Sunday, October 31, 2010

Got Music? How to capture tunes off youtube

I love youtube, and how they have made it really easy to connect with nostalgia.

One time I was watching an episode of the Simpsons, at the end of which a song played, I found myself strangely singing along to it, despite not remembering where on earth I could have heard it.

A google search later, and I was surprised to discover it was the opening theme for "Perfect Strangers", which if anyone remembers, was a comedy show that ran back in the 90s (Thank you KTV2).

Anyway, I could not find the opening theme :(

What I usually do is enter the following search string on google:

(name of song)

which usually works, you are taken to the accounts of people who have uploaded said song onto their virtual drives, and are allowed to download off them. However, this does not always work.

So now, there is a second Option.

Zamar, the Free online file converter!

I first came across Zamzar when a friend pointed me there, I needed to convert an xlsx file (Excel 2007) into an xls file (old Excel). Then I found out that the possible combinations are limitless. Whats best is their video download.

Alot of programs claim to be youtube video downloaders, although the majority of them are merely fronts for trojan horses and backdoors, and as I am skeptic of all programs that are not freeware and ask you to download a toolbar, I shy away from them.

With Zamzar however, you do not install anything. You merely go to the website, click on the download videos tab, paste the link from youtube (only works with youtube vids though), then select what you wish to convert the file into. You could make it a video, meaning it would be a large file, or an mp3, making it smaller.

I convert youtube vids into mp3s when they are songs I want to listen to on the go. You upload the vid to their site (if you scroll down after you click convert you will see the conversion bar working), they will then send you a link to your email (with a 24-hour expiry), which you follow and bada-bing-bada-boom, you have just made music :)

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Cycling Whore - My Adventure with DBCK

The early bird catches the worm, but the early cyclist joins the wrong group!

Today was meant to be my first run with the fabulous group of biking enthusiasts, the Kuwait Desert Biking Club. Id known of them for quite some time, but had yet to make the commitment of going for an early Friday morning route.

The day started off @ 5:30am, got up, adrenalin pumping, in anticipation of the adventure that lay ahead, and what an adventure it proved to be!

After my morning coffee, I checked my email to double check the time, and place of the meeting. However, I failed to save the number given in the email, just in case I got lost etc.

The drive to the location was uneventful, the most relaxing driving is done on a Friday morning.

Meeting time was 6:30, I was there by 6:20, first impressions are the most crucial, and I hoped to be punctual.

Im in the parking lot looking around and, its just me! There are no cars around, much less cars with cycle carriers. I got out of the car to walk around and, as I looked across the street, I saw what appeared to be my intended group, already huddled together and shooting down the other side of the gulf road!

Desperate to catch up, I threw everything into my bag, hopped on my bike and peddled furiously to make up for lost time.

I was to learn later, what I already knew as well, that my knowledge of gears on bicycles was severely lacking to say the least. Not to mention the fact that my seat was low-set, giving me the appearance, as one person quoted, of an oversized guy on an 11-year olds bike.

Catch up to the group, I did not. I figured, well, I am out here on a Friday morning, the weather is fantastic, I might as well just double back and enjoy the ride back to my car (distance travelled was from the Radisson Blu up to the 30). On taking a “U-turn”, I saw two professional looking biking dudes, and much like the affinity found between smokers where complete strangers can ask for a light, I followed them and asked whether or not they were KDBC. The guy tells me no, we’re Pilipino (an obvious communication error, but, nonetheless, I tagged along).

Two more guys came along, and the first person I talked to told me to go off with them, as they were waiting for more people. Again, my lack of bicycle gear knowledge meant that I was lagging far, far behind the two. Lost them, found them again as one dude had to make a call (didn’t ask for names, although he was British with blue sunglasses), they started off again, and again, I fell behind, but this time, there would be no reuniting. I kept scouting the ground looking for any tell-tale sign of tire tracks, but my ranger skills are as sharp as my knowledge of bicycle gears! I kept pedaling past some officers club, and that hideous brown eye-sore house with all the statuettes that looks like art threw up all over it, or it may be the place where good taste goes to die.

I got to the end of the road, and for the second time that day, in only 40 minutes, decided that my ride is over, afterall, the farther you get from your car, the longer you have to travel to get back, right?

So I headed back, along the way I looked to my right and saw a shiny metal surface and thought Hey! Theres another biker! It was merely my reflection.

I felt it was ridiculous to have travelled so far and have nothing to show for it, so I took a detour, did a bit of exploration and landed on some beach. I was probably encroaching on somebody elses property. I took the usual “facebook” picture, and headed to the other side of the beach, only to find a gate, not wanting to be arrested, I trekked back through the vicious sand, a very difficult thing to do as I kept sinking into it.

Slowly, but surely, I made it back to the area from whence I came, and started my journey back to my car, from somewhere on the 30.

Then what to my wondering eyes should appear, but 6 heavenly figures, bedecked with cycling gear!

I did a u-turn and followed them, finally, I was where I was supposed to be! A quick ride up a pedestrian bridge, and we were on the other side of the 30, playing follow the leader, a few introductions later, and we were all acquaintances.

A lovely trek later, filled with ups and downs, and even a sighting of cows!

A while later, we came to a drop down, Croc explained that there were three ways which we could go down, and for the purpose of this story, the picked the hardest one! It was steep ride down a make-shift hill, and on the way down, I panicked due to the ground being broken up, I hit the break and landed on my side, the water bottle I had just opened 3 minutes ago slipped away in the frackas, a little readjusting later, and we were back on the way to god knows where. A chat with Peter and my knowledge of bicycle gears increased exponentially.

Do not ask me where we went, I had no idea where we were and felt we got back by “magic”. It certainly seemed that the riders knew all the nooks and crannies of the road, at times squeezing through a tight hole in a fence.

The day ended @ PQ, over a glorious cup of coffee. The only downside to the day was that I lost one of my earphones ear-pieces. Other than that, it was amazing.

At the end of the night, I felt much like a bicycle whore, jumping from one group to the next, until I found out where I am meant to be!

I will definitely be back on the road next Friday, it shall prove to be perfect training for the runq8 marathon on the 6th of November!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

e-Gulfbank, E-sucks

When I got back to Kuwait, upon firing up my q80 sim, I was bombarded with "you missed these calls" messages with the following number 1805805.

I called up the number to find out it belongs to, the Gulf Bank.

If there is one piece of information I cherished learning, it is the following pearl of wisdom by investment Guru Warren Buffet, "do not spend then save, save then spend".

What does this mean? And what does this have to do with the Gulf Bank, and just how exactly do they suck? All shall be revealed.

The first thing people do when they get their monthly paycheck is proceed to tick off all their expenses; rent, food, fuel, credit card, cigarettes etc. etc. what amount they have left in the end, they allocate a portion of that to savings. Effectively, spending then saving. Buffet says no, save then spend. And in this digital era of online banking, gone are the days of the old bulky mattress or hiding money under the floor.

All it took was one trip to the Gulf Bank (my salary account is at NBK) to open up a savings account. The day my salary is transfered, I login to Watani Online, and transfer a portion of my salary to the Gulf Bank account, and I keep that card safely out of reach, never to be used, as it is only for money-in, never money-out.

Prior to taking this decision to go with the GB, I had thoroughly researched all other savings accounts with all other banks in Kuwait (even the BBK) and determined this one to be the best, it was to be called the Golden Investor account, and it had an interest rate, albeit minute. It was linked to LIBOR (what I came to find out later stood for London Inter Bank Offering Rate, meaning the rate changed monthly, so technically, it was not haram).

So, I head on over to GB to open up the golden investor account; what does the heavily manicured, peroxide blonde, excessively-made up sales rep tell me? Go for the e-trading account, it has a higher interest, and it does not change, 3.125%, highest in Kuwait. She was right about that, initially.

I was coerced into that account.

Months went by, and the "interest" was working well, you would basically multiply whatever amount there was in the account by 3.125% and divide by 12 months, to reach the amount you get per month.

I noticed that although the amount within the bank was steadily rising, the interest I was earning was in fact dropping! I sent the bank an email to inquire, and they told me that since the bank had undergone drastic overhaul (remember the case almost a year ago when they almost lost 80% of their venture capital?) and that the e-trading account was no longer going @ 3.125% interest, but it was the same as the interest rate of the Central Bank.

Off the top of my head, that is called false advertising. They had advertised highest interest rates in the Gulf, and then suddenly had plummeted to about half that amount. For figures sake, if you had KD5,000 you would be earning KD156.250 @ 3.125%, however when the rate drops (an interchangeable rate, which is what I was going for in the first place with the golden investor account) to 1.5% you are making KD75 a year.

These are not big amounts, but it is a matter of principle none-the-less.

Now, what I had started with in the first place, the calls from the customer service reps whilst I was abroad. I initially got worried, what if something had happened to my account, my nest-egg, and they were trying to reach me? I feared the worst, but those fears were alleviated when I checked my balance online.

They called me again today, if you head on over to Marina Mall, and go to the central fountain, you will find the GB guys sitting before a large box LADEN with cash, moolah, dough, the reds. Bank-packs of KD10 notes, apparently KD1million (roughly $3.6M).

This is in preparation for their Al-Danah Millionaire draw. Apparently they have to raise the required cash for this "lottery".

The thing about lotteries is, you all must have read the story with the guy who wanted to buy a donkey from another guy, so he paid him $100 for it, the next day he goes to collect the donkey only to be told it died and there was no refund, so he asked for the corpse. He held a "lottery" with a grand prize of 1 donkey, each ticket cost $2, he made $998 by selling 500 tickets and refunding one to the winner telling him the donkey had died.

I am skeptical of lotteries, I would rather invest my money in the stock market, as opposed to playing "odds", anyway, the girl seemed pleasant enough, so I figured, what have I got to lose, my monthly interest of about 6KD, or the chance to win 1,000KD weekly or better yet, KD1million in January?

I said ok, open up an account for me with the bare minimum (I dont see a point in putting all my eggs in that basket), the greedy lass wanted me to open it with more! I said thanks, but no thanks. That nest-egg is going to liquidate into the Aymz Car Fund in 2011.

She asked me the usual questions to open the account, and after she opened it I asked, what if I wish to cancel it, she goes you have to visit the branch to do so.

Now I know this is common practice, but how is it I can open an account over the phone, but I cannot close it over the phone? All the while she started talking about penalties if the balance drops below 200KD etc etc.
A stupid policy, and again, I was misinformed. The dumbest thing ever is that banks work for less hours than their customers, and are off on the same day that their customers are. When on earth is anyone meant to do any banking work if they close @ 3 and we all leave work @ 4 or so?

So why does the Gulf Bank suck?

a) they dropped the interest rate on an account they primarily billed as having the "highest interest rate in the Gulf". Deceptive advertising.

b) I transfer money from NBK to GB free-of-charge, as it is a local transfer, right? If I wanted to go the other way, GB want to charge me 1KD per transfer.

c) Their online banking is a joke compared to NBK.

d) Their internet shopping card requires a minimum balance, as opposed to NBKs card where you can merely transfer the exact amount you want, and maintain a zero balance all year long. NBK gives you the first year free, GB charge you. I heard it was 10KD per annum, NBK is only 5KD.

e) There are thrice as much NBK ATMs all over Kuwait as there are GB ones.

f) Even their website is tacky. Vs.

The Demise of Sequential Data- Farewell Sony Walkman

On the BBC:

Sad but True is not just a song played by Metallica...

For those who have not heard, Sony has bid farewell to the Walkman, the first portable music player of the world.

Born in 1979, the Walkman re-invented and conned the term personal music. You finally had music that you could carry around in your pocket and just walk man! No longer would one have to traipse about with a boombox over their shoulder to enjoy music "on the go".

I went through the usual progression of music players; I carried around a walkman in my pocket when I was in school, each year bringing a newer, sleeker design with more functionality, then progressed to carrying around a discman in my pocket (yes, a whole discman! to school sometimes even), then came the era of mp3, starting off with the meager 1GB and now, I have an ipod strapped to my arm.

One time in highschool I had borrowed my brothers walkman (a Shockwave) and during english class, a friend borrowed it from me. He had it hidden in the desk, and would sneak a listen every couple of minutes. Unfortunately, the teacher caught him, when he asked him to pull it out of the desk and hand it over, and now I shit you not, the boy actually pulls out... A SANDWICH! And in all sincerity, looks up at the teacher and hands it to him! To which he responds, and the walkman. The look on the boys face was classic, made me forget I was supposed to be mad @ him for having my brothers walkman confiscated!

I shall miss the Walkman. It may pale in comparison to its newest cousin, but there will always be a hint of nostalgia when one looks at an audio cassette. Flipping it from A to B (I could never get those right; I'd always just play one end through, coz when you flip Rewind became FF, it was crazy, you never knew what you would get).

Apparently, 2010 is the year we bid farewell to outdated technology, Sony must be clearing their vaults in anticipation of something HUGE. First it was the floppy disk, now it is the walkman. Who will get the axe next?

My vote is the Discman.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

When virtuosity meets reality: Driving games come to life

Here I am, feeling alien and missing my exit as I had not driven in 12 days!

I'm driving down the 30, headings towards Ahmadi to watch the Scorpions take on the Bahrain contingency (Scorpions won! I'm unofficially the team lucky charm, they won their first game, I was there, the lost their second game, I was not there, and now they won their third, when I came back)

But that is neither here, nor there, merely a filling for the true story.

Everyone had a gaming console, I personally loved driving games, the likes of Driver 3, Burnout, NFS, Midnight Express etc. I especially remember car games where an enemy car would be driving infront of you and dropping obstacles on the road, and u had to duck "n" cover.

So, I'm driving down the 30, and I see alot of "green" in the middle of the road. Weird, I thought. So I kept goin straight, cruising at a speed of 120~140km/h, when what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a pick-up truck, with plants in the back. Unproperly fastened plants. I watched as one by one they would fly off (the driver was probably matching my speed), and cars behind him would swerve to avoid the falling debris.

I took it upon myself to warn this hapless fool of his dangerous antics, I kicked down the accelerator (he was ahead of me) ran up to him, and kept honking and waving my right arm, much like a lunatic.

The car was FULL of kids, like, 6 or 7 of them! One rogue monkey thought I was insulting them, and I could see he looked angry. I kept honking, whilst maintaining the straightness of the car (@ great difficulty), till I got the drivers attention, I rolled down my window, he rolled his, and I told him, hey, your plants are falling out!

He pulled over.

Yay me ;)

I like to think I helped avoided a 30 car pile-up today, on the 30 (aka Maghreb Expressway) :D

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Celestial City - مكة المكرمة

A blessing, this trip to Saudi Arabia was. It gave me the opportunity to perform Oumra, for the first time. Once on the first day I got there, and then once again before I left.

what is with the KFC right outside الحرم ??

first time off I was under the impression that the سعي would always start @ الصفاة and end with المروة , so I walked around 14 times as opposed to 7

A very humbling experience.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A funny incident: Sweet, little old ladies

So my first audit assignment has wrapped up. Round of applause, it was a great, great, great, experience/ exposure for me. I learnt so much, and believe that I was made for this profession. I still have mountains to climb and heaps to learn, but so long as one has will and drive, they can accomplish anything.

Time to head home, but before that, I had to hit Midan Al Darajja one last time to pick up some last minute gifts for the folks back home. Here is why it is called Midan Al Darajja (Bicycle Square/ roundabout)

Jeddah is the largest open air museum in the world
 We hit the airport in good time, I was able to sneak in excess weight of about 10KGs! Spent a couple of hours waiting by the gate, thrilled some Indonesian women by doing the "360 degree arm rotation" and left for the bus that was to take me back home.

We boarded the plane, seat 20K right next to the window! And guess what?

The plane is frikkin empty! only 50 or so peeps aboard! Why wouldnt they bump me up to business?! Anyhoo, I went and say riiiight up infront of the wall, more leg space ;)

Jeddah from above, spectacular.

Lunch, tafadlo, Enjoy

Very subtle hint :S

Now, here comes the interesting part, as you know, I love anecdotes, and this little story was too great to pass up!

I'm sitting on the right side of the plane and the sun is setting,

so on my side, it is dark (above), on the left side, it is still setting! Amazing!

I grabbed my camera in one hand, and my orange ipod in the other, and headed over to the other side to snap a picture of the amazing sunset. I was thorough, I made sure that there was no evidence of people sitting in the chairs I chose to take a picture from, this picture right here:

Wonderful right?

As I was taking the picture, I felt a tap on my shoulder, I turned around and there stood a squat, little, old lady. I had "Within Temptation" blaring at full volume, and she was wearing the full face veil, so all I saw was her standing infront of me, arms flailing, gesticulating wildly. I assumed I was in her seat, so I told her I am just taking a picture and will leave right away (in English ofcourse!). But she was heading toward the curtain and looking for a flight attendant.

I was like, wth? What did I do? I wasnt rubbing up on her damn chair, and she was old enough to be my grandmothers (god rest her soul) grandmother!

I got back to my seat, perplexed to say the least, got back to my sudoku and my music. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her (little old lady) talking to a flight attendant and pointing at me. I pretended I didnt see her.

A while later, the flight attendant comes over, all smiles and tells me, that he is embarassed to be saying this, but the little, old lady was under the impression that I was... talking on the phone (ipod, remember), and since the plane was inflight, she was worried that my antics would lead to the inevitable crashing of the airplane. Try as he could, he was unsuccessful at explaining to her what a music player is, so he asked me, whilst attempting to keep a straight face, to please just keep the ipod in my pocket.

After bursts of fitful laughter, and now I know I 'm going straight to hell for this, I did the following:

after the flight attendant left, I waited a while, looked toward the little old lady, to make sure she was looking at me, then proceeded to talk, into my ipod...

Bless her heart for the mirthful laughter I enjoyed on that flight.

Kuwait from above

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hygiene, Bygiene

Jeddah is a city of many wonders, albeit my being incarcerated in the office, at times from 8am to 11pm (just yesterday, new personal record for me), it makes for an interesting place to have a walk-about. The sights, the sounds, and the smells, oh the wondrous smells!

Which brings me to the topic in question. As I was walking back to my hotel one time, I came across a simple restaurant, nondescript, a mere felafel place, but it had a grill outside, a large circular contraption, worked by an expat (probably from India), and they were making what appeared to me as Chapathi. Or its distant cousin, the porata (stuffed chapathi).

Back home, I had not seen such foods, so was interested in trying it. Now, here comes the dumb-foreigner part of my story, for reasons unbeknownst to me, I cannot communicate with people in Saudi. Everyone talks REAL fast! And coming from me, a real fast talker, that is saying something!

So, I had to grab the attention of the short-order fry chef, which in itself took about 15 minutes (what can I say, I'm one polite fellow), and explain my order. Now I read something on the window near him and assumed it was what he was cooking, so I pointed at the words, then pointed at one of the things he was cooking that interested me. It was a stuffed concoction, with either egg or cheese.

I waited, anticipating the delicacy. And waited, and waited, and waited. Somewhere along the line my order was confused, due to a lack of communication, and he brought me something that did not look like what I ordered, so I shook my head, pointed at the sign on the window, and at an item on the grill and said "I want like this".

During this fiasco, I noticed that the chef dropped the roller he was using on the floor, on which he discards the egg-shells and all else. I immediately commented to my colleague as to the lack of hygiene in the place. To our surprise, the chef picks up the roller and wipes it clean with a rag!

Good right?


No sooner had the words left my mouth (I am very loquacious) as to chefs decent actions, did the chef take said rag he used to wipe the roller and, and, and...

Proceed to wipe his forehead with it! Who can blame him, the temperature of the grill must be soaring, and hes cooped up in a little space, and obviously sweats.

Major Eww.

In the end, it turned out that the words I was pointing at on the window were different from the food I was pointing at on the grill. It was called "Mutabug" (which means folded in arabic), and its taste was no where near what I expected. It was sweet, when I was waiting for sour. So I will never have it again.

Oh yes, after the incident with the roller, I still ate there, we're men baby!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Facebook Police - Facial Recog dilemma

Facebook Police – Someone is watching...

I just wanted a pic of Horatio with the CSI logo, but this was too funny to pass up!
Condolences to MJ...

I love CSI. Especially how they always have a “system” to find things, like AFIS (Advanced Fingerprint Identification System), that they always use to compare the prints they lift off whatever. They always use a system to catch the bad guy right?

Mark my words, someday, in the fairly near future, CSI will solve a case by using FBFRS (Face Book Facial Recognition System).

See, recently I attended the masquerade ball in Kuwait, it was a blast, lots of fun, had a wonderful time. and as with any occasion, I had a camera present, and a presence of mind to take as many pictures as I could. So I did. I was worried about how long it would take to tag all my friends on facebook, but no worries. A small price to pay.

Now, I seem to recall how I would be viewing some page on facebook, and on the right side margin, a picture would have a face selected and ask you to identify the person. I dispelled the act as being another one of those “Green Card Lottery” gags, until I paid closer attention once and found out that the picture they were using was my own!

So, its 8am and im uploading the pictures onto facebook, what happens? It just says select the friend that appears in these photos, and out of the 70 pictures I had uploaded, each friend and face that facebook recongised, had already been highlighted, and you merely had to type in their name to tag them.

Anyone else worried? Think about it, we all take pictures, and we all (well, mostly) have facebook, and we also have that vanity of always wanting to upload pictures. Right? It has given birth to the infamous “Facebook Pose”, where you would take a picture and say “this is for facebook”!

And the latest in “privacy” and “security”, I am currently on assignment in Saudi Arabia, and much like everyone else, communicate with all my friends via facebook status updates! So I have been signing in from here for quite some time.

Just 10 minutes ago, I was denied access to my account, because I was signing in from a location that “was no t familiar”, bless them for their security, but that means that if someone decides to hack my account from Kuwait, they will not be stopped by this control.

Anyways, it asked me for some information, and then, lovingly, presented me with an option, either answer my secret question (which I do not even recall at this point in time), or be shown pictures of my friends and select who they are from a list. An MCQ exam of sorts, do you believe it? Here I am fresh off my CMA exam, and facebook decides to give me MCQs! No matter, I said I know pretty much all the friends I took pictures of, but it wasn’t showing me pictures from my profile, it was pictures from their profiles! Imagine that! So here I am looking at personal (to an extent, afterall, it is on facebook) pictures of my friends, and having to select their names on the side, and guess what? The list is made up of people on my list!

Henceforth, if the INTERPOL want to search for someone, and they have a picture of them, facebook might offer them the means to search their database, or even be court ordered to. Bottom line is, we will all post pictures on facebook, and everyone will have some people in the background. So imagine that, anyone can be caught anywhere so long as they have pictures on facebook.

Let that thought simmer whilst you log on to your facebook account :P

And also, check out this link: