Day 1 - Heat, Height and Hustle

By the time I had sweated out all of the water I had drunk the evening before, it was 3am and I found Matt still not back from his escapades in Holguin. At this point of the holiday I was still painfully aware as to how nervous I was at being in a foreign country where I didn't speak the language and didn't rightly know exactly where I was; scenarios of having to phone the British Embassy (carefully noted down before coming to Cuba) and explain that my friend had disappeared flashed through my mind until I heard the comforting sound of the casa owner let him in. Satisfied I was not going to have to phone the embassy or expatriate Matt's body to the UK, I went back to sleep.

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Day 0 - Preparation and Travel

In May 2007 I visited Cuba with a friend for almost three weeks; this is the record of what I experienced there. I thought it best to start off with a preamble explaining my approach to this (what I can only imagine is going to be a lengthy) undertaking.

What I read on the tinterweb before going to Cuba fell into three categories:

  1. The political - Usually quoting a human rights report or something by Amnesty International, these sites track the ongoing political climate in Cuba and its dealings with the rest of the world. Opinion pieces were abound on how the author thought the country was faring.
  2. The evangelical - It seemed that Cuba made a large quotient of people fall in love with it, as such, the blogs and articles came off as gushing monologues about the terminally friendly people or the unspoiled countryside or the lack of road vehicles.
  3. The minimal - I only read a few accounts before spotting the tell tale signs of there being little to no actual useful information contained within. These sites divulge minimal information about Cuba either on the whole or in part and boil down to how many t-shirts their husband packed.

This series of posts is going to attempt to be none of those things; I only aim for an interesting, frank and unyielding account; sexual and opinionated content (sometimes inextricably conjoined) will be present. I'm not going to explain every term, only the ones which I couldn't find or found inadequately described elsewhere.

And until I can come up with a snappy category name, "Cuba 2K7" will remain.

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Screenshotter

An "automatic" screenshot taker is something that I've always wanted, but the commercial offerings leave much to be desired and the only other option seems to be the "manual" approach. I am of course talking about screenshots from video files rather than screenshots of your desktop, that sort of thing is well covered.

One of the problems with making your own is that the options are fairly limited on just how you go about opening video files and pulling out the candy frame goodness. For Windows users, the option is to use DirectShow which I can only describe as The Crystal Maze for it's Byzantine ways of operating are beyond mortal ken. The other option is to use a pre-built library such as ffmpeg or similar. This was out as well as not only was it a whole new way of working for me (Windows development files were few and far between) it was a whole new set of a programming challenges which made the learning curve more of a learning cliff.

"during testing I had a number of problems with this"

So I turned forlornly to existing media-players in the slim hope that one of them would have the abilities required for scripting a makeshift screenshotter. Media Player Classic has limited command line support, VLC is more geared towards client/server setup and I couldn't even figure out whether that route would lead to any semblance of success, BSPlayer... The list goes on as to the number of players which don't supply a full body of command line options.

The silver lining, the angel of hope was MPlayer. If you're prepared to wade through a bit of fudge to get there, MPlayer provides everything you need to script a screenshotter:

  • jump to any part of the file from the command line
  • output into different (static) formats such as PNG and JPEG
  • can output file information (length, dimensions etc.)

With these three functions MPlayer is almost all you need. Almost.

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