Longer Lasting

Over the last few weeks, a lot of things around me have started to break.

Most annoyingly, the TV that was given to my father just over 18 months ago has developed a fault in the panel – the lower quarter flickers and then stays slightly greyer and fuzzier than the rest. It’s only 18 months old, but it’s outside the warranty period.

At the same time as the TV, they got a soundbar as well, and that has now broken too. I simply don’t understand how, and I’m really not inclined to buy another Sony A/V product right at the moment.

Meanwhile at home, my Sony receiver is also playing up. It will turn itself off at random intervals – normally after a few hours. The TV no longer controls the sound on it. I’m not 100% certain when I bought it, but it’s well over 5 years old at this point.

Then there’s my Sky box. This has on occasion needed a reboot every month or so, but now it’s getting a little flakier. It seems to lose signal from one and then the other LNB at various points. A cold reboot fixes it, but the end is clearly nigh.

Most urgently, there’s my washing machine. A week or so ago I had completed a wash cycle, but had not yet emptied the load. While I was doing some washing up, I heard a loud bang, the source of which I couldn’t track down. I subsequently emptied the load and on trying to put a second load on, noticed that there was no power. The fuse in the machine’s plug had blown. But when I replaced it, although it seemed to come back to life, a flashing door icon restricted me from doing anything else. Nothing I did could make the machine work.

A friend on Twitter suggested that replacing the master board on a washing machine isn’t that difficult. I quick check of a YouTube video confirmed that such a job was well within my wheelhouse. However, I’d be spending £40-50 on a part that I didn’t know wouldn’t instantly break again.

Suffice to say that a new machine arrived on Friday. And to give it some due, the previous machine had run without issue for 10 years.

The reality is that most of these devices aren’t really fixable. A good washing machine technician could probably have sorted out that. But once call-out, parts and some billable time had been included, I’d be at at least half the price of a new machine. Things with moving parts do break after all. And this new machine will be more energy efficient than my old one.

The TV and soundbar faults are more frustrating. I can’t attempt to fix them, and again it’ll be cheaper to buy new items. As an aside, I’m giving Resolver a chance to help to me. But it gets complex because I don’t live near my parents.

On a related note, I started looking at Sky HD options considering it looks like the box is going to die soon. Sky has its new Q box, but goodness – they’re expensive.

One significant issue for me is that my current Sky box is quite full. I would need to “watch down” everything before switching devices, as there’s no supported way to transfer recordings between boxes (There are very much unsupported options of either using HDMI out to record to another device, or using software to decode programmes direct from the machine’s hard drive).

More to the point Sky Q boxes are rented from Sky and not owned. There’s a flat £12 a month fee for that rental, which quickly adds up. Plus they seem to want £199 for installation – as I’m neither interested in, nor wish to pay for multi-room. Of course, if I was a new subscriber, I wouldn’t have to pay nearly as much as this.

Since I don’t have a 4K TV, this is all a bit moot, since it wouldn’t offer a great deal more. Instead, I can buy a new Sky HD 2TB box for around £140 from Amazon.

Finally, over Christmas, I noticed that my laptop’s WiFi was a little flaky. I mostly use it at home, and connect it via ethernet so hadn’t noticed. Fortunately, that at least looks like it’s an achievable fix that I can do myself.

Netflix’s UK Drama Originals

One of the issues that Netflix has to face is how it can satisfy all its users in every country around the world. If you set up in France, you need to produce local French programming. If you set up in Australia, you need to produce local Australian programming.

To some extent, Netflix has been able to dodge some of this in English-language markets, because a UK audience will happily watch a US-made Netflix Original (NB. What constitutes a Netflix Original is an interesting story in itself). Netflix can get around some of this by licencing lots of BBC, ITV and C4 programming, as well as buying ex-US rights to US network or cable series. But in the end, a drama on Netflix probably has to work in multiple territories. The sums just don’t add up if they have to make substantial commissions in each territory in which they operate.

So more and more, Netflix is commissioning UK originated material. I’m going to explore some of Netflix’s higher-profile drama shows, and see what they really mean and who they’re targeting.

The Crown is probably their biggest success. It’s quite possibly the most expensive drama Netflix makes full stop, on a per hour basis anyway, and if we exclude some of their films. It’s premium quality drama and it wins lots of awards. (An admission: I’ve not got more than an episode and a bit into it. I know, I know. I will get around to it).

Of course, a drama featuring the lives of the Royal Family is going to have international appeal. This is the kind of series, that had the BBC been able to make it, would have shown up on PBS in the US too.

Safe, which was released in May last year, was a very curious piece indeed. Theoretically, it’s a British crime thriller, but everything about it was wrong. The series was created by Harlan Corben, an American crime writer. It starred Michael C Hall (of Dexter fame) playing a British paediatrician whose daughter goes missing within their gated community.

So a series created by an American (although written by the very British Danny Brocklehurst), featuring an American lead actor who has a very mannered, yet nondescript British accent, and set within the type of community that’s actually fairly rare in Britain (I’m not saying that there aren’t such places, but they tend to be more frequent in the US).

Throw in a French teacher played by Audrey Fleurot (or Engrenages/Spiral fame), and you get the distinct impression that several boxes had to be ticked to get this series green-lit. American audiences will watch for Hall; French audiences will watch for Fleurot; British audiences will watch for everything else.

The series even avoided mentioning any locations, by not really giving anyone any regional accents, and talking about going to “the city” rather than anywhere too specific. I really hope that this wasn’t because international viewers might get confused by anywhere in the UK that’s not London.

I confess that I bailed on this before the end.

The Innocents appeared midway through last year – and seemed to be aimed at teenagers. I didn’t watch most of this either, although I note that while the cast was mostly of unknowns, there’s also Guy Pearce in there.

It’s a strange supernatural tale that seems to be partly set in Britain, and partly in Norway. There are some accents, although the story is such that what producers were really going for was a sense of alienation and other-worldliness.

Which brings us to Netflix’s most recent UK original, Sex Education, starring Asa Butterfield and Gillian Anderson. It’s hard to know where to begin with this frankly bizarre series.

Butterfield plays Otis, the teenage son of Jean (Anderson), and best friend of Eric. They are outsiders at their local school, which is kind of understandable, because it seems to exist in some kind of strange time warp. Although the series is very much contemporary – smartphones and mentions of Ed Sheeran – everyone dresses up like they’ve walked out of a John Hughes movie from the eighties, and the soundtrack is stuffed full of the kind of music you might of heard on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack. Everyone seems to drive vintage cars, and Otis and Eric ride to school on old racing bikes.

The school itself is a curious American-style High School, with “jocks” wearing jackets and it having a swimming team – or should that be “swim team”?

And everyone is obsessed with sex. If you thought The Inbetweeners had a one tracked mind, you haven’t seen this lot. It must be something in the water.

As it happens, Otis’s mother is a sex therapist, and the premise of the series is that Otis will use what knowledge he’s gained from his mother to help his classmates out with sex-advice for their various issues.

If you think that’s a deranged premise – that anyone at school, learning about their own sexuality, would pay heed to a classmate in such matters – then you’d be right. But like everything else in this series, you have to go with it.

The series is theoretically set in a Welsh valley, although nobody actually seems to speak in a Welsh accent. Instead there’s a general you-could-be-anywhere feel to the series, even though the valley were they shot this series is fabulous looking.

Now part of all of this is clearly a kind of stylistic device. We’ve seen similar kinds of things in other series like Legion and Maniac with retro-contemporary settings. But you also wonder whether Netflix is consciously trying to make something that doesn’t completely alienate a US audience.

I do worry that so many of Netflix’s UK originals seem to have any sense of localness surgically removed from them. I’m not saying that they should only be making dramas that would give Jimmy McGovern a good run for their money in their depictions of troubled inner-cities, but providing at least some sense of place would be nice.

Last week the BBC opened a consultation on being able to keep programming on iPlayer for longer than 30 days. They note that audiences – especially younger audiences – expect to be able to watch full series as they do on Netflix.

The concern for all British broadcasters must be that Netflix dominates in due course. But their idea of a British drama is very different to current broadcasters views of drama. A British series shouldn’t just be an American series with different accents and cars on the other side of the road.

Great Sadness

This week, the Paweł Pawlikowski film, Cold War, was released on home video. I missed this in the cinema, even though I found the film’s trailer utterly entrancing.

So I thought I would treat myself to a Blu Ray copy of the film. Earlier in the week I actually saw an advertisement for the film in the paper, letting me know it was out on DVD in Sainsbury’s. That didn’t seem the likeliest home for it, but a good film is a good film.

I could, of course, have ordered the disk from Amazon. But that would take a day to arrive, and I wanted to watch the film that evening. No matter, the walk to an external meeting would route me past the Covent Garden branch of Fopp. I’d pick up a copy there.

Except, I wouldn’t.

I’d popped into that same branch of Fopp a week or so earlier, and had bought a couple of things then. I had wondered whether to commiserate with staff in light of the HMV news. I decided against it, thinking that perhaps the staff would prefer not to be reminded about the potential of them losing their jobs fairly imminently.

When I visited the branch again this week, there was nothing obvious to say that there were any problems. The shelves were full of stock as ever. But looking closer, I couldn’t find a copy Cold War. This surprised me, as in normal circumstances I’m sure that this branch would sell plenty of copies.

I confess that my first thought was that they’d actually sold out. Cold War is on the Best Foreign Language film shortlists for both the BAFTAs and Oscars.

Eventually, having spent a few minutes failing to find a copy, I asked an assistant. He first of all suggested that it had yet to be released, because it had only been in the cinema fairly recently. I replied that I thought not because I’d seen it advertised that week. Then he admitted that they weren’t receiving fresh stock at the moment.

Of course. With the parent company, HMV, in administration, suppliers like Curzon Artificial Eye, are not supplying Fopp or HMV, because of uncertainty about whether they will ever get paid. That’s desperately sad, since Fopp is probably the natural high street home of a release like this.

I left, saddened.

My mind turned to where else in central London I might get a copy? HMV is the obvious alternative, but they will have the same stock issues. Beyond that, there’s basically nowhere.

I looked into the mid-sized Covent Garden Tesco Metro (bigger than an Express; smaller than a retail park branch). The previous year, I’d popped in there to get a blue security tag removed from the Dunkirk Blu Ray I’d bought at another branch. Without that tag removed, you can’t get into the case! However, a year later, and the branch no longer sells any discs – music or video.

In the end, I nipped over Waterloo Bridge to the BFI Shop where I grabbed a copy – making use of my BFI membership card to bring the price lower than that which Amazon charge! But fine though that specialist store is, it’s scary to think than in future, if I want a physical disc, that might be the only place in Central London to go to!

Sure, I could have downloaded or streamed a digital copy of the film, but there are good reasons to prefer physical media. Discs tend to be encoded at a higher quality than many streams offer. There aren’t bit-rate limitations that your internet connection might cause. That’s important if you’re watching on a big TV.

Then there are the extras on the disc. It’s rare that the digital providers offer these. And I’m the kind of person who likes to watch at least some of them. Commentary tracks too!

Finally, of course, there are the vast quantity of titles that just haven’t been released digitally.

I’m hopeful that there’ll be some kind of eleventh hour saving of the HMV group – at least in some semblance. Otherwise I will have to become 100% reliant on Amazon, or use film distribution companies directly.

Cold War is an amazing film by the way. It’s probably the most beautiful film I’ve seen for an awfully long time. Every shot is just stunningly framed, and a visual treat. The performances are excellent and the music is just gorgeous.

HMV

His Master's Lost His Voice
Spotted in Soho in 2014

A few thoughts on the new difficulties faced by HMV. 

In part this is response to some utter nonsense I’ve read online, and some of the news reports surrounding HMV heading into administration for the second time in five years. 

There are undoubtedly structural problems with how music is sold in 2019, but I think there are multiple reasons for HMV’s failure – regardless of any mistakes or management decisions taken by their owners. 

I’ve tried to examine each of these in turn. 

Music Models 

We’re obviously moving away from a music ownership model to a rental model, although I’m still unconvinced that this is sustainable in the longer term.  

Firstly, it is not yet profitable for the businesses that are doing it. OK – that might not matter for Apple or Google who have vast income streams from other parts of the business that can prop them up, but it does matter for companies like Spotify and Tidal. Indeed, even Apple or Google will shut down a division that simply doesn’t make sense after a while.  

The lack of profitability might be a temporary thing, and perhaps the business models will improve over time. But let’s put it this way, I wouldn’t even begin to attempt to get into the streaming market right now. And will Apple or Amazon at some point stop even selling downloads? (Thank goodness for Bandcamp!) 

However, as I’ve argued previously, the current music rental model simply doesn’t work for a large proportion of the population.  

Consider my father. He buys or gets given one or two CDs a year. In all probability any discs he buys come from a supermarket – for him, the only easily accessible physical outlet for music now. He listens to those CDs a fair amount. But there’s no way on earth that he’s going to spend £120 a year on music. Nor are an awful lot of people. Certainly, Spotify has a free tier, but that’s ad-funded, and my father no more wants to hear ads interrupting his music than anyone else does. The alternative is that perhaps the majority of the population stop purchasing music altogether!  

The most recent RAJAR Midas survey suggest 24% of the population listen to on demand music services, while Ofcom’s Technology Tracker suggests it’s closer to 29%. Either way, that’s 70% of more of the population who don’t use such a service. 

So, we need some level of music ownership. That means an ability to buy music. 

Lazy Reporting 

One of the things that frustrated me was a report that used vox pops of various people standing outside the Oxford Street branch of HMV explaining how they hadn’t bought a CD in years and that they streamed everything now. 

Vox pops are, to my mind, nearly always useless. They are completely unrepresentative of the population, and more often than not, just colour a report to say what they the reporter hoped that they’d say. We never know how many vox pops were gathered and which ones made the cut. Think of it this way, if you stood in the street ahead of election day, asked two people how they were likely to vote, and got the same response: “I’m voting Green!” You wouldn’t then go on air and suggest that the Greens were going to win with a landslide (Unless you were in Brighton). 

Physical sales have undoubtedly fallen as streaming revenues have risen, but the IFPI Global music report 2018 still attributed 30% of recorded music revenues coming from physical sales (CD and, to a very small extent, vinyl) compared with 38% for streaming and 16% for digital.  

In the UK, we know that sales are falling. The BPI says that 2018 saw 32m CD sales down 9.6m year on year. But if 70% of the population don’t have an account with Spotify or its peers, then there still needs to be a way to allow listeners to buy The Greatest Showman soundtrack or George Ezra’s latest CD (the biggest two albums of the year). 

Physical music sales are still worth £2bn, and HMV accounts for 31% of all physical music and 23% of DVDs and Blu Rays. 

So, there are plenty of people still buying CDs. Indeed, I note that recent deluxe boxsets from both The Beatles and Kate Bush are only available in physical form. The streaming versions of both sets have significantly fewer tracks. That said, these are clearly aimed at collector/completists and the cynic might think that the labels are wringing as much cash as possible out of those now distinctly middle-aged fans. 

Most people aren’t streaming their music, and while they don’t buy as much as the keener music fans, these are consumers who still need to be reached – selling rather than renting them music. 

The Vinyl Fallacy 

Hitherto, the best place to buy music has been a record shop. Yes, there’s Tesco. And yes, there’s Amazon. The former has a very limited offering – and no, I don’t really care about the cool vinyl selection your big Sainsburys superstore has. That’s “cool” because it knows its customer. In the DVD aisle you’ll find boxsets of Airwolf and The Persuaders. All of these are because they’re serving a generation that got old, and buys these things for nostalgia reasons.  

The vinyl resurgence is all very well, but while the percentage increases might have been massive (the growth was much smaller in 2018), but they are still dwarfed by CD sales. Don’t just use revenues as your comparator, since vinyl invariably costs more than the equivalent shiny disc.  

A record shop in 2019 can’t really just exist by tapping a niche market like vinyl. Perhaps in a big city like London, but London has all kinds of shops that are unsustainable outside big cities. For example, there are shops where you can buy film processing gear. That doesn’t mean a largescale resurgence in film photography is likely. These places instead serve a diminished marketplace, but there are so few other outlets left that they mop up enough business to survive. 

Music is a mainstream art form, and it needs to survive in a manner that is accessible to all, regardless of their access to big cities. More and more, that probably does mean a combination of Amazon and supermarkets, with niche outlets filling a small hole. 

The Loss of Curation and Serendipity 

The real challenge for the true mainstream audience is music discovery. It’s all very well having a Spotify playlist, but for the “70%” who don’t use a streaming service, they’re probably relying on the radio (90% weekly reach recall), or perhaps mainstream TV shows like Graham Norton or The One Show.  

I’ve long argued that computer algorithms are still no match for a carefully curated shop display or the simple act of stumbling over something you didn’t even know you wanted. (A good radio station and/or presenter of course is massively valuable too.) 

One of the joys of a record shop, is the stumble-upon factor. You look at a shelf of new releases, or a thematic display somewhere, pulled together by someone who likes music. And in there, you find something that you didn’t know existed, or didn’t even know that you wanted.  

I’m not naïve.  I know that stores sometimes charged for those shelf-end displays or front of store racks, but either way, I can’t begin to think about how many times I just found something I didn’t know I’d come in for just by seeing it on a rack. 

Compare and contrast to every digital offering I’ve used, where the search box is the primary mechanism for digging into their warehouse. Yes, Amazon has more music than I can listen to in a lifetime, but they display it abysmally.  If I know what I’m looking for, I can [probably] find it. But nobody “browses” at Amazon.  

I recall spending many a lunch hour at the Oxford Street HMV browsing film soundtracks looking for obscurities and just seeing what they had. You’d find an Ennio Morricone compilation you didn’t know about or whatever.  

Over on Amazon, I can see what’s selling the most, but that’s about it. They probably have that exact same compilation, but unless I already know about it, I’m never going to find it.  

Maybe Spotify might lead me to it somehow. Maybe not. I find that most algorithmic playlists are far too constrained musically and don’t explore the wider breadth of what’s out there. You like this guitar-based rock-band? Here’s another guitar-based rock band.  

Browsing is one of nature’s delights, and it just doesn’t work on the virtual shelves.

The British High Street 

We all know that the UK high street is changing rapidly. In some parts of the country, they’re becoming ghost towns. When a larger store closes down, smaller stores follow, and shops get boarded up. 

On the other hand, store rents seem to sail inexorably upwards. The high price of rents is often quoted as a reason for store closures.  

It’s never entirely clear to me how this can be. There’s surely a dynamic market, and a landlord you would think would prefer something rather than nothing.  

But inevitably we hear that the real issue is that Britons are spending more money online and no longer shopping on the high street as they once did. Every year, the volume of shopping online creeps upwards, and big brands either fold altogether, get sold to Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley, or announce that they closing a number of branches.  

However, there are still some things that don’t quite add up. 

Over Christmas we heard that online powerhouse Asos had suffered from severe discounting across the market, which led to poorer than expected profits.  

And while online sales are indeed rising, reaching 21.5% of all retailing in November 2018, that still leaves an awful lot of sales that are not online.  

This suggests that even with a retailer whose majority of sales are in-store and not online, the growth of online can put the store part of the business into loss even though it still accounts for the majority of sales. Indeed, the volatility of some businesses to even small declines in sales would seem to back that up. Sometimes that’s because they’ve over-expanded and borrowed on the basis of sales that only head upwards. Or maybe it’s because the owners have grabbed a lot of money out the business… 

Anyway, this is just another reminder that next time a clothes brand on the high street shuts down, and you see a vox pop on the news with a contributor saying that, no, they don’t use the high street any more, and that they only shop online for clothes, in fact 78.2% of textile and clothing sales are not online. 

Conclusion 

There are no easy solutions to any of this. I truly hope that HMV continues in some form over the coming years. It’s just one of a narrow set of places that the more casual music consumer can actually buy music. I would hate to be limited to just what my local Sainsburys stocks.  

But we should also be wary of overly didactic reporting that suggests that “everyone” has moved to streaming. While the biggest music fans may well have done, the average consumer does not stream their music. The problem is that high street stores can’t rely on not getting their custom for 11 months of the year, before they pop in December to pick up an Ed Sheeran album. 

There seem to be more structural problems with the retail industry. Rents may be increasing, but many chains have over-expanded, and it would seem that even the smallest fall in sales can lead to dire consequences.  

Being a music snob doesn’t really help anybody. You may be lucky enough close enough to Rough Trade or whoever, and enjoy their brilliant curation. But most of the population doesn’t. London can support such shops. Small towns all over the country can’t.  

I’m not a muso although I do buy and listen to a reasonable amount of music. I have a streaming subscription, but I also buy CDs and mp3 downloads. The first record I ever bought was in HMV. I loved going there on Saturdays examining the singles chart in great detail, and later flicking through the albums. There was an independent music shop on the opposite side of the road that I also enjoyed. But the local department store also had a record section, as did WH Smith and Woolworths. All were part of my Saturday trawl.  

Later I would spend far too much money downstairs in HMV on Oxford Street, or upstairs in the DVD section.  

Just after Christmas I popped into an HMV in Norwich to pick up a Blu Ray of Leave No Trace a film I’d missed in the cinema but which has been popping up on loads of “Best of the Year” lists. I could have streamed it, but the quality of physical media is better, and the disc was actually cheaper than some streaming services. (It’s a fantastic film by the way, and fully deserves its plaudits). 

I will miss HMV if it is to finally leave high streets for good.

Is Bandersnatch the Future of Television?

No.

No, it’s not.

Bandersnatch is the recently released episode of Black Mirror from Charlie Brooker available on Netflix. It takes the form of a choose your own adventure book/game and I loved it!

In many respects, this episode ticked just about every box for me. It was set in the eighties, in and around writing games for the ZX Spectrum. I bought my ZX Spectrum in 1982 (I still have it), and WH Smith did look like that – on the outside anyway. The one in Bandersnatch looked more like a record store on the inside, whereas records were just one thing you could get in a WH Smith.

I also read and played lots of the choose your own adventure books written initially by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson. I remember trawling around London bookshops desperately searching for a copy of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain when it too was published in 1982. I seem to remember finding it in the Puffin Bookshop in Covent Garden.

I read magazines like Your Sinclair, Popular Computing Weekly and Crash. I bought games from WH Smith, Boots, or mostly frequently, a stall on my local market. We copied games with our tape to tape players, and I failed to learn assembly language from Machine Code for the Absolute Beginner.

I bought The Quill and wrote my own adventure games – including having one broadcast on LBC on a show that I have subsequently learned included Ed Miliband as a contributor!

I digress…

Bandersnatch was great. It cleverly incorporated the choose your own adventure nature of following paths into the actual fabric of the story. In other words, it’s quite a meta experience.

The real issue with choose your own adventure stories is that if you’re not careful, quite a lot of material will be thrown away and perhaps never experienced at all. When the books came out, the theory was that kids would play them repeatedly, and go through all the various endings and options. But short of being incredibly methodical and mapping out the various “paths” it’s hard to do.

An author probably hopes that most of their words get read, but when authoring a choose your own adventure book, they probably have to accept that not everything will be read. But even then, there are tricks to keep people on the main narrative. Sometimes there are just side-paths that in due course get you back into the main storyline. What you don’t want to do is have a binary choice fairly close to the start of a story and then tell two widely divergent stories whose paths never again cross: “Do you go to the city, or go to the seaside?”

That’s even truer in television, where every minute costs more money. How long should a TV choose your own adventure last? 45-60 minutes? But if you have to shoot 120 minutes of material, that effectively doubles the cost.

Bandersnatch avoids a certain degree of that wastage by taking the viewer back through some of the different choices they could have made. While I don’t believe I’ve seen every ending, I think I’ve seen most of them – and that was all in one sitting.

But in the case of Bandersnatch that sort of made sense. The structure of story worked to allow you to experience multiple options without feeling that you’ve repeated a lot of what you’ve seen (You’re not made to sit through the same 10 minute sequences on a repeated basis).

I don’t see choose your own TV programmes being a big thing because of reasons of cost and the fact that many stories don’t lend themselves to it. And nor do I really see Netflix taking great learnings from this kind of technology as a writer on The Verge suggests.

Choose your own books are much more economically viable, and yet no major novelist has, as far as I’m aware, written such a title. There are one-offs here and there, but it’s not a thing.

That all said, I loved Bandersnatch, and need to catch up with some of the Black Mirror episodes that I’ve not yet watched.

DJI Osmo Pocket: A Slow Motion Test

Over Christmas I treated myself to a new camera – the newly released DJI Osmo Pocket. This thing is a wondrously small gimbal mounted camera, that I thought might be really interesting to carry with me on bike rides.

This absolutely isn’t a proper review, since I’ve not had the device long enough. Instead, it’s a few early thoughts.

The thing is tiny. I knew this as everyone said it was tiny, but it really is. Even the box that it comes in is tiny! But it’s size means that you can put it in just about any pocket. Certainly it’d be safe in a cycle jersey pocket.

Yes, phones are great, and more and more of them have optically or digitally stabilised cameras, but you can’t beat mechanical stabilisation with a bit of leeway for shakes. And there’s no real problem taking both this and your phone out with you. Indeed, you can use the two together to get a proper screen Note: This can be important if you want to get your focusing right. Focusing is perhaps the thing you need to most worry about with the camera. A couple of the shots above are definitely a little “soft.”

To really use this phone properly you will need either a USB-C enabled phone like a Google Pixel device, or an Apple iPhone. If your phone uses micro-USB you lose a lot functionality. I suspect that limitation is because different manufacturers have the micro-USB port oriented differently. USB-C and Lightning connectors are reversible, and the adaptor to the device only works if you have the screen facing you.

The device is 4K and can shoot at 60 frames a second, meaning that you can slow it down a bit if needed. But it also has a good slow motion mode, shooting at 120 frames a second in regular 1080 HD. The video above is shot using that 1080 mode.

Usually I edit all my videos in Adobe Premiere Pro CC, but for this I thought I’d try a more portable solution at least to start with.

I shot that video without a phone attached – people barely could see there was a camera there. Then I edited it roughly using Adobe Premiere Rush, Adobe’s new lightweight video editing application. It’s iOS and desktop only at the moment, so I used it on an iPad rather than my Pixel 2 phone.

I did a rough-ish edit on the iPad, but also did some colour grading there too. Then using the Adobe Cloud, I opened the project on a laptop to fine-tune those edits. I’m not sure that Rush is quite there yet for really precise editing – certainly not on a touchscreen interface. Shortening clips can be tricky. On the other hand – you can certainly get something out the door very fast with it.

Incidentally, I seemed to need to open my project it in Rush on a PC before I could open it in Premiere Pro CC on my PC. Theoretically, I shouldn’t have had to do that, but the project failed to open (although a previous project did!).

I ended up finishing up the video in Premiere Pro CC, where I tightened edits some more, added some music, and added a couple of fades (Rush has limited transitions available). Finally, there was a little bit of camera tracking to be done in After Effects to get that text on the wall at the start. Not necessary, but the wall lent itself to it.

While you can edit a 4K video on a phone using something like Rush, I don’t think it’s all that practical. Mostly that’s because of the sizes of video involved. Your phone or tablet will need plenty of free space to work with, and even transferring the files between camera and device is a slow process. If your phone has 128GB or more, then go for it. For short videos anyway. But even a 15 minute video might be difficult to find space for.

Anyway, I might write a fuller review of the Osmo Pocket once I’ve used it for a while. But in general terms, I like it a lot.

Very Good, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse

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Table of Everyman Wodehouse editions at Waterstones, Piccadilly

Just over a year ago, I thought that I’d read some Jeeves and Wooster stories set in and around Christmas. Looking around, it seemed that Very Good, Jeeves was my best bet. It included Jeeves and the Yuletide Spirit – a Christmas story if ever there was one surely? 

Now for the past few years, I’ve been vaguely collecting the Everyman PG Wodehouse novels. I probably have a dozen or so, with the notion that I’d like to get a complete set at some point. So, it was an Everyman edition I was after. 

The obvious place to look was Amazon. Yes – local bookshops exist, but they’re not necessarily going to have copies of Everyman editions of Wodehouse. Amazon didn’t have any in stock, but claimed it could get one for me.  

In my experience Amazon tends to give longer lead times for titles that it doesn’t have in stock than is strictly necessary – underpromise and overdeliver. Publishers seem to give Amazon preferential treatment, and so I was confident that I should get the book reasonably quickly. 

A few weeks passed, and we were getting close to Christmas. I still didn’t have the title, but I knew how to remedy that. I headed down to Piccadilly where there were two likely shops that would help me. First up was Hatchards. These days it’s owned by Waterstones, but it maintains its own very distinct presence despite there being a very large Waterstones just a 100m further along Piccadilly. 

When the most recent Le Carré novel, A Legacy of Spies, was published, it was to Hatchards I went in search of a signed copy. I wasn’t alone in that hope, as a gentleman at the counter was asking that very question.  

“No, we don’t have any signed stock at the moment. But we may get some. He does come in here fairly regularly, and he always signs books when he’s in.” 

(In fact, I managed to snag a signed copy from Foyles.) 

Anyway, Hatchards tends to carry a good quantity of the Everyman Wodehouse editions, but when I searched the shelves I found just about every title except Very Good, Jeeves. No matter, I would check the large Waterstones just along the way. It too carries a significant number of Wodehouse novels – I’m sure they sell well to tourists amongst others. However, again I was out of luck. 

I gave up on being able to read the book for Christmas. Certainly, I could easily have obtained a paperback edition. But I wanted a hardback. My search would prevail. 

Christmas 2017 came and went, and on a regular basis, an email would drop into my inbox from Amazon assuring me that they were still trying to get hold of it, but that they hadn’t yet. They pointed me towards the paperback edition, but my order stayed live. They weren’t cancelling it. 

By now, I was just curious to see if they ever came through. 

Then, before Christmas this year, I happened to be close to Hatchards again. So, I popped in on a wet Saturday and wandered to the table and shelves where they keep their Everyman Wodehouses and wouldn’t you know it? There was a stack of copies of Very Good, Jeeves! I bought a copy and promptly cancelled my 13-month-old order with Amazon. 

Over Christmas I finally read it. The first thing to say is that although there are two Christmas-set stories in the book – itself a collection of short stories – they’re only very loosely set at that time of the year.  

But, as always, it’s laugh-out-loud funny. The running thread throughout the book is that Bertie is trying to get his own back after Tuppy bet him one evening at the Drones Club, that he couldn’t swing across their pool using rings. However, the final ring had been kept out of reach and Bertie had ruined a very good dinner suit as a result.  

To be honest, I’m not even sure why I’m providing that much “plot” information. It’s a Jeeves and Wooster book. You know exactly what you’re getting unless you’ve never read or seen a Jeeves and Wooster book. 

As a side note, having finished the book, I fancied re-watching some of the Fry and Laurie TV series. I happen to own DVDs of the full collection, but I was away from home at the time, with family for Christmas. No matter. Even if it cost me a few quid, I would rent or buy digital copies. 

It seemed unlikely, but I thought I would first check streaming services to which I already subscribed. But it seems that Netflix has not sprung for much 1980s ITV programming. I looked at Amazon, thinking that at least I’d be able to buy digital copies there even if it wasn’t available as a “Prime” series. But it wasn’t. Indeed, although two of the four series of the programme seemed to have once been available, a note informed me that, “Our agreements with the content provider don’t allow purchases of this title at this time.” 

Hmm. 

I checked over on Google Play, but there was no sign of it. Finally, I headed to the service that seems to maintain the fullest library – iTunes. I’d have to watch on my iPad, but not matter. However, even there, I was out of luck. 

Even the ITV Hub, where I knew that I would at least have to put up with dozens of adverts, was unable to help me.  

Incidentally, if you do fancy the DVDs, they’re a snip at just £79.99 on Amazon! I’m sure my set cost less than £20 a few years ago. 

In essence, this is another case of a TV series being essentially unavailable anywhere. I simply don’t understand why it at least isn’t available for sale. I had ready money to buy episodes and the rights owners simply won’t take my cash. 

I’ve moaned before about this situation with regard to even quite recent films. As HMV totters and DVD players begin to become a thing of the past (we are fortunate that BluRay and HD BluRay players are backwards compatable), it seems that we continue to enter a film and TV dark age

For what it’s worth, on my return home I did indeed dust off my old DVDs and rewatched the first series, which happily still stand up. Several stories from Very Good, Jeeves feature in reworked forms in that first series. Look out too for Highclere “Downton Abbey” Castle doubling as Totleigh Towers. 

The series could do with a bit of restoration. I believe the series was shot on 16mm film, but it was then transferred to U-matic tape where the editing probably took place. If the original prints or negatives exist, to properly restore it would perhaps require someone to re-edit the right takes from the filmed elements and painstakingly rebuild it, layering in sounds and colour grading it all. A lot of effort, but it could look fabulous! Sadly, with a lot of ITV/Granada programmes, even if the programmes are restored, they don’t bother releasing them in their new state in the UK. See also, Brideshead Revisited, The Jewel in the Crown, and the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series. 

It would be lovely to think that the reason you can’t buy episodes today is because these restored editions are just around the corner. Sadly, that’s a pipe-dream. 

The Everyman books, however, are marvellous! 

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Bookshelves of Everyman Wodehouse editions at Hatchards, Piccadilly

The Secret Barrister

I think it’s safe to say that The Secret Barrister is easily the scariest book I’ve read in a long time. The one takeaway you instantly get from it is that you never want to get involved in the UK legal system.

Unfortunately, even if you’re a squeaky clean individual who does nothing wrong, there are many ways for you to get caught up in the actions of others, and this book highlights some of the frankly horrific consequences. But what is very clear is that the most iniquitous parts of the system mostly affect the poorest in society.

The anonymous barrister who’s written the book gives us potted histories of why our legal system is what it is, and then gets into the big problems that we have with it.

Some of the major problems are very structural – relying far to heavily on volunteer magistrates for example – but many are caused by a lack of funding. I think I’ve been aware just how much has been stripped out of the Department of Justice, but it impacts less on the middle class because most use things like schools or the NHS. Relatively few of that class fall foul of the law.

An essential book.

Boxing Day Radio Times 2018

The third of three days’ worth of useful help to plan your TV entertainment.

You’re welcome!

In case you didn’t want to watch a new version of The ABC Murders on BBC1 (or indeed, watch the older version on ITV3 just to spoil your later entertainment), then there is always the radio – including a new episode of the fabulous radio sitcom, Party!

A reminder that clicking through on either image may make it more legible.

NB. I’ve been providing this “service” for ages now. The back catalogue is all here.