Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

April 26, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Unrolling from unroll.me

Screenshot of unroll.me

Over the weekend, the New York Times profiled Travis Kalanick, the CEO of controversial ride-hailing app Uber. It’s fascinating, and I’d suggest taking a few minutes out to read it. Done? Great – we’ll continue.

The biggest revelation was a supposed meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook; Apple had threatened to remove the Uber app from the App Store for violating its rules. But further down was another surprise, about an email management service called unroll.me.

What is unroll.me?

Unroll.me, when linked to a major email provider like Gmail, goes through your inbox and highlights newsletter subscriptions. You can then choose to:

  • keep these coming into your inbox as normal
  • roll them up into a single daily digest email
  • delete them on receipt

It’s a free service, and, in the early days, Unroll.me made its money solely through advertising in these emails. But in 2014, it was bought by Slice, itself now part of the massive Japanese Rakuten empire. Following its purchase, it started offering anonymised data from the inboxes of its users to third parties. One of these third parties was Uber, and the data it was sending were email receipts from journeys made using its major rival, Lyft.

Unroll.me, from a legal perspective, was probably doing nothing wrong – I’m sure that this was included in its privacy policy and terms of service. But nobody reads those things. Users felt betrayed, and there has been a predictable backlash. Which hasn’t been helped by a statement from the company which basically says that they’ll carry on as before with a vague promise of being more transparent. A Medium post from one of unroll.me’s co-founders isn’t much better.

Delete your account

So, I’ve de-activated my account. I’ve been using unroll.me for about a year, and it’s been useful. But I’m uncomfortable with my data being shared with third parties in this way – especially if one of those is Uber. Though I’ve used Uber in the past, I deleted the app sometime ago, and I have major issues with how they do business.

Europeans like me tend to have a higher expectation that our personal information won’t be sold on by third parties, thanks to legislation like the Data Protection Act (and equivalents in other EU nations). Unroll.me is a US service and runs under US laws, and so it’s probably not doing anything wrong. But that doesn’t stop these revelations from being really, really creepy.

If you want to delete your account, Lifehacker has some instructions; you’ll also need to revoke access to your Google account afterwards if you use Gmail. In any case, managing my email using Google’s new Inbox tool is easier than ‘classic’ Gmail and so I’ll probably stick with that, rather than trying to find an alternative to unroll.me.

April 25, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Beningbrough Hall

Beningbrough Hall

Easter Monday, despite being a bank holiday, was quite a nice day. So, we went to Beningbrough Hall, near York, with my parents in tow.

I’ve been before, as it’s not far from my parents’ house, and it’s a National Trust property. My parents have been National Trust members for years, and I also joined some time ago. Unfortunately, there aren’t many properties near us in West Yorkshire. East Riddlesden Hall is the nearest to where we live, and so I don’t get many chances to use my membership. So it was nice to be able to get some return on my membership fees. Plus, Christine has never been.

We didn’t go inside the hall itself, although I later found out that there’s a children’s playroom inside – dammit! Beningbrough Hall is a northern outpost of the National Portrait Gallery, and so there are many paintings inside.

Instead, we strolled around the gardens. They’re not the biggest, but they’re pretty and well-kept. Being Easter, there was the usual Cadbury’s Egg Hunt taking place. Lizzie is a bit young for this, but I think she’ll enjoy it next year.

There’s also a good outdoor playground. Again, it’s better for bigger kids, but Lizzie enjoyed the swings. During school holidays, there are opportunities to build dens in the wood, and various other activities to keep children entertained.

As usual, there are photos on Flickr.

April 24, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Centre Vale Park

Centre Vale Park

A few Saturdays ago, given the unseasonably warm weather, myself, Christine, Lizzie and a friend spent an afternoon wandering around Centre Vale Park in Todmorden. It’s a large public park that sits to the north of the town, and once contained Centre Vale, a stately home. Centre Vale has since been demolished, and is one of the houses featured in Kate Lycett’s Lost Houses of the South Pennines exhibition. Where the house once stood is an outline of bricks.

I’ll be honest – the main reason for our visit was to catch Pokémon. Public parks tend to have ‘nests’ in Pokémon Go, which rotate every fortnight, and we’d heard that there were a number of Sunkern spawning there. They’re somewhat rare, and we managed to catch five that afternoon.

Centre Vale Park has most of what you’d expect from a typical public park. There’s a large open space for playing games, a reasonably sized play area with swings and slides, an outdoor gym, and some planted areas. There’s also a small walled garden at the back, with a war memorial, and a small menagerie inside. This houses some snakes and lizards, some terrapins and (presumably) a few butterflies. It’s not quite what we expected to see, but it was free to visit.

The Lucky Dog of Todmorden You can also go and touch the Lucky Dog statue, as featured on a recent Derren Brown TV series.

The focal point of the park is a bandstand. Unlike most, it’s more of a stage, located at the edge of the park facing inwards, rather than the more typical circular ones seen elsewhere. Alas, it’s in a poor state of repair and is fenced off. It’s a shame, as it could be used for outdoor shows with large audiences.

I actually enjoyed Centre Vale Park more than I thought I would. The menagerie was an unexpected find, and the views of the upper Calder valley are great on a sunny day. Todmorden itself is not a bad place to visit, with some interesting shops and cafés. It’s a good way to spend a sunny weekend afternoon.

April 23, 2017
by Neil Turner
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The National Coal Mining Museum for England

National Coal Mining Museum for England

Yesterday I took Lizzie to the National Coal Mining Museum for England, which is near Wakefield. Christine was working again and I’d heard that it was a good place to take kids of all ages. Plus, it had the advantage of it being free to enter.

The mining museum opened in the late 1980s, and became a national museum in 1995. You can read more about the history of the site on Wikipedia. However, this was my first ever visit. My parents never took me as a child, and I hadn’t been as an adult because we’ve not had a car until recently. It’s not very well-served by public transport – typically three buses an hour from Wakefield, 2 from Huddersfield and 1 from Dewsbury. But there is ample car parking and it’s on the main A642 road

The main attraction is the opportunity to go down the old Caphouse Colliery coal mine. Alas, you need to be at least five years old to do so and so we’ll have to come back to do that sometime after 2020 when Lizzie is old enough. Fortunately, there’s a playroom for the under-5s with a ball pit and soft play area. Collectively, this kept Lizzie entertained for the best part of an hour.

National Coal Mining Museum for England

Two coal mines

The mining museum actually spans two pits – Caphouse, and Hope Pit, which is at the other end of the site. A narrow-gauge railway runs between the two, and on weekends you can get on board a small battery-powered train. Alternatively, it’s a quarter of a mile walk.

You can’t go down Hope Pit, but most of the surface buildings are open to have a look inside, and there are some information panels and interactive exhibits. However, there were no staff on hand to talk about the exhibits – and this is something I noticed generally across the day. It’s a big museum, but I feel it could be brought more to life with more staff.

Living and working

The entrance to the mining museum includes a visitor centre, and galleries focussing on the human side of the mining industry. How people lived, and the impact of industrial action, with a particular focus on the Miners Strike of the 1980s. I was born during the strike, so was too young to remember it. The museum tries to take quite a neutral line on the dispute; though it covers the hardship that mining families faced, it explains the other side as well. As a national museum, I expect that it receives central government funding, so this perhaps isn’t so surprising. But it’s a different attitude to, say, the People’s History Museum in Manchester.

National Coal Mining Museum for England

One thing I noticed about the other visitors was that I was one of the youngest adults there, despite being in my thirties. There were lots of kids there (including a birthday party group) but many were with their grandparents, whom I’m guessing may have worked down the mines in their heyday, or lived in mining communities. Coincidentally, Friday marked the first time that Britain’s energy needs were met without coal for 24 hours.

Stables

Outside, you can visit the stables where two pit ponies and a horse now live. Although horses were used in commercial mining right into the 1990s (something I learned on my visit), none of these three horses has ever worked down a mine. At one time, these would have pulled a Paddy Train up the side of the mining museum site. But said paddy train was lying rusting in a far corner of the site, along with its plaque commemorating its opening in 1990. Indeed, several parts of the site are part-derelict. Unfortunately, being a free museum means that it’s reliant on donations and public funding.

This aside, I think we both had a good day out. Discounting lunch in the café, which serves reasonable but expensive food, we spent about 3 hours there. Had we been able to go underground, I expect this would have been longer. I’m sure we’ll be back when Lizzie is older.

April 22, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for April 22, 2017

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

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April 19, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Toshiba FlashAir Wifi SD card review

Photo of a 16 GB Toshiba FlashAir Wi-fi SD cardI recently bought a wi-fi enabled SD card, to replace my standard non-wireless one in my DSLR camera. Part of the reason for this has been because I’m a bit rubbish at remembering to download images. But also because I can only download large number of images to my Mac desktop, which I don’t use very often nowadays. With a regular SD card, my only options for downloading images are connecting the camera directly to a computer, or using an SD card reader.

I have a wireless SD card reader: a RAVPower 5-in-1 FileHub, which I reviewed in 2013. But it’s slow, and requires you to take the SD card out of the camera. An SD card with wi-fi built in would be a big step forward.

Choosing between Eye-Fi, Toshiba and Transcend

When choosing a wi-fi enabled SD card, there are three major brands to decide between.

Eye-Fi is the best known, having been established for several years. Indeed, some cameras have menu options for managing Eye-Fi cards in their firmware. However, I gather that Eye-Fi was recently bought out, and modern cards don’t work very well as the online services that they rely on no longer exist. They’re also a bit more expensive.

That leaves Toshiba and Transcend. Lifehacker recommends the Toshiba FlashAir cards, and they’re cheaper, so that’s what I went for.

Between ordering the card and it being delivered, it was announced that Toshiba was in financial difficulty. Fortunately, even if Toshiba goes bankrupt, the cards should still work, as they’re not reliant on Toshiba’s servers being online. And whilst it’s possible that Toshiba’s apps won’t work in future, there are several third-party apps available.

How FlashAir works

The FlashAir SD card looks like any other SD card – it’s the same size and shape. But, in addition to the onboard flash memory (8, 16 or 32 gigabytes), there’s a tiny computer that creates a wi-fi hotspot. It uses power from your camera to boot up, and a ‘flashair_randomcharacters’ wi-fi network will appear. Connect to it, using the default ‘12345678’ password, and then open the FlashAir app on your device. Which you’ll have needed to download first.

The app is very simple. It shows you a grid of images on the card, and an icon overlay to show whether they’ve already been downloaded. You can view individual images (which take a few seconds to download fully), or you can select images in bulk. There’s the standard ‘Share’ icon – tap it, and you can download the images to your device, or share them directly to Facebook or Twitter, or via email.

You can also use the app to change some settings on the card. In particular, you can enable Internet passthrough, allowing the FlashAir card to connect to your home wi-fi network. This means that you can still access the internet on your device whilst using the card. Unfortunately, it can only store the details for one wi-fi network, and you have to type this in manually. Furthermore, you can’t seem to access the card’s content via your existing home wi-fi network; the only way to access the card is to connect to it directly.

Despite its faults, the FlashAir card is very fast. It’s a Class 10 SD card, so it performs well, and data transfers are reasonably quick. Thumbnails in particular download very quickly. The only other downsize is that there is less usable space on the card, as some of this is taken up for the operating system. My 16 gigabyte card had around 13 gigabytes of usable space. Hopefully though, it’ll make getting photos off my DSLR camera much easier, and so I’ll actually download my images more often!

As you’d expect, you can buy Toshiba FlashAir SD cards from Amazon.

April 18, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Some collected thoughts about today’s General Election annoucement

  • Oh bloody hell.
  • I’m almost certainly going to vote for Labour, but I expect them to get trounced on June 8th.
  • The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 means that two thirds of MPs must vote in favour of the election, but I expect that they will.
  • Thankfully I had nothing planned for June 8th.
  • It would be hilarious if Theresa May loses her seat. It won’t happen, but if it did, it would be hilarious.
  • Northern Ireland parties aside, the Conservatives and UKIP are the only pro-Brexit parties, and the latter currently has 0 MPs. And even though 48% of those who voted in last year’s referendum voted to stay in the EU, I bet the Conservatives win a larger majority.
  • Bloody, bloody hell.
  • PLEASE REGISTER TO VOTE if you haven’t already done so. May be worth filling out the form anyway just in case. And if you’ll be on holiday on the 8th June, then make sure that you have a postal vote.
  • I reckon that the SNP will hang on to most of their seats in Scotland.
  • So much for those boundary changes, eh?
  • I bet this’ll knacker the turnout for the local council elections on the 4th May.
  • I’ll be surprised if UKIP manages even 1 MP after the 8th June.
  • I really, really hope that Philip Davies loses his seat in Shipley.
  • Whoever wins the Manchester Gorton by-election on the 4th May won’t be in power for very long.
  • Bloody hell.

April 16, 2017
by Neil Turner
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A marathon ask

This time next week, it will be the annual London Marathon – a grueling 26.2 mile run through central London.

I’m not running it – heck, I can barely manage to run a mile without feeling like death, never mind 26 of them. So instead, I’m kindly asking you to sponsor my friend Philip, who is.

I’ve known Philip for probably about a decade; we’re both from York, but met at university. He always used to be quite portly, until he took up running a few years ago. The transformation has been immense, and he now regularly takes part in the weekly Parkruns on Saturday mornings, as well as running with his local club. The London Marathon will be his longest and hardest race yet.

He’s only just past halfway towards his £500 target, so please donate – he’s raising money for Bradford Central Foodbank, Action on Hearing Loss (formerly the RNID), Nordoff Robbins and Cancer Support Yorkshire.

April 15, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for April 15, 2017

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

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April 13, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Walking the Hebble Trail

Hebble Trail

Here’s another thing that I did last year, but didn’t get around to writing about at the time.

There’s a footpath called the Hebble Trail, which follows the Hebble Brook upstream from Salterhebble up into Halifax town centre. In parts, it uses the route of the Halifax Arm, a disused canal branch off the main Calder and Hebble Navigation. So, on a sunny day in August last year, I decided to check it out.

I walked from home in Sowerby Bridge, along the Rochdale Canal and thence the Calder and Hebble Navigation, and then picked up the Hebble Trail at Salterhebble. A small stub of the Halifax Arm remains, running to a turning area for narrowboats outside the Watermill pub. The footpath continues through a tunnel under the A629 road, which would have carried the Halifax Arm back in the day. Straight afterwards, you’re into the filled-in remains of one of the 14 locks that used to carry the canal up to the town centre.

Hebble Trail

The footpath doesn’t follow the canal for the whole route and does deviate a little, but almost all of the first section is off major roads. There are a number of information boards on the way up, but almost all have been defaced by graffiti. Worse still, much of that graffiti looks to have been there for some time.

Sometime over the past decade or so, several pieces of outdoor gym equipment have been added. Whilst these are common in public parks, the equipment here is spread out along the trail. I suppose this means that you could go for a run, but also stop at each set of equipment to combine resistance and cardio training, should that sort of thing interest you.

After passing though a small industrial estate, the Hebble Trail reaches Shaw Lodge – a large mill complex. Nowadays, most of the signs encourage you to head back to the main road at this point, but I knew that the trail continued onwards. I was about to find out why the signs were changed.

My comment about the graffiti was perhaps a sign of things to come. The Northern section of the Hebble Trail is clearly not a priority for our local council and is therefore in a state of serious disrepair. It’s also not great if you’re planning to cycle it, or pushing a pram – which I was. Part of the trail involves passing under some industrial buildings, and these were covered in wall to wall graffiti. Thankfully, it was late morning on a sunny summer day. I wouldn’t have liked to have done this in the winter.

Hebble Trail

The final section passes through what was the Mackintosh Toffee factory. It’s now owned by Nestlé, and is where After Eights and Quality Street are manufactured. The trail hugs the Hebble Brook closely through this section, and ends at a butterfly meadow below Halifax railway station. The meadow, alas, is private property owned by the big Swiss confectionary company, but you can often see rabbits hopping about in it.

The Hebble Trail ends under the railway viaduct, behind Halifax Minster. It’s then just a short walk up the hill into the town centre proper.

The lower, southern portion of the Hebble Trail is lovely and good for a stroll – especially in the summer, as the trees provide a lot of shade. It’s just a shame that the northern section has been forgotten about, and left to deteriorate. It could be a great segregated route into the town for walkers and cyclists, away from the main roads, if appropriate investment is made. Sadly, I can’t see that being a priority for our local council, and as the northern section isn’t part of the National Cycle Network, I can’t see there being any other funding forthcoming.

You can find the rest of my photos on Flickr.