Back in the days of yore, the ZX Spectrum reigned king. My ZX Spectrum+ (48K) was solid built machine, and even the keys, while squishy, still felt comfortable, and the range of games and applications were just incredible.
But eventually it gave up the ghost and was replaced by an Amstrad-made ZX Spectrum +2A. It had even better keys, memory, and a built-in cassette recorder – but it was notoriously buggy and crashed a lot. Especially annoying when it could take upwards of 10 minutes to load games.
I miss the old geezer, I really do. It taught me patience (which has since long gone when I moved into modern IT, let me tell you; nothing infuriates me more than buggy software and hardware which seems to be getting worse every year). It taught me to program (maybe not very well, but I didn’t do too bad at secondary school, college and university). It taught me to appreciate what I had – especially when you consider that at the time 16-bit computers were making an impact into the home computing sector, and the likes of the American Atari ST and Commodore Amiga were the Ferraris of the day – better graphics, better music, better everything.
But now, the ZX Spectrum is making ANOTHER come back! After the success of the original Kickstarter campaign, the ZX Spectrum Next is getting an updated model – the ZX Spectrum Next issue 2. It features:
Processor: Z80 3.5MHz, 7MHz, 14MHz and 28MHz turbo modes
Extra Hardware: Hardware sprites, DMA, Copper, Enhanced ULA, Tilemap, Layer2
Storage: SD Card slot, with DivMMC-compatible protocol
Audio: 9 channels via 3x AY-3-8912 chips with stereo, plus 2x 8bit DACs output
Joystick: 2 ports compatible with Cursor, Kempston and Interface 2
PS/2 port: Mouse with Kempston mode emulation and/or external keyboard
Special: Multiface functionality for memory access, savegames, cheats etc.
Tape support: Combined Mic and Ear port for tape loading and saving
Expansion: Original external bus expansion port and accelerator expansion port
Accelerator board (optional): GPU / 1GHz CPU / 512Mb RAM
Network: Wi Fi module
Extras: Real Time Clock
OS: NextZXOS and NextBasic featuring expanded commands set
Long gone are cassettes – one can now use standard SD cards to load games (from the likes of the Spectrum game archives at the World of Spectrum which hosts – legitimately – a HUGE selection of games and utilities which can be loaded to SD and played on the machine) – though the Next issue 2 is able to load via cassette tape if you’re an absolute masochist and/or transferring old, rare tapes to SD card.
And it has Wi-Fi!
Just look at it in action:
£300 is too steep a price for me (for now), but it’s certainly looks to be a fantastic machine for those that loved the ZX Spectrum the first time around and have a few quid to spare. I have very fond memories of it, and this kind of thing makes me happy to see that people are willing and happy to revisit a time where things were more simple, but still a substantial amount of fun!
Just a friendly reminder that I retain copyright in all photos used in this post, and any unauthorised public use of these photos is strictly prohibited. If you want to use them on your own site, marketing or elsewhere – please get in touch.
Part One of Two
I’ve been sorting through my photo library on my Mac. I use Apple’s Photos app to manage and arrange all my photos – storing them all locally on my MacBook Pro (4Tb) as well as on my iPhone (512Gb) and iPad Pro 2018 (512Gb).
I constantly backup the local files (backing up iPhone and iPad directly to the Mac so that photos there are also backed up) to ensure that if iCloud Photos Library does something nasty, I can retrieve all 11,600+ photos and videos I’ve been collecting since the turn of the century (2000).
Doesn’t feel strange to say “turn of the century”? Hmm..
Anyway, I’ve just organised all my photos by camera type. And boy, there are a lot of camera types here!
I’ve gone through more phones than most people have had hot dinners. Occasionally I’ve bought the phone outright (and then sold on), sometimes on contract. But also mixed amongst that lot are a few decent cameras such as: Sony DSC-RX100M3, Sony DSC-RX100M5, Canon EOS 50D, Canon EOS 700D, Canon Powershot G5 and the Fujifilm FinePix S3300.
The following image shows the albums organised by camera model. The numbers underneath indicate how many photos and videos exist in each album. Note that some thumbnails are obscured to protect privacy. The numbers under the thumbnails represent the number of photos in each album.
Out of all the cameras I’ve used, I found that the Sony Cybershot DSC-S930 was an extraordinarily good performer for a very cheap, compact camera. It enabled me to take photos such as these when I went to Kenya back in 2010:
I absolutely loved my Sony RX100 marks III and V – both very compact, very high end cameras which makes shooting photos super easy. I did have a Canon EOS 700D which took some great photos, but ultimately I disliked having to carry around multiple lenses and having to make sure that the sensor was kept clean.
Some sample Sony RX100 mark III photos – Harry Potter Studio Tour, London, Vancouver, Oregon Coast, Bicester and Blenheim Palace (not necessarily in that order):
And for the Sony RX100 mark V – not that much, if any, difference in quality from the mark 3, but it did have a much faster autofocus (more phase detection points IIRC). Contains random samples from London, Edinburgh, the Scottish Highlands, Alnwick Castle, Norway and Iceland (again, not necessarily in order).
I’d bought both Sonys after I divorced. Throughout the marriage we used my first ever digital camera, the Sony Cybershot DSC-S70 (you can tell I like Sony cameras, can’t you?) and eventually we replaced that with a second hand Canon Powershot G5 which was terrific.
But the DSC-S70, even for a 3.1 megapixel camera, produced some fantastic results. Here are some samples. Contains imagery from London, New Zealand, Bora Bora, Turkey, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and.. Bath (in no particular order).
In part two, I examine the quality of photos from the many phones I’ve had over the years – starting from the likes of the Nokia N70 and Sony K801i, Sony C905 and Sony Xperia Z3 through to the many, many, many iPhones. And I explain why I now only use an iPhone for snapping photos versus buying another dedicated camera.
WARNING: Potentially MAJOR spoilers ahead. If you have not seen the entirety of season two of The Umbrella Academy, look away now!
Back in early 2019, Netflix released a show based on a comic book series called The Umbrella Academy. I hadn’t heard of the comic before, so this was completely new. But what made it different was: boy, did it have a sense of humour! It was anarchic. It was crazy. It was madder than a box of frogs. I just knew I had to watch it, and I’m glad I did. It made me take out a subscription to Starzplay just to watch Doom Patrol which also features a highly dysfunctional “family” and is very similar in style.
In the first season of The Umbrella Academy, we learn all about the 7 children, their special abilities, their relationship with other – and the complete lack of a loving relationship with their adoptive father, Sir Reginald Hargreeves, a billionaire businessman and also a bit of superhero himself who took all these children in and trained them to become superheroes.
The show starts with Reginald’s death – leaving behind the vague remnants of the children who have scattered and gone their own ways, Pogo – a genetically modified chimpanzee who talks and was Reginald’s personal assistant, and Mother, who happens to be a robot.
Doom Patrol, season 1, episode 14 – Starzplay subscription via Apple TV
You won’t see THIS on Coronation Street or Eastenders!
Doom Patrol is one of those TV shows which doesn’t take itself too seriously. Straight from the get go, the villain of the show, Mr. Nobody (played by Alan Tudyk), acts as the narrator and throws all manner of references to the DC universe, comics, TV, streaming services and whatnot – slowly chipping away at the fourth wall (and something happens in a later episode in the series that would probably put the likes of Spaceballs to shame).
All the characters are highly dysfunctional, not unlike Netflix’s absolutely wonderful The Umbrella Academy, of which I have much to say about that in a future blog post), and as a result these superhero misfits find themselves in bigger and bigger messes as the show moves forward.
I love this show’s anarchic sense of humour, and each character gets a decent amount of screen time in building up their personalities and to show us both their strengths and weaknesses. And it doesn’t lack emotional impact or drama – there’s a good dose of that in there to keep the balance between almost cartoon surrealism and character drama in check.
In the clip above, the team are about to discover the whereabouts of their mysterious benefactor and leader, Niles Calder (played by Timothy Dalton) – and the way into his whereabouts is through Flex Mentallo’s superhero ability to affect objects and things simply by flexing his muscles. Except.. well, it doesn’t go quite so well.
They said it couldn’t be done. But we have the technology! As I’m sure you’ll all agree, Mr. Cummings original “justification” speech back in May didn’t go down particularly well, so I’ve made a teeny tiny improvement. Now, for the first time, we can experience THAT speech entirely in Squirrelese! A difficult language to master, but one that ultimately unites humans and squirrels in agreeing that Cummings is a massive wazzock that should have resigned months ago.
Rather than Dancing With Wolves, I call this Tap Dancing With Squirrels.. Spoiler alert: his voice breaks at the end.
Dogs, start your barking!
(Look, it’s 4am, I’m playing about with Final Cut Pro – and there’s been no decent content on this site for ages.. and there still isn’t)
If people are wondering why we’re heading for a second lockdown, well, this is the kind of behaviour that’s been going on during the first one. Good old fashioned panic and stupidity – though to be fair, the government has hardly been clear and decisive in their leadership in all of this.
I don’t know much about football, but at least I know that it’s something that many people enjoy and like to spend lots of money on. Whether that’s attending matches, buying merchandising, or subscribing to exclusive TV sports channels.
Back in the 1990s when I was living in Norwich, the company I was working for at the time did a bit of work for the Canaries (Norwich City F.C.) – it even involved going up into the stadium’s offices in person – which wasn’t a hardship given that Net Communications Ltd. were situated just around the corner from them.
Alas I’ve not had the same privilege of visiting the Emirates Stadium, but given that I don’t actually need to physically be there (I work on the infrastructure for Arsenal’s site), it’s a moot point – though given the work I’ve done for Arsenal, I am tempted to visit one of these days. It’s a bit like Top Gear – never really liked the show until I started working alongside them, and then I took a great interest in what’s going – to the point of applying for tickets to the show despite not being able to drive. I’m getting more interested in Arsenal’s progression in this, the beautiful game (though I’d could argue that rugby is more so – my former landlord was a former England captain that saw them win the rugby world cup against New Zealand – it was a joy to watch).
What I’m trying to say is that I like Arsenal, and I like working for them through my employers. The infrastructure is interesting, and I’ve done a lot of work building scripts (alas not yet Ansible) to help manage and maintain it, including patching and deployment automation.
The most recent work was supporting the project manager and developers in ensuring that the site was able to take the load when the new Arsenal kit went live. Lots of work between different environments and testing. It was a great success, and it’s lovely to see my employers give shout outs to the team on LinkedIn. This is so much better than the movie industry – though to be fair, MPC did issue a number of adverts in the pages of Cinefex over the years listing our names even if we didn’t make the end credits of a film (which is 99% of the time).
Now, I’ve just to got to learn of rules of Whack Bat and hope we can secure the e-commerce site of the official Whack Bat league.
Elsewhere in e-commerce space, Amazon Fresh seems to think condoms are cereal. I’m also concerned about the placement of Nut Butter below them…
.. the truth is I never loved you. Except Disney+ which is still showing the big fellas like Netflix and Amazon Prime how one should present a streaming service and offer value added content. Though Netflix does get a few points for allowing Criterion to distribute one of their original movies.
Today I received another haul of Blu-Ray discs, mainly featuring titles from the UK Criterion Collection:
But let’s start with a non-Criterion title. Watchmen, the limited series from HBO. I missed out when it first aired on Sky Atlantic. It was well received, and being a fan of the original comic and Zack Snyder’s film, it seemed fitting that one should add it to the collection. It also reminds me that I should also get HBO’s Chernobyl. I’ll add it to my wishlist.
Watchmen – An HBO Limited Series
On to the UK Criterion Collection titles:
It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
I remember watching this a fair old while back and enjoying it. I also happen to like 60s films. I also caught Rat Race, which is a direct influence and found it lacking. This being Criterion, you get some decent extras including the general release version, the extended 197 minute version, audio commentaries, documentaries and so much extra stuff that it’d take you an eternity to get through it all. Just the way I like it.
I’m pretty sure I originally saw this on Channel 4 in the early 90s and was captivated by it. So it’s difficult to judge whether my fondness for this film remains, but I recall that I liked it – plus it’s got some very decent reviews, so I’m hoping for the best. Includes a documentary, a video essay and several interviews.
The Royal Tenenbaums
Another Wes Anderson movie. I’ve only ever seen this once, but I remember it like it was yesterday. That’s the kind of movies Wes Anderson makes. You never forget them. Contains audio commentary, documentaries, interviews, etc.
La Cage Aux Folles
I’m sure that I saw the remake first – The Birdcage starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane and finding it very funny – which meant that I had to track down and watch the original. And I seem to recall that too was very funny – each version having its own take on things. But I love French films, and the stranger the premise, the more interesting things get.
That said, I recently bought French Twist, a film I saw back in my university days – probably part of the UEA French Society (I was a casual member) – on iTunes having thought it was funny. The plot – a womanising estate agent finally meets his match when a butch lesbian truck driver pulls up at his family home and woos his wife.
What follows is an insane twisty-turny series of events which feels more dramatic than funny after 20 years from first watching it. It does have some genuinely funny moments, but it really does get very poignant at times, and you think, how the hell are they going to resolve all this?. Interestingly the film was co-written by Telsche Boorman, daughter of British film director John Boorman (and also features a cameo appearance from his other daughter, Katrine).
La Cage Aux Folles comes with several interviews and some archival footage.
The Fisher King
Another film that I’ve only ever seen once, but have never forgotten, this is a film that only Robin Williams and Terry Gilliam could make. And they do it so well. Mixing fantasy and (hard) reality is a staple of Gilliam’s films, and this is no exception.
And it features the most romantic (or at least the most straight forward and truthful) line ever spoken by a man (Robin Williams) wooing a woman (Amanda Plummer) in cinematic history: “I have a hard-on for you the size of Florida” (thankfully she doesn’t smack him in the moolies with a blunt instrument).
The Fisher King is a wonderful film, and it ought have done much better than it has – but I’m so glad it’s come to Criterion where we can enjoy an audio commentary, interviews, screen tests, essays and deleted scenes.
When I first saw Roma on Netflix, I was extremely impressed with this film. It showed a whole different side to Mexico that I had no idea about, plus the performances were truly extraordinary.
I’m very glad that Netflix has allowed Criterion to release this movie on physical disk, as it includes a number of extras (including interviews, documentaries, and also comes with a booklet – the whole package feels very weighty, which is nice).
I sincerely hope Netflix and Criterion will team up again for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, as I’m sure that would be a very worthy release – especially if it comes with a decent set of extras.
This is a first – a Wes Anderson film I haven’t actually seen yet! Don’t know much about it – don’t really care. Looking forward to putting this one on and just letting it take me wherever it wants to take me.
Later this month (or early next), I hope to collect Akira Kurosawa’s Samurai Collection which contains several of his films: The Seventh Samurai, Throne of Blood, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo and Sanjuro. The Seventh Samurai is, of course, famous for inspiring other filmmakers and stories including George Lucas and Star Wars and The Magnificent Seven.
Alongside that, I also hope to get Rashomon and Kagemusha, as well as Criterion Lone Wolf and Cub (though I fear they use cardboard sleeves for the discs which is a big no-no for me due to scratching).
Despite digital film releases being more convenient (especially as they usually include an extra week or two window before any rentals or physical disks are released), I was shaken up by Apple’s revelation that they can remove content from your library unless you download your purchases (and even then you don’t get to download the 4K version of the film if it’s available, nor any extras). You can read a lot more about that on this blog.
As you can tell from the previous few posts, I’ve started buying more Blu-Ray disks again. Heck, you can head over to my recently re-launched Instagram account where I detail many of them as they come in. Many of them are classic titles that I’ve enjoyed over the years, but I’ve added a few modern titles to my wishlist.
I’ve a feeling that physical disks will still play an important part in a film lover’s collection because (a) removal of digital content at will by the seller and (b) offline/higher bitrates than digital streaming services lead to better overall quality. It’s also much harder to find rarer films from the likes of iTunes and Amazon, and physical disks usually contain many more extras than that of their digital counterparts.
Most importantly, I think that the sales of Xbox One Series X and Playstation 5 which both come with UHD Blu-Ray players by default (though there is a diskless version of the PS5) will continue to drive the market and demand for films on disk.
Back in the late 1990s, I bought myself a chipped Sony DVD player which could play region 1 disks. I wanted this ability because there was a company called The Criterion Collection which released (or in many cases re-released) movies on DVD which came with a plethora of special features. And these were absolutely brilliant for the film fan. And it helped also when I first went to the US back in 2000 and travelled across the entire country by bus and came back with a huge stack of DVDs of films not yet released in the UK.
That Sony DVD player has sadly gone away, and I never replaced it with a multi-region player again (which is a shame because I still own a copy of Pixar’s Cars on DVD which came directly from Pixar to my boss at MPC as part of a gift pack that was sent out to Renderman customers – he didn’t have a multi-region player, but I did at the time). So I’ve been restricted to region 2 or region B disks.
But the good news is that The Criterion Collection has been releasing titles in the UK/region B and I’ve started collecting all the good titles. Arrow Films has also been doing similar, and I’ve picked up some truly wonderful titles.
When the movie first came out in 1987, I was only ten years old. But I was desperate to see this film. Thankfully my mum managed to buy a copy on VHS when it came out for consumers. It was my very first 18-rated film, and I loved every minute of it. When I bought the original Criterion DVD back in the 90’s, this contained extra sequences (including an extremely gory death) and audio commentaries galore. This Arrow Films release contains all that and includes both the director’s cut and theatrical release.
I came across Clive Barker’s work after reading about Hellraiser in Fangoria (or one of the other many film/horror magazines I bought at the time). I’m sure I watched Hellraiser before Nightbreed and was extremely impressed (and as Clive Barker’s directorial debut, absolutely incredible).. Hellraiser is technically my first horror – but I was so impressed with the special make-up and creature effects that I had to see what they did next. Nightbreed was that film. I absolutely loved it. I even bought the Titan behind-the-scenes book which contained high resolution photos of the monsters and other behind the scenes photos. Loads of information.
It’s horror/fantasy, but more emphasis on fantasy than horror. It stars Canadian director David Cronenberg in a major role, and the creatures themselves are wonderful. Danny Elfman’s music score is suitably ethereal, and the ending is crying out of continuation – maybe in the form of a TV series.
This release comes with a huge bunch of special features that I look forward to perusing through.
Peter Sellers last film, and possibly his very best. It took me a very long time to get around to watching this, despite being a huge fan of Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude (which is crying out for a Criterion Collection UK release).
Is Chance the wisest men in the world? Is his autistic? Is he just a simple gardener with simple thoughts? Regardless of his mental state, his words have a heavy influence in US politics and becomes a major political figure – quite by chance. What follows is a farce on a similar scale to Dr. Strangelove and ends in a rather mystical and open-ended way.
Wes Anderson. The man can make a thoroughly entertaining film out of virtually anything. It’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly why I love his work, but he is by far one of the best directors of the past 20-30 years. His adaptation of The Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of the greatest Roald Dahl adaptations I’ve ever seen (including the Tim Burton adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that I worked on). He adds part whimsy, part conflict, part surrealism, some really superb dialogue work, oddball characters and a dash of romance (where needed) and gives you a film that is incredible to watch and a story that’s engrossing as any book.
The Criterion Collection UK has a few of his films, and I’ve just bought the rest – they should be arriving this week – but there is still room for Criterion to add a few more of his works to the Collection (namely Fantastic Mr. Fox, the Isle of Dogs, The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Darjeeling Limited). I’m also crazy excited to see his new film, The French Dispatch, when it hopefully opens in cinemas in October.
But Moonrise Kingdom is a beautiful coming-of-age film about two adolescents on a made-up New England island running away after feeling alienated from their parents and peers. This triggers a massive police search, including that of the islanders. Featuring an insanely wonderful score from Alexandre Desplat, and isn’t afraid to borrow from Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to The Orchestra (which also features). It’s worth listening throughout the end credits as the soundtrack breaks the fourth wall.
If life could be a Wes Anderson movie, I think we’d all be better off..
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
More Wes Anderson! This time we follow Steve Zissou, renowned oceanographer (and meant to parody Jacques Cousteau) on the hunt for the infamous “Jaguar Shark” which ate his business partner. Part Moby Dick, part mockumentary, part family drama, and part sea adventure. It also features some wonderful stop-motion animation of imaginary sea animals to boot, and an insane set containing most of the submersible and its rooms.
This is a very ambitious film from Anderson, featuring a fantastic cast, great music score, and.. oh, you know – I just love everything about this film. Like his other stuff, infinitely rewatchable. And it comes a load of extras which will keep any film fan happy.
It’s been a while since I first saw this film, but it stuck in mind ever since. What really makes it special is the relationship between Dustin Hoffman’s Ratso and Jon Voight’s Joe Buck. I’ll also never forget Ratso’s dream sequence in which the music I recognised from the 1980’s Animal Show with Johnny Morris. The origins of some music tracks defies belief!
The ending is surprisingly emotional, which is not helped by John Barry’s wonderfully haunting theme (dabs eyes). Never has the harmonica sounded so beautiful. And Harry Nilsson’s Everybody’s Talkin’ is such a classic that it’s difficult to count how many times it’s been re-used elsewhere.
Again, plenty of extras to keep the most ardent fan happy.
And the rest..
Arrow Films is having a sale on – with many titles at £5/£7.50. It was rude not to indulge, so I picked out a few that I’ve been wanting to own for a while.
I’ll mention Zardoz because it’s a film that I watched late at night, possibly during secondary school, and found it to be utterly weird. And it stuck firmly in my mind. It’s been a right bugger to find it ever since and this Arrow Films Blu-Ray is the jackpot. Not only do you get a lovely remastered copy of the film, but audio commentaries and all manner of extras. I’ve been a big fan of John Boorman’s films since watching this (as mad as a box of frogs Zardoz is as a story). It also features one of the best version of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 that I’ve ever heard – but alas, does not exist anywhere other than the film. No soundtrack was ever released.
And Zardoz was shot at Ardmore Studios in County Wicklow, Ireland. I had the very great pleasure to visit there for the filming of Miramax Ella Enchanted (and was driven from Dublin to Ardmore by Richard Harris’ former driver). Didn’t get to see much of Country Wicklow’s beautiful hills – but it’s an impressive studio that’s for sure.
Oldboy I already have on Blu-Ray – but not the two disc edition. The second disc contains a THREE hour documentary on the making of the film. The film itself is absolutely fantastic, so for £5, I’m not going to say no just to get at that documentary.
Similarly, the extra features on A Fish Called Wanda are worth it alone. I’ve always liked the film, so now I can get to see and hear a bit more about how it was made (and why).
Being John Malkovich is a title I originally owned on region 1 DVD back in the 1990’s, but never got around to replacing it until now. Extra features also made it a lot more attractive as well as the cost.
Children of Men is a film I’ve seen a couple of times, and features some brain melting VFX and cinematography, so I had to get this. I’ve also recently purchased Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma on Criterion Collection UK which I thoroughly enjoyed (and features some stunning VFX work from my former employers MPC), so looking forward to that.
That’s all for now – but stay tuned for more movie madness.