Aug 15 2009

Feeling Itchy Yet Fred?

Category: PersonalChrisM @ 10:42 pm

I received an e-mail that got around my GMail spam filter by keeping the main message within an attached document. Anyway,
‘Fred Driver’, using as his e-mail address sent the following…

Plz view attachment for your message.


attached was the following request…

Dear Friend,

I am Capt. Fred Driver, an American Soldier, I am presently attached to a security company here in Iraq, I am assigned with the 1st Armored Division (Basra) here in Iraq. I am writing following an opportunity that will be of immense benefit to both of us.

As you know we are being attacked by insurgents on daily basis coupled with (Improvised explosive device) explosives we encounter almost every day, this has been responsible for the loss of both US & British Soldiers more than combat confrontations.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein, we discovered various amount of funds running into millions of dollars which we returned to the new (Iraqi Government) as you can see on this website:

However, when the situation became critical and we began to loose soldiers on daily basis and coupled with the recent deployment of United States Soldier out from Iraq, I decided to keep some of these funds we discovered just to help our family in case we didn’t make it out of Iraq alive. The total amount in my custody here is US$12.5million dollars in cash.


All you have to do is just help me receive these funds in your account for us to share. On receipt of your details, I will properly guide you on the procedure we will adapt to facilitate a smooth transfer of these funds.
Kindly send me an e-mail, signifying your interest including
Your name:
Telephone/fax numbers for quick communication:
Contact address:
NOTE: This transaction is risk free and the case can be shipped out within 48hrs after we have both agreed to carry out this venture.

I urgently hope to get your response as soon as possible.

Capt. Fred Driver

Deciding to check if s/he had used that alias before in other 419 scams, I came across a couple of instances back in May, thought about making contact and seeing if I could waste some of their time, but got bored very quickly writing a reply. So the following got sent instead…

Congratulations on your promotion from Sgt. to Capt., and I am glad you have managed to sort out $6 million dollars already, since May 19th (see here and here).

If I had the time right now, I would gladly engage you in a long running e-mail exchange, in the hope that any time of yours that I wasted would be time you couldn’t be successfully conning at least one gullible person out there.
I spent quite a lot of time dealing with 419ers in one of my old jobs back in England – using the deaths of soldiers in Iraq is pretty fricking low, scraping the bottom of the barrel like those scammers who use names of those killed on 9/11.

May you get a crab infestation and your arms be too short to scratch, or failing that, at least get a conscience and decide to do honest work for a living.


Chris Merriman

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Aug 05 2009

Car Changes

Category: Kazakh Driving,PersonalChrisM @ 11:50 pm

The last couple of years have seen quite a few changes over here in Astana. Since the police cracked down on the use of very dark tinted windows in the front of a car, you can now normally see the driver (reassuring when trying to use a pedestrian crossing, at least for me – I want him to see my moral indignation as I bounce off the bonnet :)), if not the passengers in the back. The spate of badly affixed spoilers seems to have passed, with only a few cars now sporting non-factory add ons, and those that do seem to have had a decent amount of money spent on them. The best change? Wearing seat belts (in the front at least) is no longer seen as an insult to the driver, as again the police have really gone through a couple of clamp downs on the abuse of this law. In the past, I had to explain that whilst I may well trust the driver’s abilities of the car I was in, it was all the other nutters on the road that could crash into us that scared me 🙂

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Jul 24 2009

Swine Flu Confirmed In Astana – Pics Added

Category: In The Media,Kazakhstan,PicturesChrisM @ 5:41 pm

The first hint that things had changed were when we drove Anna for her (regular) immunizations this morning. I noticed that bus drivers and conductors were wearing face masks. One driver was indeed wearing the mask, just not actually using it – the mask was done up behind the head, but hanging below his chin! I’ll leave the discussion on whether face masks are actually much use except when worn by people who may have already been infected, or in societies where (some) people spit in the street and regularly cough & sneeze without covering their mouth, for another day.
Irina then spoke to someone who had heard that Astana now had confirmed cases of the A/H1N1 virus, and that either local or national authorities had declared that shop and public workers would now be wearing the aforementioned masks.
So, am I worried, about to go and buy a dozen boxes of face masks? Well, with Anna around I’m naturally concerned, but given that Britain currently has approximately 100,000 new cases declared each week, and that the current variant of Swine Flu hasn’t yet mutated to be highly deadly and/or drug resistant, I’m not about to seal all the windows and doors and demand temperature readings from anyone we come into contact with.
It appears that the three (confirmed, as opposed to six including suspected) cases were with people who had been in Britain for academic studies.
Oh, in case 3rd hand information is not (understandably with this sort of topic) official enough to be considered valid, here is an Azerbaijan site’s report on it! I’m not sure whether this Google News search will work for other people, and whether it will stay up to date with new stories, but you can currently see that only the Asian/Central Asian news services seem to have picked up on the reports.
In case they disappear from Google’s listings, here we have’s almost translated into English story, and here we have the Indian branch of Reuters summary. Finally, Kazakhstan Today’s bulletin can be found here.

OK, just been for a walk in Astana park. Out of a sample size of approximately 200 people, five were found to be wearing masks. That is if you include another bus driver who had it on, but slung under his chin.
Couple of photos below…

Astana Park Ride Attendant Face Mask Swine Flu

Astana Park Ride Attendant Face Mask Swine Flu

Bus Driver Face Mask Not Worn Swine Flu

Bus Driver Face Mask Not Worn Swine Flu

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Jun 19 2009

Slow And Steady Wins The Race

Category: Kazakh Driving,VideosChrisM @ 11:59 pm

We used a taxi driver today who had been helpful, courteous and driven well in the past. Although the car he drives is something like an old banger of a Volkswagon Polo with an automatic gearbox, he knows the car well, seems to anticipate other drivers’ actions well.
Contrast that to a taxi driver who I drove with recently, who had a Subaru Impreza. The choice of car was an obvious indicator as to his driving style, and whilst I have to admit that I actually enjoyed the experience of zipping between lanes and fitting into gaps between cars that I wouldn’t have tried in a much smaller car, I wouldn’t want to have had Ira or Anna with me. Perhaps the fact I was a little drunk at the time helped me to relax 🙂
So why contact certain taxi drivers direct, rather than just ring a company, or flag down a passing motorist? Most of the time, we now need a car that we know has working, and accessible seat belts in the back, to attach Anna’s car seat to. Add on top of that that some drivers dislike the extra time it takes to safely place Anna in a car, and you can see why when we find a driver who takes their time, doesn’t make a car journey feel like a white knuckle roller coaster ride, we take their mobile phone number.

While we are on the topic of cars, I have only just got around to watching some of Robert Llewellyn’s CarPool episodes. Here is one featuring Dave Gorman. Robert Llewellyn is probably still most famous for playing Kryten in the UK comedy series Red Dwarf, and try searching on this blog or checking out his Wiki, to discover who Dave Gorman is.

urrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh, yuck. Apologies to anyone who loaded this site in the last three minutes. I had originally embedded a video in this space, but when I went to check how it looked on my site, I discovered it automatically started playing. As I can’t see a ‘autoplay=1’ type argument in the code, I’ll just link to it instead, sorry.

Finally, wanted to give a quick heads up to research publicised in a BBC article on rear facing car seats for children. Apparently they should be used up until the age of four, which is certainly not common practice back in Britain. It would just be amazing to see any type of car seat/restraint used with most children over here in Kazakhstan :/

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Jun 04 2008

PC No Longer In Pieces :-)

Category: PersonalChrisM @ 4:44 am

As I mentioned previously, our main PC had a major failure with the hard drive that had Windows and all the apps on it. It is most probably just a coincidence, but this occurred directly after I updated my on board audio drivers. Upon rebooting, I was presented with an error message stating that HAL.DLL was corrupted. Not a problem, I’ll drop into Safe Mode and find which CAB the file is compressed within on the XP Install CD, expand it and drop it into place. Another reboot bought up multiple file corruptions, including BOOT.INI . As the hard drive was only 40Gb, and was already second hand, I decided now would be a good time to finally insert the 500Gb drive I got for Christmas from Mum. Having fitted the drive in (not as easy as before, as there were still another three internal drives attached), and installed XP, I discovered that the install process had decided to make the boot drive L: ! This caused issues with some driver installation programs, and I discovered that the Windows Disk Management util could only reassign letters to non-OS install drives. So, using a few different utils, I recovered the faulty hard drive to the point that it could be read again, and rescued every directory I could. In the end, I only lost my Firefox bookmarks, in terms of important non-backed up data, so all that was left was another OS install, hardware and their respective drivers to be added on at a time, and now that I have 500Gb to play with for just programs, all the programs I could lay my hands on to install.
Anyway, things are now settled down enough for me to return to my normal routine on this PC, so thanks to those people that were patient enough to wait for me to respond to e-mails and comments.

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May 22 2008

Skewed Priorities

Category: Friends,In The MediaChrisM @ 9:02 pm

Beer Kids

Just in case you have not come across this well publicized report already, head on over to the BBC’s article detailing how an Australian man was caught by the police and subsequently fined for having alcohol in the car. No, not some USA-like charge of having an open container in a moving vehicle, this driver had decided it was more important to use the remaining seat belt in the back of his car to secure a crate of beer, rather than the five year old child! Whilst we’re on the topic of Australia, we won’t be seeing DavidG this week, as he is away, and also, don’t forget to check out AlexC’s blog – Dryad Musings. Recent posts have covered her photography project, the diverse range of nature around her, their new transport, and Australia’s flavour of Big Brother!

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Dec 31 2007

Driving Continued

Category: Kazakh Driving,KazakhstanChrisM @ 2:13 pm

Use of the horn – if the light has turned green and you’ve not moved for more than 0.5 of a second, people will gladly call your attention to this fact. The horn will definitely wear out quicker over here, at times it seems as though everyone should just learn Morse code; with so much honking from every direction, it is sometimes difficult to understand who is beeping at whom, and for what purpose.
There used to be a roundabout between our flat and the in-law’s house. It was always interesting watching people use it, for two reasons; 1) Roundabouts are relatively unique, in Astana at least, so people didn’t always seem to use them in the same way as other drivers also present, and 2) The rules aren’t the same as back in the UK; If a major road meets a roundabout, the people already ON the roundabout have to give way to others joining the melee from the major road. It worked so well, they’ve now converted that particular roundabout back to a normal junction. It does at least now have pedestrian crossings, so you can be more morally indignant if you get run over.

Zebra crossings are one way to bring a little adrenaline into your bloodstream. If you try and cross them as you would back home, you WILL end up having a heart attack. The best way to approach them seems to be to wait for the least amount of traffic to be approaching the crossing, and try to figure out which cars are actually likely to slow down, let alone stop, for you. Some drivers will beep to let you know that they have no intention of slowing down; others have actually switched lanes, seemingly to increase the chance of a bone vs. metal match up.

Every time someone important decides to travel somewhere in Astana, police will close down the roads the VIPs intend to use, and some 5 – 10 minutes later, you’ll see the President/Government Minister/Foreign Valued Businessman shoot past, in a cavalcade of Limos, Jeeps and/or Hummers and occasionally police motorcycle out-riders.
Just because you are a pedestrian though, don’t assume this will have no impact; we’ve been waiting at a bus stop, next to a bus lay-by, and found ourselves moved BEHIND the bus shelter, for security reasons!
Moving onto the more positive aspects of motor vehicles in Kazakhstan; the buses and mini-buses, whilst not particularly able to stick to their timetable due to the recent explosion in traffic volume, are dirt cheap, at least if you’re spending UK wages.
The availability of taxis may not, at first, appear that great. Once you realise that a lot of ‘civilian’ drivers will happily stop and give you a lift for a quickly bartered fee, getting from one place to another seems a lot easier. HOWEVER, in the same way as hitch-hiking in the UK, you DO need to be careful about personal safety. Don’t travel alone, and don’t get in the car if there is more than just the driver there. (Small children/grannies/granddads are possible exceptions). Basically, be aware of the situation you are placing yourself into.

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Dec 31 2007

You Drinking. Other People Driving.

Category: Kazakh Driving,KazakhstanChrisM @ 2:11 am

Which leads us onto the next topic – if there is a chance you’ll be drinking, then it’s likely someone will want you to say a few words, when it comes to your turn in the toast making.
You don’t need to be Over The Top, but DO make sure you thank your hosts for the meal/drink/their time (especially true if it is 4am, and they have work in 3 hours!).
You can wax lyrical if you have enough to say, but don’t feel abashed at all if you just want to say something like:
“First I’d like to thank Mr & Mrs Jones for their hospitality; I really appreciate your thoughts (assuming they mentioned you in their toast ;>). I hope to enjoy my stay here, and look forward to seeing this…. etc. etc.”

Driving. For those that ever sat in a car with me at the wheel, now is the time for you to admit it could have been so much worse…
I’m glad to say that in the last 5 years of visits to Kazakhstan, I’ve only been in a car once, that has been crashed into, but if this is going to be your first time driving/being driven off the continent, just remember one thing – loud screams/whimpers will distract the driver, and therefore increase the likelihood of a mishap.
I wouldn’t say people are necessarily bad drivers over here; it is just that they operate on a different logic & reasoning plane to UK drivers.
If a driver is in a queue, wanting to turn at the next set of traffic lights, and is bored of waiting, then they’ll happily ‘create’ a new lane in the other direction’s stream of traffic. If the road has 3 lanes marked out with paint, in each direction, it is quite normal to find a total of 8 or 9 lanes of traffic.

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Dec 19 2007

Buying A PC In Astana…

Category: Kazakhstan,PersonalChrisM @ 1:58 pm

I should have learnt from previous experiences buying hardware here in Kazakhstan, but I somehow just hoped that things would have improved.
Anyway, yesterday Ira, her Mum and I went to a couple of computer shops to order a new computer as an early Christmas present. I had got a copy of a PC spec that her work colleagues had designed for someone, made a few tweaks and improvements to some of the components, and then got a price for a complete system. Once we had all the details, I returned home to research some of the parts (if you’re intending to spend a fair whack on a large monitor, for example, you want to make sure that hundreds of people haven’t had serious issues with it.)
Eventually we had all the details, and returned to the one shop that had all parts in stock. Apparently. To cut a long story short, the suggested motherboard would only take DDR3 memory (which has a HUGE price premium, at least over here), not the DDR2 memory specced, the CPU wasn’t in stock, nor the case, nor the hard drives. All of this after starting our conversation with the (very nice) sales people by explaining we were hoping this shop wouldn’t muck us around, as Ucon had done last year. Anyway, after confirming we wanted a legal, licensed Windows XP installed, and that they could not source a specific A3 photo printer, we finally had an invoice printed (about the fourth or fifth version, after finding lots of parts were not in stock, despite being present on the stock/price list we were working from).
Anyway, I am getting picked up by my father-in-law’s new driver in a few hours, to go and check out the new PC, and make sure all is well with it. I wonder if I can suggest that they should swap their 24″ screen for my 19″ – purely for, ummm, hmmm, nope I can’t think of a valid reason. Life’s hard 😉

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Nov 29 2007

Solved The PC’s Recent Stability Issues

Category: PersonalChrisM @ 1:13 am

The last couple of days our PC has had problems whenever anything involving video or non-basic graphics were involved. I tried all the obvious things, rebooting first, re-installing the nVidia drivers, then upgrading them to a more recent version when that did nothing to help.
I finally tried cleaning the registry with a couple of different programs I usually use for such purposes. A few minor issues were discovered, though nothing appeared to be related to video. Anyway, the same problems occurred – changing resolutions, switching from DualView to single monitor use (or back again), playing videos or anything using DirectX would often as not cause the nVidia applet to unload itself from memory, and sometimes cause the explorer process to hang.
Finally, I decided to do a proper job, and downloaded a couple of utilities that clean the drivers completely off your computer. Basically you remove the video drivers via Add/Remove Programs applet in your Control Panel, cancel the add hardware requests that will pop up, reboot into safe mode, then run the cleaning utils. Reboot once more into Windows as you would normally, then install the nVidia drivers. Another reboot, and hey presto, my PC was running as it should once more. Anyway, the two (free) utils are called Driver Cleaner and NFR (Nasty File Remover). Ideally one should do the job, however I decided to play it safe, and NFR did find 4 files left behind by the DC. DC is now actually a product that is sold, however the previous free versions can easily be found by a quick Google search.

PS Not a sponsored post, just providing the links in case other readers have similar problems in the future.

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