Into The Woods…

Just over a year ago, I blogged about the forthcoming film version of Into the Woods, the musical by Stephen Sondheim, which would be produced by Disney. I was a bit concerned that, despite a strong cast, the saccharine hand of Disney would ruin one of Sondheim’s best works. Add to that the fact that it was rumoured that Disney would be changing the story, and I wondered whether justice would be done.

Fast forward a year, and I’ve now seen it. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn good.

What astounds me are the hugely negative reviews on IMDB. Dozens of one-star reviews from people who clearly hated the film.

Some didn’t realise it was a musical, and hated it because of the fact that people sang in the film. Some who did realise that it was a musical didn’t like the tunes. This is rather like Emperor Joseph II telling Mozart that there are too many notes…

Sondheim is a genius, and Into the Woods contains some of his best work. Highlights are “Agony”, “On the Steps of the Palace”. These are nicely done in the film, while Meryl Streep gives “Stay with me” real power and pathos.  And of course the perpetuum mobile of “Into the woods” itself is like a well-oiled sewing machine producing a rich tapestry of song.

And then there are the legions of parents who unthinkingly thought that a Disney film would be suitable for young children, despite the fact that it has a PG certificate. Er, hello, people, have you never actually read the Brothers Grimm? Clearly not, since in the original Cinderella story, the stepmother cuts off the toes and heels of her two daughters in order to make the shoe fit, while the witch blinds Rapunzel’s prince by having his horse throw him onto a forest of thorns.

There are five fairy tales: Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and a Sondheim invention, the Baker and his wife. The Baker’s tale is the thread stitching the other tales into one.

Act I ends “happily ever after”, but then Sondheim deepens the stories in Act II showing the broader skein of human frailties. Be careful what you wish for, indeed.

From the witch’s lament:

No matter what you say, children won’t listen.
No matter what you know, children refuse to learn.

Guide them along the way, still they won’t listen.
Children can only grow from something you love to something you lose…

To the prince’s seduction of the baker’s wife in “Any moment”:

Right and wrongs don’t matter in the woods, only feelings.
Let us meet the moment unblushed, life is often so unpleasant,
You must know that, as a peasant –
Best to take the moment present as a present for the moment…

In the stage play, the narrator and the Baker’s father are played by the same person. In the film, they are not, and I feel the film is weakened by this decision, particularly since the Baker’s father is played by Simon Russell Beale, and he is rather wasted in his few moments on-screen.

It seems to me that Disney has softened the impact of Act II. In the stage play, Rapunzel is killed; here she lives happily ever after with her prince. Sondheim’s moral that life is messier than a simple fairy tale is somewhat lessened. Nevertheless, it’s a good effort – and far, far better than those depressing reviews on IMDB would suggest. It’s definitely worth taking a trip into the woods… No One Is Alone…

Posted in Film, Music, Performing Arts | Leave a comment

Groove Music – Amnesia in Action

Microsoft has released a new version of its Groove Music app (version 3.6.1210.0) for Windows 10. They’ve also introduced yet another bug into it, a showstopper, as far as I’m concerned.

Groove keeps losing my entire album collection, and trying to rebuild it in a never-ending cycle.

I have 1,000+ albums stored on a Windows Home Server 2011 system, and connected to it are four Windows PCs (desktop, laptop, a Windows Tablet and a Surface 3), all running Groove and Windows 10. On each of the connected devices, the root music folder on the WHS2011 system is defined as a music library (and hence defined as a watched folder – in my case, \\DEGAS\Music – within Groove on each system).

Groove 04

Now that all the instances of Groove have been updated to version, what will happen is that when I’m viewing my Albums, the albums will suddenly disappear, Groove will say there are zero albums available offline, and  display the “Get some music” message.

Groove 02

After some time (30 minutes?), or a restart of the app, Groove will start re-indexing the music folders and albums will start appearing.

Groove 03

This goes on (slowly!) until all the albums have been scanned from the WHS2011 folders, at which point they will all suddenly disappear again and the process starts over.

This is happening on three all four of the PCs. Interestingly, the Surface 3 is not losing the albums. However, it’s also not displaying the correct number of albums held in my music library. I have 1,103 albums in my collection; according to Groove on the Surface 3, I only have 1,084. I suspect that this instance of Groove isn’t actually watching my watched folders… Addendum: I forced the Groove on the Surface 3 to rebuild its index, and now the same thing is happening on the Surface 3 as on the other PCs.

The version of Groove is also not always displaying the “Adding music” notification when music is being added.

I feel that Microsoft is not testing this app sufficiently well; I wonder whether anyone on the testing team bothers to test it with a library held on a Windows Home Server 2011 system.

I don’t mind being a beta tester when software is in beta; but Windows 10 and the Microsoft apps are now released. Groove is still not fit for purpose.

I have also sent this information in as feedback to Microsoft via the Windows 10 Feedback app. Whether this will result in a fix remains to be seen.

Apparently, Microsoft has stated that for Windows 10 Home users, all operating system and app updates will be automatically installed, and this cannot be overridden by the user. That’s a bit worrying, since a bug in a new component can cause immediate damage. We don’t get the option to delay updates and check whether it’s safe to let installations proceed.

Addendum 18 August 2015: Groove is now up to version 3.6.1239.0, but the issue is still present…

Other people are also reporting this issue occurring for music collections held on both WHS 2011 and Windows Server 2012 systems, so I’m not the only one for whom this is a showstopper.

Addendum 19 August 2015: This latest version of Groove running on my Surface 3 refuses to find any local files (including the collection on WHS 2011) at all. And it’s a hit and miss affair on my other systems as well. Groove on my desktop claims my collection has 1,109 albums available offline; on my Yoga 3 Pro, Groove says I have 1,112 albums, and on my ThinkPad 10, Groove says I have just 644 albums.

Addendum 20 August 2015: after 36 hours(!) of adding files, Groove on my ThinkPad 10 now says I have 1,108 albums available offline. So what’s it to be? 1,109, 1,112, or 1,108? All instances of Groove are looking at exactly the same collection; one might think that they could agree on the correct total of albums. Oh, wait a minute, Groove on the Desktop PC has just lost the index again, and has restarted to index the collection, While Groove on the Surface 3 still resolutely refuses to see any albums at all…

I’m sorry, but this software is absymal.

Posted in Computers and Internet, Music | Tagged | 6 Comments

Windows 10

So, the great day is here; Windows 10 has been unleashed.

Microsoft is in full Dr. Pangloss mode at the moment, trumpeting that Windows 10 is the best of all possible worlds.

Forgive my cynicism, but from what I have seen so far, I think it’s more of a curate’s egg.

The one saving grace is that it might improve over time, but going on Microsoft’s past performance, I’m not holding my breath. Having said all that, I will be updating all our windows devices to Windows 10, but not without regrets.

Posted in Computers and Internet | Tagged | 4 Comments

Media in Windows 10 – Stepping Backwards?

Just a couple of days to go before the launch of Windows 10, and Microsoft has blogged about the built-in apps present in the new operating system. Microsoft describes the apps as “great”. I think many of us would beg to differ; we are finding that the media apps in particular are a step backwards from those that are in Windows 8.1.

Barb Bowman goes into detail about the shortcomings, and, if using Windows to play back your media is important to you, you should definitely check out her post.

In addition to these shortcomings, the Windows 10 Photos app is pretty abysmal. You can’t browse individual folders of pictures, it will only display pictures arranged by date. Interestingly, browsing by folders was originally in the app, but it has now been removed by Microsoft. I notice that the advert in the Microsoft blog post still shows the older version of the app, with folder browsing present:

Windows 10 08

Either Microsoft are being disingenuous here, or someone’s been sloppy, because the Folder view is missing from the latest version (and has been for some months now):

Windows 10 09

So where has the Folders view gone? I need it back – it makes it impossible to find stuff without it (and there is still no possibility to search photo metadata tags in the app).

Frankly, with the current state of this app, I find it next to useless, and use other photo apps in preference. However, Windows 10 will force you to use it in certain circumstances. For example, if I want to add someone’s picture to their contact details in the People app, Windows 10 will bring up the Photo app so that you can select the picture you want to use. Without a folders view, I have to use File Explorer to find out the date taken of an image, and then use the Collection view in the Photos app to scroll to the date of the image to copy it into the People app. This is extremely cumbersome, and far from fast and fluid.

It almost gives the impression that Microsoft teams don’t actually test out the use cases… I am not impressed.

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The Egg Master

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at Rhik Samadder’s review of the Egg Master

So I did both.

The comments are worth reading as well. A&E units – you have been warned…

Posted in Food and drink | 2 Comments

Windows 10 Looms…

We are just three weeks away from Microsoft launching Windows 10 on the 29th July. The tech media has plenty of articles discussing the pros and cons, and now the “should I upgrade to Windows 10” articles are starting to appear in the mainstream press. Here’s one from the UK’s Telegraph. It’s actually surprisingly positive:

Windows 10 for desktop is a massive improvement over Windows 8. It builds on the more intuitive aspects of Windows 7 and Windows 8, combining the familiarity of the Start menu with a number of new features that genuinely seem to improve user experience, such as Edge and Cortana.

It’s also surprisingly accurate (I’ve begun to despair at the quality of what passes for technical journalism these days, even in the tech press), although in some places I would have a different take. For example:

When used on a tablet or smartphone, Windows 10 is not hugely different from Windows 8; most of the changes are under the hood. However, small improvements in usability should make learning the system less of a chore for the uninitiated.

As a user of Windows 8.1 on various tablets, I would disagree with the first part of this statement. There are substantial changes, and the changes are not under the hood, but very much in your face. The Charms bar of Windows 8/8.1 has gone and been replaced by the Action Centre, which holds notifications and is the entry point to Windows settings. Windows 10 also introduces the dreaded “Hamburger” button. These and other changes represent a major shift away from the design language pioneered in Windows 8/8.1 and in Windows Phone 8/8.1.

So for those of us that use Windows 8.1 and are completely comfortable with it, the move to Windows 10 is going to mean changes, and the relearning of our muscle memories. People who use Windows 7, on the other hand, are, I think, going to find it easier to adapt, because Windows 10 is very much closer to what they are used to.

After trying out the previews of Windows 10, I wrote, back in April, that I just didn’t like it. There seemed to be too many features of Windows 8.1 that had been removed or changed.

Now, twelve weeks and several preview builds later, I am somewhat less anxious. I have moved three PCs over to Windows 10. A laptop, a tablet and lastly, and most recently, my main workhorse, my Desktop PC. I have left my Surface 3 tablet running Windows 8.1; I will wait until the official release of Windows 10 before upgrading it.

I still miss the Smart Files feature of Windows 8.1, and the new version of this feature probably won’t appear in Windows 10 until late 2016. I will also be going through a period of relearning how to use my tablets.

Will the pain be worth the gain? In some areas, definitely yes. Windows 10 introduces native support for the FLAC audio and MKV media container formats. Both of these are important to me for the future of my music and home cinema systems. However, what Microsoft gives with one hand, it taketh away with the other. The “Play to” feature of Windows 8.1 is renamed to “Cast to” in Windows 10, and this function will have fundamental changes.  It appears as though Microsoft has removed DLNA DMR devices from system-level control (e.g. the Devices item in the Win 8.1 Charms bar), and demoted that function to needing to be controlled on an app-by-app basis.

That’s all very well if app developers actually take account of it. I note that Microsoft’s Music app does not do this, and I also note that the Microsoft spokesperson uses the qualifier “eventually” in the context of support by the Microsoft app. That could mean it will be available on July 29 or it could mean in five years time. That does not give me a warm feeling.

The Music app has recently been rebranded by Microsoft as the Groove Music app. It’s still primitive, and does not even have the capabilities of the venerable Windows Media Player, Microsoft’s Windows desktop application that last had an update back in 2009. For example, as a lover of Classical music, I want to be able to search and sort my music collection by composer. I can do this in Windows Media Player – in Groove? No, not yet – and I suspect not ever.

Microsoft keep saying that their media applications will have a constant stream of improvements, but they’ve been saying this for a very long time now, with precious little result.

So in summary, the underlying platform of Windows 10 is good, with new features that promise much. It remains to be seen whether Microsoft and other players will exploit that platform with a new generation of apps that deliver value and delight.

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Left Hand – Meet Right Hand…

Once again, Microsoft demonstrates that its left hand seemingly hasn’t got a clue what its right hand is doing.

The OneDrive team has been making “improvements” to the OneDrive service. A couple of weeks ago they blogged about these.

A couple of days ago, Martin tried to send some photos of the garden to a friend. He uses Windows Live Mail (WLM) as his email program. This has a very nice feature that allows the easy creation of a photo album in an email, and it uses OneDrive. What happens is that WLM will create a folder in your OneDrive to hold the full-size photos, upload those into OneDrive for you, and use thumbnails in the email message. So the email is small and efficient, and the recipient can view the photos in the OneDrive folder.

As I say, it’s a nice feature, and very easy to use.

Except that this time, the email got stuck in WLM’s outbox; it would never complete the publishing process. We tried it a couple of times, and the result was always the same.

It turns out that this problem is hitting a lot of people who are using the Photo Album feature in WLM. It’s been caused by a change made by the OneDrive team in the OneDrive service.

Clearly, no-one in the OneDrive team uses Windows Live Mail. It’s probably too old-school for them. I have a strong suspicion that Microsoft would love to drop WLM and the rest of the Windows Essentials software suite. It hasn’t had an update for several years now.

The big question now is what will Microsoft do? Will the OneDrive team fix the issue, and restore the photo album feature to WLM users? Or, as I fear will be the case, will this just be ignored in an attempt to shift users away from WLM and onto the Mail app that will be delivered in Windows 10? Conspiracy theorists will probably surmise that this breaking of WLM is a deliberate move on the part of Microsoft. I suspect it was probably unintentional, but it does now provide a useful lever to Microsoft to drive users away from future use of WLM. So I don’t think we will see a fix…

Addendum: 8 July 2015. Well, I may be wrong. It looks as though the issue has been fixed. No official word from Microsoft, one way or another, but photo albums do now seem to be getting through…

Posted in Computers and Internet, Photography | 2 Comments