In the I.T. world, the acronym “SSL” means “Secure Sockets Layer” which refers to a protocol that’s used to encrypt content between two endpoints (typically a web browser and a server).

Along comes Amazon Prime Video and this appears (along with many other warnings) relating to their superheroes-gone-bad series, The Boys (which is really rather good, though the critics aren’t as keen as regular folk):

As the Internet has progressed, we now tend to refer to SSL as TLS (“Transport Layer Security”). I reckon it’s only a matter of time before Amazon comes up with their own acronym to describe their content:

TLS – Tender Loving Sex

First, it was Good Omens. Now it’s The Boys. Amazon Prime Video has been available on Apple TV devices for a while now. Not long, but long enough. I bought the 4K version of the Apple TV because I have a 4K TV.

I have the Amazon Prime Video app on my LG 4K TV, but I don’t tend to use the built-in apps for the TV because the TV is getting old now and the app and WebOS updates are few and far between. An Apple TV device should continue to receive OS and app updates regularly for many years to come – and one only has to replace one component when Apple stops supporting that device, rather than having to replace an otherwise good working TV. This is why I despise the “smart” in Smart TV.

Amazon’s 21st century equivalent of adjusting a TV aerial

Amazon, like Netflix, has been commissioning original TV shows in UHD (4K). With Netflix and the right subscription, you’ll get the highest resolution out the box without any fuss. If it’s 4K, you’ll get 4K. If it’s HD only, you’ll get HD only. With Amazon, you’re relying on them to put the 4K version of the title on the home page. Except they rarely do. No, with Amazon, you have to dig deep to find the bugger and then add it to your wishlist so that you don’t lose it again.

I had tremendous difficulties playing Good Omens in 4K when it was first released. Error galore. And I had even more difficulty trying to find the link to get help with Amazon (though it turns out when you do find the help page, the contact us section is bottom left-hand side – it’s not as obvious as you think it is when you’re trying to look for it). We then spent about an hour going through a scripted support process before the case was escalated to Amazon Prime Video’s specialist support team.

The thing is, the LG TV could play the 4K version of Good Omens just fine. Yet the newer Apple TV running Amazon’ s own app couldn’t. Eventually, Amazon managed to fix it, but it left a bit of a bad taste.

And now we have a new Amazon series called The Boys. It’s a very good black comedy about a world where superheroes are vile and managed by a massive agency who look after their PR, which comes in handy whenever collateral damage from a superhero rescue comes into play. It’s an exceptional series, but again, I can’t play it in 4K on the Apple TV.

Here are things I’ve tried:

  • Signed out of Amazon, then signed back in again
  • Restarted the Apple TV
  • Signed out of Amazon, deleted the Amazon Prime Video app, restarted the Apple TV, downloaded the Amazon Prime Video app, and then signed in again
  • Sacrificed a small goat to the tech god, “Sodslaw”
  • Admired the extremely impressive Apple TV 4K screensavers when attempting to escalate the issue with Amazon

The reason I got angry about this in the first place was that the TV app on Apple TV made it clear it was a 4K show. But when you clicked on the link to open it, an error from Amazon’s Prime Video app popped up.

I tried to search for The Boys within the app. No joy. And I tried on the web site – again no joy – until today (one day after the release). I added it to the Watchlist so that I wouldn’t lose it again.

I’ve been in touch with Amazon, and I think they’re escalating this – but they also wanted me to restart my router. I said that I didn’t think that was going to be necessary, but they insisted. And that’s when I lost my temper and left the chat.

Some thoughts:

  • Apple and Amazon need to work more closely together
  • Amazon needs to put more developers onto the tvOS app
  • Amazon needs better QA testers for the tvOS app

If these so-called “cord-cutting” services are to succeed, they need to work flawlessly across the many platforms that they’re on. And support for these services needs to be beefed up. Streaming is only going to get more complex – especially if 8K is around the corner (my prediction: won’t see anything serious for the next 2-3 years and even then we’ll still be struggling with 4K like we are right now).

I had originally written and long and waffly review last week, but I felt it was too nitpicky, but more specifically, too waffly. So I thought I’d try giving it another go.

I’ll start off by saying that alongside Peter Harness’ and Toby Hayne’s adaptation of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Good Omens is one of the most faithful book adaptations I’ve ever come across.

It’s been some time since I last read the book, and indeed, I gave my only copy away a few months ago at Woking Railway Station so that others can enjoy the madcap antics of the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley. But as the series progressed, it all came flooding back.

The Good Omens TV mini-series shares a number of people across different Neil and Terry projects. For starters, the director Douglas Mackinnon and executive producer Caroline Skinner have both worked with Neil Gaiman on Doctor Who. Not forgetting David Tennant, of course. Gavin Finney (director of photography) and Rod Brown (executive producer) have worked together across Terry’s previous television adaptations: Hogfather, The Colour of Magic and Going Postal.

Cast-wise, perhaps only a budget afforded by a joint production with BBC Studios could pay for the likes of an all-star cast including Frances McDormand, Nick Offerman, Jon Hamm, Michael McKean, Michael Sheen, David Tennant, Miranda Richardson, Brian Cox, David Morrissey, and Benedict Cumberbatch. Though given how well read Good Omens is with the cast, I’m sure they’d have given up a hefty chunk of their usual salary to appear in the show. Though given Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest man, planning on some major space initiatives, he could afford to pay everybody on this production handsomely – several times over.

But it is the cast which makes this show so much fun to watch. Clearly Michael Sheen and David Tennant are having so much fun playing Aziraphale and Crowley respectively. These two hereditary enemies form a close bond over the many centuries since humanity was kicked out of the Garden of Eden, and are very happy with the status quo of things in the world (occasionally getting involved to help things along a bit). So when the Apocalypse comes a-calling, they’ve got to do something about it. They are the ultimate odd couple.

During their adventures, we come across weird and wonderful characters such as Agnes Nutter, a witch, who has written the world’s only truly accurate book of prophecies, which is inherited by her ancestor Anathema Device who sets out to stop the antichrist. But it turns out everybody has misplaced him. He was supposed to be given to the American Ambassador, but it turns out that the antichrist was given to an ordinary couple who raised him lovingly in a small village near an American airbase. His name is Adam, and on his 10th birthday when he wishes for a dog of his own, hell sends him a hell hound. But as he doesn’t know he is the antichrist, he just wants a small puppy. And the hell hound must obey him. So we see this big, snarling, more-teeth-than-should-be-healthy-for-a-dog, suddenly transform into the world’s cutest puppy.

We meet Newton Pulsifer, a man who loves computers, but every time he goes near one, it breaks. He ends up working for Witchfinder Sergeant Shadwell, who is absolutely convinced witches still exist and is recruiting people for his army. And it doesn’t require the use of computers.

We also meet the four horsemen of the Apocalypse who have modernised somewhat and now ride motorcycles. Except Pestilence has now retired and has been replaced by Pollution.

All these characters weave in and out of each other in order to find the antichrist and put a stop to the Apocalypse. Aziraphale and Crowley both have to contend with their relevant superiors. There’s a lovely scene in which Hastor, one of the Dukes of Hell, literally gets caught up in a telephone answering machine and is only freed when a cold calling “we understand you have been involved in an accident” agent calls Crowley’s phone. I feel a lot of people will be satisfied how that one plays out.

It’s such a fun show that the 6 hours simply fly by. It does very much feel like a 6-hour film – especially as it’s shot in 2.35:1 aspect ratio which is a much wider format than most TV shows (though an increasing number of TV shows are adopting that format – the most noticeable has been the excellent Fleabag).

I must admit I was moved to tears during the last episode. The last 30 minutes were mainly spent snot-filled sobbing. A vital part of good storytelling is making you care enough about the characters. And it wouldn’t be too long before it’s all over. But I was crying mainly because this felt like a very final, long goodbye to the wonderful Sir Terry Pratchett who couldn’t be around to see just how bloody good this all was.

The ending also caught me out. We end on the song, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”, performed by Tori Amos, and that’s when the tears started flowing again.

But I can’t be too sad about the ending. Neil Gaiman has a deal with Amazon Studios for more things, and Narrativia, Terry Pratchett/Rhianna Pratchett/Rod Brown/Rob Wilkins production company, has a few projects up their sleeves too.

Good Omens comes highly recommended. Very, very funny, emotionally satisfying, and tremendous fun. TV shows rarely tick all the boxes, but this one absolutely does. I’d highly recommend the 4K version – which requires that you use Amazon Prime Video’s search function. Just do a search for “good omens” and you’ll find it in the search results. If you have a 4K TV, do yourself a favour and watch it in 4K.

(P.S. I would also highly recommend Dirk Magg’s audio adaptation of Good Omens too – available via Audible)

I recently swapped all my Amazon Alexa devices for Google’s equivalent. I signed up for a family Spotify Premium account for one month just to get a Google Home Mini (RRP £49.99, I got it for £14.99 along with a month’s Spotify Premium).

It’s small, cute and stupid as hell – but I like it!

But I was keen on replacing Amazon’s Echo Show which was about as much good as a donkey parade on the moon. It couldn’t play YouTube videos (in fact it was practically restricted to its own Prime Video service), and I had to remember to ask Alexa to ask Hive if I wanted to perform any Hive related functions. You should NOT have to remember syntax with these devices at all. As I had it in my kitchen, I tried to use it to help me with cooking and recipes. That was a disaster. So Echo Show went away.

With the Nest Home Hub, it’s much smaller than the Echo Show. It’s extremely small and cute, in fact. With the just the power cable trailing at the back, the Home Hub is barely there. But you’ll soon notice it – especially as it can work with Google Photos to display a photo album when the Home Hub isn’t doing anything.

Getting my photos from Apple’s Photo service into Google Photos was a bit of a pain, but with the Backup & Sync app for MacOS, I disabled RAW files and other things and just let it do its stuff. And it seems to work well enough. So every time I take a photo with my iPhone XS, it’ll be uploaded to iCloud Photo Library and then downloaded to my Mac when I next use it. Google will then detect the change and upload any new photos or videos to Google Photos.

Controlling smart devices with the Home Hub is a much more pleasant experience than Alexa. I can just ask it to turn the living room lights on or off and it’ll do it. Or ask it to set a temperature and it’ll instruct my Hive thermostat to turn the heating on or off as appropriate. The only problem I stumbled across is that I had the smart plug for the Hive controller in my living room. If I instructed Home Hub to turn off Living Room, it’ll turn EVERYTHING off in the living room – including the plug – and there goes the Hive system. So I moved the smart plug out of the Living Room category and it sits by itself where I can’t accidentally turn it off.

As for other things, watching YouTube is fine. All4 is supported, so I can watch Channel 4 TV shows too. And Channel 5. It’s like having a very small TV in the kitchen. If I were to get to the Nest Hub Max, it’d make for a much better kitchen TV with its 10 inch screen, but for the moment this is fine.

Radio is fine too – just ask Home Hub to play X channel and it’ll do so. The biggest problem I have with the Home Hub is G Suite integration. I’m using the beta integration right now, but like its consumer cousin, the Home Hub is not able to inform you of all-day events.

As for other things, it either works or it doesn’t. I’ve found that the Google Assistant is not intelligent enough to figure out many things and you do need to be very specific in the commands you give it. In that sense, it is at the same level as Alexa’s comprehension. Google Assistant also misunderstands me from time to time and there have been some quite hilarious “conversations” as a result. A simple “hello” translated into “Get You” for some reason.

I’ll give you an example of trying to find information. My dad recently told me the origin of the phrase “time immemorial”. Now, we know this to be something so long past that people have forgotten. But the origin of that phrase comes from 1275 by the first Statute of Westminster, the time of memory was limited to the reign of King Richard I, beginning 6 July 1189, the date of the king’s accession.  Since that date, proof of unbroken possession or use of any right made it unnecessary to establish the original grant under certain circumstances. Wikipedia can tell me that, but Google Assistant can’t.

I think Digital Assistants have got a loooooooooong way to go before they can be considered truly useful. But I have faith in Google. Their Duplex technology looks intriguing (even if restaurants aren’t taking Google identified calls) and they’re going to be making the Google Assistant small enough to work from a mobile phone, so data is never transmitted back to Google. I only hope that the same is going to be said with these devices too – privacy is everybody’s right and processing on the device would go some way to prove Google is being consumer conscious.

On the other hand, I can see how great a device like the Nest Home Hub would be in the office. Assuming limitations are removed by the type of calendar entries it can process, the Nest Home Hub would make a very good personal desk assistant. The Nest Hub Max will feature a very cool video conference system through Google Duo – but I hope Google will also consider supporting Google Meet (for G Suite) as well.

This weekend I wrap up the pain in the arse Nighthawk X10 router and send it back to Amazon. In its place is Ubiquiti Networks’ Amplifi HD, a wonderful boxy router that actually looks good wherever it’s positioned.

It’s interesting to note that Wi-Fi performance isn’t spectacular. I’m still trying to figure out whether this is a Wi-Fi thing, or whether it has to do with single-thread performance (not necessarily to do with Zen Internet).

I can absolutely max out my broadband’s 141Mbs download speed from the iPhone if I launch multiple downloads from iTunes (single download lands around 100Mbs). Speedtest.net shows around anywhere between 35Mbs-80Mbs (multi). Across the network (with MacBook Pro acting as server, connected via ethernet), it’s around 195Mbs.

The Mac, like the iPhone and iPad, can also saturate bandwidth on Wi-Fi if multiple threads from the likes of Steam and iTunes are running – but single threaded operations aren’t great. And I’ve never understood why this 2018 MacBook Pro keeps reporting back that the link speed is 54Mbs. The iPhone too seems to report back a poor receive rate of just 6Mbs from looking at the client stats via the Amplifi iOS app.

I’ve also not ruled out that the latest iPhones and Macs simply just have exceptionally poor Wi-Fi transceivers in them. Hooking the Mac up to one of the Amplifi’s HD 4 gigabit ethernet ports yields 141Mbs speedtest.net download results every single time. So I’m keeping the Mac on ethernet for the foreseeable future despite a bit of cable management bodge work.

Bodge job on the cable management here – but it’s to stop pressure on the USB-C port

That said, there have been no problems with the Hive home network since installing the Amplifi, and quite frankly, it looks good sitting in the middle of the room:

The LCD display can display time & date, total amount of data transferred, current speeds and port status.

Speaking of the Hive home network, they very kindly sent me a signal booster which sits in the middle of the room and ensuring – hopefully – a strong signal is sent between the thermostat and the Hive hub.

It’s tiny! Just plug it into an electrical socket, add it as a new device to your app and job done.

This weekend I’ll be adding a mesh point to the set-up. It’ll be located in the master bedroom and hopefully, will give me the strongest signal there. I have an Apple TV HD (3rd gen) which is connected via Wi-Fi. It’ll unlikely improve single thread performance again, but at least there will be no more Wi-Fi dead spots upstairs. If that works, I might need one more mesh point at the back of the house to ensure all over coverage.