Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

July 14, 2014
by Neil Turner
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…and back in the gym too

Tortoise

As well as re-starting driving lessons, I’ve also started going back to the gym regularly. It’s been a long time since I last did regular exercise – certainly longer than I’m willing to admit – and it was showing. My fitness levels had dropped significantly, so on the odd occasion when I’ve been late and had to run for my morning train I’ve ended up seriously out of breath. And I’d been getting podgier around my waist.

One change I made with the staff at the gym was that I would have two different workouts available for me. One is a shorter 45 minute workout, to be done once or twice a week, with around 30 minutes of cardio. Then there’s a longer 75 minute workout for when I have more time, like the weekends, with 30 minutes of cardio and more resistance training, to be done weekly. The shorter workout means that I can be in and out of the gym more quickly on weekdays when I get back from work, and so I should be able to go more frequently.

Going back to the gym after so long away has been difficult. I’m fine on some machines, such as the cross-trainer, as I still walk for at least half an hour a day, but others have been a challenge. I’m supposed to be able to run at 8 km/h (5mph) on the treadmill for 10 minutes, but lately this has been running for 6-7 minutes with a walking break in the middle. My upper body strength is nothing like what it was when I last went regularly so some of the resistance machines are really hard work, even with light weights.

That being said, I’d forgotten how good it feels when you’re able to relax after an intensive workout. And I’m sure the exercises will get easier as my fitness improves again. But I’m mostly looking forward to my clothes fitting better.

July 13, 2014
by Neil Turner
1 Comment

Back in the driving seat…

Rolls Royce

Yesterday was my first driving lesson since 2007. It went quite well, on the whole.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for many years will remember that I had lessons in 2006 and 2007, and took my practical test twice (and failed) in 2007. Afterwards, I ran out of time and money, and ever since I have been fortunate enough to be in situations where having a car hasn’t been so important. But we’re looking to buy a house soon, and being able to buy one that isn’t necessarily close to a railway station would be nice. Plus, as and when we start a family, having a car will be a big help.

We’re both learning at the same time, with the same instructor, but with lessons on different days. There’s no race to see who passes first but we can’t really go forward with a house purchase until at least one of us is driving.

Despite it having been almost seven years since I last got behind the wheel of a car, it was surprising how much I remembered – even if it took a little while to get used to it again. What took weeks of practice all those years ago took less than an hour to pick up again. That’s not to say that I can get ready to book my practical test any time soon, as I definitely will need more practice in the meantime. In particular, I got a bit flummoxed when trying to pass some cars parked on the left, with an oncoming bus and then being required to turn right.

I will need to take my theory test again as the test I took in 2006 was only valid for two years. I’ll need to get around to booking that soon. It’s changed a bit since I did it, with the pass mark now 45 out of 50 rather than 30 out of 35 (I got 33 last time).

My next lesson is next weekend, where I’ll be tackling some roundabouts.

July 12, 2014
by Neil Turner
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Links from Delicious for July 12, 2014

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July 11, 2014
by Neil Turner
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I broke the chain

Yesterday was the first day since January this year when I didn’t manage to post anything. As you will know if you read my blog regularly, I’m trying to publish a new blog post every day, even if it’s one written in advance. But yesterday, I had nothing saved, and didn’t get around to writing anything.

In fairness, I’d only had four hours’ sleep, a full day at work, and am having to deal with circumstances surrounding an ill family member which is taking up a lot of mine and Christine’s free time. Trying to write something and be at all creative was the last thing on my mind in my sleep-deprived and somewhat stressed state. Those that are Facebook friends or follow me on Twitter will note that I’ve not posted so much there either (mostly retweets). Thankfully, things have calmed down a bit.

Whilst I’m pleased that I’ve been able to manage to post something every day for over five months, I’m a little disappointed that I couldn’t manage to do it for longer. Oh well.

Anyway, here’s a video of a hedgehog and some hamsters having a birthday party. You’re welcome.

July 9, 2014
by Neil Turner
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App of the Week: Pushbullet

Screenshot of Pushbullet on iPhoneThis week I’m looking at Pushbullet, a service for pushing data between multiple computers and devices.

Pushbullet joins a crowded market with several other competing services, including Boxcar, Pushover and Instapush. But what makes Pushbullet stands out is that it works on desktops as well as mobiles, and it supports multiple types of push notifications, including those with attached files.

On mobile, there are iOS and Android apps, and on the desktop there are extensions for Firefox and Chrome. There’s also a rather basic Windows app which is in beta.

Pushbullet’s purpose is allow you to move between devices more seamlessly. For example, if you found an interesting link on your mobile, you could copy the URL, paste it into Pushbullet, and then send it to your desktop to open in your web browser. You can also use it to transfer files, such as photos, from a phone to a desktop. Or, send a file from your desktop to your phone to carry it with you, or send an address from your desktop to your phone so that you can follow directions whilst on the move. Any content that you send is also saved to an inbox on Pushbullet’s servers for later retrieval if needed.

Pushbullet also integrates with IFTTT. This means that you can be sent a copy of any new file added in your Dropbox public folder, or be notified if it’s about to rain. And, if any of your contacts use Pushbullet, you can use it to send them data too.

In the past I’ve used Dropbox to move files between mobile and desktop, but Pushbullet offers a more direct way. You don’t need to make that file available to every machine that you use, just the one where you need it.

I get the impression that the Android app is a bit more advanced than the relatively basic iOS app, but the latter was updated this week so it is clearly under active development. Similarly the Windows app seems very beta at present. There’s no OS X app right now.

July 8, 2014
by Neil Turner
2 Comments

Cancelling Dropbox Pro

Dropbox Pro cancel email

At the weekend, with a heavy heart, I cancelled my Dropbox Pro subscription, and reverted to a basic account.

I’ve been a Pro user, paying $99 each year, for almost the past two years. But when Dropbox emailed me to say that my Pro account was up for renewal in a couple of weeks, I didn’t feel like I could continue to pay for it. $99 is a bit less than £60, which is money that I could spend on other things.

But there’s also the issue that I’ve already paid for four years of extra storage for Microsoft’s OneDrive, from when I signed up to Office 365. Whilst the Office 365 package only provides an extra 25 gigabytes of storage, I was using less than that with Dropbox. So it was hard to justify continuing to pay £60 per year for something that I was barely using.

This isn’t to say that I will no longer use Dropbox – it’s still my favourite cloud storage service, and besides, I have some shared folders that I need to keep going. But I’ve shifted all of my photos over to OneDrive, since they take up most of the space. So I’ll be using both in tandem, at least for now.

Dropbox is now one of the most expensive cloud storage services, when compared to Microsoft, Google, Amazon and the rest. I may be tempted back if its prices drop (and I noted this in the survey that I was asked to fill out when I cancelled). Also, I’m looking forward to seeing how Apple’s iCloud Drive service turns out when that launches in the autumn. Though iCloud’s extra storage tiers are also rather pricey – 100 gigabytes is £70, which is more than Dropbox, and the next smallest is 20 gigabytes which may be too small. Perhaps Apple will also drop its prices nearer the launch, as I expect more people will be upgrading.

I do feel a bit sad about downgrading my account, even though it makes financial sense. Perhaps as and when Dropbox lowers its prices, I’ll come back.

Update: I changed my mind less than two weeks’ after this was posted, and re-subscribed to Dropbox Pro.

July 7, 2014
by Neil Turner
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Easing lactose intolerance with lactase

Lactase enzyme It’s been about a year since I discovered I was lactose intolerant (or at least, worked out why I was frequently bloated and having to go to the toilet more often than most people). Since then we’ve switched most of the dairy-based food we eat home with lactose or dairy-free alternatives. This has meant that we now buy a lot of our groceries online from Ocado, as their selection of such products is much better than the other supermarkets in our area. Ocado is a little expensive, but unlike our local Tesco, they sell a variety of flavours of Swedish Glace, a soya alternative to ice cream.

That’s all great when I’m at home, but not so good when I’m out and about. Whilst most coffee shops will make a drink with soya milk instead of cow’s milk (and Starbucks now do it at no extra cost, yay), good luck trying to order a dessert at most restaurants that doesn’t come with cream or ice cream. I’m particularly looking at you, TGI Friday’s.

For instances like this, I have a couple of bottle of lactase enzyme capsules – one for each bag that I take out with me. Lactase is the enzyme that breaks down lactose in your digestive system, and sufferers of lactose intolerance cannot naturally produce enough of it. These capsules therefore top up your lactase, so that you can digest foods containing lactose. One taken just before a meal should mean you can eat normally.

I say ‘should’. I’ve been using the pictured capsules for a couple of months now, and they work most of the time. However, despite having one just before a big ice cream in Dublin, I still felt awful the following day.Whilst the label suggests taking one at a time, maybe I should have taken two on that occasion.

Lately I’ve been taking these lactase capsules before any meal that hasn’t been prepared at home – in restaurants, or with takeaway food – regardless of whether it looks like it contains milk, cream, yoghurt or cheese, as you sometimes can’t be sure.

The lactase capsules are not cheap though, with a bottle of 60 capsules costing a little over £10 from Holland and Barrett. Thankfully they do have regular sales and at the moment they’re buy one, get a second for half price. Holland and Barrett sell a number of products of questionable effectiveness, but these capsules do seem to work in my case. And no, I’m not being paid to make this recommendation.

It is nice to be able to have a bit more freedom when eating out, without having to worry about how you’ll feel the following day.

July 6, 2014
by Neil Turner
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Astro-lol-ogy

I’m a little behind on reading things from the internet – my Pocket list peaked at 119 unread items last week – so I’ve only just got around to reading this piece from io9 about how astrology isn’t as harmless as you think. Astrology is the decidedly non-scientific studies of the position of planets and stars to create horoscopes, rather than astronomy, which is the actual scientific study of celestial bodies. Despite this, around a third of Americans believe astrology to be a science and around a quarter of Americans believe their horoscopes.

The percentage of women believing in astrology is higher than men, which should be obvious to anyone who has read womens’ and mens’ magazines. Whilst I never read either, just about every womens’ magazine has a horoscope page in it.

As you may have guessed, I don’t believe in astrology. I do know my ‘star sign’, which is ‘Gemini’, but I don’t believe that this pre-disposes me to any particular behaviour.

I don’t know Christine’s star sign. I could easily work it out from her birthday, but why bother? I don’t need a fortune teller to tell me whether we’re compatible or not just because of when our birthdays fall – our marriage, and the fact that we’ve been in a happy relationship for almost five years now should be testament to that.

This quote, from a Discovery News article linked in io9′s piece, is particularly damning:

Both astrology and racial stereotypes are based on a framework of belief that basically says: “Without even meeting you, I believe something about you. I can expect this particular sort of behavior or trait (stubbornness, laziness, arrogance, etc.) from members of this particular group of people (Jews, blacks, Aries, Pisces, etc.). When an astrologer finds out a person’s astrological sign, he or she will bring to that experience a pre-existing list of assumptions (prejudices) about that person’s behavior, personality and character. In both cases, the prejudices will cause people to seek out and confirm their expectations.

If you believe that the alignments of the stars and planets have a fundamental effect on people’s behaviours and lifestyles, then you are making yourself prejudiced. Simple as. Astrology may seem like a bit of harmless fun, but if you take it too seriously it could affect your friendships and your relationships.

July 5, 2014
by Neil Turner
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Links from Delicious for July 5, 2014

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July 4, 2014
by Neil Turner
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Le Tour de France comes to Yorkshire

Penny Farthing

Tomorrow is the Grand Départ of this year’s Tour de France cycle race – probably the world’s best known cycling event – and it’s taking place in Yorkshire. Although it’s a French race, with most of the stages taking place in France, the first stages are sometimes held in other countries. The local tourist board, Welcome to Yorkshire, put in a successful bid to host the first stage, beating other bids. The first two days, Saturday and Sunday, are in Yorkshire, and a third day will see riders bike from Cambridge into London.

The Grand Départ – the start of the first stage of the race – is in central Leeds on Saturday. Initially heading to Harewood House and Otley, the riders will then cycle up the Wharfe Valley up to Skipton, then through Grassington and across the Yorkshire Dales National Park to Hawes (home of Wensleydale Cheese), around to Leyburn, on to Masham (home of the Black Sheep and Theakstons breweries), around the Ripon bypass, and ending up on The Stray in Harrogate. The teams will move overnight to York.

On day two, they will start from the Knavesmire, home of York Racecourse, and head back through the centre of Harrogate before passing through the amusingly named village of Blubberhouses. They will drop down into the Aire Valley to pass through Addingham and Silsden, and onwards to Keighley, before following the Worth Valley to Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters. They will then climb up onto Oxenhope Moor, drop down into the Calder Valley at Hebden Bridge, and then ride up again along Cragg Vale. A sharp left turn will bring them down into the Ryburn Valley at Ripponden, just down the road from where I live in Sowerby Bridge, before again going back up on the moors to cross over to Elland. They will pass under the M62 and go through Huddersfield, and onwards to Holmfirth, where Last of the Summer Wine is set, and then to Woodhead Reservoir on the Yorkshire-Greater Manchester border. Entering South Yorkshire, the riders will then make their way to the end of the stage in Sheffield, near the Don Valley Stadium.

Unlike when London hosted the Olympics in 2012, there hasn’t been much controversy about hosting the Tour de France. This is probably because hosting the Tour de France will cost a few tens of millions, rather than billions of pounds, and the expected economic gain from increased tourism during and after the event is likely to be four times more than the cost. The main controversial issue has been the necessary road closures, but at least these are just for two days and not for several years.

And the event has enjoyed great community support. Most of the shops on the high street in Sowerby Bridge (which isn’t actually on the route) have yellow bikes in their displays, and this is a trend repeated across the county, especially in towns on the route. Various arrangements have been made to transport spectators where the roads are shut, including a 50% increase in train capacity, and high numbers of visitors are expected.

Normally I’m not interested in sport but I’m looking forward to the Tour de France this year, if only to see the places I recognise on TV. Yorkshire is home to some wonderful countryside and it’ll be great to see it broadcasted to the world. Of course, it being Yorkshire, it’ll probably rain this weekend, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed for nice weather.