Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

February 13, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for February 13, 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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February 12, 2016
by Neil Turner
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American Beer for American Presidential Candidates

Imagine you’re in the running to be a candidate for the president of a country, and you’re organising a party with beer. Do you:

  • Serve beer from your country, to support your country’s businesses and promote the best home-grown beverages?
  • Import a distinctly average beer from somewhere else?

Well, if you’re Carly Fiorina, you do the latter, according to this tweet by a Buzzfeed journalist. Whilst Fiorina has now ‘suspended’ her bid to be the Republican candidate for US President, she was still in the running last weekend, when she organised a party to watch the Super Bowl. And the beer provided was Newcastle Brown Ale.

‘Newkie Brown’, as it’s nicknamed, used to be quite popular in Britain, but it’s not so easy to get hold of nowadays. It’s more popular in the north of England, especially around Newcastle where the beer was once brewed. The Newcastle brewery closed in 2005 and it’s now produced in a massive plant 90 miles away in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, along with other mainstream beer brands. Unlike most traditional ales in Britain, which tend to be hand-pulled from metal casks at or near room temperature, Newcastle Brown Ale is almost exclusively distributed in bottles and kept in the fridge. And though its popularity in the UK seems to be declining, it’s becoming more popular overseas. If Wikipedia is to be believed, more than half of all Newcastle Brown Ale is exported to America, and in some bars it’s possible to order a ‘Strongcastle’. That’s Strongbow cider mixed with Newcastle Brown Ale, which at once sounds both disgusting and an abomination, and is not a thing in Britain.

A bottle of beer from the Brooklyn BreweryI think I’ve drank Newcastle Brown Ale precisely once, and didn’t think much of it. Nowadays, there are hundreds of other small breweries in the UK that produce much better beer, and some of the larger American craft brewers are beginning to get a foothold in the UK too. Wetherspoons, our large national pub chain, stocks beers from the Brooklyn Brewery, Six Point and Goose Island amongst others, and it’s not too difficult to find pubs with a range of Sierra Nevada beers, or some bottles of Blue Moon. Flying Dog and Founders beers are available at some better bars.

So if I can get hold of decent, American beer at my local pub in a small town in Northern England (as pictured) – then why is Carly Fiorina serving a distinctly average mass-produced English beer? Shouldn’t she be supporting local American producers? Or at least serving something American? There’s no point in running on a slogan entitled ‘Take Our Country Back’ if she’s not endorsing American companies.

I don’t know what other candidates are doing with respect to beer – if anything – so I can’t comment on anyone else. This just happened to strike me as a bit odd. Although considering Fiorina’s tenure as head of HP during the time of the disastrous ‘iPod+HP’ period, this issue, or the fact that she has ‘suspended’ her campaign, doesn’t surprise me.

February 10, 2016
by Neil Turner
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App of the Week: Growth

Screenshot of the Growth appAs new parents, we want to make sure that we’re keeping an eye on our baby daughter’s health, and as part of this we attend weekly weigh-ins, to make sure that she’s growing well. Whilst this data is stored in her little NHS red book, it’s also handy to have it available on your phone, and that’s where Growth comes in.

Start by setting up your child – name, gender, birth date and due date (if different), and then you can enter height, weight and head circumference measurements each time they’re taken. You can back-date them if needed. Both metric and imperial (i.e. pounds and ounces) measurements are supported. Once you have some data entered, you’ll get a graph.

The graph also shows percentiles and trendlines for each week, so you can see how typical your baby is (Elizabeth is quite small comparatively) and how your baby’s weight should change over time. It also makes it easier to tell if your baby’s growth is stalling. Different graphs are provided, from the World Health Organisation and the Center for Disease Control.

The data you enter into the app can be exported to use elsewhere, or formatted in an email.

Like many apps these days, Growth is freemium. All users can add one child, and track their weight, height and head circumference. An in-app purchase upgrades you to ‘Growth+’, which allows you to monitor multiple children, and will calculate your child’s body-mass index (BMI) and display this on an additional graph. You can also export data in CSV format, and import data from other Growth users. If you prefer, you can also buy Growth+ as a separate app and have all features right from the beginning.

Growth is free, and is a universal app for iPhone and iPad, available from the App Store.

February 9, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Unfitbit

Photo of my Fitbit Charge

One side effect of being on paternity leave is the lack of exercise. At the back end of September, I bought myself a Fitbit Charge, as a way of motivating myself to do just a little bit more exercise, and whilst at work I’ve been able to hit my 10,000 steps target most of the time. This is because I commute to work by train, and so that involves walking to and from the railway stations at each end of the journey. More than half of the total steps I take each weekday are through commuting.

So, take away the commute, and my step count plummeted. My daily average halved – whilst some days I could manage 6000-7000 steps, there were others when I wouldn’t need to leave the house. In fact, over the five and a half weeks that I was off work, I beat my step goal only four times. These were:

  • Boxing Day – this was the day that Christine was induced, and I took myself out to get some lunch whilst she was on the hospital ward
  • 22nd January – a trip in to work and an evening out
  • 27th January – travelling down to London
  • 28th January – travelling back from London

As it happens, between those last two days, I clocked up 35,000 steps, and the 27th was actually my most active day since September with over 20,000 steps. This was partly deliberate, as I had some time to kill in Leeds and so went for a walk.

Apart from my trip to London, I didn’t use public transport at all whilst off. Getting a baby in and out of a car is far easier than trying to manhandle a pram onto a bus or train, even if that would make me the ‘family man, manhandling the pram, with paternal prideas per the Divine Comedy song. I’ve even driven to Leeds city centre a few times, which would probably shock the me of a year ago who wanted to drive but would still insist on using public transport where possible. It’s just easier when you have such a small person and all of their paraphernalia.

Now that I’m back at work, my step counts are returning to respectable levels. Since last Monday, I’ve only missed my target twice in eight days, and Saturday (where I had to work for a few hours) saw me overachieve by a few thousand steps. I’m hoping I can carry on meeting my targets from now on.

February 8, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Back at work

Last Monday marked my return to work, following five and a half weeks of customary holidays and then paternity leave. I was expecting it to be hellish, as Elizabeth hasn’t been the most consistent sleeper – which is to be expected for a bay her age. A week on, and I’m actually coping okay – I’m getting just about enough sleep most nights, albeit in chunks rather than a contiguous block. My performance at work hasn’t been quite as good this week as normal, but I put that down to another major factor which I will talk about soon. Don’t worry, it’s good news.

The week I spent working abroad last year was probably worse than last week in terms of tiredness. Back then, I had several nights with minimal sleep – or none at all in some cases – and very long working days. At least Elizabeth is letting us get some sleep, and I have had regular work days without any late nights or especially early starts. I did have to work for part of the day on Saturday though.

Going back to work has meant that I’ve needed to step back from my responsibilities with Elizabeth; so that I can get enough sleep for work, I’m not doing any overnight nappy changes. We’ve also stopped doing top-up feeds with formula (which was mainly my responsibility), so Elizabeth is now almost exclusively breast-fed. This was our intention from the start; top-up feeds were only really a stop-gap because she wasn’t putting weight on initially. Now, Christine’s able to produce enough milk for her.

I’m glad that I was able to take off more than the minimum amount of time for paternity leave. Going back after two weeks would have been painful, and would have put more pressure on Christine. Those few extra weeks have made a positive difference and – most of the time – Christine has been coping well whilst I’ve been at work. Unfortunately, I only have a couple of weeks’ holiday allowance left, to last me until the end of July, so apart from some accumluated time of in lieu of overtime, I’m not going to be able to spend much more time at home during the week before Christine returns to work in the summer.

February 6, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for February 6, 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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January 31, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Big data and data analytics Seminar

Big data and data analytics Seminar

On Thursday, I was lucky enough to be invited to attend Big data and data analytics: commercial opportunities, privacy and effectiveness, one of several seminars offered by the Westminster eForum. It took place at the Glazier’s Hall, on London’s south bank next to London Bridge.

The four hour session, split into two halves, was chaired by two members of the House of Lords, Lord Inglewood and Lord Witty, and the speakers represented various users of big data in the UK. These included the ABPI, whose members carry out research and development into new medications, Dunnhumby, who worked with Tesco to launch the original Clubcard in the 1990s, academics and industry partners.

The talks given by the speakers were interesting, and focussed more on policy and high-level overviews, rather than technical details. For example, whilst Hadoop was passively mentioned on some slides, there wasn’t much about deployment and how it works. But there was some discussion about database design, as companies move away from traditional relational databases to big data capturing solutions.

Privacy implications came up several times as well, an irony not lost on one of the speakers who noted that the event coincided with Data Privacy Day. In particular, there was a focus on how to design systems with privacy in mind, but also that the UK’s and Europe’s more restrictive privacy laws may be part of the reason why the world’s biggest data users – GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook & Amazon) – are all based in the US.

I came into the seminar essentially wearing two hats. My main reason for attending was as a blogger (or ‘freelance writer’ according to the attendance list), but data analysis is also one of my roles at work. However, we’re not yet at the stage where we’re using ‘big data’ – most of our data is all within standard relational databases and I can’t see that changing any time soon.

As always, such events also offer a chance to network and it was good to speak with some of the other attendees. As you’d expect from a more high-level seminar, this was an event for people with suits and ties, and not t-shirts and hoodies. Many were from government departments, regulators and other public sector bodies, as well as large organisations such as the BBC and Arqiva.

I came away with plenty of notes, and some action points to perhaps bring up at work. Channel 4’s Viewer Promise video was mentioned as great example of best practice for explaining their privacy policy – far better than pages and pages of legalese. Maybe universities could do something similar to explain the student contract at enrolment.

This day was made possible by Dell, but all thoughts are my own.

January 30, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for January 30, 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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January 24, 2016
by Neil Turner
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A month

Photo of me holding my daughterElizabeth has been a part of our lives for a month now – well, 28 days to be exact. It seems like no time at all since she was born, in some respects, and in others it feels like forever. Especially at 4am when she’s woken us both up for the third time that night.

On the whole she’s doing well. The procedure to separate her tongue was a success and she’s now breastfeeding much better than before. But we’re still giving her mixed feeds as her appetite is huge, and Christine can’t keep up. She’s putting on weight – about an ounce (roughly 30 grams) every day and now weighs around half a kilo more than she did at her lowest. She’ll hopefully pass three kilograms by the end of this week (6 lb 10 oz).

Christine and I are doing okay as well, although there was much sleeping today as we’ve had a busy few days until now. We’ve been lucky that Elizabeth can sleep in the pram and in the car, so that we can spend some time out of the house.

This week is my final week of paternity leave, as I go back to work on the 1st February. We haven’t got much planned at present.

January 23, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for January 23, 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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