Holidays are Coming

No. No they are not.

A lot of people I know think it odd of me that I don’t like Christmas. Let me tell you why I don’t like Christmas.

This isn’t all in a bah, humbug type way. No, I didn’t have a terrible Christmas experience as a child. And no, I don’t dislike presents and fun and stuff. Not at all. I don’t hate the religious side of it, and I don’t hate the kitsch side of it.

What I actually hate is how other people do Christmas. I hate how it starts so early, requires so much planning and stress, and how adverts seem to start pushing it as a reason for selling pretty much anything.

I hate the representations of Christmas – stockings on the mantlepiece (it isn’t 1905 any more), snow (Christmas isn’t in February), and filling houses with red and green decorations and tinsel everywhere. I hate the terribly wasteful practise of sending cards to everyone. I hate that certain things, like sofa deliveries or redecorating or booking the cat in for its inoculations all have to be “before Christmas”, as if the world shuts down come Boxing Day and doesn’t reopen until the 2nd January – that just isn’t true any more.

I hate people complaining that some shops – how very dare they – choose to open on Christmas Day, as if everyone should give up their day to worship the son of a deity that isn’t even relevant to the majority of the population. When the real reason is they don’t like the suggestion their own day off might somehow be affected. Certainly, don’t force people to work on Christmas Day, but equally don’t tell them they can’t if they so want.

I hate use of the word Xmas. I know that the X means Christ, coming from the Greek word Christos, and it’s a simple substitution, but it seems now that it’s used to make it somehow less Christian. Even worse, is the Americanism that’s making inroads here – just referring to it as “The Holiday Season”.

Now, I realise that covers more than just Christmas, as other faiths have their own festivals and special days near to Christmas, but that isn’t how it is used: People say “The Holiday Season” as a direct replacement for “that time around Christmas”. And guess what? In the UK the Holiday Season is when most people go on holiday: the summer. “Coming this Holiday Season!”, what, August?

I sound hypocritical. I’m an atheist, yet complain when people don’t celebrate it in the correct religious contexts? Sort of, yes. Christmas is, for better or worse, no longer just a celebration for Christians, but it still is a celebration for Christians and is therefore Christmas. Others celebrate it too, maybe differently, or even not at all, but it is still Christmas. Not “the holidays”. Do you see? I don’t celebrate Eid, but it is still Eid.

But I hate the commercialism surrounding it. The three months of adverts. The way the entire TV is taken over by it. The Christmas music in shops. Mickey Sodding Bubbles on the radio every five minutes. THAT DAMN COCA-COLA ADVERT OH GOD I WOULD KILL TO HAVE THAT ERASED FROM HISTORY.

But I like the time spent with family. Giving presents. Not having to go to work for a week. The actual day itself is always enjoyable. I’m not Scrooge. I don’t hate Christmas. I just hate a lot of the nonsense surrounding it.

Google AMP: A Rant

The day Google did what that large bottomed lady failed to do.

Google AMP, or rather, the Google AMP Cache, is rolling out to users right now. It’s been in use for Google News searches for a little while, but now general Google searches are becoming infected by it, and there’s no way to turn it off.

The intention of the AMP project is noble enough: Make mobile pages work faster. On the webmaster side of the project, some work needs to be done in order to make mobile versions of their pages AMP compliant. For many folk, this is little more than triggering a plugin for their CMS, but for those who code sites a little closer to the metal, there are specific AMP HTML pages to create and check. You know how HTML5 and the likes of Bootstrap helped unify devices, so they only need a single page regardless of screen type or viewport size? Well, it seems AMP reverses that.

I don’t pretend to understand it all. But I don’t need to in order to find faults with Google AMP Cache. What this does, is (as the name implies) cache AMP pages. It rolls them up and spits them out quickly to your phone when you access them.

The Google AMP Cache is a proxy-based content delivery network for delivering all valid AMP documents. It fetches AMP HTML pages, caches them, and improves page performance automatically. When using the Google AMP Cache, the document, all JS files and all images load from the same origin that is using HTTP 2.0 for maximum efficiency.

(That’s from here)

Which would be good, only it isn’t. When you use Google on your mobile device to search now, AMP pages are preferred in the results list so generally appear at the top – even if the content is “better” on a non-AMP page. When you tap the link, you get Google’s cache of the page, and herein lie most of the issues.

It’s cached, so inherently isn’t necessarily the newest content. You also don’t get the correct link from the page – the URL bar shows a Google URL. For example, instead of:

https://pokemondb.net/pokedex/umbreon

you get

https://www.google.co.uk/amp/pokemondb.net/amp/pokedex/umbreon

If you then decide to pass this link on to someone not on a mobile device, then you end up passing on the AMP’d link instead, only it doesn’t work. Just copy and paste that second link into your desktop web browser URL bar and see. Not only do you not get taken to the page, you get sent to a page of search results for which the top match isn’t even the correct site 1:

google amp
In fact, at the time of writing for this example, NONE of the sites in ANY of the results are the correct one.

It’s even worse than that. Without hacking apart the AMP Cache URL, you can’t even find a link to the correct “real” page to pass on or save. The cached pages also tend to strip out certain content, such as adverts or input forms. This may be a bonus, or may be because of the ineptitude of the webmaster, but it doesn’t matter either way: Content is not served up correctly and that is a problem.

But things are worse still. Because the Google AMP Cache is, by their own definition, “a proxy-based content delivery network” it can be used to bypass web filters and restrictions. Page blocked by your school? Just access the AMP Cache version of it on your mobile device. In fact, you’ll bypass the filter automatically and inadvertently, potentially breaching an acceptable use policy.

The worst bit of all? You can’t turn it off. There’s no switch in your browser or your Google account settings. You can block access to google.com/amp (or .co.uk/amp, or other country specific variations), but that stops search from working properly. You can ask webmasters to disable AMP support, but there are so many using it now that isn’t going to happen. I do wonder if many webmasters were hoodwinked into this: They saw the benefits of AMP, so embraced it, and now Google have screwed them over by forcing the cache and breaking their content. How does advert revenue work now for those people, if the adverts are cached? Clickthroughs and hits? Did webmasters realise this was the endgame, because when I looked into AMP a while back for WordPress I certainly didn’t. Is there a legal issue with Google AMP Cache essentially cloning your content and serving it up from their server? It’s a mess.

And what if you do manage to convince a webmaster to turn it off? What happens then? This: 404s everywhere. That’s Google’s answer.

The situation now is that mobile search, via Google, is effectively broken just so we can get a page on the screen a few milliseconds faster. This is not progress.

Notes:

  1. Note that it’s Google who redirected to this search – I didn’t stupidly just put the URL in the search box!

The Nintendo Switch

I hear hot takes are the done thing these days.

This week, Nintendo finally unveiled the console that until Thursday was known as the Nintendo NX: The Nintendo Switch. It’s a car crash.

nintendo switch
The Nintendo Switch. JUST LOOK AT IT. Urgh.

I hate everything about it. The tiny little controllers. The way it seems to be aimed at millennial hipsters. The way it doesn’t fix the issue of too many controller types that the Wii and Wii U suffered from. The stupid little kick stand for when you need a tiny console to play on an aeroplane. Having a screen when most of the time you won’t need a screen. The new Nintendo logo. The way it sort of replaces both the Wii U and the 3DS without actually doing so.

It is all utter nonsense. Nintendo have lost the plot. Although they did provide us all with this:

nintendo switch
Lip biting confirmed.

The system is absolutely not what I want from a Nintendo console, but that does present a question: what do I want from a Nintendo console?

The answer? I don’t know.

I do know what I want from Nintendo games – that’s easy: fun, happy blue skies games without swearing that my family will also enjoy, but in terms of hardware I have no idea. Maybe this tablet with detachable controllers will be excellent, or maybe being able to use two tiny pads with a tiny screen in two player will end up being a killer feature. I can’t see it right now, but Nintendo have a habit of knowing what works.

It may not have been commercially successful, but the Wii U is a great console. The 3DS may not have matched the sales of the DS, but it’s a fantastic little machine. The Wii sold well but was derided for the slew of crap it put out and the “waggle” in titles, but there were some incredible games for it.

Ultimately, it would seem that although I don’t know what I want from Nintendo hardware, Nintendo do, and in the end it’s the games that matter. And the games will be outstanding, because they’re Nintendo games.

And for that, I’m in for a Nintendo Switch. All the way in:

nintendo switch

Where have all the Wasabi Peanuts gone?

Wasabi? A yellow insect with a sting.

Not that long ago, I had a craving for some wasabi peanuts. Either the coated type or the dusted type, I wasn’t that fussed, but my local shops didn’t have any. This was disappointing, but it set me off looking for them with a keenness.

After trying many shops, it became clear that they had gone. They used to be there, I remember buying them, but now they are not. Tesco, Morrisons, Asda, Sainsbury’s – nothing. I even asked in Holland and Barrett, who told me they had literally just discontinued them and I was the second person to ask that week.

Even Graze, who I used to use a lot 1, no longer have any wasabi peanut products. There has to be some sort of conspiracy. Yutaka, who make them, point to a number of companies who supposedly stock their product, but guess what? They don’t.

Of course, you can still buy some, of a different brand, on Amazon, but the high street is devoid. Wasabi peas are still easy to come by, but they’re not the same. Wasabi rice crackers aren’t too hard to find either, and Holland and Barrett had a range of other wasabi covered pulses and stuff, all of which are nice but aren’t wasabi peanuts.

I’ve ended up buying chilli coated peanuts instead. They’re hot (at least, some of them are – the Sainsbury’s birds eye chilli peanuts are, the H&B ones less so), but again, they’re not wasabi. I’ll have to just get some online, but chances are, by the time they arrive, I’ll have gone off the idea. Or I’ll order too many and be sick of them. Or worse, I’ll hate them and never want to eat them ever again.

Notes:

  1. On a related note, what the hell happened to razzcherries? They’ve vanished too!

Some Comments About This Week’s Apple iPhone Event

This wouldn’t have happened on Steve’s watch.

It is somewhat fitting that Nintendo made an appearance at an Apple iPhone announcement. Not because they’re similar companies, or are both in competition with Sony and Microsoft, or because I’m a fan of both. No, it’s because 11 years ago Nintendo made the same mistake Apple revealed they’d made this week.

Yes, I’m talking about the announcement that the new iPhone 7 won’t have a 3.5mm headphone socket.

GBA SP adapter
Remember these?

When Nintendo released the Game Boy Advance SP, it was lauded by many – including me – as a great improvement over the original Game Boy Advance. A lit screen, a clamshell design, and a rechargeable battery built in. Bafflingly, however, the power socket did double duty – you charged and powered the GBA SP with it of course, but as the SP didn’t have a headphone socket, you used the power socket via an adapter to plug your headphones in. A decision Nintendo didn’t repeat with the DS, DS Lite, DSi, DSi XL, 3DS, 3DS XL, 2DS, New 3DS or New 3DS XL. With good reason: it was bloody stupid.

And here is Apple doing the same thing. You can’t charge your phone and listen to music/games/podcasts/whatever you happen to be using it for at the same time. Why would you want to do that? Because smartphone batteries are rubbish, and with apps like Pokémon Go draining then ever so quickly, being able to charge (even if on the go with a battery pack like I do) is a must. In fact, I regularly walk listening to podcasts, playing Pokémon Go, powering my phone at the same time – with an iPhone 7, I can’t do that. In fact, I can’t even use normal headphones without charging it at the same time, unless I use an adapter to allow them to plug into the now all-purpose Lightning socket.

“Oh!” you cry, “But you can! You can use wireless Bluetooth headphones!”. No, no I can’t. Have you ever used them? The quality is poor unless you pay hundreds of pounds. They desync themselves. There’s interference. Worst of all – they need power, and so need charging themselves!

And have you seen those that Apple are peddling for ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY POUNDS? They look like Pat Butcher’s earrings, need charging (and only last 5 hours on a charge), and are going to fall out and get lost so easily. They’re an option not even worth consideration.

Apple Airpods
No. Just no.

The lack of headphone jack was pretty much guaranteed to happen, given the leaks and rumours in the last few months. Less certain were the size and specs, and sadly there’s disappointment there too.

Not with the specs, though. The power of the device is great, and increased on-board storage (iOS devices never seem to have enough) is welcome. Improved cameras are nice too. No, the problem is that the iPhone 7, just like the iPhone 6, it just too damn big. I find my 5S a bit on the large side, to be honest, and a 6 is impossible to use with one hand. A 6 Plus (and therefore the 7 Plus) is basically a tablet in comparison.

I was relieved last year when they announced the iPhone SE, as it’s the same as the 5S in dimensions, but around as powerful as the (then) new 6S. OK, it didn’t have force touch or a couple of other new features, but it meant there was still going to be an iPhone for me when it was time to upgrade or replace.

But is that still the case? Nothing about a new SE was mentioned this week. No SE sized phone with mostly 7 innards revealed. Of course, it may still happen, but I don’t think the SE sold especially well so it may not. Even if it does, will it ditch the headphone socket too?

I’m not going to be looking for a new phone for a while yet anyway. My 5S has a year or two still in it (dependant on Apple’s usual built-in obsolescence trigger once iOS 10 is installed, naturally), so my fingers are crossed for something I can accept before then.

As for Nintendo springing an iOS based touch screen Mario auto-runner on us all… well. I think a part of me died, unsurprising as the Apple event was more like a eulogy than the excited announcement of a new child.

A Yodel Adventure

Throw a six to start.

We all know how disappointed we are when, straight off the excitement that some new shiny toy has been dispatched, we discover it is being couriered by one of the less reliable delivery companies such as Amazon Logistics, Hermes, or Yodel. The tales of how packages have ended up in hedges, in wheelie bins that have been collected, on roofs and at houses that don’t actually exist speak on behalf of these businesses, and I’ll avoid using any online retailer that uses them whenever possible.

However, that’s not always feasable, and sometimes – like last week – I’ve no way of knowing who will be tasked with bringing me my precious. Ages ago, I pre-ordered a PocketCHIP, and a couple of weeks back it was dispatched. I’ll talk about it in another post soon, but needless to say I was looking forward to it arriving. Then, the international courier passed it over to Yodel and it was all doom and gloom from then on in.

I’m happy to report that Yodel did actually deliver in the end, albeit a day late, but I amused myself with these parcel delivery statuses while waiting impatiently.

parcel

parcel2

parcel3

parcel4

parcel5

parcel6

parcel7

As the day of delivery came to a close, time was running out:

parcel8

And overnight, I feared for the safety of my package.

parcel9

parcel10

parcel11

Yodel

I was just about to give up all hope.

parcel13

When finally, my parcel arrived:

parcel14

That BBC David Bowie Prom Thing

It’s a God awful small affair

Just a short missive about the BBC’s special David Bowie Prom night because I don’t want to dwell on it too much, but in Comic Book Guy fashion I felt I needed to register my disgust on that place where much disgust is registered: The Internet.

That’s a little too harsh as I was not disgusted by the prom at all. No, like you’d chide a naughty child, I was simply disappointed.

I’ve written about Bowie before, so you’ll know I was a massive fan. He was a artist who went through many changes (no pun intended) in his musical influences and style, and there are fans like me who took in this broad body of work, and others who are more limited to certain albums or eras. That’s fine, but it does mean that any collected works is likely to contain tracks that these second type of fan won’t appreciate. Even I wondered about the inclusion of Lady Grinning Soul and After All in this concert, but I’m not going to complain.

No, my complaint is more about how tracks were arranged and performed, and more specifically who was chosen to perform them. I’m not adverse to reworkings, covers or sampling work at all, and often enjoy differently interpreted works, but some of the performances here were truly baffling.

To keep it brief, the two worst points were John Cale, and (surprisingly) Marc Almond. I’m no fan of Almond, but I don’t dislike his previous work and quite enjoyed his performance with Jools Holland that I attended a few years back. He can certainly sing, but his Bowie performance was flat, monotone and without emotion or talent. John Cale commandeered by ego much of the latter part of the concert and hacked and slashed his way through Space Oddity in such a way it made me wish they’d brought Commander Hadfield on instead.

Paul Buchanan and Anna Calvi tried their best to ruin the show further, but thankfully excellent performances by Amanda Palmer and Neil Hannon dragged the event out of the gutter, and Laura Mvula’s take on Girl Loves Me was genuinely outstanding.

The David Bowie Prom was such a waste of an opportunity, a curious collection of performers, and a terribly disappointing concert as a result.

My Nintendo

Looking a gift horse in the mouth (and finding it empty)

When it launched a few months ago, virtually alongside Miitomo, My Nintendo seemed like a decent improvement on the old Club Nintendo rewards programme. Although buying physical games no longer awarded you loyalty points, digital titles still did, and now you could gain points just from performing tasks like linking social accounts to your Nintendo ID, using Miitomo, and regularly signing into Miiverse and the eShop.

Quickly, I racked up enough of these new coins to buy the Zelda Picross game from the My Nintendo Rewards page, which was pretty good, and I looked forward to obtaining more free games like this.

But where are they?

Yes, there was the option of buying the Nintendo DS Wario Ware game for the 3DS with Nintendo Coins, but I already own a copy of that which works on my 3DS. A couple of Virtual Console games appeared too, but I already have them, and that’s it – nothing else.

OK, that isn’t completely true. As I write, there are some free games I don’t own available from the rewards programme, but they all require gold coins (which you obtain from buying eShop titles) rather than platinum ones (that you get from all the other things I’ve listed above). The previously available games I could have “bought” for coins all needed platinum coins.

As it stands, I now have over 4500 platinum coins. Zelda cost just 1000, so you’d except I’d have been able to “buy” a handful more games had they existed to buy. Instead, I have the option of buying useless items for Miitomo (clothing, which is unnecessary, and game tokens which you obtain in plentiful supply anyway) and money off vouchers for eShop games I either already own, or are available cheaper elsewhere even without the discount.

I know it’s a poor show complaining about something which is free, but for something that started so well it’s disappointing that it has in itself become, well, a poor show. It’s also a shame that Pokémon Go doesn’t link into it in any way either – you can’t even use your Nintendo account or NNID to log into it!