Sunday, December 31, 2006

Encoding PSP-compatible MP4 files on Linux

I bought a PSP at the beginning of the summer, so that Jamie could watch his favourite movies on the long plane ride to Qatar. It's a fairly straight-forward (and well-documented) task to convert DVDs on Windows, but I'd never tried on Linux.

There's a Perl copying suite called dvd::rip, which has many prerequisites. After installation, it isn't obvious how to encode a movie so that it will work on a PSP. I gave up on dvd::rip, and looked at ffmpeg, a command-line utility.

Artfahrt gives useful information about a couple of Windows conversion tools (PSP video 9 and 3GP converter), and how they both use ffmpeg to encode movies. Unfortunately, the example given doesn't work with recent versions of ffmpeg on Linux. It's clear that both tools use a specially modified version of ffmpeg, which will not compile on Linux. Another dead-end.

Finally, after much wailing and tearing of clothes, I came across this post, which provides all the information necessary to encode movies.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas photos

Sandy arrived just before Christmas - he's staying for a week. We had a walk around Khalifa Stadium, which is ghostly quiet. Here's the Sports Tower (by Sandy), and here's Jamie and the Sports Tower. Jamie had a great time opening presents on Christmas Day - he got a remote-controlled car, a scooter, and two helicopters.

While I was sorting through photos, I found one of chillis I grew before leaving the UK, and one of Jamie and Orry at the Ramada, just after we arrived in Doha.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Vista launch today

Was invited to the vista launch at the Marriott by Vinod, the local Dell guy. I won't be attending. I thought I might go along and ask about pricing, but it's not worth the effort. They'd just take my contact details then spam me for the next year.

Vista looks nice, but I can't see why anyone would upgrade from XP. Whatever the marketing department may say, Vista is bound to have stability and compatibility problems for the first year (like every previous version). Better to let others take the plunge first. Or use a proper operating system ;)

Sara now has Microsoft as a client, so I shouldn't really complain about the press hype.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Dangerous vechicle

Jeff Garzik emailed me asking for comments on his DNS geolocation project. I had some spare time this morning, so released IP::Country::DNSBL.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Free time and gutenberg

Jamie's now at nursery five mornings a week, so I've got some time on my hands. A while ago, I started working on some Gutenberg-related code. I'd heard from various people that it was difficult to find books in Qatar. Personally, I've found Amazon to be fairly reliable if you're willing to wait a couple of weeks for delivery. However, there aren't many local sources of English books. The supermarkets stock a very strange selection, and the Jarir bookshop in Doha is similar to the UK outlet WHSmith - good for stationery and bestsellers, but not for bibliophiles.

Anyway, my plan is to take the 19,000 texts from the Gutenberg project and typeset them into a more friendly format. I don't know anyone who's prepared to read a whole book in plain-text format (try it if you're not convinced). A couple of friends have volunteered to review my efforts and suggest improvements.

At the moment, I'm working on improvements to a pretty obscure piece of code, known as RDF::Core. The Gutenberg catalog is published in RDF/XML format, which should be easily manipulated. However, the RDF::Core code is memory-hungry and slow, so I've been forced into fixing someone else's software before I can continue on the main project. These things happen all the time when you're writing software - either you work around the problems or fix them.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


I've finally got a home ADSL connection, and will start to reply soon to my backlog of email.

Writing letters is obviously a worthy pursuit, but it's not really my cup of tea. Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

We're here.

I've been offline for a week, and blogging will be sporadic at best until we get Internet access at home. Everything out here requires a residents permit, including web access, and how long residency will take is a big unknown.

Should have a car within a week, but timescales are flexible ;)

Still, we're having fun exploring by taxi.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

bye bye England

So long Witley.

We went shopping for the final time today - bacon butties for supper tonight. Jamie was given lots of presents from his fan-base around the deli-counter. Two hats, building blocks, a book about trains and a colouring book with crayons. It was very touching saying goodbye - Jamie got lots of hugs and kisses. I didn't, but I'm not bitter. He's got that cute, toddler thing going on, which won't last forever. It's all downhill from the age of three, I can tell you.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Waiting for Thursday...

I haven't posted in a few days. I've been painting the house, and cleaning. Not particularly worthy of a post.

Two and a half years ago, I moved out from London to Surrey. It was a lifestyle decision - Jamie had just been born and we didn't want him to grow up in London.

Making friends was a slow process (I consoled myself by building a shed). My reception at mother-and-baby groups was frosty, but one mother introduced herself and it turned out that we lived on the same road. She's become a great friend and her kids are Jamie's best buddies.

I shop for food every day. Excessive, I know, but once I became stuck in the routine, it was impossible to stop. I'm going to miss people from the shop, and so will Jamie. Here's a few people who have become the regular fixtures of our days: Paul, Antoinette, Mr George, and Jane. On many days, my only adult conversations have been with these nice folks.

Two more days to go, and more cleaning. I've hired a carpet cleaner for tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Visas and dinosaurs

Yesterday, we travelled into London to buy our visas (£72 each for six months). The Qatari embassy was less impressive than I'd expected, with nothing apart from the flag to identify the building. Anyway, we paid our money and were told to come back today. This turned into a bit of a bonus because, after picking up our passports today, we went to the Natural History Museum. I've been telling Jamie about the museum for weeks, so I knew I'd have to take him before we left.

Here's some photos from yesterday:
Street Artist
London Underground
Heaven is *two* trains
Fugue state

and today:
Natural History Museum
Lots of Buttons
Did you see it move?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Missing you.

Ten days to go.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Qatar Perl Mongers

Arabian Oryx - the Qatar Perl Mongers' logoI spent a bit of time today putting together a Perl Mongers web page. I hope it will be a good way of meeting other programmers and making a few friends.

Most Perl Monger groups use the camel as a logo, but I've decided the Arabian Oryx is more apt for

Paul's birthday

We were invited to a surprise party! I worked with Paul a few years ago at ITV Digital and, together with Chris, we've kept in touch through regular band nights and pub visits.

Everyone had a great meal, and Jamie spent the night making new friends. Here's Jamie before and after the party.

There'll always be a spare bed or two in Doha for friends.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

family visits

We're spending a couple of days with Grandma and Grandad Rauf, saying our goodbyes to my side of the family. Tonight we visited my sister, who's *very* pregnant and Jamie renewed his friendship with cousin Kieren. Tomorrow, we're visiting great-grandad.

UPDATE: mum just sent two photos of Kieren and Jamie.

Monday, August 14, 2006

bye bye stuff

So the container has gone - will it ever be seen again? I was helped this morning by Terry, a chemical engineering student from Manchester. Very nice chap.

The driver, just before closing the doors, said very seriously "I hope nothing's going to move about in here - it's going on a ship you know." I guess this was his attempt at a disclaimer.

The lorry ploughed up the lawn. Not that it was looking particularly good beforehand.

This is the first (and probably last) time I'll get the car in the garage. It's good to know it fits!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Packing complete

Apart from the TV and the vacuum cleaner, everything is now in the garage.

Tomorrow morning, Jamie is going to spend a little time with Grandad Sandy while I load the sea container. I hope it all fits, otherwise I'll have some quick decisions to make about what to ditch.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

We have tenants

Despite the house looking awful, a family who looked at the place yesterday have decided they liked it. They move in on the day we leave, and are signing a lease for two years. BINGO!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

ahlan wa sahlan!

The lounge is looking like we've been raided by the dancing elephants. I keep telling myself that it has to get worse before it gets better.

The 50 boxes already stacked in the garage had to be re-stacked and numbered because I failed to read the shipping instructions. I'm now writing a list so that customs know which boxes contain CDs and DVDs. Apparently, this might speed progress through Doha port. We'll see.

I've now learned six arabic letters (roughly eh, b, t, th, ooo, eee) and three short vowels (roughly e, u, i). Fun stuff, and tricky at the same time. I'm following this course, which took forever to arrive in the UK.

Sara's having fun in the Ramada ;)

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Busy busy bees

Panic! The estate agent is coming round at 2.00pm with a potential tenant for our house. The house is still a tip, and I have four hours to transform it into a desirable residence.

Cleaning the dining room, I found a card from Kate that arrived two days ago. Jamie had filed it under a box.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Bye Bye Mummy

Jamie's been to the haunted house this morning - a play area in our local garden centre.

Sara is flying on the 9.30pm flight from Heathrow, which arrives early tomorrow morning in Doha. She starts work on Sunday. There's a three-hour check-in at Heathrow, so Jamie and I will be waving her off at about 6.30. I feel a bit deflated at the moment. It's difficult to know what to say apart from "I'll miss you".

Sara's just been asking Qatar Airways about the cabin baggage allowance, which isn't mentioned anywhere on their website. The maximum dimensions for a carry-on bag is 50 x 30 x 25cm and her luggage allowance is 20kg, which doesn't seem a lot for all her stuff.

Yesterday, we had Matt and Bridget around in the afternoon with their two kids (Lizzie and newborn Ari). Sara's dad (Sandy) came for dinner last night and said his goodbyes to Sara. Then we got drunk and watched Big Brother.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Skip Time

Just ordered our second skip, which will arrive later today. Jamie is obviously very excited - he likes the skip lorry a lot!

Yesterday, we got a lot of packing done. I'm starting to worry about how much stuff we're taking, and whether it will fit into one 20-foot sea container.

Saturday, July 29, 2006


Today, I'm packing boxes. Tomorrow, I'll be packing boxes too. Jamie is helping with the sticky tape. Sara has caught a cold and has been up all night talking to Jamie, so she's now trying to sleep.

The shipping container arrives on Monday 14 August, and after that we're not going to see any of our belongings until the end of September.

We're not going to put anything into storage. I guess that if we could store something for three years, we wouldn't want to see it again, so why pay for the privilege.

We've given the cat to my mum and a few risquée prints to Sara's dad for safekeeping. I'm not sure how strict are the customs controls, but it's probably not right to take the chance with Sara's Frink (over-rated) or my Eric Gill (genius).

Jamie doesn't know what's going to happen. I think he now knows we're going to a place called Qatar, where it's hot, and that a lot of our furniture has gone to the council tip. I don't think he understands that Sara and the cat are going away soon. Best not to read him Goodbye Mog, lest he get the wrong idea.

Here are some photos:
Witley house.
Garage almost empty for the first time in two years.
Garden and shed are nearly finished.
Helpful Jamie.
Inside, the house is chaotic.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Doha pics

View from our InterCon window during our visit in mid June. In the distance is Aladdin's Kingdom, which I'm sure Jamie will investigate soon.

Doha on Google Earth

Here's a post containing some handy Doha placemarks for Google Earth. At least I found them handy when I was trying to work out where I was going to be living.

Ugly mug

In case you've stumbled across my blog and have created an alternative vision of me in your head, I'm sorry, but this is me. And here's a little one for my profile.

First post!

Well. This is going to be my diary of moving to Qatar with my two-year-old son Jamie, and my thirty-mumble-year-old wife Sara.

Sara is flying to Doha next Friday, leaving me and Jamie to pack up the house over the next few weeks.