Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

November 27, 2015
by Neil Turner

A tiny blog post about a tiny person

Whilst I’ve been casually mentioning Christine’s ongoing pregnancy over the past few weeks, it’s been a couple of months since my last proper update in September.

Christine has been for several more scans, the most recent of which was on Monday. The baby is still developing okay and is regularly kicking and punching its mother, and occasionally me if I’m next to Christine. We’re now into week 33, so the birth is likely to be around six weeks away.

According to the pregnancy app that we’re using, our little one is about the size of a honeydew melon, and weighs up to two kilograms (or around four pounds in old money). Christine has quite a noticeable bump now.

We’re getting there when it comes to buying things for the baby. We have the all-important car seat – hospitals won’t let you drive the baby home after the birth without one – and we have a moses basket in our bedroom for the baby’s first few weeks. There’s a cot in the baby’s own bedroom, but we haven’t got a mattress for it yet. We also have some baby clothes, in mostly neutral colours, and a few other bits and bobs. Christine has her hospital bag packed in case the baby decides to make an early entrance to the world.

Whilst we’re expecting the baby to arrive in January, Christine finishes work in a couple of weeks, as she’s due to take some of her annual leave entitlement before her maternity leave starts. I’ll be taking my paternity leave as soon as the baby is born

I think we’re basically ready for the birth now – we’ll just need to wait until it happens.

November 26, 2015
by Neil Turner

Pitching or Pestering

Screenshot of a typical email pitch

When I started blogging back in 2002, it was just a hobby and I wrote solely about things that I found or did. Things have changed over the years, and whilst most of what I write is still about things I’ve done, some posts are written on the back of emails from public relations companies. These are usually product reviews and I’m up-front about the fact that I’ve been approached to write about it.

I’m happy to work with good PR companies in a way that’s mutually beneficial – I get to review, and usually keep, a product that is useful to me and that I think my blog’s readers would be interested in hearing about, and the manufacturer gets some publicity and possibly a few sales. As I’m an Amazon Associate, I get to see what people buy after clicking links on my blog, and a few people have subsequently clicked through from here and bought the products I have reviewed.

I wish this was true for all PR companies that try and engage with me, but this isn’t the case. Some will send me unsolicited press releases, others will try and contact me about something that I couldn’t really care less about. The screenshot is a good example – it’s for a note-taking mobile app for businesses. It’s not a product I would ever use myself – I rarely need to take notes at work – and whilst I’m interested in technology and mobile apps, my focus is on home and hobbyist use.

Once upon a time, you’d get a single email from a PR firm, and perhaps a follow-up email a few days later if I didn’t respond. That email is the third I’ve had in around a week, and the company has been messaging me on and off for over a year now.

Blogging is not my day job. I have time to read all of my emails every day, but rarely have time to respond. Generally, any pitches for things that don’t interest me just get filed away in a folder, and I don’t respond. I think it’s my British mentality that I don’t like telling someone who is only doing their job to go away and leave me alone. But whilst I can understand one follow-up email, a second follow-up is annoying and a third follow-up feels like pestering. I’d rather that companies just assumed that I’m not interested if I don’t respond after a follow-up.

As an aside, My contact page has some key points about what I will and won’t respond to, and I’ve updated this today with a new policy about crowdfunding campaigns. I will not write about pitched Kickstarter, or Indiegogo projects until they are fully funded and the product is available for general purchase. I may make an exception if I come across a project myself that I would have backed anyway, but most of the time I write about Kickstarter campaigns long after they’ve finished.

Of course, very few people bother even reading what I put on that page. I get the impression that my contact details are on various PR databases and so most companies email me having never actually seen my web site beforehand. Which is a shame – the companies that actually spend a couple of minutes looking at my site and seeing what I’m about are the ones that I’m happiest to work with.

November 23, 2015
by Neil Turner

Netgear Nighthawk EX7000 review

Netgear Nighthawk EX7000 wifi range extenderSince we moved into our new house, we’ve had a few wifi issues, so I was pleased to be contacted by Netgear to review their Nighthawk EX7000 wifi range extender.

Our house was built over 100 years ago, with thick stone and brick walls. Whilst our router (a BT Home Hub 4) is in the centre of the house, the signal is very weak in places – especially the kitchen at the far end of the house. So a repeater, like this one, will allow us to extend the range of the wifi signal.

Setting up

In the box, there’s the extender itself, a stand (so that the router stands up vertically), three detachable aerials, an AC adaptor and a quick-start guide.

The Nighthawk EX7000 supports Wifi Protected Setup (WPS). Fortunately, so does my router, so I just had to press a button on each device to configure the connection. Once set up, two new wifi networks appeared – a 2.4 GHz one, and a 5 GHz one – each following the same naming convention as my existing router. They even used the same wifi password.

Improved signal

Once I’d configured my iPhone to connect to the extender, rather than directly to the router, I found the signal much improved. At the extremities of the house, it dropped to two out of three bars, but this is significantly better than before where it’d lose connection altogether. It now means that everywhere in the house has a reasonable signal, which is a big improvement.

Extra features

The Nighthawk EX7000 isn’t just a wifi extender, however. On the back of the extender are five gigabit ethernet sockets, so you can attach any devices without their own wireless connection using a cable. This will be great for my Raspberry Pi, for which I haven’t bought a wifi adaptor, but I’ve also plugged my Mac in as well. So far, the connection seems more stable than before although I’ve yet to play World of Warcraft on it – that will be its biggest test.

At the front, there’s a USB 3.0 port (type A). This can be used for sharing either a printer, or a USB storage device. As my printer is a multi-function device, I’ve kept it connected to my computer (although it is shared with Christine’s laptop using Bonjour anyway). Instead, I’ve plugged in a USB hard drive, and its contents are shared across the network using DLNA so that smart TVs and similar devices can access it.


By default, the EX7000 uses both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands simultaneously, but you can enable ‘FastLane’ mode to increase speed. I turned this on, so that it uses a 5 GHz connection to the router but a 2.4 GHz to my connected devices. As only my iPad and iPhone support 5 GHz, I decided that it would be best to use 2.4 GHz.

All in all, the Netgear Nighthawk EX7000 is a very powerful device that fills several roles. It can extend your wireless signal, but it can also share a printer, files on an external device, and connect devices without a wireless capability of their own. This explains the £130 recommended retail price, as it’s a premium product, although Amazon sell it for around £100 at present. There are cheaper devices out there that can do one or two of these things, but if you want a powerful, fast wifi extender that combines several features in one box, then I can recommend the Nighthawk EX7000.

November 22, 2015
by Neil Turner

Sleeping Beauty at the Bradford Playhouse

Sleeping Beauty at the Bradford Playhouse I’m volunteering in the technical team for another show at the Bradford Playhouse. Once again, it’s a show by the Bradford Players, and it’s time for their annual pantomime. This year, it’s Sleeping Beauty.

Christine and I have been in over the weekend, helping/hindering with set building, rigging and painting in various amounts. There’s a couple of rehearsals to go, and then the show opens this Wednesday. It promises to be aa great show, based on what I’ve seen so far, but I’ve promised not to spoil anything about the show. Which is a shame as some of the props are awesome.

Tickets are selling well and there are limited tickets remaining in the stalls on Friday and Saturday, so I would suggest pre-booking if you can. It’s a pantomime and so it’s suitable for all of the family, and unlike other pantos, it’s not full of washed-up 1980s D-list celebrities!

I won’t be on stage but will be behind the scenes all week. Hope to see some of you there!

November 21, 2015
by Neil Turner

Links from Pinboard for November 21, 2015

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

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November 20, 2015
by Neil Turner

Meet Tony and Olivier

BUSOM Performing Meet Tony and Olivier

Last night, Christine and I went to BUSOM‘s winter showcase, ‘Meet Tony and Olivier’. BUSOM, if you remember, is the Bradford University Society of Operettas and Musicals; Christine has been a member for some time and I’ve helped behind the scenes on their showsand even performed with them this year. A combination of Christine’s pregnancy and working on our house has meant we’ve not been able to take part in the show, so we were looking forward to seeing what the society had put together in our absence.

Their first show of the year is usually a ‘scratch’ show – a popular musical with most of the dialogue stripped out, so it’s mostly just the songs, and presented under a different title. This year, BUSOM decided to do a showcase – in essence, a concert of songs from popular musicals, but with lighting, (some) costumes and without scripts.

The theme, as you may have guessed from the title, is songs from musicals which have won Tony or Olivier awards. Opening with the Ballad of Sweeney Todd, and then progressing to ‘There! Right There!’ from Legally Blonde The Musical, and onwards through around 20 other songs, many of them familiar. Some were solos, some were ensemble pieces and others involved the whole chorus.

‘Your Fault’ from Sondheim’s Into The Woods, was particularly well-done – it’s a fast song with many different parts, and The Miller’s Son and No Good Dead were amongst two excellent solos. Speaking as someone who has worked alongside BUSOM’s members before, it was particularly pleasing to hear some of the more difficult songs being handled with such aplomb and how much the group’s singing abilities have improved. A couple of members put in by far their best performances yesterday.

Not every song was a complete success. The show ended with You Can’t Stop The Beat from Hairspray, which is a very fast-paced song and some of those singing the solo parts early on struggled. But all in all, it was a great show with a pleasingly large cast, including some established members and several new faces.

BUSOM’s next show is their major performance in the Spring – a production of Back To The Eighties. If you’re in the Bradford area, and would like to audition, these are the 1st and 3rd December, 7-10pm, and 12pm-3pm on the 6th December in the Student Activities Room, Student Central, at the university. No doubt I’ll be helping with the technical side again.

November 19, 2015
by Neil Turner

Microsoft Outlook Inbox Repair Tool

Screenshot of the Microsoft Outlook Inbox Repair RoolSometimes, Microsoft Outlook’s data files can get corrupted. If so, it can behave unexpectedly, or emails can disappear. Fortunately, Microsoft ships a free recovery tool with every copy.

I found myself having to use the repair tool after installing last week’s KB3097877 update. This was a security update issued for Windows that had the side effect of making Outlook crash when viewing certain HTML-formatted email messages. After several crashes, I noticed a small cog icon had appeared in on the status bar at the bottom of the screen. This meant that Outlook had found its data files to be corrupted and was attempting repair in the background.

My main Outlook data file is around 23 gigabytes, and so any background recovery would take a long, long time. Instead, I made use of the Microsoft Outlook Inbox Repair Tool, also known as ‘scanpst’, which is designed to repair errors in Outlook’s PST and OST files.

The program is installed at the same time as Microsoft Office, and usually sits in the same folder as your office programs. On my computer, this was C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office14 (as I’m using Office 2010). It’s a simple program – you open it, point it at your Outlook data file and let it scan. It’ll then tell you whether a repair is necessary, and, if so, it’ll start the recovery process.

I would suggest finding other things to do whilst the tool runs, because the recovery process can take a very long time – especially on big data files like mine. In my case, it took over two and a half hours for the repair phase, having taken almost an hour on the initial scan for errors. During this time, you can’t use Outlook, as the data file is in use by the recovery tool.

Once the tool has finished, you can then re-open Outlook, and hopefully any missing emails will re-appear. It’s not guaranteed though, which is why it’s best to use a server-based email system like IMAP or Microsoft Exchange, rather than POP3 where emails are downloaded to your computer and then deleted from the server. That being said, Microsoft advises against repairing OST files, used for online accounts. Instead, it suggests that you simply delete and re-add the account in Outlook, to re-download a fresh copy of the data from the server.

November 18, 2015
by Neil Turner

How London buses differ from the rest of the UK

Museum of Transport, Greater Manchester

It’s time for another niche interest public transport blog post!

When it comes to public transport, London is a special case, mainly because so many more people use it, compared with other cities where cars dominate. The buses in London are no exception, and so the vehicles and the services have been designed around much more intensive use than elsewhere. Here’s a list of the major differences.

London buses are designed differently

Almost all buses in London have two sets of doors – one at the front for boarding, and another in the middle for alighting. This is more efficient than most other buses, where there’s just one set of doors at the front, but is at the expense of extra seating.

The ‘new Routemaster‘ buses take this further and, effectively, have three sets of doors, by virtue of having an open rear platform in addition to the front and centre doors.

I understand that if buses are retired from duties in London, the middle of set of doors is removed before the buses are sent elsewhere.

You can’t buy tickets with cash in London

In London, you can’t pay for your journey with cash. Cash payments were phased out; in 2013, they accounted for a mere 1% of journeys. Instead, you can use an Oyster card, any contactless credit or debit card, or Apple Pay.

Outside of London, it’s essentially the opposite situation. If you have cash (and coins are usually preferred), you should be able to get any bus, but very few will take credit cards. Transport passes, like West Yorkshire’s MCard, are accepted in their local areas, and there’s the English National Concessionary Pass scheme for old-age pensioners and those with disabilities. And I’m not aware of any bus companies outside London that accept Apple Pay at present.

London buses have a flat single fare

If you want to catch a bus in London, and you’re an adult, it’s £1.50. You can go one stop, or the entire length of the longest route, and it’ll be £1.50 either way. If you go somewhere and come back again, it’s two singles, so £3. However, three or more journeys on one day will cost a maximum of £4.40 as the fares are capped, and you can buy weekly, monthly or annual travel passes.

Elsewhere, fares tend to be set by distance, so longer journeys cost more, but you can get all manner of tickets depending on the area, bus operator and time of day. You can also expect to pay quite a bit more – a peak-time journey between Sowerby Bridge and Halifax costs around £2 one-way.

Travel cards are valid on all London buses

If you choose to buy a weekly travel card, then you can use it on any London bus, regardless of which route it is or who operates it. Outside of London, different operators have their own tickets that aren’t transferable. Which can result in ridiculous situations. Take, for example, with the 579 bus between Sowerby Bridge and Halifax. It’s operated by First during the day and Yorkshire Tiger in the evenings, but if you buy a return ticket on a First service then you can’t use it to come back on a Yorkshire Tiger service – even though it’s the same route and number.

Major metropolitan areas like the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire have cards such as the MCard which are valid across different operators, but operators will also sell their own weekly or monthly tickets which are only valid on their services.

All London buses are red

If you go to London, you’ll notice that all buses are painted red, even though they may be run by different operators. Not so outside London – operators can paint buses in pretty much whatever colour they choose. So First buses are lilac, Arriva buses are turquoise and Stagecoach buses are white with red, orange and blue stripes. Except when they’re not. There’s not much consistency.

London buses don’t have wifi

Well, there’s a trial on selected routes, but wifi isn’t widely available on London buses. Elsewhere, wifi is increasingly being made available on board, especially on more prestigious routes between major towns. I personally struggle to use mobile devices on buses as I get travel sick, but I assume enough people use it to be worthwhile. Some even offer USB charging points nowadays.

London buses have announcements and next stop information

Disabled users have it better in London. Not only are all London buses low-floor, there are audible announcements of the next stop, along with a screen repeating the information for those that can’t hear. This is rare on provincial bus services.

But why are London buses so different?

I mentioned before that buses in London are used more intensively than elsewhere, but there’s another reason why. In the 1980s, bus services across the UK were transferred away from public sector bodies to private companies, like the aforementioned First, Stagecoach, Arriva and others. This was called deregulation, and applied across England, Scotland and Wales – but not London.

London buses were later privatised, but on a franchise basis. The buses are operated by private companies, as with elsewhere, but the routes, fares and bus specifications are set by Transport for London, the public sector body that looks after all facets of transport in the Greater London area. Outside of London, bus companies are generally free to do what they want and most bus services are run primarily on a commercial basis, with an ever decreasing handful of services run with financial support from local authorities.

This may change, however. The government is planning to introduce elected mayors in various city regions across the UK, and their powers may include London-style bus franchising. Bus operators oppose this, as it takes away their freedom to set their own fares and routes and dilutes their branding. It will be interesting to see if franchising does go ahead outside London; and whether more cities will have all red buses in future.

November 17, 2015
by Neil Turner

Professor Elemental

Professor Elemental

Sunday’s visit to Thought Bubble wasn’t our only Steampunk-related outing last week. On Thursday, we went to see Professor Elemental, again in Leeds at The New Roscoe.

Christine and I have been fans for a while, but this was our first opportunity to see him perform live. His music is in a rather niche sub-genre called ‘chap hop‘ – imagine hip-hop, but with moustachioed English gentlemen rapping about tea and splendid trips to the seaside. Consequently, Professor Elemental has a major following in the steampunk community.

Biscuithead and the Biscuit Badgers

Local band Biscuithead and the Biscuit Badgers were the support act, in somewhat reduced circumstances as their drummer had a family medical emergency. Their music is wonderfully whimsical, with songs about David Attenborough, model railways, tweed jackets, and the folk who live on their local street. Whilst a rather different style of music to the main act, it fitted the offbeat nature of the gig.

Professor Elemental came on later, having sat in the audience for the support act; this was a small venue and there were only around 50-60 attendees. After powering through a medley of songs, he improvised a rap based on word suggestions from the audience, which included ‘antiquity’, ‘flange’, ‘antidisestablishmentarianism‘ and ‘nipple’. It was an impressive feat. Audience participation was also requested for his newer song Don’t Feed The Trolls.

Christine and I had come straight from work, and the weather was inclement to say the least, so we had left our steampunk outfits at home to save them for Thought Bubble, but many others were dressed up in appropriate attire. At one point, someone dressed as a giraffe crawled across the stage, and that probably wasn’t the strangest thing that happened.

Whilst it helped that many of the audience were genuine fans, it was a great, intimate gig – equal parts enjoyable and amusing. Professor Elemental isn’t on tour, per se, but he has a few more live gigs coming up around the country in the run up to Christmas – I’d definitely recommend going to see him.

November 16, 2015
by Neil Turner

Thought Bubble 2015

Christine and I at this year's Thought Bubble

After enjoying it so much last year, Christine and I made a return trip to the Thought Bubble Comic Con at the Royal Armouries in Leeds yesterday. I wore basically the same steampunk outfit as last time, but Christine had to wear something rather different as she’s now seven months pregnant. Sadly, her octopus headpiece (called Derek) was not playing well with her and so it was left in the car this time.

As with last year, we spent rather a lot of money, although our most expensive purchase was a babygrow from Genki Gear, so technically it wasn’t for us. We also picked up a couple of books, some comics, some decidedly bizarre Christmas cards and a few small pieces of artwork that we’ll frame and put on the (still mostly barren) walls of our new house.

We saw some great costumes – the £4 entry discount for cosplayers once again acting as an incentive to get people to dress up. I saw at least three female Thors, suggesting that Marvel’s decision to pass Mjölnir to Jane Foster has been well-received, several Starlords and a small boy dressed as a TARDIS. There was also a Hogwarts cosplayer with an actual owl, although I understand se was a paid professional. And the owl later did a poo on the floor.

It was great fun, and I’m sure we’ll be back again next year – all three of us.