Finally, South West Trains join the Smart Card generation!

I may be learning to drive with the intention of replacing buses and trains with a car so I can drive door-to-door from home to work (and vice versa), but it may be a few more months yet.  In the meantime, the good news is that South West Trains has finally brought out a smart card which is used like an Oyster card to get through the ticket barriers without the wear and tear on paper tickets.

I’ve just registered to get one, and hopefully I’ll never have to spend time getting my monthly ticket replaced because the ticket machines have chewed/destroyed them.  Apparently the Plus Bus aspect will still work, but obviously that bit will remain paper (which is fair enough because you only have to show that to the driver – it goes nowhere near a machine).

You can get more information and register for a South West Trains smart card here.

Sky Q Installation Part 2: “You can do it if you Sky Q it..”

(Awaits letter from B&Q solicitors)

[ Part One ] [ Part Two ] [ Part Three ] [ I’m with Virgin Media now, Feb 2017 ]

My Sky Broadband Unlimited is all set-up and running at home now.  Around 11Mbs down, 1Mbs up. Somewhat of a difference in comparison to my Virgin Media connection of up to 200Mbs down and 11Mbs up. But SBU is free and I shouldn’t complain.

I was right as to why Sky Broadband wasn’t working in the first place: BT Openreach hadn’t removed the Infinity kit at the cabinet, so my phone line was unable to talk to the Sky equipment at the local exchange until BT Openreach reconfigured the cabinet wiring (which they did yesterday).

I also discovered another issue during all this – caller ID wasn’t working on the Sky Talk package, but a quick call to Sky resolved that.  I must admit to being very impressed with Sky Customer service.  While it did take a while to get to speak to special Q operative, it wasn’t wholly unpleasant. They play the theme tunes to some of Sky’s most popular TV shows – Mad Men, Game of Thrones, etc. while you wait.

Well, the result of all this is that I’ve now ordered an upgrade to Sky Fibre Unlimited Pro.  This will give a theoretical maximum of 80Mbs down, 20Mbs up.  The intriguing thing is that assuming the local exchange supports it, I should be able to get a static IP for my broadband connection.  This will be very, very useful for firewalling purposes when using my personal servers.  However, the static IP functionality isn’t guaranteed at the time of the order, so we’ll wait and see.  But what this will do is to allow me to drop Virgin Media in a few months time and rely entirely on Sky.  They say don’t put all your eggs in one basket, but .. urgh .. I believe in better.  If nothing else, I should be able to talk to the right people if things do go wrong.  And I’ll just have to deal with one bill each month, rather than multiple.

The Sky Q hub itself isn’t bad.  Initial tests show a sturdy unit capable of 802.11ac with reasonable throughput. The only downside so far is there are only two ethernet ports.  But I intend to keep the Sky Q Silver box and Apple TV (running tvOS) wireless, with my Philips Hue light bridge and UHD TV on ethernet.  I did try an 8 port gigabit ethernet switch with the Sky Q unit, but the Philips Hue bridge would not work with it correctly. I’ll need to take a look at the switch (a Netgear) configuration to ensure that both the Sky Q hub and the switch are correctly configured.  The switch wasn’t configured to issue DHCP requests and I configured it to be a dumb, dumb switch when it was connected to the Virgin Media Superhub.  More tinkering is needed.

This morning I came down and woke the MacBook Pro from sleep to find that it was taking an age connecting to sites.  Having not much luck with routers that attempt to combine 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands into a single overlapping SSID, I’ve taken the opportunity of splitting the SSIDs into two separate names – one for 5Ghz and one for 2.4Ghz.  I’ve had no trouble with this on the Virgin Media SuperHub AC, so let’s see what the Sky Q Hub does.  I’ll report on progress as and when.

Update: The reason for the connection problem above was due to TWO backup programs (Arq and Backblaze) consuming the full 1Mbs upstream.  Ping times went from around 25ms to over 600ms and performance was as slow as heck.  So I’ve temporarily disabled the backups until next week (when the Fibre Pro goes live), and moved everything back to a single SSID covering both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands.  All is now well.

Driving, MISS!, Drakey

This week’s driving lesson was a bit different from the others so far – I got to drive myself home.

After a week’s absence from the wheel, things looked to be okay, but the first faux pax came when I failed to give way to a car coming from the right at a roundabout in Bramley.  I thought I had enough clearance – not so.  Thank goodness these learner cars have an extra set of pedals on the passenger’s side!

Speaking of pedals, another problem I encountered – twice, in fact – was that my size 12 feet managed to hit both the gas AND brake pedals simultaneously.  The car does not like that.  The engine will absolutely tell you that it doesn’t like that.  This is despite my driving instructor also having size 12 feet, and that this particular model of car has particularly wider spacing between the brake and accelerator pedals.

Other muck-ups included super confused signalling at a double roundabout near St. Johns, priority over a small junction (moving to the middle and then turning), and some speed issues.  If there was one thing I’d really like to see happen is if the speed signs could be more prominently placed along the side of the roads, with the size of the signs being kept equal.  Some of them are so small!  I encountered a section of road that allowed me to travel up to the national speed limit, but I missed the sign that told me that.  So I kept a steady 40mph as I tend to do.

I also need to ensure I follow the shape of the roundabout if I’m going to use the second exit.  Not, as I was doing, just driving forwards.  Similarly, I need to do better at remaining in lanes when filtering into a lane and turning at a junction which continues that lane filtering.  Keep everything smooth during the turn.


Despite these errors, I managed to get myself home and park accordingly.  I’ll be doing this a couple more times over the next couple of weeks.


iPad Pro – a few months on

So how’s the iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil working out?

Well, I don’t use the Apple Pencil anywhere near what I thought.  But having bought an notepad app which can combine text, graphics and handwritten notes into one, I hope to make more use of it as the number of meetings at work increase.

The Smart Keyboard continues to work well.  I really do enjoy using it.  But there is still a bug in iOS where iOS seems to remember incorrect capitalisation and is a pain to correct it: one has to backspace more than needed to be able to switch a capital letter to a lower case letter.

The biggest problem continues to be the lack of app support for this device.  I cannot tell you how frustrating it is that there are still too many Google iOS apps that don’t support the higher resolution of the iPad Pro.  Google Docs is one such example (and still feels too slow when typing despite having a good 4G connection and the power of the A9X 64-bit processor).  YouTube has only just received iPad Pro support.  It’s a similar story for other media streaming services – we’re only now getting iPad Pro resolution support.  Also amazing the number of apps that have only just gotten around to updating their support for iOS 9 despite how long the mobile OS has been around in the wild.

I’m still waiting on Microsoft to allow us to have default zoom views for Word documents.  New or newly opened documents are zoomed too much by default.  Pinching and zooming in/out works, but it’d be lovely to save that view for reuse.

Facebook hasn’t updated its main app for iPad to support iPad Pro, thus the text and graphics are all enlarged and making the experience an ugly one.  The same can be said of LinkedIn.

If the rumours of a smaller 9.7″ iPad Pro being released (or at least announced) by the end of March are true, this will more than likely mean that it’ll have a similar if not better resolution than the 12.9″ behemoth.  How long before the app developers get around to supporting it?  At the moment it’s all rather slow and depressing.

Sky Q Installation part 1: “Openreach for the Sky, mister!”

[ Part One ] [ Part Two ] [ Part Three ] [ I’m with Virgin Media now, Feb 2017 ]

In a two, possibly three part, series of blog posts about the Sky Q installation, I’ll highlight the areas where it was fantastic and areas where it wasn’t quite so fantastic.  With the actual Q installation not far off, my biggest problem at the moment is getting Sky Broadband Unlimited working at home.

The Sky Q Hub –  the centre of the Sky Q universe

’tis a lovely looking piece of kit.  Black, and smallish, and with just two ethernet ports and an A|VDSL phone connect socket, it’s simple, but should offer a range of features that should pummel the Virgin Media SuperHub 2AC into submission.  Especially with built-in powerline support.

But alas! I can’t use it yet.  For you see, despite being hooked up to Sky Broadband at the local exchange, and I have Sky Talk activated and working (albeit for a lack of caller ID it seems – I need to check that out), there appears to be sweet nothing at all internet-wise between my house and the exchange, which leads me to think BT Openreach did something when I let BT Infinity 2 go last year.  Thankfully I currently have Virgin Media’s Vivid 200 package at the moment, but for me it’s a bit of an overkill.  I’m looking to eventually move to Sky Fibre Unlimited or Fibre Unlimited Pro (if it ever comes to my area).

Without Sky Broadband working, and without the Sky Q Hub talking to Sky Broadband, the Sky Q installation is about as much use as a dead pigeon in pigeon racing.  Nobody knows if Sky Q Silver will work straight out the box with a Virgin Media connection if Sky Q Hub isn’t working due to Openreach mucking things up – probably not within the installer’s remit if so.

The BT Openreach Problem

I spoke – at some length – to a lady at Sky who took me through all the diagnostic bits and bobs, including removing the faceplate from my former BT Infinity connection to test voice and data.  Voice works, data doesn’t.   She was exceptionally helpful and patient, and indeed, it was one of the best support experiences I’ve encountered with any company in ages.  So I was impressed with Sky’s support despite the problems – not that I’ve had to use it much over the years.  It’s generally Just Worked(tm).   So a Sky engineer was booked for the previous weekend.

The Sky engineer turns up, but does nothing.  Because he can’t, unfortunately.  The frustration with BT and Openreach is that non-BT/Openreach folk don’t have access to the cabinets to check and perform tests between the cabinet and the house it’s supposed to be connected to.   That’s where I reckon the problem lies.  After many phone calls, some of which were bounced about because my account is now with the Sky Q team now, an appointment has been arranged for BT Openreach to come out and get the problem fixed.

Further updates as they occur this week, but I’m putting my money on the cabinet.