Vietnam: The Long Unknown – Update 4

This blog covers the drive from Ninh Binh to Sam Son, an awesome resort, the drive from Sam Son to the middle of nowhere, and an awesome experience with a local family. Police checks avoided; 7. Distance covered 240km.

Total distance; 780km.


I felt sad to leave Tham at the Anna Tham Hotel. She was incredibly grateful and such a hard working young person. She runs that whole place (as the only English speaking person in her family business). So much to deal with. She was so happy to have had us, and grateful for being such model guests. She even asked me if I’d come back and marry her friend, and hopes we have the wedding at her hotel! (I even gave my address, just in case!!).

After breakfast we said our goodbyes to the Dutch couple (Eric and Renatta) who we’d sat and had drinks with both nights before, and hit the road. The journey was a short one of only 80km, so not much compared to the monster journeys we’ve done before. There were lots of smaller towns along the way which slowed us down, thanks to traffic lights and crazy no-rule junctions where kids bolt out from nowhere. On one of our stops, a security guard appeared from a factory and walked over to see us. He spoke no English but pointed to his own ID Card. He also pointed to the licence plates a couple of times. We think he was trying to see if we had ownership or licences for the bike. In the end, we’ll never know. We tried to tell us the route we were planning, and he recognised Hanoi, Ha Long, Da Nang. That kept him content that we’d ridden quite a distance already. But just in case we decided to move on, so as not to draw more attention. He nodded and drew out “150km” on my bag as indication to our next location, then waved us off. Nice enough!

We headed towards a place on Google Maps where we knew there was a 9/10 rated hotel. It was a beach location in Sam Son. But when we finally got there, both Clarence and I were quite shocked. The entire town, beach front and all, looked completely desolate. Everything was closed down, worn out, sun bleached, and wasting away. It was like an abandoned film set. There was even a mini theme park with roller coaster and tea cups, but it was truly degraded and broken. A handful of locals were sorting out fishing nets, and ladies in nón lá (leaf hats) spreading tiny shrimp out across swathes of the road to dry them out. A very strange sight indeed.

We stopped to double check the map and see if we were in the right place. When we looked up, an old man was stood beside us. He was more interested in the bikes than us. Usually it’s the other way around. Turns out an expensive (for Vietnam, but in reality only £20 per night per person) resort was just around the corner. The Van Chai Resort is a huge luxurious place with indoor and outdoor pool, gym, sauna, massage, beach front, gorgeous rooms and a large restaurant. We worked out it could probably host over 100 in the houses (they were individual little flats, like a small village), but only 6 of us were actually staying. The staff were very keen to help us and keep us pleased. A typical Vietnamese custom.

At sunset I took out my QuadCopter for a fly around the area. What I didn’t see were the workers at the other end of the resort who were building another restaurant by the outdoor pool. They all stopped to study my flying camera. They didn’t see me, so I nudged it over towards them and they jumped around with glee. One of them coaxed it like a dog to come towards him. He directed it around, and I entertained it. Fun to see. When I wandered over they were fascinated to be able to see the shot on my iPhone from the camera. I pointed up and fired it straight up over 800ft and showed them the whole resort from above. They were awestruck. One of the workers pointed out to a fishing vessel and directed me to fly it over them. I took it out over the water but lost visual with it. The downlink video just showed sea and a tiny boat, and without line of sight I felt uncomfortable. I pretended to lose it. The workers clapped and jumped, thinking it was gone. So I turned off the controller and crossed my arms, shaking my head. They looked surprised and incredulous. But I knew the QuadCopter would trigger the Return To Home function. About 20 seconds later it shot out of the fog towards us, climbing to 60 feet. With no signal from me it hovered then slowly dropped before landing at my feet and shutting down. By their reaction you’d think I’d have won a gold medal. None of us spoke each other’s language but I tried to explain it needed to recharge. There were smiles, nods and handshakes before the who,e thing was over. It was a rather interesting 20 minutes.

The rooms (or little dorms) held two beds with mosquito nets, stone slab floor, shells embedded in the floor, a huge bathroom with bath, and an outdoor shower. I mentioned this was just under £20, right? It’s the height of decadence for my experience!

The next morning we headed off. I strapped my GoPro to my helmet to get some footage. I ended up leaving it till the battery run out. In a bizarre turn of events we’d ended up taking s wrong turn. Down back streets and criss cross roads, we’d turned into a rundown slum area. Tiny kids played dice in the street, hit each other with sticks, helped their parents in the fields. Every single one of them smiling. Even though they were covered in dirt, ripped clothes, proper slum kids. And every time they saw Clarance up ahead and then me, they’d shout “hello!!” And we’d get a wave.

Waving hello and peace signs have become a regular occurrence. Though I’m still not convinced we are saying “hello” with a peaceful V sign. Online there’s blogs where people say it’s a happy way of saying hello by the younger generations. They do it constantly on their Twitter and Instagram feeds. The older generation link peace to the war. Others have said we are simply announcing the number two, as “Hi” in English is “Hai” in Vietnamese, which simply means the number two!

Several hours later we rolled into yet another dead seaside town. This had much more people, but certainly no fancy hotels. We booked something online and rolled up to find the place looking closed. The owner directed us behind the building and we ended up locking our bikes inside a desolate restaurant. The hotel was open, but it was more like an asylum or prison. Not a great place, but there were beds and wifi. No toilet roll though.

Wandering the streets for food became an experience. Clarence and his massive beard drew crowds, and kids began surrounding us on bikes shouting “hello!” and flashing the V gesture. You’d think we were rock stars. A bit too close for comfort though, so we headed back to the hotel after grabbing a bag of biscuits from some baby store. Looking defeated we headed over to the last cafe-looking place just before the hotel. An older man was sat eating what looked like potato fritters. He gestured for us to come in. I thought he was going to serve us, but he actually pulled alongside two chairs and handed us slices from his plate. I’m guessing they were mashed potato with herbs and onions in, pan fried. Tasty though!

A few minutes later we had beers, and the old mans son, Called Bee (?) came and joined us. He spoke English and invited us to have dinner with his family. We sat shoeless and cross legged on the floor, eating cabbage, fermented eggs, boiled meat, fish slices and rice. An authentic Vietnamese meal with a real family. We swapped interests and discussed football, TV, and skirted around the war. We talked about marriage and travel, and he translated the news channel for us (one story was about a couple importing 2kg of heroin. He told us they’d be shot instead of imprisoned. That’s what happens in Vietnam).

Being tired after our longer trip we agreed we’d see them in the morning before we go, and Bee said he would have breakfast and coffee ready for us at no charge. This place is such a friendly happy place…

Big Brother: Power Trip – Viewing Figures

BB 2014 eye logo Please read this Disclaimer

Channel 5’s Big Brother: Power Trip launched on June 5th 2014 with over  2.27 million people watching Launch Part 1 on Thursday, and over 1.87 million watching Launch Part 2 on Friday. The launch show marked a 3% increase in viewing figures compared to 2013’s Secrets And Lies theme which had 2.20 million viewers. Big Brother came up against the World Cup on Saturday 14th June where 14.7 million people watched England play against Italy, resulting in audience viewing figures of just 1.16 million for Big Brother. However, the next evening came in at 1.43 million, with the rest of the following week averaging 1.47 million. Viewing figures for Big Brother: Power Trip averaged 1.48 million throughout June. The below chart shows the regular daily rise and fall of viewing figures throughout June, comparing 2012, 2013 and 2014:

Big Brother Viewing Figures Comparison (June)

More to come…

* figures taken from website.

Editing with MP4 video

If you shoot MP4 video and then use that MP4 file in your favourite editing package, it’s very likely your entire workflow is slow and clunky. Your software might be slow to respond, the audio might be jerky or not match at all. There’s a much better way to help you edit these files which also greatly reduces the time it takes you to edit and render out your final videos. Read on!

MP4 is a codec. Codec simply means “Compress-Decompress“, or “Code-Decode“. In other words it’s a specific way in which your video files are converted from video into computer data, and back again. There are many different codecs for both video and audio, such as AVI, MP2, MP3, MP4, H263, H264, WAV, WMV, MPG, to name but a few. Over the years, lots of companies have created more efficient ways of encoding ( and compressing) video, which helps to keep a good amount of detail in your videos, but takes up less space in storage.

Here’s an example of space-saving compression;

Frame one is blue. Frame two is blue. Frame three is blue. Frame four is blue. Frame five is blue. Frame six is blue. Frame seven is blue. Frame eight is blue. Frame nine is blue. Frame ten is blue. Frame eleven is blue. Frame twelve is blue. Frame thirteen is blue. Frame fourteen is blue. Frame fifteen is blue. Frame sixteen is blue. Frame seventeen is blue. Frame eighteen is blue. Frame nineteen is blue. Frame twenty is blue. Frame twenty one is blue. Frame twenty two is blue. Frame twenty three is blue. Frame twenty four is blue. Frame twenty five is blue.


All 25 frames are blue.

The example above describes exactly the same thing. Obviously this is an incredibly simplified example of compression, but that’s what it is! The first paragraph takes up lots of space to say one thing, whereas the second paragraph says the same thing using mush less information, and therefore much less space.

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MP4 is more specifically a playback Codec. It is designed to allow lots of devices such as your TV, phone, tablet, etc, to play the video back “as is”. But if you shoot lots of MP4 video footage and then later want to edit that footage together, it can be tricky and cause lots of problems (and stress!). Let me explain why;

It comes down to keyframes (or intra frames), which is a unique way in which Codecs save space when storing video. A keyframe is simply one complete frame, full of video data. Like a full resolution photograph. And these keyframes contain a HUGE amount of data. But MP4 video doesn’t record keyframes for every frame of video. Instead it only records ONE keyframe for every second (on average). To save precious space, the Codec simply stores data on what has changed between those keyframes.

MP4 video compression is therefore described as a “lossy compression“, because in reality you are losing information and detail within the video. A video encoded with Lossless Compression would look visually perfect, but would take up lots more space. Lossy Compression stores less data, and can be bad quality, but takes up less space.

Imagine ten seconds of video footage. In the world of european TV, there are 25 frames shown on-screen to every second. Like a flip book. Therefore that 10 second clip contains 250 frames. But in MP4 video, it doesn’t store all 250 frames. As mentioned previously, MP4 only stores (in most cases) ONE full frame of information for every second. So a ten second video clip only actually contains TEN full screen, full data, captures of your video. For ten seconds that’s ten frames, out of 250? So really only 1/25th of video data is recorded!

With me so far? So the first frame of every second exists, yet theoretically all the other frames don’t. This is important for editing, because you want to be frame-accurate. If you want to cut your video at exactly “frame 27”, and then have the next frame of your video be ten seconds later, at “frame 277”, well both of those frames don’t exist. When you click on “Frame 27” your Video Editing Software will have to look back at the first keyframe for that second, read the data of what has changed up to that point and show you an interpretation of “Frame 27”. It then needs to do the same thing for “Frame 277”. So something as simple as clicking on a frame that doesn’t exist means a delay to you as your computer and software churn through all the data to interpret and show you that frame. Imagine the processing power it therefore takes if you click on your clip, and then skip back a few frames. Click, click, click. It takes the computer a few seconds to work everything out.

Even doing something simple like a one second fade between two MP4 video clips means your computer and editing package have to interpret those twenty-five frames (most of which don’t exist) as well as apply the processing to fade between each one. That’s a lot of processing for something very simple. No wonder the fans inside your computer are spinning at top speed! Editing several minutes of MP4 video like this could take hours, days, weeks!

As a side-note, occasionally you can see your computer trying to interpret data in-between keyframes if you scrub through a video clip and it tries to play it from a point where no keyframe exists. The video goes blocky, and parts of the video move around in a strange way. Sometimes there’s a green flash, and then BANG, the video clip hits a keyframe and  the whole video is back in sync.

MP4 green blocky pixel frame


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So what can we do to reduce all this processing power and delays..?

Convert MP4 video from a playback Codec to an edit-friendly Codec. And an edit-friendly Codec I recommend is “ProRes 4:2:2“.

At the very beginning, before you even open your video editing package, you should convert all your MP4 videos into ProRes 4:2:2 video clips.

There are lots of different types of software for both PC and Mac which allow you to convert those MP4 videos, and I highly recommend free software called MPEGStreamClip. This software will read your MP4 video file, and convert them to ProRes (it even has a Batch function, so you can drop an entire folder, and it’ll convert them all in one go). You can download MPEGStreamClip here. It can convert to many other codecs too, but stick to ProRes for editing. If ProRes isn’t available (it can depend on what software you have installed on your computer) then try Apple Intermediate Codec, or AIC.

Your newly converted “ProRes” codec video clips will visually be exactly the same video clips, except every single frame will be full of data. Effectively, every frame is a keyframe. So when you click on “frame 27”, the data is already there and the image appears, instead of the computer processing all the data to work out what “frame 27” might look like.

By doing this conversion at the very start of your workflow, you will see a noticable improvement when you come to edit. Your software will be more responsive, your computer will be doing less processing, and you’ll save time overall.

Please note that converting video takes time. But it’s still better to convert everything at the beginning before you start your edit process. You can batch-convert all your clips whilst you sleep, or take a shower, have lunch, etc, instead of having those irritating delays during the edit.

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In a nutshell it’s the same for audio. MP3 audio saves a vast amount of space by not recording the frequencies that the human ear can’t detect. Anything above 22KHz just isn’t there. Although this is great for storage, it’s horrendous for audiophiles! Classical music which contains a combination of high frequencies is therefore stripped out. And although we might not hear those high frequencies, it has an affect on the other notes which we can hear.

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Update: 2nd Jan 2016: Interesting Reddit post showing GIFs gone wrong. This shows the same principal of keyframing and how it can catastrophically and hiliariously wrong:

50 Unsettlingly broken GIFs