eXtensions - Wednesday 10 October 2018


eXtensions - Travels with Cameras, a Mac and an iPhone (4): Live Railway Museum Visits and Some Wednesday Notes

By Graham K. Rogers


After a wet Saturday, Sunday allowed me to stretch my legs and I headed for a major railway center to be met with some disappointment. I had a choice of two more options that were open, but chose the wrong one. Nonetheless, there were some good images to be taken.

There is no Wednesday File this week as I am away from home. Travel photography is taking priority. I do have a couple of Apple notes, however. I have bought an Apple Watch 4. Not that I have ever done it before, but I hope to claim the VAT back at the airport, then set it up in the Departures Lounge. Well, that's the plan.

Apple Watch 4

I have often commented on the way Apple collects negative reports, and I have particularly noted Fortune and Bloomberg. The latter excelled itself at the end of last week when it claimed Apple and Amazon (among others - best to put the click-magnets first) were using servers that had chips implanted in China that allowed backdoor entry. Denials came thick and fast, then some solid reports that suggest Bloomberg may have ignored some expert input for the sake of a story.

Apple sent a letter to Congress denying the reports Roger Fingas (AppleInsider) reports and also includes links to the Department of Homeland Security and GCHQ who are both "casting doubt on the allegations". The GCHQ comments are included in an item by Malcolm Owen (AppleInsider) and this comment is revealing: "We are aware of the media reports but at this stage have no reason to doubt the detailed assessments made by AWS (Amazon Web Services) and Apple." Bloomberg is sticking by its report. Comments from Homeland Security are included in an item by Jon Fingas (Engadget) and the main thrust is the same: no reason to doubt refutals at the moment.

Apple's letter to members of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and the Committee on Energy and Commerce is available online. Not only have no such chips been found, but the tone of the letter suggests some exasperation with Bloomberg. Apple has been working with them since October 2017. Some of the details were vague and some Apple inputs were ignored. As the letter suggests, it would be in Apple's interests to get to the bottom of anything like this, but nothing can be found. Apple also put out a Press Release.

The smoking gun (for me) was in a report cited by Philip Elmer-DeWitt (Apple 3.0) which examines the comments of hardware expert, Joe Fitzpatrick. He was interviewed by Patrick Gray Monday for his Risky Biz podcast and the main comments are cited here. He had been contacted by Jordan Robertson of Bloomberg who asked him about hardware and the possibilities for attacks using embedded chips. Fitzpatrick says: "details that were even remotely technical, seemed like they had been lifted from from the conversations I had about theoretically how hardware implants work", adding that when the attack vector was disclosed he told Jordan, "this doesn't make sense". A note from Bloomberg mentions that 17 sources were used and Joe FitzPatrick was not one of these.

As I predicted a couple of weeks ago, AnandTech (Andrei Frumusanu) have now released their detailed analysis of the iPhone Xs and iPone Xs Max. The pages are full of some interesting background information, with the battery taking some of the interest while the ways the chips now work also piques the analysts' interest. Although I had already marked this, I am grateful to a reader who, knowing I was on vacation, sent me email to make sure. Now back to those travels. . . .

On Saturday the rain was so persistent that after I took a few photographs of what appeared to be bells in the streets, I went for a drive. The views were spoiled by reduced visibility. I parked up for a while before heading back to base for an afternoon of editing and writing. Around 5pm I began to prepare for the evening - my mother's 90th birthday and Maurice's 85th - the main reason for being here at this time of year. As commanded, I dressed in a tuxedo. Despite my protestations, it did not look too bad.

Dressed to kill Dressed to kill

Dressed to kill? - Photos by Maurice

Plan A

As this time of year is when fewer people are on vacation, many of the live railway museums are closed during the week. Sunday is the only day most operate: at least those within reach of my location. I had already decided that the Didcot Railway Centre was my main destination. I had been there last year on a static day: exhibits could be viewed, but there were no trains running.

The journey down was easy although the navigation system (Apple Maps) brought me to the station and not the parking facility I wanted: that was my fault. I soon found the area I wanted, but it was changed from last year, with a multi-storey car park in use (first floor only) and a new payment system in operation run by a private company. I had to enter the car registration number and then put the coins in. Rather than walk back to the car, I saw the number was hand-written on the key fob. After entering that number, I needed to put the right amount of coins (not notes) into the machine.

With no change given, the tariffs were an odd choice, with 4 hours priced at £4.10, just to catch those who did not have the right amount. The first time I tried, I had taken too long between entering the number and inserting the coins. The machine returned only 3 of my 4 pound coins. I tried again, but this time, only 1 coin was recognised as having been inserted, although all 4 were returned. The next time I was successful and the ticket appeared. When I returned to the car, I found I had misread the number: not KT18NBW but KT18NBN.

I tried to phone the company, but a recorded message told me that office hours were Monday to Saturday. I collected the cameras and my jacket, then walked to Didcot Station. I was given access to the station by railway staff when I told them I was visiting the rail centre and walked through the subway.


I had already seen several families with children, but thought to myself, this is a Sunday; of course there will be families here. However, at the ticket office I was told that this was a Thomas the Tank Engine Day. There was however some live steam and having come almost 100 kms, I paid the fee (£15) and went in.


The rolling stock that had been on my left as I went towards the main building complex, had been moved, although I saw some of these old goods trucks later. One steam train was running on a short line, back and forth and I was able to take some photographs of that.


A short walk towards the sheds gave me a couple of shots of some small engines, but the famous King Edward II was not visible. I took some photographs of these engines and went into the shed. The closeness of engines meant that it was not easy to take pictures of the full length of those in the shed, apart from a small saddle-tank engine at the back.


When I had come last year, I had enjoyed the lunch in the small cafeteria, particularly the chips: perhaps the best I had tasted ever. I was keen to indulge myself again, but there was a line into the establishment and tables outside were already all occupied. Looking past the buildings, I could see hundreds of people. I turned round and went back to the car.


Plan B

In the car I looked at Apple Maps. From Didcot there appeared to be two options: Gloucester Warwickshire Railway at Toddington, which I had visited two years ago; or the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre at Quainton, which was on the way home in a way. I made for Quainton and, although there were some families there, it was much quieter. There was also less live activity, with only one steam engine operating.


After lunch in an old railway building I walked towards a operating steam engine. This was an old National Coal Board machine (saddle tank, 0-6-0) and was running on a short section of track. The line that runs through the station is not used, so the demonstrations and trips are relatively short. The Gloucester Warwickshire Railway and the Great Central Railway at Loughborough, both have several miles of track so give a more realistic experience.


The extended museum here has several exhibits under repair, so future displays will improve. There are also a number of trains and carriages awaiting renovation. There are two indoor displays. One is in the main building where I had lunch. This includes carriages from Queen Victoria's train. Over the footbridge there is a small display explaining some of the genesis of the Great Central Railway out of Marylebone and its Metropolitan Railway connections.


Also over the bridge, past some old locomotives on track, is a museum that has a number of old Metropolitan carriages and artefacts. These emphasise the mainly historic or educational aspects of the Centre. The live steam seems to me an adjunct to the museum. With the Gloucester Warwickshire Railway and the Great Central Railway live steam is the centrepiece of both lines.


To emphasise this, I was intrigued by a number of metal advertisements that adorn the platforms and walls. These were still quite common when I was a youngster and there is a charm to them.

Quainton advertisements Quainton advertisements

I made a cross-country dash back to my base, but this appeared at one stage to have been a mistake as the fuel indicator on the Benz I am renting reached a dangerously low level. When I did arrive at a service station, it took 56 litres, with an accompanying blow to my cash reserves.

See also:

Travels with Cameras, a Mac and an iPhone (1): Return to UK
Travels with Cameras, a Mac and an iPhone (2): The Dance of the Red Kites
Travels with Cameras, a Mac and an iPhone (3): Bells in the Streets
Travels with Cameras, a Mac and an iPhone (5): Linton Zoo
Travels with Cameras, a Mac and an iPhone (6): Walks in the Country; Apple Watch 4; a Delayed Flight Home<>/a>

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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