I've not much time for blogging these days, nor the inclination if I'm totally honest, but I do still share the odd link or post I like, or offer a rare opinion that most likely nobody else would be interested in. If any of these things vaguely appeal to you, you can find me on Micro.blog.

Which, by the way, you really should try if you like that kind of thing. It's all yours to keep and do with as you please and you can cross post to other social places if you wish. My trial has just run out and I've just signed on for the paid service and, as most people would testify that know me, it takes a fair bit to get me to dip into my pockets.

Tai Chi

Mandy's been teaching me Tai Chi for the past "term". I've thoroughly enjoyed the experience and am already seeing the benefits.  

Next term starts in Septemer. Come and join us if you can.  


Get a Kindle Book and Audiobook companion for cheap

Here's a tip for those, like me, who love their Kindles and Audiobooks. 

if you buy the Kindle version of a book, if an Audible audiobook version is available, you can often buy that as well at a heavily reduced price. This can often be way cheaper than just buying the audiobook. 

This also works for discounted, even free, Kindle books. For example. I recently got the Kindle version of Prototype D for free, and that entitles me to get the Audible audiobook for only £2.99. The normal price for the audiobook alone is £16.97. Often, this will also allow you to use Whispersync, which synchronises your audiobook and eBook versions so you can switch between them with ease. 

I've made some significant savings this way. It's often cheaper to buy the Kindle version just to get the discount on the audiobook than it is to just buy the audiobook. The two combined are often cheaper than the cost of my 1 credit per month subscription on Audible. 

iPad Pro, Smart Keyboard and Software Keyboard

I'm sure I'm missing a trick here, but how the hell do you get Software Keyboards to display (apart from Emoji) on the iPad Pro when using it with the Apple Smart Keyboard? 

I can only assume Apple's suggestion to "lift the iPad from the Smart Keyboard groove" is some sort of delayed April Fool, but I can't for the life of me see how else you can do it.

Which renders otherwise useful third party keyboards, such as Copied, fairly useless when used with the Smart Keyboard.

Please tell me I'm missing something.

iPhone SE. If Carlsberg made mobile phones...

I've been using an iPhone 6S Plus since it was released. Prior to that, it was the 6 Plus. I'd gotten used to big phones and it felt that that's what a phone is these days, so that was it.

However, recently, my wife was in the market for a bigger phone. She had an iPhone 5 and wanted something with a bigger display. Initially, I thought I'd let her have my existing 6S Plus and I'd get a 7, or get a 7 for her whilst I kept the 6S Plus, but, before making a decision, I wanted to look at the alternatives.

I really didn't want to get Yet Another Phone Contract, so I was looking at buying an unlocked phone with no contract. This narrowed the options considerably, as I also didn't want to pay around £800 for a new phone.

I considered Android. The OnePlus Three looks like a lot of phone for your money. But, well, it's Android. And, as a family, we've pretty much gone full in with Apple and it's ecosystems, for better and worse.

So, in the price range, that left an option of around one - the iPhone SE.

I'd not even thought about going back to a smaller phone before. But then I had a bit of a play with my wife's iPhone 5 and realised I actually love that small form factor. Being able to use it completely with one hand. This is like magic!

It started to feel that bigger phones had always been the norm and that Apple had performed some wizardry and got virtually all previous functionality into something this tiny! How did they do it?

So, I purchased a 64Gb SE last week. And wow, am I happy with it. I don't care that the front facing camera isn't so good (virtually never use it) and I don't really need a barometer. I do wish it was 128Gb, but 64's not so bad. I thought I'd miss the optical image stabilisation of the 6S Plus but, the SE takes a damn fine photo.

But, any compromises there may have been are more than made up for by the fact that I hardly know I'm carrying my phone any more. In fact, there have been a few occasions where I've had to check I even have it with me, but I'm getting used to it.

This is like some new found freedom and I'm loving it.

I think it's been helped by the fact the I now use my iPad Pro for virtually everything, so I didn't require a Big Phone to Get Things Done.

Times change and my phone requirements have moved on. For me, right now, the SE is a pretty perfect phone.

Oh, and I can stand it vertically on my desk, without a stand, even in it's lovely leather case 😄

iPhone clock 1 minute out

Doesn't seem much, I know, and ordinarily, I probably wouldn't even notice.

Trouble is, Google Authenticator does, and it can generate "incorrect" codes when the clock is out (but "correct" given its understanding of the time at the point of request). This elevates it from a trivial non-issue to something rather critical.

I spent an age the other day working with Fastmail support trying to work out why I couldn't log in - they were baffled too, saying they use Authenticator, too, and have had no issues. It was only when the same problem occurred when I tried to use Authenticator for my Dropbox login that I Investigated further and discovered the clock issue.

Most odd, though. My iPad on the same network and also using auto-set for the clock, is spot on.

Anyone else getting this?

Doesn't feel good to me, either - Bad guys win again

So, we finally get Content Blocking on iOS. Great news. Or maybe not.

Like many, I grabbed Marco Arment's Peace app, which adds content blocking to Safari on iOS and does it well.

Marco's decided to pull the app, because he doesn't feel good about it. I kinda respect his decision, but then I kinda think he had time to think about this before.

And, whatever the real reasons, it certainly at least feels more like peer pressure is behind this. See Marco's earlier post, referencing a Tweet from Mr Gruber.

That smells pretty bad to me. 

And now, I actually feel more inclined to block ads on this little collection of sites, so I guess that backfired.

Getting a refund for the app isn't really an option for me. Last time I did that, Apple got huffy with me and wouldn't let me buy any more apps until I hit the button saying I acknowledged I couldn't get a refund, because I'd had the cheek to ask for a refund for an app that didn't work as advertised.

So, thanks for that, Marco. I know the refund bit isn't your fault, but pulling the app is. I respect you and your decisions. I love your apps. But you've just lost a customer.

But hey, I don't have that many readers.

Update: At least Apple have done the right thing and are refunding everyone who purchased the app.  

No Scribd, that doesn't work for me

Scribd have just killed what was, for me, their killer feature - unlimited audio books:

Our vision at Scribd has always been to build a destination where readers can discover their next great read for a small monthly fee. Every step we’ve taken over the years – introducing new publishers, titles, verticals, and features – has been a step towards that goal, and towards improving your reading experience.

Today, we’re letting you know that we’re going to be transitioning our audiobook service to a credit–based system. Starting on September 20, you will receive one audiobook credit as part of your monthly subscription to use toward any title in Scribd’s audiobook catalog.".

I can't see how they're "improving your reading experience" by strangling the audio book experience.

And I can't see how a service that notw operates like Audible, but with less books and without you ever owning said books is a good deal for anyone other than Scribd. And Audible are doing some terrific Daily Deals right now where you can buy, outright, some first class titles for as little as 99p.

I know Scribd's main offering is eBooks (and comics, too - but the comic reader is very basic) but, frankly, in that department, there are better offerings elsewhere.

I'll admit I'm still on their free 2 month trial, but I was intending to continue into a paid subscription until this announcement, purely because of the audio books.

Not any longer.


50% Off Safari Books Online

Cracking deal today over at Safari Books Online - an annual subscription for only $199, valid for the lifetime of your membership.

From the blurb:

This membership gives you unlimited access to over 30,000 books, videos, and conference talks curated with a single purpose - to help you learn new skills and advance your career.

Given I've been paying $39 per month, I'm sure you can guess that I've upgraded.

This was a 48 hour offer and I received the email some time during the night, so don't delay if you're interested.

Dealing with large companies - a lesson in frustration

I hate having to contact any large (over about 20 staff) company to discuss a problem.

I hate it because I know it's going to be a terrible experience. At best, I feel I may actually get the problem resolved after varying degrees of hassle, at worst, I'll probably finish the contact feeling worse than when I started.

Case in point. We bought a new oven from Currys a couple of weeks back. The old one was gas and obviously needed to be removed and the old gas connection sealed. The new oven is electric. So the guy in the shop helpfully said no problem, we'll make sure both fitters are on site when we deliver on Saturday. We paid the extra £100 for installation, removal of the old oven etc.

I actually said to my wife as we were leaving the shop that it seemed to go too smoothly and, of course, I was right.

Saturday arrives. Oven arrives. Two blokes arrive. We're in the lounge and I hear one of them say "Oh, it's gas!". I said to my wife "Here we go"...

One of the guys came in to the lounge and said he couldn't install it as it needed a gas fitter. I said I knew that was the case and that one was booked. He phoned them and they said they knew nothing about it. When would we like them to come out? I'd like them to come out today, as booked. They can't do that. Tuesday any good? Reluctantly, yes, but it'll have to be after 1:30 pm. That's fine, no problem, all booked for Tuesday afternoon, then.

I phoned Monday night - the night before they were due to come out - to check the delivery time. They said I had to check their web site after 9 pm and he gave me a reference number to enter to check it. At 9:15 pm, I checked it and it didn't recognise the reference number and stated that there was a problem and I should contact them. The phone lines had shut at 6pm.

Got a text Tuesday morning saying they'd deliver between 8:45 and 12:45. Phoned them again to reiterate nobody would be in the house before 1:30 pm as previously advised. They said they'd try and contact the fitters to see if they could get an afternoon appointment.

Whilst waiting, I get a call from the guy outside our empty house. I tried to phone back when I got the message, but it went straight back to their Unhelp Line. I asked them why they'd agreed to send someone after 1:30 pm and now the guy is stood outside my house at 11 am. He told me they couldn't specify a time of arrival. I asked why they had then agreed to make it after 1:30 pm in the first place. He had no answer for that.

So, now it's re-re-re-booked for this Saturday.

Why does stuff like this have to be so complicated and frustrating? It's almost as if the process has been specifically designed to antagonise the customer at every possible opportunity. If that's truly the case, then hats off to them, as they've got it down to perfection.

Meanwhile, back to microwave meals and salad for the rest of the week for the family. And we'll see what (if anything) happens on Saturday.

P.S. There are some good companies out there - see my post here. But unfortunately, they're the exception. I like to post about the good ones, as a positive experience makes me feel nice and fuzzy and I want to share that. I like to post about the bad ones as it makes my blood boil and I need to get it off my chest.

[Update: 20/06/2015]

The guys arrived on Saturday. Without the gas fitter. Again, they knew nothing about there being anything to do with gas with this job.

I felt kinda sorry for them. They clearly thought we were going to be somewhat annoyed. I think we were incredulous more than anything. It's not their fault.

They said there are a lot of problems like this with the shop not sending the correct details over. He did his best to re-book, so we did, for Tuesday afternoon. He also suggested we go and complain to the shop.

They left sheepishly, shook my hand, and wished us luck.

We went to the shop, ready for a big battle. The manager instantly offered the installation fee back (£100), as if that was the 5th time that week. Maybe it was. But he said he'd have to issue it after it was fitted, otherwise it'd cancel the job!

According to one of the guys who came around today, it's probably cost about £50 a visit, so that'll be a total of £200, plus the £100 we're getting back. That's £31 more than we paid for the cooker and installation, so their efficiency drive is working a treat, isn't it?

[Update: 23/06/2015]


At last, on visit number 4, we have a new cooker! And an installed one, not one sitting in the hallway.

Pizza time!

Then off to pick up that refund.

My First App Store Refund Request

I've never felt the need to request a refund for an App Store app, until today. 

I picked up Hitman Sniper at the weekend. Awesome game. In almost every respect, worth the money.

Univeral app, so works on the iPhone and iPad. Even better. 

Went to set up the cloud sync and was presented with this:

 No, no, no

No, no, no

Umm, hang on. It's asking me to connect to my Facebook account in order to enable it. That's a problem on multiple levels. 

For one, I paid for this app. I don't then expect to have to "do" anything else to "unlock" what should be core functionality.

Secondly, and rather more importanly, I don't have a Facebook account. So that's me screwed then, as far as wanting to sync my progress across devices with this app I just paid for.

That last bit is kinda important. If this was free, I'd probably still be miffed but, hey, free is free. This isn't free. It's not even cheap.

So I've requested my first refund.

This is shoddy behaviour from the app developers. At the very least, they should state "Functionality wihtheld until you connect to your Facebook account even though you're paying for the app, so if you haven't got a Facebook account, you probably don't want to buy this", but I guess that may impact sales.

Bad devs, very bad indeed. 

The iPad and astronomy

I've recently rediscovered my love of astronomy.

Currently, I'm using a pair of my Dad's old 10x50 binoculars. I've got a small (100mm reflector) telescope on the way. I need something small to take on my constant travels.

The iPad is a near perfect observational tool. I've got a ton of astronomy apps, but my favourite by far is SkySafari Pro. It's not cheap, but I managed to get it at a low price in one of their sales, so keep an eye out.

I use the app to identify what I'm looking at and to drill down and find more info out in the field. I mainly use the 'static' display, preferring to manually search around, as I find this gives me a greater understanding of what I'm looking at. But it does also have an excellent augmented reality function - just point your iPad up into the sky and it'll show you what you're pointed at.

When I'm done observing for the night, I like to keep a record of what I've seen.

First step is to take a screen grab from SkySafari Pro of the area(s) I've been looking at. I then load those into Pixelmator on the iPad and use one of the shape tools to draw around what I've been observing.

I then send that to Day One, where it can automatically add the date and location of the observation. I'll also tag it as "astronomy" so I can easily find my observing logs at a later date.

I end up with something like this...

 My observing log in Day One

My observing log in Day One

This is a wonderful example of new tech really being useful. The iPad is being genuinely useful to me here - it educates me, and also allows me to keep a permanent record of my discoveries and findings.

Great stuff.