Monday, September 27, 2010

Qatar updates

Okay, it has been a busy week.

First, I would just like to mention this local news article on a recent Science Camp for children.

I sometimes get concerned that with Western media focus on places like Iraq and Afghanistan, or showing pictures of whatever fundamentalists are burning a flag this week, that people don't realize that much of the Islamic world is not like that and are generally supportive of science and scientific advancement. Qatar has spent a lot of money on universities, education, and even has a Qatar Scientific Club, who hosted the camp.

Don't get me wrong, Qatar has a long way to go. Per the 2006 PISA test Qatar was 56th out of 57 countries in science and math. Hopefully they will improve on the 2009 test. At a recent skeptics meet-up I was talking to a teacher and he told me that he did find the educational standards worrisome. Apparently some Qataris are graduating from high school not even being able to multiply single digits. Again, I hope there'll be some improvement on the 2009 PISA test results though I do not expect a dramatic improvement -- reforms in an educational system take many years to manifest in improvements in Students.

Speaking of PISA, did anyone watch President Obama’s recent discussions on education in America?

here's a key excerpt:
“My administration is announcing that we are going to specifically focus on training 10,000 new math and science teachers," he said. "We have to boost performance in that area. We used to rank at the top; we are now 21st in science, 25th in math. That is a sign of long-term decline that has to be reversed.”
So where did the 21st and 25th came from? I thought it came from the PISA 2006 test results but that would mean Obama is only counting the OECD countries -- the US results are even worse when you throw in non-OECD countries in the mix:

Secondly, lectures have started up again at the Museum of Islamic Art, the next one is this Wednesday at 6:30 PM. Anyone who is interested should contact the Museum for details. I enjoyed the lectures they put on last year.

Thirdly, the Qatar Natural History Group is back for another season of lectures and field trips. The first lecture is on Wednesday, October 6, see their website for more details

Lastly, I received a great gift from a Qatari friend this week, but I'll talk more about that next post.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I'm back!

I'm back from my vacation in Canada. Had a great time of course, I was there for my sister's wedding and everything went great, neither of them ran away or anything ;-) . I won't go into the details as I'm not sure if my sister wants details of her wedding splashed across the Internet.

I decided instead of going to Canada via Europe I would go through the United States, Houston in this case. This meant flying direct from Doha to Houston – a 15-hour flight. Having gone there and back I will stick to flying through Europe from now on. A 15 hour flight is just too much. Not that there is anything wrong with the flight itself, it was just too long. That, and going through US immigration is a pain.

I also learned that North American airlines cannot hold a candle to Qatar Airways. I flew 4 1/2 hours from Houston to Vancouver on Continental Airlines and only got a thing of peanuts, no pillow, and no blanket. To access all of the entertainment channels cost six dollars. On Qatar Airways you get meals, free alcohol, great entertainment system (on the newer planes at least), pillows, and blankets. No paying extra for anything. Food is decent too.

Spent some time in Vancouver before heading to the Okanagan Valley for the wedding. I had not been to the Valley for probably eight years and while there had been some changes a lot of the old hangouts and buildings were still there. The Valley has really gone towards winemaking in a big way and there were a lot of vineyards and wineries now. It was cooler than I remembered as well and we only really had one day that we could go to the beach. Most of my friends from high school and college now live in Vancouver so I spent time in Vancouver meeting up with them, I'm not sure if I have any old friends who live in the valley anymore. Growing up we always looked forward to moving to the big city and I guess we all did. I of course later moved on to see the wide world.

I do miss Vancouver but the housing prices there are frightening. A studio apartment in the city is at least $300,000, a one bedroom $400,000. I'm not sure who can afford prices like that, wages are not all that high in Canada. I guess this is why my sister and her husband are still renting. Another buddy of mine is married with two kids and he rents as well, no one can afford the down payment or a mortgage on a reasonably sized place anymore.

Other than the wedding spent my days hanging out with family and friends and eating lots of tasty food, including perogies, and a wide variety of desserts. Definitely gained some weight, I'm now back to the gym to try to work it off. With my friends I was playing a lot of boardgames like Battlestar Galactica and Railroad Tycoon. I'm not sure why boardgames like that haven't caught on here in Qatar. Given that Qataris don't generally go to bars but like to sit around with friends drinking coffee I would have thought boardgames would be a popular pastime.

I also saw a BC Lions game, thanks to my sister's neighbor who had some tickets. Went with her boyfriend and a couple of other guys. The stadium they normally play at, BC Place Stadium, is getting a new roof so they were playing at Empire Stadium, an open-air stadium. Despite the fact that it's open air you are not allowed to smoke there, which I thought was a little weird (not that I smoke anyway). I guess BC is really cracking down on smoking when you are not allowed to smoke outdoors in some places. The Lions won by the way, which was a pleasant surprise given that they were something like 2-7 going into the game.

I've also decided to get an e-book reader. Have my heart set on the new Sony but if I get a chance to see the new Kindle I’ll give it a looksee before deciding. Hope to have it in the next couple of weeks.