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.

An anthology book for the modern age: Martyn’s Tales of the Bloody Stupid

I’m kicking around the idea of writing a series of short stories, all of them rather silly, but all fantastical in scope.  Think of it as a sillier, stupider version of Black Mirror.  This is what I have so far.  Might need a proof reader if I take this further as, you’ll probably have guessed, I’m terrible at it.

Pandora’s Gogglebox

After the film and television industry destroys itself in the Hollywood Guild Wars of the 22nd century (in which the DGA, WGA, SGA and other acronyms ending in “GA” fought to a bloody death with the big film & TV studios which were all eventually owned by internet service providers and web hosting companies), a surviving computer technician working with advanced AI develops a simple black box (resplendent with a 200ft aerial) that connects to the cloud to generate any story the consumer wants to watch.  No actors, no directors, no writers – the whole thing is generated photo-realistically in the cloud and delivered to your black box (with it’s aerial which doubles up as a washing line).  No TV required (most electronic manufacturers – principally those that made TVs, radios and DVD/Blu-Ray players – were all blown up in the Hollywood Guild Wars) – you just touch the box and the images and sound are beamed into your brain!

Yet something sinister is happening behind the scenes back in Hollywood (version 3 – version 1 was Los Angeles, version 2 was Vancouver, Canada, and version 3 is now based in the remotest part of Siberia due to efficient tax breaks).

The Pied Pooper of Tower Hamlets

The year is 2045 and the human immune system is straining against new outbreaks of bugs and bacteria.  Antibiotics are now all but useless.  If you’re not wearing a mask when you’re out and about, and if you don’t wash your hands after going to the toilet, this is a federal crime.

An office worker at a company in Tower Hamlets that makes novelty toys for Christmas crackers accidentally forgets to wash his hands after using the toilet.  He’s immediately flagged up as a potential “chemical weapon” and has to go on the run away from the authorities.  The penalty for spreading germs – death!

Close Encounters of The Third Line Support

The latest and greatest operating system has just been released!  It’s got ALL the features that everybody wants and needs.  It puts Windows and MacOS to shame. And the best thing is, it’s free, and runs on ANYTHING.  But nobody knows anything about the company behind it all – the mysterious Fugnugget-Centauri Technologies, run by the enigmatic Mr.  Guff.

Archibald Codswallop, a student straight out of university, applies to work for Fugnugget-Centauri and lands a call centre job, only to discover that it’s going to be a very long commute to work each day – they’re based on a small planet in the Alpha Centauri star system.  When Archibald discovers the truth about Earth’s technology over the past 70 years or so, it will shock you.  SHOCK YOU!  *SHOCK*

The Faeries of the M4 Motorway Cafe

The Green Man walked this Earth long before us.  But he did so with his best buddy, Oberon, King of the Sidhe, who had just divorced his wife Titania and married his on-off girlfriend, Gaia.  The faerie kingdom wasn’t entirely happy with these events, being the stuck up so-and-sos that they are.  So a renegade group left the kingdom and set-up shop in the world of the humans.  What a shock it was! But over the centuries they slowly learned to live a human lifestyle – except as they were practically immortal with magical powers, they could pretty much do whatever they pleased.

But all this didn’t make Robin Goodfellow terribly happy.  The first couple of centuries were plenty fun, but as the ability to torment the humans came so easily to him, he grew bored.  So in the 1980s, he and his family decided to open a restaurant – in one of the service areas along the M4.  And all was good until one day, one of his fellow renegade fairies turned up with a very intriguing proposal – overthrow Oberon and the Faerie kingdom itself.

Controversial move: smart meter installation!

Smart meters are pretty controversial at the moment.  If people aren’t dismissing them due to the potential for data abuse and/or hacking, other people are decrying that they cause cancer due to non-ionising radiation (since the meters contain a 2G/3G transmitter/receiver).  However, Cancer Research UK themselves state there is no evidence to this as yet.

Me?  I don’t think these things pose much risk.  At least not as much as your typical (properly configured) broadband router or mobile phone.  After all,  we practically all have Wi-Fi and mobile phones at home.  Some households multiple Wi-Fi hotspots and mobile phones – I have only one of each.  As for the security of the smart meters, providing they’re not using a global admin password (and the password is of sufficient strength) along with decent ACLs, then there should be little to be worried about.  I doubt British Gas and the other energy providers who are already aware of the potential for criminals to attack the national grid are likely to implement piss-poor security on these things.  Indeed, our very own GHCQ has been heavily involved with the smart meter infrastructure during the earliest stages.

As for the security of the smart meters, providing they’re not using a default/global admin password (and the password is of sufficient strength) along with decent ACLs, then there should be little to be worried about.  I doubt British Gas and the other energy providers who are already aware of the potential for criminals to attack the national grid are likely to implement piss-poor security on these things.  Indeed, our very own GHCQ has been heavily involved with the smart meter infrastructure during the earliest stages.

Anyway, British Gas came round to install my smart meters yesterday.  I’m on their new tariff which gives me free electricity between 9am and 5pm on Sundays – the ideal time for washing and doing hoovering.

The whole installation took less than 90 minutes – with around 30 minutes where the electricity supply was switched off, and about 15 minutes for gas.

Before the smart meter installation – the rotary dial meter was a pain in the neck to read each quarter
New smart meter installation – note the extra doodad in the far left corner. Not sure what that is – maybe external modem?

As soon as the engineer had finished, he set-up the wireless meter reader in the kitchen which updates the figures every half an hour (and sends that data back to British Gas at the end of each day).  It’s full of useful information including (based on my tariff) how much I’m spending on gas and electricity throughout the day in pounds and pence, in kilowatt hours, or by carbon emission.  I can set budgets per day and be notified if I’m exceeding them.

The doodad that does it all – no more trying to figure out dial meters ever again!

Already I’ve seen an interesting spike for electricity around midnight.  I suspect that it’s the variety of gadgets (Tivo V6, for example) performing nightly maintenance tasks.

Only time will tell if these smart meters save me money, but it IS making me think about the energy that I use.