May 27 2012

To Do List – May 2012

Category: Eating Out,Kazakh Driving,Kazakhstan,PersonalChrisM @ 2:12 am

Why publish a to do list on my blog? Because it will hopefully kick me into action and cause me to actually accomplish some of these!

Get ruthless and actually get around to selling off any domains I own that a) I haven’t added new content to in a while and b) Haven’t generated any serious income in the last 12 months. I have already put a few up for sale over at , but no interest has been shown yet, so I either need to consider dropping my prices, or looking at other markets.

Find a reasonably priced office chair. Our original one broke a few years back when a couple of ladies decided to try and share it. It leant back, but that part of the mechanism snapped, and so is tilted towards the ceiling permanently. Rather than throw it away, I have a very comfortable chair to smoke on, when sat on the balcony! We need to find a furniture shop in Astana that sells comfortable chairs (tilting isn’t a deal breaker, but definitely would like a swivel one), in a material that won’t instantly shred with a cat sat on it, nor stain the moment Tim or Anna spill something on it. Oh, and obviously somewhere that sells a chair like that without it costing three months wages!

Office Chair

Sorting out USB issues on this PC – something is preventing devices plugged into my USB3 card from properly waking up after the PC is put into hibernation mode. This will either be a breeze to fix, or a real pain. I’ve done the obvious in terms of checking for driver updates, fiddling with the USB selective suspend setting, altering whether each USB device was allowed to be put to sleep and/or used as a trigger to wake up etc.

Once the hibernation issue is fixed, check if our UPS will correctly hibernate the PC when power is lost. I originally tried to save some resources by not installing the software that the UPS company provided, instead using Microsoft’s system, normally used for laptop running on battery power. Unfortunately it didn’t quite read the battery levels correctly, so I had to relent in the end.

BACKUP!!! I think we have about eight or nine months of photos that aren’t yet backed up on to disc. Moving swiftly on…

Edit and upload some of the car video recorder clips I’ve taken in the last few months. Mainly to just give people a general idea of the driving style over here, but I’m pretty certain I caught a few WTF moments along the way. This will unfortunately mean delving back in MOV editing, as the first and current cameras we tried use this format for some reason.

Anna and Tim’s photos – I have once more fallen woefully behind on publishing anything other than snapshots from my phone’s camera. Sorry, I will one day get close to real time publishing, I’m sure.

Check whether our current GPS device has the correct hardware to display video sources, or if it was disabled by the manufacturer. If it does work, source a good (enough) non-obtrusive camera and wire it up, for that rare occasion in Astana when parking doesn’t involve going local, and just stopping wherever you like, at whatever angle/distance to the kerb!

Start writing up more restaurant and bar reviews. I realise that there are quite a few new ex-pats in this city, and that some only ever frequent one or two venues. I’m hoping to get back to my old habits and write up/record on my phone observations.

I’m sure there are a lot more, but that will do for now. Hopefully I can come back in a month or two and cross some of these off the list!

May 24 2012

Something going on nr Respubli…

Category: Kazakh Driving,Kazakhstan,Pictures,TweetsChrisM @ 1:01 pm

Something going on nr Respublika,related2Economic Forum?Not in shot is the car pulled over in trad dangerous place

Didn't feel like being too obvious taking a photo

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May 20 2012

How Fast And Where?

Category: Kazakh Driving,Kazakhstan,PersonalChrisM @ 11:10 pm

For a few weeks now, I have been meaning to write a post about a shop here in Astana that sells car accessories. Before you scroll down to the next post too quickly, for anyone living here in Kazakhstan, or interested in GPS systems, you may want to carry on reading a little while longer…
The shop is called “AvtoNavigator”, and the staff member we have dealt with most of the time is called Oleg. I’ll try and find their contact details and amend this post/tweet them later. Anyway, first of all, why have I wanted a GPS system, as well as a in-car video recording system for our car? Well the GPS answer has two parts, and the first is quite obvious – if I end up lost in the city (easier than you might think, should a random road on a familiar route be closed), I want to ensure I can either easily get home/to a landmark I recognise, so I can re-orient myself quickly, or at the very least, phone Irina and explain which road I am on, and where would she recommend heading to. The second part of answer as to why I wanted a GPS system also ties in neatly with the camera; if a policeman pulls me over, and I believe his assessment of my driving may be based more upon a current financial shortfall he is suffering, as compared to an actual offence having taken place, I would like to a) Have cinematic proof that I did not cross a double white line/drive through a red light and b) Have my exact location and speed recorded. (I am using Navitel’s Navigator software and maps, which allows me to constantly record the track I’m taking, and analyze it later with Google Earth for example. Now, if someone tries to make a claim for a road traffic accident, and says that I was driving at 90km/hr, on the wrong side of the road, when I breezed through a red light, and consequently, I’m to blame for our cars colliding, I can turn around and provide proof that their memory is at best fuzzy, if not trying to make an outright lie seem like the truth.
There is the possibility that should push ever come to shove, the device’s evidence will be over-ruled by any witness who makes a counter claim as to the truth, but just having the peace of mind that I can replay videos at the scene should hopefully be enough to calm my nerves, and avoid confrontation on Astana’s roads.


Anyway, back to AvtoNavigator, the first GPS device I purchased from them has been working out well (a similar device purchased in Almaty died very quickly, and had a few software issues), and the initial selection process was made very easy. Oleg knew his stock well, and after explaining which features/specifications were important to us, he narrowed it down to a few devices. Rather than trying to sell us the most expensive, or simply pointing at a whole shelf, he honestly explained which ones he thought would be worth looking at, and of some use should a vehicle accident occur. Although we were not as lucky with the in-car video recording system (which reminds me, I still want to put a few videos up on YouTube when I get the time), he again didn’t try and suggest that the more expensive models were best suited to our needs, and admitted that the Chinese manufactured items sometimes had variable quality across different batches. As it turns out, we returned a couple of different models, until we found one that was reasonably good, and as long as we kept the paperwork, and the device hadn’t obviously been mistreated, the whole swapping process was incredibly quick. A lot better than I’d expect from some UK stores, certainly.
I’ll try and write a post or two on the software modifications I’ve carried out on the GPS device (it is Windows CE-based, so reasonably easy to fiddle with), as well as some beta-testing I’ve carried out for a programmer from the XDA developers forum. Anyway, enough for now, I need to crack on with some other work and try and save some money up for a possible future trip – more to come on that once I know how things stand!

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Mar 01 2012

Car sorted now,taken it4 a dri…

Category: Kazakh Driving,TweetsChrisM @ 12:41 pm

Car sorted now,taken it4 a drive.(Battery was flat,insurance had run out,needed2 change2 winter tyres,was running on fumes.)Ta2 every1 4help

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Jul 04 2011

Picking a friend up from the r…

Category: Kazakh Driving,Pictures,TweetsChrisM @ 7:50 am

Picking a friend up from the railway station. Noticed cars parked to my right. “We don’t need no stinking white lines!”

Chevron Parking With Normal Spaces

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Apr 01 2011

My Tune Has Changed

Category: Kazakh DrivingChrisM @ 4:17 am

Pet peeve for the last fortnight? Pedestrian crossings that aren’t clearly marked. I understand that with all the JCBs clearing the ice and snow away during the winter, that paint on the tarmac will have been scraped off, but compared to driving back home, there aren’t always clear indications that pedestrians are about to walk in front of you. Compared to exit signs for the major roads that link Astana, pedestrian crossings seem to merge into the background. I think part of the reason Ira and I don’t notice them very well is the sign and light “pollution” here in Astana. Because there are so many illuminated objects begging for your attention, zebra crossings on the smaller roads just seem to blend into the background!
Yes, obviously I felt a bit different when I was walking around, and the stupid drivers wouldn’t stop when I was trying to cross the road, but there you go!

Apr 01 2011

No One Cares How Clean It Is!

Category: Kazakh DrivingChrisM @ 1:04 am

KZBlog has just published a post on driving in Kazakhstan. Whilst writing my reply there (which reminded me I’d promised myself to resurrect the Kazakhstan category on this site), I recalled that during the paperwork and phone calls that had to take place before we could drive our car, one thing was quite different from Britain… When we spoke to the insurers, although they asked me how old I was, how long I’d been driving for, and the year, make and model of our car, I’m petty sure they didn’t ask about driving convictions or points on my license. I appreciate that Kazakhstan might not have the same points system for speeding etc., but I’m still surprised that bad driving record didn’t seem to come into play at all. As it happens I’ve got a clean licence anyway, but surely if someone regularly speeds or drink drives, their insurance premiums should be higher? Otherwise, relatively safe drivers are shouldering the extra cost for reckless motorists?

Mar 18 2011

Bang, Crack, No Key!

Category: Kazakh Driving,PersonalChrisM @ 2:13 am

Driving our new car around Astana these past three weeks has not been as scary or involved any insurance claims so far. Taking it easy when roads have ice without recent gritting, driving properly (leaving large enough gaps should I need to brake suddenly and never braking hard or accelerating whilst traversing a bend or turning at a crossroads), and flicking the all wheel drive system to full (rather than auto) when ice and snow are abound has meant that I haven’t been tearing out what little hair nature has left me.
However, as previously tweeted, we’ve already been reversed into (followed by an attempted drive off) whilst parked, and this past week I did clip a car’s wing mirror when trying to ensure I didn’t cross a double white (unbroken) line near a junction that is infamous for policemen being stationed at and threatening huge fines and/or driving licence removal.
The car has been behaving itself so far (touch wood), with just an occasional complaint that it can no longer detect the keyless key (!?!) as being close enough. Given that the ignition doesn’t use a key, the closest place to keep them whilst driving is in a cup holder under the car stereo. Keeping them in my pockets seems to cause more alerts, so I’m just hoping that the cold is somehow effecting the distance at which the car senses the keyfob, and that when Spring arrives properly, our Suzuki will not have panic attacks thinking that someone is stealing the car!

Feb 26 2011

Four Limbs & Four Wheels Survived

Category: Kazakh Driving,Personal,PicturesChrisM @ 12:10 am

Today we finally had our new car back at home with us. Losha (Igor’s son (both of whom have been so incredibly helpful, along with Yerbalan, Ira’s Dad’s chauffeur with sorting all the paperwork and logistics out)) drove it from where it was being stored temporarily to our garage. Before I could drive it legally, or either Irina or I would want to drive it, we had to sort the car registration papers, the MOT (required even on brand new cars), the permission for me to drive it (first we needed to get the paperwork created at a legal office, then signed, scribbled on and stamped at the road police HQ), the bare bones insurance that is a legal requirement (basically third party only, same price for an 18 year old driving a Hummer as it would be for a 55 year old lady driving an old Lada!), the proper insurance so our car is actually covered, the winter tyres (and new wheels to put them on, so we only swap the wheels every couple of seasons, rather than removing the tyres as well), my driving licence to be officially translated, a set of remote control keys for our garage and probably something else I’ve forgotten. Anyway, the car is now with us, and this evening I drove it, and on Kazakh roads, and in an automatic, and on the right hand side of the road, for the very first time!
Having warned one friend that I’d potentially be on the same tarmac as him, he told me to forget putting some music on (something else I’d sorted before jumping in the car) for my first foray on to Astana’s roads. Each to their own, but I needed some tunes to stop obsessing over A) I’m driving a car with an automatic gearbox for the first time ever in my life. There is no freaking clutch pedal. How is this obviously possessed car not stalling each time I stop at a junction??? B) Proper icy roads to be driven on (once in a blue moon does this occur back in Britain). The main roads are absolutely fine, but some of the minor roads behind our flat (that provide the simplest access to the main road) are pure ice in areas C) Kazakh drivers are surrounding me!
Anyway, after circling (and figure of eight-ing) a few blocks radius of our home, I decided I had grown accustomed to this almost entirely new experience enough, and jumped onto a main road. A couple of turns later, I was now on the main road outside our flat, and dived into Astana Park’s car park, out the other end, under the bridge over the river Ishim (to effectively pull a subterranean U-turn below the main road I’d been driving on), back up onto the main road, and then home again. No one beeped at me, crashed into me or cut me up, mind you the roads were quite quiet 🙂
No photos from today, but when I saw the car in daylight for the first time yesterday (where it was being stored out of the -20/-30C temperatures), I grabbed a few shots, see below for our lovely little machine, with Anna posing in a couple (she saw the camera come out of a bag, and assumed the shots were to feature her).

Feb 16 2011

Bye Bye Taxis!

Category: Kazakh Driving,PersonalChrisM @ 8:02 pm
Red Suzuki SX4 Car On Snow

Red Suzuki SX4 Car On Snow

After years of talking about it, we have finally bought a car here in Astana. One of the things I miss most from everyday life is the freedom that having our own car (thanks Mum and John) gives us back in Britain. Conversely, I have also sworn that I would never regularly drive over here in Kazakhstan. Put simply, to a Brit most drivers here seem to have gone a bit mad. See the previous posts from the Kazakh Driving category for more details, but a complete lack of lane discipline, traffic police that supplement their regular income with interesting reasons for stopping you, an almost Indian attitude to leaving your safety in fate’s hands meant that I had not wanted to get behind the wheel over here.

Orange Suzuki SX4

Orange Suzuki SX4

However with Anna going to playgroup twice a week, shopping and visiting the in-laws every weekend, the cost of all the taxis (combined with problems with their punctuality), Irina persuaded me we should get a car. Originally I hoped we would get something second hand (as a friend was selling his car) and a little more powerful, but as Irina’s parents are covering two thirds of the cost, and they were worried about the reputation second hand car purchases have over here, we eventually found a model that seemed to tick the most amount of boxes with all concerned.
We have already purchased the car, but with Kazakh bureaucracy being what it is, we may be able to drive it ourselves around the weekend. When you buy a car here, you need to register and fill in forms with different departments, and we also obviously need to get some winter tyres, as trying to drive for the first time in a new car (on the wrong side of the road 🙂 ), in snow, being used to a UK driving style, sliding around in the icy conditions wouldn’t be helpful. We’re REALLY grateful to the friends who have advised us, took us around car showrooms and then assisted with sourcing tyres, getting through paperwork process and of course Ira’s parents for funding this.

Red Suzuki SX4 Crossover

Red Suzuki SX4 Crossover

I haven’t yet seen the car during daylight hours, and we’ve not get any photos of it, but to give you an idea, I’ve included some stock ones above that look about right. Part of the problem is that the exact models seemed to be named differently by Suzuki in different countries (I think it is probably the crossover model). Basically ours is an SX4, hatchback style, raised off the ground (definitely a good idea with the state of the smaller city-roads here) and AWD. All Wheel Drive, which I only discovered isn’t the same as 4WD whilst checking which car to get, means that the car can be set to use both front and rear axles for drive, as opposed to being permanently in four wheel drive. Anyway, come the summer months, selecting front wheel drive will improve fuel economy, but whilst there is so much ice and snow around, the car can be set to auto, meaning the rear wheels kick in when it detects the front is losing traction. You can lock the all wheel drive mode on, but this switches back to auto above 60kph, drinks the fuel and if done on normal or just plain (rain) wet roads, places the mechanics under a lot more stress.
Anyway, I’m sure this topic will appear quite frequently over the coming weeks so I’ll shut up for now, I just wanted to share the good news about our new arrival.

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