– Ben Martens


Sports Streaming Costs

I haven’t regretted cutting cable in 2018. We’ve saved well over $3000 by not having that bill. I thought I’d miss it for sports, but honestly, I found that I was happy not watching as many random sports. Rather, I found specific sports I wanted to watch and paid for their streaming services. It’s interesting how much the price of those services vary though! I did some research to try to figure out how much it would cost to stream various sports leagues. I expect this will be out of date even before I finish researching it.

SportFull Season CostComment
Formula 1$85If you watch the races delayed by a day or two it’s only $30.
NFL$350 (out of market games)
$400 (in market games)
Out of market through NFL RedZone and in-market through Fubo for 5 months.

NFL+ is an interesting option too for only $40/year. You get access to replays of every game shortly after it ends plus live local games, but it’s only on a mobile app.
MLB$130 (out of market games)
$480 (in market games)
Out of market through MLB+ and in-market through Fubo for 6 months.
NBA$150 (out of market games)
$480 (in market games)
Out of market through NBA Leage Pass and in-market through Fubo for 6 months.
NHL$70 (out of market games)
$560 (in market games)
Out of market games through ESPN+ and in-market through Fubo for 7 months.
MLS$199All games through MLS Season Pass add on to Apple TV Plus. This price includes 10 months of Apple TV Plus.
Golf$960All events through the Golf Channel on Fubo for 12 months
NASCAR$800All events through Fubo for 10 months
Disc Golf$130Alternatively, you can watch many of the events for free with commentary on Jomez Pro’s YouTube channel.
MotoGP$135All events through MotoGP VideoPass

Existing laws and contracts make it difficult to stream the major US sports because in almost all cases, in-market games are not available on the league’s streaming service. That requires you to buy into something like FuboTV which is combines all the braodcast and cable sports channels. Alternatively you might be able to use an antenna to catch your local games as long as they are on a broadcast channel. Leagues that completely control their TV writes are in a much better position (F1, MotoGP, MLS, etc.)

I currently pay for the F1 TV package and then I watch disc golf tournaments for free on YouTube. Every once in a while I’ll toss in a Seahawks game recorded from our antenna or a Purdue basketball game streamed on our free (through Comcast with ads) Peacock subscription.

A big key in all this is deciding whether you want all the games in the whole league, all of the games for your favorite local team, or just some random sports to have on in the background while you take a nap. The prices for those three can vary wildly.

Now that pretty much all entertainment is available to be streamed at a moment’s notice, it has become increasingly hard to keep track of what we have watched. We also try to only have one streaming service at a time so when we switch to a new one, we’ll sometimes stop in the middle of a season. I started keeping track of this in the Just Watch app but it bothered me that the data was not exportable from their app. Enter is a platform specifically for this purpose. Anyone can make an app on top of their database so you just make one account with them and then pick whichever app you like the best. You’re in full control of your data.

I ended up paying for a year of “VIP” service which, among other things, removes adds and lets me see which services are streaming a specific show. We’ve had it for a few months now and I expect we’ll keep paying for it. (Note that they do have a free option which is very good too.)

You Don’t Need More Bandwidth

Here’s a tip: the next time you’re on the phone with your internet provider and they say “For $10/month, I can offer you X bandwidth”, just say no. You almost certainly don’t need it. Another common way they start this conversation is by asking what you do with your connection or how many devices you have connected. No matter what you say, they’re going to explain why you don’t have enough bandwidth.

I have over 30 devices connected to my network, work from home, do frequent video calls and screen sharing, stream multiple TV shows at the same time, and play online video games, but I’ve lived for a couple of weeks with 10Mbps down and 10Mbps up and it didn’t impact life at all. (My service was busted and it took them a long time to figure out why.) But of course, as soon as I was back to the 240Mbps down, 10Mbps up service that I was paying for, the sales guy insinuated I was dumb for not paying $10/month more to get 400/10 service. They’ve overselling you. Basically the only time you’ll notice that extra speed is if you’re trying to download enormous files like new video games or operating system ISOs. I’d only pay for more than the base package if a slight increase in price would get me higher upload speeds. That’s rarely an option though.

So go for whatever the cheapest package is and I bet that the only difference you’ll notice is that you have a little more money in your account each month. And even if you decide I’m wrong and you need more speed, they’re always going to be happy to bump you up to a higher package with no change fees.


Let me start by saying that I know this is a duplicate post, but unless you’ve been reading since 2008, you probably haven’t seen this one before. Besides, I think it’s worth retelling the story of the programming contest that eventually got me into Microsoft.

In college, I joined a programming club sponsored by Microsoft. I don’t remember exactly what the club did, but I remember them giving out free food which is about all it takes to get a college kid to join a club. They also handed out a thick set of CDs that represented an early beta of Visual Studio .NET. This was the first time the world had seen the .NET languages, and to get us into the tool, the club sponsored a programming contest in 2002 which would have been the end of my senior year. The rules of the contest were to write something that uses as many languages and features of .NET as possible. They wanted us to show off the capabilities of the language.

I had been spending a lot of time working on building a giant library of digital Lego specifications in a tool called POV-Ray and making digital Lego movies, but the slowest part of that process was rendering out the movie frames. It would take about 15 minutes to render a single frame at a measly 320×180 resolution. So my programming contest entry was a system that would orchestrate the rendering of a movie over a bunch of different computers.

The main server had a list of all the frames that needed to be rendered. Clients would connect via a web API and request work. They would be sent the text file representing a single frame, render the file locally in POV-Ray, and then send the image back to the server. To score more points, the client, server, and web API were all written in different .NET languages and all the interaction was tracked in a SQL database that had a web front end for displaying progress and participation points.

It took me FOUR MONTHS of work to get this all going, but with help from a friend, the final presentation really wowed the judges and we captured 85% of the first-place votes. If I remember correctly, the grand prize was an original Xbox and an HP Jornada with a WiFi card.

I did use the software to get rendering help with some Lego movies. The stories are garbage but I’m still proud of the technology that went into them. This stuff is simple now, but 20 years ago, it was unique. You can view an older post about it here:

So how did this land me a job at Microsoft? Fast forward four years. I had just finished up my Masters degree and was looking to leave New Jersey. I had been trying to apply to Microsoft but it’s a challenge to make yourself stand out in the veritable flood of applications that they receive. I decided to cold call the head of the Microsoft club from Purdue. We hadn’t talked in four years, and I had to get his contact info through a mutual friend, but it worked! He happened to have a position open on his team and within a couple weeks, I had made it through the interview process and had a job offer.

One of my main recommendations for kids going into high school and college is to do more than the bare minimum. Getting good grades is important, but you need to be an interesting human too. “Passion” is hard to define, but I know it when I see it in a job candidate and that passion goes a long way to opening doors for new opportunities.

Piano Music Without A Piano

I wrote a while back about using some digital software to take the output from my piano and run it through an extremely high quality piano recording. I’ve quietly continued to make recordings of the various pieces I learn. Some of them end up on my YouTube channel. I usually post them there if it was especially hard for me to learn and/or I don’t see any other recordings of that particular arrangement. When you’re learning a new piece, it’s nice to hear someone else play it first so that’s my contribution.

In the last couple weeks, I’ve found some new (to me) technology that has opened up new possibilities: I’m now able to take a piece of sheet music, and turn it into a recording without ever touching a piano. Here’s the process:

  1. I start by scanning in the sheet music and making it a PDF file.
  2. MuseScore is a free download for creating and editing digital sheet music. I’ve used it before to create simpler versions of songs for Elijah when he was taking lessons, but it also has the ability to import a PDF. So I give I the PDF from the previous step and it spits out a Muse Score file.
  3. The digital sheet music has been very close to correct in my experience but usually needs some fixes so I make those right in MuseScore. I save the output to a MIDI file.
  4. At this point I have a MIDI file which has all the right notes, but it sounds very robotic because every note is timed exactly correctly and there’s no use of the sustain pedal. I suppose I could add the sustain pedal into the sheet music, but I’ve found it easier to add the pedal via the free MidiEditor software.
  5. I have already purchased the “Embertone Walker 1955 Concert D” piano software which renders a MIDI file out into an unbelievably good sounding audio file. It’s available for as little as $39.
  6. Now that I have a good MIDI file, I import it into the free Cakewalk software and set Cakewalk to render out through the Embertone piano software. I adjust the volume levels a bit and voila, in a few seconds I have an MP3 or WAV file.

The output sounds great! I suspect that many people would never know that it was produced without touching a piano. I’m interested in playing with the MIDI file even more to see if I could make it sound even more realistic. I’m curious how it would sound if I wrote some code to slightly alter the timing and velocity of each note to give it a bit more of the variability that you’d get from a human.

Today I’m using this to help our choir at church. I can easily scan in each piano piece and make recordings of the full accompaniment without taking the time to learn it. I also make manual recordings (because it’s faster) of the individual parts. All those files get posted to a share and now everyone can easily practice at home.

Have I ruined music by making it too nerdy? Not in my book. I still end up needing to play a lot of this live, but it’s really handy to have all these tools in my back pocket to pull out when they fit the situation.

P.S. If you’re not overwhelmed by software recommendations yet, I’ll throw in one more recommendation for Nail the Pitch which is a free app that tells you what note you are singing. As I practice the choir song, I can visually see if I’m hitting the right notes.

Message Privacy

These days, companies are using any data they can get their hands on to build profiles of us, market to us, and sell information they’ve derived about us. It’s mostly unavoidable, but it’s nice to exert some control when possible, which is one of the reasons why I use Signal for messaging. This isn’t a sponsored post or anything, but I thought I’d share in case you didn’t know about this but would find it helpful.

Text messages are unencrypted. Anybody in between you and the recipient can read them. I’m not saying telephone companies are mining data out of text messages, but I assume they are regardless of what their privacy policies claim. At the very least they have the ability to do it. Text messages are where I’m the quickest to say something that could easily be taken out of context and even if nobody is reading them now, I’d rather not have them sit around for years.

The three main reasons that I now use the Signal messaging app are:

  • The app encrypts your data end to end. Even the Signal employees can’t read your messages.
  • Each message thread can be configured to delete messages after a certain amount of time. I usually set mine to 4 weeks
  • Pictures and videos are sent at much higher quality. No more being annoyed at low quality images when sharing between iPhone and Android users!

Apps are available for most platforms. I use it on my phone, but I also run the Windows app on my desktop. There’s no cost to use it. The group that runs it is a non-profit that exists on funding from investors and donations from users.

The only downside to using it is that the people you chat with need to be on it for it to be useful. Thankfully, that’s the case for most of the people I chat with, but some chats still happen in an SMS app. It’s not that big of a deal to just tap the notification for whichever app received the message and open it up.

So chat however you want, but if you get a little itchy when you think about how companies are potentially using your data, this is a really easy way to decrease your attack surface.

GPT and LLMs

ChatGPT made a big splash last fall and large language models (LLMs) in general continue to be a hot topic. My current favorite is using Bing AI ( because it combines current search results with the information it already has in its model.

But there’s still a lot of confusion about what is powering these sites. How do they know things? Are they sentient? Stuff You Know Should Know did a great episode called Large Language Models and You and I think it’s worth a listen. I’ve heard LLMs previously described as “word salad”, and this episode gives another good example of explaining that it’s like an iteration on autocomplete in a text box. The algorithm just knows what words are most likely to come next and which words are related to each other. It has no concept of what it is saying. It only knows that those words are most likely to go together when it sees your prompt. So there’s no sentience or actual knowledge happening here, which is probably good but it’s also bad because it means that ridiculous answers can come out and be presented as fact.

The episode covers all of this and then also does a good job of how incredibly fast things are improving. Give it a listen if this topic interests (or scares) you.


Apps like OneDrive and Dropbox are good at syncing your files to the cloud, but what if your scenario is a little more complicated? I ended up with one such scenario due to my cheapskate reasons for wanting to keep an old Pixel phone for its free Google photos storage.

My old Pixel 4a has lifetime free photo storage on Google Photos. Any photo I upload from that phone is free whether it originated there or not. So that means that I need to take all the photos off of our new phones and push them to the old phone. I also like to keep a full resolution copy of all our photos on our file server. I had a manual way of making this work before, but this past week, I found something that seems to be working a little smoother.

There is an open source app called Syncthing. It’s available for most platforms, and while it’s not as user friendly as other options, it is pretty straightforward and has a lot of knobs for adjustment. The basic setup is this:

Syncthing runs on each of our phones. It’s configured to watch for any camera photos or other image files like screenshots or text message pictures that we save. When we’re connected to WiFi, those files get sent to our file server at home which is also running Syncthing. The file server saves them all to disk and then also sends them out to the old Pixel 4a. The Pixel 4a is also running Syncthing and is setup to receive files from the file server. It writes them to a folder on the phone and then Google Photos sees those new files and uploads them to our Google Photos account. Every file goes new phone to file server to old phone to Google Photos. It’s a lot of movement, but it’s automated.

The only hiccup is that the old Pixel 4a runs two user profiles (one for Tyla and one for me.) So I have to periodically flip back and forth between the profiles to let the syncing happen, but that’s a lot easier than it used to be.

Eureka Filming Site Visit

I’ve been burning through the Eureka (2006-2012) TV show episodes on Amazon Prime. I’m a Stargate fan and this was recommended to me as something with a similar vibe (and a lot of crossover actors.) Like Stargate, a lot of the filming happened in the Vancouver, BC area.

I was curious where the downtown Eureka scenes were filmed so over many episodes, I carefully looked for clues and searched and searched and searched around on Google Street View until I finally found a couple blocks on Wellington Ave in Chilliwack, BC which looked similar. (Shortly after that, I found this website which lists out all the filming locations for many different shows. Derp.) That’s only a couple hours from our house and it seemed like it could be a fun family adventure day so I looked up a few other possible activities and we set off.

Our first stop was the filming location and even though it has been 10 years, I was happy to see how much it felt like walking through Eureka. It wasn’t quite the same vibe I had walking through Radiator Springs at Disneyland, but it was similar.

With my own nerdery satisfied, we set off to find some food at Cookies Grill. I don’t remember how I stumbled on this place (Yelp?) but I suspected it would be a winner since Tyla and Elijah love breakfast and Cookies serves breakfast for lunch. It lived up to their expectations and they honestly talk about driving all the way back there to eat again some time.

While we were walking around Eureka, there were a few other people there looking in the shops, etc. One of the couples seemed like maybe they were Eureka fans too but that seemed unlikely and I wasn’t about to start that weird conversation. When we drove ~10 minutes to get to Cookies Grill in a random strip mall area, we got out of the car and the same couple was in the parking lot! Weird things happen in Eureka.

It was still raining but we went for a hike anyway to see Bridal Veil Falls. The path is almost smooth enough for a wheelchair (except for a couple stairs) and it’s only ~5-10 minutes long, but it’s steep. The falls are beautiful though and the length of the tiny hike was about perfect for our day.

From there we stopped for ~10 minutes at the Chilliwack Supercharger on Luckakuck Road and then continued our journey via Lickman Road. As we giggled about the street names, we drove to Chilliwack River Valley Honey where we picked up a few jars of delicious honey. (Before we left home, I verified that we could get back across the border with it.)

Our border entry into Canada had been quick and while the internet said the return trip would be quick, the line of about a dozen cars was moving very slowly. They were carefully inspecting everyone, searching a lot of cars, and even pulling some cars off to the side for additional inspections. As we approached the booth, I was prepared for a lot of questions, but apparently we are super boring and we were almost waved right on through.

Despite what the border guard must have thought of our story, we loved it! It was a lot of driving for one day, but Elijah had fun going to Canada for the first time that he can remember, and we all enjoyed the random sites. There were quite a few other attractions in Chilliwack that looked interesting (water parks, giant lakes/parks, disc golf, etc.) so who knows, maybe we’ll be back!

Remote Access to Home Network

Let’s say you’re the kind of person who is running a website within your home network and you want to access it while you’re away. Let’s also imagine you’re the kind of person who has at least a loose knowledge of your router configuration and what a VPN does. Yes, this one gets a little geeky, but maybe it will be helpful for someone else out there.

I run Teslamate to record a bunch of stats about our car, but one the reasons I check it most often is to see whether the car is asleep or not. Sleep mode for a Tesla is like standby on your computer. There’s normally a constant drain from the car when it’s sitting there, but if it goes into sleep mode, it uses almost no power. This is important especially in situations like when we’re away from home and I’m leaving it parked outside a hotel overnight. I like to be able to check in on whether it’s in sleep mode as well as the current battery state. Teslamate lets me check that without waking the car up. But Teslamate only works on my home network. How can I view it while I’m away? Obviously I could just open that port to Internet traffic but it’s an unsecured connection and I don’t really want to share all that personal info with anyone who happens to sniff my password. So how can I view that website securely while I’m away?

The first option I tried was using a feature of my Synology router. That router has an installable app called VPN Plus Server. There are a few different modes, but the simplest one gives me a VPN tunnel into my home network and the ability to browse to any internal website. During setup, the app walked me through creating an SSL certificate so that the traffic would be encrypted, and the app provides a nice portal experience where I can have links to any internal websites that I might want. There’s a more complicated version of the app that actually lets me set up a Windows VPN connection to my home network but I haven’t played around with that yet. It would be overkill for the scenario described here.

The second option is via NordVPN. I like to have a VPN subscription like NordVPN to encrypt my traffic when I’m on public WiFi like in a hotel or at a store. A side benefit of NordVPN is their MeshNet feature (but they recently announced that MeshNet is now free for everyone!) MeshNet allows for VPN-protected communication between two devices from anywhere in the world just as if they were on the same network along with other features like file sharing. So this also lets me access that Teslamate webpage from anywhere.

There are plenty of other ways to tackle this scenario, the most obvious of which is “this is dumb, stop worrying about it”, but these are two have that worked for me. The NordVPN is definitely the simpler one, but the Synology option gives me more control and more options.