Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens is undoubtedly one of the best TV shows released this year. But despite the promise of a physical media release filled with extras and audio commentaries, I will not be buying it.

Over the past few years, 4K UHD televisions have been slowly invading people’s homes. And streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have been upping the ante over traditional broadcasters and releasing shows in 4K. But, as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, Amazon makes it unnecessarily bloody difficult to watch 4K content on their service.

And now they’re releasing a DVD and Blu-Ray of Good Omens. Which was shot in 4K UHD. But they’re NOT releasing a 4K UHD Blu-Ray because heaven forbid, it might cost them a lot more money to produce a 4K UHD Blu-Ray master and duplication. No wonder post-production companies such as Deluxe are in trouble. Will Technicolor be next?

The Blu-ray and DVDs may well have lots of extra features such as audio commentaries and featurettes, but you’ll also be paying for a lower resolution version of the content that you already have access to (providing you pay your subscription).

So. Why the bloody hell do streaming companies such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video not do away with physical distribution of their content completely and offer extras such as audio commentaries and featurettes within their service? Punters would have to keep paying access to it, thus generating near-guaranteed returning subscribers and thus revenue, plus you get it in the highest resolution possible. Additional content can be updated as and when too.

Amazon HAS released audio commentaries online. For season one of Transparent. But nothing else has ever been released. Was it a failed experiment? Difficult to know. Only Amazon has the answer to that.

Netflix has stuffed extra content in the Trailer section their titles. For example, the Star Trek Discovery Shorts were hidden away – no announcements made – in the show’s Trailer section where most people wouldn’t think to look.

If physical media is to retire gracefully, we need the streaming services (and especially Apple who, along with their TV studio partners, STILL have not released any purchasable TV show content in 4K UHD or provided any extras with it) to up the ante. That means original content gets audio commentaries, featurettes, etc. as physical media releases would – and in the highest available quality and resolution possible.

Releasing 4K UHD TV content on DVD (standard definition) or Blu-Ray (high definition) is being cheap, miserly, and uncaring. It serves little benefit to the consumer, and even less so to the TV studio that makes it. Why even bother?

Unveiled: The iDog & Bone 11 and 11 Pro

It’s that time of year where tech journalists and Apple fans crowd around their devices or TV sets (hooked up to an Apple TV, of course) to watch Tim Cook and chums sell you a new gadget.

Apple Watch Series 5

Nothing mentioned about the internals, so presumably using the same processor and storage as the Series 4. But we now have an always-on display and a new material – titanium. Ceramic makes a come back at an eye-watering starting price of £1,299. For a device that you’ll replace every few years – this for people with very deep pockets.

For me, I’m very happy with the Series 4. No need to replace it for at least another year.

iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro/Pro Max

Both good looking phones with some decent improvements – the biggest of which is the camera system. New image sensors, more computational photography improvements. New ultra-wide lens. The iPhone 11 Pro retains its telephoto lens and gains a third, ultra-wide lens. New Smart Display XDR tech on the Pro means a brighter image. And apparently an extra 5 hours of battery life beyond that of the current iPhone XS Max Pro.

Watching the presentation, it appears that Apple has made significant strides in picture quality. I thought the XS Max image quality was decent, but looking at the sample pictures shows very little to no distortion or noise. And the video quality looks to have been bumped up significantly too. I’ve always complained that the video compression applied to the videos produced by the XS Max was too heavy-handed. Watching the demo video shot – it looked perfect. So for us budding phone photographers and videographers – it looks Apple may have reclaimed the crown. For now.

I should, in theory, be able to upgrade on the 25th of this month – so we’ll see what options my phone provider offers me. The phone costs the same as last year, so there shouldn’t be any big differences in price.

Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade

Apple is playing the long game in the current streaming TV wars. $5/month for a family subscription means they’re undercutting all other services – for some (Netflix and Amazon Prime Video) significantly. The number of original shows is significantly smaller to start off with, but with new additions each month, their back catalogue should be pretty decent in time. With the news that all new iPhone and iPad users will be getting a free year’s subscription to Apple TV+, this can only bolster viewing figures significantly.

Apple Arcade is a subscription service that offers a variety of games that can be played across iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and Mac. Again, $5 is very reasonable. Both services just under $10 a month, along with Apple Music, makes for a decent range of services. Apple has priced it just right.

iOS 13, iPadOS13 and MacOS Catalina

Wasn’t announced during the keynote, but it turns out that these are going to be staggered releases.

  • iOS 13: September 19th
  • iPadOS 13: September 30th
  • MacOS Catalina: Sometime in October

Packed in like sardines, but without the brine..

Last Monday’s South Western Railway strike was fun. Trains were considerably busier than usual – it took a good half an hour to wait for another train with enough capacity to get me home.

Wall to wall humans. Lovely. I’m happy to wait, thanks.

Another calamity had befallen me earlier that day, however. I was trying new backup software for the local Active Directory server and I had to cancel it due to hogging too many resources. I was forced to shut down windows and reboot – but – ALAS! – the server came up and wouldn’t allow me to log in as administrator via remote desktop. Wouldn’t let me log in with my own user account which has administrative privileges. The Active Directory service was borked.

I rebooted the machine again. I physically booted it into Safe Mode with Networking and was – physically at the machine itself – able to log in. In the end, I had to:

  • Create a Windows Server bootable USB from ISO
  • Boot from the USB stick
  • Select “Repair this computer”, go to Troubleshooting then select Command Prompt
  • Rename utilman.exe to utilman.bak, then copy cmd.exe to utilman.exe

Utilman.exe is called whenever the accessibility feature is used prior to logging into Windows Server (at least prior to Windows Server 2016). By replacing it with cmd.exe, you’re presented with a command-line prompt that allows you to change the administrator password.

With this in place, I changed the admin password (net user administrator <password>), rebooted the machine (which can back up in Safe Mode with Networking), used msconfig to set the boot mode back to Normal, rebooted again – and everything came back up and Just Worked(tm).

It took me two days to figure that out. Windows. So helpful.

One of television’s most ambitious & successful productions to date

Back in 1982, Jim Henson & Frank Oz set out to create a fantasy world full of strange wondrous creatures – some good, others evil. After a great war between the evil Skeksis and the peaceful Gelflings – virtually eliminating the Gelfling civilization in the process – two Gelfling survivors team up to solve the riddle of the Dark Crystal.

The film itself was a masterpiece of fantasy filmmaking, utilising puppetry for the denizens of Thra. Jim Henson and his Creature Shop threw every technique they had at the film to realise the designs of Brian Froud. Hand puppets, animatronics, full-size costumes, marionettes, you name it – they used it. And with some decent matte paintings, optical effects and elaborate sets, the world of Thra was a wonderful, but somewhat limiting place.

Much has been discussed regarding the sequel to The Dark Crystal: The Power of the Dark Crystal, but ultimately a decision was made to tell a story prior to the events of the 1982 film.

What’s even more extraordinary is that Netflix was able to commission a major special and visual effects spectacular which spans nearly 10 hours of television. HBO and Game of Thrones – eat your heart out. This piece of work is the very best that Jim Henson’s Creature Shop has ever produced. It’s certainly their biggest. More so than Labyrinth. And it also marks an (albeit temporary) welcome return for the JHCS to London – they left back in 2003 after we at MPC had finished on Tomb Raider 2: The Cradle of Life.

That said, Netflix has not spared the pennies making this show. The sets are extraordinary. The vistas of Thra are enthralling. The camera work is now decidedly less static – with sweeping movements and handheld close-ups. We have more inserts of character legs running, jumping and picking up/dropping things which gives the characters a more organic feel. Some characters have a bit of digital augmentation to provide more expression, though the Gelflings still feel as if they’ve been Botoxed up to the hilt:

Guess the mood: happy, sad, angry or as high as a skunk?

But it’s the extremely talented puppeteers’ skill that brings through the physical emotion of the characters, backed up by the excellent voice actors – many of whom are big-name stars. Much praise goes to Mark “Luke Skywalker” Hamil as the voice of The Scientist Skeksis and Simon Pegg as The Chamberlain. And Awkwafina as the hideous Collector (so much mucus for a single Skeksis). There are far too many names to mention here (both voice actor and puppeteer, and sometimes both) as they are so good – all bloody wonderful. The casting people deserve an Emmy.

The story is a slow burner. But that’s absolutely fine. It provides a wonderful orientation to the world of Thra and its inhabitants – considerably more so than the movie which had 1 and a half hours to cram in a beginning, middle and an end. Sometimes the level of detail is so good – especially when watching in UHD/4K, that you could just reach out and grab what’s on the screen. Excellent cinematography and production design (by Jane Goldman/Matthew Vaughn’s Stardust‘s Gavin Bocquet) make everything just pop.

Stand out moments include the Podling bathing scene – in which a bare bummed Podling escapes from Gelflings charged in overseeing their annual bathtime. A Podling named Hup – a paladin with a wooden spoon for a sword – starting a “bar” fight. The Skeksis bathtime. The Heretic and his other-self (especially the opera (a bit of Tuvan throat singing, anybody?) and puppet show). And anything featuring The Hunter. You’ll never see any other Skeksis move so fast.

Having read the earlier graphic novels – The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths (as opposed to Creation Meths) – I was a bit disappointed that they hadn’t included Aughura’s son, Raunip. But having read an interview with co-creators Jeff Addiss and Will Matthews, and co-executive producer Javier Grillo-Marxuach, there wasn’t any space for him in this story. But there is hope he may be present in a future series. Yay!

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is a beautiful, beautiful tribute to Jim Henson for whom I am certain would have loved every single minute of this. I was blown away at the level of detail and care that’s gone into the making of the show. From the scripts through to the puppets, puppet special effects, sets, special effects, visual effects, cinematography, direction – and not forgetting Daniel Pemberton and Samuel Sim’s wonderful score.

The original series soundtrack, now available on Apple Music
Vol. 2 of the soundtrack – even more Gelfling goodness

Netflix MUST renew the show. It took years to get to this point, so renewing now means that the next trip to Thra wouldn’t be for at least another 2 years (2021/2022 at the latest). I’d say that both this and Amazon’s Good Omens have been the TV highlights of this year. Expect the awards season to reflect this – I see many wins for both shows.

11/10 – An absolute blast – best thing on TV for *ages*

A short hop across the English channel for my data..

I’ve been a long term fan of Backblaze, the computer backup service which automatically stores your files securely in the cloud. But the big problem (well, it wasn’t a big problem as such, just a question of distance and location) was that all your data was being kept in a datacentre somewhere West of the good ol’ US of A.

Simple web interface to access your backed up files and B2 buckets

As the years progressed, Backblaze made backing up faster and faster and today it doesn’t feel particularly slow or strange that your files are being sent halfway across the world. But now, they’ve just announced their first European datacentre, based in Amsterdam.

Backblaze’s blogs have always been very informative, and they’re currently publishing a series of posts which explain how and why they picked their first datacentre outside of the USA.

There’s no price change. It’ll still be billed in dollars (which is fine with me, since my bank doesn’t charge for foreign transactions). Very little has changed other than the destination. Unfortunately, there isn’t any way of moving existing backups or B2 buckets. So I had to close my existing account, open a new one with the EU region selected, pay for a new license (well, I could have waited 15 days during the trial period) and start a brand new backup again.

The only clue to where your data is stored is in the My settings page.

I had no problem with doing a new backup from scratch. I still use Time Machine with my Macbook Pro to keep local backups. But what impressed me was that the 305Gb of data took roughly 12 hours straight at 50Mbs upload speed to transfer everything to the Amsterdam datacentre.

And there was no problem reconfiguring rclone to use the new account ID and API key to start new server backups going to my B2 buckets.

Once the backups were completed, I took snapshots of my Apple Photos, iTunes and important access documents so that I go right back in time at any point to a working backup. I’ll do this every 3 months to ensure I always have a restore point snapshot (since file versioning in Backblaze is limited to 30 days).

Take snapshots of points in time of your backups for safe keeping

If you want to try Backblaze for yourself, and want to help me pay some of the costs for running this blog – please consider using this link to start a 15-day free trial and to give me a month’s free backup in the process (assume you sign up). Every little helps, as they say.