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Vlog #19: The garden, 6 months on…

I was watching my very first vlog again and was surprised at the amount of change that happened to the garden over the last 6 months. I am not done with it yet, not by a long shot, but just seeing the changes that happened to it since I had the initial landscapers is amazing.

Of course, I went ahead and changed everything that they have done; pisses me off thinking of the amount of money I paid them for doing something that I ultimately changed, but I guess this is part of the learning experience… and their ground and irrigation prep work. Not all is lost.

This is the first glimpse that you get of my house, without any coy hiding of corners and parts! So enjoy, and go easy on me please. If you have any ideas regarding the garden I would love to hear them. I would particularly welcome your input in what shrubs I could use to make my “bulbs patch” look more permanent.

I am also looking for addresses and recommendations of big garden centres in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, so if you know any and would recommend them, let me know please with good contact and address details. This is the excuse that Frances was waiting for for 19 years; a trip for her to Saudi without any objections from me! I have refused to take her across before because I just couldn’t be bothered, and the real reason of course is that if she saw how good the shopping is there, she would drag me there every weekend!

Anyway, enjoy, and happy Friday once again!

[update: here’s my YouTube videos rss feed if you want to subscribe to it.]


Vlog #18: At the Drag Races

Arif and I attended the recent FIA Drag Racing event on Nov 12th, 2005 where we hoped to witness the top-fuelers and funny cars put to the track. Unfortunately due to the recent changes then to the track – which was extended a few days before the event to cater for these cars – there were a number of problems that the BIC had to contend with: non-sticky surface sent a lot of cars wobbling; a very dangerous thing as you might imagine at the speeds those things go at, and the electronics associated with the timing circuits objected for some reason and that created further delays.

The event was almost cancelled, primarily because of the non-grip situation as I understand it, but Kareem, the Mr. Fix-it of the BIC pulled quite a number of rabbits out of his hat and fixed that major problem by layering and re-layering the rubber sticky/glue material on the track, while other people finally fixed the Christmas tree and the 1/4 mile trip.

Unfortunately as Arif had school the next day on (the finals were held on Friday, and schools of course start on Saturdays) we couldn’t stay till the end and we called it quits around 10pm.

It was good seeing the various cars go on the track, and the noises and smells were beautiful.

This is the first movie I upload to YouTube, let me know if you prefer this method of vlogging display or the old one with Quicktime files.


Vlog #15 – Porsche Desert Nav Rally

The Porsche Club Desert Nav Rally
19.9MB • 11m45s • get Quicktime

This is the first driving activity I participate in at the Porsche Club of Bahrain and it was very enjoyable. Arif was my navigator and I only managed to get lost once, but that wasn’t the issue. The real issue was that it was a timed event which we really didn’t understand, but as it is a Porsche, it was pedal to the metal all the way, only to arrive considerably early that penalised the bejeezus out of us!

Still, was a good day out driving through the back roads of Zallaq village, up-and-down strips of asphalt in the desert, and trying to solve clues and shoot a video while doing all of these things…


Vlog #14 – last days in Amsterdam, and camcorder thoughts

last couple of days in Amsterdam
6.5MB • 5m42s • get Quicktime

The last couple of days in Amsterdam. It rained, and then the cold, cough and VERY sore throat caught up with me, so much so that I was off sick for a week after a came back and I still suffer from it. Even after two visits to docs and a couple of shots and a bucketful of medicines. Never mind, I’m alive.

The quality of these clips should be familiar to you now.. all through my Nokia 6630 phonecam… the picture is ok, the sound is crap. Ok ok, both are crap…

I saw a fantastic Samsung flash-memory based camera in Dubai the day before yesterday and fell in love with it. Very thin and slightly better quality pictures than the phonecam, but not so much better for me to flash my card and buy it. That’s coming soon I think as I do need some handy, little, light camcorder to continue vlogging (yes the bug is deeply ingrained now.)

I also saw some really nice Sony HDV camcorders at the Gitex exhibition in Dubai a couple of days ago, one in particular shows a lot of promise, a cheapo HDV model: the HDR-HC1 and it was listed at 7,000 Dirhams ($1,866). The picture quality was definitely better than any DV camcorder I’ve seen (single CCD ones) but the pictures were washed out, with a lot of colour smearing especially at ambient indoor light.

Sony were running a side-by-side comparison footage shot using the HDR-HC1 and a normal DV camcorder, the exercise shows quite clearly that the quality of the HDV produced by the HDR-HC1 is much better. However, when compared with the HDR-FX1 “proper” consumer HDV, it pales in comparison. The reason I think is not only because of the optics, but also the CCD blocks, the HDR-HC1 uses a single CMOS chip for image acquisition, which is a new technology as far as I can gather, rather than the 3 individual CCDs as in the case of the FX1. The technology shows a lot of promise.. but I would hold off and pay the approximately $1,000 difference and get the FX1 instead if I was looking for image quality.

BUT (yes, there is always a but somewhere) judging by my experience with the Canon EOS 20D, it is a large camera, not easily portable, and is not really a “point-and-shoot” type. It totally discourages you from simple “lomography” if you like when compared with the IXUS for instance. Throw that in your pocket and shoot anything that moves. In fact, that is one of the main reasons that I shoot with my phonecam rather than bring out my Sony PC9E DV camcorder. Convenience. The Sony PC9E is bulky and unwieldy compared to a mobile phone of course, in addition to it being a bit threatening. However, the picture quality is infinitely better.

But I’m getting to be lazy. I want small and fast. That’s why I’ve been looking more and more into the new mobile telephones with particular emphasis on their image acquisition engines! Top of the heap at the moment seem to belong to the Sony Ericsson W800i. The newer Nokia N90 is a total disappointment. Although the camera is just as good as the Ericsson model, the design is total and utter crap. Whoever designed the N90 should be shot, because I think he’s done a lot more damage to Nokia than any competitor could. It’s big, bulky and total and utter crap.

Anyway, I guess I have to make some sort of decision regarding camcorders. I would really love to just get a small and cheerful camcorder for instant shooting, even if it records on memory sticks (though that would be restrictive in the length of the movies it can store) or even better a smaller format than DV. Didn’t Sony bring out those MPEG4 camcorders a couple of years ago? Whatever happened to them?

I’d like to hear from you if you have or indeed use such a small camcorder and let me know your experiences with it. I’m looking to buy something immediately, but need to hear some opinions first…

Enjoy the movies!


Vlog #13 – Amsterdam nights

enjoying ourselves in Amsterdam
2.3MB • 3mins • get Quicktime

The first very tiring day at the exhibition is over, and it’s time to relax, unwind, have some dinner with a friend and enjoy what Amsterdam has to offer at nights…

again, this is shot with my mobile phone camera, so don’t expect Oscar quality, but it’s good enough I guess… enjoy!


Vlog #12 – Going to Amsterdam – Day 1

going on my annual pilgrimage to amsterdam to attend the IBC conference
6.8MB • 7m26s • get Quicktime

The flight was one of the worst I’ve been on for quite a while, not to blame KLM of course, but the travel agent screwed it up: they told us that it was a direct flight (meaning only 6 hours in a flying tube) while in actual fact we discovered that it was routed South via Abu Dhabi, which adds another 3 hours onto the flight time!

Now add to that I have chosen the very first seat in economy, you know, the seats with fixed arm rests? Yep, those ones, so no way I could get comfortable and sleep.

Anyway, the compensation is that I was going to Amsterdam, one of my favourite cities in the world… the rest is in the movie, which covers the flight and arrival in the city. I’ll be editing the remainder of the trip over the next few days…


Vlog: Bahrain F1 Fever

What a day! This was the pre-cursor to the F1 proper, and have the first ever F1 car driving at hellish speeds on a public road was brilliant. Here is the movie I have created, with the help of Arif who actually shot quite a lot of video that afternoon.


Vlog #7: Essa Faraj, a man with a passion for conservation

I was intrigued to read about a conservation effort in Bahrain mounted by one man to rescue the dwindling population of indigenous Bahraini frogs and terrapins in Khaleej Times on June 21st. The intrigue was due to two factors: (1) it was reported in an Emirati paper rather than a Bahraini one, and (2) we actually had someone who cares about the environment here?

The article thankfully gave us the venue and the person so it took only a couple of phone calls to arrange to meet with the person responsible for this effort.

Armed with my video and stills cameras, I went to see Essa Jassim at Al-Areen early on the morning of the 22nd to talk to him about his frogs and terrapins, and do a short interview for the vlog, if I could find one of his frogs I would shoot that too.

Essa was extremely accommodating, he talked to me at length about this, and other conservation efforts that he is involved in, about his experiences with the frogs, why he chose to champion their cause and how he went about rescuing them. But like any good man, he made little of this, as if to say that anyone could have done the same. Sure anyone could have done the same, but no one other than Essa bothered.

I hope you enjoy visiting Essa’s frogs as much as I did. It was 2 or 3 hours that were well spent at Al-Areen. If you’re in the area, I would highly encourage you to visit, it is a lovely place.

On the technical side, this is the most challenging video I have done to date. I actually spent some time researching the subject, doing some planning, purposely going to another location to interview a person I’ve never met before and it all shows. The technical aspects of the movie suck! There is a lot of learning to be done, and this was a very good start.

This is my checklist for what I need to get and do as soon as practicable:

1. Get a proper video camera, the Sony HDR-FX1 is my first choice there.

2. Get a proper microphone with a windscreen. You will hear how atrocious the sound quality is on the movie, I apologize as this is the best I could do with what I have at the moment. Suggestions for a good quality, yet cheapish mic are welcome.

3. I need to get a couple of lapel mics with windscreens. Subjects tend to get very conscious of the camera and refuse to look into it. When they do that, their sound is directed elsewhere hence the sound quality suffers. A lapel mic might help in this situation.

4. I’ve used a very dinky pocket tripod for this interview shoot which was good enough, I have a couple of other tripods for my stills cameras but I doubt that they will be any good for video as their heads are not fluid enough. I need to get one of those.

5. You will notice how self conscious I was in the interview, even though I recorded myself AFTER I finished interviewing Essa and then edited myself in at the appropriate places. I should have kept silent for 10 seconds longer between questions so I could get better edits.

6. I should have looked into the camera rather than looking down on my notes and then into the camera. Quaint yet, but professional no.

7. Because the source material was less than good, I spent a lot longer on the edit than I should have. I should plan the shoot a bit better.

8. Compression game me big problems, this time not with the pictures at all, but with the sound. Once compressed using various settings and those I have used before, the speakers sounded like they’re speaking into tin-cups! That should be fixed with good quality off-camera mics. I hope.

9. Lights! I need lights, reflectors or at least position the camera properly to take advantage of natural light. I had to do shenanigans get this corrected in post with a lot of colour correction which is not very successful due to the backlight in the interview segment.

Technical and subjects suggestions welcome.