Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

February 27, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Askham Bryan Wildlife & Conservation Park

Lizard at Askham Bryan Wildlife & Conservation Park

York, the city I was born in, now has yet another tourist attraction – the Askham Bryan Wildlife and Conservation Park. Located on the edge of the city by the ring road, it’s on the site of Askham Bryan College, one of the largest agricultural colleges in the UK. It’s been open just over a week, and I visited with Christine and Lizzie yesterday.

Fish and reptiles

The visit starts inside the visitor centre, with a look at fish and reptiles. Sadly the fish tank had broken already, and so was empty. To make up for it, visitors were allowed behind the scenes to one of the back rooms. Here, there were many more small aquatic and amphibious animals that were not normally on show to the public. Plus, students from the college were on-hand to answer questions.

It’s worth noting here that the wildlife park isn’t just a tourist attraction, but is part of Askham Bryan College itself. Many of the keepers are also students of the college, who are doing courses in animal management. The courses range right from basic level 1 qualifications in land-based studies all the way through to degrees. The wildlife park therefore gives the students practical experience as an integrated part of their course, without the need to go elsewhere.

After the reptiles, there’s a nocturnal animals section with dimmed lights. The animals here included a civet, a sugar glider, an armadillo and several chinchillas. All apart from the chinchillas were active when we first arrived in the morning, but were nowhere to be seen in the afternoon. The chinchillas seemed to be asleep the whole time.

The visitor centre also includes an ‘Education Pod’, and we went to two handling sessions during the day. One focused on reptiles, with the opportunity to stroke a snake, a bearded dragon and a tortoise, and the other on bugs – stick insects and cockroaches.

Meerkats and farm animals

Mongoose

Outside, there’s a meerkat and mongoose enclosure, with two gangs of meerkats in separate areas. The Yorkshire Wildlife Park, a few miles south near Doncaster, also mixes its meerkats and mongooses (not ‘mongeese’) and this is because the two species often share burrows in the wild. There were a couple of talks about the meerkats during the day, and we stayed for the second talk in the afternoon.

Next is a farm enclosure, home to seven goats, spanning three species, and three alpacas. Again, there was a ‘Meet a goat’ talk, where kids got chance to pet a large goat called Steve.

Arboretum

Skunk
The rest of the site is in what used to be Askham Bryan College’s arboretum. There’s a wide variety of trees and plants, with the same information boards as the animals. Some of the trees, like the animals, are endangered, and so it was interesting to read about them.

The next set of enclosures housed lemurs, raccoons and skunks. The lemurs were quite active but we didn’t get to see a raccoon until the afternoon, and even then it was asleep. American readers may wonder why an animal that is considered a pest is in a zoo in Britain, but they’re not native here. Interestingly though, it will shortly become illegal in the EU to breed raccoons, as they’re classed as an invasive species.

As for the skunks, we only got to see them at feeding time in the afternoon. They’re nocturnal, so this isn’t so surprising.

Wallabies and birds

Wallaby
There are six wallabies at Askham Bryan, one of which is a joey. The joey is a few months old, but it doesn’t yet have a name as it’s still in its mother’s pouch. Next to that were two monkey enclosures, home to some marmosets and tamarins – the latter had only been at the zoo for a few weeks.

Further on is an aviary with a variety of parrots. Unfortunately, issues with avian flu meant that the aviary was closed, although you could hear the birds. Finally, visitors can access York Falconry at the far end of the site, for a small additional fee – £2 for adults, cash only. York Falconry is home to several birds of prey – owls, hawks, and some ferrets. When we went, there was an opportunity to hold a Little Owl. Despite the small extra cost, this end of the zoo was very quiet and we saw several groups turn back when they realised there was an additional charge, which is a shame.

Work in progress

Bearded dragon
The wildlife park is, of course, brand new, and so there were some areas that weren’t ready. There’s a wetland area with a pond that was open, but with nothing to see. And an enclosure for some Scottish wildcats was being finished, ready to open soon.

Without attending the talks, we could have done the park in less than two hours, as it’s not very big and certainly on a much smaller scale than many other zoos in the UK. The talks were good, although some of the students delivering the talks seemed a bit unsure of what they were saying. The cafe in the visitor centre was rather underwhelming, and just offered drinks, pre-packed sandwiches and cakes. The sole member of staff was clearly overworked with patrons, and it wasn’t even lunchtime. So there’s room to improve.

I also think it would be good to see more of the behind the scenes areas. We were lucky to be able to see one of them, but this won’t normally be open, which is a shame – it was good to see how the park was run, and could be a good recruitment tool for the college’s courses.

Opening times

Unlike most zoos, which are open almost every day of the year, Askham Bryan’s wildlife park is normally only open on weekends. Exceptions are school holidays, when it’s open throughout the week, and bank holidays. At £7 for adults and £5 for children, it is considerably cheaper than most other zoos. And, whilst there isn’t a lot to see right now, what they do have so far is good. It’s also worth mentioning that, at present, you have to pre-book your tickets online and print them out. You’ll also need to bring cash if you want to see the falconry. I hope that, in future, there’ll be an option to include the falconry in the entry tariff on the door, or at least a way of buying a voucher with a credit card.

Askham Bryan is very close to where my parents live, and I imagine that when Lizzie stays with them she’ll be a regular visitor. Certainly, had this existed 30 years ago, I think my parents would have taken me there regularly. And whilst York isn’t short of tourist attractions, it’s an interesting and unique addition.

As usual, photos of my visit are on Flickr.

February 25, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for February 25, 2017

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February 11, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for February 11, 2017

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February 9, 2017
by Neil Turner
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And I would walk 500 millimetres…

Lizzie on her rocking moose On Sunday, Lizzie walked unaided for the first time. She’s been ‘coasting’ along furniture for some time, and she’ll walk a reasonable distance with both hands held, but Sunday was the first time that she did it with just her feet.

Naturally, I was asleep at the time and missed it. But thankfully, it wasn’t a one-off and she’s done it again a few times since.

She’s also getting very good at climbing. Last Monday, we built her Ikea Ekorre rocking moose (because they’re Swedish). For a few days, she could happily rock herself on it and climb off, but getting on was a challenge. But, with a bit of practice, she soon overcame the challenge of getting on, and can now jump on and off when she wants to.

When it comes to food, she’s often eating the same meals as us. She has seven teeth now and it’s enough for her to be able to chomp down on things like pasta and cheese. Christine is still breastfeeding first thing in the morning, and in the evenings, but she gets most of her food intake from actual solid food now.

I know these posts are probably really boring for some of you, but seeing your child grow and develop is such a fantastic thing. Right now, both Christine and I are really enjoying parenting.

February 8, 2017
by Neil Turner
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App of the Week: Wi-fi Widget

Screenshot of Wifi Widget on iOSThis week’s app is really simple. Wi-Fi Widget adds a notification area widget to your iOS device which tells you quickly which wifi network you’re connected to.

And that’s basically it, although you can also use it as a way of storing wifi passwords, and for testing your latency.

It’s something that I find quite useful. Normally, to find out the name of the currently-connected wifi network, you have top unlock your device and open the settings app. This makes it much more accessible. It’s particularly helpful when out and about, as my phone connects to various saved public wifi networks automatically and it’s useful to know which one.

Wi-Fi Widget is available from the App Store for 99p. Hat tip to Lifehacker.

February 6, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Travel ban-dango

Flight home

I’m really worried about the on-off-on-off travel ban that’s the subject of ongoing legal action in America. To summarise: President Trump (urgh) enacted an Executive Order stopping anyone arriving from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from entering the US for 90 days, and suspending the US’s refugee programme. Right now, the ban has been temporarily lifted by the courts, but I expect this to go back an forth for some time.

I’m not from any of those countries, nor am I related to anyone from that region or have been to any of those countries. But I have been to the middle-east region for work, including to Amman in Jordan, which is around an hour from the border with Syria. My passport, valid for several more years, carries visas for Oman and Jordan.

And I’ve heard stories where those arriving at US airports are being asked to show their social media profiles, or asked about their opinions about the new US president. My opinions are hardly favourable. I think Trump is a disaster for America and the world, and have shared a number of anti-Trump statuses on Facebook and Twitter.

When even the former Prime Minister of Norway is pulled aside for additional questioning over a 2014 visit to Iran, it makes me worried that I will be allowed into America in the current climate. Especially if the legal challenges against this ban fail. I hope they won’t.

I’ve never been to America but have always wanted to go. Christine has family out there, and her uncle recently gained American citizenship. Whilst he has met Lizzie on a recent visit to Britain, the rest of Christine’s relatives haven’t yet had the chance.

Of course, the main factor stopping us from getting to America is money – getting across the Atlantic is going to be expensive, and we have a lot of other things that we also need to spend money on. But I don’t want to be in a situation where we’ve spent hundreds of pounds on flights, to then be turned away at the border, or lose several hours whilst being interrogated by immigration officials. Nor do I want to be forced to keep quiet on social media about issues I feel strongly about.

January 21, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for January 21, 2017

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January 14, 2017
by Neil Turner
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15th Blogiversary

Screenshot of this blog from 2004 Today marks 15th years since I made my first post on this blog, back in 2002. It’s a big, round number, and one that I don’t think I would’ve ever expected this blog to reach.

As I mentioned in my 2016 review post, this year I blogged even less than in previous years. At one point, I did consider whether it was worth keeping the blog going, seeing as how I’ve really struggled to find the time to write for it this year. But I felt that, even though it’s not as fun as it once was, I’d miss it if it were gone. There’d be some issue that I’d want to write about, and it would be frustrating to not have somewhere to do it.

I decided to use a screenshot of how the blog used to look as the main image for this post, although it’s not from January 2002, sadly. The Web Archive goes back to October 2002 – before that, this blog was on a different domain that I don’t think I can even remember now. The screenshot is actually from November 2004, as the stylesheets don’t work from earlier versions. Still, that’s what my blog looked like over 12 years ago, and it was a theme that I’d designed myself. Nowadays, I use other peoples’ themes; partly because I find WordPress themes more difficult to code, but also because I don’t have the time to develop and test them. And my HTML and CSS skills are a bit rusty, and not up-to-date with best practice.

Browsing the web archive to find a screenshot was enlightening, though. I used to blog a lot more – multiple times per day – but many posts were just a couple of sentences. Now, I have a bigger audience on Twitter which is more suited to that style of communication, and I save blog posts for when I need to write a couple of hundred words or more. Linking to the (then) new release of Firefox in British English would’ve been a tweet, rather than a blog post.

I also wrote a lot more about inane things in my life, probably because I didn’t have anyone else to talk to but also because I didn’t need to be so private in those days. Nowadays, I have a wife to talk to, although one of my new year’s resolutions was to keep a daily journal so that I could write about inane things that happen to me. Two weeks in, and I’ve stuck to it.

I’m confident that I’ll still be blogging in a year’s time, provided that President-Elect Trump (urgh) hasn’t destroyed the planet by then. How often I’ll be blogging remains to be seen, but I’ll aim to post more frequently than in 2016 if I can.