Yes, it’s that time again! – technology marches on, and I’m looking to replace my ageing BT router – the ‘Homehub 4’. It might only be around 6 years old, but that’s a lifetime these days for this sort of tech!
Why change? Well, normally, it would be simply down to more whistles and bells, but this time, things were different! Oh yes! Not only was the replacement going to have to have more whistles and bells, but it needed to be a lot more reliable too! Not that its unreliability was the router’s fault, as I’ll explain later.
As things were to turn out, I got all my whistles and bells, plus a few more AND the total price of our broadband package actually went down! 😁
If I was to prioritise, the promise of a more stable wireless capability was the main aim, as this was desperately in need of improvement, especially for some of the radios and mobile phones here.
Why? Well, not surprisingly, we tend to push the router hard in this house – and that’s what was causing the unreliability. Not content with just the ‘normal’ typical family connections; say, a couple of phones, tablets, laptops etc, we’ve got so much more ‘talking’ the current router – see the list below.
The result being in many cases, devices were randomly losing their connection and the speed-per-device was sometimes horribly slow. And no-one was surprised, not even BT when I told them how many bits of kit were connected!!! 😊
After a lot of research, we simply settled on the latest router from BT – their so-called ‘SmartHub 2.0‘. Additionally, they promised no increase in the price of our contract (apart from RPI) at the end of the contract, but also a free techy visit if needed, and perhaps more importantly, ‘guaranteed strong wifi around the home‘ (using ‘mesh‘ technology). There’s quite a useful comparison between the various BT ‘Hub’s HERE.
“We had high hopes for the BT Complete Wi-Fi, and it definitely lived up to its bold claims. The Smart Hub 2 on its own is the highest scoring router we’ve tested, and with the added disc it’s one of the best mesh systems we’ve seen. It can give you excellent coverage and fast transfer speeds, even with lots of devices connected”.
I must admit, even though the reviews of this replacement were glowing, I tend to treat all the hype with some caution these days – even from Which.
“That’ll be interesting” I thought, “we’ve got close on 40 devices all needing to talk to the router, and I’m sure that’s well in excess of what’s recommended”
Our shiny new toy arrived a few days later. There was now even an app to help you set it up! 😁
Long-story-short: It was a breeze to get up-and-running – and more importantly, after some thorough stress-testing, every device in the house was rock-solid in terms of its connection. I guess this ‘mesh‘ technology-marlarkey does the trick!
And just to be sure, I located a complementary piece of kit known as a ‘disc’ on eBay (half the price than direct from BT) that works with the router to boost the signal even further (some 15% apparently). That now lives upstairs and altohugh not strictly necessary, it could only make things even better.
Time will tell over the coming weeks as to whether it lives up to the hype – we’ll see!!!
Tech Spec: Supports ADSL, ADSL2, VDSL2, G.FAST 1 x Analogue phone port 2.4GHz 3 x 3 MIMO 11n, 5GHz 4×4 MIMO 11ac 4 x gigabit LAN ports 2 x USB 3.0 ports Serves as a DECT base station 7 x Wi-Fi, 2 DECT antennas 1 x USB 2.0 port
Update: Well, three weeks later, I’m happy to report that the internet is vastly improved. Downloads are a tad faster (although I wasn’t expecting that!) and every device has enjoyed a 100% connection since the router’s installation. Thanks BT!!
It’s our big holiday-of-the year soon – to China – with our long-time travel companions, Ralph and Karen. 😁
But this trip is going to be a little different from our previous adventures together in terms of how we keep you up to date.
Why? In China, most western-based social media activity is completely blocked or banned, and therefore (officially) we’re not able to post to any of the ‘big’ social media platforms.
Although the situation is pretty fluid, the smart-money suggests the situation isn’t going to change any time soon, and we won’t really know the latest until we get there. Realistically I’m expecting some (very) long periods of radio silence until we finish the holiday in Hong Kong where things are a tad more relaxed!
So it all looks a bit grim! 😥
There is a glimmer of hope though! Whilst Ann has worked on a really interesting itinerary (see below), Ralph and I have been ‘on the case’, looking into the techy side of things – and the legal workarounds (more of which later). 😁 …and just in case PRC’s President, Xi Jinping, and his staff are monitoring this, we’re certainly not going to be doing anything that’s illegal!
What’s so different about China? 😧
Well, as we all know, the Chinese Government already has a tense relationship with the good ol’ US of A. More specifically, ever since Google and the Chinese Government had a falling out a few years ago about censorship, the local ‘tech-landscape’ there has deteriorated. There is now a wider mistrust of the West, where even accessing the BBC is banned! 🤐
The State now proactively blocks/bans virtually all undesirable internet traffic both ways (and for ‘undesirable’ read – unsurprisingly – anything provided by Google – Gmail, Maps, Photos, Translate, Search etc etc). If that’s not significant enough, there are other tech-casualties in the shape of social media…
…quite a few more actually, so let me be as specific as I can! From what we’ve read and been advised, the following (as of September 2019) are also on the ‘naughty step’ 😮
WhatsApp (Although some recent reports suggest it works in some locations)
WordPress (to some degree)
That doesn’t leave an awful lot of choice does it!? 🙄
What about that workaround?
As I mentioned, fortunately, there IS a perfectly legal way round all of this, even though the solution sounds like it’s illegal!
And that solution is to use some software on your phone, tablet, laptop etc called a VPN (a Virtual Private Network*). Ralph and I have done our techy-homework and are now all kitted out with all we need (with a Plan B too) – Hurrah!
*VPNs are subscription services that encrypt your internet traffic and route it through an intermediary server outside of China. By installing a VPN app on your computer/phone and connecting to a server, you can bypass the ‘Great Firewall’ and freely access the web.
…but just to keep things interesting, the State monitors these official solutions too, and regularly blocks them. In fact, the past few weeks, leading up to the PRC’s 70th celebrations have been a nightmare, where many VPNs have just stopped working! – Boo!
Oooo, We do love a challenge! 😉… and if we can get it all to work, you’ll be one of the first to know!
Ahh, that’s better! I feel a walk down Oxford Street coming on (before midday!)
On our list today…
The Samsung Shop in Oxford Street St. Paul’s Cathedral A trip to the Theatre
…and knowing us, maybe more! 😊
9.20am: We were out earlier than yesterday, but confident we’d miss the rush on the Tube. How wrong we were! It was nose-to-armpit for the whole of our journey in, and reminded us both of how travelling around the capital used to be when we were based. A sensory experience I thought I’d never have to endure again!!! 😮
The Samsung Shop
9.45am:Our first stop of the day was the Samsung Shop in Oxford Street – aka The Samsung Experience. It’s (apparently) the ‘Mecca’ for Samsung fan-boys and girls, and it looked very upmarket inside. I’m not a fanboy myself – far from it – I simply choose the brand that offers the best techy-spec! However, in theory at least, you can’t do better than this official shop for all your ‘bits and bobs’ for their phones. In my particular case, I’m on the hunt for some veryspecial (and very new) wired chargers. They’ve only been around for about a fortnight, but I felt optimistic!
I already knew these two ‘species’ – Chargus Wattus Maximus Major (and Minor) were like ‘hen’s teeth’, but the official shop was bound to stock them, weren’t they?
Weren’t they???? 🤔
Well, it turned out to be a completely wasted journey! (apart from helping me to increase my step-count for today!) As I enquired if they stocked the new ’15W super-charger’ and maybe even the ’45W hyper-charger’, the Assistant looked mighty embarrassed as he whispered “No sir,we don’t have either, and we’ve no idea when they’ll be here”.
A bit disappointing considering it’s their flagship store! 😒😒 So, what’s all the fuss about these chargers? Well, they’re both able to charge the new generation of Samsung phones from completely empty to completely full in… wait for it… just over an hour! Amazing technology, and a real life-saver if you’ve ever need to charge your phone in record time!
To add insult to injury, I was advised by the Samsung Shop to try Currys opposite or Carphone Warehouse down the road. Of course, I did, but of course, they’d not got them either! 👿
On our way to our next stop – St Paul’s Cathedral – we couldn’t help admire how much better Tottenham Court Road station now looked. Very shiny and very spacious too!
St Paul’s Cathedral
10.25am: Time to forget tech for a while and concentrate on something much older. We exited the Tube at St Paul’s and headed for the Cathedral. Neither of us had been here for a good many years, and so we were looking forward to admiring this famous landmark inside and out. Once again our 2-for-1 tickets saved us a packet – Total admission price? £20 instead of £40!! 🤑
It didn’t disappoint..!
Superb architecture that looked like it was decorated yesterday. Beautiful!
The Crypt was just as interesting and included the resting place of two military heavyweights – Nelson and Wellington.
A quick pit-stop next to the Crypt, before heading off to our next stop…
The Bank of England Museum
11.35am: We were a little early for Lunch, so we decided to track-down the location of the Bank of England Museum – especially as it had now started raining. A short walk later (after being re-directed when we mistakenly entered the Bank itself!) we arrived at the Museum, literally just round the corner. No queues and so we were inside in the dry very quickly.
What a find this was! Five separate galleries explaining the history of this famous institution, as well as plenty of interactive exhibits to attract the young (and me too!) 😁
Entry is free, and there’s plenty on show to enjoy. It’s a light and airy space with plenty of emphasis on interactivity. Want to control inflation? Check. Seen a ten-bob note? Check. Wonder how they actually create money? Check.
There is so much to see here, and it’s all presented in a clear and well-constructed fashion.
If you’ve an hour-or-two to kill and you’re in the area, then this is a no-brainer (especially if it’s raining – and it WAS.. still!).
This had been a most delightful of discoveries – and for once, we’re so glad it started raining, otherwise we may never looked for it! 😁
12.35pm:We decided to walk back towards St Paul’s where there was a Café Rouge. There was method in our madness, as I could use the gift voucher that Sally B had bought me for my Birthday! – Thanks Sal!! 😊
1.05pm: I think we arrived just in time! It was already 80% full when we arrived, and after we were seated, they kept on arriving! They’re obviously doing something very right here!
We were soon seated and served (a good start!) and when our food arrived, it was piping hot.
We both chose from the fixed-price two-course menu. Risotto and then Crumble for me, whilst Ann opted for the Chicken and Chips followed by Chocolate Fondant Pudding with ice-cream.
It was all delicious and in spite of how busy they were, our two waiting-staff were a ‘well-oiled machine’. We left, just as the restaurant approached 100% capacity – yep, perfect timing! 👍👍
2.10pm: We took the short walk back to St Paul’s Tube dodging the showers.
3.05pm: Arrivaing back at the ibis, there was time for a couple of hours to recharge batteries (phones AND humans) before we’re out again on our way to (for me) highlight of the day – the Theatre.
5.30pm: Fully recharged, we took the now well-trodden path back to Stratford Station – this time heading for Leicester Square Tube. The Theatre is right next door, so that made things easier! 😊
We’re seeing tonight’s performance of The Man in the White Suit at its new home of Wyndham’s Theatre.
Starring Stephen Mangan, Kara Tointon and Sue Johnston Ujust until December 6th) it originally opened at the Theatre Royal, Bath in September 2019 before transferring to Wyndham’s Theatre. It’s only been running a few weeks in London, and I was eager to see how it translated to the stage. In fact, I learned later, that the original 1951 film itself was based on a Play so that makes this latest adaptation: ‘the-Play-of-the-film-of-the-Play!’
7.35pm:A slightly delyaed ‘curtain up’, but it was worth the wait. I think we were both unsure of how the film version would translate to the stage, but it worked really well. The leads all acted their socks off and although it was possible to recognise certain scenes from the film, it all felt very different – in a good way! In fact, I’d say we both enjoyed it more than the film (and I really like the film!). It was longer too at around two-and-a-bit hours. Comedically, it was much more slapstick than its on-screen equivalent – with the occasional musical break – and it all came together very nicely! The very clever set-design allowed for some extremely sophisticated configurations, and the set-changes were as entertaining to watch as the production! Superb entertainment all-round!
9.45pm:As the actors took their bows, the audience showed their appreciation with very enthusiastic (and well-deserved) applause. Being a small theatre, we were able to exit without any fuss and were soon on the Tube back to the hotel (for the final time).
10.15pm:Luckily, the Tube was much less busy than on our journey in, but a problem at West Ham station meant that we all had to evacuate the carriage whilst the driver investigated ‘an incident’. Someone had helpfully (not!) set fire to a pile of newspapers in another carriage – and then left in a hurry! Luckily, the plucky driver poked the pile with a stick and manouevered it onto the platform where it burned out. We were soon back on-board and heading for our next – and final – stop, Stratford.
10.25pm:After leaving the Station, we weren’t sure whether our shortcut through the Stratford Centre would still be open – but it was! As we we walked though, we could see why… There were quite a few homeless people settling down inside for the night in their makeshift beds – a sad and sorry sign of this modern age!! 🙄
As we exited at the other end, the only thing outnumbering the tube passengers at the start of our day, was a gathering of the Met’s finest! We’ve never seen so many boys (and girls) in blue just standing around. I think there was more here than the whole of Northamptonshire’s force put together!
We quickened our pace! 🤔
10.40pm: Back in the room! It’s been a long day for us, but it’s all been very worthwhile. We’ve packed a lot in (as we always do!) and even squeezed in some extra stuff too! Another very memorable ‘Birthday break’ – I wonder where we’ll be this time next year? 🤔
Home by lunchtime tomorrow!
If you like to view JUST the photographs from our three-day break they’re all HERE
It was the in-house eatery Bistrot Pierre that was our ultimate destination and I thought we’d never been to it before, only to discover immediately on being shown to our table, it was all very familiar! 🙄 A quick check of this Blog revealed that Ian, Mags and I had been there as part of our regular Trainer ‘get-togethers’ back when we were earning: 30th August 2011!
Weather-wise, it was a glorious day! It would have been perfect for eating outside with a bright blue-sky and a temperature well into the low/mid 20s, but our table was already set inside and that’s were we stayed (although it was right by the big window in the corner, so at least we had a good view!)
Luckily, our table had been designed by King Arthur which meant it was easy to chat with everybody (most of the time). I say most because it was also very busy there, and very noisy too (technical term: ‘had atmosphere’). Still, we had plenty of opportunity to catch-up with everyone’s news, even though at times, we needed to raise our voices and it didn’t spoil the experience! 😵
Food and service were both excellent – and the combination of the friendliest of waiting-staff and a wallet-friendly bill, did the trick! We all left with a full bellies (even though none of us had Dessert) and a big smile. 😁😁😁😁😁😁
Unusually, we didn’t set a date for our next get-together – more forgetfulness than anything else – but Mags had picked up on it and started the ball rolling by email. Looks like our next jaunt will be next February/March sometime.
Unusually for me, I didn’t take photos of the food! No, I wasn’t asleep! I was without my mobile phone today as it’s new, and whilst I wait for a protective case, it stayed safely at home for fear of me dropping it! 😮👍
A weekend of fun, friends, fine food, F1 and err, a fone!
Ralph and Karen are joining us for the weekend. We haven’t seen each other for a while and there was plenty to catch-up with! Probably the most important task was to begin finalising details for joint trip to China including understanding the Visa process.
Arriving just after 10am, they’d had a remarkably good journey from theirs – and they’d also managed to not get stuck in all the local mega-roadworks! After a quick natter, whilst Ann and Karen then went into town to sort out some bits-and-bobs, us boys took a closer look at Ralph’s new phone – the rather impressive Huawei P20 Pro. (Pity it wasn’t called the F20 though! 😊
It’s an impressive beast of a phone with a spec to die for… and more! 😊👍
In other phone-related news, we also fashioned a plan to beat the internet restrictions in China by using a VPNand we’re going to firm-up the specifics nearer the time, after narrowing down the various providers. Given that the Chinese State is pretty active in blocking/restricting use of the internet – especially with social media and blogs – it’s a challenge and a half!
…but we do like a challenge! 😉
11.55am: Just before Noon, the girls arrived back from town and we sat down to a sandwich lunch. A lazy afternoon followed (for some of us!) leaving Ann busy in the kitchen, weaving her magic for tonight’s meal!
6.30pm: David and Valerie arrived bang on time to join us for the Meal – and Ann’s hard work didn’t disappoint… 👍
10.25pm: As expected, it was all delicious – and only David managed to resist NOT having TWO Desserts! 😁. It was good to catch-up with everyone’s news and the first time we looked at the clock, it was almost 10.30! Time to say good-bye to David and Valerie, quickly followed by us all calling it a night.
It was good to re-visit the Hall after all these years, I’d quite forgotten how interesting a place it is – and it’s especially quirky given that the roof was err, ‘liberated’ to pay off gambling debts! As expected, nothing much had changed, but we were surprised by the welcoming committee on arrival! We quickly moooooved on!😊
2.45pm: After a quick Lunch, Ralph took us through their photographs from their trip to India – all the more impressive as they we beamed wirelessly from his phone to our TV.
6.35pm: We were last here for Ann’s Birthday back in March, and it was good to looking over their excellent Menu again! We arrived earlier than our 7pm slot and it was already heaving! (Surely a good sign!) – but they were still able to seat us. Service with a smile was clearly in evidence and we were soon making our foody-choices.
…and then when it came to the Mains, we naturally did our own thing: Karen chose the Salmon with a Lemon Citrus Dressing; Ann munched into the Macaroni Cheese; Ralph, the Pub’s signature Tolly Burger, whilst I managed the truly melt-in-the-mouth Beef Bourguignon.
Each dish proved to be delicious, and combined with their excellent service, this, our latest pub-find is becoming our regular haunt! 😊👍. Room for a Dessert? Well, it would have been rude not to – but I forgot to take any photos, so here’s the Dessert menu instead! 😕
Ann chose to skip the sweet stuff, whilst Karen wrestled the Raspberry Sorbet (I say ‘wrestled’ – it was so cold it caused her some short-term brain-freeze); Ralph, the Sticky Toffee Pudding and me, the Affogato.
9.30pm: By the time we left, the place was (still) pretty much full in the Restaurant – well deserved! All in all then, a great experience (again!) – a habit we could get used to!! We headed for home and spent the rest of the evening listening to Amazon Music via the TV.
10.45pm: Here we go aga…. 😴😴😴😴 – we left Ralph watching the recorded F1 Qualifier highlights (I’ll catch it tomorrow!)
8.30am: I caught up with the F1 Practice from Barcelona – another good result for Mercedes! 👍
10.30am: We discussed our China holiday itinerary in detail and double-checked the visa requirements. Time well spent, as the visa paperwork is a nightmare with the added complexity of the Chinese State now insists on personal visits to one of their four UK centres where they will also require fingerprints! 😵
12.10pm: Lunch at our other favourite local Pub/Restaurant – The Olde Victoria in Burton Latimer. We haven’t been here for a while but it was good to see that the service and the food was as good as we remember it. By 1 o’clock is was heaving, with only a single empty table for two left in the restaurant.
1.55pm: We said our good-byes to Ralph and Karen and whilst they headed north, we briefly dropped-in to John and Trish’s on the way home
2.30pm:Just time to drop off Karen R’s birthday present before catching up with a few house chores. It’s been a full-on weekend – but a very enjoyable one! 👍😊👍😊
Off to Cambridge today to meet up with Sally B. We’re on a mission to seek out a replacement Laptop to replace ‘Isla‘ (who has enjoyed a great innings since February 2015, but it’s time to retire her!) 😮
First stop was to be John Lewis who had some cracking good deals and where we’d narrowed it down to just three models. But first we had to get to Cambridge.
These days, wisdom suggests that it’s foolish to try and drive into the city-centre (was it ever????!!!!), and so we both headed for Trumpington Park and Ride. A lot has changed there since I last visited; for a start, parking is now completely free (for 18 hours), but on the downside, they were ‘improving’ the layout, so there were far fewer spaces than usual, whilst a family of diggers and dump-trucks did what they do best! Cue a few laps circling the site before bagging a space.
Sal arrived just after 11 and we were soon on our £3 journey into the City.
One of the benefits of going ‘old school’ – actually visiting a shop! – meant Sal could try out the feel of the keyboards, and that helped narrow down the options even further! 😁
By 11.30 we’d reviewed our shortlist – and rejected them all! 😛 Instead a trusty Dell tempting us with £100 off the price, became the ultimate prize!
Two Courses, 90 minutes and a hell of a lot of catching-up later, we walked back the bus-stop and were soon back to our cars.
We both headed for the M11, where one of us headed south, the other northwards – and straight into the (now-daily) congestion due to the massive expansion of the A14). I’m sure it’ll be impressive when it’s completed, but at the moment, it’s a real pain every time I need to use the M11/A14.
Reading time: 3minutes...
Phew! After another very techy week problem-solving, I think things are now back to some state of normality with my Blog posts.
It’s taken far too many hoursdays weeks getting it all working again – and I hope I never have go through all this again! 😡
The Short Version
It’s now working! If you read my blogs-posts on the big social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Tumblr etc, etc), then it’s no change for you – you’ll see my posts there as normal.
However, I know a few of you access my Blogs directly at https://blog.StevePalmer.com, and there’s now a slightly different web-address:
https://blogs.StevePalmer.com. Click HERE to see them.