USS Callister

A brilliant, telling review of the first episode of Black Mirror season four.

The most savage takedown in “USS Callister” isn’t even its depiction of white guy nerds’ toxic sense of entitlement because they’ve become so lost in pop culture. It’s the portrayal of their lack of imagination.

Something like Space Fleet was so seemingly catered to Bob’s desires that he doesn’t aim to improve upon it, or bend it, or subvert it. He longs to slavishly recreate it, then disappear into it as its protagonist. He doesn’t want to be an author; he wants to become part of the canon.

I really enjoyed this episode. Sadly though, it’s hard not to see it as a sequel of sorts to season three’s phenomenal San Junipero – which kind of puts a downer on that episode’s happy ending.


Ticketmaster – a user hostile experience

Terrible UX experience with Ticketmaster today.

To start with, the pre-sale function of the web site doesn’t work on an iPhone. I loaded it a minute before the pre-sale was about to begin, watched the clock tick over, and pressed refresh. Nothing. Nada. As a web developer, I had the inclination to try loading it on a desktop PC, and unsurprisingly an ugly popup appeared telling me that the pre-sale was now open. Not a great start. I was on the same Wi-Fi network, and cleared the cache on my phone, so I don’t think it was a CDN issue. Anyone who only had their phone would have missed out on tickets.

Next, I had to register for an account (because this is a mandatory step – when it shouldn’t be), as usual I was careful to check the right boxes so that I opted out of marketing materials and to make sure they didn’t save my card details.

Before I pressed submit, I wanted to make a note of my login details with my generated password. I tried to copy my email address out of the text field, only to find Ticketmaster had disabled copy and paste. I really wish browser makers would disallow this user-hostile practise. Thankfully you can drag and drop text holding the control key to get the same effect, even when they’ve disabled copy and paste. But why do such a pointless thing?

I submit the form to find out my password is invalid, surprise surprise – the preference I’d set NOT to save card details, and to OPT OUT of marketing had been forgotten. Other information such as my email address and name had been remembered, but other settings seem to have conveniently erased and defaulted back to what I would imagine Ticketmaster would prefer. On the password issue, it was because my password contained some non-alphanumeric characters. A modern, secure system should not be restricting the complexity of passwords. I use a password manager, so my passwords are 20+ characters, randomly generated and contain all sorts of numbers, characters and digits. Ticketmaster however, thinks it’s a good idea to limit how secure passwords can be, and so rejects a perfectly good password, for no good reason. If they are hashing their passwords (with a salt) when storing them in the database, then it shouldn’t matter how long, or what characters my password has.


Finally after my payment is confirmed, I am asked to “Confirm my details for a chance to win £3,000 to spend on Ticketmaster. ”

“Confirm my details” ?!  This immediately seemed to me like a disingenuous way to get people to part with their personal information. If you’re going to have a competition, then label is clearly as such. Asking someone to “Confirm their details” directly after an order process gives the impression it might be mandatory. It looks like this functionality is from a 3rd party partner called Rokt who boast on their web site they allow their clients to “present internal offers as well as up-sell and cross-sell offers to customers that have just transacted on your site.” – I’m sure there’s a great idea in there somewhere, but it’s not presented very well on Ticketmaster. If you want people to sign up for offers (a valid thing for someone to want to do) then tell them that, don’t ask them to “Confirm their details” and hope they won’t notice -especially when they’ve already opted out of marketing communications on the previous page.


Unfortunately you can’t easily avoid doing business with Ticketmaster, because if you want to see a particular band on a certain day, they’re your only choice. Still, I’m looking forward to the gig.

watchOS 4 – A mixed update

There are many great new features in watchOS 4, that on balance it is worth the upgrade. Positives include being able to adjust music more easily during a workout, the excellent new Siri watch face which it almost like an new user interface more akin to Google Wear, but within one watch face. I’ve found my watch is better at realising when it’s no longer in range of my phone should start using WiFi instead. The downsides are the familiar Apple software upgrade problems: it will slow down your watch, so much so that it’s noticeable even when glancing down at your wrist to check the time. Battery life is also slightly diminished in my experience. Not great for any of you who spent ~£500 on a stainless steal model and strap a 18 months ago.

So yes it’s nice to have these new features, but like everything in life, they come at a cost.

Does Apple really slow your phone down? Perhaps

Lots of  headlines like this in the press this week:

Is Apple intentionally slowing down your old iPhone? The data suggests not

The article reads:

Futuremark collected more than 100,000 benchmarking tests, from the iPhone 5S to the iPhone 7, and averaged the performance of both the processor (CPU) and the graphics chip (GPU) once a month between April 2016 and September 2017 with different versions of Apple’s software from iOS 9 to iOS 11.

According to Futuremark: “iPhone 5S GPU performance has remained consistent from iOS 9 to iOS 11, with only minor variations that fall well within normal levels.”

They’re missing the point. New operating systems don’t get slower because the manufacturer writes codes to throttle down CPUs. The reason new versions of iOS are slower on older hardware is because they do more. To be fair, the article does explain this. iOS 9 on an iPad 2 is almost unusable, it’s certainly a long way from the speed of iOS 4 the iPad two debuted with. Clearly something changes overtime, and CPUs do not wear out over the course of 4 years!

But is it intentional or not? Of course it is. I’m sure there is a business decision made by Apple on how much time to spend optimising software for older devices. It’s a tradeoff. iOS versions are made in less than a year. At some point you have to balance the needs of the ecosystem (having as many users as possible running the latest software), the cost of development, and the needs of users – which includes having a device that runs at an acceptable speed, as well as having the latest security updates and new features.  I’m don’t think it’s a bad tradeoff, but to say a smart company like Apple does this unintentionally doesn’t sit right with me.

You don’t need a new Apple Watch, but the ecosystem does

I’m not sold on the need for a cellular Apple Watch. While it’s a cool gadget and would be a nice luxury, I really wouldn’t recommend anyone buy it unless they are in the habit of upgrading their watch yearly. (Yes if the idea of upgrading your watch every year sounds ridiculous, that’s because is it.)

Why don’t you need it? Well, you do, just not yet.  The battery seems to be just able to cope with the demands of a 4G connection, and it’s still very limited from a software standpoint. For example, if you dictate a long reply to a message, and the dictation inevitably gets a word wrong, you can’t edit that one word by hand,  you have to say the whole phrase again, or just leave the mistake in and hope the recipient understands you. Guaranteed to loose any kudos on the train you thought that red dot might have given you. Apple will get there of course, but by the time they do, a new model with better battery life and a faster processor will be with us. So while like any technology geek I think it’s a cool gadget and a genius piece of technology, I do feel it makes sense to wait until there’s a better version, unless money is no object of course, or you have an exceptional circumstance that means having a phone on you at all times is a burden you’d rather not carry.

So why have Apple released it now, when it’s probably not ‘as ready’ as they’d like? My guess is that it helps the watch’s neglected app ecosystem. Now all of a sudden, rich people with their cellular Apple Watches are going to want to send WhatsApp messages from their watch. Time to build an app, WhatsApp. The same could be said for lots of the big players who’ve not yet bothered building watch apps. watchOS apps have been able to work somewhat independently from the phone for a couple of years now, by this I mean they can connect to the Internet (via WiFi or the phone), get their data and present it to the user interface without the phone. Original watchOS apps needed the phone for absolutely everything, including updating UI. Twitter and BBC News, to name just a few, still haven’t updated their apps to benefit from this new way of coding apps (which vastly improves performance), but now faced with a user base that doesn’t have their phone with them but expects the app to work, they might feel inclined to.

Is North Korea a distraction?

Gripping article in this week’s New Scientist on the gradual escalation of nuclear arms between the word’s superpowers, and this:

In June 2016, the British submarine Vengeance test-fired a Trident missile, the UK’s nuclear deterrent. Something went badly wrong, and the missile may have veered towards the US.

The missile was not carrying its nuclear warheads and was destroyed. The UK government has remained silent on what might have caused the incident, but “the failed Trident test is consistent with cyber interference,” says Paul Ingram of the British American Security Information Council, a think tank in London.

New Scientist

Some thoughts on the new Apple Watch Series 3

Apple Watch (original)
My favourite gadget

Finally, it’s here – a smartwatch that has it’s own cellular connection and so doesn’t require you have your phone with for it key functionality to work –  while also not looking like an ASBO tag.

I’m impressed that Apple were able to cram this new functionality into a watch that’s almost the same size as the previous generation. The ability to go out for a run, to a gig or to the pub for the evening and leave your phone at home is a game changer.  Being able to listen to music, get directions, take calls and respond to calls without anything on your person is something I imagine to be a very freeing experience. It’s still early days, and I expect the new watch to have significantly worse battery life when the cellular connection is used. Just as the current generation suffers when you use the GPS and heart rate monitoring functionaries, the new models will see less battery life if you use them away from your iPhone a lot of the time. In two or three years time however, when battery and processor efficiency has improved even more, these watches will be capable of  replacing our phones for many of their core uses. Will people want to replace their phones though? No camera, no web browser, no games. I doubt it. Having the option though, can be only a good thing. If you can leave your phone at home more and more often, you might even consider a bigger phone, or just having a tablet-sized device instead of a phone. Or perhaps we’ll just pull down out Apple Glasses when we need a bigger screen.

So will I be upgrading to the Series 3? In short, no. I bought an Apple Watch last year, and I’m going to make it last.⌚️

Trust Me, I’m a Doctor.

I’m beginning to come around to the idea of cancelling my Netflix subscription. With the latest series of House of Cards being, well, dismal, and other new shows starting to feel a bit tied and formulaic (Ozark was good, but it was basically Breaking Bad) it seems to have lost its shine, and don’t get me started on the quality of films available. One additional reason though, is high quality of drama coming out coming out of the BBC these days. The latest of which aired recently:  Trust Me.

About a nurse who fakes her identity to get a job as a doctor, it’s a nail-biting thriller that forces viewers to confront a fear that anybody who’s ever had complex medical treatment or surgery must have had at one point; does the doctor really know what they’re doing?  The subtle social commentary is not lost either, with the nurse’s life in a small terrace house hunting around in her purse for small change transformed into a bourgeois life of a doctor living in a swanky apartment and frequenting dinner parties.

I forget who came up with the adage that in a TV or movie, you can always tell whether a character is well written if you can imagine them staring in their spinoff show. It holds true, and demonstrates the excellent writing in this drama, as indeed most of the secondary characters could hold their own if called upon.

So I recommend anyone who can catch this while it’s available on iPlayer.