Disney Minus

A screenshot of our Disney + account setting showing it cancelled.

Last week, we cancelled Disney+. Our annual subscription was due to renew, and at over £100 for the year, we could no longer justify it.

We’ve had a subscription ever since Disney+ launched in the UK, in the early days of lockdown in 2020. In fact, before then we had a subscription to DisneyLife, which was Disney’s UK-only streaming service for video and music, and used to cost £5 per month. Over time, Disney+ has got better, especially now that content from 20th Century Fox is on there.

But we just don’t watch enough of it. When we signed up to Disney+, there was only one price tier at £7.99 per month or £79 per year. Whilst that was more expensive than DisneyLife, there was more content available so it was worth it. Now there are three price tiers, and the most expensive is £10.99 per month, or £109 per year. That’s more than double what we were paying just five years ago. Whilst there is once again a £5 per month tier, it’s with adverts, and we don’t want those.

Like many kids, our eight-year-old seems to just want to watch YouTube Kids now. It’s something we’ve tried to resist for years, but apparently watching home-made videos and Minecraft walk-throughs is far more interesting than the professionally-produced content that we were paying for. We’ll keep paying for Netflix, as you can download content onto an iPad to watch offline. We tend to clip our eight-year-old’s iPad into a stand fixed to the back of the front passenger seat for long car journeys.

We’ve had Amazon Prime in the past, shared using Amazon Household with another family member, but we don’t have this now. Again, it’s getting more expensive, and we’d rather avoid the adverts. And whilst we’ve had free trials of Apple TV+ and Now TV, we’ve never paid for these beyond the trial period. We also don’t pay for a TV package, and just have Freeview and Freesat for live television.

I guess we’ll just re-subscribe to these from time-to-time when there’s something we actually want to watch.

I do find it odd comparing streaming video with streaming music. There’s a handful of music streaming services – Spotify, YouTube Music, Amazon Music, Deezer and so forth – and for the most part, they all have the same music. Yet with streaming video services, most shows are on one or two at best, and many or exclusive to one service.

AdGuard Home

A screenshot of the AdGuard Home web interface running as a Home Assistant addon

I’ve recently started using AdGuard Home as a way of blocking advertising and tracking on my iPhone and iPad, when on wifi at home. It works as a replacement DNS server, and re-routes requests to domains known for advertising and traffic to a DNS Sinkhole.

Unlike a browser-based ad blocking extension, such as uBlock Origin or Firefox Focus, by intercepting DNS requests AdGuard Home can stop tracking in all apps. That includes built-in browsers in apps, such as the Facebook app, as well as any app analytics tools. As I have an almost 6 year old 6th generation iPad that is getting rather slow, not having to load additional advertising and tracking scripts has boosted its performance and battery life.

Installing AdGuard

To run AdGuard Home, you’ll need a spare computer that can run all the time. A Raspberry Pi is ideal for this, as it’s small, low energy and can be run without a keyboard and mouse. You can also use Docker, Snap, or do as I do and run it as a Home Assistant addon. Indeed, once it’s set up, Home Assistant will detect it and offer to install an integration.

You can then adjust your router’s DNS settings, so that every device in your home uses your new AdGuard DNS server. This will block adverts and tracking across all of your devices if you want it to. I’ve chosen not to do this; whilst many tracking sites are a privacy nightmare, I also use sites like Quidco to get cashback. I use Google Chrome with no privacy features turned on when making purchases that could be eligible for cashback; this earned me over £80 when we switched our broadband supplier to Vodafone recently.

For me, just having it running on my mobile devices when at home on wifi is enough.

Whilst AdGuard offers other tools that are paid-for, AdGuard Home is free and open source.

Pi-hole

Pi-hole is similar to AdGuard, in that it is also a DNS-based ad blocker. As the name suggests, it was intended for use on Raspberry Pi computers, but can be installed on other devices. I had investigated installing this, but came across AdGuard as an easier alternative. Pi-hole is also open source, but development seems less active.

Advanced features

For the most part, once you’ve installed AdGuard Home and set it as your DNS server, you don’t need to do much else. However, you can enable DNS Encryption if you want – especially if you want to access your AdGuard server from outside the home. You can also use AdGuard Home to block adult content, or access to certain web sites, and configure this for individual devices. So, I could enable parental controls on our eight-year-old’s tablet using AdGuard without restricting my devices.

Readly and PressReader

A screenshot of the Readly app on an iPad.

When it comes to reading magazines on a computer or tablet, you may well have heard of Readly, seeing as it’s widely advertised. But there’s a competitor, PressReader, that’s also worth considering. I’ve used both, and so here’s a comparison of the two.

Fundamentally, both services let you read as many digital magazines (and some newspapers) as you like, for a flat monthly fee. Both claim to offer thousands of titles.

Readly

As mentioned, Readly is probably the best known, as it’s advertised in lots of podcasts and through other third parties. Indeed, if you fancy trying it, you may find that a two or even three month free trial is available with a bit of searching (as opposed to the standard one month free trial). Normally, it costs £9.99 per month and claims to offer over 7000 titles to read.

You can be notified of new issues, and have these automatically download when you’re on wifi for offline reading. Pages in magazines can be bookmarked, and there’s a ‘mobile view’ which reformats pages for easier reading on smaller screens. I use this a lot; though I read magazines on an iPad, it simplifies the formatting and reduces the amount of pinch zooming needed.

A screenshot of the PressReader app on an iPad. It's an alternative to Readly.

PressReader

I hadn’t heard of PressReader until a couple of months ago. It claims to offer over 8000 titles to read; many of these seem to be the same as Readly but it also includes some additional magazines like The Economist. There’s also some non-UK newspapers like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.

Like with Readly, magazines can be downloaded for offline reading, and it’ll reformat pages too. Indeed, on the whole it does this better than Readly, although sometimes it cut articles short. It also handles light and dark mode better on iOS.

Pricing is where things get a little more complicated. There is a free tier available, with around 500 magazines available to read. The ‘premium’ subscription, with unlimited access to all of its titles, is much more expensive than Readly – £27.49 per month, with only a 7 day free trial. So, in a nutshell, PressReader is almost three times more expensive than Readly.

But it’s not quite that simple. Many local libraries offer free access to PressReader through its HotSpot system. Indeed, this is how I found out about it. In West Yorkshire, Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees and Wakefield libraries all offer complementary access, as long as you have a library card with one of them. Sorry Leeds residents, but your council doesn’t offer this, although it is available for Leeds Beckett University students and The Leeds Library members. Some hotel chains like Marriott offer this too.

The catch is that you may need to re-authenticate with your library on a regular basis. Where I am in Calderdale, this is every 30 days but could be as little as 24 hours in some places.

So do I use Readly or PressReader?

If it wasn’t already obvious, I used Readly for quite some time. However, when I found out that PressReader was available for free, I switched last month and cancelled my Readly subscription.

I had been contemplating cancelling Readly in any case. When I first subscribed, I was regularly reading both Rail and Modern Railways, and previously had subscriptions for each. Readly was slightly more expensive per month, but offered a better reading experience. However, Modern Railways hasn’t been available from Readly since the beginning of last year, or indeed any other unlimited magazine platform.

Something to consider is that, when you cancel Readly, you’ll get a special offer to try to keep you as a customer. In my case, this was a 40% discount for three months, if I remember correctly. So if you do subscribe to Readly, maybe try cancelling it once a year to see if they offer you a discount.

Pocketmags Plus+

I thought it would also be worth mentioning Pocketmags Plus+ here as a third alternative. Pocketmags Plus+ doesn’t offer nearly as many magazines – around 600, rather than thousands – but it does have a few that aren’t available on the other platforms. There’s no free trial but the first month is 99p, and then £9.99 thereafter.

Nginx Proxy Manager

A screenshot of nginx proxy manager

I’ve recently started using Nginx Proxy Manager to act as a reverse proxy for the various web services that I have running on my Raspberry Pi. It’s a frontend to the nginx web server and makes setting up reverse proxies and SSL access really easy.

You may remember that I’ve used SWAG for this before, to enable HTTPS access to my Home Assistant installation. SWAG is find if you’re using Home Assistant Core or Container, but having switched to Home Assistant Supervised recently, I needed a new solution. Like SWAG, Nginx Proxy Manager can be run in Docker, but it’s also available as a Home Assistant addon.

The main benefit of Nginx Proxy Manager over SWAG is that it has a web-based UI, shown in the screenshot above. This makes setting up new proxy hosts really easy, as it has a nice and simple interface. Whilst SWAG includes pre-built configuration files for many services, there’s no interface available other than editing text files.

Nginx Proxy Manager will also manage SSL certificates. You can either import ones that you purchase yourself, or it will manage the process of acquiring and renewing Let’s Encrypt certificates.

As well as managing Home Assistant, I have Nginx Proxy Manager looking after Calibre-web and Nextcloud.

A brief explanation of reverse proxies

Apparently, you’re supposed to ensure that blog posts are at least 300 words nowadays, otherwise Google ignores it. So, here’s an explanation of why you should set up a reverse proxy server if you’re hosting services like Home Assistant at home:

  1. No port numbers. When you set up something like Home Assistant, you’ll end up with an address like http://192.168.0.1:8123. A reverse proxy will allow web browsers to connect on the standard web ports (80 for HTTP, 443 for HTTPS), which looks nicer and is more predictable. It also means you don’t have to forward lots of arbitrary ports on your router.
  2. SSL certificates. If you’re running a device on your home network, then ideally you only want to allow secure connections to reduce the risk of your personal data being intercepted. Self-signed SSL certificates are not ideal, as most web browsers issue dire warnings for web sites that use them. As not all web applications support SSL certificates natively, a reverse proxy can handle this for you.
  3. Web application firewall. By making all requests go via a proxy, the proxy server can filter out malicious traffic. Nginx Proxy Manager includes a ‘block common exploits’ mode, and you can also filter IP addresses. For example, you may wish to only allow access to certain IP addresses.

Installing in Home Assistant

If you’re running Home Assistant Supervised or Operating System, then you’ll need to install the Nginx Proxy Manager addon. It’s available from the Community Addons repository, which should already be available to you – you won’t need to add it separately. It’s not to be confused with the official ‘NGINX Home Assistant SSL proxy’ addon; this doesn’t include an interface and only enables a proxy for Home Assistant, and not for any other services. Indeed, if you’re already using this official addon, you’ll need to stop it from running first, as otherwise you’ll have a port conflict.

Once set up, you can access the web interface at http://[your IP]:81 . I suppose I could probably set up a reverse proxy host to get rid of the port number, but I don’t see a good reason to enable remote access to it.

One final thing to add is that the user guide for Nginx Proxy Manager isn’t great. It covers setup, but there’s very little help for configuring proxy hosts. The web interface is pretty straightforward so arguably detailed instructions aren’t necessary, but a little more help would be good.

GoblinTools

A screenshot of GoblinTools that has taken the task of 'writing a shopping list' and broken it down into easier subtasks

If you sometimes find doing things overwhelming, or need help converting some disparate thoughts into something coherent, then GoblinTools may help you. It was recommended to me by someone on Mastodon some time ago; sadly I’ve lost track of who tooted or boosted it onto my timeline because it was a while ago and I’ve been procrastinating about writing about it. Which is highly ironic for a productivity tool that is designed for neurospicy people.

GoblinTools is an AI-powered tool. The web version is free, with no ads, or you can pay a single solitary US dollar for the apps on iOS and Android. The tools it offers are:

Magic To-do

This is the first tool that appears on the home page. Type in a task, and the AI will try to break it down into smaller sub-tasks. In the screenshot, I’ve written ‘write a shopping list’, and it’s been split into 11 more simple tasks. These include ‘gather a pen and a piece of paper’, ‘checking your fridge’ and ‘asking housemates for anything they need’. The idea is that you put in a task that you know you must do, but are finding overwhelming. There’s also a slider for ‘spiciness level’ – if you are having big issues with executive function, then you can push this up further to break down tasks even more.

Formaliser and Judge

The Formaliser tool takes some text that you write, and tries to re-format it in a more formal way. For example, it can take the text ‘tell the boss to go fellate himself if he thinks I’m coming in tomorrow’, and replace it with ‘Please inform the boss that I will not be able to come in tomorrow.’. You can also make text less formal, more passionate, more sarcastic and so forth. As someone who tends to write very concise emails, the ‘more sociable’ option may be helpful for me to sound less cold.

The Judge tool is a tone analyser. Type in some text, for example from an email, and it’ll give you an interpretation of the tone. Here’s an example

Based on the given text, “No, I regret that this would not be possible,” it appears to come across as straightforward and polite. The tone seems slightly regretful or apologetic due to the use of the word “regret.” It suggests that the speaker is declining a request or denying a possibility in a respectful and considerate manner. Overall, the emotional tone is one of reservation and disappointment about the situation.

Estimator and Compiler

Estimator is a tool which offers an estimate of how long a given task will take. Although the example I offered was ‘Write a 300 word blog post whilst feeling very tired and with very little inspiration’ which it suggested 1-2 hours, which for me is overly pessimistic. This blog post took about half an hour with breaks to write.

Compiler is designed to accept an unordered brain dump and convert this into a list of tasks, which can then go into GoblinTools’ Magic To-do tool.

Chef

The Chef tool is designed to take a list of ingredients and cooking utensils that you have, and come up with a recipe that you can cook. It gave me this based on some random ingredients that I provided:

Dish: Cheesy Peanut Butter Pasta Salad
Serving Size: 2

Ingredients:

  • 200g pasta (7oz)
  • 1 cup rice, cooked (195g)
  • 4 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated (115g)
  • 1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, sliced (30g)
  • Salad greens (lettuce, spinach, or your choice)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions until al dente. Once cooked, drain and set aside to cool.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked rice, peanut butter, cheddar cheese, and sundried tomatoes.
  3. Add the cooled pasta to the mixing bowl, and toss everything together until well combined.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve over a bed of fresh salad greens.
  6. Enjoy your Cheesy Peanut Butter Pasta Salad meal for two!

I’m not sure how edible this would be, although it looks like GolbinTools avoids the issue that a previous AI recipe generator had where it suggested making chlorine gas; adding ‘bleach’ to the ingredients resulted in a note at the end saying ‘Ensure that the bleach ingredient is excluded from any food preparation due to its toxicity.’

To me, this seems like a responsible and genuinely useful use of artificial intelligence. AI should be a benefit to society, and helping people do things better can only be a good thing. A lot of AI is misused, but I can see myself using GoblinTools at times when my executive function is at its lowest.

Finding alternatives to Goodreads

Screenshot of my profile on thestorygraph.com which is a potential alternative to Goodreads

I’m a little late to the Goodreads review scandal. Late last year, an author whose debut book was due to be published, wrote several fake reviews of books by other authors that were due out at the same time, and posted positive fake reviews of her own book. Unfortunately for her, she was found out, and dropped from her book deal.

But, as the above-linked New York Times article states, Goodreads isn’t in a good place right now. It’s been around since 2007, although I joined in 2016 and first blogged about it in 2017. This was after Amazon’s purchase of Goodreads in 2013.

In the almost eight years that I’ve used Goodreads, it has barely changed. There have been annual Readers Choice Awards, and the annual reading challenges, but other than a change to book information pages in 2021, it feels like Amazon has basically abandoned it. The iOS app gets ‘bug fixes and performance improvements’ on a regular basis, but I suspect that these are updates to downstream code libraries and not a result of actual work by Goodreads developers.

Its recommendations of new books to try have always been terrible, and it’s reliant on volunteer librarians. Which wouldn’t be an issue if Goodreads was a non-profit, but it’s owned by one of the world’s most valuable conglomerates. Giving away labour for free to such enterprises doesn’t sit well with me, even if it’s something I’ve done a lot in the past.

So, Goodreads both has a problem with fake reviews, and a lack of interest from its owner. So what are the alternatives?

The Storygraph

I tried out The StoryGraph about a year ago. You can import your reading history from Goodreads during the onboarding process, and its recommendations are much better, as its design. There are mobile apps, reading challenges, and giveaways where authors can offer limited free copies of their books, presumably to generate some reviews.

The StoryGraph does have social features like Goodreads, but there doesn’t seem to be an easy way of importing contacts from elsewhere. Quite a lot of my friends use Goodreads and I’m sure some of them use The StoryGraph too, but I don’t know how many because I can’t seem to find them. If there’s an ‘import contacts’ option in the iOS app, then I haven’t found it.

Bookwyrm

Another site that I’ve heard about, but haven’t yet signed up to, is Bookwyrm. It uses ActivityPub and is therefore part of the Fediverse, so you can follow people using Mastodon clients, for example. You can use the bookwyrm.social instance, but you can also install and host it yourself. Importing from Goodreads (and other services) is supported.

I’m aware of some friends who use Bookwyrm, so it may avoid the issue I’m having with The StoryGraph where I can’t find my existing contacts.

And there are many other Goodreads alternatives

I found this list of Goodreads alternatives, which mentions 31 (!) sites that you could consider. Bookwyrm and The StoryGraph are both listed, as is LibraryThing which actually pre-dates Goodreads.

I suppose it will come down to what my existing friends use, and getting large numbers of people to change platforms happens rarely. We’ve seen many challengers to Twitter rise and fall over the years (Andy Baio posted an excellent eulogy of Ello this week) and it’s only because X/Twitter has become utterly terrible in the past 15 months that a significant number of people have moved to the likes of Bluesky and Mastodon. And some are still left behind.

If we follow that model, then Goodreads would have to become significantly worse, before people start looking for alternatives en masse. Right now, it’s just stagnant; clearly not a priority for Amazon, but not so badly broken as to require much of an intervention. I certainly can’t see it joining Bookwyrm in the Fediverse.

Simplenote

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

Speedtest.net 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 Speedtest.net 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.

Avatars

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.

2003

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.

WeeMee

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.

2009

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.

2010

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.

2013

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.

2014

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.

2020

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.

2021

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.

2023, quantified

An AI generated image of a business woman standing in front of a series of charts with '2023' at the top

Okay, so we’re in 2024 now, but I’m taking inspiration from Diamond Geezer‘s Summing Up 2023 blog post to post some statistics on things that I’ve done during 2023.

Countries and counties visited

In 2023, I’ve visited two countries: England, obviously, and France.

Over the course of the year, I have spent at least some time in the following English counties:

  • West Yorkshire
  • North Yorkshire
  • South Yorkshire
  • Lincolnshire
  • Greater Manchester
  • Lancashire
  • Cheshire
  • Leicestershire
  • Northamptonshire
  • Norfolk
  • Hertfordshire
  • Surrey
  • Hampshire

This doesn’t include any counties that I have passed through without stopping.

Most distant points

The furthest compass points I have been to are:

  • Furthest North: RHS Harlow Carr, near Harrogate, North Yorkshire
  • Furthest South: Futuroscope, near Poitiers, France
  • Furthest East: Great Yarmouth, Norfolk
  • Furthest West: Chester Zoo, Cheshire

I think it’s fair to say that I didn’t go very far north in 2023. We will be going further north this year, but are unlikely to go as far south as we don’t have an international holiday planned.

Methods of transport used

I have driven quite a bit this year. As my car’s MOT is due each autumn, I can only estimate the mileage, but I reckon it’s around 10,000 miles over the course of the year. Quite a bit of that was in France.

Train travel has been almost exclusively to and from work – indeed, I’ve only visited four railway stations this year, and every train has been a diesel-powered train. This includes the one heritage railway that I’ve been on, which was the short remaining section of the Derwent Valley Light Railway at Murton Park, near York.

I’ve been on two trams in Manchester, and a few buses, both locally and in Leeds and York. Plus, ferries for getting to and from France. I have not been on an aeroplane since 2015.

Music listened to

My full 2023 last.fm stats are not yet available, but over the year I have scrobbled 13,194 tracks – just 254 less than in 2022. That’s an average of 36 songs per day. Assuming each song is an average of 3 minutes, that’s 39,582 minutes over the year, or 659.7 hours or around 27.5 days. In other words, I spent almost a month listening to music last year.

Whilst I don’t exclusively listen to music on Spotify, on there, pop was my top genre, following by trance, rock, pop dance and Europop this year, according to my Spotify Wrapped. My most-listened to song was ‘Shut Up and Dance’ by Walk The Moon, which I listened to 12 times. To be fair, it is a good song.

Unsurprisingly, Within Temptation was my top artist – I own six of their albums and I’ve seen them live twice.

Books read and listened to

As mentioned in my favourite things of 2023, I read 93 books this year, which adds up to over 20,000 pages according to My Goodreads Year In Books. The shortest book I read was ‘How I Proposed to my Wife: An Alien Sex Story’ by John Scalzi (sponsored link), which was 26 pages long, and the longest was ‘What Just Happened?!’ by Marina Hyde (sponsored link). The printed edition is 472 pages, although I listened to the audiobook instead which is 17 hours long. Not the longest audiobook I’ve ever listened to (that was ‘American Gods’ by Neil Gaimansponsored link), but certainly one of the longer ones. Overall, the average length of the books I read was 220 pages.

Beers and ciders consumed

I log the beers and ciders that I drink using Untappd, and this year I consumed 35 such drinks (a decrease from 58 in 2022). Of those, 13 were from Brewdog, which may have something to do with what I got for Christmas in 2021. Several of these were non-alcoholic beers and ciders.

Steps taken

I’ve had my Fitbit Versa 3 on my wrist almost all of the time this year, and have taken a total of 3,695,427 steps – an average of just over 10,000 per day. It also estimates that I have climbed 11347 floors, walked 2,717.1 km and burned 1,079,223 calories through exercise.

Time spent learning French

I started Duolingo’s French course on the 1st January 2022 (so I have a two year streak now), and in 2023, I spent 4,947 minutes learning – that’s 82 hours or an average of 13.5 minutes per day. I also learned 4657 new words in French last year. I’m aiming to complete the French course, which will probably see me well into 2025.

So that’s 2023 quantified. I’m sure I could offer more stats, like photos taken, podcasts listened to etc. if I tracked these throughout the year. As it is, I’m relying on various web services that track data for me that I can refer back to. I wonder how 2024 will compare?