Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

June 2, 2018
by Neil Turner

Chester Zoo

Rhinos at Chester Zoo
A couple of weeks ago, I took Lizzie on a day out to Chester Zoo, whilst Christine was working. Christine and I have been before, most recently in 2012 when we stayed in Chester for the weekend.

We’ve been planning to go back for some time, but it’s an expensive day out for two adults. You can expect to pay over £20 per person, even when booked in advance. But as Lizzie is still under 3, she goes free, so for one adult and a very young child it’s not so bad. Even with a ticket booked on the morning of the visit, I still saved a bit of money over the gate price.

From Sowerby Bridge, Chester Zoo is a little over an hour’s drive with clear roads. So, after dropping Christine off at work, we headed straight over and got there just before the official opening time of 10am. And, apart from a half hour lunch break, we didn’t leave until 4:45pm.

This is because Chester Zoo is huge. It claims to be England’s most visited zoo, and it can certainly absorb a lot of people. Which is good – the weather was glorious and so there were hundreds of people visiting. I reckon there were a couple of hundred cars there already, even before 10am. And yet it never felt too busy – Lizzie and I had no trouble getting close enough to see the animals.

Baby elephant

Chester Zoo’s new arrival

What I hadn’t realised was that, only three days before, a baby elephant had been born. The day we visited was only its second day out in public, which explained the crowds around the elephant enclosure.

There was also a baby rhino, which was just a few weeks old. I didn’t manage to get a good photo of it, unfortunately.

Since our last visit, Chester Zoo has extended somewhat, with a new ‘islands’ zone that focusses on animals from the islands of South East Asia. We got around most of it, but must’ve taken a wrong turn as we missed the tigers.

Towards the end, we went on the Monorail. This runs in a circuit around the site, although you can only travel point to point between two stations. I hadn’t been on it before, but it allows you to get another perspective of the animals. It’s £2.25 for a single trip or £4 for multiple trips, but as it was getting to the end of the day we just made a single trip.

Lizzie loves animals and really enjoyed herself. Unfortunately she wasn’t so keen on walking around or being in the pushchair, so I spent a lot of the day pushing an empty pushchair whilst carrying her. My back did not thank me the next day.

The rest of my photos are up on Flickr. Oddly, I never uploaded my photos from our 2012 visit.

June 1, 2018
by Neil Turner

RHEQs – 196-210

I’m working my way through Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions book, 15 questions at a time. This week, it’s questions 196-210. You can read more about this project herePlease be aware that some of the questions are somewhat vulgar.

196. What does mansplaining mean?

When a man explains something to a woman in a condescending manner – especially if it’s a topic that the woman is familiar with. It’s something that I unintentionally do from time to time.

197. What is the strangest thing that you’ve ever found in a fridge?

Cosmetics, probably. My wife used to keep some Lush products in the fridge.

198. When you are asked to imagine a time or place when you are calm and happy, what time and/ or place do you imagine?

Being on holiday with my wife, relaxing.

199. What is your third earliest memory? That is, not your earliest memory or the next earliest one, but the one after that?

Probably reception class at primary school, making things with pasta shells and PVA glue.

200. If you could have a dream dinner party with any person living or dead, who would you employ to do the washing up? N.B. They would not be allowed to join the dinner party, but would get tantalising snippets of the conversation that always cut off before the interesting bit/punchline.

Mickey Flanagan. He’s not my favourite comedian.

201. If you dropped your mobile phone down the portaloo on day 3 of the Glastonbury festival, would you retrieve it?

Probably not, but only because I’m planning to get a new phone in the autumn anyway and I have a spare. If it was brand new, then I may have to retrieve it and hope that the smell will eventually subside. I’d also like to think that it’d be in a case which could be replaced.

202. If you had the ability to be able to be a virtuoso on any instrument without practising, what instrument would you choose?

Guitar, so that I could start a band during my mid-life crisis.

203. Do you have a pet peeve? By which I mean is there something that annoys you about your pet?

We don’t have any pets – I tend to be allergic to most animals. But I used to have hamsters when I was younger and wasn’t keen when they bit me.

204. What was the worst occasion in which you were totally naked?

I can’t think of an actual occasion, but I’ve had a few dreams where I’ve been inappropriately naked for some reason.

205. Shag, marry or kill? Oxygen, ennui, mitochondria?

Shag mitochondria (they’re important), marry oxygen, kill ennui.

206. Would the world be worse or better if every man who said they have a “mancave” was evaporated by a laser?

No, because that would result in several of my good friends being evaporated.

207. Who are your three favourite ghosts, real or (let’s face it) fictional?

The ghosts in Rentaghost, Casper, and the ghosts at Hogwarts in Harry Potter.

209. What is your favourite colour?


208. What word are you unable to pronounce out loud?

Awry. I read it as ‘awww-ree’ and not ‘a-rye’ for some reason.

210. What is the best sound effect you have ever heard?

I love the buzzer sound from the TV series Catchphrase. I have it set as my text message tone on my phone.

May 31, 2018
by Neil Turner

We don’t have a fully working DVD player

Yesterday, when wanting to watch a film on DVD, I realised that we no longer have a working DVD player at home.

We used to have two. Our previous TV had one built-in, and we have a Toshiba Blu-Ray player connected to it. But now we have a newer (to us) TV which is bigger but doesn’t have a built-in DVD player, and Lizzie managed to break the tray on the Blu-Ray player. It’s okay, it cost about £30 several years ago so it doesn’t really owe us anything, and we’ll replace it in time. Not at least because we have no other way of playing our (admittedly small) collection of Blu-Ray discs.

We also have two computers with optical drives – my Mac Mini, and Christine’s old laptop. But both are 8 years old and slow. My Mac is in another room to our TV and it wouldn’t be feasible to run a cable between them, and I’m not sure whether you can stream a DVD across a network to a Chromecast.

Plus, quite a few of the DVDs I tried yesterday were unreadable by either computer, presumably as a sort of copy protection. My Mac spit them back out after a few seconds and the laptop refused to recognise that there was a disc in there. Christine’s new laptop doesn’t have an optical drive.

I decided to use Handbrake to rip the one DVD that did work, and save it so that we can watch it via Plex. My Mac is set up as a Plex server with a handful of films on an external hard drive, and whilst it took a long time to rip the film, it worked well once done. Incidentally, Handbrake no longer works with copy-protected DVDs without installing an add-on, which I’m sure you can find using your favourite search engine should you wish to.

As it’s half term, I’ve been at home with Lizzie and we’ve been watching films on a morning. Netflix has a good selection, and we’re definitely getting our money’s worth out of our subscription. But there’s a few that are not on there that we have on DVD. It would be nice to have them all available via Plex but seeing as the majority of discs aren’t even recognised by either computer, I guess that’s not going to happen. We’ll just have to buy a new Blu-Ray player.

May 30, 2018
by Neil Turner

New new iPad

As alluded to last week, I planned to buy a new iPad with monetary contributions received for my birthday. I ordered it online on Saturday (for the 5% education discount), and picked it up at the Apple Store in Leeds on Monday.

I’ve gone for the most expensive of the standard iPad models. It’s the 6th generation iPad, with 128 GB of storage and cellular capability.

Why not just Wi-fi?

My previous iPads (a second-hand first generation iPad and then an iPad Mini 2) were both Wi-fi only models. I’ve been using my iPad Mini more and more on the train to and from work, and the trains I catch are not (yet) fitted with Wi-fi. Even when Wi-fi is available, sometimes there’s a cost, sometimes it can be quite slow, and it can take a while to get connected. So I decided to pay a bit more, and have an iPad that has internet access everywhere.

For the SIM card, I’ve got a pay-as-you-go SIM from Three. It cost £60 upfront, and comes with 24 GB of data, valid for two years. Assuming I use around one gigabyte of data per month, that’s effectively £2.50 per month, which is cheaper than a lot of contracts. The data runs out once I’ve used all 24 GB, or after two years, whichever happens soonest.

The puffin case

As this is a standard sized iPad, I had to buy a new case for it. Christine made me a lovely case for my iPad Mini (pictured above), but it’s too small for my new iPad. And she doesn’t have time to make me a new one, what with working full-time, being a part-time student and a mum.

Also, that photo shows how badly smashed the screen on my iPad Mini is.

I still wanted something unique, so I went onto Etsy, and ordered this beautiful case (top photo) from The Canny Squirrel. It’s hand made from genuine Harris Tweed, and is big enough for an iPad with some space to spare. Which will be handy when I eventually buy a new Bluetooth keyboard.

Plenty of storage

Ideally, I would have liked to buy a 64 GB iPad, but Apple doesn’t offer the 6th generation iPad in that size. I’ve struggled with a 16 GB iPad Mini for four years, and felt that a 32 GB iPad would also be quite limiting, so in the end I decided just to buy the one with the largest storage capacity. At least then I can load it up with plenty of ebooks, music, videos etc. whilst on Wi-fi so that I’m not going over my data allowance.

What is the new iPad like?

Honestly, not massively different. I’m appreciating having Touch ID on it as well as my phone, rather than having to type out passwords. And it’s definitely faster. But as I set it up with an iCloud backup from my old iPad, it’s been basically business as usual. Though I will say that the setup process has improved – being able to transfer essential settings across from my iPhone was great and worked really well.

My old iPad Mini 2 lasted me four years of essentially daily usage, and I’m hoping to get at least the same from this one.

May 25, 2018
by Neil Turner


Today is, once again, my birthday. I’m now well into my mid-thirties.

I haven’t anything special planned today – I’ll be going to work as usual. Tomorrow, I’ll be meeting up for lunch with my parents for a birthday meal.

I’ve not really asked for any presents this year. Instead, I’ve simply asked for money, to put towards buying a new iPad. My current iPad Mini was a 30th birthday present, and is now four years old. The screen is cracked and broken and the home button no longer works. And I suspect that iOS 12, which is likely to be released later this year, won’t run on it.

Also, my age now is double the age I was when I started this blog, back in January 2002. Although, to be pedantic, I was 17 years and 7 months old when I started blogging, so it would be some time next year that I could claim to have been blogging for half of my life.

May 24, 2018
by Neil Turner

Three big things happening tomorrow

This is a relatively brief blog post about three big events taking place tomorrow (25th May 2018).

1. Irish referendum on the 8th amendment

Residents of the Republic of Ireland will be able to vote in a referendum on repealing the 8th amendment to the country’s constitution. The amendment (which was made following a referendum in the 1980s) protects the rights of unborn fetuses, and therefore essentially makes abortion illegal in all but the most limited of circumstances.

Repealing the 8th amendment will enable women to be able to get abortions in Ireland. Currently, it’s estimated that hundreds of women travel to mainland Britain to get abortions privately, costing them hundreds of euros in the process. And an unknown quantity of other women procure abortion pills on the internet, risking a 12 year prison sentence if found out. It’s worth mentioning that abortion is also illegal in Northern Ireland, despite it being legal in England, Wales and Scotland.

As you can probably tell, I’m in favour of repealing. However, as I’m not Irish, I can’t vote or support any of the campaigning organisations financially. I’m hopeful that the repeal will go through, but it’s expected to be tight.

2. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

No doubt you will have been swamped by emails, notifying you of updated privacy policies or asking you to re-subscribe to email lists. This all comes about because tomorrow sees the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. It’s a regulation that has been ratified by all EU member states, which, for now, includes the UK. It greatly extends the rights of EU citizens over their data, and puts a greater onus on organisations which hold data to keep it safe and make appropriate use of it.

At work, all staff have been asked to complete a mandatory e-learning module, which covers our responsibilities towards the data that we hold. I’m sure many other companies will be doing the same, and there’s been more than a few that have got it wrong. GDPR Hall of Shame shows a few, including some web sites that have simply decided to block all EU countries from accessing, either temporarily or permanently.

Personally, I’m looking forward to receiving less junk email, and being able to submit subject access requests to companies to found out what data they hold on me. Any company that holds data on an EU citizen, regardless of where the company is based, is subject to GDPR.

3. My birthday

Okay, so it’s not a major world news event, but I turn another year older tomorrow.

May 18, 2018
by Neil Turner

RHEQs – 181-195

I’m working my way through Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions book, 15 questions at a time. This week, it’s questions 181-195. You can read more about this project herePlease be aware that some of the questions are somewhat vulgar.

181. Did you ever go camping with your family? What are your abiding memories of that awful experience?

I went on camping holidays with my parents every year through my childhood. I wouldn’t describe it as an awful experience though; over time, I’ve been able to see large parts of France, and some bits of Spain too. Christine, Lizzie and I are going to France with my parents this summer.

182. Which is best, Cheddar Caves or Wookey Hole?

Having not been to either, I can’t comment.

183. If you had to do a Human Centipede with two other people – if you had to – and you were in the middle, which two people and at which end would they each go?

Nigella Lawson in front, as she eats lots of tasty food. I would probably have Jeremy Hunt behind.

184. Which is your favourite incarnation of Lucy Robinson from Neighbours?

I never watched Neighbours so I have no idea who this character is.

185. Do you remember the first time that a childhood enthusiasm was crushed and broken?

No, I don’t. Although when I did work experience at an architects aged 14 it put me off doing that line of work.

186. What is your favourite archaic word or phrase?

Trouble at’ Mill‘. A good old fashioned Yorkshire phrase.

187. Who do you consider the most appalling member of Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet (excluding Margaret Thatcher obviously)?

Probably Nigel Lawson, as he still spews dangerous rubbish about global warming (and is still, sadly, given ample airtime to deliver these views)

188. Which is the best small peelable orangelike fruit? The satsuma, the clementine, the mandarin, the tangerine or another small peelable orange-like fruit?

I prefer satsumas – a nice balance of size, sweetness and ease of peeling.

189. What is your favourite bridge?

The Ribblehead Viaduct.

190. How many different human beings’ poo have you had to deal with?

Mostly just that of my daughter’s. No doubt, as and when we have another child, I’ll have that to deal with too.

191. Which is your favourite bun that is named after a place?

I like a nice Chelsea bun.

192. If you had to marry a piece of furniture – if you had to – which piece of furniture would you marry?

A nice, big comfy bed that I could lie on.

193. Can you describe the most unusual penis you have ever seen?

I can’t recall seeing any especially unusual penises.

194. Who is the most evil person you have ever met?

I don’t think I’ve met anyone especially evil, although I’ve walked past Philip Davies MP’s constituency office in Shipley a few times, if that counts.

195. When did you feel the most ambivalent?

I’m pretty ambivalent most of the time so it’s hard to pick out a time when I felt particularly ambivalent.

May 15, 2018
by Neil Turner

Comparing smart speakers

Yesterday, I reviewed our (relatively) new Google Home Mini. Today, I’m going to focus on why we chose to go with Google, and not an Amazon Echo or Apple Homepod.


When you choose a smart speaker, I would take some time to decide which one works with the apps, services and devices that you already use. Apple’s HomePod only works with iOS devices for example; that’s fine for me, but not much use for my wife who has an Android phone. The Verge’s review seems to focus on the HomePod’s locked-in nature.

Similarly, Amazon’s Echo devices work well if you have Amazon Prime and one of its Fire TV devices, but we’re a Netflix household and have a Google Chromecast. I gather that Netflix support on Alexa isn’t that great, whereas it works well with a Google Home.


We got our Google Home Mini free as part of a deal with Nest, which was probably the biggest reason for us choosing it over its rivals. As I write this, both the Amazon Echo Dot and the Google Home Mini are £39, and normally sell for about £50, and even the more expensive models are under £200. Apple is selling the HomePod for £319. For that, you could buy six Google Home Minis and cover your house, and have some change left over.

Sound quality

One reason for the HomePod’s higher price is its focus on high quality sound for playing music. Arguably, it’s trying to compete more with the Sonos range of wireless speakers, some of which now include Alexa as well.

The larger and more expensive Google Home and Amazon Echo models have better speakers than the smaller ones, but I was still reasonably impressed with the little speaker in the Google Home. Audiophiles would probably be disappointed with all but the most expensive models but for most people, even the smallest and cheapest models will do.

Third party services

Amazon’s Alexa devices have a range of third-party ‘skills’ available, which massively expand its abilities and integration with other services. Google Home is somewhere in the middle; it supports a lot of internet of things devices, but not much else. That is changing but some things, like being able to order a pizza from Domino’s, are US-only for now.

As for the HomePod, it’s Apple all the way down. If you have smart devices that support HomeKit, great. But that’s a bit useless if you have a Nest thermostat, for example. It can only play music from Apple Music, and not Spotify or any other third party streaming service.

In summary

If you like good quality audio, have only Apple or HomeKit-supporting devices and money to burn, then by all means, buy a HomePod. Amazon and Google offer much better value speakers that work with a wider variety of third-party devices and services, and the choice you make will reflect what you already own.

May 14, 2018
by Neil Turner

Google Home Mini review

Google Home Mini

Back in January, we welcomed a Google Home Mini into our house. As the name suggests, it’s the smaller version of the Google Home, which is Google’s smart assistant. It competes with Amazon’s Echo/Alexa range, and Apple’s new HomePod.

In the run up to Christmas, the Google Home Mini was significantly discounted, and being bundled with mobile phones. We got ours bundled with our Nest Protect smart smoke alarm, which I reviewed last month. We placed it in our living room, seeing as that’s where we spend most of our time awake, and because it works well with a Chromecast.

Indeed, this is probably the thing that we use it for the most. When you have a screaming toddler, it’s handy to be able to shout across the room ‘OK Google, play Paw Patrol‘ and have it come on the TV without having to find a remote and navigate menus. We recently inherited my parents’ old Sony TV which supports HDMI-CEC (Consumer Electronics Control), and so through the Google Home Mini and the Chromecast, we can turn the TV on and off using our voice, which is pretty cool.

Our Nest Thermostat is also able to communicate with the Google Home Mini, so we can use it to find out the current temperature and also change the temperature on the thermostat. This, together, is the extent of our foray into the so-called ‘internet of things’ and we haven’t yet invested in any other smart home devices. Although I’m contemplating either a smart light bulb or plug for a standing lamp in our living room.

Having support for Spotify built-in is also handy, although it works best if you have a Spotify Premium account as then you can play individual songs. This prompted me to upgrade. Sadly, although you can have multiple Google Accounts linked to one Home Mini, you can only have one Spotify account. As I found, when I opened Spotify at work, to find that Christine was already using it to listen to the Moana soundtrack.

The support for multiple Google Accounts works well; it’s able to identify whether me or Christine is talking to it. So if I ask it to add something to my calender, I know it’ll go into mine.

Support for third party services outside the Google ecosystem isn’t great. Whilst the Google Home can connect to a wide variety of smart home devices, it’s limited to playing video content from YouTube or Netflix, and music from either Spotify, Deezer, Google Play Music or Apple Music (if you have an iOS device and a valid subscription). Fortunately, there is IFTTT integration, and I was able to set up a link with my to-do list in Wunderlist, albeit in a roundabout way using IFTTT and email. But Amazon’s Alexa platform has a much wider variety of ‘skills’.

I was sceptical about whether we would actually use the Google Home, but it’s become part of our daily lives. On a morning, it’s handy to ask for a time check whilst getting ready, or for a weather update. And it works really well with our Chromecast; we’ve not really used our Roku player since we got the Google Home. I wish there was more third-party support; being able to request content from BBC iPlayer would be a great help.

I recently visited a friend who has five Google Home devices around his house – including the bathroom. I don’t think we’ll ever get to that stage, but the thought of having one in the bedroom has crossed my mind more than once. Maybe we’ll consider it the next time there’s an offer on.

May 13, 2018
by Neil Turner

Elsecar Heritage Centre

Elsecar Heritage Centre

Because I’m still woefully behind in writing up about our days out, today I’m going to talk about the Elsecar Heritage Centre, which we visited over 6 months ago. It’s in the village of Elsecar, near Barnsley in South Yorkshire, and is a part of the village that has been preserved to look much as it would in the 19th century.

The centre includes many ex-industrial buildings. However, rather than being a static museum, most of the buildings are now leased out, and now host an array of craft shops. The main building, in the photo, is now a soft-play gym, which I think Lizzie very much appreciated.

Elsecar Heritage Centre

Around the back of the site is the Elsecar Heritage Railway, which runs for a short distance using heritage trains. You can have a look at some of the locomotives and carriages in the yard, and there’s a station with services running at weekends.

We actually picked quite a good day to visit, as there was also a small birds of prey exhibition, and an indoor craft market in one of the larger buildings. We’d also been lucky with the weather, although we had a string of nice weekends last autumn.

That being said, without the extra events, I don’t think it would have been much worth coming to Elsecar on its own – at least, not for the distance we travelled. Whilst there are plenty of information boards around, and it’s nice to look at, it’s not really a full day out. If we were to come again, I think we would need to combine it with something else in the area, such as Cannon Hall Farm.

You can view the photos I took on Flickr, as usual.