Author Archives: jgbarry
After spending last night playing the board game with a couple of friends I felt like it was the right time to talk about one of my favourite TV shows, Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” and the follow up movie “Serenity”. Back when I was in high school I came across this little gem while surfing channels late at night where it had been relegated by Australian commercial TV. After a couple of weeks of raving about it to my best mate at school he jumped on board and neither of us missed an episode. We were both crushed when we learned it had been cancelled and I ordered the box set from the US for about $70 (it did not appear in Australia until the movie was released). The release of “Serenity” in 2005 offered a bit of closure after we saw it opening week but still “firefly” remains for me one of the best TV series ever made especially in the Science Fiction genre which is often plagued by clichés and generic storylines.
A massive “Buffy” fan from an early age the fact that “Firefly” was the latest Joss Whedon project never really entered my mind back when I started watching even though his trade make wit makes the series. The storyline and character of Malcolm Reynolds played by Nathan Fillion grab my attention from the start as a roguish smuggler who was torn between his desire to make a buck and do the right thing in the ‘Train Job’. Immediately as a Star Wars fan I couldn’t help but draw a comparison with Han Solo (obviously a common feeling since the production of Han and Mal Associates t-shirts) which made me want to keep watching. Beyond this first impression the character is quickly revealed to be far more than Star Wars knock off as Mel is plagued by the failure of the independent movement and battle of serenity something that Han never has to deal with. However, there is more to ‘firefly’ than one character and it is the relationship between crew members and their little quirks that make the show, whether it is Jayne’s (Adam Baldwin) macho attitude, Wash (Alan Tudyk) playing with dinosaur figurines in the cockpit or Zoe’s (Gina Torres) badass solder routine it all create a tight nit feeling of family. The fact that all the cast returned for “Serenity” shows the joy they had working on set and this comes across in the performance as they seem to genuinely care about each other and naturally share banter which is the core of the show.
The main entertainment might come from the characters, but it is the unique premise of the series and the unusual combination of different genres that still shows a lot of scope for development and really set it apart from the rest of the genre. Starting with ‘The Train Job’ as the pilot was aired out of order the audience are left with a lot of questions even before the opening credits as the firefly transport Serenity roars to life over a western style bar brawl. On first impression this is a bit of shock but as you continue watching the genus of “Firefly” quickly reveals itself. The show is largely based on the separation of the wealthy on the central planets emphasised in episodes like “Ariel” or “Trash” and those who are forced to struggle for survival, it is therefore an extension of the inequality present in our own society. This also reinforces the reality that the ‘verse was recently torn apart by war and therefore the defeated communities also need to deal with economic and social recovery largely without the help of the Systems Alliance which is too busy policing the wealthy that supported them in the first place. After watching the whole series it’s clear that Whedon has tried to imagine a future based on our current world. This includs the proliferation of corporations in the form of the omnipresent Blue Sun which if you watch the special features is likened to coca cola but is probably more in line with Apple or Google today. Constructing a future based on the present is also behind the Anglo-Chino fusion that makes up the surrounding culture as the USA and China as the major economic and political powers of today would survive the destruction of ‘Earth that was’ and form a new culture as humanity spreads into space.
This gives the series its uniqueness, but I also found that it also creates a sense of realism despite the odd combination of horses and spaceships. Primary this is because ‘Firefly’ unlike most other Science Fiction series or films does not suggest that humanity in venturing out into the black would suddenly fine peace and become united since if history has shown us anything it is our undeniable capacity for conflict. Secondly, the Anglo-Chino fusion also does not assume that western culture has become the dominate and only human culture while also not going overboard and suggesting that cultural boundaries remained the same after the destruction of earth. The whole thing makes the world of ‘Firefly’ rich viewing based on a level of complexity only someone like Joss Whedon can create.
The movie picks up on these elements and follows one of the plot threads started in the series however due to the limited running time the complexity is simplified and never really explored. In a way that means the premature cancellation of “Firefly” by Fox leaves a lot of perspective plots undeveloped and in some ways, it is primed for a second run. Previously, Netflix has likened “Firefly” to other cult classics like “Twin peaks” with a decreasing fan base however my experience is that Browncoats like myself haven’t lost any passion and since 2002 when the show first aired increased in number (possible because we happen to sell it to anyone we think will like it). Perhaps that means at some point it will go the way of other classics like “Twin Peaks” and the “X-Files” but this could only work with the return of Joss Whedon alongside Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres and the rest of the cast and with all of which having moved on to more recent success it seems unlikely.
Regardless of the absence of any future, do yourself a favour jump onboard because the whole thing is like one mighty fine shindig. It doesn’t last long but you’ll be talking about it for years.
Anyone who knows me will scoff when I say I’m not a fan of Apple, as if this was news but I do respect Cupertino’s impact on shaping technology as we know it today. The release of the original iPhone, 10 years ago, was an inventive leap forward as it combined a variety of different mobile functionality in a device that was easy to use and a eye catching. More importantly it changed the way people interact with the internet using applications that allowed people to complete a variety of task online rather than just the retrieval of information through a browser. Steve Jobs genius was however in the packaging not necessarily the concept as the iPhone has from it’s exception been an object attached with a certain status due in part to the existing main stream popularity of the iPod and the premium look of the device. In many ways this pathway to success hasn’t changed and persists in Apple’s latest announcements.
iPhone 8 and 8 plus
The incremental update, the iPhone 8 and its big brother from the outside are not all that different from the iPhone 7 with the same albeit reinforced chassis. However, as with all such updates it comes with more power under the hood with a new six core A11 “Bionic” chip which are made up two low performance cores and four high performance cores supposedly 25% and 75% respectably faster than the those in A10 chip. This is no where near enough to entice iPhone 7 owners to upgrade but those considering trading in an iPhone 6 or older to consider cashing in and is where the real value lies.
Beyond the additional power upgrade the iPhone 8 comes with the fairly standard additional changes common to such an upgrade. An improved 12 MP camera with better IR filter and ‘deeper pixels’ to improve image quality with AR functionality. In terms of features the major change is the introduction of wireless charging and the addition of fast charging which give 50% charge in 30 minutes. No doubt these are welcomed by iPhone uses but nothing ground breaking as they have been in Android phones for years. I know one thing that definitely wasn’t welcomed by fans was the $50 USD increase in price from the iPhone 7 launch as it seems that handset just keep getting more expensive.
The big news was Apple’s release of an extra “premium” handset named to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their original innovation. The phone boasts a new look following the lead of other handset makers like Samsung and LG to implement a bezel less display. However, it lacks the curved sides of the Galaxy 8 and the notch at the top of the screen for the camera and additional senses gives it a somewhat unique appearance. Interestingly Apple has also decided to go for a glass back to give the handset a premium feel, considering my own experience with the Galaxy 8 and it’s fragile finish I personally feel this is another example of design over functionality.
Of course there would be no point increasing the size of the screen without up grading the resolution with an OLED Super Retina display. The new panel brings a significant boast with 2436-by-1125-pixel resolution at 458 ppi however this is still well below the Quad HD and Super AMOLED 2960 by 1440 screen on the Galaxy 8 which boast a massive 570 ppi. Like the iPhone 8 the new handset is powered by the latest A11 ‘Bionic’ chip and of course the new charging capabilities. These impressive internals also drive the new facial recognition system which is the handsets main innovation as it takes the irises recognition of the Galaxy 8 and pushes it to the next level. The new technology is able to track facial features and use this not only to unlock your phone and authorise payments but also allow for the creation of ‘animojis’ (animated Emojis) based on your own expressions which I know is going to be a hit with kids at school.
Possibly Apple’s most courageous decision is the lose of the home button which is gone completely to allow for the new display. Interestingly they haven’t played it safe like Samsung who solved this dilemma on the Galaxy 8 through an on-screen home button. Instead Apple has chosen to change the way uses interact with the handset by creating a host of different swiping options to cover the functionality. Reading a run down of some of these commands and changes from Chris Smith at BGR it seems overly complicated. Apple may view the home button the same way as the headphone jack, no great lose, but since it does require people to relearn how to use the phone I’m sure it will be the source of criticism. I could be wrong but it reminds me a little of Microsoft’s decision to ditch the start menu with Windows 8 as users struggled to adjust and eventually the overwhelming criticism lead to the reintroduction of the familiar feature in Windows 10. However, Apple has a fanatically loyal fan base which has historically ignored many of the more recent little miss steps from the tech giant so it could amount to nothing.
The absence of the home button isn’t going to be the only thing that frustrates Apple fans as no doubt the price tag won’t be greeted with many fist pumps. At $999 USD ($1579 AUD) for 64 GB and $1149 USD ($1829 AUD) for the 256 GB option the it is the most expensive iPhone by a significant margin. $300 USD more expensive than the iPhone 8 and $200 USD more expensive than the 8 plus. It begs the question whether the screen and Face ID is worth the pain to the hip pocket.
10 years on and Apple has released something a little bit different from the old incremental update and have shown that they are still willing to take risks. Yet it isn’t the ‘revolution’ and ‘future’ of technology that some would have you believe as it neither does anything meaningful beyond existing competitors and has no real capacity to change the way we live. To suggest otherwise is really just an insult to what Steve Jobs achieved with the original iPhone 10 years ago, a device that really change the world and pushed technology forward.
Rob Carney presents a mostly positive review of the new Surface Pro making special mention of the devices new kick stand, improved pen and extra battery life. Regardless of his positivity his article put me off from the beginning as he poses the question whether the new Surface can rival the iPad Pro for creatives. This one statement suggests a limited understand of the needs of serious creative professionals as the Surface Pro allows for the use of the full Adobe suite compared to iOS apps, this is a point Carney makes but he does not take it to the logical conclusion that creatives who use an iPad Pro would likely need a second device compared to Surface owners. In addition, the implication that the Surface Pro needs to rival the iPad Pro seems to suggest that the iPad is the leader in this convertible category rather than the imitation. Since it was Apple which copied Microsoft in developing a larger tablet with a fold out keyboard and pen input to revitalize its declining tablet sales. In fact, the two devices in some ways shouldn’t even be considered in the same category as the Surface is a true 2 in 1, laptop replacement compared to the iPad which is still a tablet courtesy of iOS.
Regardless of this I may have been able to overlook this ridiculous statement if it had not been later followed by another serious of simplified and flawed comparison. His assertion when you look at it on face value has merit hat for the price of a Surface $2699 USD + another $159 USD for the keyboard and $99 USD for the pen you could buy both the $1899 USD touch bar 13-inch Macbook pro and the 12-inch iPad Pro at $799 + another $99 pencil and $169 for the keyboard stand. However, once you look deeper it is quickly clear that you are getting more for the price with a Surface Pro as it firstly comes with a four core i7 processor with significant advantages in clock speed and cache memory before even considering hyper threading when compare to the MacBook’s duel core i5. In addition, the Surface comes with 16Gb of RAM, 1TB SSD hard drive and a screen with 267 pixels per inch compared to the Macbook’s 8GB of RAM, 512 GB SSD hard drive and a Retina display with a pixel density of 227 per inch but this isn’t even the whole story as Apple does allow uses to customise the top end 13-inch Mac to bring it in line with the Surface specs of course this option increase the cost to $2709 USD which means your no longer getting that iPad. Considering that the fact that the Surface still has the clear advantage over the Mac through form factor it represents better value for money even with the $250 for accessories. On the other side if we wanted to bring the Surface Specs down to match the Mac for an i5 processor with 8GB of RAM and sacrificing a little on the hard drive at 256 GB it only costs $1299, a good $600 less than the Mac. My point in giving all these numbers is to emphasis that price is relative and isn’t the clean comparison that Carney suggests simply you get what you pay for.
My final criticism of Carney’s review is he states that the Surface Pro “doesn’t have enough flexibility in its ports (there’s only one USB, a MicroSD slot and a Mini DisplayPort” in comparison to top of the range Macbook Pro which is a bit ridiculous considering the Macbook doesn’t have any flexibility. The newest Macbook Pro famously only comes with 3 Thunder bolt USB C ports which granted are the newest technology but it means that users need dongles for everything, even connecting you iPhone to your Laptop. In addition, it is unwise for people to play down the importance of a SD card slots since as it is the primary method of data storage for photographers and I believe it has been a gross oversite of Macs for some time to fail to include one. Still using my own Surface Pro 1 at home I have found the use of MicroSD’s has replaced my use of USB storage devices as I can easily transfer data from my desktop PC which has memory card slot to my Surface and then using an adapter which normally comes with the SD card insert it back into my Nikon D3200 but I guess I can always spend another $49 dollars on an adapter I only need if I brought a Mac which is more expensive than a USB hub for $30 that I could easily add to my surface if I needed more than one port. Granted the newest surface should have included a USB C connection since it is the future but it is hardly the deal breaker that Carney suggests it is since as at least for now nearly all accessories still require a normal USB port, even devices that have adapted USB C like my Galaxy 8 still use the old connection on the other end of the cord. This isn’t even considering an iPad which does not give consumers any form of USB connections to remain thin regardless of the fact that it has hampered its ability to become a Laptop replacement or an SD card slot since it would provide an option for people to expand the memory without paying more on the purchase price. Either Apple device Carney wants to compare the Surface to it is clearly a bad joke to suggest that they offer more port flexibility for the price.
Perhaps what is off putting is that from the opening it seems like another Apple fan is trying to seem un biased by writing a mostly positive review of a competitor’s product but ultimately it falls flat through his laughable attempts to dodge simple facts.
A couple of weeks ago a friend and I journeyed into the exhibition centre here in Melbourne to check out the second annual Tech + Gadget expo and it’s clear that we have some work to do as far as consumer electronics is concerned. The expo had a range of technology on show from VR to Home Automation but it lacked contributions from many major developers and a huge variety of products in some areas. The only categories which may be exceptions were Drones and motorised bikes and skateboards these combined seemed to make up more than half of the expo floor. Presumably this focus may have been the result of trying to cater for families as these products could easily be considered kid friendly. On this point the expo was definitely successful since their were copious amounts of kids and teenagers walking around with a new drone tucked under the arm. At least the expo is a starting point and with clear development from last years inaugural event the future looks good. So here are the few of my observations:
The first thing we were confronted with when we entered was e2media’s VR Land which combines VR with hydrologic movement and surround sound to immerse people in an experience. It was worth a wait in line as the pendulum experience we had was powerful enough to make us both a bit motion sick. This might seem counter productive as you may ask why feeling sick would every be considered a good sign, but just go to a theme park and ask anyone who has left a ride feeling a bit queasy. Nearby another major VR player, the HTC Vive provided visitors with more of a home based experience by pairing the headset with controllers for uses to play a range of different games. Finally, Phoria rounded out the category and offered uses a bit more of an understanding of the potential application for VR in a variety of different industries. Despite the clear presence of VR at the expo there were a few noticeable absences from all ends of the spectrum as there was no Galaxy VR or Oculus rift in terms of headsets and there was no sign of any of the mixed reality products about to flood the market in the USA due to Microsoft’s partnership with OEMs. On an experience side Zero latency a clear Leader in VR in Melbourne offering a full immersed experience who could have easily used the event for promotion was also nowhere to be seen. If you haven’t had the pleasure of a full blown VR experience killing zombies it is a must so follow the link, gather your mates and book a session.
Starting as cheap as $50, drones were everywhere last weekend and with a test area provided a great hand on opportunity for the hordes of visitors it perhaps was not really a surprise. Personally, I’m still a little confounded by the popularity of Drones as it either suggests that everyone is a bit of a voyeur or are fascinated with remote control helicopters. The expo was my real first up-close look at a wide range of drones and I am still puzzled by the fascination as the range, 8-12min flight time and likelihood of being lost don’t seem to make a compelling case. On the other hand, the discounted price on offer at several booths with a fully equipped drone with altitude hold for less than $100 made tempting to get one and see the fascination for myself.
There were two main exceptions to most Drones on show. The first being the range of devices from DJI which included the Spark, Inspire 2 and Phantom 4. All of which come with advance intelligent flight technology including Tapfly, which allows the user to control flight direction by a simple tap on the live feed, Flight anatomy, which allows the drone to detect and avoid obstacles, Activetrack and return home. The Inspire 2 and Phantom 4 advanced are capable of 4k video at 60fps and around 30min of flight time which gives them more potential for serious applications in film, sport and industries like tourism.
On the complete other end of the spectrum is the Airblock, a modular drone made of magnetic parts which can be disassembled and reassembled in a variety of ways. Unlike most of the other drones the Airblock does not include a camera and is marketed as a toy for stunts and races. The app even provides users with the opportunity to learn basic coding. Relying on Bluetooth and the uses phone the range of Airblock is limited to 15m horizontal and 5m vertical which is perfect for anyone looking for a bit of fun who doesn’t want to intrude on their neighbours. Not to mention if you follow the link to their Kickstarter page
Tesla was the major player in automotive represented at the expo with both the Model S and Model X on show. Once you get a closer look at the inside of the Model X it’s clear that cars fit a luxury market. Strictly from a design standpoint both cars share a uniqueness which is pushed further on the Model X SUV that lacks the raised cabin of other more traditional manufacturers and narrows towards the rear of the car. This is topped off with the vertically opening doors that are reminiscent of a DeLorean except that they fold and slide down at the middle. It’s certainly unique but as car enthusiasts neither my friend and I thought it looked like an attractive “sexy” car. Obviously, this is not the reason to purchase an electric car but since it starts at $134000 for a 75kWh battery in Australia it is something that consumers think about.
The only other real display was from Toyota demonstrating the alternative to electric cars with the hydrogen powered Mirai. Not surprisingly the Mirai looks a little more mainstream and the technology is far more adventurous as it produces electricity rather than relying on the grid. Unfortunately, it is even further away from adaption in Australia as while charge stations are very rare and often need an grade to existing infrastructure for home installation, Hydrogen stations are not existent. No matter which way the future goes its clear that Australia will be lagging while that might be a tragedy for the environment the car enthusiasts in me that gets excited by the sound of a combustion engine or the look of Muscle Cars has a wry little smile.
Of course, there was other car tech around like the odd dash cam and Navdy heads up display. It was hardly an extensive range with only one booth and personally I feel there is scope in this category for development. Especially in trying to develop a long-lasting battery-operated dash cam because personally while every day on the road I’m reminded the of the value of dash cams but there is no way I’m running a cable from my windscreen to my centre console or paying more than the device is worth to get it installed, but maybe I’m being superficial. I doubt I’m the only one.
e-bikes & e-skateboards
To be honest this was an area I had very little interest in as even more than drones I just don’t see the point and that’s trying to be kind, since it could be said their raising popularity of a society that is become lazy. In some ways, perhaps an e-bike in the city makes some sense to avoid congestion but in most cases, I’ve still got to wounder why people just wouldn’t ride a normal bike. However, even this reasoning doesn’t explain the fascination with e-skateboards or Segway’s Firstly anyone using the later just look ridiculous and is a danger to themselves and others while the former seem like cashed up wannabe skaters.
Despite my personal ideas about such things the category was well represented with everything from skateboards with large Segway style wheels to those resembling their more traditional cousin with artistically designed decks. The inclusion of a test tract was a master stroke as I witnessed hordes of teens testing out anything that had at least two wheels. This is ultimately the key to sales, put the product in people’s hands and no doubt a few stalls cultivated a bit of interest.
One of the more underrepresented categorise at the expo which is surprising considering the proliferation of fitness trackers and among other things. Firstly, none of the major brands were in attendance and secondly even most of the more niche makers who focus on fitness trackers like Garmin weren’t present either. The only watch like device on show was the HELO LX which is more health monitor than smartwatch in the true sense as it is not used to check emails or make calls. Instead the HELO LX is an active health monitor which tracks blood pressure, EKG, fatigue and soon your blood alcohol level, the later especially I’m sure received some interest from visitors. These features make it a unique but very niche product as realistically the average user is not going to want all this info at their finger tips but for anyone with health problems it is likely the least invasive solution.
The other main piece of wearable technology that peaked my interest as a bit of a GYM junkie was 776bc and their range of active wear. Beyond state of the art compression tights the motion range uses biometric markers to allow you to film, annotate and compare your form to range of athletes. It is defiantly a worth while concept especially if your semi serious about your regime or a technical sport like rowing. However, it is worth noting that there are other products out like Athos training gear that has built in senses to track muscle effort and heart rate at a less affordable price or something like the Lumo Run which is more affordable but provides specialist data for running. Regardless of the merits of each brand it would have been good to see all these different smart clothing options in person just have a look at a few of the other options creeping onto the market with this list from wearable.com.
Unfortunately, the field I was most interested in was also the most poorly represented. Despite the presence of a Philips hue and Google Home display connected to Harvey Norman the Telstra booth was really the only one booth worth discussing. The telco set up a pop up lounge room to display its new smart hub subscription service complete with electric door locks, video cameras, thermostat and lights. The service starting at $25 a month for a starter kit looks like it might be the most cost-effective way to get started but the price could easily add up once you start adding components. Personally, it just made me think about researching other options like the Winx hub 2 among others which will defiantly cost more in the short term but has a wider range of compatible devices.
Unfortunately, Australia doesn’t have a history in consumer electronics and it shows at the Tech + Gadget expo if you compare it to anything overseas. However, it has almost doubled in size from the inaugural event last year so hopefully this means that we can continue to develop change thus perception as there was enough of a turnout to suggest that it is worth the investment.
A war movie with a difference ‘Dunkirk’ is a testament to Christopher Nolan’s skill and vision as a filmmaker. A student of history and film I have seen most notable war movies from Apocalypse Now to Saving Private Ryan and can safely say that like these Dunkirk has a unique element which makes it a modern masterpiece.
First and foremost Dunkirk is focused on the scale and magnitude of the events it is dramatizing. This is clear from the very beginning as Nolan uses wide establishing shots to show thousands of soldiers waiting inline for their chance to escape the beach. There is an odd order to the soldiers’ ere vigil as they stand patiently and helpless in the middle of a war zone which makes the entire scene feel surreal. However, to suggest that the film relies only on the large scale nature of events is overly simplistic instead it combines scale with the individual stories of almost nameless characters so that their own intimate experiences represents the stories of all the soldiers, pilots and seamen. This is perhaps most evident with Tommy and his different experiences trying to escape the beach. It is the combination of this scale and intimacy that gives the film its power and the ability play on the audiences emotions.
Structurally, Nolan is able to explore these events and their emotional impact because the film is able to explore three different narratives which converge at the films climax. This is an element more common to epic fantasy than a war movie which traditionally focus on a small group of soldiers and their experiences. It is a convention which is violently put down at the start of the film as the opening sequence of a small band of soldiers walking through desolate streets seems to fit with the genre as the audience can assume these will be the men the film will follow, until the are all shot in the back without a word except for Tommy who escapes and starts the narrative. Not only does the plot of the film fail to follow convention but Nolan complicates the narrative by providing three different time scales; one week, one day and one hour. Logically this makes sense as the planes can only stay in the air for so long but an hour is not enough time to properly cover the experience on the ground. At times this can be a little disorientating especially as the film approaches the climatic focal point but the quick cuts between narratives and that very sensation adds to the building tension and ultimately works.
In a way the logical necessity of the different time scales is symbolic of one of the Dunkirk’s other main strengths, realism. This normally means a war movie with graphic levels of carnage like ‘Saving Private Ryan’ but Nolan does not look to sensationalise war in anyway, instead the film aims to present an authentic vision of the evacuation. The starting point here is establishing historical accuracy which is consistent throughout the film from the German propaganda, Churchill’s pessimistic hopes for the evacuation, the importance of the mole, the decision to hold back planes and even the soldiers’ anger towards the RAF all demonstrate Nolan’s commitment to detail and build a strong foundation. This is developed through the films ability to avoid sensationalism, perhaps most obvious in the depiction of the aerial battle. The small grouping of planes, the cramped cockpits, limited visibility and absence of eye-catching aerobatics are just a few examples as the film never tries to make these men out to be more than what the were. Instead the real story is allowed to impress audiences with the heroism of sacrifice and battling the odds. Perhaps the most striking element of realism is the limited use of dialogue which is kept only to lines that are seemingly necessary for the situation. It seems a simple idea but very few films seem to recognize that often by adding more dialogue it actually detracts from the overall visual medium as there is a tendency to use words to express ideas and emotions that can be shown to the audience rather than told using contrived dialogue.
In many ways this is the context for a raft of strong supporting performances as in many ways ‘Dunkirk’ lacks a traditional lead. Fionn Whitehead who plays Tommy may have the most screen time but at no point does he dominate the film this makes sense since his character represents ever man on the beach. He has a difficult task alongside Domien Bonnard to make their non-verbal communication work but they both make their characters mutual understanding believable. As a result their journey is ultimately able to highlight the desperation and self preservation of all the men on the beach effectively for the audience. Tom Hardy is no less effective using non verbal cues in his portrayal of Ferrier as the characters major decisions can all be seen clearly in his eyes. Emphasised perfectly by the films cinematography and editing to show the thoughts running through his mind. Than there are the elder statesmen in Mark Rylance and Kenneth Branagh who both bring so much to the film. Whether it is Rylance’s ability to downplay the heroism of his character Mr. Dawson or Branagh’s weary appearance of shouldering the burden of command they both create depth in their respective characters. As a fan I couldn’t see anyone else balancing Commander Bolton’s forlorn sense of responsibility and his seemingly dry sense of humor with such master as Branagh, even his accent seems perfect for the role, a real British officer.
Historically Dunkirk was an important moment in WW2, a catastrophic defeat that could have been much worse. Yet, the fact that the British were successful in evacuating most of their troops providing them with the will and resources to keep fighting the Germans until they could go on the offensive with the US. This fine line between victory and defeat is captured throughout the film as almost every moment of heroism is connected to tragedy. Even in the film’s conclusion there is seemingly nothing to celebrate and this highlights the triumph of Nolan’s work.
An absolute must see, 9/10
These day’s I rarely get to the cinemas to see the latest release, so I have had an agonising wait before finally getting the chance to see ‘Logan’ but it was worth the wait. The latest instalment in the X-Men franchise is undoubtedly “The very best at what it does” and is not only notable as probably Hugh Jackman’s final appreance as Wolverine but a well written and directed film. It is darker and more complex intrant to the superhero genre which we haven’t seen since “The Dark Knight” and is a clear departure from the feel good uplifting films of the rest of the X-Men movies.
One element responsible for the very noticeable change in tone is the movement away from the lighter side of the science fiction genre which has always been present in the rest of the franchise. Starting with the moment Logan opened his eye’s in the high tech lab under Xavier’s School for the Gifted to the Sentinels he was sent back in time to stop Wolverine’s appearance in the X-men films has always been connected with technology. In contrast “Logan” has a more post – apocalyptic feel similar to ‘Mad Max’ this is partly due to open and desolate landscapes that dominate the film. Sure their are still elements of technological advances like the robotic hands of the Alkali-Transigen Reaves who pursue Logan or the continuation of the Weapon X program. However, even this set in a rudimentary Mexican hospital and the entire process of impregnating young women is decidedly low tech not only for the franchise but for 2029 when the film is set. Perhaps the greatest example of this change is shown by comparing the scene in which Logan sees Laura receiving her adamantium graft, strapped to a simple medical chair and covered in blood, compared to his own operation at alkali lake in the submerged tank.
This more dystopian style of science fiction is than blended with elements of an old fashion western which focuses more on character and relationships than the grander idea of saving the world found in the rest of the X-Men movies, in fact the storyline itself, a journey across the country, has more in common with this genre. It is a link that James Mangold was quick to reinforce with reference to the movie ‘Shane’ which is not only paralleled in Logan and Laura’s own journey but the desire Charles has to see Logan settle with a family. Further, to this mix of genres Mangold introduces an extreme application of gore again reminiscent of something like ‘Mad Max’ with close ups of injuries and gritty fight sequences emphasised at times by the fact that many of the films most graphic sequences are perpetrated by a child. Again this is a departure from the rest of the X-Men franchise as although Wolverine has always amassed a body count his victims have rarely left a trail of blood. As a result the film has a darker and in some ways more realistic feel rather than the more family friendly version of Wolverine we have become more familiar with.
It is this darker tone that allows Mangold to explore more personal themes through his characters rather than the grandeur ideas of discrimination, tolerance, sacrifice and responsibility which have been done to death in the past films. Instead Mangold focuses on Logan’s depression and desire to escape either through the adamantium bullet or the unrealistic dream of escaping to the sea. This is tired in part to Logan’s physical deterioration as a result of adamantium poisoning which makes him reflect on the lives he has taken as his own is seemingly coming to an end and his recognition with the decline of mutants in society he no longer has a place. At the same time Mangold is able to explore similar real world experiences with an elderly Charles Xavier whose declining health has made him a danger to everyone around him. It’s clear for most of the film that he is haunted by the damage his powers have done but still wishes desperately to hang on to his sanity and therefore resists the medicine that keeps them in check, his struggle mirrors the experience of those with dementia. It’s not surprising than that Charles wants to try and make amends by encouraging Logan to take responsibility for Laura and possibly settle down as it is his last chance to make a positive impact on the world. The introduction of Laura and the revelation of her paternity, which lessor films would have made into a grand reveal at the end, forces Logan into a position of responsibility he never quite fulfills. Through out the film we see him offer sage advice and obviously protect Laura from the Reavers with their growing bond leading to his willingness to sacrifice himself to save her at the end but it’s clear that he recognises that it’s impossible for him to be the father that Charles wants him to become. These personal themes make the film far more relatable and powerful than previous X-Men movies and the feel good sense of adventure.
The resulting character driven storyline requires strong performances from both Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman. Since handing over the role of professor Charles Xavier to James McAvoy it seemed the Stewart’s contribution to the X-men Universe maybe finished but his final performance has more depth than before. Instead of the wise, self assured Professor X we have been accustom to from the original trilogy, Stewart gives a compelling vision of man battling against his own mental state. His ability to appear fragile and lost at the start of the film and yet still hold a semblance of the moral authority audiences expect from the character even if it is only apparent when he is pleading with Logan is testament to Stewarts credentials as an actor. Not to be out done Jackman also puts in his best performance as for most of the film Logan’s depression is communicated with an expression as it is not until late in the film that it is properly articulated. His portal of the popular brash and antagonist hero is still present whether it is in the action packed final sequence or through the simple little glimpses like Logan’s decision to grab a cigar after telling Laura not to steal but these glimpses are buried beneath the limp of a man carrying the weight of his past missed life on his shoulders.
Amongst this mix of established and renowned talent Dafne Keen managers to hold her own. Her portrayal of Laura a deadly killing machine filled with rage in the form of a little girl is made more difficult by the fact that she does not talk for a large portion of the film. This means that Keen needs to communicate volumes with every look and piece of body language not an easy feat for a 12 year old actress. She does unbelievably well as it is obvious to the audience the different thoughts and feelings going through her mind. As a result the character appears sympathetic despite her ability to decapitate the men hunting her, this is thanks not only to Keen’s performance but Mangold and Scott Franks work with the script. Since they have been able to give Laura a sense of innocence through the wonder she experiences at the outside world and cleverly balances the references to her childhood suffering in a way that prevents it becoming forced. When Laura does talk it serves to reinforce all the key elements of the film since she speaks in Spanish without subtitles. The English speaking audience like Logan is left to use the context of what she says to derive her meaning but fail to comprehend every word. Not only does this put the audience alongside the main protagonist but it also serves to highlight the fact that despite their growing bond the characters are separated by very different worlds.
So far I have highlighted in depth what makes “Logan” a great film but it is more than that as it is still an X-men movie to the core as Mangold does a wonderful job of paying tribute to the comic book universe in addition to the past films. Some times these are in subtle elements of set design like the Samurai sword hanging in Logan’s room or the throw away line at the start about Liberty Island that takes fans back to the very beginning in 2000 or my personal favourite the Wolverine figurine wearing yellow spandex. More significantly the premise of an aging Logan pays a respectful homage to the ‘Old Man Logan’ series of comics without adapting the story and Mangold even finds a way to use the X-men comics as a plot device which defiantly got this fan boy excited. Even these elements could have easily become a gimmick if the plot and the introduction of Laura ( X – 23) was done poorly but the film manages this well by using the X-men evolution series as a starting point and returning to Wolverine’s own origins as part of the Weapon X program. The film therefore can be seen as a maturing of the franchise aimed at the audience who grew up with cartoons and comic books but are now looking for something a bit darker and complex than the lighter films of the past.
“Logan” won’t be for everyone, for starters it’s not the film to take your kids to see but for diehard fans and movie junkies it is a must see. I’m sure there are many fan boys out there who see “Logan” as a bit bitter sweet moment, it is the stand alone movie we have waited for especially since the train wreak which was X-Men Origins: Wolverine but unfortunately the last.
5.5 Claw marks out of 6
On May the second Microsoft unveiled it’s new stream lined operating system aimed at the education market which requires more cost effective ICT solutions. The plan was obviously to create a product that could provide customers with the same experience as Windows 10 Pro but is capable of operating on devices with limited processing power and memory and therefore keep the cost down for the consumer. This consistency of performance has always been a problem for Microsoft as OEM’s have been making low cost laptops and more recently tablets running Windows with the minimum requirements further slowed by useless blotware for years. It is a problem that Google has avoid with Chrome OS and it’s reliance on web apps along with Apple whose clearly defined walled garden allows it to control the user experience yet Microsoft has to position Windows to compete at both ends of the spectrum. The release of the Surface Pro, Surface Book and Surface Studio has show that Redmond can mix it with Apple at the premium end but has done nothing to halt the advance of Chrome books in schools. The answer; Windows 10 S promises to open up the second front on the low cost end of the spectrum by primarily restricting third party applications that impact the overall performance of the operating system. Controversially the operating system achieves this by limiting the user to applications downloaded from the Windows Store similar to iOS.
It was a move Microsoft needed to make according to the analysts due to the success of Chromebooks in US schools and had the potential for leveraging a popular operating system in Windows 10 to break into a different market. Unfortunately, most of the media coverage seems to attack Microsoft for their approach to the problem and the limitation they have placed on the installation of apps. Typically everyone wants the result but don’t want to face the consequences and seemingly expect nothing to be taken away in order to facilitate the necessary improvements to performance. Yet, as anyone with some experience with PC’s knows the major factor impacting performance is third party applications or related processes running in the background. Unbeknownst to the everyday user popular applications like the Adobe suite, Dropbox and Google Drive have several processes that run at start up by default and continue to draw processing power away from the user. These can easily be disabled in Windows 10 but most PC users in my experience teaching IT at a secondary school and provided ongoing support to colleagues and family this is beyond the average user. While limiting the installation of apps to the Windows store does not necessarily eliminate background processes it does provide a level of oversight missing from the web and prevents third party updates which are one of the major culprits of draining processing power.
Instead of focusing on these facts the Media have instead tried to suggest that Windows 10 S is the second coming of Windows RT except there are important differences for instance RT could not run legacy or Win32 applications and was made specifically to run on ARM based devices. In addition Windows RT was released at the same time as Windows 8 which was a completely revamped operating system that meet with a range of criticism and limited adoption. This ultimately impacted the development of apps for the Windows 8 store and doomed Windows RT. However neither of these apply to Windows 10 S as it not only does run Win32 applications but it is also being introduced after the successful uptake of Windows 10 this simple fact means that the Store is already more useable than the variant available to Windows RT. In addition, last year Microsoft made an important step in the right direction by making sure Win32 apps run on ARM devices this decision in an of itself shows a progress from the days of Windows RT that has been ignored by so called exports and provides the new operating system a real chance of competing with Chrome Books.
Possible the largest noise surrounding Windows 10 S is the suggestion that it limits users to Microsoft own web browser Edge and prevents them from using Google Chrome. This is a matter of perspective as Windows 10 S does not prevent the user from installing a different browser and setting it to default it just requires the browser to be downloaded from the Store like iOS. It is as much Google’s decision to not support the Windows Store even though it doesn’t require them to write a new version of Chrome rather tweak the existing application and submit it to the store. The same could be said for Mozilla and Opera but no doubt as the Windows 10 Store continues to mature the will eventually appear, especially if the media puts pressure on them instead of Microsoft since Windows 10 S is the solution they have been asking for. Until than users may actually learn that Microsoft Edge isn’t useless since it now supports extensions, has a reading mode and renders Java script better than Chrome which still maintains an overall lead in performance with HTML 5. It is a competitive browser even without the unique ink mode which has the potential to really come into it’s own in an education setting with inexpensive tablet PCs, I can imagine teaching students to annotate opinion articles straight from the net or show them how to the can highlight while doing research for an assignment, even sending it easily to friends doing a group task. All it needs is someone with a little understanding and imagination to use the tools that Microsoft have tried to make available for education.
My final frustration is the reception of Microsoft newest member of the surface family, the Surface Laptop. The hardware itself has been well received but as usual the tech media can be positive with presenting a negative. In this case you guessed it the focus on Windows 10 S as most exports don’t really understand while Microsoft first Laptop comes preinstalled with the slimed down version of the operating system. This is obviously more of a marketing opportunity as the Surface Laptop tries to convince people of the value of the new operating system with the lore of attractive hardware. Even if people aren’t happy with Windows 10 S the consumer can easily upgrade to Pro for $49 considering the entryy model comes with an i5 processes the device is configured to run Microsoft’s full OS without any drop in proformance The other area that has been a point of contention is the price point starting at $999 US or $1499 AUS it can hardly be called a budget device which seems counter productive considering the purpose of Windows 10 S to compete at the lower end of the market. However, this follows the same principal that Microsoft have followed with the Surface Pro building premium hardware to lead it’s OEMs to start investing more in design and providing them with the opportunity to under cut their prices and offer consumers a cheaper option. This has been successful with the 2 in 1 market as the Surface Pro is viewed as the premium device and has inspired numerous knock offs from Lenovo, Dell, and Samsung among others. It doesn’t really matter for Microsoft which option the consumer buys since their all running Windows 10 ultimately bringing people to the ecosystem which in turn helps Microsoft encourage developers. The same principal is behind the pricing of the Surface Laptop as it still positions Microsoft as a premium hardware manufacturer and will no doubt inspire OEM’s to improve the quality of their low cost laptops to prevent consumer’s from shelling out a little more for a better product. Again either way Microsoft wins.
It’s about time the tech media started playing fair with the truth and compared apples to apples rather than making connections that don’t make sense based on the changing landscape.
After Microsoft first showed off HoloLens in January last year buried amongst a three hour Windows 10 event, I remember reading the criticism of a rather biased Apple fan who suggested that the gang from Cupertino showed off more substance in a similar length event. I found his argument flawed than when he was speaking about a new MacBook and iPhone compared to something like HoloLens. I can’t help but remember it now as Apple again tries to pass off branding as innovation with their two latest product announcements in the iPad Pro 9.7″and the iPhone SE. Now before the devotees jump on my back and defend the quality of these products I am not arguing that both don’t represent improvements on existing lines and offer something to consumers rather offering a criticism of the portal of either as ‘new’ or ‘revolutionary’.
iPad Pro 9.7 inch
Apple’s latest iPad follows on closely from the release of its larger brother and that is exactly how the team at Cupertino has tried to sell the latest attempt to stop its sliding market share. The new 9.7-inch tablet has been represented as the iPad Pro in a smaller package due to the inclusion of similar specs led by the new processor and access to ‘Pro’ access. In reality the device is just the newest vision of the tablet which Apple released in 2010 and have continued to upgrade over the years with each generation bringing significant improvements in power and additionally features. The ‘Pro’ is no different from the iPad 2 or any other Apple periodic update as consumers expect the company to release the same product with new specs the only difference here is that Apple has taken the opportunity to rebrand the device to improve their ability to compete in the current market. Not only are they using trends set by their competitors but Apple are dipping in to their MacBook line of laptops to try and target more of an enterprise market like they did with the addition of the ‘Air’ moniker to the 5th generation of the tablet. The ‘Pro’ 9.7 inch therefore doesn’t represent anything remotely ‘new’ either in the features which are all in line with its larger sibling, the product line or even Apple’s approach to its consumers. This doesn’t mean that it is not still a significant improvement on the iPad Air 2 in terms of performance and an excellent
Before the newest iPhone was official announced the rumour mill had it accurately described as the body of an iPhone 5 with the internal of a 6S. The only thing that is ‘new’ about the iPhone SE is the name which dumps the usual numbering scheme as Apple has previously released cheaper iPhones in the 5C and have started making different size handsets with the 6 and 6+. Personally, I’m actually really excited by the release of the iPhone SE as it bucks the current trend of phone makers producing larger handsets. A trend that is especially frustrating for anyone like myself who wants to keep their phone in a jeans pocket, I’m now only hoping some Android or Windows OEM’s follow suit. The only disappointing element of the iPhone SE is that it doesn’t include all of the latest features present in the 6S or offer anything ‘New’. If Apple is successful with the SE in influencing trends this unfortunate fact suggests that those of use that prefer smaller handsets will continue to be treated as second class citizens with the premium features reserved for 5.5 inch or larger devices.
Selective rhetoric and Stats
Besides the annoying and biased views of the devotees what frustrates me the most about an Apple event is their use of the same rhetoric or misrepresentation of stats which no one in the tech world seems willing to put under the microscope. Once again Apple took aim at Microsoft by mentioning the 600 million PC’s still using 5 year-old operating systems which in and of itself is a pointless stat and could be used equally well by Microsoft to suggest customer satisfaction and the longevity of its software. Regardless of this Apple repeating like to take such information out of context for example that most of those 600 PC’s are found in enterprise which resist updating their software because of the cost of retraining which is especially important considering the dramatic sifts in the last few visions of Windows. Additionally, the comparison with Apple’s own tactics regarding software updates is also left unexplored for instance their use of limited backwards compatibility of apps that force consumers to update to the newest versions of iOS and OSX. My own experience at work is evidence of this mentality when a student sent me a pages file after updating to iOS 8 required me to update my own Mac to Yosemite in order to open and correct the work. Apple are able to imply these tactics because people subscribe to the philosophy of the ‘world garden’ present in iOS and the don’t have a sizeable Mac presence in enterprise. Regardless it is a tactic which Microsoft cannot employ without losing customers so all new versions of Windows are purposefully made to be backwards compatibility eliminating this reason to upgrade. This has been recently highlighted in the debate over UWP with epic games’ Tim Sweeney critical of the platform as a threat to make Windows more like the closed sandbox of iOS. Thus the difference between Microsoft and Apple’s strategies and business model render the comparison utterly useless in judging the success of either company.
Alongside these pointless stats Apple has begun to sound a little like a broken record by continually suggesting that the iPad will replace the PC. A statement which is starting to seem increasingly contradictory to the facts as Windows tablet market share has increased by 11% largely at the expense of Apple’s iPad despite the release of the iPad Pro and the inclusion of multitasking in iOS 9. Maybe the iPad Pro 9.7-inch will finally make Apple’s statement true but the fact that it doesn’t offer anything ‘new’ suggests that it won’t stop the market share slide so maybe it will just end up being the same old story.
I’m sure Apple fans will disregard everything I have said as ‘Apple Bashing’ but if you read and consider everything I hope you can see past my criticism. Both products are well thought out to fulfil needs with in the current consumer market place by offering high end performance in a smaller package which will suit a lot of people’s needs. As a result, both will likely see strong sales if not anything ground breaking with many existing or past customers looking to upgrade their ageing devices. My frustration, outside the Apple philosophy represented by the ‘walled garden’, as anyone who knows me will recognise remains the Apple marketing machine which I have always felt tries to insult our intelligence with branding and inspiring statements rather than substance. Perhaps this point is misplaced and should be directed at the fans who take up this rhetoric rather than engaging in rational argument whenever their favourite tech giant is criticised. Maybe I’m being an idealist but criticism is never anything to fear as it helps us grow so hopefully the more pressure we apply to Apple and other tech companies for that matter will end up leading to something inspiring that truly is ‘new’ and ‘innovating’.
Samsung and LG may have captured the attention of most the tech world at the start of MWC but they weren’t on their own. The HP Elite X3 made more than a few people take notice thanks to its high-end specs and the decision to embrace Microsoft’s unpopular mobile OS. It was undoubtedly a headline act of a successful show for the boys at Redmond with more phone makers jumping on board the 2 in 1 train, some specialised heavy-duty devices and even a nice shiny reward.
HP Elite X3
The stats on HP’s first foray into the phone market for two years match anything offered by Android manufacturing. A snapdragon 820 processor with 4GB of RAM, expandable memory, 16 megapixel camera, 2HD 5.96 inch display and water resistance maintains the same standard set by Samsung and LG. Yet the Elite also packs in a massive 4150mAh battery which even outpaces the G5 with the additional modal and an iris scanner for windows hello.
The numbers are impressive but what makes the Elite x3 standout is the Continuum feature of Windows 10. This allows the phone to act as a desktop PC with mouse and keyboard support with the help of the HP Desk Dock which also provides USB, HDMI and Ethernet ports. Microsoft’s own Lumia 950 and 950xl have shown of this versatility before but HP have taken it a step further with Mobile Extender which turns the phone into a laptop. Using the power of Windows 10 HP have created a phone which could conceivably replace your computer, at least in a casual sense. Unsurprisingly the Elite x3 is aimed at enterprise but hopefully we will see a commercial release as it appears to be the high-end flagship that Windows Mobile has been screaming but is it enough. Check out the hands on from Techradar from the show floor and make up your own mind.
The other major Windows 10 hardware announcement was a portable 2 in 1 Surface inspired PC from this notable phone manufacturer. Huawei is not the first to jump from the unprofitable and bleak pack of Android tablets as Samsung announced the Galaxy Tab Pro S last month at CES. If anything was obvious at MWC it’s that the future of tablets is the PC and consumers will see more competition between phone makers and traditional OEM’s.
As you might expect the MateBook is a 12 inch tablet with detachable keyboard and stylus in keeping with the Surface formula. Users have a choice of Intel processors up to the m7 and 4 or 8 GB of RAM with a whole day of battery life. This makes it slightly less expensive option compared to the Surface Pro but the MateBook doesn’t offer the same performance as the more expensive Pro 4 configurations and is probably more suited to casual PC uses. Looking at the price breakdown in this Gizmodo review it seems that Huawei may have got ahead of themselves as the Matebook doesn’t come in too much below the entry-level Surfaces but we will just have to wait and see.
Best of the rest
These two announcements may have stolen the spotlight for any other windows announcements but they weren’t the only things on offer. Vaio showed off the 5.5 inch Phone Biz handset hat also supports desktop like functionality through Continuum but with a snapdragon 617 processor and 3 GB of RAM it’s more of a mid range option. Unlikely to be seen in western markets the Phone Biz is a well put together and sleek device joining the Alcatel OneTouch Fierce XL and Acer Jade Primo announced at CES showing support for Microsoft’s mobile platform. The guys from Redmond weren’t to be left out announcing the budget Lumia 650 which has a more premium look than other Lumia handset but with low end specs is only meant to be an affordable option.
Similarly the MateBook was not the only windows 10 tablet announced at MWC with Alcatel adding to its Windows lineup with the Plus 10, a 10 inch tablet with 4G LTE keyboard. These Surface like combinations are starting flood the market but the Alcatel is a little unusual as it has 4G connectivity built into the keyboard alongside extra battery life rather than the tablet itself. Personally this seems a little odd as the ideal time to rely on 4G would be when using the device as a tablet without the keyboard. Even so if priced right LTE connectivity is a rarity on windows tablets and it might bring strong interest. Another unusual device obviously designed for a niche market is the Panasonic Tough Pad FZ-F1 which is a 4.7 inch phone like tablet meant for heavy-duty environments. It’s a device created with a single focus in mind to replace the bulky hand help PDA used by postal workers and the like. A more mainstream announcement was the raft of yoga transformers from Lenovo which is using so many different numbers to distinguish the line it’s starting to have an identity crisis.
The icing on the cake
The highlight of Microsoft’s MWC may have been more symbolic as the Surface Pro went back to back winning the award for best mobile tablet and beating out all its fiercest rivals including the iPad Pro. It’s more than this victory however as it is clear that the slate has changed the consumer perception of what a tablet should be since everyone is coping the formula. Microsoft will be hoping that this success might be able to filter into mobile with new exciting hardware in the Elite X3 to get consumers interested. Who knows? Maybe the boys at Redmond might give us another surprise at Build which is now only about a month away.