There’s been lots and lots of news recently about how the SSD (the internal super fast storage) within M1 Macs (MacBook Air, Pro and Mac Mini) is being excessively written to, and that an M1 Mac’s SSD lifetime is being reduced substantially through all these excessive writes. Like us humans, SSDs have a finite time here on Earth given the nature of the beast, but ordinarily, they should typically outlast the machine they’re many times over.

I have only 8Gb in my 13″ MacBook Pro M1 machine, and I’m fully aware of swapping. But even so, this shouldn’t affect the overall lifespan of a machine that much – if at all, and especially with modern techniques for managing it within an SSD controller. But even I did notice that kernal_task was writing a substantial amount of data (~250/300Gb) of data daily (after the machine was set-up and all applications installed) – even with the swap file activity was relatively quiet and very few applications were running.

It’s worth mentioning also that the output from ‘top’ and activity monitor must include ANY disk write activity, including external drives (such as what I use for Time Machine) and other mounted volumes (disk images or DMGs) – or at least, that’s what I’m assuming here. I’m hesitant to pull data from S.M.A.R.T. utilities (or any other utility for that matter) since Apple’s controllers may not necessarily conform to their specifications.

What I forgot to check was my go-to-machine monitoring app, iStats Menu, was a Universal binary (or at least Apple Silicon). I was wrong. It is still an Intel native app, and is run through Rosetta 2. It is able to monitor most metrics just fine, so I didn’t think much of it. Of course, it was installed on day one of getting the MacBook Pro…

Thinking about all the apps I use, and the kind of use they get, I thought whether iStats Menus may be aiding and abetting in the excessive SSD writes somehow. I couldn’t see any file-based logs growing in size on the filesystem, nothing that would attract substantial writes at least. My thoughts turned back to iStats Menus and its binary compatibility. How does Rosetta 2 handle monitoring like that?

So I decided to uninstall iStats Menu and replace it with iStatistica Pro – something I bought a little while ago. It’s a Universal binary now, and its sensors work with M1 Macs just fine. Since then, the number of writes to the SSD has reduced considerably. We’re talking about 100Gb for 4 hours of the machine being online with iStats Menus versus 15-16Gb for 4 hours with iStatistica Pro. No other changes were made to my application line-up.

I think if there is any blame to be had, it’s probably Rosetta 2. It’s an incredible piece of technology, but I am not entirely convinced – depending on the application – it is terribly I/O friendly – even if it’s no longer a JIT translator anymore, but rather it “compiles”/translates the ARM64 binary from the original when an Intel application is first opened.

In Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, the Unseen University builds an analytical machine called Hex. Somewhere within Hex is an ant farm with a sticker on the side which says: “Anthill Inside” – an obvious joke to Intel’s old marketing campaign. Maybe Burleigh & Stronginthearm, dwarf crossbow makers to the nobility, might change direction and start making their own analytical machines and cut out all that magic crap that the wizards always muck around with.

In the real world, Apple is transitioning their Mac laptops and desktops away from the Intel/AMD x86_64 architecture to ARM64 after staying with Intel for 15 years. Prior to this, Apple was using IBM’s PowerPC processors – but IBM wasn’t able to take the PowerPC architecture any further on a performance per watt basis which meant that Apple was forced to look elsewhere.

We’ve reached a similar road – Intel hasn’t had it easy of late and with a variety of vulnerabilities and chip manufacturing issues which hasn’t seen much progress with shrinking their processor dies to the kind of level that is now possible with Apple’s chip design. With the huge success of the Apple-designed A-series processors used in the iPhone and iPad lines, it made sense to move the Mac to the same ARM64 architecture – using a System-On-a-Chip process to integrate the many different functions into a single package.

With the release of the M1, Apple is able to provide computers with longer and better battery life, better performance and provide cross-code compatibility with iPad and iOS applications. Intel Macs will eventually become a thing of the past. The future is ARM64.

Given that we’re still in lockdown, I’ve decided to claim back some tax from the HMRC to purchase computer equipment that will aid me in my duties at work. Last year that was a monitor and a new keyboard – this year it’s going to be an M1 MacBook Pro (for when we get back on the road again) and an M1 Mac Mini (for the home desktop). One of the major advantages of the new M1 processor is that the cost of these machines are at their lowest in years.

I’ve taken delivery of the 13″ M1 MacBook Pro yesterday – built with 8Gb RAM and 512Gb SSD. I factored that I won’t be using it heavily once I have the Mac Mini and it’ll just be used when I travel/go to work and need to test ARM64 specific stuff, or use it for on-call. The M1 Mac Mini will be specced out with 16Gb RAM and either 1Tb or 2Tb of storage – I’m still trying to decide, given there is a £400 difference.

Fish and Apple M1 Chip

The first thing to mention is that 8Gb RAM will result in a fair amount of page swapping if you’re using apps like Chrome (which is now Apple Silicon native), Evernote (still only Intel native at this time), and a few other things. But thanks to the speedy 512Gb SSD, any slowdown resulting from memory being dumped to and from disk isn’t too noticeable. On the other hand, the SSD will write many pages out to disk.

Coming from my 16″ MacBook Pro with Intel Core i9 processor and 32Gb RAM and 4Tb SSD, seeing page swaps is somewhat of a novelty. That said, even with swapping, the SSD in this unit should still outlast the actual unit itself, so I’m not unduly worried. Nevertheless, my suggestion for anybody considering buying one of these M1 units regardless of whether you choose the MacBook Air, Pro, or Mac Mini – go for 16Gb RAM if you can. I bought my MacBook Pro via Amazon, but alas, they don’t stock the 16Gb models.

You may find 8Gb RAM a bit limiting…

But is the M1 SoC as magical as they say it is? Yes – kind of. Overall performance, even with 8Gb RAM, is snappy. Applications open quickly and Chrome’s Javascript performance feels much, much more snappy than its Intel counterpart.

One of the most “magical” elements is Rosetta 2 – the translation layer that converts Intel x86_64 code to ARM64. It Just Works(tm) – at least 100% of the time for me. There is no truly noticeable performance hit – Spotify, Evernote and countless many other Mac apps that haven’t transitioned to Universal or Apple Silicon binaries run just fine. This is a far cry from the original Rosetta which ran PowerPC code on Intel. Boy, was THAT slow.

One of the biggest hurdles that I encountered wasn’t M1 related, but rather Big Sur – on the Intel MacBook Pro, Big Sur had trouble reading and adjusting the external display settings – often necessitating a plug/unplug job. This is when using USB-C (presumably DisplayPort over USB-C). With the M1 MacBook Pro, the problem was far worse. It recognised the BenQ display as being 5K (it can just about handle 4K) and got the resolution and refresh rate wrong regardless of whatever I did. It was only when I discovered I could press the Option key when clicking Scaled in System Preferences -> Display that I could see away of adjusting the display’s resolution AND refresh – yet using “low resolution” mode?

Big Sur’s USB-C/DisplayPort drivers are dodgy as hell on M1 – and just a PITA on Intel

I got fed up and decided to switch to HDMI instead – and that Just Worked(tm). I now have the right resolution and at the right refresh rate (144Hz) rather than a faux resolution 2560×1440 at 30Hz. Apple needs to do some serious work on its USB-C/DisplayPort display drivers.

FWIW, I just bought this wonderful Anker 8-in-1 dongle for all my dongle needs, given that the MacBook Pro only has two external ports. Comes with a nice carrying pouch too.

What’s really remarkable about the 13″ M1 MacBook Pro is that it is silent. Completely and totally silent. My 16″ MacBook Pro often sounds as if it’s about to take off. And the M1 MacBook Pro is cool to the touch regardless of whatever task I can throw at it. I could fry an egg on the 16″ model.

In terms of work, I’m pleased to say that the free version of the Forticlient VPN software (6.4.3) works with M1 Macs and Big Sur, even if it uses Rosetta 2 because it’s an Intel binary. In terms of anti-virus/anti-malware, I’m sitting tight until Sophos has something – while I suspect Sophos Home Premium should work (more or less) right now, I’d really like to see a native binary release ASAP.

And continuing with the work theme, I’ve got the Parallels Technical Preview running a Debian 10 for ARM VM – everything works just fine. So simple. Fast. No fuss whatsoever. I’m not going to try and run Windows for ARM on this machine – though I might give it a go when I get the Mac Mini.

VM running on Parallels for Intel Mac (note the bugs line – goodbye Spectre!):

[email protected] ~ % uname -a
Darwin Martyns-MBP.lan 20.3.0 Darwin Kernel Version 20.3.0: Thu Jan 21 00:07:06 PST 2021; root:xnu-7195.81.3~1/RELEASE_X86_64 x86_64

LINUX VM:
[email protected]:~$ cat /proc/cpuinfo
processor       : 0
vendor_id       : GenuineIntel
cpu family      : 6
model           : 158
model name      : Intel(R) Core(TM) i9-9880H CPU @ 2.30GHz
stepping        : 13
cpu MHz         : 2304.000
cache size      : 16384 KB
physical id     : 0
siblings        : 2
core id         : 0
cpu cores       : 2
apicid          : 0
initial apicid  : 0
fpu             : yes
fpu_exception   : yes
cpuid level     : 22
wp              : yes
flags           : fpu vme de pse tsc msr pae mce cx8 apic sep mtrr pge mca cmov pat pse36 clflush mmx fxsr sse sse2 ss ht syscall nx rdtscp lm constant_tsc nopl xtopology nonstop_tsc cpuid tsc_known_freq pni pclmulqdq ssse3 fma cx16 pcid sse4_1 sse4_2 x2apic movbe popcnt tsc_deadline_timer aes xsave avx f16c rdrand hypervisor lahf_lm abm 3dnowprefetch invpcid_single pti fsgsbase tsc_adjust bmi1 avx2 smep bmi2 invpcid rdseed adx smap clflushopt xsaveopt xsavec dtherm arat pln pts
bugs            : cpu_meltdown spectre_v1 spectre_v2 spec_store_bypass l1tf mds swapgs itlb_multihit srbds
bogomips        : 4608.00
clflush size    : 64
cache_alignment : 64
address sizes   : 36 bits physical, 48 bits virtual
power management:
[email protected] ~ % uname -a
Darwin Martyns-M1-MBP.lan 20.3.0 Darwin Kernel Version 20.3.0: Thu Jan 21 00:06:51 PST 2021; root:xnu-7195.81.3~1/RELEASE_ARM64_T8101 arm64

LINUX VM (2 virtual CPUs):
[email protected]:~/Projects$ cat /proc/cpuinfo
processor       : 0
BogoMIPS        : 48.00
Features        : fp asimd evtstrm aes pmull sha1 sha2 crc32 atomics fphp asimdhp cpuid asimdrdm jscvt fcma lrcpc dcpop sha3 asimddp sha512 asimdfhm dit uscat ilrcpc flagm ssbs
CPU implementer : 0x41
CPU architecture: 8
CPU variant     : 0x0
CPU part        : 0x000
CPU revision    : 0

processor       : 1
BogoMIPS        : 48.00
Features        : fp asimd evtstrm aes pmull sha1 sha2 crc32 atomics fphp asimdhp cpuid asimdrdm jscvt fcma lrcpc dcpop sha3 asimddp sha512 asimdfhm dit uscat ilrcpc flagm ssbs
CPU implementer : 0x41
CPU architecture: 8
CPU variant     : 0x0
CPU part        : 0x000
CPU revision    : 0

Overall I am very impressed with Apple’s first Apple Silicon Mac. It’s a little rough around the edges here and there, and we need to see more developers roll out Universal or native binaries, but otherwise this a laptop I can wholly recommend if you’re not going to be pushing it too hard. I still say that we need to see a bigger push towards 16Gb RAM models and add 32Gb RAM to the line-up – especially for developers.

I was mucking about with anti-virus/anti-malware on macOS Big Sur the other day which included testing various VPN products and ended up on BBC America’s web site whilst connected to a US server. There, for the taking, was the first episode of the controversial adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series of novels based on the Ankh Morpork City Watch in the form of a TV series, The Watch, which is yet to air here in the UK.

I wasn’t able to get past episode one, not because I didn’t enjoy it, but BBC America requires that you sign in with a US cable provider. As I’m not a merkin, I cannot do so. But what I did see within the confines of the first episode was rather interesting.

First things first, though. I was delighted. Over the moon. Cock-a-hoop. Fandabidozied.. when I was working at The Moving Picture Company and found out that we’d be working on the very first live-action TV series of a Terry Pratchett Discworld property. For me, out of all the projects MPC had worked on – this was the bee’s nuts, the mutt’s knees or other anatomical parts of animals that are really good. And I think we did extremely well with Vadim Jean’s adaptation (with bits of the screenplay mucked about by PTerry himself) of Hogfather and Colour of Magic. I also very much enjoyed Going Postal too. These adaptations were great fun and captured the spirit and look of Discworld and its inhabitants nicely.

Many, many years later and we’ve got a brand new TV adaptation based on the Watch of Ankh Morpork. But unlike the other adaptations, this one had a much more difficult birth which has resulted in a radically different kind of Ankh Morpork/Discworld – at least visually. A Discworld of an alternative dimension to that we all know and love. We have the same characters, but not entirely as we know them.

The first thing I will say about The Watch is that the actors – all of them – do a marvellous job. Top-notch stuff here. Richard Dormer in particular, as Sam Vimes, is bloody marvellous – even if he is not the Sam Vimes I’ve imagined over all these years reading the novels. I think the closest we’ve got in terms of characterisation is Constable Carrot (played by Adam Hugill) who plays him exactly as I’d imagine Carrot to be. Corporal Angua (Marama Corlett) is also fairly close too. And I can absolutely see the relationship forming between the two in this adaptation, just as it does in the books. But I am particularly impressed with the casting of Lady Sybil Ramkin (who will eventually become.. well, you’ll need to read the books) – Lara Rossi IS Lady Sybil. She’s an absolute delight. Good Boy, the dragon, makes me chuckle. Hopefully we’ll get to see a lot more of him in later episodes.

I didn’t recognise CMOTB (Cut Me Own Throat Dibbler) at first due to the gender-swapping recasting of both CMOTDB and Lord Vetinari. For me, CMOTD will always be an Arthur Daley type, surviving by the skin of his teeth through sausages inna bun or moving pictures – and not by selling the narcotic Slab. Dibbler couldn’t have been a drug dealer if he tried.

What’s interesting about this version of Discworld is that they too use practical effects for several main characters. Like Death in Hogfather, he’s a bloke wearing a big robe and a mask. In this version, it’s still a bloke in a robe, but we just see two blue lights. No skull. With an American accent. No, no, no, no. Bad. Wrong. Terrible. As for Sergeant Detritus, he actually looks pretty good as a practical creature – though at one point some of the prosthetics work fails somewhat and you see a bit more of the actor (Ralph Ineson) underneath than we should.

The VFX are pretty decent too and serve the show just fine.

Overall, and rather oddly, I rather like this weird parallel universe version of Discworld. I never thought I’d say that. It has many problems, yes, but its the performances which save this show, along with a healthy dose of humour. Or look at it this way: Game of Thrones season eight was an atrocious mess that should be confined to the vaults of Warner Bros. forever. This, The Watch, is a much better alternative. Is this our Discworld that we’ve come to know and love after all this time? No. Is this Batman who has become a news reporter in a yellow trenchcoat with a pet bat (as suggested by Neil Gaiman)? Maybe.

But good god it’s entertaining.

And as long as the momentum and insanity of episode one keeps up along with the rest of the series, I look forward to watching the whole of it whenever it comes to the UK shores.

Next, why I didn’t hate Tom Hooper’s adaptation of Cats… (honestly, I didn’t hate it, though he should never be allowed near VFX people ever again.)

Will peace come to the Galaxy? Stay tuned..

Disney+ a kinder, gentler Disney? Not likely.

Next month will be time to renew my Disney+ subscription, and I am in no way hesitant to renew it simply because of Star Wars. Not only do we have all the films in 4K, but we have The Clone Wars and Rebels animated series which help to expand the complex world-building of George Lucas’ playground. I’ve been enjoying the Clone Wars series very much, and Rebels builds upon that too. We end up with a series of stories which all end up being woven into the first six Star Wars movies, adding great value to them.

The Clone Wars and Rebels TV series being animated suggest that these are kids shows. While Rebels started with a lower age rating initially, the number of deaths featured in these shows put Game of Thrones to shame. Of course, unlike Game of Thrones, you don’t see people’s heads being pulled off, throats slit, or any number of interesting and amusing ways to die horribly. But nevertheless, this is Star Wars, not Star Peace. But I feel the level of violence generally falls in line with the original trilogy, though both shows introduce a lot more ethical related stories and conundrums. The main one being the clone troopers. The Republic army primarily consisted of genetically modified clones, all of whom had an organic biochip which would eventually turn the entire army against the Republic, killing the Jedi. But before all that happens, we spend a considerable amount of time with the clone troopers, getting to know them individually and as a group along with their Jedi generals. The relationships which get built up from that are important and essential. I would consider The Clone Wars and Rebels TV series an absolutely essential part of the Star Wars universe and are required viewing. I regret not watching them earlier, but I’m very glad I have done so now. Plus, the original voices of Darth Vader, Yoda and the actor behind Lando Calrissian all provide their original character voices for Rebels.

Within the past year, we’ve had TWO seasons of the first-ever live-action Star Wars TV series, with an entirely new Boba Fett series premiering at the end of this year. To say that The Mandalorian has been a tremendous success is an understatement. We’ve got so much more to come too. So, of course, I’m going to be renewing Disney+ for another year. Especially as we’re getting the Disney part of Hulu too – I’ve been waiting to see Justin Roiland’s Solar Opposites for a while, and it’s heading to Star on Disney+.

Yes, the price is going up, but I think the value for money versus the other streaming services is substantial.

The Competition

Though I rarely watch Netflix these days (because they keep cancelling my favourite shows), they still manage to keep the competition on their toes with shows like Bridgerton, The Dig (shot outside of Godalming), and the forthcoming adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, which, interestingly, is said to be filming around Guildford Cathedral right now. Oh, us Surreyonians (Surrey Onions?) can also boast that we’re hosting Netflix’s The Witcher series too. Surrey – we’re like Hollywood, but cheaper and nicer to look at.

(We did host Star Wars in Surrey a couple of times. One of those times I could have sworn I saw a Wookie riding atop a truck going up and down a certain runway of a certain popular BBC motoring show, seemingly practising for the train heist in Solo: A Star Wars Story.)

Many years ago, I came across a small local company producing online gift boxes that contained a wide variety of gifts based around various themes. The company name was Pamper Parcels. As Christmas was fast approaching, I wanted to get my stepmother a gift and this was the perfect solution as I’m not a natural shopper and despite knowing what my family likes and doesn’t like, I still struggle to buy anything suitable. So having somebody pack and present gifts nicely is a massive bonus in my view. My step mum was delighted with it.

Based on the feedback, when they produced a men’s pamper gift pack, I thought I’d give that a go. The box and packaging were excellent, and the contents were a perfect mix of edibles and smellies. Alas, Pamper Parcels doesn’t appear to be with us anymore, but while they were operating, they were a very good option for those looking for gifts.

That was 2014. Fast forward to 2020 and we’re in a pandemic. The company I now work for usually do something at Christmas time for us, but given that I and most of my fellow colleagues have been working from home for nearly a full year now, that wasn’t going to happen. So they kindly gave us all a very generous allowance to spend at Bookblock.com, another company that specialises in gift boxes, along with personalised stationery and cards.

I’m a big sucker for stationery, but I can barely read my own handwriting these days, so it’s wasted on me. But I’ve only just gotten around to picking and choosing my own gift box (Christmas was a busy time of the year, not much time to stop and think about things.)

I decided to stray from the curated boxes and go for some of the crafted beers and wines – along with a mug (you can never have enough mugs). The whole lot was paid for by my employers and the thing was delivered by DPD in under 24 hours.

I look forward to celebrating Christmas 2: Electric Boogaloo over the next few weeks – when I’m not on-call. I’m certainly very impressed with Bookblock’s presentation and speedy turnaround. And I’ve bookmarked them as I’m sure I’ll use them again in the future – either for family, friends, or myself again.

Everybody:

“SHHH! OOH! OOH! SHHH! AHH!”
“SHHH! OOH! OOH! SHHH! AHH!”
(beat)
“SHHH! OOH! OOH! SHHH! AHH!”
“SHHH! OOH! OOH! SHHH! AHH!”

That, apparently, is the sound a woman makes while riding a pushbike when she’s in a hurry and must get across town before the sun goes down, looking pretty as she’s pedalling along, singing that song.

Well, there must be a lot of hills wherever she lives to make those kinds of noises. Or she’s really, really out of shape.

The Pushbike Song is a bit of an oddity in the history of music. It’s bubblegum pop meets skiffle. It’s catchy, but can you really dance to it? The main chorus sounds like somebody’s either pleasuring themselves or an orangutan enjoying a really good fizzy drink (but wouldn’t that be ook! ook!?) Or possibly both (an orangutan drinking a fizzy drink whilst pleasuring somebody? The mind boggles.)

And while it’s already gone past its birthday (December 1970), on the 31st January 1971 it reached the number 2 spot in the UK charts.

And yet (incoming pun alert), many people mix up the original band, The Mixtures, with Mungo Jerry. Mungo Jerry’s In The Summertime came out first, and The Pushbike Song was a kind of answer to that. There’s a tonne of information about it over at Jon Kutner’s blog. Ray Dorset of Mungo Jerry eventually covered The Pushbike Song back in 1990.

For me, I first heard it back when I was about 5 or 6 years old. And it wasn’t The Mixtures version either. There have been a number of covers over the years, and I had a green tape of various singles that either my mum or dad had put onto tape of various pop tunes. After many years, I found out that these were from a series called Top of the Pops and employed session musicians to cover popular songs at the time.

I think the first time I heard the original Mixtures version during a spot on BBC’s That’s Life about a dog that likes riding a bicycle. Of course, the dog can’t actually pedal the bike, but he liked hanging on to his (or her) master’s shoulders. In other news:

The Covers

In terms of covers, there have been a few over the years. Some good, some absolutely bloody terrible. Anita Harris produced a version in 1974 – perhaps the second female singer to cover the song after the Finnish band, Toomapojad who bypass singing the chorus completely, and the whole song has to be performed super fast for some reason:

Meanwhile, in Anita’s version, the chorus (ooh, ooh, ahh part) was manipulated to make her voice much deeper – presumably to become male – but ended up sounding like an 800-pound silverback gorilla with a terrible hernia who just learned that his wife is having an affair with a chimp. As one CD cover note mentioned, it sounds as if the backing singers (aka Anita herself) were pleasuring themselves. The producer of that version really ought to have left the creative decisions to somebody else. Anita has a lovely voice throughout otherwise, and it should have been left well alone from audio engineers fiddling with their knobs (ooer-missus).

Anita Harris’ take on the Pushbike Song. Watch out for the gorilla.

But if you want the worst ever version of the Pushbike Song, and it pains me to say this, you need to look at Olivia Newton-John. Yes, she covered it, but then it was put through a blender and out came electronic slop. She has clearly sung some parts of it, but the majority of it is her repeatedly and randomly spewing “hey!”, “shh!” “ahh!”, saying “pushbike”, and in a vocoder/auto-tuned voice, “riding along on a pushbike honey, when I noticed you” over and over again.

One could argue this version is danceable (if having taken a substantial amount of illegal drugs), and maybe even good for working out. But it is an abomination for anything else. It’d have been nice to have heard what Olivia could have done with the original version had it not been turned into a rave (as in stark raving mad) track. Such a pity.

My ears! She’s not the one that you want..

Another band called The Great American Disaster released a version and feels a great deal more traditional skiffle than the original Mixtures version. The washboard comes out in full force (as an accompaniment and as a sound effect), the banjo replaced with a piano, and some beatbox/cymbal punctuation action. Melodically it’s one of the more interesting covers, though it gets the lyrics wrong at one point.

The Great American Disaster’s cover isn’t that much of a disaster to be honest

These are only a few select cover versions, and there are plenty more out there including TV covers (I remember Cilla Black coming out with a version for her Surprise! Surprise! TV show back in the ’90s as part of a “cillagram” – I just remember it being very odd).

But with electric pushbikes coming out in force, there will be no further need to make silly noises while riding bikes. But that kind of takes the fun out of it.

.. because the number of reported problems (condensation and excessive battery drain being the main culprits) makes it feel as though the product was rushed to market and stops me from buying a pair.

The fact that a £529 pair of headphones can’t even be switched off properly is ridiculous. When Sennheiser released their Momentum 3 wireless headphones (I have a pair – they’ve extremely comfortable and I’d highly recommend them), they too had a problem that you couldn’t directly power them off without putting them into a certain position, so you couldn’t hang them on a headphone stand, for example. But Sennheiser eventually did the right thing and released a firmware update that allows you to turn the headphones off when holding down the multi-function button.

Now, why can’t Apple do that with the Airpods Max? Why can’t they release a firmware update that allows you to, say, hold down the digital crown for 2 seconds to turn the things off rather than put up with their dodgy power management system?

But I have bought the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones through EE instead. Their noise cancellation is second to none – better than the Sennheiser for sure. The Sony headphones quickly, the gesture controls are decent (and easy to remember) and you can turn the things on and off at will. Plus the battery lasts 30 hours. It’s great for watching TV (when paired with a transceiver such as the Avantree Oasis Plus Bluetooth 5.0 Transmitter and Receiver) or listening to audio from the Mac or iPhone. My only complaint is that the ear cushions feel like the weak point in the entire system – likely needed to be replaced well ahead of time – and I’d really like to see Sony adopt a similar system to Apple with magnets to allow easy replacement. Maybe we might see this with the WH-100XMM5?

I’ve been quite busy of late – hence the lack of new posts – but you’re about to see why.

I’ve always found online dating to be a massive pain in the arse. It really is a massive, massive pain in the rear end. It’s incredibly expensive, it’s potentially dodgy as hell, and the level of satisfaction is incredibly low.

These sites are rarely well managed by the site owners, who will be more than happy to take your money but provide a substandard service in return. You’re likely to be scammed left, right and centre, and you’ll encounter many, many, many, many time wasters. And when you do encounter somebody, their messaging skills are dire or they just don’t want to be bothered to respond even with a simple, “thanks, but no thanks”.

My main advice would be to check out rating services such as Trustpilot and Money Saving Expert before you even think of handing over any money for a subscription since almost all of these services will force you into a contract and will make you pay some or all of that contract in the form value compensation even if you cancel for ANY reason within 14 days. Yet, these sites make the free tier almost impossible to use without a subscription. There’s no point in it being free. You can’t do anything. I got caught out by eHarmony (as have many, many, many others) – but the other sites were very reasonable all things considered. Check those terms and conditions like a hawk.

Online dating is not the faint of heart. But I have tried many of the UK’s most popular brands over a three week period to find out which one would likely to attract a long term subscription from me. The answer to that is none of them. These are my notes:

Match.com

Given how prolific this service is, it probably hosts the most comprehensive number of profiles of any service (with the exception of Plenty of Fish), but it’s definitely not without a good number of scammers either.  Within hours, had to report at least one possible scammer.  Can’t stop people outside the UK looking at your profile.  Honoured 14-day refund period.  Problems include uploading photos.  

One thing to note: they really do want you to upload recent photographs, and one way they will check and enforce this is by scanning the EXIF metadata of any photo being uploaded.  They do this to make sure that the creation date of the photograph falls within a one or two year period of whatever today’s date is.  As I don’t take too many selfies and my appearance tends to remain the same, I tend to use a photo I had taken at work a while back which is a couple of years old,.  So when the photo was initially rejected, I manipulated the EXIF data and fixed the date so that it appeared to have been taken the same day as the upload.  I re-uploaded and it was accepted.  I’m not suggesting everybody should do this, but it’s one way of getting around the automated moderation if you really, really want to use a particular photo.

Tinder

Super expensive, especially when “boosting” your profile.  More catered for the younger crowd – too many “pouting” pictures alongside boob shots and women in their underwear – something that wouldn’t be allowed on other services.  User interface is a pain in the arse and unfriendly.  Apple honoured refund.

Plenty of Fish

A very comprehensive number of profiles – possibly more so than Match.com.  But it’s super expensive, especially when you have to pay extra for profile boosts.  But even worse is the user interface which is extremely buggy on the web version, with messages being mixed up with Plenty of Fish’s own mailbox at times – refreshing the page fixes it.  A lot more scamming going on.  Twice I encountered (quite possible the same scammer) with a profile containing photos of a nice lady – except the profile claims to be a 49-year-old man who is blonde (the lady in the pictures was dark-haired).  Plenty of Fish honoured the refund request.

eHarmony

Can’t stop people from outside the UK looking at your profile (though you can stop them contacting you).  Attempted to fix grammar mistake with profile (apostrophes out of place) which was rejected by “customer service” (no additional content was added, and previous edit was absolutely fine.  Absolutely bloody useless customer service as a result.  That said, they have the most stable and better designed UI than the other dating sites.  One doesn’t “boost” the profile to as far and wide, rather you use their algorithm for match compatibility which seems to work pretty well and gets a decent number of views.  Messaging is relatively straight forward – and well designed.  However,  giving “compliments” on parts of a profile are a lot more complex than it seems – what generally should start conversations usually is a massive non-starter.  

The 14-day statutory right to a refund is essentially negated if you pay for Premium Membership which pretty much the only thing you can do to make ANY sense or use of the service (which applies to pretty much any dating service – the free membership is useless).  Even then, they will deduct a further fee for “value compensation” (which is mentioned in the terms and conditions) due to your use of the Premium Membership – essentially charging £130 for the “scientific” match report.  But, at the goodness of their hearts. they will half the fee and deduct the first month’s fee from that.  I ended up paying £65 for a service which did not live up to expectations.  On the other hand, I am no longer tied to the contract.  

The report fee is not mentioned in the terms and conditions which is publicly available on the site and is sent as a PDF to you after you placed the order (which brings down your subscription costs too).  They claim the £130 *is* mentioned prior to placing the order, but I do not recall this, and when pushed to prove that it’s there, I got no response.  I’ve filed a complaint with the CMA (Competition Markets Authority) over eHarmony’s lack of transparency.  Visiting Trustpilot will show many, many, many people have been caught out by this fee, and even eHarmony’s very own Facebook page has scores of people following up their own posts complaining about the value compensation fee.  This suggests to me either the company is deliberately hiding behind it, or are completely bloody useless and doesn’t give a toss.  eHarmony were forced to pay a $1.2 million fee and $1 million in restitution after a variety of renewal related chaos:

https://mynewsla.com/business/2018/01/09/dating-site-slapped-with-big-fine-for-automatic-renewals-denied-refunds/

and here in the UK, eHarmony got in a lot of trouble with the UK Advertising Standards Agency for their adverts:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/01/03/online-dating-ad-banned-scientific-claims-dismissed-fake-news/

Encounters Dating

This one is very much up front about refunds – you pay and use the service immediately, you remain in contract.  No refunds.  So I signed up for one month only to get a feel, then can let the thing run out.  I feel it’s fine to compensate a dating site for at least one month’s of service if they really insist on it.  

Problems included one “fan”‘s subscription running out and not being able to contact me, but would write when she renewed her subscription – either it was a scheme for me to “gift” a subscription to her, or just to tell me to bugger off (which would have been simpler).  Another fan, I’m sure, was merely a mistake.   Then there was another that had locked her profile down so much there were too many non-negotiable elements that it made it impossible for me to contact her.  All pictures were hidden and you’d have to ask.  So she was immediately blocked – why waste somebody’s time like that?  There’s no method of boosting a profile, but they seem more relaxed with photographs and profile statements versus others.  

I  noticed that Encounters Dating seem to cater for the more mature side – given its association with the Telegraph you can expect plenty of people 45 years and up and with a more conservative view.

Overall / Conclusion

Each site needs to introduce stricter verification processes to deter fraud and scamming.  If this means a credit check against the account owner, alongside manual verification of ID, so be it.  A few of these sites offer a phone verification which is displayed alongside a user’s profile, but not everybody does this – it’s entirely optional.

The cost of subscriptions is pretty damn outrageous with the likes of Tinder. Match and Plenty of Fish charging eye popping fees to pimp (maybe the wrong choice of word there) your profile to everybody.  To give some context, I pay Google £15.30 a month to access their *Enterprise* email and workspace (Docs, Drive and Presentation) product.  I have 24/7 round the clock support for business critical outages or problems.  I also pay £11.99/month for YouTube Premium which does away with adverts and provides downloads via the YouTube app for offline viewing.

£15.30 + £11.99 = £27.29

This is still CONSIDERABLY cheaper than any of the monthly (or even of the many other quarterly, bi-annually or annual) subscription costs for dating sites.  The support will be considerably worse off.  You’ll more than likely get scammers.  And if you don’t like it – especially after 14 days – you’ll either to pay off the remainder of your subscription or a hefty value compensation fee.

My general thinking is maybe we need to stop with all this algorithm nonsense and go back to the old fashioned match making systems of old – e.g. humans behind the matching process.  I was amazed when watching an unlikely dating show, The Undateables, just how *nice* it would be to have that human contact when setting up a profile and throughout the whole process.   Plus it gives a sense of security and verification to the proceedings.  But this would come with even high costs than what is on offer now (I estimate around £600+ a year) – and, of course, trying to deal with hundreds of thousands of profiles would be impossible.  

Another issue I have with these online dating services is that most of the women I have some conversation with just can’t go beyond the length of simple text messaging.  I’m fine with talking of course, but I need to engage and get a sense of the person through their writing first.  I was complimented once, long in the distant past, by somebody who said that I had at least taken the time to compose my messages which weren’t along the lines of “ugg, urgh, yes, or no.” I understand people want to talk, but I’d like to initially see some form of literacy in a date that goes beyond three or four words.  Is it too much to ask?

Thanks to a very kind poster in this MacRumours forum, you can get the three month’s free Fitness+ trial (rather than the one month offered despite having bought a new Apple Watch after September 15th) simply by unpairing your Apple Watch after upgrading to iOS 14.3 and WatchOS 7.2 and re-pairing them again. Then go to the Fitness app on the iPhone and click the Fitness+ tab – you’ll then get the 3-month offer.

This does mean that you’ll have to do some setting up of the Watch again, but I tried this myself after spending over an hour on the phone to Apple Support trying to fix this thing and getting nowhere with them. Thankfully it worked, and I’m now going to put it through its paces over the next few months because I bloody need to get into shape.

The whole experience of trying to get this trial was incredibly frustrating. Apple demanded I give them proof of purchase despite this being a Series 6 watch which only launched after September 15th. It was activated by me on the 17th September and I bought AppleCare+ for it on the 19th. Besides which, this is a Watch provided by a carrier so I don’t have proof of purchase as such – but EE weren’t helping by not updating the plan page with the correct device – they seem to think I still have an Apple Watch Series 4.

Honestly, Apple’s quality control is slipping again.