Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

July 28, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Hollingworth Lake

Hollingworth Lake

I’m a bit behind with uploading photos to Flickr, and so it’s taken me until now to write about a day out to Hollingworth Lake. Christine, Lizzie and I went right at the beginning of May, on a scorchingly-hot Sunday afternoon.

Despite its name, Hollingworth Lake is actually a reservoir, and is completely man-made. Built at the end of the 18th century, it served as the main water source for the Rochdale Canal – the canal that runs from Manchester, across the Pennines to our home town of Sowerby Bridge. By the 1860s it had developed into an inland tourist resort, and nowadays, it’s part of a country park. It still has the feeling of an inland seaside resort, as it retains some its hotels, pubs and amusement arcades. There’s also a sailing club based there.

Christine had been a few times before but this was my first time. I’d passed it a few times; the bridge in the background of the photo carries the M62, and I’ve had driving lessons nearby. Most people drive to get there and there are several car parks by the lake. On busy days, it may take you quite a while to find a parking space. If you don’t want to drive, Smithy Bridge is the nearest railway station (with signs saying ‘Alight here for Hollingworth Lake’) and is a short walk away. There are regular buses from Rochdale.

There’s a footpath all the way around the lake. It’s around four kilometres (2 ½ miles in old money) and makes for a nice gentle stroll. There are a couple of cafés at various points, and on hot days the ice cream vans make an appearance. It’s a nice, varied walk, with a section of the park set aside as a nature reserve.

You can view a few more photos in my Hollingworth Lake album on Flickr.

July 27, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Seven months

Photo of Lizzie at 7 months old

Lizzie is now seven months old. This doesn’t sound especially significant, but it marks the point when Christine goes back to work full-time, at the end of her maternity leave.

We’re putting Lizzie in the care of a childminder during the daytimes. Whilst it would be nice for us to have spent more time with her on leave, the cost of childcare is less than the money we’d lose by not being in work. Plus, it gives her the opportunity to interact with other children – something she won’t get to do at home for at least a couple of years, assuming we decide to have any more kids.

Unfortunately, we’re only able to use the childminder four days a week, for the time being. This means that, until September, we have to look after her ourselves on Wednesdays. So, we’re taking it in turns – and today is my turn.

Whilst I have previously looked after on my own a couple of times, this has never been for more than a couple of hours – so a full day will prove interesting. Although I am chickening out to some extent, by meeting my mum in Leeds for lunch.

Lizzie isn’t quite crawling yet, but is able to manoeuvre herself backwards and in circles if given the chance. We’ve got a safety gate installed at the top of the stairs, and will be working on child-proofing the house before she gets more mobile. And her first tooth has made an appearance this week.

So far, I’m still enjoying this parenting lark.

July 26, 2016
by Neil Turner
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A day out in Liverpool

Liverpool

A couple of weeks ago, Christine and I ended up with a Friday off work and no plans. So, on a whim, we decided to go to Liverpool.

In the past, we would have caught the train. It takes a couple of hours from Sowerby Bridge, with a change in Manchester. But we decided to drive this time, which proved to be quicker and (probably) cheaper. We decided to stay the night, and we could bring all of Lizzie’s paraphernalia in the car as well. We managed to get a room in the Holiday Inn Express in the Albert Dock, which was great. It’s located in one of the old warehouses, above what used to be the studio for This Morning on ITV. The rooms still have the brick barrel-vaulting and ironwork intact, bringing some character to an otherwise bog-standard budget hotel.

We last came to Liverpool in 2010. Back then, we spent a couple of days in the city, before catching the ferry to the Isle of Man. This was before the Museum of Liverpool had opened, so now that it is open and established, we popped in. The gallery about the Liverpool Overhead Railway most interested me, as you can imagine, but the rest of the museum was worth looking around too. It’s also home to several of the Superlambananas that were created for Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture event in 2008. There’s plenty about the history of the city, although some of the exhibits about Liverpool’s suburbs will be more of interest to locals than those visiting.

Liverpool

Liverpool is one of my favourite places to visit. The area around the Albert Dock is fantastic, as is the Liverpool One shopping centre – it’s a great example of a retail development that blends into the city, rather than dominating it. I’m sure we’ll be back again in a few years time, when Lizzie is old enough to enjoy it for herself.

July 22, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Pokémon Go

Screenshot of Pokemon GoIt probably won’t surprise you that I’ve spent quite a bit of the last week playing Pokémon Go. I downloaded it within hours of its official UK release; the screenshot shows how far I’ve got, and overall, I’m level 11. This is mostly through capturing Pokémon on the way to and from work, and on my lunch break.

Christine has been playing it a little longer. She has an Android phone, and so she was able to sideload the APK file from a third-party web site prior to its official release on the Google Play Store. She’s therefore slightly ahead of me, and has had the benefit of being on maternity leave to have more time to catch Pokémon.

I’m enjoying it, although it is further exacerbating my iPhone’s battery issues. As I write this, Pokémon Go has used 51% of my battery over the past 24 hours. Even before last week, I was struggling to get through a full day on one charge. To be fair, I use multiple Bluetooth devices with my phone, and use it on a train journey with frequent tunnels. So my iPhone’s battery was already getting a strong workout even before I started playing. But, notice how my phone was already down to 61% before 9am in the screenshot.

I haven’t added any Pokémon to gyms yet, and have only played a couple of battles. I’m waiting until I’ve collected more, and had the chance to upgrade or evolve them. Many of the nearby gyms have Pokémon with combat power over 1000 already, and my best is under 800.

It’s been fascinating to see how much of a phenomenon Pokémon Go has become. It’s already outperforming many other social apps, including Twitter and Tinder, in terms of how long people use it. And the news has been full of stories, both good and bad, about the game and its players. I never played Ingress, its spiritual predecessor, but I had friends who did. It seems that Niantic, its developer, has found the perfect balance between Ingress’ gameplay, and the popularity of the Pokémon franchise.

I don’t know how long I’ll keep playing. At the moment I’m still discovering new Pokémon and enjoying levelling them up – even if I’m sick of always finding Drowzees everywhere. Maybe the game will become less fun or stale after a while, but at the moment I like it.

July 16, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for July 16, 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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July 7, 2016
by Neil Turner
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A piece of post-Brexit holiday fiction

Set in the near future, this piece assumes that the United Kingdom goes ahead with a full withdrawal from the European Union, with no reciprocal trade agreements or freedom of movement. It’s a ‘worst case scenario’ and it’s unlikely that everything here will become true, but it will hopefully make you think.


So, it’s time for your annual holiday to Spain! Well, you had to miss last year — the cost of the flights and accommodation had rocketed and so you needed longer to save up.

You book your travel insurance — again, paying more than last time, now that your EHIC card is no longer worth the plastic it’s made of. You head out to pick up your foreign currency, and grimace at the exchange rate. Gone are the days where every £1 would buy you €1.40 — now, you come away with fewer Euros than Pounds.

Your passport returns from the Schengen visa office just in time — another expense that you had to save up for. You read the enclosed leaflet, including the dire warnings about what could happen if you overstay on your visa.

Still, it’s time to get packed, and set off the airport. Last time, you were able to fly direct from your local airport, but the budget airline that operated that route withdrew it after bi-lateral restrictions on air service agreements were re-introduced. So, it’s a long drive to London Heathrow, and you’re almost late because you nearly forgot your International Driving Permit which you’d never needed before.


You’re through the airport and on the plane without too much difficulty, and it’s not long before you land in Malaga. You alight from the plane, and head to Arrivals. Inside, you’re funnelled into the ‘Non-EU/EEA Nationals’ lane for the first time. You join a huge queue of fellow Brits, as well as some who have travelled from America and the Middle East.

Finally, you reach the desk. The Spanish immigration officer takes your passport, looks at you, and adds a date stamp for your visa. You collect your belongings, and get on a coach, bound for your hotel on the Costa del Sol.


The next day, you go out for a stroll. It feels different, somehow, from how you remember if from years gone by. Back then, as well as Spanish voices, you’d hear plenty of people speaking English. But not now; when Britain left the EU, Spain deported huge numbers of British immigrants who had settled. You pass several British bars and cafés — most of them closed.

Despite all this, you have an enjoyable week’s holiday, although you weren’t able to post any gloating photos on Instagram whilst you were there as the roaming charges were huge. But it’s time to head back to the airport.

You arrive, but your flight is cancelled. And the next flight isn’t until tomorrow. The budget airline your flew with isn’t very helpful, and offers you the bare minimum that it is required to. It gets to 10pm, and you notice that those flying to Frankfurt whose flight was also cancelled are all off to a hotel for a night, whilst you try to get comfy on the cold, hard floor of the departures area.


The following day, you’re able to get on a plane, and set off back to Heathrow. Leaving the plane, you head to to the British Nationals queue, and onwards to customs. Whilst away, you picked up nine bottles of Spanish wine, but this puts you over the 4 litre limit that was re-imposed following Brexit. You begrudgingly cough up an extra six pounds to a stern-looking customs official, and carry on. You collect your bags, and get in the car, ready for the long drive back home.

A week later, you hear that the airline turned down your request for compensation for the disruption. You decide that pursuing it in court would be pointless, and accept the miserable end to an expensive holiday. Maybe you’ll go back, but not for a couple of years, as you’ll need to save up again.


This piece was partly inspired by this Telegraph piece on what Brexit will mean for travellers. We can’t be sure whether all, some, or indeed any of this will come to pass, but clearly, Britain’s vote to leave the EU will have some profound effects on freedom of movement and the cost of holidays.

This was also cross-posted to Medium.

July 2, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for July 2, 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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June 29, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Updated CV

Screenshot of my updated CV

I’ve updated my CV. It’s available to view as a web page, and also as a downloadable PDF.

Whilst I’m not specifically looking for new jobs, I’ve been required to update my CV due to some restructuring at work. This restructuring will require me to apply for jobs in the new structure, as my existing role will cease to exist shortly, and I’d been asked to submit an updated CV as part of the application process.

I wrote my original CV whilst still a student, and it had been updated gradually over time to add skills and new information. Consequently, it focussed more on my educational, rather than professional background, and was full of things I did at university up to a decade ago. Whilst I’m proud of what I did at university, clearly I should be more able to talk about what I do now. And this was a document that had evolved over a 12-13 year period. So I scrapped the whole thing, and started again.

I went for a different look – before, it was rather cramped, and used Arial which, though readable, is rather boring. I switched this out for Gill Sans – still a very readable font, but it’s just a little bit different. My professional experience is put first and foremost, above my education history, and I also focussed on key achievements in my previous role. Before, I just talked about what I did, and not where I had gone above and beyond. I think it looks more impressive now.

Outdated information, such as serving on student union councils and committees, are gone, and instead I’ve listed completed training courses. As I’m mostly interested in administration-based roles, I feel this is relevant, but would probably replace it for a more creative or IT-focussed role. I’ve also separated my technical skills from my clerical skills – renamed ‘professional skills’.

Although it’s my CV and I’ve rewritten it from scratch, it is also a ‘document by committee’. I shared a Dropbox link to it amongst my friends on Facebook, and several of my friends offered some constructive suggestions for improvements. One of my friends is a university careers advisor and her tips were a real help. And my employer organised a CV and interviews workshop for staff affected by the restructuring, and this incorporates some of the ideas that I picked up.

I’m sure it’s not a perfect CV and, with more work, I could probably improve it further. The good news is that, of the four posts that I have put myself forward for, I’ve managed to get interviews for two so far and should hear about the other two shortly. If you need to work on your CV, I hope that my experience has been useful for you.

June 27, 2016
by Neil Turner
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Lizzie’s half birthday

Lizzie at birth and six months

Lizzie turns six months old today. No, I can’t quite believe it either.

Whilst it’s not all been plain sailing, on the whole I’ve really enjoyed becoming a parent. It’s been great to see her develop and learn new skills, and turn from a small floppy newborn into a more interactive little nipper. She’s recently learn to sit up, and I reckon she’ll be able to crawl within weeks. And we’re able to feed her solid food now (well, purées).

I can’t wait to see what will happen over the next six months.