Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

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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January 20, 2016
by Neil Turner
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App of the Week: Laundry Day

Laundry Day on iOSWhen you’re a child, your parents are usually kind enough to wash your clothes for you. This means that, when you become a responsible adult and have to wash your own clothes, it can be a bit of a shock. Especially if you own clothes which can’t be shoved in a standard mixed load wash at 40°C.

Most clothes include written washing instructions on the label, but will usually also have 5 symbols on which tell you what temperature you should wash it, whether the clothes can be bleached, tumble-dried or ironed, or whether you should take them along to the dry cleaners. These symbols are essentially a de-facto international standard, which is handy if you’ve bought clothes overseas and the care label isn’t in English.

To help you decipher these symbols, there’s an iOS app called Laundry Day. Give it access to your iPhone’s camera, and then point it at the care label of the garment in question. It’ll do its best to identify the symbols, and, with a tap of the screen, it’ll explain what each symbol means in plain English.

I found that the camera struggled a bit, especially on labels where the text had faded following many washes. In most cases, it wasn’t able to correctly identify all five symbols.

Laundry Day on iOS Fortunately, the first tab of the app shows you every possible symbol, so if you’re having no luck with the camera, you can manually select the symbols and still get the information in a readable format. The last tab, ‘Help & About’, also offers some general tips for working with certain types of fabric like silk and wool. There’s a checklist as well – did you empty the pockets first?

It’s a handy little app and I could see many students wanting to use it when they first go to university come September. For years, our student magazine at Bradford used to have a page about washing clothes, with an explainer for the various symbols, in the freshers week issue. I suppose this is the more modern equivalent of it. And it’s more accurate than this list.

Laundry Day is 79p, and available on the App Store for iPhone.

January 18, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Tell me why, I don’t like Mondays

Does anyone remember a channel called Sky Travel? It was a satellite TV channel in Britain that showed various documentaries and advertisements for travel destinations, which ran between 1994 and 2010.

Why am I mentioning this? Around 10 years ago, Sky Travel commissioned a dubious piece of ‘research’ to find ‘the most depressing day of the year’, which was then used in a press release to promote the channel. It stated that, due to various factors, this would be the third Monday of January each year. That would make it today, and it has gained the moniker of ‘Blue Monday’.

It’s well worth reading this article by Dr Ben Goldacre on the subject. Written for The Guardian, and re-published on his blog, it debunks the claims made in the press release; whilst there are peaks for prescriptions for anti-depressants and depression-related GP consultations, these are spread out throughout the year. There’s no single worst date. This hasn’t stopped a whole swath of brands pushing out ‘Blue Monday’ related posts on social media, although at least, in some cases, these include competitions and offers.

Of course, depression isn’t a subject to be taken lightly. If you’re having a hard time, see a health professional or a counsellor, or contact an organisation such as the Samaritans or Rethink Mental Illness.

As for me? I was asleep for a large part of it. We’ve had a busy weekend introducing Elizabeth to various friends and whilst she is sleeping better, she is still waking up several times a night for feeds and nappy changes. So I didn’t actually wake up properly until after 12pm today. I am so glad that I am still on paternity leave.