Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

October 24, 2014
by Neil Turner

The Huddersfield Station Cat Flap

Huddersfield Station

Huddersfield railway station is one of Britain’s finest, in my opinion. It retains its original neo-classical façade and its platform canopies. It sits in front of a large paved public space called St Georges Square, with fountains. It is also home to not one, but two good real ale pubs at either side of the entrance. And it’s home to a cat called Felix.

I’ve met Felix before, although I’ve never managed to get a photo of her. She’s usually found on platform one and has been at the station for a few years now, having been adopted by the staff there.

Last year, as part of an internal refurbishment of the station which saw a new ticket office and the installation of lifts, ticket barriers were installed to cut down on ticketless travel. Huddersfield is a focal point for the Transpennine Ale Trail thanks to the aforementioned pubs, and it’s a terminus for several local train services, so ensuring that everyone entering or leaving the station has a ticket is important. Which is fine for humans, but not so good if you’re a cat who doesn’t have opposable thumbs and can’t reach the slot to insert a ticket.

So, First Transpennine Express, the train company that managed the station, installed a cat flap:

Felix's Cat Flap at Huddersfield Station

Naturally it was a minor story in the news last year, timed to be released during the quieter political period in the summer. As well as drumming up some interest for the station it also reinforced the news that ticket barriers had been installed, putting a positive spin on a controversial subject matter.

But despite my cynicism I think it’s genuinely a nice thing to do, and gives that station some character – something that modern railway stations lack. Perhaps the team at Huddersfield want to emulate the success of Tama, the station master cat at Kishi station in Japan who attracts tens of thousands of tourists every year.

October 22, 2014
by Neil Turner
1 Comment

Believe me, I am still alive

Apart from the weekly links digests and a couple of posts about the iPhone 6 that I had for three days (now returned), it’s been over a month since I posted anything of substance on here. This is despite me being able to post a new blog entry just about every day earlier this year. So, today, here’s me thinking out loud.

The past couple of months have been really busy for me. Work has taken a big chunk of my life and, in particular, I haven’t been able to take much time off on weekdays to catch up with things. Plus I’ve spent more time out and about on evenings and weekends.

In fact, all I’ve been feeling like lately is that I need to catch up – there’s always something I’ve had to do that’s late or pending. Whether it’s keeping up with unread articles I’ve saved to Pocket, reading magazines or just generally keeping on top of social media, I’ve spent several weeks constantly behind.

And because of this I haven’t had so much time to do fun stuff on my own. I’ve played World of Warcraft no more than a couple of times in three months – mainly because until last week there’d been no new content to play for months. But I also haven’t had much time to go out on my own and do things during the daytime.

I realised that keeping on top of social media was taking a big chunk out of my day. I’m one of those people who likes to read every tweet and every Facebook status update, and so it’s easy to get overwhelmed. So I spent quite a bit of time going through the people I followed on Twitter, and either unfollowing people altogether or at least disabling retweets for some people. I unfollowed around 50 accounts in the end, which was about 30% of the accounts I followed. I also streamlined my Facebook news feed somewhat.

But I also need to take more time off work. I have a number of days of time off in lieu of overtime to take, plus a chunk of my annual leave allowance remaining unused. Over the past couple of years I’ve ended up carrying days over that I haven’t used, so I really need to make an effort to take the days off that I’m entitled to.

Last week I was off ill for a day and a half. I doubt it was stress related – more likely a reaction to the ‘flu vaccination that I had last Monday, which effectively gave me mild ‘flu. But it was the first time that I’ve had to take any sick leave in over two and a half years. That’s obviously a good thing but I was annoyed that I broke such a long stint without being ill.

I am, however, off work for the whole of next week. Christine and I are off for a weekend break this weekend, and then I have the rest of the week to do, well, something. I haven’t any concrete plans as yet. Hopefully, I’ll be able to catch up with everything that I’ve missed lately, and be all fresh and ready for the winter season.

October 11, 2014
by Neil Turner

Links from Pinboard for October 11, 2014

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

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October 4, 2014
by Neil Turner

Links from Pinboard for October 4, 2014

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October 1, 2014
by Neil Turner

iPhone 6 on Three (Part II)

iPhone 5 and iPhone 6

As I mentioned yesterday, this week I’m reviewing the new iPhone 6 on Three. If you’re like me and have just come to the end of a two year contract with the iPhone 5, then you may be interested to know what’s changed and whether it’s worth upgrading.

The biggest change with the new phone is the larger screen. It’s taller – enough for another row of icons on the home screen when compared with the 5/5S/5C, and two more rows when compared to earlier models like the 4S. But it’s also wider too. And you have the option of having more space on the screen, like I have done, or have everything increase in size to give a similar experience to earlier models but with bigger icons. Apps that have been designed for iOS 8 will work with no problems, but older apps may look a bit blurry as they scale up to the larger screen – a bit like how pre-iOS 4 apps looked on the iPhone 4’s then-new retina display.

The increased size does mean that it’s now much harder to use the phone with one hand, and even my relatively large hands were too small to access all of the screen single-handedly. You can double-tap – not double-press – the home button to move the screen down to be able to access the top in a feature called Reachability, but this feels a bit clunky in my experience.

Like the iPhone 5S this includes Touch ID, allowing you to unlock your phone by simply holding your finger over the home button. I was impressed at how well this worked, actually – it’s quick and simple.

The phone is about a millimetre slimmer, but its rounded edges mean that it feels even thinner than the iPhone 5. It also feels more comfortable to hold as there’s no longer a noticeable join where the glass screen meets the casing – it’s smooth now. I also want to say it’s lighter, but I’m not sure if it actually is – it certainly feels lighter but that might be because of the larger surface area. And no, it doesn’t appear to bend at all – my wife tried.

The lock button has moved. There is now nothing on the top edge of the phone; prior to the iPhone 5 the headphone port and lock button were here, and then the headphone port moved to the bottom edge in the iPhone 5. Now the lock button has gone too, and is now towards the top of the left edge. It takes some getting used to but it’s reachable with one hand now.

The camera has received a bit of an upgrade and can now do slow-motion video. It pokes out from the back of the phone, so unlike previous models it’s not flush with the casing. Unless you put a case on your phone, you’ll never be able to get your phone flat on a surface, and I am a little worried about the potential for the camera lens getting scratched.

I won’t have enough time to compare battery life reliably, but Apple claims that it will last longer than previous models offering around 2 more hours of internet browsing on 3G connections than the iPhone 5S.

Overall it’s a good upgrade, especially for those wanting a bigger screen. The phone feels like a quality product – solid and well-built, but with the design qualities that you’d expect from Apple.

September 30, 2014
by Neil Turner

iPhone 6 on Three (Part I)

New toy to play with!

The nice folks at Three have loaned me a brand new iPhone 6 to review over the next few days. Sadly I don’t get to keep it beyond the end of this week but I’m intending to write a few things about it whilst I have it.

As you may know I’m an existing customer of Three, having switched to them four years ago when I first bought my iPhone 4. I’ve actually just renewed my contract with Three for another 12 months, albeit on a SIM-only basis because I need to save some money this year.

I like being a Three customer. Their network is pretty good overall; last month it was rated second-best in Britain after EE, its much bigger rival, and ahead of O2 and Vodafone. And rather than bundle on extras like cinema tickets, Spotify subscriptions and the like, Three focusses on offering a simple service with no hidden charges.

So unlike its rivals, calls to freephone 0800 numbers are free like they are on landlines. 4G is available to all customers with a compatible phone (including the iPhone 6) at no extra cost. Roaming in 16 countries is free too, including France, Ireland and the USA, so you only pay what you would if you were in Britain. And it only sells unlocked phones nowadays, so if you do decide to change networks, you can do so more easily.

Lastly, and most importantly, almost all of their deals include unlimited internet. By contrast, EE offer a maximum of 20 GB per month at a whopping £38.99, O2 max out at 8 GB per month, and Vodafone at 10 GB on their £42 per month deal, which is SIM-only and doesn’t even include a handset. Three, on the other hand, offers unlimited data for just £15 per month. Whilst I’m sure most users will never use more than a few gigabytes each month, it’s nice to know that you’re never at risk of hitting a limit.

Tomorrow I’ll be looking at the phone itself.

September 27, 2014
by Neil Turner

Links from Pinboard for September 27, 2014

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

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September 20, 2014
by Neil Turner

Links from Pinboard for September 20, 2014

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

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September 18, 2014
by Neil Turner

Scotland decides

Edinburgh Castle

Today’s the day when Scotland gets to decide whether to become an independent nation. Those living in Scotland will be asked a simple yes or no question – Should Scotland be an independent country?

I’m going to disappoint you all and say that I’m firmly on the fence here. I’m not Scottish and don’t live in Scotland, so I don’t get to vote – consequently I haven’t decided whether I’m for or against independence. But I am very interested in the result. I last wrote about the referendum in December and back then the ‘no’ campaign was in the lead. This situation stayed the same right until a couple of weeks ago when one poll put the ‘yes’ campaign ahead (by a whisker) for the first time. Since then, all of the polls have essentially been too close to call – so the result will be very, very interesting as it genuinely could go either way.

Around 97% of eligible voters have registered, which will hopefully mean a big turn-out and a result that truly reflects the opinion of the Scottish people. And I very much looking forward to finding out what that opinion is when the results are out. We shall find out soon enough.

If you live in Scotland, please go out and vote. This is probably the biggest opportunity to have your say in the future of your country that you will ever have.