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.

The recent BAFTA and Oscars have stirred up a hornet’s nest of trouble from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Vue and Cineworld cinemas who have objected to the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video winning awards for movies that have debuted on their streaming services.

Vue and Cineworld have been spitting feathers at BAFTA because, they claim, the eligibility for films being nominated aren’t fair because Netflix and Amazon streamed films aren’t available on the big screen. Or if they are, they’re not in cinemas long enough.

I get it. They’re cinemas and want bums on seats and their sole business is to show films. Though these days, some cinemas also specialise in live theatre performances which are broadcast live. Or some even show TV shows on the odd occasion (Doctor Who springs to mind). Their bread and butter is to show things on the largest screen possible.

ALAS!

Spider-man, spider-man, shown on the smallest cinema screen..

Cinemas these days are fighting a losing battle. Have you been recently? I went last Sunday to watch the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse which was absolutely incredible. Very worthy of its win, and should have won Best Picture as well. Loved it. But:

  • It was shown on the smallest screen in the cinema.
  • The seats were filthy and worn-out. And this particular chain, even in with bigger screens, the seats are uncomfortable.
  • What was once a mighty foyer with snacks and drinks galore is a mere shadow of its former self. The nachos I had weren’t fantastic. The choice of drinks and snacks are abysmal. And costly.

And my general complaint about most cinemas are:

  • Trailers and adverts are not shown in the correct aspect ratio – you have black bars (like you do on TV) for everything.
  • You’re constantly made to feel like a criminal by numerous reminders about not recording the soundtrack or video of the cinema screen.
  • Ticket prices are expensive.
  • The quality of the cinema and presentation vary enormously between different cinema chains and towns.
  • Costs of time and travelling to the cinema and back again.
  • People playing with their bloody mobile phones.
  • People walking in after the film starts.
  • People talking throughout the film.
  • Seat quality. You often pay extra for this, and I don’t mind that too much, but there should be more expensive seats on offer.

Cinema is a shared experienced – especially with family and friends. I get it. But now with the same technology being made for the living room (Dolby in particularly are doing well with their Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos systems), you can experience the same thing at home with a large(ish) TV and decent sound system. Nobody is ever going to have the kind of screen and sound system that IMAX offers, but it’s still pretty damn good – home entertainment has improved leaps and bounds over the years.

As has the ability to finance films. It’s a whole different ball game with theatrical releases versus streaming (effectively you’ve already bought a ticket), and theatrical releases are far more risk averse as a result (and to the consumer too – you spend over £40 for a family day out to the cinema for a film nobody likes, you bet you’re going to be upset).

I watched Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma (which rightly won in the categories it was nominated for at the BAFTA and Oscars), and it’s truly an excellent film. He’s done extraordinarily well with it – as writer, director and cinematographer. I watched it on a 60″ TV in 4K (without HDR) and thought it was visually stunning (my former employers, MPC, were responsible for the visual effects and there is one sequence that knocked my socks off – my brain trying to figure out how it was done – and I was wrong!). Roma deserves to be nominated (and to win) as much as everybody else, regardless of how it was financed and distributed.

Imagine the fuss if a YouTube film won an Oscar or BAFTA. The old school and the cinema chains would spontaneously combust.

Spielberg’s complaint is that he wants to preserve the theatrical experience. I get it. I really do. When I was much younger it was a treat to go the cinema. Prices were reasonable. The seats were enormous and comfortable. The big screen was the big screen. And there were very many more cinemas around. Very happy memories of watching the likes of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Back to the Future (at the Empire Leicester Square no less). I’ve been on a few dates to the cinema, been to the cinema with my mates, and all sorts. But over the past 5 or 6 years, things have slowed down a lot. Cinemas have been closing down. Television has become more interesting.

Some films I’ve had real problems getting to see due the very limited theatrical run. I can only seen them via physical disk purchase, iTunes (or similar) or via one of the streaming service. Should those films still be eligible for Oscars or BAFTA? And what of screeners and VOD that the Academy hands out to members? I’m told it’s a last resort, but even civilians like me don’t have the time (or inclination) to go to the cinema or the time.

Films are films regardless of however they’re made. This is the 21st century. We have the technology. But people want their films to be wherever they are. Whether that be in the cinema, on TV, on their mobile devices. It’s high time that the old school (I include Cannes in this) wake up and smell the coffee.

My name’s not Danno, but I’ll give you some books! As part of an ongoing initiative, #BookSwap allows people to pick up something new to read whilst adding to the collection themselves. I picked up a Tom Holt book from Woking railway station a few months ago, and was meaning to give back. So I have.

The physical turns metaphysical – both now on my Kindle

The Hundred Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson is a wonderful comic tale about Allan Karlsson who decides to climb out the window of his care home and go on a bit of a wander, taking him on a wild and incredulous adventure involving a criminal gang, the police, and an elephant.

But this has nothing on the Karlsson’s backstory in which he meets General Franco in Spain (and is hailed a hero), ends up working on the H-Bomb (as Karlsson is an expert in blowing things up), meets Stalin, Albert Einstein’s (fictional) less intelligent brother Herbert, Mao Tse-tung and Kim Jong-Il. As you do.

The book was eventually turned into a Swedish film which, I think, although is not as good or as detailed as the book, is still very good. It’s available on Amazon Prime Video UK if you want to check it out. It also spawned a sequel which, interestingly, I don’t think is related to the new book, The Accidental Further Adventures Of The Hundred Year-Old Man. The sequel went up Netflix UK for a while but has long since left. I did catch it – by surprise (didn’t know they had filmed a sequel!) – and found it to be pretty good.

I’ve not yet read The Accidental Further Adventures Of The Hundred Year-Old Man, but I have since bought it on my Kindle. So I don’t need the paperbacks anymore. So as of this morning, anybody curious about these stories can pick up the books for free at Woking Railway Station’s platform one waiting room. Just remember to either return them, or submit your own book(s) so that other people can pick up something new to read.

All local train and bus stations should have a #Bookswap library.

I intend to add more books. My Kindle library is outgrowing my physical book collection. In part because my house is rather small and I can only store so much before going completely mad (become a mad hoarder).

I’ll see if I can throw a few Neil Gaiman novels in the station’s direction. And maybe a Terry Pratchett or two. Or, in honour of the Good Omens coming to Amazon Prime Video in May, a mere 9 days after my 43rd birthday, my physical copy of Good Omens.