eXtensions - Wednesday 25 July 2017

The Wednesday File (15) - Trains and Boats and Planes and CarPlay; Plus Apple Store, London: HomeKit and HealthKit

apple and chopsticks


By Graham K. Rogers


Opening Ideas

Late news suggests that Apple is to build three plants in the USA, although some sources suggest that these may be actually be by Foxconn rather than Cupertino.

As usual, with Apple's financial results due out on Tuesday, the analysts are wringing their hands and predicting lower figures than expected. This is really the same playbook we have seen many times, with one also playing forward and saying that (something we have heard before) Apple will not be able to maintain growth with the next iPhone. And some tell is it will be late. Apple? Silence.


I am on vacation so productivity has dropped significantly. My output was also hit by the arrival of a dissertation that a former student of mine, currently studying a Masters Degree at Sussex University, asked me to look at. I am halfway through that.

Suvarnhabhummi Despite having taught him how not to write, much of the text shows interference from translation, so my work on this took longer than expected. His thesis has to fit in with my vacation and although there is a deadline (still a week or so away), instead of writing I am editing.

I arrived in plenty of time for, my flight last Wednesday and sailed through the checkin (the case was 19.8 Kgs), but then came the trek to the flight side, through a security system and the x-ray machines. That done, there was Immigration for exit processing, and then on through to wait for the flight.

I managed to sit in the wrong seat on the Thai Airways Boeing 777, but moved for the lady whose seat it was, but she spoke sweetly to a hostess and bagged the entire row in front, leaving me with three seats in row 32. And on to Heathrow where the semi-automated immigration and anonymous Customs were soon dealt with.

Cars and CarPlay

I went to the car rental booth and signed the paperwork for the pre-booked car, but instead of a C-class Benz, I was given an Audi A4 with gasoline engine, although I wanted a diesel. The helpful lady suggested I ask at the pickup as cars come in frequently. I ended up with a diesel Audi and was soon home using the new exit from the motorway that neither Apple Maps nor Google Maps shows as yet. Off the motorway and on to country roads, I gave the Audi its head a little and enjoyed what I found.

Audi A4

I usually have a post-paid SIM in Thailand, but needed pre-paid cards for the iPhone and iPad Pro. Buying the cards was easy, but the printer on a till where I bought the refills was not clear and the number I entered was wrong. After three times, I was locked out of the phone for 30 minutes, so returned to the store and they managed to provide a print-out that showed the error. A few minutes later I was in, but forgot to take an extra step to authorise a "bundle". A call to the help desk of Three fixed that.

Once that was done, I was able to use data roaming with the UK number and start catching up with email, Twitter, Facebook and other online sources. I connected the iPhone to the USB port in the car and immediately was able to access CarPlay. This was far easier than with the Mercedes-Benz I had used the previous year and I was able to make fuller use of the features available, particularly Maps and Directions.

I did find that long distance navigation was effective, but some of the details still needed working out, so I did manage to go from town to town but some of the roundabouts were not totally round and the output failed to work with that, especially if an intersection had multiple exits.

Audi A4

I later had problems with the feature that recognized the car location when parked. I always take photographs when leaving a car in a strange place, so that I can use the GPS location to return, but as I left the car, the system told me that I had parked the car and marked the location for my later use, only it did not quite work like that. As I left the shopping center I must have used the wrong door so I was walking away from the car. I returned to the mall, but the same happened again and, even though I had it set for Walking directions, I was being given directions to use a roundabout: "use the third exit. . ."

I asked a couple of guys and showed one of the photos I had taken, he sent me in the right direction, but once I was through the mall, instructions were not sure enough for me. I went past a couple of young guys sitting at the side of the footpath and one asked me about the AirPods I was wearing. He wondered if they would work if one were removed from the ear. I was able to explain that they would and also gave some more information about how they worked. In exchange, I asked him for help and the two lads walked me through the mall (again) and set me off on the right path. I found the car.

Boats and Trains

I had expected to go down to Gosport, but that has been cancelled, so no visit to the sea and boats there. Driving about on a wet Saturday, I called in to the Bedford Priory Marina where, briefly, I saw some dinghies on the lake. The rain let up long enough for me to take a couple of photographs, but they were poor and I deleted them. I did see boats on the canal that runs through this area.


One of my intentions was to visit the Leighton Buzzard light railway that was originally a way for quarry owners to deliver sand to the main railway. In the 1970s, I remember it as a place of enthusiasts, but unreliable trains. Much has changed and they have brought in several steam trains that work on narrow gauge lines. They also have several small diesel trains and the whole thing has far more of a profesional air, despite being run by amateurs (many of them highly skilled).

Leighton Buzzard Light Railway Leighton Buzzard Light Railway

I managed a short trip to the workshop area, although dod not see any trains running. What did surprise me was the way the workshops and sidings have been expanded. I will go back during the week. The trains are running every day right now as the school holidays have started in the UK.

Edward II

One other trip I have been looking forward to was the Didcot Railway Centre. This is not too far from my parents' home and is just to the south of Oxford. Didcot is a major junction on the railway system, but is also home to a live museum. One small part of that has a small section of broad gauge track: part of the original design and construction of the Great Western Railway and its engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Broad gauge Broad gauge

Apple Store London

I had a job to do in London so took a train down mid-morning. I was slightly annoyed by the way people sitting on the train, placed their own items - cases, clothes - on seats near them preventing others from sitting. The ticket collector asked me why I was standing and I mentioned the items: he had one of the people move the items and I sat for the journey into Euston.

I had a ticket that covered me for the Underground, but when I tried, the gate failed to open. I checked that the ticket was actually valid with a member of staff, who told me that there were often problems with these: "Just ask one of us." For the rest of the day I did ask and the staff were all polite and helpful. At Oxford Street, I asked the Underground staff member who helped me about directions for the Apple Store in Regents Street. Polite again, he told me which exit to use and where to turn.

In the Apple Store I entered and stopped to take in the whole scene - changed since I was last here over 10 years ago - and started by looking at the hard disks, although the two staff members discussing their personal lives were in the way a bit.

The overall sense of the store is space and the shelves look sparsely stocked as part of this effect. Upstairs I could see one man watching those below carefully. With a radio at his side, he was obviously security and I asked him about photographs. He politely told me there were no restrictions, so I took a few and then found the HomeKit devices. A young member of staff from Germany was helping a customer, but as soon as she was finished she advised me on the Phillips Hue devices I was looking at, then suggested I look at the demo they had set up below.

Apple Store Apple Store

She took me to the stairs and apologised as she was not able to leave her section, but it was clear where the devices were. Apple had them set up with a interactive video screen showing a room. Using either an iPhone or an iPad, any of the devices shown in the Home app could be adjusted and the image on the large TV screen would react accordingly. It was interesting changing the settings of a fan, but the blinds and the lighting are a major selling point.

The young man from Spain who was demonstrating this to me said how this still had yet to take off the way he thought it should and I could only agree as I see HomeKit and HealthKit devices - Apple's take on the Internet of Things - as major steps forward. I had come for the Hue devices and I bought a starter kit with 2 white lights at £59.95. The colour starter kit was £149.95, so I decided against that, but did add a colour bulb at £49.95. I will be setting that up when I return to Bangkok. Like the San Francisco store, details of the purchase are entered on an iPhone and Apple sent me an email receipt.

London London London

After the Apple Store I took a walk through central London and took some photographs before ny 3:45 PM appointment, after which I was able to make it to Euston in 20 minutes and caught a commuter train back out to the country.

I had brought my Qardio blood pressure device with me to the UK and gave that to my mother who does not like the band that she has to wear for 24 hours each time the doctor wants a check of her activity. She attends the surgery the following day and the data is downloaded to a computer using by cable.

She mentioned the Qardio device to the doctor today and the point that she would be able to send the results directly to the surgery by email - one of the advantages that those like Doctor Richard Milani have claimed will reduce contact time for medical staff and for patients. My mother, who is not especially technical, was surprised when the doctor apologetically told her that they are not set up for that here in the UK, although they are aware that this is working well in other countries.

This seems to mirror the comments on the Apple staff member who mentioned how little uptake there is of such devices (HomeKit and HealthKit). There is lot of potential in the UK.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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