Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

July 21, 2014
by Neil Turner

Roku 2 XS review

Last week I purchased a Roku 2 XS Streaming Player from Amazon. Normally costing around £80, Amazon are now selling them for £55, making them just £6 more expensive than the slightly newer but more limited Roku Streaming Stick.

When I discussed streaming media boxes last month, the streaming stick was my original first choice, but this was before the drop in price of the Roku 2 XS. Compared with the Streaming Stick, the 2 XS adds a number of extra features:

  • A USB port, for plugging in external hard disks to watch video files from.
  • A Micro-SD card slot to expand its storage space from the 256 megabytes provided as standard.
  • An Ethernet port.
  • Analogue outputs for televisions that don’t support HDMI.
  • A motion-sensitive remote for playing games, with Angry Birds included.

The latter two don’t bother me too much, but extra capacity could be useful if I end up installing lots of extra channels.

I’m really impressed with it, actually. The box is tiny and can sit comfortably in the palm of your hand – in fact, the remote control is longer than the box itself. Speaking of which, the remote is simple and doesn’t have lots of seemingly useless buttons like most of our other remotes. It doesn’t come with HDMI cable as standard, instead shipping with an analogue cable, but you can get a reasonable HDMI cable from most pound shops these days. Continue Reading →

July 20, 2014
by Neil Turner
1 Comment

Netflix Notifier

Screenshot of Netflix Notifier

If you use Netflix and want to find out when certain films or TV shows will become available, then sign up for Netflix Notifier. Give it a few titles to watch, and you will get emails when they become available in one or more regions where Netflix operates.

It’s pretty simple to use. You can sign up with either your email address, or your Facebook or Google accounts. Search for titles, and then click ‘Add to my list’. You’ll then get regular emails for these titles, listing the regions where the title is available.

Unfortunately you can’t exclude regions you’re not interested in yet. So I now know that the second Hunger Games film, Catching Fire, is available on Netflix in Brazil, but not yet in the UK. This isn’t very useful to me, as I don’t live in Brazil, although I suppose I could do some proxying and try to convince Netflix that I am in Brazil to watch it. It would be nice if the notifier could be set to only tell me when titles are available in my own country.

The service is in beta so there’s a possibility of more features being added in future. But right now it’s really simple to use.

July 19, 2014
by Neil Turner

Links from Delicious for July 19, 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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July 18, 2014
by Neil Turner


The 10,000th comment

Sometime in the early hours of this morning, the 10,000th comment was posted to this blog. That’s 10,000 comments since September 2002, when I migrated from Blogger to Movable Type and had a native comment system for the first time.

Whilst that roughly works out at 833 comments per year, or 2.28 per day, the majority of these are from the golden days of blogging in the early to mid-part of the previous decade. Nowadays I’ll get one or two a week, if I’m lucky, and there’s rarely more than a couple of comments on any one blog post.

Back then bloggers used to read and comment on each posts a lot. I’m not saying that no longer happens now, but fewer people seem to have their own blogs now, or if they do they’re part of a smaller and more insular community. And as fewer people visit this blog, fewer comments have been left.

There are a few of you who still take the time to leave comments regularly, and I am very much grateful for your contributions.

Here’s to the next 10,000, although I expect it’ll take a lot longer than 12 years to get there. If I’m still blogging in 2028, I’ll have to see.

July 17, 2014
by Neil Turner

Un-cancelling Dropbox Pro

Yes, I know, that didn’t take long. But having spent a week with Microsoft OneDrive, I decided that Dropbox Pro was actually worth paying extra for after all.

I originally cancelled Dropbox Pro because I didn’t need the extra space that I was paying for, and indeed had access to enough extra space in OneDrive. So I spent most of last week moving my photos (which take up most of the space) from Dropbox to OneDrive – almost 15 GB in total. This took several days to upload, on and off.

I then decided to enable the photo backup feature in OneDrive’s iOS app. Dropbox has a similar feature, as does Google+ and Flickr – all of the photos in your camera roll are backed up. And this is one of the key reasons why I decided to go back on my original decision and re-subscribe to Dropbox Pro – OneDrive is a bit dumb. It wanted to upload every image on my iPhone again, even though they were already there, having been copied across from Dropbox.

To put this into context, this amounts to over 1000 images, plus a few videos. That’s a lot of data to duplicate. I’m lucky that both my home broadband and mobile internet services are “unlimited” but it would still take a long time and require tidying up afterwards.

This is something I mentioned a couple of years ago in the technical superiority of Dropbox. Dropbox does a lot of things to reduce the amount of bandwidth it needs, by automatically detecting duplicate files, only uploading the modified portions of files, and synchronising files on the same network directly as well as with Dropbox’s servers. And last week an update to the Dropbox desktop client enabled ‘streaming sync’, which should allow large files to upload more quickly. OneDrive is evidently a much more basic client, that doesn’t check for pre-existing files.

What’s more, when I copied all of my photos back into my Dropbox folder, there was no need to upload them all again. Dropbox keeps copies of all files deleted within the past 30 days – or, for an extra $39 a year, its packrat feature will keep any deleted files indefinitely (business customers get this as standard). So it was able to bring all 15 GB of photos back online within a few minutes, and not several days.

Of course, cloud storage is pretty much the only thing that Dropbox does as a company, so of course it has a greater focus on the quality of its product. Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Apple and most of Dropbox’s other rivals all focus primarily on other products, with cloud storage as a small sideline.

As much as I would prefer to pay less for Dropbox Pro, my experiences over the past couple of weeks have convinced me that it’s worth paying a bit more for a better service. OneDrive may now be giving me over a terabyte of storage as part of my Office 365 subscription, but I can do so much more with the 100-and-a-bit gigabytes I get with Dropbox Pro, even though it costs extra.

July 16, 2014
by Neil Turner

App of the Week: 7 Minute Workout

Screenshot of the 7 Minute Workout app on iPhoneYesterday I wrote about my experiences of the seven minute workout – a high intensity workout, taking around seven minutes, that you can do every day to maintain fitness. I won’t be doing it again any time soon, as I don’t think my fitness levels are quite up to being able to handle it regularly. But I do want to tell you about the app I used to help me.

The app is, unsurprisingly, called 7 Minute Workout. I’ll admit that it was the first one that came up when I searched on the app store, but it does have good reviews. It offers the original full body version of the seven minute workout, but others are also available that focus on specific areas of the body. These extra workouts are available via individual in-app purchases, although you can randomly earn some for free if you keep using the app regularly. It’s also possible to create your own workouts, or have the app pick one at random for you if you have bought multiple.

Once you’ve selected your workout, and how many times you want to do it (if you’re insane and want to extend the agony beyond seven minutes), the app will show you each exercise on the screen, and a count down. A voice will also say which exercise to do, when you have ten seconds to go, and for the last three seconds. It will then count down the ten second rest time for you. This means that you can run the app without needing to press any buttons during the workout.

You can customise most aspects of the workout – change the interval time from 30 seconds, or adjust the 10 second rest time. The voice can also be changed – it defaults to iOS’s voiceover default, but can be set to several others including ‘drill sergeant’, ‘kung-fu master’, ‘cheerleader’ and ‘hippie’ – these, as you might expect, are available with an in-app purchase.

For motivation, push notifications can be set to remind you to exercise regularly.

Overall it’s a simple app that is well-focussed on its core purpose, but with a good degree of customisation. The in-app purchases are optional and are not in your face all of the time, so it’s perfectly usable without forking out any money.

7 Minute Workout is free, and is a universal app for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, requiring iOS 6.0 or later.

July 15, 2014
by Neil Turner

The Seven Minute Workout

Chinese Water Dragon, not doing the seven minute workout

Last year, some sports scientists found that it was possible to do just seven minutes of high intensity exercise, on a regular basis, and still achieve fitness levels normally requiring lengthy runs or cycles. By doing 12 activities, for 30 seconds at a time with just 10 seconds in between, you can get your daily exercise requirements out of the way in a short space of time. Plus, no special equipment is required – you just need a chair and some clear floor space.

Whilst I’m trying to go to the gym two or three times each week, I thought I’d try the so-called ‘seven minute workout’ to see if it would be worth doing on the days when I don’t have time to go to the gym. I downloaded an app to my iPhone, which I’ll review tomorrow, and made a start.

Firstly, the ‘seven minute workout’ takes longer than seven minutes. It’s actually nearly eight minutes, if you allow ten seconds between each activity. Secondly, you need to be aware that this is a ‘high intensity’ workout. On the discomfort scale, from 1 to 10 where 1 is easy and 10 is ‘why am I doing this to myself?’, it’s about an 8.

In other words, you should already be reasonably fit before trying this workout. And as you will know from yesterday’s blog post, I’m not particularly fit right now. I got part way through exercise number 11, which is push-ups with rotations, and basically collapsed in a heap on the floor. I barely attempted the last one, which is side planking. It took me a long time to get my breath back afterwards and some assistance from my asthma inhaler was necessary.

I’m sure the seven minute workout is great if you’re a busy person wanting to maintain fitness, rather than someone like me who needs to get fitter in the first place. Maybe in a few weeks’ time I’ll be able to do it without nearly giving myself an asthma attack. But right now it’s a bit too extreme for me.

July 14, 2014
by Neil Turner
1 Comment

…and back in the gym too


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

Links from Delicious for July 12, 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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