Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

April 16, 2018
by Neil Turner
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Two and a quarter

Photo of Lizzie

Lizzie, my daughter, is now two and a quarter (hey, that rhymes!). She’s been walking for over a year now and is quite confident, so we’re using her pushchair less. She’s also caught up with her growth, so she went into age 2-3 clothes at age 2. In fact, I reckon she’ll be into age 3-4 before she’s age 3 at this rate.

Her vocabulary is gradually expanding. At times, she can string a few words into a sentence, and she’s getting better at asking for what she wants. Although, for some reason, ‘marp’ means ‘I’m thirsty’ and I have no idea where this came from.

We are, as you would expect, in the ‘terrible twos’. Toddlers at this age often struggle to handle their emotions and Lizzie is no exception. On Saturday she awoke from a brief nap to what was essentially an hour-long meltdown in Hebden Bridge. Unfortunately, she will sometimes get past the stage where she can remember what upset her in the first place and yesterday was a typical example. By comparison, she had a mini meltdown about half an hour ago which was alleviated by hugs, something to drink, something to nibble on, and Paw Patrol. Whilst she’s not glued to the TV and we’re not the sort of family who has the TV constantly on in the background, let’s just say that we get our money’s worth out of our Netflix subscription and TV licence fee.

Lizzie loves animals, and so we often go to various open farms and places like Tropical World to let her see and learn about animals. I’ve reviewed a few of these places in the past (Cannon Hall Farm, Ponderosa, Tropical World) and we made another return visit to Temple Newsam last weekend. Sadly we’re not really able to have pets – I’m allergic to a lot of animals and I don’t think we could adequately look after one anyway.

Apart from refusing to be be weighed and measured, she passed her recent two year review with the health visitor with no issues. Her development is normal and despite feeling a little under the weather she was happily playing whilst we answered questions.

I’ve had quite a few ‘daddy days’ with her on my own this year. Christine has had to work several weekends, including yesterday as I write this. It’s been good to spend quality time as just the two of us and she seems to enjoy herself. Whilst babies usually bond naturally with their mothers, bonding with the mother’s partner takes work and I’m glad that it seems to have paid off.

We still need to get on and get Lizzie’s room decorated for her. She’s still sleeping in our bedroom at present, although we’ve turned her cot into a toddler bed.

On the whole, I’d say parenting is going pretty well, all things considered.

April 15, 2018
by Neil Turner
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We need to buy a new printer

Photo of the HP Deskjet All-in-One F2140 printer

Here’s a photo of our current printer. It’s a HP Deskjet All-in-one F2140, and I think it dates from around 2008. Suffice to say, it predates the computer that it’s connected to, has been through several house moves and periods in storage, and even predates my relationship with Christine. You can also see how much dust is on top of it, and I’ll admit to having to shift a pile of documents stacked up on top of it to get the photo.

Okay, so we don’t use it very often. But having a printer is useful from time to time, and we use the scanner every now and then. Christine and I recently scanned all of our qualification certificates, so that we had electronic copies on hand in our shared Dropbox folder.

So why the need for a new printer? It still works, and we can still get hold of new cartridges easily.

The issue is networking.

Christine’s new laptop

Christine recently bought herself a new laptop – a very lightweight Lenovo Ideapad 320S. She’s doing a part-time university course, and her previous laptop bought in 2010 (when we first started dating) was getting too slow. It’s also big and bulky compared with what you can buy new nowadays. As she will need to print from time to time, she tasked me with setting up the printer on her laptop.

Our HP printer isn’t wireless, and so it’s connected to my Mac Mini (also dating from 2010) by a USB cable. I’ve been using Apple’s Bonjour network sharing protocol to share it across our Wifi network. For Windows, Apple offers a Bonjour Print Services utility that will discover any printers shared using Bonjour. And on Christine’s old laptop, this worked fine.

But I couldn’t get it to work on her new laptop. I think the core issue is that Apple last updated the Bonjour Print Services tool in 2010, and so it pre-dates Windows 10 by some time. Her old laptop was set up under Windows 7 and so was fine. Despite following my own printer sharing guide, and manually installing HP’s Windows 10 drivers, I could not get the Bonjour Printer Wizard to complete without failing with a permissions error (even when running as Administrator).

Whilst my Mac is generally on all of the time, it’s probably about time that we replaced it with a proper wireless printer. To get it to work with my iPhone and iPad, I’m using Printopia, which works okay but it’s a bit of a hack. Having a proper wireless printer, which works with all of our devices (Windows, Mac, iOS and Android) would be a big improvement. Especially when it comes to scanning, which we can currently only do on my very slow Mac.

A custom solution?

New wireless printers start at £30, so it wouldn’t be a big expense. In fact, it’d be about the same price as buying a new Raspberry Pi and setting up some kind of bespoke solution. Which, whilst appealing to my geeky side, would probably take a lot of the very little free time that I have nowadays. Plus, there would be the added ‘fun’ of trying to find a way of scanning documents on the Raspberry Pi, and then have them available to use on our other devices. I’m sure it’s possible, but what’s the point when you can buy an off-the-shelf product that already does this?

I could also look at buying a printer sharing hub, but again, the cost would probably be about the same as a new printer. So I might as well just buy a new printer.

We’ll have a look out for any good deals and will buy a new printer soon.

April 9, 2018
by Neil Turner
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Nest Protect Review

Nest Protect

Back in January, we bought a Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide alarm (Amazon link). Like other Nest products, it’s a smart, ‘internet of things’ device, so it does a bit more than your regular cheap alarm.

For me, its two best features are:

  • Push notifications to your phone when the batteries need changing, rather than random chirping at 2am
  • Being able to cancel an alarm if you’re accidentally burnt your sausages but have the situation under control

Set-up is easy; it’s done through the Nest mobile app before you attach the alarm to the wall or ceilling. We went for the battery-operated model, but you can also buy a mains-connected device if you have the relevant wiring in place.

The Next Protect has a small motion sensor (like the Nest Learning Thermostat). If it’s in a dark room and detects motion, it’ll briefly illuminate with a white light. The light will also glow red, yellow or green depending on whether it has detected any issues.

There’s also a small speaker and a microphone. As well as an alarm tone, the Nest Protect will talk to you to tell you that it has detected smoke or carbon monoxide. The microphone is for self-testing; periodically, the Nest Protect will have a ‘drill’ to ensure that it’s working correctly.

Nest products work together, and as we have a Nest Learning Thermostat, the Nest Protect will tell the thermostat to turn off our central heating boiler if it detects carbon monoxide.

Before buying the Nest Protect, I considered the Roost smart battery (Amazon link). Roost works with your existing smoke alarm, but adds some of the smart features. Unfortunately, as it’s slightly larger than a standard 9-volt battery, it doesn’t work with all smoke alarms.

The other factor that convinced me to buy the Nest Protect was an offer that was running at the time: free delivery and a free Google Home Mini. I’ll be reviewing the latter in another blog post.

April 8, 2018
by Neil Turner
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Neil’s guide to surviving a cold

 toGiant porcupines

I’ve been feeling pretty rotten this week, having caught a particularly nasty cold. Presumably from Lizzie; she’s had a cold for a few days now and so her face has been constantly covered in snot. And she likes giving us kisses now, which is cute, but also a sure-fire way to pick up her germs.

I have still gone to work as normal, and I thought I’d write about what I do to get through a rough patch.

Please be aware that I’m not a medical professional, and none of this should be considered medical advice. If a medical professional advises you to do something else, follow their advice, not mine. This is just what works for me.

Get up and get clean

When you’re feeling rough, either because you’re ill or experiencing a decline in mental health, there’s a temptation just to stay in bed. And, if you’re so ill that you really cannot get yourself out of bed, it may be best to stay there – if you have ‘flu for example. But maybe call NHS 111 if this happens, just in case it’s something more serious.

If you can get yourself out of bed, then do. Have a shower, and put on clean clothes. Brush your teeth. Shave, if you have facial hair. You probably do these things anyway, but make a special effort to do so. If you’re feverish, then you may have shed a lot of sweat, so getting yourself clean and fresh should help.

Get some fresh air

Go outside, even if it’s just for a few minutes. If you can’t, at least try to get a window open. I felt noticeably better as soon as I got out of the house.

Go to work, if you can

This is a subjective point. I have a desk job, so work isn’t too strenuous; plus, this week a lot of people were off so the office was quiet. Also, I take the train to work, so there was no need to drive; I would have been less likely to go in otherwise. Being at work, seeing other people and being productive actually made me feel better.

Drink plenty of fluids

I mentioned fever sweats – you’re more likely to get dehydrated when you’re ill, so drink plenty of water. Avoid alcohol; the odd hot toddy is probably okay but too much alcohol can leave you dehydrated and feeling even worse. Stick to no more than one average-strength alcoholic drink a day.

Take paracetamol

Paracetamol (acetaminophen to Americans) is cheap, and can help ease your symptoms. Adults can usually take two tablets no less than four hours apart (but always read the label).

Get plenty of rest and avoid stress

Finally, whilst I do advise getting out during the day, rest is also really important when you’re ill. Go to bed early, and avoid doing too many strenuous or stressful activities so that your body has time to recover.

April 7, 2018
by Neil Turner
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Recent Flickr Uploads

Murton Park

On my customary holiday from work on Tuesday, I sat down and worked through many of the photographs that I’ve been meaning to get around to editing. Those photos are now on Flickr in albums, and you can view them below:

With the exception of Kilnsey, which I managed to write about at the time, expect write-ups of the other places to follow in the coming weeks.

April 6, 2018
by Neil Turner
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RHEQs – 136-150

I’m working my way through Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions book, 15 questions at a time. This week, it’s questions 136-150. You can read more about this project herePlease be aware that some of the questions are somewhat vulgar.

136. What is your preferred epithet for male genitalia?

I prefer to stick with anatomical terms. That way, it’s unambiguous.

137. How long do you think it would take you to write 500 emergency questions?

Several years probably, based on the amount of blog posts I’ve managed to write over the past six months.

138. Did you ever learn to juggle? If so how many things can you juggle? I demand to see proof of your juggling claims.

No. It’s something that I’ve occasionally wanted to try but never got around to. I can just about manage one ball, which isn’t exactly impressive.

139. If I could guarantee you would be unkillable, indestructible and uninjurable for the next ten years, but would die once the decade was up, would you go for it?

No. I think my odds of being killed or injured in the next decade are low and I would want to see my daughter grow up beyond the age of 12.

140. Could you ever have sex with someone that calls breasts “boobies”? What if they did it while you were having sex? Would you stop having sex with them?

Yes.

141. If you had to murder one person at your work/college/family – if you had to – which person would you murder?

I think naming someone on a public blog might get me in trouble with my family or HR at work, so I’ll pass on this question. Not that I would ever want to murder someone.

142. If you didn’t have to murder one person at your work/college/family, but knew you could get away with it, which person would you murder?

See above.

143. What makes a good emergency question?

Something left-field that often results in an interesting and thoughtful answer.

144. If you had to put everyone called Smith in a league table based on their worth who would be: a) the best Smith b) the median Smith and c) the worst Smith?

a) Maggie Smith b) My friend Dave c) Morrissey.

145. When you have fears that you may cease to be before your pen has gleaned your teeming brain, what do you do?

As I’ve got older, I’ve come to accept that I will probably never do all of the things that I want to do, and so I just focus on what matters most.

146. Have you ever had a dream that seemed so real you thought that it was true? How do you know it wasn’t and that this is just a dream?

I’ve had the odd work-related dream that seemed very real, apart from some ridiculousness that made me realise it was a dream.

147. What’s your favourite drink? If you found out it was actually made out of wasp urine and always had been, would it still be your favourite and would you carry on drinking it?

Cola, and yes, I would. Considering that some colourings are made from crushed beatles.

148. Would you rather be immune from ever getting chlamydia or have free KitKats for life? (You would get 365 four finger Kitkats per year, or 366 on a Leap Year, but would still be able to get chlamydia).

Free KitKats for life. I’m married and faithful, so the risk of me catching chlamydia is very low.

149. If you could go into the transportation chamber from “The Fly” with a living creature of your choice, which creature would you choose?

An alpaca – as long as I could have the human top half. I’d be like a fuzzy centaur.

150. What was your nickname at school?

At primary school I briefly had the nickname ‘sticky fingers’ after an incident involving an orange.

April 5, 2018
by Neil Turner
1 Comment

PRINCE2 certified

PRINCE2 certificate

As the certificate above shows, I passed the PRINCE2 Practitioner certificate in project management. I took a week-long intensive course with QA Training in Leeds in March, which included the foundation and practitioner exams.

I was lucky to get a funded place, in a ballot held by my trade union branch at work (Unison). QA’s PRINCE2 course is not cheap, costing over £1000 – there would have been no way that I would have been able to afford it with my own funds. For your money, you get a copy of the official textbook (Amazon link), workbooks and full sample papers for both examinations. Refreshments are also provided, and the coffee machine is pretty good, but you need to bring your own lunch. That being said, QA is based in City Exchange in Leeds, which is the tower block overlooking the Trinity Leeds shopping centre, so there’s no shortage of places to eat within staggering distance.

PRINCE2 is a project management method, originally developed by the British government. Indeed, the Cabinet Office co-runs Axelos, the company which manages PRINCE2, in a joint venture with outsourcing firm Capita. Consequently, PRINCE2 is commonly used in project management in the UK public sector and it’s a useful certification to have.

As mentioned, the PRINCE2 course is quite intensive – especially the first two days, where you prepare for the foundation exam. You start the course on Monday, and sit the foundation exam on Tuesday afternoon. There’s around three hours of coursework to complete before the course starts, and two to three hours each weeknight. That’s on top of full days in the classroom. That coffee machine was very much welcome, and I’m also indebted to my wife for managing Lizzie whilst I looked myself in the bedroom to study. I’m also thankful to one of my colleagues who took the course a few weeks before I did, and was able to lend me the textbook. That allowed me to read the first few chapters before starting, so that I had a better grounding of some of the terminology from day one.

You receive provisional results from the Foundation exam straightaway, as a pe-requisite of the Practitioner exam is that you have passed the Foundation level. On Wednesday, the class gained a few additional students who were just studying for Practitioner, and we took the Practitioner exam on Friday afternoon. Both exams are multiple choice, but whilst the Foundation exam is just an hour, the Practitioner exam is two and a half hours. And I needed the full two and a half hours. In the Practitioner exam, you’re typically given four choices; two will be wrong, and the other two will be the right answer but with one for the wrong reason. This is still counted as a wrong answer though, and is the major difference between Practitioner and Foundation. You need to know why an answer is right, not just that it is the right answer.

The results took a couple of weeks, and, fortunately I passed. The pass mark is 55%; I managed 81% in Practitioner and a similar score in Foundation. You don’t get anything extra for passing well: it’s pass or fail. There’s no merit or distinction grades.

The Foundaton certification is valid for life, and the Practitioner certification is valid for three years. You can extend this by doing continuing professional development with Axelos (and paying them some money), which I’ll have to contemplate.

As for my own career, having PRINCE2 doesn’t change anything in the short term. It may mean that I’m able to take on some project work in my current role at work, and I may look for other roles in project management. It was a big confidence boost though; excepting my driving tests, this was the first time I’d taken an exam since leaving university. I also feel pleased that the extra effort that I put in was worth it.

April 4, 2018
by Neil Turner
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Koopower Wireless Doorbell

Koopower wireless doorbell

I was recently sent a wireless doorbell from Koopower (Amazon link) to review.

Like with most wireless doorbells, this Koopower kit has a transmitter bell to attach by your door, and a plug-in receiver that plays the chime. What sets the Koopower kit apart is that the transmitter doesn’t require any batteries.

Koopower wireless doorbell The energy required to transmit the signal is generated by the action of pushing the button. This gets around one of the major problems with traditional wireless doorbells – knowing when the batteries are flat. Short of testing your own doorbell regularly, you run the risk of someone pressing the button and there being no chime, even when you’re in.

The Koopower kit I received contained two receivers, which is useful; I have one downstairs and one upstairs. Our house is quite long with thick walls and in the past I’ve struggled to hear our previous doorbell.

Pairing them with the transmitter was straightforward, and the transmitter includes a double-sided sticky patch for attaching to your wall/door. Compared to my previous wireless doorbell, installation was really easy.

Once installed, a couple of buttons on the receivers let you control the volume, and choose one of 25 polyphonic ringtones to play. I stuck with a simple ‘ding dong’ sound, which is the default. The receivers also flash an LED when they ring.

Whilst more expensive than other wireless doorbell kits, the Koopower system gains points for its incredibly simple installation and offering two receivers. It’s not a smart doorbell system like Ring (Amazon Link), so it won’t link to your phone. But it does well for a basic doorbell system that requires minimal maintenance.

April 3, 2018
by Neil Turner
1 Comment

Setting up an old laptop

Screenshot of Windows update

When I’ve not been looking at animals or model trains, I’ve spent quite a bit of the weekend setting up a laptop. It’s my dad’s old laptop that is being given away to a charity worker. So I needed to wipe it, re-install Windows, and then set it up ready to use.

I’m writing this on Monday, having worked on the laptop since Saturday afternoon.

It’s a 2009-era HP Pavilion laptop, so using the recovery partition meant taking it back to a 2009 state. Whilst this fortunately means it had Windows 7 installed, it didn’t have the service pack and needed over eight years’ worth of Windows Updates. All in all, I think I installed around 250 updates over 36 hours.

As well as this, I needed to remove some of the cruft that came with it, such as HP branded games. There was a free trial of Norton included, which was removed and replaced with Microsoft Security Essentials. I uninstalled Java (which I don’t feel is necessary nowadays), Silverlight (likewise) and Flash Player, and installed Google Chrome (which has Flash built-in). Eventually, Internet Explorer updated itself to version 11 as well.

I didn’t remove the majority of the HP software that came pre-installed, although I uninstalled the now defunct HP Update and replaced it with an up-to-date version of the HP Support Assistant.

Microsoft Office 2007 was pre-installed, albeit as a trial version. I left it there, just in case the new user of the laptop had a license or wanted to upgrade it, and made sure that it had the various necessary security updates. But I also installed LibreOffice, which, incidentally, wouldn’t work until I had installed the majority of the updates from Windows Update. I think this had something to do with the Microsoft C++ 2015 libraries.

I also made sure that the graphics drivers were as up-to-date as possible (AMD stopped issuing updates for this particular card in 2013) and installed updated Ethernet drivers for good measure. And I added 7zip, as it’s useful for opening RAR files and less common archive formats.

I didn’t upgrade it to Windows 10; I’ll leave that decision to its new owner.

Considering its age, it’s not a ridiculously slow laptop and works okay for light use – despite the long time required to update it. Doing a factory reset probably helped, of course. I’m hoping that it’ll serve its new user for a few more years yet.

April 2, 2018
by Neil Turner
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It’s been a little quiet around here…

So one of my new years resolutions was to blog more, and yet, this is only my fourth blog post in as many months. And I managed to completely miss both February and March. Whoops.

It hasn’t been for a lack of things to say, rather a lack of time to say it. I mentioned my PRINCE2 course in March, which I promise I’ll write about soon; that took up a rather intensive week plus preparation. We also had a fun weekend at Sci Fi Weekender in Wales, and several day trips, including Scarborough.

Part of the problem is finding time to edit photos to go on Flickr, which I then link to on here. I do my photo editing on my now 8 year old Mac Mini, which is rather slow. And, whilst I’m using it, I can’t supervise Lizzie as it’s in the dining room in a corner. However, tomorrow is a customary holiday at work. So, I’m hoping that I’ll have time whilst Christine is at work and Lizzie is with our childminder to get on and catch up with all of the photos I’ve taken, and write some blog posts.

This Easter Christine has been working quite a bit, so I’ve been looking after Lizzie myself. We made a return visit to Springtime Live; this is the third year that we’ve been and Lizzie is now old enough for most of the activities. She also enjoyed watching Mr Bloom, whom she hasn’t recognised in previous years. Yesterday we went to the Yorkshire Museum of Farming, which is near York at Murton Park; again, full review and photos to follow. And today we’re going to York Model Railway Show; I last went with my dad a couple of years ago but this’ll be Lizzie’s first time.

So, sorry for the lack of new content, but I’m hoping to do something about it.