Jul 19 2012

Car Videos Coming Soon! Maybe?

Category: Kazakh DrivingChrisM @ 2:26 pm

In case you are not the sort of blog reader who notices when a tag cloud changes, this site has had a few hundred old posts properly tagged recently. That means I only have a few thousand left to trawl through! Why make this effort? I hope that when Google (other search engines are apparently available 😉 ) next crawls this site, and comes across the tags pages via the sitemap, it will lead to me picking up a few more visitors who are interested in the same topics I write about. Traffic has dipped a little bit recently, from around 10,000 unique visitors a month to just 6 or 7,000.
Also on the To Do list for this site are the Anna and Tim photos that are always piling up waiting to be published (I was reminded just how far behind I am when tagging some of the older Anna posts). There is also a huge pile of car videos (from our in-car recorder) that I would like to go through and either delete (most of them), or edit and upload to YouTube for embedding here. I don’t know how well some of the recent WTF! moments were caught, but there should be a few.
Recently we have seen a lot more Suzuki SX4s (the same as our Kazakh car) here in Astana, and we occasionally exchange thumbs up or waves. It is good to finally see a little diversity in the cars on the road, as although all the Toyotas mean that should you buy one yourself, spare parts and expertise with repairs will be in abundance, it does get a little monotonous. We do see nicer cars around, like Mercedes SLs, various AMG tuned cars and 4x4s and full on super cars, but our budget didn’t run that far when we bought the car!
On Tuesday we saw a bumper sticker that read “Astana Street Racing” on a car in front of us, which didn’t seem like a great idea, should they get stopped by an English language reading traffic cop during an illegal street race…

Hello officer, why did you stop me?

You were racing your friend

Me? No, I am just on the way to pick up my granny from hospital

Points at the bumper sticker

Oh… Yes… Umm…

Ignoring the issue of self-labelling oneself as a street racer, we know some people use the local car park to impress their friends with high powered engines and much squealing of tyres, but I hadn’t realized that Astana does actually seem to have a real established street racing scene, as a friend was invited to attend such an event in a suped up Scooby.

I would be interested to see if any local drivers (cars and golf clubs) would be up for trying to beat that record, though I’m guessing it would need to be at the airport, not one of the golf range/courses outside of Astana in the Steppe somewhere!
Right, I am going to go away for now, I need to drag my body to the gym and try not to collapse or break anything 🙂

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Jul 13 2012

Astana Internet Choices

Category: Internet Connections,KazakhstanChrisM @ 5:31 am

Recently a few people have asked me for advice about living in Astana, either because they are new to the area, or have not yet actually arrived. Some of the older posts (the key ones are linked to on the Kazakhstan 101 page) are still useful, but where prices have risen, or locally available technology has moved on, new advice is sometimes needed. So, without further ado, here are your choices if you want to access the internet in Astana. As ever, I’m happy to receive suggestions/corrections, so do please feel free to leave a comment below.

Megaline – The main ADSL internet company here in Astana. You will sometimes find that VISPs (virtual internet service providers) exist, where they take Megaline’s connection, and feed it out to a few blocks of flats, but I have not yet come across a true competing ISP. Compared to five years ago, the speed, price and reliability has improved greatly.

ID TV – I had originally thought this was a combined internet and TV package that was from a different company than Megaline. However, it turns out that ID TV is from Kazakhtelecom (the main telephone company here in Astana, who also provide Megaline’s ADSL services). The channel selection seems to be slightly wider than that offered by AlmaTV (assuming their website is up to date, as AlmaTV lost quite a few channels I liked recently), however there are some inconveniences, related to the delivery method. IPTV is used, so instead of a special wire (cable TV), normal aerial (standard TV, no DVB-T in Astana yet), or satellite dish (Hotbird, NTV Plus (though we are well out of the range of Astra and therefore UK Sky channels are impossible to receive conventionally here)), ID TV (the company, IPTV is the transmission method) uses your phone line. This means that you will probably see a slight dip in your internet download speeds and that changing channels apparently takes 10 seconds each time! It looks as though you choose from Megaline’s broadband packages if you don’t already have an internet connection set up, then select which TV channel package you want.

Internet TV Packages

There are other choices here in Astana, for example there was a WiMax system being trialled a few years ago, and I know of at least one business that uses this for internet access and voice over IP (telephone calls), as they have no land line. I will try and find out more about this, though it will not be for a couple of months at least.
If your internet access needs are more mobile, then a USB 3G Dongle could be what you need. You plug the device (with a SIM card in it) into your laptop, and use the mobile phone network to access the world wide web. As with Britain though (see this BBC article), coverage in Astana is not 100%, and even when 3G network coverage is displayed as available, the speeds can sometimes be closer to Edge, if not 2G!

Similar to this, but without the requirement for new hardware, is tethering your mobile phone to your laptop (basically using a USB lead, WiFi or bluetooth), and using your existing mobile phone account to access the internet on your computer. However, you do need to make sure your current choice of account does not charge a lot per Mb used, and it is probably worth checking whether your mobile phone company (KCell, Active, Beeline etc.) offers any bundles, where you pay for a fixed amount, that expires after a month.

Finally, should you find yourself without a mobile phone, dongle, or ADSL-enabled phone line, you could always go old school and use a dial up modem. The speed will make you weep, the phoneline will be engaged should anyone try and call you, but if all else fails those screeching tones, that indicate a handshake is taking place, can be a godsend.

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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 03 2012

Trying out “Draft” 4 1st time….

Category: TweetsChrisM @ 9:32 pm

Trying out “Draft” 4 1st time. (Paulo back in town for w/end). Extensive menu, lots of seats. Long Island Iced Teas. Will try2report results

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Feb 28 2012

Should have said, back in Asta…

Category: TweetsChrisM @ 6:17 am

Should have said, back in Astana & only the missing MP3 player & sometimes knackered phone from journey. Kiev airport not great w/pushchair.

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Feb 24 2012

At Gatwick,boarding plane2 Kie…

Category: Friends,TweetsChrisM @ 8:10 pm

At Gatwick,boarding plane2 Kiev,then onwards2 Astana.Thanks2all our family&friends4 making the last 6months a welcome break from Kazakh life

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Feb 18 2012

This’ll be last my Friday even…

Category: TweetsChrisM @ 1:50 am

This’ll be last my Friday evening in UK 4a while 🙁 This time next week should already be on the Kiev > Astana leg of the journey2 Kazakhstan.

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Feb 14 2012

.RT @EurasiaNet: Kazakhstan: I…

Category: TweetsChrisM @ 5:58 pm

.RT @EurasiaNet: Kazakhstan: In Restive Oil Town, Astana’s Outreach Meets Anger: Officials…are trying to listen to… http://t.co/iKvP959w

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Jan 27 2012

Tickets, Laws, Jobs & Plans

Category: PersonalChrisM @ 1:28 pm

So, the plane tickets have been purchased. We will be leaving Britain in four weeks, and moving back to Astana. Our friend and her daughter have been looking after our flat (and more importantly, our cats!) whilst we are in Britain, so I’m assuming we will be living at Ira’s parents’ place for a while. Beyond the obvious logistics of the journey itself, we also need to think about all the little changes that will be required with Tim now adding to our Kazakh life! From car seats that will fit in the back of our car (no more passengers in the back for a while!), to budgeting our savings until Irina goes back to work again, planning for the future just got that little bit more complex 🙂 Well worth it though, obviously.
Other updates involve a law that I believe has just (?) passed over there that means my reporting of events that may occur in the country pretty much have to not deviate from any official press releases if you want to ensure that a) You’re not liable for prosecution (need to check if fines/prison or a combo are the punishments), and b) Any future visa applications are processed smoothly. Also, if any more work opportunities arose that involved the civil service/media department of the President, I’m thinking they’re not likely to employ someone with black marks against their name. Although I doubt I will be scouring the local job listings the minute I get back, I need to ensure I’m able to earn some money over there. That said, I haven’t done any voiceover work for them since before Anna was born. Anyway, if I was in the country on my own, knew the right people in uniform to get out of the country quickly should a problem arise, and I was basically braver, there could be a lot more information and links on this site.

Ikea Job Interview

For now, once we have settled into our own place and got some sort of routine in place, I’ll check if Interhouse still need me back to give English lessons, check the local scene for any crumbs of IT work that Itreco hasn’t already hoovered up ( 🙂 ) and if Dan finds his workforce temporarily saturated with workload, carry on freelancing/consulting there. Which reminds me, I need to make sure his better half received our birthday greetings.
We still need to sort a new pushchair, visa, baby supplies that are difficult/expensive to source in Kazakhstan and data housekeeping (backups for Anna & Tim’s photos, all our files on our drives, all Mum & John’s on theirs etc.) Must remember to avoid TGI Friday in Kiev airport this time around, unless most of the staff lost their jobs and were replaced by efficient/friendly people. A man can dream…

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Jan 20 2012

Friends back in Astana-whoever…

Category: TweetsChrisM @ 2:45 am

Friends back in Astana-whoever is in G&R next,please thank a barman 4introducing me2 Long Island Iced Tea.Mum, John & I sampling my attempts

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