Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

September 21, 2017
by Neil Turner
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iOS 11 First Impressions

Screenshot of the app store in iOS 11 As you will be aware, iOS 11 was released by Apple on Tuesday (although it had been leaked over a week before, taking the shine off last week’s product launches).

I’m not brave enough to install beta versions of iOS – I don’t have the luxury of spare devices to test software on – but usually upgrade to the latest released versions of iOS pretty quickly. So I downloaded iOS 11 onto my iPhone on Tuesday evening, and my iPad yesterday morning. And, here are my first impressions. Continue Reading →

September 15, 2017
by Neil Turner
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RHEQs – 106-120

I’m working my way through Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions book, 15 questions at a time. This week, it’s questions 106-120. You can read more about this project herePlease be aware that some of the questions are somewhat vulgar.

106. What do you consider to be the most mediocre chocolate bar?

I’ve never been a been a fan of Double Deckers. Too chewy for my liking.

107. What is the most unconvincing lie you have ever told?

Something at primary school, a couple of days before parents evening. I can’t remember what it was, but my parents told the real story and weren’t very happy with me.

108. Would you be willing to eat a bowl of crickets for $40,000?

Yes. Especially if I had some say in how the crickets were prepared – they may taste quite nice if sauteed with some garlic and herbs. And it’s a decent amount of money.

109. What happened to Lazarus the second time he died?

I’m guessing he died in an uneventful way.

110. If a serial killer kills another serial killer does that work like conkers?

Well, I don’t have a background in law, but I’d guess this would be a ‘no’.

111. What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

Ctrl+Alt+Delete, because it means I’m locking my screen for a break.

112. Would you prefer to live in an igloo or have to dance the fandango every day at 9pm for the rest of your life?

Living in an igloo sounds much more fun.

113. Would you rather have no ears or no dignity?

No ears. I could grow my hair longer to cover their absence, and would hopefully have access to some kind of hearing aid. Or could learn sign language.

114. If you had to would you rather give up chocolate or cheese? If you had to.

That would be difficult, but I would choose cheese. I probably have something chocolately every day, but I eat cheese less often.

115. If you had the power to bring down planes with your mind, would you be able to resist doing so just once? Just to check you really could? Or would you do it loads anyway, laughing at the destruction you had wrought?

I’d like to think I would resist from doing it ever. Hopefully it wouldn’t be a thing that could happen accidentally. I’d hate to accidentally bring down a plane somewhere just because I was having a bad day.

116. What’s the strangest thing you ever found in your junk email?

Spam email asking if I was interested in bulk-buying mops.

117. What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever tried to squeeze down the drain in a shower?

Someone else’s poo.

118. Would you prefer to have a superpower which allowed you to predict the next day’s weather with 75% accuracy or be able to assess if food past its sell-by date was still safe to eat?

The latter. I use CARROT Weather and it seems to be good enough for showing what the weather will be like. Whereas knowing whether I need to chuck something out or could hang onto it might save me a bit of money and reduce waste.

119. If you could choose which liquid you weed, what liquid would you wee?

Lube.

120. What modern day item do you think will seem ridiculously archaic in 10 years time?

Desktop computers with mice. I think touchscreen tablets with docking stations are the likely future.

September 14, 2017
by Neil Turner
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The sad state of travel smartcards outside London

Museum of Transport, Greater Manchester

If you have a spare 10 minutes, and like despairing at your computer screen, read this introductory guide to Greater Manchester’s ‘My Get Me There’ card. ‘My Get Me There’ (yes, that’s what it’s really called) is supposed to be Manchester’s answer to London’s Oyster card. But whereas Oyster is a pervasive and simple presence across all of London’s transport modes, My Get Me There, well, isn’t.

My Get Me There versus Oyster

In London, you can travel by Train, Tram, Underground, Docklands Light Railway, River Bus or Cable Car, and on any of these you can use your Oyster card. Your card may have a weekly, monthly or annual travel card loaded onto it, but if not, there’s a pay-as-you-go balance that you can top up at hundreds of locations across the capital. And you’ll (almost) always pay a lower fare than with a paper ticket, which will also be capped if it would’ve been cheaper to buy a daily or weekly travel card.

In Manchester, My Get Me There works on just the buses and trams. Manchester does of course have trains, but none of the train companies that operate in Greater Manchester accept it. And there’s no pay-as-you-go option. In effect, all My Get Me There does is enable you to load a virtual ticket onto it, provided that you don’t buy it too far in advance. A ticket that would cost the same if issued on paper.

So My Get Me There doesn’t really save you money, and doesn’t offer much convenience over a paper ticket.

De-regulation

What the article doesn’t go into is why such a ludicrous situation has come about. I touched on this a couple of years ago in how London’s buses differ from the rest of the UK. In the 1980s, bus services outside London were de-regulated, such that almost all buses are now run by private companies who set their own fares. London buses remained regulated, and so Transport for London (TfL) sets the fares and routes. When Oyster was introduced in 2004, TfL was able to ensure that it was accepted on every bus, and that Oyster fares would be cheaper than cash. Consequently, Oyster has been a massive success, and now London buses no longer accept cash payments. Instead, you can use Oyster, contactless credit/debit cards, or Apple/Android Pay.

TfL also has more leverage over railway companies. It controls the TfL Rail (soon to be Elizabeth Line) and London Overground franchises, for example. All other London train companies now or will soon accept Oyster, including pay-as-you-go.

In Manchester, TfL’s northern counterpart, Transport for Greater Manchester, only controls ticketing for the Metrolink tram network. So acceptance of My Get Me There cards on buses is by agreement, as far as I am aware. And this doesn’t stretch to the railways, where TfGM has almost no say.

West Yorkshire M-Card

Over here in West Yorkshire, we have the M-CardI get an annual card through work. Compared with My Get Me There and Oyster, it’s somewhere in the middle. You can load daily, weekly or monthly tickets onto a pink M-Card, or buy a yellow annual card (this is what I have). There are also green and blue cards for young people, and a white pay-as-you-go card. All of these are valid on (most) buses, and the pink, yellow and green cards are valid on trains too.

Which sounds good, but it’s worth taking some time to break this down. Firstly, the white pay-as-you-go card is a separate product that can’t be combined with, say, the pink card. So you can’t have a monthly travel card with a pay-as-you-go balance for journeys not covered by the travel card, like you can on Oyster. In this case, you would need two separate cards.

Pay-as-you-go is only available on buses, and not on all operator’s services. And, you’ll pay the same price as you would if purchasing a paper ticket – there’s no financial incentive to use M-Card over cash fares.

Whilst M-Card is better than My Get Me There, it’s still nowhere near as good as Oyster is in London, and I doubt it will ever be. Unless bus services in these areas are re-regulated (something the bus industry is dead against), I don’t think we will see such a successful system as Oyster. Which is a shame; bus usage outside London is falling, and simplified ticketing would be a great way to get people back on board.

September 13, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Kilnsey Park Estate

Kilnsey Park Estate

A couple of weeks ago, Christine, Lizzie and I went to Kilnsey Park Estate in North Yorkshire. I’d been many years before with my parents, as it has a well-known inland trout farm. Located in the Yorkshire Dales, in the shadow of Kilnsey Crag, it was a place we’d often stop off at on the way home from a day walking in the hills.

This time, we made a day of it. Arriving in time for lunch, we ate at the café, which, as you’d expect, offers mostly trout-based dishes. Lizzie had trout and chips, and I had a nice trout salad. The café is open to all and there’s a gift shop which sells local produce. And trout.

Explorer trail

It’s around £5 per adult to enter the rest of the site. We followed the ‘Explorer trail’, which starts at the bottom of the valley and heads up to Kilnsey spring. This provides the water for the trout farm, and drives two small hydroelectric generators. Combined with a water-based heat pump, Kilnsey Park is able to generate all of its own energy.

There’s a small farm area with some pygmy and Angora goats, pigs, sheep and various chickens. Kilnsey is also home to some red squirrels; once prevalent in the UK but now restricted to just a few remote places in the wild. The red squirrels are in a cage, which, combined with their quick movements, make them quite hard to take photos of.

Heading out into the fields, and there are pheasants and grouse. And some alpacas – Kilnsey Park has been home to alpacas for around 100 years, and used to supply wool to Salt’s Mill in Saltaire near Bradford.

Further up the hillside, there’s a small butterfly garden, which lived up to its name – there were plenty of butterflies there.

And trout

And yes, there were more trout. You get to see the various different pools across the site, from the nursery at the top down to the mature pools at the bottom. Bags of fish food are available to purchase and Lizzie really enjoyed feeding the fish. For an extra cost, you can hire a fishing rod to catch the trout, although you also have to pay £3 for every fish you catch. Processing facilities are provided should you wish to take your catches home to eat. Lizzie was a bit too young for this but it would be great to come back when she’s older and a bit more patient.

It was nice to visit Kilnsey again, and I was pleased that there was enough to do there to be able to spend a whole day. It’s not expensive, and seeing the red squirrels was a highlight for me. Lizzie enjoyed it as well – it’s a good place to take an adventurous toddler. And there are plenty of good photo opportunities – especially if the weather is nice.

September 8, 2017
by Neil Turner
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RHEQs – 91-105

I’m working my way through Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions book, 15 questions at a time. This week, it’s questions 91-105. You can read more about this project herePlease be aware that some of the questions are somewhat vulgar.

91. Have you ever been to Barometer World?

I never knew that Barometer World existed until now. Seeing as it’s in Devon, it’s a bit far.

92. Would you like to live in a world where everyone else was barometers?

No – I think that would be too much pressure.

Thank you, I’m here all week.

93. How did the murder of Thomas A Beckett affect Anglo-Papal relations in the 12th Century?

Without looking it up, I have no idea. History was never my strongest subject at school and I dropped it after year 9.

94. Do you know the way to San Jose?

This is what Google Maps is for. In any case, from here, it would involve a flight or a very, very long time on a boat.

95. There is no such thing as morality. Discuss.

Oh I think there is. I generally believe that most people are moral, and act in good faith.

96. Which RHLSTP guest would you most like to snog and why?

Sofie Hagen. She’s so lovely and I it would be great to meet her.

97. I once burped during the minute’s silence at the Ascension Day Service – what was the most audacious thing you did whilst at school?

I genuinely can’t think of anything. I was generally a good, average pupil (just had the one detention in year 9) and didn’t do anything particularly naughty or outstanding.

98. Do you think it’s possible that Postman Pat has had some kind of breakdown and the people of Greendale are just putting up with him out of some kind of misplaced loyalty to his younger self?

I think it’s possible. I’ve also heard a similar, tragic story about Iggle Piggle from In The Night Garden.

99. Would you rather do a Freaky Friday/Vice Versa with Brian Blessed or CJ from Eggheads?

I don’t watch Eggheads and don’t know much about CJ. And I think I’d enjoy being Brian Blessed and being able to boom at things. I think I do a reasonably good Brian Blessed impression but it gives me a sore throat after a while, and of course, it can’t be done quietly.

100. Which conspiracy theory do you think might actually be true?

I think there’s been a conspiracy to fudge immigration figures in Britain to make it look like it’s a bigger problem than it actually is. Here’s my evidence.

101. Have things turned out like you expected them to?

No, not really. When I was younger, I thought that I would have a career in the IT industry, and live in a city. Instead I work in education, and live in a small town.

102. Do you think the Tim Allen film, “The Santa Clause” could ever happen in real life? If you were press-ganged into being Santa would you feel happy or resentful?

No, I don’t think it could happen in real life, and I don’t think I’d want the stress of being Santa. Think about it, your performance assessment is on the basis of the outputs of just one big day a year. Okay, so you have all year to prepare for it, but it’d be a lot of pressure.

103. If you had to dig up the corpse of a celebrity who died in 2016 and have sex with it – if you had to – which one would you choose?

Defiling the corpse of a celebrity would be a pretty low thing to do. If I had to – maybe Nancy Reagan?

104. Would you prefer to be a lion for day or a lamb for a lifetime?

A lion for a day. I imagine my lifetime as a lamb would be very short.

105. How do you sleep at night?

See yesterday’s blog post.

September 7, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Sleep

Fitbit sleep statsBeing the parent of a small child, sleep, or the lack thereof, is a big issue for me. Having enough energy to function at work during the day is sometimes a struggle.

My recent purchase of a Fitbit Alta HR has visualised this problem. Because it’s lighter than the previous Fitbit models that I’ve owned, I’ve started wearing it at night to track how well I sleep. Which, it turns out, isn’t very well.

Adults should aim for between 7 and 9 hours per night. I set my target for 7 hours, and, as you can see from the screenshot, I don’t always manage that every night. And when I do, it’s usually only just above that – it rarely approaches the ideal average of eight hours per night.

Lizzie is probably the biggest factor here. Whilst she sometimes sleeps through the night, she usually wakes up once for a drink. This doesn’t always wake me up, but if it does, it can sometimes take me quite a while to get back to sleep again.

There’s also the issue of co-sleeping. Last week, we started putting Lizzie in her cot in our bedroom. She’ll usually only go in if she’s already asleep, so it’s quite a delicate operation. On the whole, not having her on our bed all night has improved my sleep quality, except that when she wakes up and wants a drink. If that happens, she’s more likely to wake me up as well.

We also found that making sure that Lizzie is sufficiently worn out helps. At times, she has still been full of energy at 10pm. Now that she can walk, we’re trying not to have her in the pushchair as much, so that she burns off more energy.

Another intervention I’ve made is regarding caffeinated beverages. I’m trying not to drink anything with caffeine in it (including cola) after 2pm each day. It can take more than 6 hours for the effects of caffeine to wear off, and so having a Pepsi with dinner or a late afternoon coffee or energy drink can have knock-on effects when I want to sleep later on. I’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks, and found that I’ve been going to sleep more quickly. Better quality sleep means less need for caffeine and so hopefully it’ll cut down how much I need to consume.

September 1, 2017
by Neil Turner
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RHEQs – 76-90

I’m working my way through Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions book, 15 questions at a time. This week, it’s questions 76-90. You can read more about this project herePlease be aware that some of the questions are somewhat vulgar.

76. Have you ever tried sushi?

Yes. I eat in on occasion – it tends to be available at those Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet places. And yes, I know sushi is Japanese. I’ve been to Yo Sushi once; enjoyed it, but it was very expensive.

77. Have you ever tried sashimi?

I had to look up the difference between sushi and sashimi. Turns out that, no, I have not tried sashimi. I think I’d like it though.

78. Who is your favourite mythological figure?

Thor, although I’m basing this mostly on his depiction in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

79. Have you ever demolished a wall or a building?

No. We’ve had an additional wall built in our house though.

80. What’s the worst incorrect rumour you have heard about yourself?

Probably something at school where I apparently fancied someone, and didn’t.

81. Would you rather have a tongue that could taste impending danger or get a free iPhone?

Free iPhone. I’m not one for getting myself into dangerous situations.

82. Why do we have frozen peas? Why is that the only vegetable that the principle way we use it is in frozen form? I know there are other frozen veg, but only the pea is principally used as a frozen, rather than fresh or tinned commodity. Why?

Ease of storage, I guess? Fresh peas out of pods would be harder to package.

83. Have you ever been in the vicinity of a bigfoot, but not seen it, but sensed it watching you?

Not that I am aware of.

84. If you had to have sex with an item of food – if you had to – which food would you choose? Do you think it would be morally wrong to eat the food after you had made love with it? Or unhygienic at least?

Something like a carrot or a cucumber. I suppose you could put it inside a condom and then wash it up afterwards.

85. Where do you stand on transubstantiation?

I’m not a Christian so it’s pretty meaningless to me.

86. Would you rather have the ability to shoot bees out of your eyes or have a pair of shoes that never needed to be cleaned or repaired?

The pair of shoes. I wear shoes out quite regularly and this would save me so much money. And I would be worried about accidentally releasing bees from my eyes at inappropriate moments.

87. If you could communicate with one animal, which animal would you communicate with and what would you ask them?

My mother-in-law’s cat, to ask her why she runs away so often.

88. If you were given the powers of a King Midas, what would you turn everything you touched into?

I like Richard’s answer to this question, which you’ll have to buy to read. I’d go for a variation, but with chocolate.

89. How many fingers was Richard Herring holding up as he first asked this question?

He was probably holding a notepad, so I’m going to say 3.

90. If you had the powers of a Gary Sparrow and could travel from the 1990s to the 1940s what would you do?

For context, this is the Goodnight Sweetheart question. I think I’d just want to experience what life was like then, and see how places have or haven’t changed.

August 29, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Train travel with mobile tickets

Yesterday Lizzie and I went to Manchester by train, and I travelled on a mobile ticket for the first time. Christine sadly had to work the bank holiday, and when I weighed up the cost of driving and parking, the train seemed like a good option.

Having watched a recent bonus All The Stations video sponsored by Trainline, I decided to give mobile ticketing a try. This is where you store the ticket on your mobile phone, and show your handset instead of having a paper ticket. I already use the Trainline app for checking the times of my train to work on a morning, and so it only took a few extra taps to buy a mobile ticket.

Once purchased, you need to download the ticket to your phone, and activate it. By downloading the ticket, you are saving it to your device, which means that you can still view the ticket even if you don’t have phone reception. This is handy considering that there’s no phone reception at some more remote railway stations, or in tunnels. Activation has to be done on the day of travel.

Once activated, the app shows your origin, destination and any required routing information. For example, your ticket may require you to travel via a certain station. It will also show a barcode; train guards may scan this to verify your ticket’s validity, and you’ll need it to go through ticket barriers. Most barriers do now support barcode scanning – I had no problems at Manchester Victoria.

In a previous guide to buying tickets, I’ve recommended avoiding Trainline as it charges a booking fee. At the time of writing (August 2017), Trainline does not charge booking fees for mobile tickets, meaning that you’ll pay the same as you would do if you bought your ticket from any other web site, or a ticket office. The only exception is a 20p charge for using a credit card, but debit cards are free.

Availability of mobile tickets

Mobile tickets are not yet available with all operators. I travelled with Northern, who (I think) have rolled out mobile tickets for all of their routes. Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, Great Western Railway (GWR), Greater Anglia, TransPennine Express and Virgin Trains offer mobile tickets for some or all of their services.

Other train companies will probably be rolling out mobile ticketing, as there’s a government commitment to offer an alternative to all paper tickets by the end of 2018. However, this may not apply to franchises such as ScotRail, London Overground, TfL Rail, Arriva Trains Wales and Merseyrail where the specifications are set by devolved governments/public bodies.

Advantages

For me, the key advantage was being able to purchase a ticket on my phone, and not have to then pick up a paper ticket from a machine on arrival at the station. Sowerby Bridge station does have a ticket machine, but it’s on the Leeds-bound platform. This saved me a bit of time; I wasn’t in a rush but it would’ve helped had I been.

It’s also harder to lose a ticket that’s on your phone. I’ve lost paper tickets before, including a pair of return tickets to London that went missing when we moved house most recently. Thankfully we found them, but I also lost the return portion of a ticket whilst out in Leeds once. That resulted in me deciding to walk to Kirkstall Forge station where my MCard was valid from. At least I got an extra blog post out of it, I suppose.

Disadvantages

Mobile tickets cost the same as regular paper tickets, so there’s no financial incentive to use them (barring the potential cost of replacing lost tickets). This is a shame; one reason why London’s Oyster smartcard has been so successful is that it’s also cheaper.

You also need to ensure that your phone has enough charge to last a complete journey. An increasing number of trains offer charging points but not all of them do, and not everyone carries a power bank around (although I do). If your phone runs out of power, resulting in you not being able to show a valid ticket, then you may be liable for a penalty fare.

Most ticket gates have been upgraded to read barcodes, but some may not. In which case, you’ll need to find a gateline supervisor to let you through.

Conclusion

My first mobile ticketing experience went well. I had no issues with the ticket barriers at Manchester Victoria, and I didn’t get any confused looks from the staff who inspected my mobile ticket.

The Trainline app is good, but could be better. It’s a little slow to start, and you can’t add the tickets to your Wallet app (formerly Passbook). I couldn’t test whether Apple Pay works as I don’t have a compatible handset.

August 25, 2017
by Neil Turner
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RHEQs – 61-75

I’m working my way through Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions book, 15 questions at a time. This week, it’s questions 61-75. You can read more about this project herePlease be aware that some of the questions are somewhat vulgar.

61. What’s your worst experience with the delivery company Yodel?

I had a package ‘delivered’, but couldn’t see it anywhere – it came when no-one was at home, and I couldn’t see anywhere obvious where it had been hidden outside. I made a complaint and they ‘investigated’ it – the delivery driver stated that he had delivered it to our back door, which was bizarre because we don’t have one.

A couple of days later, our next-door neighbour came around – the package had been delivered to them. I suppose I should give Yodel the benefit of the doubt to some extent but it wasn’t a great experience at the time.

I reckon there should be a law that states that companies must inform consumers who the delivery company will be before the purchase is completed. My heart sinks whenever I buy something online, and then find out it’s being delivered by Yodel or Hermes (with whom we’ve also had issues). I’d rather pay a little more and have it delivered by someone better; the past few deliveries we’ve had from DPD have been great, for example.

62. Would you rather date a woman who was a six foot vulva or a woman who instead of having genitalia had another woman living in a burrow between her legs?

The woman with another woman living in the burrow – extra company!

63. What’s the best museum you’ve ever been to?

The ‘Dead Zoo’ in Dublin, Ireland, better known as the Natural History Museum. There’s some amusing taxidermy going on. Eureka in Halifax is also great.

64. If you could murder one person and have an 87% chance of getting away with it, who would you kill?

I’ll preface this with my view that murder is never. ever acceptable – no matter how evil the victim is.

That being said… if something ‘happened’ to Donald Trump, I think the world would be a better place. I mean, he’s old now…

65. What is the biggest animal that has bitten you?

A hamster. I know, it’s not a very impressive answer, but my allergies make close contact with bigger animals difficult.

66. Have you got what it takes to be a spy?

Hah, no. I’m not the best at keeping secrets, to the extent that a close friend of mine doesn’t tell me anything important until it’s already public knowledge.

67. Is Dutch a genuine language or are the people of Holland just taking the piss out of us all?

Yes, it is – and don’t forget that some parts of Belgium speak a dialect of Dutch.

68. If you could jump into a pool of something, what would it be?

Relaxing massage oil.

69. What age would you like to be when you get to Heaven, presuming there is a Heaven and you get to choose what age you’ll be up there?

101. I’d like to hit triple figures and then call it a day. Considering my great-grandmother lived to 102, my grandad is going strong at almost 97 and my dad is well in his 70s, I stand a good chance of making it too.

70. If you could get a law named after you, what would it be?

‘When dealing with a group of people, you’ll spend 90% of your time dealing with the most awkward 10% of them.’

71. If you could have a part of the human body named after you what would it be?

Probably a leg bone, as I’d like to think I’m a supportive person.

72. What do you consider your median achievement?

My photography skills. I could probably a fantastic photographer if I had the time to learn more about how my DSLR camera’s different modes worked. As it stands, I take lots of reasonable photos, but not many fantastic ones.

73. Do you ever worry that you have already lived your life and are now in a care home with Alzheimer’s Disease and what you perceive as reality is just a distorted memory of the first time this happened?

No.

74. Is there anything purple within 10 feet of you?

Yes – a purple sock bunny that lives on my desk. Christine bought it for me very early on in our relationship.

75. Which five celebrities are on your celebrity shag list?

  1. Jennifer Lawrence
  2. Amy Schumer
  3. Victoria Coren-Mitchell
  4. Neil Patrick Harris
  5. John Barrowman