Sunday, March 09, 2014
Wednesday, February 05, 2014
My eyes move behind shuttered lids, looking for something to rest their gaze on. Something other than this darkness. They are not yet attuned to it; this darkness, it is loose and slippery. Like a waste or insignificant organisms. The darkness is not as dark as it used to be: the darkness used to be darker, it held a meaning.
My ears are still strained to hear that faint telephone ring tone or catch the words of a soft spoken client. My ears are too big for this pillow. I want to keep them exposed to the ether, to keep them peeled. But I can’t, I have to sleep on my side or else I’d cough volcanoes unto the tranquility of slumberland.
I roll over and keep tumbling around, like I’m trapped in a moving barrel. But not a metal or a solid barrel, this one feels like it’s made of air guns or magnetic fields, soundlessly rolling. Like violent action scenes on a mute TV.
And right there, right before I lose consciousness, there’s that microsecond-long electric jolt. It’s over before it begins, and I briefly wonder what it means and that I should probably research it tomorrow….. (I never do).
Then I wake up.
Tuesday, January 07, 2014
It's interesting that the law is concerned with "the sales and use of Tobacco". If you want to be pedantic, the fruity tobacco mix that is used in shishas is not strictly tobacco.
At any rate, the new law doesn't make any forays into the dodgy world of shisha smoking (as has been attempted before). So I should be glad.
Yes, smoking kills. But it is my opinion that only your free will can get you to quit, or not to smoke to begin with.
Yet, there is no denying the effectiveness of state laws and enforcement of bans. When I came here in 2004, people used to smoke everywhere. Even in the airport, they had a glass enclosure with open ceiling where they gathered and smoked. It looked funny and a little demeaning, but it reflected a more relaxed attitude to smoking. Many of you are too young to remember, but when Mall of the Emirates first opened, you were allowed to smoke inside (not in food courts, though). People used to gather around garbage bins with the customary big sand ashtray on top, and smoke. Now they have to step outside to the parking lot.
Now the law is following them out to the parking lot, as it bans smoking inside private cars with kids under 12 years of age. This is significant: it's basically enforcing a protective health measure inside your own home. Because what is really the difference between the inside of your car and the inside of your living room? Given the size of living rooms in Dubai, I'd say your car has better chances of ventilation than your home.
Don't get me wrong though, the ban is good. I'd go further and suggest banning smoking in cars altogether (after all, shisha smokers rarely have the pleasure of driving and smoking at same time*, so why should cigarette smokers?)
One thing I'm not sure about is the limit of smoking ban in universities: will it apply to the indoors of buildings only or to the campus as a whole?
* Look at the men in the background picture at the top of this blog, you think they're fit to drive?
Thursday, December 12, 2013
He is critical of the modern city with its cruel tall buildings and out-of-context architecture. He is critical of highways and of rigid road grids. He is critical of sea reclamations molded after plants or maps or anything else. He is critical of an urban space that is not organic, that does not allow people to interact with each other.
This picture above fairly represents the kind of architecture Rasem Badran does (you can check out his website for more, which I seriously recommend). He calls it "intimate chaos". And he claims that it should always revolve around the human being: His failings, his whims and his randomness. It should pique your curiosity and provide intellectual stimuli. A building is a spiritual extension of you.
Of course, you can be critical of them. You can challenge them by presenting an alternative that has a competitive edge in the market.
Yes, I'm in favor of a more laissez faire approach to regulating architecture. Let people live in glass and steel buildings if they choose to. After all, what will survive is what will best stand the test of time.
Friday, December 06, 2013
But please, if you want to understand Nelson Mandela's legacy beyond the cheesy quotes and one-liners, you also need to understand his political genius.
Couple of years ago I had a long and an interesting discussion with a white South African guy (an Afrikaner). He told me that things are not as rosy in SA as people tend to think. Racial divide in has not healed over completely. And politicians who came after Mandela were short-sighted and lacked his vision. Looking back, he said, it is truly a miracle that transition happened at the time it did with minimal violence and bloodshed. He said if and when Mandela dies, half South African whites will migrate.
Probably an exaggeration, but you can tell that my friend here is anxious. And you can argue that his anxiety is not entirely baseless.
So how did Mandela manage to win over millions of anxious white South Africans?
I guess the core lesson is: being right is not enough. You can have all the moral high ground and sympathy of the world and still fuck things up. You can have an opportunity to bridge gaps, get over your fears, avoid a future disaster and be inclusive, yet again choose to fuck things up (as evident in so many places with political turmoil.) Being right is not enough. Being morally outraged is not enough. There are people who are scared of you becoming an equal to them. You can choose to call them usurpers, colonizers, occupation, junta or tyrannical regimes. Or you can choose to understand their fears and reach out to them. And that's exactly what Nelson Mandela did.
But hey, if it was so easy, he --and figures like him-- wouldn't have been exceptional global leaders and inspirers.
Friday, October 18, 2013
Who has not heard of Isaac Newton's apple falling off a tree? It is one of the most talked about and repeated stories of science told to kids. And that's because gravity is itself the most ubiquitous and overwhelming scientific aspect of our lives. You absolutely can not escape it (weightlessness has only been experienced by a limited and thus negligible number of human beings). Everything on earth is governed by the G force. To give an example: if the G force were to double overnight (or even become one and a half times its usual strength), you're most likely not be able to get up in the morning. Or: you actually weigh less in the equator than you do in the northern or southern poles (because the centrifugal power of earth rotation is much greater at the equator).
Many astronauts have been tweeting and youtubing their life in space off late. If you had watched Suni Williams tour, then you know how the lack of gravity affects the tiniest aspect of your daily life. For example: human waste doesn't really fall down into toilet, so you have to aim and/or seal your behind so you'd not have shit flying around the station... Or the fact that you have to be strapped down while asleep because otherwise you'd be all over the place.
Or the fact that only a few selected, gifted and incredibly educated and trained human beings get to fly to space... For now at least.
The public at large has been granted a far wider access to the works of Nasa and other space agencies, and it's been an infallible PR campaign (if that's what it is).
In short, it's a very good timing for the movie Gravity to come out.
It's a magnificent production. No doubt one of the best this year. Both Sandra Bullock's and George Clooney's performances are excellent. But what's more gripping is that the movie is completely scientifically plausible. And no matter how prepared you are for a space mission, your life out of your natural habitat is very very vulnerable.
And that's what every astronaut, despite the education and the training, shares with every other human being: vulnerability.
There's only one thing that bothers me about the movie (from probability point of view):
The earth has approximately 70% water surface, and 30% land.
So when Sandra Bullock (aka Dr. Ryan Stone) crashed unto earth in her Chinese escape pod, she's more than twice more likely to hit water than earth - all other factors being equal.
But to hit shallow waters at a swim-able distance from the shore?
That's really really slim from probability point of view.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
I have not blogged in a year (For various reasons that I'm not going to go through now.) Today, as I sat reading about a new proposal for stadiums in Qatar for the 2022 world cup, I had that old urge, you know, to rant.
Following FIFA announcement that Qatar is to host the world cup of 2022, there was a general murmur of uncertainty about hosting crowd-intensive championship in such a hot and humid climate. And then, when it became apparent that Qatar has no problem air-conditioning the entire-peninsula if need be, there began an outcry among environmentalists about the feasibility of air-conditioning entire stadia and the costs and carbon emission involved.
In answer to these dilemmas, Tangram Architects came up with a concept that they claim doesn't require refrigeration.
(For those of you who don't know, refrigeration is the act by which air or liquid is cooled mechanically. Like in refrigerators. A process in which significant amount of power is consumed).
The design also purports to achieve temperature of 27-30 degrees inside the stadium. And since Fifa requires 26-29 degrees, the design will generally pass.
How is it done? See the illustration above. The wind is funneled to a storage space beneath the stands, in that storage space there is a huge water tank: an artificial "lake" underneath the whole thing. The water is extracted from a hill reservoir nearby, therefore it is "cool". When hot wind blows over the cool water, its heat gets reduced through a process known as "passive cooling". And then the wind is extracted from this water hold to the stadium above through air-shafts at a "correct velocity".
It's a very interesting idea. And there is an energy model to prove it will work.
An energy model for those who don't know is a simulation of how the building will perform in different heating and ventilation scenarios. You input building composition, outdoor temperature, preferable indoor temperature, sun direction, and the energy model will tell you how much heat loss you will be incurring. In this case, you input the temperature of the water, the structure of the stadium, the temperature and velocity of incoming wind, and, voila, you get approximate temperature of the inside of the stadium.
So the energy model says it will work.
But! the output of the model depends on the input and assumption of the model builder. If, for example, the water extracted from the hill reservoir is not as cool as it's believed, the inside temperature may be way higher than comfortable.
Someone independent (or a third party) should be commissioned to build a different model and see what happens.
Second, storing huge amount of water like that underneath a building is no small undertaking. That lake must be protected against inspects, fungus, contamination, and the other ailments that befall stagnant water. It's like the filtration and chemical treatment of your swimming pool, but on a much, much larger scale. This process requires maintenance and it consumes power. And then there is the question of the smell of the air as it passes through the lake and then push into the space of the stadium. This is the world cup after all, no? So will the spectators be smelling chlorine and other chemicals while sipping on their Whisky and waving the flags of Sweden and South Africa?
Wait, I forgot alcohol is not going to be served.
But seriously, the comfort of the spectator IS a factor. I paused at the "correct velocity" as it is mentioned in the article. What is considered "correct" velocity? will the velocity of the wind be enough to allow the cooling but not disturb the watching experience? football fans can live with a little bit of hair ruffling, but more wind will just spoil the experience.
I have other questions I'd like to ask the designers of this concept. (Like, how do they plan to deal with dust storms?) But it is an interesting idea nonetheless and I'm sure the coming months and years will carry some answers.
Wednesday, May 09, 2012
2- Ask an engineer.
3- Ask another engineer.
4- Ask a specialized engineer (e.g. fire protection engineer).
5- Engineers are generally interest-driven and motivated by competition and not above slandering each others. So if a claim is being made, take it in the context of where it is coming from.
6- Do not spread fear-mongering stats in order to grab headlines: safety of construction is not less important than food or transport safety. Unsubstantiated claims (or ostensibly sound but substantially erroneous or misleading claims) are dangerous and could drive people to panic and act irresponsibly.
7- Sympathize with the resident/tenant/user of the building: it's not enough to tell me 90% of Abras (for example) are not seaworthy. Tell me where to find an alternative route. Tell me how to figure out whether an Abra is seaworthy or not. Tell me what to do in case of an accident. I know it's not your responsibility, but you'd certainly appear more responsible when you do so.
In other words: when you make an apocalyptic statement like "hundreds of towers across the country are enclosed with dangerous non fire-rated panels made of petroleum-based plastic cores that can burn within minutes", it would be nice if you could also tell the poor bugger who lives in such building and still has 11 months on his tenancy contract what to do. Which government agency should he approach to find out whether his building is clad with fire-rated tiles or not. Should he panic? Can he force his landlord to revoke the contract and return the down-payments/security checks? What he should do in case, God forbids, a fire of that nature began?
Monday, April 23, 2012
(Try to sing along to the same tune, here goes):
Spell the beans
Get your hands on a touch screen
Unwind that tape of love
When your mast lost its sail
Stood in the sun lonely and bare
You cried those vinegar tears
Life goes on, with or without
This music can suck a draught
Loosen your jaw and let’s bitch about
Love, love is a verb
Magic potion without a herb
That moment you can not curb
Sunday, April 22, 2012
The younger ones are measured with springs. They blossom; they shed petals and secrete pollens. They are yet to develop into something strong enough to stand alone in the middle of a storm. They have that fragility of childhood. But they are perfectly legal. The old geezer of a poet with pedophiliac tendencies wrote about them. He measured their age with springs and leered at them under the pretense of remembering his childhood sweetheart, her being no more than 13 springs old when they stole their first kiss.
The scene from my childhood that I remember the most is set in my grandfather’s farm. In a small clearing by the over-ground water tank, there my uncle used to park a tri-motorcycle. Green, battered and caked with dry mud. Used for freight and transport, her open box in the back witnessed every kind of substance related to farming: from pesticides to animal blood to rotten pomegranates. It didn’t have a hand-break, so my uncle had to turn the front wheel to the left as far as it would go (which is 45-degree) and then lock it in place. The “Trella”, as we called it, would then go round in the farmyard. Leaving heliocentric tracks around a walnut tree. The ruts would get deeper as my cousins and I pushed her and shoved her through ditches and clumps of grass. In the spring the ruts would grow even deeper. The yard would be overgrown with green except these ruts. They’d become like tunnels dug through the undergrowth; skillfully engineered tunnels, with their curves drawn by the perfect circularity of a wheel turning.
Till this date, the site of that front wheel locked in place fascinates me. Everything about the “Trella” oozed with femininity, except that front wheel. It had a mysterious masculine power. The handlebars stuck out like buffalo horns, connecting with the wheel itself through two massive steel tubes, with two rusty, coiled springs that did nothing to absorb the rugged terrain. The mud guard, its inner side collecting and accumulating a layer after layer of dead insects, entombed in sand and earth material carried along from all over the region where her travel took her. The single headlight mounted on the front, its bulb stark clean. No one dared driving that vulnerable thing with the light covered in mud.
I remember that masculine front wheel now. I want to lock horn with it, to challenge it to change its course. I want to ask it how it feels to be captive to your own lock-mechanism. To go round each year experiencing April in the same determined doggedness that you experienced it with the year before. Leaving those grass-less ruts. Invisible tunnels where your deeds disappear or, better yet, get ignored. I want to jump in the driver’s saddle seat, feel the vibration of the damp earth through my groins.
I want to ask April some questions. I want to interrogate it, debrief it. I want to know everything it is willing to tell me. But I know it won't tell me the truth. Its short-lived freshness, brief vivacity of color. They won’t last. The only recurring theme is its mendacity and annually celebrated excuse for a lie.