Tag Archives: Skydiving

Jumping into Augmented Reality

Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR & VR) both lend themselves to some very exciting applications in sports, especially those where data inputs in real time can be vital. Skydiving – one of my passions in life – is one such sport and here I shall explore where AR & VR might add to our enjoyment and progress in the sport.

In the interests of clarity, I shall just define what is meant by Augmented and Virtual Reality, terms that are becoming ever more part of normal lexicon and technologies that are set to redefine how we experience the world:

Augmented Reality: superimposition of digital data over the real world, thus adding a layer of additional information or detail over that which is seen in reality.

Virtual Reality: immersion in a fully digital world, such that users experience a computer-generated world as if it were real. Using VR goggles to allow users to see the simulated world, plus or minus other inputs, such as headphones or haptic devices to simulate touch, the principle of VR is to leave the real world rather than simply augment it.

 

Skydiving – there are so many data inputs that are vital to a safe skydiving experience, with the most important ones and where AR offers options to add to the experience being:

  1. ALTITUDE – the most important bit of information for any skydiver. We currently rely on a combination of wrist-worn altimeters and audible altimeters. Personally, I am more of a visual person so having my altitude displayed in front of me in an AR fashion, with pre-set altitude alerts popping up where I simply can’t ignore them would be great.
  2. OTHER SKYDIVERS – one of the biggest dangers, other than running out of sky, in skydiving comes from others sharing the same airspace, especially when inexperienced jumpers are involved. Mid-air collisions can be catastrophic, especially if they occur at low altitude. Knowing exactly where other skydivers are, especially if they are within a certain proximity to you, is very important. We cannot be expected to have full 360 degree awareness at all times – we literally do not have eyes in the back of our heads – and so an alert system that automatically identifies other jumpers in the skies would be a great use of AR.

    Skydiving AR
    Knowing who is sharing the skies with you, in addition to useful data such as remaining altitude, are examples of uses for AR in skydiving.
  3. JUMP RUN & WIND INFO – this would be of obvious use in training new skydivers in the basics of jump runs, winds aloft and the effect on their jump of winds, including adjusting landing patterns in response to changing wind characteristics. Experienced skydivers would benefit from such a system at new and unfamiliar dropzones or to revise core skills and competencies, perhaps after a period of absence from the sport.
  4. TRAINING/ COACHING – AR (and VR, especially for modelling of emergency situations) lends itself perfectly to the training of new skydivers and for coaching experienced jumpers in a range of disciplines. At present, new skydivers receive theory and ground schooling prior to their jumps, freefalling with a coach but then ultimately responsible for their own canopy piloting. Students who do need some assistance currently have to rely on audio instruction from a coach on the ground, who can only assess what he or she can see. What if the student could have the ideal flight path including important prompts for how best to prepare for their landing projected in from of them via AR? Important learning objectives would, I propose, be much faster to achieve and good practices established rapidly. The system could be taken a step further by enabling the ground-based coach to see exactly what the student is seeing via in-built cameras in the AR headset, thus significantly improving the accuracy and value of instructions to the student. Coaching uses could include real-time prompts on perfect body position for certain disciplines, such as tracking, and projected flight paths, to aid in flight accuracy. For example, following an AR line indicating a straight-line course in tracking would enable a skydiver to work on fine-tuning small body position perfections thus significantly enhancing progression in the sport.
Skydiving AR, landing
Canopy piloting and especially landing are vital parts of being a successful and safe skydiver. AR could really add to the effectiveness of training and safety for the sport.

Falling in the Dark

Life is a series of opportunities and experiences, some odder and more extreme than others. I had the chance recently to take part in one such experience that most sane members of society would consider utterly insane, and I can see that they may well have a point. The activity in question was nighttime skydiving, which as you might have correctly guessed involves skydiving. At night. In the dark.

skydiving essentialsHaving recently acquired my USPA B-license I was eligible to sign up for the jump, which is only generally run once a year and is limited in terms of how many jumpers can take part. As it is part of the requirements for the D-license it was an extra bonus that I was able to get that part of my skydiving career under my belt at this stage. So, after making a mad dash out of work on the Saturday evening in question, skillfully navigating myself away from the car park that was Sheikh Zayed road and heading out to the desert dropzone, it was time to manifest, grab my rig and get psyched up for what was always going to be a mad experience. The fact that pretty much every other skydiver regardless, it seemed, of their experience level looked nervous simply added to the feeling of epic trepidation that I was certainly feeling.

The briefing was conducted once everyone had arrived and like pretty much everything we ever do in skydiving it was completely focused on safety and ensuring that the jumps went as smoothly as possible. That is one thing that crops up again and again with ‘extreme’ sports: the uncompromising focus on safety, in spite of what most people view as simply a bunch of unhinged loonies engaging in reckless tomfoolery.

The jumps were to be performed from a helicopter, which is always a treat in itself, and each skydiver had three lights on them: a green glowstick on the back of the helmet (so we could be seen by other skydivers as we jumped from the helicopter), a red light on our chest strap (so we could be seen by other skydivers should we be falling with our backs to the earth), and a strobe light attached to our left ankles, to be switched on only once we were safely under canopy. It was drilled into us how much of a bad idea it would be for us to make the mistake of switching our strobes on in the helicopter, as someone had done the year before. Basically it takes about 30 minutes to regain night vision and so having a bright light suddenly go off in front of you before leaping would have done nothing good for everyone’s ability to see.

The plan was for everyone to complete two jumps in total: one solo jump and the second a group jump with one or more other people. As the number of jumpers that could go up at any one time was relatively small and the ground control had to be certain that everyone who had just jumped had landed and returned to the dropzone safely, the progression of the evening was a little slower than I think I had initially anticipated. As such, I spent a lot of time actually just kicking back on the sofa, waking up just in time for my jumps.

Gearing up and cracking the chemical light sticks on both my helmet and chest strap, I couldn’t help but feel like a character in the sci fi movie Tron. One thing that was a little disappointing was that the ‘glow in the dark’ Batman t-shirt that I had excitedly purchased the day before did anything but. In fact, the whites of my eyes were probably glowing more than the bat logo! Shame as I reckon it would have looked mental to have the bat logo looming out of the dark.

The helicopter ride up was a strange sensation, as the only lights visible were the soft luminous glows of various red and green light sticks, and the various dials and switches of the main cockpit area. As such, the atmosphere was one of calm anticipation as we each mentally prepared and rehearsed what was about to follow.

Once at jump altitude it was a relatively swift business of leaping out, dropping silently away from the helicopter blinking before us, whilst savouring the utterly alien sensation of freefall in the dark. I found that we had surprisingly more time in actual freefall than initially expected and when pull-altitude eventually came I felt satisfied that my appetite for this new form of adrenaline shot had been sated. The canopy portion of the descent was much as it is in daylight, apart from remembering to twist on our strobes and the fact that, well, we couldn’t see much. One of the strange and apparently unnerving phenomenon that can occur when jumping at night is that your own shadow can end up looking like another skydiver flying in uncomfortably close proximity to you, with a lot of jumpers instinctively turning to fly away from the perceived danger. The problem, of course, is that one’s shadow tends to follow and can’t be shaken off, so it takes a few moments to realise that you’re actually trying to escape yourself!

skydiving at night in DubaiLanding was, in many ways, a much calmer process in the dark as the fact that you can’t easily see everything around makes you focus intently on what is immediately approaching, and also on good altitude awareness and steady canopy control on the approach. I think my landings in the dark were smoother than many of my daylight ones. The landing area itself was very clearly marked, with lights in an arrow shape, and the fact that we had the road and InFlight tunnel very brightly lit up made it easy to know where to aim for.

Having checked in with ground control – one of the important safety measures in place to ensure that everyone was present and accounted for after each jump run and before the next – I headed back in to get my rig packed and wait for the next jump, this one being a two-way.

Jumping with someone else in the dark was just as insane, and we had time enough to turn a few points before turning, tracking and pulling as we normally would.

A late finish (1.30 in the morning!) but a great way to spend an evening here in Dubai and a unique experience to record in the personal history.

 

Wet & Windy

I think I may have overdosed on adrenaline! A recent trip away from the heat and humidity of Dubai, and the Emirates, saw me head back to Europe, principally to attend the wedding of some good friends. The destination was Switzerland, or more specifically the small but fairy-tale looking lakeside town of Nyon, a short drive outside of Geneva. After the wedding itself I packed up and drove my nippy little hire car out of Switzerland and into France, directly towards the hypnotizing and impressively majestic Mont Blanc, which my now married friends have an unrivaled view of from their townhouse, across Lake Geneva (or Lac Leman, to give it it’s local name).

wakeboarding, Nyon, Lake Geneva
Perfect conditions for wakeboarding on Lake Geneva

The adrenaline rush started, however, in Switzerland, after I had stopped in at a small skate shop in Nyon whilst out for a morning run to enquire as to whether there were any options to wakeboard locally, something I was keen to repeat having indulged in the activity on the lake several years before with my friends, and also off the back of the fact that I had been practicing here in the Middle East at the lakes in Abu Dhabi. Fortunately the owner of the job had a friend with his own boat in the town and so gave me his number to see if he might be heading out during the weekend. As such, the following morning, after the fun, games and excesses of the wedding, I roused myself with an early morning breakfast Swiss style, grabbed my board shorts and Go Pro and met Stefan, his girlfriend, Charlotte, and their mutual friend and fellow watersport enthusiast, David, down at their boat before casting off on to the crystalline and tranquil waters of the lake.

Wake board, Lake Geneva
Refreshing & exhilirating!

There is no better way to blow away the cobwebs and be left feeling amazingly refreshed than to jump into the cool waters of an amazing lake, with blue skies, the sun shining, and a majestic panorama of snow-capped peaks in the distance, and to then rip it up on a wakeboard. It was awesome, and although I didn’t quite grab any major air, the very sensation of being out there was fantastic. The best part of the experience, however, was then getting to try my hand, or rather feet, at wake surfing, a totally new concept for me but the main reason for why Stefan and Charlotte had purchased their fancy wakeboard boat in the first place.

Wake surfing, Lake Geneva
Wake surfing

Wake surfing basically sees you start in the water, much as you do with traditional wake boarding, being pulled up onto your board, which in this case is a small, mini surfboard. The aim is to then find the sweet spot in the large wake created immediately behind the boat and to then literally surf it, meaning that you discard the help of the rope pulling you initially and rely on the fact that you essentially surf down the wake/ wave towards the boat. It really was surreal to be that close to the boat and yet moving without the pull of a rope. Although I wouldn’t say I was an instant natural, or even stayed standing on the board for very long at a time, it was an amazing experience and something that I can actually see the appeal of over wake boarding, which is pretty much what Stefan and co had moved away from. Those people who are well practiced, such as my fellow lake playmates that day, can start to pull off some funky trickery on the board, which was great fun to watch.

The fun very much continued as I headed off into France to continue my activity fueled vacation. The first stop was a small airstrip in Annemasse just over the Swiss-French border, and home to the local skydiving fraternity. With a runway that points directly towards Mont Blanc, the views of the highest peak in Europe are unrivaled and it was clear that jumping there was something that I had to make happen. Unfortunately by the time I arrived en-route to Chamonix it had become too windy or me to safely skydive. Not one to be deterred though I simply made the decision to return early the following morning, hoping that the winds would prove to be lighter – which they did – and spent an entire day jumping over one of the most incredible landscapes I have had the pleasure to freefall towards so far.

Skydive, in plane, Annemasse, Chris & instructorOne of the aspects of skydiving, or indeed most adrenaline sports, is the friendliness and general feeling of comararderie that you get with other participants. I jumped initially with one of the instructors, who took along his Go Pro to record the jump, and had a blast as we pretended to swim through the air and generally lark about as we took in the amazing views that are abundant from 12,000 feet in the air, especially when there isn’t a single cloud in the sky. A leisurely lunch at a traditional French cafe in town was the perfect intermission before donning the flight suit and chute again, this time jumping with Lucile, the attractive girl who I had first had the pleasure to speak with when I arrived the previous day. That jump saw me leave the plane first, with Lucile diving out afterwards before we ran through a fun ‘routine’ before breaking away and making our own way under canopy. High fives all round on the ground after successful jump number 2!

At that point I had made up my mind that the day’s freefall fun was over as I had every intention to head back to Chamonix, but the lure of a sunset jump with Mont Blanc glowing in an ethereal light, was just too much to resist. “Besides,” I thought, “I’m on holiday!” It was worth hanging around for, as I joined three other skydivers for the jump, which again was caught on film and awaits my editing attention. A top day and adrenaline sport number two of the trip already ticked off. On to the rest of the week then…

Time to Catch Up

Okay, I admit it…. part of the reason that I have been “off the grid”, in a blog writing capacity at least, is that I have been having fun. Lots of fun. In fact so much fun that you’ll probably want to hate me for it. But I’m cool with that. Seriously though, I just realised that it’s been over a month since my last post and I honestly had no idea such is the pace with which my time here in the UAE is hurtling past.

Much has happened since my last installment, from some interesting clinical cases and happenings at work through to some awesome social, sporting and, well, just fun endeavours.

In terms of the clinical, the main changes since my last post appear to be (in no particular order):

Down a Vet

The loss of one of our vets meaning that there have been some changes to the weekends that I now get to enjoy. Unfortunately one of our more recent vets just wasn’t getting on well and was, as far as I could tell, also quite unhappy. It was pretty darn clear even from the moment I started that there was a major mismatch between her style of consulting and flexibility to new ideas and ability to cope with the challenges of this particularly busy clinic with exceptionally high standards. It was telling that she seemed to spend rather a lot of time being corrected or otherwise having meetings with the bosses in the office, on a number of occasions preventing me from getting my stuff and getting home! In the end it was no surprise to discover that she was asked to part way with the clinic, a decision which was clearly inevitable. As I mentioned, it did mean that instead of my usual Friday to Saturday weekends, I was switched to working Saturdays and so generally get my weekends on Thursday and Friday, or occasionally Wednesday and Friday.

As mentioned above, I am now working regularly on Saturdays with the change in staffing, meaning that my working week technically starts on a weekend. This was initially at the main hospital all day, which tends to be crazily busy all day, although since we opened our branch in Mirdif, a part of town out near the airport, on Saturday mornings, I start there and then head back over to the hospital in the afternoon. Most Saturdays I arrive to find the clinic as busy as it often is on weekends, with people waiting to be seen and my colleagues all dealing with additional in-patients. There seems to be this annoying feature of veterinary life that dictates that there is never just a happy medium to anyones’ day. It’s either full on, crazy mental, oh-my-God-I-haven’t-even-got-time-to-think-let-alone-eat-or-go-to-the-toilet, with consults booked solid, walk-ins galore and extras just pitching up expecting to be seen (and doing so because we’re just nice like that), or nothing at all with plenty of time to thumb-twiddle, although there is obviously always plenty that can be done to fill the time. Busy is good: I would rather have stuff to do, especially as the day does progress much more smoothly and at pace than if you’re simply thumb twiddling. What I don’t like, however, is the frantic nature of those insane days, when everyone is just rushing around not quite sure if it’s all going to go to shit at any moment. What I have found some weeks is that by the end of the working week there is the danger that people start to get a little snippy with one another, meaning that there is sometimes some definite tension in the air, something that I find very uncomfortable. I like the people I work with – they’re great and I think we have a great team. I don’t like to see them stressed to the point where peoples’ tempers or nerves are getting stretched, which is what I have felt happening some weeks. The notion that it’s “just part of the job” is also something I don’t subscribe to, in much the same way as I view the concepts of “lunch is a luxury in veterinary” and “animal bites are part of being a vet or nurse” as the big crocks of shite that these viewpoints clearly are. It should always be possible to organise things in such a manner that people are busy and able, if necessary to work at 100% capacity when called upon to do so, but not to expect that level of intensity all of the time. The irony, of course, is that we will then get days where there are virtually no appointments – one of the twisted facts of life in veterinary!

Passed With Flying Colours

After a month of waiting, and a few days of hasty revision using my geekily created “Dubai Exam PDF”, I was once again back at the municipality to sit my exam for real this time. It was just little old me this time and I was led up to an office where I sat as if working for the ministry and completed my exam, with “colleagues” around me at their desks discussing various matters in Arabic. The exam itself was a fairly straightforward affair, following the formula that seemed to be firmly established by past papers: three questions on matters related to ministry rules and regulations, such as the duties and responsibilities of a vet and what is supposed to happen in the event a sole vet is absent from the clinic for more than 60 days; then some short clinical questions, including being asked for TPR ranges (temperature, pulse and respiration) for cows and camels – yes, there was a camel question! Most of the clinical questions are geared towards notifiable diseases and public health, so there were ones on everything from leptospirosis to rabies. The last part of the exam was three longer “essay” style questions on, if my memory serves me well, tuberculosis, distemper, and strangles (I think). I didn’t come out of that exam feeling like I’d nailed it and was actually rather apprehensive about what the pass mark might have been. However, this apprehension was misplaced as I discovered a couple of weeks later that I had in fact passed and so am now fully registered.

So, what does being “registered” actually mean? Well, it simply means that I am legally permitted to work in a solo capacity as a vet, such as I now do at our Mirdif branch, and not a great deal more. I have been led to believe that there are many vets operating in Dubai that are not fully registered and it seems they are still able to go about their business. Monique and Malcolm, however, choose to do things properly, which as grating as I am sure it must be to know others are blatantly flouting the rules, is the correct approach to take and one for which I applaud them.

Clinical cases…

Its been busy so that must mean some interesting cases, right? Exactly. There have been some great cases to deal with, as well as some just comical or downright bizarre experiences within the clinic, such as the situation I found myself in last week when a rather attractive client came in with her dog, very professionally and elegantly dressed, and then promptly farted in front of me. Not once, however, but twice! My initial reaction was to think it was the dog but it was quite clearly not and so I did the gentlemanly thing by simply ignoring what had just happened, even when it occurred twice! The bizarre thing was that she didn’t even seem fazed by it and I suspect just considered it a perfectly normal and reasonable thing to do in front of the vet. Bizarre indeed.

We see a lot of skin cases in Dubai, with ringworm top of the list when it comes to dermatological issues. Having never seen a case of ringworm in practice in the UK, with my only experience of it being getting it myself as a young vet student working on a dairy farm (I thought it was just a really nasty rash from rolling out the straw each day – it wasn’t), I now provisionally diagnose and start treatment for it on an almost daily basis. In fact I use the UV Wood’s Lamp so frequently that it occasionally feels like I’m running a tanning salon 🙂

Ear mites are another dermatological scourge oft seen and it seems the ones here tend to be bruisers compared to their whimpy European cousins, as you can easily see the little rascals scampering around down the lugholes of lots of the pets we get in.

When it comes to parasites, ticks are the big problem here whereas we see very few, if any, fleas. In fact I think I may have seen a single flea here since arriving, which is in complete contrast to my experience of working as a vet in the UK for the past five years. As I say, ticks are the big issue here, and unfortunately it’s a fact that they carry some pretty nasty diseases, especially ehrlichia, which I have diagnosed several times. I had a dog presented to me at the end of last week which had been missing from home for several days. When it returned it was found to be absolutely infested with ticks. Our nurses alone removed over 30 from the poor dog! Although the dog wasn’t displaying any overt clinical signs of ehrlichia, we routinely test where appropriate and so a blood test was run, rather unsurprisingly proving positive. Ideally in such cases a full blood count (CBC) would be run to assess the nature and extent of any haematological abnormalities but the owners were not keen to spend the money and so after checking a PCV (normal, thankfully), the dog was started on a 30 day course of doxycycline at 10mg/kg once daily and started on Frontline, to kill any remaining ticks and provide protection against potential further bites. Instructions were given to the owners to a) bring their other dog in for a check and testing – he also proved positive and so treatment was started – and to thoroughly spray the house against ticks, as ehrlichia is a known zoonosis, and a potentially very nasty one at that. Definitely not something that any person wants to end up contracting.

On the theme of ticks, we see a large number of “yellow” cats here, with Bartonella felis, from ticks bites, being the usual culprit. There was one case in particular that came in one day with a history of just being very quiet, flat and “just not right.” Upon examination it was clear that the cat would probably have glowed in the dark, such was the vividness and intensity of the yellow discolouration that it was showing. As with ehrlichia cases, a full blood count is performed, in addition to biochemistry, and the cat was found to have a severe anaemia, as a result of immune-mediated haemolytic anaemia, and so aggressive treatment was started, with doxycycline and steroids at immunosuppressive doses so as to halt the ongoing destruction red cells that the cat’s own immune system was undertaking. After several days in hospital the cat did make a good recovery and the last time I saw it for a check-up, it was a much more normal colour and a tad more feisty – always an encouraging sign!

Fun and Socials…

I always thought I had a lot going on in my life when in the UK but since moving over here it seems that the options for ways in which to spend any spare time you get are numerous, and at times it is difficult to know which options to choose and which to pass by. Since my last post I have been up to the following shenanigans:

Kitesurfing. After taking a few lessons, more as a refresher following the course I undertook in Wales last August, I took the plunge and invested in my own kite, and other gear, so that I am able to get out and put my new skills to use whenever it is windy and I am free. The past few weeks have been somewhat devoid of wind – good for a skydiver – and so I have only really been able to make it out onto the water properly twice. The first outing was fun but rather expectedly frustrating at times, as I spent the time getting used to the kite and board, never really getting up properly or in control, and crashing the kite on more than one occasion, at one point rather alarmingly near a group of sun bathers – quite why they choose to sit on a beach where there are loads of very large kites flying around is beyond me, but there you go, they exist and so it is generally regarded as polite to avoid thwacking them on the head with a large kite if at all possible. Friday, however, was completely different and in spite of the beach being packed, I had a blast, getting straight up on the board and actually kitesurfing for real for the very first time! The feeling of being in the water and then with a simple movement of the kite and a powerful pull from the wind, finding yourself skipping across the waves is indescribably awesome and it is instantly easy to see why people get hooked on the sport. You feel as though you’re actually flying across the surface of the water, which is an amazing feeling indeed. Although I had to ‘bail’ from the board a few times, I found it very simple to control my kite and steer back to my board, and didn’t crash the kite once during my session, which constitutes a major achievement in my opinion. I actually cannot wait until the next windy day when I am off and already find myself doing the kitesurfer thing of constantly assessing whether the wind is strong enough, even whilst walking across the street to get lunch and back. I am addicted it seems but as far as vices go, playing with kites seems a harmless one.

Skydiving. My other passion which, rather ironically, also relies heavily upon the wind, or preferably on very little wind being present, is jumping from perfectly good aeroplanes in the name of sport. Since arriving here in Dubai I have taken advantage of the fact that one of the best dropzones in the world is on my doorstep by jumping at Skydive Dubai several times. Unfortunately I have not yet reached 500 jumps and so am unable to jump at the jewel in the skydiving crown, The Palm, which is really the ultimate aim owing to it’s absolutely stunning location and views. I have, instead, been doing my jumps out at SD2, the desert dropzone, located on the main road between Dubai and Al Ain, and past both the Sevens rugby stadium and the main camel racing track. Getting out there is so easy given how good the roads are here, meaning I can, in theory, leave my villa in the Springs and be in a plane within the hour. As it’s generally hot and sunny all of the time, it is very rare that we get weather delays, although it does get really hot by about mid-morning, meaning that being packed into a small plane for the climb up to jump altitude can be a bit uncomfortable. Its so worth it though as that door opens and you get to leap out into the vast UAE sky.

I am currently working towards my USPA B-license, having logged over 50 jumps. Part of the requirements is to complete a canopy course, which basically teaches you how to fly (and land) your parachute better (in other words, more safely). The first day was sadly too windy and was cancelled but day two was on and so I spent the day learning the theory of more effective canopy flight, including such principles as stalling (not for the faint-hearted, as it basically involves pushing your parachute to the point where it collapses) and finding the flare “sweet spot,” before going up and out to put into practice what we were learning. As it is just the part of the skydive under canopy that we were concerned with there was no need to go to full altitude, meaning that those of us on the course were the first out of the plane at 5000 feet and literally pulled our chutes a few seconds after exiting the plane – Hop & Pop. Although jumping at 12,000 feet is exhilarating enough, the fact is that 5,000 feels so much closer to terra firma (because it is) meaning that the thought of impacting it seems to be much more prominent in the mind. My first exit wasn’t the most stable and it would be easy to just get into a panic and deploy before being in a stable freefall position, all of which increases the chances of there being a deployment issue and ultimately having to cut away. As such, it is vitally important to remain calm, remember the training, breathe and relax – the key to skydiving. After correcting my body position on exit, the next four jumps went very well and I finished the day with a series of pretty good landings, meaning that I have been able to ‘graduate’, as it were, onto a slightly smaller canopy. In practice, what that means is that I fly under canopy much faster, all increasing the importance of having good control so as to lead to a safe and stable landing, which is the number one priority with this sport.

My parents came over to visit. I have had my first set of visitors as my parents headed over for a week in April, arriving on the day of the World Cup horse races, which we attended. Although I had to leave them to entertain themselves for most of the week, owing to the need to work, the three days we did manage to spend together were action packed and a great deal of fun. There is something about having guests that ensures you remember to do all the touristy stuff that as a resident you’d probably not actually ever get round to doing normally. For example, we headed up the Burj Khalifa – a Dubai must – and had breakfast at the Burj al Arab – again, another must see and do in my opinion. One of the highlights of their trip was a desert ride, although it was not without it’s helping of initial drama, more of which I shall delve into.

So, all in all its been a busy few weeks since I last posted and although I have only actually been here for about nine weeks I do feel as if its been significantly longer, which can never be a bad sign. The next significant challenge, however, is going to be the summer, which I have been led to believe by many, many people is brutal. I guess I shall be catching up on a lot more DVDs then 🙂

Scaling New Heights

Sat Nav systemScaling New Heights

I have a taste of what weekends are likely to look like here in the Emirates and I have to say that I like it. As mentioned before, weekends officially start on Friday and run through to include Saturday, with the working week recommencing on Sunday. It was very novel to be able to lie in, albeit not much of one and nothing compared to the ‘norm’ which apparently involves staying up very late on Thursday and not surfacing from bed until the early afternoon on Fridays. I guess this Friday was a little different in as much as I had the car to collect, although the decision to elect such an early time to pick it up was a smart move as it meant I had relatively quiet roads on which to get used to driving here in Dubai. One tip I would certainly give any new driver here is to go and make a sat nav one of your very first purchases and definately have it on you before you head out onto the roads for the first time. The last thing you want to be doing on new and foreign roads is missing turn offs, cutting across busy intersections at the last moment and generally getting lost and stressed. For the sake of a hundred quid or so it’s small change and should keep you much safer. Besides, you’ll probably save the cost of the device in petrol not wasted by driving around getting aimlessly lost.

I had been reading Outdoors UAE magazine, which Kevin had in the villa, and had picked up the November issue, which had a focus on climbing. As a much enjoyed past-time back in the UK I had wanted to keep it up out here and so searched for the options. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem as though there is a huge amount of choice as far as indoor climbing goes, with most of the action occurring outside and in the winter, when it is warm as opposed to uncomfortably hot and humid. There are, however, a couple of places to get some indoor wall climbing fixes and I headed off to The Pyramids, opposite Wafi Mall and the Raffles Dubai hotel to check out what they had on offer. I booked an hour’s slot with one of their climbing instructors and found they had a couple of relatively high faces and some bouldering set in a corner of what is actually a health centre/ gym. Thankfully I was able to find some shoes that (just) fit me, although I did have to change into one that was a little too big for my right foot midway through climbing as I was actually in agony. Basically, my instructor, a lovely lady originally from India, acted as my belay partner whilst I top-roped a few of the routes that she suggested, starting off relatively easy and getting progressively tougher as the hour wore on. I felt quite pleased by how swiftly I got back into the groove and climbed pretty well, even if I do say so myself. The penultimate route did, however, prove a little tough and I had several false starts as I just failed to keep good traction on the wall, owing in large part to the small, fingery holds and features being something that I am not overly keen on, preferring the bigger, meatier holds and overhanging routes. Still, once I got into it I managed to do a pretty good job of navigating the route and descended hot, sweaty and tired but ultimately happy. I was able to wear my GoPro during the session as well, meaning that I got some fun footage of the routes being scaled and which I daresay I will never get around to editing – much like my snowboarding clips!

Wafi Mall, DubaiWafi Mall itself was pretty much deserted, something I found odd considering it was the weekend, although it did mean that there was not much in the way of competition for seats at a cafe I found for a spot of dinner, a drink and some much needed web surfing and Facebook catch-up. A good first day to the weekend I would say.

As I had a car I was pretty keen to get out to Skydive Dubai in order to kick start my freefall account as a new resident. As I wasn’t sure when they would be sending loads up, and mindful of the fact that the weather can often change quickly ending jumping early, I set the alarm for 6am, promptly snoozing it for an hour, and decided to head out after confirming that they were in fact jumping. The journey proved to be a little bit of a challenge, especially as the skydive centre in the desert wasn’t actually on the sat nav, and with no obvious landmarks coming up I had to use some initiative and guesswork. The first attempt to head to Al Ain, the road to which the drop-zone is located, felt wrong, as I ended up on the motorway towards Abu Dhabi, which I was fairly certain was incorrect. In hindsight, based on the way I returned home, it may well have been ok but I wasn’t really prepared to take a chance, not this time anyway. A quick call to the DZ whilst driving back through the Marina proved less than helpful and so the next plan was to aim for a landmark that I recalled seeing en route when Chandy drove me out in November: the Meydan racecourse. This got me as far as the cycle track, which I will definately return to try out, especially given the fact it is free to use, and after getting some directions from a friendly cyclist, found myself on the road I knew I needed all along: the E66 (route 66), otherwise known as the Al Ain road, which I knew for a fact would take me directly to the DZ.

The drive out along Route 66 takes you past some of the major local landmarks including the Meydan Racecourse, the venue for the richest horserace in the world, the Sevens stadium, which was built as a venue for the Rugby Sevens tournament which is run each Winter and also is used as a venue for a number of other events, including music concerts. The road also drives past the camel racing track, which made for some double taking the first time I passed it. The sight of camels running along with people on their backs was not one I was really prepared for, in spite of being aware that camel racing was a big deal here in the UAE.

The Skydive Dubai desert drop zone looms out of nowhere and is in a state of constant change as construction continues on the wind tunnel and hotel which are being built and which will make the site one of the premier skydive resorts in the world. The DZ itself is lovely, with some fantastic landing areas, fringed on all sides by the desert, and first class facilities, including two huge packing areas and a cafe. As this was my first trip back since my day of helicopter jumping back in November I requested a re-orientation and was shown the important areas and talked through the landing patterns and DZ rules by Ivan, one of the instructors.

Michael SchumacherAs we were walking outside a sight that I was certainly not expecting met me: there in front of me stood none other than the F1 Champion and all time motor racing great, Michael Schumacher! There was absolutely no mistaking the guy and it turned out that he was out with his family getting some jumps in and, by the looks of it, putting his son through the AFF course. In many respects it makes sense to see F1 drivers involved in skydiving – they are, essentially by virtue of the job they do, adrenaline junkies and so skydiving must be a perfect release for them. After all, what other activity is going to come even close to the sheer on the edge thrill that you must get from racing at the speeds they do?!

I saw Michael a few more times during the day, including finding myself standing right next to him and his two sons and daughter (I am assuming thats who they were) whilst I removed my chute following my second jump. In hindsight I should have just been bold and said hi, instead choosing to act as though he was just another regular skydiver, which I told myself he was. I guess the reason I didn’t say anything was that I wasn’t sure if he would have found any approach annoying, considering that he must get gushing fans hounding him all of the time and was likely just looking to spend some time out with his family without being bothered. I realised after leaving the DZ that, in actual fact, the worst that could have happened from being polite and saying hi was that he didn’t say anything back and ignored me. I could have lived with that. In hindsight I very much doubt that would been the response, as he seemed to be in very good spirits, and I am still kicking myself for not seizing such a great opportunity. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that I now have something in common with one of the greatest F1 champions ever, and that is really cool 🙂

My jumps were fun, as expected, and saw me complete two solo belly skydives, focusing on just getting back into the swing of freefall and canopy control, something that felt awesome to be back into. I ended the day having completed jump number 49 and feeling ready to get my B-licence nailed. Unfortunately, the Palm DZ is still on a D, or 500 jumps, limit whilst construction continues, but I am hoping that it will revert back to a B-licence DZ soon as it is most definately the Holy Grail of DZs to aim for. The ultimate aim is to be able to jump with either my little bro or dad whilst they do a tandem, which I reckon would just be such an awesome experience.

Skydives complete, it was back to Dubai and The Springs for a spot of afternoon chilling by the pool and getting some reading done. I am now convinced that it is so much easier to study having taken a refreshing dip in a pool and to sit and read whilst baking in the sunshine than it is sat at some dull desk someplace, and found the task of reading my CPD notes a pleasure. Go figure!

Safa Park in Dubai
Safa Park, in Dubai

The evening’s entertainment choice was to head along to Safa Park, a fantastic expanse of well maintained and beautiful parkland in the centre of Dubai and overlooked by the beautiful downtown skyline, including the truly mesmerizing Burj Khalifa, which twinkled away like an icicle in the sun, to watch Majid deliver a talk. I had initially expected the talk to be given in a lecture theatre and for Majid to be the only speaker. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the venue for the event, known as Pecha Kucha, was The Archive, a charming little library-come-cafe near Gate 5 of the park – the opposite end, incidentally, to where I had parked and entered, not that it mattered as it mean’t I got to stroll through the park itself, which was lovely at night.The format for the event was that there were a number of speakers during the evening, all with twenty slides that stay on the outdoor screen for twenty seconds, meaning that the presentations were all pretty slick and short. The topics ranged from subjects as diverse as ‘Moving Art’ to Majid’s talk on ‘The Secret Lives of Vets,’ focusing heavily on the important work of vets in protecting us humans from the very real threat of zoonoses. The atmosphere was really chilled, with everyone sat outside either on standard chairs, which were arranged in an amphitheatre style set-up, or on one of the beanbags, cushions or carpet that were to found at the front. Food was available in the short interval, with the burger I got being too big to finish, and as already mentioned, the atmosphere was just really great, with a very impressive turnout and a pretty eclectic crowd.

Majid introduced me to some of his good friends, and I also had the pleasure of meeting his beautiful new wife, which was a real honour. One of his friends, Paul, was the person hosting the event and I offered to give a talk myself at the next event, something that I reckon would be a lot of fun and for which I already have an idea.

Overall, as far as weekends go I can say that my first official weekend in Dubai has been brilliant and I know that I have barely even begun to scratch the surface of what is on offer here. In fact I have already been identifying events and concerts that I fancy going along to, including some pretty tempting acts coming up at the venues on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, including the legends of rock, Metallica, who I definately have to see! One of the challenges, I reckon, of living here in Dubai is working out how I am going to fit in all of the fun whilst also having to work. Ah well, not a bad ‘dilemma’ to be faced with.
Talking of work, I’d best log off now as its an early start to head to the clinic for the first day of the working week tomorrow.

Laters….

Chris 🙂

What can you learn from a Fall to Earth?

Space jump – what lessons for vet students?

Jump from the edge of Space
A lot can be learn’t from Felix’s jump into the unknown

As Felix Baumgartner shifted towards the edge of his balloon capsule I was, like a good seven million others, already on the edge of my seat, waiting for a monumental feat of daring, planning and, some might say, down right stupidity to finally play out after five years of planning. As a skydiver myself I was hopelessly hooked on the idea of free falling from space, knowing first hand the sheer exhilaration of falling – although it feels more like flying, hence the appeal – at terminal velocity toward the Earth, surveying our wonderful planet from a vista from which it was intended to be seen. However, what Felix was attempting, and subsequently achieved, was of a whole other magnitude. Seeing the Earth from the capsule and watching Felix “go over” and then plummet toward the ground at speeds faster than a speeding bullet was the ultimate adrenaline junky buzz, and I could hear skydivers the world over jumping up and down and high-fiving one another. Although I very nearly missed the big event on account of a dog who chose that specific period of the day to start seizuring, despite not showing even the hint of a twitch all day, it was a big moment for daredevils, science and sheer real-life entertainment.

But what lessons, if any, can you take from a man who voluntarily leaps into the great unknown, with the risk of a pretty gruesome death a very real risk, that can apply to vet school and the task of applying? Surprisingly, quite a few!

Felix Jumps into…. Vet School:

1. Have a vision & believe in it – Felix had a big vision and in spite of many, I am sure, telling him he was insane and that what he was wanting to do was impossible, he ignored the naysayers, applied himself and stayed focused on his ultimate aim. How many of you are surrounded by people telling you that vet school is beyond your reach and that it would be better for you to focus on a career choice that is “more attainable?” Unless you have the focus and determination of Felix, then most of us might be swayed by such negativity and change track, possibly looking back years later to ask “what if?” Don’t be that person. If you believe that veterinary is for you and are prepared to research, apply yourself and strive for your ultimate goal, then go for it and like Felix, work hard toward making the leap.

2. Plan like you’re going to jump from space – Felix and his team left absolutely no stone unturned and planned for every eventuality in the five years leading up to the big jump itself. Although there were a couple of hold-your-breath moments during the ascent and jump, the thorough planning of the team and Felix’s skill and preparation saw to it that they were minor hiccups rather than catastrophes. You know you want to be a vet and you know when you need to submit your application. As such, sit down and do some serious planning. Make the most of excellent resources, like this newsletter and the new website, to ensure that you leave no stone unturned and make the big jump into vet school as smooth as a space-freefall.

3. Pick your team wisely – You’re probably thinking “team? what team? I’m the only one applying to vet school.” Thats correct but then Felix was the only one to jump from the capsule. What got him there, in large part however, was the support and guidance of some fantastically motivated and skilled people who shared the same vision. You should find such people to surround you in your preparations to apply to vet school. From enthusiastic and supportive teachers at school, to generous professionals willing to conduct mock interviews, to work-experience placement providers, and positive friends and family, your support network is potentially huge and with the right help and guidance from them, you will find the journey towards vet school applications a lot less lonely and so much more rewarding.

4. Prepare for the extreme – During his free fall, Felix started spinning rapidly with a very real risk that he would pass out from the effects, which would have been disastrous. He was, however, able to correct his situation and bring things back under control, ultimately leading to success. What enabled him to do that was a combination of focused preparation and practice, including ‘mock’ jumps so that he could get used to some elements of what he could expect during the real thing. Parallels with mock interviews are clear – by preparing and practicing under conditions that are as close to the real thing as possible, then you’ll find that when the unexpected does happen, you’ll avoid entering a spin of your own.

5. Celebrate monumental successes – One thing we can all be sure of is that once back on terra firma, Felix would have had one hell of a party. And so he should have! It is really important to celebrate and recognise achievements, especially those that we have to strive for. Make sure you celebrate your achievements on your route towards vet school.

So there you have it. You can learn something from a man who throws himself from space!