Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

August 11, 2014
by Neil Turner

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

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 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

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

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

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/
sudo launchctl load -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/

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.

August 6, 2014
by Neil Turner
1 Comment

How to get better mobile reception at home

Screenshot of Three's InTouch appThere are probably thousands of people in Britain whose mobile phones struggle to work in their homes – if at all. Mobile phone signals tend to be weaker indoors and if you’re already a long way from a mast then you may have no signal whatsoever in your own home. It’s a particular problem for rural areas but can happen anywhere.

If this affects you then you may be relieved to know that there are solutions – but these vary depending on which network you use, and some cost money.


A femtocell is a small low-power mobile phone base station that you can install in your own home. These tend to only have a short range – around 15 metres, which should be enough to cover your home. They plug into your home broadband connection, and route your calls and text messages via your ISP. Each handset needs to be registered with the base station and usually there’s a limit of four or five handsets. They will also all have to be on that particular network, so it’s only really worth it if everyone in the house uses the same network.

Vodafone’s femtocell is called Sure Signal and is available for a one-off payment of £100. Three offers Home Signal – I wasn’t able to see a price so I’m not sure if it’s still available. EE, incorporating T-Mobile UK and Orange customers, offers Signal Box but it doesn’t appear to be available to any new customers at the moment.

Smartphone apps

The other method is through a smartphone app. If you have no signal, but are connected to a wifi connection, then your calls and texts can be routed through wifi to an app on your phone. The advantage of this is that the apps are free and work anywhere with wifi – handy if your own home has good signal but a relative’s doesn’t.

Three offers Three InTouch, which I’ve pictured in the screenshot as I’m a Three customer. O2 offers O2 TU Go, which is also available on tablets and designed so that you can make calls on other devices as well, but using your regular phone number. Some ex-Orange customers on EE have access to Signal Boost but, again, it’s not available to new customers. Therefore if you’re planning to sign up to EE then I would definitely recommend that you check what their coverage is like in your area first.

The disadvantage of the apps is that calls will not show up in your call logs, and text messages will only show in the app and not in your handset’s default text messaging app. But, better than not being able to receive text messages at all, I suppose.

So, in summary, Three gives you the most options, Vodafone makes you pay and EE doesn’t care.

This article on the Which? blog was a big help in writing this piece.

August 5, 2014
by Neil Turner

Teesside Airport, Britain’s least-used railway station

Photo of Teesside Airport railway station
File:TeesValleyLine Tees-side Airport2.JPG by AdamBro, CC-licensed.

Just a bit east of Darlington is Durham Tees Valley Airport, and it’s served by Teesside Airport railway station. You would think that a railway station serving an airport would be popular, but during the 2012-13 financial year a grand total of eight tickets were sold to this station. Yes, eight in a whole year – less than one a month. There are actually quite a few reasons why this station is so little-used.

1. Teesside Airport station is served by two trains each week

One train in each direction calls here, currently on a Sunday. This is known as a ‘parliamentary service‘ – essentially the lowest possible service that can be provided without withdrawing trains altogether. It’s located on the Tees Valley Line, on a section of the original Stockton and Darlington Railway, dating from 1825, and other stations on this line generally enjoy a half-hourly train service throughout the day. Therefore, the vast majority of trains therefore pass through Teesside Airport station without stopping.

2. It’s quite a long way from the airport terminal

When the railway station opened in 1971, the terminal was close by, but later on a new terminal building was constructed further away from the station. Nowadays it’s a 15 minute walk from the station, with no connecting shuttle bus. Not great if you have lots of luggage.

At one time, both the railway station and airport were called Teesside Airport, and many still refer to the airport by its original name. But since 2004 it’s officially been called Durham Tees Valley Airport, despite being nearer to Darlington than Durham. With so few people using the railway station, evidently nobody had the will to change its name to match.

3. It’s no longer a very busy airport

The Tees Valley Metro project has promised a new station located closer to the terminal, but falling passenger numbers at the airport make this unlikely. A glance at the departure boards yesterday showed only around six flights over a 24 hour period. All of these were KLM Cityhopper flights to Amsterdam or Eastern Airways flights to Aberdeen. Passenger numbers peaked at just under a million in 2006, but by 2013 this had slumped to just 160,000. Nowadays all departing passengers have to pay a ‘Passenger Facility Fee‘ of £6 (for adults) to help to pay for the airport’s upkeep. This is in addition to airport taxes and airfares and has to be bought separately.

Compared with other small airports like those in Humberside and Blackpool, Durham Tees Valley Airport seems to be struggling. Whilst improving the rail links could turn its fortunes around, the business case for an airport with declining passenger numbers may be hard to prove, especially one with such limited route offerings.

Its status as the least-used station in Britain means that, ironically, it’s sought out by transport geeks who are interested in this sort of thing. You can read write-ups from The Station Master and The Ghost Station Hunters about their visits. I bet almost all of the eight people who went there last year did so just to say that they’ve been, and not to actually reach the airport to travel.

Teesside Airport is far from being the only station in Britain with very low usage figures, but it stands out as an oddity. Many other airports have railway stations and they’re well-used, so at first glance it’s hard to understand why Durham Tees Valley Airport doesn’t even mention Teesside Airport station on its web site. It’s only when you look in more detail that you realise why. I hope the station will be rebuilt to serve the airport better in future, but I’m not holding my breath.

August 4, 2014
by Neil Turner

The Right to be Forgotten

Much has been written in the weeks since the European Union Court of Justice ruled that people had a ‘right to be forgotten’ on the internet. The case focussed on a man who had previously been declared bankrupt, but no longer wanted search engine results pages for his name to return links mentioning this.

It’s been controversial, to say the least, with Wikimedia’s Jimmy Wales being one of its most vocal critics. I, on the other hand, broadly agree with it.

In the specific case that the court ruled on, the bankruptcy that the man wanted removing from search engines was some time ago, and was no longer relevant. If someone, such as a prospective employer, searched for his name, they would see an outdated picture that would imply that this person was financially irresponsible. I’m guessing the situation now is different, seeing how this has gone all of the way to the EUCoJ, which must have cost a fair amount of money. I therefore think it’s fair that such search results are repressed.

We already do this with criminal convictions. For all but the most serious offences, convictions eventually become ‘spent’, and no longer show up on regular criminal records checks though the Disclosure and Barring Service. This is to aid the rehabilitation of past offenders back into society; those that commit one minor offence will eventually see this become spent. Provided they commit no further offences, historical convictions should not be a barrier to most careers. Enhanced checks that take place for jobs involving work with young or vulnerable people will still show these spent convictions, however, no matter how old they are. More information about how long it takes for convictions to become spent is here.

Now, imagine this situation. A 14 year old is given a 3 month prison sentence. The conviction becomes ‘spent’ nine months after sentencing. Following their time in prison, the youngster reforms their ways, stops hanging around with inappropriate peers, and focusses on their schoolwork. They get good grades, and do well at university – the university is unaware of the conviction as a declaration of spent convictions is not required for this course. They graduate with good honours at age 21, and apply for a graduate job. The employer does an internet search for the candidate’s name, and finds news articles about the prison sentence from seven years ago, and decides not to employ the candidate.

Is this fair? I don’t think it is. The example I gave above is broadly adapted from a true story of someone who was turned down for a place at medical school for a spent conviction.

In my view, a spent conviction from several years ago – especially if for an offence committed under the age of 18, and if there have been no subsequent convictions – shouldn’t show up in search results. Organisations which need to access information about spent convictions can do so via the Disclosure and Barring Service; for everyone else, this information is essentially irrelevant and may have no reflection upon who the person is now. If we take the attitude that anyone who has a criminal conviction is a criminal for life, then we run the risk of these people disengaging from society again and returning to crime. If we treat people like criminals, then we shouldn’t be surprised that they become criminals again.

Even where there isn’t a criminal conviction involved, where a statement about a person is outdated and irrelevant, it shouldn’t show up against their name. However, I don’t agree with the current situation where the search engines themselves decide what should be removed, and feel this should be passed to an independent organisation such as the Office of the Information Commissioner. I absolutely agree that any request to have data removed needs to be looked it on a case-by-case basis, weighing up the individual’s privacy versus the public’s right to know about any relevant slights to their character.

More on this is available in this knowledge base article by Unlock, a charity who supports people with criminal convictions.

August 3, 2014
by Neil Turner

Permissions turf war

Screenshot of Disk Utility on Mac OS X

There seems to be a turf war between two parts of my Mac.

On the one hand is Disk Utility, the app that allows you to manage the disks on your Mac, whether it’s formatting new ones, or carrying out maintenance. One thing that Mac users are encouraged to do every now and again is use Disk Utility to Repair Disk Permissions, to ensure that the system files that make up the OS X operating system are correct. Sometimes the file permissions can end up being changed, preventing apps from running correctly, so if your Mac is acting weirdly repairing disk permissions is a good first step to take to try.

On the other hand are the drivers for my HP Printer, which also require its files to have certain permissions to work. And evidently, these are not the same permissions that Disk Utility thinks it should have.

What this means is that every time I run Disk Utility to repair disk permissions, it changes the file permissions on my printer drivers. So the next time I want to print something, the drivers complain that their permissions are incorrect and offer to correct themselves, which takes a couple of minutes. Thankfully, repairing disk permissions isn’t something I have to do regularly, and nor do I print things very often either, but it’s inconsistent and a bit frustrating.

What’s more odd is that the drivers for printers are now provided via Apple and not direct from HP, so you’d think that Apple would have noticed a problem like this and ensured that it doesn’t happen.

As for why I was repairing disk permissions: for some reason, Time Machine hasn’t been able to complete a backup for over two weeks now. It gets so far and then seems to get stuck. Alas, repairing the disk and permissions on both my internal and backup hard drives didn’t seem to fix it so I’ll need to look into it further.

August 2, 2014
by Neil Turner

Links from Delicious for August 2, 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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