Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

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.

May 9, 2018
by Neil Turner
1 Comment

Unexpected afternoon off

I’m unexpectedly off work this afternoon, which gives me an (increasingly rare) opportunity to write a blog post.

Sadly it’s not for a good reason – Lizzie is ill and I’ve had to bring her home from the childminder. She’s currently asleep, as I write this. She’s recovered from the chicken pox, although she still has a lot of scabs remaining and I think she will end up with a few small scars as a result. But now she seems to be ill with something else. This has resulted in her having two changes of clothes before lunchtime.

Normally, if I’m off work during the week, I spend the time doing housework, so that I can free up quality time at the weekends. But with me being off with Lizzie last week, and the bank holiday on Monday, we’re pretty much on top with housework (at least, the essential stuff). So, for once, I can spend some leisure time in front of a computer without feeling guilty. Besides, I don’t want to do any noisy work as I might otherwise wake Lizzie up, so no vacuuming.

Provided that Lizzie remains asleep, I’ll get on with writing a few more blog posts for the rest of this week. I still have lots of ideas for blog posts listed in Evernote, but haven’t had the time to flesh these out and write them down. And I still have a backlog of photos to review and upload to Flickr, following some more days out in new places. Hopefully I’ll get there in time.

April 29, 2018
by Neil Turner
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A pox on your house!

Lizzie has chicken pox.

It’s not an unexpected development. One of the other kids at her childminder got spots a couple of weeks ago, and so we’ve been on ‘pox watch’ ever since. Lizzie’s spots started appearing on Friday, and now they’re everywhere.

Thankfully, she’s doing okay so far. Apart from a fever last night, and the spots, she’s been mostly her usual self. Most importantly, she’s still eating and drinking.

Taking Saturday as day one, hopefully by Thursday her symptoms will have eased.

Christine and I have both have had chicken pox. I had it when I was six, in my upper infant year at primary school. And she’s the last child to get it at her childminder. I’m glad that she’s got it out of the way at a relatively young age. My dad, by comparison, didn’t get it until he was in his 20s, resulting in a rather embarrassing phone call to his boss when he had to phone in sick to work, with what is generally seen as a childhood disease.

The NHS Choices web site has a good overview of chicken pox and how to treat it. As it’s a relatively mild disease in children, the NHS does not routinely offer the vaccine. Those in at-risk groups can get it free on the NHS but to pay for it privately costs around £130, and it’s delivered as two separate doses. Boots offer it at a handful of their stores.

I’m hoping the next few days will pass without too much incident.

April 20, 2018
by Neil Turner
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RHEQs – 151-165

I’m working my way through Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions book, 15 questions at a time. This week, it’s questions 151-165. You can read more about this project herePlease be aware that some of the questions are somewhat vulgar.

151. If you were a little pig, what would you make your house of in order to deter the big bad wolf?

I searched Google for ‘what do dogs hate’ and it said lemons, so I would make a house out of lemons. I imagine it’ll be like living in a bottle of Febreeze.

152. If you could have a sex robot of any human living or dead, who would you have a sex robot of?

Victoria Wood, but only if it had a function that played her ‘Let’s Do It’ song.

153. Who would win in a fight between the shark from Jaws and Jaws from James Bond?

I would go for the shark, but it depends on where the fight takes place. If it was on land, then Jaws from James Bond would have a serious advantage.

154. If you had a silo what would you store in it?

Cherry-flavoured diet cola, preferably either Pepsi Max or Coca Cola Zero. I don’t have a strong preference between the two of them. (And if you do, then I think you’re weird)

155. International Women’s Day? When’s International Men’s Day?

It’s 19th November. One of the things Richard Herring is famed for is spending the whole of International Women’s Day responding to people (usually men) who rant on Twitter about there not being an International Men’s Day. There is, and you can literally put ‘International Men’s Day’ into Google to get the result.

This year Richard encourage donations to Refuge and raised over £150,000 in the process.

156. Are we all doomed or is there some way out of this mess?

Oh we’re all doomed.

Sorry, which mess are we talking about?

157. Would you rather wear a hat made out of beef or shoes made out of yoghurt?

Hat made out of beef. It would be tasty and a little more practical than yoghurt shoes.

158. If you got the chance would you cryogenically freeze yourself at the point of death in the hope of being cured in the future? How do you think you’d fit in if it worked out for you? Wouldn’t you be worried the future humans would think you were a primitive idiot?

I certainly wouldn’t pay for it. I gather it’s very expensive, and I might be frozen for a very long time before a cure could be found. And what would the cure be? Would I end up as a head in a jar like in Futurama? What would my quality of life be like? It would be a bit of a let-down if I was frozen for so long and then couldn’t actually do much once revived.

Sorry, I seem to have answered this question with more questions…

159. What’s the most pretentious book you’ve ever bought, but never read?

Honestly can’t remember. I’m not a big buyer of books. Whilst I have bought some books that I’ve never read, I can’t remember them being particularly pretentious.

160. Is less more? Or is it less? And more is more? I mean occasionally less is better than more, but that wasn’t the question was it? It’s always less.

I think sometimes having less is better. Especially when you moved house over two years ago and still haven’t unpacked everything…

161. If everyone else in the world left in a spaceship and left you behind, so everything belonged to you: Where would you live? What paintings would you have on your wall? Would you be lonely? Where would be the most ostentatious place you would masturbate?

Yes, I would be lonely. Whilst it’s nice to have time on my own, I’d get lonely after a few hours.

As for where I would live? Probably in either my or my parent’s house as I know I’d be safe there. Just because there would be no other humans, doesn’t mean there won’t be feral cats, wild dogs…

162. Do you think anyone will actually count up all the questions in this book to check that there are definitely 500?

Knowing Richard Herring’s fans: yes.

163. Would you rather be a sparrow or a snail?

A sparrow. Being able to fly would be fun.

164. Are you the postman or the letterbox?

I try to be the postman, but sometimes I end up being the letterbox.

165. What is your favourite colour?

Purple is my go-to answer. However, if you look at my wardrobe, it’s mostly black tops and beige trousers.

April 16, 2018
by Neil Turner
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Two and a quarter

Photo of Lizzie

Lizzie, my daughter, is now two and a quarter (hey, that rhymes!). She’s been walking for over a year now and is quite confident, so we’re using her pushchair less. She’s also caught up with her growth, so she went into age 2-3 clothes at age 2. In fact, I reckon she’ll be into age 3-4 before she’s age 3 at this rate.

Her vocabulary is gradually expanding. At times, she can string a few words into a sentence, and she’s getting better at asking for what she wants. Although, for some reason, ‘marp’ means ‘I’m thirsty’ and I have no idea where this came from.

We are, as you would expect, in the ‘terrible twos’. Toddlers at this age often struggle to handle their emotions and Lizzie is no exception. On Saturday she awoke from a brief nap to what was essentially an hour-long meltdown in Hebden Bridge. Unfortunately, she will sometimes get past the stage where she can remember what upset her in the first place and yesterday was a typical example. By comparison, she had a mini meltdown about half an hour ago which was alleviated by hugs, something to drink, something to nibble on, and Paw Patrol. Whilst she’s not glued to the TV and we’re not the sort of family who has the TV constantly on in the background, let’s just say that we get our money’s worth out of our Netflix subscription and TV licence fee.

Lizzie loves animals, and so we often go to various open farms and places like Tropical World to let her see and learn about animals. I’ve reviewed a few of these places in the past (Cannon Hall Farm, Ponderosa, Tropical World) and we made another return visit to Temple Newsam last weekend. Sadly we’re not really able to have pets – I’m allergic to a lot of animals and I don’t think we could adequately look after one anyway.

Apart from refusing to be be weighed and measured, she passed her recent two year review with the health visitor with no issues. Her development is normal and despite feeling a little under the weather she was happily playing whilst we answered questions.

I’ve had quite a few ‘daddy days’ with her on my own this year. Christine has had to work several weekends, including yesterday as I write this. It’s been good to spend quality time as just the two of us and she seems to enjoy herself. Whilst babies usually bond naturally with their mothers, bonding with the mother’s partner takes work and I’m glad that it seems to have paid off.

We still need to get on and get Lizzie’s room decorated for her. She’s still sleeping in our bedroom at present, although we’ve turned her cot into a toddler bed.

On the whole, I’d say parenting is going pretty well, all things considered.

April 15, 2018
by Neil Turner
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We need to buy a new printer

Photo of the HP Deskjet All-in-One F2140 printer

Here’s a photo of our current printer. It’s a HP Deskjet All-in-one F2140, and I think it dates from around 2008. Suffice to say, it predates the computer that it’s connected to, has been through several house moves and periods in storage, and even predates my relationship with Christine. You can also see how much dust is on top of it, and I’ll admit to having to shift a pile of documents stacked up on top of it to get the photo.

Okay, so we don’t use it very often. But having a printer is useful from time to time, and we use the scanner every now and then. Christine and I recently scanned all of our qualification certificates, so that we had electronic copies on hand in our shared Dropbox folder.

So why the need for a new printer? It still works, and we can still get hold of new cartridges easily.

The issue is networking.

Christine’s new laptop

Christine recently bought herself a new laptop – a very lightweight Lenovo Ideapad 320S. She’s doing a part-time university course, and her previous laptop bought in 2010 (when we first started dating) was getting too slow. It’s also big and bulky compared with what you can buy new nowadays. As she will need to print from time to time, she tasked me with setting up the printer on her laptop.

Our HP printer isn’t wireless, and so it’s connected to my Mac Mini (also dating from 2010) by a USB cable. I’ve been using Apple’s Bonjour network sharing protocol to share it across our Wifi network. For Windows, Apple offers a Bonjour Print Services utility that will discover any printers shared using Bonjour. And on Christine’s old laptop, this worked fine.

But I couldn’t get it to work on her new laptop. I think the core issue is that Apple last updated the Bonjour Print Services tool in 2010, and so it pre-dates Windows 10 by some time. Her old laptop was set up under Windows 7 and so was fine. Despite following my own printer sharing guide, and manually installing HP’s Windows 10 drivers, I could not get the Bonjour Printer Wizard to complete without failing with a permissions error (even when running as Administrator).

Whilst my Mac is generally on all of the time, it’s probably about time that we replaced it with a proper wireless printer. To get it to work with my iPhone and iPad, I’m using Printopia, which works okay but it’s a bit of a hack. Having a proper wireless printer, which works with all of our devices (Windows, Mac, iOS and Android) would be a big improvement. Especially when it comes to scanning, which we can currently only do on my very slow Mac.

A custom solution?

New wireless printers start at £30, so it wouldn’t be a big expense. In fact, it’d be about the same price as buying a new Raspberry Pi and setting up some kind of bespoke solution. Which, whilst appealing to my geeky side, would probably take a lot of the very little free time that I have nowadays. Plus, there would be the added ‘fun’ of trying to find a way of scanning documents on the Raspberry Pi, and then have them available to use on our other devices. I’m sure it’s possible, but what’s the point when you can buy an off-the-shelf product that already does this?

I could also look at buying a printer sharing hub, but again, the cost would probably be about the same as a new printer. So I might as well just buy a new printer.

We’ll have a look out for any good deals and will buy a new printer soon.

April 9, 2018
by Neil Turner
0 comments

Nest Protect Review

Nest Protect

Back in January, we bought a Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide alarm (Amazon link). Like other Nest products, it’s a smart, ‘internet of things’ device, so it does a bit more than your regular cheap alarm.

For me, its two best features are:

  • Push notifications to your phone when the batteries need changing, rather than random chirping at 2am
  • Being able to cancel an alarm if you’re accidentally burnt your sausages but have the situation under control

Set-up is easy; it’s done through the Nest mobile app before you attach the alarm to the wall or ceilling. We went for the battery-operated model, but you can also buy a mains-connected device if you have the relevant wiring in place.

The Next Protect has a small motion sensor (like the Nest Learning Thermostat). If it’s in a dark room and detects motion, it’ll briefly illuminate with a white light. The light will also glow red, yellow or green depending on whether it has detected any issues.

There’s also a small speaker and a microphone. As well as an alarm tone, the Nest Protect will talk to you to tell you that it has detected smoke or carbon monoxide. The microphone is for self-testing; periodically, the Nest Protect will have a ‘drill’ to ensure that it’s working correctly.

Nest products work together, and as we have a Nest Learning Thermostat, the Nest Protect will tell the thermostat to turn off our central heating boiler if it detects carbon monoxide.

Before buying the Nest Protect, I considered the Roost smart battery (Amazon link). Roost works with your existing smoke alarm, but adds some of the smart features. Unfortunately, as it’s slightly larger than a standard 9-volt battery, it doesn’t work with all smoke alarms.

The other factor that convinced me to buy the Nest Protect was an offer that was running at the time: free delivery and a free Google Home Mini. I’ll be reviewing the latter in another blog post.

April 8, 2018
by Neil Turner
0 comments

Neil’s guide to surviving a cold

 toGiant porcupines

I’ve been feeling pretty rotten this week, having caught a particularly nasty cold. Presumably from Lizzie; she’s had a cold for a few days now and so her face has been constantly covered in snot. And she likes giving us kisses now, which is cute, but also a sure-fire way to pick up her germs.

I have still gone to work as normal, and I thought I’d write about what I do to get through a rough patch.

Please be aware that I’m not a medical professional, and none of this should be considered medical advice. If a medical professional advises you to do something else, follow their advice, not mine. This is just what works for me.

Get up and get clean

When you’re feeling rough, either because you’re ill or experiencing a decline in mental health, there’s a temptation just to stay in bed. And, if you’re so ill that you really cannot get yourself out of bed, it may be best to stay there – if you have ‘flu for example. But maybe call NHS 111 if this happens, just in case it’s something more serious.

If you can get yourself out of bed, then do. Have a shower, and put on clean clothes. Brush your teeth. Shave, if you have facial hair. You probably do these things anyway, but make a special effort to do so. If you’re feverish, then you may have shed a lot of sweat, so getting yourself clean and fresh should help.

Get some fresh air

Go outside, even if it’s just for a few minutes. If you can’t, at least try to get a window open. I felt noticeably better as soon as I got out of the house.

Go to work, if you can

This is a subjective point. I have a desk job, so work isn’t too strenuous; plus, this week a lot of people were off so the office was quiet. Also, I take the train to work, so there was no need to drive; I would have been less likely to go in otherwise. Being at work, seeing other people and being productive actually made me feel better.

Drink plenty of fluids

I mentioned fever sweats – you’re more likely to get dehydrated when you’re ill, so drink plenty of water. Avoid alcohol; the odd hot toddy is probably okay but too much alcohol can leave you dehydrated and feeling even worse. Stick to no more than one average-strength alcoholic drink a day.

Take paracetamol

Paracetamol (acetaminophen to Americans) is cheap, and can help ease your symptoms. Adults can usually take two tablets no less than four hours apart (but always read the label).

Get plenty of rest and avoid stress

Finally, whilst I do advise getting out during the day, rest is also really important when you’re ill. Go to bed early, and avoid doing too many strenuous or stressful activities so that your body has time to recover.