Halt and Catch Fire: Irony Edition

I’ve previously mentioned how AMC, the US-based TV broadcaster, has about as much grasp on international marketing and promotion on Twitter as a badger has for astrophysics.

Well, they’ve just taken that to a whole new level.  A TV show called Halt and Catch Fire, which I’ve watched all three seasons within the past few weeks, is about to start season 4.  So AMC are promoting it.  It’ll be on Amazon Prime UK too.  But, as they’ve done for Better Call Saul, any clips are strictly limited to the US only.

The irony is that season 4 of the show, which is a fictional drama that’s set around key points of the computer industry in the 80’s and 90’s (season 1 – IBM clones, season 2- starting up a BBS/online gaming company, season 3- much the same, with hints of the internet about to come on the scene) .  Season 4 will heavily feature the internet.  The same internet which I can’t view AMC’s clips because they’ve geoblocking all video on social media and on their web site.

Again, the official social media from AMC doesn’t cater for international users.

Halt and Catch Fire, along with HBO’s Silicon Valley which is also a favourite, is a brilliantly written and performed show that combines a strong storyline with the crazy technologies that I fell in love with as a kid.

The P&O Cruises Shore Excursions experience..

Marty Feldman foresaw the P&O Cruises shore excursion coach tours that I recently undertook.

We lost two passengers for a short time (they got on the wrong bus), and given the number of times we got off and on, plus overrunning some stops (including lunch) because of buffets and what not – this sketch sums up the experience pretty well:

In all seriousness, however, I did feel that the majority of the coach tours were far too tightly packed & rushed (though to be fair, we didn’t have a great deal of time at each port – only Reykjavik and Dublin had any useful time limits on them), along with either too many stops (which means having to get everybody off the coach, then back on again, then to the next stop, repeat) or there wasn’t any time for a lunch break (the worst case was in Akureyri, Iceland, where “lunch” consisted of an energy bar, Icelandic chocolate bar and a bottle of water).

Or if there was a lunch stop, it was a buffet and given the number of coaches/passengers plus different levels of walking ability, lunch was a horrific affair.  At one point, in Voss, Norway, I gave up and went to a small cafe in the centre of town which for £15 I got a sandwich and a diet coke, and wasn’t packed in line sardines in a hotel dining hall.  The other buffet lunch was outside of Reykjavik and it was only for 25 minutes.  Being the last one off the coach, and having had another coach party arrive at the same time as us, 35 minutes later I had finally managed to get something to eat.  We left around 20 minutes late.

That said, not all the tours were jam packed madness.  And I should also mention that the destinations far outweighed the overall experience. I got to see some truly remarkable landscapes.

Just beyond Flam, Norway, there is the village of Gudvangen:

The absolutely stunning Námafjall geothermal area in Iceland, just outside of Akureyri:

Here’s a geyser blowing at the Geothermal Park, Iceland.  The Sony RX100 V camera has a rather noisy zoom motor – but then again, it’s intended as a compact still camera than a fully fledged video camera:

and while I was on the remote island of Hesteyri (one of the better shore excursions, though there were so many flies it was difficult to pay attention to the tour leader because we were all swatting the buggers all the time), there were some Red Wing chicks in a nest right by the small cafe:

The Game of Thrones: Beyond the Wall tour wasn’t really Games of Thtone-sy enough, if I were to be honest.  But it didn’t matter to me – the alien landscape of Iceland was more than enough to make you appreciate why HBO came to Iceland (though as we found out, the producer was married to an Icelander and had worked there on previous projects).

I found that the best shore excursion is the one you put together yourself.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Dublin by taking the P&O supplied shuttle bus into the city, then taking a City Sightseeing bus around (with at least two of the ticket sellers, both Danes, having worked as extras up at Ardmore Studios – which I paid a visit to back in my early days at MPC whilst working on Ella Enchanted – for the History Channel’s hugely popular Vikings TV series).  I just wished I had done this in Reykjavik.  But then again, I’m definitely planning on returning to Iceland, and I’ll set the agenda next time.

Dear P&O Cruises

On the 9th April this year, I paid for a variety of shore excursions for my trip on the Arcadia to Norway, Iceland and Ireland. One of them was for a tuk-tuk tour of Reykjavik. I’ve taken tuk-tuks before – I know they come in a variety of sizes and styles. But it wasn’t until I left the Arcadia and went shore side to see how cramped they were. One tuk-tuk looked as if people were crammed in there like sardines – one poor sod facing backwards looked very uncomfortable.

Then it was my turn.

Bloody hell, I’ve never known anything like it. I’m a big lad – both tall and, well, outwards (fat). There were two other people (presumably a husband and wife) who were sitting forwards, which left me, realistically, facing backwards in the middle seat. Given how high the floor was, it was physically painful to sit in that position for 90 minutes, so I left. I don’t pay £56 for 90 minutes of being super uncomfortable.

Or let me put it this way: you pay for a tour in a car, except you end up shoved in the boot.   Would you pay for something like that?  No, I didn’t think so.  Not unless you’re a bit kinky.

I went back on board the Arcadia and made my way to the Shore Excursion desk (since nobody from the tour company pointed out there was a tour manager or anybody managerial shore side – in fact, nobody from the tuk-tuk company offered to assist me with anything). I was then told I should have spoken to a man called Frasier, but it would be pointless to do it there and then because it was “rush” hour. So I left for the shore side again and took the City Sightseeing tour bus instead.

When I got back from that, I managed to find Frasier and told him the problem. “Sorry,” he said, “but we cannot issue a refund because you saw what the tuk-tuks were like on the website, that there are all sizes of tuk-tuks, and we buy all tickets up front”. I went on to explain that yes, I saw what was on the web site, but it gave no indication whatsoever about what they were really like – that it was only until I saw them up close and personal could I make an assessment. And I DID try to get in them. Frasier told me flat out that there would be no refund, and that if I made a complaint, it would be referred back to them, and he’d still decline any refund.

So I went and cancelled my Dublin city tour.

I reached out to P&O on Twitter who reached out to the Shore Excursion team and said that the manager would get hold of me. If that manager is Frasier, there is little point. Also whoever the team leader for the Shore Excursion team is, they haven’t reached out to me yet since I made the complaint.

While I have generally enjoyed this cruise so far, and I have been looking at cruises from 2018 onwards – I am thoroughly hacked off with P&O regarding a single £56 refund. In the 17+ years I’ve been travelling (and I was married to a travel agent who has worked for Lastminute.com, Wexas, Royal Caribbean and Cruise.co.uk amongst others – and let me tell you that we did a heck of a lot of travelling together to all manner of destinations far and wide), I have NEVER had to make a complaint about anything travel related. Then along comes P&O Cruises – my first P&O cruise, but my second overall (the first was with Azamara) and they managed to hack me off big time because apparently I have to care about their contracts with their vendors.

So this will be my first and last cruise with P&O unless they pull their fingers out and do something. If we still cannot resolve the issue when I write to P&O’s head office, then I’ll take them through the small claims court.  If I do end up buying another holiday from P&O again, I won’t be booking any of their shore excurions ever again.

The stupid thing is that I ended up not doing the Herdal Mountain Farm tour. I lost £52 for that. And I completely understand that – nobody needed to explain that to me. And because I am nice, I actually went down to the Shore Excursions desk as early as possible to apologise and say I wouldn’t be coming so that they didn’t have to wait around. So I did them a favour.

Oh, and the stupid thing about the tuk-tuk tour was they had to move the start time backwards from 9am to 8am. I could have had a refund then, apparently. I wish I took it. But I wouldn’t have known what these tuk-tuks are like until I got out there.

I’ll write more about my trips a bit later. Lots and lots of photos to come.

 

The joys of Tuvan Throat Singing

Though I subscribe to Apple Music, I still keep Spotify around (which has a free tier) for the Discover Weekly.  It’s recommended some decent tracks, and thanks to its latest recommendations I’ve discovered the joy that is Tuvan throat singing through the band Huun-Huur-Tu and their album, Sixty Horses in my Herd.

The following song was the one Spotify recommended to me:

They’ve toured a fair old way over the years, and you can find a number of their live shows on YouTube.  During my research, I also came across the band the Alash Ensemble, and the following TEDx talk introduces us to a song which really makes full use of throat singing – it’s quite ethereal!

Also, Spotify recommended me a lot of Balkan music.  It too is very good.  I particularly like this one:

Digital video: renting vs buying, and why Apple is best for buying

With news that iTunes’ share of video sales and rentals are falling against competitors such as Amazon (Prime) Video and other services, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on why iTunes is the better platform for buying movies digitally, despite my brain screaming at me, “Look what happened to the digital BBC Store.”

iTunes offers iTunes Extras of which an increasing number of titles are including the same features as physical media.  Audio commentaries are regularly included, for example.  No other service offers this.

iTunes has one of the best device allowances of any service – and this includes the ability to download the content to a Mac, Windows PC, iPad and/or iPhone.

The UI of iTunes is much better than that of the competitors.  The Apple TV, not so much, but still considerably better than most.  Therefore it’s easier to manage existing titles.  And in all the years I’ve been buying movies from iTunes, I’ve never lost a single title due to film studios deciding to withdraw from the platform.  This could change, of course, but I’m sure if that happened, consumers would be lining up to lynch whoever decided it was a good idea to do so.

In terms of renting, Amazon (Prime) Video very narrowly outshines iTunes. There’s almost always a promotion which allows me to pay far less for renting an HD title via Amazon (Prime) Video than iTunes.  For example, I’ve just rented Hidden Figures (*superb* film) and T2: Trainspotting (also very good) – both in HD – £2.49 for both titles.  Amazon Video is baked into my LG television, making it very easy to access.

Don’t get me started on the UltraViolet digital platform.  It’s a completely useless pile of sputum devised by the film studios to make them look kind and generous by providing a non-physical digital copy of a film.  The truth is that it’s a massive pain in the arse to manage and I don’t bother with it anymore.   TalkTalk’s app (TalkTalk having bought Blinkbox which in turn is an UltraViolet partner) for LG televisions is awful.  I accept that one has to log in again occasionally, but the process is just stupid.  Look at what Google is doing for logging in to YouTube – much, much easier for televisions.  Entering a password via a remote control is the epitome of piss-poor user interface design.  But TalkTalk isn’t the only one guilty of this crime (NOW TV, Amazon, and even Netflix are guilty – but their TV apps allow for significantly long log in times).

BTW, I also hate the Amazon Prime Video UI too – it makes discovery difficult and it seems so random that I rarely watch anything on the service other than the really big TV productions.  I watched the German comedy, Toni Erdmann the other day (very, very funny – especially the nude party scene), but I had to manually enable the subtitles (found under CC for closed captioning – usually referencing subtitles for the hard of hearing – in my case, hard of not knowing enough German to understand the film without English subtitles).

The only other service I’ve purchased films from is Google Play.  I can watch the films on a tablet, my phone and even my TV through the YouTube app.  But those titles are generally either freebies or were heavily discounted.

Otherwise, I’ll be sticking with iTunes for future film purchases.  The next one, in fact, will probably be Hidden Figures because it was just such a great film, and there’s an audio commentary included in iTunes Extras which should give the film even more value.