Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

September 26, 2018
by Neil Turner
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Seatfrog – how to get a cheap first class upgrade

Tomorrow, Christine, Lizzie and I are off to London (actually for the second time this week, but that’s another story). We’re going by train, and, thanks to Seatfrog, we’ll be travelling in first class, at a relatively low additional cost.

In the UK, Seatfrog is available on LNER services on the East Coast Main Line. You buy your standard class tickets online, as normal, and then put your booking reference into Seatfrog. The day before departure, Seatfrog holds an auction; enter your bid, and if you win, your updated tickets appear in the app.

We bid £10 per ticket for our journey, and this won (the minimum bid was £5). However, there may be a higher reserve on some services – for our return, the reserve was £9. Upgrading to first class gets you a wider, reclining seat, the majority of which are leather upholstered on LNER services. Plus, free Wi-Fi, regular offers of tea and coffee, and, for journeys over an hour, a complementary meal. This is easily worth £10 a head and means we won’t need to buy extra food for our journey.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that you’ll win, and there’s no point bidding too high as you can buy an upgrade outright for £35 per ticket. At least if you’re outbid, no money is taken.

I suppose it’s a good way of filling vacant first class seats. I could also see this being useful for people travelling on business, who can only claim standard class travel on expenses. Seatfrog would allow you to trade up to first class from your own pocket if you’re happy to pay a bit extra yourself.

For now, Seatfrog is only available on LNER services, however, it’s run by an independent company and so it’s possible that other travel companies could adopt it – potentially airlines as well as train operators,

So, tomorrow we’ll be smugly sat in first class, knowing that we paid well under the odds for our tickets,

August 10, 2018
by Neil Turner
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How to: fix incorrect date and time on an Amazon Kindle Fire

Belltower

Today, a colleague of mine asked for help with connecting her Amazon Kindle Fire to the university Wi-Fi network (which is linked to eduroam). Whilst I’m not an IT employee, I offered to help.

eduroam, for those who aren’t aware, allows staff and students at universities to access Wi-Fi at any other participating university. This includes almost all UK colleges and universities, and many others across the world. To do this, it uses WPA-Enterprise, with authentication using a username and password, rather than a Wi-Fi key like you would get on a home Wi-Fi network.

The problem was that the Kindle Fire couldn’t connect, despite the username and password being correct. And then I noticed that the time was wrong.

Problem 1: wrong date and time

The underlying cryptography behind WPA-Enterprise, and most other secure internet systems, is reliant on accurate clocks. For whatever reason, this Kindle Fire thought that it was about 3am in September 2010. Consequently, it couldn’t establish a secure connection.

So, I went to change the date and time.

Problem 2: you can’t manually change the date and time on a Kindle Fire

There’s no option to manually change the date and time on the Kindle Fire (although this may have existed on older devices). If you try to change the time, you get an error, telling you that your device will get the correct time from Amazon automatically. At best, you can change the time zone if this is incorrect, but this was no help when the clock was out by almost 8 years.

Problem 3: The Kindle Fire cannot automatically update the date and time without an internet connection

So now we’re at an impasse. We can’t get on the internet because the time is wrong, but Amazon has locked down the ability to change the date and time, and we can’t get the correct time from the internet because we can’t connect to the internet. ARGH.

Solution: use a second device as a Wi-Fi hotspot

Fortunately, I managed to solve this by using my iPhone as a personal hotspot. As this doesn’t require authentication via WPA-Enterprise, the Kindle Fire was able to connect, get onto the internet, and update the time on the device to the correct time. I was then able to disconnect from the personal hotspot, and connect to eduroam without any problems.

I can understand why Amazon have locked down the date and time settings, as, if they wrong, all your secure connections will fail. And considering that many web sites now use HTTPS all the time, this would break a lot of things. But it doesn’t account for when a Kindle Fire’s battery goes completely flat, and it resets to a default time. Which I assume is what happened in this instance.

I checked my iPhone, and Apple does let you manually override the automatic date and time that it receives when you’re online. I assume most Android devices are similar – by default, they set the time automatically but give the user the opportunity to override this if needed. Amazon’s decision, whilst understandable, is frustrating in edge cases like this one.

August 8, 2018
by Neil Turner
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Adventures with a two and a half year old toddler

Lizzie is now a bit over two and a half years old. I’m writing this last week, at the end of a week off work looking after her. She’s asleep after a visit to one of Halifax’s many soft play centres.

Her vocabulary is expanding every day. She’s very good at naming animals, although not perfect. She’s not quite mastered the difference between a cow and a horse, even though Spirit: Riding Free is one of her favourite Netflix shows. When she’s relaxed, she will be quite talkative, and more and more of her babble is coalescing into understandable English. We can have a reasonable conversation with her now.

However, if she’s tired or upset, she can struggle to find the words. And unfortunately she sometimes acts out that frustration in a physical way. We’re trying to get her to say ‘sorry’ but it can prove difficult.

Size-wise, she seems to have inherited long legs from my side of the family. We may have to put her in age 3-4 trousers and tights soon, although she’s still in age 2-3 up top. This is something of a surprise, as up until she turned 2, she was usually in one clothing size below her age. It’s good that she has caught up though.

Potty training isn’t really going anywhere. She showed some interest in using a potty before Christmas, but we haven’t been making a big issue of it and she hasn’t really bothered at home. With her potentially being able to start pre-school in a year’s time, we’ll need to re-start this soon.

Her chicken pox from May cleared up after a few days, but unfortunately she has ended up with some scars. I suppose that this was inevitable, given her young age. I ended up with one scar when I had it aged six, by comparison.

We’re still co-sleeping, at least for part of the night. She tends to settle with us, and then we transfer her to her own bed (in our room) once she’s asleep. She then usually makes her own way back into our bed after a few hours. Once her room is ready for her, we’ll try to encourage her to sleep in there.

Now that Lizzie is getting older, Christine and I have talked about whether we want any more kids. We think we do, but the time isn’t right yet. For now, we’re happy enough with just one Lizzie.

August 7, 2018
by Neil Turner
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Stockeld Park Summer Adventure

Animatronic dragon at Stockeld Park

Last Monday, I took Lizzie to Stockeld Park, near Wetherby. Stockeld Park is a privately-owned country house estate, but it opens for special spring, summer and Christmas ‘adventure’ events. The summer season started a couple of weeks ago, in line with summer holidays, and so I took Lizzie along. We were joined by a friend and her almost four year old son, so that we could take advantage of a family ticket.

This was actually my second visit to Stockeld Park. The last time I went was for the Christmas Adventure in 2009, with my extended family. Looking back, I seemingly didn’t blog about this. I had only just met Christine at the time; I was living in Bradford and she was in Blackpool. I’m guessing she was working that weekend as she didn’t join us. That 2009 trip was in the evening, whereas this time we went during the daytime.

The main attraction at Stockeld Park is the ‘Enchanted Forest’, a woodland walk, with various activities on the route. These include an animatronic dragon, a tree with various tiny doors (and doorbells which play a message from their ‘occupants’), and several themed slides and adventure playgrounds. It’s not a long walk, but if you stop off everywhere then it can take a couple of hours to get around.

In addition, there’s the obligatory café and shop, and an indoor bouncy castle. Outdoors, there’s a roller skating rink (this is replaced by an ice skating rink in winter) and a maze. For an extra fee, you can go on a boat on the lake, ride around the forest on a scooter (Nordic skis in winter) or play laser tag. So there’s plenty to do; we only did the enchanted forest and the indoor activities and this still took up most of the day.

On the gate tickets are quite expensive; only the under-2s are free, so expect to pay £52 for a family of four. Thankfully, we pre-booked; using the discount code ‘TRAIN’ that I had seen advertised, we got a family ticket for £40 for four people. You can also pre-book a picnic hamper; this came to £20 for four people. Again, this saves you money versus buying on the day, and we got a free balloon thrown in.

The Summer Adventure is open until the 2nd September; after that Stockeld Park closes until the week before Hallowe’en. We’ll probably go back for the Christmas Adventure; it’s open late and you get to see the enchanted forest illuminated. It’s great for kids aged two and up and Lizzie really enjoyed it.

August 6, 2018
by Neil Turner
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New new new new iPhone

iPhone 8

As I mentioned on Monday’s update/apology, I recently upgraded to an iPhone 8. It’s a 64 GB Product(RED) model; whilst the front looks like the space grey model, it’s got a red back, and includes a donation to (RED). (RED) is a non-profit that raises money for HIV/AIDS charities, and there’s no extra cost to consumers over the price of an equivalent iPhone in one of the other colours.

I had planned to wait until the autumn to upgrade, either to buy one of the new iPhone models or get an older model at a cheaper price. But I was essentially forced to upgrade early. My previous iPhone was a 5S, and the battery had started expanding to push the front cover away from the case. An expanding battery is a very bad thing; it means it’s at risk of exploding.

In the interim, I tried using my old iPhone 5, which I still had as a backup phone. However, Apple has dropped support for the iPhone 5 and so it can only run iOS 11. Furthermore, many apps won’t run because it lacks a 64-bit processor which the 5S and all subsequent models have. Pokémon Go is one such example; with other apps, only older versions run.

Jumping from the 5S, which is 2013-era technology (although I bought mine in 2015) to the 8, which was released last year, is a big leap. The 8 is much faster. I’m also warming to the larger screen; in 2015 I decided to buy a 5S rather than a 6 because I wasn’t keen on the bigger surface area. But the bigger screen is great for apps like Google Maps.

The lack of a headphone port isn’t an issue; I switched to Bluetooth audio a couple of years ago. In a similar vein, I had been using a wireless charger case for my 5S and already have wireless charging stands at home and at work. The battery life of the 8 seems better than the 5S had even when new. And whilst I take most of my photos on my Canon DSLR camera, I’m impressed with the camera on the 8. Live photos is a fun gimmick but it’s nice when taking photos of Lizzie as it captures some of her mannerisms. Finally, I’ve noticed that I tend to have a better signal on this phone compared to previous models; I’m guessing it supports additional frequencies, or newer versions of the mobile standards.

Upgrading to the iPhone 8 has meant taking on a rather more expensive contract. I’m now limited to 4 GB of data per month; my previous contract had unlimited data, although in reality, I never hit 4 GB in a month anyway. I’m still with 3, who I’ve been with for almost 8 years now.

As for the iPhone X, as much as it looks impressive, right now it’s unaffordable for me. I imagine that whatever phone I get next, will be a descendent of the X. Hopefully, that won’t be for another three years at least, provided this new iPhone 8 lasts as long as my 5S did.

August 5, 2018
by Neil Turner
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Crich Tramway Village

Tram

Back in May, on the way back from a wedding in Leicester, we dropped into Crich Tramway Village in Derbyshire. Crich is home to the National Tramway Museum, and has a large number of heritage trams from Britain and abroad that run up and down a mile long track.

At the lower end of the site is the village, with various heritage buildings that have been re-assembled. There’s also the main tram sheds, for those trams that are still in use, and a museum with some static displays. The trams in the museum are arranged in date order, right from the first horse-drawn trams to those that were built shortly before trams were withdrawn across almost all of the UK in the 1960s. Famously, Blackpool was a hold-out and kept its trams, and several examples are now here at Crich too. It was slightly weird seeing a tram that I’ve seen in service in Blackpool not too long ago, now in a museum.

Crich Tramway Village

Heading up the hill out of the village is a large park for kids to play in, and then a forest trail with various sculptures to look at. There’s even a wooden Mr Potato Head.

Entry to the site permits unlimited rides on the trams. The village has a variety of places to eat and drink; the pub on site was having a beer festival when we visited. And like many attractions, your entry fee gets you an annual pass, so that you can return any time within 12 months for free. Alas, it’s a little bit too far for a day trip for us so we may not be able to take advantage of a return visit unless we’re in the area for another reason.

Even if you’re not quite so interested in public transport as I am, it’s a good day out as there’s plenty to do. It helps if you choose a day with good weather, though, as it’s mostly outdoors.

August 4, 2018
by Neil Turner
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Using the Gutenberg editor in WordPress

Yesterday, I upgraded to the newly-released version 4.9.8 of WordPress (soooo close to 5.0!) which allows you to opt into the new Gutenberg editor (available as a plugin). Gutenberg is the single biggest change to the WordPress blog post editing screen in years, and has been in testing for some time. The scale of the changes are probably why it’s available as a plugin for now, and not yet fully bundled with WordPress itself.

Gutenberg reflects the progression of WordPress from simply a blogging system to a more general-purpose content management system that can be used for a wide variety of web sites. When you create a new blog post, you insert ‘blocks’ of content. These blocks can be paragraphs of text, pull-quotes, images, or rich media such as embedded video or image galleries. Blocks gain some additional functions that were not previously available, including drag and drop re-ordering, and the ability to save blocks as ‘resuable content’ for future repeat use.

The new content editor will be familiar with anyone who has written posts on Medium as Gutenberg works in a very similar way. It’s also worth remembering that the last time the WordPress content editor underwent a major change, few people were using tablet computers and the iPad hadn’t yet launched. Whilst the drag and drop function doesn’t seem to work on a touchscreen, the new interface does seem to work better on handheld devices.

I expect that Gutenberg will become the default editor in WordPress very soon. If you use WordPress regularly, I would advise you to opt into it, to get to grips with it. The ‘classic’ editor is still there to go back to if you find it too frustrating but Gutenberg is likely to be the future. And it’s updated regularly in response to feedback, so any issues that you do have should be ironed out in time. It’s taken me a little time to get used to, but I’ve written this and yesterday’s post in it.

August 3, 2018
by Neil Turner
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It’s been a while, again

As usual, I didn’t intend to leave it two months between blog posts, but life got in the way again.

The main reason for my absence is that we actually went on a proper holiday for the first time since Lizzie was born. We accompanied my parents for 10 days in France, including a visit to Mont St-Michel, pictured above. This was at the back end of June, and I still have over 100 photos to sort. As well as Mont St-Michel, we visited the chateaus at Chenonceau and Chambord, Zooparc Beauval and the Jardin de la Source near Orleans.

This week I’ve been at home with Lizzie whilst her childminder is on holiday. We’ve been to The Deep in Hull, Stockeld Park and a repeat visit to Ponderosa (which has improved significantly since our last visit). Right now, she’s asleep, so I have a rare chance to write a quick blog post.

After a long break, we’re finally moving forward with the house renovations again. I did some tiling for the first time in the downstairs toilet, which is now (mostly) painted and just needs flooring before it’s essentially finished. The next big project is Lizzie’s room, which we’re hoping to get finished by the time she turns three in December.

On the technology front, I’ve replaced my iPhone (in addition to the new iPad in May). I had been planning to wait until the autumn, but the battery in my old iPhone showed signs that it was about to fail. I’ve upgraded to a Product(RED) iPhone 8, which is lovely and fast when compared to my iPhone 5S.

I’m hoping that I’ll have time to write at more length about what I’ve been up to; I have around 30 bullet points in my ‘blog post ideas’ note in Evernote.


June 2, 2018
by Neil Turner
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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
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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?

Purple.

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.