A few short flights with KLM

As I hinted at in my previous post, flying from Manchester where many destinations are one change away whoever you fly with, it’s often as easy to fly with KLM and change in Amsterdam as it is to fly with British Airways and change in Heathrow.  My 2020 travel kicked off with a meeting in Amsterdam followed quickly by a meeting at CERN in Geneva.  The best option for this turned out to be flying with KLM to Amsterdam, spending a couple of nights there for the first meeting, flying down to Geneva and spending a couple more nights there for the second meeting, before retracing my steps at the end of the week to head home.

Perhaps it was a quirk of the multi-city booking, but even though the flights were cheap and I was in economy, I ended up with a booking class that gave me a choice of seats before check-in (I’ve looked at future bookings, but I’ve not been so lucky with them, it’s £9 to reserve a standard seat and £13 to reserve a seat with extra legroom).  As a result, for three of the four sectors I was able to choose a window seat somewhere between rows 7 and 9 (for the final sector I was in row 22), and when I checked in on the app, I ended up with a boarding pass that said “Sky Priority” and boarding zone 2.

KLM leaves from the same terminal at Manchester as British Airways, terminal 3, and security there needs no further discussion.  Naturally, no fast-track access, but a lunchtime departure meant the queues were short.  I’ve managed to avoid a bag being sent to secondary screening for most of my recent trips, and managed to do it again this time, although there is always that moment when the bag pauses at the junction of the belts and you’re thinking it has been there a couple of seconds too long and is about to be sent behind the barrier.

No KLM status, so therefore I had no lounge access, but at least being an off-peak time there were spare seats in the departure area to settle down and do a bit of work.

Priority boarding worked well and there didn’t appear to be that many passengers that had it.  It turned out to be useful as I had a carry-on bag and space in the overhead lockers ended up quite tight.  It may be my imagination, but the seats in the 737-700, -800 and -900 of the trip felt a bit narrower than the Airbus 319/320/321 on BA, and on three out of the four legs there was someone in the middle seat whose elbows were well over the armrest, making for very uncomfortable flights as I tried to contort myself around a stranger’s left arm.  The other flight was a dream in comparison as a colleague was booked into the B seat, but C ended up as a no-show, so we had the row of three to ourselves.  Small things and all that.

Not the approach to Amsterdam (or even Manchester).

For a small charge there is the option of “Economy Comfort” seats — I hadn’t chosen them, but SeatGuru suggests they have a couple of extra inches of leg-room.

Something that KLM still provides is a complimentary drink and a snack.  On the various flights I’ve had a cheese sandwich, a wrap, and a slice of cake as the snack; a small cup of water with a foil lid (there’s probably something that can be done there to reduce the use of plastic); plus coffee, tea, or juice for the drink.

Despite Schiphol being their home airport, KLM isn’t exempt from being sent to the Polderbaan for landing, with the ensuing quarter-of-an-hour taxi to the terminal building.  On the return journey I had nearly three hours between flights.  Fortunately Schiphol is such a vast airport that you can largely wander freely about, it’s possible to find a quiet corner when you need to make a couple of phone calls without disturbing anyone.  I’m not sure the same can be said of Heathrow Terminal 5, even with access to a lounge!

One thing that both Geneva and Schiphol have over Manchester Airport is the use of 3D scanners to check your carry-on luggage.  With these everything stays inside your bag, and I mean everything — laptops, iPads, bags of liquids, just plonk it in a tray and wait for it to emerge at the other end.  The speed of the operators seems to vary quite a bit, but the whole process is so much easier, especially if you’re not used to travelling and forget to pull something out of your bag and place it on a separate tray for scanning.  Roll-on the introduction of them to Manchester Airport, please!

The final flight home was the one where I was in row 22.  The airport decided to disembark from both the front and the rear doors, but it took some time to get the steps up to the rear doors.  Do you want to guess which of the 33 rows was the last one out of the plane?

British Airways or London Airways?

A lot of the air travel I write about has used British Airways so far, but looking at my flights over the next eight weeks, I’m starting to realise that the flag carrier doesn’t provide the best connections from the regions.

The flights MAN-LHR-ZAG will take me to exactly 600 tier points (I’m currently at 585), the number required to renew Silver, and are four days before my collection year ends. Coming back with BA would require an overnight stay in Heathrow, or heading into central London and getting the train up (if I made the train, which would be by no means certain).

Now that I’m living in Manchester, has the time come to start seeing if I can get SkyTeam status instead of BA?

BA100 Anniversary Flights

Early in 2019 (I appear to have booked the tickets on 24th January) British Airways celebrated its 100th birthday by offering some long-haul tickets for £100 each way, including taxes. You had to be online at mid-day to grab them, and there were only a few destinations available each day. Instead of trying and failing to get to some of the more popular far-flung destinations, Lucy and I managed to grab a couple of seats for a long weekend in Philadelphia later in the year (September).

When the promotion was on, we were still living in Twickenham, well within the range of catching bus number 490 to Heathrow Terminal 5. However, by the time the trip came up, we’d been living in Manchester for four months, so we had to book a couple of flights to connect us to the Philly flights. As these would be on separate bookings, we also had to make sure that there was enough buffer such that disruption on the flight from Manchester wouldn’t cause us to miss the flight to the US.

I’ve already reviewed our stay at the Hilton Garden Inn at Terminal 2, and our hotel stay in Philadelphia, so I’ll concentrate here on the flights between Heathrow and Philadelphia.

For £100 each way transatlantic, the seats were naturally in economy. Almost all of my flying is done in the back of the bus, so this wasn’t a problem. We were scheduled for a 747, and as I could select seats for free, I’d opted for two seats towards the back of the plane where the configuration changes from 3-4-3 to 2-4-2. It does mean being some of the last to be served, and the last to get off, but on the other hand it is just the two of us, without someone else either in the aisle or window seat.

The days of amenity packs with earplugs, an eyemask, a pen and over-the-ear headphones are long gone. These days what you get is a plastic wrapper with a set of earphones and a Flying Start envelope.

I’m 6’1″, but sitting very upright for my knees not to be touching the seat in front.

However, it was a refurbished plane with a fairly large in-flight entertainment screen. As a minor niggle with BA’s moving map on the new IFE, I’d prefer the image of the plane itself to be smaller so I can see more of the ground beneath it, especially when zooming in (this was better with the old moving map), but that’s not much of a complaint. During the flight I could (and did) easily watch Rocketman on the screen.

As economy meals go, I couldn’t really complain about this. Quinoa salad, chicken curry and rice, a dessert, bread roll, crackers and cheese, and a can of Brewdog’s ‘Speedbird 100’ IPA. Sitting down the back of the back of the plane there is a risk that you can’t get your first choice of meal, but you do have the option to pre-book on the outbound flight from Heathrow, and I had no such problem here.

One thing British Airways still haven’t quite got the hang of is couples where one person has a special meal booked (Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian — or VLML — in Lucy’s case). The special meals are all brought out at the start of service, and her food had been served a good 20 minutes before the trolley reaches me with mine. Perhaps one reason to pre-order a meal, which at least might work for the outbound flight.

There’s not much else to report about the flight. There was the half-way mini Magnum that BA have recently introduced and we made good time to Philadelphia. Immigration wasn’t too bad (I have Global Entry, but didn’t use it). We were lucky with timing and took the train to downtown Philadelphia.

The Return

A couple of days before heading back to London, the usual POUG (Promotional Online UpGrade offer) appeared for an upgrade to Premium Economy (World Traveller Plus in BA parlance). They’d been popping up ever since I made the booking, but not at a very competitive price, but this time it had dropped substantially. As it was an overnight flight and we then had a short layover in Heathrow before finally getting back to Manchester I booked it.

I started getting slightly concerned when I went to select our seats.

OK, not a whole lot of options there, but something will appear with online check-in, right?

Wrong.

I’m past the days of stressing over this sort of occurrence, and figured that they’d be able to sort it out at the airport. The worst case would be that we’d end up back in economy (actually, the worst case might be that we’d be bumped to a different flight and miss the connection to Manchester, but let’s not dwell on that).

We got to the airport, checked in and dropped our bags off, and we are told they still do not have seats for us, but we are issued boarding passes to get us through security, though they have no seat assignment on them.

We made our way to the lounge and helped ourselves to snacks, and perhaps a beverage, whilst I kept on refreshing the app. Some time goes past and eventually 35E and 35F pop up in the app as our seats. OK, middle seats, but bulkhead, I can live with that.

A bit more time passes and an announcement comes over the tannoy asking us to go to the front desk. We get the new boarding passes and is it 35EF? Nope, it’s 21F and 21G. Yes, we’ve scored an upgrade!

I’ve rarely travelled in BA Club World before this, and Lucy never had, so this was a bit of an experience for us. We had the limited edition #BA100 amenity kits and tucked into a very nice meal.

How the other half travels… Wines, champagnes, and champagne cocktails are on the reverse of the menu.

Breakfast was a bit confused. We’d clearly marked our preferences on the cards they distributed before take-off, but when it came time (after just an hour’s sleep), mine was delivered but not Lucy’s. When we asked the cabin crew, they said they’d been laughing about it in the galley as it said she were vegetarian, but had asked for the full breakfast.

Firstly, the card most definitely did not say that, I’d looked at it myself, and secondly, the crew saying they’d been mocking a passenger’s actions, even if there had been a mistake, is not really what I’d call a premium experience. Breakfast was soon on the way, but this was the one exception to an otherwise excellent experience of being upgraded!

As an aside, this started a run of three consecutive upgrades from World Traveller Plus to Club World for me on BA. After this flight there was Heathrow to New Orleans, and Dallas to Heathrow. I think I’ve exhausted my upgrade karma for the next decade, but one suggestion BA, can you put a better pen in the amenity kit? On two of the three kits the pen was useless — one the ball had been pushed back into the nib, and the other just didn’t click.

The Independent Hotel, Philadelphia

As part of a weekend trip to Philadelphia in September, using flights booked during the #BA100 sale, Lucy and I stayed in The Independent Hotel. Whilst we were planning the trip, it had reasonable reviews and wasn’t badly priced.

We had taken the train from the airport, and walked down to the hotel from City Hall Station. In retrospect, not the best choice given we each had a suitcase, but it wasn’t too bad.

The entrance to the hotel is no more than that — a doorway that leads into a lobby about 6ft square with a lift (elevator) that takes you to reception, which is one floor above. There are no obvious stairs (as someone that prefers to take the stairs for a floor or two).

Reception is a large wooden desk, and it took a little while to find someone to check us in, but as we were being checked in it was explained to us that there was cheese and wine in reception every evening, and that breakfast was delivered to the rooms in baskets every morning, we just had to fill in the card the night before.

The first impression of the room was favourable. It was reasonably large and had a high ceiling, even if the floors were a bit worn.

There was a small selection of books to read from, though the title of the top one was curious!

The bathroom was slightly odd, being an ‘L’ shape with the sink at one end of the L, close to the door, and the shower at the far end of the L, in what I guess might originally have been a different building given what appears to be a keystone in the lintel. As you can see from the photo above, the ceiling was a little uneven.

There was also the usual in-room coffee machine (which leaked whilst in operation). When we arrived there were two ‘normal’ coffee capsules and two decaffeinated. However, even though I was leaving out a tip for housekeeping, it obviously wasn’t enough, as one day when we arrived back (for a second time, when we got back at 4pm the room hadn’t yet been serviced), this is what was waiting:

WHY?!?!

We only had the in-room breakfast once, and it was a bit of a disaster. This is what we ordered (for two people):

A bagel and two hard-boiled eggs each, plus some juice and milk. This is what was delivered:

A croissant and a snack bar, with butter and jam each. There were also two small bottles of orange juice, not pictured. No bagels, and no eggs. Looking at other reviews, this doesn’t seem to be an uncommon occurrence, and as we had plans for the day, we didn’t bother asking them to rectify it, we just nibbled on the croissants, put the snack bars in our bags and headed out.

The less said about the cheese and wine reception the better. The cheese was cubes of American-style cheddar, accompanied by some rather bland plonk. We only partook once.

The rooms are single-glazed, and being towards the bottom of the busy bits of 13th Street let in quite a bit of noise at night. However, perhaps that’s a sign that we should just have been staying out later.

All in all, I was mildly disappointed with the hotel. We had paid over £800 (including tax) for four nights, but the room we had was nothing like the bright, airy rooms portrayed on the website. The power sockets were almost hanging out of the wall, and the breakfast experience was poor.

The New Northern Railway Timetable

December 15th saw the twice-yearly reshuffle of the rail timetables. Among the changes, Northern Railway promised more frequent and longer trains. This was welcome, as most of the trains on the Hope Valley line through Reddish North are two or four carriage long Pacers from the 1980s, some of which are still complete with the original repurposed bus seats.

It was a bit of a joke with a colleague in the office that the 08:46 was due into Piccadilly at 08:58, but never arrived before 09:00am. In the new timetable the train is rescheduled to 08:47 with a 09:02 arrival, which is probably a better reflection of reality.

Now it’s difficult to know how long the trains are scheduled to be for each service, but given the trains during peak hours were largely four carriages before the timetable change, I was naively hoping that at least the same would be true afterwards.

Come Monday morning, I headed down to the station with Lucy for the 08:11. We were there a few minutes early and the delayed 08:04 pulled in. Two carriages, and when the doors opened there wasn’t enough room to get on. We waited for the train we’d been planning to get, which was four carriages and we even had a seat.

Heading home was a different matter. The Northern Railway Journeycheck showed no problems, but my own scripts that query the Network Rail ‘Live Departure Board’ service showed that most of the peak hour services were two carriages. We put it down to teething troubles, had a drink, and caught the 18:49, which was two carriages, but not unexpectedly so. Out of curiosity, I asked @northernassist what was going on, and their reply was:

This was a slightly confusing answer, and my interpretation of it was that a peak hour train can be two carriages and not be “short formed” as long as that was the plan when the diagrams were created that morning.

Tuesday the pattern repeated. Lucy caught the four carriage 08:11, after a crammed two-carriage 08:04 left the station, and I went for my more usual train, the 08:47. The departure board (both my script and the display at the station) claimed this was a four carriage train, but when it turned up, we had to shuffle to the centre of the platform to squeeze onto a two carriage Sprinter.

The evening was a repeat performance, all the peak hour (17:00 to 19:00) trains from Piccadilly to Reddish North were listed as two carriages, and the sample of Lucy (17:19) and myself (17:49) suggested that was accurate. Again I asked @northernassist, and the answer was identical.

I tried to clarify whether “all available” meant there was a shortage of carriages, or that the ‘increase’ in service had redirected them from the Hope Valley Line to somewhere else, but there was no further reply.

Wednesday has been an exact repeat in the morning. Delayed, overcrowded, 08:04 leaving people on the platform. Delayed 08:11 eventually leaving at 08:19, and a two carriage 08:47. The evening was a bit of a farce. Prior to leaving the office I looked at Journeycheck which claimed that 16:49 was short-formed, but the rest was as normal.

My script to query the Network Rail departure boards claimed the opposite. A four-coach 16:49, and two coaches everywhere else.

Lucy travelled on the 17:19, which was indeed two coaches. I aimed for the 17:49, boarded, and waited. It was soon crowded and 17:49 came and went. There was a driver in the cab, but no guard, and no announcements. I could overhear platform staff saying there was no guard, and eventually going to the driver and asking him to make an announcement.

More time passed. About a quarter of the people on the train got tired of being crammed on and headed off to see what else they could get. Eventually the platform staff (not the driver) announced that the train would be going fast to New Mills Central, and we should cross over the platform for the 18:19 for earlier stops.

The 18:19 ended up just as crowded, but there was a bit of friendly banter on board and departed fairly close to time. (For info, I lived in London and commuted on both the Central Line and South West Trains / South Western Railway for nigh on 30 years, so I do know what crowded trains are!)

After three days of the new timetable, I’m wondering what’s going to happen between now and next May when the timetable changes again. Are we stuck with the current formations, or will the delivery of new trains on other lines (I don’t think we’re getting any on the Hope Valley Line, but I’d be happy to learn otherwise) free up Sprinters and Super Sprinters for us?

I have no idea whether taking the franchise from Arriva would change the service, but the sentiment on the train this evening was “anything would be better.” I’d just like a better idea about how long this (presumably) short-term pain is going to last, and what the plans are for longer trains on the Hope Valley Line — not only over the coming days, but over the next few weeks, months and years.

I think I’ll work from home tomorrow.

You can tell I’m not a serious traveller

I have just checked my IHG status. To get to “Gold Elite” (the first non-basic level, despite how fancy it might sound) requires 10,000 points.

This year I have 9,940.

If I was a serious traveller I’d be trying to find a way to get that final 60, but to be honest, even though I’m pretty sure that any one-night stay in any of the IHG brands would net that, I’m not sure the ‘benefits’ are worth another night away from home. Ah, well, I shall have to settle myself with being 99.4% of the way to status.

ibis Budget Whitechapel

I wasn’t going to review the ibis Budget Whitechapel as I was only there for a night, but the check-out experience tipped my hand, and here we are.

My brief stay here followed a night in the rather more upmarket Park Plaza London Riverbank, but I was prepared for what it was supposed to be — a budget hotel (even though the night I was there was costing £120).

On walking in, the reception is on the first floor (for our American friends, that’s the floor above ground level), and I was momentarily confused as there’s a table tennis table to your left, and a surprisingly similar table to the right, but with a couple of screens and no net. It may not surprise you to learn that this is the check-in desk.

The staff were friendly and check-in was swift, and I was soon on my way to my room.

Bags top bunk!

As I was expecting from a budget hotel, the room was basic. A double bed with a single bunk above it. A small desk, no separate bathroom, but a student-digs style shower and a loo. No toiletries other than a couple of bars of ibis Budget soap. The view was nothing to speak of, but I’m not sure what else to expect.

Please ignore the man in the mirror!

I settled down to do a bit of work, then headed out to meet up with some friends. I noticed the battery on my laptop hadn’t charged whilst I’d been working, but I know there’s a dodgy connector unless it’s plugged firmly in, so I put it down to that.

Later that evening, I got back and put all the things on charge — except they wouldn’t. All the sockets in the room were dead, as was the TV and the air-conditioning (which has a note on the wall that it isn’t air conditioning, it’s just a fan). I had a look around the room for circuit breakers, but it was late by this point, and I had my travel battery, so I didn’t bother telling reception, I just planned to mention it on the way out.

In the morning the shower did its job, though washing your hair with a bar of soap is less than ideal, and at this point I noticed that even if I’d had power, there was no kettle, tea, or coffee.

On checkout I mentioned about the lack of power and was told “you should have told us!” I politely replied that I was telling them now, and they insisted that I should have told them last night. I didn’t want to get into a long conversation about time, etc, all I’d been hoping for was “sorry about that, thanks for letting us know, we’ll get it fixed,” so I bade the hotel farewell.

I’ll not be rushing to return.

Free broadband for all

There have probably been a thousand blog posts and LinkedIn posts already about Labour’s proposal for “free broadband for all,” but I’m going to add my tuppence-worth.  Given (one of) my Twitter handle(s) is @internetplumber, I feel it’s almost a duty.  Whilst these are my personal opinions, they’re written as someone that works in a service provider that is already largely publicly funded.

First a bit of background.  BT used to be a monolithic company that owned and operated both the physical infrastructure (fibre and copper in the ground) plus the services on top of it (phone, Internet).  To encourage competition in the services, which require access to the infrastructure, the latter was split into a company called Openreach, which is regulated, and must offer access to the infrastructure equitably to all – whether that’s BT (who also own Plusnet), TalkTalk, Virgin, Sky, or any number of other service providers (including Jisc for the Janet network, and the ISP I use at home – Andrews and Arnold).

Labour’s suggestion that they’ll provide free broadband for all using “full fibre” via a nationalised provider encroaches both on the physical infrastructure (Openreach), and the services (BT et al).

Building Fibre to the Home is expensive.  We do it for Higher and Further education, using a combination of dark fibre provided by commercial companies and products from Openreach, but this is on the scale for resilient connections to about 1,000 customers.

There are about 25,000,000 homes in the UK. A lot of those are in metropolitan areas where small fibre distances can reach many customers, but digging in cities is time-consuming and expensive.  Other homes are out in the country which, whilst perhaps easier to dig, requires a long stretch of fibre to get back to the nearest Exchange.  At £1,000 per house, that’s already £25bn.  This is an expensive investment which would benefit from public money, otherwise it may not happen, or at least it may only happen sporadically.

The Internet access on top of that infrastructure is already a very competitive market, which benefits the consumer in terms of being able to choose the right service provider for them. For example, whilst my wife would like me to use BT so that I could get access to BT Sport to watch the rugby, I have used Andrews and Arnold for a long time because they rolled out IPv6 access before just about any other domestic service provider in the UK. All Internet access is not the same.

Governments are frequently talking about regulating the Internet in one form or another.  Are you happy with only being able to visit government-sanctioned websites?  Or only using government-approved communications methods which they can, presumably, snoop on? Our gas, electricity and water do not come for free – even before deregulation there were electricity bills, gas bills and water rates, is broadband more essential than those other utilities?

Don’t mistake me, I think universal, fast, Internet access is something we all deserve and increasingly require, but are we making the right utility free, and what is the cost of making it free?

There’s a saying in the Internet industry – “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”  Where will the information collected by British Broadband be held?  What will it be used for?

Twenty years of travel.

Twenty years ago today, on 6th November 1999, I stepped on a plane for the very first time to leave the UK for the very first time.
Was this a long-awaited family holiday? Nope, they never really stretched further than Swansea or — once — Tenby.  It was for IETF 46 in Washington D.C..

The BA 777 that I flew on that day is still in service.

Now, the sum total scheduled duration of flights I’ve been on (or plan to be on) during 2019 is one minute shy of five days and 18 hours. I wonder what little me, reading Look and Learn with talk of supersonic planes (in addition to Concorde) and even ballistic travel would have thought?

Travel is disruptive, a lot of it is at weekends and evenings (and if you add a couple of hours at airports for each flight, that’s another four days on top of the 5d18h).  I know there are a reasonable number of people reading this for whom that amount of travel would be considered a sabbatical, but I still consider myself lucky to be able to do this interaction with other NRENs, service providers and global Internet governance groups as part of my job, and still enjoy travelling for pleasure, even more so now that after travelling on my own for so long I can get to do it with a wonderful companion (my wife, of course).

It’s very easy to creep into isolationism, which can happen on so many levels, whether it’s the Network Operations part of a very large company, Jisc as opposed to other NRENs, NRENs in general compared to the wider commercial Internet, or even countries thinking they can ’take back control’ and go it alone. However, it’s something we need to constantly fight against. The Internet, like everything else, can only work as a collective effort.

Of course, this rally against isolationism doesn’t detract from “me time.” 🙂

Hilton Garden Inn, London Heathrow Terminal 2

Whilst we were still living in South-West London I booked a return for my wife and myself to Philadelphia as part of BA’s 100th anniversary sale.  These were tickets that cost £100 each way in economy, including taxes.  Since then we’ve moved to Manchester, and so to avoid problems with missed connections for the 12:40pm BA67 to Philadelphia, we flew down the evening before and stayed at the relatively new Hilton Garden Inn at Terminal 2.

Why a hotel at Terminal 2 when the Manchester flight arrived into T5 and the Philadelphia flight would leave from the same terminal? Well, predominantly cost.  The Sofitel at T5 was substantially more expensive than the HGI, I didn’t want the hassle of buses or taxis from outside the airport, and it’s not too difficult to get from T5 to T2.

Previously living close to the airport, I’d never taken the Heathrow Express to travel between terminals, so after pausing to wonder if I needed a free transfer ticket at T5, I decided to pick one up to be on the safe side — just as well, as I’d have had to make my excuses at the T2 ticket barrier without it.

The next step was finding the hotel itself.  T2 is a reasonable walk from the train station along several moving walkways, and then you need to find the right level to get to the hotel.  For reference, you want to walk to the hotel across the car-park, and then a walk-way, from the arrivals level (level 1) of T2.  Whilst you can see it clearly from the departures level, there is no obvious way to get there from across the drop-off zone, as we found out whilst hauling our cases!

There are four check-in desks, and no queues when we arrived.  I was somewhat disconcerted when the young lad said he paused because I looked like his best friend’s Dad, but at some point I have to realise I’m getting older.  At least it wasn’t his friend’s grandfather, and a suggestion that my wife reminded him of his friend’s mother might have gone down even worse.

Using the Hilton app on my phone, I’d already booked a room on the 11th floor (out of 13) with a runway view — try and claim you’re surprised by that.  The runway-facing rooms look south-west onto 27L/9R, which was on easterly take-offs whilst I was there.  The soundproofing is good, so it allowed a view of the runway without airplane noise being noticeable.

Apologies for the room reflections!

The bed was fairly standard, with a large screen TV and a desk.  The bathroom was spotless, although the waterfall shower was relatively weak, with Crabtree & Evelyn toiletries.

The room.

Having some time to kill, we went downstairs to the bar, one floor down from the lobby.  I had a beer, my wife had a white wine, and we shared a (small) bowl of chips (“hot chips” or “fries” for those that use a different variant of English).  This came to £20, so we made our way back to the terminal, and to The Flying Chariot, the Wetherspoons on the departure level of T2 for a couple more drinks.  It’s not a bargain compared to other Spoons, but it was cheaper than the Hilton, and had a wider selection of drinks — plus you can still get the drinks delivered to your table using the Wetherspoons app.

It was quite an enjoyable couple of hours people-watching at the airport as passengers arrived to fly off somewhere, some more prepared than others.  There were a few groups obviously heading off to Japan on JAL for the Rugby World Cup.

Instead of eating there, we picked up some sandwiches from the Marks and Spencer on the arrivals level and headed back to the hotel room.

After a sound sleep, blissfully unaware of the planes taking off not far from our eardrums, the following morning check-out was easy enough, again with no queue, and from there it was just the walk to T2, then the walk to the Heathrow Express and onwards to Terminal 5 for the flight to Philly.

This was the first time I’d spent about 24 hours within an airport perimeter, as most other times I’ve stayed at an airport hotel, I’ve either been arriving late, departing early, or the hotel itself has been just outside the airport.  I’d happily stay in the Hilton Garden Inn T2 again, even if my flights were based in T5.

Hampton by Hilton, Belfast City Centre

This is a little review of the Hampton by Hilton Belfast City Centre, where I stayed for a couple of nights for work at the start of September 2019.

I’d flown into Belfast City airport (BHD) and caught bus 600 into the city centre, which dropped me off at the Europa Bus Centre, a journey costing the total of £2.60 (though I felt sorry for the driver who had to arrange a lot of large suitcases from students starting to arrive for the start of the new University year at Queen’s University), and handily on the same block as the Hampton and indeed the massive Europa Hotel itself.

The reception desks are straight in front of the door, and lead onto the bar and breakfast area.

Reception

Check-in was easy, and the pre-payment arranged by the travel agent was on file, which doesn’t always happen.  I had a room on the fifth floor out of eight.  As an aside, why does the sign in the lift (elevator) correctly refer to ‘G’ for ground floor, but the button is marked ‘0’?

Zero G

When I got to the room it was almost entirely made of bed.  For some reason they appear to have been expecting me to arrive en-masse and the sofa-bed was also made up.  I momentarily worried that a colleague from work had been booked into the same room too.  I could, and perhaps should, have called reception to ask them to stow the bed, but I wanted to get a couple of things done before heading out for dinner, so I didn’t bother (and so no fault lies with Hampton, though I was surprised to still see it there when I got back on the second day, but by that point it was too late to say anything — he said, Britishly).

I remember when this were nothing but Hilton bedding…

There was a large TV in the room which I could see well whilst lying on the bed, but as it was mounted on a narrow shelf could only be swivelled a small amount and so didn’t have a great angle to see from the desk.  It was the usual (for the UK) Freeview channels.  There were double sockets with a USB outlet either side of the bed, which is good news.

Mirror, mirror on the wall…

As a minor issue, there was some tape that was flaking in one corner of the room.

The same door covers the bathroom and wardrobe in an interesting space-saving arrangement — if the door is closed to the bathroom then the wardrobe is open, and vice versa.  The shower is easy to operate, not something you can always say, especially in cases when hot water takes a little while to reach the shower head.  Toiletries are large pump-bottles mounted on the wall, but there was shampoo, shower gel and conditioner, plus a hand-wash next to the sink, all of which were full, and all of the pumps were working!

I slept well overnight, and headed down to the buffet breakfast in the morning.  There is the choice of a cooked breakfast (bacon, sausage, scrambled egg, baked beans, small potato bites, etc), toast, pastries, cereals, and a new one on me, DIY waffles, along with tea, coffee and fruit juices.  It was a reasonable way to set me up for the day, and after that I checked out and headed on home.

Breakfast time!

I’d be perfectly happy to stay there again, plus it means earning HHonors points if that’s your thing.

Manchester to South Wales (via the Welsh Marches Route)

There are two main routes between Manchester and South Wales. There is the “Heart of Wales” line, which is the very scenic route, and the Welsh Marches line, merely quite scenic. A few (ahem) times over the last couple of months my wife and I have taken the train from Manchester towards South Wales, and back again, and this is about the Welsh Marches line, not quite as scenic as the Heart of Wales line, but still an interesting journey.

The route runs through Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Leominster, Hereford, Abergavenny, Newport, Cardiff, Swansea and then through to Milford Haven or Carmarthen. It isn’t, however, all that quick — over three hours to Cardiff, over four to Swansea (which might test even Michael Portillo’s patience), and it could certainly do with a few upgrades.

Most of the times we have travelled on it, we’ve booked Advance tickets, which require that you travel on a specific service and usually come with seat reservations. Each time the booking form has asked for seat preferences (table / airline; aisle / window). However, each time we’ve picked the tickets up, they’ve been “Coach *, Seat ***”. However, I’ve seen “reserved” tickets in the back of some seats, so there must be some magic we’re missing.

You keep using that word (reservation), I do not think it means what you think it means.

Getting on at one of the major stations (e.g. Manchester Piccadilly or Cardiff), you need to be at the right part of the platform to be by the doors when the train arrives, or you’re likely to be standing. One time we got lucky and bagged a seat whilst others stood, another time we were standing for 30-40 minutes until the train reached Crewe and a few people got off. I’ve also seen people standing at Hereford just as the local college finishes (and presumably just before it starts), which makes the lack of definite seat reservations a worry if you really want to sit down, and particularly, sit down together.

The time we weren’t lucky.

The trains are “Class 175“, and it has varied as to whether the trains are two coach (175 0nn) or three (175 1nn). On one journey to Swansea there were people standing for quite a bit of time, and it wasn’t helped when we reached Shrewsbury to find another train had been cancelled and they were shuffled onto the train we were on to get down to Newport and change for another service.

I have to feel a bit sorry for these little trains, they run for almost six hours from Milford Haven or Carmarthen up to Manchester, then have about 15 minutes before they’re on the way back for another six hours. This does mean they don’t get a proper clean for twelve hours other than the Transport for Wales staff doing their best to clear loose items into rubbish bags. Which means, fellow passengers, when you leave the train, please take your rubbish with you, as someone else will almost certainly be sitting in your seat within a few minutes!

At a couple of points through the journey, as long as there’s room, a trolley service will pass through the train offering tea, coffee, snacks, beer, wine, gin, tonic, you know the drill. Sometimes they may ask you to pay cash if the machine isn’t working — or if the reception is bad.

Speaking of reception, there is free WiFi on the train, but the uplink speed isn’t great, and some sites, including Google Drive, are blocked, which might make working on the train a bit of a challenge. If you’ve got a signal and a generous data plan on your phone, you might be better off tethering to that.

Getting the negatives out of the way, the route itself passes through some historic towns on the borders between Wales and England.

Regardless of history, according to Wikipedia Ludlow apparently once featured three Michelin-starred restaurants in the not too distance past, but now has none. Leominster was the site of “one of” the last ordeals by ducking stool in England. The stool itself is on display in Leominster Priory and depicted on the town clock.

Leominster Town Clock, image from Likeaword at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leominster_Town_Clock.jpg

Not forgetting larger towns of Shrewsbury, curiously twinned with the Royal Navy submarine of HMS Talent, which would have some trouble getting anywhere near the town, and Hereford, birthplace of King Charles II’s mistress Nell Gwynne (I wonder if my new MP Andrew Gwynne is a descendent?).

Whilst we’ve been using this route for trips for work or family of late, we’ll have to use it to explore some of the historic towns on the route soon, and some of the scenery it passes through is really quite beautiful. Some longer trains, though, please TfW?

What’s going on with iPad apps?

Yesterday I received an email from American Express to say they were discontinuing their iPad app and recommending I migrate to the iPhone app.

I don’t have an iPhone, and using the iPhone app on the iPad is not a great use of screen real estate, nor does it work in landscape mode, whereas the current iPad app is useful — it shows me my outstanding balance, statements, card offers and all that.

The same day, my British Airways iPad app updated and has lost all useful functionality. Instead of showing upcoming flights, seats, upgrade options, account details, etc., it now just allows you to book flights, though not as flexibly as the previous version (and certainly not the website) which also allowed you to explore cheapest fares.

Neither of the iPhone apps are ‘universal’ apps that resize to use the iPad screen size.

Is this the result of two independent decisions that seem to ignore what a user wants from an app? A lack of development resource? Or due to something being imposed by Apple with the move to iOS 13 / iPadOS? I thought the aim was to have universal apps that would work across iPhone, iPad and Mac…

Dragon Hotel, Swansea

According to the hotel’s own website, the Dragon Hotel is “…this fully airconditioned lesisure [sic] hotel was featured as South West Wales’ premier 4-star hotel.”

As someone that was brought up with frequent trips to Swansea to visit family, the Dragon Hotel has always been around, though I’ve never had need to stay there, as I was always staying with family. The road outside the hotel has changed substantially since I was a child, it used to be a roundabout with pedestrian underpasses leading to an open area in the centre of the roundabout. That was filled in a couple of decades ago to make it more friendly to bendy buses, but it is in the middle of yet another regeneration as Swansea City Council tries another traffic management plan along The Kingsway.

As time has moved on, I’ve had more reason to find nearby hotels and my wife and I have stayed at the Dragon a few times. Most recently, towards the end of August 2019, I stayed in three different rooms on the sixth and seventh (out of seven) floors (due to three different bookings) during a week as I wasn’t sure how long I was staying around.

During the week there were some good deals to be had, between £50 and £60 per night, but that rose substantially for the weekend. The best deals were on twin rooms rather than doubles, but as I was staying by myself, that wasn’t a problem.

The rooms are functional, two single beds, a large TV with Freeview channels, a hospitality tray with the usual selection of teabags, instant coffee sachets and UHT milk. There are no in-room safes, nor a mini-bar.

Most of the rooms appear to have a mobile phone for complimentary use around the city, provided by “Handy.” I have no idea what sort of personal information those things hoovered up, which I assume they must to pay for themselves, so I haven’t used one, but it also looks like they might not be around for much longer.

The bathrooms are surfaced with white ceramic tiles, with a large illuminated mirror that has two vertical fluorescent tubes (though in one of the bathrooms, one of the tubes flickered). Toiletries are large pump-action soap dispensers.

One evening, as I got back to my room, I was greeted by a gentleman, wearing only his shorts, laying across the corridor on a speakerphone, but the hotel didn’t provide entertainment the other nights.

There is a comfortable bar on the ground floor with a few local beers, though I’ve tended to head into town for a drink when the urge takes me (particularly to “Copper” or “No Sign Wine Bar”).

All in all, it’s clean, slightly tired, and I wouldn’t describe it as South-West Wales’ Premier Four-Star Hotel, though I don’t know what would fit that description, but it’s very convenient for the centre of Swansea, as opposed to some of the others that are closer to the Marina, or slightly out of town, and what are you expecting for that sort of price?

Hotel Indigo, Cardiff

This will be a brief review, as I was only there for one night and didn’t take any photographs.

Hotel Indigo is part of the IHG chain (Holiday Inn etc), but as I type this, the Cardiff hotel is currently rated the #1 hotel in Cardiff on TripAdvisor. [Hotel’s website here.]

From Cardiff Central train station the hotel was about a 10 minute walk (not trailing any suitcases). The entry is quite well disguised in an arcade off Queen Street, which is in the pedestrianised shopping area in Cardiff, and within that the reception is quite small, just 2-3 desks in a cosy lobby, but the staff were friendly. There is a single lift (“elevator”) to the guest rooms and the hotel’s restaurant/bar — a Marco Pierre White Steakhouse and Bar. When I checked in we were offered a 15% discount voucher for the restaurant, but that is a limited time offer.

My room had frosted windows with no view, but the room and bathroom (with monsoon shower) were obviously relatively new and well-decorated. The hospitality tray had a selection of Welsh teas and coffees (as an aside, I grew up in Wales and don’t remember many tea tree and coffee plantations, but that must be global warming for you), and a small fridge.

A nice touch was the rocking chair with a “nos da” (“good night”) cushion, and Welsh decorations on the wall. A tea pot and tea cosy would have topped that image off to perfection!

The bed was firm, and quite high off the ground, which may or may not be to your preference. Whilst it was a busy weekend in Cardiff, and I could hear the occasional voice of someone walking down the corridor outside, it didn’t disturb my sleep.

All in all it was a nice hotel, in a very good location, and not too badly priced. Worth a shot.

A day at the rugby

I was lucky enough to go to the Wales v England warm-up match at the Principality Stadium last weekend. It wasn’t a pretty match, but the end result of that and the other matches on the weekend is that for the first time ever, heading into the Rugby World Cup starting next month in Japan, Wales just about top the World Rugby rankings. They’re not playing this coming weekend, but Ireland are (away at Twickenham), so I don’t know if they’ll stay there, but they’re there for now.

World Rugby rankings.

The stop/start nature of blogging

It has been a while since I blogged (how many blog entries start like that?), but I’m about to kick it off again, or so I hope.

The plan is to have a mix of travel (reviews, reports), tech (networking), and maybe something about my new home, Manchester.

My wife and I left Twickenham at the end of April 2019 and moved to Manchester on May 1st. After a couple of weeks in an AirBnB in Didsbury whilst the purchase of the new house completed, we now have a four bedroom house in Dane Bank, to the east of Manchester, just inside the M60.

I’ve traded the 10-car trains of South Western Railway with two (or if I’m lucky four) car pacers from the 1980s running on a track with no plans for electrification. All this just four miles from the Manchester city centre. I’ve started buying gardening gear as the previous owners of the house kept a lovely garden at both the front and rear. I’m still not certain what half the plants are, but the apples are tasting rather good.

My job is still the same, just in a different office.

Seventeen years ago

Following on from Simon Lockhart’s reminder of his ticket from September 11th 2001, this is the one that I was involved with:


Ticket Number: 20010912-2                  Ticket Status: UPDATE
Ticket Type  : Unscheduled                 Ticket Source: TEN-US NOC
Ticket Scope : Site                        Site/Line    : New York
Ticket Owner : TEN-US NOC                  Problem Fixer: Telehouse NY
Ticket Opened: 20010912 12:08 UTC          Problem Start: 20010911 20:35 UTC
Ticket Update: 20010918 05:13 UTC
Ticket Closed:                             Problem Ends :


Ticket Summary: Status of 25 Broadway

Problem Description:

This ticket is being issued to track the status of the infrastructure
at the DANTE World Services PoP in New York.  Individual circuits
will be dealt with separately.  Updates will be in the "actions" section
below.

Affected:

DANTE World Service

Actions:

cziarhe	20010918 05:13 UTC
Load was switched from the Con Ed generator to the critical generator
as planned.  Unfortunately, after about 45 minutes the generator
again began to overheat and the load was switched back.  This was
achieved without interruption to service.  It is now believed this
could be due to limescale build-up in the radiator.

This is to be rectified by using an acid wash through the cooling
system and again running the generator under load at 22:30 UTC
tonight (Tuesday).

A plan is also being developed to bring in a new generator should
the situation with the critical generator persist.



Time to Fix: (Hours:Mins)



Fix:



History:

cziarhe	20010917 21:53 UTC
Telehouse NY believe the problems with their "critical" generator
have been caused by faulty thermostats.  These have now been replaced
and the generator has been spun up for a basic test.  The next
step is to try a load test, which will begin at 22:30 UTC.  If
this is successful, then load from the "essential" generator, which
supplies the air conditioning will be transferred to the Con Ed
generator for maintainence to take place on this generator, which
has also been running overtemperature.

Assuming all this works successfully, Telehouse plan to run the
Con Ed generator in conjunction with either the essential (Air
Con) or critical (equipment) generator to make the best use of
available fuel.  Further fuel supply problems are not thought to
be likely as there are 17 tankers in the city, and a further 30
generators are available.

The IP NOC will monitor the initial switch to the critical generator
to ensure equipment remains in operation, and reinstall the workaround
with KPN should it be needed.

cziarhe	20010916 14:59 UTC
The latest update from Telehouse reports that an extra 2000 gallon
fuel tank is expected to be connected to the Con Ed generator soon
to allow for longer refuelling intervals.  in addition, Con Ed's
refuelling process to all buildings in the area has now settled
down, so it should be as reliable as possible in the circumstances.

An engineer is currently onsite investigating the problems with
Telehouse's own generator.

cziarhe	20010916 12:05 UTC
Regular fuel deliveries appear to have been secured for the Con
Ed generator.  There were deliveries at 02:00 UTC and 11:30 UTC,
and another is scheduled for 21:30 UTC.

The status of the Telehouse generator is currently unknown.

cziajom	20010915 20:16 UTC
Contacted Telehouse NY. Informed that Con Ed generator is now up,
with enough fuel until Tuesday (18 Sep). Engineers are still working
on the Telehouse generator. NY Routers are starting to come up.

cziarhe	20010915 18:25 UTC
Despite what we were informed of earlier, the Con Ed generator ran
out of fuel at 16:45 UTC.  Telehouse's generator then started up,
but overheated again.  There is a fuel truck just outside the cordoned
area, but it is not being allowed through, and unfortunately we
have no ETA for the fuel, or time-to-repair for the Telehouse generator.

cziarhe	20010915 18:15 UTC
Power was lost again at 17:45 UTC, we are contacting Telehouse for
information.

cziarhe	20010915 15:52 UTC
The current status relayed to us by Telehouse is as follows:

The Con Ed generator is monitored around the clock by Con Ed personnel,
who are responsible for refuelling it.  As of 15:00 UTC there was
approximately 15 hours worth of fuel remaining.

The water pump on Telehouse's own generator has been replaced and
the unit has been run for about 30 minutes to test.  Telehouse
are taking this opportunity to perform some routine maintenance
(changing oil and filters, pressure washing the radiator) to ensure
it is ready should it be needed for another extended run.

Fuel currently available onsite should last until Thursday at current
consumption rates.  Another delivery is being planned for Monday.

Engineer access is possible, but the procedure is slightly different
due to movement restrictions still in effect.

cziarhe	20010915 08:55 UTC
Power was returned via the Con Edison generator at approximately
02:45 UTC this morning (Saturday).  All DANTE World Service equipment
is functioning without any failed power supplies.  Telehouse also
expect their own generator to be fixed soon, so there will be two
sources of power again, as the Con Edison generator will remain
until grid power is restored.

cziarhe	20010914 18:06 UTC
Con Edison have delivered the transformer and connected it to be
building's power supply, they expect to have the generator itself
online by approximately 21:00 UTC this evening (Friday).

Unfortunately the water pump for Telehouse's own generator has
been difficult to source and is currently being shipped from Pennsylvania
with an expected arrival time at 25 Broadway of midnight tonight
UTC.  Installation is planned for tomorrow.

Hopefully the Con Edison generator should allow the DANTE World
Service to resume at some point this evening.

cziarhe	20010914 08:11 UTC
To clarify the previous entry, the generator from Con Edison was
expected onsite yesterday evening US time for connection this morning
their time, i.e. early to mid-afternoon European time.

cziaseo	20010914 06:16 UTC
The  generator failed because of the water pump. Estimated repair
time
is late tomorrow (Friday, 9/13). In the meantime, Con Ed has committed

to provide generator from the street and we expect delivery tonight.

Estimated connection is sometime tomorrow morning.


cziajom	20010914 04:57 UTC
An engineer is on-site to try and repair generator. However, still
not able to give any indication of a resolution time. Further information
will be given, as it becomes known to us.

cziarhe	20010914 01:50 UTC
Power failed again at 01:40 UTC.  Apparently there is a generator
technician onsite, and Telehouse are talking to Con Edison about
borrowing a generator in the event the current one cannot be fixed.

cziarhe	20010914 01:39 UTC
Power has returned at 01:30 UTC.  More information will be supplied
as we have it.

cziarhe	20010914 00:20 UTC
Have spoken to Telehouse Ops, they are waiting for an engineer for
the diesel generator and will let us know via email as soon as
they have more information.  This ticket will be updated when the
information reaches us.


cziajom	20010913 23:11 UTC
Received msg from M+ (23:06 BST) to contact WorldCom. Contacted
WorldCom. Engineer stated that generator had to be powered off
due to overheating .... and that if generator cannot be fixed,
then they will have to await the arrival of a new generator. Therefore
not possible to give any restoration time for power.

Ticket # 447111 issued by WC.

Asked WorldCom to contact us, as they get further information.

cziarhe	20010913 21:45 UTC
As of 21:40 UTC, Telehouse have been required to shut down the generator
due to a rapid increase in temperature, this has meant a loss of
power to all DANTE World Service equipment.  We currently have
no time for restoration of power.

cziarhe	20010913 16:24 UTC
Fuel has arrived on-site and is currently being transferred into
Telehouse's storage tanks.  Once this is complete there will be
sufficient diesel for another four days of generator power.

cziarhe	20010913 14:29 UTC
The fuel delivery truck is currently preparing to leave Staten Island
for 25 Broadway, however, progress is expected to be slow.

Should this fail, Con Edison are prepared to deliver fuel to 25
Broadway.  They are still unable to give an estimate as to when
utility power will be restored.

cziarhe	20010912 21:35 UTC
Commercial power to 25 Broadway was interrupted when debris from
WTC 7 (The Salomon building) fell on the substation.  It is not
expected to be restored before the weekend, so delivery of the
fuel mentioned in a previous update is being investigated.

Telehouse believe they will be able to allow personnel onto the
site at some point tomorrow (Thursday).

cziarhe	20010912 18:23 UTC
Telehouse have secured an additional 4500 gallons of diesel fuel
and are attempting to get permission from the Port Authority of
New York to transport it to 25 Broadway.

cziarhe	20010912 13:31 UTC
Telehouse have informed us that if commercial power is not restored,
it is unlikely that they will be able to replenish the fuel supply
when it becomes depleted.

In addition, the area in which 25 Broadway is located has been
evacuated.  Essential staff are remaining on-site, but should they
be forced to vacate the building, Telehouse say the ability to
continue to provide emergency power would be impacted.


cziarhe	20010912 12:17 UTC
Sorry, "18:35 UTC" in the previous entry should read "18:35 UTC
on Friday September 14th".

cziarhe	20010912 12:13 UTC
As of 20:35 UTC on September 11th, 25 Broadway is running on the
emergency diesel generator.  Initial information was that they
had 24 hours worth of fuel, but drain is currently much lower and
we have been informed that they could last up to 70 hours, which
takes service up to 18:35 UTC, although this is a maximum.

It is not clear whether refuelling will currently be possible,
or when commercial grid power will be restored.

Which mobile phone should I buy?

Getting on for two years ago I bought a Samsung Galaxy S5 tied to a contract with Three UK (so the phone had all of Three UK’s cruft on, as well as the Samsung TouchWiz). It was one of the flagship phones when I bought it, and it can still hold its own, but as the end of the contract approaches, I am trying to decide which phone to get next. Some of the considerations are…

  1. Software upgrades.

    This is one of the most significant ones. Once Google has released a new version of software, it has to be ported to the S5 by Samsung, adding all their bells and whistles, and then Three have to release it for the handset. I check for updates pretty regularly, and the latest for my S5 on Three is Android 5.0. Google may have released 6.0, but I haven’t even got 5.1.

    There have been minor security patches issued, but I’m not confident they cover everything that is in the newer software releases.

    When it comes to an Android phone, this will catch me out with just about anything other than the Google Nexus phones, which providers are best? I’ve heard OnePlus mentioned, and maybe the issue will be much better regardless of the phone provider as long as I get an unlocked.

  2. Earphones

    At the start of the year I bought a set of Bose QuietComfort 20 earphones. There are two models, one with a remote control that’s compatible with Android, the other with an iOS compatible control. I bought the iOS-compatible version, expecting at the time that I’d be getting an iPhone next.

    It’s a significant investment, and if that steers me towards an iPhone, then it means buying a 6S, as the rumours are that the 7 will no longer have a 3.5mm headphone jack. The problem with that, of course, is that the 6S is now six months old, and I’d like the phone to last a couple of years.

  3. Mail Client

    I hate all mobile mail clients. More to the point, I pretty much hate all mail clients. On my desktop I vacillate between Mac Mail, Outlook and, more often than not, ‘mutt’. I’ve never found a mobile mail client that works well. iOS Mail is the nearest there is, although ‘Nine’ on Android seems to be shaping up quite nicely too. I’ve tried quite a few — BlueMail, Type Mail, Gmail client, Outlook Mobile, the Samsung client on Android, K9.

  4. Ecosystem lock-in

    I have an iPhone for work, I use a MacBook Pro daily, and I’ve also got an iPad Air 2 and a Mac Mini at home. I’m therefore very wary about ending up locked in to the Apple ecosystem. My Galaxy S5 keeps me aware of this, and encourages me to use solutions that can work across platforms (Office 365, Evernote, Simplenote, Google Docs, Dropbox).

  5. Smart watch

    I don’t have an Apple Watch, I’ve (still) got a first generation Pebble. It works with both Apple and Android, and the battery lasts a week. Next.

  6. Price

    I can’t bring myself to pay too much money for a device that realistically doesn’t have a life of much more than two years and is susceptible to being stolen or dropped or subject to some other damage (whilst I haven’t yet cracked a phone screen or had one lost or stolen, I know it will happen some day, especially now that I’ve written this).

At the moment, the candidates are:

Phone Storage Screen Price (SIM-free)
Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 32GB 5.5″ £639.99
Samsung Galaxy S7 32GB 5.1″ £519.99
Google Nexus 5X 32GB 5.2″ £339.00
Google Nexus 6P 32GB 5.7″ £449.00
64GB 5.7″ £499.00
HTC 10 32GB 5.2″ £569.99
iPhone 6S 64GB 4.7″ £619.00
iPhone 6S Plus 64GB 5.5″ £699.00
LG G5 32GB 5.3″ £499.95
Huawei P9 32GB 5.2″ £449.99

I’m sure I can get better prices than these, but this is just from a quick glance on Expansys, Carphone Warehouse, Google Shopping, or the Apple store. I’ve chosen more storage for the iPhone because unlike the other devices, there’s no room for an SD card (although the Nexus 5X also has this failing, there is no option for more storage). If I buy from the Google Store, there is also a £50 discount available on the 5X and a £70 discount on the 6P until 6th May.

It’s making the 6P look rather attractive, but it does have the previous generation of processor (Snapdragon 810 rather than 820), even if the camera is more modern (1.55um pixels, but no OIS).

Coffee cups — safer in a bag

Travelling back on Virgin Trains from a meeting in Birmingham, I popped to the on-board shop to buy a coffee for two pounds and five pence of our sovereign sterling monies.

As usual, the coffee comes in a cup with a lid which was firmly attached and requires tearing a plastic tab to drink from it. The assistant then placed the cup in a paper bag, to which I said that it wasn’t really necessary as I could carry it (I wasn’t getting anything else).

I was told that I couldn’t do that, due to “safety.” In retrospect I wonder what she’d have done if I’d just walked off and left the bag on the counter, but being the obedient member of the populace that I am, I just toddled off back down the carriage, coffee safely ensconced in a paper bag so that I couldn’t tell if it had fallen onto its side or not.