FreakoutITGeek's Blog

Random IT postings from Freakz

Everyone needs a safety-Net

It’s been a long time since I posted anything on this blog, but I feel that I need to call out an IT experience that I have recently had.

Just like many people in the modern western world, I have been working from home.

Luckily, as I have mentioned before, I have a good UK ISP (Virgin Media) and I have upgraded my personal WiFi setup over the years. I have not changed my ISP’s router for many years as it just works (most of the time… more on that shortly), even after several speed upgrades (when they have “levelled up” all their customer’s packages).

For a few years now I have been running with Netgear’s Orbi mesh WiFi router & satellite system, which has been a brilliant addition to my home as we continue to add more devices to our home setup (security devices from Ring, more / updated Apple devices, smart watches, etc)

A few times this year we have had some issues with the WiFi, which has required me to reboot both the Virgin Media Router and the Netgear Orbi equipment. It’s unclear which device is causing the issue, whether it’s an issue with the Orbi or the Virgin Router, except for an issue a few days ago, where our Virgin Media broadband went down for a few hours.

When this happened, not only did my Orbi equipment become useless but I had to configure my iPhone to use it as a replacement WiFi (isn’t tethering brilliant). I have two issues with this, firstly despite my mobile provider also being Virgin Media, Virgin have not historically linked their Virgin Mobile service with their Virgin Media (TV, Broadband & Landline Phone). For new customers [it appears that] they now include a mobile SIM with their other services, so that, if there is an outage in their broadband, I believe that they configure the SIM to have unlimited data via their “Oomph” packages. Unfortunately (not surprisingly, based on their past lack of forethought and good customer relations / retentions ) they are not offering this to their existing customers.

The other issue that I have, is that I have considered possible network backup capacity for a while now, but these are mostly based on high end business network capacity rather than a home setup.

For a few hundred pounds it’s possible to get the TP-Link TL-ER5120 Gigabit Load Balance Broadband Router that provides 1 LAN and 1 Wan port and 3 ports that can be configured for LAN or WAN, with each link being a possible backup. The device is designed for “…needs of small and medium enterprises, hotels and communities with large volumes of users demanding an efficient and easy-to-manage network with high security…”. The issue is that you still need the alternative connections, ie other ISP’s or some device to connect to a 3/4/5G broadband via Ethernet.

When researching, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Netgear produced an Orbi LBR20 router that allowed a backup connection via 4G Broadband SIM. I thought I had a way forward, that worked with my existing setup. After a [a long and frustrating] discussion with Netgear support I was told that, for some reason, their view on the device is mostly for users who do not have a wired broadband and the promotional talk of using the 4G SIM as the back up concept is based on this Router being your main/only WiFi device. It appears that Netgear have not considered the device as being an addition to an existing Orbi setup and have not considered how this device could be integrated into such a setup. If you purchase this and want to admit to an Existing Orbi setup, then you have a tough fight ahead. Netgear’s Support team member I chatted to advised that you would have to either replace your existing Orbi router with this device (with your existing Router then being relegated to an (non Orbi) Access Point [ie you loose use of the Orbi backhaul; the connection between the Orbi Router and the satellite] and you also have to wire it using a cat5 UTP network cable to either the LBR20 or your existing Obri satellite]) or put this between your existing broadband and your existing Orbi setup, which means that you then have an extra set of WiFi signals (2.4GHz and 5GHz as well as the backhaul link) from his Router as well as your original, which in my opinion is just noise that both your existing Orbi equipment and your existing WiFi based equipment will have to deal with [Not to mention all your neighbours wiFi signals, cordless phones, etc].

Considering the load balancing Router is over £100 (and still requires a second broadband connection or 3/4/5G device with a network connection) and the Orbi LBR20 is over £300, it’s not cheep to obtain a backup for your home WiFi (and everything that relies on that, including your streaming media, Security cameras / Doorbell [Ring etc], Internet, e-mails, work VPN, Social Media, etc).

So far I have only found one device that appears to be a possibility, again from Netgear.

The Netgear 4G LTE Modem (LB2120) is a 3/4G modem that has:

  • Simple fail-safe connectivity with 4G LTE/3G
  • Connect to existing equipment to support fixed broadband failover
  • Dual Ethernet ports for wired connection pass-through

For just over £100, this is not as expensive as the Orbi. It’s the same sort of price as the TP-Link router, but it appears to be everything you need, connect to the wired broadband and the other connection to the WiFi Router, insert a 4G SIM into the device and you’re ready to go. The basic setup appears to be already configured so that if your wired broadband goes down then it will automatically switch to the 4G connection. It can also be configured so that it can send you a test message [which can be sent to “up to” 3 mobile numbers] when it switches between the wired and 4G connections, which is will be easy to help you understand when you are getting outages. You can also define which websites [multiple] that the devices uses to check for outages, which should help it avoid false positive outages.

The only issue appears to be that the connection speed is not brilliant, 150 Mbps is not the best speed that you can get from a 4G. Netgear make better Wireless Broadband devices that support not only 5G but also faster speeds on 4G, unfortunately they don’t provide failover for your existing wired Broadband connection (although, if money is no option, the faster Wireless broadband devices sometimes have wired connections that could be connected to the TP-Link router).

The next issue will be getting a 3G SIM that won’t cost you the earth. I think that SMARTY could be a good option for some as they provide a 1GB data only SIM for £6 per month, with £1 back if you don’t use the data in the month and £1 per GB when you go over.

If you are lucky enough to be one of the Virgin Media customers that got a SIM as part of your deal then it could save you a packet on your SIM charges and also provide a reliable backup for your ISP.

I think that if you need (or want) reliability for your WiFi connection, and you have your own WiFi equipment (rather than relying on your ISP), I think the LB2120 could be a good option. Unfortunately I haven’t decided which route to take and I feel that, whilst it’s important to have a reliable Internet connection, it’s not something that I am currently willing to spend over the odds for.

Maybe soon…

Apple ‘Phones 

There’s been rumours, as usual, about the next Apple iPhone (7) and as usual they are as mixed and as outlandish as usual.

One of the most recent articles I have read (from uSwitch) berated the rumoured removal of the headphone socket from the next rumoured iPhone.

Personally I have, in the past, looked at changes that Apple have made and not understood the reasoning. I first made that mistake when Apple removed the floppy disk when they produced the iMac.  When you look back, with hindsight, why were we so blind to think that a PC needed a floppy disk drive. Writable CDs then DVDs and then external drives and UBD pen drives have quickly replaced the unreliable and space limited removable devices. It’s dot to the point that if you asked a teenage kid today they would be shocked that such devices existed at all.

I feel that Apple, if they are removing the headphone jack/socket, have taken a bold leap into the future and it’s a long time coming. Personally I find the headphone socket to be unreliable and prone to being easily damaged. I believe people my age, remember walkmans [other portable tape players were available], MP3 players and them mobile phones that played music. But the number of times I’ve seen such devices lying broken by a headphone jack jammed , a piece of paper/material jammed into the socket, the internal contacts bent/broken and other issues that indicate that the headphone connector has had it’s day, make me think that it’s well past time that somone took a stand and got rid of this outdated and obsolete connector.

The rumours are that Apple will use the lightning connector instead, which could lead to some interesting possibilities. Could apple add some additional capabilities that are not possible with the traditional headphone socket? better noise cancelling? Advanced sound quality ?  or something amazing that has never been tried before?

To be honest I’m not sure why Apple still have a headphone socket.  I listen to music, music apps and on-line radio stations (Margaritavile is a must) on occasions, but the headphones that come with my iPhone became faulty some time ago and I think I would replace them with some bluetooth headphones if they weren’t so expensive. 

Any attempt by Apple to improve on the standard headphone socket may render traditional headphones unusable and, I believe, may lead some to criticise Apple and lead some to question their motives.
I see a lot of people walking around with the white Apple headphones, mostly talking, but sometimes listening to music. I suspect that if new lightning Apple headphones were provided with their new iPhone these users wouldn’t really care as long as they don’t loose any abilities that the original headphones had and if the headphones had additional capabilities then, I believe, making the switch would make sense to many.

Personally I am hopefull that Apple do make a radical change.  Apple have always pushed us into the future and make decisions that go against widely held beliefs but make us realise (in time) that what we have clung to so long is a relic of the past, something we have clung to like a favourite child’s toy / blanket, a sense of the familiar, without questioning why!

Of Mice (or Trackpads) and Men

I have always had an interest in how to use computers without using the mouse / trackpad.

I guess this is not a normal obsession for some, but I grew up using the IBM and Microsoft command line Operating System DOS as well as the Graphical interface of the Amiga and Atari operating systems.  As Windows [and IBM’s OS2] took over and PCs became more usable for non technical users, the tide turned but there were occasions where knowing how to work without a mouse was handy, especially as a support person.

My interest used to come in handy in the old days of Windows, where you had to load drivers before Windows actually knew that a mouse was present.  Without knowing how to use the keyboard to navigate and load the drivers the PC was pretty much just a beige box with some glowing lights and a big screen illuminating the room.

More recent versions of Windows, Linux and Apple operating systems automatically detect most mice and trackpads without needing any additional software to be loaded, but there are still times where the knowledge comes in handy.

On one occasion I was lucky enough to help a customer who was blind. As such they did not use a monitor or mouse, navigated around their Windows PC only using the keyboard, something that opened my eyes to the issues affecting people with disabilities who use a computer in their day to day lives.

More recently, I was in the Braehead Apple store and found that the Mac Mini and the Mac Pro had been set up but the Magic Mouse on the Mac Pro and the Magic Trackpad on the Mac Mini were not responding.  Being the type of person I am, I decided to try and figure out how to get them running, but I soon found the basic attempts to switch them off and back on did not allow them to be re-detected by OS X.

That’s when I found the secret…

You can use the FN key and the F4 key to open the Applications folder and go to System Preferences (using the arrow keys)

Once there you can use Search to choose “Bluetooth” which should start searching for bluetooth devices.

By resetting your mouse or trackpad (I had to remove and reseat the battery compartment on the Magic Trackpad – Luckily no one noticed and they didn’t think I was stealing the batteries) it should try reconnecting with your Apple OS X system and you should be ready to go.

Once I got home I decided to have another look at the accessibility tools on my MacBook and as I already knew how to log in by choose the account by pressing the CMD key and the first letter letter of the amount name (shift key will also work) it was easy to get to the desktop.

By repeating the above to get to the System Preferences and choosing Accessibility you can also “Enable Mouse Keys” from the “Mouse and Trackpad” option.
This sets keys on your keyboard to move the mouse left[u], right[o], up [8], down [k] and diagonally [7 9 j l ] and select [i]

You can even toggle the Mouse Keys no and off by pressing the Option key five times (if this option has been pre selected) which can be handy to enable and disable the feature as having it enabled makes typing practically impossible.

In order the keys should be:

7 8 9
u i o
j k l

Fore more information on “Mouse Keys” on a Mac try Apple’s support site pages here (Mavericks) or here (Yosemite)

For More information on “Mouse Keys” on a Windows PC try Microsoft’s website here (Windows XP), here (Windows 7) or here (Windows 8) [ Unfortunately there’s no info on “Mouse Keys” on Windows 10 at time of writing this]

For More information on “Mouse Keys” on Linux try here (Ubuntu) or here (RedHat) [or here for other accessibility keys if you don’t have a RedHat Support subscription]

There’s also a good general description on Wikipedia with relevant links.

I hope that someone finds this information useful.

Fun in the Sun – Florida (part 1)

In 2011 and 2014 we were in the lucky position to be able to visit Florida in the US, to be more specific Orlando.

This posting will mostly deal with our first visit in 2011, with more posts to follow for those interested in taking a trip over the pond for a fun break in the sun.

Our 2011 trip started with a Thomson flight from Glasgow International Airport to Stanford Airport. We’d chosen the route because it was cheeper than the flight to Orlando International, however Stanford is considerably further out than Orlando International which meant that we had to prebook a limo from the airport to our apartment, which meant it wasn’t as much of a saving as it first appeared.

We were staying at Mystic Dunes resort, which is close to Celebration and not far from Orlando. The resort hosts a large selection of villa apartments large enough to accommodate a family or a group of friends staying in the area.  There are a lot of facilities such as multiple swimming pools, a golf club and loads of other sporting areas dotted around the grounds. Our stay at Mystic Dunes was decent, but it was a bit far away for our first visit to Florida, especially considering our plan was to visit the Disney and Universal Parks (with a bit of retail therapy on the side).

Mystic Dunes had done a deal with the PlatinumTransportation Inc to supply all the transportation which meant that we were pretty much stuck with using them, which I believe may have cost us quite a bit to get around.  Despite the reviews on Yelp, we found the drivers of the cars and the busses to the parks to be polite and helpful, unlike the people that queues for the busses in the parks (that’s something for later).  The busses to the parks (Seaword, Disney’s Epcot and Animal Kingdom as well as Universal) started off at Mystic Dunes, which meant that you were guaranteed a seat on the long journey out but on the journey back Mystic Dunes was the last stop off, meaning if you didn’t get a seat you were standing until seats eventually freed up.  Some of the busses had screens which showed movies such as Despicable Me or Disney (usually Mickey Mouse shorts or Lion King), although sometimes the screens didn’t work or had problems, but it was occasionally a happy distraction.

Our lack of knowledge and lack of belief in our ability to drive in the US meant that we made some rookie mistakes, but we had done a bit of planning before we left so we weren’t completely naive.  There is a wealth of information on-line about Florida, the parks (Walt Disney World, Universal, SeaWorld, Bush gardens, etc), malls, and so much more, so I won’t go into it here, maybe in another posting…

Our plan to get to all the parks that we wanted, at times that weren’t so restrictive, was to use the Transportation and Ticket Centre at Magic Kingdom. The TTC allows you to use Disney busses, boats and monorail to get to and from all the Disney parks and resort hotels whilst still being able to access public busses such as Lynx to get out with Disney’s Kingdom, allowing you to get to the malls and Universal’s parks.  The only Disney location that you can’t get to from the TTC is Downtown Disney.  The secret to getting to Downtown Disney is to get a Disney Bus or Monorail to a Disney hotel and then get a Disney bus from there to Downtown.

As this was our fist visit to the area, we had decided not to take a gamble, hire a car and try driving on the other side of the road, something that I don’t regret despite the number of times we made mistakes with the Lynx bus system and had to call for the Limo to pick us up. In 2014 we did take the leap and get behind the wheel as it appears that most people drive in Orlando, but more of that in later posts.

Our original reason for going over to Florida was to have some fun and ride some of the more extreme rides in the area.  We had ridden all the rides in Alton Towers at the time and felt that it was time for me to up my game and try the bigger, faster rides in the states.  What happened once we reached the parks changed all that and our view on Disney changed forever and I suspect it will never be the same again.

We visited Universal‘s two parks and loved the big rides, atmosphere there and the more adult feel was great.  The big rides were amazing and the City Walk area was where we fell in love with the laid back Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. Margaritaville was a more subdued taste of Florida, good drinks, good food and a relaxed atmosphere which is a great break from the push and shove of parks.  For those of you with a fear of big rides then a few sips or a big gulp (if you really need it) of one of their tasty cocktails will soon sort out those nerves.  On one visit the barman was concerned that we had had a few drinks but had not yet eaten anything, after a quick discussion and realisation we were from Scotland, he realised that there was nothing to be concerned about.  On one trip we did try the Volcano Nacho’s which we were warned was a monster… we should have listened.. after the large plate, stacked high with “Tortilla chips layered with chili, cheese, pico de gallo, fresh guacamole, sour cream and jalapeños”  it was clear that the picture on the menu did not do it justice and we had really under estimated this monolith, after a brave struggle we had to eventually admit defeat.

When we went into Disney’s Magic Kingdom the feel was completely different and we almost instantly became Disney fans.  My better half joked that they must put something in the air conditioning system on Main St because after the Main street parade our view of Disney changed and something just clicked with us.  We realised that there is more to the Disney parks than just the rides, a feeling that you only get at Disney park and something that becomes electric within Magic Kingdom.

Our trip to the Florida Mall showed that UK Shopping centres are nothing compared to the US and being a Apple fan I had to check out the Apple store ( Hello, I’m FreakOut and I’m an Apple addict ). I can’t remember much about the rest of the stores, but I do remember there was loads for everyone and there is a big ass M&M’s store (which is far better than the only UK store in London and has a massive range of varieties of M&Ms that you just don’t get over here [except possibly CyberCandy in London’s Covent Garden]). My better half started a long distance retail affair with the Bath and Bodyworks, something that I have to admit that even I have started to love, which is yet another reason we keep going back to Florida…

Our one and great disappointment was that we never held back at the Disney parks for any of the night time fireworks at either Magic Kingdom or Epcot, something we would make up for in our next visit…

Another chip off the old block

So after months of deliberation a realisation came to me that my change from a diesel car to an electric was not going to be possible due to the lack of supply of suitably cheep second hand vehicles in central Scotland and my lack of finances and the longer I left the purchase of a new(er) vehicle the more it would cost me.

So I’m now the owner of a second hand Seat Altea XL, purchased through a local Seat dealership.  As a compromise I have gone for an ecomotive version, with low emissions and for my own peace-of-mind loads of mod cons such as automatic lights, Stop-Start technology (should save some pollution & money) and (not something new for my american readers, but new to me) Cruse Control.

As a past Seat Altea owner, I found the change to a new car really easy as it’s just the same car with a few refinements and a bit more space. I have often wondered why more people don’t know about the Altea as it has a lot of space whilst not looking like a big car.

For a couple without kids, a big question is why do I need so much space? To be honest I probably don’t but in the past we have taken our nice and nephew camping and down for a few days away to Alton Towers, something that needs quite a bit of space (especially when camping with our 5 man tent and all the associated equipment).

The Altea XL has quite a bit of extra space that will come in handy as we may also have to take our youngest nephew with his sister and brother (assuming that they haven’t got to that age that hanging out with their aunt and uncle is something that they would rather be dead than doing).  I also use my car for work at times and several laptops and or desktop PCs with monitors can take up quite a lot of space that most cars don’t have (even with the seats down).

My big issue is that the Altea does have some serious blind spots, which can cause you to miss cars, vans and even HGVs , depending on the angle of the vehicle.  I believe that the blind spot is (ironically) due to some security features such as airbags and body strength.  As I’m aware of this issue is shouldn’t be an issue with the Altea XL.

It’s been a while since I bought a car (over 5 years) and I’ve found that the service you receive has slowly deteriorated.  A few cars back (10+ years) I would get the car, either go for the dealerships finance deal (usually more expensive) or get my own finance (There are some great finance deals just now, such as a 3.6% personal loan for existing Nationwide Building Society) but no matter which option you went for you had the car valeted, car mats, good tyres, a full tank of fuel and a nice bunch of flowers.  The last two cars I have purchased have only included two of these options, namely the tires (which are a legal requirement) and the valet (which is sort of the minimum I would expect from any car dealership). In a world where simple actions such as a bunch of flowers and a cheep set of car mats can make a difference, I’m surprised that this tradition has fallen by the wayside especially when there are so many places vying for customers and any small way to make the customer happy can make that customer into a regular, helping to increase the customer satisfaction whilst keeping the business successful, after all it costs more to find new customers than to keep existing customers.

So all in all I’ve got a new (second hand ) car, which isn’t exactly what I want, but a compromise is better than nothing and sometimes you have to accept the changes because sometimes you aren’t able to get what you want.

Our Friends Electric

My car is on it’s last legs.

After 5+ years of driving to and from work, in heavy peek time traffic (often stop-go) on Scotland’s M8 and M74, is starting to take it’s toll on the poor machine. The last few visits to the garage, to have it’s annual MOT test, have come with another list of at least £500 of repairs needed.

To be honest I’ve never seen the point in purchasing a car that’s pristine, shiny and just off the sales floor, with a massive price tag that drops as soon as you get it home. I often try to find a car that’s a few years old for around £6K, with my last car (A diesel Seat Altea) being roughly 5 years old when I took ownership of it.

The Altea has been a great car, with loads of space (deceptively so at times) for those odd times you need that extra space for moving PCs for work, moving old furniture from the house and going to the local recycling centre with garden rubbish. The Altea has found a place in my and my better half’s hearts because it’s the only car I’ve had that we can use to take us and our nice, nephew and all the baggage required for a short trip for both Alton Towers and still have space and still allow the same group to take a 3 day camping trip in the North of Scotland without needing a roof rack for our 5+ person tent.

Now I’m finding out that the Altea is starting to show it’s age, is struggling with the 108K and growing miles on the clock and this is showing as increased garage bills each year (not to mention the fuel costs which until recently have been continually increasing, year on year if not month by month).

I have now started the search (starting on-line) for a new car around the £6K mark and found that the price of second hand cars, in the estate/family car range, is way out my league. But I have found something strange.

Before I go on, I’d like to say that I am surprised to find that over the last 5 or so years that Electric or even hybrid cars have not become more mainstream, especially given the high cost of fuel and the low milage most people do on a day to day basis. I’ve always wanted to own an electric car, for environmental and economic reasons. My view is that there are fewer parts to go wrong and if you can generate your own electricity (eg solar Photovoltaic cells) they should be really cheep to run.

Whilst searching on the internet I first came across a Citroen electric car for only £8K, capable of 100+ miles on a single charge. Since my daily commute to work is currently just under 30 miles one way, even if I needed to use the car for a few miles for work use, it would be feasible to run the car and charge it at night (even with a 6+ hour charge from the standard 250V mains socket).

After a quick search, after a vague remembered discussions from TV or Radio, (or maybe Robert Llewellyn’s excellent Podcast on Electric cars ?) I found that you can currently get an external charge point installed for free via a UK government grant and The Scottish Energy Savings Trust will also pay for the install of a high Amp quick charge power point at the same time.

So after some quick calculations, I believe that it currently costs me between £2-3k ( fuel, road Tax, repairs) at present to run the Altea. At the suggested £2 rate per charge I estimate that the cost or running an Electric car would save me at least £2K a year.

The downside is that the car is “Compact and Bijou”, ie good for commuting but not much else. Therefore whilst it’s an electric car it’s not really suitable for my needs. ( although I could always hire a car or van for the trips that the electric car is not suitable for).

Then my search came up with 2007 & 2008 Toyota Prius (as driven by Brian Griffin in Family guy and featured in a Southpark episode about hybrid cars and “smug”). The Prius is a hybrid car, using the electric motor for slow speed travel (ie traffic jams and non motorway driving) with a petrol engine for the motorway driving (anything over 40 MPH, I believe). This is the best of both worlds, at lest a way to save money on travel, without needing a charge point. It may also be good for those long trips, but may not have the space for camping etc without digging out our old roof rack.

Inquisitive, I then went to find out how much these cars actually cost new. I was floored to find that most electric cars are still selling for around the £24K mark!!? I even tried Nissan’s Leaf “how much could you save” calculator and it said that a new electric car (and battery hire) would cost me £200 a month, over £2k a year !!!

The I was thrown another curve ball.
A second hand Renault Fluence, for £6K!!
Back in 2012 I had the opportunity to try out a Renault Twizy electric vehicle during their EV tour in Glasgow’s George Square. Whist the Twizzy was a great wee run around for short journeys it clearly wasn’t suitable for my travel needs as it’s a 2 seat vehicle with no boot and a Max Milage (range) of 50 miles. I had tried to get a test drive of the Fluence but the promotional team were too busy (chatting) to deal with my request, despite having at least 3 vehicles free.
After a bit of checking the Fluence (which was originally sold in the rest of Europe as both an electric and Petrol versions) is no longer in sale in the UK, which is a concern as the batteries were (as is currently the standard) rented from Renault. So the car is either for sale with no batteries (no mention of that on the car dealers website) or the batteries may not last ( with no indication that there are any replacements available) or Renault may demand the battery(s) back. Whatever Scenario is the reality it’s an expensive gamble which could end up with a car that won’t run and nothing that can be done.

Whilst the Fluence is a full electric car, long journeys would be possible to Alton Towers as many motorway service stations now have quick charge stations, which charge up to 80% in 30 minutes (ie a bathroom / lunch break). I’ve spotted these in the past from companies such as Ecotricity and others (charged via a solar cell or small wind turbine).

At present I’m no further forward but Renault have advised that the Fluence’s battery hire would be about £127 per month for my 18K annual mileage. It could be a good option, depending on the actual size and space for storage for longer trips and if that’s good news then a call to the dealership may be in order, although it does appear that the car in question is presently a few hundred miles away in England, which makes a test drive more of a long (possibly wasted) trip to try a car that may not be suitable or if it is I’d still have to organise finance and get it shipped to my home.

So it looks like, whilst an electric car is becoming more feasible, there are still a lot of hurdles to be jumped for those who would be interested in purchasing an electric car as their next vehicle.

A rugged, mobile wifi device brings the web to schools in Africa and beyond

Not just tech for tech’s sake, but making a difference in people’s lives. From a simple original idea, life changing technology that could bring amazing possibilities and changes to people’s lives.

Edinburgh Apple Store Grand Opening

I know I’m really late in posting about the Grand Opening of the Apple Store, Princes Street, Edinburgh but as I was lucky enough to be there and take some photos, I thought it’s about time I wrote something about it.


I arrived about an hour before the opening time, but despite this, the queue was not as long as I had anticipated.

The queue was separated between people wanting to purchase the new iPhone 6 (or 6 Plus) [shortish queue] and those wanting to see the shiny new store, who formed a long, winding queue which snaked in front of the building next door with a small brea , for the lane that runs down the side of the store, to allow traffic to pass.

The queue was well mannered as usual and despite the cold Scottish wind (luckily the rain had stopped by this time), the queue was well mannered and cheery. After speaking to a few people in the queue and overhearing some conversations, it appeared to me that the latter half of the queue had never attended an Apple Store opening before and most were a bit bemused by the situation, but realised that it was all part of the experience.

As with the other Grand Openings, which I’ve had the opportunity to attend, Starbucks staff were on hand with a smile on their faces and a small warming hot chocolate or coffee to keep everyone’s spirits up.

Just before opening the sound of bagpipes filled the air and the Apple Store staff came out to welcome everyone with a quick procession around the queue, clapping and cheering everyone who had been waiting for so long.

The security staff. who were managing the queue, were friendly and well mannered despite spending hours on site after setting up the barriers in the rain earlier in the morning. Their simple pass system for ensuring that no one was able to ‘skip’ the queue, as the queue passed over the lane beside the store, worked really well and appeared to also being utilised for those waiting in line for iPhones at the same point in their queue.

Once beside the store, the sheer vastness and open clean design of the store was evident, even with the crowds of fans and staff who had already filled the ground floor of the store.

A short wait later and I was finally passing through the glass doors and getting the customary high fives from the corridor of staff that welcome you into every Grand Opening as you grab the opening day t-shirt (I’m still surprised that some of the fans in the queue didn’t know about what would happen and that the t-shirts are only available in one size, to the first 1000 to enter the store).

Once in the store I had a quick look round and realised that the ground floor was a bit too crowded for me. After bumping into a regular face at these events and a short chat, I was soon heading to the side of the store and up the beautiful staircase (no glass this time) to the bright, clean and airy upstairs, which I believe is the Genius’ area (although there didn’t appear to be a Genius Bar )


Upstairs was a lot quieter and had space for the children’s area, Genius area, Training area, loads of accessories and all the stuff you find at the back of the ‘mall’ Apple Stores (or Upstairs in Glasgow’s Buchanan St Apple Store).


The look of the store really caught my eye, from the aluminium air conditioning ducts, floating from the ceiling, to the amazing staircase (which I kept taking pictures of – a bad habit of mine [see my Flickr account] ) and the sense of light and space, which was ever present, even on what could be the busiest day of the store.


Looking out the first floor window, I could see the Apple flag curled round the flag pole and even an hour after the store opened (yes it took me that long to get in and have a look round – Something my long suffering better half was a bit unhappy about as she sat patiently in McDonald’s up the road) the queue was as long, if not longer, than it had been when I had joined it initially.

Unlike other Grand Openings, it stuck
me how busy the store was. There
were Genius Appointments happening within an hour of the store opening (if not before) and there was a clear demand for the new iPhone 6 / 6 Plus, which is something I’ve not really noticed before, at least not on the same scale.

Hopefully my photos will do the store justice, but I would recommend a visit if you’re in Edinburgh.

I’ll certainly be back in the Edinburgh Apple Store when I’m next in the capital and maybe next time I’ll get a better feel for what the store is really like, without all the clamour of the Grand Opening.

If you want to find out more about the history of the Edinburgh Apple Store, I would suggest checking out Gary Allen’s blog “IFOAppleStore” (IFO=In Front Of) which details the rumours about the Edinburgh Apple Store over the past decade as well as interesting details on many of the Apple Stores throughout the world and other info on that Apple fans may find as interesting as I do.

Spudger find

during a recent lunch break, I popped into the Linwood TK Max store with a work colleague.

As usual I took a few minutes looking at the tools, phone covers, headphones, car accessories and the general geeky and man crap that lies unordered on random shelves in a section of the store.

I like having a look in TK Max as I have found some interesting screwdriver sets and other oddities that you don’t often find elsewhere.

My eyes lit up when I spied the following item: A Spudger!!

The pack (see photo) contained a Nylon and metal spudger from “Rolson Quality Tools” for £1.99 [ RRP listed as £3.49 ?] and it’s already been of great use to me when I had to strip down our Virgin Media remote control after it was accidentally drop end and the casing popped open.

The tools won’t last long under heavy use ( there are already deep scores appearing ) but for the occasional use in prying open the odd laptop or home electricals ( thinking my nephew’s game controllers, remote controls etc) they should do the trick.


The Cycle of Mental Illness

An interesting, accurate and personal view on mental health from the viewpoint of a close family member.

True to life and very touching.

Cellulite Looks Better Tan

It starts again.  The cycle.  The never ending punch in the gut, jolt to the heart, baffling cycle.

The first stage:


“Have you talked to mom?”  The question I hate to hear when one of my four brothers calls.

“Yes.”  I close my eyes before I ask, “Why?”

“She just seems,” Sigh, “Out of it.”

“No. I haven’t noticed.”  I lie.

Then I end the call and pretend it never happened.  I go about my day.  I play with my children.  We do homework.  I cook dinner for my family, a mediocre, limp mess that we call a meal.  I sit in my chair at the kitchen table, fork some food into my mouth, chew, and swallow, all the while trying to push her illness away from my reality.  I smile at my son as he tells me something really important about one of his Lego Star Wars characters…

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