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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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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Feb 29 2012

Need to vent…

Category: Kazakhstan,TweetsChrisM @ 8:32 am

Things that have severely tested my patience this morning…

Un-necessary (I think, could be wrong) PPPoE connections configured badly (certain of this point) by Megaline staff that visited in-laws whilst I was in UK. An already flaky connection is further ham-stringed by extra hoops to jump through/fall over.

Posterous (my main media hosting service) blocked here in Kazakhstan. Sorry, I’m assuming this is yet another technical error. Will try and check which elite ex-government member (opposition figures with a clean past are thin on the ground here) now uses the service. Bypassed with Opera, and once I have the url for the image itself, no problem, as posterous use Amazon’s cloud service and amazon.com isn’t yet blocked/experiencing male cow faeces technical issues.

Google services still blocked in some cases. Using translate link from search results blocked for example. (Using Google Chrome’s auto-translate feature once on a page still working. I’ll check if Google Docs is also still fubarred by incompetence/over-eager censoring later.

note: Kazakhstan is great, and certainly heading towards one of the top 50 countries to live in, globally. The government is superb, makes the right decisions for the right reasons, and no one should ever protest. Any “news” to the contrary is false. Always.

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Oct 29 2011

New Looks, New Site, New Mashup

Category: Amsterdam,PersonalChrisM @ 12:42 am

CeltPhotographic has had a redesign, it now uses a theme geared towards people like John who publish a lot of photos in their posts. I think I’ll be re-using the theme on Anna and Tim’s sites.
Which reminds me, I’m not sure if I’ve already mentioned it on this blog, but Tim has his own site, like Anna, which can be found at TimMerriman.com. Like his big sister’s it automatically pulls photos and videos of Anna or Tim from this blog and then re-publishes them.
I have also added a new map to the Amsterdam page. It uses a KML file of the coffeeshops I recommend visiting and zooms in a little (if you scroll around, you’ll find a few more in more outlying areas.) FWIIW, I’ve not updated the research since 2008/9 really.

View Larger Map

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Oct 04 2011

Three Bed Detached House For Sale – Gloucester

Category: Friends,PersonalChrisM @ 9:47 pm

I need to catch up with a few posts that I’ve been trying to get around to writing for a while. The first is about a house a friend back in Britain is selling. If you are looking for a three bedroom detached house in Gloucester, then you might want to carry on reading.

3 Bed Detached House For Sale, Gloucester

The kitchen was refitted recently, you can park a car directly in front of the house on a small drive, with two sheds in the back garden. As you may have guessed, I’m not an estate agent, so to get a better idea, you should probably head directly to their site – click to discover more about the three bedroom detached house for sale in Gloucester.

Back Garden Of Three Bedroom Detach House For Sale In Gloucester, Glos

Other things I should probably already have mentioned : Gas central heating, uPVC double glazing, and the shops really are very local.

View Larger Map

(I’m not receiving any sort of recompense for this post btw, but if you buy the house after seeing this blog post, please let her know I sent you, I’m hoping a bottle of vodka would await my return to the UK 😉 )

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Dec 01 2010

Brick Lane

Category: VideosChrisM @ 4:00 am

OK, this video has a lot of people confused. Is it fake? Real but problems with loose bricks? Real and works well? Looks like a good way to save back breaking work, if it is genuine, I especially like the painted lines being applied prior to laying the stones. Straight lines work well, but as noted by someone else within the YouTube comments section, what happens when you get to a curve? Can it handle laying more stones on one side of the track, whilst turning? Dutch ingenuity or well carried out hoax? You decide. Or Google it 🙂

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Nov 21 2010

PockeTwit Update

Category: Windows MobileChrisM @ 2:06 am

PockeTwit has been updated again, and the most interesting part for me is the possibility to include videos within a tweet (as twitvid still doesn’t have a native Windows Mobile client) via the Posterous system. I would like to be able to drop Qik from my regular blogging applications list on my phone. The lack of full resolution, and the fact that since Qik’s recent system update that embedded videos now auto-play mean that any alternative for shooting videos whilst out and about should be interesting.
I have yet to install the updated .NET CF 3.5 install, but I hope that it will stop the failed to connect message that sometimes pops up in PockeTwit. Check the PockeTwit update page for other changes made (Ignore the URL, the update for PockeTwit is definitely v0.84, not v0.85), or if you prefer to just download the latest CAB (for direct installation on you WM device) or MSI executable (for installing via your PC) check this page.

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Nov 20 2010

Google Maps for Mobile

Category: Windows MobileChrisM @ 12:50 am

In this series of Windows Mobile based applications, I want to write a few words about Google Maps (for mobile) – you’ll need to visit that link in your phone’s browser to download the latest CAB. Assuming you have a GPS chip in your phone, Google Maps will take a few seconds to display how many satellites your GPS chip has actually successfully locked onto so far, before showing your current location with a blue circle around it. The circle gives you a visualization of just how accurate your fix is. Should buildings, heavy clouds or other reasons prevent a GPS lock, Google Maps will default back to using mobile phone company’s aerial towers to guesstimate where you are. This can lead to an accuracy of within 1km or more, however this is still quicker than trying to pan around a static map in an area you don’t know at all.
Depending on the country you are in at the time (and therefore just how much data Google holds on your current location), you can: use your voice to search for local businesses, get directions whilst driving (perhaps not as well as a TomTom or Garmin devices, but still worth a shot if you don’t want to spend more money), get current traffic information (definitely only available in some countries) for your route/area, use Street View images to double check exactly where you are, and also use Google Latitude to check which of your friends are close to you right now.
Ah, I just double checked Google’s information, and the turn by turn navigation feature has not yet apparently made it to the Windows Mobile version of this app. You can still however get a list of directions from your current location to your desired destination.
[edit 2]
I assumed this would be obvious, but just in case it hasn’t occurred to you, you’ll want to ensure you have a good deal on your GPRS/EDGE/3G data usage before using this program – if you zoom in a lot, and then travel just a mile or two, Google will be sending you a lot of graphics to render as a map on your phone.

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Nov 12 2010

Translating The Basics

Category: Windows MobileChrisM @ 8:43 pm

I’m combining a couple of reviews into one post here, as the Windows Mobile applications are very similar. They both place a convenient interface for online translation services, so if you are in a foreign city, or accessing a document in a language other than your own, you can quickly get the gist of what is written.
Obviously using free automated translation services means the meanings won’t always be precise (does that phrase refer to a hot curry or a proper colon cleanser?), however they should be good enough to give you an idea of what you are dealing with. W0lf Translator has a basic interface, and will attempt to detect which language your source is in, if you don’t already know.
The other program I have installed is dV2tTranslator – which is like w0lf’s app, but you can choose one of two services to use, and has a basic text to speech option (I don’t know about European languages, but can confirm that English works, and Russian doesn’t. This may be a unicode issue, or the created MP3s might only have English rules pre-written). It also has a more modern looking interface (less Windows Mobile 2003, more HTC’s Sense, in terms of style).

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Oct 28 2010

When You Are 64

Category: WordPressChrisM @ 1:36 am

A little over six months ago the server that this site is hosted on was hacked. I still don’t know how they got in (it is likely that someone else on the same server had an outdated version of some software installed, and once in the hacker somehow gained root access), but once a friend alerted me to the presence of malware links, the fingerprints of the hack were clearly traceable on almost all the PHP files in use across all my sites.
One of the tricks such hacks use is to encode their urls in Base64, hiding in the theme files for your WordPress installation, meaning a simple text search for the url won’t work. Go and google or wiki for more info on Base64, but King Of Flibbles could be encoded to c3RlaW5lciBiaW5vY3VsYXJz … not very easy to read, nor to pick up with a cursory scan of the source code.
This is where you either need to learn to read Base64, if you have shell access you can grep the files for Base64 references, or simply install something like the TAC (Theme Authenticity Checker) plug-in. Whether you are installing a new theme for the first time, and therefore want to check it before activating, or suspect you may have been hacked and want to check all the theme files are still OK, the plug-in will do all the hard work for you. It also lets you know just how many (normally formed) static links there are in the theme, you can easily tell if it has been stuffed full of SEO sapping links.

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