“It was a shame how he carried on”

Ordinarily, Netflix requires that you remain indoors, slumped all over the couch and binge-watch all their TV shows and films which took forever and a day to make, only to be consumed in mere hours.

This Saturday (and Bank Holiday Monday), Netflix is making me (well, they’re not – but the tickets are free) take the train up to London’s South Bank to attend a limited exhibition of art, scenery and puppets from their forthcoming series: The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.

I’ve been a huge fan of Jim Henson since I can remember, and The Dark Crystal (along with Labyrinth) was a major departure from the craziness of The Muppets. Featuring state of the art puppetry for the time, The Dark Crystal featured absolutely no humans – only spectacularly crafted puppets. It was also dark in tone. I remember when the emperor Skeksis dies – not only did it feature a jump scare, but the crumbling away of his flesh terrified me as a kid. There was nothing quite like it. And although the film floundered at the box office originally, it’s become a cult favourite since its release on home platforms.

There was the talk of a sequel for many years, but nothing ever materialised in the form of a TV or film. Ultimately the sequel became a graphic novel. But the talk of producing something relating to The Dark Crystal carried on. And now we have a prequel which tells the story of the Gelfling uprising against the evil Skeksis in a mini-series which will be airing on Netflix on the 30th August.

So I had to jump at the chance at being able to see the artwork and puppets. On Bank Holiday Monday, Louise Gold, one of the original members of The Muppet Show, a talented puppeteer, actress and singer, will be giving a talk during the screening of the first episode of Age of Resistance.

I’ll be filing my report as soon as I can. Hoping to come away with plenty of photos (and possibly video).

300Mbs down, 50Mbs up – that’s pretty darn ludicrous

After nearly 6 months with Zen Internet, I’ve decided to upgrade to their fastest package – Ultimate Fibre 4 – which should give me a top speed of 300Mbs download and 50Mbs upload. And it only costs an extra £8 per month.

It ties me into a new 12-month contract, but I’ve been very happy with Zen’s performance over the past few months. And I’m still extremely happy with the Amplifi kit I purchased too – especially as I’ve seen some really decent Wi-Fi performance gains through firmware updates, and the latest firmware release gives me the ability to VPN back into my home network via the Teleport app.

As I work from home at least one day a week, it’ll get to the point where my home broadband will (vaguely) match that of the work connection – so using a VPN will ensure that any file transfers will remain fast.

I’ll report back when the connection goes live.

The past year has seen an influx of new smartphones flooding the market – all Android, and almost all of them touting at least three rear cameras.

The Huawei P30 Pro has perhaps shown the most promise – until the U.S. government came along and started their trade war with China – as well as the whole Huawei trustworthiness affair. This resulted in Google allegedly cutting Huawei’s access to Android updates at one point. Even with the recent thawing, it’s enough to have put me off considering Huawei smartphones.

I’ve used Google’s Pixel XL and Pixel 2 XL for a while, but even with a frequently updated OS, there have been substantial problems with the phone that have put me off going back to Android at all. I’ve read all the problems with the Pixel 3/3 XL and have been counting my chickens that I didn’t switch.

I am an iOS man, and I’m not likely to ever switch. Here are some statistics as to why that is the case:

  • 1,642 albums (15,648 songs) totalling 108.95Gb, or 37.5 days worth of music stored in Apple Music
  • 361 purchased iTunes films totalling 1.4Tb in total (if I were to download them all in HD), or 30 days worth of viewing back to back in one sitting
  • 38 purchased iTunes TV programmes totalling 947Gb in total (if I were to download them all in HD), or 24 days worth of viewing back to back in one sitting
  • 10,108 photos, 453 videos totalling around 97Gb (APFS) which are stored both on the Mac, iPad Pro and iPhone XS Max as well as the iCloud Photo Library

Switching between Apple Music and something like Spotify is possible with third party programs, but it’s a substantial pain-in-the-arse process and the music catalogues vary between the services which mean that I’d lose quite a few albums/tracks along the way. I know I’d definitely lose all the Studio Ghibli soundtracks if I were to switch to Spotify.

Moving my movies and TV shows to another service is near impossible unless I break the digital rights management of each title. This is illegal in the UK (even for the purposes of backup). The state of the streaming and physical disc union is a massive pile of poop at this point, but iTunes has almost always been the best experience. And the Apple TV 4K has been the best streamer. Newer TVs from the likes of Samsung and Sony are getting the Apple TV app, so content from iTunes is becoming more widely available across other devices. It’s still not ideal, but it’s something that consumers are having to live with if they want to rewatch their favourite films or TV shows.

I’ve also struggled with Android to try and replicate the sheer ease of use and simplicity of Apple’s Photos app. Google Photos has come very close, but it is substantially behind in some RAW camera formats (particularly earlier Sony RX100 models) and limitations in MP4 sizes has meant that I cannot upload my whole library to Google’s servers. I do use Google Photos to upload what I can, however, and my Google Nest Home Hub shows a series of photos from my travels – a bit like a digital photo frame – when I’m in the kitchen.

Then there is iOS itself. We get a major free version every year, and it’s generally very well supported for around 3-4 (and even in some cases 5) years during the lifetime of a device. And it’s regularly updated by Apple to fix major security flaws whenever they occur. When looking at my work’s policies for BOYD phones, we have had to pretty much rule out most Android phones because of the delay in which the device manufacturer roles out security updates. It’s really only Google’s Pixel phones that pass the grade and that kind of rules out the whole purpose of Android IMHO.

Finally, I have an Apple Watch (series 4) which still requires pairing with an iPhone for many functions. However, with the next release of WatchOS, the watch is going to start to gain a bit more independence from the phone. But it will still take a few more iterations before the Apple Watch is a truly standalone product.

So, this leads me to the iPhone 11. We should find out soon when Apple intends to announce this year’s new line-up. It’s not long to go – they usually announce them sometime in September. Rumours suggest that the current XS and XS Max line-up will be renamed “Pro”.

Rumours also suggest that there will be fairly modest upgrades this year, with the bulk of the good stuff coming in 2020. We’re unlikely to see 5G modems this year, and we’re likely to follow the trend of other smartphone manufacturers by having a third camera on the back of the phone – probably an ultra-wide lens.

My plan with EE should allow me to upgrade sometime at the end of September. Whether I will or not really depends on what Apple’s offering with the iPhone 11. I’d REALLY like to see is USB-C connectivity like the iPad Pro. Given the Macs, I work with all have USB-C ports, and I have multiple USB-C chargers, cutting down on Lightning connectors would be a real bonus. There are some sketchy rumours abound that the Pro range of iPhones will feature Apple Pencil support. Useful, but not essential to me (but I can imagine a trillion uses in my line of work).

As for cameras, I’ve been really happy with the iPhone XS Max. It is by far the best camera that Apple has rolled out in a phone. Some recent images that I took:

And I still have a significant amount of storage left for more films, TV shows, music and photos:

So I’d be perfectly happy to continue using the iPhone XS Max for another year if necessary. If I did upgrade, I’d still be on an upgrade anytime plan, but I’d effectively renew my contract for another 2 years – whereas next year I’d be free to leave EE if necessary. But so far I’ve had no reason whatsoever to do so – they’ve been brilliant.

Central Line – is it time to replace the nearly 30 year old stock?

This week I’ve been travelling on London Underground rather than South Western Railway, and there are a number of observations I have to make:

  • South Western Railway doesn’t have the monopoly on delays. We’ve had passengers taken ill, or defective trains across a number of days which has lead to me arriving late in Wimbledon despite leaving plenty of time to allow for such incidents.
  • The Central Line has sections of track which emit deafening high-pitch squealing as the train passes over it. It’s like somebody dragging their claws down a blackboard. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s loud enough that it could ultimately affect people’s hearing if they’re regular commuters.
  • Shake, rattle and roll. Again, the Central Line has a section of track – between Mile End and Stratford – which has the effect of the train rattling around like a baby’s rattle when the train is going at a decent speed. For the poor saps inside the train, this is extremely uncomfortable and I nearly threw my back out during to a sharp jerk or three. I was sitting at the end of the carriage at the time. I like my insides as they are: neither shaken or stirred.
  • On a couple of days, when the Central Line train left the platform, it’d start and then violently stop. Then start. Then violently stop. And then start again, eventually picking up speed. I’ve a feeling this is the train’s safety mechanism kicking in – perhaps people are leaning against the door (because, of course, the idea is to cram as many people into these carriages like sardines despite the frequency in which the trains run). In any event, the jerking brought on by these stop-starts-stops-starts isn’t conductive to a healthy back.
  • Apple Watch and Apple Pay. A number of times the Apple Watch had difficulties with the barriers – causing a Seek Assistance or Use A Single Card. Attempting the process again resulted in success (unlike SWR’s terrible smart card system). Similar problems on London buses too.
  • People will NOT stop looking at their mobile phones. Man, these people are seriously addicted, and liable to cause accidents. Their eyes are glued to the screens before getting on the train, during the journey, and when getting off. And it’s the getting off part that’s the worst, because you are then stuck behind them and they ain’t going to be moving fast any time soon.

I remember when the current rolling stock for the Central Line was first introduced. It was around 1991 or 1992 when I was enrolled at Epping Forrest College studying for my BTEC, and we suddenly saw these futuristic trains replace the older stock from the time of the dinosaurs. Alas, now, these trains are now behaving like dinosaurs.

I have high praise for the District Line which has been flawless throughout. Bigger trains thanks to bigger tunnels, and walk through carriages results in a much more open environment. Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention proper air conditioning. Unlike the Central Line, where any kind of relief from the boiling temperatures of the train is best to stand against the carriage doorway with the window all the way down.

Next week: The Return of SWR.