Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

January 4, 2015
by Neil Turner
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New year, new camera

New camera selfieI’ve got a new camera. It’s another Canon – this time an EOS 600D (aka EOS Rebel T3i).

As usual it previously belonged to my Dad – my previous two Canon SLR cameras (300D and 450D) were inherited from him as well. He now has a 70D, having made the jump into Canon’s more professional range ahead of a safari trip to Africa this year.

I’ve only had the 600D for a short time so I haven’t taken many photos with it as yet. I’ll need to spend some time finding out about the differences – I know it has a higher maximum ISO speed for example. And it can record video as well as take still images.

Also, normally when I get a new camera I take a photo with it in the mirror – this time I just took a boring selfie with my iPhone, although at least this time the background is more interesting. And yes, I know I need a haircut – haven’t had it cut since August and it’s starting to get into my eyes now.

I’ll need to decide what to do with the 450D now. The motor in the lens is broken, but the camera body is still fine. I’ve only just recently gotten rid of the 300D, to a friend.

Here’s to taking more photos in 2015.

January 3, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for January 3, 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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January 2, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Do the internet and your friends a favour in 2015

Screenshot of the Snopes web site

You may have already come up with some new year’s resolutions – it is the 2nd January today after all – but if you’re still looking for ideas, here’s one from me: stop spreading hoaxes on the internet.

People can be fooled really easily, which is why social engineering is a thing. We’ll share something on Facebook or Twitter, without checking its authenticity. Sometimes these things are benign – the story about a month having 5 Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays making it special for example, even though it happens pretty much every year and not once every 823 years. Sharing something like this with your friends may irritate them but it’s unlikely to cause any harm. Same with recently created official-looking pages with extra punctuation (like ‘DisneyWorld.’ or ‘Virgin Atlantic:’) offering 200 PlayStations just for liking and sharing an image.

But some hoaxes can be dangerous. Yesterday a Facebook friend shared a video which purported to show Michael Brown, the teenager shot and killed by a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, beating someone up as if to prove that he wasn’t a nice person and probably deserved to die. The video is real, but Michael Brown is not in it. Sharing videos like this makes it hard to have an intelligent debate on major issues such as racism and police brutality, and it reinforces peoples’ prejudiced beliefs.

I’ve also seen people share links promising free £150 gift cards for supermarkets, in return for completing a survey. Which could result in your personal information being collected by some unknown entity to sell on, and of course you’ve wasted your time as there’s no gift card at the end of it.

So, this year, let’s do the following:

  1. Follow Snopes.com. Snopes isn’t the only web site out there that debunks urban legends and hoaxes, but it’s one of the most comprehensive and it’s been around longer than I’ve been on the internet, and it’s constantly updated. You can like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, or they even have an old-fangled RSS feed that you can subscribe to in something like Feedly. By following them, you’ll often learn that something is a hoax before you have chance to fall for it.
  2. Verify. If a friend posts something that’s particularly shocking or unbelievable, just do a quick search on your favourite search engine. Add in the words ‘hoax’ or ‘fake’ and hopefully you’ll find a reputable site that will debunk it – the aforementioned Snopes, or a newspaper web site for example.
  3. Educate. Once you’ve found that something is fake, tell the person who posted it. You needn’t do it in public if you don’t want to shame them – just drop them a message telling them that something is a hoax with a link. Hopefully, they will take down what they’ve posted to stop it spreading, or even let their friends know it was wrong.

Together, we can make 2015 the year that we fight back against utter bollocks on the internet. Are you with me?

On a related note, here are 86 viral images from 2014 that are fake, and the top fake science stories of 2014. This is what we’re up against, folks.

January 1, 2015
by Neil Turner
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Hello 2015!

Cheers!

Well, it’s the start of another year. As well as reviewing the year just gone, as I did yesterday, I usually also write about what is likely to happen in the year ahead.

In 2014, I expected us to buy a house, pass our driving tests and buy a car, go to the gym more, attend two weddings, go to a gig in Manchester and possibly go to Ireland. We did the gig, and we went to two weddings but one of those wasn’t one we were expecting – we were invited to one in the summer but we couldn’t feasibly get there. We didn’t buy a house and whilst we have started driving lessons, it’ll be a little while before we pass our tests and buy a car. But we did go on holiday to Dublin, and also to Bruges last year.

But, those things will hopefully happen in 2015. We still have money for a house deposit, sat in a savings account accruing interest, and hopefully we’ll both be driving by the summer. And whilst I did go to the gym in 2014, I really need to make it a habit, and not something I do for a few weeks and then forget about.

Two weddings are already in the calendar for 2015. One’s a family do, as the last of my four cousins finally ties the knot, and the other wedding is of two good friends.

No concrete plans for a holiday but we may do the ‘mini-cruise’ thing again, this time to Amsterdam instead of Bruges. We have the option of staying the night there so that we can spread it over two days. We’ll be keeping an eye out for cheap deals.

We also only managed one very brief trip to London last year, so we’ll be aiming to go again sometime this year – especially as we have friends living there. And I’d like to squeeze in a weekend in Bristol if possible.

Hopefully 2015 will be a good year. Best wishes to you all for a happy and prosperous new year.

December 31, 2014
by Neil Turner
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2014 in review

This time every year I do a blog post looking back at the year that has just about finished, and all of the things I did (although normally it’s a few days before New Year’s Eve, not on it). So this year it is the turn of 2014 to be analysed. You can read my previous posts from 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009.

January

Manchester Velodrome Panorama

January is my blogiversary month and 2014 marked 12 years since I started blogging. We started January at a friends’ house with a relatively young kitten, some guinea pigs and plenty of food and alcohol.

I went to the Manchester Beer Festival at Manchester Velodrome, which was a really great experience and one that may be repeated in 2015 if my friends and I get sufficiently organised. I also server-transferred my World of Warcraft characters for a second time, taking advantage of a free character migration option so that I didn’t have to join queues when wanting to play.

At the end of the month I saw Robin Ince again (for the fifth time – and I’d see him again later in the year), along with Josie Long and Grace Petrie who were at the same gig.

On the blog, I started a weekly series of blog posts about the projects I backed on Kickstarter, which ran for three months. I may resurrect this year with some of the projects I’ve backed since, but I’ll have to see. January was also the month when I committed myself to posting a new blog post every day – I managed it for several months straight and overall I managed to write more blog posts this year than in recent years, although recently I haven’t had the inspiration.

February

In February Christine and I went on an impromptu trip to London, which I quite literally booked the night before. And despite it being Valentines’ Day we managed to do it without breaking the bank – our transport was via Megabusplus, and we booked a reasonable cheap hotel in Croydon to stay the night. Whilst there we visited the Museum of London to see their Cheapside Hoard exhibition, had dinner in Chinatown where all of the Chinese New Year decorations were still up, and got cheap tickets for We Will Rock You at the Dominion Theatre – a show which has now finished its West End run. It was our first Valentines’ Day as a married couple and probably one of the best – even though it was rather manic. Oh, and we called in at the Tate Modern on the Saturday too, before heading home.

We had an afternoon of kid’s films, seeing Frozen and The Lego Movie in the same day (EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!), and visited the Doctor Who & Me exhibition at the National Media Museum in Bradford. I also went on a pub crawl around Leeds and went to a couple of places that I’d never been to before, including Tapped Leeds, a brewpub on Boar Lane.

I wrote about how my dear wife Christine has developed a taste for gin, how I was opting out of the NHS care.data programme, and the various ways you can call freephone numbers for free on mobile phones.

March

Museum of Transport, Greater Manchester

March was marred by the sudden and unexpected death of Dave, one of my closest friends. It really affected both Christine and I, and barely a day has gone by since without something reminding me of him. He would have been pleased that so many of his friends took the time to pay their respects at his funeral, and again at a get-together later in the year. He died a day before he was due to play the role of the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors, along with Christine and other friends.

It also marked five years since I hit rock bottom – the end of my previous relationship combined with the passing of my grandmother, unemployment and having to move back home with my parents. Thankfully things have improved since and I’m now happily married in a good job that I enjoy.

One Saturday when Christine was working, I took myself off to the Museum of Transport, Greater Manchester for a day out. It was mostly buses and I’m glad Christine wasn’t with me as she would have been incredibly bored, but I found it interesting. March was also the month where I started playing Hearthstone – I still play it now and again on my iPad.

For the first time I travelled overnight for work, to do a two-day UCAS convention in Bristol. It was my first time visiting the city, although I didn’t really get to see much of it. Christine’s never been so we’ll need to find time to go for a few days to experience it properly.

Towards the end of the month we went to the first of two weddings in 2014, the first being on the same day that gay marriage was legalised in England and Wales. I wrote a letter to myself in 1999 about the internet, had a tetanus vaccination as I couldn’t remember whether I’d had a recent booster or not, and signed up for a new railcard that makes it cheaper for Christine and I to travel together by train. It’s more than paid for itself since we got it.

April

In April Christine and I had a day out in Hebden Bridge, for the first time in quite a while. I also posted a listicle on Buzzfeed, which didn’t exactly set the world on fire, and we saw two of our favourite bands – Within Temptation and Delain – play in Manchester. There was also live comedy – we went to see Gary Delaney at our local pub, The Works, who run a monthly comedy night with reasonably good acts.

There was the fall-out from the discovery of the Heartbleed vulnerability, resulting in many changed passwords, and I posted about disconnecting from work email to better focus on family and recreation time.

May

30 todayI became officially middle-aged in May when I turned 30. Christine’s present to me was a trip to Dublin in Ireland, where we visited the castle, the Guinness storehouse, the old Jameson distillery, the jail, the Temple Bar district, the zoo, the natural history museum, the post office museum, and fitted some shopping in to a four night stay. And we did it all just with carry-on luggage.

My parents’ present to me was a new iPad Mini with Retina Display (retrospectively renamed by Apple as the ‘iPad Mini 2′), replacing an increasingly useless iPad 1 which I still haven’t got around to getting rid of.

May was also our first wedding anniversary, although we didn’t really do anything special to celebrate it apart from going to see Sarah Millican in Halifax (third time), and it was our turn to host a Eurovision party.

June

Although it started in May, it wasn’t until June that we started watching Happy Valley on BBC1 – a crime thriller set in our local area. It was a brilliant, gripping series that’s well worth watching if you can – I believe it’s on Netflix in America, or you can buy the DVD from Amazon.

Another work trip came up in June, this time to Gosforth near Newcastle, although it wasn’t an overnight stay this time.

The Bradford Playhouse faced an uncertain future in June, as the building was due to be sold at auction. Thankfully it’s now been saved – a friend of ours who had a fair amount of money from a recent house sale bought the venue and kept the current management team, and now it’s going from strength to strength. I spent quite a bit of time there at various points throughout 2014 and I have no doubt that I’ll be back there in 2015.

Christine and I signed up to Netflix – whilst we probably haven’t quite got our money’s worth we have been able to see a number of films and TV shows that we wouldn’t have otherwise. And at the end of the month we went to Blackpool, including yet another visit to Blackpool Zoo.

July

The big thing that happened in Yorkshire in July was the Grand Départ of the Tour de France, which I watched on TV over the weekend – even though it passed within a few miles of our apartment. Whilst I wasn’t so interested in the later stages of the race, it was great to see so many people out cheering the riders along and Yorkshire looked fantastic in all of the TV coverage. From 2015 onwards there will be an annual professional cycle race in Yorkshire and hopefully it’ll be just as popular.

In May I started taking lactase enzyme tablets to ease my lactose intolerance symptoms, but it wasn’t until July that I wrote about it. It seems to work, as part of a strategy of also cutting down my dairy consumption and eating lactose-free alternatives instead.

In mid-July Christine and I both started learning to drive again. We’ve both had lessons years ago, and I’ve previously failed my practical test twice, but now we really do need to be able to drive and own a car. The lessons are coming on well – we’ll both be taking our theory tests soon (when we book them) and hopefully at least one of us will be qualified to drive by the summer.

I also started going to the gym again after a long break, although that habit petered out recently. I need to start going again in the new year, especially as doing the seven minute workout at home almost killed me (well, not quite…). I cancelled and then un-cancelled my Dropbox Pro subscription after finding it better than the alternatives, and recently Dropbox extended the storage available to a whole terabyte so it’s actually not bad value for money now.

I bought a Roku box – it’s been a great purchase and we’ve used it a lot, to watch programmes on catch-up services or on demand. Christine found it really useful when she was at home on sick leave as it’s really easy to use.

On the blog, the 10,000th comment was posted; there have only been another 40 since as few people bother commenting on blogs these days, it seems.

August

Brimham Rocks

August is always a busy time for people like me who work in university admissions, as it’s the time when A-level results are released and universities try to fill up their leftover places on courses through the Clearing process. As usual this meant working long hours and 13 days straight.

Over the August bank holiday I did manage to get out into the countryside – I met up with friends from university and we did a couple of days walking. On the Saturday we did Whernside, one of the Yorkshire three peaks, and then Brimham Rocks on the Sunday.

August was the month when I stopped using Delicious and started using Pinboard instead, and reviewed Alestorm’s fourth (and probably best) album which had recently been released.

September

September saw me being nominated for the ice bucket challenge, which pretty much ceased to be a thing at the time when I did it. I drank some free beer with friends, and had an iPhone 6 to play with for a few days. Which actually put me off buying it because it was so huge, so I’m sticking with my iPhone 5 for a third year on a cheaper contract.

Work was still busy in September so not much else really happened.

October

Canals in Bruges

By contrast October was rather more eventful. We went on a ‘mini-cruise’ to Bruges in Belgium – I’d been 22 years ago but it was Christine’s first visit. We were only there for a day, but managed to squeeze quite a lot of sightseeing in and enjoyed ourselves. Because we went there by ferry from Hull, on the way back we called in at The Deep.

I had the last week in October off work so I went with some friends on a day trip to Hawes, where I ate and bought lots of cheese.

November

In November Christine and I went to Nottingham for the first time, to meet up with friends who had recently moved to the Midlands. It’s quite a nice city with a newly-renovated railway station, expanding tram system, and a good selection of independent shops in the area around the Lace Market. We’ll have to go again some time, though perhaps not by train as it takes about 3 hours each way – which is as long as it takes us to get to London.

We also went to our first ever comic convention – Thought Bubble in Leeds. It was another opportunity for us to get out our Steampunk outfits and spend lots of money on comics and other related paraphernalia. We’ll almost certainly be back again next year as it was great fun.

I visited a great new pub in Bradford the day before it officially opened, and we saw two live comedy acts in the same weekend: Frisky & Mannish and Susan Calman. The following week, we went to see Delain in Manchester for a second time, this time as the headline act, and called in at the Manchester Museum (for which I still need to write up and upload photos for).

The new World of Warcraft expansion, Warlords of Draenor, was released, and I’ve been playing it a lot ever since.

On the blog, I wrote a long post about the history of an under-threat bus route, and how I ended up on the ‘chav’ page on Wikipedia. It was also about this time that Google decided that my blog was reasonably important after all and so my older blog posts started appearing more in its search results, leading to an increase in traffic. Which is paying off financially – clicks on the banner ads have doubled and the amount of money I’m making through affiliate links to Amazon and iTunes has increased. Whilst this still means that the site runs at a loss each month, it’s a smaller loss than before.

December

Dad's 70th birthday
And finally to this month, in which I haven’t blogged much. I was ill for a week recently – it was a cold, but one that really knocked me back. Christine had it before me and it had also been spreading around at work. I ended up taking two days off work, and probably should have taken more had there not been things that I really needed to be in to do.

Speaking of work, in December we moved to a new office. It’s much bigger as we’re sharing it with a couple of other teams that we already work with, and it has brand new furniture and better facilities. It’s on the ground floor, rather than the eighth floor as before, so no more waiting for the lift – although the view out of the window isn’t as nice. We’ve also been moving to Office 365 over the year: email in the summer, which meant that I stopped using Thunderbird after all these years, and we’ll be moving our calendars out of PeopleCube’s Meeting Maker over the Christmas break.

Outside of work, I went on a pub crawl around Skipton, and we saw Mitch Benn in Hebden Bridge – we’d also seen his show, Mitch Benn is the 37th Beatle, in Leeds in June. We spent Christmas with Christine’s mum, and then went to York after Christmas for my Dad’s 70th birthday. No, I can’t believe he’s 70 either – he’s certainly very fit and healthy for his age. But then his father – my grandfather – is still doing well at the age of 94.

We’ll be the ending the year tonight in Blackpool, probably in the same way that we ended 2012. Happy New Year.

December 30, 2014
by Neil Turner
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Sex Criminals

Sex Criminals comics

Today I want to tell you about a comic called Sex Criminals. Now normally at this time of year I’d be reviewing the year – and that will come tomorrow – but Sex Criminals and other comics from Image are 50% off until tomorrow at Comixology, if you use the coupon code ‘IMAGE’ at the checkout. And Sex Criminals is well-worth checking out.

So far 9 issues of Sex Criminals have been published; they’re supposed to be issued on a roughly monthly schedule but the first issue came out in September last year – you work it out. Issues 1-5 form the first volume, presumably volume two will end with issue 10 when that comes out some time next year. I’ve read issues 1-5 so far, and have 6-8 waiting for me; issue 9 is full price (£2) and not included in the 50% off deal.

So what is Sex Criminals about? Well, as you may gather from the title, this is an adult comic. Seriously. There is sex, nudity, swearing, guns, mature themes and all-sorts in this. This is not the Beano. But it’s also hilarious, in a similar sort of way to how Cards Against Humanity is hilarious. It’s written by Matt Fraction, who also writes the Hawkeye comics for Marvel – the character played by Jeremy Renner in the Avengers films.

I’m not really one for reading comics but Dave2 recommended it and as the first issue was 69p (even before the discount) I decided to check it out – and found it really entertaining. I’m looking forward to reading the next volume when I have the chance.

Whilst I would recommend buying Sex Criminals at any time, you can get the first five issues for £3.33 at the moment which is a bargain. If you have a slightly twisted sense of humour like me, then I’d thoroughly recommend it. Or, support your local comic book store and see if they have any copies in.

December 27, 2014
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for December 27, 2014

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

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December 25, 2014
by Neil Turner
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Merry Christmas!

Tree up! Better late than never.Not a big Christmas for us this year – a few small presents, and we only put the tree up yesterday. But I get to spend it with my amazing wife and that’s all that matters. Merry Christmas to everyone.

December 21, 2014
by Neil Turner
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The Leeds Reindeer Trail

Leeds Reindeer Trail - Trinity Leeds

Over the years many cities have commissioned various plain white fibreglass structures, gotten different artists to paint or customise them, and plonked them all over the place on a trail. CowParade started it, and others have followed, including Larkin with Toads in Hull, Superlambananas in Liverpool, gorillas and later Gromits in Bristol, rhinos in Chester and many more in different cities across the world.

Until now Leeds has never participated, but this Christmas it unleashed 14 fibreglass reindeer across the city. Whilst this is significantly less than the 125 Superlambananas that were scattered across Liverpool in 2008, it does at least mean that you can see them all in a day. Well, theoretically.

I tried tracking down all 14 today but only managed 10. Three of them are in the Trinity Leeds centre, one in the Corn Exchange, two in the Victoria Quarter, one in the menswear department of Harvey Nichols, one in the Merrion Centre and two in The Light. These are the ones I found.

Another three are in and around Millennium Square as part of the German Christmas Market, but that’s now finished and was being dismantled today, so I couldn’t see any of those three. And the last one is inside the First Direct Arena, which was firmly shut today as presumably there isn’t a show on tonight and the box office is shut on Sundays.

If you want to find the reindeer yourself, then you have another 10 days to do so as it finishes on New Year’s Eve. Whether the three around Millennium Square will be accessible when the Christmas market has been cleared remains to be seen; you’ll also need to decide whether to bother trekking out to the arena to see if the reindeer there is viewable or not – I couldn’t see it through the windows.

If I’m honest, compared with some of the other fibreglass-based public art projects, this is a bit underwhelming; one reindeer had an iPad implanted into its abdomen but apart from that they were rather plainly decorated. Some of the Superlambananas and toads in Hull were much more imaginative and interesting. Still, going to find them meant that I had something to do whilst my dear wife stressed herself out trying to buy me a suitable Christmas present.

You can view photos of the 10 that I found, plus some other photos of Leeds taken today, in this Flickr album.

December 20, 2014
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for December 20, 2014

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

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