Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

February 20, 2015
by Neil Turner
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The Bradford Brewery

The Bradford Brewery

Last night, I went along to the opening night of the new Bradford Brewery. Once it’s fully up-and-running, it’ll be the first brewery in Bradford city centre since the last one closed in the 1950s.

Whilst the brewing equipment is still being assembled, the Bradford Brewery’s brewpub, The Brewfactory, opened yesterday. As well as various beers and ales from other local (and not so local) breweries, there is the first of the Bradford Brewery’s own beers available to purchase, called The Origin. It’s an IPA – smooth with a slightly spicy after-taste, although overall I found it a little bland. It’s being brewed at the Baildon Brewery for now until the on-site equipment is up and running, which should be within a couple of weeks.

The Bradford BreweryThe brewery is located in a small former factory building on the corner of Westgate and Rawson Road, behind the Oastler Centre, with the pub occupying most of the ground floor. As a factory, moisture meters were built there to measure moisture in wool (to discourage dampening the wool to increase its weight), and its industrial past is reflected in the decor. It’s a bit sparse at the moment, but then the place has only just opened after all.

The Bradford Brewery is just around the corner from North Parade, home to Bradford’s independent quarter and an increasing number of bars. I wrote about the Record Café last year, which joined The Sparrow and Al’s Dime Bar on the same street. The Brewhouse is another bar due to open there shortly.

Good quality new bars are always welcome in Bradford and hopefully a sign that the trend for pub closures might be easing, at least in certain areas. The Brewfactory certainly has a great selection, with eight handpulls for cask beer, several more keg pumps and a variety of canned beers. It’s aiming towards the top end of the market – the only mainstream beer available on tap was Amstel with most of the rest coming from independent microbreweries.

Whilst The Brewfactory will be the home of the Bradford Brewery’s beers, the brewery has ambitious plans for production once its equipment is commissioned – with the aim to produce over 10,000 pints per week. So hopefully their beers will be widely available across the region, and maybe even further beyond. And conveniently, they’ve been able to start production (albeit offsite) just in time for next week’s Bradford Beer Festival in Saltaire.

I wish the team behind the Bradford Brewery the best of luck – their plans have been in the pipeline for a long time, and it’s great to see them finally coming to fruition. It was busy when we visited last night and I hope that it remains so.

February 19, 2015
by Neil Turner
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SSL-secured

SSL secured message in Firefox

One of my first projects after moving to the new server was to sort out a SSL certificate. Until now, any secure connections to this site have been using a ‘self-signed’ certificate which brings up big red warnings in most web browsers. Which is fine for me as I know I can ignore the warnings, but not ideal.

However, Google is (rightly) making HTTPS sites rank slightly higher in its results pages. So having a proper SSL certificate verified by a third-party is now more important, and not just because it offers better security to your users.

Two things were holding me back from getting a certificate in the past: the need to have an extra IP address, and the cost.

Extra IP address

Traditionally, if you want a SSL certificate for a particular domain, that domain would need to have its own, unique IP address. This was something that my host offered, but only by raising a support ticket and having it added manually. On the new BigV platform, I can easily add up to four IP addresses, allocate each to a domain name and set the reverse DNS. More IP addresses are available if needed, but on a request basis – after all, there aren’t many spare IPv4 addresses left.

Cost

I also had it in my head that SSL certificates were expensive – I was expecting at least £10 per month. As I’m saving £6 per month on my new hosting package, I decided to spend some of that saved money on an SSL certificate. Richy recommended Xilo to me via Twitter, and they offer SSL certificates for £16 per year – which is much cheaper than I expected. Xilo are a Comodo re-seller.

Setting up the certificate was really simple – it took me around 10 minutes, following Bytemark’s user manual. It’s been in place for a week now and works fine. I can’t get an Extended Validation (EV) certificate which shows the green bar in web browsers, as I’m not a company – individuals have to go for the more bog standard certificates.

Right now SSL is there as an option if you want to use it, but it isn’t the default. I may change my mind and make the site HTTPS-only, but this would require me to fix every link to every embedded image over 13 years of blog posts, and I’m not sure of the effect on my server’s load. That’s a project for another time.

February 18, 2015
by Neil Turner
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App of the Week: Scannable by Evernote

Screenshot of Evernote's Scannable on iOSAs much as futurologists have predicted the ‘paperless office’ over the years, we still have to put up with lots of documents on paper, even when an electronic copy would be much better. And not everyone has access to a scanner to scan paper documents.

But nowadays, most people have a smartphone with a half-decent camera, and so there are various apps out there that effectively emulate a scanner. One of the newest is Scannable, an iOS app by Evernote.

Scannable is quite straightforward to use. Place your document on a flat surface, and hold your phone’s camera over it. When it’s in focus and legible, Scannable will automatically snap it, and show a small preview at the bottom. If you have multiple pages to scan, then keep snapping. You can delete any images at this point, but when you’re done, tap the tick icon.

From here, the images you take can be sent to a variety of destinations. Naturally this includes your Evenote notebooks, since this is an Evernote product, but you can also send the images by email or message. There’s also an export option which connects to any apps that can accept an image – Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Google+ and others. And images can be saved to your Camera Roll, or any location on iCloud Drive, OneDrive or Dropbox, and they can be printed to an iPrint-compatible printer.

You could, of course, simply snap images with the standard camera app that comes with any phone, but Scannable makes an effort to adjust the contrast of your documents so that they’re more readable. They’ll also be intelligently cropped automatically, although manual controls are available as well. Do it right, and the end result should be at least as good as from a decent flatbed scanner.

Screenshot of a business card being scanned into Evernote's ScannableThe other trick that Scannable has up its sleeve is recognising business cards. It’ll read the information contained within, and connect to LinkedIn to retrieve the relevant profile. It worked fantastically well with my own business cards, easily detecting my name and bringing up my LinkedIn profile. But when I scanned my mortgage advisor’s card, it only detected the name and didn’t let me save it as a contact, which is a shame.

One thing that Scannable doesn’t do is full optical character recognition (OCR), beyond the basic reading of business cards. If you save the images in Evernote, then the text in images will be searchable, but you won’t be able to export the text as an editable document into Microsoft Word, for example. A workaround involves exporting the image to Microsoft OneNote (a competing product to Evernote), and then converting it to text on the desktop version of the app. Not ideal but it works, just about.

Despite its limitations, Scannable is a great app. It’s well-designed, with a simple step-by-step interface. The integration with Evernote is sensible without being forced – there’s no need to have an Evernote account to use the app, although it can be useful if you want to make your scanned images searchable. And the images that are outputted are clear and easy to read on a computer screen.

Scannable is free, and is a universal app for iPhones and iPads. It’s not yet available on Android or other mobile platforms.

February 17, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Sub-prime target

Screenshot of Amazon Prime

Yesterday, Amazon Prime was in the news, after various people found out they’d signed up for it without realising. This included Times journalist Giles Coren, who had some choice words for Amazon on Twitter when he discovered he’d been paying for it for three years.

Before I continue, I must disclose that I am an Amazon Associate, and receive commission when you buy things from Amazon having clicked on links on this site.

Coren is a controversial figure and some people who I like and/or follow on Twitter have been having a moment of schadenfreude over this. But Coren is certainly not the only person who ended up paying for Amazon Prime – someone much closer to me did as well. That would be my wife, Christine.

Recently she was ordering something from Amazon and I happened to be looking over her shoulder at the time. As she went through the checkout process, I remarked:

Neil: “I didn’t know you had signed up for Amazon Prime.”

Christine: “I haven’t.”

Neil: “Yes, you have, it says so on the screen. You’re paying £60 per year for that.”

Christine: [words which are not repeatable in polite company]

Suffice to say that she’s since cancelled – and thankfully this was before Amazon raised the price to £79 per year.

I’ve seen some people comment that they can’t understand why others didn’t realise they were signing up for a subscription service – after all, in the screenshot above, it clearly says that after the 30-day free trial you will be paying a subscription fee. But Amazon Prime is also heavily promoted during the checkout process, and though the small print at the bottom of the screen does state that there will be a charge after 30 days, it’s not as clear. Here’s a screenshot of what you see when you select Amazon Prime as a shipping option during checkout:

Amazon Prime terms and conditions

I have a feeling that this is how Christine accidentally signed up. After all, she’s quite tech-savvy, to the point where I have to ask her for help with complicated cell formulae in Microsoft Excel. She’s not normally the sort of person who would sign up for these things without realising.

If you have inadvertently signed up for Amazon Prime, then you can cancel. MoneySavingExpert has a guide, and, in fairness to Amazon, if you sign up and then never make use of any of the perks of your Amazon Prime membership, then they will refund your subscription fee when you cancel. And there’s no charge if you cancel within the 30 day limit.

Between us, Christine and I don’t order enough things from Amazon to justify paying £79 per year – especially as Amazon still offers free delivery on many items if you’re prepared to wait a bit longer. We don’t need Amazon Prime Instant Video because we have Netflix, and we don’t need the online photo storage or the Kindle lending library. For people who order regularly from Amazon (and we’re talking at least once a month here) or who often watch films and TV programmes on Instant Video, Amazon Prime makes more sense – but not for us. I can completely understand why people end up subscribing to it without realising though.

February 16, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Home Shopping, part II

Hawes

2015 is the year when we buy a house, and this week we took a big leap towards that goal: we had an offer accepted.

We started looking at houses around three weeks ago, with our search focussed primarily on the Sowerby Bridge area where we’re currently renting a flat. In all we looked at five houses.

  1. House number one was terrible – a major water ingress problem with the roof, and only partly-renovated.
  2. House number two was much better and was our favourite initially. I’ve written about these two before.
  3. I quite liked the third house, but it wasn’t practical for us. It was up a very, very steep hill – as in, so steep that it has steps and cars have to take a longer route around – and was across four floors with narrow curved stairs. The interior was nice though, and the views out of the windows were great.
  4. House number four was big, and had several large rooms and a nice kitchen. It was also the only property we saw with a decent garden. Inside it had been renovated but there were some rather old-fashioned fixtures and fittings.
  5. The fifth and final house we saw was lovely inside, with a great bathroom and new kitchen, but no garden, and it wasn’t in a great area. It also had a leaking roof – top tip, look for houses in winter so you can feel how weather-proof they are.

The fourth house wasn’t perfect but the things that we didn’t like could be changed relatively quickly. We ended up putting three offers on, with the third accept for a little below the asking price. We’ve also had approval in principle for a mortgage, and have enough money in our savings to cover a 10% deposit and fees.

House purchases can take time and there are various surveys to be undertaken first – plus the current owner needs to move out – but hopefully we’ll be moved in by the summer. The new house is only a few minutes walk from our current flat so moving shouldn’t be too difficult, and we can still reach everything we need by public transport. I’ll keep you posted.

February 15, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Crowdfunded: Upcoming.org

Screenshot of the placeholder upcoming.org home page

This post is a week late – the server move last weekend meant that I couldn’t post anything in the interim time. This is the first of seveal weekly posts looking at the crowdfunding projects that I’ve backed on Kickstarter, Indiegogo and the like – and what has happened to them since. I’m starting from where I left off last year, in April.

In May 2014, Andy Baio decided to start a Kickstarter campaign to rebuild upcoming.org, a global online social events directory. Baio had built the original site in 2003, and then sold it to Yahoo! in 2005 before leaving in 2007. In 2013, after years of stagnation, Yahoo! ‘sunsetted’ upcoming.org – i.e. closed it down – along with other sites like Delicious which was sold to AVOS.

Last year, Baio was able to get the upcoming.org domain name back off Yahoo! and launched a Kickstarter appeal to raise enough money to bring the site back. Whilst it would have an all-new design, it would also include all of the events from the old site, thanks to efforts by the Archive Team who saved a backup of the old site’s events pages.

The original goal of $30,000 was achieved within an hour, pretty much. Ultimately it raised almost three and a half times more than that. I pledged $5, to receive updates on development, and a ‘backer’ badge on my user profile on the new site once it launched.

The site isn’t yet live – the upcoming.org domain just shows a placeholder page for now. A beta version is expected to go live next month, according to the original schedule, and backers like me have been kept in the loop with some mocked-up screenshots.

I had an account on the old site, but I never really made much use of it, if I’m honest. But I’m looking forward to the new site, and it would be nice to see a bit of internet history go full circle.

February 14, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for February 14, 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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February 12, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Hello from the new server!

Screenshot of Bytemark's BigV service

I apologise for not posting anything for the past few days, but I’ve been waiting for the DNS on the domain to switch over to a new IP address. It should have happened on Saturday but it was actually the early hours of yesterday morning before it took effect, and in the meantime the new server was running an image taken from the old server on Saturday. So that the old server and new server were not out of sync, I decided to wait a little while – and besides, this week has been very busy for me at work.

So that’s the apology out of the way, now on to good things!

I’m still hosting my site with Bytemark, but I’ve moved to their new BigV platform. Mainly because they’re phasing out their older Virtual Machine platform but also because BigV offers more for less.

I was paying £15 per month (plus VAT) for the old virtual machine, which got me 500 MB RAM and 10 GB of storage on standard magnetic disks (plus 50 GB backup space). The new BigV virtual machine has double the RAM (1 GB) and 25 GB of storage on a solid state drive, although no extra backup space. But it’s only £10 per month plus VAT, so it’s a third cheaper. And because there’s more RAM and it’s running on solid state drives, it should be much faster.

Of course, I should really have left the upgrade until Monday, rather than doing it on a Saturday night when there was no-one at Bytemark to help me when it went wrong, but we’ve sorted the issues out now. And Bytemark did provide detailed instructions for moving across.

Next, I’m looking to install a proper SSL certificate on here. But for now, back to your erratically scheduled blogging.

February 11, 2015
by Neil Turner
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App of the Week: AllCast

Screenshot of AllCast on iOSThis week’s app is AllCast, which lets you stream photos, music and videos from mobile devices to various internet streaming devices.

On the face of it, AllCast is quite a simple app – it takes photos, videos or music on a mobile device, and beams them over a wifi connection to a streaming device on the same network. But where it excels is the wide support for different streaming devices. The obvious ones like Chromecast and Apple TV are there, but so are Roku devices, any AirPlay receiver, Amazon’s Fire TV, a number of Smart TVs and any other device that is compatible with the DLNA protocol. What’s more, the content doesn’t need to be on your device, as AllCast will also detect shared Windows folders on your network. It will also connect to your Dropbox, Instagram, Google+ and Google Drive accounts to display content saved in the cloud. Photos can be displayed individually, or as part of a slideshow.

One limitation of AllCast’s iOS app is that whilst it can show videos in your camera roll – i.e. ones that you have made yourself – it doesn’t seem to be able to beam videos from iTunes. I’m not sure if the same restriction applies to the Android version.

Screenshot of AllCast's menu on iOSOverall though, AllCast is worth downloading because it does one task, and it does it well. It replaces the need for several other content streaming apps, but doesn’t do more than it needs to. And the interface sits well on iOS 7 and iOS 8 devices.

AllCast is free, with ads, and available for iOS, Android and Kindle Fire devices. A £4 in-app purchase removes the ads and lifts a limit on the length of video that can be streamed.

February 7, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for February 7, 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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