The Apple Watch Series 4: Many thousands of songs on your wrist

When Steve Jobs first revealed the iPod many years ago, he proclaimed, “A thousand songs in your pocket”.  Fast forward to today, and with the Apple Watch series 4, you can have many thousands of songs .. on your wrist.

I decided to refresh my contract with EE and get the Apple Watch series 4 for two reasons: 1) the speed and 2) the bigger screen.  With the cellular edition of the Apple Watch, I can leave the iPhone behind and still be contactable.  Plus I can stream music on the go too.  But as it has 16Gb of storage, it means that I can store many hours of music and audio books for offline use.

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Complications galore.  One complaint is that it is still too easy to trigger the screen and accidentally hit complications that require a touch to instigate.

Firstly, I should mention that the S4 SoC (system on a chip) is ridiculously fast on the Series 4 watch.  It’s been measured that performance comes close to that of an iPhone 6.  Boot times are cut in half.  Updates to WatchOS take far less time.  Swiping between apps is super smooth.  It is a responsive device.

One area where I wish Apple would improve on, however, is that I still find that I can trigger complications, utilities built within the watch face that tell you the weather, battery life, start a timer, etc., if I’m wearing a long sleeve shirt or jacket.  Or if I’m showering, the water can kick off a complication without warning.

With 16Gb of storage, I’ve uploaded my favourite playlists and albums from Apple Music and storing them locally on the watch’s filesystem.  With the Audible app for iOS, I’ve uploaded over 100 hours of audio books to the watch too.  Paired with Apple’s AirPods, you’ve got yourself a wonderfully portable entertainment centre.

As for the health tracking abilities – I’ve yet to put them through their paces.  I’m not convinced we’ll see the ECG function here in the UK for a good few years while Apple works with the relevant authorities here to get it classified for general use.  I know I am overweight and need to be fitter – I don’t need a watch to tell me that – but I do know that I’ll find the steps walked and calories burned to be a most useful feature at some point.

It’s a watch.  It’s a phone.  It’s a music and audiobook player.  It’s a health and fitness tracker.  It’s a personal assistant (thanks to Siri integration).  It’s a tracker.  It’s a remote control.  It can inform emergency services if you have a serious fall.  It’s all these things and so much more.  You can take it swimming (up to 50m water resistance), running (as it has a built-in GPS so you can map your route), hiking, jogging or just track your sleep (through third-party apps – it doesn’t support this natively yet).  It’s a wonderful device and Apple are the only ones who have built such a comprehensive device and have done it very well.

The Martians are coming!

With the news of a brand new BBC adaptation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds by Peter Harness (who adapted Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell – also for the BBC), I thought I’d pay a visit to the H.G. Wells statue in my hometown of Woking, where Wells wrote (and set the beginning of) War of the Worlds.

All photos were taken by the iPhone XS Max – and it did a particularly excellent job given that it was super windy and raining heavily at the time, and I was trying to balance an umbrella, a bag and the phone simultaneously and was shaking the phone about like a good ‘un.  But thanks to the iPhone’s computational photography and ability to start storing frames in a buffer before I’ve even pressed the shutter button, and along with taking a whole slew of photos – overexposed, underexposed and everything in between and combining them – I think they came out just great.

(I’m assuming the ball that Wells is holding relates to the space capsule from The First Men in the Moon)

Wells moved to Working in 1895 and lived here for about a year and half.  During that time he wrote War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man. 

Woking’s science fiction connections were also recently bolstered by the Phillip K. Dick (Blade Runner) anthology TV series, Electric Dreams (produced by Channel 4 in conjunction with Amazon Prime Video) which had set an episode at Woking train station and told of a railway worker who journeys to a mysterious, unmarked town called Macon Heights.

Meanwhile, much closer to where I live, we had The End of the F***ing World shoot some material for the first episode.  The series was recently nominated for a BAFTA and Emmy and has been renewed for a second season.

Worth Watching: Mary and The Witch’s Flower

Ever since I watched – with bemusement – My Neighbour Totoro when it aired a few decades ago on Channel 4, I have been a big fan of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki.  Totoro was fantastical, whimsical, funny and – dare I say it – wholesome.  It was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

And Studio Ghibli hasn’t disappointed since then.  I’ve seen their entire back catalogue many times.  I’ve seen their recent releases too.  Film Four screens the complete Ghibli collection every year, for free – both in Japanese and English voice cast (Japanese versions late at night, the English voice cast during the day).

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A big part of Studio Ghibli’s appeal, to me at least, is the music.  Joe Hisaishi’s work has been nothing short of miraculous.  You can download and stream many of Studio Ghibli’s music via Apple Music.  Mary and the Witch’s Flower OST is there too.

The beauty of a Ghibli film is in how they draw you into their world.  It may be a world full of spirits in need of a good bath such as Spirited Away, or a young teenage witch setting out in the world in Kiki’s Delivery Service, or maybe a World War II fighter pilot redeeming himself for a past mistake in Porco Rosso.  Whatever world Ghibli transports you to, you’re going to be told a damn fine tale.  Even non-fantastical movies such as Only Yesterday (dir. Isao Takahata) and Ocean Waves (dir. Tomomi Mochizuki) which deal with human relationships are works of true craftsmen.  In short: as the youngsters say these days, a Ghibli film gives you all the feels.  I’m usually in tears at the end.

One of my all-time favourite Ghibli movies is Arrietty, directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi and written by Hayao Miyazaki.  It’s adapted from the first book in Mary Norton’s The Borrowers and is by far the best adaptation.  It’s incredible from a number of viewpoints.  The first is that the animation allows you to easily mix the smaller people with the larger.  There’s an incredible scene in which a housekeeper has discovered where Arrietty’s family live and lifts the floorboards and roof of their “house”.  We see it from a very low perspective, looking up at a screaming Homily who is facing the massive grinning face of the housekeeper, Sho.  It’s something that would be extremely difficult to pull off in live action.  Another element that makes this film stand out is the original soundtrack from Cécile Corbel, a French musician who is not only a singer with a beautiful voice but one of the best harpists I’ve ever heard.  She sings in both Japanese, English, French and goodness knows how many other languages Arietty has been translated into.

Yonebayashi has also been responsible for one of Ghibli’s final movies, When Marnie Was There, which was adapted from Joan G. Robinson’s book of the same name.  It’s an intriguing ghost story with a substantial twist.  It delighted, shocked, and made me sad at the same time when the final reveal is made.

After Marnie, Ghibli fell into deathly silence, with Isao Takahata sadly passing away not too long after The Tale of Princess Kaguya, and Miyazaki had announced his retirement after his excellent The Wind Rises.  It was at this time rumblings were happening that eventually resulted in Yoshiaki Nishimura and Yonebayashi forming Studio Ponoc (pronounced “ponnotch”, which is Croatian for “midnight”) and with it, Mary and the Witch’s Flower.

Yonebayashi and his producer Nishimura had bought the rights to Mary Stewart’s The Little Broomstick (you can read all about it via this excellent blog post) and adapted it for the screen under the name of Mary and The Witch’s Flower.  It tells the adventure of Mary Smith who has moved in with her great aunt for a small spell (hahahaha) while her parents go away to the United States on business.  Bored, Mary goes exploring in the forest surrounding the property and discovers an unusual flower, the “Fly-By-Night”.  It is said that witches seek this out for its tremendous power.   Things escalate when Mary chases one of the vicar’s son’s cats into the forest.  A slight accident invokes the powers of the Fly-By-Night and Mary is whisked away, on a broom, to Endor College, a magical place where witches and wizards go to study magic.  There she meets Madam Mumblechook and Professor Dee, who – thanks to the Fly-By-Night’s magical properties – are impressed with Mary’s newfound magical abilities.

Needless to say, things don’t go too well from this point onwards and Mary has all manner of misadventures as she attempts to get back to a normal life.  She discovers secrets along the way and makes new friends too.  It’s a lovely story that encapsulates everything that I love about the glory days of Ghibli.  The animation, as you’d expect, is the finest out there.  Many of Ghibli’s animators have made the transition to Studio Ponoc, and given Nishimura, Yonebayashi and the animation team’s experience at Ghibli, you can expect nothing less of a bloody amazing piece of work.

Is Studio Ponoc the rightful heir to Ghibli?  I’d have to say a big yes.  I’d expect in a few years time we’ll start to see a Studio Ponoc museum in Japan to complement the existing Ghibli museum (which I MUST visit – it’s on my bucket list).

It isn’t quite the end of Ghibli, however.  Miyazaki has recently released a 14-minute computer generated short called Boro the Caterpillar and is working on one last film (retirement for Miyazaki means more work!) – all of which will be detailed in an upcoming documentary called Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki which will be coming to U.S. theatres.  I only hope it’ll come to UK cinemas too – or at least available via video on demand or streaming.  I found a previous documentary called The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness to be utterly fascinating.  For fans of Isao Takahata (and who isn’t?), then I highly recommend the documentary, Isao Takahata and His Tale of Princess Kaguya.

Long live Studio Ghibli!
Long live Studio Ponoc!

Worth watching: Aggretsuko (Netflix)

As a big fan of Japan’s Studio Ghibli and Studio Ponoc anime, I came across this rather strange show through my RSS news feed and decided I had to watch it.

Aggretsuko is a TV show from Netflix that’s based around a character from the Sanrio, the mascot company that brought us Hello Kitty.  Unlike Hello Kitty, however, Aggretsuko is definitely an adults-only affair.

Retsuko is a 25 year old female red panda that works in the accounting office of a trading firm. Struggling to deal with the pressures from her overbearing superiors and co-workers, she takes out frustrations by singing death metal – either in the toilets of the company or more likely at a local Karaoke bar.

As the series progresses, we see Retsuko open up to her co-workers and ultimately befriends two high powered individual women within the company who help her to address the problems of her overbearing boss, Director Ton (a big fat pig).  Prior to this, Retsuko dreams of leaving the company by marrying and becoming a full-time housewife.

As to how she manages all this, you’ll just have to watch the show.  It’s extremely funny – highly satirical, bold, and addresses the many problems of being a salaryman or salarywoman in modern Japanese culture.  The death metal sequences alone are worth watching out for as Retsuko takes it all out in the angriest way possible.

This show is best enjoyed in the original Japanese with English subtitles.

I do hope we get a season two, as this show is seriously one of the best things I’ve seen in a long while.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some death metal to sing…

 

Sample iPhone XS Max images

Well, I must say, I’m not disappointed!  Definitely much sharper when examining at 100% resolution.

So here are a few photos I’ve taken – original files in JPG format (exported from Photos app on iOS to Google Drive and uploaded here).  Just click on an image to expand to full size.  Remember: the copyright on these photos belongs to me.  If you’d like to use them, just ask.

The Apple iPhone XL (iPhone XS Max)

Update: See this post for sample photos taken from the iPhone XS Max.

The iPhone XS Max is a bit of a mouthful to really be considered a serious product name.  I’d have called this the iPhone XL (for Extra Large) and kept iPhone XS for (Extra Small) – not that the regular iPhone XS is small – definitely not as small as the iPhone 5 was (4″).  This monstrosity has a 6.5″ screen.

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However, as it was my annual upgrade with EE, I decided to go large, as it were, and ordered the iPhone XS Max as a replacement for my iPhone X (and subsequently before that the Google Pixel 2 XL and iPhone 8).  I really did go XL with the storage – a whopping half a terabyte – 512Gb – which matches that if my iPad Pro 10.5″ and half of that of my 2018 MacBook Pro 15″ which has 1Tb.  Call me mad, but even in the age of the cloud, I do prefer to keep data locally wherever possible.

The only downside?  EE provided me with the wrong colour – I wanted the gold edition but ended up with Space Gray.  That’s fine.  It’s going in a case anyway, so it really doesn’t matter in the long run.

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As practically everybody who has already unwrapped and unboxed their new Apple toy has already said, given the overall cost of the device, why did Apple forgo the usual Lightning to 3.5″ headphone converter, and not provide a faster charger with the phone?  Also, I’m not best pleased with the cost of the privilege of using an official Apple phone case – though I consider them to be far superior to some other cases.

That said, I hope that the unit itself will prove itself worthy.  I’m particularly keen on the improved camera system.  Having examined photos between the iPhone X and iPhone XS/XS Max, there is definitely a marked improvement in quality – both in terms of colour reproduction and noise reduction.  The fake-bokeh is a nice have, but not essential in how I use the camera – but it’s clear that computational photography is clearly the future of integrated devices.  Google’s Pixel 2 XL has clearly demonstrated this.  While I don’t think the photos from the iPhone XS/XS Max is quite as good as the Pixel 2 XL, Apple is certainly playing catch up.  But from what I’ve seen, this is definitely the best camera Apple has created yet.  That’s good enough for me.

I’ll post a review within a week or so of having used the device.  There is some worry of reports that the iPhone XS and XS Max have been having Wi-Fi and 4G signal problems, but equally many reports of increased performance thanks to its gigabit modem.  The Wi-Fi issue can be dealt with easily if I do encounter it, but I guess it will probably be up to both EE and Apple to fix any 4G related issues.  I have 14 days before I can return the unit, so we’ll see what happens in the meantime.

Also coming up: the Apple Watch series 4.  EE are dealing these out like hot cakes, so there’s a potential 30 day wait before my unit arrives.

Getting there..

One of the biggest problems with WordPress.com versus the self-hosted version of WordPress is that the lord high muck-a-mucks at Automattic that run everything have decreed that Google Analytics, a free stats service provided by Google, is only available to those that spend $300 per year (in one go – oh no, you can’t pay monthly here) for the Business package.  This makes it as expensive as self-hosting (or at least to do self-hosting properly).

The JetPack analytics are okay.  But they’re simple and don’t give enough insight.  I’d be tempted to move up one level to Premium for an extra $50 a year, but Google Analytics isn’t available and the stats offered by Automattic don’t improve either.

That said, I’m generally very happy with the hosted version of WordPress and do intend to stick around.  It does 90% of what I want and having looked at various other options, it is the most familiar CMS (content management system) and still one of the cheapest.

I’ve imported all the old pages – generally interviews with Susanna Clarke, Jane Goldman (who is currently developing the new Game of Thrones spin-off series, which is quite exciting) and Judith Adams, as well as restoring my “About Martyn” page.  As for the rest of the content, I’ve decided to retire it.  I think after so many years it becomes irrelevant as the march of progress moves forever forward.

Standby for action..

Decided that I’m a bit fed up paying around £30 per month for hosting a small blog, and decided to start anew on WordPress.com which costs the same for an entire year.

I’m in the process of going through and digging out a few old posts and interviews and will update this blog accordingly.  May take me a while, though.