Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

September 16, 2014
by Neil Turner
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The Brontë Garden at Sowerby Bridge station

Brontë Garden

Last month a new garden was officially opened at Sowerby Bridge railway station. It’s called the Brontë Garden, and is maintained by volunteers from the Friends of Sowerby Bridge Railway Station. It sits on a small parcel of land next to the car park, opposite platform one.

The name comes from the station’s slightly tenuous link with the Brontë family. The Brontës hail from over the hills in Haworth, in the Worth Valley, but one of the Brontë siblings was employed at Sowerby Bridge station at its time of opening in the 1840s. He was Branwell Brontë, brother of the three famous sisters Emily, Anne and Charlotte. He was later appointed at another station further up the line at Luddendenfoot – this station succumbed to the rationalisation of the railways in the 1960s and no longer exists.

The Brontë Garden at Sowerby Bridge railway station

The garden isn’t particularly big but does house a bench and small gravelled area, along with some planters built using old railway sleepers. There’s also a restored luggage trolley, with opened suitcases serving as planters.

As well as the garden, the Friends of Sowerby Bridge Railway Station look after various other planters on the platforms, many of which are sponsored by local businesses. It’s a relatively young group, having only been formed in November 2010 (co-incidentally about the same time I moved to Sowerby Bridge). Whilst they are a voluntary group, they’ve done quite a bit to make the station look nicer – a hard ask, thanks to its brutal concrete architectural style.

September 15, 2014
by Neil Turner
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Honest Brew

Selection of beers from Honest Brew

The nice folks at Honest Brew offered me one of their Honesty Boxes to review. It came a few weeks ago, but with nine beers to try, I needed a bit of help – so over the weekend I invited my friends from the Bradford University Real Ale & Cider Society (BURACS) over for a beer tasting. Being students, the offer of free beer was too good to pass up and so four of us worked our way through the nine beers on Saturday, with a break for Doctor Who, of course.

What is Honest Brew?

Honest Brew is two things: a shop that sells individual beers in boxes of up to 24, and a subscription service that lets you receive monthly ‘Honesty Boxes’ with a selection of beers. You can select your favoured types and flavours, and the Honest Brew team will pick out a selection of beers that match your tastes.

My Honesty Box had the following (a list is included in the box):

  • Dark Star Espresso
  • Brewdog Dead Pony Club
  • Five Points Hook Island Red Rye
  • Camden Town Gentleman’s Wit
  • Wild Beer Evolver IPA
  • Fourpure Pilsner (this was in a can and isn’t in the photo above)
  • Partizan Saison Lemon and Thyme
  • Brew By Numbers 03|01 Porter
  • Honest Brew Straight Up Pale Ale

Of these, I’ve had the Camden Town and Brewdog beers before – they’re stocked in one of my local pubs – but the others were new to me. The last one was one of Honest Brew’s own beers and isn’t available anywhere else.

Honest Brew

Straight Up Pale AleTasting the beer

As there were four of us, we tasted the beer in two rounds. We awarded our favourite from each round two points, and one point to the second favourite. I then put those into an Excel spreadsheet, because all drinking sessions need a spreadsheet. Here were the results:

Beer rankings

None of us liked the Hook Island Red Rye from Five Points enough to award it any points. The clear winner was Honest Brew’s own Straight Up Pale Ale, the only beer that everyone liked enough to give points.

Ordering your own box

If you’re a regular beer drinker and want to try something different, then Honest Brew’s Honesty Boxes are a good way to do so. 9 bottles will normally set you back £28 each time, including delivery, which is broadly equivalent to what you’d pay in a supermarket, but with a much better selection.

If you like what you’ve read, then when you order your first box, use the code ‘MOREBEER’ for £10 off. Meanwhile, BURACS’ first pub crawl of the year is tomorrow at 7pm, meeting at the Sports Bar in Student Central, Bradford.

September 13, 2014
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for September 13, 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 12, 2014
by Neil Turner
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A Blogger Apologizes For Not Posting In A While

‘I Let Everyone Down’: A Blogger Apologizes For Not Posting In A While:

After more than two weeks of radio silence, blogger Dylan Tafferty has finally issued a public apology for not posting in a while.

“I cannot tell you how ashamed I am,” Tafferty wrote in the latest entry on his blog, The Tafferty Take, where he writes about a variety of subjects for an audience consisting of mostly friends and family. “People were counting on me to inform them about my favorite hiking trails in the area and how Liz is doing at her new job, and I let them down. There is no excuse for what I’ve done.”

It’s satire but an accurate reflection of where I am at right now. Normal service hopefully to be resumed shortly.

September 7, 2014
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for September 7, 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 5, 2014
by Neil Turner
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The Ice Bucket Challenge

One of my lovely friends nominated me for the ice bucket challenge earlier this week. You probably know the score by now, but the idea is to raise awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS – more commonly known as Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in Britain. Throwing a bucket of ice water over yourself is supposed to simulate the effects of the condition, which is terminal and normally kills its sufferers within a few years of diagnosis. There is no cure. One of my colleagues died as a result of MND a couple of years ago.

Whilst the idea is that, after being nominated, you have 24 hours to donate or be drenched in ice cold water, thankfully most of my friends have been doing both. I’ve donated £5 to Motor Neurone Disease Association. I’ve also donated £5 to WaterAid; whilst us westerners can chuck water around as it’s in plentiful supply, there are many in the world who can’t because there isn’t enough to go around. And donations to WaterAid made in the next week or so will be matched by UKAid, so they’re worth double.

Originally I planned to do this outside – however, as we’re four floors up in our flat it would have been a long, cold walk back so I did it in the shower. My wife Christine, whose laughter you can hear in the video, filmed it on my iPhone 5 using the stock camera app. It really was very, very cold – hence why I got the name of the MND Association wrong.

This was the first time I’ve ever edited a video. I used iMovie ’09 as it was already on my Mac, and apart from one tutorial to do the silly bonus replay at the end, all the editing was done just by exploring the app. It’s reasonably intuitive. The music was from Free Music Archive. I edited out the bit about nominations, but those of you who are friends with me on Facebook can see the uncut footage on there.

September 4, 2014
by Neil Turner
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The end of TwitPic

TwitPic announced that it will be closing down on the 25th September. It’s a rather sudden announcement that seems to have come out of nowhere, but relates to ongoing issues between Twitter and TwitPic regarding TwitPic’s application for a trademark. Twitter have objected and threatened to cut off their API access if TwitPic don’t withdraw their trademark application.

Whilst TwitPic are keen to paint Twitter as the bad guys here, the reality is that TwitPic only exists because originally there was no way of including an image in a tweet on Twitter. By choosing a name so similar to the service that its reliant upon, TwitPic have put themselves in a difficult position, and it’s a situation very much of their own making.

To me, the obvious thing to do in this situation would be to consider a name change to something else. Provided that Twitter are happy for them to continue using the twitpic.com domain name, but forward it somewhere else, there shouldn’t be an issue. Going for the nuclear option and shutting down completely just seems baffling to me.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that there are other reasons for this. I linked the tweet above because that was the last time I used a TwitPic image in a tweet – in April 2011. Later that year, to coincide with the release of Apple’s iOS 5, Twitter added its own image hosting service, and since then use of third-party Twitter image services has presumably declined. I think the only reasons why people would carry on using services like TwitPic would be because they used old Twitter clients – unlikely nowadays due to API changes – or because TwitPic and the like allowed animated GIFs when Twitter itself didn’t. And that’s no longer the case.

Alexa seems to agree with the overall traffic trends pointing downwards. So whilst the stated reason is Twitter taking legal action, which would cost too much to defend, I think this masks the real reason – nobody uses TwitPic anymore.

An export feature is promised (although none of my uploaded images seem to be viewable) but unless something changes all of those tweeted images will disappear off the internet by the end of the month. Which will be a shame. It’s not like we can go back an fix the broken URLs in our old tweets.

August 30, 2014
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for August 30, 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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August 27, 2014
by Neil Turner
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Allocacoc PowerCube Extended review

PowerCube Extended and PowerCube Extended USB

The folks at Allocacoc asked me to review their PowerCube range of mountable AC extension cables. Unlike regular power strips, these are cube shaped, and offer up to five sockets for plugging in AC devices. I was sent two of their products: the PowerCube Extended, and the PowerCube Extended USB.

PowerCube Extended

PowerCube ExtendedThe PowerCube Extended comes with five red sockets, all pointing in different directions. This avoids the problem of having bulky AC-DC transformers blocking adjacent sockets that other cube adaptors have. A moulded cord to plug into a wall socket leads out of the base (or whichever way you want it, as it’s a cube).

The PowerCube comes with a piece of plastic that lets you mount the cube to a wall or other surface, at the expense of one of the five sockets as it fits over the top. The plastic mount just needs a 90º turn to lock it into place, and two adhesive pads are included to attach it to surfaces. Alternatively there are also two screw holes for a more permanent fix.

The cord also includes a moveable plastic tab with a screw hole, so that you can easily hide the cable away when mounting the PowerCube.

PowerCube Extended USB

PowerCube Extended USB

If you’re like me then the thing you plug in most frequently is your smartphone. And whilst phone manufacturers have done their best to make their AC adaptors as small as possible, it’s nice to be able to do away with one altogether. The PowerCube Extended USB is like its red brother, but one socket face is replaced with two USB ports. They output at 2.1 Amps, so they’re suitable for charging bigger devices like tablets as well as smartphones. The USB ports are on the top which means that your options for mounting are a little more limited, but for me two USB ports are more useful than one regular plug socket. I’ve mounted this one on my nightstand, and I’m sure Christine will be happy about not tripping over the power strip that I had on the floor for charging my various devices previously.

PowerCube Extended

I have a couple of small criticisms of the PowerCube range. The first is the length of the cord, which is 1.5 metres (around 5 feet) for both models. This is a little on the short side, and isn’t great for people like us who live in a rented apartment with rationed plug sockets. The other is the direction of the plug sockets – whilst their differing directions are great for plugging in lots of bulky transformers, I kept ending up with some plugs upside down in a way that might stress their power cords. Perhaps in a new version of the design the plug sockets could also rotate through 90º to give a little more flexibility, although this will no doubt add to the cost.

Speaking of cost, the regular red PowerCube Extended normally sells for £22.95, but is discounted to £17.50 on Amazon right now. The grey PowerCube Extended USB is a little more expensive at the regular price of £24.99, but is also reduced to £22.95. Other suppliers are available too.

The PowerCube series also includes single cubes which can be plugged directly into a wall socket without a cord, or indeed another PowerCube, and the ‘ReWired’ variant which includes interchangeable power cords for international travel. They’ve previously won a Red Dot Design Award, and it’s easy to see why. They’re sturdy, but look good and solve a problem that I’m sure many gadget-owning people have. Whilst they are more expensive than regular power strips, by being easy to mount and, in the case of the PowerCube Extended USB, they offer USB ports that deprecate many clunky transformers. They get my recommendation.

August 26, 2014
by Neil Turner
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Dear America: Can we have Jon Oliver back please?

British comedian Jon Oliver has made quite a name for himself in America. Initially a contributor to Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, he took over presenting the show last summer when Stewart was away on other projects. And he did a pretty good job of it too, by all accounts – so much so that he now has his own show on HBO called Last Week Tonight.

Whilst LWT is available in the UK on the pay-TV channel Sky Atlantic (along with many other HBO shows), HBO have also made much of the show’s segments available on YouTube – for free, and worldwide. So we get to watch some of Jon Oliver’s fantastic set pieces, like his overview of police militarisation and brutality in Ferguson, Missouri. It’s well worth spending 15 minutes of your time to watch, and is a great example of Oliver finding comedy in what is an awful situation. To build on one of Oliver’s examples, there’s no need for a police force in a town of 8500 people to have a tank – imagine the bobbies on the beat in a town like Hebden Bridge driving military vehicles up and down the high street?

I also enjoy the series because some of the issues he raises are largely ignored by other parts of the media – his impassioned pleas about Net Neutrality for example – and the Indian elections, which were probably the biggest elections ever to happen anywhere in the world but with no coverage in America, or even here in Britain for that matter.

Whilst I am pleased that Jon Oliver has managed to so well in America, and in comedy at that, I wish he’d been given more opportunities here in Britain too. Is there any way we could have him back at some point? We could take Piers Morgan off your hands as well if that helps?