Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

August 17, 2014
by Neil Turner
2 Comments

Goodbye Delicious, hello Pinboard

Pinboard screenshot

Yesterday’s links from Delicious post will be the last one, as from now on I’ll be using rival bookmarking service Pinboard.

I’ve been using Delicious for some time and for a time I was one of its featured users – I managed to amass several thousand followers on there, which is far more than on all of my other social media presences combined. But clearly people are not using Delicious anymore – nowadays, when I save a link, I’m invariably the first person to do so. And usually the only person. It used to be that any link would have had several other people saving it to their bookmarks as well, but not now. And these links are from the likes of BBC News and Lifehacker – not exactly small and niche sites.

Furthermore Delicious changed hands again recently. You may remember Yahoo! bought it years ago, and then more recently it was sold to AVOS Systems, a company owned by the original founders of YouTube. And then in May Delicious was bought again by Science Inc, which co-incidentally was the last thing posted to Delicious’ blog and Twitter account. Either its new owners have something big planned or it’s being neglected like it was in the Yahoo! days.

Meanwhile years ago I signed up for a Pinboard account. Pinboard doesn’t have free accounts; instead, everyone pays a one-time sign-up fee which increases over time. It was $9.40 then, now it’s $10.46. You can also upgrade to enable archiving, where a copy of every page you bookmark is saved, allowing you to search them. This is $25 per year, but your first year is discounted by your sign-up fee, so it would cost me $15.60 in year one.

Pinboard can do a lot more things than Delicious, and has plenty of options to set for your account. This is at the expense of design, however, and explains the main reason why I hadn’t switched sooner. As much as I prefer to pay for services I use regularly, Delicious – especially after its redesign – was a nicer experience. But I’m concerned about Delicious’ long-term future, and so I’ll go with Pinboard.

Switching over to Pinboard from Delicious was simple, as the apps I use the most for saving links – Reeder and Pocket – support both services, as does IFTTT which I use for sharing links to Twitter.

If you read this blog or follow me on Twitter, then the chances are that you won’t notice anything different. My Pinboard profile is public, so if you also use it, you can follow me on there.

August 16, 2014
by Neil Turner
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Links from Delicious for August 16, 2014

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

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August 14, 2014
by Neil Turner
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A-level results day

Baby Capybara

Today, for students in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and a few other far flung corners of the world, today’s a big day – the release of the A-level results. For those unfamiliar, A-levels are qualifications usually taken by 18 year olds and are needed for entry to universities.

It’s been 12 years since I got my results, which were disappointing but still good enough to make it in to my second choice of university, Bradford. And I’m still there now, having progressed from being a student to being a member of staff.

A-level results day also signals the main start of the Clearing process, where universities ‘clear’ their vacancy lists for courses in September. It’s basically a massive free for all, where students who haven’t got a place try to get in to whichever universities still have places available. I’ve been involved in Clearing in some capacity every year since I started university, this being the 12th year that I’ve helped out. Nowadays I tend to be based more in the back offices keeping everything moving, rather than on the front line taking calls from students.

This year, we at Bradford anticipate that there will be some limited places for students with good grades. If you’re looking for a place at university, please give us a call on 0800 073 4015 to speak to one of my lovely colleagues, who will be happy to help you.

As usual, any opinions expressed in this blog post are my own and not necessarily those of the University of Bradford.

August 13, 2014
by Neil Turner
1 Comment

The Government Digital Service

Sceenshot of the Register to Vote pages on gov.uk

Whilst there are many things that I dislike about our current government, one thing I am pleased about is the creation of the Government Digital Service in 2010. This team oversaw the creation of GOV.UK, a new web site for central government services and replacing the previous direct.gov.uk.

The remarkable thing about GOV.UK is that, despite being commissioned by a centre-right government that is keen on outsourcing and privatisation, the new web site was actually brought back in house and primarily uses open source software. And by completely rebuilding the web site from scratch, it can take advantage of more modern best practices for design. So it’s responsive and therefore works just as well on small smartphone screens as it does on desktops, and uses big, clear fonts. The language used is also deliberately simplistic so that those with a poorer grasp of English comprehension can still use it.

A really good example is the Register to vote section, which I’ve used this week after receiving a letter. It’s a really simple step-by-step process, but the web site is fast and so it doesn’t take long. By contrast the previous web site offered by my local council for registering to vote was some awful thing that looked like it had been created in 1998 and barely updated since.

The other big advantage of keeping the technology in house is money. Rather than paying for a big outsourcing company every time you need a new feature adding that was over and above the original project specification, the GDS team can just get on and improve the site themselves. And, in doing so, they’re creating software that has a value, and could potentially be sold to other organisations. In other words, generating income rather than costing money.

With this in mind I’m pleased to hear that the US government has had a similar idea. It sounds very similar to the GDS team in Britain – as it’s worked so well for us, I hope that their American counterparts can achieve similar things.

August 12, 2014
by Neil Turner
1 Comment

The daily fight

I’m one of the lucky ones. For me, every day isn’t a struggle. I don’t think I’m worthless. I don’t lose interest in carry out everyday activities. I’m not often angry or irritable. I don’t hate myself. I have the energy and motivation to carry on.

But for many other people these things are a daily occurrence. A daily fight. And sometimes people lose that fight.

They don’t know, or don’t think there is anyone there to help them. A friend, a family member, or a charity like the Samaritans or ChildLine for example.

If you’re a lucky one like me, then you can do something. Speak to your friends and family, especially if you think they’re depressed. Offer to help, or refer them to someone who can. Because someone can, even if they won’t believe you.

Like many of you I was shocked and saddened to hear of Robin Williams’ passing this morning. There will be few people who have not seen at least one of his many films over the years, and it’s a real shame that he won’t be in any more in future. I just wished that someone had been there for him in his time of need.

August 11, 2014
by Neil Turner
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Run With Us

If you’re like me and grew up in the 1980s then you probably watched the Canadian animated cartoon series The Raccoons on Saturday mornings on BBC1, usually before Going Live. If so, you’ll hopefully like this cover of the theme music, Run With Us, by Matt Fischel, embedded above. The music video uses footage from the original series.

The cover is really good – keeping the original 1980s feel of the song but updating it slightly. You can hear Lisa Lougheed’s version, as used in series two onwards, here on YouTube if you want to compare the two. The song is part of an album of covers released by Fischel, available on iTunes or Amazon.

As for watching The Raccoons, there aren’t many options in Britain. Only series one and two were released on DVD here, although there’s a German release with all six series. I’ve no idea if it includes the original English audio or whether it’s only available dubbed into German. And it’s not on Netflix sadly.

August 10, 2014
by Neil Turner
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Alestorm’s new album

Over the years I’ve occasionally mentioned the music of the band Alestorm, a Scottish pirate metal band. Imagine heavy metal sea shanties, covering such subjects as piracy, drinking, and the acquisition of wenches. The above music video is a prime example, containing all of the aforementioned things, and it just happens to have come from their latest album. Other songs include ‘Surf Squid Warfare‘ about going into the future to defeat undead squid from space with beer. Yes.

I first came across Alestorm in 2009, when a friend recommended that I check them out on Spotify. I’ve since bought three of their four albums, went to see them play live in Leeds in 2012, and right now they’re the third highest-ranked band in my last.fm library. Their fourth album, Sunset on the Golden Age, was released recently and I got halfway through listening to it on Spotify before buying it. It’s one of their best.

Their first album, Captain Morgan’s Revenge, was okay, but I much preferred their second album Black Sails at Midnight – which I listed as my second-favourite album back in 2011 (it’s probably my third or fourth nowadays). Back Through Time, their third album, was okay – some good songs let down by rough and (in my view) poorer production quality. Sunset on the Golden Age, by contrast, has the production values of their second album and sounds much better for it. I also note that Alestorm’s lead singer Christopher Bowes has consigned his keytar to Davey Jones’ Locker – they’re actually playing real instruments instead of synthesising their sounds.

Though not very politically correct, Alestorm’s music has surprising staying power, considering that they’re arguably a novelty act. But, a novelty act that has released four albums and been on several world tours is not to be sniffed at. So crack upon a bottle of rum, fire your cannons and grab yourself a copy of their latest album – it’s on Amazon or iTunes. And they’re touring the UK again in the autumn. Plus, if you like Alestorm, you may also like Christopher Bowes’ other band Gloryhammer, who songs include the wonderful Unicorn Invasion of Dundee amongst others.

August 10, 2014
by Neil Turner
0 comments

Links from Delicious for August 9, 2014

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

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August 8, 2014
by Neil Turner
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The Doctor Who TV film

Ever since Doctor Who restarted on British TV screens in 2005, I’ve been an avid fan – watching every episode and owning most of the DVDs. But, I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit, I’ve never watched any of the original episodes that aired in its original run between 1963 and 1989, nor had I watched the 1996 film, starring Paul McGann as the eighth Doctor.

The film is on Netflix, so tonight Christine and I watched it for the first time.

I’m guessing the budget for the film wasn’t that large, as even by mid-90s standards some of the special effects were poor. And it hasn’t aged very well – the stream we watched was in in the 4:3 aspect ratio that was common for TV shows at the time, but this looks odd on modern widescreen TVs.

The story wasn’t bad though and is at least as good as an average episode of the newer series. It did, however, remind me of the most recent series of Torchwood, Miracle Day. Both this and Miracle Day were examples of cult British science fiction shows transplanted to America, with American characters and American popular culture references that wash over a typical British audience. That being said, my main criticism of Torchwood: Miracle Day was that the story had been stretched too thinly – not a problem for this Doctor Who film which was paced reasonably well.

The film was meant to be the start of a new American Doctor Who series, picking up where the British series had left off in 1989. As it happened, American interest wasn’t that great and it would be nine years until the BBC revived the series in Britain, with Christopher Eccleston making a clean break as the ninth Doctor.

Paul McGann thankfully made an appearance again as the eighth Doctor in The Night of the Doctor – a short webisode released last year ahead of the 50th anniversary show. This helped to bridge the gap between the original and revived series and showed McGann’s eighth Doctor regenerate into John Hurt’s ‘War Doctor’.

Doctor Who is a series where the Doctor’s ability regenerate allows it to ‘reboot’ every few years, in contrast with many other franchises. Consequently it’s always re-inventing and changing itself without having to retread too much.

Later this month we have Peter Calpadi taking the reigns as the twelfth Doctor. I can’t wait.

August 7, 2014
by Neil Turner
5 Comments

How to fix stuck Time Machine backups

As I mentioned on Sunday, I had problems with Time Machine getting stuck when doing backups. It would say something like ‘Backing up 28 MB of 1.25 GB’ and stay stuck like that for hours at a time.

I tried the obvious things first – using Disk Utility to repair disk permissions and the disks themselves. I did this for both my internal hard drive and the backup drive. But it didn’t make a difference. I even reformatted the backup disk, wiping all my previous Time Machine backups, but that didn’t work either.

Then I had a look at Console. Console shows you your system logs in realtime, and when I looked at ‘All logs’ I saw something like this:

Screenshot of mdworker console errors linked to stuck Time Machine backups

That’s ‘mdworker: (Warning) Import: Bad Path:‘ for those who can’t see it. The mdworker process was generating several of these errors every second. Thankfully you’re usually never the only person with any particular problem and I found this thread on the MacRumors forums with a solution – open Terminal and type these two commands in turn:

sudo launchctl unload -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.metadata.mds.plist
sudo launchctl load -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.metadata.mds.plist

Then, start a new Time Machine backup. After doing this I had no problems and the Time Machine backups have worked correctly ever since. The MacRumors thread suggested two additional commands but this seemed to work for me – there seems to be a related problem with drives formatted using the ExFAT file system, although mine used OS X’s standard HFS+ file system.

Whilst I love using OS X, it can be exasperating when things stop working correctly. It can take quite a bit of effort to work out what’s wrong and how to fix it, and usually I end up getting information from third-party web sites rather than Apple’s own support site (which is rather lacking). Whilst I don’t often use Windows at home, usually I find solutions to Windows problems on Microsoft’s own site.