Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 as a media player

Posted by Mark

Just to be clear from the get go, this isn’t a review about the Galaxy Tab 2 as a tablet nor is it a review of Android’s new ice cream operating system. I have an iPad and I wouldn’t replace it with an Android device. The reason I got the Galaxy Tab is to replace my Archos 7 portable media player and this is what this post is about. So Android fanboys can put down their keyboards and relax.

Back in 2009 I bought the Archos 7 to use as my media player for when I traveled. Before the Archos I was watching movies on my tiny iPod screen (the classic iPod not the touch) so moving to the larger 7inch screen was a huge improvement. Not only that but my Archos also had a large 160GB drive, a replaceable battery that lasted 10 hours and would play any non-HD video format without requiring any time consuming format conversion. Over the years though I’ve started getting more and more HD files and the Archos started to choke. It couldn’t play a lot of the new formats and it also couldn’t play most of the HD stuff I threw it’s way so I started looking for an alternative.

I wanted a 7inch screen, a large hard drive, a replaceable battery and the ability to play HD files without an issue. Surprisingly I didn’t find a media player that had all that so I started being more flexible with my requirements and in the end went with the Galaxy Tab 2 with a 7inch screen. The screen size was correct, it would play any video I threw at it and the battery life was fairly decent coming in at around 6 hours of non stop video playback. But it only had 8GB of internal memory and the battery couldn’t be swapped. Two issues I figured I could solve easily. The Galaxy Tab has a microSD card for expandability and I figured I could take multiple 32GB cards with me on long trips. I also wanted a swappable battery for long trips and although I couldn’t swap the battery on the Galaxy Tab, I realized I could purchase one of those Mophie PowerStations which charge gadgets using a USB port and just run my Tab off it during long flights. Of course the Tab is also a full fledged tablet so I could if I wanted to browse the web or perform other tasks on it if I needed to.

After taking the Tab on two trips with me I’ve come to the conclusion that I made the right decision. Although I’ve lost some of the features that made the Archos 7 so great I did gain three important benefits (among others). The first is that the Tab is much lighter and thinner than the Archos 7. This makes carrying it in my shoulder bag a lot more pleasant. The second thing I also gained is a much better screen with improved visibility from all angles and better touch sensitivity. I’ve also thrown a whole bunch of video formats at it including 720p HD movies and the Tab has played every single one of them without an issue.

So if you’re looking for a great media player this is what I recommend you get. I purchased it from Amazon back in May and it cost me KD82 in total and that includes shipping to Kuwait using DHL’s Borderlinx. I couldn’t find it in Kuwait back then but they might be available here now. [Amazon Link]

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A Problem Free Departure

Posted by Mark

Blogger Mathai has put together a bunch of links which you should check before you travel just to be on the safe side. Many people get to the airport only to find out they can’t travel because they have an unpaid bill or a travel ban so this list is a good way to check if you’re problem free.

Traffic Violations
Travel Ban
Telephone Bills
Water and Power Bills
Arrest Warrants

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Should you come to Lebanon this summer?

Posted by Mark

The answer is yes. If you ignore the news then you won’t notice anything out of the ordinary over here. Beirut is very quiet and safe and the weather is just great right now. The mornings and evenings are pretty chilly and during the day you can drive around with just the windows down. Plus, because of the warnings the various governments have been passing on to their citizens the country currently isn’t jam packed with tourists which means less traffic and crowds everywhere you go. Now is the perfect time to come to Lebanon.

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FYI: I’m super busy

Posted by Mark

I’m currently in the process of moving into my new apartment here in Lebanon so I’ve been pretty busy. Things have been hectic and everything that can go wrong is going wrong which is why I’ve bitten all my nails and have found new love in this amazing French cornflakes that’s stuffed with what tastes like Nutella. It’s really strange how suppliers are here in Lebanon, I’ve dealt with maybe two professional companies but the rest are just a pain to deal with. People here complain that they don’t make a lot of money and I think I know why… they simply don’t want to work. Everything should be done in the next few days and I already shipped some furniture I bought from Kuwait here so I’m currently waiting for them to arrive. Might post pics once everything is done but still undecided.

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Sticking to the plan

Posted by Mark

I spent nearly two months on a really strict diet and working out at Core Fitness 5 times a week trying to bring down my body fat percentage to 12% before I traveled to Lebanon and hit the beach. That didn’t happen (I blame Geneva) and I ended up at 13.6% which is still pretty cool just not what I wanted. I’ve now been in Lebanon for 5 days, I still haven’t gone to the beach and I also haven’t been able to hold my diet.

Whenever I travel I find it impossible to stick to my diet. The only way I actually stick to my diet in Kuwait is with routine, I know I am going to have eggs with turkey for breakfast, grilled chicken cutlets with grilled zucchini for lunch and turkey again for dinner. I don’t mind having the same thing every day but once I’m out of Kuwait I just can’t stick to that very simple plan. It’s been 5 days since I’ve been here and I think I’ve probably put on weight. Sucks.

BTW if you’re curious/nosy, I was 84.7KG when I first joined Core 2 years ago and I had a body fat percentage of 20%. My weight back in 2005 was 90.6KG.

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New food court now open at the Airport

Posted by Mark

The new food court called Tick-it Lounge 6 that includes Potbelly, Pinkberry, Starbucks and a new place called Tick-it has finally opened up at the airport. Local blogger Baba 3od has more pictures and information [Here]

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Qatar Airways to Osaka

Posted by Patrick

When I finally decided to travel to Japan the first thing I did was try to find out how much the airline ticket cost. I wasn’t sure what to expect and I had an unrealistic astronomical price in my head to start out with so I started checking the ticket prices for all the airlines in the region like Emirates, Qatar Airways, Kuwait Airways, Gulf Air etc. Surprisingly, ticket prices didn’t vary that much from one airline to the other and I quickly narrowed my choices down to Emirates and Qatar Airways. In the end I went with Qatar Airways because I heard some good things about them plus their offices were located next to mine in Kuwait City.

My experience with Qatar Airways was pretty positive, except for one issue at the start of the trip. My flight took off from Kuwait at 11:10PM and it was supposed to land at the Doha airport at 12:30AM and then my flight to Osaka would take off at 1:25AM. Problem is when my plane got to Doha it didn’t land right away. Instead, the plane kept circling around the airport for quite some time way past my boarding time. When we finally did land I realized three things:

– I wasn’t close to my gate
– The Doha airport is under major construction
– After being dropped off to the arrival terminal I had to take another bus to get to the transit terminal

I was already late for my flight and I started panicking. The bus ride to the transit terminal took around 15 minutes (it felt much longer) and as soon as I got to the terminal an airport attendant came up to me and asked “Osaka?” I replied yes and he then took my passport and started running. I started running as well and when I caught up to him I asked him what was going on with my flight? He laughed and said I was the last passenger and that he was looking for me and was about to give up before I showed up. I was super relieved I didn’t end up missing my flight.

Besides that early drama I loved Qatar Airways. Their seats are comfortable, their food is great and the entertainment system is actually not that bad. One big bonus is that all their economy seats have a USB plug so you can recharge your iPod, iPad or any other USB powered device which is pretty cool. My flight from Kuwait to Doha was packed but I didn’t feel cramped in my seat and the entertainment system had very recent movies and some addictive games to keep me distracted. The flight to Osaka on the other hand is where things got much much better. The plane was practically empty! When I got to my seat I had 2 empty chairs right next to mine, a European couple had an aisle each, an old Japanese man had an aisle to himself, basically each passenger in my section had an entire aisle to themselves. The first thing I did was check what movies were playing and found out that there were about 11 to choose from, all recent except for one (which I chose), Lost in Translation.

Food wise we had two meals, one right after the flight took off and the other before arriving. For flights to Japan you have the choice between “regular” or “Japanese” meals. The regular meals seemed boring to me so I went with the Japanese ones. One meal included beef szechuan, noodles with fish cake, a salmon roll and a small salad with some dessert, while the other meal was chicken noodles and some fruit.

The flight attendants were really friendly and since I had three seats all to myself I took the liberty of raising the armrests and slept across the three seats like a bed. This was definitely the most comfortable and enjoyable flight I’ve ever had and so I highly recommend them. The cost of the ticket was KD518 when I booked it.

Posted by Patrick

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My trip to Japan

Posted by Patrick

I was recently in Japan and Mark thought it would be interesting if I posted about it. Growing up in the late 80’s and the 90’s in Kuwait I was exposed to a lot of Japanese culture from Super Mario, Zelda & Metroid (Nintendo in general), to watching Captain Majid, Voltron and Grendizer on television. So, it was only natural for me to be fascinated with everything Japanese and thats why I decided to take a two week trip to Japan. The plan was to stay in Kyoto over at a friends place for about 10 days and from there I would visit neighboring cities by train including Tokyo where I wanted to spend at least 3 days. Now that I’m back I have to say Japan was a brilliant place to visit, Kyoto is a great city and for the most part the Japanese people were pretty friendly and enjoyable to be around.

One of the things you’ll probably use a lot if you ever go to Japan is the subway. I used it a lot while in Japan and it was super crammed most of the time. It’s ridiculous how many people can fit into a subway train and it’s also incredibly uncomfortable especially after a whole day of walking around and feeling like your legs are about to give out to be then squeezed inside the train. There is actually a guy that stands on the subway platform during rush hour to help push and squeeze people inside the train. One really cool thing I noticed is that the Japanese sleep (or nap) a lot on the train. That’s normal except I saw guys sleeping while sitting, crouching and even while standing. Basically, they can take naps in any position! They also have a great sense of balance while riding the subway, I saw one guy playing on his Sony PSP without holding onto anything while I was standing grabbing onto a rail and swaying around left and right. Some rules that you should follow while riding the subway and trains in Japan is that you should always put your phone on silent, don’t make or answer calls and don’t eat while riding the train (drinking is okay).

Another interesting thing I noticed is that in the Kansai area (Kyoto, Osaka) when people ride escalators they stand on the right side while the left is for people who want to walk up or down the escalators (like in London). On the other hand in the Kanto area (where Tokyo is) people stand on the left side while the right is for walking up and down. Now the reason I was given for this is that there’s an on-going rivalry between the two areas because Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan before Tokyo so they try to do everything the opposite. But, I’m not sure anyone really knows the reason behind this because if you do a quick Google search you’ll find other reasons to why they do things differently. One reason that I particularly liked is that back in the old days the Kanto region were known for their samurai’s who prefer to stay on the left so they could draw their swords easily. On the other hand the Kansai region were known for their rich merchants who prefer staying on the right to protect their belongings that they hold in their right hands. Standing on the right or left is such a minor thing but even that has an interesting story behind it.

I liked a lot of things in Japan but one of the things that fascinated me the most were their plastic food models. Restaurants, pastry shops and places that sell bento boxes all have extremely detailed plastic models of the food they serve on display. The models look very realistic and the first time I saw one I thought it was real and was wondering how they got the food to stick to the plate that was displayed at an angle. And yes the food in Japan is brilliant. I tried a whole bunch of things including Indian food, a falafel place, a Korean burger joint and more while there and didn’t have one bad meal. McDonalds was pretty great there and even their shawerma’s which they call “kebabs” are also really good. Of course I also had a lot of Japanese food and even got to try whale meat (I didn’t want to but my friends insisted). Another thing I liked about Japan is how everything is (as my friend put it) “cartoonated”. You’d have a poster warning you of danger or risk of death but they’d be illustrated and look very cute even though they’re meant to be very serious. Video game fans should also definitely visit a video game themed cafe while there. I went to a place in Osaka called Space Station that has literally every console released that you could play on while enjoying a drink.

I also love their vending machines. There was one I tried while in Tokyo that had a camera built into it. You stand in front of the vending machine and the camera would scan your face and body posture and then analyze the information and suggest what you should drink. Which brings me to the subject of coins… Buy a coin purse if you plan on going to Japan since they use a lot of coins. If you own a Nintendo 3DS, make sure to carry it around everywhere in Japan in you want to blend in. I saw a lot of 3DS’s more than any other piece of tech (except for smartphones).

Things to see? Well in Kyoto there’s the Fushimi Inari shrine, the Manga Museum, Kinkaku-Ji (also known as the Golden Pavilion), Pontocho (which are old streets you can walk through), Teramatchi (a long street that’s just a massive marketplace), the Botanical Gardens, Kiyomizu Dera (another shrine). Then a little bit outside of Kyoto there’s a small city called Nara that has a beautiful shrine called T┼Źdai-ji that you can visit. Right outside the shrine there are deers that roam around freely and you could feed them if you want.

In Tokyo you have the Mori Art Museum (which is a great art gallery), Studio Ghibli, Akihabara (for the Geeks) and Harajuku (for the fashion obsessed).

Japan was really an incredible place as you can imagine and it would be a super long post if I were to write about everything I did and even then I don’t think it would do Japan any justice. But I did take plenty of photos some of which I’ve shared in this post. If you’d like to see a lot more photos I took while in Japan then check out my Flickr page [Here] or my Instagram account [Here]

Posted by Patrick.

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Inside Audemars Piguet

Posted by Mark

For my last post on my trip to Audemars Piguet I’m going to take you inside their facilities and show you their environment and some of the people behind the watches. By looking at some of the pictures you could easily mistake it for a scientific laboratory since all the watchmakers wear white coats and majority of them are looking through magnifiers and even microscopes.

For some parts of the tour we were required to enter a sterilized room, put on coats and even wear plastic bags over our shoes so that we wouldn’t bring any external contamination inside their sterile work spaces. The watchmakers are all very talented and experienced craftsman and not just random people sitting at an assembly line slapping parts together. There is no assembly line, each watch is hand built and decorated by professionals.

A watchmaker at work. [YouTube]

A lot of time goes into every watch and into every single part that is inside the watch. To give you an idea of how extreme their craftsmanship is we spotted one guy working on a part so small I couldn’t take a picture of it. It was part literally the size of a pixel and it turned out it was an extremely tiny screw and he was busy polishing it. Imagine a part so tiny you could barely see it and yet he was polishing it. Keep in mind that’s also a part no one other than him would probably every see again since it will be hidden inside the watch. That’s extreme detailing and really lets you appreciate the amount of work and crafting that goes into every watch.

Video showing how the Royal Oak face dial is made. [YouTube]

We were mostly allowed to take pictures of whatever we wanted except for the area where they make the carbon forged watch cases. They’re the only watchmaker that makes carbon forged watches and I guess they didn’t want us snapping shots of secretive information like oven temperatures or specific machinery. But you can watch a video of the process on YouTube if you’re interested [Here]

After visiting the main AP building the following day we headed to their other division called Renaud & Papi located around 2 hours from Geneva by car. That’s where majority of their extremely complicated movements get developed and built. Those guys are ridiculously smart and talented which is why they’re considered the best in the industry and work on complicated movements for other high end brands like Richard Mille and Harry Winstone. I saw one girl who was working on a Tourbillon using a microscope and I still don’t understand how they can do it. The Tourbillon is smaller than a 1 fils coin and is a very complicated movement to build with lots of different parts and layers that go into making it and here she was building it using just tiny tweezers and very, very steady hands. Amazing talent.

I spotted two Richard Mille watches while we were there that were being built, the Jackie Chan Dragon edition which costs over a million bucks and my favorite the skull watch which costs around $700,000. I love it because the watch has a huge skull in the middle with a Tourbillon hidden in the mouth and also because it costs seven hundred freakin’ thousand dollars. That’s so in your face I have billions and billions of dollars that I can afford to buy a watch with a skull head inside that costs nearly a million bucks so I could wear it with my cool ripped jeans and nike sneakers on weekends. Unfair and unbalanced world? Most likely, but that doesn’t bother me.

One last thing I need to mention. When we were done with the tour of their facilities we were taken into this large conference room with cabinets stretching from one side to the other and filled with rows and rows of all their watches. We got to check them all out and try them on and my favorite from the bunch has to be the new Sebastien Buemi watch (pictured above). We were also given a sneak peek at the new Schumacher watch thats going to launch at the end of the year but I’m not allowed to describe it or say anything about it. Maybe I can mention one tidbit and say that it’s going to be a 44mm but that’s all I can say.

It was a great trip and it was something that was on my things to do before I die list so I now get to cross it off. I’m really grateful to AP for inviting me on this trip. All the AP employees and watchmakers were very profesional and patient with us. Their work environment is a very tranquil and peaceful place and we were definitely not a quiet group yet they were all very friendly and focused even though at some points I had my camera very rudely close to their heads trying to get my shots. Great people, beautiful country and a wonderful experience.

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The Fiat 500c

Posted by Mark

I’ve previously test driven the Fiat 500 and loved it which is why I decided to rent the convertible version this weekend while I’m here in Lebanon. But, while the Fiat 500 was a lot of fun to drive on flat roads, it’s horrible to drive up a mountain.

I don’t think it’s the lack of power but more the crappy automatic gearbox. The car will just not shift down into the right gear when you really need it. It actually stalled with me TWICE on a tight steep corner which is why I’m now driving the car in manual mode not auto so I could choose the gears I want when I want them.

The version of the car I’m driving is the 500c where “c” stands for cabriolet. Since the weather is fantastic right now in Lebanon driving around in a convertible is the way to go about it. The car I’m in also has a black leather interior which looks a lot nicer than the beige interior of the car I test drove in Kuwait. But, I don’t think I could recommend anyone to get a Fiat 500 if they live in a mountainous country unless they get the manual version (or drive the auto gearbox in manual mode).

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