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Is Ireland facing a transportation crisis?

It seems that not a week goes by these days without another news story about our transportation network.

A few weeks ago we had a three-week strike by Bus Eireann drivers. Over the last few days there was a call for increased road capacity on the N11 as it is so severely congested, and at the same time four people die every day in Ireland as a result of air pollution, about half of which is attributed to traffic emissions.

Certainly there’s a problem with transportation in this country, particularly in our cities. Our over-reliance on cars to get about is only going to get worse over time. Particularly when 44% have a perception that public transport is difficult to use.

The answer is definitely not to build more roads. That’s not going to ease congestion or reduce pollution – it will just encourage more people to drive, and make the situation worse. The only answer is to get people out of their cars, and get them using more sustainable transport options – public transport, cycling and walking.

But how do you convince people to leave the car at home?

We need a mind-shift in Ireland. We need a change in attitude amongst the people that this needs to be tackled. And we need to decide, once and for all, whether we want a properly-funded and sustainable transport network.

That means putting proper investment into trains, busses (including Bus Eireann), trams, cycle lanes, and footpaths – to make our cities into places where its safe and easy to get about without a car. It’s only then, once we’ve made the investment, that people will finally (and willingly) leave their cars behind and we will see lasting reductions in congestion and pollution.

Unfortunately the political will at the moment seems to be leaning in a different direction. Instead of the carrot approach of making sustainable travel appealing, they are making noises about the stick approach of increasing taxation on diesel cars – through increasing fuel duties and tolls. These are the same diesel cars that the government of 10-15 years ago were trying to persuade people to buy, in order to reduce CO2 emissions.

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Vodafone Ireland Red Roaming APN

I was using Vodafone Ireland for roaming data while I’m visiting the USA, but was concerned to see my prepay credit being eaten up incredibly quickly.

The Red Roaming plan is meant to give me 200MB of data a day for €2.99, but after only using about 5MB of data and sending a couple of texts my €25 of credit was gone!

I checked the Vodafone terms and conditions and found out that the 200MB allowance is only available on the “Live” and “Blackberry” APNs. My phone was set to use the “ISP” APN (isp.vodafone.ie) and as such was being charged something like €6 per MB.

Be sure to have the correct APN selected, or it could cost you!

I’ve changed the APN to now use the “Live” APN (live.vodafone.ie) and my credit isn’t disappearing as before.

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Use your domain for email too!

It never fails to amaze me how, when small businesses go to all the effort of registering a domain name and creating a web site, that they don’t use that domain for their email.

I seem to see it all the time – mostly on the side of vans, and sometimes on invoices and other documentation – whereby the email address looks so amateurish because they’re using a gmail address or similar.

It’s probably not the fault of the small businesses themselves, as they’re not internet specialists. But the people that sell them a web site are really letting the side down by not encouraging them to use their domain for an email address – even if it just forwards straight on to their gmail account!

After all the email address of john@amazingdecorators.ie is much more professional looking that johnsmithpainter@gmail.com.

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Playing around with SSL certs

Inspired by a blog post I was reading recently, I started having a play around with an SSL cert.

An SSL cert is what enables a website to encrypt the traffic to and from the end user. This improves security and trust, and I’ve read that it also improves your search rank in Google. The most notable difference to a web site visitor is that the URL of the site changes from http:// to https:// and a little padlock symbol is displayed next to the URL in the address bar.

Some SSL certs can be really expensive to buy. The ones from my own hosting provider range from €30 to €700 a year, depending on the type of cert you want. However by shopping around a bit on the web, I came across SSLs.com who sell certs from as low as $5 a year!

Buying the cert is the easy bit. Configuring it and installing it is a bit more tricky, and I couldn’t find any easy instructions online.

  • First of all you need to generate a CSR (Certificate Signing Request). When generated it looks like a really long string of random letters and numbers. Often you need to ask your web host to create the CSR for you, but I found this tool from SSL Store to generate mine. Make sure you keep the CSR and Private Key safe!
  • Back at SSLS.com you then need to activate your SSL cert – and you will be prompted to enter the CSR. Copy and paste the full value into the box provided. The SSL cert will then be generated and emailed to you in a ZIP file.
  • I installed the supplied SSL cert myself using my web host’s control panel. Make sure you install all the certs provided, together with the Private Key you supplied earlier. In the ZIP file you’ll find your domain cert and three CA certs. Install them all.

The cert should now work for your domain, and you should be able to view your site securely using https at the start of the domain.

For my WordPress site, I also installed the WP Force SSL plugin to automatically redirect non-secure traffic to the secure domain.

Anyway, so it all works, and my richardbloomfield.com site is now encrypted and secure!

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Pebble has closed

I was pretty upset to learn about the demise of the company that makes Pebble watches.

I’m a big fan of the Pebble devices, and have a Pebble Time watch on my wrist right now. I use it throughout the day to screen the numerous alerts that arrive on my phone.

I was also looking forward to getting a new Pebble Time 2 watch, but that’s not going to happen now, because all manufacturing of Pebble devices has been cancelled.

For the last 9 months I’ve been wearing both my Pebble watch and a Fitbit Charge HR. The Pebble is for my notifications, and the Pebble is for health tracking. And with the new Pebble Time 2 on the way, and with Pebble seeming to move more and more in the health tracking direction, I had assumed that in the near future I’d be ditching the Fitbit and using just the Pebble for everything.

But that’s not happening now.

I’ve been doing some research over the last couple of days to try and see if there’s anything out there that can replace my Pebble. But most of the smartwatches out there don’t suit my needs. They have a poor battery life, and don’t have an always-on display. And many of the fitness trackers can’t handle mobile phone notifications very well.

I did look at the Fitbit Blaze as a possible pebble replacement, but I don’t really like the styling and I think the functions beyond fitness tracking are very limited at the moment. That all could change, of course, in the future, as Fitbit has acquired technology and staff from Pebble. So maybe in the next couple of years they’ll make a Fitbit that’s also a decent smartwatch.

But at the moment, I can’t see any natural successor to the Pebble. It had such a unique feature set that there’s nobody even close. And there seems to be very few companies innovating in the smartwatch industry at the moment. Indeed, a number of companies have pulled out of smartwatches altogether – and even the Apple Watch isn’t setting the world on fire.

So for now, I’m hoping that my trusty Pebble Time keeps going for as long as possible.

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