Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

March 14, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for March 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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March 10, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Don’t believe me, just watch

Photo of a Skagen wrist watch

I wear a watch on my right hand – even though I’m right-handed. It’s not a fancy watch – it’s analogue, and as well as telling me the time it also shows the day of the month (although it’s usually wrong). It doesn’t automatically adjust for daylight savings time, or have alarms. It doesn’t even have a stopwatch, which means that I, ironically, have to use my phone as a stopwatch, rather than my watch.

But it’s simple, and in the 3-4 years I’ve had it, the battery has only had to be replaced once after running out of charge. It doesn’t need charging, updating or to be in range of another device.

Yesterday Apple finally announced pricing and a launch date for its new smart watch. Brits can expect to pay £299 for the most basic model, with more expensive models available at prices that make my inner Yorkshireman cry. It can do all sorts of things, like display text messages, make and answer phone calls, manage your calendar, display maps and monitor your fitness, and you can install third-party apps to make it do even more. It’ll even work as a watch and display the time – which is kept up to date from internet time servers.

Which sounds all rather flash. But I won’t be buying one.

Having a smartphone has changed my life – indeed, I’ll soon be facing a week where I’ll have patchy internet access and I’m already trying to work out how I’ll manage. But I don’t think I need yet another device that does the things my iPhone can do.

And the battery life is a concern – it’s estimated to last 18 hours, so I’d need to charge it up every night. A big change from my current watch that needs a new battery every few years.

I’ve yet to be convinced about the need for a smart watch, but I’ll try to retain an open mind. I’m sure Apple will sell millions regardless.

March 8, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Crowdfunded: Thimbleweed Park

As someone who enjoyed playing LucasArts’ point and click adventure games, I was pleased to see that the creator of Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion, Ron Gilbert, had launched a Kickstarter campaign for a new game called Thimbleweed Park. Though it’s a new game, it’s being developed in a classical graphical style similar to those earlier games, to evoke a late-1980s, early-1990s feel. But it’s designed to run on modern computers, rather than being made for DOS, or the Amiga.

The campaign reached its funding goals relatively quickly – not bad considering that the initial goal was $375,000. Ultimately it raised $626,250 – not quite double its target, but it does mean that full voice acting will be included, and mobile versions for iOS and Android will be released alongside DRM-free versions for desktop computers. I pledged $20, to secure a digital copy of the game on either Windows, Mac or Linux upon release.

The game is in active development and there’s a blog that you can follow which goes into detail about how it’s being done. Whilst it will be a spiritual successor to LucasArts games, it won’t use the SCUMM engine that most of those games were built with. Instead, it’s using Squirrel, and the blog shows some of the code they’re using.

The finished game is due in summer 2016, if all goes to plan.

March 7, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for March 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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March 6, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Moby Dick! The Musical at the Bradford Playhouse

Moby Dick! The Musical Next week, Christine and I will be part of a production of Moby Dick! The Musical at the Bradford Playhouse, along with the rest of BUSOM – The Bradford University Society of Operettas and Musicals. Christine is the producer and has a minor acting role, and I will be a part of the technical team.

If you’re like me, then this may be the first time you’ve heard of a musical theatre adaptation of Herman Melville’s famous book. The musical version dates from the early 1990s – it had a brief run in London’s West End at the Piccadilly Theatre, but closed after a four month run due to poor reviews. Don’t let that put you off though.

Moby Dick! The Musical is essentially a meta-play – a play within a play. It follows the girls of St Godley’s School – faced with closure, they put on a performance of Moby Dick to raise money to save the school. Whilst the cast is predominantly female, the role of the headmistress/Captain Ahab is usually played by a male actor in drag.

Christine has been working on the show for months now and it’s been great to see it come together. There’s just a few more rehearsals before it opens on Thursday night, with further showings on Friday and Saturday.

You can buy tickets online – they’re £10 each, or £8 for concessions. If you’re local to Bradford, it would be great if you can come along and support the students who have worked so hard to put on this show. I hope I’ll see you there!

March 2, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Testing SSL server security

SSL report from ssllabs.com

If you’re a web site administrator and have a SSL certificate, then it’s useful to know that everything is working okay. Qualys SSL Labs have their SSL Test Report which will tell you, free of charge, how secure your site is and what you need to do to improve it.

The test can be run on any site, not just your own, but the information is of most use to server administrators. It tries a number of different tests to ensure that you have a verifiable certificate, and that you’re not using outdated protocols like SSL 2.0 or 3.0. Full technical details are given, as well as a summary score and grade.

You can see this site’s score in the screenshot – overall my site gets a ‘B’ grade. This is mainly because it’s possible to use the older RC4 cipher, which is quite weak when compared to newer ciphers and vulnerable to a number of attacks. There are instructions to prevent this, which involves disabling SSL compression. If I fix this, it should get an ‘A’ grade. The lowest grade is ‘F'; one server I tested got this because it was vulnerable to the POODLE attack. Test results are public unless you tick a box, and the home page shows the recent best and worst domain names.

The test takes a minute or two per domain, as it’s very thorough. It also offers information about why certain tests are important, and what the implications are if your server fails.

It’s a useful tool, and it’s great that it’s free to use. If you run a SSL-secured web site, you should definitely give this a try.

March 1, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Crowdfunded: Bucket of Doom

Bucket of Doom

Last autumn I backed Bucket of Doom, a tabletop game project, on Kickstarter. The game is similar to Cards Against Humanity – a person takes it in turn to read out a situation card, and each player has to play a card with an object on it to get out of that situation.

The situations cards all describe an event that, if not escaped from, will mean imminent doom. Unfortunately, the object cards, rather than being useful things like a rope, teleporter or gun, are things like a screaming baby, a deep-fried Mars bar or a plate of strawberry jelly. So when presenting your object (you have 8 object cards, which are double-sided) you have to be creative. The group votes for the best explained escape plan and the winner gets a point.

The project had a funding goal of £15,000 and rather surprisingly only just made it having raised £15,336. I pledged £13, enough to get an early-bird discount over the recommended retail price of £15. Kickstarter backers also got an additional bonus set of situation cards which aren’t included in the final retail edition, and their name included in the credits.

Whereas Cards Against Humanity comes in a cardboard box, Bucket of Doom – unsurprisingly – comes in a neon pink bucket, with the cards, voting paper pads and pencils inside. I got mine late last year, and we played it for the first time a few weeks ago with friends. It was good fun, although if I’m honest, I preferred Cards Against Humanity a bit more where the humour can be a bit more depraved. Bucket of Doom is a more imaginative game though.

If you’re interesting in buying your own bucket, it’s available now from everyone’s favourite multi-national tax dodger Amazon, and can be pre-ordered from Firebox for delivery in a couple of weeks. It’s £15 from both companies.

February 28, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for February 28, 2015

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

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February 26, 2015
by Neil Turner
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The Free Postcode Lottery

Screenshot of the Free Postcode Lottery home page

Do you want to win free money? For most people the answer to this question is ‘yes’ – and the Free Postcode Lottery will let you do just that. Each day, you have the chance to win at least £80.

To register, you provide the site with your email address and UK postcode. You then log in every day to find out which postcode has won that day. If it’s yours, then you win the jackpot, which can be paid to you by Paypal.

If it’s not yours, then you can still accumulate a bonus. For every day that you log in, one penny is added to your bonus – if you win the jackpot, then this is added to your winnings. Because you need to log in every day to see if you’ve won, you should be able to build up £1 after just over three months. There’s also an additional opportunity to win extra money with the Stackpot which is refreshed twice a day at 9am and 9pm, and you can refer friends for extra cash as well.

Unclaimed jackpots roll over – in the screenshot, the jackpot is £140 because the winners from the day before didn’t claim it. It’s got as high as £700 before. The jackpot recently increased from £70 to £80, as the lottery now covers 8% of all UK postcodes. Presumably there will be another increase at 9%.

The lottery is free because all of the income comes from advertising on the site – and you’ll see that it is a particularly advert heavy web site. But because people visit it daily, those adverts get a lot of views, hence why it is able to give so much money away.

If you live in Britain and fancy a chance of winning some cash, then it’s worth signing up. You’ll just get one daily email reminding you to check the draw – no other spam is sent. Here’s my referral link, if you want to give it a try.