Remembrance

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2014 has been a momentous year for events to remember the start of the First World War, I have heard people voice their concerns that it has been ‘over done’ – not something that I would agree with, and I can’t imagine how you could over do something to remember something quite so awful…

PA110504I had hoped to get over to France this year to visit some of the WW1 sites, we did it as a family a few years ago (2007), it would have been good to do some of the cemeteries and sites that we missed first time around – sadly we didn’t manage it this year, but we have seen some of the amazing events taking place in the UK;

The most impressive of these has been the poppies at the Tower of London, I saw these a month or so a go, and at that time they were probably three-quarters complete and already very impressive. If you have the chance to see them before Remembrance Day I would strongly recommend it – it is quite something.

However the thing that has made the greatest impression upon me this year has been the wooden crosses at Salisbury Cathedral – they were actual grave markers put up during the battles and then at the end of the war brought back by grieving relatives. They represent a tangible link to 100 years ago and consequently are ‘very real’. The photo I took (using a nifty filter on my new camera) is I think with the single red poppy quite powerful…..

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Our increasing reliance on Apps

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We are all becoming increasingly reliant upon the world of Apps – be it in the Microsoft, Apple or Google eco systems. We run our lives in the cloud on mobile devices and with total reliance upon various software, apps or similar.

I am an unashamed Apple fan, our household is now totally Apple based and my working life is only partially blighted by the world of Microsoft! The recent update by Apple to OS X 10.10 (Yosemite) and its link to iOS 8 is brilliant so I am a ‘happy chappy’ at the moment.

However, what has become very clear to me in recent months is just how reliant we can become on certain apps on our phones or tablets, and what a pain it is when one (or more) stops working! Let me explain;

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I have for years run financial software on my phone and home computer, initially on Windows mobile and then since the dawn of the iPhone on that. I had to make a move when I swapped to an iPhone and had been very happy with a program called ‘pocket money’, it had a sister app called ‘mpg’ which allowed me to record my mileage and fuel economy and link fuel purchases directly back into pocket money. Sadly the developer of both apps died around 12 months ago, there was supposed to be a person taking on the development but this has not happened and now the apps are no longer bug free (or even available in the App Store).

So I have had to find alternatives – which you would think would be easy, but I can assure you it isn’t! Despite there being a huge number of financial apps available most are frankly poor, the same with mileage and fuel logging apps.

Luckily I have found two good ones; Account Tracker for my banking, and Road Trip for my mileage, but the upheaval of transferring data and setting it back up has been quite disruptive – not something I want to repeat in a hurry! We are about to have a move to the cloud at work, hopefully I am now well prepared for that as well!

A once in a lifetime event

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This summer saw an event that probably passed by a large part of the UK without being noticed. You had to be an aircraft fan to be aware of it – but if you were, it was momentous!

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) will be known to most people from its regular appearances at memorial events and airshows. It includes a number of Second World War aircraft including Spitfires, Hurricanes and a Lancaster bomber – it is this last aircraft that was the source of my excitement this summer.

My Dad with his crew (third from left)
My Dad with his crew (second from left)

My late father never flew in anger in the Second World War, but he did learn to fly with the RAF (in Florida!), then on his return to the UK he transferred onto Lancaster bombers. He was training up on them when the war in Europe came to an end. Consequently I grew up with a man who was always moved when the Lancaster flew over. So he would have loved this summer when the only other airworthy Lancaster flew over from Canada (an amazing feat itself) and displayed all around the UK with the BBMF Lancaster!

A photo from Duxford
A photo from Duxford

To see them flying together was therefore to be somewhat of a personal pilgrimage for me. My task was not helped by the visit taking place during August when I was away for two weeks in Ibiza. However an early September display at Duxford was finally confirmed and despite large traffic jams a great day was had. It was fantastic to see in the region of 200,000 people stand and go silent as the two aircraft displayed, it was really quite moving.

A week later I visited RAF Coningsby to see both planes in their hanger and get up close to them, again an amazing once in a lifetime experience.

My Dad would have approved.

Posh camping

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The wife and I have been known to venture into the great outdoors in a tent over the last few years. I find it really relaxing and great to get back to the countryside. There are a few pre-requisites to a weekend away however – it needs to be warm, not raining, and the campsite needs good facilities and a pub within walking distance! Most of these are easy to achieve in the UK now (and especially in Derbyshire which is close by) with one exception –  the good weather!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo our recent visit to Wiltshire for a few days was ‘upgraded’ to a glamping weekend! I had seen various sites on the web with ‘pods’ when looking for campsites, but had never experienced one first hand. So our first attempt at glamping was going to be a great adventure!

And, having now ‘glamped’ for two nights in a wooden ‘pod’ at the Stonehenge Campsite (highly recommended by the way) I can confirm that it is without doubt the way to go!

The pod was large enough to contain a proper bed, a cool box, a comfy chair and even an area with a kettle and toaster! Most importantly it had a heater and electric lights and was consequently amazingly comfortable and warm. The site even has WIFI so we could keep in touch with the World if we wanted to without difficulty.

And the best bit – you don’t get woken by the sun coming through the walls of the tent at 5am! Thoroughly recommended for a few days away with a difference!

Almost World Class

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This last weekend the wife and I have been on what could be described as a bit of a personal pilgrimage (for me) – we have been to Wiltshire. More accurately we have been down to the area around Salisbury and Stonehenge, this is where I was born (Salisbury, not Stonehenge) so the area has a certain draw for me still. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the things I was looking forward to from our trip was seeing the new Stonehenge visitors centre (and the ‘improved’ area around Stonehenge itself). I was not disappointed by the new building, it is quite something, and quite ‘out there’ as far as buildings used by English Heritage go. It has some great features and somehow ‘fits in’ to the open landscape that is Salisbury Plain. Stonehenge is without doubt a World Class ‘attraction’ – it is after all a World Heritage site, so it is up there with some fairly impressive competition – The Pyramids at Giza, The Taj Mahal, The Vatican – you get the idea. So I applaud what has been achieved here, the centre is amazing and the improved landscape around the stones created by closing and removing the road past has made it feel much more ‘rural’. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHowever I get the feeling that English Heritage just aren’t used to running such a high profile site. As I have said the building is great, but the staff (who are all dressed in their corporate uniforms) just aren’t enthusiastic – or dare I say it – friendly and polite. Also there is a ‘land train’ that takes you the mile and a half down to the stones themselves. This is very slick and comprises three carriages pulled by a Land-rover, which somehow feels just right for the location. But, although there is a full PA system in the land train it isn’t made use of it to tell the visitors about the site and build the moment before it comes into view (the new visitor centre is well away from the stones). If this was an attraction in the USA the trip there would be used to set the scene, not just to inform you the trip will take 5 to 7 minutes and not to open the windows! Yes there is an audio tour you can take, and the audio visual in the centre really is first class. But for an adult ticket at £14.90, (concession £13.40, child £8.90 and family £38.70) I personally expect just a bit more?

The wonder of fibre…

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I have been a long term user of the Virgin fibre network in Nottingham (originally NTL), for both my TV and internet. It is fair to say that until recently their service has been brilliant, with downtime counted in hours over many years.

Sadly over the last few weeks there have been some issues – the majority national ones caused by DNS server issues – something that could happen to any provider but extremely annoying! Add to this the recent underground fire that completely took out much of South Notts as far as Virgin was concerned for days and you get the picture – I was ready to call the retention department at Virgin to vent my frustrations.

speed

So the other day I rang, was offered some deals to stay by the ‘normal’ call centre, but was then passed to retention and got a monthly reduction and a speed increase to 152mb for my broadband.

Now you read about fast connections and how quickly things download at this connection speed – but when you actually experience 152mbps it is really impressive! And my connection currently is slightly faster than that as you can see above! Very large downloads (GB’s) take a few minutes rather than half an hour or more. I am impressed and as long as the recent DNS issues are a thing of the past I will continue to praise Virgin Broadband.

Pebble Smartwatch – update

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Marrakech - very sunny!
Marrakech – very sunny!

Back in January I ordered a Pebble Steel smart watch (or more accurately my wife did for my Birthday). It took a while to arrive, but when it did I loved it, the question is after 6 months do I still love it (and is there anything yet I would swap it for)?

Firstly as a wearable watch it has at least a 5 day battery life, and because it has a black and white screen it is very easy to see it bright sunlight (it also has a back light which can be switched on with a ‘flick of the wrist’). I can also change watch faces to suite my mood – it can be traditional or more ‘random’ – and can include weather information, my next appointment – almost anything!

A more 'trad' face - with weather
A more ‘trad’ face – with weather

I do find the ability to see who is calling me or who an email or text is from without having to pull out my iPhone incredibly useful. Yes, I still have to grab my phone to speak to a caller (although I can drop a call from the watch) and I can’t speak to people via the watch – but it allows me to screen calls. Emails and texts can be screened in a similar way. It is great if I am in a meeting, I can look briefly at my watch and see what has hit my phone without picking it up. Much less intrusive on the meeting and not as rude! Plus the look on people’s faces when they realise ‘the watch’ is showing emails or callers details is priceless!

When I am on site and have my hands full of a clipboard, tape measure and camera it fulfils a similar role, if I am in a large empty factory it is often a pain to have to put everything on the floor to get my phone out – when I may not actually need to!

Next bus near me...
Next bus near me…

And then there are the ‘apps’ that can be installed on the watch. The most used one I have is Smartwatch+, this can do a variety of things, but I use it to put my appointments on the watch, my task list, the weather and the stock market (specific share prices).

I also have an app called PebbGPS, it uses the iPhone to provide turn by turn directions to my wrist – surprisingly useful when walking across London or a similar sized city. It can also link to RunKeeper and provides times, distances etc to the watch.

Using UK Transport I can find out when the next bus or tube is due (it finds where you are and provides the closest stops). I also have been using a World Cup app that gave me up to the minute scores in the big games, and an App for the cricket (similar to the World Cup one). So the main points are…

The good things;

  • I can ‘screen’ emails, calls, texts when otherwise engaged
  • It is clear to see in the brightest sun
  • I can swap to different watch faces
  • Using apps it can provide various information without pulling out my iPhone
  • It’s waterproof – handy for an electrical item!
  • 5 day battery life
  • It can control my iPod music

The less good things;

  • B&W display (not actually a big issue)
  • It works best with iOS rather than Android (not a problem for me..)
  • not much else

In a nutshell I am still as taken with it as when I goy it, it is still a source of interest / amusement from colleagues and clients, but it does I think add something to my life. It will be interesting to see how Apples iWatch compares when it appears but at the moment I wouldn’t replace it with anything else….