Desktop 2014-04-23

Desktop - Terminal

When I moved to my new place, I had to leave behind my old computer. While I’ve written before about having an iPad as my only computer, I found myself needing to work on a lot of small development work in my spare time recently, which is one area where having a laptop was more efficient.

Not having the funds for a shiny, new Macbook, I had to find a way to make do… In the end I recycled an 8-year old, broken Dell Latitude D620 I found in a cupboard. I replaced the old hard disk drive with the SSD from the desktop I had resurrected when staying at my parent’s. After trying out a couple of different Linux distro’s I settled on my old favourite of Arch Linux, which I’ve tried to keep as light as possible to prevent over-taxing the mighty 1.6GHz Centrino Duo processor and 2GB of RAM. The results are in the screenshot above. It’s not a fancy machine, and it can’t be away from a power source for more than an hour, but it gets the job done.

Also worth mentioning is that I updated the look of this blog today, into something a little more content-centric. The header image is one of my favourite from my trip to San Francisco in November. Gratuitous screenshot of my desktop + blog below!

Desktop - with Browser + Blog

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Accessing the WWE Network from the UK

The Why

I’m a “part-time” WWE fan. I dip in and out of the “universe” every few years as the mood takes me. Every so often I’ll catch the bug big time, watch a bunch of shows, then my interest will fade again. When I moved into my new place I spent the first couple of nights watching a bunch of WWE-related documentaries I found on Netflix, which kindled my current interest. On top of that, my son has recently started to get into WWE as well.

Plus it was time for WrestleMania 30. So naturally I wanted to watch the spectacle.

When I moved, I “cut the cable”; I have no TV service at all – no terrestrial TV (so don’t pay for a TV license), no Freeview, Cable, or Sky TV. I watch everything online, primarily through Netflix, YouTube, or BBC iPlayer. None of these services could let me watch WrestleMania, so something else was needed. A quick look at WWE.com revealed I could stream it from their website for $59.99 (approx £37). Call me cheap, but for one Pay Per View that was not good value for money, even if it was for the “show of shows.” Then I remembered the WWE had recently launched their own streaming service, WWE Network. 24/7 streaming of WWE shows + Pay Per Views, for $9.99 a month. Even with a minimum 6 month subscription, it worked out the same price for the “all you can eat” channel as it did for the single WrestleMania stream. Done. Sold. Sign me up.

One problem – WWE Network is US-only for now. But with the right tools, this is not an insurmountable problem, though it is a little finicky to setup at first.

The How

What You’ll Need:

  1. A WWE.com Account.
  2. A PayPal Account (with linked credit/debit card).
  3. An Unblock-Us.com Account.
  4. A Device to Watch WWE Network on. I used an Apple TV.

Unblock-Us

Unblock-Us is the secret sauce which makes the whole process work; without it, WWE.com won’t even let you sign up for WWE Network, let alone watch anything. The service costs, but it’s cheap (<£3 per month), and lets you access other services such as the US Netflix, or watch region-restricted videos on YouTube. I’ve been a happy paying customer for almost 2 years now.

Sign up for Unblock-Us, then use their set-up instructions for the device you want to watch the WWE Network on. You can set-up your router instead, but I prefer a per-device setup for maximum flexibility.

For the moment, you’ll also want to set your computer/laptop to use Unblock-Us, while we do the next step:

WWE.com/WWE Network

Sign Up for a WWE.com account. During registration, set your country to the US. Once your account is created, if you’re set up with Unblock-Us, you can click the option in your profile to subscribe to WWE Network – if Unblock-Us isn’t working, you’ll end up in an endless redirect loop.

During the WWE Network sign-up, you’ll need to supply a billing address. This needs to be a valid US address, including zip code. You can use anything, such as the address of your favourite US-based company… For the payment option, I recommend using PayPal.

PayPal

You might be able to get away with not using PayPal, but I used it to avoid entering a non-UK billing address for my credit card (which would risk it being declined).

WWE.com doesn’t validate the billing address of your PayPal account when you use it as a payment method for WWE Network. As a result, you can have a different billing address on WWE.com than you do in PayPal. This lets you complete the sign-up process – WWE.com thinks you’re paying from within the US, as those are the details you give them, but PayPal bills you with your correct information.

Once done, you should redirect back to WWE.com and see a “success” message telling you you’re now a subscriber to WWE Network

Watching

You have a few options for watching on a big screen: there are WWE Network apps for most devices, though most of them require a US-billing address to access (certainly the PS3 one does). These are more hassle to work around than I was prepared to handle, so I haven’t tried yet. The easiest method I found was using an Apple TV.

Assuming you’ve setup the Apple TV to use Unblock-Us, the next bit should be easy. In the Apple TV Settings > General menu you have the option to change your iTunes Store. Set this to United States. You’ll be logged out of any UK iTMS account you have on your aTV, but it’s OK, as you a) don’t need it to watch WWE Network, and b) can easily sign back in from the same menu.

Returning to the home screen at this point will give you a lot more icons than normal – one of which is the WWE Network app. Selecting it will ask you to login or subscribe through iTunes. You want to login with your WWE.com account from earlier. After thinking about it for a few moments, WWE Network should load up and you can start watching the library of content!

Another option, again using an aTV, is to configure an iOS device to use Unblock-Us through your home WiFi, install the WWE app from the App Store, then use AirPlay to stream it to your TV.

2014-04-07 00.04.35

Troubleshooting

The only real issue I’ve come across is that sometimes (every couple of weeks or so), loading videos on WWE Network will give you an error. This usually means your broadband IP address has changed and you need to let Unblock-Us know. Simply visit unblock-us.com from another device on your network (it doesn’t need to be configured to use Unblock-Us), login, and click the message you’ll see about activating your new IP address. Try your video again, and it should work.

Changing the DNS on a (PlusNet) Technicolor TG582n FTTC Router

I recently had fiber broadband installed at the house. This meant switching provider, and getting a whole new router. ISP routers, by-and-large are terrible, and this one was the type which only allows changing a limited set of options through the web-based admin page.

For a while it was working fine enough, but I started getting lots of DNS issues; accessing sites was terribly slow due to looooooong lookup times – when the lookup succeeded at all! I looked for the option to switch to using the OpenDNS servers, but there was no way to do this through the UI.

Of course, I figured someone had to have run into and fixed this problem before, and with a little hunting around, I was proved right – Pete Cooper had documented how to change these settings through the archaic and arcane wonder of telnet.

Logging into my router through the console, using Pete’s instructions, it soon became apparent his steps had been broken by a firmware update – only a couple of the commands worked. But now I had a lead, I was sure I could figure it out. With a little digging around, and judicious use of the help command, I was able to put together this sequence of commands to update the DNS settings:

# To list your current DNS servers
dns server forward dnsset list
# To a new primary DNS server with higher priority than the default
dns server forward dnsset add set=0 dns=208.67.220.220 label=None metric=4 intf=Internet
# Add the secondary as above
dns server forward dnsset add set=0 dns=208.67.222.222 label=None metric=4 intf=Internet
# Save our changes
saveall

With the commands entered, my web surfing instantly got a massive speed boost as the DNS issues went away :) I should point out that I left the default PlusNet servers in there as back-up. If for some reason I can’t connect to OpenDNS, the router will fall back to the PlusNet DNS.

RIP Winamp

Winamp shutdown yesterday. Even though I hadn’t used it in years, this makes me a little sad, as Winamp was iconic. It was a hero of the early world-wide web, helping to kick-start the internet music age for a great many people like myself.

Winamp1.006

I first discovered Winamp around 14 years ago, during my first year at university. Back then, you could run Winamp from any old folder without installing it, so everyone used to have a copy in their network profile. This was the early days… MP3s were still a rarity here in the UK, so you would listen mainly to CDs (Windows Media Player was a world of suck on Windows NT), or the 2-3 MP3s you had downloaded from Napster.

As time went on, MP3s became more and more common, and Winamp became the defacto music player for a lot of people. Imitators sprung-up elsewhere. It was small, customisable, and with plugins was able to do almost anything – like managing an MP3 Player, if you were the early-adopter who splashed out a few hundred for one of the early, pre-iPod devices. Ahem.

Then the iPod happened, and with it, iTunes. Once iTunes for Windows hit, that was the end of Winamp’s glory days. Owned by AOL, it sank into irrelevance. Full-blown music library management, with integrated store and device management, was the order of the day – all things Winamp was woeful at, even with plugins – relegating Winamp to a niche of nostalgia and a small number of users who couldn’t do with out some feature or other. Winamp 3 was a mess, Winamp 5.5 moved away from the minimal UI. There was even an Android version. It was terrible.

By that time, we had all moved to streaming music services. Why store gigabytes of music files on your computer, when someone else can do it for you, and high-speed access is increasingly common? The need for an application like Winamp was increasingly shrinking. At least Spotify has honoured your legacy by releasing Spotiamp.

spotiamp

And so yesterday, Winamp ceased to be. The site is still there, and for now at least, it seems you can still download v5.666… but that will be turned off soon.

So long, Winamp. You really whipped that ass for as long as you could.

Sunrise over San Francisco, and a Walk Along the Pier

Thanks to the travelling, my body-clock was a little on the fritz, which meant I was wide-awake at around 4am local time. Not ideal, but it meant I got to see a fairly spectacular sunrise, coming up over San Francisco Bay. Feeling a little inspired, I set my camera up on its tripod, opened the window shutters, and experimented with a few long-exposure shots. I need a little more practice (sunset, anyone??), but I’m pretty pleased with how a couple of the shots came out.

The remaining photos are from a walk I took along the pier-front (Embarcadero). I didn’t go all the way along – I was tempted to walk right around as far as Fisherman’s Wharf (I started at South Beach), so I might get a few snaps of the Golden Gate Bridge, but I decided I would cut back into downtown at Market Street, so I could get a few things for my stay. I think I’ll make my trip up that way on Tuesday, perhaps taking in a ferry ride of the Bay, and maybe a tour of Alcatraz.

Hola San Francisco!

As I’m writing this, I’m 36,000 feet over Canadian airspace, on my way to San Francisco (you may have guessed this already, from the title). By the time you’re reading this, I should be safely on the ground again (no in-flight wifi to let me post from the air. It’s a little bit of a impromptu visit; I certainly hadn’t dreamed I’d be making this trip, even as recently as a couple of months ago. But that’s by-the-by at this point – there’s no turning back now!

This will be only my second trip to the United States – my first being Houston in 2011 – so I’ll be very interested to see the (no doubt many) differences. It’s only a short trip too, as I fly back to the UK on Wednesday, so I’ll need to try cram a lot in to make the most of it!

I have one particular bit of business to do while I’m in town1, but the rest of the time is mine, and to be honest, it’s a very welcome break. Things have been so hectic and stressful over the last few months (and not entirely in a good way) that I’m in desperate need of some “R&R”. Hopefully this trip will provide some of that!

As this trip might be a once in a lifetime thing, I’ve packed my full set of camera equipment, so hopefully I can get some memorable photos while I’m here. If I can manage, I’ll try post them up while at the end of each day.

Now, if only I wasn’t missing the live broadcast of The Day of The Doctor, this trip might’ve been even more perfect. Guess what my first priority is, when I land?


  1. That’s a story for another day.2 
  2. Huzzah! WordPress.com finally supports MarkDown natively! 

Games Day 2013 Write-Up

Those of you who follow me on Twitter probably know I was a Games Day 2013 in Birmingham, yesterday. There’s a photo gallery coming later with the many pictures I took through the day, but I’m still waiting on those to transfer off my iPad and upload to the server. In this post I’ll give a a bit of an overview of the day, and recount my experiences.

I’ll mention up front that this was my first Games Day in a long time. The last time I attended, I was still young enough to enter the Young Bloods painting competition, so it’s been 18-19 years at least!

This entry is very long, so it’s behind a “Read More” link. Photos will be in a separate gallery post. Continue reading

Ten

Today is my son’s tenth birthday. How time flies! It’s a little scary to think that 10 years ago I was nervously pacing the corridors of Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, mind completely blown at the thought of being a dad.

It feels like yesterday, and yet like a lifetime ago.

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Sunday Reads: Securing Servers and NSA-proof Email

For someone who’s primarily a developer/support person, I spend a lot of time setting up and configuring – or fixing – servers. I guess this came from an eagerness to learn and I got tarred with the “Linux/Server” Guy brushes at some point!

My interest in Operations has had an uptick again recently, so I’ve been doing a bit of reading of late. This morning, while waiting on news about some work-related activities I’ve come across a couple of interesting articles:

My First 5 Minutes On A Server; Or, Essential Security for Linux Servers by Brian Kennedy is a fantastic little quick-start for securing a Linux server. It’s not everything you need to do, but as noted in the article, it sets the foundations for a secure server which is easy to keep secure. Do these steps first, then go about securing any additional services you need to run.

One thing I’ve been wondering about, is setting up my own email system, rather than run on Google Apps. As convenient as the Google platform is, I do sometimes think I’m trusting them with a bit too much of my information. Recent revelations about the NSA/GCHQ, PRISM, and whatever-comes-next, from Edward Snowden haven’t done much to allay those worries.

But Google Apps is convenient. It wraps my mail, calander, contacts, and many other things into a nice package that is available everywhere and syncs across platform, with Push notifications, search, and other modern conveniences… but never the less, I’ve been thinking about how I could move away from the “Do-No-Evil” Empire, which is why Drew Crawford’s excellent, in-depth article “NSA-proof your e-mail in 2 hours” was a great find. I might spin up an instance on my dormant Joyent account and give it a try on one of my spare domains, so I can evaluate the process and benefits before deciding on moving my primary mail domain.

Other topics which have crossed my path this weekend are system configuration, maintenance, and automation using tools such as Chef and Puppet. The idea of taking a known-good environment and replicating it with just a few commands is definitely appealing – particularly when it comes to tasks such as setting up development/test environments! I haven’t gone too far into these topics yet, but I’m hoping to find the time in the next few weeks to go through some of the articles I’ve found.