Neil Turner's Blog http://www.neilturner.me.uk Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002 Tue, 28 Oct 2014 19:35:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Going on a P&O ‘mini-cruise’ to Brugeshttp://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/10/28/going-po-mini-cruise-bruges.html http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/10/28/going-po-mini-cruise-bruges.html#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 19:35:45 +0000 http://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=11821 Last weekend Christine and I went on a ‘mini-cruise’ to Bruges with P&O Ferries. The ‘mini-cruise’ is a package that includes return overnight ferry journeys for two people from Hull to Zeebrugge or Rotterdam, and return coach transfer to Bruges … Continue reading

Going on a P&O ‘mini-cruise’ to Bruges originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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P&O Ferry 'Pride of Bruges', which we took our 'mini-cruise' on. Docked in Zeebrugge

Last weekend Christine and I went on a ‘mini-cruise’ to Bruges with P&O Ferries. The ‘mini-cruise’ is a package that includes return overnight ferry journeys for two people from Hull to Zeebrugge or Rotterdam, and return coach transfer to Bruges or Amsterdam respectively. This can be taken over two consecutive nights there and back, or over three nights with an overnight stop at your destination.

We did the two night option, which gave us around 8 hours to spend in Bruges. I’ll write more about what we got up to in Bruges later this week but today I’ll focus on the ‘mini-cruise’ experience.

‘Mini-cruise’

I keep using ‘mini-cruise’ in quote marks because this is most definitely not a cruise. You travel on a standard cross-channel ferry – for the Hull-Zeebrugge crossing this is either the Pride of Bruges or Pride of York which are comparatively small ships (around eight decks) but the Hull-Rotterdam ferries are somewhat bigger. The on-board facilities are therefore not like you would expect on a large cruise ship, and are limited to a couple of restaurants and bars, a shop, café and small cinema.

We were on the Pride of Bruges which was introduced into service in 1987 – and it shows. There hasn’t been much done to the ship since then and it retains its 1980s feel in many parts despite some effort in refurbishing it. This includes the cabins.

The cabins sit somewhere between ‘sleeper train’ and ‘budget hotel’. They are en-suite so a shower, basin and toilet are squeezed into a tiny wetroom with each cabin. The beds are bunkbeds, and are rather narrow too – I can’t imagine many children will be conceived out at sea. And you get one unearthed plug socket, about 7 foot off the ground above the mirror, which uses the European standard connector. The walls were also not particularly thick and so the rowdy hen party (bachelorette party for the Americans amongst you) in the next cabin kept Christine awake for most of the night; I slept through it. You have to pay around £10 extra if you want a window in your cabin – we didn’t, so our cabin was in the middle of the boat rather than at the edge. In any case, it’s late October and it gets dark early, so there wouldn’t have been much to see.

Staying connected

There were some signs of modernisation elsewhere on board. Wifi is available, charged at £3 for 90 minutes, which is actually quite reasonable considering you’re out at sea. I didn’t test it so I can’t say how fast or reliable it was, although it seemed to be only available in the public areas and not the cabins. Mobile phone reception seems to also be available at sea, but only for calls and texts, not for data – again, I didn’t test this nor find out how much extra it costs to use. In any case, when leaving Hull I still had phone reception on my own network, 3, for quite some time after departing.

Eating and drinking

Of the two bars, the Sunset Show Bar is the biggest with live entertainment and a casino table, with another smaller and quieter bar next door. The drinks selection is reasonable and not whilst not cheap it wasn’t ridiculously expensive either. The café serves Starbucks coffee, but not the full range – no pumpkin spiced lattes here – and no soya milk. Then there are the two restaurants – The Kitchen and The Brasserie.

The Kitchen is a buffet. We didn’t go there at any point because of the queues – instead we booked into The Brasserie each time, for both evening meals and breakfasts. You do have to book but it’s worth it – it’s a full waiter service restaurant and the food is reasonably good. Not outstanding but I’ve paid far more for worse. The best thing is that it’s also reasonably quiet in there, whereas we could hear the noise from The Kitchen out in the foyer.

When you book your ‘mini-cruise’ tickets online you have the option of pre-paying for your meals – for two people this adds £88 to the cost but at £11 per person per meal it’s not bad overall. It’s enough to cover The Kitchen, and in The Brasserie it will get you £16.50 per person for dinner – anything over that just has to be paid by cash or credit card. We only went over by about £5 between the two of us for our meals – two courses and non-alcoholic drinks. I imagine we would have spent more overall had we paid for each meal individually rather than pre-paying, and because you have to check-in before 5:30pm it’s not really feasible to have a meal before you travel.

If you do the two night ‘mini-cruise’, then, where possible, P&O will try to ensure that you get the same cabin in each direction, so you can leave your luggage there. This isn’t always available, and won’t be an option for the three night option as you’ll go out and come back on two different ferries.

The clientele on board was a mix – some couples like us, presumably on the ‘mini-cruise’ deal, but also a few families, a couple of stag and hen parties, a few school groups and some lorry drivers. Because it’s a ferry you can bring your car, coach or lorry with you, although we went as foot passengers.

Getting there

Speaking of which, if you are travelling by train to Hull, I would strongly advise getting a taxi from the railway station to the ferry terminal. The Zeebrugge ferries leave from Terminal 2 at the ferry port, which is up the arse end of nowhere. According to Google Maps it’s a good 15 minute walk from Terminal 1, used by the Rotterdam ferries, where there is a regular bus service to the railway station. So if you’re going to Rotterdam then consider the bus but a taxi is a must for Zeebrugge. It’ll cost you less than a tenner each way, and on the return there will be a number of taxis waiting at the terminal when you arrive.

The foot passenger terminal at Hull mirrors the ferry in being very 1980s. It’s not like an airport with lounges and shops and so forth – the facilities are pretty basic. Think ‘small regional railway station’ rather than ‘international travel hub’. That being said all of the facilities you’d normally see in an airport are on the ferry anyway. The Zeebrugge terminal was a bit more modern and was full of adverts (in English) selling Hull and East Yorkshire as a tourist destination – I get the impression that Brits going abroad makes up a higher proportion of their customer base than Europeans visiting Britain.

The weather wasn’t too bad for our journey although the sea was rather choppy on the return. When you’re in bed you only notice it a bit though and neither of us got seasick. The ferries lumber across the seas at around 20 miles per hour so they’re reasonably steady, and tend only to be cancelled in the worst of conditions.

In a world where low cost airlines zip you from place to place and international trains carry you under the English Channel at high speeds, it’s perhaps a little odd that we still use these huge ferries to get around. But would you rather spend the whole day travelling, or have the travelling done for you whilst you’re asleep? Sometimes it’s nice to go to sleep in one place and wake up at your destination.

Going on a P&O ‘mini-cruise’ to Bruges 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 October 25, 2014http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/10/25/links-from-pinboard-for-october-25-2014.html http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/10/25/links-from-pinboard-for-october-25-2014.html#comments Sat, 25 Oct 2014 08:30:13 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/10/25/links-from-pinboard-for-october-25-2014.html Here are the articles or web sites that I’ve found this week and linked to on my Pinboard Bookmarks: Why You Definitely Shouldn't Drink Your Own Pee No, drinking your own urine is not a good idea Taylor Swift Track … Continue reading

Links from Pinboard for October 25, 2014 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 October 25, 2014 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 Huddersfield Station Cat Flaphttp://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/10/24/huddersfield-station-cat-flap.html http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/10/24/huddersfield-station-cat-flap.html#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 09:45:27 +0000 http://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=11815 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 … Continue reading

The Huddersfield Station Cat Flap originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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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.

The Huddersfield Station Cat Flap originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Believe me, I am still alivehttp://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/10/22/believe-still-alive.html http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/10/22/believe-still-alive.html#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 14:24:56 +0000 http://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=11812 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 … Continue reading

Believe me, I am still alive originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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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.

Believe me, I am still alive 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 October 18, 2014http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/10/18/links-from-pinboard-for-october-18-2014.html http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/10/18/links-from-pinboard-for-october-18-2014.html#comments Sat, 18 Oct 2014 08:30:29 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/10/18/links-from-pinboard-for-october-18-2014.html Here are the articles or web sites that I’ve found this week and linked to on my Pinboard Bookmarks: Finding a Video Poker Bug Made These Guys Rich—Then Vegas Made Them Pay Fascinating #longread about two men who won thousands … Continue reading

Links from Pinboard for October 18, 2014 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 October 18, 2014 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 October 11, 2014http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/10/11/links-from-pinboard-for-october-11-2014.html http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/10/11/links-from-pinboard-for-october-11-2014.html#comments Sat, 11 Oct 2014 08:30:05 +0000 http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/10/11/links-from-pinboard-for-october-11-2014.html Here are the articles or web sites that I’ve found this week and linked to on my Pinboard Bookmarks: Lena Dunham, Lena Dunham for Stylist, Lena Dunham Stylist | Stylist Magazine Lena Dunham interviewing herself is probably the most delightful … Continue reading

Links from Pinboard for October 11, 2014 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 October 11, 2014 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 October 4, 2014http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/10/04/links-from-pinboard-for-october-4-2014.html http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/10/04/links-from-pinboard-for-october-4-2014.html#comments Sat, 04 Oct 2014 08:30:35 +0000 http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/10/04/links-from-pinboard-for-october-4-2014.html Here are the articles or web sites that I’ve found this week and linked to on my Pinboard Bookmarks: The Skills We've Lost to Technology (and How to Get Them Back) We’ve lost skills like map reading, remember phone numbers … Continue reading

Links from Pinboard for October 4, 2014 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 October 4, 2014 originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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iPhone 6 on Three (Part II)http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/10/01/iphone-6-three-part-ii.html http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/10/01/iphone-6-three-part-ii.html#comments Wed, 01 Oct 2014 08:56:00 +0000 http://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=11801 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 … Continue reading

iPhone 6 on Three (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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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.

iPhone 6 on Three (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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iPhone 6 on Three (Part I)http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/09/30/iphone-6-three-part.html http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/09/30/iphone-6-three-part.html#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 17:35:18 +0000 http://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=11799 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 … Continue reading

iPhone 6 on Three (Part I) originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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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.

iPhone 6 on Three (Part I) 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 September 27, 2014http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/09/27/links-from-pinboard-for-september-27-2014.html http://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/09/27/links-from-pinboard-for-september-27-2014.html#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 08:30:57 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2014/09/27/links-from-pinboard-for-september-27-2014.html Here are the articles or web sites that I’ve found this week and linked to on my Pinboard Bookmarks: The 10 best quotable films | Film | The Guardian The ten most quotable films. Inconceivable! Wisconsin Man Suffers 100 Unwanted … Continue reading

Links from Pinboard for September 27, 2014 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 September 27, 2014 originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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