You’ll never have to buy another SSL certificate again!

(At least not if you are a financial organisation or need some form of extended validation/identity confirmation)

The SSL certificate marketplace is undergoing an extraordinary transformation.  Once upon a time you could expect to pay a princely sum to obtain what is called an “SSL certificate”.  This is effectively a piece of code that you install on a server (whether it be web, email, or similar) that allows you to encrypt data between two end points (a client such as a web browser and a web server, for example).  The SSL certificate allows the client (browser) to identify the server it’s connecting to.

But as the Internet has grown, the need to protect data in transit (such as usernames and passwords, credit card details, or other personal information) has also increased.  To that end there has been many attempts to provide free or cheap SSL certificates to all and sundry.  Self-signed certificates are no longer good enough.  Unless you explicitly trust a self certificate within your browser, you’ll see all manner of warning messages.  No,  a trusted third party must now be present to ensure that your communications in a web browser are secure.

SSL certificate prices have been gradually becoming cheaper and cheaper over past few years.  I’ve picked up regular domain validated SSL certificates as little as 99 cents (US) or at the most around £2-3 per year.  The drake.org.uk wildcard certificate (which protects an unlimited number of us domains with a single certificate) only cost me 40 quid for two years.

But now things are getting even cheaper – cheap enough to be FREE!

Let’s Encrypt has been one such effort to bring SSL certificates to the masses, for free.  Completely free.  Having left beta, we are going to see a lot of companies and organisations offer Let’s Encrypt as part of their product or service.  cPanel, for example, will be integrating Let’s Encrypt as part of the next major release of cPanel/WHM.  This means that providing that the server operator/hosting company you’re hosting with allows it, your web site will be protected by an SSL certificate for free – automatically.

CloudFlare is another company that’s offering free certificates.  Their free tier allows you to encrypt between their servers and your own (origin) servers – combined with an origin SSL certificate that you install on your server that provides full, authenticated encryption between CloudFlare’s data centres and your server(s).

WordPress and Sucuri are also two other services offering free SSL certificates with their services.

So as you can see – the days of the paid SSL certificate appear to be coming to an end.  The only exceptions are special SSL certificates that require additional validation and assurance – normally Extended Validation (EV) certificates – the ones you’ll normally see at a bank’s web site – the company name all in green alongside the green lock symbol.  These certificates require a lot of paperwork.  This consequently costs quite a bit more money (and time).

But for us mere mortals, we may well never have to spend a single penny on SSL certificates for our sites or services ever again.  We can encrypt for free.  And that’s a good thing.

Music streaming is a steaming pile of..

.. nonsense.

Apple Music is now seriously beginning to get on my .. feathery friends.  Not everything is its fault, but plenty of it is.  You see, the biggest problem with music streaming is in the licensing of tracks and albums.  Once a license runs out, the tracks are removed without any notice to you, the subscriber.

None of the services I know of (Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, Google Play Music, etc.) provide any warning or expiry date as to when tracks or albums will be removed.  They just vanish!

But perhaps what’s worse (I’m typing this on an iPad Pro with no easy access to the image concerned, but that’ll come a bit later – thanks, Apple, so much for “PC replacement”!) is that Apple Music will offer albums, but many are incomplete.  Take the case of the soundtrack to the new film, Florence Foster Jenkins (music by the wonderful Alexandre Desplat).  Only ONE track from the album is available on Apple Music.  Add the album to your collection, that one track is there sticking out like a sore thumb.

ONE track available out of an entire album.  This was the straw that broke this camel's back.
ONE track available out of an entire album. This was the straw that broke this camel’s back.

Also take the Deadpool album.  It too is on Apple Music, but one of the iconic themes is not available on that album, but it is available on another.  Apple Music makes absolutely no effort to link to the same tracks available elsewhere within its catalogue.  Spotify has no problem with this.

I’ll have to reconsider my options towards the end of this month.  Not sure I can justify £9.99 a month to a service which is still just too buggy, still too incomplete to be a non-beta service.

Update: Cancelled iTunes Match and Apple Music.  Gone back to Spotify, and I’m using STAMP Premium to convert my Apple Music playlists to Spotify.  Apple need to give their developers a big kick up the arse.  There has been so little improvement to how the catalogue operates, and when you’re still encountering server errors, this is completely unacceptable.

The Making of The Jungle Book

While I’ve yet to see the film, I am still nonetheless incredibly proud of my former employers MPC who, along with New Zealand’s Weta Digital, are responsible for the wholly virtual environment and talking creatures in the live action adaptation of The Jungle Book.

Here’s a little look behind the scenes.  Sometimes I think it’d have been easier to film in a real jungle with real talking animals, but there you go (although I hear that talking bears’ agents are unbearably difficult to work with).

Speaking of MPC, apparently there are still grumblings about unionisation and working conditions.  I’d say to MPC that they should embrace it with open arms rather than trying to fight it.

As for the Sky Bar – my favourite story concerns a certain very, very famous lady singer of a certain age being completed and totally ignored by all when she visited the Sky Bar. Whether that was through fear, or being told not to address her at all, I don’t know.  But it makes me chuckle.  Otherwise the Sky Bar was never off limits.  You could get a cup of a tea, and when you were working the late shift, that’s where you collected your food.

Game of Tax Credits

I think that if we’re discussing making US corporations pay all their taxes, we (and Canada and Australia) need to rethink how we support our respective film and TV industries. The following has been taken from the end credits of Game of Thrones season six.

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This article from Empire Magazine probably best explains WHY tax credits exist.  But I don’t believe it’s sustainable.  The film & TV industries – especially in the States – have become far too reliant on these schemes – it’s like a crutch: they’re being propped up by taxpayer money to offset risk.  When you’re a government trying to reduce a substantial deficit in the annual budget – this sort of thing just ain’t going to help anybody but corporate fatcats and NOT up and coming independent filmmakers.  When another country comes up with better terms (think of a pound shop, then think of another one offering all items for 99p), all those jobs are now suddenly at risk unless that offer can be matched or improved.  Wonderful!

Plus we can’t be seen to say to one industry, “oh – you owe us more corporation tax: pay up”, then give away something like $240 million in tax revenue to a US multinational in another (industry).  I don’t think that’s fair.  And what’s even more unfair is when Hollywood constantly moans at us Brits about not giving them enough tax credits.  We can’t let them them threaten our economy and our industries.  Which is why this article that quotes BECTU wanting previous, looser UK tax credit terms to stay in full force rather surprised me.

The deplacement factor in tax credits is yet another concern.  If I were still working in the film industry today, I could quite easily move to Canada to work (and come back to the UK if things don’t ultimately work out).  This is a lot harder if I were still married, and even more difficult if I had kids.  And what happens if the finance minister of the relevant Canadian province decided that they can no longer afford to absorb Hollywood’s tax bill (which is roughly some $500 million a year) and everybody shuts up shop – what happens then?

We definitely need to encourage new and upcoming filmmakers, and tax credits seem, initially, to be a good way of doing this.  But then again, the UK government shouldn’t be taking all the risk for US (or even UK) corporations.. As Matthew Vaughn, the highly successful film producer and director (who has financed many of his films himself) has suggested, how about providing the money as a bond/loan that’s ultimately repayable?

As for HBO, one hopes they enjoy the free money from the UK taxpayer – many of those taxpayers that probably don’t subscribe to Sky Atlantic.  Perhaps HBO could offer the taxpayer some White Walker toenail clippings by way of thanks?

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell pick up a couple of BAFTAs

I thought to myself, after I attended the BFI screening of the BBC adaptation of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, that this show should pick up a good few BAFTAs – even Emmys – for the hard work that’s gone into it.  This was a really well made show.

The critics and viewers clearly agree with me!

Popular with critics and viewers alike, JS&MN is now officially an award winner.
Popular with critics and viewers alike, JS&MN is now officially an award winner.

Well, JS&MN picked up Best Production Design and Best Visual Effects as last night’s BAFTA TV Crafts ceremony.  Well done to David Roger, the production designer, and to Milk VFX for their magical visual effects (who were also nominated in the same VFX category for their work on Doctor Who).  Speaking of VFX, JS&MN is still up for a VES (Visual Effects Society) award – so fingers crossed there.

It’d have been nice if Peter Harness, who had put some seriously hard work into adapting what is a very complex book (not just the story, but having to deal with the substantial number of footnotes that expand on the story’s characters, places and situations) had picked up a BAFTA too.  And Toby Haynes should have picked up best director – again, because this isn’t an easy story to tell – or even to show.

On a separate note, it’s been nearly a year since JS&MN first came to our screens, taking over 10 years to get made ever since the rights were first bought by New Line Cinema.  It was well worth the wait – I’ve bought the Blu-Ray, the YouTube/Google Play edition, the iTunes edition AND the BBC Store edition so that if one service dies a horrible death, I’ll still have something to watch.