet one of my bosses in duty-free upon arrival in Abu Dhabi, he gave me a lift to my flat.

All in all I spent almost 48 hours in transit that last day. I DO not want to do that any time again soon. I had a good time and felt very relaxed back home and was thrilled to see family and friends.

Saying that, things are bad back there economically. A lot of my friends are in danger of losing assets and savings. The government doesn't seem to care and is doing nothing for the average citizen. I know things are relative and the US is still quite wealthy compared to most parts of the world but stuff seems to be winding down back home. Maybe it is the inevitable ebb and flow of nations and cultures but it is still sad. We have no one to blame but ourselves, however. We had a good thing and we screwed it up.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

"Big E Bullshit"

I am getting damned tired of turning on my TV and computer only to find out there is another problem with my video and internet reception! I got up early this morning to do some work and catch up on emails only to find both devices blankly staring back at me with these vague "You will not be entertained or get any online stuff done for an indefinite amount of time" messages.

I live in a fairly new building complex and I know from my past technical experience that the network here is a state-of-the-art fiber optic system capable of wonderful things. Why the provider, "Big E", can't keep it operating is beyond me. I suspect a weakness in the human factor is to blame. The infrastucture is there but not enough skill, knowledge or planning to make it work reliably.

I literally spent hours on the telephone trying to work things out with sometimes ill-mannered, cryptic help desk personnel and have had many visits by technicians. One time a tech guy called when I was in the shower and because I failed to answer the phone right away he left and cancelled my service request. I couldn't get another appointment until 4 days later. They come, do some things to make it work and it ultimately fails later.

The services are not cheap either. There is no competition for my business. The UAE has some of the highest communication rates in the world. Back home there would be 3 or 4 providers vying for my money, I had a choice, Here, take it or leave it. For the amount I pay I expect much better service.

I cringe whenever I fire up the laptop or turn on the television as I anticipate yet another problem. With the monopoly here I can't expect it to get better as they have no incentive to improve. I am stuck and it seems I have to deal with it. Such a waste of my time and theirs..

So here I sit after yet another unproductive, tedious help desk call awaiting a field technician to contact me. Apparently its a hardware failure, seems to be not enough LEDs are lit up on my fiber optic modem. I have a 12 hour graveyard night shift later today and I'll bet the tech's call will come right in the middle of my afternoon snooze. Past experience almost guarantees it.

Nothing is easy! Dammit! I pay enough for online access and I expect it to be reliable. Did I mention the internet is censored here too?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Annual Leave 2011 Part 2

So I stayed in St, George, Utah for awhile. I visited where I used to work and saw a lot of my ex-coworkers and friends. St. George is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, it is in between the mountainous Colorado Plateau and the Mojave Desert. This gives the area a unique geography. You have granite mountains on one side, red sandstone on another and  real desert on another replete with Joshua trees I love the changes. Each turn of the road reveals another scenario. I never get tired of it.

St. George, Utah. Heaven on Earth
A Joshua tree,they are not to be screwed with! I love the desert.

 After a few days there socializing and taking care of some personal business, I had to drive to Las Vegas for a flight to Florida to see my mother.

Virgin River Gourge

Interstate Highway 15 Though the Virgin River Gourge

My Car-- Topless in Mesquite, Nevada
Virgin River Gourge

Interstate Highway 15 Virgin River Gourge

I am here to tell you that there are few things more pleasurable than hauling ass at 90 MPH in an American Ford V-8 Mustang GT five speed convertible on a long, straight desert highway. The rumble of the engine combined with the sun on my face and wind in my hair made the journey one to remember.

The Virgin River Gourge was one of the last sectors to be completed in the American Interstate highway system due to the rugged terrain. To this day, mountain goats and dynamite marks can be seen on the mountain sides which makes this one of the best 20 miles of road in the USA.

I got to Las Vegas OK and stayed with some friends and flew to Florida the next night. One complaint I have is my flight left out of Terminal 2 and all the bars were closed at 9 o'clock. That just ain't right as I was in the supposed fun capitol of the world and I couldn't even get a cold draft beer before my flight! Bullshit!

The overnight flight to Florida went alright except the airline misdirected my baggage in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. They made up for it the next night by delivering my bags to my mom's house. Mom was doing well and after being reunited with my clean skivvies from the recovered luggage, I was good to go. I got lucky at the rental car company as they gave me a new 2011 Fire Engine Red Mustang. I flirted with the attractive Filipina attendant and she gave me the Mustang instead of a boring Buick Lucerne.God love her!

2011 Mustang...Mom's house, Ft. Walton Beach Florida
Loved the Car!

I spend a few days relaxing in Florida as it was hectic in the previous week. I haven't felt so rested in months I spent time driving around neighborhoods where I grew up and to the beach. A year ago, the coast was threatened by the large BP oil spill. The area dodged a bullet as there are few signs of the accident now. Maybe all the crude is on the sea floor but none is evident on the beach.

A Sandpiper

Not a Good Day for the Beach

Wayside Park
Wayside Park
Inclement Weather

Southern Speak

Children's Art From Destin Elementary School

I Found This Hanging From a Tree Branch

One day I went to the Blue Marlin Tournament at Sandestin. I was early as no boats came in to the docks that day for a weigh in but I had a good time nevertheless.
No Thanks!
Northwest Florida Wetlands
More Wetlands Maybe a Gator or Two In There
A Cool Bar

Baytowne Marina, Sandestin Resort
I Don't Think So

Life is Good!
World's Largest Fishing Lure

Are you Shitting Me...My Speedo does Not Go That Low!

One of the Premiere Billfish Tournaments in the World

While at Sandestin, I met this little buddy. They are commonly known as cameleons but are really anole lizards. They change from lime green to tobacco brown in an instant. You can see the color change in the photos. He/she is turning brown. The throat thing is a territorial sign for me to keep away. Didn't work. They are good cat toys.

Turning Brown and Threatening Me
Edited June 10 for more photos and content.
Stay tuned for part 3