Neil Turner's Blog https://www.neilturner.me.uk Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002 Sun, 05 Jul 2015 08:20:49 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 MET#4: Muscat, Omanhttps://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/07/05/met4-muscat-oman.html https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/07/05/met4-muscat-oman.html#comments Sun, 05 Jul 2015 08:20:49 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=12359 I arrived into Muscat at a ridiculously early time on a Monday morning from my flight in from Bahrain. Thankfully, Muscat airport isn’t too far out of the city centre and so it wasn’t long before I was in my … Continue reading

MET#4: Muscat, Oman originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Muscat Grand Mosque

I arrived into Muscat at a ridiculously early time on a Monday morning from my flight in from Bahrain. Thankfully, Muscat airport isn’t too far out of the city centre and so it wasn’t long before I was in my hotel bed – for all of about an hour before a 6am start.

Muscat is the capital city of Oman, a coastal kingdom in the Arab Gulf which has seen massive change since the 1970s. Oman’s ruler is Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, who rose to power by ousting his father in a coup, and then set about redistributing the country’s wealth to its citizens. Consequently a lot of the country’s infrastructure is very new, and the Sultan is generally revered by the Omanis for the investments that he has made. This was made very apparent during my visit, as on the Monday evening the Sultan returned to Oman after a 9 month absence in Germany for cancer treatment. There were many street celebrations that evening and the Tuesday was declared a public holiday.

The aim of my trip was to recruit students for the university that I work for, and so the history of education in Oman was of particular interest to me. In 1970, Oman had just three schools and no universities. That’s now changed, with a large number of schools, including a number of international schools that teach the British and American systems or the IB, and several universities. We visited Sultan Qaboos University, which was the first to open in 1986 and is still the only public university in the country. By British standards, it would rank as an upper-medium sized university with just under 18,000 students.

Oman isn’t the only gulf country to see massive development in recent years – the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, amongst others, have changed massively. But what sets Oman apart is that it is trying to retain a link with its heritage through its architecture. There are no high-rise buildings in Muscat, and all new buildings maintain an Arabian influence in their design. Similarly a majority of Omani men choose to wear traditional, rather than western clothing. This included the border staff at the airport who could only really be identified as such by their lanyards. By maintaining its links with tradition, Oman sets itself apart from its other developed neighbours.

Compared to Jordan, telephony isn’t as good. There are just two communications companies, one of which is state owned, although 4G internet access is slowly becoming available in major cities, like Muscat. That being said, Oman was one country where my mobile phone operator, 3, did not have a data roaming agreement, so I had no choice but to use wifi where it was available.

Oman is mostly a desert country. Despite this, Muscat is very green with most major roads lined with trees, lawns and decorative plants – and a lot of irrigation. They were well-tended-to, with plenty of gardeners working on them all through the day.

Muscat airport, as it stands, is quite small, but a completely new terminal is in the final stages of construction, closer to the main runway. Indeed it currently takes ages for planes to taxi between the current terminal and runway, and even then there are no airbridges. It’s home to the national flag carrier, Oman Air, which operates more than half of the flights, including a number of internal flights.

Compared with Jordan and Bahrain, Oman is a much more peaceful country. There were some protests in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring, but these were quickly quelled and some positive change has happened since. There is a democratically-elected government, but Oman is an absolute monarchy and so the Sultan can overrule his government. Womens rights are better than in some countries, but women have only been able to vote since 1997. There are a number of allegations about human rights violations.

Arabic is the main language used in Oman but most signage is also in English. Most Omanis that I encountered in Muscat had at least a basic grasp of English, although as I was recruiting students wanting to study in England, and stayed in a Western hotel chain, this is hardly surprising.

As with my visit to Amman, I didn’t get to see a lot of Muscat whilst there – my itinerary was jam-packed. It’s certainly an attractive city, thanks to the commitment to traditional architecture and I’d maybe consider visiting again in future.

MET#4: Muscat, Oman originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Links from Pinboard for July 4, 2015https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/07/04/links-from-pinboard-for-july-4-2015.html https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/07/04/links-from-pinboard-for-july-4-2015.html#comments Sat, 04 Jul 2015 08:30:04 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/07/04/links-from-pinboard-for-july-4-2015.html Here are the articles or web sites that I’ve found this week and linked to on my Pinboard Bookmarks: Research shows most children do not regularly use e-cigarettes | Cancer Research UK Actually kids aren’t getting addicted to e-cigarettes, according … Continue reading

Links from Pinboard for July 4, 2015 originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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

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Links from Pinboard for July 4, 2015 originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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TripIt reviewhttps://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/07/03/tripit-review.html https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/07/03/tripit-review.html#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 08:37:58 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=12356 As my Middle East trip had a rather complicated itinerary, involving multiple events each day and various hotel and flight bookings, I decided to sign up to TripIt. TripIt is an online itinerary builder. You put all of your bookings … Continue reading

TripIt review originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Screenshot of TripIt

As my Middle East trip had a rather complicated itinerary, involving multiple events each day and various hotel and flight bookings, I decided to sign up to TripIt.

TripIt is an online itinerary builder. You put all of your bookings into it, and it provides a complete overview of your trip that you can print out, or import into your calendar app. There are also mobile apps for iOS and Android.

Its most useful feature is that it can automatically parse booking confirmation emails, so all you need to do is forward these messages to TripIt and it will build out an itinerary for you, complete with seat numbers and contact details. If it recognises an address, then you’ll get a map as well. Of course, manual editing is possible as well but the automatic parsing saves a lot of time. TripIt can even be configured to automatically scan your Gmail or Outlook.com email account for booking emails, upon which it will magically create itineraries for you.

The parsing technology isn’t perfect. I forwarded a confirmation email for a recent train booking from Halifax, and it thought that was Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada and not Halifax, West Yorkshire. But errors like these are easily corrected. TripIt also automatically detects the correct time zone.

TripIt also has a social aspect. You can add friends how also use the service and see where they’re travelling to (trips can be made private if you don’t want to share them all). If a contact is nearby, you can then make arrangements to meet up.

Like many sites these days, TripIt operates on a ‘freemium’ model. All of the above features are available for free, but for $49 per year you can upgrade to TripIt Pro. This will let you add your airline frequent flyer accounts, and hotel loyalty accounts, and offer advice about how to make the most of them. You’ll also get instant updates about flight delays by email, SMS or a push notification in the mobile app, assuming you have internet access where you are. As an extension of this, TripIt Pro will try to help you re-book flights in case of cancellation, and also let you know if you are due a refund. TripIt Pro is available free for the first month, and if you use this link you can get it for $39 in the first year, a saving of $10.

I now send any hotel and travel bookings to TripIt as a matter of course. Partly because it saves me having to wade through emails to find important information, but also lets the two other people I know who use it where I’m going, in case our paths cross at any point. TripIt synchronises with my Sunrise calendar as well, so my trips show up alongside any other plans.

TripIt was great in the Middle East as it made a really complex itinerary much more manageable, but I’d recommend it even for much simpler trips. Having all of your important travel information in one place is great and I’m happy to endorse the free service to even the most occasional travellers. The premium service is probably only of interest to regular flyers, but at less than £3 per month it’s not expensive.

TripIt review originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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MET#3: Bahrain (or at least its airport)https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/07/02/met3-bahrain-or-at-least-its-airport.html https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/07/02/met3-bahrain-or-at-least-its-airport.html#comments Thu, 02 Jul 2015 08:07:51 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=12354 Bahrain Airport overview by Franz Zwart, CC-licensed. After spending less than 48 hours in Amman, I was back to at Queen Alia International Airport to make my way to Oman. To fit my schedule, I had to fly overnight, and … Continue reading

MET#3: Bahrain (or at least its airport) originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Bahrain Airport overview
Bahrain Airport overview by Franz Zwart, CC-licensed.

After spending less than 48 hours in Amman, I was back to at Queen Alia International Airport to make my way to Oman. To fit my schedule, I had to fly overnight, and the only airline with flights that suited was Gulf Air, the Bahrain flag carrier. And this meant a stop at Bahrain airport.

Gulf Air’s history is actually quite interesting, as various Arabian Gulf countries owned parts of it in the past, but nowadays it is wholly owned by the government on Bahrain, and based out of Bahrain international airport. The flights I took were on its smaller Airbus A320 aircraft and neither flight was particularly well-loaded – I think I was one of of only 20 passengers on the second leg from Bahrain to Muscat.

Despite being a hub airport, Bahrain International isn’t all that big. It sits on an island off the cost of mainland Bahrain (itself an island), and has just one terminal. Gulf Air operate the vast majority of flights but there are a number of other operators, including British Airways who fly from Heathrow.

As I was travelling overnight after two long days, I didn’t really take much time to explore the terminal – instead I went straight to the gate for my flight and made use of the free wifi for an hour or so. The time difference meant that Christine was still awake at home, despite it being the small hours of the morning where I was. The previous flight from my gate was a busy flight to Mumbai in India, which departed late as a large group of elderly passengers turned up to the gate well after the scheduled departure time. Even though I fly rarely, I’d like to think I’m a considerate traveller and aim to be at the gate well in advance of the departure.

The flight departed from a small extension to the terminal, right at the far end. It was barely more than a shed, with a small coffee shop and duty-free stand. Naturally, the coffee shop was a Costa Coffee – it and Starbucks were available throughout the Middle East and offered pretty much exactly the same experience as at home. Whereas the gates in the main terminal had airbridges, we were loaded onto those super wide buses with minimal seats that you only see at airports, for the short drive to the plane.

It was while I was waiting for my flight that Christine started checking the Foreign & Commonwealth Office travel advice for the countries I was visiting. I’d already checked it, as a requirement for work, but I think this rather upset her. Whilst I stayed entirely airside in Bahrain, there was a major uprising in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring and there is still an undercurrent of unrest.

I left Bahrain at 1:35am local time, and arrived in Muscat 90 minutes later. More on Muscat in the next instalment.

MET#3: Bahrain (or at least its airport) originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Making a house a home (part II)https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/07/01/making-a-house-a-home-part-ii.html https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/07/01/making-a-house-a-home-part-ii.html#comments Wed, 01 Jul 2015 09:28:59 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=12347 It’s been a couple of weeks since we got the keys for our new house, and we’ve been rather busy with it. Things haven’t quite gone to plan, however… Plaster I mentioned last time that, as we started removing the … Continue reading

Making a house a home (part II) originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Man at work

It’s been a couple of weeks since we got the keys for our new house, and we’ve been rather busy with it. Things haven’t quite gone to plan, however…

Plaster

I mentioned last time that, as we started removing the wallpaper from the walls, that the plaster appeared to be in a poor state. This turned out to be something of an understatement, as we were able to pull off huge chunks of plaster from the walls with little more than our bare hands. Consequently, the dining room is now being completely re-plastered from floor to ceiling, using damp-resistant plaster.

Elsewhere, in the living room, we’re just having the first metre from the floor re-plastered, as part of the damp-proofing works that we’re required to do as a condition of the mortgage. We’re also having the skirting boards replaced as part of this, mainly because the original ones came off in pieces.

Plumbing

It was Neil, in the dining room, with the lead pipe. I suppose it was inevitable that there would be lead water pipes in a house that is over 100 years old, but we didn’t expect them to be still in use. Whilst most of the lead piping was redundant and disconnected, there were several metres that fed our main drinking water supply. As the EPA explains, this is not a good thing and so we’ve had these replaced with copper pipes. In doing so, we’ve also ended up with better water pressure, which is nice.

Electrics

I mentioned that the plug sockets were old and in weird places. But rather than simply have the existing sockets moved to sensible places, we’ve had a whole new ring main fitted downstairs. This is partly because the wiring for the old sockets was poor, but also because we wanted more sockets in different places. So now the dining room has 5 sockets rather than 4, and the living room has 7 rather than 3. Plus, we’ve been able to add a socket in the hallway which previously didn’t have one at all, an additional socket in the basement which will be useful if we decide to buy a tumble dryer, and several extra sockets in the kitchen, which only had 3 in nonsensical places.

However, as the remaining wiring isn’t great, we’re strongly considering having the rest of the house re-wired too, especially as one of the bedrooms only has one working plug socket.

Gas

When the house was built in the 19th Century, it would have been heated using open fireplaces. Whilst most of the chimney breasts remain, the fireplaces have been bricked up, and a series of gas fires installed. Later, probably in the 1980s, central heating was then fitted with radiators, but three of the gas fires remain.

One is upstairs and therefore not a priority for us. One is in the dining room and attached directly to the boiler, so we need to keep that for now, but there was a free-standing gas fire in the living room. We’ve got rid of it, and had the gas pipe connecting it capped off.

Bathroom

We started re-painting the bathroom, but haven’t progressed beyond a coat of white primer on the ceiling (which was varnished wood panels). We’ll get on and finish it eventually.

All in all, the house is, unfortunately, turning out to be more work than we’d originally anticipated. It wasn’t our intention to buy a house to do up – we’d hoped that it would just require a few jobs doing and then we could move in. We’re fortunate that we’re able to carry on renting our current flat for the time being, although we do need to move sooner rather than later. We’re paying rent, a mortgage and two lots of utility bills, which will cost a lot of money. But we have also been very lucky that a couple of friends have been able to do the electrical and plumbing work for us, rather than requiring us to pay an electrician, which has been very much appreciated.

I imagine that we’ll be able to move over in August, provided the house doesn’t throw up any more surprises.

Making a house a home (part II) originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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MET#2: Ammanhttps://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/06/30/met2-amman.html https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/06/30/met2-amman.html#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 09:14:28 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=12345 The first stop on my trip was to Amman, the capital city of Jordan. My time there was brief – less than 48 hours in total, as I arrived in the early hours of Saturday morning local time and departed … Continue reading

MET#2: Amman originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Amman

The first stop on my trip was to Amman, the capital city of Jordan. My time there was brief – less than 48 hours in total, as I arrived in the early hours of Saturday morning local time and departed on Sunday evening.

Rather than obtain a visa ahead of time, I acquired a visa on arrival. As well as an ink stamp in my passport, I also got two 20 dinar Jordanian postage stamps, which reflected the cost of the visa. A nice addition to my previously blank passport.

The security situation in Jordan is worth mentioning. Jordan has a land border with Syria, which is in the midst of a civil war between the government, Islamic State and other rebel groups. Amman is around 80 kilometers, or an hour’s drive from the Syrian border.

Al Jordanian plane

Consequently, on leaving the airport (which is around 25 minutes’ drive south of Amman) we had to pass through a military checkpoint, and to enter the hotel we had to go through a metal detector and have all of our bags x-rayed. Part of my visit involved going to schools, to recruit students, and these were all within secure compounds with gates and security guards. I was also advised to keep my passport on me at all times for identification.

Whilst we did travel around Amman and its environs, visiting 5 schools, unfortunately I didn’t have much spare time to actually explore the city. The hotel I stayed in, the Crowne Plaza, was some way out of the centre of the city – and it’s a big city. Around 4 million people call it home, making it not much smaller than London.

What I did see of Amman seemed rather run-down – a bit like Burnley, I suppose, but much bigger and with better weather. I gather that Amman has some really nice parts though, and if I’d had the opportunity to fly out earlier and spend a day exploring then I’d have been able to see more. Sadly work commitments made this impossible.

I did notice a lack of traffic lights. Most road junctions are roundabouts, or grade-separated junctions with sliproads (on-ramps to Americans). I don’t think I saw a single set of traffic lights, which means that drivers tend to use up any bit of available road space when waiting in stationary traffic. And seemingly everyone drives – there were very few pedestrian crossings and I wouldn’t like to try my luck with them.

Immigration in Jordan is something of an issue. Recent years have seen a lot of conflict in the Middle East region and Jordan’s open border policy has seen around 5 million people seek refuge from countries like Iraq and Syria. As Jordan’s population wasn’t that large to start with, it’s resulted in a massive, fast growth in the number of people living there, and, from what I saw on my brief visit, is struggling to adapt somewhat.

The internet connection in the hotel was very good though – they advertised that they had a 150 Mbps line which suggests that the telephony infrastructure in Amman is generally good. This came in useful when needing to do a Skype call with someone.

I’d maybe like to go back to Jordan in future to actually see the nice bits of Amman, and visit the Dead Sea which isn’t far away. But I’d prefer to wait until the situation in Syria dies down first.

MET#2: Amman originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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MET#1: Getting around to writing about ithttps://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/06/29/met1-getting-around-to-writing-about-it.html https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/06/29/met1-getting-around-to-writing-about-it.html#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 16:14:02 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=12343 It’s been three months since I returned from my trip to the Middle East for work, and despite promising to write something about it upon my return, I never got around to it. So, rather belatedly, this is the first … Continue reading

MET#1: Getting around to writing about it originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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It’s been three months since I returned from my trip to the Middle East for work, and despite promising to write something about it upon my return, I never got around to it.

So, rather belatedly, this is the first of a series of blog posts about my trip. For security reasons, I didn’t write publicly about my destinations ahead of time, but here are the places that I visited:

  • Amman, the capital of Jordan
  • Muscat, the capital of Oman
  • Salalah, another city in the south of Oman

I also passed through airports in Dubai and Bahrain on the way. My flights to and from Manchester were with Emirates, and the flights between Amman and Muscat were with Gulf Air who is Bahrain’s flag carrier.

Tomorrow, I’ll be writing about Amman and Jordan.

MET#1: Getting around to writing about it originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Links from Pinboard for June 27, 2015https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/06/27/links-from-pinboard-for-june-27-2015.html https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/06/27/links-from-pinboard-for-june-27-2015.html#comments Sat, 27 Jun 2015 08:30:11 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/06/27/links-from-pinboard-for-june-27-2015.html Here are the articles or web sites that I’ve found this week and linked to on my Pinboard Bookmarks: Micronation Of Sealand Officially Backs A Yes Vote In The EU Referendum The micronation of Sealand, off the east coast of … Continue reading

Links from Pinboard for June 27, 2015 originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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

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Links from Pinboard for June 27, 2015 originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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The Blood Type Diethttps://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/06/21/the-blood-type-diet.html https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/06/21/the-blood-type-diet.html#comments Sun, 21 Jun 2015 09:28:52 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=12337 Did you know that there are diets for specific blood types? The theory goes that people with certain blood types are more able to digest certain foods than others, so you should consume food that ‘matches’ your blood type. It’s … Continue reading

The Blood Type Diet originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Did you know that there are diets for specific blood types? The theory goes that people with certain blood types are more able to digest certain foods than others, so you should consume food that ‘matches’ your blood type. It’s all to do with how your body digests different types lectins.

In essence:

  • People with O group blood should consume foods that are high in animal proteins
  • People with A group blood should be vegetarians
  • People with B group blood should consume dairy
  • People with AB group blood should have a combination vegetarian and dairy diet

Of course, it’s complete and utter rubbish, based on a flawed understanding of science and there’s no evidence that it works, so please don’t change your eating habits based on this blog post. If you want to lose weight and/or improve your health through dieting, speak to your GP about getting a referral to see a dietician, who is more likely to know what they’re talking about.

I have B group blood, but I’m also lactose intolerant, so the diet proposed for me would actually be detrimental for my overall health. I can’t digest large amounts of dairy products without taking supplements.

Thanks to Kottke.org for the links.

The Blood Type Diet originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Links from Pinboard for June 20, 2015https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/06/20/links-from-pinboard-for-june-20-2015.html https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/06/20/links-from-pinboard-for-june-20-2015.html#comments Sat, 20 Jun 2015 08:30:11 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2015/06/20/links-from-pinboard-for-june-20-2015.html Here are the articles or web sites that I’ve found this week and linked to on my Pinboard Bookmarks: Lifehacker Faceoff: Google Photos vs. Flickr Lifehacker compares Flickr and Google Photos. Worth reading as they both have unique strengths Watch … Continue reading

Links from Pinboard for June 20, 2015 originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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

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Links from Pinboard for June 20, 2015 originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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