Monthly Archives: September 2019

Eurostar

I’ve never been through the Channel Tunnel before, but on Tuesday, I got the good news that I was needed at an all-day meeting in Ghent. Last minute flights and last minute EuroStar cost about the same, and the theory was that we’d be more productive in transit on the train than on a plane.

Did the theory work out?

For the most part, yes. The train was immediately better than a plane because you only have to go through passport control once (once you’ve gone through in London, you’re in the Schengen zone, and once you’ve gone through in Brussels, you’re effectively back in the UK). It also lacks the tedious restriction on liquids – no more putting things in a transparent plastic bag, no more buying tiny cannisters of deodorant, no problem bringing back Belgian beer!

We went in “standard premier” to have a bit more space, and it was about as spacious as first class on most UK trains, with a power socket for each seat (half of them are French/EU two pin plugs, of course, but you probably had your adapter with you anyway…)

The food and drink was also much nicer than you get on a plane, and you have to turn up less in advance and hang around for a shorter time.

The only thing which surprised and disappointed me was the crap internet access. OK, so it was an improvement over most short haul flights, where you’re cut off completely in the air, but I was amazed at how poor the mobile coverage was along the route. I didn’t manage to keep a connection up for more than about ten minutes at a time,

Then again, getting from London to Brussels in less than two hours is pretty damn impressive, and being able to buy tickets which cover onward travel to any Belgian station was the icing on the cake.

The hardest lesson for IT people to learn…

… is as follows:

Technology is not the answer to every problem

This is something I’ve slowly worked out myself over the years, and try to teach everyone on my team.

Why am I getting philosophical, you ask? Well, last Wednesday I was in the middle of a discussion with two colleagues when my phone rang. It was a nice chap from NHS Blood and Transplant, asking if I wanted to book an appointment to donate blood. Apparently, they’re very short of donations in my type (O negative), which I can believe as only 9% of the UK population has it.

Until recently, when I went to donate, they’d ask me over my cup of tea afterwards whether I’d like to make an appointment for the next session in the same location. And since that location is walking distance back to my flat (you don’t want to be driving yourself when you’ve just had a pint of blood drained out of you), I always said yes. It was simple, and it worked.

However, I and others have noticed that they no longer do this. As a result, you get the call (in my case, for extra fun, the call was interspersed with another one about an emergency), and they tell you that the closest location to home is all booked up for months ahead. I ended up agreeing to go across town (with all the resultant problems about driving afterwards), but decided to dig into the cause.

After a somewhat heated exchange on Twitter, it turned out that they are working on a new system where people book their own appointments on an app, to try and reduce people forgetting to turn up. This is all very well, but nobody at the sessions mentioned the existence of such an app! I could have asked, but since it’s me doing them the favour, why should I? And why can’t they time their begging phone calls better, or try and match up the proportion of appointments they make with the blood types they need most urgently?

I can see the good intentions here, but given that every single session I’ve been to is running late by the end of the day, are they really that badly disrupted by some people failing to turn up for their appointments?

I won’t punish the innocent patients who need a bit of my O negative by stopping my donations, but I am very cross that it will now take another six months to get my donations back in sync with the location I want to be at.

Notes on the Raspberry Pi 4

I’ve used Raspberry Pis since the early days, for a variety of things including graphing my electricity usage at home, running status displays at work, and sitting in the comms cabinet at church to monitor the network.

Recently, with my work hat on, I got my hands on a couple of Pi 4s. Naturally, I went for the top end option with 4GB of RAM, though the price is noticeably higher for that variant.

My impressions so far:

  • You can’t do a quick upgrade by dropping in the micro SD card from an older model – it will lack the relevant firmware. It’s possible that this has never actually worked and I’ve just been lucky enough to have written my cards for older Pis with newer software…
  • The unofficial cases I got because of a stock shortage are good, except that it’s impossible to get the microSD card out without damaging it (unless you have a pair of tweezers. I don’t, and I’m two micro SD cards down and quite cross with myself…)
  • The switch to USB-C for power makes good sense. Don’t forget you can buy “tips” which convert micro USB to USB-C, if you want to keep using old adapters (as long as they provide the right voltage).
  • The switch to micro HDMI is extremely tedious, because you’ll almost certainly have to buy cables/adapters rather than having them lying around. After a string of different standards on laptops over the years, I’m getting quite bored of the movement in this area.
  • I don’t have two 4K displays, but it can definitely drive one
  • If you’re running NOOBs, be sure to plug into the display connector closest to the power. You’ll just get the rainbow screen on the other one.
  • Built-in WiFi is worth having
  • It gets hot, which is part of the reason I went for metal cases and stick-on heatsinks for the chips

All in all, it’s evolution, and mostly in a positive way.