Neil Turner's Blog http://www.neilturner.me.uk Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002 Fri, 28 Nov 2014 09:48:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 Red Spotted No-thankyhttp://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/11/28/red-spotted-no-thanky.html http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/11/28/red-spotted-no-thanky.html#comments Fri, 28 Nov 2014 09:48:07 +0000 http://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=11965 In the past I’ve recommended Red Spotted Hanky (RSH), a web site for buying train tickets. Today, I’m withdrawing this recommendation, and here’s why, along with alternatives. Booking fees Earlier this year Red Spotted Hanky introduced a £1 fee for … Continue reading

Red Spotted No-thanky originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Train crossing the Calder

In the past I’ve recommended Red Spotted Hanky (RSH), a web site for buying train tickets. Today, I’m withdrawing this recommendation, and here’s why, along with alternatives.

Booking fees

Earlier this year Red Spotted Hanky introduced a £1 fee for every booking, when previously you just paid for the cost of the tickets. Competitors like thetrainline and RailEasy also do this but it’s an extra cost. Bookings made directly with train operators don’t incur charges, even if the journey your making isn’t on that company’s trains.

Postage fees

At the same time, Red Spotted Hanky also introduced fees for posting your tickets to you. Previously you only had to pay extra if you wanted next-day delivery – standard first class delivery was free. Now that costs £1 too – the only way to avoid charges is to collect your tickets from a self-service machine at the station from which you will be departing from. Which is usually fine, unless your local station doesn’t have a ticket machine, or it’s out of order like the one at our local station often is. Other ticket sites still offer free postage.

Loyalty points

Purchases from Red Spotted Hanky accrue ‘loyalty points’, which can be redeemed for money off future travel or discounts at retailers and restaurants, at the rate of 1 point for every pound spent. For regular travellers this can clock up quickly and result in some decent discounts. Except that RSH reset all points gained at the end of each calendar year – I lost 77 points last year but some lost 1600 – worth £16 off travel. You need to make sure any points you have are redeemed before the end of the year.

Alternatively, if you buy tickets from First Hull Trains, First Great Western or First Transpennine Express you can gain 2 Nectar points for every £1 spent, which can be redeemed anywhere which accepts Nectar. None of these three charge booking fees. That being said, First haven’t had much luck with winning or retaining rail franchises of late so whether these offers will stand in future remains to be seen.

Cashback

It used to be that Quidco members received 1.5% cashback on all purchases from Red Spotted Hanky. But this arrangement ceased recently, although I’m still waiting for a few pennies of cashback for tickets that I bought over six months ago to be paid.

East Midlands Trains still has an arrangement with Quidco – up to 2.5% cashback for tickets on its own services, and 1% for tickets bought for use on services run by other operators.

But you can still use Clubcard deal vouchers

Red Spotted Hanky still accepts Tesco Clubcard vouchers, and doubles their value – £5 of Clubcard vouchers gets you £10 off train tickets. If you’re a Clubcard holder then it may still be worthwhile using RSH, although you will have to pay their booking and postage fees now. If not, then I would advise against using them.

Red Spotted No-thanky originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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East Coast trains to be run by Virginhttp://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/11/27/east-coast-trains-run-virgin.html http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/11/27/east-coast-trains-run-virgin.html#comments Thu, 27 Nov 2014 10:45:54 +0000 http://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=11961 This morning, the government announced that a consortium of Stagecoach and Virgin will take over the East Coast rail franchise in March 2015. Although Stagecoach own 90% of the consortium, Virgin’s 10% stake means that the trains will carry the … Continue reading

East Coast trains to be run by Virgin originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Pendolino

This morning, the government announced that a consortium of Stagecoach and Virgin will take over the East Coast rail franchise in March 2015. Although Stagecoach own 90% of the consortium, Virgin’s 10% stake means that the trains will carry the Virgin brand, like those that currently operate on the West Coast Main Line (Virgin’s west coast franchise is 49% Stagecoach and 51% Virgin).

The awarding of this franchise has been controversial, and more-so than most others, because for the past five years the East Coast ‘franchise’ has been operated by the government. In 2009 the previous franchisee, National Express, surrendered the franchise after only a couple of years as it was making a loss. National Express had won the franchise in 2007 after the original operator GNER also surrendered as well. Rather than run yet another franchise competition, the Labour government at the time decided to bring operations in house, using a holding company called ‘Directly Operated Railways’ (DOR) and branded the services ‘East Coast’.

The intention was always to return the franchise to the private sector, even when Labour was in government, but originally this was to happen within two years, rather than five. I believe there have been several factors that caused the delay:

  • The mess that GNER and National Express left. GNER was originally one of the better franchisees, having invested in a high-quality refurbishment of its trains, being one of the first to introduce on-board wifi and improve its offerings for first class customers. But after it retained its franchise in 2005 it started cutting costs, and National Express continued this, including maintenance cutbacks. An example was a reduction in maintenance of the automatic doors, which meant that when East Coast took over the doors were becoming increasingly unreliable.
  • The fallout from the failed franchise competition for the West Coast Main Line in 2012. In August of that year, the government announced that Virgin were to lose the franchise to FirstGroup, but irregularities in the process led to the competition being cancelled and all other competitions being delayed. Virgin remain in charge of the West Coast franchise through ‘direct awards’ – essentially franchise extensions, with a new competition due in a few years.
  • A major timetable change, called ‘Eureka’ took place in 2011 and this took some time to bed down.

DOR’s aim was to turn the East Coast franchise around, so that it would be in a better state to return to the private sector. East Coast’s train livery was kept deliberately neutral so that a new franchisee could easily re-brand the trains in their own colours, and the East Coast brand could be transferred to a new owner if required. Evidently this took longer than anticipated.

Of course, once the franchise was back in the public sector, after 12 years of privatisation, there were arguments that it should stay there. The improvements made, along with a subsequent increase in passenger numbers, means that DOR has returned around £1 billion in premium payments to the government. And as DOR is not a private company, it doesn’t have any shareholders or investors who would want a share of the profits.

Labour, now in opposition but seeking re-election in next year’s General Election, have made it their policy that DOR should also be able bid for franchises along with private-sector businesses. I don’t really agree with this as private companies spend millions on their bids, many of which aren’t successful and this could be a waste of money if DOR has a low success rate. In any case, it’ll be too late for East Coast – Virgin will take over the new franchise two months before the election, and will run it for at least 7 years.

Stagecoach now has an effective monopoly on north-south train services. It operates East Midlands Trains on the Midland Main Line between London St Pancras and Sheffield, and with Virgin it operates the London Euston to Glasgow services. Now it’ll also operate the London King’s Cross to Edinburgh services too, meaning that the only other operators for north-south services will be the open access companies First Hull Trains and Grand Central. Stagecoach also operates Megabus with a significant proportion of north-south coach traffic.

On the plus side, the new franchise should see some positive changes. From 2020, new trains 140mph built by Hitachi in the north-east will be introduced, and there will be more services serving new cities. A map shows that Bradford will gain an additional 6 direct services to London each weekday – right now East Coast offers a token service in each direction, with Grand Central running four trains each way to Bradford Interchange. Harrogate and Lincoln will also benefit from similar service increases, and Huddersfield will gain a token direct daily service for the first time. Existing stations such as York, Newcastle and Leeds will also see additional services running. These new services will start in 2019, subject to Network Rail granting access to the track.

Personally I’d have liked East Coast to stay in public hands, and other franchises to join it as and when the current contracts run out. But realistically this would never have happened – none of the main political parties show any willingness to roll back rail privatisation. I just hope that Virgin continue DOR’s work at improving the service that runs on the East Coast Main Line and stick to their promises, without massively raising ticket prices.

East Coast trains to be run by Virgin originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Home media streaming with Plexhttp://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/11/25/home-media-streaming-plex.html http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/11/25/home-media-streaming-plex.html#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 09:18:36 +0000 http://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=11956 If you have a lot of media stored on your computer, and you want to be able to watch it on other devices – your TV, or a tablet, for example – then Plex is one of the best ways … Continue reading

Home media streaming with Plex originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Screenshot of Plex on iPad

If you have a lot of media stored on your computer, and you want to be able to watch it on other devices – your TV, or a tablet, for example – then Plex is one of the best ways to go about it. Originally a fork of XBMC (now known as Kodi), Plex has matured to the point where it is really easy to set up and use.

It works as a client and server. You install the free server software on the computer that has your media – be it films, music or photos – and then install client apps on your devices where you want to watch that media. Plex makes its money by charging for these apps, and for its premium Plex Pass tier which adds some cloud features.

What sets Plex aside from its rivals is its very broad platform support. The server software runs on Windows, Mac and Linux, but the client apps also run on iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices. And if you have an Xbox, Roku, ChromeCast, Ouya, Amazon Fire TV or Google TV device, there are Plex apps available too, along with smart TVs from Vizio, Samsung and LG. So you should find that Plex works with the equipment you already have, rather than having to buy another thing to plug into your TV. This is where Plex’s rival Boxee perhaps went wrong, as it required an extra set-top box; Boxee was recently acquired by Samsung and no longer offers its software for download.

When you install the Plex Media Server on a Mac, it will automatically make your iTunes music and video, and your iPhoto photos, available. You can then add any other folder with media in it, which Plex will download cover art and plot synopses for automatically. Plex also handles transcoding, so you don’t need to worry about what format your media is in – as long as Plex can open it, then you’ll be able to play it regardless of what your device normally supports.

You can also add internet TV channels. There’s a BBC iPlayer app, for example, although I don’t think it’s official and it’s not as good as the app on my Roku device. YouTube, Vimeo and Apple Movie Trailers channels are also available.

My only issue with Plex is that the server software will not run on a Raspberry Pi. RasPlex turns a Raspberry Pi into a Plex client, so you can hook it up to a TV, but you can’t plug an external hard drive with ripped films on it into your Raspberry Pi and have them available to watch on other devices. This is mainly down to the lack of processing power in the Raspberry Pi but it’s still a bit of a shame.

I would definitely recommend checking Plex out. Especially as its client apps are on sale this week.

Home media streaming with Plex originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Susan Calmanhttp://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/11/24/susan-calman.html http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/11/24/susan-calman.html#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 16:16:59 +0000 http://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=11952 After seeing Frisky & Mannish on Friday, Christine and I went to another comedy gig on Sunday. This time it was to see Susan Calman, a diminutive Scottish lesbian and stand-up comedian on her tour ‘Ladylike’, at the Trades Club … Continue reading

Susan Calman originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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ACMS #8 @ Edfringe13: Susan CalmanAfter seeing Frisky & Mannish on Friday, Christine and I went to another comedy gig on Sunday. This time it was to see Susan Calman, a diminutive Scottish lesbian and stand-up comedian on her tour ‘Ladylike’, at the Trades Club in Hebden Bridge. Hebden Bridge is something of a lesbian capital and so it was not surprising that the gig had sold out a few weeks ago.

I’m familiar with Susan Calman through her work on BBC Radio 4 – she is a regular guest on the weekly panel show The News Quiz, and has presented two series of her own show Susan Calman is Convicted. On TV, she’s appeared on Have I Got News For You and a few other programmes, mainly in Scotland. She’s been top of my list of stand-up comedians whom I have yet to see live so last night was a chance to fix this.

And I’m pleased to say it was really worth waiting for. Calman is a fantastic observational comedian, with all of her material drawn from her own life and experiences. It helps that she has an interesting story to tell – about her height, her sexuality, her career change and her three cats, each of whom has its own theme song.

Her tour continues into next year and whilst a number of dates are already sold out, hopefully there will be a gig near you with tickets still available. If you want to hear someone who is charming, inspirational and, most of all, hilariously funny, then find the time to go and see her when you can. Tour dates are on her web site.

Now, to make time to see Bethany Black and Chris Addison, who make up the rest of my list of comedians to see live.

Photo by Isabelle on Flickr, CC-licensed.

Susan Calman originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Frisky & Mannishhttp://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/11/23/frisky-mannish.html http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/11/23/frisky-mannish.html#comments Sun, 23 Nov 2014 18:33:00 +0000 http://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=11947 On Friday Christine and iI went to The Wardrobe in Leeds to see Frisky & Mannish – a cabaret act who parody popular music. We’ve seen them before in September 2012 when they came to Bradford – we stopped back … Continue reading

Frisky & Mannish originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Frisky & Mannish at the Bradford Alhambra Studio, September 2012

On Friday Christine and iI went to The Wardrobe in Leeds to see Frisky & Mannish – a cabaret act who parody popular music. We’ve seen them before in September 2012 when they came to Bradford – we stopped back after the gig for the above photo. Which, incidentally, was one of the last photos taken on my iPhone 4 before I replaced it with my current phone.

Anyhow, as we enjoyed ourselves so much last time, we made a point of booking tickets for their gig in Leeds. This was for their new show, ‘#justtoomuch’, which was a departure from their previous shows. Whereas in the past they have focussed on ‘educating’ people about pop music, this show was about celebrity excess and the inevitable fall into depression and drug abuse – see Amy Winehouse, Miley Cirus et al.

Which sounds depressing but it’s put together in a great way. 2/3rds of the show was made up of new material, including some topical jibes at Bob Geldof, ballet dancing and made-up letters from Sinead O’Connor.

The rest was set aside for their greatest hits – nursery rhymes set to the tune of ‘Sound of the Underground’ by Girls Aloud (“The wheels on the bus go round/The wheels on the bus go round and round…”), ‘Beep’ by the Pussycat Dolls in the style of a Blackpool end of the peer variety act, and various love songs with creepy undertones sung in a psychotic way.

Frisky & Mannish have a very loyal fan base – Frisky asked the crowd who had been to one of their gigs before and more than half had – but it’s easy to see why people keep on coming back. F&M’s current tour has a few more nights to go, so if they’re in your area I’d thoroughly recommend taking the time to see them. If you remain unconvinced, their previous three shows are free to watch on YouTube, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Frisky & Mannish originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Links from Pinboard for November 22, 2014http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/11/22/links-from-pinboard-for-november-22-2014.html http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/11/22/links-from-pinboard-for-november-22-2014.html#comments Sat, 22 Nov 2014 09:30:26 +0000 http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/11/22/links-from-pinboard-for-november-22-2014.html Here are the articles or web sites that I’ve found this week and linked to on my Pinboard Bookmarks: Virus that 'makes humans more stupid' discovered – Science – News – The Independent Scientists have discovered a ‘stupidity virus’ that … Continue reading

Links from Pinboard for November 22, 2014 originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Here are the articles or web sites that I’ve found this week and linked to on my Pinboard Bookmarks:

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Links from Pinboard for November 22, 2014 originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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The Record Café, Bradfordhttp://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/11/21/record-cafe-bradford.html http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/11/21/record-cafe-bradford.html#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 17:34:49 +0000 http://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=11940 Last night I went to a preview night at Bradford’s newest bar, The Record Café, on North Parade. Officially it opens tonight, and it will be a great new addition to Bradford’s new independent quarter. The Record Café is three … Continue reading

The Record Café, Bradford originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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The Record Café

Last night I went to a preview night at Bradford’s newest bar, The Record Café, on North Parade. Officially it opens tonight, and it will be a great new addition to Bradford’s new independent quarter.

The Record Café is three things. First and foremost it’s a bar, with four hand-pulled cask beers and six keg beers, along with a fridge full of bottled beer. Most of the beers are either British (Saltaire, Great Heck, Brewdog and Camden Town were present when I visited) or American, including the Anchor Steam Brewery’s Porter available in a keg – this is the first time I’ve seen their beers in anything other than a bottle in this country. There were also a small number of bottled continental beers, and an eclectic selection of gin that eschews the more common brands. No mass-produced mainstream lager here.

It’s also a delicatessen, offering platters of ham and cured meats – there were plenty of samples available at the preview, and it was good quality stuff. In this sense, by offering beer and charcuterie it’s a bit like Friends of Ham in Leeds, but less hipster-y.

The Record Café

Where it differs is the third thing, and the clue is in the name – as well as being a bar, it’s also a record shop. There’s an upstairs mezzanine where you can browse and buy records on vinyl. This wasn’t quite ready with limited stock and some decorating to do, but the emphasis will be on new music, rather than it being an exchange for old records.

It’s located just opposite The Sparrow, which was Bradford’s first ‘bier café’ – that opened in 2011, just as craft beer started becoming popular in the UK. That’s still going strong, and joins Al’s Dime Bar further along North Parade, in an area becoming known for bars serving good beer. Next year, the Bradford Brewery opens around the corner, along with another new bar called The Beerhouse and an independent cinema which will have a bar as well.

The Record Café

For once, it’s becoming an exciting time to be in Bradford, and I hope these bars will do something to improve Bradford’s nightlife. In recent years people have travelled from Bradford to Leeds, Halifax and Huddersfield for nights out and I hope some of those will choose to stay in the city in future.

I took a number of photos last night and these are available to view on Flickr.

With thanks to Keith Wildman and his colleagues at The Record Café for inviting myself and the Bradford University Real Ale & Cider Society along.

The Record Café, Bradford originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Northern Rail’s “Intercity” serviceshttp://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/11/20/northern-rails-intercity-services.html http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/11/20/northern-rails-intercity-services.html#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 09:07:57 +0000 http://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=11924 I’m a northerner, and I travel by train a lot. At least 95% of my journeys are with Northern Rail, a franchise run jointly by Serco (to whom all your base are belong to) and Abellio, which is owned by … Continue reading

Northern Rail’s “Intercity” services originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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144 Crossing the River Calder

I’m a northerner, and I travel by train a lot. At least 95% of my journeys are with Northern Rail, a franchise run jointly by Serco (to whom all your base are belong to) and Abellio, which is owned by the Dutch government. The franchise was let in 2004 on a ‘no growth’ basis – the assumption being that passenger levels wouldn’t grow significantly during the franchise period, and so there was no real requirement for any extra trains or to increase service levels.

In reality there has been a huge growth in passenger levels in the north over the past ten years. Thankfully Northern has invested in some extra trains, although these are mostly old trains that other operators no longer need, and some services have been improved. But there haven’t been any brand new trains ordered, and whilst most have been ‘refreshed’ with a coat of paint, new flooring and seat covers, internally most of Northern’s fleet retains their original fixtures.

Around the time that the rail franchises in the north were re-jigged in 2004, the intercity services that Northern’s predecessor (Arriva Trains Northern) operated were mostly split off into a different franchise – First Transpennine Express. These services received new trains. Northern was left with mainly commuter and rural services, and the internal layout of its trains reflect this. But it still operates a few intercity services that I’ll get onto.

What makes a service ‘intercity’ anyway?

Grand Central train

Simply put it’s a train service that connects two or more cities together, although I’d also state that the end-to-end journey time is over an hour, and it only calls at larger stations. Unlike short-hop commuter trains, where fitting on as many passengers as possible is the main goal, with intercity services you want to provide a more comfortable experience for longer journeys. To me, this means providing:

  • Refreshments, such as a trolley service or buffet car
  • First class accommodation
  • Wifi (free or paid-for)
  • Plug sockets
  • Seat reservations

Almost none of Northern’s services meet the above criteria, and yet some of its trains probably should. Here’s my list of “intercity” services that Northern runs.

Leeds – Nottingham

Leeds Station

This is fresh in my mind as we took this train on Saturday. It’s actually a relatively new service that was first introduced in 2008. The full journey takes almost exactly two hours, taking in the cities of Wakefield and Sheffield, and the large town of Barnsley on the way. It’s actually not the quickest way between the two cities, as we found out coming back – taking an East Midlands Trains service to Sheffield and then a Crosscountry service to Leeds took marginally less time, even allowing for 20 minutes in Sheffield. This is probably because the direct train goes via Wakefield Kirkgate and the Erewash Valley Line, so whilst it is an express service that skips many intermediate stations, it still take a long time.

Our mid-morning Saturday departure was on a two-carriage class 158 train, which had ample seats for the number of people using it. And whilst the 158s are the newest of Northern’s diesel fleet, they are showing their age somewhat. Case in point – I had to use the toilet and it took several attempts to get the door to close because we were going around a bend and its motor wasn’t powerful enough to cope.

Leeds – Carlisle

Garsdale railway station

The service from Leeds to Carlisle was under threat of closure until around 25 years ago, when the line was reprieved. Nowadays there’s a train roughly every two hours, and each one takes a little under three hours to complete the journey. You could argue that this doesn’t qualify as being “intercity” as Carlisle isn’t a very big city and it doesn’t pass through any other cities on the way, but it’s also the only one of the services that I’m writing about today which meets one of the five criteria I mentioned earlier.

Thanks to the Settle-Carlisle Partnership there is a trolley service on the train, between those two stations. It’s the only Northern-operated service where this happens though, because it’s provided by the Settle-Carlisle Development Company and not Northern themselves. Again, for the most part Northern operate class 158 trains on this service but not always.

York-Blackpool North

Tram

I used to catch this service from Bradford quite regularly when I lived there and Christine lived in Blackpool; later when we moved to Sowerby Bridge I also used to commute in on it on a morning, until the timetable change in May this year. It connects the cities of York, Leeds, Bradford, and Preston, which was granted city status in 2000, but also calls at Burnley, Blackburn, Halifax and Blackpool which are large towns. Travelling the full length of this service takes almost three hours.

Northern usually puts its class 158s on this service but I’ve also endured its older class 150 trains, which have narrower seats, no air-conditioning and only one toilet, on this route. Whilst the former is reasonably acceptable, the latter does not make for a good journey experience, especially for such a long period of time. I suppose it could be worse – it could be a Pacer, a train made of 1980s bus parts bolted onto a two-axeled freight wagon, which are sadly still common on many of Northern’s services.

Spending three hours on a train with no opportunity to buy refreshments on board, no wifi or sockets to plug in a laptop to do work on, and no guarantee of a seat, does not make for a good travel experience. And yet, passengers put up with this every day.

Next year the government will announce a new franchisee for the Northern franchise. Shortlisted are Abellio (on their own this time), Arriva and Govia, and the winner will take over in early 2016. I really hope that whoever wins puts some effort into improving the rail service in the north – but especially these services. Offering a decent intercity-standard service between the north’s major cities will hopefully encourage more people to travel, and allow them to make the best use of their time on board.

Northern Rail’s “Intercity” services originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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App of the Week: Documents by Readdlehttp://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/11/19/app-week-documents-readdle.html http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/11/19/app-week-documents-readdle.html#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 09:19:51 +0000 http://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=11920 This week’s app is Documents by Readdle, an app that allows you to open documents on your iPad or iPhone. That might not sound particularly interesting until I tell you that those documents can be located pretty much anywhere in … Continue reading

App of the Week: Documents by Readdle originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Screenshot of Documents by Readdle on the iPhoneThis week’s app is Documents by Readdle, an app that allows you to open documents on your iPad or iPhone.

That might not sound particularly interesting until I tell you that those documents can be located pretty much anywhere in the cloud, on your network or on a server at your workplace. Documents’ strength comes from its wide support for cloud storage services, as well as any FTP or WebDAV server, and its ability to open most document file types using its own viewers.

Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, iCloud Drive, Box, Microsoft Office 365 and SugarSync are all supported, which for many will remove the need to have apps for each installed on your device. Documents will also connect to any SMB shares on your local network, and has its own WebDAV server for uploading documents into the app, or downloading them to your computer. It’s really, really powerful.

Any files that you open are downloaded to your device, so you are working with copies rather than the original documents. Uploading these back to the cloud isn’t quite so straightforward as it should be – if you have a document open, then the save option only applies to the app’s own storage or iCloud Drive. Instead, you have to go into, say, Dropbox, and select Upload. It’s a minor inconvenience.

Of course, you can send documents to other destinations as well, and any app that supports iOS 8’s share extensions should be available to you. You could, for example, take a photo stored in Dropbox and post it to Pinterest, all whilst within the Documents app.

Having WebDAV support has been a life-saver whilst in meetings at work, since I can access any documents saved onto the network there without needing to remember to move them into Dropbox beforehand. And it’s really useful to be able to access multiple cloud storage providers in the same app.

I saved the best thing about Documents until last – it’s completely free. No in-app purchases, no adverts, no cost to download. To me, it’s a must-have.

The only other feature that I’d like is perhaps settings synchronisation between the iPhone and iPad versions of the app. If you use both devices then you will need to set up each of your cloud storage accounts on each device – it would be nice if it used iCloud to copy your settings between devices.

Documents is free, and is a universal app for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.

App of the Week: Documents by Readdle originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Nottinghamhttp://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/11/18/nottingham.html http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/11/18/nottingham.html#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 09:47:22 +0000 http://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=11917 Whilst I spent Sunday wearing a top hat and too many cogs, on Saturday Christine and I went to Nottingham to meet up with some friends from university. In the past, the only bit of Nottingham that I’ve been to … Continue reading

Nottingham originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Nottingham Council House

Whilst I spent Sunday wearing a top hat and too many cogs, on Saturday Christine and I went to Nottingham to meet up with some friends from university. In the past, the only bit of Nottingham that I’ve been to has been the marina; my grandparents had a narrowboat there for several years, but the last time I’d have visited would have been around 20 years ago. Until now I’d never been to the city centre.

We took the train, which from Sowerby Bridge was three hours each way; in all we spent more time getting to or going home from Nottingham than we did in the city. Nottingham’s rail connections going north aren’t that great, but it is served by regular trains going south to London and some cross-country services.

Nottingham Railway Station

Nottingham has just the one central station nowadays, built in 1904 and recently restored with a new, glassed-in porte-cochère at the front. In fact the station has had a lot of work done recently, with changes to the track and platforms. It looks really nice and shows what can be done when a sympathetic restoration is carried out.

Sadly once you leave the station via the main entrance, no-one has really thought through how pedestrians should get into the city centre. You basically reach a huge concrete wall, with a tiny opening in it taking you into the Broadmarsh… sorry, intu Broadmarsh shopping centre. The Broadmarsh centre seems to be stuck in a 1980s timewarp (it was last refurbished in 1988) and doesn’t reflect well on the city – not at least because the name of it reminds me of Broadmoor. Thankfully its owners have plans to refurbish it again; whether these plans will go as far as turning into a more open space like Liverpool One or Leeds Trinity remains to be seen, as right now it comes across as a major barrier.

Bombardier Incentro AT6/5 tram in Nottingham

Public transport geeks (hello!) will like Nottingham for a few reasons – as well its large station, it has buses that are still run by a council-owned company, and an expanding tram network, called NET. NET opened a little over ten years ago, and unlike many other light rail schemes in Britain it has been very popular right from the start. So much so that it’s being extended and the fleet of trams increased from 15 to 37.

In our brief visit to the city the main thing we saw was the Old Market Square, and the Council House, which is the large imposing building pictured at the top of this blog post. It’s primarily home to council offices, as well as tourist information and a small shopping arcade called The Exchange. We also headed to the area around The Lace Market, which is now home to many small, independent shops including several that sell vintage clothing. Most of the city centre is pedestrianised.

When I said I was visiting Nottingham for the day most people I spoke to seemed a bit perplexed. At best, people perceive Nottingham as nothing special – whilst it doesn’t get the (unfair) bad rap that Bradford does, it’s not perceived as somewhere to go on a day out. Which is a shame because, apart from the aforementioned shopping centre issue, I quite like Nottingham. I’d be happy to go back there sometime, anyway.

Nottingham originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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