Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

May 5, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Catching up

Bee

Last month, not counting the automatically-posted lists of links that I’ve saved on Pinboard, I wrote three blog posts. Sadly, I’ve not really had much time to sit down and actually write anything much of late.

Work has only just started becoming quieter – January-April is one of our busier periods where we interview prospective students. Christine and I were also both involved in two BUSOM shows – last week’s concert, which went well, thanks for asking, and the show in March. The house purchase has been progressing, albeit slowly, and I’ll write more about that later this week. And I’ve had a renewed interest in playing World of Warcraft following the release of Patch 6.1, so that’s eaten up quite a bit of spare time too.

The result of all of my busyness has not just prevented me from writing blog posts. I’m still reading some longform articles saved to Pocket in February, and haven’t had the chance to edit my photos from my trip to the Middle East which was over six weeks ago.

Now that work has calmed down, I should be able to take more annual leave. And not having rehearsals on weekday evenings will free up quite a bit of time as well. So hopefully I’ll have chance to write down all of the things I’ve been wanting to talk about recently.

May 4, 2015
by Neil Turner
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A Marvel-ous weekend

Swordfish

Christine and I had a somewhat Marvel-themed weekend. On Friday, we watched Captain America: Winter Soldier, which we missed in the cinema when it came out, and then on Saturday we went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron at the cinema.

We’ve tried to watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films in order, although Christine ended up seeing both Iron Man films for the first time after the first Avengers film. Having also missed Iron Man 3 in the cinema, we caught this on Netflix a few weeks ago, but the second Captain America isn’t yet available on Netflix. We ended up signing up for a one-month free trial of Sky’s Now TV Movies to stream it; most other sites like Blinkbox, iTunes and Google Play ask for around £7 to buy it to keep.

If you haven’t seen Winter Soldier, I would strongly recommend that you watch it before seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron. Without wanting to give away spoilers, several events take place that explain some of the changes between the first and second Avengers films. Similarly, I’d suggest watching Guardians of the Galaxy before Age of Ultron as well – whilst they may not seem at all related, both take place in the larger MCU and Age of Ultron continues some of the plot threads from Guardians of the Galaxy. Also, Guardians of the Galaxy is a great film in its own right.

Both are really good films. I think I enjoyed the second Avengers film more than the first; whilst the first was an action-packed romp, the second focussed more on the relationship between the characters and seemed to have a stronger plot. But it was definitely darker and the ending of the film was much more open-ended. So far I’ve enjoyed all of the MCU films and am looking forward to future instalments. The next release is Ant-Man later this year, and 2016’s Captain America: Civil War will be the first MCU film to feature Spider-Man. We haven’t yet seen The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but seeing as we still have the rest of the month to enjoy Now TV Movies we’ll find time soon to watch it.

A final note: whilst Winter Soldier has a bonus sequence at the very end of the credits, Age of Ultron’s bonus sequence is part-way through, so there’s no need to stay all of the way to the end.

May 2, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for May 2, 2015

Here are the articles or web sites that I’ve found this week and linked to on my Pinboard Bookmarks:

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April 27, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Hear Me Sing!

Never Work With Children or AnimalsA rare opportunity to hear me sing has arisen! I’ll be joining the chorus of BUSOM in their summer concert entitled ‘Never Work with Children or Animals’, featuring songs from popular musicals on the theme of childhood and animal magic.

I’ve helped with BUSOM behind the scenes for some of their main shows like Moby Dick! The Musical and Little Shop of Horrors, but this will be the first time I’ve sung in front of an audience since secondary school – karaoke excepted. I wouldn’t say I’m a great singer (and have some issues with timing that need sorting out pronto) but apparently I can hold some semblance of a tune. At least, enough to be part of the chorus.

The concert is this Thursday, in the Escape Bar, Student Central at the University of Bradford. It starts at 7:30pm and tickets will be available on the door.

April 25, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for April 25, 2015

Here are the articles or web sites that I’ve found this week and linked to on my Pinboard Bookmarks:

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April 18, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for April 18, 2015

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April 17, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Theoretically passed

Burnt out car

Two of the big things we’re aiming to do in 2015 are learn to drive, and buy a house. We’re making progress on both: we’ve had an offer accepted on a house (although we’re probably still a good 6 weeks away from getting the keys), and last week I passed my theory test.

I’ve passed the test before, but that was way back in October 2006, when I last had driving lessons. Because I didn’t then pass my practical test, my theory test certificate expired in 2008, meaning I had to take it again.

The test has changed a little bit since last time. Firstly, there are more questions – 50, instead of 35 – and a higher pass mark; you now need to get 43 questions right instead of 30. 5 of these questions form a case study, which was also new compared to last time.

The second part of the test is hazard perception, where you watch several videos and have to identify the hazards that take place. This is to make sure that you’re aware, and would have time to react appropriately in a real situation. This was new when I took it last time – back then, a series of actual video footage was used. Nowadays the videos are mocked up using reasonably realistic CGI – right down to the idiot BMW driver who pulls out in front of you.

I actually didn’t expect to pass. Even though I’d passed it before, in the week running up to it, I heard of two people who had failed it, so I assumed I would too. As it happened, I got 47 questions right out of 50, and scored 58 out of 75 for the hazard perception. To practice and revise, I used the Theory & HPT app from SmartDriving, which was recommended to me by my instructor. It’s up-to-date and comprehensive with hundreds of practice questions, and available on iOS (iPhone and iPad), and on Android. There are many other apps out there that I haven’t tried, but this one seemed to work for me.

Now I just need to pass my practical test. This week’s driving lessons suggested that I’m most of the way there but there are a number of areas that I still need to improve. Hopefully I’ll be able to take the test in the summer, by which time I’ll have had lessons most weeks for around a year.

April 11, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for April 11, 2015

Here are the articles or web sites that I’ve found this week and linked to on my Pinboard Bookmarks:

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April 4, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for April 4, 2015

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April 2, 2015
by Neil Turner
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The Leaders Debate

WensleydaleTonight, the leaders of the 7 largest political parties go head-to-head in a TV debate, ahead of the UK’s general election in five weeks’ time.

Whilst TV debates have been a thing in many other countries for years now, this is only the second UK general election where they’ve taken place. Last time, in 2010, there were three rounds of debates, each hosted by a different broadcaster: the BBC, ITV and Sky. And these three debates had the same three party leaders: David Cameron for the Conservations, Nick Clegg for the Liberal Democrats and Gordon Brown, the erstwhile prime minister, for Labour.

A lot has changed in five years. Following the election, no one party achieved an overall majority in the House of Commons, and so the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition government, with David Cameron as prime minister and Nick Clegg as his deputy. Gordon Brown, meanwhile, retired from front-line politics; bar a brief reappearance last year around the referendum on Scottish independence, he has kept a low profile and is standing down as an MP.

After joining the coalition government, the Liberal Democrats popularity slumped. People like me, who voted for the LibDems in 2010, felt betrayed when many of their policies were abandoned. As a result, I fully expected Britain to become more like the USA, which is, for the most part, a two-party system. Whereas in America there are the Democrats and Republicans, in Britain we would just have Labour and the Conservatives, with the LibDems resigned to the ‘Other’ category along with dozens of other fringe parties.

This didn’t happen.

More recently the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) – a far-right party opposed to the European Union and wanting tighter immigration controls, has risen in popularity and displaced the LibDems as Britain’s third-biggest party. But also, the Green Party, having existed for years but never achieved much, has also seen an increase in support, following the election of its first MP in Brighton in 2010. Right now, the BBC’s ‘poll of polls’ puts Labour and the Conservatives neck-and-neck on 34% of the vote, with UKIP in third, the LibDems in fourth, and the Green Party in fifth.

So that’s five of the parties in tonight’s debate. The other two will be the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru (the Party of Wales) who, in turn, advocate independence for Scotland and Wales. The SNP, despite losing the Scottish referendum last year, are expected to win many more seats in Scotland. Whilst Plaid Cymru do not appear to be riding on a similar tidal wave of popularity, presumably if there will be a Scottish party in the debate then it’s only fair that a Welsh party is there too.

So, in five years, we’ve gone from debates amongst just three parties, to a debate amongst seven. It’s not what I expected to happen, but I’m pleased it has – it seems that, rather than polarising around just two parties, the political spectrum in Britain has widened to encompass a broader range of opinions. Which, if nothing else, makes the result of the elections next month all the more interesting, especially as it’s highly unlikely that any one party will win a majority.

As it is, I won’t be watching tonight’s debate – I have other plans, and have already made my mind up about who I’m going to vote for.