Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

September 29, 2017
by Neil Turner
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RHEQs – 136-150

I’m working my way through Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions book, 15 questions at a time. This week, it’s questions 136-150. You can read more about this project herePlease be aware that some of the questions are somewhat vulgar.

136. What is your preferred epithet for male genitalia?

I just tend to use ‘penis’. We shouldn’t be embarrassed about genitalia and hide them behind euphemisms.

137. How long do you think it would take you to write 500 emergency questions?

Months. I’d make a good start, and then get to, like, 43, and get distracted. And then I probably wouldn’t pick it up again for weeks.

138. Did you ever learn to juggle? If so how many things can you juggle? I demand to see proof of your juggling claims.

I’ve tried to learn to juggle but my hand-eye co-ordination isn’t great, so I’ve never been successful. If I really put the effort in, I might be able to learn to juggle three balls.

139. If I could guarantee you would be unkillable, indestructible and uninjurable for the next ten years, but would die once the decade was up, would you go for it?

No. I’d like to live longer than 10 years, so that I could see Lizzie grow up. I’m not the daredevil sort and my health is reasonably good, so I can’t see myself dying any time soon.

Although if I knew I’d die in 10 years, then I’d probably stop paying 6% of my salary into a pension. It might raise issues with our life insurance policies though.

140. Could you ever have sex with someone that calls breasts “boobies”? What if they did it while you were having sex? Would you stop having sex with them?

Yes, I could; yes, I have.

141. If you had to murder one person at your work/college/family – if you had to – which person would you murder?

These questions make me think that Richard Herring has some plans for a dystopian future.

If I had to murder someone, then I’d probably choose someone that I actually liked and made a big deal of it. Because clearly, if I’m being forced to do it, something has gone very wrong and I would want the world to know that it was against my will.

142. If you didn’t have to murder one person at your work/college/family, but knew you could get away with it, which person would you murder?

I wouldn’t.

143. What makes a good emergency question?

A question that takes an increasingly tedious interview, and resets it back onto more interesting path.

144. If you had to put everyone called Smith in a league table based on their worth who would be: a) the best Smith b) the median Smith and c) the worst Smith? Only answer when you can give a name for all three Smiths.

The best Smith would be Matt Smith, he of Doctor Who fame. The median Smith would be my mate Dave.

The worst Smith would be Morrissey. Do you see what I did there?

No, but really, Morrissey says some ridiculous things.

145. When you have fears that you may cease to be before your pen has gleaned your teeming brain, what do you do?

Write blog posts.

146. Have you ever had a dream that seemed so real you thought that it was true? How do you know it wasn’t and that this is just a dream?

I’ve had a few, but I’m rubbish at remembering dreams for more than a few hours afterwards unless I write them down. Sometimes I’ve woken up having dreamt that a thing has happened, and then remembered it was a dream.

147. What’s your favourite drink? If you found out it was actually made out of wasp urine and always had been, would it still be your favourite and would you carry on drinking it?

Cola is the drink that I consume the most and enjoy, and yes, I would probably still drink it if I learned that it was made of wasp urine.

148. Would you rather be immune from ever getting chlamydia or have free KitKats for life? (You would get 365 four finger Kitkats per year, or 366 on a Leap Year, but would still be able to get chlamydia).

Free KitKats. Since I’m in a committed relationship, my chance of getting chlamydia is pretty low. Although ideally I would prefer a non-Nestlé product for ethical reasons.

149. If you could go into the transportation chamber from “The Fly” with a living creature of your choice, which creature would you choose?

A quokka, so I could end up as a hopefully cute human/quokka hybrid.

150. What was your nickname at school?

At primary school, the only nickname I remember was ‘sticky fingers’. I ate an orange, and had sticky fingers.

September 24, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Why are there so many new UK train orders?

Siemens Desiro 380007There are now approximately 6000 new rail vehicles that have been ordered, are under construction or being introduced into service in the UK. It’s an almost unprecedented number, that will see many older trains being sent for scrap, and will allow more services to be run.

What’s more remarkable is that, until December 2011, there had been almost a 2 year period with no new train orders – almost as long as the 1000-day hiatus caused by rail privatisation in the 1990s. So what’s changed?

Roger Ford has a more detailed analysis of the situation in his Informed Sources column in this month’s Modern Railways magazine. I’m using some of his facts and figures here, but his column is, as always, essential reading for those who want to know what’s going on in the rail industry. Continue Reading →

September 23, 2017
by Neil Turner
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It’s Bi Visibility Day, and I’m coming out

Today is Bi Visibility Day – an annual event where bisexual people can show that they exist. People, like me.

I’ve decided to use today to come out publicly. I guess I’ve always been bisexual, and especially during the hormone-charged teenage years, but it has taken me until this year to accept my feelings towards other men as valid. It’s a long time to repress an aspect of your personality, and I wish I had come to accept who I am years ago.

I came out to Christine a few months ago. She has been completely supportive, and I remain 100% committed to her. It hasn’t changed anything about our relationship, other than that we spend more time commenting on men that we’re attracted to. We have somewhat different tastes, although we both think that Justin Trudeau is dreamy.

Bisexuality is a spectrum, and, on the whole, I’m more often attracted to women. But I’m no longer trying to repress my feelings when I see an attractive man. I also realise that, as someone who is in a committed different-sex relationship, I have a ‘passing privilege’ that other bisexual people do not have.

So, Happy Bi Visibility Day. If you haven’t already, take the time to listen to your Bi friends, family or work colleagues, and see what you can do to combat biphobia.

September 21, 2017
by Neil Turner
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iOS 11 First Impressions

Screenshot of the app store in iOS 11 As you will be aware, iOS 11 was released by Apple on Tuesday (although it had been leaked over a week before, taking the shine off last week’s product launches).

I’m not brave enough to install beta versions of iOS – I don’t have the luxury of spare devices to test software on – but usually upgrade to the latest released versions of iOS pretty quickly. So I downloaded iOS 11 onto my iPhone on Tuesday evening, and my iPad yesterday morning. And, here are my first impressions. Continue Reading →

September 15, 2017
by Neil Turner
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RHEQs – 106-120

I’m working my way through Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions book, 15 questions at a time. This week, it’s questions 106-120. You can read more about this project herePlease be aware that some of the questions are somewhat vulgar.

106. What do you consider to be the most mediocre chocolate bar?

I’ve never been a been a fan of Double Deckers. Too chewy for my liking.

107. What is the most unconvincing lie you have ever told?

Something at primary school, a couple of days before parents evening. I can’t remember what it was, but my parents told the real story and weren’t very happy with me.

108. Would you be willing to eat a bowl of crickets for $40,000?

Yes. Especially if I had some say in how the crickets were prepared – they may taste quite nice if sauteed with some garlic and herbs. And it’s a decent amount of money.

109. What happened to Lazarus the second time he died?

I’m guessing he died in an uneventful way.

110. If a serial killer kills another serial killer does that work like conkers?

Well, I don’t have a background in law, but I’d guess this would be a ‘no’.

111. What is your favourite keyboard shortcut?

Ctrl+Alt+Delete, because it means I’m locking my screen for a break.

112. Would you prefer to live in an igloo or have to dance the fandango every day at 9pm for the rest of your life?

Living in an igloo sounds much more fun.

113. Would you rather have no ears or no dignity?

No ears. I could grow my hair longer to cover their absence, and would hopefully have access to some kind of hearing aid. Or could learn sign language.

114. If you had to would you rather give up chocolate or cheese? If you had to.

That would be difficult, but I would choose cheese. I probably have something chocolately every day, but I eat cheese less often.

115. If you had the power to bring down planes with your mind, would you be able to resist doing so just once? Just to check you really could? Or would you do it loads anyway, laughing at the destruction you had wrought?

I’d like to think I would resist from doing it ever. Hopefully it wouldn’t be a thing that could happen accidentally. I’d hate to accidentally bring down a plane somewhere just because I was having a bad day.

116. What’s the strangest thing you ever found in your junk email?

Spam email asking if I was interested in bulk-buying mops.

117. What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever tried to squeeze down the drain in a shower?

Someone else’s poo.

118. Would you prefer to have a superpower which allowed you to predict the next day’s weather with 75% accuracy or be able to assess if food past its sell-by date was still safe to eat?

The latter. I use CARROT Weather and it seems to be good enough for showing what the weather will be like. Whereas knowing whether I need to chuck something out or could hang onto it might save me a bit of money and reduce waste.

119. If you could choose which liquid you weed, what liquid would you wee?

Lube.

120. What modern day item do you think will seem ridiculously archaic in 10 years time?

Desktop computers with mice. I think touchscreen tablets with docking stations are the likely future.

September 14, 2017
by Neil Turner
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The sad state of travel smartcards outside London

Museum of Transport, Greater Manchester

If you have a spare 10 minutes, and like despairing at your computer screen, read this introductory guide to Greater Manchester’s ‘My Get Me There’ card. ‘My Get Me There’ (yes, that’s what it’s really called) is supposed to be Manchester’s answer to London’s Oyster card. But whereas Oyster is a pervasive and simple presence across all of London’s transport modes, My Get Me There, well, isn’t.

My Get Me There versus Oyster

In London, you can travel by Train, Tram, Underground, Docklands Light Railway, River Bus or Cable Car, and on any of these you can use your Oyster card. Your card may have a weekly, monthly or annual travel card loaded onto it, but if not, there’s a pay-as-you-go balance that you can top up at hundreds of locations across the capital. And you’ll (almost) always pay a lower fare than with a paper ticket, which will also be capped if it would’ve been cheaper to buy a daily or weekly travel card.

In Manchester, My Get Me There works on just the buses and trams. Manchester does of course have trains, but none of the train companies that operate in Greater Manchester accept it. And there’s no pay-as-you-go option. In effect, all My Get Me There does is enable you to load a virtual ticket onto it, provided that you don’t buy it too far in advance. A ticket that would cost the same if issued on paper.

So My Get Me There doesn’t really save you money, and doesn’t offer much convenience over a paper ticket.

De-regulation

What the article doesn’t go into is why such a ludicrous situation has come about. I touched on this a couple of years ago in how London’s buses differ from the rest of the UK. In the 1980s, bus services outside London were de-regulated, such that almost all buses are now run by private companies who set their own fares. London buses remained regulated, and so Transport for London (TfL) sets the fares and routes. When Oyster was introduced in 2004, TfL was able to ensure that it was accepted on every bus, and that Oyster fares would be cheaper than cash. Consequently, Oyster has been a massive success, and now London buses no longer accept cash payments. Instead, you can use Oyster, contactless credit/debit cards, or Apple/Android Pay.

TfL also has more leverage over railway companies. It controls the TfL Rail (soon to be Elizabeth Line) and London Overground franchises, for example. All other London train companies now or will soon accept Oyster, including pay-as-you-go.

In Manchester, TfL’s northern counterpart, Transport for Greater Manchester, only controls ticketing for the Metrolink tram network. So acceptance of My Get Me There cards on buses is by agreement, as far as I am aware. And this doesn’t stretch to the railways, where TfGM has almost no say.

West Yorkshire M-Card

Over here in West Yorkshire, we have the M-CardI get an annual card through work. Compared with My Get Me There and Oyster, it’s somewhere in the middle. You can load daily, weekly or monthly tickets onto a pink M-Card, or buy a yellow annual card (this is what I have). There are also green and blue cards for young people, and a white pay-as-you-go card. All of these are valid on (most) buses, and the pink, yellow and green cards are valid on trains too.

Which sounds good, but it’s worth taking some time to break this down. Firstly, the white pay-as-you-go card is a separate product that can’t be combined with, say, the pink card. So you can’t have a monthly travel card with a pay-as-you-go balance for journeys not covered by the travel card, like you can on Oyster. In this case, you would need two separate cards.

Pay-as-you-go is only available on buses, and not on all operator’s services. And, you’ll pay the same price as you would if purchasing a paper ticket – there’s no financial incentive to use M-Card over cash fares.

Whilst M-Card is better than My Get Me There, it’s still nowhere near as good as Oyster is in London, and I doubt it will ever be. Unless bus services in these areas are re-regulated (something the bus industry is dead against), I don’t think we will see such a successful system as Oyster. Which is a shame; bus usage outside London is falling, and simplified ticketing would be a great way to get people back on board.

September 13, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Kilnsey Park Estate

Kilnsey Park Estate

A couple of weeks ago, Christine, Lizzie and I went to Kilnsey Park Estate in North Yorkshire. I’d been many years before with my parents, as it has a well-known inland trout farm. Located in the Yorkshire Dales, in the shadow of Kilnsey Crag, it was a place we’d often stop off at on the way home from a day walking in the hills.

This time, we made a day of it. Arriving in time for lunch, we ate at the café, which, as you’d expect, offers mostly trout-based dishes. Lizzie had trout and chips, and I had a nice trout salad. The café is open to all and there’s a gift shop which sells local produce. And trout.

Explorer trail

It’s around £5 per adult to enter the rest of the site. We followed the ‘Explorer trail’, which starts at the bottom of the valley and heads up to Kilnsey spring. This provides the water for the trout farm, and drives two small hydroelectric generators. Combined with a water-based heat pump, Kilnsey Park is able to generate all of its own energy.

There’s a small farm area with some pygmy and Angora goats, pigs, sheep and various chickens. Kilnsey is also home to some red squirrels; once prevalent in the UK but now restricted to just a few remote places in the wild. The red squirrels are in a cage, which, combined with their quick movements, make them quite hard to take photos of.

Heading out into the fields, and there are pheasants and grouse. And some alpacas – Kilnsey Park has been home to alpacas for around 100 years, and used to supply wool to Salt’s Mill in Saltaire near Bradford.

Further up the hillside, there’s a small butterfly garden, which lived up to its name – there were plenty of butterflies there.

And trout

And yes, there were more trout. You get to see the various different pools across the site, from the nursery at the top down to the mature pools at the bottom. Bags of fish food are available to purchase and Lizzie really enjoyed feeding the fish. For an extra cost, you can hire a fishing rod to catch the trout, although you also have to pay £3 for every fish you catch. Processing facilities are provided should you wish to take your catches home to eat. Lizzie was a bit too young for this but it would be great to come back when she’s older and a bit more patient.

It was nice to visit Kilnsey again, and I was pleased that there was enough to do there to be able to spend a whole day. It’s not expensive, and seeing the red squirrels was a highlight for me. Lizzie enjoyed it as well – it’s a good place to take an adventurous toddler. And there are plenty of good photo opportunities – especially if the weather is nice.

September 8, 2017
by Neil Turner
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RHEQs – 91-105

I’m working my way through Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions book, 15 questions at a time. This week, it’s questions 91-105. You can read more about this project herePlease be aware that some of the questions are somewhat vulgar.

91. Have you ever been to Barometer World?

I never knew that Barometer World existed until now. Seeing as it’s in Devon, it’s a bit far.

92. Would you like to live in a world where everyone else was barometers?

No – I think that would be too much pressure.

Thank you, I’m here all week.

93. How did the murder of Thomas A Beckett affect Anglo-Papal relations in the 12th Century?

Without looking it up, I have no idea. History was never my strongest subject at school and I dropped it after year 9.

94. Do you know the way to San Jose?

This is what Google Maps is for. In any case, from here, it would involve a flight or a very, very long time on a boat.

95. There is no such thing as morality. Discuss.

Oh I think there is. I generally believe that most people are moral, and act in good faith.

96. Which RHLSTP guest would you most like to snog and why?

Sofie Hagen. She’s so lovely and I it would be great to meet her.

97. I once burped during the minute’s silence at the Ascension Day Service – what was the most audacious thing you did whilst at school?

I genuinely can’t think of anything. I was generally a good, average pupil (just had the one detention in year 9) and didn’t do anything particularly naughty or outstanding.

98. Do you think it’s possible that Postman Pat has had some kind of breakdown and the people of Greendale are just putting up with him out of some kind of misplaced loyalty to his younger self?

I think it’s possible. I’ve also heard a similar, tragic story about Iggle Piggle from In The Night Garden.

99. Would you rather do a Freaky Friday/Vice Versa with Brian Blessed or CJ from Eggheads?

I don’t watch Eggheads and don’t know much about CJ. And I think I’d enjoy being Brian Blessed and being able to boom at things. I think I do a reasonably good Brian Blessed impression but it gives me a sore throat after a while, and of course, it can’t be done quietly.

100. Which conspiracy theory do you think might actually be true?

I think there’s been a conspiracy to fudge immigration figures in Britain to make it look like it’s a bigger problem than it actually is. Here’s my evidence.

101. Have things turned out like you expected them to?

No, not really. When I was younger, I thought that I would have a career in the IT industry, and live in a city. Instead I work in education, and live in a small town.

102. Do you think the Tim Allen film, “The Santa Clause” could ever happen in real life? If you were press-ganged into being Santa would you feel happy or resentful?

No, I don’t think it could happen in real life, and I don’t think I’d want the stress of being Santa. Think about it, your performance assessment is on the basis of the outputs of just one big day a year. Okay, so you have all year to prepare for it, but it’d be a lot of pressure.

103. If you had to dig up the corpse of a celebrity who died in 2016 and have sex with it – if you had to – which one would you choose?

Defiling the corpse of a celebrity would be a pretty low thing to do. If I had to – maybe Nancy Reagan?

104. Would you prefer to be a lion for day or a lamb for a lifetime?

A lion for a day. I imagine my lifetime as a lamb would be very short.

105. How do you sleep at night?

See yesterday’s blog post.

September 7, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Sleep

Fitbit sleep statsBeing the parent of a small child, sleep, or the lack thereof, is a big issue for me. Having enough energy to function at work during the day is sometimes a struggle.

My recent purchase of a Fitbit Alta HR has visualised this problem. Because it’s lighter than the previous Fitbit models that I’ve owned, I’ve started wearing it at night to track how well I sleep. Which, it turns out, isn’t very well.

Adults should aim for between 7 and 9 hours per night. I set my target for 7 hours, and, as you can see from the screenshot, I don’t always manage that every night. And when I do, it’s usually only just above that – it rarely approaches the ideal average of eight hours per night.

Lizzie is probably the biggest factor here. Whilst she sometimes sleeps through the night, she usually wakes up once for a drink. This doesn’t always wake me up, but if it does, it can sometimes take me quite a while to get back to sleep again.

There’s also the issue of co-sleeping. Last week, we started putting Lizzie in her cot in our bedroom. She’ll usually only go in if she’s already asleep, so it’s quite a delicate operation. On the whole, not having her on our bed all night has improved my sleep quality, except that when she wakes up and wants a drink. If that happens, she’s more likely to wake me up as well.

We also found that making sure that Lizzie is sufficiently worn out helps. At times, she has still been full of energy at 10pm. Now that she can walk, we’re trying not to have her in the pushchair as much, so that she burns off more energy.

Another intervention I’ve made is regarding caffeinated beverages. I’m trying not to drink anything with caffeine in it (including cola) after 2pm each day. It can take more than 6 hours for the effects of caffeine to wear off, and so having a Pepsi with dinner or a late afternoon coffee or energy drink can have knock-on effects when I want to sleep later on. I’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks, and found that I’ve been going to sleep more quickly. Better quality sleep means less need for caffeine and so hopefully it’ll cut down how much I need to consume.