Tip o’ the Week #213 – London travel with Windows Phone


There are plenty apps that help travellers to and from the city of London, some of which I’ve mentioned previously in Tips gone by. Apologies somewhat to international readers as many of these will be of little use to you, unless you choose to visit the cradle of parliamentary democracy, in which case you should install them all before your trip.

Commuters in London have had to deal with industrial action on the Tube in recent months, and may face some more to come unless BoJo and BoCrow can kiss and make up. Install these apps now, so that next time you’re stuck in a queue or wedged on a train studiously not making eye contact with your fellow passengers, then you’ll have something to occupy yourself with. You could try singing the Amateur Transplants’ “London Underground” song to yourself: Warning – NSFW. Seriously, very sweary NSFW. About as sweary as you can get NSFW.

If you find yourself trying to traverse the capital on unfamiliar modes of transport (with other strange songs ringing in your mind), you could do worse than check out Bing Get Me There – it’s a multi-modal travel app which will plot routes on Tube, bus, overground rail & DLR, as well as link up the walking bits at either end too. The London Travel app is also very good – it shows you when the bus is due at your stop, among many other useful functions.

clip_image003Some other mainstream apps also feature great functionality for navigating the city – everyone should have Here Maps installed and benefit from being able to plan your journey on Shanks’s Pony even if you are stuck in a crawling underground train with no signal, since the maps are all stored offline.

Tap on a train or Tube station and the maps even show the real over-ground and underground layout (ie. where the tube lines lie under the streets – a revelation to new visitors to London is when they realise that sometimes it’s just a lot quicker to walk than to change lines on the underground, as the famous Tube Map isn’t anything like to-scale). Select a bus stop, and it’ll show you the numbered bus routes which that stop serves, and where they go to. Here Maps also gives you great turn-by-turn walking sat-nav so you can figure out exactly where to go when you get off the transit.

Ceri Morriss helpfully points out that as well as using the Bus Checker app, many routes – including the TVP courtesy bus – are also in Nokia’s excellent & free Here Transit phone app, which lets you plan a route by public transport not only in London, but other cities too. 740 of them around the world, apparently. Yes, other cities are available. Even the BBC knows this now.

Finally, there is a slew of similar train-opco-supplied apps, many off the same code base. For travellers going Reading-London, the most obvious is the clip_image005FGW app, which lets you see plan journeys, buy tickets, see the status of current trains (so you can see how late they are running), view departures from your favourite station (and as you can see how late the trains are running, you can give yourself another few minutes before rushing out of the house).

The coup-de-grâce though, is the ability to see which platform a given train is going to depart from; often, it’s displayed in the app before it shows on the board in the station, so you can be smugly luxuriating in your double seat before the hordes start descending from the main concourse.

Tip o’ the Week #128 – Train Tickets & Times on WP

clip_image001[5]This week’s tip aims to shine a light on a selection of Windows Phone Apps dedicated to letting the train take the strain. There have been a slew of newly released apps which let you plan your journey, find information about stations and even buy your ticket in advance, ready to collect at a ticket machine. Best not get caught on board without a ticket, or your inspector might not be so friendly as this fellow on the right.

‘Allo, John, gotta new motor?


One of the oldest railway information apps has been updated recently, namely the Avanade-written Train Travel. The update added some snazzy new features, including a “Where am I now?” augmented reality train & underground viewer.

Do bear in mind that it’s expensive to buy (£4.99 is a lot for an app on any mobile platform) and it’s had some pretty stinky reviews since the update, due to a (now fixed) bug that refused to recognise a previous purchase. And as you’ll see shortly, the majority of the functionality is available elsewhere for Brussel Sprout.

clip_image002The Journey Pro app tries to meld travelling on national & London metropolitan rail, bus, tube, ferry and DLR all into one app – with a mixed degree of success, if truth be told.

Some reviewers (one, a train conductor, even) complain that it offers illogical routes or even ones that don’t exist, though this could be as much down to the back end than the app itself. As with all these things, your mileage may vary but since it’s free, then it’s worth having a look.


clip_image003Whilst on the topic of travelling in London, of course it’d be remiss not to point out Bing Get Me There. This app combines all of the necessary travel services to get your around in the Smoke, including excellent turn-by-turn walking directions to get you from the nearest transport stop to your eventual destination. It’s a much slicker app than Journey Pro, too. London Travel Lite and City Travel London might be worth taking a butcher’s at too, stop ya getting Jonathan Ross’d.

clip_image004There are a bunch of new apps getting great reviews because of national coverage (despite the association with a single train operator), and being free makes them a great alternative to other paid for apps and they carry some weight of being official, unlike some other train times apps which have come and gone in the past.



clip_image005The FGW and ScotRail apps appear to be the same under the covers; no great surprises since the First Group sits above both operators. In fact, the First Capital Connect and The Transpennine Express appear to be the same thing too. All will allow you to query times, buy tickets etc.



clip_image006Finally, as if too much choice was ever a good thing, TheTrainLine.com has gotten in on the act too – offering a quick & slick way to find fares, make bookings and collect your tickets up to 10 minutes before boarding. This appears to be one of the most fully-featured when it comes to buying a ticket. No surprises there…

Don’t forget, (as covered in ToW #74), there’s a snazzy Internet Explorer 9/10 optimised site at http://ie9.nationalrail.co.uk/ which lets you do a lot of the searching you might need to, from your desktop.

One can only look forward to all the lovely Win8 apps due sometime soon…

Tip o’ the Week #104 – Windows 7’s clock & date

clip_image001One of the neat little design touches of Windows 7 that changed as a result of usage analysis was the calendar that is shown when you click the clock on your system tray. User feedback taught product designers that in previous versions of Windows, users would often go into the “Date & Time Properties” dialog box, not to set the date but just to see the calendar – eg what date is it 3 weeks from now?, or what day is Christmas Day .?

Of course, in earlier Windows versions, if you changed the date by clicking on another month/year, and hit the OK button, it would actually change the system date. not necessarily a good thing. In Windows 7, the default behaviour is to just show you the calendar, and easily allow you to jump between months, years, even decades.


Of course, you could just use Outlook, but a) not everyone uses Outlook all the time (the poor non-productive fools!) and b) it’s usually just quick & easy to click on the taskbar to check a date. If you are in Outlook, did you know that you can type in expressions into any date field – eg the Start date of a meeting. “3 weeks on Tuesday” , “next Friday”, “in 60 days”, “7d”, “Christmas 2013” . there are loads of variants to try.

Ticking away, the moments that make up the time of day

clip_image006If you’re a habitual jet-setter, are planning a holiday in foreign climes or just want to know the time in another part of the world, you can also add multiple clocks in Windows 7. Click on the Date/Time part of the system tray, click on Change date and time settings. and then the Additional clip_image007Clocks tab.


Sure beats those £2,000 “executive wall clocks” that feature in the back pages of in-flight magazines.

Tip o’ the Week #74 – The Age of the Train

Now then, now then… Remember the old 1980’s Jimmy Savill advert for British Rail? RIP, Jingle Jangle Jim.

Well, it  seem that National Rail Enquiries adopted the Age of IE9 to deliver one of their latest consumer-facing web applications. Head over to http://ie9.nationalrail.co.uk to check out live departures and arrivals for your favourite stations, all presented in a slick, Windows Phone 7-style UI.

National Rail has said it won’t be updating the Outlook addin they built for Outlook 2003/2007 (but which isn’t clip_image001compatible with Outlook 2010), however it is possible to quickly add rail travel information to your calendar. If you search for a given journey, then look at the details … click on Add to calendar and the site will download an “ICS” file which IE will offer you the opportunity to open or save. Select Open, and Outlook will create a new appointment for you with the appropriate times of the journey.


Tip o’ the Week #70 – Windows Phone 7 usage abroad

clip_image002If you’re planning on taking your Windows Phone to sunnier climes over the autumn/winter, this tip might help. One side-effect of going abroad is that the numbers you may have saved in your contacts, won’t be able to dial – 07802 etc won’t make any sense if you’re in the US….

clip_image001One elegant solution to this problem would be to fix up all your contact numbers in Outlook, using a technique discussed way back in previous posts (here and here) to sort out the formatting of contacts’ phone numbers (the E.164 format – such as +44 118 etc – again, something I’ve dealt with before).

Now, Windows Phone 7 has some built-in intelligence to try to figure out what you’re attempting to dial when you’re overseas. It should be switched on by default – to check, go into Settings, then swipe right to applications and clip_image003look under phone, and check International Assist is on.

Allen, being a fiduciarily responsible sort of chap, was concerned that he didn’t want to rack up lots of data charges whilst abroad, and so was keen to make sure data roaming was switched off. This is also the default setting: if you’d like to verify the fact, or if you’d like to switch roaming back on so you can use (at astronomical expense, mind) the phone’s data services whilst overseas, go into Settings, swipe down to mobile network and check to see if roam or don’t roam is set.

When you’re abroad, you might find that you can connect on free WiFi networks instead – go into Settings / WiFi and look for suitable networks. There are various apps which purport to tell you if you’re connecting via GSM/3G or WiFi, however if you switch off Data Connection and/or roaming from the mobile network settings, you can be certain you’re only using WiFi.

There are even tools which promise to do all the “yes, I accept your terms and conditions, yadda, yadda” stuff that you might have to complete in the browser after connecting to Starbucks etc WiFi, before you can use the rest of the internet. As they say, YMMV.

Tip o’ the Week #26 – multiple time zones in Outlook Calendar

Sometimes you need to create appointments that will make sense when you’re in a different time zone – it helps to use Outlook, Exchange and its phone integration to put relevant stuff in clip_image002the calendar, so you can make sure you’re in the right place and at the right time.

Now there are a couple of ways to make Outlook more timezone-friendly – if you right-click on the time bar to the left of the calendar detail, then a fly-out menu will let you Change Time Zone. An alternative, can be found in the “Time Scale” option on the View tab when looking at the Calendar. As with many things, there are several ways to skin the proverbial cat…

If you choose to change the time zone, Outlook displays its options dialog, which lets you select the current time zone (and also sets the whole PC into that time zone so you needn’t change the PC clock separately), but helpfully also lets you display a second clip_image004zone, and give both a label so you can see which is which…

If you edit an appointment, it’s also possible to show multiple time zones, and to set the destination time zone for an appointment to take place. In other words, if I’m arranging to meet someone at 7pm in Washington DC, I don’t need to manually figure out what time that is in the UK, I just set the time zone of the appointment to be Eastern Daylight Time.

clip_image006As it happens, Outlook always converts an appointment back to “UTC”* – what we still know as GMT in the UK, is actually the base for all appointments, and then a time offset is applied depending on whether the time zone(s) in question have Daylight Saving Time in effect, etc. So an appointment is never 7pm in Washington DC, it’s actually at 00:00 then -5 is offset, since their time zone is UTC-5.

It’s even possible to have an appointment which starts and finishes in a different time zone. The only example I can think of this is a flight, but there may be others. Suggestions on a postcard please…


* UTC doesn’t actually stand for anything – the ITU standards body wanted a single worldwide abbreviation; English speakers wanted “Coordinated Universal Time” or CUT. French speakers wanted “temps universel coordonné” or TUC. Unable to separate the two factions, they compromised and chose UTC.

Tip o’ the Week #2: Travel times in Outlook

Another Outlook tip this week.

There have been some calls for Microsoft to include a “Travel Time” capability to Outlook, that lets you automatically add getting-to and getting-from time to an existing Outlook appointment. There is one internal addin which integrates Bing maps to calculate the time taken to get from point A to the location of an appointment, and creates appointments in your calendar which bracket the original, for the travel duration as calculated by Bing. It even includes turn by turn directions and a bitmap of the route. There are a few existing, external addins which do similar – see here.

clip_image002Those Brits of you who like to travel by choo-choo will doubtless be familiar with the National Rail enquiries website – and the eagle-eyed may have spotted that the results you get from searching now allow you to Add to Calendar. This opens a file which contains the details of the train times and lets you save it directly into your calendar.

If the above process is a bit too click-happy for you, the National Rail folks have built an Outlook Addin to not only add the times to your calendar, but to allow you to search for train times from there too. Simply create an appointment, right-click on it and you’ll see the National Rail Journey Planner listed as an option – select that, and once you’ve located the appropriate trains, it will add them to your calendar automatically.

Click here for more details and a video demo.

Sadly, at this point, the addin doesn’t appear to work with Outlook 2010. Feel free to contact NRE directly to suggest they update the addin to be compatible with Outlook 2010.

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