Neil Turner's Blog https://www.neilturner.me.uk Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002 Sat, 27 Jan 2018 21:33:41 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.4 23674714 Google Play Audiobooks https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2018/01/27/google-play-audiobooks.html https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2018/01/27/google-play-audiobooks.html#respond Sat, 27 Jan 2018 21:32:41 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=13705 Google is now selling audiobooks on its Play store. It’s been selling ebooks for some time, but audiobooks were only added last week. I’m an avid listener to audiobooks, and have a monthly Audible subscription that gives me one book … Continue reading

Google Play Audiobooks originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Book cover of Crash Override by Zoe QuinnGoogle is now selling audiobooks on its Play store. It’s been selling ebooks for some time, but audiobooks were only added last week.

I’m an avid listener to audiobooks, and have a monthly Audible subscription that gives me one book a month. It’s cheaper than buying the audiobooks at full price, as they typically cost £15-20 each, versus a £8 per month subscription. I do, however, occasionally pick up some of Audible’s Daily Deals, and their freebies for members.

So, why would someone like me, with an Audible subscription, bother with Google Play? Here’s three reasons:

1. There’s an introductory offer, giving 50% off

For the first month, you can get a voucher code giving you 50% off your first audiobook purchase from Google Play. That takes the price of a typical £15 audiobook below Audible’s monthly subscription cost.

2. There are some books for sale that aren’t on Audible

I wanted to buy Zoe Quinn’s book Crash Override, about her experiences of being on the receiving end of harassment by Gamergaters. It looks like it should be available from Audible but I couldn’t seem to find it. But it is available on Google Play, so that’s what I’ve spent my 50% off voucher on.

3. You can play back your audiobooks on Google Home devices

If you’re in the Amazon ecosystem and have an Alexa device like the Echo, then you can play your Audible audiobooks through your Echo speaker just by talking to it. Google Home owners, however, need to jump through a couple of hoops, involving Bluetooth pairing, to use their speakers with Audible. However, you can use the ‘OK Google’ voice commands with audiobooks from Google Play on Google Home devices, as you’d expect.

I’ll be sticking with my Audible subscription for now, as it works out cheaper for someone like me who listens to at least one audiobook each month. But it’s useful to have an alternative – and, remember, Apple sells audiobooks as well, for playback on its devices and in iTunes. And the 50% offer is worth taking advantage of.

Google Play Audiobooks originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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16 years of blogging https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2018/01/14/16-years-of-blogging.html https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2018/01/14/16-years-of-blogging.html#respond Sun, 14 Jan 2018 08:14:25 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2018/01/14/16-years-of-blogging.html Today marks yet another ‘blogiversary’. It’s been 16 years since I started writing blog posts here. Times have changed; in 2002, I was 17, single, living with my parents and studying for my A-levels. Now I’m 33, approaching five years … Continue reading

16 years of blogging originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Today marks yet another ‘blogiversary’. It’s been 16 years since I started writing blog posts here.

Times have changed; in 2002, I was 17, single, living with my parents and studying for my A-levels. Now I’m 33, approaching five years of marriage, living in my own house with my wife and two year old daughter, and working full-time.

The blog has changed as well. Years ago, I’d sometimes post several times a day, sometimes with very short entries. Nowadays, short thoughts go on Twitter or Facebook, and I tend to write longer blog posts less frequently.

I realise that we’re halfway through January and this is only my second blog post. It is my aim to post more on here and avoid completely fallow months like November last year. I have several ideas jotted down in Evernote and will get those written up in due course.

So here’s to another year of blogging.

16 years of blogging originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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New Year’s Resolutions for 2018 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2018/01/01/new-years-resolutions-for-2018.html https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2018/01/01/new-years-resolutions-for-2018.html#respond Mon, 01 Jan 2018 11:47:09 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2018/01/01/new-years-resolutions-for-2018.html Happy New Year! As usual, I’m making a handful of resolutions that I’ll aim to achieve in 2018. I don’t always blog about them (as a quick search of my old posts suggests), but here’s an overview and the rationale. … Continue reading

New Year’s Resolutions for 2018 originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Lizzie feeding swans

Happy New Year! As usual, I’m making a handful of resolutions that I’ll aim to achieve in 2018. I don’t always blog about them (as a quick search of my old posts suggests), but here’s an overview and the rationale.

  1. Try to get at least 10,000 steps on an many days as possible. I’ve been a Fitbit wearer for almost two and a half years now. 2017 brought some good streaks where I managed 10,000 steps on consecutive days, including 100 days from July through to October. I would like to have more streaks in 2018. I think 10,000 steps every day for 365 days is out of the question, especially as I’m writing this shortly before lunchtime on the 1st January and I haven’t even hit 1000 steps, never mind 10,000. But I think it’s having a positive effect on my fitness, requires a relatively small commitment each day and it’s achievable.
  2. Become a PRINCE2-certified project manager. I’m booked onto a week-long intensive PRINCE2 course in March, with funding from my trade union. The funding was awarded from a ballot, and the course would normally cost a four-figure sum, so this really is an opportunity that I can’t afford to lose, both morally and financially. So I need to make sure that I put in adequate preparation beforehand, allowing me to make the most of it and pass the exams.
  3. Move forward with house renovations. We did some more work on our house in 2017, but not as much as in previous years. Two rooms downstairs are almost finished, so this year I need to get on and complete those jobs. We also need to start on Lizzie’s room, which will be a major project including re-plastering and probably some electrical work.
  4. More child-free evenings out. Christine and I managed two evenings out without Lizzie in 2017, which was a first since her arrival at the end of 2015. We’ve had several offers from potential babysitters for Lizzie and need to do more to take up these offers, so that we can have some more quality time with each other.
  5. Write more blog posts. My blogging basically fell of a cliff at the end of last year. I’m going to aim to write two new blog posts each week, and re-start my answers to Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions.
  6. Clear out our spare room and have more guests staying over. We have a spare bed, but it hasn’t been used since May 2016 because we’ve had too much stuff piled up in our spare room. We should now have enough storage space to put all that stuff away properly, so that we can actually use our spare room and have more guests staying over.

Let’s see how many I managed to stick with.

New Year’s Resolutions for 2018 originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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What to expect in 2018 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2017/12/30/what-to-expect-in-2018.html https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2017/12/30/what-to-expect-in-2018.html#respond Sat, 30 Dec 2017 09:50:55 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=13694 I mentioned a few forthcoming things in my 2017 review yesterday, but here’s what I expect to happen in 2018: Although Lizzie turned 2 this month, we’re planning a proper birthday party for her in the new year. We didn’t … Continue reading

What to expect in 2018 originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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I mentioned a few forthcoming things in my 2017 review yesterday, but here’s what I expect to happen in 2018:

  • Although Lizzie turned 2 this month, we’re planning a proper birthday party for her in the new year. We didn’t do one last year as I don’t think she would’ve known what was going on, but I think she’ll enjoy having a party.
  • In June, we’re going on holiday! We’re spending 10 days in France with my parents. It’ll be Lizzie’s first trip abroad, and the first time that I’ve been out of the country since my Middle East trip for work in 2015. And it’ll be my first time driving abroad.
  • We have two weddings in the calendar. One is the day after our own wedding anniversary in May, and the other is later in the year.
  • I’m hoping to buy a new iPad, and perhaps a new phone – I will have had my iPhone 5S for three years in February.
  • More work on the house. We’ve nearly finished the downstairs, but the room that will be Lizzie’s bedroom needs a lot more work.
  • Education! Christine starts a part-time university course for a few months in January, and I’m taking a project management course in March.
  • Whilst we haven’t booked anything, we’re hoping for another London trip.

Let’s hope that 2018 is a good year.

What to expect in 2018 originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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2017 in review https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2017/12/29/2017-in-review.html https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2017/12/29/2017-in-review.html#respond Fri, 29 Dec 2017 16:45:46 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=13689 It’s time for my annual review of the year. Well, 363 days of it – I’m aware that we still have a couple more sunrises before 2018 rolls in. You can read my previous posts from 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, … Continue reading

2017 in review originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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It’s time for my annual review of the year. Well, 363 days of it – I’m aware that we still have a couple more sunrises before 2018 rolls in.

You can read my previous posts from 2016, 20152014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009.

January

Tiger
Although we did go to a New Year’s Eve party, we were home and in bed asleep when the 1st January began – Lizzie needed the sleep, and, frankly, so did we.

We made a return trip to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park, which is one of our favourite zoos and in within reasonable driving distance of home. We only went once in 2017 but I’m sure we’ll be back at least once in 2018 as Lizzie loves animals.

Our first child-free day of the year saw us go to the cinema to see A Monster Calls. It’s a great film that gets very emotional in places.

As usual, January is my blogiversary, and in 2017 I marked 15 years of blogging. Whilst I barely wrote anything in the last three months of this year, I’m not planning to completely give up on blogging any time soon. I also reviewed the Google Chromecast that I got for Christmas, and which has seen extensive use throughout the year.

February

Wallabies
Lizzie walked unaided for the first time. She’s now a very confident walker and we’ve had a few days out where we haven’t needed a pushchair. We visited the new wildlife park at Askham Bryan College near York – the first of two visits in 2017, with it being literally down the road from where my parents live.

With Donald Trump being sworn in as American president (urgh), I ranted about his travel ban.

We went to the first of two weddings, and saw The Lego Batman Movie on another child-free day.

March

My second Fitbit Charge HR died. I managed to get a replacement but later in the year I upgraded to a better model.

Halifax is home to Eureka, the National Children’s Museum, and I took Lizzie there in March. This was the first time that I had visited as an adult, the museum having opened 25 years ago when I was a child myself. Other museum visits included the Manchester Museum and Temple Newsam near Leeds.

I contemplated buying into Apple’s updated iPad range. That hasn’t happened yet, for financial reasons, but I am likely to buy a new iPad in 2018. My existing iPad Mini 2 won’t get iOS updates after this coming summer and it needs a screen replacement. I’d rather not spend more money on it if I’m due to replace it soon.

April

National Coal Mining Museum for England
Lizzie slept through the night. Sadly, she doesn’t sleep through consistently even now but there are some nights where she does (or at least, I don’t wake up). During the first week of the Easter holidays, we had no childcare, so I took the week off work and Lizzie and I had several days out together. We went to the National Coal Mining Museum for England, the newly-renamed National Science and Media Museum in Bradford and the Leeds City Museum. Over Easter, we went to Beningbrough Hall with my parents.

May

May is my birthday month, although it was yet another year of insignificant age. In addition to a child-free day, to watch Guardians of the Galaxy volume 2, we also had our first child-free night out. We went to see a recording of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue in Halifax.

May was also the time for our annual trip to London. It was Lizzie’s first long-distance train journey, and the first time that we took a pushchair on London Underground. We had hoped to make another London trip in 2017 but we never got around to booking it.

In April, a General Election was called, and the Labour Party (of which I am a member) decided to launch its manifesto in the building where I work. It was good to see the nation’s media descend on Bradford and to see Jeremy Corbyn and his colleagues receive such a warm welcome.

And I went on a Stag Do, in Leeds and then up and down the Worth Valley.

June

Puffin
The General Election took place in June and for once I wasn’t disappointed with the result. We didn’t get a Labour government, but I think the result was the best that we could hope for considering the circumstances and how far behind Labour was in the polling back in April.We had a nice afternoon riding model trains in Brighouse, and a trip to Thornton Hall Farm near Skipton. June saw the second of the two weddings. Afterwards, for the first time in a while, we had no forthcoming weddings in the calendar but we’ve recently had another invite come through for 2018.

For the first time since childhood, I went to Bempton Cliffs in East Yorkshire. I was really pleased to get a good photo of a puffin, one of my favourite birds.

July

In July, I started answering all of the questions in Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions book, 15 a week. This lasted until September, when I took an unplanned blogging hiatus. I wrote about the first thing that I bought on Amazon.

We made a return visit to Cannon Hall Farm in South Yorkshire. Lizzie and I went to Quarry Bank Mill and the Manchester Airport Runway Visitor Park for the first time, and I’m sure we’ll go back on a nice day. July saw Lizzie move into a bigger car seat, which will hopefully last her for a couple more years. And we went to The Deep in Hull; this was Lizzie’s first visit, but I’ve been a few times.

I got a new Fitbit, and Lizzie got her first passport. We haven’t been abroad yet, but have a holiday to France planned in 2018.

August

Tortoise
Lizzie’s love of animals led to a visit to Ponderosa near Heckmondwike. I don’t know if we’ll go back, as I wasn’t happy with the way the animals were kept, but she seemed to enjoy herself nonetheless. I also took Lizzie to the Legoland Discovery Centre at the Trafford Centre, although really she was too young – we may go back in a couple of years but I didn’t feel like it was very good value for money. She much preferred the Sealife Centre next door.

Another trip to Manchester included the Museum of Science & Industry, which has the benefit of being free and it has a toddler room. Being open on the August Bank Holiday Monday helped too.

September

I suppose the big news in September was me using Bi Visibility Day to come out as bisexual. Coming out hasn’t really changed much, but then I suppose I’m in a committed different-sex relationship and have passing privilege as a result.

August and September are always busy months for me at work, but we did manage to slip in a visit to Harewood House, north of Leeds, and a day trip to Harrogate for Christine’s birthday (including lunch at Betty’s, of course). We also went back to the Leeds City Museum, for a new exhibition on skeletons. As well as being free and easy to get to, Leeds City Museum always has plenty of activities for kids, especially during school holidays.

We also had a nice day out at Kinney Park Estate.

October

I made just one blog post in October, about achieving 10,000 steps every day for 100 days. I may try to repeat this in the new year but I’ve had quite a sedentary Christmas break.

October saw visits to the Tropical Butterfly House near Sheffield, twice in consecutive weekends. I took Lizzie one weekend when Christine was working, and ended up going back as a family the next weekend as we enjoyed it so much. I’ll do a proper blog post about it soon.

November

Just the one day out in November, to the Elsecar Heritage Centre near Barnsley. Lizzie and I had a child-free week off; we had planned to go away somewhere, such as London, but we didn’t get it booked in time. We did, however, spend over £1000 in Ikea, by buying a new sofa and some storage units for the dining room. This ultimately required five people to build.

December

And finally December. Lizzie and I made two trips to Lotherton Hall near Leeds, the second with Christine and my parents. The first was during its Christmas experience, which sees it opening late with extra Christmas activities. It was good value for the £6 per adult entry fee, although I ended up with a filthy car after parking in a muddy field. The day afterwards, I took Lizzie to the Trafford Centre to finish off our Christmas shopping, where we also saw the Coca Cola truck.

We had Christmas in York with my parents, and Lizzie turned two – more about that in a later blog post, hopefully.

So it’s been another busy year with plenty of days out. Hopefully there’ll be many more in 2018.

2017 in review originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Merry Christmas! https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2017/12/25/merry-christmas-6.html https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2017/12/25/merry-christmas-6.html#respond Mon, 25 Dec 2017 13:14:29 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2017/12/25/merry-christmas-6.html Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, from me, Christine and Lizzie. We’re staying with my parents in York, as per usual. I realise that this is the first blog post in two months, and only the second since September. … Continue reading

Merry Christmas! originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, from me, Christine and Lizzie. We’re staying with my parents in York, as per usual.

I realise that this is the first blog post in two months, and only the second since September. One of my New Year’s Resolutions is likely to be to get back into blogging twice a week, it we’ll see.

Hope you enjoy the rest of Christmas and have a lovely time with family (or a relaxing time on your own).

Merry Christmas! originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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100 days of Fitbit https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2017/10/31/100-days-fitbit.html https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2017/10/31/100-days-fitbit.html#respond Tue, 31 Oct 2017 09:13:39 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=13674 Yesterday, I completed 100 consecutive days where I recorded at least 10,000 steps on my Fitbit. That means that I had done a minimum of 10,000 steps every day since mid-July. My previous record had been 57 days, earlier this … Continue reading

100 days of Fitbit originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Fitbit Alta HR

Yesterday, I completed 100 consecutive days where I recorded at least 10,000 steps on my Fitbit. That means that I had done a minimum of 10,000 steps every day since mid-July.

My previous record had been 57 days, earlier this year. That was forcibly ended when the Fitbit Charge HR that I had at the time stopped working. Before that, I’d managed 32 days last year. Getting to a triple digit number has been a much bigger achievement.

10,000 steps is the default target, and, whilst I can achieve this with ease on weekdays, weekends are another matter. Sunday was a good example – knowing that I wouldn’t have many opportunities to get my steps in, I took advantage of the clocks going back and went out for an early morning walk whilst Christine and Lizzie slept in. This is why I haven’t changed my target to be more challenging; I’d rather it be obtainable with some effort than feel bad about not meeting it.

I’m going to try to keep this steak going if I can, although next week may present some difficulty. Christine and I are both off work all week – we had planned to go somewhere, but left the planning too late and can’t really afford to stay over anywhere. Not having my regular routine may make it difficult to reach 10,000 steps every day, but I’ll give it a go.

100 days of Fitbit originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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RHEQs – 136-150 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2017/09/29/rheqs-136-150.html https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2017/09/29/rheqs-136-150.html#respond Fri, 29 Sep 2017 08:40:48 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=13664 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 here. Please be aware that some of the questions are somewhat vulgar. 136. What is your … Continue reading

RHEQs – 136-150 originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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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.

RHEQs – 136-150 originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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Why are there so many new UK train orders? https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2017/09/24/many-new-uk-train-orders.html https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2017/09/24/many-new-uk-train-orders.html#comments Sun, 24 Sep 2017 08:45:28 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/?p=13655 There 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 … Continue reading

Why are there so many new UK train orders? originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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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.1. New rail franchises have a higher focus on quality

In years gone by, rail franchises were generally awarded to whichever bidder could run its trains with the lowest subsidy, or could return the most amount of money to the government. This came to an end after aborted franchise competition for the West Coast Main Line, which was initially awarded to FirstGroup (instead of the current Virgin Trains and Stagecoach joint venture).

Now, bidders are also assessed on the quality of service that they plan to offer passengers. Replacing older trains with shiny new ones is a good way of gaining points for quality, and all of the recent franchise awards have been to companies that have promised brand new trains.

With the recent awards of the Greater Anglia and South Western franchises, the successful bidders plan to even replace relatively new trains. South Western Railway have ordered a fleet of Aventra trains from Bombardier that will replace a fleet of Siemens Desiro City trains that have only just been built, and are still being introduced.

2. There’s more competition in the train building market

A few years ago, there were only three major manufacturers building trains in Great Britain (I’m excluding Northern Ireland as its rail system operates under a different structure). These were:

  • Bombardier, a Canadian firm who builds trains in Derby, at facilities once owned by British Rail.
  • Siemens, a German firm who builds trains in Germany and Austria
  • Alstom, a French firm who used to build trains in Birmingham but now builds vehicles across Europe

Alstom isn’t currently building any trains for the GB market but may do in future. It has recently opened a major new facility in Widnes, primarily for work on the existing Virgin Pendolino trains but which could be used to build new trains.

Bombardier is currently building new trains for Crossrail, London Overground, Great Western Railway, South Western Railway and Greater Anglia. Siemens has orders for Thameslink, Great Northern and South Western Railway under construction.

Newer entries to the market are:

  • Hitachi, a Japanese firm which built the Javelin High Speed trains for Southeastern. It has since built an assembly plant in Newton Aycliffe in County Durham, which receives empty body shells from Japan and fits out the doors, windows, bogies, engines, couplers and the interiors. It also took over AnsaldoBreda in Italy, and so it has a factory there as well. Hitachi is building new trains for Great Western Railway, Virgin Trains East Coast, ScotRail, First Hull Trains and Transpennine Express.
  • CAF, a Spanish firm that previously built trains for Heathrow Express and Northern Rail, in a joint venture with Siemens in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Since then, it has focused more on light rail, building trams for Edinburgh and the Midland Metro. It also built 43 trains for Northern Ireland, in two batches. CAF is building new trains for the Caledonian Sleeper, Northern Rail and Transpennine Express; these are being built in Spain, but CAF plans to open a factory in Wales soon.
  • Stadler, a Swiss firm that is very new to the UK market. It recently took over Vossloh, which built the Class 68 and 88 locomotives for freight operator Direct Rail Services; some of the 68s are sub-leased to Chiltern Railways, ScotRail and (soon) Transpennine Express for passenger services. It has also built the new tram-trains for Sheffield Supertram. Stadler is building new trains for Greater Anglia and Merseyrail.

So, there are now (essentially) 6 companies all bidding for work to build new trains.

3. There’s more competition in the train leasing market

Most train companies don’t actually own the trains that they operate. Typical rail franchises last less than 10 years, whereas a train could be in service for three or four times as long. So the majority of trains are owned by ROSCOs – rolling stock leasing companies.

At privatisation in the 1990s, British Rail’s existing fleet was split between three companies: Angel Trains, Eversholt and Porterbrook. These three companies still own most of the rolling stock in Britain, but new entrants to the market have increased competition. These include Beacon Rail, Rock Rail, Macquerie, QW and others.

4. Interest rates are at an all-time low

The Bank of England base rate is the lowest its ever been, at 0.25%. I’m sure it’ll go up soon, but the cost of credit is negligible compared to even just a couple of years ago. To take a non-rail example, we recently remortgaged our house, and got a five year fixed deal at a lower interest rate that the two year fixed deal that we picked up in 2015.

Therefore, borrowing the money to fund the cost of new trains is less costly than it has been for many years.

5. Train prices are at their lowest in around 25 years

Points 2, 3 and 4 combine to create a situation where new trains are at their cheapest rates for around 25 years. Roger Ford uses the example of the Class 323 electrical multiple units, which were ordered for commuter services in Manchester and Birmingham just before privatisation in the early 1990s. These cost around £1.2 million per carriage at today’s inflation-adjusted prices.

As recently as three years ago, the price per carriage was more like £1.4 million, for the Class 707 Siemens Desiro City units destined for South West Trains. But, now, we’re back into the £1.2 million per carriage. A saving of £200,000 per carriage may not sound like a lot, but some of these orders have been for several hundred trains. South Western Railway ordered 750 new carriages from Bombardier, and will probably pay £150 million less than they would have done for a similar order in 2014. This may explain why those Class 707 units will go back to the leasing company in less than three years’ time. By the time they’ve been delivered, cheaper alternatives have become available.

6. Newer trains require less maintenance

Modern Railways holds the ‘Golden Spanner’ awards every year, which highlight the train fleets with the highest reliability. Although there are inevitable teething problems with new trains, once they’re settled in, they’re typically much more reliable than ex-British Rail units. The much-despised Pacer trains can typically do 6000 miles between technical incidents, whereas some newer trains can reach 100,000 miles before requiring attention.

If fewer trains need to be taken out of service due for maintenance, then you can run more services, or have a smaller fleet. And, your maintenance costs go down. So it may be cheaper long-term to buy new trains (especially now that they’re so cheap to buy) than to keep older trains going.

7. Homogeneous fleets improve availability

When Greater Anglia started its current franchise in October last year, it had 8 different classes of train (plus some trains hired in from Direct Rail Services). These are a mixture of old and new diesel and electric trains, from a variety of manufacturers. With a couple of its diesel trains out of service for a long time due to accidents, it had to hire in the aforementioned trains.

Greater Anglia is planning to completely replace all of its trains with just 3 classes of trains from two manufacturers (Bombardier and Stadler). This will massively reduce complexity with the franchise, and should improve availability. Hiring in trains from other companies is usually expensive, and generally a last resort.

South Western Railway seems to be doing the same; its 750 new Aventra trains from Bombardier will replace four existing classes of trains, including two ex-British Rail fleets and smaller fleets built by Alstom and Siemens.

8. All trains must be accessible by January 1st 2020

All trains built since 1999 have needed to be fully accessible to people with disabilities. They need to have wide, automatic doors, both audible and visual announcements, at least one wheelchair-accessible toilet (if toilets are provided), and a wheelchair space with call-for-help buttons.

But there are still lots of older trains running that don’t meet these requirements. Whilst some are being upgraded – Northern Rail is working on some of its Sprinter trains, for example – in some cases, it’s just not economically viable. The oldest of the Pacer trains, the Class 142s, will all be taken out of service before this date. I expect the rest of the Pacers will go too, despite the existence of an ‘e-Pacer’ which was modified to meet these requirements.

I’m sure there are plenty of trains where, a few years ago, it would have been cheaper to modify them for compliance. But, with new trains being so cheap, the old trains will probably be scrapped rather than modified.

And there may be more to come

The London Midland franchise was recently awarded to a joint venture led by Abellio, who have also promised new trains. The next franchise award announcement is for the Southeastern franchise, and I expect this will include new trains as well, to replace the Networker units dating from the early 1990s. Whilst these trains have probably got at least 10-15 years of life left in them, I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re replaced sooner.

After that? Who knows. At some point, interest rates will rise, and the leasing companies will be stuck with hundreds of off-lease trains that are basically worthless. I expect that the cost of new trains will go back up before long, making this a curious bubble. But for now, we, the travelling public, can look forward to lots of shiny new trains over the next few years.

Why are there so many new UK train orders? originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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It’s Bi Visibility Day, and I’m coming out https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2017/09/23/its-bi-visibility-day-and-im-coming-out.html https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2017/09/23/its-bi-visibility-day-and-im-coming-out.html#respond Sat, 23 Sep 2017 20:47:45 +0000 https://www.neilturner.me.uk/2017/09/23/its-bi-visibility-day-and-im-coming-out.html 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 … Continue reading

It’s Bi Visibility Day, and I’m coming out originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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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.

It’s Bi Visibility Day, and I’m coming out originally appeared on Neil Turner's Blog and is released under a Creative Commons License. Follow me on Twitter - @nrturner

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