Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

May 30, 2018
by Neil Turner
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New new iPad

As alluded to last week, I planned to buy a new iPad with monetary contributions received for my birthday. I ordered it online on Saturday (for the 5% education discount), and picked it up at the Apple Store in Leeds on Monday.

I’ve gone for the most expensive of the standard iPad models. It’s the 6th generation iPad, with 128 GB of storage and cellular capability.

Why not just Wi-fi?

My previous iPads (a second-hand first generation iPad and then an iPad Mini 2) were both Wi-fi only models. I’ve been using my iPad Mini more and more on the train to and from work, and the trains I catch are not (yet) fitted with Wi-fi. Even when Wi-fi is available, sometimes there’s a cost, sometimes it can be quite slow, and it can take a while to get connected. So I decided to pay a bit more, and have an iPad that has internet access everywhere.

For the SIM card, I’ve got a pay-as-you-go SIM from Three. It cost £60 upfront, and comes with 24 GB of data, valid for two years. Assuming I use around one gigabyte of data per month, that’s effectively £2.50 per month, which is cheaper than a lot of contracts. The data runs out once I’ve used all 24 GB, or after two years, whichever happens soonest.

The puffin case

As this is a standard sized iPad, I had to buy a new case for it. Christine made me a lovely case for my iPad Mini (pictured above), but it’s too small for my new iPad. And she doesn’t have time to make me a new one, what with working full-time, being a part-time student and a mum.

Also, that photo shows how badly smashed the screen on my iPad Mini is.

I still wanted something unique, so I went onto Etsy, and ordered this beautiful case (top photo) from The Canny Squirrel. It’s hand made from genuine Harris Tweed, and is big enough for an iPad with some space to spare. Which will be handy when I eventually buy a new Bluetooth keyboard.

Plenty of storage

Ideally, I would have liked to buy a 64 GB iPad, but Apple doesn’t offer the 6th generation iPad in that size. I’ve struggled with a 16 GB iPad Mini for four years, and felt that a 32 GB iPad would also be quite limiting, so in the end I decided just to buy the one with the largest storage capacity. At least then I can load it up with plenty of ebooks, music, videos etc. whilst on Wi-fi so that I’m not going over my data allowance.

What is the new iPad like?

Honestly, not massively different. I’m appreciating having Touch ID on it as well as my phone, rather than having to type out passwords. And it’s definitely faster. But as I set it up with an iCloud backup from my old iPad, it’s been basically business as usual. Though I will say that the setup process has improved – being able to transfer essential settings across from my iPhone was great and worked really well.

My old iPad Mini 2 lasted me four years of essentially daily usage, and I’m hoping to get at least the same from this one.

May 25, 2018
by Neil Turner
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Birthday

Today is, once again, my birthday. I’m now well into my mid-thirties.

I haven’t anything special planned today – I’ll be going to work as usual. Tomorrow, I’ll be meeting up for lunch with my parents for a birthday meal.

I’ve not really asked for any presents this year. Instead, I’ve simply asked for money, to put towards buying a new iPad. My current iPad Mini was a 30th birthday present, and is now four years old. The screen is cracked and broken and the home button no longer works. And I suspect that iOS 12, which is likely to be released later this year, won’t run on it.

Also, my age now is double the age I was when I started this blog, back in January 2002. Although, to be pedantic, I was 17 years and 7 months old when I started blogging, so it would be some time next year that I could claim to have been blogging for half of my life.

May 24, 2018
by Neil Turner
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Three big things happening tomorrow

This is a relatively brief blog post about three big events taking place tomorrow (25th May 2018).

1. Irish referendum on the 8th amendment

Residents of the Republic of Ireland will be able to vote in a referendum on repealing the 8th amendment to the country’s constitution. The amendment (which was made following a referendum in the 1980s) protects the rights of unborn fetuses, and therefore essentially makes abortion illegal in all but the most limited of circumstances.

Repealing the 8th amendment will enable women to be able to get abortions in Ireland. Currently, it’s estimated that hundreds of women travel to mainland Britain to get abortions privately, costing them hundreds of euros in the process. And an unknown quantity of other women procure abortion pills on the internet, risking a 12 year prison sentence if found out. It’s worth mentioning that abortion is also illegal in Northern Ireland, despite it being legal in England, Wales and Scotland.

As you can probably tell, I’m in favour of repealing. However, as I’m not Irish, I can’t vote or support any of the campaigning organisations financially. I’m hopeful that the repeal will go through, but it’s expected to be tight.

2. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

No doubt you will have been swamped by emails, notifying you of updated privacy policies or asking you to re-subscribe to email lists. This all comes about because tomorrow sees the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. It’s a regulation that has been ratified by all EU member states, which, for now, includes the UK. It greatly extends the rights of EU citizens over their data, and puts a greater onus on organisations which hold data to keep it safe and make appropriate use of it.

At work, all staff have been asked to complete a mandatory e-learning module, which covers our responsibilities towards the data that we hold. I’m sure many other companies will be doing the same, and there’s been more than a few that have got it wrong. GDPR Hall of Shame shows a few, including some web sites that have simply decided to block all EU countries from accessing, either temporarily or permanently.

Personally, I’m looking forward to receiving less junk email, and being able to submit subject access requests to companies to found out what data they hold on me. Any company that holds data on an EU citizen, regardless of where the company is based, is subject to GDPR.

3. My birthday

Okay, so it’s not a major world news event, but I turn another year older tomorrow.

May 18, 2018
by Neil Turner
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RHEQs – 181-195

I’m working my way through Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions book, 15 questions at a time. This week, it’s questions 181-195. You can read more about this project herePlease be aware that some of the questions are somewhat vulgar.

181. Did you ever go camping with your family? What are your abiding memories of that awful experience?

I went on camping holidays with my parents every year through my childhood. I wouldn’t describe it as an awful experience though; over time, I’ve been able to see large parts of France, and some bits of Spain too. Christine, Lizzie and I are going to France with my parents this summer.

182. Which is best, Cheddar Caves or Wookey Hole?

Having not been to either, I can’t comment.

183. If you had to do a Human Centipede with two other people – if you had to – and you were in the middle, which two people and at which end would they each go?

Nigella Lawson in front, as she eats lots of tasty food. I would probably have Jeremy Hunt behind.

184. Which is your favourite incarnation of Lucy Robinson from Neighbours?

I never watched Neighbours so I have no idea who this character is.

185. Do you remember the first time that a childhood enthusiasm was crushed and broken?

No, I don’t. Although when I did work experience at an architects aged 14 it put me off doing that line of work.

186. What is your favourite archaic word or phrase?

Trouble at’ Mill‘. A good old fashioned Yorkshire phrase.

187. Who do you consider the most appalling member of Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet (excluding Margaret Thatcher obviously)?

Probably Nigel Lawson, as he still spews dangerous rubbish about global warming (and is still, sadly, given ample airtime to deliver these views)

188. Which is the best small peelable orangelike fruit? The satsuma, the clementine, the mandarin, the tangerine or another small peelable orange-like fruit?

I prefer satsumas – a nice balance of size, sweetness and ease of peeling.

189. What is your favourite bridge?

The Ribblehead Viaduct.

190. How many different human beings’ poo have you had to deal with?

Mostly just that of my daughter’s. No doubt, as and when we have another child, I’ll have that to deal with too.

191. Which is your favourite bun that is named after a place?

I like a nice Chelsea bun.

192. If you had to marry a piece of furniture – if you had to – which piece of furniture would you marry?

A nice, big comfy bed that I could lie on.

193. Can you describe the most unusual penis you have ever seen?

I can’t recall seeing any especially unusual penises.

194. Who is the most evil person you have ever met?

I don’t think I’ve met anyone especially evil, although I’ve walked past Philip Davies MP’s constituency office in Shipley a few times, if that counts.

195. When did you feel the most ambivalent?

I’m pretty ambivalent most of the time so it’s hard to pick out a time when I felt particularly ambivalent.

May 15, 2018
by Neil Turner
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Comparing smart speakers

Yesterday, I reviewed our (relatively) new Google Home Mini. Today, I’m going to focus on why we chose to go with Google, and not an Amazon Echo or Apple Homepod.

Ecosystems

When you choose a smart speaker, I would take some time to decide which one works with the apps, services and devices that you already use. Apple’s HomePod only works with iOS devices for example; that’s fine for me, but not much use for my wife who has an Android phone. The Verge’s review seems to focus on the HomePod’s locked-in nature.

Similarly, Amazon’s Echo devices work well if you have Amazon Prime and one of its Fire TV devices, but we’re a Netflix household and have a Google Chromecast. I gather that Netflix support on Alexa isn’t that great, whereas it works well with a Google Home.

Price

We got our Google Home Mini free as part of a deal with Nest, which was probably the biggest reason for us choosing it over its rivals. As I write this, both the Amazon Echo Dot and the Google Home Mini are £39, and normally sell for about £50, and even the more expensive models are under £200. Apple is selling the HomePod for £319. For that, you could buy six Google Home Minis and cover your house, and have some change left over.

Sound quality

One reason for the HomePod’s higher price is its focus on high quality sound for playing music. Arguably, it’s trying to compete more with the Sonos range of wireless speakers, some of which now include Alexa as well.

The larger and more expensive Google Home and Amazon Echo models have better speakers than the smaller ones, but I was still reasonably impressed with the little speaker in the Google Home. Audiophiles would probably be disappointed with all but the most expensive models but for most people, even the smallest and cheapest models will do.

Third party services

Amazon’s Alexa devices have a range of third-party ‘skills’ available, which massively expand its abilities and integration with other services. Google Home is somewhere in the middle; it supports a lot of internet of things devices, but not much else. That is changing but some things, like being able to order a pizza from Domino’s, are US-only for now.

As for the HomePod, it’s Apple all the way down. If you have smart devices that support HomeKit, great. But that’s a bit useless if you have a Nest thermostat, for example. It can only play music from Apple Music, and not Spotify or any other third party streaming service.

In summary

If you like good quality audio, have only Apple or HomeKit-supporting devices and money to burn, then by all means, buy a HomePod. Amazon and Google offer much better value speakers that work with a wider variety of third-party devices and services, and the choice you make will reflect what you already own.

May 14, 2018
by Neil Turner
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Google Home Mini review

Google Home Mini

Back in January, we welcomed a Google Home Mini into our house. As the name suggests, it’s the smaller version of the Google Home, which is Google’s smart assistant. It competes with Amazon’s Echo/Alexa range, and Apple’s new HomePod.

In the run up to Christmas, the Google Home Mini was significantly discounted, and being bundled with mobile phones. We got ours bundled with our Nest Protect smart smoke alarm, which I reviewed last month. We placed it in our living room, seeing as that’s where we spend most of our time awake, and because it works well with a Chromecast.

Indeed, this is probably the thing that we use it for the most. When you have a screaming toddler, it’s handy to be able to shout across the room ‘OK Google, play Paw Patrol‘ and have it come on the TV without having to find a remote and navigate menus. We recently inherited my parents’ old Sony TV which supports HDMI-CEC (Consumer Electronics Control), and so through the Google Home Mini and the Chromecast, we can turn the TV on and off using our voice, which is pretty cool.

Our Nest Thermostat is also able to communicate with the Google Home Mini, so we can use it to find out the current temperature and also change the temperature on the thermostat. This, together, is the extent of our foray into the so-called ‘internet of things’ and we haven’t yet invested in any other smart home devices. Although I’m contemplating either a smart light bulb or plug for a standing lamp in our living room.

Having support for Spotify built-in is also handy, although it works best if you have a Spotify Premium account as then you can play individual songs. This prompted me to upgrade. Sadly, although you can have multiple Google Accounts linked to one Home Mini, you can only have one Spotify account. As I found, when I opened Spotify at work, to find that Christine was already using it to listen to the Moana soundtrack.

The support for multiple Google Accounts works well; it’s able to identify whether me or Christine is talking to it. So if I ask it to add something to my calender, I know it’ll go into mine.

Support for third party services outside the Google ecosystem isn’t great. Whilst the Google Home can connect to a wide variety of smart home devices, it’s limited to playing video content from YouTube or Netflix, and music from either Spotify, Deezer, Google Play Music or Apple Music (if you have an iOS device and a valid subscription). Fortunately, there is IFTTT integration, and I was able to set up a link with my to-do list in Wunderlist, albeit in a roundabout way using IFTTT and email. But Amazon’s Alexa platform has a much wider variety of ‘skills’.

I was sceptical about whether we would actually use the Google Home, but it’s become part of our daily lives. On a morning, it’s handy to ask for a time check whilst getting ready, or for a weather update. And it works really well with our Chromecast; we’ve not really used our Roku player since we got the Google Home. I wish there was more third-party support; being able to request content from BBC iPlayer would be a great help.

I recently visited a friend who has five Google Home devices around his house – including the bathroom. I don’t think we’ll ever get to that stage, but the thought of having one in the bedroom has crossed my mind more than once. Maybe we’ll consider it the next time there’s an offer on.

May 13, 2018
by Neil Turner
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Elsecar Heritage Centre

Elsecar Heritage Centre

Because I’m still woefully behind in writing up about our days out, today I’m going to talk about the Elsecar Heritage Centre, which we visited over 6 months ago. It’s in the village of Elsecar, near Barnsley in South Yorkshire, and is a part of the village that has been preserved to look much as it would in the 19th century.

The centre includes many ex-industrial buildings. However, rather than being a static museum, most of the buildings are now leased out, and now host an array of craft shops. The main building, in the photo, is now a soft-play gym, which I think Lizzie very much appreciated.

Elsecar Heritage Centre

Around the back of the site is the Elsecar Heritage Railway, which runs for a short distance using heritage trains. You can have a look at some of the locomotives and carriages in the yard, and there’s a station with services running at weekends.

We actually picked quite a good day to visit, as there was also a small birds of prey exhibition, and an indoor craft market in one of the larger buildings. We’d also been lucky with the weather, although we had a string of nice weekends last autumn.

That being said, without the extra events, I don’t think it would have been much worth coming to Elsecar on its own – at least, not for the distance we travelled. Whilst there are plenty of information boards around, and it’s nice to look at, it’s not really a full day out. If we were to come again, I think we would need to combine it with something else in the area, such as Cannon Hall Farm.

You can view the photos I took on Flickr, as usual.

May 12, 2018
by Neil Turner
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Eurovision 2018

Tonight is the annual Eurovision song contest. We probably won’t be watching it this year; in previous years, we’ve been to or hosted a Eurovision party with friends. No-one invited us this time, and we weren’t sufficiently organised to host one ourselves. And the 8pm start isn’t very conducive to Lizzie’s bedtime.

However, as per usual, I listened to all of the songs on Spotify – here’s the official playlist. This includes the songs that are in the semi-finals (held this week on Tuesday and Thursday), but which did not make it to tonight’s final. Including a song by Russia, surprisingly. Clearly those Russian bots were not able to influence the voting.

I’ve linked one of the favourites, ‘Toy’ by Nessa from Israel, above. It’s certainly a distinctive song; I like it, and can see why it’s tipped to do well. It would also be 20 years since Israel won with ‘Viva’ by Dana International.

As for Britain, we have SuRie with ‘Storm’. It’s not a bad song, but we never do well because the rest of Europe hates us, especially after the Brexit referendum. Although it would be hilarious if the rest of Europe decided to troll us, by all giving ‘Royaume-Unis, douze points‘ and ensuring that we have to host Eurovision only a few weeks after we formally leave the European Union at the end of March 2019.

If you’re based in America, you can watch Eurovision as well – it’ll be on Logo TV, and commentary will be provided by Ross Matthews and Shangela, who you may know from RuPaul’s Drag Race. As much as I appreciate Graham Norton’s commentary here in the UK, part of me hopes to find a stream of the American broadcast too. Clearly, at least someone in America understands that Eurovision is a massive camp fest. Speaking of Eurovision and Drag Race, this was a rather unexpected tweet from the BBC:

Bearing in mind that BBC Four is normally quite a high arts channel, and only broadcasts the Eurovision semi-finals because BBC Three was closed as a linear TV channel.

I look forward to finding out who wins on Sunday morning.

May 11, 2018
by Neil Turner
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RHEQs – 166-180

I’m working my way through Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions book, 15 questions at a time. This week, it’s questions 166-180. You can read more about this project herePlease be aware that some of the questions are somewhat vulgar.

166. What is more important: your job or your family? And why?

Family, definitely. Work pays the bills but family gives you reason to live.

167. Is the glass half full or half empty? And what does it say about you if you are too afraid to ask someone out straight if they are an optimist or a pessimist and instead have to use a confusing glass metaphor? You haven’t even said what’s in the glass. What if it’s a glass of poison? You’ve learned  nothing about us but we have learned a lot about you.

Well, I’m generally a glass half-full person. I usually believe people do things in good faith and because they want to help. Evil and/or selfish people are usually in the minority.

168. Do you think that the Adam Sandler film “The Cobbler” could ever happen in real life?

I haven’t seen it, but have a reasonable understanding of the plot from listening to RHLSTP (RHLSTP!) every week. And no, I don’t think it could.

169. If you were Adam Sandler how would you even begin to spend the millions of dollars you made for appearing in “The Cobbler”?

Easily; buy a nice big house, hire a chauffeur to drive me everywhere, go on expensive holidays…

170. Do you make a mental file of answers that would work well if you were ever on Pointless?

I don’t, but my head is full of useless trivia which may come in useful should I ever wish to appear on the show.

171. When you’re watching films how much time do you end up Googling the actors to find out if they are still alive?

You’ll be pleased to know that I turn my phone off in the cinema, but on the occasions that I watch films at home, I’ve usually got IMDB open at some point.

172. Have you ever been in a canoe?

Yes, I have – I have my British Canoe Union One Star awards for kayaks and tandem canoes. Or at least, I did; I think the certificates are long lost. We did quite a bit of canoeing when I was in Scouts, and I went on a canoeing holiday in Wales in 1997.

173. What do you think the chances are of me accidentally repeating a question in this book?

High.

174. Have you ever had a dream that accurately predicted the future?

I don’t think so. I’m rubbish at remembering dreams, unless I’ve had a really bizarre one that I’ve shared on social media. Even then, reading what I wrote about the dream doesn’t jog my memory.

175. Do you secretly wonder if you are the new Jesus? Maybe you are.

No. I think I’d be a rubbish Jesus. Being an atheist isn’t a good start, for one.

176. Would an eternity in Heaven actually be Hell for you?

Whilst I don’t believe in heaven, I assume that it would actually be a good experience for all eternity.

177. What is the most embarrassing thing that you have done for sexual gratification?

I’m not prepared to answer this in public.

178. You know when you wake up in the middle of the night with a feeling of inexplicable existential dread, you’re not sure why you’re so panicked, but it feels like life is meaningless and terrible and pointless… what if that’s the only time you have any kind of mental clarity?

Honestly, I’ve never experienced this. I’m fortunate to be blessed with generally good mental health.

179. What is your favourite pinball table?

Does the pinball game that came with Windows 98 count?

180. Have you ever crossed paths with a serial killer?

Possibly. There was a student at university at the same time as me that came to be known as the ‘Crossbow Cannibal’. But I don’t think I ever met him properly, thankfully.

May 10, 2018
by Neil Turner
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Tropical Butterfly House, Wildlife and Falconry Centre

Flying macaws

Last October, I took Lizzie on a day out to the Tropical Butterfly House, Wildlife and Falconry Centre near Sheffield, whilst Christine was at work. And based on my report back, all three of us ended up going back there the following weekend. Which probably goes some way to explaining why it consistently ranks in the top 5 things to do in or near Sheffield on TripAdvisor.

It’s a bit of long-winded name for what is essentially a small animal zoo. There is, of course, a tropical butterfly house, which is also home to some tamarin monkeys, some fruit bats and plenty of small birds. And there are birds of prey there as well, including frequent demonstrations. But you’ll also find meerkats (which seem to be a staple of any zoo in the UK), giant porcupines, wallabies, agoutis, otters, and even some red squirrels.

Chipmunk

It’s very much aimed at kids and families. Walk past an information board about skunks, and you’ll get sprayed with water. As well as the real animals, there’s also a woodland walk with fibreglass dinosaurs, which roar when a big red button is pressed. As it was October when we visited, there were lots of Hallowe’en decorations and a haunted house.

But you also get an opportunity to feed some of the animals. At the entrance, you can buy bags of food, with instructions about what can be fed to which animals. Bear in mind that these are limited (to prevent the animals from being overfed) and are usually only available in the mornings. Lizzie really enjoyed feeding the goats and ducks on her visit.

With it being quite kid-focussed, only children aged under 2 are free. Kids aged 2-15 only pay £1 less than adults, which is why we haven’t been back this year. Lizzie can still get in free at places like the Yorkshire Wildlife Park until she turns 3, so we’ll take advantage of this while we can. But we’ll definitely go back here – it’s still a good value day out and we really enjoyed our two visits. You can view more of my photos on Flickr.