Testing the Wifi on an East Coast Train: Broken and They Know it

A couple of weeks back I wrote about how utterly b0rked East Coast’s on-train wifi is.  With nothing better to do I wrote a script to measure how bad it is, then blogged about the results.  I invited East Coast to comment.

ECWifi2

Their press officer Damian Greenfield ignored my email.  You can try to reach him on Damian.Greenfield@eastcoast.co.uk if you want the official line for articles of your own.

I sent East Coast a recorded delivery letter so it couldn’t later deny awareness of the problem.  That won me a response from a chap in the customer service team.  The level of technical detail he supplied was great – as a nerd I’d always wondered how it works.

The system piggybacks on mobile phone networks, connecting through whichever operator gives the strongest signal at the train’s present location.  It’s very outdated and hasn’t enough capacity for the number of electronic devices people now travel with.  Hundreds of people on every train have to fight over the bandwidth a single iPhone normally gets.

So East Coast are reselling the mobile data you’d get from EE, 3 or Virgin.  But are EE, 3 and Virgin charging you £4.95 an hour for data on your phone?  The markup here is tremendous and East Coast must be making a tidy profit.

I’ll reproduce the full response here in case anyone else is curious about how the service works.

 

Dear Mr Hewson

I am writing in regards to your email that was passed to us here at Customer Relations on 11 September 2013. This has been passed to us so that we can log your complaint and enables us to keep a record of any correspondence that passes between yourself and East Coast.

I would like to apologise for the trouble that you had with the WiFi on your recent journey with us. Our current WiFi solution was put in place in the summer of June 2010, and delivered a significant improvement in performance and reliability compared to the previous hardware. Since that time, and particularly in recent months, we have seen a deterioration in performance, as you yourself have experienced.  This has been caused by a number of factors, but the most critical of these are:

• The rapid growth of mobile devices and their use in a WiFi environment, Smartphone amd Tablet devices have all seen significant growth over the last year, and there is no doubt this has placed a strain on the system.
• Our system does rely on the availability of mobile networks.  Each train is equipped with four SIM cards, one for each major network, and the system will automatically roam between networks, selecting the strongest signal available at any given location.  In the same way as additional devices have imposed a strain on our train hardware it would appear that mobile networks have suffered due to congestion, and this will undoubtedly have an impact on our service.
• The hardware we have installed within our trains is now over two years old, and in some cases older.  Whilst this is well within expected useful life, it is also true to say that the operating environment on board a high speed train is a harsh one, and this has led to some hardware failures, some of which are less visible to us, since they may only affect a part of the train.

We know that the availability of a good quality and value for money service is of critical importance to our customers and we have therefore put in place a service improvement plan, including both short term and longer term measures to improve the service.  This includes the following:

• A set of short term actions, including a new more streamlined logon process, priority identification and replacement of failed hardware components, and improved content filtering to prevent the use of streaming and other ‘bandwidth hungry’ activities which will degrade the service for other customers.
• Deployment of a more advanced modem across our fleet.  Currently this equipment is only fitted to one third of our fleet, and although it will not of itself improve the capacity or speed of the service, it does feature the ability to undertake remote condition monitoring in a much more sophisticated fashion, therefore allowing the early identification and rectification of system problems.
• The fitment of 4G antennas to our train fleet, in preparation for the rollout of 4G across the country over the next 12-18 months.  This will provide a significant improvement in WiFi capacity within our trains, and as currently the system will ‘roam’ between 4G, 3G, and GPRS depending on the strongest signal available.

In the meantime I would like to assure you we are continuing to work closely with our WiFi supplier to identify whatever measures we can take to further improve the service. As you can see from the above we have a lot of work to do, but we are working very hard to resolve the issues which have caused you so much frustration.

On this occasion, as a gesture of goodwill, I would like to offer you a £10.00 voucher as a gesture of goodwill. This can be sent to you by as a National Rail Travel Voucher which can be used with any train operating company but cannot be used online. Alternatively, I can have this credited to an East Coast online account. Please get back to me to let me know if you are happy to accept this offer and how you would like to receive it.

 

The technical details are interesting but what’s most important is the admission that EC has known known of the problem for some time.  In fact I’m writing this from an East Coast train and the generous 15 minutes of free wifi confirms it’s just as bad as a fortnight ago.

It would be interesting to see how long they’ve known performance was unacceptable but went on charging people – time for a FOIA request?

I asked if East Coast was going to give refunds to the affected customers but the question was loudly ignored.  The login page collects contact details for all users – so why not get in touch and automatically reimburse them?

Following on from their reply another interesting problem is raised.  Given East Coast is aware of the issues plaguing its internet product, why is it still trying to charge passengers £4.95 an hour?  There are laws against charging for a product when you know it doesn’t work as advertised.

Having admitted it’s largely broken East Coast should immediately stop using internet access to extract more money from long-suffering passengers.  Anything else will serve only to worsen its reputation for high prices and shoddy service.

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Testing the Wifi on an East Coast Train (tl;dr: useless)

Today I found myself on an East Coast train from Edinburgh to London.  I upgraded to first class for £25 thinking, like most probably do, “comes with wifi, worth it if I can get on with some work”.  When I tried a couple of years back the wifi was free-and-unusable – so if it’s good enough to charge for now it must be reliable?

titleTurns out you’d think wrong.  You get the odd moment where you can load a web page but mostly your browser just times out.

To while away the journey (not like I could do any work now, eh) I gathered some quantitative data on just how bad it is.

The results are awful.  28% of requests for a tiny placeholder image failed and 45% of pings were lost.  These tests are for the most trivial of objects you can have on a web page; real websites take dozens of elements to successfully render a page so will be commensurately worse.

 

 

Technical Notes

It’s not science unless you let others check your results so I’ve posted the scripts and data on GitHub at https://github.com/alexmbird/expensive-wifi-speed-tester.

TestWeb.sh tries to fetch something tiny from a webserver a couple of times a minute.  Gives up if it doesn’t get the full 43 byte response within 15s.  43 bytes is tiny, real web pages will be far slower.  Data starts at Newcastle.  Columns are (time in seconds since epoch, fetch time in sec).  Tests done on an 11″ MacBook Air that works fine everywhere else.  It might have been easier to use httping.

I did another (data) that tries to ping google.com.  Tries 3 packets & waits 4.5s for a response before recording a failure.  Data starts at Berwick.  Figures in msec.  Full response headers look like this.

The train was the 16:30 from Edinburgh to London on 8th September 2013 and it was mostly on time.

 

 

So What?

If you’re charging £4.95 an hour for Internet access it needs to be amazing.  Those packets better be delivered by fairies and lubricated with the tears of tiny radio unicorns.  But what people are getting here is absolutely abysmal – even my best-case tests for a minuscule object failed a lot of the time.

By all means upgrade to first class for a comfy seat and free tea, but if it’s like today you won’t be checking your email while you drink it.

East Coast collect people’s email address when they log on to the wifi so If they wished to they could contact everyone who’s paid and give them a refund.  Under the circumstances I think it would be wrong to keep money they’ve charged for a service so broken.  I’ve contacted customer service and press teams to ask if they plan on doing this and will be glad to share any response.

 

Update on 09/16 – EC didn’t respond.  Perhaps their office network is broken too.  After a couple of days I sent a recorded delivery letter to make sure the issue doesn’t escape their attention and it was delivered on the 12th.

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How to Get a Refund from East Coast in 15+ Easy Steps – Part 2

Following on from How to Get a Refund from East Coast in 15+ Easy Steps

East Coast’s press team have turned out to respond to emails a lot faster than their customer service department.  A chap called Damian mailed me back with comments today.

Sadly his response is quite wrong.  As promised I’m going to publish it here.

 

Dear Mr Hewson,

I’m getting in touch following your email (2/6/13) to our Media Centre address regarding East Coast’s refund process, and having noted your weblog entry on the subject here: https://mocko.org.uk/b/2013/06/02/how-to-get-a-refund-from-east-coast-in-15-easy-steps/

Our Web Support Team advise me that they requested that you return your printed tickets to them, as part of the established process they follow in response to any request for a refund.

 

Not entirely true.  When I first called on March 6th asking for a refund East Coast said that since the tickets hadn’t been printed I would not need to send them in.  In case there’s any debate over whether that call happened here’s a screenshot from Skype’s helpful billing log.  0845 225 333 & 111 are them.

 EC calls

 

The National Rail Conditions of Carriage (NRCoC), which apply to all train operating companies and not just to East Coast, state the following (relevant sections highlighted):

[omitted for brevity; it's sections 24-26 and you can read them here]

Your travel tickets were not received by East Coast to support your refund claim, as set out in the highlighted sections of the NRCoC as above:

 

When East Coast’s employee called me on Friday 24th May (after I wrote to their managing director) he told me the tickets had been received but for some reason not processed.  I have asked Damian to explain the discrepancy between this and his version of the truth.

 

however, on 24 May 2013, East Coast refunded you £31.65 in cash and credited your e-account with travel vouchers to the value of £50.00, in recognition of the extended time it has taken to respond to your original request.

 

This is not true.  I have just logged into my East Coast account and here’s a screenshot of what their eVoucher page says:

 

 

The voucher figure matches that of the ticket – perhaps they’ve tried to get away with sending less and pocketed the difference?

In any case the East Coast employee who called me on May 24th promised he would make the refund to my bank account but not the £50 compensation, instead taking the issue back to East Coast’s management.  He seems to have reneged on that promise but got it wrong, shorting me on £18.35 of the figure I’d already declined as being too low.

I have asked Damian why East Coast did not keep their promise to call back, or to investigate the problem further.

 

Both these actions were taken by East Coast as a gesture of goodwill to you, beyond our statutory obligations as set out in the NRCoC as set out above.

Following these actions, your case has been closed and no further action will be taken.

Kind regards,

Damian

Er no.  One of the actions East Coast claim to have taken is wrong and the other one – claiming East Coast hadn’t received the tickets – is very odd given they told me the opposite a couple of weeks ago.

Since this is such a curious issue I’ve put request under the DPA in to East Coast requesting they turn over their notes, logs and paperwork related to the case.  While owned by the state East Coast is a private company so it has a legal obligation to comply with this within 40 days.

I have put these points to East Coast’s press department and will update you, dear reader, on what they have to say.

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It’s 2013 and My [Note|Net|Ultra]book is Still Too Big

For years I’ve harboured a vision of a perfect mobile computing device.  It’s not a smartphone and it’s not a tablet, and while they’re heading the right way it’s not any of the present ultrabooks.  I don’t think it even has a name yet so I’m going to coin myself a whole new category.

Ultrabook, picobook and smartbook were all taken so I’m going to dub it the “femtobook”.

The name gives all away.  Small but perfectly-formed, just big enough to use but small enough to fit in a large pocket.  For work and communication but not games.  No need for a bag to throw it in, no accessories to carry, just the One True Device for all the important typey-typey stuff you need to do.  A replacement for a laptop but not the smartphone; you’ll always need one for hurried messages and for talking on.  Small-but-usable screen to use on the move and ports enough to dock it when you’re not.  It should be good enough (really, not “just” good enough) to use as your main computer.

Up until now the hardware wasn’t ready.  But it’s now evolved to build smartphones the size of a cracker with near-omnipotent power and Apple have shown the way with hardware design – so I think it’s time to have a go.

How big can it be?  Mac-Air-skinny obviously but what about width and height?  Let’s define this as “small enough to fit in a jacket pocket”.  It’s allowed to stick out a little at the top.  Experiments with scissors, scrap paper and my second-best jacket reveal the optimum size is 8″ x 4″.

 

 

Overall Design

Given the 8×4″ size and clamshell form factor you get a maximum of 32 square inches on each surface.  Make all 32 count.  The best new smartphones only need a 1mm bezel around the display and I want to see the same here.  If you need to dot peripherals around the display (mic, camera etc) remember it’s already too wide and too short; put them at one side where you can afford to lose the space.

Make it look like this

This is the computer I’ve always wanted.  Somebody please build it.

Build quality needs to be excellent.  Metal or carbon fibre please.  Not too shiny; if it’s living in my pocket scratches are to be expected and a matte finish will help to hide them.  Put a logo on the lid if you like (your own version of the glowing apple logo?) but don’t distract me with one next to the screen.  Rounded corners so it doesn’t destroy everything it touches.

The 8×4″ surface is large enough for a usable keyboard if you’re smart about it.  I’ll forgive tiny function keys so long as you don’t put me through some silly fn+arrow contortion whenever I want to pgdn.  Unless you have some magical new pointer technology a nipple mouse is the best bet; don’t forget to add a decent substitute for the mouse wheel.

Don’t stick buttons on the sides.  They’d be too tiny and fiddly, let in pocket fluff and easily get broken.  Put the power button in the keyboard like Apple do.  Don’t try to add a pause/play button to the outside and make it into an mp3 player, my phone does that.  Oh, and speaking of pocket fluff I’ll reward extra points for rubber caps to stop it invading the ports.

 

 

Operating System

OSX might have scaled well to this dinky screen but I doubt Apple will want to license it to you.

ChromeOS?  No, too dependent on connectivity to serve a device this portable.

Android would be a respectable (& free) choice but I’ve never seen it work well without a touchscreen.  You’d end up working hard to skin it for the display I have in mind and it’s doubtful half the apps would ever look right or cope well with keyboard input.

I think the answer is Linux with a window manager adapted to make best use of the small display.  But maybe I’m wrong about this: make Android work well and I’m a happy camper.

 

 

Features: Where I Won’t Compromise

Keyboard.  I type a lot.  Believe it or not I’m typing a blog post right now.  A chicklet keyboard like my mac air is fine but it has to be real.  Touchscreens give no feedback and this makes it impossible to type with any accuracy.  Correcting 20% of your words is okay if you’re doing a quick email but not when you’re IM-ing, writing or programming all day.

Microphone and camera.  I Skype a lot.  And there needs to be a speaker but I don’t mind if it’s crap and hidden under the keyboard.

Connectivity.  Wifi a given but energy efficiency > speed.  A lot of people here will demand [3|4]G mobile data but they’re missing a trick – you already have a data plan on your phone so just bluetooth it in through that.  The OS should automagically pick the best connectivity source in under a second when I open the lid.  My mac doesn’t do this: OSX demands a fiddly click-select-click gesticulation get online through bluetooth and boy does it piss me off.

Charging.  If this device travels in your pocket you don’t want to carry a charger.  Let’s make it charge from some standardized, ubiquitous power source I’ll find wherever I go.  Micro USB.  Manufacturers take heed – you can save $$$ by leaving out the adapter, earn yourself some green points and everyone will love you for it.  Better yet that means I can give it a jolt from the same cheap, shit external USB battery pack I carry for my phone when the power’s running low.

Battery.  If the femtobook is tiny and portable enough to travel in my pocket I’ll be using it a lot.  All day in fact.  If it doesn’t have an 8-hour real-world battery life it’s going to piss me off and get hurled at a wall around 3pm every day.  Seal it inside; now I can juice it from any phone charger or a USB power pack I don’t need to change the battery often.  But please do make it serviceable; I’ll wear it out in a year and pay you to install a new one.

Ports.  Three USB ports – external keyboard, mouse and one more to avoid swearing fits when I need to plug in a USB stick.  Video out is a must but use Micro HDMI to keep it small.  With these I’ll be able to plug my femtobook into the monitor I find on any desk and use it as a ‘real’ computer.  Don’t forget the headphone jack; I need those podcasts while I work.  Video, power and at least one USB port on the same side please – looks neater when docked.

Storage.  Give me 64GB+ of built-in flash (more on higher models?) for the OS and a MicroSD card slot tucked away behind a flap to add as much more as I like.  The 128Gb MicroSD card will be here soon enough.

Hackability.  Don’t be a dick – let me root it and install my own OS if I want to.  Make your money on the hardware (I’ll pay for quality) but let me wipe it clean and install some strange mutant quadruple-netbsd if I’m mad enough to think it will impress people.

 

 

UnFeatures: the Tradeoffs I’ll Forgive You

The first thing I’m willing (nay, glad) to part with is the x86 chip.  It’s 2013 and running that old copy of Duke Nukem 3D isn’t a priority.  Modern dual and quad-core ARM chips are cheap and super-fast; bring them to the party instead.

Don’t drown me in ports.  Apple get this right; USB, video and audio jack are all you need.  Don’t waste money/space/weight on anything more.   If you dare to invent some crack-fuelled new port of your own that requires an adapter I’ll hunt you down and strangle you with it.

The keyboard should not be detachable.  Detachable keyboards are torture devices designed to inflict pain and humiliation on the user; they add extra connectors to go wrong and on the rare days you leave them at home you inevitably regret it.  If I want a tablet I’ll go to the Apple store and buy one.

The display is a funny one.  Once you’ve switched to an ARM core it becomes the biggest power drain.  So unless some fab new cheap-zero-power-thin-lightweight-retina technology comes along, use e-ink.  It’s thin, cheap, incredibly high contrast, can be high-res and the refresh rate is better than it used to be.  Remember this device is for working and communicating; I’ll have an Ouya for playing games.  Colour if it’s feasible but I can live with B&W.  Doesn’t need to be a touchscreen if you can make the pointing device work well.  Backlight nice-to-have but not mandatory.  Retina resolution to make the most of the small area.

 

 

They Came So Close…

This is the computer I’ve always wanted and a handful of devices have come close.  But none quite made it and, sadly, none is still usable today.

First and foremost – the venerable Psion 5.  Surprisingly advanced for its time this had an ARM core, a B&W LCD screen and a clever fold-out keyboard with real, moving keys.  Power came from AA batteries (it’d run for fifteen hours on a pair!) and the OS was an early version of Symbian.  Keyboard and screen were a little too small but (my perfect device would be an inch or two bigger) but on so many levels Psion’s tiny device got it right.

Some smartbooks looked good but the category floundered as better netbook designs emerged.

Sony have made credible attempts.  In 2005 I had a brief love affair with a PictureBook and more recently they dabbled with the P series.  Both suffered from mediocre battery life and the small screen made their unmodified Windows OS practically unusable.

The most recent device to inspire me was the Raspberry Pi.  It’s tiny, runs a Linux desktop okay and uses minimal power.  Find something like it with a little more oomph and you’ve got most of the hardware for our new femtobook ready-made.

 

 

Finally

This is a the kind of computer I’ve wanted for years and never quite had.  I’ve spent thousands of pounds on devices that were nearly-right: manufacturers tried their best but the tech was never there.

You’ll never compete with the iPad but you don’t need to – there’s a niche here waiting to be filled.  Please, finally, someone make this thing.  And let me have one.

How to Get a Refund from East Coast in 15+ Easy Steps

A lot of people don’t know that if you buy a train ticket in the UK and an operator later cancels the train, you’re due a full refund.

But despite the strict 28-day limit laid out in the rules companies can be a lot slower to give your money back than they were to take it.  It’s not the first time I’ve had to chase this operator for months.

So for your amusement and general delectation – here’s a step-by-step guide to what happens when you try to claim your refund from East Coast…

 

  1. Buy a ticket from East Coast’s website.  Nothing out of the ordinary: seat reservations for all legs of the journey and it’ll be issued at the station on the day of travel.
  2. A couple of weeks later discover the second leg of the journey has metamorphosed into a bus because a very hungry colliery swallowed the railway line.  Feel stoical about this; shit happens.
  3. But buses are slower than trains, don’t fit as many people and they don’t have seat reservations.  The thought of trundling around Lincolnshire on one (or worse getting left behind in the middle of nowhere because it’s full) is not appealing.  Check National Rail Conditions of Carriage and find you’re entitled to a refund.  Email East Coast asking for it.
  4. Get an automated response saying East Coast are taking up to ten days to reply to emails.  Call them instead.  Get told that since the ticket hasn’t yet been issued they can process a refund with no further action required.
  5. Book travel via another route a couple of hours after the original train.  This one isn’t a bus.  Pat self on back for level of organisation.  Sit back and await refund.
  6. East Coast’s Web Support Team leap into action by responding to original email 13 days after you sent it.  You pray that their train drivers have quicker reactions.
  7. Go to King’s Cross on day of travel.  While getting ticket for new journey the man on East Coast desk issues the original ticket for canceled journey even though that train left two hours earlier.  Nobody can give convincing explanation for why one would want a ticket for a train that’s already gone and which the company has already agreed to refund.
  8. Try to hand useless ticket back to man, pointing out East Coast already promised to give a refund for it.  Man refuses to take back the ticket, saying that even though he’s definitely an East Coast employee (he’s sat on the East Coast desk wearing an East Coast uniform printing East Coast tickets so this isn’t really up for debate) he can’t take it back.  To get the promised refund you must now mail it in to East Coast’s Web Support Team at your own expense.  You grit your teeth and politely accept this, remembering that East Coast do not tolerate abuse to their staff even when they’re being outrageously unhelpful.
  9. Mail ticket to Web Support Team.  Bizarrely its address is in Plymouth, 200 miles from any station served by East Coast.  Momentarily ruminate on why the Web Support Team is different to the Customer Relations team when almost all advance tickets are now purchased online.
  10. The National Rail Conditions of Carriage say East Coast has 28 days to process the refund but after a month you haven’t heard from them.  Send another letter to their Web Support Team to chase it.  Go back to checking your bank statement every few days in case they’ve sent the refund without telling you.  They haven’t.
  11. The letter’s two month birthday passes and the letter you sent chasing it has elicited no response.  Write a third one and this time send copies to the unsupportive Web Support Team, the ‘normal’ Customer Relations team and for good measure East Coast’s Managing Director.  Ask how East Coast can expect its passengers to obey the National Rail Conditions of Carriage when they themselves do not.  Hold little hope of this question ever being answered.
  12. Some days later a man from East Coast finally calls.  It would be nice to think their MD had read the letter, banged some heads together and made them sort it out.  He admits they received the tickets and all of your letters but that nothing was done.  He seems to think this isn’t the same thing ignoring them, but can’t explain why it took two months to do precisely nothing.  You grit your teeth and resist the temptation to question the semantic difference.  He promises to make the refund and to say sorry offers a £50 “eVoucher” to spend on East Coast’s website.  You take the refund but tell him after the wall of silence and huge amount of time wasted (over a ticket that should never have been issued in the first place!) something more substantial is warranted.  He promises to ask his manager and call you back.
  13. Joy of joys, two and a half months after you requested it the refund you’re entitled to is actually made.
  14. Wait a week for the man to call back.  He does not call you back.  Idly wonder if selling the car was a mistake.
  15. Send an email to East Coast’s Web Support Team asking what’s going on.  Get the usual automated “As stated within our East Coast Passenger’s Charter, we aim to respond to all written correspondence within 10 working days” response.
  16. T + 3 months.  The present day.  To be continued?

 

So yeah.  This is the kind of treatment you’re in for when you ask East Coast to honour the rules and give you a refund.  It sucks – unless you’re as determined and curmudgeonly as I was you’ll probably give up and let the train company keep your money.  It’s not fair, or legal.

I’ve emailed East Coast’s press office for comment and hopefully this department does not sit on messages for ten working days before it responds.  If they get back to me I’ll post it here.

Update on 2013-06-04 – East Coast’s press department indeed have responded.  You can read about it here.

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My Response to the ORR’s Consultation on Real-Time Train Information

My long-promised response to the consultation on real-time transport information.

Download a PDF.

The Office of Rail Regulation’s consultation on Real Time Train Information runs until February 28th so you still have time to get a response in.  If you feel that TISL / National Rail Enquiries / ATOC can’t be trusted to steward what should be public data please, please take the time to respond.

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You Can’t Use the Live UK Train Data Without Accepting a Gagging Clause

I last wrote about open rail data in December after the ORR’s excellent transparency conference.  Many organisations in the rail industry spoke about their desire for better sharing of travel information.  They’re great folks and it was mostly a positive affair.

But the bogeyman of the event was ATOC – the Association of Train Operating Companies.  They look a bit like a public body but aren’t, instead taking funding from the various train operators.  ATOC are fond of making the claim that they don’t take a penny of public money but it’s somewhat disingenuous: their funding comes from train operators and many of those have been subsidized by your taxes.

Through its subsidiary TISL (“Train Information Services Limited”, more commonly known as NRE / National Rail Enquiries) ATOC owns a datasource called Darwin. If you want an API for querying live train running information complete with all the delays and cancellations at any given moment they’re the only shop in town.

Problem is they’ve used their ownership of Darwin in rather an underhand way.  Back in 2010 as a punishment for criticising them on this blog they banned me from using the data.  There are also significant questions about the fairness of the charges they impose on app developers when they themselves pay no per-app fee.  At present if you want to write a smartphone app to display live UK train times you’ll end up giving NRE a chunk of the proceeds or they might just flat-out refuse to give you the data.  So, when NRE’s chief exec Chris Scoggins took the stage at the transparency conference developers leapt at the chance to lambast him about the shady way they’ve used their licensing system…

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Cheap Drones: What Will They Change?

Parrot AR SkyIn the last post I bleated for 700 words about what an awesome, hackable toy Parrot AR drones make.  Tinkering with one has been quite an adventure and I’m impressed that workable flying machines can now be had at such a low price point.

It left me thinking.  When this technology is available to all for pocket change, where will it lead?  How will we use and abuse drones?

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I ♥ My Drone

For Christmas someone gave me a simple little remote controlled helicopter.  You know the deal: IR remote, barely controllable, built in camera to record to MicroSD.  Too dangerous to fly in the house and too weedy outside of it: on the first attempt I ended up chasing the thing across a field.

But it was great fun (right up until it smashed my mother’s favourite lampshade) and it got me thinking.  What about something bigger?  Something that can fly higher, do as it’s told and not go wandering off over the countryside the first time a gust of wind catches it?

Turns out a Parrot AR Drone is what I wanted.  And it’s goddamn awesome.

 

Parrot AR Front

 

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“Free” Station WiFi on the London Underground. Except When It’s Not.

I’m blogging this in the hope of sparing anyone else the bother I’ve had registering for Virgin Media’s tube wifi once it stops being free at the end of the month.  Tl;dr: you need the link from an email they send you but the customer service folks at T-Mobile and Tfl don’t know this.  T-Mobile make an unqualified promise on their website that it’s free for their users but the helpdesk staff say otherwise.

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