Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

September 17, 2015
by Neil Turner

George Egg – Anarchist Cook

Recipes by George Egg, Anarchist Cook

Last week, as part of the British Science Festival, we went to see George Egg perform his show ‘Anarchist Cook’ at The Studio theatre in Bradford. George Egg is a touring stand-up comedian who consequently spends a lot of time in budget hotels. As he finishes his comedy gigs in the late evenings, it’s often difficult to find any decent food available (apart from pizza and kebab shops).

So, the show is based on the premise of: what can you cook in an average hotel room, using only the equipment that’s there?

This is, of course, bearing in mind that you don’t usually get a cooker, oven or any cooking utensils in an average hotel room. Instead, George Egg cooks a three course meal in just over an hour, using an iron, a kettle, a pillow case, some of the complementary salt and pepper sachets, some foraged plants from hotel reception, and a Gideon Bible.

The starter includes crostini toasted on the iron, ricotta that had been strained through a pillow case using UHT milk sachets (209 sachets to be exact), and a salad with leaves from a spider plant (which until now I didn’t know was edible). For the main course, he steamed sea bass in the travel kettle, and desert was pancakes, again cooked on the iron.

These were just three of the recipes that George has come up with, and he mentions others in his show. This includes curing your own salami sausages (requires a hotel room with removal ceiling tiles and being able to request the same room a few weeks later), and making bread using a complimentary wine bottle as a rolling pin and the countertop in the bathroom.

It was a good show, clocking in at around an hour long, and the audience were invited to try the food at the end. Alas, by the time we’d made it out, it had all been eaten – the show was free, funded by the science festival’s sponsors, and so it was a full house. We did, however, buy the recipe cards – although we’ll probably use more conventional cooking utensils to make them.

The Anarchist Cook show has recently run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and George Egg is due to reprise it at a couple of dates in Wales next month. Hopefully he’ll be able to tour it elsewhere soon as it’s a good show to watch – it’s both entertaining, and educational. If not, he also has plenty of stand-up dates coming up as well.

Disclosure: I work for the University of Bradford who were this year’s host of the British Science Festival.

September 16, 2015
by Neil Turner

Spotify’s Discover Weekly Playlist

Spotify's Discover Weekly Playlist

Since the very early says of Spotify, one of its key features has been the ability to create and share playlists. More recently, the focus has moved towards being able to browse curated playlists, and nowadays, when you first open the Spotify app, you’re greeted with several different playlists to choose from (as well as being able to access your own). The playlists displayed vary depending on the day of the week or even the time of day, and the weather outside. Expect hot summer dance tunes on an August weekend, or somet gloomy music for a dull, wet Tuesday in January, for example.

One of these playlists is called ‘Discover Weekly’, which is a two hour playlist that is unique to each user and updated weekly. The music on it is usually a mixture of songs that you’ve listened to in the past, and others that Spotify thinks that you’ll like, based on your previous listening history.

And it’s pretty good. I’ve only been aware of it for a couple of weeks, but it’s managed to find some really good songs that I’d never heard of before. Some of these were good enough for me to then buy on iTunes to listen to whilst out and about. Which, considering that my music library was getting a bit stale of late with few new additions, was most welcome.

I’m not the only one who has been impressed though, hence the inclusion of tweets from people that I follow on Twitter who have also been pleasantly surprised by the quality of it. I’ve been underwhelmed by alternatives such as‘s Recommendations or the various suggestions on iTunes.

The Tech Insider piece linked in the tweet above is well worth reading actually, as it explains why this, and Spotify’s other playlists, are as good as they are. Last year, Spotify bought The Echo Nest, a company spun out of MIT that takes a big data approach to music, and it is their technology that powers these playlists. What is interesting is that the use of algorithms is extensive, but not exclusive – there is some human curation going on as well. Indeed, this was something that Apple were keen to promote on their new rival music streaming service, albeit with teething problems.

I would definitely recommend spending a couple of hours each week with your personalised Discover Weekly playlist. Not only will it be two hours of good music, but you’ll likely discover artists and bands that you’ve never heard of before that you’ll like.

As an aside, I decided not to pay for Apple Music following the three month trial. Spotify’s ‘unlimited’ tier is half the price, and seems to work better. Maybe if Apple can improve its service further I’ll reconsider, but it doesn’t appeal to me much right now.

September 15, 2015
by Neil Turner

Viewing your driving licence online

Driving Licence information online

Earlier this year, major changes were made to driving licences in the UK. Until now, most driving licences were in two parts: a photo card, and a paper counterpart. The photo card follows a standard EU format, with your photo, name, address, date of birth, signature and validity details. Meanwhile the counterpart was used to list in more detail which vehicles you can drive and any ‘endorsements’ (otherwise known as penalty points, issued for motoring offences). Both pieces were to be kept together and presented when required.

In June, the paper counterpart of the driving licence was phased out. From now on, drivers in England, Wales and Scotland just need the photo card.

But this begs the question – how do you check if someone has any endorsements on their driving licence? Well, you can ask the internet. At the same time as the paper counterpart was phased out, a new portal on the government’s GOV.UK site was launched which allows you to view licence details online, and, optionally share this information with a third party.

Logging in requires your driving licence number, postcode and National Insurance number – the latter as some sort of authentication rather than a password. It’s therefore not very secure and could be used by anyone who can access your wallet, but arguably, the information in there is reasonably public anyway.

Once logged in, you can view in more detail the vehicles that you can drive, how many penalty points you have or whether you are disqualified from driving, and share your details. The screenshot above shows the vehicles I can drive with a basic, full car licence – cars, obviously, although notably this allows for up to 8 passenger seats as well as a driver, or a trailer up to a certain combined weight with the car. You’ll also notice that I can drive a tractor (category F), or a ride-on lawnmower (category K) on public roads. Not that I plan to. Additionally, should I complete a Basic Moped Training Course, I can drive categories AM and Q, which are small two or three wheeled mopeds with 50cc engines (or less).

There are also various vehicles that my driving licence covers provisionally: motorcycles, large cars with trailers, road rollers and tracked vehicles. I can drive these vehicles under supervision, but would need to pass the relevant tests to have my licence upgraded to full for these categories.

All of this information is technically on the back of my photo card driving licence, but seeing it spelled out properly on screen is better – it’s much easier to understand.

Finally, there’s the sharing tab, which replaces the paper counterpart in essence. If you need to hire a car, for example, you’ll need to log in and follow the instructions to create a sharing code, which you can give to the hire car firm. This allows them to check that you are allowed to drive the vehicle that you intend to hire, and are not disqualified or have too many points on your license. The codes are valid for 21 days, but can be revoked sooner if needed.

It’s a useful service, and if you’ve ever fancied driving a ride-on lawnmower on a public road, you should now be able to confirm whether you’ll be allowed to by law.

September 14, 2015
by Neil Turner
1 Comment

How to: get cheaper car insurance

Alas, the car I've bought insurance for is not this Rolls Royce

Having bought a car at the weekend, I also needed to arrange car insurance. The law in Britain now requires all cars that are used on public roads to have a valid insurance policy; if you don’t, then you must park the car off-road and submit a SORN. If your car is found on a public road, parked or moving, then you can be fined. So I needed to have a policy in place before I would be able to drive the car away.

Like many things, buying car insurance can be simple and quick, but if you’re prepared to put some effort in, you can bring your premiums down significantly. I can wholeheartedly recommend the advice on which gives some tips on how to reduce your premiums by tweaking the information you provide. I would advise you to read the whole article, but here are the things I tried that worked for me.

1. Trying multiple price comparison web sites

It’s hard to avoid the various price comparison web sites that advertise nowadays. Whether it’s the one with the meerkats, talking robots or annoying opera singer, these sites are well-advertised. They work by taking your details, and obtaining quotes from a range of insurers on your behalf, which are then ranked to show you the cheapest. The sites make their money from the referral fees that insurers pay when you take up a policy. Considering how much these sites advertise, they must make a lot of money from these referral fees.

It’s worth trying multiple sites, as different sites work with different insurers. I got different results from each. You can also usually get cashback if you click through to a price comparison web site from a cashback site like Quidco (referral link) or Topcashback (referral link). I got about £2 from them, just for getting a quote.

2. Go direct to insurance companies

Once I’d found the cheapest insurer – and the three comparison sites I tried all gave the same company – I also tried to get a cheaper quote by visiting their site directly. Again, going via a cashback site may net you cashback as well. Remember those referral fees? Cashback sites pay those to you.

It’s also worth checking Aviva and Direct Line, who do not advertise their policies on price comparison web sites. As it happens, both gave me unaffordable quotes that were nearly double the cheapest that I could find, but, worth a try.

3. Tweak your job description

I have a rather unique job title of ‘Student Recruitment and Data Officer’, which isn’t on the selection lists that insurers ask for. Originally I put it through as ‘Recruitment Consultant’ working in state education, but I found changing it to ‘Administrative Officer’ in the university sector lowered my premiums significantly (by about 20% in my case). As long as the title still accurately reflects your job role, you should be fine.

4. Add another driver

As Christine hasn’t passed her test yet, it was going to just be me on the car’s insurance policy. However, we found that adding another family member to the policy, as a secondary driver, reduced my quote by another 10%. To be effective, this must be someone that would realistically be likely to drive the car, and who has a good driving record with no penalty points or recent insurance claims. Adding an irresponsible or inexperienced second driver may increase premiums, but it’s worth trying.

5. Include some business use

If you think adding another driver is a bizarre way to reduce your premiums, here’s one that seemed even weirder. I will need to drive for work from time to time (I reckoned no more than 1000 miles per year) and so I included this in the policy. This means that I won’t need to arrange a hire car, so my employer also saves money too. After getting quotes with this included, I tried taking it out and stating that the care would only be for ‘leisure’ use (no commuting and no work-related activities). That actually pushed the premiums up by about 10%, so I put it back in.

Plus the things that I didn’t try

I didn’t try everything. I could have got an even cheaper policy if I had opted in to a ‘black box’ insurance policy. This involves the fitting of a recording device to your car that monitors your location and how you drive – and if you drive safely, you’ll save money. InsureTheBox is one of the better known firms that offers this (a friend works for them), but it’s available from a variety of insurers.

Sometimes, opting for third-party insurance can be cheaper, but it covers less than fully comprehensive insurance which could leave you out of pocket in the event of an accident. And, again bizarrely, sometimes comprehensive cover is cheaper than third-party because of risk factors.

And if you have another type of policy with an insurance firm (say home or travel insurance), some insurers may give you a discount if you take out more than one policy from the same firm. Our home insurance was arranged via a broker when we got our mortgage so I wasn’t able to approach them for a car insurance quote on this occasion.

In the end

As it happened, the cheapest quote I got was via, for Diamond insurance – a company that historically only covered female drivers. Both are owned by Admiral Group, incidentally. Overall, the policy ended up being about £200/year cheaper than when I started, which isn’t bad for a couple of hours spent entering information into various web sites. Insurance for new drivers is always expensive and I’m hoping that, should I continue to drive like Captain Slow, my premiums should come down in future years.

September 13, 2015
by Neil Turner

A car. An actual car.

A photo of our new car, a Nissan Note

Well, I now own a car. After having passed my driving test last month, and with an imminent house move and a little one on the way, we decided that we really needed to get a car sooner rather than later.

Fortunately my parents kindly gifted us most of the money that we needed, so we were able to buy a decent-sized second hand car. After trawling the listings for local dealerships on Auto Trader, we found a local dealership with a good range of cars within our budget. We then narrowed this down to two cars, at the same price, which we took on test drives.

The first was a Hyundai i30, which was good car, and slightly newer with better equipment, but it didn’t drive so well and didn’t have as much internal space. So, we went for a 2008 Nissan Note.

It’s got a 1.4 litre petrol engine (which is fine for us) and a manual gearbox – I’m indifferent when it comes to manual or automatic but both Christine and I are/were learning in a manual car. The boot is big and there’s also plenty of legroom in the back, plus there are Isofix fixings for a child seat. It’s very much a family car, and whilst it may not be very cool or trendy, it should be very practical for us.

I’ve had a bit of time to drive it but the big test will be in a few weeks when we drive down to Staffordshire for a family wedding. I say ‘we’ – it’ll be me driving there and back as Christine still hasn’t sat her theory test yet, never mind her practical test. I may try to arrange a motorway driving lesson with my instructor before then.

After putting up with not having a car for so many years, it feels very weird to finally own one. We’ve managed to make do with public transport, but I am very much looking forward to not having to pay over the odds for taxi fares, or complicated bus and train journeys that take twice as long as driving would.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about car insurance.

September 12, 2015
by Neil Turner

Links from Pinboard for September 12, 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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September 11, 2015
by Neil Turner

20 week scan

Christine's 20 week scan

Last week, Christine had her 20 week ultrasound scan. Our baby is developing normally, it would seem – everything seems present and correct, and he or she is growing at the correct rate. And the image is much more clear than it was at the first scan at approximately 11 weeks.

We did find out the gender of the baby and have told some people (mainly family), but we’re not making it widely known. This is mainly because the sonographer wasn’t very confident about whether the baby is a boy or a girl, but also because we don’t want to end up with lots of pink or blue clothes in case we have another child later on.

Christine is still due to give birth in early January.

September 7, 2015
by Neil Turner

A wee trip to Scotland

Saltire flag

Last weekend some very dear friends of ours got married in St Andrews in Scotland, and so Christine and I made our way up there.

This was our first time in Scotland since a trip to Edinburgh four years ago, and the first time either of us had been to St Andrews. It’s a small town on the Fife coast, north of Edinburgh and south of Dundee. The town is dominated by its university, which is one of the oldest in Britain and has many famous alumni, including Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge. It’s also rather isolated, with only a couple of roads in and out, and three miles from the nearest railway station at Leuchers.

There’s a small harbour which still receives boats carrying fish and shellfish, although not on the scale of other small port towns like Whitby. The major landmark is its ruined cathedral which sits on the top of the cliffs, overlooking the North Sea.

We had enough time for a stroll around the town, followed by lunch at the St Andrews Brewing Company – a very nice brewpub with an extensive gin and whisky selection. The town is very much geared up for tourists and students in equal measures.

St Andrews is somewhere I’d happily go back to but there isn’t a lot to do there. It really is quite a small town – just one that happens to be very well-known with a lot of history.

September 6, 2015
by Neil Turner

Making a house a home (part IV)

Our future downstairs toiletBack in mid-July, we anticipated that we’d be 6 weeks away from moving in to our new house. Well, it’s been more than six weeks and we’re still not in.

We haven’t hit any major snags but August has been a busy month for us (as evidenced by the lack of blogging) and so we haven’t progressed as much as we’d hoped. Here’s an update:


The damp-proof plastering dried out mid-August, and so we have the first two coats of paint on the walls in the dining room. I’ve also been able to patch up some bits around plug sockets (for example) that weren’t quite finished to how we’d like.

I also mentioned last time that we needed some extra bits done – we had a builder in last week, who did these for us. So, the plastering is all done now, and we just need to wait for all of the new plaster to dry out. This means that we’ve finally had all of the holes from the old plug sockets filled in.


The bathroom was the one upstairs room that we planned to decorate, and also the one with the least amount of work required. However it ended up as a lower priority when we realised how much work the rooms downstairs would be. Anyway, we’ve got on with the painting in here and it’s basically done, but needs a little touching up to make it tidy with clean lines. The floor also needs a serious clean to get the paint splashes off, but otherwise, the bathroom is pretty much finished now.


The living room, dining room and hallway all originally had the same dark blue carpet. We had to take this up as part of the re-plastering work, but we’ve decided to get rid of it. This is mainly because the new plaster is actually thinner than the old, so the dining room floor in particular now has a very slightly larger surface area – and so the carpet no longer fits correctly. We’ve instead decided to get oak laminate floor, with the same pattern across the kitchen, dining room, hallway and living room. The new flooring has been ordered and paid for, but we’re awaiting the last few bits to be delivered before it’s installed. As for the old carpet, a friend of ours took it off us for nothing for use in her house, which is great as it would have probably cost us money to dispose of.

‘The Triangle Room’

Beyond the living room is a room we’ve been calling ‘the triangle room’, as it’s roughly triangle-shaped. I assume it was originally part of what is now the living room as it’s separated by a comparatively modern stud wall. This part of the house used to be a shop, and the window in this room used to be full height. It’s been partly bricked up, but only on the outside, as we found when we took a bit of plasterboard off behind the radiator and opened up a void below the window.

I mentioned that we’ve had a builder in – he’s filled the void with insulation and covered it with some new plasterboard and plaster that is flush with the rest of the wall. We’ve also had an additional stud wall and door fitted in the room, as shown in the work in progress photo at the top, as eventually this will become a cloakroom with a toilet and washbasin. This probably won’t happen until after we’ve moved in as we’ll need to save up some more money first. It’ll also need flooring putting down, but again, after we’ve moved in.


We’ve started painting the dining room, as mentioned, and once the rest of the plaster is dry (which should be in the next couple of days) we can paint the living room as well. We’ve bought all of the paint already – the dining room is being painted green, and the living room a kind-of chocolate brown.

Exterior building work

We had two gas fires that we didn’t want, which both had external flues. Having removed these, we got the builder to fill in the holes in the external walls. He’s done a great job and it’s actually hard to see where the holes were originally. When the mortar dries, it’ll be almost impossible I reckon.

What’s next

We’ve not got many jobs left now. The flooring needs to go down, and we need to re-hang some skirting boards and lift some gripper rods that were left over from when the carpet was down. After that, it’s basically just painting, and then we can move in. Whilst this won’t be the end of the house renovation project, we’ll have done the most disruptive work before moving in. If all goes to plan, we’ll be living in the house by the end of the month.