Archive for July, 2015

Watching The Ashes

July 17, 2015

TV Struggles

Watching live sport in Hong Kong can always be a bit of a challenge. There’s generally two providers of many things pay TV, and sometimes it feels like it’s all a bit of a stitch up. When I first arrived in Hong Kong (8+ years ago!) I signed up for nowTV with the Sports pack as they had the English Premier League. After their 3 year contract with the English Premier League expired the rights were taken by iCable. Given that pay TV contracts here generally run on 2 year timetables, you can see how this can lead to all sorts of contract madness. I’d ditched the sports stuff by this though, as staying up to 11:00pm to watch football had lost it’s appeal. Also, nowTV is delivered by IPTV, and they obviously cram as many channels into as small a pipe as possible, resulting in pretty awful image quality. Even the so-called HD channels never looked great.

There is of course a mature industry in VPNs and smart DNS providers who can help you spoof your location to pick up various ‘geo-locked’ programming, so it’s not like I’ve gone without my sporting fix entirely. For some live sports I’m even prepared to cough up money, and if it provides a legitimate viewing method then so much the better. So, going through some sporting events:

2011 Rugby World Cup

Screened by Setanta over here (yes, they may have gone belly up back in the UK/Ireland, but they survive here). Having done away with nowTV it was therefore a bonus that they had a ‘web only’ offer available, and had an Android application which I could connect up to a TV. It wasn’t perfect – however the picture quality was acceptable, and there were maybe some dropped frames. Overall, I’d give this about a 7/10 score.

2012 London Olympics

I think this was screened by terrestrial TV over here – which means an emphasis on events like ping pong! Whoo! The BBC, on the other hand, screened just about everything (somewhat overkill in my mind). This meant wheeling out the VPN, or an HTTP proxy. On the whole, not bad. The VPN would buffer the most, but probably be the most reliable. The HTTP proxy wasn’t great. A bit too much Clare Balding for my liking, but we got to see most of what we wanted.

2014 Football World Cup

Again, iPlayer and ITV Player on a tablet hooked up to a TV or casted via a Chromecast worked pretty well. This time I used a smart DNS and it worked pretty decently. The iPlayer streams always seemed a bit more reliable than the ITV streams.

2013 Ashes in Aus

Watching cricket in Hong Kong is not easy, as it’s not exactly a mainstream sport here. There is the awful Star Sports Cricket channel, which takes the Sky Sports feed, and then must put it through a pixelator as the quality is dropped. They also play repetitive adverts at every over break (sometimes not coming back in time!), and have the nerve to charge the highest price of any channel for this, err, service. Given that at times it seemed only one team was playing cricket in this particular series it could be argued I wasn’t missing much …

I have in the past used the dubious ‘Internet streams’ of sports – and this has been largely unsatisfying. They’re inevitably Adobe Flash based. The quality is even lower than PCCW nowTV (almost like 8 bit gaming at times!). The actual channel being streamed can be ‘turned over’ by the streamer – yes, I’ve gone from cricket to MMA in the blink of an eye! The channel being streamed can be from some weird and wonderful places (I’ve watched American coverage of cricket …). Channels get closed down rapidly, only to pop up elsewhere.

I may have found my preferred (and paid for) solution though … nowTV! Not the rubbishy nowTV that PCCW provide, but the UK version that Sky provide. It’s not cheap – £10 for a week – but a single use covers a single Test match, and seems reasonable. Combined with a smart DNS provider and a Chromecast, I’m pleased to report that last night I watched the Sky Sports feed at decent quality, with no interruptions (the OH would point out that it did take about 90 minutes of faffing around before it actually worked). As a bonus the southern hemisphere rugby championship starts this weekend, and we’ll get that too!

The only slight drawback is that the Chromecast is pointing to unlocator DNS servers, and my tablet is using adfreetime DNS servers (so I’m actually using 2 providers right now). When both tablet and Chromecast were using Unlocator, the nowTV app wouldn’t connect to the Chromecast, and when both used the adfreetime servers then the nowTV app wouldn’t connect with the stream … It’s just a shame that the day’s play of cricket was so turgid (I suspect England have asked for lifeless pitches as they want to nullify the Aussie pace bowlers).

I’ll be watching Ashes cricket and southern hemisphere rugby this weekend!



July 16, 2015

New earphones!

Yep – a new set of Jabra earphones turned up yesterday. As promised by Jabra, they’ve sent me a pair of Sport Coach earphones, which are supposedly the next development from the Sport Pulse ones I was previously using and breaking wearing out in rapid time. Unfortunately, this model of earphones do not have the heart rate monitor technology, but they are a nice set of bluetooth earphones, and come with some kind of integrated ‘training coach’ functionality. A lot of the marketing material pushes this at cross training types – i.e. not really me, but we’ll see how they go.

I had resurrected my old Polar chest strap heart rate monitor for a while. I’m not a huge fan of this, as during my lung busting exercise routines/gasping for breath jogs (delete as appropriate) it can feel restrictive. It probably isn’t at all restrictive, and it’s my lack of fitness/aerobic ability causing me to be gasping for air – but this was one of the main points of appeal of the Jabra pulse earphones. Anyway … it turns out that the Polar heart rate monitor doesn’t react well to being put through a washing cycle. Oops. I now have no heart rate monitoring.

I was excited to try out the new earphones, so went for a run this lunch time – the plan was to jog from Kowloon Park through Western Kowloon and then back the way I came back to the park. It was kind of successful. A few too many people – Hong Kong streets are definitely not jogger friendly – and the construction works round West Kowloon doesn’t help. I also took a wrong turn on my back and added some extra distance to the return trip, and as I wasn’t too sure of the exact route back, decided to stop running after finally getting away from the Elements shopping mall centre.

The nicest part was running round Western Kowloon – helped by following some other guy, who unfortunately was slightly quicker than me which was probably half the reason I took a wrong turn on the way back. Run details on Strava as usual. I’ve also resurrected my old phone to link to the Jabra earphones, so I have definitely stepped back a bit in terms of the amount of stuff I run with (now running with: a FitBit, a phone, the Sony Smartwatch, and the earphones). So, not really much progress there. It was very hot and humid for the run, so at least the earphones will have had a good stress test today.

Wee on the floor

In what is undoubtedly an echo from the future – Sunday morning had me cleaning up wee on the floor. The OH was changing The Son’s nappy, and had let him have a bit of wander – into the corner of his room by the change table, whereupon he’d decided to make a puddle on the floor. We’re (at least) a few months away from genuinely starting potty training, but this did strike me as the shape of things to come.

Baby Monitoring

The temperature/humidity and camera monitor continues to work – I decided to simply let the temperature and humidity reading/updating be called via a cron job once a minute rather than try to have a process that runs endlessly that needs to calculate when to run. I found there was a certain amount of drift no matter how I coded it – and I went for the easy solution. It also means that I don’t need to monitor whether the program is still running, as it simply runs once and then exits.

I also modified the code to check the WiFi plug is reachable to use arping instead of ping and it seems to be much more reliable now. Certainly, the thermostat functionality seems to ‘just work’. Fascinating stuff, eh?

That’s it for now!


July 3, 2015

Running in circles

Another run without earphones was completed last night – I’ve reverted to using a Polar chest strap hear rate monitor whilst the Jabras are in their non-working state. Relatively faster and slow interval running last night – at over 30C and high humidity it’s not much fun. Jabra have offered to check my failed earphones to help determine root cause analysis (it’s a refreshing change to be on the other end of an RCA issue!), and have offered to send me a set of Sport Coach earphones. They don’t have an integrated heart rate monitor, but are a further development from the Sport Pulse earphones that keep failing on me. The plan is that if these work, then Jabra could incorporate changes to the Sport Pulse headset and resolve the problem I am continually suffering from. Result!

Programming loops …

Last night, The Son figured that 3:45am was a good time to ‘ask’ for his milk. As usual, I have a lower resistance to staying in bed that the OH, so up I got to prep the milk. He wasn’t in a good mood – we think he’s teething again (although if he had teeth for all the times we thought he was teething he’d have about 30 by now!). Sad, but true, upon walking in to his room, one of my initial thoughts was ‘it’s pretty warm in here, and the aircon hasn’t automatically kicked in’. Milk was duly delivered and drank, followed up by a dose of Nurofen – at which point the OH appeared to provide comfort as well (The Son was noisy enough to ruin her chances of a restful night too!).

Whilst OH was settling The Son, as I was fully awake by now I couldn’t help myself but to check the thermostat code. As I suspected, the code had entered an infinite loop and then been called again and again every 5 minutes. I’m still not sure why the Raspberry Pi is occasionally unable to reach the WiFi enabled plug, and that it stays unreachable, as it did last night. I performed some manual pings from the Raspberry Pi, checked arp tables, and the WiFi plug (seemingly) randomly started responding to pings, which cleared the looped thermostat scripts, and kicked in the air con unit to work.

We were back to bed for 4:15am or so, and I then had my brain pondering why the plug occasionally becomes non-responsive and how to ‘fix’ this.

  • Restrict the looping code to 5 iterations and then exit with an error code (probably a good idea)
  • Try a different (or additional) connection to the WiFi plug (maybe using UDP?)
  • Clear the arp table prior to pinging
  • Try an arping instead of a regular ICMP ping

It’s stuff like this that is keeping me awake at night … that and The Son of course!