My 5 Most Recently Downloaded Apps (iPhone)

1. Sleep Time - £1.49

This is an alarm clock with a difference – it monitors and analyses your sleep cycles by sensing your movements throughout the night. It then uses this information to wake you up when it knows you are no longer in the deep  stage of REM cycle. So no more waking up feeling groggy!


2. TwinPics - Free

A simple but nicely designed memory game. All you do is match up as many pairs as you can within a limited time, avoiding obstacles along the way. The colours and photography used are stylish and attractive and it’s easy to dip in and out of making it the perfect game for when you just have a few minutes to fill.

3. BBC News – Free

This is more of a recent update than download as I have had the app for a while, however, about a week ago, the BBC released its first major redesign since the app launched in 2010. The app now offers a much more personalised view of the news as it includes local news content and you can select the topics that interest you the most.

4. SkinDeep – Free

Do you know what chemicals are in your personal care products? EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database is the world’s largest safety reference tool for personal care products and the app provides information on more than 72,000 products. Enter the product name into the app and it assesses the ingredients and how they may affect your health. It then calculates a hazard score allowing you to make informed purchasing decisions.

5. Serial  Free

This is actually a podcast, not an app, but I felt it was well worth a mention. The 12-part series (you can now download all the episodes from the website) follows journalist Sarah Koenig as she investigates a murder case from 1999 in which a high-school student was found dead in a Baltimore Park having been strangled. Her ex-boyfriend was charged with her murder and sentenced to life in prison but has protested his innocence ever since. The podcast is totally addictive and a great way to pass the time on your commute.

Pulling Apart Two Phone Books

There’s a rumour around these parts that two interleaved (yes that’s a word) phone books are impossible to pull apart, so I decided to investigate.

It didn’t take me long to get to the bottom of this, and no I did not sit and methodically interleave two phone books. A quick Google search unearthed a Mythbusters YouTube video where it took two military tanks weighing in at 30 tonnes to separate the phone books. So, difficult yes, but not impossible.

What is it that creates such a strong link between these two stacks of paper?

Apparently it all comes down to weight and friction. Interleaving the pages of the phone books significantly increases the weight on each of them as the bottom pages have the weight of two phone books pushing down on them in addition to gravity. Add to this the force of friction, which is also increased by the act of interleaving the pages, and you have a bond that takes 3629 Kilogram of force to break as demonstrated by the Mythbusters.

If you do have some spare time (and are really, really bored) you can try this yourself. Just lay the pages of two phone books on top of each other one at a time, then try and pull them apart.

Postcodes explained

Christmas is just three weeks away and many of you (ok, some of you) will be writing your cards, buying stamps and desperately searching for your address book. Obviously your cards need accurate addresses in order to reach their intended destination, but what about the series of numbers and letters at the bottom of an address? What exactly is in a postcode?

Why do I need to use a postcode?

Postcodes allow your item to be processed quickly and accurately by pinpointing exactly where it needs to go. A single postcode is not unique to one address; usually a small group of addresses will share one postcode and the specific property will be identified by a house name or number. Using a correct postcode will allow your mail to go through the Royal Mail’s automated sorting machines. Mail without a postcode will have to be sorted manually and this takes much longer.

So how do postcodes work?

A postcode is split into four sections, each of which narrows down the destination. I’ll use the Simunix postcode (YO10 5NP) to demonstrate what each section means.


The first one or two letters identify the postcode area, in this case the YORK area, and therefore the main Royal Mail sorting office that will process the mail.


This part is usually either one or two numbers but some London postcodes contain a number and letter. This is the postcode district and tells the sorting office which delivery office the mail should go to.


The third part tells the delivery office which local area the mail should go to. This section usually just contains one number.


The final part always contains two letters and identifies groups of up to 80 addresses. This unit code tells the delivery office which postal route will deliver the mail.

How do I correctly address an envelope then?

The least amount of information that should be included in an address includes:

House name/number

Street name


Postcode (in capitals)

You do not need to include a County name if all the above information is provided. Of course, you may also wish to include the recipient’s name and perhaps a company or organisation name.

If you’re not sure what the correct postcode is for an address, you can look it up here by entering the address information you do have.

The latest recommended posting dates for Christmas 2014 (UK Inland) are:

Thursday 18th December – 2nd Class

Saturday 20th December – 1st Class

Band Aid 30 helping to fight the spread of Ebola

Band Aid 30 received its world premiere last night during X Factor’s results show after only just being recorded the day before. The single can be downloaded for 99p and is helping fund relief efforts to fight the spread of Ebola in West Africa.

It has been 30 years since “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, written by Sir Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, was first released raising over £8 million for famine relief in Ethiopia. Stars such as Sting, Duran Duran, Bono and George Michael were part of the original ensemble.

Since then there have been two other versions. The 1989 version achieved less historical significance than its predecessor but did manage to hold the number 1 spot in the UK singles chart for three weeks. This version featured Bananarama (in a repeat appearance), Jason Donovan, Kylie Minogue and Cliff Richard amongst others.

The next version to be released came in 2004, 20 years after the original, in order to benefit Sudan’s troubled Darfur region. Bono, Paul McCartney and George Michael were the only members of the original ensemble to lend their voices this time performing alongside Chris Martin, Sugababes, Robbie Williams and The Darkness, to name a few.

The line up for Band Aid 30 includes Coldplay, Bastille, Rita Ora, Paloma Faith, Ellie Goulding, One Direction, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, with Bono making his third contribution to a Band Aid recording. Lyrics have been tweaked in this version to reflect the current Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa.

The single can be downloaded here.

All Hallows’ Eve descends on the streets of the UK

If, like me, you will be accompanying little ghouls and goblins tomorrow night as they threaten your neighbours with mischief, you may be interested to know there are a surprisingly large number of streets in the UK suitably named for the occasion.

After trawling our data, we found quite a number of street names relating to mythical creatures and other spooky folks. There’s Goblins Green (Welwyn Garden City), Vampire Road (Louth), Giants Grave Road (Neath), Bleeding Wolf Lane (Stoke on Trent) and Conjurers Drive (Knighton).

What’s to be found during the witching hour on Witches Walk (Bridgewater), Cauldron Meadows (Swanage), Coven Close (Walsall) or Broomstick Lane (Chesham) we wonder?

It would seem the Devil himself has also laid claim to many streets around the UK with The Devils Highway to be found in Crowthorne as well as Hell Lane in Chideock, Bridport and Dark Gate in Carmarthen.

Never one to be ignored, the Hangman makes an appearance in many a town and village. In Troon, it may serve you well to steer clear of Hangman’s Hill on a dark night or Gallows Green (Alton) and Noose Crescent (Willenhall).

Other uninviting street names include Dead Lane (Colchester), Strange Road (Wigan), Lurk Lane (Beverley), Creeping Lane (Penzance), Haunts Cottages (Crewkerne) and Bloodhills (Great Yarmouth). If you’re the superstitious type, you might avoid Black Cat Drive in Northampton or for the arachnophobes among us *puts hand up*, Spider Island in Salisbury sounds particularly ominous.

If however, you will be remaining safely locked up in your own home tomorrow night, how about getting into the Halloween spirit with some of my scary movie recommendations? Here’s my top 13 (unlucky for some…)

  1. The Exorcist
  2. Paranormal Activity
  3. The Amityville Horror
  4. The Woman in Black
  5. The Shining
  6. Don’t Look Now
  7. Poltergeist
  8. What Lies Beneath
  9. Silence of the Lambs
  10. Arachnophobia
  11. Scream
  12. An American Werewolf in London
  13. 28 Days Later

Hoping For Rain

If you live in the York area, we may be appearing on a football field near you! Although if you’re expecting to see us donning shin pads and football boots, you may be disappointed. We will however, be appearing on the back of players’ rain jackets.

We’ve sponsored Fulford FC Under 8s football team by providing them with waterproof jackets to see them through the season. In return, they have agreed to print our 118 365 directory enquiries number on the back of the jackets. At 50p a minute, our directory assistance number is one of the cheapest in the competitive 118 market which is seeing costs continue to rise.

Fulford FC has over 350 players and provides opportunities for young boys and girls competing in various leagues throughout the York area. We’ll be heading to their next match on Sunday to see our rain jackets in action!

Bitcoin – A Guide for Regular People

About Bitcoin

Bitcoin is often referred to as a decentralized virtual currency. It is controlled by no government or central bank, is not debt-based, has a limited supply, and it has no central server.

Bitcoin is actually an online payment system. You can use it to pay for goods or services, and it can be used to receive payments. Unlike most other payment systems, transactions are not conducted in physical traditional currencies, but in bitcoins.

For more information see the bitcoin project website.

The Bitcoin Protocol, the Blockchain, Mining, Controversies, Price Fluctuations

These aspects of bitcoin are beyond the scope of this article, We will purely consider the use of bitcoin as an online payment system.

For more technical information, visit The Bitcoin Wiki.

Why Pay Using Bitcoin?

There are a variety of reason why you may choose to use bitcoin to pay for goods or services.

  • Potential to purchase anonymously (see below)
  • Some goods or services are only available to purchasers using bitcoin
  • Some goods or services are not available to other online payment mechanisms (such as Paypal)
  • Reluctance to use debit or credit cards online
  • No mandatory processing fees

Plus of course the desire to use this relatively new payment mechanism.

Bitcoin Addresses

One of the hardest concepts to grasp in bitcoin is the nature of bitcoin addresses. You will notice when you acquire a wallet (see below) that it generates one or more addresses to enable bitcoins to be sent to you. These addresses are actually a single use token. Each new transaction should use a new address.

Getting Started

In order to pay with bitcoins you need to:-

  1. Select a wallet to store your bitcoins
  2. Buy some bitcoins (or portions thereof)

Bitcoin Wallet

A wallet is a secure software mechanism to hold the data items that represent your bitcoins. The wallet software is also used to send bitcoins to a bitcoin address.

1. Desktop Wallets

A desktop wallet is a program that resides on your PC or laptop. Whilst this reduces the risk of an online security breach, it does require that you:-

  1. Properly secure access to your PC or laptop
  2. Protect the PC or laptop from online threats (using a firewall and antivirus program)
  3. Make regular backups of your wallet data

For my tests I used the Bitcoin core application which also acts as a wallet. The program needs to download the entire bitcoin blockchain when it is first run. If you don’t allow it to start with your PC, any subsequent use will require the program to download the latest transactions before it can operate.

Other and more sophisticated desktop wallets are available. A guide to desktop and other wallets is available on

A screenshot of the program is shown below.

The Bitcoin core application is use as a wallet

2. Web Based Wallets

In many ways a more practical approach than a desktop wallet is the use of a web-based facility.

For my tests I used the Blockchain web based wallet. A screenshot is shown below. Note the display of transactions, and the options available to take your own backup (and the sound advice to do so).

The disadvantage with a web-based wallet is that all your bitcoins are stored on a remote system. The demise of Mt. Gox in 2013, and loss of $450 million worth of bitcoin undermined faith in the currency.

3. Mobile Wallets

A mobile bitcoin wallet is an app which, unlike a desktop wallet, does not keep a copy of the entire blockchain on the mobile device. It communicates with a server, operating in a similar way to the use of a web-based wallet, but via a user interface designed for phones or tablets.

Unfortunately Apple has in the past chosen to remove wallet apps from its store; however at the present time (October 2014) mobile wallets are available for Android, Blackberry and IOS.

I used the Blockchain Android app; the IOS version is also available. No Windows Phone wallets are currently available.

The screenshot below, taken during the post-installation setup procedure, shows an annoying problem with the current version; the mandatory checkbox is almost completely hidden by an un-necessary rectangle!

Once the above difficulty had been overcome, the screenshot below shows the application in operation:-

I also tested an IOS wallet, on an iPhone 4S:-

Buying Bitcoins

I used a bitcoin exchange in order to buy some coin.

Most exchanges will not accept credit card or Paypal due to the level of consumer protection.

I chose Bittylicious which easily allowed me to transfer the funds via my online bank account.

A novel means to obtain bitcoin is a bitcoin ATM. The one featured in this link converts cash into bitcoin; a further aid to anonymity (see below).

Purchasing with Bitcoin

For my first bitcoin purchase I chose an item with a recognised fixed value in the real world; a £5 Amazon gift voucher, purchased through the site which facilitates the purchase of many popular gift cards.

For my purchase, I registered with the site. I used Google Chrome as my web browser, and when I had selected the item, clicked the “buy with bitcoin” button, Chrome asked for permission to use my desktop wallet. When granted, the wallet assembled the transaction, allowing me to actually pay.

A bitcoin transaction has to be confirmed (technical: mined to a level of blocks deep); my wallet recommends 6 confirmations. In practice that means that it took about 20-30 minutes before my purchased gift card code was available to me. (Some retailers may choose to not wait until the transaction is sufficiently confirmed, and run the small risk of loss due to an attempted double spend).

The screen below shows the completed purchase summary. Note that the price in bitcoin was computed by the site. As you can see, on 6th October 2014 a full bitcoin is trading for a little over £200.

Anonymity with Bitcoin

Part of the attraction of bitcoin, and part of its notoriety, is the potential to undertake anonymous transactions online using the system. But how anonymous are users?

Bitcoin is built around the blockchain, a public and permanent record of each transaction. Those transactions only show the addresses used and the balance, but the record is public. This is one reason to change address for each transaction.

Also, the IP addresses used could be logged; so use a VPN or TOR if you wish to be anonymous.

Read here for more information on anonymity.

Similar Systems

Bitcoin is the most famous digital currency, but it has rivals such as Litecoin, Darkcoin and Dogecoin.

Changing the World

So that is bitcoin, briefly explained and demonstrated. Will it (or the similar networks) change the world as we know it? Will everyone be using it by 2020?

Probably not, but it’s useful to be informed. The problems with bitcoin include:-

  • Volatility of the currency. It peaked at $1000 in late 2013 but is now around a third of that value.
  • Lack of government protection – there is no deposit safety scheme, as there is for example in the UK.
  • Transaction verification is slow.
  • Risk of loss if you lose your physical wallet or the password.

I plan to keep using it as a purchase mechanism but will probably hold bitcoins only in small chunks of about 0.5 bitcoin, which as of today is about £100. I have no plans to enter the volatile world of bitcoin trading.

UK V.E.D. (“Car Tax” / “Road Tax”) Abolished

Well, not really.

But as of one minute ago you no longer need to display the evidence of your recent expensive contribution to the UK Government’s wasted spending on [insert your favourite hated item here]. When you next renew the tax, you will not receive a disc.

So, drivers of the United Kingdom, enjoy your greater windscreen space.

Unfortunately you still have to pay.

UK Telephone Dial Codes Changes from October 1st 2014

Two significant changes are about to affect many people in the United Kingdom from 1st October 2014.

  1. The traditional car tax disc (or VED disc) is abolished from that date.
  2. The UK will undergo another telephone dial code change.

Well, sort of. Not really.

You may remember the code changes a few years ago, when ’1′ was inserted into many codes, some codes were totally changed, and London gained two area codes.

In October 2014 no area dial codes are really changing, but in just a few areas of the UK, landline users will no longer be able to call a number in that same area, without using the area code..

Incredibly in this era of almost univeral mobile phone ownership, you may still spot a local business that lists their telephone number without an area code. This is particularly irritating if you live at the edge of the area covered by your local code (plumbers vans seem to be the most common examples for some reason).

Of course, mobile phone users have always been required to dial a full telephone number, including the UK area code. From October 1st 2014, local landline telephone users in the areas listed below will need to do so as well.

The cost of that local call will be unchanged.

The areas affected are:-

Area Dialling code
Aberdeen 01224
Bradford 01274
Brighton 01273
Middlesbrough 01642
Milton Keynes 01908

For more information, visit the Ofcom site.