Category Archives: Tech

Synch Strava with Google Calendar

If you schedule your life via Google Calendar, and track your training via Strava, it makes some sense to have your Strava feed integrated into Google Calendar to have an all-in-one view.

Just found a neat way to do it via StravICAL.

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 1.06.26 PM
http://stravical.appspot.com/

In summary, you give it access to your Strava account and it generates an iCal feed that you can add to your Google Calendar account. Follow the fairly idiot-proof instructions and you’ll have your Strava activities showing up in your Google Calendar.

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 1.13.34 PM.png
Strava activities prefaced with [Ride], [Run]…
You’re welcome!

**UPDATE 12 Feb ’16: 2 new Strava activities today didn’t get synched to Google Calendar. Not sure why. 😦

UPDATE #2: Found this link that suggests adding “?nocache” at the end of the link that Stravical generates. Google Calendar seems to like caching your data, so new events don’t show! Anyway, issue now seems to have been fixed. 🙂

UPDATE #3: Bug is back. New events aren’t showing up. 😦 Suggestions, anyone?**

Bicycle chain cleaning and lubing: It’s a dirty job

One of the filthiest parts of the bike has got to be the chain. No, it’s got to be the filthiest part for sure. Just ask the inside of your right calf after each ride.

IMG_0316
Dirrrrrrrty!

I’ve tried using simple (read: cheap) tools to get the job done. Rags and toothbrushes combined with degreasing solution works… to some extent.

After some praying and scrubbing, the chain looks kinda nice, kinda shiny. Then you turn the pedals and you hear a grinding sound, like sand is stuck in there somewhere, and no amount of brushing or scrubbing does anything to fix that horrible sound.

Enter chain cleaning tools. More specifically, the X-3 Dirty Chain Machine.

IMG_0314-2

There are a bunch of chain cleaning tools out there, and frankly the X-3 is the first I’ve used. As a chain-cleaning-tool-virgin, the X-3 was idiot-proof enough for me. Basically, you detach the top of the cleaner, reattach it over the chain, and drag the greasy chain through by turning the pedals.

IMG_0317
One hand on the cleaner, the other hand to turn the pedals. (I took this photo with my mouth)

All this while dripping chain cleaning liquid onto the chain. It’s way less messy and less grief than anything else I’ve tried. All the nasty stuff is contained within the cleaner.

IMG_0319
All that grease and grime…

Once the chain is clean, you’ll also need to lube it to keep it running smoothly. I was lucky enough to be given a bottle of Muc-off Hydrodynamic Chain Lube to try. Apparently it’s the same stuff that Team Sky uses.

team-sky-hydrodynamic-lube

What’s nice about this tiny bottle of lube is that you really don’t need to slather it on liberally, but be clinical in applying a drop or two on each joint in the chain.

IMG_0322
The narrow nozzle makes it easy to drip the good stuff onto the chain with precision

Just as well because this lubricant is a little on the pricey side -It retails for close to S$40 if I recall correctly. To help you make sure you know which bits you’ve done and which you haven’t, every drop of the lube is smurf-coloured. Yes, it’s blue!

IMG_0323
Feeling smurfy!

In case you happen to be colour blind as well, they’ve included a UV light that will make the lube glow! (Don’t forget to lube up if you’re bringing your bike along for a rave.)

IMG_0325
I vote this best lube to use in a club.

And the smell. I’ve read a review of this lube where they’ve described this as “slightly perfumed”. I agree that there’s a smell – akin to rust – that comes after the application. Maybe it’s a chemical reaction between my chain cleaning solution, rust and the lube, or maybe it’s just my cranky sinuses.

Performance wise, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t my mind playing tricks on me but the pedal strokes just felt that much easier and smoother. (Muc-Off claims it’s 27% more efficient than an unnamed competitor brand!) Almost like I’d rubbed a block of melting butter on my bike chain. Think I’d prefer it if it smelt like butter too. I’ll leave out the technical mumbo jumbo for you to dissect on your own because frankly, I wouldn’t be any wiser if they told me they were using smurf blood instead of whatever miracle recipe they’ve got in there.

………………

IMG_0313

This is a way overdue product review was partially made possible by my friend Kenji Lim who runs Hodaka Motoworld that stocks lots of stuff for motorbikes and bicycles. You can check out the X-3 Dirty Chain Machine and the Muc-off Hydrodynamic Chain Lube at their showroom at 10 Kaki Bukit Road 1, #01-08 KB Industrial, Singapore 416175  Tel: +65 6844 0078

Full disclosure: I was given a bottle for Muc-off Hydrodynamic Chain Lube and bought the X-3 Dirty Chain Machine at a discount. 

Bluetooth your old speakers

These days, there are so many cool-looking, portable but mediocre-sounding bluetooth speakers out there that allow you to play your MP3s or Spotify playlist.

But what if you have a decent – kickass home theatre system that’s sitting idle?

While shopping at geek paradise a.k.a. Sim Lim Square, I overheard a customer asking about a particular product that allowed for conventional sound systems like your home entertainment systems to be bluetoothed.

Got me thinking for awhile because the Samsung home theatre system has been lying idle for a long time, and I’ve always wondered how I could stream my Spotify collection of music to it.

Picked up a set and here’s how it went.

 

Price: $59 from cybermind (I think!)

The box:

you only need that little black thing in the window and some wires.
Product packaging takes up so much space…

 

Unboxed:

simple, no nonsense black
From top left: AC adaptor, the bluetooth receiver, instruction manual, 3.5 inch to 3.5 inch cable, 3.5 inch to 2 RCA (red/white) cable

How it connects: The Belkin has a 3.5 inch jack input, so both cables provided have a 3.5 inch plug on one end (connect this to the belkin receiver), and either RCA jacks or another 3.5 inch jack on the other (connects to the speaker/amplifier). Any decent home theatre system will come with RCA outputs – 1 hole outlined in red, another in white – probably called “Auxiliary” or AUX for short. If you’re wiring a smaller set of speakers (e.g. PC speakers), you’re likely going to use the cable with 3.5 inch plugs on both ends.

 

Verdict: I’ve been using this sporadically over the last few months. Sound quality is decent enough. I suspect it’s slightly worse less pure than what I hear when I play a HD file or CD, but given the fact that the sound is pushed through an amplifier and out 2 fairly large speakers, it kicks the butt of any portable speaker. Also a factor is what quality of music your music downloads are. I stream and store my spotify files at the highest quality possible.

One issue I’ve had is when I’m downloading stuff while simultaneously bluetoothing my music, I get terrible stuttering. I didn’t think that data being downloaded via wifi and using a bluetooth connection would compete for resources on the phone, but it does. Will try using my samsung tablet with the Internet disconnected to Bluetooth the tunes and see how stable that is.

 

Hanoi 2013: Getting an internet connection on your mobile device

Another trip and I haven’t finished posting about the last one. What’s new. :p

Made my maiden visit to Vietnam, and here are a couple of tips on hooking up to the internet while in Hanoi.

When you arrive at Noi Bai airport, exit customs and turn right.

Arrival waiting area
What you see when you exit customs

You might come across an information counter along the way and if you ask, they’ll point you in the same direction, telling you to look for the “Post Office”.

Nobody at the post office
Nobody’s home at the “Post Office” at the moment

Nobody was around when I got to the Post Office, so I got directed to the minimart next door.

They have everything
They sell everything and the kitchen sink

The tricky thing is they sell full-sized SIM cards here, and if you’re using something that requires a microSIM that most of us take for granted these days (like an iPhone or Samsung S3), it’s going to be a gamble. The first SIM card that they massacred cut didn’t work when slot into my S3 – No SIM detected. They then went on to snip another one which worked. Unfortunately, I tried removing the SIM card a few days later (long story… ) and it didn’t work after I put it back. From the looks of it, the ladies at the airport cut too close to the shiny gold portion on the SIM card. (sorry, no photo!) I looked around for a shop that could slice up a new microSIM for me, but couldn’t find one in time before we headed to Halong Bay, where I assumed reception would be rubbish anyway.

When I got back, I recalled seeing a shop that wouldn’t look out of place in Sim Lim along Hang Bac street. Turns out I was right! Think the shop’s called “Cua Hang

Best place to get your microSIM!
53 Hang Bac… Bingo!

The great thing is that the dude in the shop speaks decent English and could tell me exactly how much each minute and kb of data would cost, though I’ve completely forgotten now.

Both times (at the airport and at Hang Bac), I was offered a prepaid mobifone SIM card which apparently gives better value than competitors Vina and Viettel (can’t even find their websites, actually!). The standard starter pack costs 150,000VND. On average, I ran out of 100,000VND (approx S$6) value every day with fairly heavy usage. Even with double the load (200,000 VND or S$12), it’s still cheaper than the S$20/day I would have had to pay SingTel for their Bridge Dataroam, but granted the SingTel deal is for unlimited data. At the moment, SingTel charges more for data in Vietnam than places like Thailand and Malaysia which cost S$15/day.

Or if you really don’t want to bother, wifi seems widely available in most cafes and restaurants though I think some are heavily overloaded (e.g. Highlands Cafe along Nhà Thờ) and the connection really crawls. Free wifi in hotels is more widely available than many other places I’ve visited!

I still haven’t found what I’m looking for (a.k.a. when “Site Search” screws up)

The U2 anthem is perfect when describing many flawed implementations of Site Search. You know the kind where you go to a website (usually with a frantic front page covered in buttons and links) and key in a search term resulting in a gazillion results? Most of them irrelevant, or worse still… ridiculous?

Worked on a project where some stakeholders were asking for “Site Search” functionality on a website. The argument against that was that it wasn’t feasible to put in the function if we couldn’t get it to deliver quality results when matched up against grand-daddy Google. Had a conversation with a Google guy a few weeks back and he also backed up our stance for “No Search” being better than “Bad Search”. Have to give it to the guys at Google for coming up with some hilarious content to explain how Site Search can go so painfully wrong.

You inner geek can’t get enough? See here for more videos on Landing Page Optimisation and Online Checkout.

And to cap it all off, why not sing along to Bono and the boys if horrid Site Searches aren’t turning up what you’re searching for?

Hong Kong 2012: Apps for Eating & Shopping

Stuffing your face, and taking the stuffing out of your wallet. Fortunately (or unfortunately). there are apps to help you for both.

Google Maps: This is a pain in the a$$ when you have lots of places listed on one map and need to scroll up and down. Workaround for me is to go into “Edit” mode, but then it’s easy to accidentally move location pins and the lag is just awful. Doesn’t work well at all on the iPhone and iPad. If you have access to a proper computer during your visit, I recommend moving the places you intend to visit for the day at the top of the list (left column). Still looking for a zoom-able itinerary mapping that can be stored offline (i.e. no internet connection required to access), but until I find a better solution, here’s a rudimentary map for Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Macau.

Google Map of places to go in HK, Shenzhen & Macau
The list on the left column keeps bouncing back to the top when you try to scroll down on your ipad/iphone

Open Rice: Just like Singapore’s Hungrygowhere, it pulls up the name, location and reviews (if any) of eateries around you. Not as many reviews in English as there are in Chinese/Cantonese. Pronounced “Hoi Fan” in Cantonese. (Available for iOS, Android and Window Phone)

Open Rice Hong Kong
A reference guide to Hong Kong eateries
Open Rice
Launch screen of Open Rice

Foursquare: The grand-daddy of location services works well in HK too, especially if you can’t find reviews in English for Open Rice. (Available for iOS – no dedicated iPad version, but iPhone version blown up works too, and Android)

FourSquare
Foursquare is still going strong

Price.com.hk: Great guide to have if you’re looking for electronics (cameras, phones, A/V, appliances, video games) and strangely, kids stuff too. It’s essentially a listing of the best prices being offered by various merchants. Of course, it’s susceptible to being used by scammers who bait and switch, e.g. you go to a store because of a product being advertised as HK$XXX but the store says it’s out of stock and offers you a “similar” product, or just say that the price isn’t updated and quote you a higher price. My suggestion is that you use your local SIM card to call up the shops before making any trips. If the stores/sellers don’t list a number or shop address, I wouldn’t waste my time. Best to use the app as a rough guide. No English version, so hopefully you know some Chinese. Otherwise, it’s fairly intuitive based on the icons/graphics used. Do we have a Singaporean version of this? If not, maybe I should quit my job and get it done. (Available for iOS, Android)

Price.com.hk
Price.com.hk
pricehk1
Price.com.hk
Price.com.hk
Note the orange “行” boxes come with warranty, whereas the ones with the blue box “水” indicate “water goods”. These are usually for export and don’t come with warranty.

Got any other apps to recommend?

Hong Kong 2012: How to stay online

Back from my second HK holiday. Less of a newbie though my cantonese still sucks. Dreading to see the credit card bill. Here are some basic tips if you’re heading to stay connected while in Hong Kong:

Telecommunications

I can’t imagine how people used to travel without Google Maps and apps. Compass? Paper maps?? Seriously??? To think I used to do orienteering back in school in the wilderness. Anyway, here are some modern options for the generation that’s perpetually logged on to the interwebs.

1) Roaming with your SG telco (more expensive): You could also get one of those global roaming deals if you’re on M1 (Unlimited Data Roaming) or SingTel (Bridge Dataroam). M1 users have it good. You’re only charged a maximum of $15/day if you bust the data limits. No need to inform M1 of your trip either. SingTel to activate the service BEFORE your trip starts, either by calling them (which I recommend, even if the waiting time can be ridiculous) or using the app (I’ve never gotten it to work). Even when I’ve gotten the confirmation over the phone, I was once slapped with a ridiculous bill after my previous trip to HK. Benefit is you only carry one device, as opposed to 2 (See next option)

Price:
S$75 for 5 days unlimited roaming in HK for SingTel (CSL is their HK partner),
S$15 per day for unlimited roaming in HK for M1 (SmarTone is their HK partner)

2) Prepaid HK SIM (cheaper, more reliable): In this day and age, you’ll probably have a spare phone somewhere at home. Reason for this is that you’ll want to use your current phone as your data device in HK, and stuff your existing SIM card into your spare phone for urgent calls from the boss/clients/wife/… The stinker is that unless you have a dual-SIM smart phone, you’ll need at least 2 devices if you want to remain contactable on your regular number while having access to cheap data. (List of top dual SIM phones doesn’t look promising)

Price: HK$198 3G Rechargeable SIM card deal (approx S$31) gives you unlimited data for HK$18/day (Approx S$3). Also allows for voice calls.

Image

I got the prepaid HK$198 microSIM from 3 that I used on my iPad, with my Samsung S3 still on SingTel with dataroaming disabled.

Where to find a prepaid HK SIM card at HK airport

Once you clear customs at Chek Lap Kok with your bags, head up to the 7th floor (Departure Hall).

There are escalators, but given you’ll probably be hauling luggage, one of the elevators might be a better idea.

Elevators
This elevator is in the center of the Arrival Hall. Note the 7-Eleven in the background as your reference point.

Once out of the elevator, walk forward towards the shops and make a right. You’ll soon see a 1010 store and a 3 store. There’s a Tissot store (expensive Swiss watches) opposite both of them.

The telco units are just opposite these shops
You’re on the right track! Look opposite…
Step right up
The 3 store

Tips:
– For 3 customers, in case your data connection suddenly goes dead, check your APN setting. It should be imobile.three.com.hk and NOT mobile.three.com.hk. If you really need someone to check your phone, here are the 3 store locations around HK.
– If you need to top up your prepaid 3 SIM card, go to one of their stores instead of the 7-11 because they’ll give you bonus credits at their own stores.
– You can keep your Whatsapp messages coming to your existing phone even when you’ve swapped the SG SIM card for a prepaid HK SIM card. There’s an option when you load up Whatsapp that you can select.

More detailed information on getting a prepaid SIM card at HK airport from BeReady.net (Note error that the stores are on Level 7, NOT Level 6 as they mentioned – There is no Level 6!)

Wifi is available throughout the airport (#HKAirport Free Wifi). Just need to open up your browser and agree to the terms and conditions.

More on shopping and eating to come..

New Paper

You know how most of the older folk gripe about the younger ones losing the feel of writing with real pens on real paper? I’m not sure which of these two camps I belong in. I still take notes with pen and paper, but abhor the process of having to get it all digitised afterward as meeting notes, to-do lists, etc.

Batman at the laundromat
Could you draw this with real pen and paper? (from dorkboycomics on Flickr)

Every generation loses something I suppose. My generation didn’t even touch fountain pens at all, even though I was given a hand-me-down fountain pen kit long ago which I had no idea how to work – apart from making a black, inky mess.

If you own an iPad and think you’re too cool for analogue, try Paper” by FiftyThree. (iTunes download)

Paper by FiftyThree
The Paper logo

It’s an app that’s made me want to sketch, paint, doodle… things I haven’t enjoyed doing since my days in secondary school. I don’t think I even enjoyed it this much back then.

This app transforms your iPad into a nifty virtual sketchpad, with instruments like the fountain pen, eraser, pencil, marker, paintbrush. The basic FREE version comes with just the fountain pen and eraser, but trying out the other tools in the demo pretty much makes you want to get them all. You can choose to acquire the additional instruments one at a time, or all at once. The latter method, which costs about S$10 or less (if I recall correctly) is a dollar or two cheaper than if you bought each instrument individually.

3 things make this a real stand-out app in my opinion:

1) realism of the instruments: how quickly you move across the iPad surface gives different results, just like how slowly moving a paint-soaked brush results in more colour being soaked up by the paper. Awesome.
2) easy to switch between instrument & colours: You don’t need a table full of paint bottles, split watercolours, colours pencils strewn about. No mess!
3) erasing/undoing stuff is so easy: You place two fingers on the screen, move them in a counter-clockwise direction (Cue “Turn back the clock by Johnny Hates Jazz“) and watch your actions roll back. Try doing that with real paper.

While it’s unlikely that I win any art competitions with my work, the process of drawing something is quite therapeutic.

Fictional Cycle Singapore logo
An anyhow logo drawn in seconds with the “fountain pen” and some “watercolour”
I am the walrus
One of the first pictures I doodled using the free version (i.e. only the fountain pen to play with)
Gahmen Panda
Drawn in the midst of Singapore panda-monium. I found text to be a struggle if you’re using only your fingers.
Sorry Lewis!
Used a rather crude stylus here. Gets you more detail, but as you can tell from the (weird) perspective, no additional talent.

The last sketch prompted me to go out and get a new stylus. More on it next time…

Come in, Dick Tracy

Coolest looking geek-watch since the conversion kits starting coming out for the iPod nano….

from the design team at MINIMAL
gorgeous, but maybe not too practical.

… isn’t shipping to Asia, for whatever reason.

Fossil’s Metawatch uses bluetooth radio to pull email & facebook notifications, weather forecasts and god-knows-what-else for US$200. It comes in digital and analogue versions.

from Fossil
more functionality for less $$$

The Nano alone – without the TikTok (US$39.95) or LunaTik (US$89.95) kits – will set you back S$228 for the 8GB version. No brainer… if only it’d ship here!

New year, new computer

For the longest time, I’ve led a painful dual life.

Not quite in the ilk of Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne, but still, two identities stuck in one package. Rather than being equipped with super powers or kick-a$$ car, I’ve had to do lead my professional life and personal life with one computing package i.e. whatever (usually piece-of-crap) computer I’ve been issued with at work.

At home, I got my folks a bare-bones PC that I grabbed for about $300 (I think) at one of those blue-light specials during one of the IT shows. It really doesn’t cut it when it comes to the stuff I normally do, like editing photos and (once upon a time) playing games.

So finally I bit the bullet and decided to get something with POWERRRR to call my own.

bigass mofo
The ASUS G73JH

After some serious research and finding out a friend was in the states who happened to ask the unfortunate “Hey I’m in the states, do you need anything?“. I managed to get her to lug back this 3.4kg monster!! (Thanks DEE!!) Full specs HERE.

The design of the ASUS G73 was apparently inspired by this:

Big & black
The F-117 Stealth Fighter (image links to wikipedia info)

They probably weigh about the same too.

But seriously, if you don’t have to lug this thing around too much or actually think of running this thing off battery for more than half an hour, you’re in pretty good shape.

It’s definitely not the perfect machine (nothing is!), lacking blu-ray, firewire ports, and bluetooth. The silly power cable also plugs in on the right for some reason, competing for space with your mouse-wielding hand, assuming you’re a right-hander like the most of us. Might have been better placed at the back or left side. But the 17.3″ screen, i7 processor, ATI 5870 graphics card, back-lit keyboard, rubbery matte finishing and S$1,600 price tag are pretty darn good redeeming qualities! There is a newer version of the G73 in Singapore, but retails for around $3K+. Not quite within my budget.

Since I got it some time in December, it ran decently at the start. Photoshop ran faster than I’ve ever seen it run. Call of Duty: Black Ops was creamy smooth! But then it started doing something strange, like crashing ever so often with this strange looking screen:

GSOD blues
GSOD a.k.a. the Grey Screen Of Death

This really sucked.

But after some intense internet research, I found a fix that involves flashing your vBIOS in DOS, which is less perverse and complicated than it sounds (for me at least). For whatever reason, this fix is NOT officially supported by ASUS as far as I’ve read, so proceed at your own risk. Everything’s now hunky-dory for me, so fingers crossed it does it for anyone else who’s had the GSOD blues…