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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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.
[edit]
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 19 2010

I Can’t Get You Out Of My Head

Category: Windows MobileChrisM @ 11:38 pm

One “feature” with Windows Mobile devices is that they are designed to rarely actually close programs, instead the idea is that programs are hibernated or minimized, meaning that when you want to re-start the program it is almost instantly available. This approach does unfortunately have some drawbacks though, as despite recent specification increases you will often find yourself low on memory if you use more than a couple of resource hungry applications. Another issue is that WM will attempt to automatically close programs that it deems are not needed, and take a lot of RAM (device memory, as opposed to storage memory) up. This can leave you with programs you don’t need staying in memory, and programs you’d actually prefer to keep open in the background being automatically closed down.
If you have an app that displays RSS feeds, and another than plays music or streams live video, you may find the wrong program is automatically closed whilst the one(s) that could be closed aren’t. Another issue is that, as with desktop PCs, some programs leak memory. If you’re not familiar with the term, it is a bit like someone sticking a reserved sign on a table at a restaurant, and not removing it either after the meal or if the customer fails to turn up. There are in reality spare tables left in the room, but due to the reserved sign, new customers (applications) are denied the use of these tables (RAM).
One solution comes in the form of CleanRAM – it clears out unused applications and processes from your phone’s memory to ensure more RAM is available for the next app you load. You can create exceptions so that certain programs are never closed. A bit like Windows own memory management algorithms, but more aggressive and highly configurable. Memory is recovered both from programs that are hiding in the background, despite not being in the official WM applications running list (I’m looking at you Ms. PacMan!), from leaks that need fixing, and also re-loading some drivers and processes to ensure the maximum amount of free RAM is now available for your next program.

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Nov 12 2010

Just shot this clip (#qik) htt…

Category: Anna's Videos,Tweets,VideosChrisM @ 9:09 am

Just shot this clip (#qik) http://qik.ly/Dd5pT

Sorry, it looks as though Qik have changed their embed code so videos auto-play when you load the site. I’ll try and see if there is a fix.

Nope, they are indeed autoplaying any embedded videos right now. I’ve left a comment asking if it can altered. For now, I’ll hide the video of Anna on the way to playgroup from the front page – you’ll need to click the (0) link to see the post on its own, which will then allow the video to play. (Asides to don’t display the read more link I’m using. Oh, the video is cut off before we arrived at the playgroup, as the teacher was ill and cancelled the session.
Continue reading “Just shot this clip (#qik) htt…”

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Nov 10 2010

Crud Scraper

Category: Windows MobileChrisM @ 8:41 pm

A lot of mobile companies will pre-install applications that add value (in their eyes) to your mobile if you purchase their subsidised branded version of the phone. Often referred to as bloatware (as the programs are often not incredibly useful (especially to power users), they take up storage space on your phone’s internal memory, and if they are run at start-up, also consume RAM). If you find yourself with an AT&T network branded Touch Pro 2 (I think they re-brand it as a Tilt 2), Crud Scraper will help remove any applications you really don’t want any traces of.
Whilst you can sometimes simply remove these programs yourself through Windows Mobile’s “Remove Programs” option found within the Settings window, there are a couple of problems with this method. Firstly, not all programs are displayed in this list, and secondly, using this approach can still leave behind files (so space is still wasted) and entries in your phone’s registry. Crud Scraper knows exactly what AT&T have added beyond the stock Windows Mobile ROM image, so it is able to properly remove all traces. Whether you want to remove a game that you know you’ll never play or a digital banking program that doesn’t integrate with your account, Crud Scraper will help to properly remove them. People have been asking the author to create the required XML files to assist in removing crud from non-AT&T phones, but I couldn’t see any such updates just yet.

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Nov 09 2010

Apps For Windows Mobile Devices

Category: Windows MobileChrisM @ 12:30 pm

I just wanted to write a couple of quick notes before I started writing Windows Mobile posts again. Firstly, the category for these posts was originally titled PDA (as I used it for iPaq related posts). The category slug is still PDA, to prevent old links from becoming broken, but I’ve changed the title displayed to Windows Mobile, as this covers all the HTC devices I’m likely to be writing about, as well as the older posts obviously.

Most of the software I shall be recommending/reviewing is will be found at the XDA Devlopers forum. You will need to register at the forum to download any attachments they are hosting directly, and before posting questions at the site, you MUST learn to search first. The site was originally set up for enthusiasts who enjoyed hacking the software and cooking ROMs for HTC devices. Although they have since branched out to other manufacturer’s devices, and now also get a lot of traffic from “newbies”, if you start posting questions that have been asked twenty times before, a frustrated member is likely to respond frostily.

All the applications/drivers/tweaks I’ll be writing about are free, unless otherwise noted. If the program is a paid for application, and written by a single person, you’ll not find me willing to help you get it for free. If you want a program that a large multi-national company makes, please do NOT visit isohunt.com or demonoid.com and search for a torrent that contains the program. Similarly, whilst NOT downloading programs for free from those sites, make sure you have your anti-virus up to date, as trojans and viruses and quite often found in some releases.

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Nov 05 2010

Recent Posts

Category: WordPressChrisM @ 11:11 pm

This is the second plug-in from the same author as WP-BlackCheck. However, this has nothing to do with fighting random spammers from dropping links to their sites into comments on your blog. Instead, this helps to promote your site wherever you are able to display a banner. For an example of the output this plug-in provides, see the graphic below.

WP-HeadlineAnimator takes your most recent blog posts’ titles, combines them with your chosen background, and then creates an animated GIF each time you add or edit a post. If you are displaying the banner on a normal website, you’d just use the normal IMG tag, in the middle of a href=”http://chrismerriman.com/ and /a , if you wanted the graphic to be linked back to your site. (Obviously I’ve left out the brackets here, so it displays properly as text.)
If you wanted to include the graphic as a link in your forum signatures (assuming they use one of the major forum software apps), the code would look something like this – [url=http://chrismerriman.com/][img]http://chrismerriman.com/wp-content/animator.gif[/img][/url] – pretty much the same as the HTML version, but with square brackets and different labels for the tags.
You will need to supply your own TTF file and upload it to the plug-in’s directory, however, if you browse your own hard drive and navigate to c:\windows\fonts , you will find a lot there, and if you have some flavour of Linux installed, I’m going to assume you know what you’re doing already. Should you wish to save your monthly bandwidth allowance on the server your blog is based, you can remotely store the created GIF on a different server. There are a few other options available, such as tweaking the colours, timing, amount of posts displayed and the format the blog post’s date should take.
If you mis-configure the plug-in by giving the wrong path to the background PNG or TTF files, the text to the left will appear in bright red, to give you a clue as to why no GIF has yet been created. If you have problems or suggested new features, be sure to check out the blog of the author and leave a comment.

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Nov 05 2010

And On A Related Note…

Category: WordPressChrisM @ 10:23 pm

If you want to increase the amount of time that the average new visitor to your blog spends on your site, one option is to include links to related posts. The aptly named WordPress Related Posts (the English language version of the author’s post about this plug-in is down, so that links to the official WordPress.org page for it instead) plug-in does just that. You can select how many posts you want listed, what the plug-in should do if no related posts are actually found, and whether thumbnails should be used. You can also instruct it to never include posts from certain categories, display how old the related post is, how many comments each post has, and whether to automatically insert the information into each post (in case you want to edit your theme’s PHP files yourself and customise it more) and/or your RSS feed.
Although it doesn’t work in a multi-blog environment (if you don’t know what that means, you don’t need to worry about it), and there are a lot of competing plug-ins available, until I find a problem I can’t easily fix with it, I’ll probably continue using it.
Anyway, I need to check my old e-mails sometime, as another author has invited me to try out their plug-in for displaying related posts, but I still have other more important mails to sort out first, so it may take a while. If I do end up changing, I’ll try and remember to post details on the new one.

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Nov 05 2010

Who Said What?

Category: WordPressChrisM @ 10:11 pm

We are already onto the W of plug-ins that are used across my different sites. So this review will be one of the last in this series. For anyone more interested in Windows Mobile applications and tweaks, I realised recently that I’ve not put any up for a long time, so those will most likely be the next series here at ChrisMerriman.com
Anyway, back to the plug-in… Wizzart – Recent Comments is a more versatile replacement for the Recent Comments widget that was recently integrated into WordPress. If you know more than me about CSS (I’m pretty sure AlexC is well past that point already!) you can define the rules for this widget, or if you are more of a point, click and hope sort of person, the widget admin area opens up some basic options.
You can obviously decide how many comments you want to display, as well as how many characters should be included (useful if your theme’s sidebars’ width mean the default character count often ends up with a word left trailing on a new line by itself). You can decide whether just comments should be displayed, or whether you also want to include recent pings and trackbacks (when WordPress is informed of links to your posts, be they internal or external).
If you wish, then only comments from the current category of the post you are viewing will be presented (if you write about amateur radio hardware and also snowboarding, then you may only want comments relevant to each topic displayed by default).
Finally, it is Gravatar enabled, meaning that if the comment author has a Gravatar account, their chosen profile picture will be displayed. WordPress populates this field with a random image if you have selected that option (check the Discussion option page).
If you are 100% happy with WordPress’s own Recent Comments widget (or simply don’t use it), or perhaps you have all your blog entries set to no comments allowed, then obviously this plug-in isn’t for you, otherwise, take a few minutes to check it out.

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Nov 03 2010

Karra And Others

Category: Dasha&Kittens,PersonalChrisM @ 9:57 pm

This morning, while Anna and I were at her regular Wednesday kindergarten, Astana TV ran a piece on black cats that I mentioned previously. Someone somewhere recorded it via a camcorder hooked up to the RCA outputs on a cable box, and left me the tape.
Anna, Muska, Karra and I all make a brief appearance (given that she has black fur and is a cat, Karra was on screen for the longest 🙂 ). Now all I have to do is hope some kind soul with a disposable YouTube account uploads it soon, so I can embed the video here!
The journalist is obviously speaking in Russian, so I’ll hopefully find a version with English subtitles. On a related note, checking YouTube will be a faster experience for us from next month, as we have upgraded to MegaLine’s Turbo Plus account, meaning we will get our first 20Gb per month at a speed of 1 to 8 Mbit/sec. Again, as with our current 1Mbit account, after those 20Gb have been exceeded, the speed will be throttled down again.
Hooray for faster internet! Though I’ll have to be careful as we will soon be able to exceed our monthly limit within about three hours of the first day of the month!

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