The Joys of Commuting

Last week’s commute was just horrific.  It took me three hours to get home on two days out of the five, with one of those days seeing the bus between the railway station and my village break down 10 minutes into the journey.  I had to get an Uber to get home.

But there is one thing that makes my commute a little better.  I managed to source Apple’s Airpods a couple of weeks ago from a store in Wimbledon.  And they’re just terrific.  I’ve spent a happy week listening to the audio book version of Terry Pratchett’s Thud! via Audible, and these things made carrying a pair of earphones a breeze.  They live in my trouser pocket, and I just have to whip them out whenever I need them.  No cables.  No fuss.

They look flippin’ odd, but their portability more than makes up for it.

The only problem with the AirPods is that they don’t block out the sounds of trains whizzing past, nor do they block the sound of the train guard announcing things at every station stop.  Otherwise, they’re brilliant for listening to audio books, and they’re not bad at listening to music.

If only they’d get rid of :

  • Signalling problems across the South Western Railway network
  • Disruptive passengers
  • Broken down trains

and improve:

  • More direct trains from Woking to Wimbledon and vice versa
  • Lazy people not putting their discarded coffee cups and rubbish in bins mere meters away
  • My memory – I left my umbrella on a train a couple of weeks ago – the day it absolutely hammered down with rain

Game of Phones part.. oh, I’ve lost track now.. and the big screen experience at home

September is traditionally the time in which the two biggest players in the smartphone market release (or at least announce) their newest flagship phones to the masses.

Apple is due to announce the new iPhone 8 range of phones on September 12th, whereas Samsung is releasing the new Galaxy Note 8 a few days later.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve really struggled to move to Android and have always returned to iOS.  When I got the Galaxy Note 7, I absolutely loved that phone, but the whole battery/recall situation was unpleasant enough (which also took me to the Galaxy S7 Edge and Google Pixel XL) that I just bit the bullet and went back to an iPhone.  Earlier this year I had a brief encounter with the Galaxy S8+, but one of my most valued (and most used) applications kept crashing under Android and that forced me back to the iPhone – again.

Right now I’m thinking the best strategy would simply to keep using the iPhone 7 Plus that I have and wait it out until later next year to see what’s happened between the Note 8 and iPhone 8.  But I really like the look of the Note 8 – it’s square shape, the S-Pen and the dual cameras (both of which feature optical image stabilisation – a first for any smartphone) all appeal.  I liked that I could jot down phone numbers or write notes when the screen was off with the Note 7.  That’s great value to me.  With the iPhone 8, I stay within the Apple ecosystem with the Apple Watch and the MacBook Pro 2017 Kaby Lake (13″).

Speaking of the MacBook Pro, I decided that, as I will be occasionally working from home with my new job (which is going great, BTW – there’s a LOT to keep me occupied) to buy myself a monitor.  I’ve been using laptops almost exclusively close to nearly 15 years, and I’d never thought about buying an external monitor to use with them.  Back at Memset, I had a single monitor (21″) that kept me going for 5 years (whereas colleagues had multiple monitors) that I hooked up to my MacBook Air.  It was okay, and as such, I felt that I didn’t really need that sort of set-up at home.  This new job, on the other hand, gives me two 21″ monitors out the box on a desktop based Ubuntu OS (it was running Windows).

So last week, having endured two weeks where I had to work at least one day per week at home due to the South Western Railway signal/Waterloo upgrade situation, I decided that what I really needed to be able to work comfortably at home with a trillion SSH sessions going on, a web browser or three, and a Slack session all running at the same time was a monitor.  I had a look at Ultra HD/4K monitors and ruled them out due to cost.  I think it may be another year or two before costs are driven down.   So I had a look at a decent 21-24″ full HD monitor that would be both cost-effective and last me for a couple of years (or more).

I looked at a Samsung curved monitor, then ruled that out as it looked too odd.  Then there was the LG 25UM58-P-25 21:9 aspect ratio ultra-wide monitor, which looks incredible, but I wondered if it would fit on my desk.  I finally settled down on a Dell 2418H InfinityEdge display from John Lewis. £200.  It’s a lovely display and comes with its own speakers (tuned by Waves Maxx Audio) that sit within the stand.  The quality of the image is fantastic.  Yes, you can see the pixels in text given that it’s only a Full HD display and the Mac is capable of driving much higher resolutions – but for my needs it’s perfectly fine (the laptop screen runs at 1600×900 and this display runs at 1980×1080 – then when you combine both screens, I have substantially more real screen estate to play with now).

I also had to buy a new dongle for the Mac because of Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports don’t allow me to directly hook up to an external monitor without one.  I settled for a Cable Matters USB-C to 4K HDMI multiport adapter.  This also gives me a gigabit ethernet port and two USB 3 ports.  And it works brilliantly.  It also works with my Dell XPS 13 (9350) too.

Speaking of the Dell XPS 13 9350, I think it may be time to say goodbye to the only decent Windows machine I’ve used in the past year.  Dell is just about to refresh the line with the brand spanking new 8th generation Intel processors which bring quad core processing to 13″ notebooks for the very first time.  So if anybody is looking out for a very good Windows laptop with 16Gb RAM and 1Tb SSD, and still carries an on-site warranty until 2019 – please get in touch (details in the About Martyn page – link on the left).

iPad Pro 10.5″ is getting closer to replacing your computer

I am a big fan of Apple’s tablet range, and having owned the previous generation 12.9″ iPad Pro and the 9.7″ iPad Pro, they were pretty decent beasts.  But they were not enough to replace my laptop.

A year and a bit on since the 12.9″ iPad Pro was launched, Apple have jazzed up the the iPad Pro range with a new 12.9″ model, and a brand new 10.5″ model replacing the 9.7″.

I have just replaced the 9.7″ with the 10.5″ model which now comes with a staggering 512Gb of storage.  I’ve already filled it with 200Gb of TV shows (ready for my upcoming cruise).  The A10X Fusion chip that’s driving the new 10.5″ and 12.9 iPad Pro is nothing short of remarkable.  The benchmarks alone put this thing up into the MacBook Pro processing range for some tests.

But what’s particularly special about the new 10.5″ and 12.9″ iPad Pros is the display.  The ProMotion 120Hz refresh rate is nothing short of a revolution in tablet display tech.  Heck, even most modern monitors can’t achieve this level – not unless you go for specialist gaming or creative monitors costing many hundreds of pounds.  “Smooth as butter” is probably the aptest description I can give to anything utilising 120Hz refresh.  Swiping between pages or scrolling up and down in Empire Magazine’s app gives you a whole new experience of reading material on this device.  The Times and Sunday Times electronic newspapers are similarly impressive when scrolling through articles or swiping through pages.  The additional inch of screen real estate also makes reading electronic comics much easier too.  And the whole thing – especially as Apple no longer provide back covers for the iPad Pros – feels lighter than the previous gen. It feels very comfortable in one hand.

The 120Hz ProMotion feature also comes into play if you’re drawing or writing with the Apple Pencil.  Latency has been reduced to 20ms, and it’s as close to instantaneous response as you’re going to get (well, until the next generation of ProMotion at least).  I can provide a better signature with this thing.  Writing on the iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil is a much better experience.

The only thing I would mention is that everything feels a little too big when it comes to icon arrangements on the home screen.  I’ve made the text smaller, but there’s still a lot more space between the icons.  I’d like a feature like the iPhone Plus 7 where I can condense the space a bit more.  Similarly, the smaller font I’ve selected makes the tablet font rendering in some apps look a bit odd.  At times it feels like I’m using .. da da daaaa .. Android.  So I think Apple has got to do a bit more work smoothing out font rendering a bit more.  That said, this problem may go away in iOS 11 – an OS that will take iPads to a whole new level (seriously, this WILL make the tablet looks and feel like a proper computer from what I saw during the live WWDC video stream) .

(Note: the 10.5″ Ipad Pro’s display is a little too large to read novels, so I’ll always carry my e-Ink Kindle with me, but it’s ideal for reference material.  As I have taken advantage of a few Humble Bundle reference books over the past couple of years, I have quite a few O’Reilly and other technical books which render fantastically well on this device under iBooks)

So to the naysayers that thought the iPad had run out of steam.  Oh no.  No, no, no.  Apple have only just started.  I am delighted with the 10.5″ iPad Pro.  The storage space, the display, the lightness, AND with the leather pouch (ooer-missus), to protect both the device and the Apple Pencil will ensure that it’ll be a brilliant second computer to carry around with me – and will be used daily.

The House of Fun: Galaxy S7 Edge photo test

Last night I met up with a fellow former Google Apps Top Contributor who was in London for a few days.  Anurag and I went on a whistlestop tour of Westminister and the South Bank, stopping off at the local McDonalds for something to eat and drink.  It was absolutely boiling, but I managed to take some great photos using my Galaxy S7 Edge camera.  Clicking on each photo opens the original file, so you can see how detailed the full-size image is.

Much better than the iPhone 6S Plus in my opinion.

We did spot a large number of journalists along the South Bank setting up camera kit for their reports on the EU Referendum.  Most of them were standing against the backdrop of the Houses of Parliment.  I’d imagine today the South Bank is overrun with reporters.

Also: Android Pay, like Apple Pay, can be pretty spotty on TfL contactless readers. Sometimes you have to change to a different barrier if the one you want to use rejects the phone/card.  Do hope TfL fixes this.

Book ’em Danno!

Okay, but my name’s not Danno (it’s Raymond Luxury Yacht)..

I’ve taken the first step in getting my full driving license – booked the theory test via the Government services site.  Ironically the tests are administered by Pearson Vue, an American company.  But they drive on the other side of the road!

August 2, 8am – just before I head to work.  That gives me a little over a month and a bit to revise and make sure I understand all the major signs and to brush up on my hazard awareness.  Mind you, if I’m learning on the job during the practical lessons, I’m doing it wrong.  And speaking of the practical lessons – they’re a mixed bag.  On one hand I’ve nearly had a head-on collision when checking my mirrors parking outside my house – the other time was not letting a van exit the roundabout (“the roundabout’s MINE – ALL MINE!”).  And let’s not forgetting almost flattening a cyclist when I “guessed” how far behind he was when overtaking rather than using my mirrors.

Sigh.  Roll on autonomous cars..