Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Montreal: Jours Six

Didn't do much today... stressing out about the apartment. Did go out to check out other parts of the Plateau though, and went to Schwartz's for lunch. It's the most famous smoked meat place in Montreal. But first, random street art:

 Schwartz's was very packed when I arrived, I think this was close to 4pm.

 They got a few options for the meat, lean, medium and fat.
Pretty tasty! Will be trying to visit another place for Poutine tomorrow.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Montreal: Cinq jours

Again, another day of nothing. Wanted to go out, but I had to wait for some kinda apartment inspection, so occupied myself doing french language tutorials. After, I went out to old montreal.First stop was at the Notre-Dame Basilica.

I must say I do enjoy the Nexus 4's photo sphere camera. Yet, the more I use this phone, the more shortcomings of the camera application surfaces, like the lack of an option to be quiet when taking photos. Anyways, you can tell I'm not a fan of new tech (at times). Passing on from the Basilica, I headed down to the Old Port.

And there was this beautiful sight of the 1976 Olympic Village.
Towards the end of the port were an interesting music instrument made from an abandoned grain silo, aptly named the Silophone. Tried it, didn't seem to work.
After this, I was feeling hungry, so went off to Chinatown to get some bread. But it was very packed, nixed that. Went to get food at the food courts, but didn't know what to eat. Decided to just head to the grocery store and nom on stuff I got there.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Montreal: Day Quatre

So, nothing much on today, decided to explore the area around Chinatown a bit more.
Waaay more packed over the weekend.
Got a new camera app for the phone, "camzoom fx". I'm in two minds over it. I don't see an exposure compensation control........ the borders and fx are really fun though.
Found one of the bigger chinese supermarkets.
Some of my personal staples aren't as cheap as I thought.

There was a protest against Employment Insurance going on. Decided to pop into a shopping centre to avoid the crowds.
There are lots of food courts (what are they called here?) underground, easily rivaling Singapore.
Had poutine for lunch again. I was recommended to visit LaBanquise. Probably tomorrow :3
Here's a photo of Play Des Arts Metro.
Decided to head home then. Need to catch up on my french studies!

Montreal: Day Three

So, up and early this morning at half past 8 I arrived at the Play Des Arts Metro and took the train up to Berri-UQAM, and up to rosemont. I'm not sure if this is rush hour or not as it felt like a great travel experience. So, for a fact, if I decide to commute to work from closer to the city, it will not present a problem.

I then turned around and headed down to Peel Metro station, in hunt of a McDonalds.

Ignoring the annoying 4:3 aspect ratio.... the meal cost me CAD$6.20, which is far more expensive than I'd thought. In London, I can buy a similar meal for £3.59. I don't remember the price for Singapore, graah....

That said. My personal Sausage & Egg McMuffin best taste list goes as: Singapore, Montreal, UK, USA. I can't remember eating this whilst in Adelaide - for some reason I keep remembering eating the ham and egg mcmuffins.

But basically, Singapore's McMuffins are definitely my favourite. The buns are well done but not overcooked, and not oily. Montreal's McMuffins (sample size of one!) were a teeny tiny bit charred on the edges. What's more, I felt that the cheese and butter (or margarine) didn't blend well with the meat and muffins, tastewise. They stood out individually too much.

The UK McMuffins actually blend well together, but maybe because they are just so greasy. I always remember my wrapping being grease covered.

There you have it folks, I now need to travel to uh, auckland and japan or something to do more mcmuffin comparisons.

SOOOOOOO, after breakfast, I decided to head over to Montreal's Gay Village. I decided to stay underground as much as possible and explore the underground city.
Several levels of shopping. And I thought Singapore was bad. Anyways, I randomly explored the area and found myself at the McGill Metro, so boarded there and it was a straight journey to the Beaudry Metro station, which is right in the middle of the Gay Village.

Sadly, it was raining and quite miserable, so I decided to just head home. Instead of returning to Beaudry, I went up to the Berri-UQAM station.
Again, more shopping underground. There was this big bookstore with a whole friggin section with chessboards of all types. The picture above shows one window.... of at least 8 filled with chessboards.

I got home, had lunch, and decided to get in touch with another landlord near the Laurier Metro.
It was a very nice, very big one bedroom flat. It was slightly more than I wanted to pay, so I weighed my choices, and decided to look elsewhere.... by spending the next few hours trolling the neighbourhoods, looking for "a louer" signs but instead found a triforce.
I actually came across this massive property, that from what I could understand, held 6 separate apartments for a cool CAD$1.3m. Compared to housing prices in Singapore, this sounds like a steal...... but I digress.
Here's a few other pics from the area near the Laurier Metro:

Once again, I plod my weary self home. Decided to go to one of the big Provigno supermarkets to buy some grub for dinner. Picked up a Tourtière, a sort of meat pie for $3.99. Bloody filling. I also found some cool bacon.
My favourite brand noodles were also available, but were very expensive at 69 cents a packet. Back in Singapore, it was 6 packs for about SGD 2.60. Yup. In London it was about 40p or 50p per pack, can't remember.
After eating din-din, I got a call about another flat for viewing. Deciding that I wanted to view as many places as possible, I headed out. On my way to the metro station, I realized that I was really, really early, and would probably arrive at least 40 minutes ahead of schedule. I then decided to walk down St Laurent Blvd. 
There was this smoked meat place I was told to go eat at, but I already had dinner. When I was there, I had a taxi pull up with people coming to get food here. From what I hear, it's a popular tourist location, and the queues inside were long.
Lots of very interesting shops, such as this one selling one of items made from recycled materials.
The parking garage of the Théâtre Espace Go.
 Upon which, I arrived at the place I was to look at. I have no pictures, but I think I'm sold. The rent is more than what I wanted to pay, but it is still less than what I paid in London. In addition, it's right at the quieter side of St Laurent, and my office is not more than 10 minutes away - a major factor with winter to consider.

In addition, I really love St Laurent. just across from my place is a piano shop! And a bit further up, a guitar/synthesizer shop. Two grocery chains are just nearby, in additional of the local groceries and delis. Lots of food choices too.

It is not much bigger than my london studio apartment, but I don't mind. And much smaller than the place I viewed earlier today (1br vs studio). Price wise, the place on St Laurent is just slightly lower than the 1br. I think the tradeoffs are worth it though, so fingers crossed, hopefully I can get this place.

Perhaps tomorrow I can actually behave like a tourist, and not stress out about flat hunting.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Montreal: Day Two

So, today I left the apartment early to experience rush hour traffic just before 9am. Didn't feel like rush hour at all to me, that's Singapore in the afternoon! I'll try again earlier tomorrow, like half past 8, as that's probably the real time I need to leave for work.

Upon arriving in the Laurier Metro station, I headed down to the office. Guess who we have for neighbors?

Due to some synchronicity, I found the office but didn't want to go in, just wanted to recce the location, when the head of 3d popped out of the door, and it was just during some breakfast get together thing.... erm ok. What can I say, luck of a wolf?

After leaving the office, I trolled around the area hunting for "a louer" signage. Found lots of them, but they were usually larger than what I wanted, like 4 1/2 (that's quebec lingo for a 2 bedroom partment.) and larger.

Having not much luck, I decided to head down towards the Mont Royal station, where I knew there was an A&W for an early lunch.
Root beer taste like root beer, can or frosted mug :P But still it is great to taste something that has long been wiped out from Singapore.

After lunch, I continued the areas around the Laurier and Mont Royal train stations for rental signs. I'd actually had the luck to run into a landlord putting up signs, but after viewing the apartment decided it was not for me. Granted, it was waaaay cheaper than my london apartment, but it was really quite small. 

After this, I decided I was tired, and headed over to Chinatown.

Unlike London's Chinatown which seems to mostly serve food from Hong Kong, it was a mixture here with some Hong Kong style food, together with a strong Vietnamese presence. Pho, anyone?
Bought a whole bunch of pastries and buns then headed home to rest up and check on padmapper, craigslist and kijiji.

In the evening, I headed out to explore Sherbrooke, which was pretty nice, then headed over to Rosemont Metro, which is inside "Little Paris". Whilst this Metro station and apartments are very close to work, to get from Rosemont to Mile End on foot requires me to take a sidewalk of a tunnel, a rather convoluted path.

Given that the winters here are cold cold cold, I want to minimize the time I spend out there, so I'll have to give Rosemont a miss.
By then, it was pretty late and I was worn out. I decided to just get some ham and cheese to accompany the loaf of bread I bought from Chinatown earlier. Time to hit the sack!

Nexus 4 first impressions

So, I signed up a plan with Fido yesterday, and picked the nexus 4 to go along with the plan. So far, it's been pretty good. Battery life appears to be quite reasonable with the wifi and nfc switched off. Whilst the big screen is nice, I find it actually difficult to use it one handed - unlike my experia ray or iphone - attempting to reach the other end of the screen makes me fumble it. I think bigger screen phones are better used two handed.

I'm not a fan of the android 4 MTP connection. USB mass storage device is just much more convenient.

The camera also feels quite crappy compared to the sony. I felt the experia ray's camera has better autofocus performance, especially in low light. I also experienced the auto white balance not detecting the white balance properly under artificial light - but the experia ray handled the exact same situtation perfectly.

Also, the default resolution of the nexus 4 is 4:3.... can't figure out how to switch it to 3:2 yet. Hopefully it can be switched, as 4:3 is just not my thing. The UI of the camera application is cool when i first got it, several hours later it just gets in the way. The experia ray's is just straightforward, easy to use. 

Once I've got my apartment and all settled down, will definitely have a look at getting one of those micro sim adaptors so I can use the micro sim in my experia ray. For my needs, I think I much prefer the experia ray.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Montreal: Day One In Review

Had a really exhausting two days; 33 hours to get to Montreal and spent yesterday bustling about apartment hunting and purchasing some essentials. Right now it's 7am and I'm wide awake thanks to falling deeply asleep after a "nap" :P

Singapore To Montreal
I took British Airways flights this time. Wanted to go with SIA, but it seems they don't fly to Montreal. Plus, the company arranging flights for my company appears to favour BA, so went with them. One thing nice about BA's luggage policy at this time of writing is that unlike SIA, have a more liberal hand luggage policy. If it can be lifted by yourself, fits into the onboard luggage size and fitted into the overhead storage (but not above 23kg) - you can bring it along. Unlike SIA where I had be very stingy with what I put into my camera bag.

BA's flight has a 23kg per luggage policy, go above that and you get hit with an overweight luggage policy. Extra baggage counts can be bought online for £34. I had two pieces of luggage, my saxophone and my main luggage, so that worked out very well. Considering my sax only weighed 6kg lol.

With SIA, on my flight from London to Singapore, I had 1 extra piece of luggage (8kg) and I was told it would be £50 per KG (really?!). I had to send that home via excess baggage. Believe me, it was painful.

Flight wise, I managed to snag a window seat on my first leg of the flight; was supposed to be in the middle but the dude in the window seat insisted on having an aisle seat. He found one, I got a window seat woo!

I can't remember the last time I flew BA, or if I ever flew BA at all. Entertainment units were all touch screen now, worked pretty well though I think touchscreen could be calibrated better - on both flights I had to touch the buttons lower than expected for them to register. Managed to watch Cloud Atlas and Wreck It Ralph. Tried watching Twilight, but it's just not my thing, wolves or not.

Arriving in London at 5am after a 12 hour flight is not too bad, but with over 12hours to wait for my connecting flight to Montreal, the camera bag began to weigh me down. Unlike Changi Airport which had these little carts to push your luggage along, Terminal 5 at Heathrow didn't have 'em. To be fair, I think given the layout of heathrow, those luggage carts would hurt the flow of traffic. Still, this means I'm probably going to sell my camera bag - as I don't use it for photography related purposes at all - and just get a roll-on luggage for 'em.

Internet access at Heathrow Terminal 5 is £1 per 9 minutes, Changi has free terminals giving 15 minute slots per use.

Given the extremely long wait, I'd planned to get a shower. However, it was only available in Terminal 4. This wasn't as straightforward as I thought, needing to ask the airport staff to arrange to be brought to a different part of the airport for the transfers to Terminal 4.

After arriving at Terminal 4, after some quizzing around found that the showers were only available after immigration >.> So, I had to go through immigration. Thankfully it was a painless process. Once out (lol), I found that the showers were out of towels for sale!

Bought some thick tissue paper at the convenience store nearby, and that sorted me out. There are two shower rooms in Terminal 4, not particularly big and if you are bringing like full size luggage, good luck, there won't be much space. There is a hot shower, and shower foam, that's about it.

After that, a transit using the heathrow express to Terminal 5, went through security again (I had the luck to be randomly inspected, and had every single piece of gear scrutinized lol.), then prepared for the long wait for my Montreal flight.

The montreal flight was uneventful, I'd slept through most of it, missing one of the meals actually. Got through customs and immigration without a hitch.

Here's where the challenge rating increases. Montreal is part of Quebec, and French is their main language. Wherever I go, I hear french being spoken, though I occasionally hear English and lots of the chinese here speak Mandarin.

Given that I've only been learning it for the last few weeks or so (shoulda started earlier), I can only understand mostly greetings. Some places I went to didn't seem too friendly when I asked "Bonjour, parlez vous Anglais?", although some places like the Fido shop, were perfectly friendly in either language. (I picked up a Nexus 4, but that will be another story).

So, what I did yesterday was visit two apartments, explored downtown montreal, got my Opus card for STM travel, got a new phone - prepaid sims appear to be very expensive so decided to get a contract as the release terms were very friendly, just pay back the cost of the phone. And the longer you've been on the contract, the lower the cost to pay back.

One thing about the prices here is that the tax is not shown on the menu. I was quite surprised the first time I got some food (Burger King, would you believe it) and the bill was higher than expected. New thing learned. Oh, the BK breakfast in Montreal easily trumps the BK in London or Singapore :P

Ok due to sleeping way early yesterday, I woke up at 6am-ish, and am now frantically typing away. Things to do shortly would be to take the trains at rush hour to experience how bad (or good) it is. Yesterday I was on several trains about 5.30pm, and 7.30-ish, and while packed, was not sardine type packed in Singapore. The train cabins here are smaller than Singapore, but I felt larger than the trains used in the Tube.

If the rush hour traffic is bearable, I'll likely get a place close to a metro stop and commute. Else I'll hunt down a nice place near Mile End, probably around the Laurier station.

Day 2, here we go......

Monday, April 22, 2013

DIY Clip On Saxophone Mic

I am currently moving to Montreal for work, and as such have sold of lots of things I bought in the UK, and most of my music gear has been sold, including all my microphones and audio interface etc. What I do have left is my Zoom H1, and the Audio Technical ATR-3350 lapel mic.

This mic is an omni mic and supposedly does not have the proximity effect like the other cardioid mics I've owned in the past. To use it with the sax, I've followed the suggestion by Pete Thomas and built my own kind of holder for the lapel mic. Using cheapo clothes clip, I found some "aluminum wire" that is evidently used by bonsai enthusiats (to shape bonsais as they grow) at Daiso. The wire loops perfectly through the holes in the clip, and it is very flexible and easy to position the mic.

The clothes clip could be improved as it kept slipping - no rubber grip like Pete's - but it worked well enough for my recording purposes. Sadly, as my sample drive is still on a ship to Montreal, I don't have a backing tracked recorded. Will put up samples when I've settled down!

That said, I will be boarding my flight in a few hours. Woo!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Yong Nuo RF-602TX stopped working.....

... and the problem it seems, was just a bad contact! The +ve contact got bent (somehow) during shipping, so there was simply no current flow between the battery and the contact. Just bending it into place helps. Woohoo! And I thought I had to buy a replacement.

I must admit that I thought it would be a good excuse to upgrade to a ttl flash trigger. Thank you google and forums!

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Camtasia for Mac & Houdini

I've been testing out Houdini 12.5 and Camtasia on OSX, and here are some things I've found. First, recording at the max speed of 30fps is just not doable. Houdini becomes extremely choppy. Using the "Medium" speed of 15fps allows for  capture at 1280x800 and only slight hint of performance drop.

Next, the thing I noticed is that the loudness of the recorded clips may not be as loud as I hoped when played back on speakers. Many times I need to bump it up to max, and still it isn't too audible. And horrors, when new email arrives......

What I do right now is to set my microphone record levels at a decent level, so that it doesn't clip when speaking normally. Once in Camtasia's editing mode, I apply a Dynamic Processor (under Audio FX) onto the audio tracks that need them. The main control I tune is just the make up gain. At the defaults of 20 (db?), and I tweak that so as not to be too loud... you might want to read about dynamic range compression, and youtube has lots of audio compressor tutorials that will work with camtasia.

Export wise, I have observed that the default Share -> Export produces exports quite fast, but the file sizes tend to be humongous! For example, I had recorded a 4 minute clip, that Export spat out very fast, but at 90mb. Oooook. I then exported a full length clip at over an hour with the advanced export, and it was... 300mb. Eeeeyup.

The settings I used in export include using the H264 export at 15fps, multi-pass, with AAC audio. Oh, this is under "Export to Quicktime Movie".

At the time of this post, my system specs are:
2009 MBP, OSX 10.6.8. 2.4ghz cpu with 8gb ram.
Houdini 12.5.316.22
Camtasia for Mac 2.3.0 (77283)