Friday, December 27, 2013

Walk from Horsley, Northumberland.

To get ready for the Christmas Dinner, this is the walk we did from Horsley in Northumberland.

Distance: 4 miles
Start & Finish: Horsley Village, Northumberland.
Finishes with a steep slope uphill.
Soggy ground heading up the hill towards the end.

Runkeeper Route: Map

Pub stops available in Wylam, and two pubs and a cafe in Horsley itself.

Setting off from the village, head East along the main road, just before you exit the village, turn right up a farm track with a foot path sign to Wylam 1 1/2.
Turn left at the end and head straight on to the left of a field, with a waymarker.
Continue straight on past the first wall and across the field passing through a disused gate in the second wall and then turn to cross the next field diagonally, looking for a style on the southern side of the field that will appear shortly.
Once across follow the path to a footbridge across the river and up a short slope.  Head diagonally across the next field towards a style and then head for another style before the road.

Follow the road downhill into Wylam and at the junction turn left to pass by The Ship Inn, and just after The Ship turn right up Chapel Lane and continue until just after you pass over a railway bridge.  Turn right and head down the slope to the disused railway and head west towards Wylam Bridge over the Tyne.  Don't cross over the bridge, instead take the path to the right off the railway and stay on the northern bank still heading west along the path before arriving at the road and continuing along a thin foot path.

When the roadside footpath disappears head off the road down to a footpath at the river side,  pass a house to your right.  Immediately after the house turn right and follow the drive between the house and the pumping station re-emerging onto the road and turn left onto the footpath.

Just before the cottage on the right look for a path signposted Horsley Wood, take this uphill and take the first left and at a warning sign for low power lines take the right fork.

Follow this somewhat squishy (when wet) path up the hill until you reach a junction of trails, take the trail that leads up hill towards and passes to the left of Horsley Wood Cottages, continue up the trail past the twists outside the water treatment works and return to the village.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Waze & Inrix navigation apps.

I have been using the navigation & real time traffic app Waze for a few years now, including some online editing of the maps.

Basically Waze is a community edited GPS navigation system that users can get live traffic from for free, the user's provide the data.  Passively by driving with the app turned on, which continually reports speed and location dates back to the servers for analysis.  This provides long term average road speed data and also can provide real time updates should the user be stuck in heavy traffic. Incidents can also be reported by Active reporting e.g. reporting stopped vehicles or other hazards for following drivers to watch out for, or even just point out errors in routing or the background maps.

As time has gone on the map data has improved tremendously, originally the UK maps were totally from user submissions and then a few years ago background map data was imported that filled in a lot of the gaps, it also imported some errors at the same time, but those have largely been ironed out thanks to the band of enthusiastic editors.  Today the Waze UK maps are as reliable as most of the paid for GPS systems on the market, indeed they often get updates to new road layouts within days of the changes.  Though there are, as with any other GPS some odd little errors now and then, but you can report these via a couple of taps on the screen and this will highlight the road to any map editors in the area.

The other app I use for traffic is the Inrix traffic App, which I started using last year, as well as a free version there is a paid version which allows a few extra features.

The Inrix app uses data from a variety of sources, not just the community, but road sensors and other sources.  Inrix is consistently the only navigation app that I have found regularly has accurate road closures, the A34 dual carriageway has had regular slip road and carriageway closures overnight for the last year and the Inrix app has at least shown all the closures that have affected me.

Both apps have functionality to locate the cheapest fuel prices in an area, although Inrix again in my experience has more accurate info, Waze's facility to display and then navigate to a filling station along your route more than makes up for this.

I have found that the whilst Inrix app is excellent for planning and finding out traffic conditions prior to setting off, with the real time data being more comprehensive and accurate, it's lack of turn by turn navigation means that Waze is the app that I consistently have open when driving.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

What I'd like to see with the Nexus 5

With the next Nexus phone from Google getting ready, these are the things that I would like to see.

  • 32Gbs storage, so I can store some good sized videos, apps are not getting smaller and 16Gb just doesn't cut it anymore.
  • LTE - Which every network in the UK should have by the end of the year (including my favourite, Three).
  • Decent battery life.
  • 5 inch screen.
  • Slimport conpatibility would be nice as well.

From the rumours it looks like the Nexus 5 should have all of these, so it depends on the price.  The LG G2 also fits the bill, so it looks like it's between these two then.

Oh and hopefully when they announce the Nexus 5 they will also announce the release Chromecast to the UK (the app is already available so hopefully soon).

Update: 32Gb Black version ordered and shipped.  Chromecast is available on Amazon for £40, thinking of making a purchase.

2nd update: one of the good things about the Nexus 5 over the Nexus 4 is the phone radio seems to be better and I now tend to get a signal in the house and in shops around town, whereas before the Nexus 4 would be flagging.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Smartphone batteries just don't last long enough.

I have a modern smartphone, Back in the good old days we were getting to the point where a mobile phone would stay charged for almost a week. The Problem was it was so infrequent that you might forget that it did need some juice occasionally.

Smartphones as most owners know can struggle to keep going for a whole day, and if you use them hard (Camera, GPS etc) can often drain in a matter of hours.

I find this especially when walking or sightseeing all day, using Runkeeper to track my walks and provide tracking information.  For a few years i have had a large capacity battery which extends the life to more than double.  The main problem with using an external battery is that it is connected to the phone by a USB lead, and when You pull it out of the pocket you either leave it attached by its lead to the pack in your pocket, or have to drag the phone and a chunk of battery out with the device, not very convenient, also a bit wierd in public.

Having looked on the internet and seen extended batteries that fitted around the phone, I checked the reviews on them online, which did not praise them.

So I decided to make my own.

The armadillo case from mobile fun, was easy to find, it has the advantage of Being in two parts, one wraps around the phone and the other separates with a kick stand, clipping back on when you require it.

Battery selection was next, i wanted a battery that Matched the dimensions of the phone and did not make it too large for a pocket.  Capacity and output were big deciders, there were a lot of external batteries that only put out .5 of an amp, which in my experience during heavy use the battery discharges faster than you are pushing in.  At least one amp output was on the shopping list.

Eventually I settled on the Pama PNGP2 with a 1 amp power output and 4000mA and had similar enough dimensions to my Nexus 4 (unfortunately I had forgotten something, but more later).

All that remained was to pick up from Ebay a short USB-Micro USB lead to connect it all together.

When the bits arrived I placed the rather nice and solid armadillo phone cover onto the phone and removed the kick stand portion.  A small amount of suitable glue stuck the battery to the kick stand before this I discovered that because the battery was the same size as the phone, the camera would be covered up, and so I had to offset the battery to allow for this leaving it overhanging the bottom of the phone.  But this did allow the button on the battery to be located on the same side of the phone which protects it from being accidentally pressed.

After leaving the glue to dry I reassembled the parts and plugged the battery in, as expected the phone charged.

A few days later I was able to take the phone out on an amble in the countryside, where before I had been managing the battery to make sure Runkeeper recorded the full 4 hour walk, I could now let the Nexus stay connected and out of Airplane mode and take some photos and still have battery left should I need it.  Indeed I have yet over the last few months had the Pama Battery drain more than half way down.  As for pulling the phone out of my pocket it has just been a case of grab one slightly larger device and pull rather than taking care over what wires were coming out, and making sure they stayed connected. The case has also been well worth the money protecting the phone from a few potentially disastrous falls. It has also been useful travelling overseas when I haven't been in a position to regularly charge the phone. Mated up with a PortaPow solar charger to charger the battery whilst I keep the phone out of sight.

I have had extended full use out of the phone, more convenient than before, especially now that I often tether my Nexus 7 and Chromebook when out.

Some quick pics.
The battery and the kickstand half of the case, note the power remaining screen and the on/off button.

Battery mounted on phone.

Side view, notice the slight overlap.

Rear view, showing the location of the camera.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The mobile service thats right for me.

My mobile use is mainly data and not calls, with this in mind I have always tried to get the bast data service.

For two years I used T-Mobile, once that 2 year contract had completed I then tried Giff Gaff and the unlimited data plan.

I still like Giff Gaff and the way they operate, and would recommend them to most people, but there was a big problem for me.

Giff Gaff are an MVNO on the O2 network and when in town or most cities the data service was good and at a reasonable speed, but I do a lot of wlking and hiking out in the countryside and in my experience the data speed was unusable and could not be relied upon for anything more than low latency data.

I gave up and moved on when I discovered that Three offered, for £12.90/month offered Unlimited Data, 200 minutes and 5000 texts, and all on a contract that was just one month long, having just purchased a Nexus 4 that was compatible with the top speed on their ultrafast network it was a simple choice.

Out and about in the Southern English countryside I cannot recall that the data speed has ever let me down, the reception is a bit patchy in the house, but when its connected it beats the O2 signal hands down, and I regularly get download speeds of 20Mb.  Even out in the countryside when there is a signal, and there usually is, its at 3G speeds.

After less than a month I contacted three and moved up to the £25/month one month contract which has oodles more minutes, but more importantly allows unlimited tethering for other devices, such as my Nexus 7 and my Chromebook.  The service that I get from the network has made the Chromebook a useful device on the road, as quite often I give up on public WiFi as the connection has often been significantly better on mobile.

Two travels abroad, one to Italy and one to France and Germany, using three's Euro internet pass of £5/day unlimited data throughout Europe keeping me connected (even crossing borders) especially as there was no open WiFi available in the village we were staying in made life a lot easier planning day trips on public transport, and finding those hidden gems.

Annoyingly just after I returned from Italy Three announced their feel at home service that allows you to use your phone in the seven countries that Three have a presence, including Italy, as if you were at in your home country with no added costs.

Looking to the future Three UK have promised when they roll out their 4G coverage at the end of this year there will be no additional costs.

This is why I have decided that Three UK is the best fit for me.

p.s. in writing this post I note that three have lowered the price of the one month one plan back to £18, maybe time to ring customer services again.

Update 21/9/13: contacted three about the £18 price plan, which is exactly the same as the one that was costing me £25/month and changed, apparently this is a special offer at the moment, as well as the 12-month plan that is £15/month for the same.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

New laptop or upgrade?

For a number of years I have had a core i3 laptop, that I bought refurbished on the cheap.

At the start of this year I felt that it was starting to get a bit old, slow and a random overheating problem kept occurring.  I could do with something a bit more beef, especially since I was having issues running some Linux distros in Virtualbox.

Having spent a while looking for options and working out which spec would be ideal for me, I had drawn up a list of things that I would like to have.

1.  Preferably 17", minimum 15.6" (the current is 17").
2.  Minimum 8GB ram.
3.  At least one, preferably 2 USB 3 ports.
4.  SSD or at least a hybrid drive.

Having looked around for a while and pricing up a number of possibilities I could never find the right one for me, definitely not in the price range that I was expecting to pay.

I had also always toyed with picking up a Chromebook for the road, but that would not be on the cards if I purchased a new laptop that would be unjustifiable for a while.

One night I looked at the possibility of what I could do with my current laptop, by upgrading the memory and changing the HDD to an SSD.  Whilst thinking about this, remembering that it was a 17" laptop I decided to check the specs on the manufacturers website to check what upgrades were supported.  The real watershed moment was when I noticed that there were not one, but two slots for hard drives, a quick shut-down and opening up the panels on the underside revealed the truth that staring me in the face was an empty hard drive slot.  A quick search on SSD reviews and the timely appearance of PCPRO's feature how fast a PC do you really need spurred me into action and off I roared to the websites to purchase the two things I felt I wanted.

1.  A Samsung 840 Pro SSD (80GB).

2.  8GB of RAM.

Whilst I was out set a backup of the 500GB HDD that was in the laptop and then headed out to purchase the goods.  On my return, excitedly, I inserted the RAM and the SSD, and set about installing Windows 7 on the SSD.  Once complete I did a quick reboot and was shocked that one of the main causes of my previous annoyance the boot time had dropped to around 20 seconds - WOW.  Although some of this could be down to the fresh install and the extra RAM, but still - WOW on an over three year old cheapish laptop.

A quick format of my old HDD, pointing the documents links to the old HDD and off the SSD before restoring my files taking the time to put them in better order and after a few more months of use I am still happy.  Additionally an overheating issue that used to exist has yet to rear its ugly head yet.

Overall these updates have been a huge boost to my current laptop and will keep it going till the end of Windows 7, at which point I expect whether to stay with windows or move across to Linux (I do have access to a Window 8 PC that I can make my decision then).

This freed up the cash to purchase a Chromebook which I use on the road (Chrome Remote Desktop is useful to access the grunt of the home PC when I need it).

How I remain connected on the road will come in a later post.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

New Forest walk near Lundhurst.

Today we had a short walk in the New Forest.

Following this route on the website, a site that I have found useful in the past to find walking routes.

One thing to be aware of on this route is that it heads through an area that is identified as a WW1 training area, and which may have military ordnance within, ordnance clearing operations are ongoing and the area is extremely well marked.  You can avoid this area by extending the walk by a short distance.

There is one crossing of the busy A35 road.

A nice walk through a variety of terrain, heathland and woodland.

Friday, March 8, 2013

A couple of bluetooth headsets.

A while ago I was an avid runner and one of the more annoying aspects was my headphone cable.  With a straight MP3 player you are generally stuck with a cable getting in the way.  

As smart phone technology reached a point where they were useful for playing MP3 tracks and had the capability to use GPS tack your runs etc. (check out runkeeper) I ditched the MP3 player and the Garmin logging GPS to only carrying a single device when I went running.

With the smartphone came the benefits of a Bluetooth connection, and it wasn't long before I had a compatible headset connected to my phone, the first of these was a cheap model bought off Ebay for a small amount, although this particular model didn't last long I was sold on the idea.  This particular model was one of the larger external ear models with a band around the back of the head, following its demise I went in search of a replacement that would be more durable and useable.

I settled on the Nokia BH-503.

I now have two stereo Bluetooth headsets, as the BH-503 is good for running, it is not very subtle and suffers someone from the Princess Leia affect of having two rather large conspicuous lumps on the side of your head and so I have an additional one, also a Nokia, but this one is a BH-111, the difference with this model is it has a control unit, which you can clip to your jacket and a short headphone lead.

Along with the advantages of the lack of cable to get in the way, there is the convenience factor of the controls, which are located on the headset itself, you don't have to pull out your phone and unlock it to do quick things like skip a track, pause or change the volume, its a quick touch and it happens.


Controls always in the same place on the ear.
Doesn't kill off the sound of the car thats about to flatten you.

Makes you look like you have Princess Leias hairdo.
Very conspicous.


Small lightweight and out of the way.

In ear and can block out background noise you need to hear.
Still has the cable.
Controls are fiddly and not as easy to use.