Feb 10 2009

Amsterdam 2008 Photos – Finally

Category: Amsterdam,Personal,PicturesChrisM @ 9:23 pm

Before my life is taken over my nappies, changing mats & cute shoes, I wanted to try and catch up with tasks in real life, and bits I’d never quite got to finishing on the blog. So, here are the first of some Amsterdam April 2008 shots.
As you may remember from my ramblings at the time, a problem with flights had meant we missed the last connection from Frankfurt to Amsterdam on the 19th by mere minutes.
Anyway, we grabbed a couple of hours of sleep in a nearby hotel, got up for my Birthday and decided we would try and make today run a little better. A beautiful sight of some bunnies frolicking on the lawn below our window. Glad of the few hours rest we’d had, we got ready and headed to the airport for the first flight out Amsterdam. We were NOT going to be missing the 4.20pm meet on 4/20 at the coffeeshop 420 🙂
Anyway, more of that later, have these as a taster of the posts to come. I’ll try and put up the ones from 2007 later, with Chris and Alex…
Continue reading “Amsterdam 2008 Photos – Finally”

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Dec 12 2008

Con’s Site

Category: FriendsChrisM @ 2:00 am

I was speaking to Con earlier on today when he mentioned he was hoping to get a website up, for his joinery (carpentry? whatever the right term is) work. I explained the basics of what was needed – a basic idea of how the site should look, choosing a name, register it and find somewhere to host the files etc. CRJoinery.com should soon be hitting your screens (I’ll make the link live once it leads somewhere), if all goes to plan, so if anyone in the South Gloucestershire region is looking for some high quality wood stuff (OK, dovetail joints and chisels were never my forte at school, you may notice), make sure you check back for the site soon.
Until he has enough money generated from the site to cover his costs, I’m hoping to host him on my server, something which we still need to sort for Alex’s blog (Dryad Musings, more on that site later).

(Not a commercial/sponsored post, though if Con wants to buy me a drink for this plug, I’ll not refuse…)


Nov 24 2008

Back In Britain

Category: PersonalChrisM @ 3:31 am

OK, so we have actually been back in Britain for five days now, but sorting out things and settling down is bound to take a while. In the mean time, the blog managed to publish a post for Alex on her birthday 🙂
All is OK here in Clydach, and I’ll try and post a little more regularly soon; if you have already read this post, why not click on one of the category or tag links on the right to be taken to posts you may be interested in. To friends in Cheltenham, I’ll be around next week so look forward to seeing some of you.

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Nov 10 2007

Alex’s Blog

Category: FriendsChrisM @ 1:06 pm

As regular readers will know Alex setup her blog (Dryad Musings, see the previous post for a link to it) when she visited us over here in Kazakhstan. Originally it was to be a place for her to write about her thoughts, and express her opinions on a range of matters. Now she will be in Australia, it can also serve as a method of staying in contact with her family and friends back in the UK.

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Nov 10 2007

Today Is The Day

Category: FriendsChrisM @ 12:59 pm

That Alex is leaving for Australia. In face I’ve just checked her blog, and she has in fact written a post just before getting ready to start her journey (Ready & Waiting To Start My Longhaul Flight to Oz Land).
Best of luck to her, I hope the journey goes well, and even if she is a little knackered by the end of it, I’m certain that the reunion with Mat will be worth the journey time.
In just under two weeks, it is Alex’s birthday, which I am assuming will be her first away from England – I hope she gets all she wants, though I suspect being reunited with Mat would be enough by itself 🙂

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Oct 26 2007

Lovely Screen, Shame About The Contents

Category: Amsterdam,PersonalChrisM @ 3:49 am

This is the second and last post regarding my journey through Kaliningrad ‘International’ Airport. I made notes up until this point during the holiday, for some reason things get a little hazy during my time in Amsterdam….

The big screen I mentioned in a previous post was now visible to us. Wow, it was high quality, had flight numbers, destinations, and even the weather at each destination! Unfortunately it lacked any sort of column for flight times or estimates of delays involved. (Can you tell where this story is heading yet, dear reader?). I was not too worried, as there were only six or seven departure exits from the area, and you could even find a seat in the smoking section that gave a view of all but one of these 🙂 When it got to 10 minutes past the approximate boarding time for my next flight, I was a little concerned, but had seen no one leave for any flights at all. There were a few announcements, in Russian, but these seemed to be more procedural statements (don’t leave luggage unattended etc.) than flight info, so I asked the Germans if they had flown through here before (only to discover two spoke English), and if so did they know what happened when flights were delayed? A friendly shrug informed me they were currently as clueless as me.
I then decided to tour the perimeter of the area, determined to find someone who spoke English, or at least would be prepared to listen to my attempts at enquiries in Russian. (Don’t laugh too hard, several times officials (not just in Kaliningrad) who realised my Russian skills were not sufficient to conclude any conversation quickly had walked off, with no clue as to my next suitable avenue of enquiry.) I quickly found a friendly lady who pointed me in the direction of a young girl who worked there and spoke better English than my Russian. I was informed that there was nothing to worry about, that a flight from Moscow had been delayed by two hours, and that three passengers hoping to get to Amsterdam were on that same flight. And no, neither announcements nor TV screens had yet revealed this info. (Again, I mainly wanted to know so that my next time in the airport would not involve so much mystery). There were a couple of things I had not fully understood, and when Ira called me up, to check I was about to get on the plane, and hadn’t fallen asleep somewhere silly, I was about to ask her to double check them with someone at the airport, if I handed my mobile over. However, Irina had been told by the airport a few moments earlier that my flight to Amsterdam WAS on time, and that all passengers were boarding this very second. Obviously this left Irina concerned that I had mightily goofed, and was about to miss a flight involving the Netherlands once again. Eventually the lady who I had previously spoken to proved to be correct, and the person who had spoken to Ira was full of crap. I had already called Alex and Chris, to confirm that they had left Cheltenham and were on their way to Birmingham airport (more on that later). Unfortunately I found I was not able to make calls to Kazakhstan at all, though calls to Britain had obviously worked. Two hours after our planned departure, our plane left Kaliningrad, and I was most glad of the 1.5 hours of sleep I grabbed on the flight.
Schiphol, Amsterdam itself and UK trip info to follow in other posts soon.

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Sep 07 2007

Forgot About These Ones

Category: Friends,Kazakhstan,VideosChrisM @ 3:49 am

I had a nagging feeling I had forgotten some of the videos I uploaded to YouTube a while back. I eventually got around to opening all the posts within the Video category on this blog, then checked which videos from my YouTube channel had been posted. So we have a batch of four here, taken from when AlexC was still here in Kazakhstan, and we had all gone round to Ira’s parents for a nice relaxing evening, some food, and a little drink. I am still impressed that Alex was able to hold her own reasonably well when it came to downing vodka, considering she hadn’t had a drink in some five years!

Here we have Babushka (Ira’s grandma), her Dad, Mum, Alex, Myself, some Wild Strawberries (really little fruit that make great jam), and of course Irina filming. In fact I think she handled all the camera work for these 4 shots…

Ira’s Dad is a little old school in some respects, and so was not happy with the prospect of her chopping some wood up for the samovar§. This despite the fact that if I had done it, we would have ended up with wood splinters, sticks that were too wide to fit in the tube, blood, tears, sweat, and possibly a three-fingered Chris. Compare this to the nature loving, camping, tree-surgery-considering Alex, who knows how to handle sharp tools, and you can see why I giggled (oooops, sorry make that let out a manly guffaw…. hmmm why does that sound so unbelievable?) at the idea that I was a better choice to chop wood. Ira’s Dad did it himself in the end.

The big barbecue thing is, well a barbecue, made by the guys ar Ira’s Dad’s work. He complained that most barbecues are made for shorter people, so they made one with extra long legs 🙂 It looks like I had been demoted that day from my normal duties of burning things. hmmmm, fire, flames, burn, petrol……. sorry, where was I? Seriously, I normally manage to burn the wood well enough, as it is not too difficult task to ensure that wood is burnt well to provide the charcoal needed to cook the sashliq (skewered kebabs) later on.

Finally we have almost everyone at the table before dinner, with Babushka chilling in the reclining garden chair. Alex tries out a little Russian, and Ira tells a blatent lie – the cake can’t be have more than my 43rd!

§ – A tea urn with a difference – the heat is provided by burning wood within the tube that runs through the middle of the area that the water is boiled in. You can now buy electric versions, but there is no fun in that, IMHO.

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Aug 30 2007

Astana Day Concerts Videos #4

Category: Friends,Kazakhstan,VideosChrisM @ 2:33 am

OK, as you may have read from earlier posts, I have been experimenting trying to find the best way to encode videos to ensure high quality clips on YouTube. So far things have not gone well. I have ascertained that I do need de-interlace the raw DV video from my camcorder. I have tried different ways of resizing from 720×576 to 320×240, including clipping, adding letter box strips, changing the aspect ratio, all to no avail – the video quality is still far worse than previous videos I’ve uploaded. I have tried both DivX and Xvid codecs, with medium to high bit rates, but I always seem to end up with quality that would look bad coming from an old mobile phone.
For now, I shall continue posting the videos as they stand. If someone has an idea about how to achieve better results, let me know. Similarly, if someone would like to have a copy of these, let me know which interests you, and we’ll sort something out…

First we have a short clip of the lasers being tested during the 7th Act at the Astana Day concert. Why have I included it? Watch out for a video taken later in the night, that shows just how impressive the laser show was 🙂 As a small techy point, although the square and X don’t appear contiguous, to the naked eye, they were solid…

Here we have The 8th act singing in Russian…

Lastly (at least for this post), we have Alex, Ira and Ira’s Mum after the 8th act…

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Aug 29 2007

YouTube Problems

Category: Personal,VideosChrisM @ 3:03 pm

Perhaps a more accurate post title would have been ‘Stupid, impatient Chris’…
Last night I finished uploading all 29 videos to YouTube from the Astana Day celebrations, specifically the concert held in the evening that Ira, AlexC, Ira’s Mum and I all went to.
BEFORE uploading dozens of videos that you’ve resized & re-encoded, in fact before the editing, resizing and recoding, use ONE video as a test. Do not assume all will be ok. My main problem is that I did not exactly follow the advice I gave to Alex’s brother (see the For Alex’s Bro – DV Video Transfer And YouTube post). For some reason, I decided that sticking to the aspect ratio was important, and ended up with a 300×240 pixel video set. Once uploaded to YouTube, they of course bludgeoned it into a 320×240 file. This led to an outstanding loss of quality…. Cue one day of work lost.
Lesson learnt… hopefully, plus it also forced me to learn how to save filter and codec settings to force me to use the correct settings in the future when using DV footage with YouTube. I’ve also got around to figuring out how to queue up jobs in VirtualDub. That way I can mark out the sections from each raw video I want to encode into smaller files, in one go, then leave VirtualDub to encode them all in one batch.
I hasten to add I am now testing one video to ensure the different approach (I’ve ended up adding narrow black vertical borders to ensure the resized video mantains the aspect ratio, and doesn’t crop off any video from the top and bottom), before re-encoding all the videos and uploading.
Next on the ‘To Do’ list is to figure out an easy way to accomplish 2-pass encoding without repeating the same steps 29 times over, and also find the sweet point in terms of encoding quality, beyond which YouTube will discard extra detail.

Live and learn…

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Jul 08 2007

Pedalo Photo

Category: Friends,Kazakhstan,Personal,PicturesChrisM @ 9:34 pm

A few more photos before I go and grab some dinner.
Irina Alex War Memorial Astana Kazakhstan
This is Irina and Alex at the War Memorial here in Astana, just before we went on to the map of Kazakhstan I mentioned before. As I said before, you may well run across similar photos to these over at Alex’s blog, especially as some of these were taken on her camera. However, she will hopefully have a few more interesting words on the days we spent, and from a different perspective.

Chris Irina Pedalo River Ishim Astana Kazakhstan
Here we have Ira and I (modelling one of Tom’s t-shirts) on a pedalo, with Alex taking the picture. We were on the river Ishim here in Astana, and after half an hour could almost steer the boat in the general direction we wanted to go. No one fell in the water, and we did not sink any other boats foolish enough to get in our way, so we had quite a good time. From here, we went on to a restaurant. More on that place later.

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