The past couple of weeks have been somewhat challenging. About two weeks ago now, I became rather ill on Sunday – being sick and starting to get headaches. So I went to bed and practically stayed there for four days. I don’t think it was Covid-19, but I wouldn’t have been able to get a test even if I wanted to. Anyway, I’ve perked up somewhat since then, so I think all is well moving forward.

Virgin? Not me, I’m experienced – I’m a previous customer!

But before that had happened, I had placed an order with Virgin Media to get their M500 broadband – up to 500Mbs (actually a bit faster than that) down, 37Mbs up. I was paying Zen a few quid less to get a static IP (which I don’t really need these days) and 300Mbs (though with a better upload speed of 50Mbs).

I went with a self-install, given that I already had Virgin Media in the house a few times. Plus it’s the only network that’s likely to get me up to 1Gbs before anybody else – depending on what kind of investment VM has in this area. 500Mbs is the fastest speed I’m going to get for now.

Alas Mart and Phones

But signing up to Virgin Media wasn’t without difficulty. I went through the online set-up and completed all sections, including credit check, and once that was completed the entire order was submitted.

ALAS!

The bloody Virgin Media web server timed out, returning an Oops, Sorry! message and leaving me thoroughly pissed off. Thankfully, it seemed, the order was still in the basket and submitting that did the trick (without having to go through the rigmarole of completing the form again).

ALAS!

Although I received an acknowledgement of the order, I was a bit concerned that over the following days I didn’t hear from Virgin to confirm everything properly. So I gave them a call.

ALAS!

The phone number quoted in the email from Virgin Media doesn’t work. Essentially you’re put through to an automated voice recording that tells you that due to the Coronavirus, many of the call centres have closed – and that’s your lot. No other option.

So a quick internet search found a more general number (because Virgin Media’s web site has been redesigned as part of the Covid-19 to make it very much harder to find a phone number and forces you to use their online services which aren’t helpful at all). So I gave that a call.

One hour later of being on-hold, I was put through to a very nice lady (not operating out the UK, however) and we went through the problem – the order was there, but incomplete. So we continued through it – and I managed to save a bit of money too. By taking out the basic phone line (which includes Talk Weekends) and a Virgin Mobile SIM only package (which I’ll use for my EE iPad Pro whose contract runs out next month) – it reduces the overall cost to £47.50 – a saving of around £12 against my Zen G.Fast 300Mbs line.

The self-install kit would arrive one day later than what was arranged with the “online” order, and everything was good to go. What I got when it did arrive was a reasonably sized box containing the Superhub 3, an isolator cable that’s supposed to be plugged into the wall socket and the Superhub, and power brick.

I’m not your Cable Guy

Now, I don’t have a wall socket. I have a cable that’s been run in from the outside VM box, and it features a male connector. The isolator cable provider is male to the wall socket. Well, that won’t do!

Thankfully I kept the previous cabling from 2018, and this is what I did:

The TRIS-1002L is an isolator itself

Initially I plugged the isolator cable into the end of the TRIS-1002L unit, and it works – but then again, I thought it seems silly to have two isolators put together like that. So I reached out and got the TV/broadband splitter:

Welcome to the wonderful world of Martyn’s cabling skills

There’s a good chance I may go for the VM TV down the road once they’ve phased out their Tivo boxes – some very interesting developments appear to be on the horizon which may give Sky TV a run for their money. But I can’t do anything for another year anyway.

But the cabling works just fine as is. The Virgin Media network found the hub just fine and everything came up within around 15 minutes. Testing the default configuration demonstrated the speeds possible, and all looked good, so I put the hub into modem mode for use with my existing AmpliFi router (which means I don’t need to reconfigure my Wi-Fi or ethernet set-up for every connected device). It’s interesting that although I use an entirely different subnet from the VM router, I can still access the VM hub via http://192.168.100.1.

One initial problem I did encounter was that initial speeds via the AmpliFi network were scatty – very scatty. I found that by rebooting my Netgear switch, everything sprung into life. Maybe stale traffic on the network was causing all manner of crap which was slowing things down. I don’t know.

When plugging the Xbox One X in (via the AmpliFi router itself), I found that I had to reboot the AmpliFi because one night (ironically when I first started writing this post), the entire network went down. At first I blamed Virgin Media, but no – it wasn’t that. Rebooting the AmpliFi router did the trick. Speaking of which, I’m entirely convinced iOS/iPadOS’ Wi-Fi Private Addresses is a good idea when using AmpliFi as I had enormous problems with Apple’s HomeKit until I had to turn Private Addresses off.

But since then, with my MacBook Pro on ethernet, I’ve achieved some amazing speeds:

Whoosh! Test results conducted via ethernet via AmpliFi router with Superhub 3.0 in Modem mode

When iOS 14 came out, the entire broadband connection was maxed out and it downloaded the entire update in less than 30 seconds. In normal use, the connection does fluctuate as not all internet connections are equal, one is competing with others with endpoints, etc. But generally it does perform better than my old Zen broadband and for £12 less per month, I am very happy.

If Virgin Media should roll out the 1Gbs connection to my area, I may well consider it – though Virgin Media’s faux pas with the Superhub 4 is that it only contains 1Gbs ethernet ports, allowing only a maximum of 974Mbs. Maybe the next revision of the Superhub 4 should come with 10Gbs ports as standard.

Next up: The Apple Watch Series 6 (size 44 Blue Aluminium Case) – a review.

It’s perhaps been the most active week since lockdown began in March. I actually managed to get out of my cave for a bit! The most I’ve managed over the past six months has been to help sort out the shared sewage drains, and put the rubbish out. Apart from that, I’ve not wandered far from the house.

On Wednesday I went for a haircut. The first one in five months. It was getting uncomfortable with hair covering my ears, getting tangled at the back. Just horrible. So I managed to book an appointment with my local hairdressers to get it sorted once and for all. Loads of PPE in place – full face shield, mask, hand sanitisers – the works. Me with my mask. It was all good – 45 minutes later and I stepped out the place feeling so much better.

On Thursday I had to go down to Guildford to pay in a few cheques into my bank. I had intended going by bus, but lunchtime and work commitments forced me to switch to Uber instead. It was surprisingly much cheaper than I expected, and the whole thing took less than an hour as a round trip. The Uber driver and I chatted about the whole situation – me in the back with my face mask on, and him driving with his. What did surprise me was the sheer number of people wondering about in Guildford and how many of them weren’t wearing masks. Popping into the bank felt weird, having half my face covered – I felt like Billy the Kid. But a few moments later it was all done and we were riding back home.

I’m now thinking about getting back to work – at least once every few weeks – though with the buses and trains and school kids, it’s going to be a bit of a task. It may even be cheaper just to Uber it there and back. I don’t know. We’re still in a pandemic, facing a rising tide of new cases. It’s so difficult to know what exactly to do because this government doesn’t know its arse from its elbow many a time. Go to work. Don’t go to work. That sort of thing. Still thinking about it.

Over the weekend I watched my copy of the 40th anniversary edition of Flash Gordon. It really is an excellent transfer to 4K. Comes with 5 discs (including 4K and regular Blu-Ray discs) including Queen’s excellent soundtrack. Also included is a ~90-minute documentary from Lisa Downs (who is also working on documentaries relating to Flight of the Navigator and The Neverending Story) called Life After Flash.

I’ll never forget my parents taking me to see Fiddler on the Roof when I was a young lad and then watching Flash Gordon on the TV and seeing Topol (who had been in the production we saw) and being impressed that I got to see him live on stage. Also (again, as a young lad), I had a regular barber whom I would visit. As part of the usual banter, I mentioned that I wanted to work for Jim Henson’s Creature Shop or some form of special effects. Turns out my barber knew George Gibbs (the special effects supervisor on Flash Gordon and many other action films). Nothing ever came of meeting George Gibbs or going along to Jim Henson’s Creature Shop (though I have met several former Creature Shop people since).

Next week’s opus (with apologies to one’s hearing):

(Part one can be found here)

It took me a while before I took the leap and went for an Apple iPhone, and until that happened, I was using mainly keypad-based phones (from Sony Ericsson no less). But that doesn’t mean to say they didn’t have awful cameras. In fact, I’d say that some of the following shots that you’re about to see are pretty damn good all things considered.

Nokia N70

I went through a few Nokias before ending up on my brand of choice, Sony. This also included the fancy-pants Nokia Communicator N9210. As wonderful as the N9210 was, it was ultimately impractical to carry about all the time and I switched the N70 which was a more sensible choice. The images it produced weren’t too shabby.

Here a few shots from Guilfest, the view out of our bedroom window at the time, and Pinewood Studios when I went to work on Universal Pictures’ The Wolfman.

Continue reading “So many cameras, too many phones! Part Two”

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.

Only known photo of my ZX Spectrum+ 48K

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.

BYO CRT – and look, I even had a mouse!
Joysticks were the only missing ingredient – the one I did have wasn’t very compatible

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
  • Memory: 1Mb RAM (expandable to 2Mb internally)
  • Video: 256 & 512 colours modes, 256×192 & 640×256 high resolution mode
  • Video Output: RGB, VGA, HDMI, 50Hz and 60Hz 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.

Continue reading “So many cameras, too many phones!”

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!

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.

If you’re reading this article via an RSS feed, please read the full article on the web site.

Continue reading “The Umbrella Academy’s Sir Reginald Hargreeves: An Origin Theory”

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.

Dominic Cummings communing with local squirrels to test his eyesight

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)