Tag Archives: travel

Over the Irish Sea

Dublin Airport #mootieuk12 #366photos

Today is the start of the Ireland and UK Moodlemoot, in a unique move we have a single Moot covering both Ireland and the UK. The conference takes place in Dublin and so here I am in the air flying with Ryanair.

I am looking forward to the conference, hoping to find out how people are using Moodle to enhance and enrich the learning experience.

As might be expected with a conference focused on a tool, there are a fair few technical sessions. Now that Moodle 2 is out, there are quite a few sessions on upgrading and the new functionality within the new system. As my college is already running Moodle 2, I will be “avoiding” the upgrading sessions and aiming to attend the sessions on using the upgraded Moodle.

It will be nice to meet old friends and colleagues and talk Moodle. I don’t usually go to Moodlemoot, as it clashed a lot with other events in April and usually I am more interested in how people are using stuff to support learning over how to use stuff. Over the next few days I am aiming to write some more blog entries from the conference and even the odd video or audio recording.

I have been to Dublin a few times now, however even though the conference venue is close to the airport, I hope to get to Dublin itself at some point.

Heading down Dawlish way

Travelling down to Plymouth today by train made me realise that despite living in the South West now for nearly twenty years, this was the first time I had gone south of Weston-super-Mare by train (well except for once travelling to Bridgwater by train, but certainly no further south than that).

It’s not that I don’t go to places like Taunton, Exeter or Plymouth (even Cornwall) it’s just that I have usually driven down the M5.

Often the reason for using the car was convenience, time and speed. Many of the places I needed to visit were not in close proximity to the railway station and that would have meant getting a taxi. Other times I was carrying a lot of stuff, you would be surprised by how much stuff you need when demonstrating mobile learning! Other times it was time. When I looked at going by train to Exeter or Plymouth, the only “available” tickets were on the very slow trains that stopped at every station, and as a result it would take anything up to twice as long as going by car. I was quite surprised though this time checking the train that I could change at Taunton and catch the “faster” train making the journey time about the same as going by car.

Perhaps I should make it clear that I actually prefer going by train, especially like today when the train is not very busy and I have a table. If I am going to London I will nearly always go by train and going north (unless I fly) I will usually go by train.

I am not entirely sure if every journey in the past I have taken it was necessary to take the car, but what I will say is that the train route this way is spectacular especially as it passes through Dawlish.

So though this is my first time by train to Plymouth I don’t think it will be the last time.

Fine, so still no wifi still on the train…

In May I wrote a blog post about internet access on the train. I talked about how in the past I had used various devices to connect to the internet while travelling on the train. A few weeks after writing the article I upgraded my Nexus One to Froyo 2.2 and now that is my main method of connecting my laptop or iPad to the internet while travelling with First Great Western. In the first article I did say:

One thing I have noticed though is that though my 3G connection from Bristol to London is pretty good, travelling on the Voyager trains from Bristol to Birmingham, the signal is really poor.

I initially thought this was just down to the route, but I have heard that the main issue is the construction of the train and the metallised windows. This basically blocks the 3G signal! So even with a Mifi, nexus one or a dongle it’s difficult to use 3G. One suggestion that I heard from John Popham was to keep the Mifi near the door area and that may mean a better signal.

I did wonder why CrossCountry Trains didn’t put in wifi as you find on the East Coast Main Line services and Virgin Trains Pendolino. Well it appears that providing wifi was part of their Franchise agreement with the Department of Transport. CrossCountry Trains was suppose to have wifi in place by November 11th 2009. They failed to meet this deadline and the revised deadline of the end of January, according to The Telegraph that was published in a recent article.

The service was supposed to be in place by November 11 last year. The company was given until the end of January to install the service, but this date was missed as well.

The response from CrossCountry was

CrossCountry suggested that the growing use of dongles, devices which link computers to the mobile phone network, meant that WiFi was no longer necessary.

Which when you consider the problems of metallised windows is a laughable excuse, more so when CrossCountry also say in that article,

A CrossCountry spokesman said the delay was due to technical difficulties especially on the Voyager trains where the signal needed for WiFi is weakened by the high metallic content in the windows.

Yes it does do that.

However the reason wifi works on other trains is that they put the wifi on the inside of the train and the internet connection on the outside of the train.

CrossCountry said they would provide wifi and so they should provide wifi.

They have now been fined twice and if by September 30th they still haven’t installed wifi then they will be fined again.

My question though is much more, why isn’t there wifi on First Great Western services from the West Country to London and why wasn’t it in their franchise agreement? I travel with First Great Western much more than I do CrossCountry and would really like it if they had wifi.

National Trust – iPhone App of the Week

There is much debate at the moment about the growth of Apps versus the web. Especially paid apps versus free web content.

But, after 15 years as the net’s publishing platform of choice, a movement is growing that wants to put the web back in its box.

Blame the ‘app’. With little prior culture of mobile web consumption, publishers have barely given their HTML efforts five minutes in the sun before preferring to code snazzy, custom, closed interfaces instead in the likes of Xcode and Objective-C, in iPhone’s case.

This isn’t really the article for this debate (maybe later) however the reason I bring this up, is this week’s App of the Week, which is about an App that replaces a web site. I don’t think this is an issue, but does cloud the debate over Apps in that some Apps are there to complement web content and others replace it with an App that costs. Anyway onto the App…

National Trust – iPhone App of the Week

This is a regular feature of the blog looking at the various iPhone and iPad Apps available. Some of the apps will be useful for those involved in learning technologies, others will be useful in improving the way in which you work, whilst a few will be just plain fun! Some will be free, others will cost a little and one or two will be what some will think is quite expensive. Though called iPhone App of the Week, most of these apps will work on the iPod touch or the iPad, some will be iPad only apps.

This week’s App is National Trust

Fancy a day out and wondering where to go? Want to visit glorious coastline, wander through wild countryside, relax in exquisite gardens or explore historic houses? Find a National Trust place near you, wherever you are in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. See it on the map, find out opening times, prices and facilities and access information. Find nearby places, or choose from an A-Z list.


All the information in the App is available online through the National Trust website.

So why on earth would you use the App?

Well though the website is fine, it’s a complicated site and hasn’t really been designed for a small mobile screen, despite the superior browsing capability of the iPhone.

Using the App means not having to worry about the busy web site and can focus on the content.

Well if you have an iPod touch and no connectivity, then this App does work offline in a manner, though you can access all the information (so it’s like a virtual National Trust handbook), but the maps don’t work!

The main reason for using the App is that it is a better experience than using the web site.

The App will find National Trust properties close to your location, using the location based capability of the iPhone (and iPod touch), though as mentioned you will need an internet connection to “see” the map.

It will give you information about the property and details on the facilities on offer.

You can browse an alphabetical list too.

Of course this is one useful App if you are a member of the National Trust, it’s also useful for when you are on holiday.

However I also think it has the potential for travel and tourism courses on looking at particular properties for the basis of activies for that subject.

  • Create a marketing plan for a National Trust property.
  • Devise a tour of National Trust properties in a particular region.
  • Undertake a SWOT analysis for the National Trust on a property close to the college.

If you have other ideas please let us know in the comments.

Though if you live in Scotland (or are going on holiday there) do take note…

Please note, this app does not include information from the National Trust for Scotland (NTS). The National Trust and NTS are two separate charities, run independently of each other. Our app is built using the data from our handbook, and as this does not include any NTS properties, we are unable to include this information.

Ah well.

Overall a nice App that does what it does well.


Today I spent most of the day travelling to Athlone in Ireland for EdTech 2010 where I am delivering the opening keynote. Travelling to a different country shows how reliant we are (well how reliant I am) on connectivity and communication.

Arriving at Dublin Airport, though my iPhone connected easily to the O2 phone network and I am on O2 in the UK, I got a nice little text message from O2 to tell me how expensive it is to use the phone and data whilst in Ireland.

At £3 per MB this is very expensive for “normal” usage of the iPhone for e-mail, web browsing and using services such as Twitter and Flickr. I did consider buying a data bundle in advanced from O2 but at £50 for 50MB I decided no way.

I also did consider buying a SIM for my unlocked Nexus One, but as I am only here for a few days I didn’t think it was worth it, and what I really wanted from a local SIM was data not calls and texts.

In the end I decided that I could live without connectivity for the time I am in Ireland. Where and when I needed to use the internet I would use WiFi.

What I did quite like in Dublin was the availability of free WiFi in cafes and restaurants. I could buy a coffee and use the WiFi, whereas in the UK it is more likely these days to find that the WiFi is a BT Openzone or other costly wireless hotspot.

National Rail Enquiries – iPhone App of the Week

Update: Since this blog post was written, this app has been renamed UK Train Times and another app by a different company has been released which is called National Rail Enquiries. To add to the confusion the UK Train Times icon has changed, whereas the National Rail Enquiries app has a very similar (well identical) icon to the old icon of UK Train Times. Though National Rail Enquiries is free, having tried both, I do think UK Train Times is a much better app and you don’t get the ads you get on the free app.

National Rail Enquiries – iPhone App of the Week

This is a regular feature of the blog looking at the various iPhone Apps available. Some of the apps will be useful for those involved in learning technologies, others will be useful in improving the way in which you work, whilst a few will be just plain fun! Some will be free, others will cost a little and one or two will be what some will think is quite expensive. Though called iPhone App of the Week, most of these apps will also work on the iPod touch.

This week’s App is National Rail Enquiries.

National Rail Enquiries provides complete journey planning for journeys across the UK National Rail network and live departure information for all National Rail stations in the UK. This is an official application from National Rail Enquiries, with fully-licensed and accurate real-time information.


For many users a 99p App is too expensive, this is a five pound App, so is it worth it? If you travel by train then in my opinion it is.

A simple example, I know that this App helped my college secure £40,000 of funding, so well worth the £4.99 I paid for it.


Well, let’s just say it certainly helped.

What’s the story?

I was on my way to London to be interviewed for a funding proposal we had put in.

The interview was at 11.00 and I had my train ticket and was intending to catch a train from my local station and arrive at 9.45 giving me just over an hour to get to the venue for the interview.

So there I was waiting…. waiting…. waiting…

I got out the iPhone and checked National Rail Enquiries.

It said that the train was running very late and would not be going to London! Confused I was to begin with. A few minutes later the “train” arrived. It wasn’t the big High Speed Train I was expecting, but a smaller local train. As it arrived the driver lent out the window and shouted that this was the next train to Bristol. What had happened was that the original London train had broken down and they were using this as a replacement. Arriving in Bristol later than expected and on checking the departures form Bristol on the iPhone via National Rail Enquiries, I knew that if I caught the Manchester train I could change at Bristol Parkway and catch a London train from there. This I managed to do with literally seconds to spare after running across the station; and eventually I was in London by 10.00! Only 15 minutes later than originally planned.

If I had relied on finding out trains from departure boards or information kiosks I would have been much later into London and would have been late for the interview.

Would it have made a difference? Don’t know for sure, but I am glad I was there in plenty of time.

So what about the App itself?

Simply it is a portable station display board. It tells you the departures and arrivals from any station on the national rail network. It can also tell you the whereabouts of your train, if it is running late or worse cancelled.

It can also be used for journey planning, though there are other websites that do that for free. For the immediacy of catching trains now, it works really well.

If you travel anywhere by train, then this is one useful app. True you can find the information online for free, but the user interface of this app beats most websites interfaces, which have been designed more often then not for use on a computer and not on an iPhone sized screen.

Tube Exits – iPhone App of the Week

Tube Exits – iPhone App of the Week

This is a regular feature of the blog looking at the various iPhone Apps available. Some of the apps will be useful for those involved in learning technologies, others will be useful in improving the way in which you work, whilst a few will be just plain fun! Some will be free, others will cost a little and one or two will be what some will think is quite expensive. Though called iPhone App of the Week, most of these apps will also work on the iPod touch.

This week’s App is Tube Exits.

With unique information, Tube Exits will give the savvy tube rider the inside track on how to get one-step ahead of their fellow commuters to get a speedy exit off the Tube. Save about 10 minutes on average peak hour journey times. No more delays following crowds, and walking the length of the platform. Save valuable time out of your busy schedule and avoid frustration.


If you ever go to London and ever go on the London Underground then Tube Exits is one app you should get.

While writing this article I found a free App which does something similar, called Tube Changer Lite. Now I have not used the free app, but do make extensive use of Tube Exits when I am in London.

So what does it do?

Well to put it simply, it allows you to plan your journey on the London Underground and make it as easy and stress-free as possible.

The App works out your route and then lets you know which carriage to get on, so that when you arrive at your destination (or transit) station you know which side the doors will open and you get off on the platform next to the way out! This means, especially when the tube is very busy, you are not stuck on the wrong side of the train when it arrives at your destination and when you do arrive you can get out the station quickly, avoiding delays walking down the platform and the throngs of crowds as they stream to the exit.

You can save regular journeys, to save having to recalculate each time you use the tube.

A simple App that has made it easier and less stressful to use the Tube.

ALT-C 2009 Day #0

It’s day zero of the ALT Conference. Well the conference starts proper tomorrow on Tuesday and I am using today to travel up north like.

It’s a four hour train journey (changing at Bristol Temple Meads) and though Virgin Cross Country trains do have power they have a major flaw in that their construction blocks 3G signals quite effectively. Initially on the Bristol – Manchester route I thought it was down to the geography, but a recent trip on the line using a “normal” train demonstrated to me, yes there are areas with no 3G, but the trains used by Cross Country block the signal, especially when it is a weak signal.

Now I know that this is not a major design flaw (some would say it was a feature) but without on-board wifi, I would prefer to have a decent 3G signal now and again (as I can find when travelling to London).

Anyway back to the conference…

There is some stuff happening tonight, but I am hoping to touch base with a few people and go out for dinner, probably use Twitter to organise this.

I am pretty much prepared for the conference, I have a poster, organising and taking part in a symposium, supporting a workshop and running another workshop. I also have a fair few scheduled meetings during the conference too.

Hoping to enjoy the Gala Conference Dinner which is on Wednesday night.

I expect to be twittering over the conference, and I am also hoping to get a fair few blog entries in over the next few days too. Photographs should appear on Flickr and/or Twitpic. There may also be video too!

I have been preparing for the conference using the Crowdvine site that has been set up for the conference. You may recall that Crowdvine was in my top ten web tools for 2008. This has allowed me to sort my schedule, promote the sessions I am involved in and see who else is coming and what else they are doing. Hopefully this year the delegates will continue to engage with the Crowdvine site once the conference starts proper like tomorrow.

I have also been adding links to the ALT-C Cloudscape “clouds” for my sessions. Not sure at this time of this adds or detracts from the Crowdvine site.

Overall I am looking forward to the conference, it will be a time to share effective practice, learn from others, find out new stuff, network, meet old friends, discover new friends and leave with ideas, inspiration and stuff.

Making it easier to get a signal

If you are like me you depend on your mobile phone.

Actually if you are like you depend on your mobile phone and 3G dongle for data.

I actually rarely use my mobile phone for actual phone calls, for me mobile data is what I use all the time.

I use it to allow my laptop to connect to the web, for all those kind of laptop based activities, browsing, e-mail, etc…

I use mobile data to Shozu my photographs from my phone to Flickr.

Making it easier to get a signal...

I use mobile data to update my Jaiku feed and use SMS to update Twitter.

I (now and again) browse the internet on the web browser on my phone – usually t find out if my train is delayed or cancelled or for traffic reports.

I use mobile data to allow me to stream live video from my phone via Qik.com to other locations.

If you are like me you depend on your mobile phone for mobile data, or you might just use the phone for phone calls!

Anyhow I was interested to read on the BBC website about a new technology which will make it easier to get a better signal.

The signal strengths of laptops and mobile phones are set to be radically improved if new technology developed by Oxford scientists comes to fruition.

Engineers at Isis, a technology transfer spin-out company of the University of Oxford, have found a way of creating antennas which can work in three “planes” but that are small enough to fit in hand-held devices.

Now if you are making a phone call and the signal strength drops, what you notice is a reduction in the quality of the call.

However with mobile data, if the signal strength drops, you find that internet access crawls and often you are faced with timeouts. You can replicate this by using 3G in a moving vehicle such as a train or a car.

If the signal strength can be increased this means that you can have greater reliability in using mobile data then you can now, which means you would be able to rely on it working rather than hoping it would work.


BBC reports on the first “officially allowed” mobile phone call from a commercial airliner.

Dubai-based airline Emirates has become the first commercial airline to allow passengers to make mobile phone calls during flights.

Emirates said the first permitted mobile phone call was made on a flight between Dubai and Casablanca.

The aircraft, an Airbus A340, is fitted with a system which stops mobiles from interfering with a plane’s electronics.