Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

March 31, 2015
by Neil Turner

Fixing a blank page when updating WordPress

Screenshot of WordPress being updated

Sometimes, when trying to update WordPress using its built-in updater, I end up with a mostly blank screen. Not a completely blank one – the menu and title bar are there – but there’s no content. It’s been puzzling me for a while, and it was only today that I finally found a fix.

I run two WordPress installs. One is a dedicated single-site copy for this blog, and the other is set up as a network and holds several blogs. The single-site install happily updates automatically (which is how it should be), but the network install requires an FTP password to update. This used to be fine until I moved to the BigV server a few weeks ago, whereby I’d end up with the problem as described. WordPress would ask for my FTP details, and then, nothing.

Fortunately, this is the internet, and you are usually never the only person with a particular problem. I found this thread on StackOverflow which had the same problem, and a solution. So, if you also have this issue, add the following lines to your wp-config.php file:

define( 'FTP_USER', 'ftpusername' );
define( 'FTP_PASS', 'ftppassword' );
define( 'FTP_HOST', 'ftphostname:21' );
define( 'FTP_BASE', 'htdocs');
define( 'FTP_CONTENT_DIR', 'htdocs/wp-content/');
define( 'FTP_PLUGIN_DIR ', 'htdocs/wp-content/plugins/');

Where ‘ftpusername’ and ‘ftppassword’ are your username and password for the FTP server, and ‘ftphostname’ is the hostname (i.e. The remaining three statements tell WordPress where your install is located, to make sure it gets installed into the correct folder.

This seemed to do the trick for me, and has the additional benefit of not being asked for the FTP details every time I update.

March 29, 2015
by Neil Turner

Crowdfunded: Exploding Kittens

One of the more recent projects that I’ve backed on Kickstarter was Exploding Kittens, along with over 200,000 0ther people. Indeed, it was the most-backed project ever in Kickstarter’s history, and smashed its initial goal of just $10,000 – ultimately raising almost $9 million.

The art for the game has been designed by Matthew Inman, better known as The Oatmeal, who has a formidable following on social media. Consequently it reached its initial goal within minutes of launch and stretch goals were added retrospectively.

The game is still being tested; whilst the Kickstarter ended some time ago, it’s expected to be July before the first packs are sent out. I opted for the more expensive ‘NSFW’ pack, which includes extra cards of an adult nature, along with the basic family-friendly game. If a game about kittens that try to detonate themselves can be seen as ‘family friendly’.

At $35 (plus international shipping), this was also the most I’ve ever pledged to a Kickstarter campaign, but as someone who has enjoyed The Oatmeal (and I own a couple of the books), I imagine it’s something that I’d want to buy anyway at launch. I’m looking forward to playing it later this year.

March 28, 2015
by Neil Turner

Links from Pinboard for March 28, 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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March 23, 2015
by Neil Turner

Plugs for international travel

Screenshot of plugs on

I’m abroad at the moment, and it was only a few days before I travelled that I realised that I didn’t know what plug sockets the countries I’d be travelling to used. Not having the right adaptors whilst there might mean that I’d be unable to charge up my devices – phone, iPad, razor, camera etc.

Across the globe, there are 15 different types of plugs and sockets in use, according to this page on They’re labelled A-O, with N and O the newest standards. N was supposed to be a new international standard and was first introduced in 1986, but is so far restricted largely to Brazil, and O is being introduced in Thailand.

Brits will recognise type G, as this is the standard UK plug socket. It’s a decent standard, as this video from Tom Scott demonstrates, with a number of safety features. But it’s not cross-compatible with any other plug type without an adaptor.

I’m mainly visiting Oman and Jordan on my travels, and, as it happens, Oman also uses type G so I shouldn’t have any difficulty plugging my devices in. Jordan is a different matter; despite being a relatively small country with a population under 7 million, I may find plug types C, D, F, G and J all in use. Whilst some of those are cross-compatible with other types, I’m going to have to buy one of those international multi-adaptors just to be sure. At least they can agree on one supply voltage.

There’s a full list of what plug type each country uses here. Some, like Jordan, use several – the Maldives has six! – others, like the UK, just have one. It’s a handy guide for anyone who often travels to different countries.

March 22, 2015
by Neil Turner

Crowdfunded: Shock Treatment

Did you know that the film Rocky Horror Picture Show had a sequel? It was called Shock Treatment, and was released 6 years after the first film in 1981. Rocky Horror was, and indeed still is, a musical stage show, but Shock Treatment was only ever a film.

That was about to change, with the launching of a Kickstarter campaign to bring Shock Treatment to the stage. It had the backing of Rocky Horror’s creator, Richard O’Brien (who plays Riff Raff in the film adaption). I pledged £10 to have my name in the programme.

I’ve seen the film a few times, and was also part of the technical crew for a stage production of it in October last year – albeit a production that was put together in only 24 hours. It’s a favourite of mine and I know most of the songs.

Sadly this was the first (and so far only) Kickstarter campaign that I’ve backed which failed to meet its target. The goal was a relatively modest £5000, but only £587 was pledged despite a long funding period.

However, it looks like the show will go on – the King’s Head Theatre is still taking bookings for the show which opens next month. Hopefully it’ll be a success and gain the cult following its more well-known prequel has.

March 21, 2015
by Neil Turner

Links from Pinboard for March 21, 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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March 20, 2015
by Neil Turner

Off to foreign lands

Bay of Villefranche-sur-Mer  This morning, I’ll be flying off on my first overseas trip abroad for work. I’ll be visiting various middle eastern countries in order to recruit students for the university where I work.

It will actually be a number of firsts for me. First overseas trip for work. First overseas trip on my own – every time I’ve left the country before, I’ve been with a friend, family member or partner. First time in the middle east. First time that I’ve been away from Christine for more than two nights since we moved in together in November 2010.

It will be a busy week whilst I’m there – this isn’t some overseas jolly; I’ll be working every day without a break and with some overnight air travel. In all I’ll be taking 8 flights over the 8 days, with the longest at around 7 hours.

The countries I’m going to are significantly less liberal than Britain, with a very different culture. I’m hoping to spend part of the long flight over there reading about customs and things to do and not to do whilst out there.

I’ve been making use of TripIt to help with planning my itinerary (which runs to eight pages when printed – told you I’d be busy). I’ll do a full review later but being able to forward confirmation emails to have it build out your plans really helps.

I’m hoping that it’ll be a good experience, and, if it goes well, this will be the first of a number of overseas trips that I’ll get to make for work. I’m excited to go, but also a little daunted at just how much work I’ll have to do whilst there. That being said, my iPad is loaded up with books, magazines and Pocket articles to read as and when I’m stuck without internet access and need something to pass the time.

I’ve got a couple of blog posts queued up to appear whilst I’m gone, but I doubt I’ll have much spare time to post anything new whilst away. I’m hoping that I’ll have plenty to talk about on my return, next Friday. See you then.

March 19, 2015
by Neil Turner

A year without Dave

Dave JenningsIt’s been a year to the day since I heard the news that one of my closest friends, Dave Jennings, had passed away suddenly.

It happened the day before he was due to play the role of the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors, so working with the same theatre group on Moby Dick this year brought back a lot of the memories from twelve months ago. Indeed, a page in this year’s programme was dedicated to him, appended with a quote from Terry Pratchett about death. It was rather cruelly ironic that Pratchett himself passed away last week as well.

Whilst I’ve lost friends and family before, Dave’s death affected more than any other. Part of it was its sudden nature; he hadn’t been ill, or been recently rushed to hospital. He was alive and well, then, a few minutes later, he wasn’t. The shock of it meant neither myself, Christine, nor our many mutual friends had any time to prepare for it emotionally like you do when someone is ill before they die.

But also, Dave was someone that I saw at least once every week. There are so many things that I used to do on almost daily basis suddenly had to be done without him. So his passing affected not just me, but many others who knew Dave so well.

Tonight, some of us will be having a few drinks to remember Dave, like we have on several occasions over the past twelve months. Because, for someone like Dave, one memorial just isn’t enough. I still miss him so much.

March 18, 2015
by Neil Turner

App of the Week: UK Bus Checker

Screenshot of UK Bus CheckerIf you’re a non-driver like me, then you’re probably reliant on buses to get around, at least some of the time. Whilst I prefer to travel by train where possible, as I find it easier to read on trains, I still use buses weekly and sometimes more frequently.

So it’s helpful to have access to an app like UK Bus Checker, which will give you a list of buses due at a given bus stop, and, where available, live running information.

UK Bus Checker starts out with a map view at your location, with the nearby bus stops as pins (although you can drag the map elsewhere as well). Tap each bus stop and you can view a list of the buses that call there, and which buses are due, as shown in the screenshot. I chose a stop on Market Street in Halifax – you may notice that it even shows images from Google Street View in the background.

On the lower portion of the screen is the timetable. Where a service shows an expected time (e.g. ‘3 minutes’ or ‘due’), that means that the app has been able to get live running information for that bus. Otherwise, it’ll show the timetable, like for the 562 and 537 in the screenshot – not all bus companies have the technology on their buses to report live running.

Screenshot of UK Bus CheckerBus stops that you use regularly can be marked as favourites, and there’s a search tool. Another nifty feature allows you to set alerts for certain bus stops, so that you know when to get off the bus – handy if you’re not familiar with the area. And as UK Bus Checker uses Google Maps, it can show live traffic information as well.

The level of information available will vary depending on where you are. I tried a few towns and cities across the north and I generally found that they all had live running information, but elsewhere you may only see the published timetable. Which may still be better than no information at all but it’s good to know whether the bus is running late.

The app is free but supported by advertising – this can be removed with a one-off in-app purchase of £2.99.

UK Bus Checker is a universal app for iPhone and iPad.

March 15, 2015
by Neil Turner

Crowdfunded: Lunar Mission One

One of the more interesting Kickstarter campaigns that I’ve backed is Lunar Mission One, which is pretty much as it sounds: a space mission to the moon. It’s not a manned mission, but the plan is to send a lander to the moon that can drill down at least 20 metres below the surface, and analyse what it can find. A bit like the rovers that NASA has sent to Mars, albeit static and not mobile.

The campaign asked for £600,000 and raised £672,447. Whilst this won’t be the total cost of the mission, it’s enough to get the project started and should mean that funding from other organisations is more forthcoming further down the line. It’s a long term project that’s been planned for 7 years now, and it’s likely to be another 9-10 years before the lander is launched from Earth – 2024 is the estimate. A further phase may allow any samples collected to be returned to Earth via a second launch.

My pledge was for £3, to gain access to updates about the project. There’s been a few and I’ve already been sent a questionnaire since the project was funded. It’ll be an interesting project to keep tabs on over the next few years.