It’s nice to see that Apple intends to give all of us Apple Music subscribers free access to higher quality music files starting sometime next month – except that if you’re listening on the $249 AirPods Pro or $549 AirPods Max, you won’t be able to take advantage of the format due to limitations in Bluetooth audio codecs.

It’s a bit like designing a four-storey train knowing full well that it won’t fit under any existing bridges without substantial modification to the bridges.

But then again, if even if you could listen to lossless audio, would you really be able to tell the difference? And given that Apple’s own headphone range (which is primarily wireless now) is intended to be used on the move – you’re effectively competing against environmental/background noise anyway.

No, the lossless format is really intended for those with decent audio equipment where you can plug it into an Apple TV or Mac (or even an iPhone). Maybe there’s potential for third-party manufacturers to make iPhone Lightning docks with the right gubbins that can output good quality Apple Lossless music.

I’m personally looking forward to seeing what they can do with the Dolby Atmos based Spatial Audio which IS supported by existing Apple headphones. It works really well and look forward to wider adoption.

I’ve just been reading about the latest outrage at the BBC, and I’ve often wondered how I’d run a complaints department. For example, it’d be much easier to set up an autoresponder on the BBC complaints email address to soothe the complainant that somebody will be dealing with the complaint while you send their incoming emails to /dev/null (a popular sysadmin trick when you really don’t want to be bothered – it’s effectively auto-deleting whatever gets sent there).

But what about actually writing a proper letter, with an envelope, stamp, and everything? Well, larger companies probably use machines to sort and open incoming letters. All you’d need to do is identify all mail coming into the complaints department, chuck it straight into recycling where it’ll be pulped and turned into toilet paper. If you’re REALLY lucky, the complainant will probably be wiping their own arse on the same paper they’ve used to write their complaint on in the first place.

Back when Valve was a very active games development company and not just building out infrastructure for other developers and gamers, the big multi-player game of the moment was Team Fortress 2 (or TF2 for short). Hours of fun were had (virtually) running around blasting the other team into oblivion and attempting to push a cart or capture points on a map.

14 years later, the game is still actively played, but its development? Considerably less so. As a full-time Mac user, TF2 stopped working natively on the Mac when Apple pushed out macOS Catalina which prevented 32-bit applications from running (part of their master plan to move to 64-bit only ARM processors, the kind I’m running on now). But that’s okay because relief came from the form of game streaming services such as Shadow.tech and NVIDIA’s GeForce Now.

I’m using GeForce Now because it’ll take a full year before a machine is provisioned on Shadow.tech’s service – that’s how popular it is. Unlike Shadow.tech, however, GeForce Now provides you with a limited set of games (whereas Shadow.tech effectively give you a full Windows PC in the cloud on which you can install anything).

GeForce now only costs me £5.99/month (in 6 monthly installments) and allows me to run pretty much my entire Steam library (Steam being Valve’s game store) in the cloud – with little to no performance hits. My 500Mb/s Virgin Media service is more than adequate for this, and TF2 runs remarkably smoothly – although occasionally I need to keep resetting the display resolution from within TF2 from 1280×768 to 1920×1080.

Now, having not played TF2 for more than a year at this point, many thanks have happened. The entire TF2 network has been affected by ‘bots’ that will join a game, clone an existing user already in the game, and then start cheating their way to victory or play annoying/offensive sounds and generally be a massive nuisance. The only way to get rid of them is to hold a group vote. Occasionally the person holding the vote picks the wrong username and the innocent player is subsequently kicked and banned from the server. I provide an example below – be aware there is strong language from the start. Once the bot has been kicked, the game can resume normally without any further incident.

One company, FaceIT.com, has come up with a better solution (since Valve is unwilling or unable to provide a more viable means of dealing with the problem) in that they severely restrict who is able to connect. The only ‘bots’ are “good” bots that emulate players. Sometimes well, sometimes not so well (one bot “engineer” player set-up a teleporter at the second base of an attacking team to send whoever went through it back to the original base right at the start of the map). But that doesn’t happen unless a player bails out.

In order to play a game of TF2 on FaceIT.com, you just connect your Steam account to it, then join a match. You’re placed in a queue and after a while (it can take several minutes), you’re put into a match of 12 people vs 12 other people. You must accept the match within 30 seconds, otherwise the match is cancelled, and everybody goes back into a queue again. Once a match is successfully connected, you can use a Windows client to automatically connect, or use the TF2 console to connect to the FaceIT.com TF2 server.

As I’m using GeForce Now, I had to provide Steam with an extra parameter for TF2:

-console

otherwise, you won’t be able to access the TF2 console which is needed to connect to third-party servers. I use macOS’ Notes app to make a note of the server, then open up Notes on my iPhone and type in the server connection string manually (because there is no copy and paste between the host machine and GeForce Now’s virtual machine).

Once connected, enjoy:

FaceIT.com has three different regions:

  • Netherlands (EU)
  • Dallas (US)
  • South Africa (or South America; didn’t select to check as it’d mean I’d have to join match) (SA)

I found that I get the best enjoyment from Dallas, despite being much further away because the Americans are a lot more vocal and organised. They’re also much more competitive which generally leads to the team banding together in a tight formation, with everybody with their own job to do in order to move the team forward. Besides this, It’s TEAM Fortress 2, not ME Fortress 2. There have been some seriously good and fun games using voice chat.

That said, I have just had one very unpleasant experience (until now I’ve had no such experiences in the 14 years I’ve been playing this game) when I made a mistake by selecting the wrong weapon while in “uber” mode, causing the player who is playing the “medic” to start effing and blinding at me, telling me to “go back to your country” and various other racist (well, I suppose nationalist rather than racism) insults and mocking my accent. A typical Trump supporter, I suppose. Or at least somebody with uncontrollable anger who, if it goes unchecked, is going to seriously hurt somebody one day and will end up in America’s revolving door prison system.

I quit the match initially, made sure to report the guy via the FaceIT.com reporting system (which, thankfully, won’t match me with him again on future matches) – and also reported him to Steam. I went back into the game, muted the guy and while another argument was going between two other players, I just text chatted everybody to just use the Mute function. Thank goodness Valve built the Report and Mute functions into TF2 – they are a genuine lifesaver. But I will not tolerate any form of racism/nationalism or any other kind of abuse against myself or others. As of the 13th April, FaceIT hasn’t taken any action despite assurances on a ticket that they would investigate – but trawling the FaceIT Reddit forums suggest that the ban/penalty system is extremely unbalanced, with people who shouldn’t be penalised being so, and those that should, walking away scot-free.

For me, however, it is too late. TF2 is such a mess and FaceIT needs to do more to match the more competitive, stronger players with each other. The arguments and attacks against players in the text chats are getting worse, and the game is still attracting immature idiots who are still far too competitive for their own good. Now we’re replacing the problem of bots with human super-competitors who bay for blood and God help you if you stand in their way.

The one thing that drives me completely nuts about the whole raft of current legislation against Apple from the likes of Spotify and Epic Games, who accuse Apple of market dominance is that it’s simply not true. Take for example the other day – my company organised a Zoom-based yoga session (which went very well) and the teacher provided a Spotify playlist of music. Spotify. Not Apple Music, not Deezer, not Tidal, not Napster. Spotify.

At Christmas, we were all invited to add our own recommended Christmas tunes to a shared Spotify playlist. Not Apple Music. And it should be pointed out that Apple Music’s does have a presence on Windows and Android devices, so it’s not exclusive to Macs and iPhones. Spotify’s big advantage over Apple Music is that it has a free tier versus a three month Apple Music trial. Plus, ultimately, Spotify has been established far longer than any of the other premium music streaming services.

So until shared Apple Music playlists take over from Spotify’s, I can’t see how Spotify can claim that Apple is being unfair to them. When I used to use their Premium service, I paid for it via the Spotify web site because that makes sense to me – my contract (and account) is with them. Would I like the choice of doing so through Apple? Yes, it’d be nice (and would save time – e.g. it’d be convenient), but ultimately my contract for those subscriptions are with Spotify, Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video and I pay for them directly with the video streaming provider. Interestingly, I found that a macOS software subscription to BBEdit to be .. troublesome. Apple’s system kept prompting me every so often to verify the subscription despite auto-renewal being enabled that it annoyed me so much, I just bought the version directly from the software developer.

This leads me to Epic Games. I fail to understand their reasoning for a third party store on iOS. Firstly they say 30% fee per transaction is too much. Yet Epic and other whinging developers who claim Apple is being unfair to them fee-wise don’t contest the likes of the 30% Microsoft and Sony console store fees. These are not open platforms either and strictly controlled by both Sony and Microsoft. If I wanted a fully open platform (or as open as it can be), I’d pick Linux, Windows and Android. As it stands, I’ve found the Apple ecosystem to work for me very well at a consumer and professional level. A lot of developers I work with say the same – practically everybody I know uses a Mac (with Windows being the exception).

While the iOS App Store is not perfect, it still does a pretty decent job of weeding out bad actors, though there are a few prominent cases right now which make Apple look bad – though these are few and far between and potentially a lot of stuff we don’t know about – Apple usually comes to their senses in these matters (listen, I never said Apple were perfect). What makes people think that a third-party store is going to be any better? The case against Apple is strictly a developers’ issue and not that of consumers. Do you think I like having to pay a subscription fee for Adobe Photoshop that ties me into subscribing for a full year? There is no choice of buying it outright. So don’t kid me about consumer choice.

People pick Apple for security and privacy over the likes of Google, a company that ultimately deals with advertising and sharing of personal data (although their Workspace product obviously doesn’t do that otherwise I would have got rid of it a decade or so ago). Having a third-party app store on iOS would make security a living nightmare, and possibly introduce more issues than I care to think about. Assuming for the moment that Epic Games get to put its own store on iOS and there’s a massive vulnerability in their code which could affect data stored on the iPhone/iPad. Or even worse, a piece of code in Epic’s store that, combined with a new vulnerability found in iOS, could cause a major security breach in iOS? And what if it was exploited? Who would you sue (if you’re lucky enough to be able afford to sue)? Apple? Epic? Both?

Then there’s exclusivity. Epic complains about the exclusivity and terms of Apple’s own App Store, but Epic already exerts extensive control over the in-game currency of Fortnite (to the point of compensating people in their own in-game currency after losing a lawsuit over loot boxes – remember, Epic control the value of that currency), the billing methods used to pay for it, and having sole exclusive of any sales of games and products through its own digital shop. Epic (and others) wants to dictate its own terms on a platform that’s been created, managed and supported by Apple, and from whom they have benefited considerably over the years with the macOS and iOS app stores. I firmly believe these companies do not have any entitlement to the iOS or even macOS platforms whatsoever. Epic Games’ behaviour over Fortnite has been appalling, and that’s why I’ve closed my account with them. And I’ve just done the same with Spotify too.

I find companies like Epic and Spotify to be hypocrites. They should be investing in innovation – improving their products and coming up with new ones rather than spending silly sums of money on lawyers across the world. Lawyers are the only ones who going to make any money out of all this nonsense, and I can think of much better things to spend that money on.

For those of us that signed up to DIsney+ first thing last year – it’s renewal day! And the only opportunity to get the discounted price before the price increases hit us next year. But alas, my payment has just bounced and attempts to update the card on the Disney+ web site is being met with technical errors galore, and I’m currently sitting on the phone to Disney+ technical support for 18 minutes and counting not getting anywhere. Pressing ‘1’ to get them to call back isn’t working either.

Update: I managed to through to an operator who didn’t tell me much as why things were not working properly; he did tell me, however, that there is a 10 day grace period in which the account will be kept active. They will keep trying the card on file, so presumably, they will attempt to take payment tomorrow (which is fine, though I’d prefer a button that grants Disney to take the damn money already).

I suspect Disney+’s payment processing and web site have gone into a bit of a meltdown with annual subscription renewals and I suspect there are a large number of payments that have failed. Even giving Disney+ another card (which definitely has enough funds), it’s still failing on the web site – telling me that payment failed. No activity in the banking app. Nada. Zip. Kaput.

It kind of makes me wonder what kind of performance testing Disney+ did prior to the launch renewal day.

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.)

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.