Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

January 9, 2017
by Neil Turner
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A return visit to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park

Lion at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park

Having visited last Valentines Day, we made a return visit to the Yorkshire Wildlife Park near Doncaster at the weekend. We really enjoyed it last time, but our visit was cut short when the weather turned. Saturday was a cold but dry day, so we headed over for another visit.

Getting there was a little easier this time, thanks to the opening of the Great Yorkshire Way. This links the M18 – the motorway that bypasses Doncaster to the south – with the A638, the road that feeds the wildlife park and nearby Robin Hood Airport. A second phase, due to start construction shortly, will see the road make it all of the way to the airport. But even the first phase cut our travelling time by at least 10 minutes each way.

The main attraction that we missed last time was the lions, so we went there first. The lions were rescued from a run-down zoo in Romania, and flown to the UK on a specially-adapted Jet2 plane. Their new enclosure is as big as the whole of the zoo that they called their home previously. Indeed, one thing I like about the Yorkshire Wildlife Park is that the enclosures are big, and designed so that visitors can see in over the fencing in many cases. On both visits, my Canon EOS 600D DSLR camera has seemed almost amateur compared to some of the specialist photography kit that other visitors have brought, and it’s easy to see why.

We also got to see one of the leopards; last time, none of them fancied making an appearance. And we saw a stoat – not one of the zoo’s animals, but it was on an area of rough ground near the polar bears that has yet to be developed.

As usual, I have uploaded the better photos that I took to Flickr.

January 7, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Links from Pinboard for January 7, 2017

Here are the articles or web sites that I’ve found this week and linked to on my Pinboard Bookmarks:

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January 5, 2017
by Neil Turner
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How to: fix wrong location on iPhone

Screenshot of iOS location and privacy reset settingsOver the Christmas break, my iPhone would randomly decide that I was in my office. I’d have an app open that used my location, but instead of showing me where I actually was, it’d suggest that I was in Bradford. Which isn’t so useful when, in reality, you’re at home, or in York.

It caused particular problems when using Google Maps for directions, as it’d randomly jump to Bradford and then back again. Swarm was basically unusable. And it completely broke the ‘Track Exercise’ function of the Fitbit app. I had to actually uninstall and reinstall the Fitbit app a couple of times because it wouldn’t let me stop the exercise. This was even after restarting the app.

Turning Wifi off helped. Apple’s iPhones, and indeed many other devices, use the SSIDs of available Wifi networks to approximate your location. This is done by querying a web service, which means that you can still get an approximate location even when indoors, and out of view of GPS satellites. But turning off Wifi was hardly a long term solution.

A bit of Googling uncovered this article about fixing your location. It offers several solutions, depending on whether the issue affects just one application, or all. In my case, it was all applications, and the solution that worked was the fifth on the list. This involves resetting your phone’s location and privacy settings.

To do this, open Settings, and choose General. Then, scroll right down to the bottom and choose Reset, then select ‘Reset Location & Privacy’ – on iOS 10.2, this is the last option. Your device will ask you for your unlock password – pop this in, confirm, and hopefully your device will get the location correct from now on.

There is a drawback to doing this, however. You’ll have noted that this resets both your location and privacy settings. This means that any apps that you have granted access to your contacts, photos, calendars, camera, microphone, media library and so on will need to request them again. Although, oddly, apps will retain their location permissions, along with any permissions regarding background app refresh, notifications or mobile data access.

Despite these issues, it was a relief to fix the problem.

January 4, 2017
by Neil Turner
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App of the week: Namexif

Screenshot of Namexif

It’s been a long time since I last did an ‘app of the week’ post – March 2015, to be exact. I hope I’ll find more time to review apps this year but won’t make any promises.

Anyhow, here’s today’s app: Namexif. Namexif is a simple app that allows you to bulk-rename JPEG images based on the date the image was taken. Just about all digital cameras, including smartphones, store the date and time that the photo was taken. This data is saved in the image file’s Exif header, along with information about exposure, and so on. Namexif uses this Exif data to rename your files. So instead of having a folder full of files called ‘IMG_0052.JPG’, you can have something like ‘2016-12-25 12.34.35.JPG’. It’s a small improvement.

I sought out such a tool to sort our shared Dropbox folder, containing photos of Lizzie. Christine, my Dad and I all have access to it and have all saved photos there, but the filenames are all in different formats. Those imported via Dropbox’s Camera Upload feature are automatically renamed to include the date and time in the filename, but others weren’t. Getting them in date order was really important for me, as I want the photos to show Lizzie from when she was born until the present day.

You can customise the format that Namexif uses, so I made sure that I matched Dropbox’s format to get all of the files in order.

Namexif is a Windows app. I’m sure that alternatives exist for Macs and there will be more advanced renaming tools out there. But Namexif does one thing well, and it’s free.

January 3, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Google Chromecast review

Photo of a Google Chromecast

There were only a couple of presents that I specifically asked for Christmas this year, and one of these was a Google Chromecast. At £30, it’s a cheap and easy way of getting internet content onto your TV.

Roku versus Chromecast

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve had a Roku 2 XS since summer 2014. I wanted a Chromecast to complement it, and alleviate some of the Roku’s shortcomings.

The Roku is good little device, especially as it now supports almost all streaming media services in the UK with the recent additions of Rakuten’s Wuaki.tv and Amazon Prime Instant Video. And it’s easy to use, since it comes with a remote control – unlike the Chromecast. The main issues I’ve been having are:

  • Speed – apps such as BBC iPlayer are very slow. You can press pause, and the Roku will take several seconds before it actually responds in any way. I imagine newer Roku devices (the third and fourth series) are much faster; the Roku 2 series was on its way out when I bought it in 2014. That being said, it’s still receiving software updates which is good.
  • Stability – sometimes the Roku crashes, and has to reboot. I’ve had particular problems with the YouTube app causing this.
  • Netflix – the Netflix app on the Roku (second series at least) is poor. It doesn’t support multiple user profiles per account, so whatever you watch goes on the viewing history of the main profile. And parental controls don’t work, so you can’t watch any shows on the Roku which require a parental control PIN.
  • Spotify – Roku has a Spotify app, but you need to be a Premium subscriber to use it – that means paying £10 per month. I’m on Spotify’s £5 per month ‘Unlimited’ plan, which suits me but doesn’t work with the Roku.

Where the Chromecast excels

Setting up the Chromecast is quite easy – it took around 10 minutes which included installing a software update. And installation is as simple as plugging it into a spare HDMI socket, and then connecting the USB cable to a spare socket (a mains adaptor is included if required).

To ‘cast’ something, you just need to open an app on your Android or iOS mobile device, and look for the cast icon. Whatever you’re streaming will then appear on your TV, and you use your device to control it – playing, pausing etc. And, it only casts the content that you’re streaming, so your TV won’t flash up any notifications for example. This is a big advantage over simple Bluetooth speaker systems, for example, which simply broadcast all of the sounds that your device makes.

Compared with the Roku 2, the Chromecast is very fast. Tapping the cast icon in an app registers almost straightaway on the Chromecast and the only delays seem to be caused by buffering, rather than the device itself being slow.

Netflix works as well as it would do on a mobile device, so we can watch more adult things when Lizzie isn’t about, but also ensure that her profile doesn’t show them. And Spotify streaming via Chromecast is available to all users – even those with free accounts.

There’s also a guest mode, which lets anyone who doesn’t have your Wifi password to cast to your Chromecast – provided that they have the PIN code displayed on the home screen. The PIN changes at least once a day.

…and some pitfalls

I’ve already mentioned the lack of a remote. But this problem is exacerbated, in my view, because you have to go into the app to access the controls to play and pause. On iOS, at least, the controls don’t appear on your device’s lock screen. You can lock your device and the content will still play, but pausing when the phone rings (for example) is a bit more involved. It’d be nice if there was an iOS widget that could pause whatever is playing, but I don’t know if that’s possible.

Not all apps support Chromecast. The big one that’s missing is Amazon Prime Instant Video, although there is a relatively easy workaround. The other app that I miss is UKTV Play, which is the only way that we can watch shows on Dave, like the new series of Red Dwarf. Living in a valley prevents us from receiving Dave via Freeview, we can’t get Virgin Media, it’s not on Freesat and we’re too cheap to pay for Sky.

I was also hoping that my favourite Podcast app, Overcast, would work, but apparently not. A tweet from the developer suggests that it would not be trivial to add this in future. And you’ll need to use an app such as AllCast if you want to view photos and videos from Dropbox on your Chromecast. I had mixed results with this in my testing.

Also, none of the built-in apps on iOS support Chromecast. This isn’t suprising – Apple sells a rival device, the Apple TV, and has a rival protocol called AirPlay. AirPlay is, in my view, more basic than the Chromecast protocol. With AirPlay, your mobile device acts as an intermediary – it receives the content stream, decodes it, and then sends it via AirPlay to your Apple TV. The Chromecast, instead, streams directly from the content provider – your device merely sends some instructions. The main benefit is that it won’t drain your device’s battery.

Sadly, I also had some stability issues when using the NextUp Comedy app with the Chromecast. Like with the Roku, these caused the Chromecast to lock up and restart. However, at least my device remembered where it was, so I could pick it up again easily after a restart.

Putting Chrome into Chromecast

There’s a reason for the Chromecast having such a name, and that’s because you can cast web pages from the Google Chrome web browser on the desktop. This is how you can get the aforementioned Amazon Prime and UKTV Play onto your Chromecast, but it does mean that you’ll have to play and pause playback using your computer. Which isn’t ideal when your computer is in a different room to your TV, like it is in our house.

Overall

The Chromecast isn’t perfect and has some key pitfalls as mentioned. But it’s great value for £30, and relatively simple for a moderately tech-minded person to use.

January 3, 2017
by Neil Turner
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A year old

Photo of Lizzie on her first birthday

Lizzie turned one last week. I can’t believe it’s come around so soon, or how much she’s grown and developed over the past 12 months.

She had a low-key birthday, what with it being over Christmas and all three of us suffering from horrendous colds. Plus, I don’t think most one-year-olds really know what’s going on. She isn’t walking properly yet, unless you hold her hands, but she’s getting there. She’s quite adept at climbing stairs, and is very talkative, albeit in baby babble. And she gets very confused when you repeat her babble back at her, with the sort of expression that says ‘I do not think it means what you think it means’.

So far, her favourite new toy is this grey kitten from Hamley’s. We had to put away some of her other presents, mostly because she’s not old enough for them yet, but also to stop her getting overwhelmed by new things.

We’ll have a proper party for her later this month (note to self: book Lizzie’s birthday party). And we need to book her next round of vaccinations. That’ll be ‘fun’.

January 1, 2017
by Neil Turner
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Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2017! If you’re reading this, then congratulations: you managed not to be one of the many celebrity deaths of 2016!

I usually use my first post of the year to talk about what will happen this year, so, here goes:

Work on the house

We will be doing some more work on the house this year. We moved quite a bit further forward in 2016 but having Lizzie, and not having a lot of money, did mean that we didn’t do as much as planned. The key projects will be:

  • Finish the dining room. This involves replacing the architrave around one of the doors, sanding and varnishing the doors, erecting coving and building a sideboard unit (probably using Ikea Besta parts).
  • Paint and install floor coverings in the downstairs bathroom and hallway.
  • New tiling in the kitchen, and new light fittings.
  • Renovate what will be Lizzie’s room – reskimming the plaster, new wiring and removing a rather dilapidated built-in wardrobe.

If we’re lucky, we might also end up with a new sofa.

Health

Towards the end of 2016, my weight started to edge downwards, and being ill over Christmas has meant that I’ve not over-indulged. I can’t recommend being ill as a weight-loss strategy, but I’m hoping to continue the trend in 2017. We’re eating out less, having smaller portions, and I’m getting slightly more exercise on the whole. I’m hoping to beat my 32 day streak of 10,000 steps per day on my FitBit.

Weddings

Once again, we have a wedding in the calendar for 2017 already. The best man has already asked for some help with organising a stag do, which will be interesting – I’ve been on a few, including my own, but haven’t organised one before.

Keeping track

Compiling this year’s review of the year blog post was quite hard, because I did even less blogging this year than normal. There are several things that I just never got around to writing about, or, if I did, the blog post followed weeks or months later. This is mostly due to a lack of time but I would like to blog more frequently in 2017 if I can. Thankfully, I still check-in to places on Swarm/Foursquare which helped. 

But I’m also going to start a journal, using the Day One app. My plan is to summarise every day with at least 3 bullet points. I started today and hope to keep it up throughout the year. It’ll be private, but at least I’ll have a record of what I’ve done this year.

Holidays

We don’t have a holiday booked yet. Money is still tight and so if we do go away, it’s not likely to be abroad – especially as Lizzie doesn’t yet have a passport. But there are plenty of places in Britain that we’ve never visited, and we have a car now.

I hope your 2017 is enjoyable and fulfilling. Let’s see how my year actually turns out in12 months’ time.

December 30, 2016
by Neil Turner
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2016 in review

It’s time for my annual review of the year just gone. 2016 was a year that many will want to forget, thanks to the many celebrities who passed away this year (Victoria Wood arguably being the loss I’m saddest about), and major world events like Brexit and Donald Trump’s election. For us, it was a year of adapting to the major changes that took place in our lives in 2015, and coping with a rather limited income, thanks to Christine’s maternity leave and Lizzie’s childcare costs.

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

Anyhow, without further ado, here’s January.

January

Me and my daughter

Lizzie arrived in the world late in December 2015, and was re-admitted to hospital on the 30th December with jaundice. So Christine and I were apart for New Year’s Eve, for only the second time since 2009 when we first met. Indeed, Lizzie didn’t have a great January; an undiagnosed tongue-tie meant that she struggled to consume enough breast milk, and so we had to top-up feed her with formula. Thankfully, the tongue-tie was picked up, the operation was a success, and 12 months on she’s still being breast-fed in the mornings and evenings.

I was lucky enough to be on paternity leave for the whole of January. People whose partners give birth are allowed two weeks statutory paternity leave at 90% pay, in addition to any other leave entitlements; I topped this up with two weeks annual leave. A fifth week came about as my workplace is closed for Christmas. I’m really glad that I was able to take more time off – having spoken to other new dads who could only take two weeks, they found it not nearly long enough.

We made some progress on the house, with new doors downstairs. In that post, I alluded to being close to finishing the dining room by putting up coving and new architrave – nearly a year on, and those two jobs are still outstanding.

Later in the month, I went on the first of two visits to London this year, to attend a seminar on Big Data with my expenses paid. I also managed to squeeze in some time with friends whilst there which was nice, especially as I was on my own without Christine or Lizzie. And it was my blog’s 14th blogiversary. At the end of the month, we went to Halifax’s Bankfield Museum, to see the launch of a series of paintings by local artist (and friend of a friend) Kate Lycett, featuring various stately homes in Yorkshire that met an untimely end.

Right at the end of January, I had the first of three job interviews this year.

February

February saw me return to work after paternity leave, and on my first day back I was informed that I had got the job. It was a six month secondment working in timetabling at the university – same office, but different team. It was also quite a good pay rise and the extra money really came in useful this year. I hoped that this would become a new career path for me, but it didn’t really work out – I didn’t enjoy the job as much as I had expected, and other factors came into play in the summer.

Valentines Day was spent at the Yorkshire Wildlife Park, near Doncaster. It’s a fantastic open-air zoo, and we’ll definitely go back there again when Lizzie is older.

March

Lotherton Hall Bird Garden
Onto March. Lizzie reached 12 weeks old, which meant that it was time for her first round of vaccinations. This wasn’t fun for anyone concerned, but important and necessary. She’ll be due another round now that she’s 12 months old, joy of joys.

I spent an evening at an arts centre in Sale, near Manchester, for a recording of the Guilty Feminist Podcast. It was good fun, although I wish Christine could have come with me as she would’ve enjoyed it too. Alas, we’ve not really been able to get a babysitter for Lizzie and it wouldn’t have been appropriate to bring her along. At least Christine got to listen to the show a few weeks later.

We had a few days out in March – the farm at Temple Newsam, York Model Railway Show and Lotherton Hall, where I was able to make use of my new (to me) Canon EFS 55-250mm lens on my SLR camera. It’s great, and has allowed me to take some brilliant photos this year.

Lizzie got to see her first show at the theatre – an amateur dramatic production of ‘Back to the 80s’. She was very well-behaved, which may have more to do with the flashing lights, but it was a relief to know that we could still go out with her.

April

Chatsworth House
We started April by making a return visit to Hebden Bridge, for the first time since the devastating flooding on Boxing Day 2015. There was also a day out at Springtime Live at the Yorkshire Showground – a smaller scaled version of the Great Yorkshire Show with a focus on activities for kids and families. Again, Lizzie was a bit young but we’ll hopefully be back in 2017.

A visit to the Trafford Centre (now much easier to get to as we have a car) saw our first visit to Five Guys, which is still relatively new to the UK. They’ve since opened in Bradford and we’ve been 3-4 times now.

I had a free-standing weekday booked off as annual leave, so we ended the month with a day out at Chatsworth. It was an expensive day, but we really enjoyed the farm.

During April, I managed to hit my 10,000 steps per day target every day. I nearly managed it in December too.

May

Hollingworth Lake
May is my birthday month, and was also our third wedding anniversary. At home, we moved forward with a couple of projects – a new boiler, and a downstairs toilet. The new boiler, combined with a Nest thermostat, seems to be saving us money. Which is good, as we’ll still be paying back the cost of the boiler installation (on interest-free credit, thankfully) until May 2018.

I made the decision to suspend my World of Warcraft subscription, after 10 years. I just don’t have the time to play it anymore, nor do I have a computer capable of running the latest expansion. And I don’t miss it.

Another thing I don’t miss is running my own email server, as I decided to re-route all of my email to Gmail. This has been a good decision and made my email a lot more manageable.

Whilst it took me two months to write about it, we had a nice day out at Hollingworth Lake, a reservoir near Rochdale that’s become an inland tourist attraction. At the end of May, we had a day out in Scarborough, including a visit to the Sea Life Centre.

June

June’s big event was the EU referendum. I voted remain, and was devastated when a majority of those who voted chose to leave. I don’t know if we will actually leave the EU – the government says we will, but doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job of it so far. We’ll see what happens.

In other politics news, I joined to Labour Party. Historically I’d voted for the Liberal Democrats, but following their collapse in the 2015 general election, I felt it was important to support the left-wing party best-placed to form a government in 2020. So far, the regular emails that I get from my local MP and councillor (both Labour) have been useful but I’ve not yet got further involved.

June was my first Fathers Day, which was nice. I also took Lizzie out on my own for the first time (without Christine) on a trip to Ikea. We both came back alive and happy.

July

Liverpool
I started July with three job interviews scheduled, for four jobs (one was for two posts). Restructuring at work meant that my substantive post was being made redundant, and so I needed to find a new post. My secondment was also about to run out at the same time, and the third interview was to continue this on a fixed-term 9 month contract.

I got offered both jobs in the first interview, but failed the second. I accepted one of the jobs, and declined the third interview, as the job I accepted was a permanent post. Best of all, it was on the same wage as the secondment, so I finished the year with more pay, better job security, and, thanks to several workshops, a massively improved CV. 2016 wasn’t all bad after all.

Having booked a Friday off for something that then got cancelled, Christine and I ended up with a free weekend, and so we booked a last-minute impromptu trip to Liverpool. We took Lizzie with us, and it proved that we could still spontaneously go away even with a small child in tow. It was our first visit to Liverpool since 2010.

Whilst we were there, Christine started playing Pokémon Go, which hadn’t officially launched in Europe but it was possible to side-load the APK on her Android phone. I started playing when the official launch happened, and we both still play to this day. I’m level 27.

Although we’d been to Springtime Live earlier in the year, we went back to the Yorkshire Showground for the Great Yorkshire Show proper in July. Having Lizzie with us, and meeting with friends whilst there, meant that we didn’t see as much as usual, but it was still a fun day out.

At the end of July, Christine finished her maternity leave and returned to work. Lizzie now spends weekday daytimes with a childminder, although until September this would only be four days a week. Christine and I took it in turns to take Wednesdays off, and I had my first full day on my own with Lizzie. It wasn’t a total success but I managed better on later occasions.

August

I started my new job on the 1st August, processing PhD applications. The first couple of months were basically spent firefighting, as I started at a peak time, but things have settled down somewhat and I’ve been able to make some improvements to processes. I’m enjoying the job; I get to work with some of my old team and lots of new people who I get on with well.

We attended a couple of wedding receptions in 2016, but it wasn’t until August that we went to a full ceremony and reception, for two friends from university. It was up in County Durham, in a really nice part of the world that I’d not previously been to before. And we had a day out in Ripon on the way home which is one of Britain’s ‘Cathedral Cities’ – it’s a small town that has city status by the virtue of having a massive cathedral.

On one of my ‘Daddy Days’ with Lizzie, we followed the Hebble Trail from Salterhebble into Halifax. Someday, I’ll actually write up the blog post that I’ve been meaning to write about it.

September

We’d finally ‘finished’ the living room – all the paint is on the walls and we’ve installed the furniture that we want. The living room is also a designated ‘baby safe’ room, so we spent some time erecting a TV stand and fixing the TV to it, so that there would be no chance of Lizzie pulling it onto herself. Indeed, just about all of the furniture in there is fixed to the wall. Lizzie had learned to sit up by July and was crawling by this time, and later in September she learned how to pull herself up on furniture. She’s still not able to walk independently yet, but she’s not far off.

Only one major day out in September, which was a visit to Cannon Hall Farm, near Barnsley. It’s a great place for families, with an indoor soft-play area, lots of animals to look at (including meerkats, bizarrely) and activities. Lizzie enjoyed it, and we’ll be back sometime. Especially as it was quite cheap.

October


We spent a week away from home, with two nights staying with relatives near Oxford and then three nights in a hotel in London. In Oxford, we had a child-free afternoon browsing its museums, and in London we went to the Tower of London, and the Museum of London Docklands.

We also managed a child-free day closer to home. After dropping Lizzie off at the childminders, we went to see Doctor Strange at the cinema. This was our first cinema visit in almost a year – the last film we’d seen was Spectre, when Christine was still pregnant.

November

America decided to emulate Brexit by electing a man whose surname means ‘fart’ in British English as their next president. I was hoping Hillary would win, and I guess we’ll have to see what happens. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s not still president in four years’ time – whether he resigns due to corruption or boredom, or gets impeached, I don’t know.

Despite not getting as much sleep as usual, I managed to stay reasonably healthy this year, until a bought of gastroenteritis hit me in November. Annoying, I got ill with it again in December, and then had a horrendous cold right through the Christmas period.

As in previous years, we went to the Thought Bubble comic con, this time with Lizzie. We didn’t have chance to dress up this time though.

December

And so to this month. We haven’t had any days out – it’s winter, and we’ve been spending time doing Christmas shopping. But we did manage another child-free day, this time to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them at the cinema. We spent Christmas itself with my parents in York. Plans for New Year are sketchy, but shouldn’t involve Lizzie being in hospital this time, hopefully.

December 25, 2016
by Neil Turner
0 comments

Merry Christmas!

A quick blog post to wish you all a Merry Christmas.

We’re in York with my parents for what is Lizzie’s first Christmas. Alas, it’s been overshadowed by illness – myself, Lizzie, Christine and my mum are all ill with a horrendous cold. As in, the sort of cold that’s serious enough to warrant sick leave from work.

My main presents were a new power drill, and a Google Chromecast, which I’m looking forward to trying out when we get home. Lizzie got a chair and plenty of toys, and my gifts to Christine were a couple of books.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, and an enjoyable festive period.