Vietnam: The Long Unknown – What’s in the Bag(s)?

So what the heck does one take with them for a month long motorbike trip through Vietnam? This post could partially help with the answer…

Vietnam trip bags

I’m not good with packing. I tend to cram in completely unnecessary things and forget the essentials. Somehow vital items get carefully wrapped and packed away in a choreography of rolling and folding, yet my phone charger and toothbrush sit idly by the side. With this in mind I took it upon myself to pack the rucksack today, with the hope I’d learn from past mistakes and know exactly what I was and was not taking with me. Yes, the flight is 3 weeks away, but I like to plan early!

Firstly, initially I was only taking the rucksack. The decision to take a smaller bag became necessary as the helmet I had already bought for the trip was coming on as hand luggage, and not going in the hold of an aircraft where it’d get bashed and smashed to smithereens. There are some forums out there that suggested I wear the helmet as I board the plane, although in this day and age I doubt that’d go down well with… well, anyone. So a second bag was decided upon, which would allow me to carry daily things on the trip too, like food and water, or easy-access items such as my Canon camera. Obviously whilst riding I’ll be wearing the helmet, and when we’ve stopped the helmet will be carried with us or stowed in a hotel room.

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So what’s in the bag(s)?

Small bag:

Open face helmet, goggles (came with the helmet!), iPad, Canon 550D, 11-16mm Tokina lens, 18-135 Canon lens, 50mm Canon lens, 8mm fish-eye lens, 3x 16GB SD cards, 2x Canon batteries, GoPro Hero3, GoPro cable, 8x GoPro mounts, GoPro links, GoPro waterproof case, GoPro helmet extension arm, iPhone cable, headphones. Oh, and 8x screws… I’ll explain later!

Big bag:

Waterproof jacket and trousers, spare jeans, tennis shoes, 2x pairs of shorts, 4x socks and pants, 4x t-shirts, 1x casual shirt, deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ quadcopter (yes, really!), quadcopter controller, 2x Phantom batteries, Phantom charger, towel, anti-malaria tablets, bug spray, H4N Zoom microphone, pocket radio, 3.5mm audio cables.

What does all this cover?

The clothing options cover me for the travelling to and from Vietnam, riding a motorbike in both wet and dry conditions, and extras if we try the nightlife. The Canon 550D and lenses covers me for both photography and any video documenting. The GoPro and all the accessories cover the video aspect of us (“Clarence” and I) on the bikes. The DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ quadcopter is, quite simply, a radical piece of kit to shoot video from the air and provide awesome shots of us on the bikes. Totally unnecessary and overboard, but wicked nonetheless.

What’s with the microphone and cables?

Well, we’re not making a piece-to-camera documentary of our travels. However, I do have somewhat of an idea in mind for a video. Of course I’ll want to share a kick-ass video with you when this trip is all over. So the mic will record wild-track (essentially a few minutes of ambient sound of a particular area for the edit process), as well as recorded sound of the bikes, etc. I also have an idea to start and end the video as if a radio is being tuned in, so the pocket radio and cables will allow me to scroll through several frequencies and capture real-life radio in Vietnam and use that sample for the video. The items are small enough to be inconsequential to the weight of the rucksack anyway.

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Security is another thing that I’ve been concerned with. Clearly neither “Clarence” or I want to be kidnapped, robbed or to ride off a cliff and never be found. With me being a geek, I’ve set up some measures to help us along the way.

Firstly, both bags have a bluetooth tracking device installed. There’s also one on my keys, and I’ll likely stick one on the bike (for a giggle). These TrackR StickR devices communicate with an App on my iPhone, and keep regular track of where the items are. If any go missing, I can use the App to see their last known locations, and hone in on them. The devices also communicate two-way, so by pressing a button on the bluetooth device (which is no bigger than a pound coin) the iPhone rings. Or I can press a button on the App, and the TrackR rings. Fingers crossed these items work as they should and nothing goes missing.

One major benefit to the TrackR App is that if I do lose an item, and someone else is running the App, and they are in close proximity to a missing device, their App (without pairing) will update the last known location on my map. So something hundreds of miles away could still be found, thanks to another TrackR user and their “Crowd GPS” function.


Secondly, I’ve installed an app on my iPhone called FollowMee. This App runs in the background and updates my location to a server online. If there’s no internet connection is records the GPS data anyway and uploads it whenever it gets the chance. It’s also clever in that it doesn’t run the battery flat with unnecessary uploads as it only updates if the location has changed, and by the specified update times I choose (anything from every minute to every 12 hours).

The benefit of this App is that our friends and family can keep track of our location by checking out my blog, where an embedded Live Map will track us in realtime. They don’t need to download some “Friends” app, nor do I have to give them any log-in details or get them to register on a special website. It’s hassle-free with a link I can email them which takes me to a secure and private map, or I can choose to embed the map anywhere I like (in this case, my travel blog!).

The App can also show where we’ve been, by keeping the last 24hrs worth of GPS logging data visible on the map. If we go missing, at least you’ll know roughly where we went missing! There’s no subscription fee for this service, just the £1.89 price of the App. There is also a free version, but that doesn’t keep the 7-day history.

They also have the ability to store 45 days or 90 days worth of location data, although you’d need to pay for this separately (a very reasonable $5 and $10 per YEAR respectively).

The App works on iOS, Android, Windows phones, Blackberry and the Amazon Kindle Fire.


Of course all of this security depends on having an internet connection. I’ve spoken with my phone provider and they’ve unlocked my phone so it can be used anywhere in the world, and on any network. This means when I get to Vietnam I can switch out my UK SIM card with a pre-paid Vietnamese SIM card, pre-loaded with data and calls. I’m reliably informed there will be full coverage along the way, even if it drops to 2G/EDGE. It should be enough to keep us connected to the internet, and our locations known.

As a back-up, I’ve also installed an App called myTracks, which can either record your GPS location 24/7 or be set to short-record anything from 1min-24hrs. The App can then export/email the data and be used to trace a route at a later date. Both Apps will run for the duration of the trip. This App doesn’t upload our location, but stores the data locally.

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Now, back to this helicopter… I appreciate that not everybody thinks of taking a remote control helicopter with them on holiday, but the opportunity to get amazing tracking and aerial shots is too good to miss. Yes, my friends and I have joked that I could start a war, should anyone decide that my drone is some sort of threat and it a) gets blown out of the sky, or b) it gets blown out of the sky and I get arrested. Either way, it’s packed.

So what’s with the 8x screws? Well, the only way I could fit the DJI Phantom into my rucksack was to remove the lower landing legs. All the cables stayed intact, but with the screws removed it means the legs can be folded over and out of the way. Otherwise the biggest and bulkiest thing in the rucksack is the quadcopter!


Social Experiment: “Can’t Live Without…”

Can you name one or two items that you own in which you can categorically say

“this is one of the best things I’ve ever bought!”


“I can’t live without this!”

I’ve listed here three things I consider to be my best purchases, and their reasons for it:

  • MacBook Pro. Ultra fast, does everything I need, it’s never let me down. Not once.
  • Canon 550D First proper Digital SLR camera I ever bought, easy to use, fantastic images. Always works.
  • Coffee Machine, It’s paid for itself (v Costa/Starbucks!), instant drink, costs a fraction against retail coffee!

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This is an experiment, to compile feedback from Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, email, etc) regarding things that you folks consider to be their favourite or best items or belongings.

So far, what’s interesting is the lack of things I expected to be said, such as mobile phones, TVs or games consoles. Not one person has said one of these things! What does that say about trustworthiness and the reliability of those items?

Leave a message below, and I’ll update the list depending on the comments left!

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UPDATE: Some answers given (besides your friends and family!) as follows:

  • Audi A3. Been a dream to drive since I bought it. No problems ever.
  • GoPro HERO3. Battery sucks, but for its size, it packs a punch!
  • Nutri Bullet. Kitchen blender that does soup, smoothies, ice cream. Fast and good for you.
  • Sony PSP. Totally out of date, but hacked to play games off a 32GB Memory Card, 20+ games for kids car journeys.
  • Blue Yeti Microphone. IT IS one of the best things I’ve ever bought!
  • SoundMAGIC E10M in-ear headphones. Really comfortable. Excellent frequency response. In-line iPhone control.
  • Laptop. Use it to communicate with friends, research, purchase items online, read e-books, code websites, watch TV


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 




‘The clothes make the character’

The Fitzroy (feature film)

 ‘The clothes make the character’ is a famous quote I’m probably misremembering by a famous actor. Well it’s true and I would include make-up in that mangled quote.

‘The clothes and the make-up… er… make the character’ – Andrew Harmer



One of the real pleasures I had when shooting The Fitzroy was watching the actors come in in the early hours of the morning, often tired, occasionally grumpy, only to emerge a little later from the make-up and costume room as laughing, smiling, characters, completely transformed. It was a joy to behold.

Make-up and Costume are so important to a film, especially when the film is a period piece. We’ve been blessed on The Fitzroy to have a great team creating the look. Spearheaded by Poppy Bell (costume) and Karen Evans (make-up), they have worked wonders on a minuscule budget.

But enough of me waffling on. I’ll let…

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