Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

December 6, 2016
by Neil Turner
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2006 vs 2016

All the cool kids seem to be comparing their lives in 2006 with 2016, so here goes.

2006

Photo of me from 2007Ten years ago, I was still a full-time student, doing a postgraduate course in forensic computing at the University of Bradford. I was in the honeymoon period of my relationship with Hari, my then girlfriend, having met her towards the end of 2005. I lived in a shared rented house in Bradford with two other lads.

I only started using last.fm late that year. The bands I listened to most were Franz Ferdinand, Zebrahead, Linkin Park and Reel Big Fish.

2006 was also the year I started playing World of Warcraft, and when I had my first set of driving lessons. I also bought a MacBook, which was my second Apple computer.

The photo, incidentally, is from 2007. Having looked back through my photo library, there are almost none from 2006, and I didn’t join Facebook until the year after.

2016

neil-2016Nowadays I work full-time. I’m still at the University of Bradford, but I’m being paid to be there rather than paying tuition fees. I’ve changed jobs a couple of times this year, but should now be settled in a stimulating role for the foreseeable future.

Christine and I celebrated three years of marriage this year, and we will have spent the whole year living in the large, three-bedroomed house that we bought last year. Lizzie was born at the tail-end of December 2015. Of the two lads that I shared a house with in 2006, I’m still in touch with one of them – he was an usher at our wedding, and I’ve met up with him a few times this year despite him now living in London. Hari and I are still Facebook friends but it’s been over seven years since we saw each other in person.

Having finally passed my driving test last year, we’ve been able to enjoy a greater level of freedom with not having to rely on public transport so much. I also quit World of Warcraft after almost ten years as I no longer had the time. No new computer purchases this year and I’m still just about managing with my almost seven-year-old Mac Mini. I’d like to replace it, but can’t really justify the expense at present.

According to last.fm, I listened to Within Temptation the most this year. This is not really surprising, as I have most of their recent albums on my phone, and I’ve been to see them twice in recent years. I also listened to a lot of Alestorm, Delain and Nightwish; again, seen the first two of those three live. My musical tastes have tended more towards metal and away from club and punk-pop music.

December 5, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Uploading a literal truckload of data

Lizzie's truck

Imagine you work for a company that has 10 petabytes (10 million gigabytes) of data in its data centre. Now, imagine your company wants to move that to a cloud storage service like Amazon Web Services.

You’ve got a fast 1 Gbps link to the internet, which, at maximum throughput, will deliver 125 megabytes each second. That means it’ll take 80 million seconds to upload all the data. Distilled down, that’s 1.3 million minutes, 22,222 hours, 925 days, or just over two and a half years. And that’s assuming maximum throughput with no breaks in connection or downtime. Yeowch.

Thankfully Amazon has a solution, called the Snowmobile. It’s a lorry with a data centre inside a shipping container, sent to your workplace. You hook it up to your existing data centre using a fibre-optic link, and transfer your data across. When you’re done, the lorry takes the container back to Amazon’s own massive data centre and plugs it in, for you to use. At worst, you’d probably be done within the week.

As the Guardian article says, it’s an old solution to an ongoing problem. Internet speeds are increasing, but so is storage capacity, and the rise of big data means that we need more and more bandwidth to move it around.

Back in the days before my parents got broadband internet, I wanted to share around 250 megabytes of data with a friend. Nowadays I’d probably stick it in Dropbox, send a sharing link and be done with it, but uploading 250 megabytes on a 56k modem connection would have taken hours. Over 15 hours in fact, based on a 4.5 kilobytes per second throughput. And at a penny a minute, it would have cost my parents about £9 in call charges, because back in the 1990s we paid for our internet by the minute.

Instead, I burned a CD-R and posted it. I think I sent it at about 4pm on a Thursday, and it arrived at 9:30am on Friday. At around 18 hours, it was marginally slower than sending it over the internet, but cheaper – the combined cost of the CD-R, padded envelope and postage was less than £9. And it avoided having to explain the extra large phone bill to my parents.

It’s funny how old solutions come back around. And despite what Ted Stevens said, sometimes the internet can be both a big truck, and a series of tubes.

Yes, that is a photo of one of Lizzie’s toys in the header.

December 3, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for December 3, 2016

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 2, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Terra & Terra’s World, by Mitch Benn

Cover of Terra by Mitch BennYesterday, I did another round-up of the audiobooks I’ve been listening to recently, save for two. I singled out these two as they’re both by the same author, and are both fiction. Now I’m not a big reader of fiction, as my wife, ex-girlfriend and parents will testify. So what made me read these books?

The two books are Terra (Amazon link) and Terra’s World (Amazon link), part of a series with recurring characters by Mitch Benn. Benn is best-known as a musical stand-up comedian. He has performed on BBC Radio 4’s The Now Show for many years and regularly tours his shows. Indeed, I’ve seen him perform live four times now:

  • In Leeds, at the wonderful City Varieties, with his band The Distractions.
  • In Leeds (again), at the rather less wonderful Carriageworks Theatre, with his show Mitch Benn is the 37th Beatle (also broadcast as a standalone Radio 4 show).
  • In Halifax, at the Square Chapel, with the Don’t Believe a Word show that he has just finished touring.
  • In Hebden Bridge, at a comedy club night at the Old Gate where he was the headline act.

I also follow him on Twitter, where he is very active. So you could say I’m a fan.

Anyhow, as well as being a successful stand-up and radio performer, Benn has also written the two aforementioned books. I would probably describe them as ‘young adult science fiction’ – not too challenging to read, but enjoyable stories. And they’re good books, with good reviews of them both.

Terra tells the story of a baby girl, whose bickering parents accidentally leave her behind, when fleeing from the car after an encounter with an alien spacecraft. The spacecraft’s pilot, having seen that the baby had been abandoned, takes her back to his home planet. He names her ‘Terra’, and brings her up as if she were his own daughter.

Cover of Terra's World by Mitch BennTerra’s World follows the first book. The story is told partly from the perspective of Billy, a new character who befriends Terra after her return to Earth in her adolescence. The planet that Terra grew up on is in trouble.

For me, Terra’s World was the better of the two books, but you’ll need to read (or listen to) both in order to understand the plot and who the characters are. I would also recommend the audiobook – Mitch Benn read his own work very well, especially the pronunciation of the names of the alien characters. Plus, he has composed the music that accompanies the books.

The epilogue to Terra’s World implies that Benn plans a third book, although I understand from Twitter that he doesn’t yet have a publisher for it. I hope he’s able to find one – I thoroughly enjoyed these first two books.

December 1, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Listening to books, part III

It’s been six months since I last wrote about listening to audiobooks. In that time, I’ve listened to seven more books, and today I’m going to write about five of them.

Animal

Sara Pascoe’s book Animal (Amazon link) is part-autobiography, part-anthropoloCover of Sara Pascoe's Animalgical look at the female body. It’s not a textbook – whilst Pascoe has clearly researched it thoroughly, it’s written with appropriate humour. Pascoe is, after all, a stand-up comedian.

More academic readers, especially those with an anthropology background, might take issue with some of Pascoe’s work, but I found it very enlightening. Reading… sorry, listening to it shortly after the birth of my daughter was timely, as it covers childbirth, and why human offspring are born so helpless when compared to other animals.

It can be a difficult read/listen at times, but I would heartily recommend it to everyone – not just to women, but to men and anyone who doesn’t fall into those two categories.

The Actual One

Cover of Isy Sutie - The Actual OneYou will, by now, have noticed a trend – that I listen to a lot of memoirs by female stand-up comedians, and The Actual One by Isy Sutie (Amazon link) is yet another. Sutie, as well as doing stand-up, is probably best known for her role as the character Dobby in the Mitchell and Webb sitcom Peep Show.

The book’s title refers to Sutie’s search for the ‘actual one’ – the one person that she wants to spend the rest of her life with – but at the same time refusing to grow up whilst her friends get married and have kids.

Sutie reads her book well and it’s a charming story, but I didn’t enjoy this book as much as others.

Shrill

Cover of Shrill by Lindy WestLindy West isn’t a stand-up comedian, but she is a feminist and her book Shrill (Amazon link) is a memoir about being a loud woman who isn’t afraid to take up space in society. Or, at least, not now – she wasn’t always like that and she discusses her upbringing in the book, as well as her career as a journalist.

It’s a good book, although not such a good audiobook. West is a great writer but I think her delivery could be better; I put this down to having listened to several previous books read by those who perform on stage.

The Girl with the Lower-back Tattoo

Cover of Amy Shumer's The Girl with the Lower-back TattooContinuing with American feminists, I listened to Amy Schumer’s book The Girl with the Lower-back Tattoo (Amazon link) next.

I haven’t really followed Schumer’s career, but this book was recommended to me. It charts Schumer’s life, from being born into a wealthy family that lost almost everything, to living paycheck to paycheck in New York to becoming the household name that she is today.

I really enjoyed it. Schumer sounds like the sort of person I would love to be friends with – a definite guest at my imaginary celebrity dinner party, along with Felicia Day and others. Again, there are difficult sections that deal with non-consensual sex and abuse, and Schumer talks candidly about the shooting at a cinema in Lafeyette, Louisiana where her film Trainwreck was showing at the time. Schumer reads the book well and I heartily recommend it.

Bad Science

Cover of Bad Science by Dr Ben GoldcareI bought Dr Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science (Amazon link) last summer, when it was on offer on Audible but before I’d re-subscribed. It’s a long book – about twice the length of most of the other books that I’ve mentioned today – and it’s not autobiographical. Shock horror!

I’ve followed Dr Goldacre’s work ever since he was a columnist in the Guardian, writing a column of the same name. A number of the topics that he wrote about in his column crop up again in this book, with whole chapters on Gillian McKeith, Andrew Wakefield, various nutritionists and the media. Whilst it is about science, it’s an accessible read, and I say this as a relative layperson. You’ll even learn about how to spot bogus or overstated science stories in the media, such as the ‘most depressing day of the year’ story that seems to re-appear every January.

Dr Goldacre doesn’t read the audiobook himself – instead, it is read by voice actor Rupert Farley, who delivers a good performance.

Up next

I’m currently listening to From Frazzled to Fabulous (Amazon link), the spin-off book to the popular ‘Man Who Has It All’ Twitter and Facebook page. Imagine a self-help book for women, telling them in a patronising way how to be successful whilst managing a family, but gender-flipped. It’s a comparatively short book, and was offered for free on Audible recently.

After that, I’ll be listening to:

Plus there are a couple of other feminist titles on my wishlist. Tomorrow, or whenever I get around to it, I’ll write about the two other books that I’ve listened to recently.

November 28, 2016
by Neil Turner
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A weighty issue

The subject of my weight is something that I’ve occasionally written about – the last time seemingly in 2014. A search of this blog for ‘weight’ brought back many other results, but recently this has been about Lizzie, and not me.

I don’t weigh myself very often. The last time was probably over a year ago, in fact. We don’t have a set of scales at home, so weighing myself isn’t something I can do regularly. But I’ve had a couple of comments recently implying that I’d lost weight, and whilst staying at my parents’ house this weekend, I weighed myself.

And the good news is that I’m about five kilograms lighter than last time (11 lb in old money). Assuming that my weight loss was constant, that’s only a pound lighter a month, which isn’t much. It probably wouldn’t get me a Slimming World certificate, if I was a member. But it’s an improvement; losing weight has often been a new year’s resolution of mine, so I’m pleased to be finally getting somewhere.

More importantly, it pushes my body-mass index (BMI) out of the ‘overweight’ zone into the ‘healthy’ zone. BMI is woefully crude metric for measuring relative health but it’s still used by many, including health professionals.

I’ve not made any major interventions to achieve this either. I’ve had a FitBit for over a year and it has been a good motivator – especially recently when more friends have been challenging me. Although I’ve not managed to maintain my target step count for 30 days straight, like I did in April, I have done 90,000 steps over 7 days, against a target of 70,000. I think I am marginally more active than I was a year ago, but I have cancelled my gym membership. Between work and looking after Lizzie, I just don’t have the time anymore.

I think Christine and I are eating more healthily too. We have more home-cooked meals now, partly out of necessity. We used to eat out a lot, and now we can’t really afford it – again, mostly because of Lizzie, or rather her childcare costs.

Of course, it could’ve been down to me being ill a couple of weeks ago, and not being able to keep food down for two days.

Our next visit to my parents’ house is at Christmas, so I’ll weigh myself again then. It would be nice if it marked a trend. Maybe I need to ask for another belt for my trousers for Christmas.

November 26, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for November 26, 2016

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

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November 25, 2016
by Neil Turner
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A day out in Oxford and its museums

Oxford Museum of Natural History

Last month, Christine and I had a day out in Oxford. I have family who moved down to nearby Bicester from Yorkshire some years ago, and so we visited as a stopping-off point on the way to our week’s holiday in London.

My relatives kindly offered to look after Lizzie for an afternoon, giving Christine and I some time to ourselves, and the opportunity to visit the city. I’d last been there in the 1990s, coupled with a visit to Legoland Windsor, but Christine had never been before. She arranged to meet a friend for lunch, and then we hit the museums in the afternoon.

The Oxford Dodo

Oxford Museum of Natural History

Oxford’s Museum of Natural History isn’t as big as the one in London, but it is also free to get in. The museum is part of the University of Oxford, and is home to various stuffed animals and preserved skeletons. One of its more famous exhibits is the Oxford Dodo, an incomplete dodo skeleton. It’s accompanied by a model showing what we think a dodo may have looked like.

The building is also interesting. Many of the supporting columns are made with different minerals (with labels), making the building a museum piece in itself.

A number of the exhibits can be touched, which makes a change from seeing endless glass cases. There are also a number of activities for kids during school holidays.

Pitt-Rivers Museum

Pitt Rivers Museum

Tagged onto the back of the Museum of Natural History is the Pitt Rivers Museum. We only had time to look around the ground floor but there was plenty to see. It houses a series of collections of objects, many of which were brought in from overseas and are sorted by theme. There are collections of pottery, death masks, shrunken heads (which were the inspiration for those used on the Knight Bus in the Harry Potter films), charms, weapons, musical instruments and lots more besides.

I’m sure you could visit multiple times and still see something new each time. This is despite the museum fitting into one, admittedly large, room.

As we were only in Oxford for one afternoon, we didn’t get chance to see much of the rest of the city centre. But we’ll probably go back again before long, especially for a return visit to G&D’s ice cream café.

November 19, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for November 19, 2016

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

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November 15, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Down with the sickness

As I write this, I’m on a second day of sick leave from work. I’ve been ill with what we think is gastroenteritis, probably picked up from a birthday party on Saturday, seeing as how I’m not the only person who has fallen ill afterwards. Christine is also off today, but so far Lizzie seems to be fine, which is a relief.

I’m better today – yesterday I barely got out of bed – but until this morning I hadn’t been able to keep any food down. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I won’t see my breakfast again.

I’m rarely ill enough to have to take time off work. It’s certainly the first time I’ve had to phone in sick in 18 months, and the first time in a very long time that I’ve been off for more than a day. There have been times when I’ve dragged myself to work when I’ve not felt 100% – commuting by train means I can still get to work even if I’m not fit to drive. This time, there was no way I would’ve been able to work; as well as headaches and fever, until yesterday my stomach was forcing my to go to the toilet every few hours.

If all goes well and I manage to keep all of today’s food down, I’ll be back at work tomorrow. I’ve triaged my work inbox to clear anything urgent, or advise colleagues that I’ll be a bit late in completing tasks. Fortunately, we’re not in a very busy period right now and I’m only missing one meeting today.

Whilst being ill is miserable, at least I get a bit more time to myself, and I’m lucky that it hasn’t been more serious.