We know that 2010 was a tough year for many. The global recession continued into its third year with precious few signs of green shoots and continued pain for families and businesses alike. Resolution of the various wars and conflict flashpoints around the world seemed as distant as ever. Natural forces not only brought death and destruction to some of the world's poorest communities but also disrupted international air travel.
So what is there to look forward to in 2011? To quote Donald Rumsfeld, the former US defence secretary: "There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns - the ones we don't know we don't know."
So here are some of the known knowns for this year. Of course, some may turn out to be known unknowns. Will Tom Cruise's new film shot partly in Dubai be a box office smash or flop? And we know that the next 12 months will bring the usual share of unknown unknowns. Some of these may yet impact the known knowns. But then life is a complicated business.
There is no better example than the weather. The long-term forecast for the next winter is milder. Of course, meteorologists thought this winter was to be "cool and dry". Perhaps they could take another lesson from Qatar.
Ahmed Abdullah Mohammed, the country's director of meteorology, claims that his department is one of the world's best and boasted an accuracy rating of 95 per cent. No doubt he is correct, but in fairness the weather in the Gulf is somewhat easier to forecast. He hopes to launch a 24-hour TV channel devoted to Qatar's weather in 2011. We look forward to his sunny predictions.
In other television news, Oprah Winfrey's new network, named Own, launches with the new year. With her media empire spanning print, television, cinema and online, it is good to know that no matter how things change over the years Oprah's ambition to dominate our consciousness persists. Joining her network is Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, who was caught in May peddling her husband's political influence in an undercover sting by the British tabloid The News of the World. Fergie is getting her own reality TV show, which she hopes will allow her to know where the cameras are at all times.
On the big screen, Tom Cruise will once again play the super spy Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol. Fans of the series and the Burj Khalifa will be counting down the days until December 16, when both Tom Cruise and the world's tallest building will premiere on the silver screen.
You also have fair warning that the teenage singer Justin Bieber makes his movie debut in February in a 3D biopic entitled Never Say Never. The young heartthrob had a stellar 2010 and was the most searched for celebrity on Google.
Other celebrities who will be making headlines in 2011 include Natalie Portman, who recently announced that she would have a baby next year with her dance instructor from her film Black Swan. Her chances of winning an Oscar for that performance are expected to grow alongside her waistline.
The baby watch is also in full force for Mr and Mrs Sarkozy. On the couple's recent trip to India, the 43-year-old Carla Bruni revealed that she had prayed for a baby with her 55-year-old husband, the French president Nicolas Sarkozy. The French rumour mill is questioning whether Mr Sarkozy is hoping for a "baby bump" in the polls when campaigning starts in 2011 for the election in 2012. The beleaguered Mr Sarkozy was left weakened by labour strikes and is expected to face stiff competition from a resurgent Left.
Voters go to the polls all over the world this year, but nowhere will their decisions be more closely watched than in Africa. There are elections in 15 African nations in some of the most unstable parts of the continent. There are elections in Chad, Uganda, the Central African Republic and Nigeria. Hosni Mubarak's son is expect to run in and win the presidential elections in Egypt. Sudan will hold a referendum on the independence of the South, if the country does not descend into conflict first. Zimbabwe plans to hold a constitutional referendum, but the main opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, is facing possible treason charges as a result of revelations in the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. The results of any one of these elections will impact the stability of the continent; it is not looking good for Africa.
The political stand-off in Ivory Coast and the riots in Tunisia only add to the litany of potential problems.
America's sense of decline is likely to continue. Mission STS-134 marks the end of the space shuttle programme, with Endeavour to lift off in April carrying equipment for the International Space Station, which in the future will be supplied by Russian technology. The orbiter made its first flight 30 years ago, with the programme claiming the lives of 14 astronauts in the Challenger and Columbia disasters. With the US president, Barack Obama, halting Nasa's planned replacement, it looks as if the private sector will take the lead in sending Americans into space. This year is also expected to the see the first test flight of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, which offers the prospect of space tourism, at least for anyone with Dh735,000 to spare.
Endeavour will blast off from the Florida space centre named after John Kennedy, the US president who was responsible for the drive to put a man on the Moon. This year will see the end of the age of Camelot, with the departure of Patrick Kennedy, the congressman for Rhode Island, meaning there will not be a Kennedy in Washington for the first time in 64 years. A dynasty which once dominated American politics will be represented only by Bobby Shriver, John Kennedy's nephew, a member of the Santa Monica city council on the outskirts of Los Angeles.
Technology will also bring the next release of the iPad, predicted to be some time in the first quarter of the year, and instantly render all the trend setters who spend up to Dh3,000 last year obsolete.
Online shopping will enter a new dimension thanks to Google's new venture, Boutiques, which the web developer describes as the "personalised shopping experience that lets you find and discover fashion goods, by creating your own curated boutique or through a collection of boutiques curated by taste-makers - celebrities, stylists, designers and fashion bloggers. Boutiques uses computer vision and machine learning technology to visually analyse your taste and match it to items you would like."
Expect to hear more, also, about Fab@Home, an opensource (meaning the technology is made available to everyone) project that uses ordinary computer printers to create real objects. One of the earliest experiments, being conducted at Cornell University’s Computational Synthesis Lab, involves special food “inks” that could combine to print out cookies.
For foodies with more conventional taste, 2011 is predicted to be the year of the “New Nordic Cuisine” after the prestigious San Pellegrino award for best of the world’s top 50 restaurants was won by Copenhagen’s Noma. Dishes include sea-buckthorn leather and pickled rose hip. Expect to pay about Dh1,500 for lunch for two – or economise with the meatball special plate at Ikea.
This year will also bring two World Cups – and neither will involve a soccer ball. India will host the cricket world cup next month, while the rugby world cup gets underway in New Zealand in September. Both tournaments will have some of the most passionate home fans in the world.
Next week sees a partial eclipse of the Sun on January 4 that will be visible from the UAE. Make a note in your diary also for December 10, the second of two total lunar eclipses. A partial eclipse should be visible here. But for the best views, buy a ticket to central or eastern Asia. While the weather may be unpredictable, there are some things for which mother nature can be relied upon.