Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

August 26, 2014
by Neil Turner

Dear America: Can we have Jon Oliver back please?

British comedian Jon Oliver has made quite a name for himself in America. Initially a contributor to Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, he took over presenting the show last summer when Stewart was away on other projects. And he did a pretty good job of it too, by all accounts – so much so that he now has his own show on HBO called Last Week Tonight.

Whilst LWT is available in the UK on the pay-TV channel Sky Atlantic (along with many other HBO shows), HBO have also made much of the show’s segments available on YouTube – for free, and worldwide. So we get to watch some of Jon Oliver’s fantastic set pieces, like his overview of police militarisation and brutality in Ferguson, Missouri. It’s well worth spending 15 minutes of your time to watch, and is a great example of Oliver finding comedy in what is an awful situation. To build on one of Oliver’s examples, there’s no need for a police force in a town of 8500 people to have a tank – imagine the bobbies on the beat in a town like Hebden Bridge driving military vehicles up and down the high street?

I also enjoy the series because some of the issues he raises are largely ignored by other parts of the media – his impassioned pleas about Net Neutrality for example – and the Indian elections, which were probably the biggest elections ever to happen anywhere in the world but with no coverage in America, or even here in Britain for that matter.

Whilst I am pleased that Jon Oliver has managed to so well in America, and in comedy at that, I wish he’d been given more opportunities here in Britain too. Is there any way we could have him back at some point? We could take Piers Morgan off your hands as well if that helps?

August 25, 2014
by Neil Turner

Brimham Rocks

Brimham Rocks

Yesterday, we took advantage of the nice weather and went to Brimham Rocks, near Harrogate. The site is owned by the National Trust and features large millstone grit rock formations that visitors are free to climb on. It’s free to visit, but those who are not members of the National Trust have to pay £6 to use the car park.

I’ve been many times over the years. My parents have been National Trust members for as long as I can remember and have taken me there several times, but I also seem to remember going with my primary school class at one point in the 1990s, when marbles were the playground craze of the time. The last time was in 2007, with the university hiking club and as part of an unwieldy-sized group of 19 mixed-ability hikers. This time was with a smaller group of 10 – myself, Christine, and 8 other former members of the hiking club and plus-ones.

Christine isn’t so confident with walking so whilst most of the group did a nine mile walk around the wider Nidderdale area, we just did a stroll around the edge of the site and took photos. Some of the rocks are really impressive, rising up to 30 metres in height, and many have been given names. The Blacksmith looks like an anvil, and the Druid’s Writing Table looks like… well, a table. There’s also The Smartie Tube which has a tunnel that small people can fit through – I’m not sure if Nestlé has authorised the use of its trademark though.

Unfortunately I was an idiot and didn’t check the settings on my camera before taking the photos, so everything was taken at 1600 ISO. Thankfully I shoot in RAW so I was able to improve the photos somewhat, but they do look like they’ve been taken on a much older camera. An inadvertent retro filter, if you will. A small selection of these images are available to view on Flickr.

I doubt this will be the last time we go to Brimham Rocks. It’s a great place to bring kids – provided that you keep them under observation, they will love being able to climb the rocks. I’m sure we’ll be back when we have children of our own. And, if we pick a day like yesterday, we’ll be in plenty of company – by the time we left in the mid-afternoon, both carparks were full.

August 24, 2014
by Neil Turner
1 Comment

America’s expensive healthcare system


Last week Les, he of the Stupid Evil Bastard blog, linked to this article about how Americans pay five times more for their medications than the French on Facebook. It drew my attention because one of the drugs it mentions is Advair, which is known as Seretide in Europe, and is one of the three drugs I take to treat my asthma.

In America, Advair costs $391 in Costco – about £236. Whereas it’s €55 in France which is about £44, more than five times cheaper. It’s the exact same drug.

In Britain prescription drugs are subsidised by the NHS, so two Advair/Seretide inhalers costs me £8.05. They would be free if I qualified for free prescriptions, by being young, old, having certain medical conditions, in receipt of benefits or if I lived in Scotland or Wales where prescription charges have been abolished altogether. The cost to the NHS is probably the same as it is in France but I only need to pay a contribution.

I’m so glad that drugs which – let’s be clear – keep me alive don’t cost me the earth. The article quotes a mother of a child who needs to take Advair but can’t afford it – by the sounds of it her insurance will only cover part of the cost leaving her to pay the remaining $99. Which is more than someone in France would have to pay in total. It’s ridiculous.

There is a lot wrong with America’s healthcare system – research from the Commonwealth Fund shows that health expenditure per capita is $8508, compared with just $3405 in Britain. And yet Britain ranks top for quality of care, access and efficiency with America at the bottom. Britain’s NHS is able to do so much more with less than half of the money that’s in the American system.

Obama’s reforms have helped, by increasing access to health insurance coverage to those previously ineligible. But whilst ‘Obamacare’ is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t fix the problem that just about everything with American healthcare is hugely and unnecessarily expensive. The system as it is now has far too many people taking their cut of the money, whether it’s the drug companies, hospitals or the health insurance providers. We in Britain are so very, very lucky to have the NHS.

August 22, 2014
by Neil Turner

Thirteen and out

Today’s the end of my thirteen day stint at work. Whilst this wasn’t the first time I’ve done such a long unbroken period at work, it’s certainly felt more difficult than in previous years. Though unlike previous years, A-level results day was a 14 hour day for me – normally it’s less – and I gave blood on Monday which may have explained why I was so shattered on Tuesday.

Fortunately we got a HelloFresh box delivered this week, so we’ve been able to eat well without too much thought or effort being required. I was a little sceptical in my review, but then we often pay £39 for a meal out, so £39 for three meals actually saves us money if you look at it from that perspective. And it’s cheaper than ordering in Domino’s. All of the meals we’ve had so far have been great and not the sort of things we’d normally think of cooking ourselves. That being said, we’re not getting one next week as the recipes didn’t look too appetising.

I was able to finish work at lunchtime today, which means I can finally start using up the five days’ worth of time off in lieu of overtime. We have friends staying over this weekend and, as both us have worked without a break for over a week, the flat needs a bloody good clean. So whilst I wish I could put my feet up and chill, I’m going to need to finish writing this to clean the bathroom.

Hope you have a good weekend, especially those of you in Britain who have the Monday off as well.

August 21, 2014
by Neil Turner

RAVpower Lustal Series Power Bank review

RAVpower Luster Series Power Bank

The nice folks at RAVpower asked me to review their Luster Series Power Bank, a portable battery charger for USB devices with built-in torch. It’s the size of tube of Polo mints and packs a 3000mAh battery. I’ve previously bought RAVpower’s 5-in-1 FileHub device which was really useful when in Dublin for copying photos from my DSLR camera to my iPhone to upload, and you can read my review of that here.


There’s a choice of colours available – silver, black, gold, pink and blue. The power bank’s case is brushed metal, and is surprisingly light considering that there’s a battery inside. It’s certainly lighter than a Mini MagLite, and a bit shorter. It feels well-built and solid.

The torch bulb – a single LED – is at one end, and at the end is a standard USB port for plugging your devices in. Alongside is a smaller micro-USB port for recharging the internal battery, and a button for switching the torch on and off.

RAVpower Luster Series Power Bank


The power bank’s torch is impressive. On full power it lit up a pitch-black small room with no problems. There’s also a half-power setting, and then a strobe setting which flashes the LED rapidly. You can cycle through these three settings by pressing the power button. According to the manual, the torch can last for up to 120 hours when the battery is fully charged, providing five days of continuous light if needed.


As for charging other devices, you can plug in anything that has a USB cable. A USB to micro-USB cable is provided, mainly for the purposes of charging the power bank unit itself, but this will work with most non-Apple smartphones. Apple users like me will need to plug in a 30-pin iPod Dock cable or a Lightning cable to use it, which isn’t included.

RAVpower Luster Series Power Bank

Output is 1 Amp, according to the manual. This means it won’t be as quick as the 2 Amp wall chargers that usually come with devices these days, and you may find that tablets won’t charge. My iPad didn’t seem to complain when I plugged it into the power bank – normally it would display ‘Not charging’ when there’s not enough current – but it was already fully-charged so I can’t be sure. The manual states that the power bank, when it is fully charged, can in turn fully recharge an depleted iPhone 5. Whilst some larger battery packs will charge phones several times over, they’re much bigger than this. Charging from 45% back up to 100% took under an hour so it’s still very quick.

My only major criticism is that it’s not obvious when the power bank is fully charged. A red LED illuminates when the power bank is charging up but I don’t think this changes colour when it’s done. You’ll therefore need to make sure it’s regularly topped up if you use it often, otherwise you may end up with a flat power bank and a flat phone.

The power bank normally retails for £40, but they’re currently just £9 on Amazon, which is fantastic value for money. I’m happy to give it a strong endorsement.

August 20, 2014
by Neil Turner


Ongoing work-related business has meant that I haven’t had chance to blog about anything today, so here’s a terrible music video from 2003. Someone decided to take the campfire song about Pizza Hut, KFC and McDonald’s and turn it into a pop song. Complete with extra lyrics stuffed full of innuendo and a garish music video.

You’re welcome.

August 19, 2014
by Neil Turner



I can very much not recommend working 10 days straight without a break. Especially if one of those days involves 14 hours at work with almost no breaks.

I was doing fine until today when my brain turned to mush at about 3pm. I was asked to calculate some weighted averages and I just couldn’t handle it. Thankfully there were enough mindless things to keep me going until I finished at 5pm.

And it’s only Tuesday – I still have another three days at work until I get a break. Admittedly Friday will only be a half day. And this weekend is a bank holiday so I’ll be off for three days.

What may surprise you is that I haven’t been resorting to coffee and energy drinks to keep going – I’ve had precisely two coffees in the past ten days and no energy drinks – just the odd diet cola or Irn Bru here and there. And plenty of early nights.

On the plus side, I’ve got plenty of work done during a really critical time for us and have accrued plenty of time off in lieu of overtime – around five days’ worth. So I’ll be able to take a well-earned rest when everything calms down.

August 18, 2014
by Neil Turner

The Bradford pub scene

Curse of the PubCo strikes again :(

Last week, a pub called The Queen closed down in Bradford, for what must be the umpteenth time in the 12 years I’ve been living in or near Bradford. Unfortunately the pub’s location just outside Bradford’s main railway and coach station means that its boarded up windows reflect badly on a city where there are already far too many empty shops. This led the local paper, the Telegraph & Argus, to ask whether pubs in Bradford have a future?

Invariably when a media outlet poses a question in a headline, the answer is yes, but I think that the T&A’s article is overly negative. Bars in Bradford do, in fact, have quite a bright future, as I’ll mention shortly. The Queen, as you’ll notice from my photo of it taken last week is owned by Enterprise Inns, one a number of so-called ‘PubCos’. These companies own the pubs, but essentially franchise out day-to-day operations to tenant landlords who then buy all of their beer from the pubco. They can’t buy in beer from elsewhere and usually have to meet aggressive sales targets. It’s no wonder that four pubs close in Britain every day.

Free houses, on the other hand, are owned by their operators. They’re free to sell whatever beer they want, as long as the business is viable. Consequently, more innovation is happening in this more liberated area of the market.

So, back to Bradford, and specifically the North Parade area of the city. It’s right at the top of the city centre, and currently home to two relatively new bars. The Sparrow opened three years ago in 2011, and was one of the first of a new generation of ‘bier cafés’ in Britain. Within weeks it had been named as one of Britain’s top 10 craft beer bars by the Guardian, and remains popular to this day. It was joined last year by Al’s Dime Bar, which is loosely themed as a New York style dive bar and specialises in good value cocktails as well as imported American beers.

A third bar, called The Record Café, is due to open later this year on the same street, subject to planing permission being granted. As well as serving real ale and craft beer, it will also be a delicatessen and an independent record store, which Bradford no longer has. I’m assuming it will follow a similar model to Friends of Ham and The Reliance which have done well over in Leeds, albeit with a record store as well.

And around the corner on Rawson Road, brewing of beer will return to Bradford city centre for the first time in many years, with the opening later this year of The Brewfactory. It’ll be a brewpub, operated by the Bradford Brewery.

So the independent bar sector in Bradford is actually pretty healthy, with four new pubs opening within four years, in places where there were none before. I’m not surprised, as pubs like The Queen offer very little – the same bog standard beer that you can buy more cheaply in supermarkets, for example. Whereas the likes of The Sparrow are run by people fanatical about beer, with regularly changing brews on tap from independent microbreweries and interesting food offerings. That, in my mind, is how it should be.

August 17, 2014
by Neil Turner

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

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:

Digest powered by RSS Digest