MakeMKV review

Screenshot of MakeMKV on Windows 10

If you want to make backups of your DVDs or Blu-Ray discs, or watch them on a device without an optical drive, then MakeMKV is a tool that you should consider.

MakeMKV takes the content of your DVDs, and creates a Matroska (.mkv) file that can be read by many media players, including the likes of VLC, Plex and more recent versions of Windows Media Player. Matroska is a very forgiving container format that can accommodate just about any video and audio codec, and has excellent support for subtitles.

What sets MakeMKV apart from tools such as Handbrake is that there’s minimal transcoding. That means that the MKV file will match the quality of the original source, with the same aspect ratio. Handbrake will typically transcode the video into another format and offer to up-scale the video to HD. This will probably result in a smaller file, as newer video formats are more efficient, but every time you transcode a file using a lossy compression algorithm, you lose some of the quality. It also takes longer to convert files using Handbrake because of the transcoding.

The files created by MakeMKV will include subtitles, where these are provided on the original disc, and they’re not ‘burnt in’ so can be enabled or disabled by playback devices. Chapters are also retained.

Overall, it’s easy to use, and doesn’t offer the dizzying array of options that Handbrake offers.

Currently, MakeMKV is beta software, and has been for over a decade – this may explain the rather dated-looking web site. It is shareware, albeit free to use whilst in beta. However, if a final release is ever made, expect to be asked to pay for it. If you want, you can buy it now for $60 (currently £54.25 including VAT).

Be aware that it’s currently illegal to copy DVDs in the UK, even for your own personal use.

New old posts from the archives, part 3

I’m gradually bringing back some of my old blog posts that were lost. You can have a look at part one and part two, and here’s the list of latest posts that I have brought back:

  • WeeMee (September 2003). I mentioned this in last week’s blog post about avatars, hence why I brought it back. The site that lets you generate a ‘WeeMee’ is long gone, and I’m not sure that an archived copy would work as, if I remember correctly, it used Adobe Flash Player.
  • Secret Starbucks Sizes (July 2015). This seemed to show up quite a bit in my 404 (missing page) logs and so I brought it back. It lists the sizes of coffee cups that Starbucks may or may not offer besides their usual Tall, Grande and Venti sizes.
  • Coffee (February 2012). Linked in the above blog post, so it made sense to bring this one back too. I never used to be a coffee drinker until around 2012. Now, I drink coffee most weekdays, although it’s usually a sachet of pre-mixed powdered coffee with a flavouring. Starbucks is a once a week treat on the way to work.
  • My Podcast Diet (August 2018). Well now, this is a post that I never finished; it was sat as a draft on my iPad and didn’t get published. So you can now read it for the first time. I should probably write an update soon, as I’m listening to some different podcasts now.
  • Going into print (August 2004). A prime example of announcing something before it’s ready. I agreed to contribute a couple of chapters to a book about Movable Type, the blogging system that I used to use before switching to WordPress. And whilst I did start writing them, it clashed with my final year at university, so the book was published without my contributions. You can still buy the book (sponsored link) but no-one uses Movable Type any-more so I don’t know why you would want to. Almost 20 years later and I still haven’t co-authored an actual printed book.
  • Why I’m not switching to WordPress (August 2004). Oh wow. This was a 1000+ word rant that WordPress, barely a year old and only at version 1.2, lacked many niche features that I was accustomed to in Movable Type. It even garnered a response from Matt Mullenweg himself, which you can read if you’re willing to track it down on the Web Archive. Of course, less than a decade later, I would switch to WordPress, and Movable Type is basically dead as previously mentioned.

How to: install Home Assistant Supervised on a Raspberry Pi

Screenshot of Home Assistant showing Supervisor installed

There are several ways to install Home Assistant. The easiest way (besides buying a dedicated device such as Home Assistant Yellow or Green with it pre-installed) is to use what is known as ‘Home Assistant Operating System’. This bundles Home Assistant with a system manager called Supervisor and an underlying Linux distro.

There are other methods, and I’ll probably write another blog post comparing them all later. Probably the most difficult is Home Assistant Supervised, which includes the Supervisor from Home Assistant OS (HAOS), but with a self-administered Linux operating system. I’ve got over 10 years of experience working with Debian Linux, as this blog runs on it, but it took some trial and error on my part to get working.

By setting up Linux yourself first, you gain more control over your system than is offered by HAOS. For example, whilst you can enable shell access on HAOS, it’s a limited user account with no root access. And, bizarrely, HAOS doesn’t support USB mass storage devices. So even though you can install Plex from within HAOS, if your media is on an external hard disk, you can’t grant Plex access to it.

At the weekend, I set up my Raspberry Pi 4 with Home Assistant Supervised. Here’s how I went about it.

Note: This guide was current in January 2024. The instructions below may not necessarily work on future releases of Debian and Home Assistant.

Step 1: Installing Debian 12 (Bookworm)

I strongly advise you to start with a fresh Linux installation; trying to bolt this onto an existing Linux image may break other things. Home Assistant is designed to run on Debian 12 – and not Raspberry Pi OS, although I’ve seen some forum posts from users who are using this. For this guide, I’m using Debian 12.

For the most part, you can simply follow the instructions on this guide to flash an SD card and complete the initial setup. The newer versions of the Raspberry Pi imager may ask if you want to configure Wifi and SSH access for your image; don’t bother, as this won’t work on Debian. The other thing to bare in mind with this guide is the Wifi settings, where you un-comment several lines in a configuration file if you’re not using an Ethernet connection. This is fine at this stage, but you’ll need to re-comment those lines later.

The other thing that I did in addition to this guide was type in dpkg-reconfigure tzdata and set my timezone to Europe/London rather than UTC.

You can stop following the guide at the point at which it tells you to install a graphical user interface, as this isn’t needed for Home Assistant. Of course, if you’re planning to use this device for other things and a graphical UI would help you, then follow the whole guide by all means.

Step 2: Install the necessary additional packages for Home Assistant

Here, we start following this official guide from HA. You’ll need to install various additional packages to enable the Home Assistant Supervisor to run.

Once installed, I found that I had to edit the /etc/NetworkManager/NetworkManager.conf file and change managed=false to true. This was also the point where I needed to re-comment the wifi settings. Without doing this, my Raspberry Pi wasn’t able to connect to the internet for the next step.

Step 3: Install Docker

As per the official instructions, run curl -fsSL | sh to install Docker. This took quite a while, so maybe go and grab some lunch.

If you’re getting an error about being unable to resolve, then go back to step 2.

At this point, I found it easier to continue the installation remotely over SSH, rather using the keyboard and a screen.

Step 4: Install the OS Agent

Next, you’ll need to install the latest version of the OS Agent. For a Raspberry Pi 3 or later, you’ll need the aarch64 version. I downloaded the ‘os-agent_1.6.0_linux_aarch64.deb‘ file and then uploaded this using WinSCP, but you could also download it using curl or wget. You’ll then need to run the command dpkg -i os-agent_1.6.0_linux_aarch64.deb as root.

The next command to run is gdbus introspect --system --dest io.hass.os --object-path /io/hass/os . This should give some multi-coloured code and not an error; if you get an error about the ‘gdbus’ command not being found, then you may have missed the libglib2.0-bin package in step 2.

Step 5: Install Home Assistant Supervised

Finally, we’re at the stage where we can actually install Home Assistant. Here’s the command to run:

wget -O homeassistant-supervised.deb apt install ./homeassistant-supervised.deb

Once this is complete, wait a few minutes and go to http://[your IP]:8123/ and you should be greeted with the Home Assistant web UI. It may take a minute or to before you can start the onboarding process. If you’re migrating to Home Assistant Supervised, then you can also restore a backup at this stage, but be aware that such a backup can take a long time to restore.

And then you’re done. You may get some warning messages about the system being ‘unhealthy’ but these seem to disappear after a reboot, in my experience.

Things to consider

Although installing Home Assistant this way does allow it to co-exist with other software, bare the following in mind:

  • Even if you mount a USB hard disk/flash drive to your device, Home Assistant doesn’t seem to want to know about it, or let you attach it to any addons.
  • Although you need to install Docker for Supervisor to work, you’ll get errors in your Home Assistant settings if you install any other Docker images that are not managed as Home Assistant Addons. So, if you want to install any other software, do it manually, or in another container system like Snap. Or you could try Kubernetes I suppose, if you really hate yourself.

Installing Home Assistant Supervised is by far the most difficult method, but for me, it offers the best balance of overall control, and ease of use once set up. If you can find the time to set it up, then once it’s up and running, it’s easier to add new devices and configure on an ongoing basis. Whereas setting up HTTPS and HomeKit can be a challenge on Home Assistant Container, enabling these on Supervised is much more straightforward.

That being said, if you can dedicate a device to running Home Assistant on its own, then I would definitely recommend just running Home Assistant Operating System.


Screenshot of the web version of Simplenote

Last year, I decided to switch my go-to note-taking app to Simplenote. For years, I’ve used Evernote, which is a very powerful app that lets you capture web pages, scan documents, save voice notes and link notes to events on a calendar. Which, is great if you need those features.

I don’t. I just needed somewhere to keep track of ideas, lists and important notes. And so really Evernote was overkill for what I used – its apps are huge and it can be slow to open, especially on the web. The same applies to Microsoft’s OneNote – both it and Evernote are big, powerful apps that incorporate way more features than I need.

Simplenote, meanwhile, is just what it says it is – a simple app for taking notes. There are apps for all common platforms, and its web interface offers the same features. Furthermore, the official apps are open source, and there’s an open API, so you can use third-party apps as well. ResophNotes is a very lightweight app for Windows, for example.

You can use Markdown, so when you enable a preview mode, any headers, list items etc will show up with formatting. You can also add tick-boxes next to any list items, so that you can tick off items on a shopping list, for example.

Your notes are kept in sync across your devices, and the service is free to use.

I’ve found that I’m much happier using Simplenote, and make more notes as a result. When you’re easily distracted like I am (squirrel!), being able to keep track of important information is really useful.

Broadband speeds results from our Vodafone broadband

So last month, we switched our broadband to Vodafone, which also meant that our internet speeds increased from about 30-40 Mbps to around 70-80 Mbps (as per the above result).

80 Mbps is sadly the fastest speed that we can probably get here. I live in Sowerby Bridge, a small town in the Calder Valley and our options for internet access are limited. In some respects, we’re lucky to have access to Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC). This means that the cables providing fixed line broadband internet are fibre optic as far as a metal box a couple of streets away. But the cables from that box to our house are a series of thin, copper cables, and current VDSL2 technology means that much higher speeds are unlikely to be possible.

Over Christmas, we stayed with my parents in York. Being a bigger and more affluent city, there are more options available for broadband internet. In addition to the FTTC service provided by BT Openreach, there’s also:

  • Cable broadband from Virgin Media. These cables were laid in the 1990s by Bell CableMedia, which became Cable & Wireless, then NTL, and finally Virgin Media. Whilst they’re also an FTTC solution, the cables from the cabinet to the home include a much larger coaxial cable.
  • Full fibre broadband from Sky and TalkTalk. York’s streets and pavements were dug up again in the late 2010s to install a FTTH (Fibre to the Home) network, which takes fibre optic cables all the way into people’s homes.

My parents have had cable broadband since this became available in the early 2000s. Initially this was just 512 Kbps, but speeds have increased over the years, and this was the test result whilst I was there at Christmas:

Virgin Media broadband test result

So my parents get broadband speeds that are six times faster for downloads, and nearly three times faster for uploads. And if they wanted to, they could switch to a FTTC broadband solution that could easily double those speeds.

Here in Sowerby Bridge, our best hope for faster broadband is that CityFibre bring their FTTC network in a few years time. So far they’ve installed fibre optic cables in Pye Nest, which is the community between Halifax and Sowerby Bridge, but their web site says there are currently no plans to reach us. Virgin Media did install some cables nearby a few years ago, but they seemed to bypass our street unfortunately.

There is wireless broadband to consider, but we get a weak 4G signal as we’re in a steep valley. 5G is available up the hill in Halifax and may make it down here in future. But, for now, I think 80 Mbps on a fixed line is the best that I can expect.

SoundPrint – an app for finding quiet spaces

Screenshot of the SoundPrint app

Today I want to share with you an app called SoundPrint, which is an app for finding quiet spaces to eat and socialise.

You can install the app on your phone (iPhone and Android), and it’ll pop up a list of places nearby where other SoundPrint users have done a brief sound test. The venue database is from Foursquare, a site where I’m a superuser and still an active user of its Swarm app.

Incidentally, Swarm came in very useful when writing my review of 2023 and 2023, quantified, as I could see exactly where I had been all year.

Using the SoundPrint app

You don’t have to register an account if you’re just browsing to find a venue. However, if you want to contribute your own sound checks, then you can register an account. A sound check is as simple as holding your phone up for 15 seconds to measure the noise levels, and then telling SoundPrint where you are. You can also specifically recommend places for SoundPrint’s ‘Quiet List’ if they are particularly quiet, and submit noise complaints for very loud venues. SoundPrint will try to reach out to such venues with suggestions for how they can become quieter.

Venues are categorised as ‘quiet’, ‘medium’, ‘loud’ and ‘very loud’ with the number representing the decibels (dB) recorded by user’s sound checks. It’s worth noting that the repeated or prolonged exposure to noise above 85 dB can lead to hearing loss.

I found out about SoundPrint from Samantha Baines’ excellent book ‘Living With Hearing Loss and Deafness’ (sponsored link). I saw it whilst out Christmas shopping and subsequently borrowed from our local library. I’m partially deaf and wear hearing aids, and this book has lots of helpful tips, both for deaf people and their friends and family.

That being said, SoundPrint isn’t just for people who have hearing loss. If you are autistic, then you may benefit if you find noisy places overwhelming. I can see my wife using this app as well, as though she has good hearing, she struggles in noisy environments.

Wonka and Wish

Posters for the films 'Wonka' and 'Wish'

Over the Christmas period, we watched a couple of films at the cinema – Wonka, and Wish.


Wonka is set up as a prequel to the 1970s film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and so has a broadly similar visual style. It’s not related to the 2005 adaptation with Johnny Depp, presumably because Depp isn’t much in favour nowadays.

As Roald Dahl passed away in 1990, the film has been made with the involvement of his estate, but was written by Simon Farnaby and Paul King. Farnaby has written for and starred in Horrible Histories, Yonderland and Ghosts, and King directed both of the recent critically acclaimed Paddington films. Their talent shows through, as does their respect for Dahl’s work; I imagine if Dahl himself had been involved in writing the screenplay for Wonka, it would be similar to this.

So it’s a good film. My only major criticism would be that it’s a bit twee in places. There’s also been some controversy over the casting of Hugh Grant as an Oompa Loompa, rather than someone like Peter Drinklage who would probably also do well in the role. However, I think Grant is excellent, and like with his role in the recent Dungeons and Dragons film, it’s good to see him playing roles that aren’t variations of a confused English gentlemen.


Wish is the latest animated Disney film, and the one that marks Disney’s 100th anniversary (which is why their first short film, Steamboat Willie, is now in the public domain). I’d like to say it’s as good as recent Disney animated films like Encanto and Frozen… but it isn’t.

It’s not bad, but we’ve seen better from Disney. To sum it up, it’s as if an AI was asked to generate a Disney film in a certain style. All the ingredients that would make a good film are there, but they just don’t seem to work together. As someone who generates AI artwork for my blog posts, I’m aware of their limitations and their tendency to not understand how things fit together. I’m not saying Disney used an AI here, but it feels like they’re trying too hard to imitate something without understanding what makes them great.

The soundtrack, for example, seems to be trying too hard to imitate films like The Greatest Showman. A case in point is the song “This Is the Thanks I Get?!”, sung by Chris Pine’s character. It’s supposed to be an angry song, but comes across as rather upbeat.

Wish came out in the UK in November so probably won’t be in cinemas much longer. However, given the choice, I would recommend Wonka over Wish.


Photo of Neil Turner wearing a Steampunk inspired outfit.

Recently, I’ve started using the above image as my ‘avatar’ – the photo of me that I use online when prompted to upload a profile photo. It’s a photo of me from a recent Sci Fi Weekender, wearing a Steampunk-style top hat with goggles.

Over the years, I’ve used a variety of different avatars to represent myself, and I’ve generally kept these in one Dropbox folder. So it offers an opportunity to look back at the different images I have used, going all the way back to the days of MSN Messenger.


The oldest one I can find is this one, taken in my first year of university (2003) and before I had sideburns. I probably think I looked really cool wearing sunglasses indoors. Teenagers, eh.

If you’re so inclined, you can view the full-size version on Flickr.


In the early 2000s, there was a site called WeeWorld that let you create a ‘WeeMee’ using a Flash applet, and this was mine. I used this as my avatar quite a lot, especially on MSN Messenger. I’ve brought the rather brief blog post I wrote at the time back from the web archive.

A South Park avatar

South Park

There was also a Flash applet on the South Park web site which allowed you to create your likeness, as if you appeared in the TV show. Again, I used this quite a bit at the time. Sadly, the image generator seems to have disappeared, and no-one uses Adobe Flash nowadays anyway.


The next oldest one I can find that is actually a photo of me (and not, for example, a jar of Chicken Tonight or a hamster) was taken in May 2009, around the time of my 25th birthday. I was on a trip to Wales with the university hiking club, and this was taken outside the camping barn that we were staying in. I was also newly single.


I used this photo, taken by my then-girlfriend, now-wife Christine on the beach at Morecambe, as my ‘work’ profile picture, and on LinkedIn, right up until 2010. I still wear the shirt and jacket regularly, even though Christine informs me that the jacket doesn’t really fit me any-more. I’ve had it since 1998 as it has my year 10 form number on the label.


This one was taken at Leeds Central Library, which had a small Steampunk exhibition, and a dressing up box from their archives for people to try on. This was also about the time when fezzes were cool, so of course I had to have a photo.


The next image that I used a lot was this one of me holding a barn owl, taken in the summer of 2014. Christine and I were visiting Blackpool Zoo, and we paid a little extra to have an owl experience. We got to fly the owls for a little bit, and, of course, pose for photos.


Finally, a new work profile photo, taken in early 2020 and before the pandemic meant that we spent most of the rest of the year working at home. This was taken by a colleague at work, and we all had similar photos taken to use on our web site. Before you start searching for it, I’m afraid the page has been taken down. This is still the profile picture I use at work and on LinkedIn.


And finally to the image I used most recently, before the one at the top of the page, taken in summer 2021 a few days after I started wearing glasses. This was taken in our front garden using a selfie stick. The shirt and glasses are the same in my newest ‘Steampunk’ avatar; Christine and I have a whole thing about pineapples which will make sense if you’re familiar with John Robertson‘s show The Dark Room.

The Birthday Gift of Blogging

An AI-generated image of a blog post popping out of a gift box whilst a crowd of people look on in awe

You may have heard of Matt Mullenweg – he co-founded WordPress, and is now the CEO of Automattic, which owns and contributes to (the downloadable version that you install on your own server, like I do).

Matt, like me, is turning 40 this year. And, as a ‘birthday gift’, he has asked people to blog. About anything.

Having only recently returned to blogging regularly, I’m starting to enjoy it again. With the rise of the Fediverse, the web is starting to feel like it did again in blogging’s heyday in the mid-2000s. Whilst some people used centralised sites like Blogger and TypePad back then, you could use tools like WordPress and Movable Type to run your own blog on your own server, and still interact with everyone else. And then the closed gardens of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the like came along, and you had to be on those platforms to interact with other users.

Anil Dash has written a piece for Rolling Stone magazine called ‘The Internet is About to Get Weird Again’. And I think he’s right; there’s growing dissatisfaction with these big centralised services and how they hoover up so much personal data to sell to advertisers. Meta’s Threads is dipping its toes into the Fediverse, which would mean that Threads and Mastodon users can follow and interact with each other in a way that hasn’t been possible before. And if it works for Threads, could we see Instagram joining the Fediverse, to connect with PixelFed and maybe even Flickr?

Anil has some further reflections on his own blog. I’m hesitant to say that ‘blogging is back’; after all, there are so many other places that we can share short thoughts where there are audiences. But I feel like it’s having a bit of a renaissance, and in an age where there’s so much AI generated waffle filling up our search engine results, being able to interact with other humans has never been more important. It was what the web was designed for, after all.

So, happy birthday to Matt – and here is your gift from me. I hope that many others will do the same.

Some predictions for 2024

An AI-generated image of some felt art of a fortune teller with a crystal ball that says 2024 on it

Now that the year has started, I’m going to make some predictions for the rest of 2024. If only because it’ll be interesting to look back in a year’s time to see what actually happens.

Twitter/X won’t become an ‘everything app’

When the overly impulsive billionaire took over Twitter, he announced that it would become an ‘everything app’, like WeChat is in China. Essentially, he’s using his Twitter acquisition to realise his late 1990s dream for, which would offer a huge variety of financial services.

But Musk also has a track record for over-promising and under-delivering. Look at the ‘full self driving’ mode offered on his Tesla cars, which, well, isn’t. His other firms, like The Boring Company, have also scaled down their lofty plans. So I don’t expect X/Twitter to offer much more than it does now by the end of the year.

I expect the core social media aspect of X/Twitter to continue to whither away over the year, thanks to declining user interest and lower advertising revenue. However, I still expect it to be around by the end of 2024 – I don’t think Musk is ready to throw in the towel and shut it down, or sell it at a massive loss.

Labour will win the 2024 General Election

We know that there will be a General Election in the UK this year, although not precisely when it’ll happen. Labour consistently leads in the polls, and has had some unprecedented by-election victories. I don’t think we’re looking at a repeat of 1997, when Labour won by a landslide, but I would expect a comfortable majority. How much change a new Labour government would be able to make partly depends on when the election is, but I’m not expecting the state of the country to massively improve by the end of the year.

Oh, and Sadiq Khan will win a third term as Mayor of London.

There will be a ceasefire in Palestine

Hamas’ deadly attack on Israel on the 8th October has to be condemned, but Israel’s response has been despicable with thousands of innocent civilians losing their lives. I expect Israel to find itself increasingly isolated on the world stage and a ceasefire will be inevitable by the spring of 2024. Unfortunately, I can’t see it being a route to lasting peace in the region, but any reduction in hostilities has to be better than this.

But the war in Ukraine will continue

I’m less optimistic about the war in Ukraine, which has been largely at a stalemate for the whole of 2023. Russia still intends to hang on to the territory that it has seized, including Crimea, whilst Ukraine hasn’t been able to make major advances. Meanwhile political issues in the USA mean that funding for Ukraine to carry on fighting isn’t guaranteed.

Energy prices in the UK will start to fall again

In 2023, the UK generated more electricity from renewable sources than from fossil fuels, for the first time. Whilst UK consumer energy prices went up by 5% on Monday, I anticipate that the cost of electricity will start to fall as more renewable power sources come online. The newly-operational Viking Link Interconnector means that we can trade electricity with Denmark, and the biggest wind farm in Scotland is now online.

That being said, there’s an imbalance in the UK as most wind power is generated in the north of England and Scotland, but the highest demand is in the south of England. And our energy grid doesn’t have capacity to move this, which means that some northern wind turbines have to be turned off and gas-fired power stations turned on – costing money and contributing to climate change. However, there’s been a big up-tick in home solar installations like ours which may help, albeit on a small scale.

The UK will do okay at Eurovision this year

In 2023, the Eurovision song contest was hosted in Liverpool. The 2022 winners Ukraine couldn’t host it safely due to the ongoing war, and the UK came second – our best result for over 20 years. And then despite what I thought was a good song from Mae Muller, we came second-from-bottom.

For 2024, Olly Alexander is representing the UK. As lead singer of Years & Years, I have some high expectations. I doubt we’ll win, but I would disappointed if we’re not mid-table. Of course, we haven’t actually heard the song yet.

Trump won’t win the US Presidential Election

Trump will almost certainly become the Republican Party’s candidate for president, but with two states banning him from their ballots, his campaign isn’t going well. I know Biden isn’t terribly popular, and wish he had stepped aside for someone younger like Kamala Harris, but Trump has made it pretty clear that if he wins (and manages to get a decent Republican Senate and House majority) then he will take the US down a path of authoritarianism that will take a lot of time to unpick. And whilst millions of Americans seem to be okay with this, I doubt it’s the majority.

We also don’t yet know what impact Trump’s legal issues will have, or whether the Federal Supreme Court will overrule Colorado and Maine’s bans. I didn’t think Trump would get elected in 2016, and so I have been wrong about this before, but I hope people’s experiences of 2017-2021 will guide them to vote against him again.

So these are my predictions for 2024. We’ll see at the end of the year whether they happen or not. Meanwhile, have a look at some other predictions from Terence Eden and Diamond Geezer.