The Martyn.. I mean, The Martian..

The biggest disappointment with this film is the complete lack of Marvin the Martian and Bugs Bunny.

Only kidding.

This is a film where Prometheus (Ridley Scott’s “prequel” to Alien) has obviously had a big influence visually.  From the grand vistas of Mars through to the spacesuits, it’s hard not to see Prometheus throughout The Martian.  And like Prometheus, Scott teams up with my former employers and colleagues at The Moving Picture Company (MPC) to furnish the film with wonderful visual effects.

I would best describe The Martian as Apollo 13 2: Electric Boogaloo.  Perhaps one thing that the trailers for the film might put people off seeing The Martian is that it comes across as Castaway in space.  But the story definitely owes much more to Apollo 13 than anything else.

Matt Damon is excellent as Mark Watney, a NASA astronaut, who is inadvertedly stranded on Mars after a cataclysmic storm threatens the crew of the newly establish NASA base.  Once the crew contacts NASA back on Earth, they obviously assume that Watney is dead.

Oh no he isn’t!

I won’t spoil the rest of the film, but what follows is a combination of vlogging, disco music (yes, really) and a great deal of McGyverism.  It’s very entertaining even if it’s almost entirely gobbledygook (with a bit of real science thrown in for good measure).  The film comes close to presenting a utopian view of the space programme – but without the Russians, Europeans, Indians and so on.  I mean, how did NASA get essentially unlimited funding? When did NASA and the Chinese Space Agency become so chummy (it’s a lovely thought, though)?  Why are non-scientific personnel making all the big decisions?  It’s all over the shop, and offers no explanation.  This is very much all about NASA and it’s unapologetic for it.

I watched The Martian in 3D and it was a complete waste of time and money.  I thoroughly dislike the format and would happily kill it in favour of higher resolution projection (4K, 8K, IMAX, etc).   Now is the time to kill 3D in favour of Ultra HD.  The Martian would look wonderful on Ultra HD Blu-Ray.  3D use in this film about as much good as a dead walrus on Mars.  I didn’t see anything that made good use of the 3D format, and for this I had to pay more money as a consequence (the local Odeon in Guildford didn’t advertise the film as 3D, but they have damn comfortable seats).

If you loved Gravity and loved Apollo 13, I think you’ll love The Martian too.  It’s a load of old fluff politically, but it’s damn good entertainment.

Next up: I’ll be reviewing the 30th Anniversary Blu-Ray edition of Back to the Future (I was 9 at the time!), and the 10th Anniversary edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (flippin’ ‘eck, as it been that long since I worked on that?!).

First 4K video test with iPhone 6S Plus + more photos

The following video (best viewed full screen) was taken just after the garden got a bit of trim.

It’s shot in 4K on an iPhone 6S Plus.  Note that the auto focus took a while after we pull out from the grape vine.  Not sure whether that was just me, or whether it was just a bit of a glitch.  Otherwise very happy with quality.

And here a few photos (click to enlarge to full 12mp).  Upon closer inspection – especially having upgraded to OS X El Capitan, the photos look much better.

IMG_0020 IMG_0025IMG_0023

This is why I’m using ad blockers now..

If forcing my laptop’s CPU usage to go through the roof wasn’t bad enough[1], this – found on PC Magazine’s UK web site – was the straw that broke this camel’s back.

I’ve now installed ad blockers on my laptop, phone and iPad:


I understand content is expensive, I really do.

But when you interrupt the flow of information like this – you either get the hell off the internet and find some other means to make a living, or you find another method to raise cash without compromising user experience.

It’s no wonder Apple started allowing ad blockers on iOS.  It’s getting completely out of hand.

[1] There are far too many big content providers that are putting too many adverts on their web pages.  This results in additional time for the browser to render the advert’s script and graphic content.  When you start adding more and more of these to a page – especially if you’re using something like Flash – this just slows everything down because the adverts are using more resources than the web site you’re visiting!

iPhone 6S Plus: It’s put on a tiny bit of weight, but it’s no less a lean, mean fighting machine

Of course I bloomin’ well bought one.

I use “smart” technology a fair amount these days – perhaps more so than my laptop on a day to day basis (away from work).  Consequently I use my iPhone a LOT.  And not necessarily for talking to people.

What attracted me to the iPhone 6S Plus was that it looks exactly the same as the previous generation (so nobody would ever know I have a new phone), weighs a little bit more (my biggest complaint with the iPhone 6 and Plus was that they were getting a bit too thin – any thinner and you’ll issues holding the thing), but is much, much faster – about 70% faster than the previous generation.

But the biggest selling point was the 3D Touch and the 12 megapixel camera – which is now capable of taking 4K video.  3D Touch is a great feature – press down harder on the screen to get contextual pop up menus, or to peek at contents within mail, calendar, etc.  It’s another way of interacting with your data, and I can’t wait to see where Apple and third party developers take it.

The camera is rather impressive.  Live Photos (in which the camera takes 1.5 seconds of video either side of taking the photo to present a Hogwarts-style moving picture) isn’t bad, but I can’t see making much use of it myself.  I’d also prefer it if Apple generated the whole sequence as a GIF for easy export (into most social media systems) rather than a JPG and a MOV file.  Until OS X El Capitan is released tomorrow, one cannot view Live Photos within OS X Photos app.

But what about the 12 megapixel photos (up from 8 megapixels of the previous generation).  I’ve not given it much of a test, and when I have, I’ve accidently had Live Photos enabled which presents a darker image.   Here are a few samples:

Dunsfold airfield - iPhone 6s Plus (no live photo) - click for full size
Dunsfold airfield – iPhone 6s Plus (no live photo) – click for full size
The shuttle bus from Dunsfold to Guildford - iPhone 6s Plus - live photo enabled - click to enlarge
The shuttle bus from Dunsfold to Guildford – iPhone 6s Plus – live photo enabled – click to enlarge
My semi-annual shoe shop (in which store assistant forgot to remove security tag and I have to go back to get the damn thing removed) - iPhone 6Ss Plus - no live photo - click to enlarge
My semi-annual shoe shop (in which store assistant forgot to remove security tag and I have to go back to get the damn thing removed) – iPhone 6Ss Plus – no live photo – click to enlarge
Macro shot of Labour Party welcome letter - iPhone 6s Plus - no live photo - click to enlarge
Macro mode of Labour Party welcome letter – iPhone 6s Plus – no live photo – click to enlarge

Apart from some fuzziness (which is a lot more apparent in previous generations of iPhones) when you’re looking at the photo close-up at full resolution, it’s not bad at all for a camera phone.

But these photos are perfectly good for what they are, for what you’ll be using them for.  If you want to blow up a photo to stupendous proportions and keep ALL the detail, you’ll be spending several grand on a DSLR and decent lenses.

The speed of Touch ID is also incredibly impressive – it wakes from lock instantaneously and you often don’t get a chance to see the lock screen at all. Apple Pay and anything that uses the Touch ID fingerprint sensor all work super quick now – hardly any waiting time at all.

And that speed also translates to opening apps, moving between apps, and generally everything else.  The phone feels a heck of a lot nippier than the 6 Plus in all areas.

What Apple has achieved within what is essentially a pocket size all purpose computer (that happens to allow you to make and receive phone calls) is a very impressive effort indeed.

Am I happy with it?  Yes, I am.  It’ll last a good while – up until the iPhone 7 when I shall weigh up my options again.

Martyn’s Guide to Web Hosting Support

If you’re renting a virtual private server or dedicated server, try the following in this order if you can’t access your web site, email account, or server (SSH or RDP), before you try contacting support:

  1. Have you tried your hosting provider’s console access (if you’re reasonably technical)?  Most companies offer a way in through the console or via some other method (VNC for Windows VPSes).  If you have no idea what that means, go to:
  2. Have you tried rebooting the server?  This is pretty much the equivalent of turning it off and on again.  Again, most hosting providers should offer a control panel to perform an emergency remote reboot.
  3. If the server does not come back up, have you tried option 1 (above).  It may be that the server has gone into a filesystem integrity check or repair mode – this could cause the server to be offline without networking for a while until the system has finished checking the integrity of your server’s filesystem.  NOTE: if your hosting company offers it, disable automatic reboots during this point in case the monitoring system decides to give it a kick.
  4. If the server comes back online, but you can’t do anything – check your available disk space.  Plenty of issues can arise because your server has run out of space.  This may require you access your Linux server through SSH (think of it as PC computing in the 90s – you had to use MS-DOS to do most things, SSH is essentially that – get to know a few commands, you’ll be grateful you did).  Windows users should know what to do.
  5. If all of the above still doesn’t fix the problem – contact support.

Regardless of whatever the cause, even the big organisations have hiccups, as demonstrated in today’s Grauniad (iPad edition):