Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Had a very successful BrainShare conference in Salt Lake City last week. It was good to catch up with friends and colleagues (and remind them all what I look like!), and I had some very productive meetings.
A friend of mine, Kevin Smith, was involved in the keynote session on Monday, and he gave a great demo of our new product: Open Enterprise Server 2. Despite an early mistake that took a minute or two to fix, the demo went very well and he got some great feedback from the crowd afterwards.
Take a look for yourself here. Kevin's demo is about an hour in.
Tonight I'm off again, this time with the family to visit the UK for Easter holidays. We have a couple of days in England, then a five-day break in Edinburgh before returning to Berkshire to spend Easter with family, then flying back to Riyadh on Easter Monday.
I will be taking my laptop and will blog while I'm away, and even if it turns out that I can't get online, I can always send short updates from my Blackberry, so there's no escape for you!
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
This post is to test Blogger's ability to receive blog updates via email. I am writing this in a regular email rather than going on the web and using Blogger's usual text editor. The how-to's say that as soon as I click Send, this post will appear.
Monday, March 19, 2007
Canyonlands National Park is a forty mile drive from the motel and about the same distance from Arches where we were the day before, but the difference between the two is striking.
On the way we stopped at Newspaper Rock: a large slab of slick rock bearing some ancient petroglyphs, some of which are thousands of years old.
Our first stop inside the park was Wooden Shoe Arch. See if you can spot the clog in this picture:
From there we drove on down a long dirt track (glad we had a 4x4) to Elephant Hill. There's an extreme 4x4 track here leading up from the car park to the top of the hill, over large rocks, deep ruts, and winding around tight hairpins and steep inclines. I took one look at it and decided no way would we ever make it to the top in our Toyota RAV4, so we parked up and prepared to hike to the top. Just then, an old gold-coloured Chevy SUV came past, with two old couples inside: the men in front and the women in back. They were all around 70 years old, but sure enough this clunking old vehicle headed straight for the track and started climbing it.
The three of us and several others assembled in the car park to observe this feat, all of us standing with arms crossed going, "No, they'll never make it.", and wincing every time we heard the grinding scrape of metal against rock. But we were wrong. Not only did they make it to the top, but they came back down smiling, and on congratulating them on their achievement we discovered that they were locals, and the driver had done this track, "many times".
After that excitement we hiked up to the top to take some more photos.
For lunch we went to the Stagecoach Diner, which is owned and run by Jim and Cheryl Nyland, parents of a Novell friend of ours JD Nyland. When JD heard we were going down to his home town he told us to "go see his folks", so we did. The food was excellent and the welcome we received even better.
After lunch we had time for just one more park before heading back to Salt Lake City. Dead Horse Point is a high hilltop from which you get some absolutely stunning views of the northern part of the Canyonlands park, with the Colorado River snaking its way around the canyon. This was the location used for the opening rock-climbing scene in Mission Impossible II.
The town of Moab lies roughly 300 miles South of Salt Lake City, and is very handy for the two national parks we planned to visit on this trip: Arches and Canyonlands. I'll cover Canyonlands in the next posting. I went with Novell colleagues Bernd and BP.
On the way down to Arches we nearly ran out of petrol, thanks to BP suggesting we take a slightly longer scenic route to Moab, following the Colorado river. I guess he wasn't to know that there were no services, in fact nothing but raw nature for around sixty miles. I was driving this section, and first noticed the fuel warning light come on about fifty miles out of Moab. There was nothing for it but to carry on, driving as economically as possible and hoping that we wouldn't break down in the middle of nowhere. I kept the lightest possible pressure on the accelerator, silently blessing each downhill and cursing each climb, but we made it in the end with just vapour to spare.
Arches National Park is a large area of natural sandstone arches, created over millions of years by a combination of underground salt bed shifting, remnants of ancient seabeds and surface erosion. I'll let the pictures take up the story...
This one's called Balanced Rock. I wonder why?
Landscape Arch. A 60ft-long chunk fell off the underside of the arch in 1991, making it even thinner.
The hike was worth it though. The famous Delicate Arch.
It's actually pretty dangerous up here. In the UK I'm sure there would be safety fences everywhere to prevent people falling.
The sunset was one of the most spectacular I've ever seen, and the colour of the rocks changed several times in just a few minutes. A photographer's heaven!
...and again. Amazing things happen here at sunset. The rock went this fiery orange colour for only about five minutes.
Dead tree "on fire"
Day Two to follow soon.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
After tonight's lack of a repeat performance I'll be jetting off once again to Salt Lake City in Utah for Novell's annual BrainShare conference. Five days of drinking beer and talking about computer software with 6,000 other geeks... heavenly!
But before we plunge into BrainShare I'm going on a two-day trip with friends down to the Arches National Park in southern Utah, where my objective will be to get some dramatic photos of the stunning landscapes on offer thanks to its 2,000 natural sandstone arches.
So, off tonight and not back in Riyadh until Saturday week. I will try to carry on posting while I'm away but I'm not making any promises; the conference can get pretty intense, through the day and into the evening activities, and I have a lot of catching up to do with co-workers so I'm not sure how much personal time I'll get, but with the jet lag there are bound to be a couple of periods when I'm wide awake at four in the morning with nothing to do, so you never know your luck.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
So, still no furtive singers creeping around hugging their music folders to their chests, no whispering of passwords, no speakeasy rehearsal dens, no hiding plain brown envelopes of tickets inside our coats (apart from anything else, it's too hot for coats!)
What's even less scary is, I don't have a solo to sing!
I'll let you know how it didn't go tomorrow.
Saturday, March 10, 2007
He didn't get as far as our group, but he did spend about an hour chatting to some of the hundren and fifty or so guests, made up of Embassy staff, representatives from the British and Saudi business communities, and members of the British military missions, in uniform; the Duke himself wore a suit.
He was particularly interested in the two falcons. Bridget had been presented with the birds by a Saudi (probably a prince I'm not sure). They live in the garden, spending most of their time tethered to perches on the lawn, and hooded, which I'm told calms them. Since Bridget left another woman at the Embassy has taken over their care, which includes taking them for a walk in the mornings (she walking, them sitting on her hand), and feeding them a live quail in the afternoons.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Whilst not directly involved I was asked to visit the Embassy during the morning of the exercise to take some photos of the proceedings, and the rest of the day I had to stay in the villa and respond to radio checks.
I won't go into any more detail than that, but from what I hear the exercise was a very worthwhile activity and the lessons learned will help to further strengthen the emergency plans.
Monday, March 05, 2007
Last month I was asked by the Embassy to take a few portraits of the couple, and also a group photo of the entire Embassy staff.
(placeholder for group photo)
The group photo was enlarged, framed, and presented to Sherard as a keepsake on his last working day at the Embassy last Saturday. His successor will be William Patey, formerly Her Majesty's Ambassador to the Republic of Iraq, who will arrive in Riyadh to take over in a few weeks' time.
Sherard, I wish you good luck and every success in your new position.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
For now though let's get back to the Dubai trip and finish one story off before we start another.
We left off just after the Roger Waters concert when Elliot and I picked Karen up from the airport in the wee small hours. Thursday morning came too soon and we hadn't had enough sleep. Maybe it was enough technically but we wanted more. But no, it was time to get up, pack the suitcase and re-load our camping gear from Gerard's garage back into the car (I'd forgotten to tell you I'd unloaded it on Wednesday morning so that we didn't have rubber mallets and saucepans bouncing around in the back as we rumbled along the wadi). It was then that I realised my mistake. I thought we were setting off first thing, but the plan was actually a noon departure. This pleased Karen no end because it meant we had time to to to the shopping mall for a couple of hours.
The dunes here are smaller but still steep and very tightly packed together compared with the desert driving we've done in Saudi, where the dunes are spaced out and huge. The driving here is, therefore, hairier than we've done before, because it's all dune: you're always on a slope, going either up it, down it, or sideways along it which is the most frightening. In the Saudi desert at least you have the option of driving around the base of the dunes and having a relatively sedate drive, but here is like a rollercoaster. Karen's clinging on for dear life in the passenger seat but nothing phases the children, who are sat in back with their sunglasses on listening to their iPods. Again and again I watch as Gerard's car shoots up a steep dune, then slowly tips forward at the top and then disappears at what looks like an almost vertical incline. I don't want to follow but have little choice as I'm not confident in finding myself a new path over the dune, so I accelerate and blindly tip over the top of the dune, trying to assess what's on the other side as quickly as possible after the car has righted itself enough for me to see where I'm going again. This goes on for about half an hour until we eventually find a suitable site to set up camp. It's not flat but it's close enough, and there are some nice dunes nearby for the children to play on. So we circle our wagons, so to speak and start unloading the gear.
Over the course of the next few hours Gerard sets off to meet other families at the rendezvous point -- a petrol station. Some have had to work during the day and have followed us down late, but Gerard loves bouncing around the dunes so much we soon see his headlights as he bobs his way back to camp in the twilight, with two more terrified families on his coat-tails.
I awake at around 0630 the next morning. The sun is up and light is streaming in through the roof of the tent. It takes the rest of the camp about an hour to emerge blinking from their tents and get the breakfast going, and we munch on bacon sandwiches and share cups of coffee because there isn't enough for one, with Dark Side Of The Moon playing in the background.
At around 9am we've loaded our car up and really need to get going. The others are staying in the desert for lunch and are packing things away leisurely, but we have a long drive back to Riyadh ahead of us so as soon as we're ready we say our goodbyes and Gerard leads us back to the petrol station and some lovely tarmac.