Paramount wants YOU to pirate Strange New Worlds

I held off writing this for a while, even as the prospect of Strange New Worlds getting an international broadcast slipped further and further away. I didn’t want to jump the gun and come across as being too aggressive or too critical of Paramount Global – the corporation that owns and mismanages Star Trek. But with only a week to go, it’s patently obvious that Paramount has no plans whatsoever to broadcast Strange New Worlds outside of the United States and the handful of other countries where Paramount+ is available.

At the time of the Discovery Season 4 mess last November, I felt hopeful that the backlash from fans might’ve prevented this. But I guess I should’ve known better – this isn’t the first time we’ve been in this situation, after all. Lower Decks Season 1 was the first casualty of the Paramount board’s ineptitude. That show’s lack of an international broadcast in the summer of 2020 hurt it immeasurably.

The lack of an international broadcast in Season 1 did serious harm to Lower Decks.

Then came Prodigy Season 1 in 2021, another series with real prospects to expand the Star Trek franchise far beyond its usual fanbase. That opportunity was squandered by Paramount’s decision to withhold the series from international broadcast. That decision was made so much worse by the fact that Prodigy is branded as a Nickelodeon co-production – and with Nickelodeon channels available in well over 100 countries, fans were rightly asking why they couldn’t watch the show along with their American friends.

Finally, only a few weeks after the Prodigy mess came the Discovery Season 4 calamity. Paramount literally paid Netflix money out of its own pocket to take the show away, preventing fans all across the world from watching it. They announced this “deal” with barely 48 hours’ notice, leading to a massive backlash from fans and even some of the actors and creative team. You’d think they’d have learned a thing or two from that mess, especially when it tanked their share price.

You’d think Paramount might’ve learned something from the mess surrounding Discovery Season 4…

But alas, it’s only April 2022 – less than six months later – and here we are again. Paramount has decided that it doesn’t want its international fans to pay for Strange New Worlds – it would rather we pirated the show instead. Fine by me.

It’s not like there weren’t options if Paramount wanted to make Strange New Worlds available to international viewers. Here in the UK, for example, Paramount Global owns the following: Channel 5 and its associated channels 5Select, 5Action, 5USA, 5Star, and the My5 catch-up service, Nickelodeon and its associated channels Nick Jr. and Nicktoons, Comedy Central, MTV and five MTV spin-offs, the Horror Channel, the Smithsonian Channel, CBS Drama, CBS Justice, and CBS Reality. Several of these are free-to-air, with the others being available on subscription via cable or satellite providers.

In addition, Paramount Global owns PlutoTV, the online television network where Discovery Season 4 was made available. And speaking of Discovery Season 4, Paramount was able to make deals with Amazon Video, Google Play, and even YouTube to allow viewers in some countries to pay to watch. In short, Paramount Global could have made Strange New Worlds available. They had every opportunity and numerous options for doing so.

Paramount owns PlutoTV, which broadcast Discovery Season 4 here in the UK.

On top of all that, the Star Trek franchise has been subjected to some truly pathetic scheduling decisions over the past few months, and these schedules now seem even worse in light of the lack of an international broadcast for Strange New Worlds. Compounding the decision to cut off international fans, Prodigy’s first season has been butchered, cleaved into small chunks of episodes that have made it harder than necessary for the show to gain any kind of traction.

But worse is the situation with Discovery, Picard, and Strange New Worlds. Why have these shows overlapped one another? Discovery and Picard ran concurrently for three weeks, and Picard’s season finale will be broadcast the same day as Strange New Worlds’ premiere. Why? If these three shows had been better-scheduled, split up by just a few weeks, then maybe there’d have been more time to get Paramount+ ready for the next phase of its international rollout. The UK and Europe have been promised Paramount+ by the end of Q2 – well that’s only a few weeks away, so if Picard Season 2 had been delayed by 4 weeks, and Strange New Worlds by another 3-4 weeks, maybe more fans would’ve been able to watch. How did this happen? And are the inept schedulers still making decisions? Seems like a firing offence to me.

Why wasn’t Picard Season 2 delayed?

By choosing not to take advantage of the global media empire that it literally owns, refusing to do deals with other corporations, and screwing up the scheduling of its own shows, Paramount has chosen to push fans toward piracy. Not only that, but the hurt and anger that has been generated by these decisions over the past couple of years will make it so much harder to convince fans to sign up for Paramount+ if the incompetently-managed service is ever ready to be rolled out.

Streaming platforms do not exist in a vacuum. The option fans have is not “pay for Paramount+ or don’t watch anything.” Piracy exists, and the only way that companies like Netflix and Disney have been able to make a success of the streaming model is by offering a good service at a low price. Paramount+ already fails the “good service” test – according to what I’m hearing from subscribers in the United States – so charging fans a higher price than Netflix, Amazon, or Disney for a worse product isn’t exactly going to incentivise folks to sign up.

Paramount+ is shit.

Despite that, when a film, television series, or video game is made available to watch, I’m firmly in the camp that says “pay for it.” I don’t want to be a pirate. From both a moral perspective and as a point of simple practicality, I believe that everyone from actors, writers, and directors to producers and executives should be paid for the work that they put into creating an entertainment product. But when a corporation takes that option away and piracy becomes the only way to access that content, then I’m all for it. In such cases as these, it is quite literally the only option.

That’s the position Paramount has placed fans in. They had options to broadcast Strange New Worlds on channels and networks that they owned from as far afield as Angola and Mozambique to the UK, Western Europe, and beyond… but they actively and willfully chose not to. They did so knowing that many fans wouldn’t wait for Paramount+… and if they didn’t realise that many of us would turn to piracy, then they’re even more incompetent and out of their depth than I thought.

The team in charge of Paramount+, apparently.

It’s become increasingly obvious that Paramount as a whole needs a good clear-out. 20th Century thinking is trying and failing to lead the corporation into the mid-21st Century, and executives and leaders clearly know nothing about a global media landscape that has been entirely transformed over the past couple of decades. Their attempt to launch their own streaming platform a decade too late in a massively competitive market was already a blunder all but certain to end in failure; the fact that Paramount+ is being handled so poorly is just hastening its demise. The anger and hurt caused to fans around the world – and not just fans of Star Trek, either, but fans of shows and franchises as diverse as Halo and iCarly – will be a weight around the corporation’s neck going forward. With inflation and other financial issues hitting hard in the short term, it’ll be ever more difficult to find subscribers for such a mediocre platform.

Paramount’s “America First” fetish would even make Donald Trump blush, and the corporation’s decision to gatekeep its own shows, segregating its audience geographically, is a colossal mistake. It’s one that Paramount+ may never recover from. And you know what? If a streaming platform with this level of ineptitude and mismanagement fails, it will deserve to fail. If a corporation with such a blinkered, short-sighted approach and an atrocious corporate attitude fails, it will deserve to fail too. My only concern as a fan of Star Trek is that Paramount+ may very well drag the Star Trek franchise down along with it.

Will Paramount+ drag Star Trek down the sewer?

The United States has been Paramount’s exclusive focus thus far, so much so that even when Paramount+ rolled out to countries like Australia, new episodes of shows like Prodigy weren’t broadcast there. Australian Trekkies who’d paid for Paramount+ were told that they’d have to wait for Discovery Season 4, and then Prodigy Season 1… so what exactly was the point of signing up? Did anyone at Paramount consider that question, or were they too fixated on America to care – or even notice?

I have tried my best to support Star Trek over the years. I signed up for Netflix in 2017 entirely because Discovery would be shown there, and I’ve likewise paid for Amazon Prime Video to watch Picard and Lower Decks. Over the span of more than thirty years I’ve bought Star Trek films and episodes on VHS, then the entire collection of every pre-2005 series on DVD, several on Blu-ray, and enough merchandise to sink a small boat. I’ve done my part to contribute financially to this franchise that I love… and even so, even with all the money I’ve already spent and all of the problems that I know Paramount+ has, I was ready to spend more. But Paramount saw fans like me offering up our cash and told us to fuck off.

Fans offered Paramount our cash… but they don’t want it.

The actors and the creative team who worked so hard to bring Strange New Worlds to life don’t deserve to find themselves in the middle of a stinking corporate mess, but in a way they’re caught in the crossfire. We should all be able to come together and celebrate the broadcast of a series that was only made possible because of Star Trek fans – many of whom are not American. But instead, we’re arguing about it. Strange New Worlds has become the latest in a line of own goals from Paramount, and there’s no way that the toxicity that they have created won’t spill over into criticisms of the show and everyone involved.

This mess could’ve been avoided. Paramount could have learned the lesson from just a few months ago, and spent the intervening time figuring out the best option for broadcasting Strange New Worlds in all of the different countries and territories around the globe. Instead they pissed away that time doing nothing of the sort, dragging the Star Trek fan community back to the same old arguments we had during the Discovery mess.

Paramount couldn’t possibly be doing more to encourage piracy of this new series.

Paramount has options to broadcast Strange New Worlds internationally, either on channels and platforms that it already owns or by agreeing licenses with other corporations. It has had more than enough time to figure out what to do, and should’ve been spurred into action by the clusterfuck surrounding Discovery Season 4. And failing all of that, Paramount has had weeks now in which to break the news to Trekkies; to tell us something and respond to the many questions that have been asked about the series. They’ve done none of that – and the explanation is simple. They don’t care about or respect any non-American fans or viewers.

So our recourse is piracy, as it always has been. When a corporation misbehaves like this, and treats its biggest fans and biggest supporters with such blatant disrespect, they haven’t just encouraged piracy, they deserve to have their shows pirated. They deserve the financial hit, the hit to viewing figures, and quite honestly, Strange New Worlds deserves to fail. Under this appalling team of corporate fuckwits, Star Trek as a whole will fail. And when we’re picking up the pieces in a few years’ time, asking where it all went wrong, we’ll be able to look back on these decisions and recognise that it was here that Paramount screwed up.

I constantly hope for better from Paramount – and I’m constantly let down. So I’m going to do what they clearly want me to do: I’m going to pirate Strange New Worlds. And you should too.

Piracy is probably against the rules where you live, so when you do pirate Strange New Worlds, do so carefully. Here’s where I’d usually tell you that the Star Trek franchise is someone’s copyright, but fuck it. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Windows 11… what’s the point?

About a month ago I built myself a brand-new PC. When I was making my plans and getting ready for the build, one of the choices I had was that of the operating system. With the exception of some very early lessons at school using a BBC Micro, and playing a few games on a Commodore 64 owned by a friend, I’ve always used Microsoft products. My first ever PC ran Windows 95, and I’ve used every version of Windows since, either for school, work, or at home. Although I’m not an expert by any means, I consider myself a pretty experienced Windows user!

Microsoft initially promised that Windows 10 would be the “final” version of their landmark operating system, with updates and tweaks but no replacement. This is what Apple has been doing for over twenty years with macOS (formerly known as OS X) so it seemed like something Microsoft could do as well. That promise lasted barely six years – less if we assume that Windows 11 must’ve been in development behind-the-scenes for a while – and before we go any further it’s worth acknowledging that. The broken promises surrounding Windows 10 will have quite understandably soured some people on Windows 11 before they even got started.

The first PC I owned ran a different version of Windows!

I found Windows 10 to be okay, but it had some issues. There were graphical bugs that only afflicted 4K screen resolutions, an unnecessarily complex set of menus and settings, lag on some Bluetooth devices, and more. I reported a few of these issues to Microsoft not long after upgrading to Windows 10… but they ignored all of them. If nothing else, I felt that upgrading to Windows 11 would at least simplify the experience, getting rid of the multiple settings menus and finally allowing me to display extra-large icons.

But alas, Windows 11 has to be the shoddiest “upgrade” I’ve ever come across. Windows 11 isn’t even akin to the upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1, and practically all of my complaints and criticisms about Windows 10 remain in the operating system. At time of writing, Microsoft charges £120 for the Home version and £220 for the Pro version of Windows 11 – and there is no way in hell that it’s worth the money. You’re better off sticking with Windows 10 in the short-term.

Windows 11… it has TikTok!

As 4K screen resolutions have become more common, you’d think that Microsoft would allow Windows users to take full advantage of a good-looking display. Heck, Microsoft sells its own Surface products with 4K screens – and yet for some reason, incredibly basic things like extra-large icons don’t work with a 4K screen resolution. This issue was reported to Microsoft as early as 2017 – a full five years ago. Throughout the lifetime of Windows 10 they did nothing to fix it, and I’d given up on ever being able to use extra-large icons on Windows 10. But you’ll forgive me for thinking that such a basic, simple thing could’ve been included when a brand-new operating system was released.

Control Panel and Settings menus are also a major area of complaint. As early as Windows 8, Microsoft saw fit to include not one but two settings menus: the classic Control Panel and a new Settings menu. These two menus often overlap, and it can be exceptionally frustrating to be spending ages looking for something only to realise you can’t do it from the Settings menu and you have to go back to Control Panel – or vice versa. How difficult would it be to roll both menus into one? This is now the fourth operating system in a row to have this problem, and I know I’m not the only one bothered by it.

The Control Panel still exists… and still clashes with the Settings menu.

To me, the examples above show just how little care and effort Microsoft put into the development of Windows 11. There are a handful of new features – like the ability to install certain apps from Android, for instance – but nowhere near enough to justify the cost, nor even enough to justify calling Windows 11 a wholly new OS. It’s Windows 10.1 – a basic shell with a few new shiny features slapped carelessly atop Windows 10.

And that isn’t actually the worst part of it. Some of the “features” that Windows 11 has introduced has made the day-to-day experience of using the operating system significantly worse. One of the most basic features that I’ve used for years in Windows is the ability to see my scheduled calendar events at a single click. Click the bottom-right of the screen to pop open an expanded calendar, then click on a day to see what events are on the agenda. Windows 11 has taken away this phenomenally useful feature, forcing me to open the full calendar app.

The Widgets menu.

This is part of a trend that you’ll notice with Windows 11 from the very beginning: every feature, every useful little app, every widget… they’re all designed to push users to sign up for Outlook and OneDrive accounts. Even if you have a full Microsoft account – and using Windows 11 without one is pretty difficult, as basic things like changing to dark mode aren’t available to you in that case – Outlook and OneDrive are basically required to make the most of many Windows 11 features.

Want to see a slideshow of photos on the Photos widget? Tough luck, you need OneDrive for that. Want to check your schedule on the calendar without having to open the full app? Screw you, sign up for Outlook. This is Microsoft’s approach. To the corporation, it isn’t good enough that you’ve bought the OS; in order to use many of its most basic features they want to fully rope you into every Microsoft account, ecosystem, and most importantly, every possible subscription.

Windows 11 offers a lot of apps… but to take advantage of them you’ll need subscriptions and accounts.

Atop that there are some unnecessary cosmetic changes and menu changes that have again made doing everyday tasks complicated. Right-clicking now brings up a new, smaller menu, one which has replaced basic options like “Copy” and “Paste” with stupid little icons. In order to access really basic options that have been part of Windows for decades – like “Print,” for example – you need to right-click, then click to open a second options menu. Unnecessary menus hidden inside of menus seems to be one of the hallmarks of this underwhelming operating system.

Installing Windows 11 was not a smooth experience, either. Despite not actually being much more complex than Windows 10 in many respects – an OS that can run on most computers made in the last 15 years – Windows 11 has one of the biggest barriers to entry of any Microsoft release to date. By requiring a Trusted Platform Module (or TPM) Windows 11 is effectively off-limits to any PC more than four or five years old. Even pretty expensive PCs with good-quality components don’t comply with this requirement.

This is the screen that greeted me when I first tried to set up Windows 11.

One of the strangest bugs I’ve encountered so far is in the Event Viewer. While tracking down a particularly annoying problem that came about when I built my new PC, I noticed that the Event Viewer is completely flooded with the same message over and over and over again. At time of writing, my PC – which is less than two months old – has more than 20,000 instances of the same “DistributedCOM” warning. Microsoft’s official advice? That’s fine – it’s supposed to look like that!

Microsoft currently plans to end support for Windows 10 – a widely-adopted OS in light of the corporation’s promises that it would be the “final” Windows version – in late 2025, which is only three-and-a-half years away at time of writing! This cynical attempt to pressure users to upgrade is just disgraceful; previous versions of Windows lasted far longer after their successor systems were released. Support for Windows 7, for example, only ended two years ago, and Windows 8 and 8.1 are still supported at time of writing.

Windows 11 reminds me of Windows ME.

So that, in my experience so far, is Windows 11. It’s as if a team of some of the best software experts in the world sat down to create an operating system designed from the ground up with the sole objective of pissing me off – and they succeeded beyond their wildest expectations.

Windows 11 will be my operating system from this point forward – but only by default. Just like when I had Windows ME, Windows Vista, and Windows 8 and 8.1, I’ll begrudgingly tolerate it. But as soon as there’s a better OS available, I’ll take it. Windows 11 is, in my view, comparable to those failed experiments from Microsoft; the best thing I can say about it is that it may prove to be an incremental step on the way to something better.

We can but hope, right?

Windows 11 is available to purchase now. Windows 11, Windows, and all other properties mentioned above are the copyright of Microsoft Corporation. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Building my new PC

For a couple of years my PC had been in need of a refresh! I’m disabled and spend most of my time at home, and my PC has been everything for me over the last few years: entertainment centre, games console, workspace, and of course, the place where I write all of these articles and do all of the tasks here on the website! When 2021 rolled around I decided I needed to get my act together and get serious about an upgrade, and over the course of last year I put together a list and began to acquire the components for my new build piece by piece.

Though I perhaps know a little more about computers than your average consumer, I’m by no means an expert – as this article will surely attest. That’s why I’m not calling this a “build guide” or “how to build a PC!” There are plenty of far better-qualified people than me who’ve written step-by-step guides on how to do everything, and there are videos on YouTube too. I’d recommend Linus Tech Tips on YouTube, TechRadar’s step-by-step guide, and the Tom’s Hardware forum if you’re looking for that kind of detail – and I’ll include links to all three at the end of this article. I’m writing this for the website to share my experience as a newbie to PC building – and because I enjoy writing!

I’m no expert, so if you’re looking for a detailed guide you’ll have to go elsewhere!

First of all, it took longer than I’d hoped to get everything in place. I kicked off this project just over a year ago, in early 2021, and I hoped to have made upgrades to my old PC by the summer. I then changed my plans and decided to build an entirely new machine from scratch, adding extra time to the project, but I still had hoped to be finished well before Christmas. In the end it was mid-March that I finally got it done – and there’s one additional task that I’ll aim to complete perhaps later this year or early next year, depending on how things go.

When I set out to build my PC I thought I knew the basics; which components I’d need and roughly how much I’d need to spend on them. But what hit me later on were all of the hidden costs, extras, and accessories: things like additional cables, an extra fan, a new DisplayPort cable, a new surge protector, screwdrivers, a static wrist strap, thermal compound, thermal pads, and so on. Because I’ve also changed where I sit and the orientation of my PC, I’ve also needed to invest in a new monitor arm and additional storage under the table that my PC rests on. All of these smaller things added up and delayed the project by at least a month!

Picking up hidden extras like new cables added to the cost.

Because I’ve never had a lot of money, I’ve always chosen to invest in items that I feel are higher-quality and stand a good chance of lasting a long time. The cheapest products aren’t always the best value or longest-lasting, as I’m sure you’ve discovered for yourself! With that in mind, I sought out components with excellent reviews, and even a single negative review about a product or the company’s customer service was enough to send me into a tailspin as I pondered the upsides and potential drawbacks. This also added a lot of time to the project!

This time around I chose to go with an AMD Ryzen CPU, specifically a third-gen Ryzen 7 5800x 8-core processor. After more than a decade of Intel’s dominance in the processor space, AMD’s Ryzen chips began getting rave reviews a few years ago, and it seemed like the best fit. I’m not wildly into overclocking nor do I intend to push the chip far beyond its limits – but I wanted to get something that I thought would be high-quality, fast, and that would really show off what a modern PC is capable of.

My new CPU.

About a decade ago I suffered a major internet outage that left me reeling! For more than six weeks I remained disconnected, growing increasingly frustrated – and increasingly bored. When I got back online I ordered an external hard drive, and on that drive I installed a number of games, made backups of my DVDs, and so on so I’d always have something to do if I was ever in that situation again. I got a second external drive somewhere along the line too, and my workspace has been cluttered with drives, wires, and power cables for the past few years.

With my new PC, I wanted to ditch the external drives altogether. I don’t go places, I don’t have other computers I might want to plug into, so their presence was just an annoyance! With that in mind I installed two drives in my new PC: an M.2 drive to serve as my main C: drive, where Windows is installed, where other software and apps can be installed, and where I can install most of the games I’d want to play, and a second large hard disk where I can keep all of my stored DVD and Blu-ray rips.

Good old DVD box sets…

I chose a Sabrent Rocket M.2 drive for my new PC’s primary drive – again, on the back of reviews and recommendations – and a large Seagate Exos hard disk for my secondary drive. It should be possible to install games on the second drive as well, if space becomes an issue on the M.2 in future, which is also a nice feature to have. Redundancy is the name of the game in that case!

This is my first experience with an M.2 drive. My old PC had a SATA SSD, but it was a very cheap one that never seemed to be especially fast. I think it was a Kingston model, and it was pretty small as well. Basically everything except for Windows – including my collection of MP3s and photos – ended up on an external drive.

My new M.2 SSD.

This might be the most controversial part of the build, but I went for RAM overkill: 64GB of DDR4 RAM. The RAM can be clocked to 3600MHz, which is apparently recommended for Ryzen chips, though out of the box it ran much slower. 64GB of RAM is complete overkill for practically any modern system, so I’m told, but last year I was thinking about getting into YouTube – I had a short-lived foray into podcasting – so I thought I might need the extra if I got serious about video editing or other RAM-intensive tasks.

I chose a decent motherboard to go with all of these components – a “gaming” model from MSI. I also invested in a power supply from Be Quiet that’s rated 80 Plus Titanium – the highest rating available from the premiere ratings organisation for these kinds of things. I don’t pretend to know the exact details of what makes a “Titanium” better than a “Bronze,” but I think it’s to do with power efficiency, particularly during periods of heavy use. It seemed worthwhile to spend the extra money on something more efficient, though, and I made sure to choose a power supply that could more than handle all of the components I was putting into the machine.

The motherboard I chose.

Here’s a problem that I wager most users won’t have to factor in: cats! I have several cats, and they have a tendency to jump on my PC case. With my old machine, I found that the inconveniently-located power button meant that they were frequently turning my PC off with their paws when jumping or walking on the case, so I wanted to choose a new case with a power button either on the front or at least not flat on top. Most cases nowadays seem to have that kind of design; the “old days” of horizontal cases or power buttons on the vertical front of the case seem to be long-gone!

I chose a Be Quiet case in the end; the power button is still near the top, but it’s located on a sloping panel that means my cats could jump up and down without disturbing it or accidentally switching me off halfway through writing an article… or halfway through the latest episode of Star Trek! The Be Quiet Dark Base 900 is a much larger case than my previous machine, but I think that means that there should be good airflow for keeping all of the components cool.

This is what I mean.

The CPU cooler that I chose was also based on reviews and recommendations: I went with a Noctua NH-D15. I debated using a water cooler – one of the all-in-one systems – but ever since I knew a fellow PC builder who ruined his entire system when his homemade water cooling system sprang a leak… let’s just say I’ve been put off! I know that today’s all-in-one water coolers are probably safe to use – far safer than the janky piece of crap my feckless friend built in his basement 20+ years ago – but even so, I felt that an air cooler was the way to go. The Noctua NH-D15 is one of the best-reviewed setups on the market, and it has recently been updated with a special AMD Ryzen mounting bracket, so that was the version I picked up.

I chose to add one PCIe card – a WiFi and Bluetooth antenna. I don’t care about the WiFi particularly as I’ve always preferred to use ethernet for my stationary PC, but I wanted to add Bluetooth functionality. I use a Bluetooth keyboard and I have a couple of other Bluetooth devices that I thought I might try to connect, and considering that it wasn’t hugely expensive to add it in, it seemed worthwhile.

The Bluetooth card.

With prices for graphics cards having been sky-high for years, I knew from the start that I would recycle my current one rather than wait months only to pay over-inflated prices. When my GPU crapped out on me a couple of years ago I replaced it with a modern GTX 1660, so it’s not like it’s a horribly outdated component. It would be lovely to back up all of that new hardware with a ray-tracing graphics card that can really take advantage of modern games… but one thing at a time! That’s an upgrade that I hope to get around to either later this year or next year, depending on prices and how well my PC performs.

So those were the main pieces that I chose. It took a while to back up all my files (and double-back up the most important ones because I’m paranoid like that), but eventually I’d done as much as I could, procrastinated long enough, and was ready to get to building!

I scavenged this graphics card from my old machine. It’ll do for now!

I’m absolutely certain that building a PC in 2022 is significantly easier than it would’ve been fifteen or twenty years ago. Most components slot into place, there are step-by-step guides and video tutorials on how to do everything, and even the instructions that came with the components were easy to understand.

I started by taking the motherboard out of its box, strapping on my anti-static wristband and grounding myself, and making sure I had my new screwdriver kit at the ready! Installing the RAM was the task I chose to do first – it’s something I’d done before and I knew exactly what I was doing. From there I installed the M.2 drive and its heatsink, and then the task I was probably most nervous about: the processor itself.

My chosen RAM.

How many horror stories have you seen of bent pins, misaligned chips, and other CPU disasters? I couldn’t tell easily which way the chip was supposed to be oriented; the little triangle that’s supposed to indicate that was incredibly small and blended in. But after checking, double-checking, and psyching myself up for it, I gingerly placed the chip in its awaiting hole… and we had success! Nothing was broken, no pins snapped off, and nothing blew up. Phew!

Next I applied a small amount of thermal compound (I went with Kryonaut’s “Thermal Grizzly” paste instead of the stock one from Noctua). Doing what I’d seen others do on video, I laid out a small drip of the stuff, no larger than a grain of rice, and then secured the cooler in place. It amazes me that such a large cooler is okay; it looks like it’s hanging there, suspended in mid-air!

The thermal paste I used.

Having done about as much as I could with the motherboard outside of the case, I next had to grab the case itself and start installing the power supply. The Be Quiet power supply that I chose came with a large number of cables, not all of which I ended up using. Some of the cables look very similar to one another, so it took a while to make sure I’d got each one in the right place!

I installed the motherboard, screwing it into the appropriate standoffs in the case. Then I slowly began plugging in each of the various cables, including a bunch of wires that had been dangling inside of the case when I opened it up! I installed the hard disk in the lower corner of the case, and removed all of the other hard disk trays that I’m not using (I’ll hang onto them in case I ever want to add in another drive or something). I hope this will result in slightly better airflow.

A lantern came in handy for extra light – the inside of the case was very dark.

All that was left was to install the GPU and the Bluetooth card in the two PCIe slots. Having done that, which didn’t take very long at all, I checked my watch and was surprised to see it had only been about ninety minutes! Thinking to myself that I’d done a good job, I grabbed a Dr Pepper and went in for a victory sip while the cats sat idly by and watched. To my surprise none of them tried to interfere while I was working… good cats!

But I was far from done, as it turned out. After double-checking every connection and component, I plugged in the PC and hit the power button… and nothing happened. Oh god, panic time! What have I done wrong? How can I even test to see what’s happening if literally nothing is happening?! After a moment of abject panic I tried to think back… what could have gone wrong? Why would absolutely nothing at all happen when I hit the power button?

My reaction!

After checking the very obvious things – was the power supply switched on, was the cable plugged in, was the surge protector turned on, etc. – I honed in on the problem: the power button itself. The power button had to be connected to the motherboard using a two-pin cable, and the connection had to be in a specific orientation (as denoted by a plus and minus symbol). I’d installed it back to front. After reversing the power switch connector I tried again, and to my joy and relief the system sprang to life!

All of the fans seemed to be spinning, and after reaching the BIOS it seemed like everything was showing up: the system detected the existence of its USB ports, its M.2 drive, its hard drive, it had the right amount of RAM… everything seemed to be right where it should be, so I shut it down and prepared to install Windows 11.

My operating system of choice. Ha.

Ugh. Windows 11. We’ll have to talk about this in more detail on another occasion, but for now suffice to say that Windows 11 appears to have been designed by a team of software experts at Microsoft who were given the explicit brief of creating an operating system that embodies every aspect of the word “irritating.” They succeeded beyond their wildest ambitions.

I was told at first that “This PC can’t run Windows 11!” thanks to the ridiculous hardware requirements that Microsoft placed on the new OS. I knew that wasn’t right, because the Ryzen 5800X has the required module to be able to run Windows 11. However, this security feature is not enabled in the BIOS by default, so I had to go in and turn it on manually. Having completed this task, Windows 11 happily installed at the second time of asking.

The screen that greeted me first time around.

That should have been the end of the affair, but there was one final twist in this tale of amateur-hour PC building! A couple of days after putting everything together, slapping myself on the back, and calling it a job well done, the new PC began experiencing random crashes. There would be no warning, no blue screen… just an instant shutdown as if the power had been cut. I was very worried!

These shutdowns produced no error messages worth their salt, just a very basic message in the Windows Event Viewer that said nothing about the cause. After spending a long time on Google and chasing down replies to years-old posts on forums, I tried as many different software fixes as I could find: updated drivers, uninstalled programmes, rolled back Windows updates, re-installed every driver one by one, updated the motherboard BIOS, deleted installed apps… nothing worked. The shutdowns continued, and they seemed to be getting worse. At one point, the system tried and failed to boot five times in a row; it wouldn’t even make it as far as the desktop before losing power.

This was all I could see in the Event Viewer.

After a lot of digging around, which the vagueness of the error message (and the fact that Windows 11’s Event Viewer is cluttered with warnings that Microsoft says are totally fine) did not help, I eventually relented and opened up the case again to see if there could be a hardware problem. It didn’t seem like a typical hardware issue – if there was a nonfunctional or broken component, I would have expected to see this problem from the very first moment I put the system together, not starting days later after everything had been going smoothly.

Every component appeared to be securely in place; the CPU cooler wasn’t falling off, all the cables were plugged into the power supply securely, and the power supply itself seemed to be in good working order. Running out of options I did something that really isn’t recommended – poking around inside the case while the system was powered on. I poked and prodded at the various components as safely as I could, and eventually I hit upon the problem – the cable connecting the power supply to the CPU was just slightly loose. The tiniest bump or prod on this connection switched the system off in exactly the same fashion as I’d been experiencing.

A simple loose connection between the power supply and the CPU was the cause of the problem.

Rerouting the cable in question, and tying it as securely as I could to the inside of the case, seems to have solved the problem. I can only assume that it came loose in the first place thanks to a combination of my amateur workmanship leaving it susceptible to the smallest of knocks… and the cats jumping on top of the case! They didn’t jump on the new case for a couple of days as they were wary of this new addition to the room, but I think their jumping must’ve been just enough to loosen this CPU power cable and cause those irritating random shutdowns. At time of writing it’s been just over a week since I rerouted the cable and the problem has not returned.

So that’s my PC building journey. It was an interesting experience, and while I can’t honestly say that I saved a lot of money by buying my own components, what I can say is that I got exactly the PC that I wanted. I got to choose every part, I got to make sure that I got components that met my requirements – or the requirements I thought I had, at least! – and I got a new experience out of it, too. At my age, brand-new experiences are few and far between!

One of the guilty kitties!

If you’re looking for a recommendation, I’d say that building a PC isn’t for the total beginner. Sure, most components snap together easily enough, and anyone who’s ever built a Meccano set would be able to do that part of it with a few basic tools and the instructions. But knowing where to begin, and where to look in the event of things not going exactly as planned… that required some background knowledge on the basics of how PCs work. If you’ve taken an interest in technology, though, and you know the difference between a CPU and a GPU, or which way around fans should be pointing, then I’d say it’s a fun project – but it is a project, and that requires some degree of effort, preparation, troubleshooting, and an ability to Google your way to solutions!

I’m glad I attempted this project, and hopefully the new PC will tide me over for the next few years with no trouble. I have vague plans, as mentioned, to get a ray-tracing graphics card in the months ahead, but for now I’m satisfied. I’ve copied over all of my files and backups, and I’ve started installing a few games to play – including a couple of titles that my old PC struggled to get running.

Stay tuned for a review of Windows 11 in the days ahead, because I definitely have some thoughts on Microsoft’s latest operating system. Some very critical thoughts!

Windows 11. It has TikTok!

Below you can find a list of the components that I used to build my new PC.

  • Power Supply: Be Quiet! Dark Power 12 850 Watt Fully Modular 80+ Titanium
  • Case: Be Quiet Black Dark Base 900
  • Case Fans: Be Quiet Silent Wings 3 PWM 140mm
  • Extra Case Fan: Noctua NF-A14 PWM 140mm
  • Motherboard: MSI MAG X570 Tomahawk WIFI ATX
  • CPU (Processor): AMD Ryzen 7 5800x 8-Core
  • GPU (Graphics Card): Palit GeForce GTX 1660 6GB
  • RAM: Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB x4 (64GB total)
  • Solid-State Drive: Sabrent Rocket 2TB Nvme M.2
  • SATA Hard Disk: Seagate Exos Enterprise Class
  • PCIe Bluetooth Card: Gigabyte GC-WB1733D-I
  • Extra Cable: Sabrent SATA III
  • Operating System: Windows 11
  • Tools: iFixit Essential Electronics Toolkit; anti-static wrist strap

Below you can find links to a few websites that I found helpful during my planning and preparation stages:

I’m not an expert and this article is not intended as advice or a guide. You are solely responsible for the outcome if you choose to build your own PC, and I accept no responsibility for any damage or destruction that may result. Some stock images used above are courtesy of Pixabay. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten games to play instead of Hogwarts Legacy

Spoiler Warning: There may be minor spoilers present for some of the entries on this list.

I confess that I was excited for Hogwarts Legacy when it was announced a couple of years ago. I wasn’t aware, at that time, of J.K. Rowling’s harmful and hurtful transphobic stance, and when the game was announced I felt that it had potential. Fast-forward a couple of years and a recent “gameplay reveal” video has got a lot of fans excited. I would probably have been among them a few years ago; while Harry Potter was never my biggest fandom, I enjoyed the books and films generally speaking. But I can’t support Hogwarts Legacy – nor anything else in the Harry Potter series any longer.

J.K. Rowling doesn’t have anything besides Harry Potter. She’s had limited success with the other titles she’s tried her hand at, so it’s the Harry Potter series that keeps her relevant – and it continues to be a major revenue stream for someone who’s already a billionaire. Any time the Harry Potter series gets attention, it amplifies J.K. Rowling, increasing her platform, her reach, and ensuring her harmful transphobic views are amplified, spread worldwide, and discussed at length. Moreover, it brings in money for her, some of which she donates to anti-trans activists and groups. I don’t know exactly what cut of the proceeds she’d get for Hogwarts Legacy – but it’ll be significant. If the game sells millions of copies she could easily rake in several million pounds from it.

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.

For some folks, Harry Potter is their biggest fandom and a huge part of their life. If you’re in that category, I hope you won’t consider this a personal attack. I know that J.K. Rowling’s statements have upset a lot of people, many of whom continue to consider themselves fans of the series. If Harry Potter meant a lot to you and you can’t abandon it, that’s your decision and I’m not interested in trying to change your mind.

I’m not going to re-hash all of the arguments surrounding J.K. Rowling and her transphobia here. I don’t have the time nor am I in the right emotional headspace for that. You already know what she’s said, why people like me find it incomprehensible and harmful, and reiterating all of those points would just lead to all of us getting upset all over again. Instead what I want to do today is offer up a few alternative games, titles that are just as interesting and exciting as Hogwarts Legacy but with hopefully less bigotry.

So without further ado, here are a few games you could substitute Hogwarts Legacy with if you’re looking for something fun to play but feel unable to support J.K. Rowling. Let’s jump into the list, shall we?

Game #1:
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

A game set in an established fictional world, but taking place hundreds of years prior to the events we know and love? That sounds an awful lot like Knights of the Old Republic! I can never fully put into words how much this game blew me away when it was released in 2003. After feeling disappointed with The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, Knights of the Old Republic went a long way to restoring my faith in Star Wars in general – and one of its story twists is perhaps the greatest that I’ve ever played through in any video game.

Knights of the Old Republic sent me off on my very own Star Wars adventure, and included all of the elements that a story needs to feel truly authentic. Whether it was Jedi Knights, beeping droids, or visiting familiar worlds like Tatooine or Kashyyyk, it was an incredible ride from beginning to end.

If you don’t mind waiting a year or two, a full remake of the game is in the works!

Game #2:
Red Dead Redemption II

It took me a while to get around to trying Red Dead Redemption II, but when I played through it last year I finally understood why everyone considers it to be a masterpiece. It’s a dark, bleak, yet incredibly beautiful experience, one which recreates late 19th Century America in a way that feels incredibly real. Characters feel like actual people with thoughts, desires, and motivations, and the narrative contains some incredibly emotional sequences that left me in tears.

Red Dead Redemption II is also one of the most visually stunning games I’ve ever played. Its open world has been crafted to perfection, and is packed full of minor details that make the experience an incredibly immersive one. I literally had dreams about Red Dead Redemption II while I was in the middle of the story, and there were times last year where I would want to just drop everything I was doing to get back to playing it!

Game #3:
Kena: Bridge of Spirits

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is another visually beautiful game, so much so that at one point I had to put down the control pad and just stare at the amazing scenery! It’s also an incredibly fun adventure game that I felt recaptured the feel of older 3D platformers. It wasn’t always an easy experience, as there was relatively little hand-holding, but it was incredibly fun and incredibly rewarding.

Considering that Kena: Bridge of Spirits was the debut game from brand-new developer Ember Lab, I’m even more impressed! I crowned it my “game of the year” for 2021, and with good reason. It was one of the best gaming experiences that I had last year, and even though I have a growing list of unplayed games… I’m sorely tempted to go back and revisit it!

Game #4:
Control

If a supernatural adventure is what you’re after, look no further than Control. I found the game to be incredibly atmospheric as protagonist Jesse explores a hauntingly bleak world. I definitely got sucked into the spooky world of Control, and this could make for a really fun game to play around the Halloween season thanks to the supernatural tone and some spectacular level design.

Control is also an incredibly accessible game, with lots of different options to customise and tweak the experience. One of my favourite parts of Control were the full-motion video sequences, presented in-game as recordings and clips to collect as Jesse explores deeper into the heart of the ancient and deeply unsettling building. These little snippets of lore, presented in a fun way, added so much to the experience.

Game #5:
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen

It’s been a few years since I played Dragon’s Dogma, but if I recall correctly the game has a surprisingly deep and rich magic system – something you might be looking for in an alternative to Hogwarts Legacy. Dragon’s Dogma always felt like a second-tier game; the kind of title that didn’t quite break into the uppermost echelons of gaming. But it was a fun time nevertheless, and a fun adventure to play through.

The Dark Arisen version – which is available for PC, Switch, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 – combined the base game and all of its DLC into a single package, and as a slightly older game (Dragon’s Dogma was originally released in 2012) it can be picked up quite inexpensively either second-hand or during Steam sales.

Game #6:
Elden Ring

Elden Ring is categorically not “my thing.” These kinds of difficult-for-the-sake-of-it games are simply unenjoyable for me, and as a result I have skipped Elden Ring. But I’d be remiss not to include one of the biggest releases of the year on a list like this, and many fans of the Souls-like genre have hailed it as an instant classic and the new benchmark for future titles to live up to.

Elden Ring uses an open world, it has magic, fantasy elements, and monsters to fight. It was originally billed as a game with input from A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin, though he appears to have made a limited impact on what seems to me to be another Dark Souls-inspired title. If you’re into games with punishing levels of difficulty, Elden Ring could be the one for you.

Game #7:
The Elder Scrolls IV: Skyrim

So you want to enrol in a special school to learn how to wield magic while at the same time exploring the world and going on adventures? Then why not join the Mage’s Guild in Skyrim? Or, come to that, why not do the same in Oblivion or join House Telvanni Morrowind as well? The entire Elder Scrolls series is set up perfectly for players who want to create mages, witches, necromancers, and all other kinds of magic-using characters!

Skyrim is certainly showing its age by now, even if you pick up one of the special enhanced deluxe anniversary editions that have been released endlessly over the past decade. But it’s still a beautiful game that’s fun to play, and many of its questlines and stories have a magical side that might just make up for skipping over Hogwarts Legacy.

Game #8:
Jade Empire

Jade Empire is a fun BioWare adventure game that I feel doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Released in between Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, it tends to be overlooked. Its Chinese-inspired setting is really interesting, though, and the game is populated with fun characters. There are magical elements to the game, too, although there’s a pretty big focus on martial arts-inspired combat.

Jade Empire tells a fun story, and I found it easy to get lost in its world when I first picked up the game on the original Xbox. If you’ve played other BioWare titles before then the format will be familiar – but the setting and the story are unique. I’ve always hoped that BioWare would revisit the world of Jade Empire… maybe one day!

Game #9:
GreedFall

GreedFall is another game that can feel overlooked, perhaps a game that didn’t quite break into the top tier when it was released a couple of years ago. It can feel like a title with some heavy-handed themes as it looks at the issue of colonialism – not always perfectly, I should say – but laying atop some of those deeper themes is a fun adventure in a well-constructed, lived-in world.

There are magic spells in GreedFall, with an entire character class built around the use of magic. The game’s character creator is pretty basic, but if you can look past that limitation the actual customisation options are quite extensive. It’s a fun game, and well worth a play especially considering that it doesn’t ask full price.

Game #10:
The Last Of Us Part II

I honestly didn’t expect to be putting The Last Of Us Part II on any list… ever! I didn’t enjoy the game’s story at all, as I felt it tried to be too smug, too clever, and the way in which it hacked away at some of the most basic fundamentals of storytelling – the need to have a clear protagonist and antagonist – meant the whole narrative collapsed. But if you’re really looking for a game to throw up a middle finger to a transphobe, The Last Of Us Part II could be right for you!

Despite my story complaints, the gameplay in The Last Of Us Part II is excellent. Its third-person stealth/action style is an iterative improvement over its predecessor, but it’s well-executed and feels very smooth to play. There’s also a sense of scarcity, with ammunition and supplies being hard to come by. This makes for an experience that requires a lot of thoughtful planning; rushing in guns-blazing usually doesn’t work.

As one of the few games I can recall to feature a transgender character in a major role (voiced by Star Trek: Discovery’s Ian Alexander) I felt it was worth including The Last Of Us Part II on this list.

So that’s it!

Those are ten games that I think could be worth playing if, like me, you plan to skip Hogwarts Legacy when it’s released later this year. I tried to look at titles that are in the third-person action or action/adventure space, as well as titles with magic or supernatural elements. There were plenty of other games that I could’ve included if we broadened those criteria, though, so this is by no means an exhaustive list!

I had a conversation with a friend recently, and they expressed the opinion that they would play Hogwarts Legacy as there aren’t a lot of games that would give them a similar experience. While it’s true that Harry Potter and the Wizarding World are somewhat unique, there are plenty of games – as well as novels, films, television shows, and other entertainment experiences – that draw on many of the same themes and use the same kinds of storytelling elements. Hogwarts Legacy, just like the rest of the fictional setting that J.K. Rowling created, is not irreplaceable.

That being said, I’m not here to try to force anyone to play or not play a particular game. I just wanted to contribute something positive to the overall conversation surrounding Hogwarts Legacy, and perhaps show off a few titles in a similar genre or similar space that players who are weighing up their options could consider as alternatives. If that applies to you, I hope you at least found my suggestions interesting! And if you still plan to go ahead and play Hogwarts Legacy, I genuinely hope you have a good time with the game.

Hogwarts Legacy is the copyright of Portkey Games and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Harry Potter and the Wizarding World are trademarks of Warner Bros. Entertainment. All titles on the list above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

One step forward, two steps back

Here we go again. When Trekkies all over the world should be talking with boundless enthusiasm and unbridled passion about the latest Star Trek announcements, we’re slapped down hard by ViacomCBS – sorry, that should be “Paramount” or “Paramount Global” now – and the corporation’s latest mess. I’m genuinely getting worried for the medium-to-long-term prospects of the Star Trek franchise under the corporation’s current leadership.

Just when I thought ViacomCBS had hit rock bottom with the Discovery Season 4 debacle, paying Netflix to remove the show internationally and preventing fans outside the United States from being able to watch, the corporation has, through sheer ingenuity, managed to sink even lower. Using outdated copyright laws and social media platforms’ heavy-handed DMCA policies to actively attack Trekkies is the latest move; a new low for a corporation that I naïvely assumed could sink no lower.

We need to support Trek Central and other fans who have had their accounts attacked by ViacomCBS. If you’re on Twitter, the hashtag #FreeTrekCentral is the place to be.

ViacomCBS (or whatever it wants to rebrand itself as now) is a corporation that has consistently failed to move with the times. It’s a corporation where 20th Century thinking is trying – and failing – to lead it into the 21st Century, and that’s the poisoned well from which all of these ridiculous, outdated, and harmful policies continue to flow. ViacomCBS has an “America First” fetish that would make even Donald Trump blush, brazenly ignoring fans outside of the United States – even going so far as to point-blank refuse to broadcast brand-new episodes on international versions of its own streaming platform, Paramount+. When will this end?

An investor event today – which was live-streamed on social media – showed off a new teaser trailer for Strange New Worlds, the upcoming Star Trek series bringing back Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike. Yet ViacomCBS then went on the attack, literally getting some fans’ social media accounts banned for daring to share still frames and screencaps of the trailer. At time of writing, the trailer itself has yet to be published on any of the official Star Trek social media channels, meaning fans know it’s out there but have no lawful way to access it.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could see the Strange New Worlds trailer?

There was also “news” – and I use that term in its loosest possible sense – about the painfully constipated rollout of Paramount+ internationally. We knew as early as the middle of last year that the planned launch window for the UK was “early-to-mid 2022,” so today’s so-called “announcement” that the mediocre streaming service will arrive “before the end of Q2” means absolutely nothing. The lack of so much as an attempt at precise timing, or even a narrower window, does not fill me with confidence.

Strange New Worlds – the show whose trailer is now being deliberately hidden and used as a pretext to attack fans on social media – is due to premiere in the United States in early May. The end of the second quarter of the year (or “Q2” in corporate-speak) is at the end of June. Assuming Paramount+ remains on what we could generously call its “schedule,” that seems to suggest that very few Trekkies outside of the United States will be able to watch the show.

The real Paramount+ slogan, apparently.

And if Paramount+ repeats what it tried to do with Discovery Season 4 and successfully did with Prodigy Season 1, then even being a Paramount+ subscriber might not be enough to guarantee that non-American Trekkies will be able to watch Strange New Worlds anyway. In both of those cases, Paramount+ outside of the United States didn’t broadcast new episodes at the same time as they were broadcast in the United States. Paramount+ is already a second-tier streaming service on a good day, but if it gates off its own original content outside of North America, what exactly is the point in becoming a subscriber? Maybe someone at ViacomCBS should ponder that question.

Every time I think we’re starting to see signs of progress, it feels like ViacomCBS takes one step forward and at least two steps back. The corporation has no clue how to act in a 21st Century media landscape that has shifted under its feet, and despite having its own streaming platform for over seven years (CBS All Access launched in late 2014) there’s been no evidence so far that the corporation knows how to successfully operate it, let alone how to bring it to audiences around the world.

Paramount+ will struggle under current management.

I want to support Star Trek. I want to offer my financial backing (in whatever small way I can) to ensure that the franchise continues to be successful and will continue to be produced. And there are some positive signs – Paramount+ has been adding new subscribers, Discovery has been its best-performing series, and shows like Halo and Yellowstone have attracted attention and been picked up for additional seasons. But like I said, for every step forward, there are two steps back. The reputation of ViacomCBS remains in the sewer with many of Star Trek’s biggest fans, and rebranding under a new name won’t fix that.

Social media is the biggest and most important way for any entertainment corporation to get its message out and to bring in new audiences and new subscribers. Look at shows as diverse as Game of Thrones, Chernobyl, Tiger King, and Squid Game. Social media buzz and hype were a huge factor in their success, and why they blew up far beyond their anticipated audiences to become absolutely massive. When ViacomCBS mistreats its biggest fans so badly on social media, and when its own social media marketing strategy is so painfully inadequate, it actively harms the potential success of Star Trek – and all of its other programmes.

Photo of the ViacomCBS board.

I noted this with disappointment in 2020 when Lower Decks was denied an international broadcast, and again in 2021 when the same thing happened to Prodigy. The two most different and interesting Star Trek projects in a generation had practically unlimited potential to expand the franchise and bring in boatloads of new fans – but because ViacomCBS chose to carve them up, deciding for itself which viewers were “worthy” of being allowed to watch the new shows, that potential was wasted.

When ViacomCBS cuts off its own shows at the knees, it doesn’t just harm their potential success in the rest of the world. It harms it in the United States as well. Social media is worldwide, and if fans in the rest of the world aren’t able to participate, the potential buzz and online chatter dies down. The hype bubble deflates, hashtags don’t trend, social media algorithms don’t pick up or promote posts, and untold numbers of potential fans and viewers miss out. They never even come to hear that Lower Decks, Prodigy, or Strange New Worlds exist because ViacomCBS made sure that millions of Star Trek fans don’t talk about them online.

Prodigy remains unavailable to most fans around the world.

Attacking fans is a new low, and rebuilding trust between ViacomCBS and Trekkies should be top priority for the corporation as it moves forward. It won’t be, but it should be. But there are more problems deeply-rooted within ViacomCBS and its corporate attitude, one which puts “America First” with vigour. That kind of thinking was outdated by the turn of the millennium, and fixing it is going to be essential to the future success of Paramount+.

One way that the corporation could win back fans’ support would be to guarantee that Strange New Worlds won’t be broadcast until Paramount+ has been rolled out to more countries. If there’s a delay in the rollout, there should be a delay in the new show as well. I’m sure some American Trekkies would be disappointed, but others wouldn’t mind waiting an extra few weeks or months if it means more Trekkies will be able to join in. It would be good for the fan community, and for the reasons mentioned above it would be good for Strange New Worlds’ prospects, too.

Strange New Worlds will premiere in May… if you’re lucky.

As for me, I remain extremely disappointed with Star Trek’s corporate overlords. If Strange New Worlds doesn’t come to the UK at the same time as it does in the United States, we end up right back in the piracy debate. I feel fans have an absolute moral justification to go right ahead and pirate it – if ViacomCBS chooses not to make it available lawfully, piracy becomes the only way to access the show. I will certainly have no qualms about going down that road.

But if Strange New Worlds doesn’t come to the UK, why should I cover it? In my own small way on my little corner of the internet, I offer the Star Trek franchise what amounts to free publicity, talking about shows and sharing my passion. It would feel wrong to offer my support to a series that ViacomCBS has, for what would be the third time in as many years, tried to deny to millions of fans around the world.

My message to the board and leadership at ViacomCBS (or Paramount as it’s now going to be known) is simple: do better. Treat your fans with basic respect, stop abusing outdated copyright laws, fix your social media marketing, find a way to bring your shows to the millions upon millions of fans who are literally opening our wallets and offering you our cash, and if you can’t do all of that, then get out of the way and make room for other people who can. Your intransigence and outdated thinking have already caused immeasurable harm to Star Trek, so you need to fix those things – before it’s too late.

The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS/Paramount. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Balancing the cost of living in 2022

If you’ve been a regular reader since last year, you might remember that I pre-ordered Starlink – Elon Musk’s satellite internet. I did so in large part because I live in a rural part of the UK that has been overlooked by fibre broadband, 4G, and basically every other improvement to the country’s ageing, decrepit communications infrastructure. I have broadband, which some rural dwellers still don’t, so in that sense I’m lucky – but my download speed at the best of times caps out at around 7 megabits/second, and at bad times I can barely get online at all.

Starlink originally promised to be available in “mid to late 2021,” before revising that to “early to mid 2022.” I would say, as an aside, that Starlink was very poor at communicating that change to me, and for much of 2021 I was holding out hope that I’d hear something from the company, especially because I’d paid a fairly hefty deposit. Better communication with customers may be something for Starlink to work on, at least from my limited experience with the company!

Starlink is a satellite internet company.

But I’m no longer going to be enjoying ultra-fast space-age internet. I recently cancelled my pre-order – and not because of any complaints about the company or the slowness of their rollout. I can understand that things get delayed, that the queue was long, and when you’re dealing with something as complex as literally launching rockets full of satellites into space, there are going to be bumps in the road sometimes! I’m not a “Karen,” feeling a sense of entitlement, and I want to make that clear.

Unfortunately, though, in 2022 I’m no longer in a position to be able to afford Starlink. The service would cost a little over three times the price of my current internet package, and with rising bills across the board, I can no longer guarantee that I could afford to pay that amount. I certainly wouldn’t want to sign myself up to a contract, committing to pay that money for twelve or eighteen months.

I definitely won’t be signing up for any long-term contracts right now!

Since mid-2020, my electricity bill has already risen by over 25%. That isn’t because I’m using any more electricity – in fact, thanks to things like LED lightbulbs and a better, more efficient heater, I’m probably using less. But the UK’s privatised electricity industry has been jacking up prices left, right, and centre. And that was before the current increase in oil and gas prices internationally sent energy prices skyrocketing.

In addition to the 25% rise that I’ve had to absorb over the last few months, my electricity bill will soon rise by another 50%-60% on top of what I’m currently paying, wiping out a huge chunk of my already meagre disposable income. Inflation is also biting me in the backside, with food prices having risen already in the last few months, and prices for some of my essential toiletries and other goods also shooting up. As a disabled person on a fixed income, there’s very limited room for manoeuvre, and as such I’m having to make decisions like the Starlink one in order to remain financially solvent in the months ahead.

The price of electricity is going up by a lot.

With all of that in mind, I’ve also decided to cancel my Netflix subscription. With Star Trek: Discovery being withdrawn from the service, and relatively few other projects that excited me coming up in the short term, it’s a significant chunk of change saved every month. Because I can’t really get out to the shops very often, and can’t lift anything heavy, I rely on Amazon for a lot of deliveries, and the cost of Amazon Prime per month is more than worth it when I stack it up next to the delivery charges I don’t have to pay, so keeping that one makes more sense. Netflix is a great service and I don’t dislike it, but something had to go, and when it came to a choice between Netflix and Amazon, Amazon won that particular fight.

In the late 2000s and early 2010s, I got into a lot of financial trouble. Suffering undiagnosed mental health issues, working through a divorce, and other pressures in my life saw my spending get out-of-control, and with the abundance of cheap credit that was given out far too readily by misbehaving banks, I found myself in quite a financial pickle after a few years of mismanaged finances and a difficult period of my life. It got so bad that I had bailiffs show up several times and was even threatened with prison at one point.

I faced money problems earlier in my life.

It took a long time to crawl out of the financial hole I’d dug for myself, and even now my credit rating is still so poor that I can’t access anything but the most expensive, high-interest loans and cards. So when I say I can feel my back getting closer and closer to the wall, I really mean it. If the current rate of price rises and cost increases continues, I’m very quickly going to have nowhere left to go!

During the pandemic, the government had provided a small increase to the benefits they pay out to people like me who are disabled, as well as to jobseekers and other low-income folks. This extra money was withdrawn back in the autumn, despite a public outcry, and that’s another reason why I’m left with fewer options at the moment. The current government has proven itself to be far too inflexible, unwilling to make changes to policies even as the situation in the real world has changed (and deteriorated). Even in the autumn, when this policy was still being debated, there were many economists, politicians, and other such folks who had the foresight to see price rises and inflation pressures coming. They warned the government not to go down this road – but their voices were ignored, sadly.

The UK government (Palace of Westminster pictured) is not handling the cost of living crisis particularly well.

The way the government calculates its figures also allows them to manipulate things so they can get away with paying out less than they should. There will be a very modest rise in my income in April, but the rate of this rise was calculated months ago and thus doesn’t account for the current rate of inflation – meaning it will be more than eaten up by the aforementioned electricity bill rise and other price rises.

It’s sad to be starting 2022 with such a bleak forecast and having to scale things back, but this is the reality of our pandemic-riddled world. I fear that we’ve only seen the very beginnings of some of these problems, and that things like electricity and food prices will rise, rise, and rise again before the end of the year. There’s already talk of another significant rise in energy bills in October.

There’s already talk of more inflation and more price rises to come.

I’m not yet in a position of having to choose whether to “heat or eat,” as the current anti-slogan suggests. But because I’d already scaled back as many of my costs as possible over the years, I don’t have a lot more room to make cutbacks. I usually only heat the living room, even in the depths of winter. It’s -3°C outside as I write this early on a February morning, but I find that the one heater I have in the living room is usually adequate.

There are two remaining subscriptions that I could potentially cull, depending on how much worse the financial outlook gets. I currently subscribe to both Disney+ and Xbox Game Pass for PC – though the latter is currently paid for for the next few months thanks to a Christmas present from my sister! But in theory I could save another few pounds a month by cutting those. But once those are gone, that’s all the wiggle-room I have! Those are my only remaining non-essential bills, and as a disabled person for whom leaving the house is a challenge at the best of times, I feel that it’s important to have things like this so I can access entertainment and keep the old brain cells from decaying!

I’m sticking with Game Pass… at least for now.

I’m not in imminent danger of freezing nor of starving… but the fact that, in the UK in 2022, that statement should need to be made at all is pretty telling. I don’t like to get political here on the website at all – but I’m definitely upset with the current government and its inflexibility when it comes to solving these problems.

That’s not to say that I have all the answers, not by any stretch. But in the next few months, and certainly by the end of 2022, something’s got to change. I know I’m not the only one in this position of having to make cutbacks to be able to continue to afford the essentials, and as a disabled person who relies on certain mobility and toileting products, there’s more than just food that I have to buy every month. It isn’t possible to cut back on those things!

There are essentials – like food – that we can’t live without!

So this was a bit of an update, really. I guess you won’t see many Netflix reviews here on the website for the next few weeks and months – but I’ll continue my usual output of Star Trek content, I’ll definitely take a look at anything new from Star Wars, and I’ll keep up my regular commentary on the ins and outs of the video games industry – even if I may not be in a position to play any of the games that don’t come to Game Pass this year!

I try to avoid piracy – except in specific circumstances. If a film, TV show, or video game is available here in the UK lawfully, I’ll either pay for it or skip it. It’s only when greedy, moronic corporations refuse to broadcast their latest shows or make their films available here in the UK that I’ll sail the high seas! And as I’ve said before, I think that’s a pretty fair way to approach it.

If you’re suffering as a result of inflation or any of the other financial issues we’ve talked about today, there is help available. Here in the UK you can talk to organisations like Citizens Advice, and they definitely helped me during the period when I was struggling with debt. I can’t make any further recommendations other than to check what’s available in your local area. I hope that, if you find yourself in choppy financial waters, things settle down quickly – for all of us!

This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Keeping the Star Trek fan community a welcoming place

I didn’t realise it until a few weeks ago, but I’ve officially been a Trekkie for more than thirty years. The earliest episode of The Next Generation that I can solidly remember watching was Season 2’s The Royale, which aired here in the UK in June 1991. Although I’m fairly sure that The Royale isn’t the first ever Star Trek episode that I saw, it’s the earliest one that I can remember and thus I can officially date my entry into the fandom to more than three decades ago.

I quickly became enamoured with The Next Generation, tuning in to watch every new episode as they aired, and even renting copies of some of the episodes on video as and when I could find them. In the rural part of the UK where I grew up, there weren’t many other fans of science fiction and fantasy, so being a Trekkie could be lonely. This was years before I got access to the internet, too, so finding fellow Trekkies wasn’t easy.

The Royale is the first episode of Star Trek that I can definitely remember watching.

That being said, there was a sci-fi magazine that I subscribed to for a time, and I think it must’ve been in one of the issues that I found out about a Star Trek fan group that was organising a meet-up. This would’ve been in late 1994 or early 1995, around the time Generations was in cinemas. Because my mother thought I was too young to travel more than two hours by train on my own, she accompanied me – much to my horror – but promised me she’d find other things to do in the city where the meet-up was taking place.

I was nervous as I got ready to attend the meet-up. I’d seen as much of The Next Generation as had been broadcast on terrestrial TV in the UK, and a few other episodes on video, but I’d only seen a handful of episodes of The Original Series and just one of the films (The Search for Spock, weirdly, was my first Star Trek film) so I wasn’t really sure how older fans would react. I felt like a bit of an imposter at first; a newbie barging into an established group.

It took two hours to travel by rail from where I lived to where the meet-up was being held.

But all of the Trekkies I met were incredibly welcoming. At the meet-up I was the youngest person there by a considerable margin, but everyone was very nice to me and made me feel part of the group. Nobody tried to tell me that I wasn’t a “true fan” of Star Trek because of my limited knowledge of The Original Series, and I had a great time talking to other fans for the first time, seeing different collections of merchandise – some imported from America – and hearing a few people share their experiences of meeting William Shatner or other members of the cast. I left the event having had a great time and feeling excited to continue and expand my fandom. Someone had recommended that I watch The Wrath of Khan, so shortly after I was able to rent the film and see it for myself.

I went back to several meet-ups with this group in the mid/late-1990s, but as I got ready to go to university and started getting online, I sort of drifted away. It was never an official fan club or anything as far as I recall, just a group of Trekkies who’d get together to trade merch and chat once in a while.

Kirk in The Wrath of Khan.

Those early fan meet-ups meant a lot to me as I began my journey as a Star Trek fan. The people I talked to were all very welcoming, and they seemed pleased that a younger person was interested enough in Star Trek to associate with their group. I think they recognised, even back then, that a franchise like Star Trek needs new fans – because new fans are the lifeblood of any fan community. Making sure that community is a welcoming place, however people come by it, is incredibly important.

I was quite sensitive as a kid, and if I’d been met with a wall of negativity at that first meet-up, I don’t think I’d have ever gone back. It would almost certainly have put me off Star Trek entirely, as I’d have associated the franchise with unkind, unwelcoming people. I might have never gone back to watch The Original Series, and perhaps I’d have switched off and skipped Deep Space Nine and Voyager when they came along, too. The words people use matter, and how we treat new fans or people on the cusp of joining the fan community is incredibly important.

It’s so important to be kind to everyone in the fan community – especially newbies.

Meet-ups like the ones I remember still happen within the fan community, but nowadays most people’s first contact with other Trekkies is via the internet and social media. In a way, I’m jealous of that! As a kid I would have loved nothing more than to have found a ready-made Trekkie community that I could share my love of the franchise with any time I wanted to, but I first became a Trekkie years before I got online! I grew up in a rural area, and there just weren’t any other Trekkies in my immediate circle of friends or neighbours – at least none that I knew of at the time.

But social media and the internet have brought with them trolls and unkind people who seem to delight in crapping all over anything that someone else likes. That’s unfortunately true within the Star Trek fan community as well, and there are enough people who are unkind and unpleasant to others online that I fear for anyone just getting started with Star Trek. The community that they encounter on social media is, unfortunately, plagued by a vocal minority of people like that.

The online Trekkie community can be an unkind, even hateful place.

I’m not the most active person on social media. But even I’ve seen the way that some people behave, and how the relative anonymity of the internet and social media seems to amplify some people’s absolute worst qualities and tendencies. Even conversations that start off politely, or questions asked in good faith and with no bad intentions at all, can become toxic incredibly quickly.

I believe that it’s up to all of us to be considerate and thoughtful in our interactions within the fan community. New shows like Discovery and Prodigy are hopefully going to continue to bring on board hordes of brand-new Trekkies, and all of us have a responsibility to ensure that the fan community these folks discover is a kind, welcoming place. Trying to act like gatekeepers by telling new Trekkies that their opinions are invalid because they haven’t seen a particular film or episode, or that the show they like isn’t “real Star Trek,” is going to upset people and make the Star Trek fan community look like an unkind, selfish, closed-off place.

Prodigy is hopefully going to bring lots of new fans into the Star Trek fan community for the first time.

New fans are, as I said earlier, the lifeblood of any fandom. If Star Trek were to remain the sole preserve of fans from the ’60s or the ’90s it wouldn’t last very long at all – and it wouldn’t deserve to. The fan community needs new Trekkies joining in and sharing their excitement for the franchise in order to grow and remain relevant. If we try to shut those people out or tell them they’re only “allowed” to join in once they’ve met a particular threshold then the fan community will stagnate, online fan groups will become unpleasant places, and the resultant decline in online chatter will harm Star Trek and could easily lead to a decline in viewership in general.

There are many fans for whom Star Trek has always been a complete product. There were a lot of arguments in the ’80s and ’90s about how The Next Generation was taking over from The Original Series, whether Deep Space Nine was too dark in tone, and whether the Star Trek franchise needed a prequel – to name just three examples. Star Trek has always been developing and evolving, episode by episode and season by season. But for fans who missed those conversations and didn’t see the slow progress that the franchise made over the span of decades, Star Trek has always existed as a complete product: a DVD box set or a full series on a streaming platform. It seems to me that it’s those folks who are more likely to act as gatekeepers and try to keep new fans who don’t share their opinions out of the fan community.

Star Trek hasn’t always been a complete DVD box set. It took decades to get to that point.

Star Trek has always meant different things to different people. And consequently, fans have always had preferences within the Star Trek franchise about which episodes, films, series, and even characters that they prefer. If someone doesn’t like one part of Star Trek, that’s okay. It doesn’t make them “less” of a Trekkie. And if someone’s new to the franchise and isn’t up to speed on every film or episode, that doesn’t make them “less” of a fan either.

The people who are trying to play gatekeeper need to stop. It doesn’t do anyone any good to try to exclude people – especially new fans – from the Star Trek fan community. Although I’m a fan of Star Trek in its older and newer incarnations, I understand that there are people who don’t like some or all of what Star Trek is currently doing. I was even in a similar position myself once upon a time, as I wasn’t particularly keen on Enterprise when it was announced and only tuned in sporadically during its original broadcast run. But in the early 2000s I would have never dreamed of telling anyone that they weren’t a “real fan” of Star Trek because they liked Enterprise, or because Enterprise was the first Star Trek show they’d ever seen.

I freely admit that Enterprise didn’t seem like my thing when it first premiered. But I was wrong about that.

The message I have is a simple one, at the end of the day: we all have a responsibility to keep the Star Trek fan community a kind, friendly, and welcoming place.

Fans can be passionate, and the desire to talk about the things we like – and dislike – is a powerful one. Making sure that the Star Trek fan community feels welcoming to newcomers doesn’t mean whitewashing Star Trek and never sharing a critical opinion, but it does mean that criticism needs to be carefully considered and offered in as constructive a manner as possible. ViacomCBS has definitely made mistakes with the Star Trek franchise in recent years, for example, but my criticisms of the corporation or my negative reviews of individual episodes here on the website have never strayed into attacking fellow fans. If you like an episode that I don’t, that’s okay! And I think that’s the attitude that we all need to try to adopt going forward.

A series like Prodigy has the potential to open up the Star Trek fan community, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see an influx of new, younger fans in the months and years ahead. Those of us who’ve been Trekkies for a long time should try, for their sake, to keep conversations and debates civil in tone and to ensure that the fan community is a kind, friendly, and welcoming place. Shutting down or tuning out as much of the toxicity as possible is a big part of that.

Let’s try to make sure fans of Prodigy feel welcome as they get started in the Star Trek fan community.

I’ve lost count of the number of negative, toxic, and even bigoted and hateful messages and posts that I’ve seen in recent years. Practically all of them appeared not because they were sent directly to me, nor because I sought out those groups or follow individuals who hold those views, but because they were amplified on social media by other folks – often with good intentions – who chose to interact or engage. There’s an expression from the early days of the internet that I think is relevant in a lot of cases: “don’t feed the trolls.”

A lot of the anti-Trek content spewed onto social media by people like that is done for attention, and by engaging with it in a big way it gets amplified, giving the attention-seeking trolls exactly what they want. There are some instances where calling someone out or shutting down someone espousing hurtful, bigoted views is going to be important – but in many cases there’s no need to engage with people who are throwing out hate and toxicity just for the sake of it. Because of the way social media works, with algorithms promoting content that gets the most engagements, doing so often ends up drawing more and more attention to something that really should just be ignored. Most social media platforms offer users the ability to block individuals, groups, or even whole words and phrases – so we should use those tools when necessary.

Don’t feed the trolls…

So I think that’s about all I have to say. I was prompted to write this piece after seeing a lot of chatter on social media about the state of the Star Trek fan community, and with Prodigy now airing and potentially bringing younger fans on board in large numbers, I wanted to give my two cents on why it’s important to make sure the fan community is as welcoming and friendly as possible.

Ever since I attended that first meet-up in 1994 or 1995, I’ve remembered the kindness that I was shown and how I was made to feel welcome as a new fan. I try to keep that spirit going in all of my engagements with the Star Trek fan community, and though there are episodes I dislike and things on the corporate side that I will continue to criticise, in my very limited way I try to make sure that I’m contributing positively to the overall discourse surrounding Star Trek. There’s room for constructive criticism and there’s room for differences of opinion – but there’s no room for toxicity, hate, and bigotry. It’s the responsibility of all of us to do what we can to keep the Star Trek fan community a welcoming place.

The Star Trek franchise – including all series and films mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Paramount+ needs a major attitude adjustment

In the course of researching Star Trek: Prodigy for my review of the first part of Season 1, I learned something very odd. The first half of the season was itself cleaved in two, with a few episodes being broadcast, followed by a month-long break, before a second batch were broadcast leading up to the mid-season finale. This appalling scheduling – and on a streaming platform, no less – already made no sense and arguably damaged Prodigy, making it harder for the series to gain traction and retain viewers, and that’s something I addressed in my review. But one thing that’s even worse is that for Paramount+ subscribers outside of the United States – such as in Australia – the second batch of episodes weren’t broadcast at all.

When ViacomCBS announced its intention to take Discovery Season 4 away from fans, the same thing happened. Although Paramount+ existed in Latin America, Australia, and Scandinavia, those regions weren’t going to get Discovery Season 4 at the same time as the American version of Paramount+, effectively meaning that Trekkies in those regions had paid for nothing.

A rather barebones, unapologetic Twitter post from Paramount+ Australia.

We’ve talked on several occasions about ViacomCBS prioritising American Trekkies and viewers over those of us in the rest of the world, but I had hoped that the rollout of Paramount+ internationally would finally bring an end to this disgusting, outdated attitude. Although the pace of the streaming service’s rollout would make a snail covered in molasses riding a sloth up a glacier look fast by comparison, I’m still halfway hopeful that it’ll arrive here in the UK before the end of 2022 – and if I dare to dream, I’d hope that Paramount+ will be available worldwide… one day.

But even if ViacomCBS magically finds competent leadership in the months ahead, meaning Paramount+ will indeed be available here in the UK in time for, say, the debut of Strange New Worlds, it now seems as though the corporation can’t offer fans a guarantee that subscribing to Paramount+ will actually mean we’ll be able to watch any new Star Trek. So… what’s the point of Paramount+, then, and why should I bother subscribing at all?

Hey Paramount+, I fixed your slogan.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that there are some big questions that ViacomCBS and the team behind Paramount+ need to answer as soon as possible regarding the availability of upcoming Star Trek productions. But we can add into the mix the very real and very serious question of whether any non-American Paramount+ subscribers will be able to watch any new or upcoming Star Trek shows at the same time as viewers in the United States. And then we’ll have to decide for ourselves whether we can trust the answer given the corporation’s poor track record going back several years at least.

Last year, when Paramount+ debuted in the United States and began its painfully slow international rollout, I was optimistic and even dare I say looking forward to the streaming platform’s arrival here in the UK. Being able to subscribe to Star Trek’s home, its native platform, felt like a good opportunity, and as I’ve said on several occasions: I want to offer ViacomCBS and the Star Trek franchise my support and financial backing in whatever way I can.

ViacomCBS is the corporation in charge of Paramount+.

But now, having seen just how poorly ViacomCBS has been treating Paramount+ subscribers outside of the United States, the idea of signing up for Paramount+ when it eventually arrives in the UK is getting harder and harder to justify. That’s before we get into the technical issues that plague the platform: in just the last couple of weeks there was an episode of Prodigy that wasn’t available, error messages about servers being “too busy” that seem to be trying to force subscribers to pay for even more expensive packages, and myriad other glitches and screw-ups that leave Paramount+ in the United States feeling like a poor quality product.

Given that viewers in the United States are ViacomCBS’ priority – which they clearly and demonstrably have been thus far – that hardly leaves me feeling optimistic about the kind of service I can expect if and when Paramount+ makes its way across the Atlantic. If Paramount+ were to repeat the Prodigy mistake or their initial Discovery Season 4 plans with Strange New Worlds, for example, then why should I – or any other Trekkie, come to that – bother to sign up? It brings us right back to the arguments about piracy: if ViacomCBS offers fans no lawful way to access their new shows, then piracy becomes the default option.

Will Trekkies in the rest of the world get to enjoy Strange New Worlds along with our American friends… or at all?

Paramount+ does not exist in a vacuum. The choice fans are presented with is not “pay for Paramount+ or don’t watch anything.” Piracy exists, and with a minimal amount of effort it’s possible for anyone with a phone, tablet, or computer to watch or download every new episode of Star Trek. To compete against that successfully, Paramount+ has to do what Netflix, Disney+, and others have done: the platform has to be a compelling, inexpensive alternative.

That means it needs to work, first and foremost. If fans log in and try to watch the latest episode but find that it won’t play or, as happened with Prodigy Season 1, Episode 9, it just isn’t there at all, then the entire argument behind paying to subscribe falls down. And if fans in the rest of the world can’t access something that fans in America can, how on earth does ViacomCBS expect to convince anyone that a Paramount+ subscription is a worthwhile investment?

Actual photo of the Paramount+ server.

We’re facing inflation and a significant rise in the cost of living. Speaking for myself, as someone on a fixed income, I’m already considering that it may not be possible to keep all of my current subscriptions, let alone add a new one into the mix. In order to overcome that, or to make sure folks are willing to consider Paramount+ a must-have subscription that they can’t live without, ViacomCBS has to demonstrate that the service is a solid investment. That means basic competence to begin with – fixing technical issues, ensuring that the service works properly, and that it has an intuitive, easy-to-use interface. But from the point of view of someone outside of the United States, it means ViacomCBS and Paramount+ need a major attitude adjustment. The corporation and its streaming platform need to demonstrate to Trekkies – and to viewers of all of their other programmes – that they aren’t just fixated on America; that those of us in the rest of the world matter to them too. If they can’t, I see no reason whatsoever why we should offer them our money.

This is an own goal; a self-inflicted wound from Paramount+ that the streaming service absolutely does not need to make. Take a look at the competition: Disney+ doesn’t gate off shows like The Mandalorian or films like Encanto – once they’re on Disney+ they’re on Disney+ for everyone, and while Disney+ has had its own international rollout issues, the service is streets ahead of Paramount+. Paramount+ has existed in its current form for almost a year – and going back to CBS All Access, for almost five years. There has been time for ViacomCBS to learn how to act and how to get this right – but they have consistently failed to do so.

Disney+ doesn’t gatekeep like this – and neither should Paramount+ if it wants to compete.

There’s no question in my mind that ViacomCBS is mismanaging Paramount+ in a serious, potentially fatal way. For a second-tier platform like this to survive the “streaming wars” it has to make an offer that viewers simply can’t refuse. It has to compete not only against the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime, but also against the option of piracy, and it has to convince folks like me that I’ll actually get a decent service if I part with my money. So far, I don’t see Paramount+ as a compelling investment as someone living outside of the United States. And even if I were in America, given the other issues and faults with Paramount+ the best I can say is that it might be a service I pay for one month out of twelve to binge-watch a few shows before cancelling.

In short, bringing Paramount+ to the UK – and to countries and territories around the world – will only matter if the service brings with it all of the new and upcoming shows that American viewers can look forward to. If it doesn’t, or if those shows are going to be delayed by many months, then fans are pretty quickly going to see Paramount+ as a bad offer. If the corporation allows that mindset to take hold, it will be very difficult to change the narrative later on, so they need to get this right from day one. Paramount+ needs to bolt out of the gate with a strong, good value offer that can compete with Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+. That means the current “America First” attitude of the ViacomCBS board has got to go.

Paramount+ is owned and operated by ViacomCBS and is available in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Whoopi’s “whoopsie” – what might it mean for Star Trek: Picard?

This article deals with the subjects of the Holocaust and racism and may be uncomfortable for some readers.

It goes without saying that the Holocaust is an incredibly sensitive and delicate subject. Even titling this article Whoopi’s “whoopsie” might be enough to seem flippant or even offensive to some folks – but I just couldn’t resist the pun. If you haven’t heard about this controversy, I’ll briefly recap what happened before we get into some analysis and a consideration of what – if anything – it could mean for Star Trek: Picard Season 2.

Whoopi Goldberg, who plays the role of Guinan in the Star Trek franchise, is the co-host of The View, an American daytime television talk show. She’s known in that context for being bold and outspoken, particularly on issues of race in the United States. On a recent episode of The View, Goldberg made controversial remarks about the Holocaust, claiming that the event “isn’t about race” because it concerned “two white groups of people.” I encourage you to view the full exchange in context (you can find it on YouTube) but suffice to say that controversy soon ensued – and the condemnation of Goldberg’s comments even reached mainstream news outlets on this side of the Atlantic.

Whoopi Goldberg on a recent episode of The View.

Goldberg has offered her apology for the remarks she made, and it’s worth pointing that out before we go any further. She apologised for “the hurt [she] caused” and reiterated her support for Jewish people and Jewish communities around the world. It’s not for me to decide whether her apology is up to code, and again I encourage you to read it in full. I felt it important to point out that she has issued an apology before proceeding any further.

The Holocaust is such a unique event in the history of our world that it almost beggars belief that a 66-year-old woman, who otherwise seems to be well-informed and whose job it is to discuss current events, could be so profoundly ignorant or misinformed about what it is. Holocaust education, at least here in the UK, has been a big part of the history curriculum in schools for at least fifty years – if not longer – and there are many institutions around the world dedicated to preserving the memory of Holocaust victims and promoting education about the Holocaust. Less than a week ago, on the 27th of January, we marked Holocaust Memorial Day, a worldwide event held on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

A photograph of the iconic entrance to Auschwitz concentration camp.

On a school trip to Germany almost thirty years ago I visited Sachsenhausen concentration camp and saw firsthand the kind of facilities that the Nazis used to keep political prisoners, Romani, Jews, and everyone else that they deemed “sub-human” or “undesirable.” Seeing the camp is something that has stuck with me for decades, and the sombre lessons that my class had about the Holocaust and the extermination of Jews are likewise seared in my memory.

British-made documentary series The World At War has one of the best educational pieces about the Holocaust that I’ve ever seen in its episode Genocide, and if you can find a copy I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a harrowing watch, but for anyone who wants to learn more about this defining moment in history, and the events that led to it, The World At War presents the history of the Holocaust about as well as possible, and includes interviews with survivors.

Title card for The World At War episode Genocide; recommended viewing for anyone wishing to learn more about the Holocaust.

Outside of conversations and discussions about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust itself, it’s almost never a good idea to bring up the Holocaust. Politicians, commentators, directors, and even journalists have all found themselves in trouble for saying something stupid or ill-informed, or for using the Holocaust as an unfair comparison to something else happening in the world. And when making unprepared, unscripted remarks – as Whoopi Goldberg appears to have been – misspeaking is all the easier.

I can’t defend what Whoopi Goldberg said. It was so ignorant and stupid that she deserves all of the backlash she receives. It’s also indicative, at least to me as a non-American, of America’s continuing obsession with black-and-white race issues that completely ignore every other marginalised group. Almost sixty years after Martin Luther King dreamed of a country where everyone would be judged by the “content of their character,” America seems more race-obsessed than ever – and that obsession with black-versus-white racism comes at the cost of marginalising or completely ignoring practically every other group.

Whoopi Goldberg with Stephen Colbert.

Part of Whoopi Goldberg’s defence of her original remarks, made during an appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, drew on her own understanding of race and racism as an African-American, and appear to me to reinforce the idea that too many Americans have a strange, warped misunderstanding of what race even is – as well as who can and can’t be racist and how racism itself works. To me, that’s indicative of a fundamental failure of the American education system and of the way racial issues in America are discussed and debated.

So that’s my read on what happened. Given the outrage that Whoopi Goldberg’s comments understandably generated, I wanted to step back and consider what impact, if any, the controversy now engulfing her may have on Star Trek: Picard Season 2, which is scheduled to premiere in just over four weeks from today. Goldberg is set to reprise her role of Guinan, bringing the character back to our screens for the first time since 1994’s Star Trek: Generations, and she was recently featured in a big way in the latest trailer.

Admiral Picard with Guinan in the Picard Season 2 trailer.

At time of writing, no one involved with Star Trek: Picard Season 2 has made a public statement on the Whoopi Goldberg controversy, but I don’t see how that can be sustainable, especially when the cast and crew get on the publicity circuit and start giving interviews in the run-up to the season premiere. Whoopi Goldberg, having just made her first big appearance in the new season’s marketing, may have been slated to make appearances or give interviews about the show – but I’m not sure whether that will happen at all now, or whether her role may be scaled back.

Sometimes they say that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” but take it from someone who used to work in marketing: this is about as bad as it gets in terms of publicity! The last thing anyone involved in Star Trek: Picard needs is for Whoopi Goldberg’s comments to overshadow the show’s return, so in my opinion the producers and actors need to get together and put out a statement relatively quickly, and certainly before they get out on the publicity circuit. That way they’ll be able to refer to their statement when the inevitable questions are asked.

A publicity event in the run-up to Picard Season 1 in 2020.

I’ve heard from several people who say that they’re either not going to watch Picard Season 2, or that they’re far less enthusiastic about supporting the upcoming season in light of Whoopi Goldberg’s comments. There’s a danger for ViacomCBS that this will snowball if they don’t handle it well, perhaps leading to an unofficial boycott or significantly fewer viewers tuning in, so the corporation and its marketing team really need to get out in front of this as quickly as possible.

There’s a theory from the world of literary criticism that I think is worth discussing: “death of the author.” Originally proposed in 1967 by French critic Roland Barthes, death of the author basically argues that we should consider a work of literature on its own merits, separating the writing from the writer. Death of the author has since been applied to other forms of media, including television and film, and in this context we’re looking at whether it might be possible to separate the performance from the actor – to enjoy Guinan without celebrating Whoopi Goldberg.

Guinan and Admiral Picard embracing in the Picard Season 2 trailer.

The two sides to this never-ending discussion are as follows: either it’s possible and desirable to separate the art from the artist, considering the merits of a piece without any consideration for who the author or artist was, or it isn’t possible or desirable to do so, and that the context of who the creator was matters in a fundamental way to the work in question. With actors this is, perhaps, more readily apparent because we can see and hear them; it’s far more difficult to put an actor out of our mind while watching and listening to them in real-time.

My take on death of the author varies somewhat. If an artist, author, or performer is long-dead, it’s much easier in my view to analyse their work, and even enjoy their work, without paying too much attention to who they were. The performance has outlived the performer, so to speak. But when dealing with living people, I find this far more difficult to do. I understand Barthes’ arguments about objectivity and judging a work on its own merits, but when people hold outspoken or particularly harmful points of view, I find it much more difficult to set that aside for the sake of art or entertainment.

Signature of Roland Barthes, who first espoused the theory known as “death of the author.”
Image Credit: Wandrg, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

J.K. Rowling is perhaps the best example of this, in my opinion. Her blatantly transphobic statements and support for “gender critical” groups and causes has made it significantly harder for me to enjoy the Harry Potter series for which she’s best-known. I find it difficult to separate Harry Potter, either in book or film form, from J.K. Rowling in light of her offensive statements and the positions that she’s known to hold.

So when I hear Trekkies say that they can no longer support Star Trek: Picard in light of Whoopi Goldberg’s comments, I fully understand. I can empathise with that position because it’s very similar to how I see the Harry Potter series, and I wouldn’t want to tell anyone that they should feel differently. It can be difficult to set aside the artist and just focus on the art, especially when dealing with an actor who we have to see and listen to.

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.

I would say, though, that Whoopi Goldberg is nowhere near as important to Star Trek: Picard as someone like J.K. Rowling is to Harry Potter. She may only appear in one or two episodes, and as recently as last month it wasn’t even certain that she’d be appearing at all; her appearance in the trailer confirmed it. Had remarks like these been made by someone like Sir Patrick Stewart or one of the show’s senior producers, Star Trek: Picard would be in a lot more trouble. In my view, it’s probable that the show will be able to weather this storm, even if it loses some viewers in the process.

Whoopi Goldberg has offered an apology, and in the coming days I would expect to hear something from the Picard Season 2 cast and crew, disavowing her comments and perhaps dropping her from the publicity circuit or reducing her importance to the show’s marketing campaign. That will most likely allow Picard Season 2 to get through the next few weeks in the run-up to the show’s broadcast.

Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan in the Picard Season 2 trailer.

In a way, this couldn’t have come at a worse time. With the new season premiering in just over four weeks from now, this is the moment for the marketing campaign to truly gear up and start promoting the show’s return. It’s been two years since Picard Season 1 went off the air, so for casual viewers and for fans who aren’t keeping up-to-date with the ins and outs of Star Trek, simply getting the message out about Picard’s return has to be top priority. There’s no doubt in my mind that this controversy will be a distraction, one that the show absolutely does not need.

But I don’t believe it will be a fatal distraction, at least not as things stand. Whoopi Goldberg isn’t likely to be cut or edited out of Picard Season 2, and even seems likely to retain her job on The View, despite her remarks. There’s enough time over the next month for the marketing team to move past this controversy, which, like so many others, will have a relatively short shelf-life on social media before fading away.

I’m disappointed with Whoopi Goldberg. Her character of Guinan is so calm, ethereal, and wise that it can be jarring, as a Trekkie, to see Whoopi Goldberg talking up a storm on The View at the best of times, and this controversy is an even more extreme example. However, I note that she has at least made an attempt to apologise – and seems to be sincere. And on the positive side, her initial ignorance of the Holocaust may have shone a light on a far broader lack of understanding and proper education about the event in the United States, potentially exposing more people to the reality of what happened, thereby preventing this kind of blinkered, ignorant point of view from being espoused in future. Better education and a better understanding of the Holocaust are badly needed, it seems, and Whoopi Goldberg may have inadvertently aided that cause.

Star Trek: Picard Season 2 will premiere on the 3rd of March 2022 on Paramount+ in the United States, and on the 4th of March on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The pros and cons of filming back-to-back

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1.

After a short pandemic-enforced break, Star Trek: Picard Season 3 resumed filming a few days ago. Production on the show’s third season has been underway for a while, and was officially announced back in September during the franchise’s Star Trek Day digital event. The interesting thing about Picard Season 3 being so far along in its production is, of course, that Season 2 has yet to be broadcast. This got me thinking about some of the benefits and potential pitfalls of filming back-to-back in this fashion, and that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

There are some great examples of productions that were filmed back-to-back. The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films has to be one of the best examples of this: all three films were shot together in New Zealand, though post-production work and editing continued after the first and second films had premiered. The Lord of the Rings is held in very high esteem even twenty years after it premiered, and is rightly credited with bringing the high fantasy genre to mainstream audiences, paving the way for titles like Game of Thrones.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy was hugely successful in the high fantasy genre.

Being shot back-to-back worked well for The Lord of the Rings then, clearly! The Return of the King – the third and final part of the trilogy – swept the board at the Academy Awards in 2004, picking up a record-equalling eleven Oscars.

In the case of The Lord of the Rings, the practicalities of production meant that shooting all three films together made sense. New Line Cinema had greenlit the entire trilogy and was expecting it to be a success, and the difficulties of setting up production in New Zealand – as well as having the actors travel there – all came together to make filming the entire project at once a practical and sensible approach to production. From the earliest days of pre-production, New Line Cinema intended to do things this way.

Whether in cinema or on television, there are advantages to filming back-to-back. There’s far less of a chance that characters will look noticeably different from one part of the story to the next, for example, as everything from costuming to makeup and even haircuts or simply ageing will not be factors that impact production. Keeping the same behind-the-camera crew will also allow for a consistent production that keeps the same cinematographic style. It makes it easier to go back and re-work parts of the story, if necessary – for example, if a writer or director felt the need to add a scene foreshadowing the ending, or even to change the entire end of the story to better fit what had come before.

There are advantages to back-to-back production.

But there can be drawbacks to this approach, pitfalls that can be very difficult to avoid even with good preparation and the best of intentions. And there’s one reason in particular why Star Trek: Picard kicked off this discussion for me.

Star Trek: Picard started with an episode that’s probably the best series premiere in the history of the franchise, surpassing even Deep Space Nine’s Emissary – the previous high-water mark. Over the course of the next few episodes, its story unfolded slowly and seemed to be building up to an exciting climax. Unfortunately, though, the season stumbled as it approached the finish line, with the first half of its two-part finale in particular being a real disappointment. The way the season eventually ended left several storylines unresolved and at least one gaping plot hole. To be blunt, the finale was weak – and it’s important that the writers and producers receive that feedback and take it on board.

I’m not the only person to have criticised the way that Star Trek: Picard Season 1 ended; the two parts of the season finale are the worst-rated episodes of the show according to review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

The Season 1 finale of Star Trek: Picard was by far the weakest part of the story.

So what’s the point of bringing this up? Well, it’s simple: filming back-to-back, as is now happening with Seasons 2 and 3 of Picard, means that the show’s writers and producers will have far less of a margin for error; they’re much more constrained and less able to make changes based on critiques and audience reactions.

Set aside any thoughts you might have about “artistic integrity” or the “vision” of a production’s writers, producers, and directors. In the real world, with very few exceptions films and television shows are adapted – and in some cases changed entirely – based on the way audiences respond to them. This is why practically every film and television series is shown to test audiences before they premiere. Doing so can give production companies the chance to make last-minute adjustments, make cuts, or even rework entire sequences.

ViacomCBS will not have ignored the reviews and discussion surrounding Picard Season 1 and its finale. Those criticisms will have been absorbed by the corporation, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they mandated changes to the story of Season 2 as a result, even if such changes may be relatively minor. Just to pick on one example, the story of main character Narek, which was dropped without a resolution part-way through the finale, might be something that the team in charge of the show insist that Season 2 clarifies.

Narek’s story was just one of several major elements that the season finale failed to pay off.

But if there are issues with Season 2 – whether they’re to do with story, art style, visual effects, etc. – it will be much harder, and much more expensive, to make any changes to Season 3. In all likelihood, Season 3 will wrap up its main phase of production before Season 2 even premieres, and while post-production work and pick-up shoots offer some opportunities to make changes, those opportunities are limited. If a film or series has been ready to go for a year or more, going back to film extra scenes can be tricky; it can be very easy to tell which scenes and shots were filmed and added in later, even in productions with high budgets.

In short, because Picard Season 1 had some very particular and noteworthy issues with its finale, I’m at least a little concerned about the direction of the series heading into Seasons 2 and 3, and the fact that the seasons are being shot back-to-back heightens that. Had Season 1 ended with a stronger finale, perhaps I’d be less concerned. But unfortunately it didn’t – and that leaves the show in a strange place for me. I’m genuinely excited to spend more time with Admiral Picard and the crew of La Sirena, but I’m at least a little anxious about the way the show’s production is being handled.

Where will the admiral and his crew go next?

In a way, this is something we may have to get used to as the pandemic rumbles on. Had it not been for covid and its associated lockdowns in California, it would’ve been possible for production on Picard Season 2 to get underway far sooner, potentially meaning that there’d have been no need to film the second and third seasons back-to-back. But the pandemic continues to be a disruptive force across the world, so productions may have to get used to working when they can and taking breaks when they must – at least in the short-to-medium term.

In some cases it won’t matter. In others, filming back-to-back can provide significant advantages. But there are potential drawbacks to this way of approaching a major production, not least the difficulty in going back and making changes based on audience and critical feedback. It’s the latter point that concerns me when it comes to Star Trek: Picard, and that’s due to the weak ending to an otherwise excellent first season. Perhaps in the days ahead we should go back to the two parts of Et in Arcadia Ego and re-examine what went wrong – as well as looking at what the season finale got right. If I forget, remind me! For now, you can check out the reviews of both episodes on my dedicated Star Trek: Picard page.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the copyright of New Line Cinema and/or Warner Bros. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Picard – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

We can abolish the TV license – but only if the government stops whining about “bias”

For the first time in a long time – possibly for the first time ever – the UK has a government willing to consider something that had previously been unthinkable: abolishing the hated and outdated television license. Their reasons for bringing up the issue at this precise moment may be questionable, but the policy itself is not. Since the turn of the millennium at least, support for abolishing this hated, regressive tax has only grown, and it’s now one of the most consistently popular policy positions in the entire country.

I’m not a political ideologue. I’m not wedded to one political party nor to a specific ideology, and I’ve voted for practically all of the UK’s major political parties at one time or another over the years. Though I seldom find myself on the same side of the argument as the likes of Nadine Dorries (the current Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, within whose brief the BBC and the license fee fall) I’m happy to see that, finally, a British government is bold enough to swing the proverbial axe and finally bring an end to this utterly outdated method of funding a television broadcaster.

Official portrait of Nadine Dorries, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

But the government is going about this in quite literally the worst way possible, putting forward their least convincing and most polarising argument. This is a cause for concern, because if the ineptitude of people like Nadine Dorries creates an increase in support for the BBC and the television license, the best chance we’ve ever had to abolish the damn thing will be lost. The government, through nothing short of abject stupidity, will have blown the country’s best chance to bring an end to an expensive anachronism, one which isn’t fit for purpose any more. And that would be a travesty.

Before we go any further, a quick reminder on what the television license actually is and how it works. Anyone who watches television in the UK – including some live broadcasts streamed online – is required by law to purchase a television license. The money collected by this tax – and it is a tax, no matter what some may claim – funds the British Broadcasting Corporation, more commonly known as the BBC. The BBC uses this money to pay its way, producing television programmes like Strictly Come Dancing, Doctor Who, Match of the Day, and many more. Failure to pay the television license, even on legitimate grounds, leads to harassment from the BBC’s scarily-named “enforcement division,” who try to act like bailiffs and will even show up at your house to harass you in person. Even if someone never watches any BBC programmes – which, in the days of 500+ satellite and cable television channels is increasingly likely – they’re still forced to pay the tax.

An example of a threatening letter from the TV Licensing organisation.

The television license is, unlike income tax, a regressive tax. Because the fee is the same for everyone, regardless of income or ability to pay, it impacts poor people and those on low or fixed incomes hardest, and while it isn’t the only tax in the UK that behaves this way, it’s by far the most egregious. At the current rate of £159 per year – $217 USD at time of writing – it’s borderline unaffordable for low-income households, especially with a growing cost of living crisis sending food prices, energy bills, and the cost of practically everything else skyrocketing.

This isn’t the first time I’ve brought up the television license here on the website. Almost two years ago I first laid out my argument against this regressive tax, and before we press ahead I think we should recap why I feel the TV tax needs to be scrapped. Firstly, and most importantly, the television license is simply out-of-date. There may have been a justification for this method of funding in the 1960s, but no such justification exists in the 2020s. The world of entertainment has simply moved on, with not only a veritable smorgasbord of television channels to choose from – over 100 of which are free-to-air for anyone with a television set – but also a growing number of subscription services like Netflix and Disney+, with others such as Paramount+ coming soon as well. Not to mention the internet itself and platforms like YouTube. The idea of insisting that every household pay a tax to fund one single television broadcaster is just plain outdated, especially considering that fewer and fewer people watch or engage with the BBC at all. Those days have come and gone.

There hasn’t been a justification for the television license since TVs looked like this.

Next, we have the nature of the tax itself. As mentioned, this is a regressive tax, one which hits poor and low-income folks hardest. As someone on a fixed income myself, I can attest to this. £159 may not sound like much to some people, but for many folks, that could be several months’ worth of disposable income. As inflation rises and prices for everything creep up, the license fee becomes increasingly unaffordable, especially as it’s pegged to rise in line with the government’s official measure of inflation.

Finally, let’s consider what the tax actually pays for: entertainment. The BBC runs a news operation too, and pays a lot of money to bureaucrats and managers in an inefficient fashion, but the bulk of the money raised goes on programmes like Strictly Come Dancing, Line of Duty, EastEnders, Doctor Who, Top Gear, Match of the Day… and the list goes on. What do all of these programmes have in common? They’re commercially viable – meaning that they could be produced by any other commercial broadcaster.

Taxpayers’ money is being used to produce soap operas, reality television, and many other mediocre entertainment products.

Take The Great British Bake Off as a case in point. The BBC used to pay for the show, but when they were outbid by Channel 4, the series retained its popularity and its audience on a different channel. It is simply not acceptable in 2022 that tax money, raised from millions of people who can’t afford to pay the inflated rates, is being used to fund mediocre entertainment programmes that can easily be made by other commercial channels and broadcasters.

This is the winning argument. When it’s explained to people in this way – that the television tax is inflated, unfair, and regressive – abolishing it is not just popular, it’s the only argument that makes any sense, and there really can’t be any counter-argument that isn’t just obfuscation or that tries to shift the goalposts. By sticking to arguments about the inherent unfairness of the tax and the fact that it’s utterly outdated in a modern media landscape, the government – and campaigners like me – will win.

Logo of the TV Licensing organisation.

But this isn’t the way that the current government is trying to go. By talking about “bias” within the BBC they come across as whining – and worse, they come across as trying to punish the organisation for not giving them kinder, more fawning coverage. It’s Trumpian in the extreme, with echoes of Trump’s famous “fake news” attack, which he levied at any journalist or broadcaster who dared question him or call him out.

By using the “bias” argument, the government is going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, further polarise the political discourse in the UK, and fail in its stated goal of reforming the way in which the BBC is funded. The current government is sufficiently unpopular right now that any organisation that they criticise is going to receive a boost in support and popularity. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” – so goes the old adage, and so it will prove to be for many people in this country who would, all else being equal, remain opposed to the television license. But when they see the BBC under attack by an aggressive government, particularly as they seem to be launching this attack at this time to distract from other scandals, they’re far more inclined to support the BBC, and by extension the television license.

There’s a very real sense that the current government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson is using the TV tax issue to dodge or distract from scandals and other problems.

Abolishing the television license does not mean abolishing the BBC. The BBC has enough time between now and the end of its current charter in 2027 to find and implement a new funding method. Many folks have suggested a subscription model, with the BBC adopting an approach similar to the likes of Sky or Virgin Media. Others have suggested that the BBC could simply do what every other television channel does and run advertisements. It could even go online, offering a platform comparable to the likes of Netflix. In short, there are options for the BBC to continue to exist and continue to produce its content.

Popular brands and shows could also be auctioned off, and as programmes like The Great British Bake Off have already demonstrated, there are many broadcasters who’d happily snap up the most popular ones. They’d remain viable on other networks – and many would probably do even better on commercial channels or online.

The Great British Bake Off was bought by rival broadcaster Channel 4 a few years ago.

But again, the government’s ham-fisted, idiotic approach to this issue is going to wreck it. If they genuinely want to abolish the television license, they’re already messing it up by putting their worst argument front-and-centre. Claims of “bias” may resonate with some right-wingers, but that’s offputting to practically everyone else in the country. Instead of making this a unifying issue, one which could actually score the government some much-needed kudos, they’re instead managing to drive up support for the BBC and its outdated method of funding, and turning what should be an easy win into a disappointing defeat.

I firmly believe that the abolition of the TV license is only a matter of time. But it would be such a shame if the current government squanders this opportunity through sheer force of incompetence, allowing the vestigial tax to remain in place for years or even a decade longer than necessary. By deliberately turning the TV license into a political issue, Nadine Dorries and her ilk have polarised the debate, lost potential friends and allies, and weakened their own hand. Abolishing the TV license should be a progressive issue – it’s a regressive tax that disproportionately impacts low-income households. But by making it such a polarising political issue in a political climate that is already so deeply divided, the current government is actively pushing away people who should be natural allies in this fight.

My message to them is simple: focus on a winning, unifying argument, and stop whining about “bias.”

In the UK, it is required by law (at time of writing) to purchase a television license in order to watch live TV. This article should not be interpreted as encouraging anyone to fail to purchase a license if a license is required. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Stats and analytics for 2021

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 3-4, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, and Star Trek: Voyager.

Now that 2021 has come and gone, I thought it would be interesting to look back on the progress the website made over the course of the year. Thanks to my web host and other analytics I have a fair amount of data to measure the website’s performance.

A big caveat: this is just for fun! Running Trekking with Dennis is my hobby, not a serious job, and I don’t write here because I’m desperately chasing huge numbers of readers or “internet points!” I enjoy having a space of my own where I can share my thoughts and review some of the films and TV shows that I’m interested in – and I’d still be here even if no one showed up to read any of it!

It’s time to look at some stats and numbers for 2021.

If 2020 had been a year of slow and steady growth, 2021 was a wild rollercoaster! A couple of articles went “viral” – or at least as close to going viral as I’m ever likely to get – and those two posts accounted for significant spikes in views in June and again in December. Other articles generally did well, and I saw decent views for most of my Star Trek episode reviews, which was great, but those two pieces in particular seemed to get a lot of attention.

Overall, more than 61,000 people visited the website in 2021 – up from 14,000 in 2020. That’s a year-on-year increase of more than 300% – meaning the website more than quadrupled the number of hits this year. That’s astonishing, and the fact that so many people showed up to read articles that I’d written is actually quite a humbling feeling.

The number of visitors to Trekking with Dennis in 2021 could fill London’s O2 Arena more than three times over!

Visitors came from all corners of the globe, too. Trekking with Dennis picked up readers from the heart of Africa, every nation in South America, India, Russia, and even China! I guess I’m allowed through the Great Firewall (at least for now)! Every country in Europe was represented in the stats, including smaller countries like the Faroe Islands. Hi, Faroese readers!

Of course, the majority of views came from the Anglosphere, with the United States being the number one country. The UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa were all well-represented, too. Considering the website is in English and deals with a lot of American-made films, games, and television programmes, I’d expect to see most of the views coming from those regions.

Hello, Faroe Islands!

In early November, the website’s name changed – and so did the URL. This change was disruptive, but far less so than I had initially thought. Though the number of hits definitely dropped following the change in URL, things actually got back to normal pretty quickly, and in December I saw the second of those “viral” posts I mentioned – something I definitely wasn’t expecting!

Across 2021 I wrote 263 articles – slightly more than in 2020. And those articles contained a combined 649,000 words! To give you an idea of how much that is: it’s the equivalent of approximately eight “average-length” novels, 100,000 more words than Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, or roughly the same number of words as Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. That’s a lot of words!

So let’s take a look at the top ten most-read articles in 2021. These are the ten pieces that I wrote in 2021 that scored the most hits.

Article #10:
Preliminary Star Trek: Strange New Worlds predictions

This was the third part in an unofficial series that I ran in the early part of the year, looking ahead to several upcoming seasons of Star Trek. In this article I looked ahead to Strange New Worlds and made a few predictions – guesses, really – about elements the show might include. As luck would have it, later that same day came the announcements of five new members of the main cast! That was some strange timing, especially considering that this was the first piece I’d written about Strange New Worlds in more than six months at that point.

One of my predictions has already borne out: I said in this piece that I was sure there’d be a redesign of the uniforms, and the teases we saw at Star Trek Day proved me right! With the show still a few months away, though, we’ll have to wait to see if I was right about anything else!

Significant line: “I’m really looking forward to Strange New Worlds. It seems to be offering more of a “classic” take on Star Trek when compared to recent projects, and I’m 100% there for that!”

Article #9:
(When) Will Marvel reset the MCU?

I don’t talk about Marvel a lot here on the website. Comic books and their cinematic adaptations aren’t usually my first choice, and while I’ve enjoyed some Marvel films as popcorn entertainment, I just don’t have the nostalgia or connection to the world of comics that many folks have. Regardless, on this occasion in June I talked about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its growing complexity – and asked whether a potential reboot or reset might be coming any time soon.

Keeping up with all of the goings-on in the MCU can feel like a full-time job sometimes! And because of Marvel’s love of crossovers, the shared fictional universe that its films and TV shows inhabit can feel intimidating or even offputting to the newbie or casual viewer. As the MCU has moved away from being “the real world plus superheroes” into a connected, shared setting with its own lore and almost fifteen years’ worth of history, it’s become dense and complex. Not every MCU title is inaccessible as a result – but some are getting to that point. Just like the worlds of comic books have been reset (such as in DC’s famous Crisis on Infinite Earths series), I feel it’s inevitable that Disney and Marvel will eventually do the same, rebooting the MCU for a new generation of audiences.

Significant line: “The legacy of characters like Iron Man, Captain America, and the Hulk could pass to new iterations of those characters with new actors taking on lead roles in stories inspired by earlier films, but remaining distinct from them. New backstories could be created, perhaps based on different versions of the superheroes from other editions of their comic books.”

Article #8:
YouTube channel spotlight: Cruising the Cut

Back in February I took some time off from sci-fi and fantasy to highlight one of my favourite YouTube channels from the past few years. Cruising the Cut is part-travelogue, part-documentary, part-lifestyle vlog, and follows the journey of a man who lives aboard a canal narrowboat here in the UK. When I first started watching, Cruising the Cut only had a few thousand followers, but the channel has recently passed the 200,000 mark – a milestone that is thoroughly deserved.

I’ve always had a fascination with the canal network – a series of artificial waterways made in the early years of the industrial revolution. Cruising the Cut often has fun and interesting canal facts, but it’s also the kind of slow, gentle viewing that I think we all need sometimes. High-octane action and tense drama is great – but sometimes taking a break from that and slowing down is just what the doctor ordered!

Significant line: “Canal narrowboats only have a maximum cruising speed of around four miles-per-hour, so don’t expect Cruising the Cut to be zipping all across the country in each video.”

Article #7:
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition – Death by a thousand cuts

“Death by a thousand cuts” was the somewhat dramatic title that I gave to my review of Mass Effect: Legendary Edition in June. I felt it encapsulated my feelings about the so-called “remaster”: that there wasn’t one single overwhelming fault, but a plethora of little ones that built up and contributed to a sense that it was far less than it could have been.

I adore the Mass Effect games, and I went into Legendary Edition hoping to get a good version of the original trilogy. But unfortunately, BioWare and EA took the path of least resistance, putting together a pretty crap “remaster” that I felt was not worth the asking price. There were bugs that had been present in the original versions of all three games that hadn’t been fixed – and I couldn’t excuse such extreme laziness and such a lack of care. I recently crowned Legendary Edition my worst game of 2021.

Significant line: “Legendary Edition represents a phenomenal missed opportunity to take these games and do more with them.”

Article #6:
Star Trek: Voyager – The torpedo and shuttle “problem”

I have to admit I was surprised by the response to this one! In the late ’90s, some fans argued very strongly that the USS Voyager had used “too many” torpedoes and shuttlecraft over the course of its journey through the Delta Quadrant, and the argument did the rounds in some parts of the Trekkie community for a while. Though I hadn’t really seen many people discussing it in recent years, the argument always bugged me – so I finally wrote out my response.

In short, I argued that a combination of resource gathering, trading, and building replacements was more than acceptable as a counter-argument, and in particular the fact that the crew were resourceful enough to build not one but two Delta Flyers was proof of this. Obviously “it’s just a story,” and the number of torpedoes fired or shuttlecraft used was at the whim of the writers. But from an in-universe point of view, I don’t see why it has to be considered a big deal. It seems at least some people are still interested in this argument after all!

Significant line: “It stands to reason that, contained within Voyager’s databanks, are the designs and schematics for both torpedoes and shuttles.”

Article #5:
Star Trek: Discovery – Was there a last-second change for Tilly?

All the way back in January, shortly after Discovery’s third season finale, I wrote this relatively short piece looking at Tilly. This focused on the short epilogue at the end of That Hope Is You, Part 2, specifically the scene in which Captain Burnham arrived on the bridge to assume command for the first time. Amongst the assembled officers and crew was Tilly, but for some reason her uniform colour had been digitally changed – and pretty badly, too!

Tilly was originally supposed to be wearing the red colour of the command division, but seemingly at the last moment her command red had been changed to science blue via some pretty awful digital effects. She was only on screen for a few seconds, but this was pretty noticeable on a re-watch. Now that we know Tilly’s destination in Season 4, I wonder if the original plan at the end of Season 3 had seen her character go in a different direction? Maybe the original intention was for Tilly to remain on the command track, or perhaps even to serve as Burnham’s XO? We may never know!

Significant line: “It’s possible that this literally was a last-second change; the low quality of the texture used for the blue stripe may mean it was something thrown together in a matter of days…”

Article #4:
Star Trek: Discovery – eight “gravitational anomaly” theories

I wrote this list-article shortly after Star Trek’s “First Contact Day” digital event. Sonequa Martin-Green had introduced the first trailer for Discovery’s fourth season, and it was in this trailer that we first got wind of the “gravitational anomaly” – unnamed at the time. I put together a handful of theories based on what we’d seen and heard in the trailer, and even as we’ve hit the halfway point of the season, at least a couple of those remain plausible!

This was the first opportunity I’d had to talk about Discovery Season 4 outside of pure speculation, and the trailer had dropped some hints as to the anomaly that we now know as the DMA. I had fun putting the list together, and going back to past iterations of Star Trek for inspiration – and it seems a lot of people found it interesting, too. This article did well throughout the year, but really saw an uptick in hits around the time Season 4 premiered, and has continued to perform well as the season has progressed.

Significant line: “Star Trek’s past didn’t provide the key to understanding the Burn last season. Will something we’ve seen before come into play in Season 4?”

Article #3:
Mass Effect theory: unlucky humans

Replaying the aforementioned Mass Effect trilogy got me thinking about a theory I’d kicked around when the games were new. In short, my theory was that humanity was particularly unlucky to emerge as a spacefaring race only around forty years before the Reapers attacked. Had the Reapers’ invasion come earlier, or had humanity’s progress toward faster-than-light travel been slower, it might’ve been possible to avoid the Reapers altogether and to emerge into a galaxy with no other sentient spacefaring races.

Had the extinct Citadel Council left behind plans and warnings, humanity could have had a 50,000-year head-start on preparing for the next Reaper War! This was just a fun one, an idea I’d had when the Mass Effect trilogy was new. Giving it the full write-up treatment was fun, but in all honesty I didn’t expect it to gain much traction. Being timely helped this article a lot, though, coming only a few days after the launch of Legendary Edition. I guess there’s a lesson there about getting my articles written on time!

Significant line: “If humanity hadn’t encountered the Mars archive when they did, or if the Ilos scientists hadn’t prevented Sovereign from contacting the Reapers in dark space when it originally intended to, it seems plausible to think that humanity might have been overlooked by the Reapers – at least in this cycle!”

Article #2:
Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 – Unknown Species 10-C: The Suspects

This is the first of the two “viral” articles that I mentioned. Published in mid-December, shortly after the episode The Examples confirmed that the DMA is artificial in nature, this piece really took off! I put quite a bit of work into this long list-article, considering twenty-six different possibilities from past iterations of Star Trek – from The Original Series to Picard – as possible culprits for creating the DMA.

In the aftermath of The Examples, my head was swimming with half-formed theories about Unknown Species 10-C. It took a while to write it all up, but what resulted was definitely one of the more fun and engaging writing projects of the past few months. Discovery’s fourth season – like the third before it – seems determined to go in an unpredictable direction, but even if that’s the case I can still say I had fun considering all of these different possible connections to past iterations of the franchise. And apparently, at least some Trekkies were just as interested in Unknown Species 10-C as me!

Significant line: “I keep thinking back to Season 3 and the Burn storyline, and how the ending to that story was something completely unpredictable and brand-new to the franchise. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Discovery go down that road again.”

Article #1:
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition – what’s the best ending?

So we come to the most-read piece of the year! Published in late May, a couple of weeks after the launch of Legendary Edition, in this article I considered what the “best” ending of the Mass Effect trilogy might be from an in-universe point of view. I tried to consider the pros and cons of the synthesis, destroy, and control endings to Mass Effect 3, giving my thoughts on each.

I suspect that the reason this article got so many hits is that players were looking for a guide to achieving a specific ending to the game – something the article doesn’t provide! So unfortunately, despite this being the best-performing article of the year, I suspect many readers came away disappointed having not found what they were looking for! However, I hope those that stuck around found an enjoyable and thoughtful piece, one in which I did my best to consider how the various endings to the trilogy might impact the Mass Effect galaxy, and the friends Commander Shepard made along their journey.

Significant line: “I have a hard time making this choice – it’s by far the most difficult in the entire trio of games, even though the short epilogue that follows is anticlimactic at best.”

But wait, there’s more!

Those were the top ten most-read articles that I wrote in 2021. But the year also saw several articles from 2020 pick up a number of views, and I thought it could be fun to briefly look at a few of those. We’ll just do the top five, since this article is already running long!

Article #5:
Introducing someone to Star Trek for the first time

This article, from back in June 2020, didn’t pick up much attention at the time it was written. By the standards of the website at the time it did okay, but even then I didn’t feel it was breaking the bank in terms of its view count. But for some reason it did much better in 2021, picking up dozens and then hundreds of views in a slow trickle throughout the year.

In this list-article I picked out fifteen episodes and films that I felt could make for a great “first contact” for a new viewer; someone unfamiliar with the Star Trek franchise. I tried to avoid the obvious ones, like The Wrath of Khan, and suggested a few different stories that showcase the varied nature of Star Trek, and how the franchise can dip its toes in some very different genres. I’m glad that it found an audience in the end – and if it helped even one person introduce a friend or loved one to Star Trek, then it’s more than done its job!

Significant line: “I tried to pick a few examples of stories that hopefully show off not only the franchise at its best, but that it can be different to the preconceived notions many people have.”

Article #4:
Star Trekkin’ – a number one hit!

This is an article that I had a ton of fun researching and writing in August 2020! If you’re a big Trekkie you’ve probably at least heard of The Firm’s 1987 song Star Trekkin’, which, as the title of my piece suggests, topped the charts here in the UK. The song is ridiculously silly, and the music video that accompanies it is even more so, but it’s a weird and wonderful piece of Star Trek’s history that I wanted to acknowledge. It’s also a curiously British thing, in some ways.

I had this song on cassette many years ago, and I can remember listening to it through headphones on the school bus with the volume turned down – just in case anyone could overhear! I also bought the mp3 of the song again when I transitioned to digital music, and I confess that I still put the song on occasionally for both a bit of fun and a blast of nostalgia. Star Trekkin’ is a weird song, but it was fun to write about – and I’m glad that Trekkies are checking out what I had to say about it!

Significant line: “It’s well worth a listen for any Trekkie who hasn’t heard it, and while I don’t promise you’ll enjoy it as a piece of music, you might just crack a smile.”

Article #3:
Can we PLEASE stop calling things we don’t like “objectively” bad?

From the silly to the serious! I wrote this piece after getting sick to death of hearing so-called critics using the expression “objectively bad” to refer to things that they personally didn’t like. I’m not trying to nitpick or get mad about a technicality, but when I hear the word “objectively” used in the context of basically anything in media, and narrative choices in particular, I feel there’s a conscious attempt to try to shut down any counter-arguments. Media criticism is practically always subjective, not objective – no matter what anyone may claim.

There is no such thing as a film, video game, or TV programme that is “objectively” bad – nor “objectively” anything else. There are certainly works of entertainment that don’t follow established rules or precedent, but in every case opinions will vary from person to person. There are myriad examples of works of fiction that I personally hate that I know other people adore. Neither opinion is “objective” – and that’s that.

Significant line: “It’s got to a point where it’s been proclaimed so often that any time I see or hear the phrase “objectively bad,” I stop reading or listening. Any critic making such a statement has lost my respect and lost the argument.”

Article #2:
Five things to watch at New Year (instead of fireworks)

This one is pretty straightforward! In 2020 – and sadly, again in 2021 – many New Year events that are usually televised were cancelled due to the pandemic. For several years in the second half of the 2010s I’d spent my New Years Eves with the London fireworks display on TV basically by default, but with the event cancelled due to covid in 2020 I got thinking about what I might watch instead – and this list was born!

Beginning on the 30th of December 2020 and running through to the early hours of New Year’s Day, this post saw a huge spike in views, and the same thing happened this past New Year. Due to the huge number of hits it had got in the wee hours of the 1st of January it was already quite high on the list, but the extra attention it got in December 2021 propelled it to becoming one of the best-performing pieces of the year!

Significant line: “Hopefully by the time we’re thinking about the next New Year’s Eve, things will be much closer to normal.”

Article #1:
It’s time for Deep Space Nine and Voyager to get the HD treatment

This article was the most-read of 2020, so I’m not shocked to see that it continued to perform well in 2021! In this article I called on ViacomCBS to remaster Deep Space Nine and Voyager, both of which remain in standard definition at time of writing. I argued that the move to streaming should be the reason why the shows get remastered, because the process will be less expensive this time around due to improvements in technology and far less of a need to produce and ship optical discs.

It doesn’t seem like ViacomCBS cares about Deep Space Nine and Voyager right now, sadly, and even though Paramount+ is playing host to both shows (in regions where it’s available), there’s still no sign of a remaster. I think it could be a good investment, because a lot of Trekkies who remember the shows fondly would be interested to see a remastered version; it would certainly drive some sign-ups to Paramount+. There are some decent fan-made remasters that you can find online, though… so that’s something!

Significant line: “A lot of folks seem to have given up on the idea of ever seeing those series in HD given the move toward online streaming and The Next Generation’s lacklustre performance on Blu-ray, but CBS All Access should be Deep Space Nine and Voyager’s ticket to a full-HD remaster.”

So that’s it!

Trekking with Dennis exceeded all of my hopes and expectations in 2021, with more than 61,000 people showing up to read the pieces that I wrote. I’m thrilled with how well the website has been performing, and I hope 2022 will be another good year.

To those of you who joined me in 2021, thank you. I hope I was entertaining, informative, or just a fun way to kill some time! You can look forward to more of the same in 2022, as I have no immediate plans to shake things up or make changes to the kind of things I do here.

2021 was a wild ride in so many ways, and it wasn’t a great year for many of us. Entertainment experiences – like films, video games, and TV shows – are some of the things that keep me going, and writing my thoughts or reviews of some of them is an extension of that. A chance to spend more time thinking and writing about Star Trek and some of my other favourites continues to be an enjoyable hobby, and a great escape, at times, from some of the less pleasant things going on out here in the real world.

Thank you for your support over the past twelve months – and here’s to 2022!

– Dennis
Wednesday, 5th January 2022

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, owner, corporation, distributor, broadcaster, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

How Sega and the Dreamcast offer a valuable lesson for streaming platforms

In 2001 I was bitterly disappointed by the failure of the Dreamcast – a console I’d only owned for about a year and had hoped would carry me through to the next generation of home consoles. For a variety of reasons that essentially boil down to mismanagement, worse-than-expected sales, and some pretty tough competition, Sega found itself on the verge of bankruptcy. The company responded not only by ending development on the Dreamcast, but by closing its hardware division altogether.

At the time, Sega seemed to be at the pinnacle of the games industry. For much of the 1990s, the company had been a dominant force in home video game consoles alongside Nintendo, and as the new millennium approached there were few outward signs of that changing. It was a massive shock to see Sega collapse in such spectacular fashion in 2001, not only to me but to millions of players and games industry watchers around the world.

The Sega Dreamcast failed in 2001.

Thinking about what happened from a business perspective, a demise like this was inevitable in the early 2000s. Both Sony and Microsoft were arriving in the home console market with powerful machines offering features like the ability to play DVDs – something that the Dreamcast couldn’t do – but at a fundamental level the market was simply overcrowded. There just wasn’t room for four competing home consoles. At least one was destined for the chopping block – and unfortunately for Sega, it was their machine that wouldn’t survive.

But the rapid demise of the Dreamcast wasn’t the end of Sega – not by a long shot. The company switched its focus from making hardware to simply making games, and over the next few years re-established itself with a new identity as a developer and publisher. In the twenty years since the Dreamcast failed, Sega has published a number of successful titles, snapped up several successful development studios – such as Creative Assembly, Relic Entertainment, and Amplitude Studios – and has even teamed up with old rival Nintendo on a number of occasions!

The end of the Dreamcast was not the end of Sega.

I can’t properly express how profoundly odd it was to first see Super Mario and Sega’s mascot Sonic the Hedgehog together in the same game! The old rivalry from the ’90s would’ve made something like that impossible – yet it became possible because Sega recognised its limitations and changed its way of doing business. The board abandoned a longstanding business model because it was leading the company to ruin, and even though it does feel strange to see fan-favourite Sega characters crop up on the Nintendo Switch or even in PlayStation games, Sega’s willingness to change quite literally saved the company.

From a creative point of view, Sega’s move away from hardware opened up the company to many new possibilities. The company has been able to broaden its horizons, publishing different games on different systems, no longer bound to a single piece of hardware. Strategy games have been published for PC, party games on the Nintendo Wii and Switch, and a whole range of other titles on Xbox, PlayStation, handheld consoles, and even mobile. The company has been involved in the creation of a far broader range of titles than it ever had been before.

Sega’s mascot Sonic now regularly appears alongside old foe Super Mario.

So how does all of this relate to streaming?

We’re very much in the grip of the “streaming wars” right now. Big platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ are battling for subscribers’ cash, but there’s a whole second tier of streaming platforms fighting amongst themselves for a chance to break into the upper echelons of the market. The likes of HBO Max, Paramount+, Apple TV+, Peacock, BritBox, and even YouTube Premium are all engaged in this scrap.

But the streaming market in 2021 is very much like the video game console market was in 2001: overcrowded. Not all of these second-tier platforms will survive – indeed, it’s possible that none of them will. Many of the companies who own and manage these lower-level streaming platforms are unwilling to share too many details about them, but we can make some reasonable estimates based on what data is available, and it isn’t good news. Some of these streaming platforms have simply never been profitable, and their owners are being propped up by other sources of income, pumping money into a loss-making streaming platform in the hopes that it’ll become profitable at some nebulous future date.

There are a lot of streaming platforms in 2021.

To continue the analogy, the likes of Paramount+ are modern-day Dreamcasts in a market where Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+ are already the Nintendo, Xbox, and PlayStation. Breaking into the top tier of the streaming market realistically means one of the big three needs to be dethroned, and while that isn’t impossible, it doesn’t seem likely in the short-to-medium term at least.

Why did streaming appeal to viewers in the first place? That question is fundamental to understanding why launching a new platform is so incredibly difficult, and it’s one that too many corporate executives seem not to have considered. They make the incredibly basic mistake of assuming that streaming is a question of convenience; that folks wanted to watch shows on their own schedule rather than at a set time on a set channel. That isn’t what attracted most people to streaming.

Too many corporate leaders fundamentally misunderstand streaming.

Convenience has been available to viewers since the late 1970s. Betamax and VHS allowed folks to record television programmes and watch them later more than forty years ago, as well as to purchase films and even whole seasons of television shows to watch “on demand.” DVD box sets kicked this into a higher gear in the early-mid 2000s. Speaking for myself, I owned a number of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation on VHS in the 1990s, and later bought the entire series on DVD. I had more than enough DVDs by the mid-2000s that I’d never need to sign up for any streaming platform ever – I could watch a DVD every day of the year and never run out of different things to watch!

To get back on topic, what attracted people to streaming was the low cost. A cable or satellite subscription is easily four or five times the price of Netflix, so cutting the cord and going digital was a new way for many people to save money in the early 2010s. As more broadcasters and film studios began licensing their content to Netflix, the value of the deal got better and better, and the value of cable or satellite seemed ever worse in comparison.

Streaming isn’t about convenience – that’s been available for decades.
(Pictured: a 1975 Sony Betamax cabinet)

But in 2021, in order to watch even just a handful of the most popular television shows, people are once again being forced to spend cable or satellite-scale money. Just sticking to sci-fi and fantasy, three of the biggest shows in recent years have been The Mandalorian, The Expanse, and The Witcher. To watch all three shows, folks would need to sign up for three different streaming platforms – which would cost a total of £25.97 per month in the UK; approximately $36 in the United States.

The overabundance of streaming platforms is actually eroding the streaming platform model, making it unaffordable for far too many people. We have a great recent example of this: the mess last week which embroiled Star Trek: Discovery. When ViacomCBS cancelled their contract with Netflix, Discovery’s fourth season was to be unavailable outside of North America. Star Trek fans revolted, promising to boycott Paramount+ if and when the streaming platform arrived in their region. The damage done by the Discovery Season 4 debacle pushed many viewers back into the waiting arms of the only real competitor and the biggest danger to all streaming platforms: piracy.

Calls to boycott Paramount+ abounded in the wake of the Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 mess.

The streaming market does not exist in a vacuum, with platforms jostling for position solely against one another. It exists in a much bigger digital environment, one which includes piracy. It’s incredibly easy to either stream or download any television episode or any film, even with incredibly limited technological know-how, and that has always represented a major threat to the viability of streaming platforms. Though there are ethical concerns, such as the need for artists and creators to get paid for their creations, that isn’t the issue. You can shout at me until you’re blue in the face that people shouldn’t pirate a film or television show – and in the vast majority of cases I’ll agree wholeheartedly. The issue isn’t that people should or shouldn’t engage in piracy – the issue is that people are engaged in piracy, and there really isn’t a practical or viable method of stopping them – at least, no such method has been invented thus far.

As more and more streaming platforms try to make a go of it in an already-overcrowded market, more and more viewers are drifting back to piracy. 2020 was a bit of an outlier in some respects due to lockdowns, but it was also the biggest year on record for film and television piracy. 2021 may well eclipse 2020’s stats and prove to have been bigger still.

The overcrowded streaming market makes piracy look ever more appealing to many viewers.

Part of the driving force is that people are simply unwilling to sign up to a streaming platform to watch one or two shows. One of the original appeals of a service like Netflix was that there was a huge range of content all in one place – whether you wanted a documentary, an Oscar-winning film, or an obscure television show from the 1980s, Netflix had you covered. Now, more and more companies are pulling their content and trying to build their own platforms around that content – and many viewers either can’t or won’t pay for it.

Some companies are trying to push streaming platforms that aren’t commercially viable and will never be commercially viable. Those companies need to take a look at Sega and the Dreamcast, and instead of trying to chase the Netflix model ten years too late and with far too little original content, follow the Sega model instead. Drop the hardware and focus on the software – or in this case, drop the platform and focus on making shows.

Some streaming platforms will not survive – and their corporate owners would be well-advised to realise that sooner rather than later.

The Star Trek franchise offers an interesting example of how this can work. Star Trek: Discovery was originally available on Netflix outside of the United States. But Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Lower Decks went to Amazon Prime Video instead – showing how this model of creating a television show and selling it either to the highest bidder or to whichever platform seems like the best fit for the genre can and does work.

Moves like this feel inevitable for several of these second-tier streaming platforms. There’s a hard ceiling on the amount of money folks are willing to spend, so unless streaming platforms can find a way to cut costs and become more competitively priced, the only possible outcome by the end of the “streaming wars” will be the permanent closure of several of these platforms. Companies running these platforms should consider other options, because blindly chasing the streaming model will lead to financial ruin. Sega had the foresight in 2001 to jump out of an overcrowded market and abandon a failing business model. In the two decades since the company has refocused its efforts and found renewed success. This represents a great model for streaming platforms to follow.

All films, television series, and video games mentioned above are the copyright of their respective owner, studio, developer, broadcaster, publisher, distributor, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Another year in review

This isn’t my end of year article summing up some of the highs and lows of 2021. It irks me no end to see people writing those pieces long before Christmas! If you’ve been a regular reader for a while, you might recall that the 30th of November is the website’s anniversary – it has been two years to the day since I published my first article at the end of November 2019. How time flies, eh?

Last year I commemorated the occasion by writing about the website’s first year in operation, and this time I wanted to do something similar. I’ve had two full years of talking about Star Trek and other entertainment subjects now, and it’s always helpful to step back and take a moment to reflect.

It’s been an interesting twelve months!

The biggest change for the website itself came just a few weeks ago. At the beginning of November I changed the name to Trekking with Dennis, ditching the old name and establishing a new identity for the website. This is something I’d been thinking about a lot for several months, and finally being able to pull the trigger and get it done has been incredibly cathartic.

The website’s name changed a few weeks ago.

There have been some immediate repercussions for the name change, though. Traffic to the website took a nose-dive in November, significantly down on where it had been for much of the rest of the year. I’m putting two and two together and assuming that the change in name, branding, and most importantly the website’s URL is responsible for the drop in readership. I’m optimistic that in the longer term, however, that decline will be reversed. Even if not, I don’t write here because it’s my job or because I’m chasing “internet points” and high numbers of clicks! This is my hobby, I do it for fun, and I’d still do it even if readership dropped to absolute zero!

Conversely, twice in the past year I’ve had articles go “viral” – or at least as close to viral as I’m ever likely to get!

The first article was one I’d written in early December, listing Five things to watch at New Year (instead of fireworks). The list is fairly self-explanatory; I put together a handful of New Year-themed films and shows that could’ve made for entertaining New Year’s Eve viewing in lieu of the usual fireworks shows and parties – many of which are usually televised but which were cancelled in 2020. This list was responsible for a massive spike in views which began on the 30th of December, then ran all the way through the 31st and into the early hours of the 1st of January.

This post got a lot of attention around New Year, which was neat to see.

The second article began getting huge numbers of clicks in late May, then in June absolutely rocketed up to become the most-read post I’ve ever written. More people read that one article than read everything I wrote in all of 2020 combined. And I think it’s possible that many of them came away disappointed!

The article in question was titled Mass Effect: Legendary Edition – What’s the best ending? and it was an examination of the three-and-a-half endings to Mass Effect 3, looking at the pros and cons of each. However, I think that the title may have been unintentionally misleading, judging by the search engine traffic! I think folks may have come upon the article while looking for a guide to achieving the “best” outcome to Mass Effect: Legendary Edition – namely the version of the “destroy” ending in which Shepard is implied to have survived. I talk about this in the article, but it isn’t what the focus of the piece was.

This article has become the most-read ever!

I didn’t expect that article to get so many hits when I wrote it. My Mass Effect commentary in general did quite well, though, and I think that’s because I managed to get out several pieces about the series around the time of Legendary Edition’s launch – which is when there was significant interest in the games. Being timely brings rewards, it seems!

This year I’ve made significant improvements to the images used across the website. Some of the images used even as recently as March or April now feel incredibly amateurish and low-quality in comparison. I’ve been doing more with paint.net – a freeware image editor that has become my go-to for any and all image work – and I’ve learned how to do things like add a shadow or outline to text. That has allowed me to make huge improvements to the header images/banners at the top of articles, giving them a more modern, professional look.

The website’s main banner – a core part of the site’s identity – has also been massively improved. Firstly, now that I have significantly more web storage I’ve felt more comfortable using higher-resolution images. Beginning earlier in the year the expanded storage allowed me to use larger, more detailed images for article and page headers, something I feel makes the website as a whole look a lot more modern and professional than it did even at the beginning of the year. The new banner was added earlier this month as part of the aforementioned change of name, but earlier in the year I tried out a variety of different banners with different sci-fi and fantasy-themed backgrounds.

The website’s main banner.

I’ve also added quite a few different “spoiler warning” images – most of which are based on the Star Trek franchise! Again, the quality of these has improved a lot as I’ve become more comfortable with my image editing software, and I think some of the recent spoiler warnings look pretty great! I like to err on the side of caution when it comes to spoilers, so I use spoiler warnings a lot at the beginning of articles and reviews.

Filling time over the past twelve months has led me to research and learn about shows, films, and games I’d never have heard of otherwise. I reviewed titles like Space Jam: A New Legacy, Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and even The Falcon and the Winter Soldier after learning about them in the course of researching topics for the website. Trekking with Dennis has, to a certain extent anyway, broadened my experiences of media this year.

I’ve seen (and reviewed) several different films and television shows over the past twelve months.

I’ve also finally got around to playing a couple of games that had been on my ever-growing list: Control and Red Dead Redemption II. I’ve written up my first impressions of Red Dead Redemption II already, and in the days ahead I’ll hopefully be writing up my final thoughts as I’m close to finishing my playthrough of the game.

Speaking of playthroughs, I didn’t get around to doing another complete “Let’s Play” series of articles. Though I’ve had a number of ideas for games I could choose, I just haven’t committed to one nor kicked off a playthrough in the way I did with Jedi: Fallen Order last year. It’s still an idea that I’d like to revisit in future, so… watch this space, I guess.

I’ve been playing Red Dead Redemption II – but I didn’t write up the whole experience.

During the website’s first year in operation, I’d post articles and columns somewhat haphazardly. Sometimes I’d post daily for a couple of weeks, and at other points I’d take almost an entire week off while writing nothing. Over the last twelve months, however, that has changed. Going back to November 2020 I’ve been posting at least every other day – so there hasn’t been a long gap in between posts in more than a year. Occasionally that schedule has felt challenging, but I’ve been proud of the fact that I haven’t had any significant posting gaps for an entire twelve-month period.

April saw my most intensive posting schedule to date, as I wrote a post every single day for an entire calendar month for the first time. It wasn’t exactly planned, but once I got about halfway into April and I noticed I hadn’t skipped a day, I made it my mission to complete the month! I can keep up that kind of schedule for a while, but not indefinitely. I need occasional breaks, and being able to write articles in advance and schedule them has meant I have actually been able to take breaks across the year without interrupting my posting streak.

In April I published an article every single day.

In December 2020 I joined Twitter. I did so at first because I was having a hard time keeping track of the various franchises and their social media pages, and as I’ve never had a personal Twitter account I couldn’t follow them that way. In February I made a very tentative first post, and across the year I’d sent out a handful of Tweets to promote newly-published reviews and other articles. But as I said last year, social media isn’t really my major focus.

This should absolutely be the subject of a longer essay sometime, but Twitter in particular is a very difficult platform for me to navigate. I’m sure you’ve noticed, but I have a particularly long-winded writing style! Condensing an argument, article, or even just a fan theory into 280 characters or fewer is difficult for me. I also find that, partly as a consequence of the abbreviated posts, the conversation on Twitter can lack nuance. It’s very hard to articulate a complex thought or position on the platform because such short posts don’t easily allow for shades of grey – you can either be on one side of a debate or the other. For someone who occasionally likes to straddle the fence and acknowledge the merits and demerits of both sides of a discussion, or just to explore different interpretations and points of view, Twitter isn’t the best place for me sometimes!

No, not that kind of Shades of Gray

That being said, I’ve recently stepped up my Twitter use. It’s been an interesting world to step into for the first time, and I’ve found it quite fun and occasionally exciting to be able to engage directly with brands and companies – or at least their social media teams. Toward the end of my time working with a large video games company, social media was just beginning to take off as a marketing tool. I had some involvement with social media campaigns in the late 2000s and early 2010s at companies I worked for or was freelancing for, so it’s been interesting in a way to be on the other side of the screen for the first time!

If you don’t follow me on Twitter I don’t just post links to articles and columns that I write here on the website. I do post other occasional Tweets, mostly about Star Trek and the other subjects I cover. I don’t get political, so don’t expect any of that, but if you want to follow me on Twitter you’re more than welcome to do so.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @TrekkingwDennis is my Twitter handle.

But Twitter wasn’t the only social media platform that I found myself involved with over the past twelve months. Beginning in July I planned to record audio versions of some of the articles here on the website, using YouTube and Spotify to host these audio files. I later expanded my audio offerings to include what might generously be called a “podcast.” However, I wasn’t very happy with the quality of both the audio recordings themselves, as I lack the technical know-how to make decent-sounding audio, and also, to be blunt, my own vocal performance. Upon re-listening to several audio versions of articles I sounded very wooden and stilted; the kind of performances I’d give 1/10 to if I were to rate them.

So after a sum total of four podcast episodes and about ten audio articles I scrapped the project – at least for the time being. It’s a fun idea, and a concept I’d certainly like to revisit one day, but between the audio quality, my own poor performance, and the rebranding of the website making all of the audio clips and YouTube videos out of date, I think it’s for the best that I shelve the project for now.

Audio recording isn’t my strong suit.

That being said, I did enjoy the podcasting format. Having the opportunity to talk about smaller news stories and topics that wouldn’t necessarily make for a good standalone article was fun, and it certainly broadened the range of things I discuss here on the website. Revisiting the podcast concept is something I might consider in 2022.

It was in June this year – Pride Month – that I first discussed my sexuality and gender identity. Those twin posts were among the most difficult I’ve written over the past twelve months, not because they were technically challenging but because of how personal they were. When I created the website two years ago I intended to remain wholly anonymous, with details of my personal life kept to a bare minimum. By this time last year I’d changed my mind and I’d decided I wanted to openly discuss my asexuality and my struggles with my gender identity – but it took months before I’d be able to finish writing those pieces and feel brave enough to publish them.

In June I finally felt able to discuss my sexuality and gender identity for the first time.

I now proudly display the asexual and non-binary pride flags in the upper-right corner of the website. These symbols are present no matter what page or post someone clicks on, even if the piece has nothing at all to do with asexuality or being non-binary.

Writing these pieces, though incredibly difficult at times, was deeply satisfying and cathartic. Only a few people in my offline life knew these things about me, so having a space where I could openly discuss things that I’d struggled with for decades was a truly incredible experience. It gave me the confidence to be more open in my offline life too. I don’t have a lot of friends or surviving close relatives, but I’ve been able to direct a couple of people to the website where they were able to read my words to gain more of an insight into my personal life. I’ve said before that I’m better at writing than I am at speaking – having these pieces to direct folks to is so much easier than having to explain out loud what it means to be asexual or non-binary.

It’s been a difficult process, but I finally feel comfortable referring to myself as non-binary.

I haven’t added as many articles to the Greatest Hits page this year as I did in the previous twelve months. I think that’s partly because I had some article/essay ideas in mind when I started the website and I slowly worked my way through them over the course of that first year. While I’ve had plenty to write about this year, I guess I’ve just written fewer of those long-form essays.

That being said, my essay on Star Trek: Discovery’s Season 3 Burn storyline is one of the best things I’ve written all year, and I’m happy to show off that one! I’m also proud of my character study of The Next Generation’s Dr Pulaski, and my examination of Luke Skywalker’s characterisation in The Last Jedi that I wrote back in December. I’m sure I’m forgetting or overlooking a few others as well, but those are three of the essays that come to mind when I think back over the past twelve months.

This is one of the best essays I’ve written in the last twelve months. Give it a read if you haven’t already!

So I think that’s enough self-congratulation for this year! As I look ahead to the next twelve months, I can’t really say that I have any major plans or changes in mind for the website or the kind of pieces I write here. I’d like to do another playthrough series at some point, and I’m certainly open to more creative projects in addition to my reviews, theories, discussion topics, list articles, and the rest. But watch this space, I suppose!

The website is very different now compared to twelve months ago. I like to think that, for the most part, these changes have been improvements – and certainly from a purely visual point of view I think the website has never looked better! As we move into the holiday season and 2022 I’m looking forward to keeping up with my regular posting schedule and writing about the subjects I’m most interested in: Star Trek, gaming, and the wide world of geeky entertainment.

Thank you for your support over the past twelve months.

-Dennis
Tuesday, 30th November 2021

All properties mentioned above are the copyright of their respective broadcaster, studio, developer, distributor, company, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

We won! Kind of…

After a difficult week for the entire Star Trek fan community, we finally got some good news. Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is going to be available outside of North America after all.

This isn’t “total victory,” as there are still too many countries and territories where the season won’t be available – particularly in Asia and Africa. The series is not returning to Netflix. But in regions where Paramount+ exists – Australia, Scandinavia, and Latin America – the decision to withhold the new season from fans has been reversed. This was the easy bit – that particular decision was so stupidly arbitrary that it didn’t make sense to begin with.

Here in the UK, as well as elsewhere in Western Europe, the new season will go to Pluto TV – described as a “free streaming television service.” I’ll have to look up Pluto TV and how it works as I’m not familiar with it at all. In the UK, Germany, France, Russia, South Korea and “additional select countries” (whatever that might mean) Season 4 episodes will be available to purchase digitally on “participating platforms.” Could that mean Amazon Video, among others? Watch this space, I guess.

Discovery Season 4 is coming to Pluto TV!

Reversing the Netflix decision was never going to happen, not after contracts had been torn up and significant sums of money had changed hands. But this is a victory for Star Trek fans – and for fans of any franchise, series, film, or video game across the entertainment industry. It demonstrates the power of fans coming together, and how these kinds of pressure campaigns and reactions can and do have an impact even on the biggest corporations.

At the end of the day, ViacomCBS saw the backlash as a problem and a threat to their current and future profits. That’s the power that we – all of us – have as consumers and as fans. Because we all pulled together and expressed our collective anger, outrage, and frustration, the corporation had no choice but to sit up and take notice. Especially when the value of their shares began to fall.

ViacomCBS shares tumbled following the Discovery announcement and the backlash from fans.

A couple of days ago on Twitter, some anonymous nobody told me to stop “crying” about the Discovery decision because it “wouldn’t change anything.” That person was wrong. On an individual level, none of us have the power to stand up to big corporations; that’s true. But en masse, when fans pull together we can do anything. Star Trek’s history is testament to that.

In 1967-68, a letter-writing campaign orchestrated by Star Trek superfan Bjo Trimble literally saved The Original Series from cancellation at the end of Season 2. The fact that the show got a third season at all was all down to Trekkies. And later, in the 1970s, pressure from fans to bring Star Trek back led to The Animated Series and later The Motion Picture – the film which kicked off Star Trek’s renaissance going into the 1980s.

Star Trek returned in 1979 thanks to the overwhelming support of the fan community.

Following the cancellation of Enterprise in 2005, the fact that the franchise remained popular was a key factor in 2009’s reboot film getting the green light – something which ultimately led to Discovery, Picard, and the rest of modern Star Trek. At every stage of the franchise’s history, fan-led campaigns and the response from fans has been absolutely critical to keeping Star Trek going and reinvigorating the franchise. So it has proved again with Discovery Season 4.

This victory is imperfect. There are still too many Trekkies across the world who can’t access the series – and the rollout of Paramount+ is still plagued with the same problems it was yesterday. For fans in regions where Season 4 still won’t be arriving, this victory may not mean much at all. But it does give us hope for the future.

We still need to work hard to ensure Paramount+ and Star Trek are available to everyone.

ViacomCBS appeared to have forgotten about Star Trek’s international fans. But we reminded them that we’re still here, and that we still want to support the franchise and, albeit reluctantly in some cases, the corporation that owns and manages it. North American Trekkies were allies in that fight – as were many of the cast and crew of Discovery itself, applying pressure in public through their statements.

We can’t look at this as the end of the affair. Trekkies in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and other parts of the world still won’t be able to watch Discovery Season 4, and there are too many regions without a planned rollout of Paramount+. We mustn’t forget that, and we have to keep pressure on ViacomCBS to ensure that they deliver for every Trekkie, not just those in the wealthy west.

Here’s hoping everyone can watch Discovery Season 4 soon.

I feel optimistic today. Not only because Discovery Season 4 is coming here in 48 hours’ time, but because ViacomCBS recognised how badly they screwed up. Rather than doubling-down and continuing to ignore the response from fans, the corporation did something to mitigate the problem, no doubt at a significant financial cost. It won’t have been free to disrupt Pluto TV’s schedule with mere hours to spare, after all! I’d been worried about Picard Season 2 and Strange New Worlds in light of the Discovery Season 4 debacle, but perhaps ViacomCBS has now learned how bad of a decision it was to try to cleave the fanbase in two. Maybe that means those shows are safe – that we will be able to watch Picard Season 2 together in February, no matter where we live.

So it’s time to investigate the mysterious Pluto TV and see how that works! Apparently Discovery Season 4 is being broadcast there at a scheduled time – 9pm local time – so I guess it works like a television channel rather than a streaming service. I don’t mind that, and if it’s possible to purchase the season or individual episodes for on-demand streaming I don’t mind doing that too. Whatever hoops we have to jump through it’ll be worth it to watch Discovery together.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4, Episodes 1-2 will be available to watch on Pluto TV in the UK, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland on Friday the 26th of November 2021. The episodes will also stream on Paramount+ in countries and territories where the service is available, and will be available to purchase digitally in the UK and “additional select countries.” The Star Trek franchise is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

What will the Discovery decision mean for Picard, Strange New Worlds, Lower Decks, and the rest of Star Trek?

The fallout from the atrocious and unfair Star Trek: Discovery decision rumbles on. The ViacomCBS share price continues to tumble in the wake of their truly awful decision to piss off most of the fans of their biggest franchise, the rollout of Paramount+ continues at a snail’s pace with no specific launch dates even entering the conversation, and unfortunately we’re now seeing some divisions in the fandom itself, with North American Trekkies pitted against those of us in the rest of the world as arguments break out over the series. What a stinking mess.

At time of writing, both Star Trek: Prodigy and Star Trek: Discovery are “Paramount+ exclusives” all across the world – meaning the shows are locked behind a paywall that fans can’t actually pay for because the incompetently-managed streaming service hasn’t launched in the vast majority of countries and territories. I feel even worse for Trekkies in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia in some ways, though, because although Paramount+ has already arrived there, Discovery Season 4 still hasn’t been made available. If you needed any more evidence that ViacomCBS is one of the worst-run corporations in the entire entertainment industry, look no further than that arbitrary nonsense.

The logo of the mediocre streaming service at the heart of all these problems.

But Prodigy and Discovery aren’t the only Star Trek shows in production at the moment. In 2022 Trekkies have been promised Star Trek: Picard Season 2, Strange New Worlds Season 1, and Lower Decks Season 3 at a minimum. In the wake of the truly selfish and awful Discovery decision, however, I can’t help but feel very nervous about each of those shows. Will Trekkies around the world be able to enjoy any new Star Trek in the months ahead? Or will we see repeat after repeat of the Discovery mess?

Strange New Worlds seems all but certain to be denied any kind of international streaming deal. If you’re hoping to see the series hit Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, you might as well forget it – it’ll be a Paramount+ exclusive for sure. What that means in effect is that anywhere in the world without Paramount+ will miss out on Strange New Worlds. That feels like such a sure thing right now that I’d put money on it.

Don’t bet on seeing Captain Pike on your screens next year. At least not through the usual channels…

Currently, Picard Season 2 is scheduled for a February premiere. If the season runs for ten episodes, as Season 1 did in 2020, it’ll conclude sometime in late April or early May, meaning that Strange New Worlds could debut anytime around then – and certainly well before the middle of the year. At present, the UK and parts of Europe are promised Paramount+ in “early 2022” – which could be before the Strange New Worlds premiere, but it could also be long after the show has kicked off in the United States. And unfortunately, many countries and territories in Asia, Africa, and the rest of the world have no planned launch for Paramount+ at all, which means it could be 2023 or later before the service launches there. If it survives that long.

I simply don’t believe the promises ViacomCBS has made of an “early 2022” launch. Paramount+ has been so poorly managed and so incompetently handled by the corporation that a delay to these plans feels inevitable, so I’m not betting on the service launching here before the end of 2022. But even if, by some miracle, ViacomCBS actually manages to launch Paramount+ on time in Europe, that could still mean Strange New Worlds and Picard Season 2 won’t be broadcast simultaneously with North America.

Picard could well be pulled from Amazon Prime Video before Season 2.

As mentioned, Paramount+ has already arrived in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia – and it isn’t exactly brand-new, they’ve had it since March. But despite that, Discovery Season 4 isn’t being shown there at the same time as it’s being shown in North America… so even being very generous to ViacomCBS and assuming that the incompetent morons manage to get Paramount+ to the UK and Europe in “early 2022,” that still doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be able to watch any of the new shows on the damn thing.

As I discussed the other day, ViacomCBS paid Netflix a large sum of money to ensure that Discovery Season 4 wouldn’t be available around the world. If they had done nothing, the show would’ve come to Netflix under existing contracts and licenses – but the corporation chose to intervene, hoping to boost sign-ups to Paramount+ (though the backlash may have actually cost the platform subscribers thanks to a fan-led boycott campaign). What’s to stop ViacomCBS from doing the same thing with Amazon Prime Video, the current home of Lower Decks and Picard?

Will Amazon Prime Video lose its Star Trek shows, just like Netflix?

One of the stupidest and most offensive things about the Discovery decision is that Paramount+ is unavailable across most of the world. If ViacomCBS had pulled Discovery from Netflix because Paramount+ had already launched and they wanted to keep their own shows on their own platform, it would still be frustrating, and the timing would still be awful, but at least there’d be a vague logic to it. But because Paramount+ isn’t even available, the decision has locked the show behind a paywall that no one is able to pay for. Which, as I’ve argued on more than one occasion, means you have the absolute moral justification to pirate the series.

But this kind of decision could well be repeated. I doubt very much that Paramount+ will be available here in the UK by February, in time for Season 2 of Picard. And on current form, there’s nothing to stop ViacomCBS from doing to Amazon Prime Video what they’ve just done to Netflix – pulling the series from broadcast with days to spare. I don’t think it’s safe to assume we’ll be watching Picard Season 2 on Amazon Prime Video… let alone Lower Decks Season 3, which likely won’t be broadcast until later in the year.

Lower Decks Season 3 could also be going exclusively to Paramount+.

Rather than the Discovery mess being a one-time thing, I think as international fans we need to get used to the idea that, at least for the next year or so, watching Star Trek along with our North American friends may not be possible – or at least may not be possible via conventional methods. Picard Season 2 and Strange New Worlds Season 1 feel the most vulnerable, but realistically we’ll soon see the entire franchise disappear behind Paramount+’s paywall – regardless of whether Paramount+ is actually available.

I’d like to be proven wrong, of course, but I fear that this is the direction of travel for Star Trek as we move into 2022. This will not be a move free of long-term consequences for ViacomCBS. The corporation’s share price continues its fall, many Trekkies have pledged never to subscribe to Paramount+, and one of the biggest single pushes toward piracy since the advent of streaming will lead many fans and viewers to realise just how easy it is to pirate the latest episodes – making it even harder for Paramount+ to tempt them back in future.

A decision intended to push fans toward Paramount+ has actually led to piracy – and threats to boycott the platform.

As self-defeating as these plans may be, don’t expect to see ViacomCBS move away from them. And if you’re especially unlucky, living in a region of the world that ViacomCBS has apparently forgotten even exists, it may be the case that Paramount+ never arrives – or if it does it won’t be till 2023, 2024, or beyond. Star Trek has always told stories of people coming together – of a United Earth free from borders and division. But the ViacomCBS board haven’t even watched their own shows, or if they did the message went far over their shrivelled little profiteering heads.

I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but as I see it, the Discovery decision is just the first of many. Strange New Worlds, which has never had an international broadcaster announced, will certainly be a Paramount+ exclusive. Picard Season 2 and Lower Decks Season 3 could very easily follow the Discovery model and be pulled from Amazon Prime Video. And the rest of the Star Trek franchise? Currently the older shows are on Netflix, but the films aren’t. However, I wouldn’t bet on being able to watch any Star Trek series next year unless you have the DVD or are prepared to sign up for Paramount+.

The Star Trek franchise is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Should we #BoycottParamountPlus?

The Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 catastrophe isn’t going away anytime soon for ViacomCBS. In the days since they dropped a clumsily-worded statement that simultaneously broke the bad news to Trekkies around the world and tried to push sign-ups to Paramount+, the anger in the fandom has not abated. At time of writing, ViacomCBS shares are worth more than $2 less than they were before the announcement – a drop of more than 6%.

That brings us to the #BoycottParamountPlus discussion that has been doing the rounds in some quarters of the Star Trek fan community. In light of the decision by ViacomCBS to pull the show from Netflix internationally, some Trekkies have responded by saying they’re either boycotting Paramount+, cancelling their subscription to the service, or that they will refuse to sign up for it whenever ViacomCBS can be bothered to make it available in their part of the world. Today I wanted to consider the discussion around boycotting Paramount+, boycotts in general, and how fans can and should register their anger, upset, and frustration with a corporation like ViacomCBS.

Some fans are advocating a boycott of Paramount+ in response to the Discovery fiasco.

There are many reasons why folks – even big Trekkies like yours truly – might be wary of signing up for a service like Paramount+. The platform has not been particularly well-received in markets where it has been available, with complaints ranging from technical issues and video quality to a lack of content. At one point, all of the Star Trek films disappeared from Paramount+ with only a few days’ notice due to licensing conflicts with a different streaming platform – despite the fact that ViacomCBS owns the rights to the Star Trek films.

There’s also the cost involved. The “basic” plan, which currently costs $4.99 per month in the USA, comes with advertising. The “premium” plan ditches the commercials, but clocks in at double the price – $9.99 per month in the USA. That makes Paramount+ actually more expensive than Netflix for a comparable service, as Netflix’s cheapest plan in the USA doesn’t run any adverts and costs $8.99 per month.

Paramount+ ain’t cheap.

Paramount+ is not competitively priced, then. It’s more expensive than the big three streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+) and though it does offer some content that the others don’t – such as live sports – its content as a whole is lagging behind. So even being as generous as we can, Paramount+ feels like poor value for what is clearly a second-tier platform.

But all of this talk of costs is rather beside the point. People who can’t afford Paramount+ won’t pick it up, and folks who can perhaps afford one or two streaming subscriptions may have to choose whether to pick up Paramount+ or an alternative. It’s all moot right now here in the UK anyway, because Paramount+ is unavailable, but I wanted to at least acknowledge that the streaming service isn’t particularly competitive with its pricing.

Paramount+ is more expensive than Netflix… and worse.

On an individual level, I can fully understand the response fans have had to ViacomCBS and to Paramount+. The anger and frustration I’ve seen expressed on social media resonates because it’s exactly how I feel, too. The decision the corporation made was horrible, and to cap it off it was announced in the most offensive and callous way possible. No apology has been forthcoming, and ViacomCBS’ marketing and social media teams are apparently burying their heads in the sand, trying to ignore the pushback.

The lack of communication from the corporation is something that I find deeply offensive. Their original message was not contrite or apologetic, and seemed designed to present what they knew would be an upsetting, anger-inducing move as some kind of net positive for international Trekkies. Combined with the marketing doublespeak and the pushing of Captain Burnham’s “Let’s Fly” catchphrase to sign off, the way they chose to communicate this decision was awful.

And as we covered the other day, the timing of this move almost seems to have been designed to inflict maximum hurt on Trekkies, coming 48 hours before Discovery Season 4 was due to premiere. They did this, it seems, for two reasons: so that a major Star Trek convention in London earlier in November wouldn’t be overshadowed by this news (particularly with several Discovery cast members in attendance), and also, if I put on my cynical hat for a moment, ViacomCBS knew that dropping this news with mere hours to go before the season premiered would prevent fans from having time to organise any kind of pushback.

The #BoycottParamountPlus hashtag and movement emerged from the Discovery debacle, but it’s in no way an organised thing right now. And with Season 4 already underway in the United States, practically all of the big Star Trek fansites and social media channels have begun their coverage of the show. Even if fans were able to organise a protest of some kind in the next few days, from the corporation’s perspective things have gone about as well as possible. They succeeded at pulling the show from Netflix, they’re forcing people to pay for Paramount+ with no alternative options, and the fan reaction has been significant, but disorganised.

Star Trek fans are disorganised right now.

I used to work in marketing, and unfortunately, the way corporations see these kinds of social media campaigns is very dismissive and negative. ViacomCBS will have expected a degree of pushback, but they also knew that by making the announcement at the last possible moment, any pushback would be disorganised during the crucial first few days after the season debuted. They’re also counting on fans having short memories, so that by the time Paramount+ rolls out in 2022 (or later, because let’s be honest they aren’t exactly competent so we can’t rely on their planned schedule) the controversy will have died down and even the most ardent critics will still sign up.

And if history is much of a guide, they’re probably right about the latter point. Look at past examples of fans pushing back against corporate decisions. Over in the Star Wars franchise, for example, The Last Jedi was so utterly detested by some fans that they swore they’d never watch anything from the franchise ever again. A heck of a lot of those folks are currently loving The Mandalorian and are excited for other upcoming projects. Even when dealing with topics more important than entertainment, like political issues, it’s increasingly true that all someone has to do is survive and keep their head down for a few days and wait for the source of controversy and its resultant outrage to blow over. Here in the UK we can point to politicians who were caught breaking coronavirus lockdowns who are still gainfully employed, and that’s just one example.

The response to The Last Jedi was negative for Disney at first, but many fans have since returned to the franchise.

One of the main counter-arguments people have been putting forward in response to suggestions of an organised boycott of Paramount+ is that they want to support the series and the hard work the creative team put into making it. I can understand that point of view too, especially coming from those fans who have a creative background themselves. Many of these folks are also ardently opposed to any form of piracy.

But I do want to ask a question: how else are fans supposed to express themselves? If a corporation misbehaves, as ViacomCBS has to put it mildly, how are fans supposed to respond to show their disgust? We can write all the tweets and articles we like, of course, but that has a very minor impact on the corporation overall. Hitting them in their finances is where we can actually hurt them, and if fans make it clear that the reason Paramount+ is losing subscribers or not signing up new ones is because of the Discovery fiasco, then perhaps they’ll sit up and take notice.

A visual metaphor.

However, there is, as the saying goes, more than one way to skin a cat. I mentioned ViacomCBS’ share price at the beginning of the piece because it’s relevant to this conversation. The short-term impact of the Discovery controversy has knocked the value of shares down by a significant amount, and that could continue in the days and weeks ahead. Whether we boycott Paramount+ or not, the corporation is already being kicked in the wallet for this decision. I hope that brings a smile to your face – it certainly did for me.

What I would have liked to see, had there been more time in the wake of the announcement to organise such a thing, would have been a blackout from all of the big fansites and social media channels: a promise not to cover Discovery Season 4 at all until it became available worldwide. Even shutting down discussion of the show for a single week would have a huge impact and would be symbolic of the fandom coming together.

A total communications blackout would send a powerful message.

In my own small way here on my minor slice of the internet, that’s exactly what I’m doing. I could write reviews of the Season 4 episodes – I’ve already seen the premiere. And I could continue to write up my theories because I’ve got dozens swimming around in my head. If I threaten to boycott Paramount+, ViacomCBS knows I’m just one person and they’ve only lost one potential customer. But by refusing to talk about the show at all, the hype bubble around Discovery is ever so slightly deflated. Fewer people talking about the show has an impact – and if we could expand that and get a proper blackout going, then I think ViacomCBS would realise how badly they’ve screwed this up.

It will never happen though, unfortunately. Many of the big Trekkie websites and social media channels work hand-in-glove with ViacomCBS, getting advance screenings, press kits, and even freebies from the corporation. Very few outlets would be willing to lose their access and their privileges, which is why we’ve seen some messages from these folks sound rather tokenistic, I’m sorry to say. I don’t want to cast doubt on anyone’s sincerity, but it kind of smarts when they’ll express their upset in one tweet and then promote their latest review or show off their exclusive pass to the virtual premiere in the next.

I can’t see a big shutdown like this ever happening.

To get back on topic, I can’t tell you what to do. If you want to boycott Paramount+, cancel your subscription, or tell ViacomCBS you’re never paying for Star Trek again, go for it my friend. It’s as good a way as any of getting “revenge” for the offensive way we as international Trekkies have been treated. But if the thought of boycotting upsets you or you want to support the cast and crew, know that the outrage that has been expressed over the past few days has already had a noticeable financial impact on ViacomCBS.

Speaking for myself, if Paramount+ were available to pre-order here in the UK, I wouldn’t. Not right now. And in my own way I’m registering my protest. Refusing to discuss the series, even if only on my own small slice of the internet, is my way of telling ViacomCBS how I feel about the decision they made and the callous way they went about announcing it. But I don’t think we need to get at each other’s throats about this boycott idea. Some fans are up for boycotting, others aren’t. Both points of view have merits and demerits, but the one thing we need to try to do as a fandom right now is come together. Fighting amongst ourselves over what to do about the situation won’t resolve anything – it’s already happened and it won’t be undone. We have to try to move forward together.

For my part, I won’t be posting any spoilers about Discovery Season 4 here on the website – beyond what I’ve already discussed prior to the season premiere, which was only based on teasers and trailers. So you can consider this website a safe space between now and February. I wish I had better news or a better idea of how to fix things, but the reality is that Discovery is ViacomCBS’ product and as consumers, we’re stuck. All we can do is register our protests in whatever way we can. It’s up to you how you protest this decision.

This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

A Trekkie’s dilemma

It’s been 24 hours since ViacomCBS clumsily dropped the news that Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will be kept away from international audiences. The resultant PR disaster has caused significant harm to the corporation’s reputation, as well as that of its streaming service, Paramount+. Once my anger at the situation had simmered down, I became mired in thought. I had a whole series of articles planned here on the website about Discovery: episode reviews and theory posts twice a week, as well as keeping space open for other occasional discussion pieces about the series over the next three months. Should I put all of that on hold for now, even though Star Trek and writing are two of my biggest loves? Or should I power through despite knowing that, even in my small way on my minor slice of the internet, I’m promoting and drawing attention to a series and a company that I just don’t want to support right now?

I’m not one of the big Star Trek fan sites… obviously. I don’t have a huge audience who’d feel let down if my reviews weren’t around, or conversely who would feel the need to mute me or unsubscribe if I carried on posting about a series they aren’t able to watch. So the decision is mine alone, and I confess I’m struggling with it.

What to do?

I feel absolutely morally justified in pirating Discovery. ViacomCBS has willingly chosen to remove the series from distribution here in the UK and around the world. They actively spent money to buy out Netflix’s share in the series so that Netflix wouldn’t be able to broadcast Discovery internationally. Just to reiterate that last point, because I think it’s an important one that’s gotten lost in the heated discussion: if ViacomCBS had done nothing, Discovery would have been broadcast internationally. This isn’t a case of failing to agree licenses in time or broadcast rights expiring, they actively and willingly chose to remove the series from broadcast, and they paid money out of their own pocket in order to ensure it wouldn’t be available to international fans.

Not only that, but in some countries where Paramount+ is available – such as Australia, for example – Discovery Season 4 is still not going to be available to stream. You read that right: Australian Trekkies who’ve already subscribed to Paramount+ and paid for it still won’t be able to watch Discovery Season 4, as will any other Trekkies outside of North America whether they have Paramount+ in their country or not. Why? Because ViacomCBS loves arbitrary bullshit, it seems.

“That is one big pile of shit.”

So I feel all of us outside of North America have the moral high ground and the absolute right to pirate Discovery – and the rest of Star Trek too. When a corporation voluntarily chooses not to share their creation, piracy becomes the only way to access that content. When a film, game, or television series is available to purchase, stream, or rent, I think the vast majority of folks would agree that the moral thing to do is pay to enjoy it. But when that option is taken away, there is only one remaining option – and from a moral, ethical, and philosophical point of view I see no reason at all why international Trekkies shouldn’t pirate Discovery Season 4.

This is not the choice that I would have made. I’m a Netflix subscriber and an Amazon Prime subscriber. I first signed up for Netflix in 2017 specifically because Discovery was about to be available there; Netflix earned my subscription because of Star Trek. Over the past four-plus years I’ve paid my dues on both platforms where Star Trek is available, and if CBS All Access and/or Paramount+ had been made available here in the UK I’d have signed up for them in a heartbeat.

Trekkies were offering ViacomCBS our money… but they didn’t want it.

I’m a Star Trek fan. I want Paramount+ to succeed because I want Star Trek to succeed. I want as many people as possible, from casual viewers and total newbies to hardcore fans like myself to be able to watch Star Trek – and to pay to watch it. That’s the only way Star Trek will succeed in the medium-to-long term, and that’s the only way that the franchise’s future will be secure.

But this transactional approach is not a one-way street. It isn’t good enough for ViacomCBS to insist that fans pay to sign up to their mediocre second-tier streaming platform – and then make sure the vast majority of fans can’t because it isn’t available. It isn’t good enough to roll out Paramount+ to countries like Australia and then tell fans they still can’t watch a show that others can.

ViacomCBS has created a paywall that no one can pay for because the corporation is run by incompetent morons.

In 2021, this kind of gatekeeping is simply not acceptable. Segregating the Star Trek fanbase by geography, deeming some “worthy” of being able to watch the latest shows and others not, is not only unacceptable, it’s the complete antithesis of everything Star Trek as a franchise has always stood for. What happened to infinite diversity in infinite combinations? What happened to the dream of a better, more egalitarian world? What happened to United Earth – a place where national borders have no meaning? The answer is that it was all nonsense in the eyes of Star Trek’s corporate overlords, mere words that they don’t believe in yet were happy to sell to anyone stupid enough to pay. Star Trek is a corporate product – that’s the only way ViacomCBS sees it, bankrupt of any real-world meaning or creativity.

All that the corporation cares about is profit – yet they’re so blind, thinking purely about the short-term, that they can’t see how this pathetic, awful approach is going to cost them a hell of a lot more money than it will ever bring in.

Let’s be blunt. Paramount+ will never be Netflix. It will never be Disney+ or Amazon Prime Video either. The platform arrived on the scene ten years too late, plagued by technical issues, running some of its biggest shows in DVD quality, lacking new original content, seriously mismanaged, and with an international rollout that would make a snail riding a sloth look like Usain Bolt. Paramount+ might survive the streaming wars, but even if it does it will forever be a second-tier platform, the kind that people subscribe to for a few months out of the year to watch a show or two and then cancel.

Paramount+ will only ever be a mediocre second-tier streaming service.

From the moment CBS All Access was conceived in the mind of some ageing corporate moron it was fighting an uphill battle. Netflix was already dominant in the streaming realm, and it seems to me that some halfwit with little to no understanding of streaming or the internet looked at the money that Netflix was making, then looked at CBS’ modest library of television shows and said “make me my own Netflix.” The fact that CBS All Access had to be rebranded less than three years after it launched was already a bad sign.

Now called Paramount+ and supposedly bolstered a little by the re-merging of Viacom and CBS, the service continues to flop around like a dying fish. Paramount+ must be run by the most incompetent team of morons any corporation has ever assembled when you consider its track record. Lower Decks Season 1 didn’t get an international broadcast. Prodigy Season 1 didn’t either. All of the Star Trek films disappeared for several months because of licensing conflicts with another streaming platform. Prodigy’s broadcast schedule makes no sense. And now Discovery Season 4 is being pulled from Netflix – and ViacomCBS is willingly spending money in order to pull it from Netflix – months or perhaps even years before Paramount+ will be available internationally.

I guess it’s some kind of visual metaphor…

It’s so disappointing to see ViacomCBS mishandle and mangle their biggest franchise. How can Star Trek have a shot at success with this team of corporate fuckwits running it into the ground at every opportunity? If Paramount+ fails in the years ahead, and drags Star Trek down with it, it won’t be the fault of the writers, producers, and actors across the various shows. It’ll be entirely the fault of a corporate board who haven’t got a clue what they’re doing and who don’t understand the most basic realities of running an entertainment company in 2021.

We live in a connected, globalised world. ViacomCBS (and their corporate predecessors) pushed hard to create this world because it means more profit. More Star Trek fans equals more revenue equals more profit. But the global, interconnected fandom that ViacomCBS has created means that the internet – our primary communication tool – is going to be awash with spoilers. Even the most ardent Trek-avoider would be hard-pushed to steer clear of everything Star Trek-related online, especially if they have friends within the fandom.

We live in a connected world.

YouTube channels, websites, and social media will be drowning in spoilers, making the dilemma that much more tricky for the Trekkie with a moral compass. If they decide to be patient and wait it out, despite ViacomCBS not actually providing anything close to a specific timeframe – “2022” could mean January or it could mean December, and I don’t believe for a moment that the hapless fuckwits will be able to deliver the rollout on time anyway – chances are sooner or later they’ll stumble upon a spoiler, or be served up spoilers on a plate by an algorithm. Some websites and social media outlets have pledged to tag any spoiler material, but even then it’s still highly likely that things will slip through the cracks.

Over the past 24 hours I’ve been continuously trying to think of ways to try to mitigate the situation, given that the Netflix decision is clearly final. One compromise could have been to simply delay Discovery Season 4 for everyone – including North American viewers. Waiting until next year would mean we could all watch the series together. But that won’t work.

The decision to pull Discovery from Netflix appears to be final.

The painfully slow rollout of Paramount+ is going country by country and region by region, with many parts of the world having received no information about if or when the platform will be available. In the UK at least we know that there’s a target: 2022. Many countries, such as Japan, don’t even have that. So this idea – while well-intentioned – would either delay the series indefinitely, and certainly well beyond the end of next year, or still end up shutting out a huge number of fans and viewers.

So that brings us to the Trekkie’s dilemma. The way I see it, if you’re outside of North America (which 95% of the planet’s population are, lest we forget), you have three options: wait patiently for ViacomCBS to decide that you’re allowed to watch Discovery, use a VPN to trick Paramount+ into thinking you’re in North America, or pirate the series.

A map of the world according to ViacomCBS.

The first option is what the corporate morons assume everyone will do. That isn’t true, of course, and the PR clusterfuck of the last 24 hours will seem like nothing when Discovery rockets to the top of the most-pirated shows list next week. I think we can expect to see some significant share price falls for ViacomCBS over the coming days and weeks – I certainly wouldn’t be investing in ViacomCBS stock if I were you.

The second option is the worst of the bunch. Not only are you having to jump through hoops to watch Discovery, but you’re paying ViacomCBS for the privilege. They’ve slapped you in the face, and in response you’ve pulled your wallet out and slipped them some cash while saying “do it harder next time, daddy.”

The third option is the one I daresay many Trekkies will avail themselves of. With a tiny amount of effort it’s possible to find any film or television show online, either to stream or to download, and in 2021 if ViacomCBS doesn’t know that then they’re even more out of their depth than I thought.

ViacomCBS is pushing people to take the third option: piracy.

ViacomCBS has encouraged all of us to sail the high seas.

I’m going to watch Discovery Season 4. Interpret that however you’d like. But I’m not going to cover the series extensively here on the website. Rather than individual episode reviews, what I’ll probably do is write up a full season review at the end as a single article. And Fridays, when my Discovery Season 4 reviews would’ve been published, can instead be dedicated to write-ups of older episodes of Star Trek – something I’ve been meaning to do more of here on the website for a while. I’ll pick thirteen Star Trek episodes from the franchise’s extensive back catalogue and write about those instead.

I don’t want to give ViacomCBS or Star Trek: Discovery any more attention at the moment. The corporation has chosen, for utterly inexplicable reasons, not to share the series with its most ardent supporters, so I refuse to do anything to support the show right now. I feel sorry for the actors, directors, and the rest of the creative team, because their incredible hard work under difficult circumstances during the pandemic is now soiled by this truly disgusting corporate mess. But I can’t in good conscience publish weekly reviews, theories, and other discussion pieces drawing attention to the series when I so fundamentally disagree with the way ViacomCBS has conducted itself.

I’m going to go back and re-watch some earlier Star Trek episodes and write about those instead.

I opened my wallet and offered ViacomCBS my hard-earned cash. I’ve paid for two streaming platforms in order to watch Star Trek. I’ve bought the merchandise. I provide the Star Trek franchise and Paramount+ free publicity here on the website simply by discussing the various shows. My website has an American audience, so I know for a fact many of the folks who read my reviews and theories are engaged with Paramount+. But this relationship has turned toxic, and even though I was offering ViacomCBS my cash, my time, my effort, my passion, and my attention, they chose to throw it back in my face. They told me to go fuck myself, so I’m returning the favour.

What should you do? I can’t answer that. Your conscience has to be your guide. Are you confident in your ability to avoid spoilers for the next few months? If you live in a region without a Paramount+ release window, are you okay with the idea of waiting perhaps two years or more to watch the show? I can’t officially condone or encourage piracy – it’s almost certainly breaking the rules wherever in the world you happen to be. But from a philosophical point of view, if you’re a Trekkie outside of North America I think you’re absolutely morally justified in pirating the heck out of Discovery – as well as every other Star Trek show and ViacomCBS production.

I would usually put a disclaimer here saying that the Star Trek franchise is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery won’t be available internationally.

The message above was posted on social media earlier this evening. What follows is my immediate response – a somewhat unstructured, angry response. For a more structured argument about ViacomCBS’ mishandling of the Star Trek brand internationally, check out this article.

I cannot believe what I just read. Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season is not going to be made available on Netflix outside of the United States, and will only be available for international viewers sometime next year when Paramount+ arrives. I’m still digesting this truly awful news.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had a go at ViacomCBS – the corporation which owns and mismanages the Star Trek brand – for refusing to make Star Trek: Prodigy available internationally, despite that show being a co-production between CBS Studios and Nickelodeon… a ViacomCBS-owned channel that’s available in more than 70 countries around the world.

This Discovery news comes after Prodigy has been denied to international fans. Lower Decks Season 1 was also denied a simultaneous broadcast internationally, arriving almost six months later. So I can’t be alone in asking what the fuck ViacomCBS thinks it’s playing at. Are they trying to encourage piracy? Do they just not care about Star Trek? Perhaps they want to do as much harm as possible to their own brand, and that of their mediocre second-tier streaming platform at the heart of these problems: Paramount+.

ViacomCBS is desperately but incompetently pushing Paramount+.

To make this announcement less than 48 hours before Discovery’s fourth season was due to premiere is beyond insulting. It’s the latest and most egregious “fuck you” in a long line going back a couple of years at least from a corporation that doesn’t give a damn about Star Trek’s sizeable international fanbase.

Not only is Season 4 not going to be available on Netflix, but Seasons 1-3 have been pulled – or will shortly be pulled – from the streaming service as well, gated off behind a paywall that doesn’t exist because Paramount+ isn’t available here in the UK (and elsewhere) yet. It is at least possible to get the first three seasons of the show on blu-ray, so fans who want to watch or re-watch earlier seasons will be able to do so that way. But Season 4 isn’t available… or at least it isn’t available via conventional methods.

Perhaps this is some kind of visual metaphor?

When corporations choose to become gatekeepers and refuse to share the content that they’ve produced with fans who are literally holding their wallets open screaming “take my money!” then piracy, by default, becomes the only option to access that content. Discovery actually will be available internationally, because this is the 21st Century and most folks have internet access. With a tiny amount of effort it’s going to be possible to pirate every episode of the show, allowing fans to enjoy Discovery while ensuring that ViacomCBS doesn’t see a single measly cent by way of profit. That isn’t the decision fans made, it’s the choice ViacomCBS made.

Star Trek became an international franchise at the behest of ViacomCBS and its corporate predecessors. They advocated this kind of corporate globalism because – like the greedy little Ferengi they are – they saw profit beyond America’s borders. There are Trekkies from Tierra del Fuego to St. Petersburg because globalism proved so attractive for ViacomCBS, but the corporation has once again proved beyond any doubt that it doesn’t give even the tiniest of fucks about anyone outside of North America.

Leaked photograph from the ViacomCBS boardroom.

So as I said a couple of weeks ago about Prodigy: it’s totally morally justifiable to pirate it. Go right ahead and pirate Prodigy, and pirate Discovery too. ViacomCBS has told us to keep our money and fuck off, so let’s make sure they don’t ever see another penny of it. What’s the point in continuing to support a corporation that leaves its international fans out in the cold because it can’t manage the incredibly basic task of broadcasting a television show?

Broadcasting and streaming is ViacomCBS’ entire business model – yet time and time again they fuck it up. Paramount+ is a mediocre platform at best that will never be the Netflix and Disney+ competitor that its corporate masters wish it to be. It arrived on the scene a decade too late, with too little original content, and its rollout even within the United States has been horribly mismanaged by a corporation that appears to be run by absolute morons. Paramount+ recently lost the rights to all of the Star Trek films for several months – despite ViacomCBS owning the rights to those films. And as we’re learning the hard way once again today, its international rollout has been pathetically slow.

Only for fans in North America.

It’s such a shame for all of the actors, directors, and behind-the-camera crew who clearly have put a lot of work into Discovery Season 4 that their work is going to be tainted by a truly selfish and shitty business decision. It isn’t their fault, yet their hard work is now soured in the minds of many of the show’s biggest fans because of incomprehensible corporate bullshit.

I’ve been disappointed with ViacomCBS for a while for their pathetic mishandling of the Star Trek brand, but this latest attack has come as a body blow. I’m angry – actually legitimately angry – with a cowardly corporation that doesn’t have the faintest idea how to operate in a 21st Century television and streaming market. Their mismanagement will continue to harm Star Trek – perhaps fatally so.

ViacomCBS is the company responsible for mismanaging Star Trek.

I can’t speak for every Trekkie, but a lot of Star Trek’s international fans are losing patience with this corporation. It’s long past time for ViacomCBS to get a grip and start managing the franchise properly – before too much harm is done. Star Trek is an amazing franchise that everyone should be able to watch together and share with one another no matter where they’re from – but disgusting and insulting corporate decisions continue to get in the way and actively harm Star Trek.

Lower Decks is so much less than it could and should be entirely because ViacomCBS fucked up its international broadcast. The same will be true of Prodigy – a decision compounded in that case by the utterly ridiculous broadcast schedule. Four episodes, then a two-month break? What fuckwit came up with that idea? And now Discovery.

Here’s a newsflash for the ViacomCBS board: fans aren’t going to wait for the mediocre Paramount+ to arrive. A lot of Trekkies will pirate the show, and a lot of viewers who had been looking forward to seeing it on Netflix just won’t bother; they’ll have forgotten all about it by next year. So let’s all sarcastically applaud ViacomCBS for hammering a nail into the coffin of Star Trek. I hope someone out there with a modicum of business acumen will be able to step in and save the day – but I’m not holding my breath.

The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Shatner in space

A few months ago I wrote an article about how space exploration has become boring. The title was deliberately provocative, and of course it goes without saying that I’m approaching the subject from the point of view of a layman. But the point I made stands – it’s been a very long time since any mission to space, and even longer since any crewed mission to space, was of anything more than minor interest.

Many space missions in recent years saw unmanned probes launched, satellites placed into orbit, and the only missions with crews aboard visited the International Space Station. The ISS is without doubt an amazing feat of technology and engineering – but after more than two decades of permanent inhabitation, it’s long since lost much of its interest from the point of view of the layman. Scientifically and technologically space continues to be very important, but for me – and many other folks as well – it’s no longer the inspirational, aspirational place it once was.

The International Space Station.

Partly that’s a consequence of the scaled-back nature of crewed missions, the budget cuts space agencies have faced since the end of the Cold War and its associated space race, and perhaps the difficulty, expense, and length of time required to undertake missions to places we’ve never been before. But regardless of the cause, missions to space in the real world have lost much of their lustre over the decades, and no longer feel as special or as interesting as they once did.

But William Shatner’s recent trek to space was different. Even an old cynic like me felt genuine awe and wonder at the idea that Shatner – Captain Kirk himself – was actually going into space. For decades, journeys to space were the exclusive purview of a tiny number of well-trained air force pilots and scientists. Just getting into the astronaut or cosmonaut programmes required either a career as a high-flying ace fighter pilot or a doctorate in a relevant scientific field. There have been attempts to put spaceflight within reach of more people – Christa McAuliffe, who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, was set to be the first teacher to travel into space. But generally speaking, becoming an astronaut and travelling to space was out of reach for practically all of us.

William Shatner aboard Blue Origin’s NS-18 mission.

People like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have talked in vaguely-defined terms about future missions to space or to Mars that would bring along more civilians and regular folks, but those missions seemed like a long way off. Then came missions in the last couple of years taking paying passengers – but at such a high cost that space felt like a playground for the billionaires’ club and was still beyond the reach of most ordinary people.

William Shatner’s space flight has gone a long way to challenging all of those perceptions. There’s something truly inspirational about the idea of Captain Kirk actually going into space; just writing those words feels incredibly surreal. This character was at the head of a television show and a franchise that, for more than half a century, has done more than any other to inspire people to look to the stars and to look to a future where space travel will be something anyone can participate in. And here he was, actually making that dream a reality in the real world.

Shatner with his crewmates.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Star Trek as an inspirational franchise. Generations of people have watched the series and been inspired by its message, its morals, its optimism, and its technology. The franchise has a track record of bringing its technologies to life – everything from tablet computers, wireless communicators, video calling, and more were “predicted” by Star Trek before becoming a reality. And perhaps that’s what makes William Shatner’s space flight so inspiring – he made the dream of going to space come true as well. There’s hope that, if Captain Kirk can actually travel into space, as Star Trek depicted all those years ago, perhaps the rest of us can too.

Not to be impolite, but at the age of 90, William Shatner isn’t in the prime of his life in terms of his physical condition. He looks great for 90, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a bit of a belly, a few too many wrinkles, and the ever-present toupée! But I’m not here to criticise any of that – because it’s those things that make his journey to space even more astonishing and aspirational. Not only is Captain Kirk himself in space, but here’s someone who’s older than any previous space traveller, who isn’t in the best shape of his life, and yet still it was possible to undertake that incredible journey. By simply being who he is, Shatner has once again inspired millions of folks who might’ve felt space travel was beyond them. Perhaps they felt they were too old, or they have a health condition, or something else. But seeing William Shatner at age 90 boarding that rocket and floating around up in space demonstrates to all of us that such a journey might be possible after all.

William Shatner and his crewmates boarding their spacecraft.

To me, that’s the success of this latest mission to space. For the first time in a very long time, a crewed space mission managed to get me genuinely excited and emotional; I felt I was sharing that moment with William Shatner and the others aboard the rocket. His sense of awe and wonder was so genuine, and the way he spoke and conveyed how it felt was passionate and beautiful.

There are still issues with space travel. The fact that it costs such an insane amount of money is going to be a barrier for a lot of people. But that was true of many inventions from the motor car to the aeroplane, and now those methods of travel are available to many more people than they were when they were first invented.

The idea that Captain Kirk could actually go into space has captured the public imagination in a unique way.

It feels like we’re on the cusp of a new age of space exploration. No longer will space be the exclusive realm of government-funded agencies, gated off to all but a select few people who were privileged enough to be able to head down the perfect career path. Commercial spaceflight has the potential to open up space to untold millions of people – and not just for short fun jaunts either. Orbital hotels, moon colonies, the exploration of Mars, and so many more things all feel one step closer today than they did just a few short weeks ago. That isn’t William Shatner’s doing – Blue Origin, SpaceX, and other companies have been building up to this moment for years. But once again, William Shatner brought space to the fore and captured the public’s imagination in a way that only he could.

I have no time for the naysayers. Prince William, one of the last wriggling vestiges of a dying aristocratic elite, had the audacity to criticise Shatner’s spaceflight shortly after he returned to Earth, saying that we should focus our energies on fixing climate change, not racing to colonise new worlds. But why can’t we do both? And not only that, but there’s more to fighting climate change than getting to the precious “net zero” that seems to be the fetish of our current crop of leaders. Space can offer solutions – harvesting solar energy, for example, capturing carbon and removing it from the atmosphere, or even building solar shades to shield parts of the Arctic and Antarctic are among many hypothetical ways that missions in space could have a real-world impact. And for all of the criticisms I made earlier of space exploration and missions to the ISS feeling boring from the layman’s perspective, the scientific advances they provide have already made an impact here on Earth.

William Shatner looking down at Earth from space.

For the first time in a very long time, a real-life mission to space managed to capture my attention – and showed off to millions of people that the dream of space travel, embodied by television franchises like Star Trek, hasn’t died. There’s the real and genuine potential to repeat this feat, and as technology continues to improve and costs come down, maybe spaceflight will be within reach of the average person sooner than we might expect.

All William Shatner did was accept an invitation and take his seat. But that simple act, and the wonderful reaction he had to it, was life-changing – and not just for the man himself. Just as he did in the 1960s when he commanded the starship Enterprise, William Shatner has once again inspired people all over the world, showing us that it isn’t futile to look to the stars.

Some images used above courtesy of Blue Origin via YouTube. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

It’s morally justifiable to pirate all of Star Trek.

I like Star Trek. I’ve been a Trekkie since I first watched The Next Generation in the early 1990s, and watching that series kicked off a lifelong love of the franchise that continues to this day. Over a span of three decades I’ve watched every single film and episode – practically all of them several times over – and in addition I’ve spent a lot of money on plenty of merchandise, ranging from action figures and coffee table books to artwork and stationery. My house is decorated with Star Trek posters and action figures in display cases, and if you ever stop by for a coffee you’ll almost certainly drink it out of a Star Trek mug. But Star Trek, it seems, doesn’t reciprocate.

At the very least, the suits in charge of the franchise at ViacomCBS do not care one iota about any Star Trek fan outside of North America – as evidenced by the fact that, for the second year in a row, a brand-new Star Trek series is not going to be made available to fans across the world.

Logo for ViacomCBS – the corporation that owns Star Trek.

Star Trek: Prodigy premieres in a couple of days’ time, and just as happened with Lower Decks in August 2020, the series is going to be kept away from fans outside of North America. This decision re-emphasises ViacomCBS’ disgusting attitude to the franchise’s non-American fans, but in one significant way it’s an even worse and more egregious insult than the Lower Decks debacle was.

Why do I say that? Because Prodigy is a co-production between CBS Studios and Nickelodeon – both of which are ViacomCBS subsidiaries. Nickelodeon, as I’m sure you know, is a children’s television channel that is broadcast across the world – in more than 70 countries from New Zealand to Ukraine and South Africa to Pakistan. In order to make Prodigy available to a worldwide audience, all ViacomCBS would have needed to do was put the series on Nickelodeon – something incredibly easy to do as Nickelodeon is a channel it already owns and operates. It wouldn’t have even cost the corporation any money, as there would have been no expensive rights agreements or broadcast licenses to negotiate.

ViacomCBS literally owns Nickelodeon and all of its international channels.

The decision not to broadcast the show on Nickelodeon can only be taken one way: it’s an insult. ViacomCBS is once again throwing up a middle finger to Star Trek’s international fanbase – a sizeable fanbase that must at the very least equal the number of Trekkies in the United States.

At first I thought I was okay with it. Prodigy is a show for kids, after all, and most kids won’t care. But the more I thought about it the more I kept returning to the argument I made in the run-up to Lower Decks’ premiere last year: that this is not an acceptable way for ViacomCBS to behave.

Star Trek became a global brand at the behest of ViacomCBS and its predecessors. The corporation adores globalism because it wants to make more and more profit – like a greedy Ferengi – from people who don’t live in the United States. But creating a global brand comes with a responsibility that doesn’t stop at international borders, and for seemingly no reason at all ViacomCBS is abdicating its responsibility to Trekkies.

Photo from the ViacomCBS boardroom.

I get it – ViacomCBS wants people to sign up for its mediocre second-tier streaming platform: Paramount+. The future is digital, and the corporation wants Paramount+ to be a success as more people around the world stop tuning in to broadcast television. But if that’s the case, ViacomCBS needs to make Paramount+ available internationally – the platform’s international rollout has been painfully slow and incredibly patchy, with films and shows the corporation owns not being available on the platform even after Paramount+ arrives in some regions.

ViacomCBS is trying to tie Star Trek to Paramount+, using the franchise to hook Trekkies in and convince us to subscribe. There’s a profit motive here – but that doesn’t absolve them of the responsibility they have to fans of their programmes and franchises. Star Trek only exists and was only able to be revived in 2017 because of its international fanbase – a deal with Netflix reportedly paid for almost the entire cost of Discovery’s first season. Yet time and again, ViacomCBS is content to ignore its international fans and leave us in the cold.

Prodigy will only be available to American audiences via Paramount+.

This isn’t just about one series – or two series now, counting Lower Decks last year. The Star Trek franchise is constantly prioritising fans in North America over us out here in the rest of the world. Trailers and clips for upcoming shows or even marketing material will be quite literally gated off on social media, with fans outside North America being told that “this content is not available in your location.” Star Trek’s official shop offers a paltry range of products internationally when compared to its North American offerings, and ViacomCBS is quite happy to ignore any and all questions on the subject of international availability.

Look at any recent social media post promoting Prodigy and you’ll see a slew of messages and comments from fans overseas. Most are polite, simply enquiring about if and when the series will be made available in their neck of the woods. And Star Trek’s social media team ignores every last one of them – just as they did last year when fans were clamouring for information about Lower Decks.

A handful of comments from social media directed at the official Star Trek pages and channels – all of which were ignored. Names redacted.

There has been no official word from ViacomCBS or the Star Trek social media teams about Prodigy’s international debut – and there won’t be. They simply do not care enough to even give a non-answer like “coming soon.” Instead, fans are left to shout into the void, bang our heads against a wall of silence, and whatever other metaphor you can think of for trying to get information from an uncaring corporation.

Last year there was an excuse – a piss-poor one, but an excuse nevertheless: the pandemic. Disruption to production and broadcast schedules – especially post-production work on Discovery Season 3 – meant that last-minute changes were necessary. Lower Decks was bumped up to be broadcast ahead of Discovery, and there wasn’t time to sort out the international rights. That excuse is bullshit, of course, because as I said last year it’s still up to ViacomCBS to broadcast or delay the series, meaning they could have waited to ensure fans everywhere could watch it together. But this year even that paltry excuse no longer applies.

There are two reasons why: Prodigy’s production hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic to anywhere near the same extent, and as already discussed, ViacomCBS owns Nickelodeon and has the option to broadcast the series on a channel that they own in 70+ countries around the world.

Prodigy is a Nickelodeon and CBS Studios co-production.

I want ViacomCBS and Paramount+ to succeed because I want Star Trek to succeed and continue to be produced. But if the corporation is so callous and uncaring when it comes to fans like me, what am I supposed to do? It’s a toxic relationship right now; a one-way relationship with no reciprocity. Prodigy is supposed to be a series that will bring in new fans to Star Trek – but it’s also supposed to be a show with a lot to offer to Star Trek’s existing fans. For “business reasons,” though, only certain fans that ViacomCBS deems important enough or worthy will be permitted the privilege of watching the series.

In 2021, with the global interconnected fandom that ViacomCBS pushed to create, segregating a series or film geographically is indefensible. A delay of a day or two between regional broadcasts might be acceptable – though there’s no technical reason why, given the technologies involved. But to broadcast a new show in one location and not even give lip service to when it might be available anywhere else? It’s wrong – and more than that, it’s stupid and self-defeating from a business perspective.

A map of the world according to ViacomCBS.

ViacomCBS wants as many people as possible to tune in to Star Trek. They want as many kids as possible to watch Prodigy, and I would assume they’re planning to sell merchandise based on the show as well – though the lack of any obvious Prodigy merchandise so far is yet another indication of the moronic and amateurish way the corporation is handling its biggest brand. But if the goal is to get fans excited and talking about the show, hyping it up in the run-up to its premiere and generating the kind of online buzz that makes television shows a success, cutting off at least half the fanbase is the dumbest and most idiotic thing the corporation could possibly do.

From Game of Thrones to Squid Game, online chatter is what drives people to check out a new television series. People who love something and who are passionate about it tell their friends and their social media followers, and that engagement drives people to the show – and the platform that hosts it. By deliberately and intentionally preventing many Trekkies from accessing Prodigy, ViacomCBS has killed a lot of the hype and excitement that the show could have generated.

Who knows how much bigger Prodigy could have been if the corporation in charge had handled its broadcast better?

The corporation has evidently learned nothing from the muted and lacklustre response to Lower Decks last year – a response that, sadly, has seen the show fail to hit the heights it could have in terms of viewership. Even when Lower Decks did arrive internationally and even when its second season did get the simultaneous broadcast it needed, a lot of damage had already been done, and the opportunity to make the series bigger than it ultimately became was missed.

Lower Decks and Prodigy are the two most unique and different offerings that the Star Trek franchise has arguably ever produced. Out of everything the franchise has on the horizon, it’s these two shows more than any others that had the potential to bring in hordes of new fans and to take the Star Trek franchise as a whole to the next level in terms of audience numbers and the scale of the fanbase. These opportunities have been pissed away by a corporation that clearly has no idea how to run an international franchise.

Fans outside North America might as well stare out of the window – because Prodigy won’t be hitting our screens any time soon.

When a corporation deliberately and wilfully treats a large section of its fanbase with such blatant disrespect, what can we do?

Since ViacomCBS clearly doesn’t care about anyone outside of North America, it seems to me that there’s no point in continuing to engage with the corporation or support it. They don’t care about us, so why should we care about them? And why should any non-American Trekkie consider spending a single penny on any ViacomCBS product in future? It seems like it’s only a matter of time until the next Star Trek show or film isn’t made available to us either.

If ViacomCBS chooses not to make Star Trek available to fans, we might as well pirate it. They clearly place no value on the money we could pay them or the passion we could have when talking about upcoming shows and films, so why bother? We might as well pirate all of Star Trek – and everything else ViacomCBS does, too. If they’ve chosen not to make Prodigy available internationally, and won’t even have the basic decency to answer repeated questions from fans, piracy is the default option – quite literally the only way to watch the series. It didn’t have to be, but this is a choice ViacomCBS willingly made.

When a corporation chooses to place no value on its biggest and most passionate fans, and takes increasingly stupid business decisions that almost seem intended to harm their franchise, they’ve made their decision. The lack of a response to these basic questions from fans about Prodigy’s availability or about the Paramount+ rollout is in itself an answer. And that answer is: “go fuck yourself, we don’t give a shit about you.”

In most jurisdictions around the world, piracy – defined above as the sharing of copyrighted material over the internet – is not legal. This essay was an examination of the moral and ethical implications of piracy only, and was categorically not an endorsement or encouragement to download any individual film or television series, nor should anything written above be interpreted in that manner. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Fighting the urge to panic-buy

The media is truly excellent at manipulation. Take the UK’s recent petrol and diesel shortages as an example. A “leak” from a private meeting between government officials and industry leaders suggested that the chronic shortage of lorry drivers – which extends far beyond Britain’s borders, afflicting much of western Europe and even the United States – could make it harder to ensure fuel deliveries to petrol stations. The inevitable and quite predictable result of the press reporting this as if it were imminent was panic-buying; a run on fuel.

It wasn’t until the media-reported “leak” that the panic-buying began, which led to the very fuel shortages that headlines screamed were coming. In short, the UK’s current fuel predicament is entirely a media-created problem, but I doubt very much that the responsible parties will ever be held accountable.

There has been a run on petrol stations in the UK over the last few days, all thanks to the media.

The same is true of other instances of panic-buying over the last couple of years. The infamous toilet paper shortage at the beginning of the pandemic was, once again, a media-created firestorm. And many media outlets, particularly tabloids, haven’t stopped trying to create more “shortages” to report on ever since. They prioritise sales, clickbait, and the revenue that panic-inducing headlines provide over any semblance of journalistic integrity, taking photos of supposedly “empty” shelves in supermarkets and showing them to the world under exaggerated headlines promising imminent doom.

My first ever job when I was still at school was working in a convenience shop in a small town. On any day of the week it was possible to find an empty shelf – most shops and supermarkets don’t have large stockrooms any more, with the just-in-time delivery system bringing everything on a daily basis. By the time evening rolled around, some shelves could look pretty bare. It’s at these times of day that many tabloid “journalists” and their photographer allies sneak into supermarkets to snap pictures of empty shelves in a desperate quest to keep the public buying newspapers (a dying format) or clicking on headlines proclaiming that we’re all about to starve to death.

You can find scenes like this seven days a week in most supermarkets, convenience stores, and food shops.

Even if there are individual industry-specific shortages or supply chain problems, these aren’t going to be permanent. The fuel panic has already blown over in much of the country, with only the London area still fully in the grip of the crisis. And promises of additional drivers and tankers backed up by the army should see that settle within a matter of days. Likewise in food, where certain products have been out of stock. These things don’t last forever, because it’s in everyone’s interest, from the government to the shops to their suppliers, to figure out solutions as quickly as possible. The only ones who benefit in any way from these shortages – or reported “shortages” – are the media.

So why, then, am I finding it hard to resist the temptation to join in and start panic-buying?

Partly this is an anxiety thing, and folks who suffer from anxiety to a worse degree than I do must surely be feeling awful right now. Headlines are screaming of shortages in fuel, meat, fruits and vegetables, and even proclaiming that Christmas is about to be “cancelled” due to a lack of festive food and toys. For people with mental health conditions, these kinds of headlines are just awful.

“Christmas is cancelled!” scream the headlines in some failing newspapers.

The rational part of my brain is fighting the irrational side – as it always has to. Are there enough lorries to transport everything I need? Will I have enough food? Will I be able to get enough food for the cats? What about my medication? What about cat litter? What about bin liners? What about this, that, and the other things?

It’s so very tempting to say “I’ll just pick up a couple of extras.” That doesn’t feel like panic-buying, and I can even rationalise it to myself by saying that I’m not panicking, I’m just being sensible and taking precautions in case other people start panic-buying. Besides, the supermarket won’t miss a couple of extra tins of potatoes and packets of cat food, right? They’ve got loads of stuff on the shelves (despite the false pictures printed in the newspapers!)

A shortage of HGV drivers is one factor in some of these “shortages.”

The problem with that mindset is that, when everyone does the same thing, shops run out of everything more quickly. When people who have their tanks half-full stop by the petrol station for a top-up “just in case,” fuel runs out. And that’s exactly what we’ve been seeing over the past week. People who didn’t need to buy fuel, and wouldn’t have under normal circumstances, have started queueing up to top up their vehicles in case there’s a shortage caused by panic-buying… not realising or acknowledging that they themselves are part of the problem.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. And it’s easy to talk oneself into it, too. After all, if there’s even the possibility of things running out, it makes sense to jump in ahead of the panic and stock up, right? The mindset of “other people panic-buy; I’m just being sensible” is a way for all of us to rationalise what is really not rational behaviour. The fear of missing out, of sitting at home without food or toilet paper or petrol wishing we’d taken action sooner is pushing people on, spurring them to take irrational action and do the wrong thing at the wrong moment.

Other people panic-buy, but when *I* rush out to buy things I don’t need, I’m “just taking sensible precautions” or “stocking up.”

In the west, most people have never had to experience a genuine shortage of anything. In the UK, there haven’t really been any major problems or shortages since the 1970s, meaning anyone under the age of 50 can’t remember the three-day week or rolling blackouts. There hasn’t been a petrol shortage since fuel protests in the year 2000, and that was swiftly resolved. While there were supply issues for a few select products – like toilet paper – early last year that are certainly playing into people’s fears, it’s been a generation since the country last endured any major shortages.

With no experience of hard times to fall back on, people are more inclined to panic. Some genuinely fear starvation – though their girth suggests that such a fate would take a very long time indeed. But most people simply fear the unknown: what will a world without easy access to abundant supplies of food look like? Not knowing leaves folks much more inclined to panic.

The UK hasn’t experienced problems like these since Ted Heath was Prime Minister in the mid-1970s.

The media as a whole is being phenomenally irresponsible, though certain publications are worse than others. The incompetent government isn’t helping, of course, and things like a cut to benefits (welfare), a lower-than-expected rise in pensions, tax rises, and major price rises for electricity and gas bills all pile on top of the supposed shortages, adding to a sense of unease and worry among the population. On a personal level, I’m seeing my income shrink right at the moment my bills rise. With people already worried about paying for the basics like food and heating, the threat of food supplies drying up or no fuel at the pumps was the last straw for a lot of people.

It’s understandable, then, why people feel compelled to join the queues at petrol stations or push their way into packed supermarkets to chase down the last roll of Andrex. And I can take some degree of comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one who feels that way. Fighting the urge to panic-buy isn’t easy… but it’s worth doing. In fact, it’s the only way to prevent more panic-buying in the long term. That and not buying any newspaper with a red top or clicking on a clickbait headline on a poorly-coded website.

I’m going to try hard to avoid succumbing and contributing to the panic. Hopefully the reward will be a government that pays attention and actually takes action to fix the systemic issues that got us to this point – but I won’t hold my breath for that. Until then, I think I’m going to take a break from the news and focus on happier things. Like re-watching yesterday’s episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks. Damn, that was a fine episode.

Some stock images courtesy of Unsplash and/or Pixabay. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ah, September!

I adore the beginning of September. As a kid I hated it, of course – the first week of September means back to school for kids in England – but with those years far behind me (too far, quite frankly) I’ve really come to appreciate what September brings. Even as a kid, September marked the beginning of the slow march to Christmas, and brought with it the end of the summer heatwaves and warm weather. As the leaves begin to turn shades of gold, orange, and red, autumn sets in and the weather cools. The nights start getting noticeably longer, and then before you know it it’s harvest time!

Autumn is, on balance, probably my favourite season. As much as I like seeing the beautiful frosts and snowfalls of winter, autumn has a sense of slowly-building anticipation that winter lacks; the hype before the main event. Just like the days leading up to Christmas are more enjoyable than Christmas Day itself, so too is autumn preferable to winter.

Don’t tell anyone, but Christmas is coming!

Though we don’t have Thanksgiving here in the UK like our American and Canadian friends, harvest time brings with it an abundance of many of my favourite dishes, like apple crumble – the perfect autumn dessert, if you ask me! As a kid we’d go bramble-picking, collecting the fruit you might also know as blackberries to make into desserts or jam. I tend to associate the autumn season with these kinds of fruity, sweet flavours – but you could just as easily add into the mix hearty stews or dishes like steak pie.

Apples – the quintessential autumn fruit.

As an aside, it was only when I moved away from the UK and met folks from other countries that I realised how British cuisine has acquired a truly awful reputation! It never occurred to me that it might be so looked down on by people from other parts of the world, especially because I grew up in a rural community where farm-fresh produce was often available. I can remember attending events celebrating cookery, where local chefs would show off the best (often very expensive) home-grown ingredients. There was even an apple festival that I went to once – around this time of year – which was great fun. And I still have a soft spot for cookery shows on television (or online) – many of which star British chefs cooking British food. But I digress!

Heat never used to be a big deal for me. I lived for a time in South Africa, on the KwaZulu-Natal coast, and summer was warm and humid there. Even when I lived in mainland Europe, temperatures were a lot warmer than they are here. Unfortunately though, as my health has gotten worse over the years I’ve found that my tolerance for heat has declined, and my idea of what makes for a comfortable temperature is now what a lot of folks would call “cold!” This means that I enjoy summer even less than I ever used to, so the beginning of September brings with it a sense of relief. Of course it’s still possible to get a heatwave or hot spell into September, but by and large we’re through what I consider the least-enjoyable part of the year.

Autumn is when the weather cools and the leaves turn beautiful shades of gold and orange.

From an entertainment point of view, September marks the beginning of the traditional television season – though of course such things are increasingly meaningless in an era of ten-episode seasons and on-demand streaming! But it was in September when many shows would premiere or kick off their new seasons – Star Trek: The Original Series and The Next Generation both debuted in September, for example. Even today, with streaming becoming an ever-larger part of the home entertainment landscape, summer still sees fewer new shows and fewer video game releases than the autumn. Got to get those games out in time for Christmas, right?

When I worked in the city in an office – or rather, a succession of offices – September was usually a great time to take a break. Co-workers with kids would often want time off over the summer holidays, and would be grateful to us childless folks for not taking up too many vacation days during the weeks when schools were closed. So by the end of the summer most of them would come back to work, meaning it was my turn for some time off! Though I wouldn’t say this was a tradition I stuck to every year, it was certainly something I took advantage of for several Septembers.

A real harvest bounty!

For a variety of reasons I have positive associations with this time of year, some going all the way back to my early childhood memories of picking brambles in the hedgerows around the small village where I grew up. Or playing conkers! Do you remember that game? If you never got to play, as kids we’d pick conkers – the large woody seed of horse chestnut trees – and tie them to pieces of string. The game then involved two players swinging or flicking their conker at the other player’s – the surviving conker was declared the winner!

So as September begins, we mark the unofficial end of summer. My favourite time of year gets started, and we begin the slow march toward Christmas and New Year – which will be upon us sooner than we realise! I never like to wish away time; none of us really know how many months or seasons we’ve got left, so wishing for a particular time of year to rush by seems rather ghoulish. But every year I’m pleased to welcome September, which brings with it the beginning of my favourite season and favourite time of year. And today, I just wanted to take a moment away from the usual things I talk about here on the website to acknowledge that.

All properties mentioned above are the copyright of their respective owner, studio, broadcaster, etc. Some stock images courtesy of pixabay. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Gene Roddenberry at 100

Today marks what would’ve been Gene Roddenberry’s 100th birthday, so it’s a good opportunity to pause and look back at the life and legacy of the man who created Star Trek – and changed science fiction forever.

Of course it’s true that we wouldn’t have Star Trek without Gene Roddenberry. But it’s very likely that Star Wars wouldn’t exist either, at least not in any form we’d recognise, and without either of those pioneers, countless other sci-fi and fantasy films and television shows would likely have never made it to the screen. Gene Roddenberry’s legacy extends far beyond the USS Enterprise, Captain Kirk, and the franchise he created that’s still going strong in its fifty-fifth year; he quite literally transformed science fiction and started the process of making it mainstream.

I never had the opportunity to meet Gene Roddenberry. In fact, by the time I settled in to regularly watch Star Trek: The Next Generation in the early 1990s, he’d already passed away. But his creation had a huge influence on my early life and adolescence, even though I only knew the man himself as merely one name among many in the end credits. Many people have spoken about the inspirational side of Star Trek, how the franchise depicts an idealistic future free from many of the problems and challenges our society has to deal with today. For me, that was – and remains – the appeal of Star Trek.

Gene Roddenberry (seated) with other members of the production and creative team behind The Next Generation.

Whole generations of people have grown up watching and loving Star Trek since Gene Roddenberry passed away. The fact that the franchise he created is still inspiring people to look to the stars – and to look to make changes for the better in the world today – a hundred years after he was born, and almost three decades since his death, is a phenomenal legacy for any one person to have. Untold numbers of people have been inspired by Star Trek to become scientists, doctors, engineers, astronauts, and even politicians, taking Gene Roddenberry’s philosophy and idealism for the future to every corner of our society. Star Trek may still be on the air, but Gene Roddenberry’s legacy has long since moved beyond the screen and into the real world.

As someone who never met Gene Roddenberry and only started watching Star Trek after he was already gone, I can’t comment on the man himself. I didn’t know him on a personal level, and I regret never having the opportunity to talk with him about the future and how our society and civilisation might evolve. But I can speak to how I perceive his legacy and how he affected the world, and though it might sound like a cliché, there are very few people who have had such a positive impact – both on my own life and in the wider world.

Gene Roddenberry with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley on the set of The Motion Picture.

Star Trek was always double-layered for Gene Roddenberry. There was the cool sci-fi stuff; the spaceships, phasers, transporters, and the like. He brought those to life using the best available television technologies and special effects, some of which would be adopted by other productions and become mainstays of the sci-fi genre. But there was also social commentary and a desire to show audiences that the way the world is today isn’t the way it always has to be.

At a time when racial segregation was still ongoing in the United States, and when the battle for civil rights and racial equality was still being fought, Gene Roddenberry put black and white characters together on an equal footing. At a time when the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in the Cold War, Gene Roddenberry put a Russian on the bridge of the Enterprise. And at a time when neurodivergent people were looked down on and mistreated, Gene Roddenberry created characters like Spock and Data, who present very differently to their peers but were nevertheless welcomed and accepted.

Gene Roddenberry created many wonderful and diverse characters.

Gene Roddenberry’s vision of Starfleet and the Federation was a space where everyone could feel welcome. Discrimination and hate didn’t exist in the 23rd or 24th Centuries as he saw it, and the way Star Trek depicted this vision of the future has been a force for good in the world.

On the practical side of things too, Gene Roddenberry’s legacy lives on. George Lucas has said on many occasions that Star Wars – arguably the biggest space-based entertainment property in the world – would not have come to exist without Star Trek and the trail it blazed. Countless other sci-fi and space-fantasy films, television shows, and even video games all owe a great deal to Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek. Though he didn’t invent the genre, Roddenberry expanded it in a big way. By creating one of the first connected fandoms, complete with meet-ups and conventions in which he and the show’s stars would happily participate, Roddenberry pioneered the concept of a fan community decades before the internet came along.

Jeffrey Hunter and Gene Roddenberry holding a model of the USS Enterprise during production of The Cage.

Later today, on what would’ve been Gene Roddenberry’s 100th birthday, a new episode of Star Trek will premiere. What would he have made of Lower Decks, the franchise’s first foray into comedy? Some folks who haven’t liked the direction that the franchise has taken in recent years might say he’d have disliked the concept, but actually Roddenberry had plans for a Star Trek comedy himself. Perhaps the most famous concept would’ve focused on Lwaxana Troi as a spin-off from The Next Generation, but he had many other ideas for Star Trek projects – including comedies – going all the way back to the 1970s.

A number of people involved in the production of Star Trek have noted how Gene Roddenberry was acutely aware of how audience expectations changed over time. One of the main reasons why his television project Star Trek: Phase II was reworked into The Motion Picture was because he’d seen the success of Star Wars in 1977 and how well audiences had responded to it. Though he may not have liked every single creative decision taken by the franchise over the years, he would at the very least understand that audiences have changed and that Star Trek has to change too. Whether he’d approve of every joke and character in Lower Decks or Discovery is thus a moot point; I think Gene Roddenberry would have understood and been supportive of the concept and of taking Star Trek to new places.

So that’s about all I have to say today, really. Though I never met him, Gene Roddenberry has had an ongoing influence on my life. As a Trekkie, I revel in the world that he created, the characters he brought to life, and the wonderfully optimistic vision of a future free from the kind of social ills that plague the world today. I believe, as he did, that the human race is capable of getting to that point. He encouraged all of us to reach for the stars – and to strive to build a better world. That legacy continues to this day – and I hope it will always be there.

The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. Some behind-the-scenes photos courtesy of TrekCore. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Wrangling with the Activision Blizzard scandal

I’ve found it difficult to know what to say about the Activision Blizzard scandal, and how to cover the story in a way that’s appropriate in style and tone. It goes without saying that what happened at Activision Blizzard, as well as the company’s pathetic reaction to it, is incredibly serious, but I feel that a lot of the commentary and discussion around the scandal, even from well-established critics and publications, missed the mark.

To briefly recap what’s been going on in case you didn’t know, Activision Blizzard has been sued by the state of California in the United States for violating the rights of female (and other) employees. Activision Blizzard is accused of fostering a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination that is so intense that at least one employee is believed to have committed suicide following an extended period of harassment. The lawsuit is ongoing and unresolved at time of writing, but Activision Blizzard has acknowledged that there are “issues” with its corporate culture, and at least one senior executive has now resigned. Activision Blizzard employees also staged a walkout in response to the company’s handling of the scandal.

Some outlets have referred to this as a “frat boy” culture (a reference to the loutish, sexually aggressive behaviour of some college fraternities in the United States), but I don’t think that term comes close to describing what’s alleged to have happened at Activision Blizzard. Nor does it do justice to the severity of the accusations.

Sexual harassment is said to be rife at Activision Blizzard.

Other reports have suggested that this kind of sexual harassment is a problem that plagues the games industry as a whole. I agree, though I’d also add that this kind of behaviour can happen at any kind of company in any industry; it’s an industry problem, not specifically a games industry one. Tackling institutional or systemic misogyny and sexual harassment in the workplace is clearly an ongoing struggle, particularly in the United States and other parts of the world where workers’ rights are not as well-protected as they are in parts of Europe, for example.

I used to work in the games industry. I spent several years with a large games company based in Germany, and as a freelancer I worked with about a dozen small and large games companies in the years after I left my position at that company. I was fortunate that, in the decade or so I spent working in the industry, I never saw or experienced harassment or bullying of that nature. But as I often say, one person’s experience is not a complete worldview, and the fact that I didn’t see sexual harassment first-hand during the years I worked in the industry doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening.

Activision Blizzard has this statement on their website – quite unironically, it seems.

In recent years we’ve learned a lot more than ever before about abusive management practices and “corporate cultures” at large video games companies. Rockstar is just one of many companies that have been called out for their awful practices during “crunch” times – and crunch is something I definitely saw and experienced first-hand during my time working in the industry. Other companies like CD Projekt Red and even the sainted Nintendo have been criticised for this as well. Then there was Ubisoft, a company which faced comparable accusations of sexual harassment – and worse – to Activision Blizzard.

All of these cases – and many more besides – follow a pattern which is all too familiar in the days of 24/7 rolling news and social media outrage mobs: the story blows up, has its five minutes in the spotlight, then disappears. News of the Ubisoft scandal broke barely a year ago, yet practically no outlets, publications, or even independent commentators have so much as mentioned it for months. New Ubisoft games like Watch Dogs: Legion, Immortals Fenyx Rising, and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla have all been released since the scandal, and what happened? Practically all of the outlets and critics who went hell-for-leather against Ubisoft for all of five minutes forgot the scandal and reviewed their latest games – often giving them glowing recommendations. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has an average score from professional critics of 80/100 on Metacritic, for example.

A similar scandal involving Ubisoft doesn’t appear to have harmed its recent games.

So we come to the Activision Blizzard scandal itself. The reaction from amateur and professional commentators alike was unanimous – the company is to be condemned for not only allowing this behaviour, but rewarding those involved and covering for senior managers and executives. And that is a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with, not that it should even need to be said. Practically everyone who hears about what’s been going on at Activision Blizzard will have felt that such behaviour is unacceptable – and potentially criminal, as the lawsuit alleges. Those instincts are spot on, and I don’t disagree in the slightest.

But then I started to hear some very familiar statements and promises, accompanied by the same semi-hysterical language and, in some cases, blatant over-acting on podcasts and videos by folks trying to channel their original instinctive outrage into clicks, views, and advertising revenue. Critics and publications began inserting themselves into the story. Articles and columns weren’t about Activision Blizzard so much as they were about the writers and critics themselves, and how the scandal made them feel.

Some of this is unavoidable; when people are paid to discuss a big news story, how they feel about the story often creeps into even the most well-intentioned journalism. But in this case a lot of folks seemed to go way beyond that, promising their audiences that they will “boycott” future Activision Blizzard releases and discussing at length their own feelings and opinions on the subject. Many of these stories ceased to be about Activision Blizzard and became a “look at me” kind of thing, with publications and critics using the backdrop of the scandal to score attention, clicks, and money for themselves.

A visual metaphor.

This happens a lot on social media, where scandals and news stories are often less about the events themselves and more about the people discussing them. The term “virtue signalling” is often used to derisively critique people who feign outrage or interest in a story while it’s popular, and there seemed to be an awful lot of virtue signalling coming from professional and amateur commentators as news of the Activision Blizzard scandal was breaking.

Having been down this road before, both with companies that saw comparable scandals and with other companies that received justified or unjustified criticism, let me say this: the vast majority of the folks promising to “boycott” future Activision Blizzard titles will do nothing of the sort. A small minority may stick to their guns beyond the next few weeks and months, but eventually critics and publications will return to the company. Activision Blizzard has big releases planned, including the next Call of Duty title, a remaster of Diablo II, and the long-awaited Diablo IV. Not to mention that the company manages hugely popular online titles like Overwatch and World of Warcraft. I simply don’t believe that most of the people who’ve jumped on this story and criticised the company in such a public way will be able to resist the temptation of talking about some of these titles – particularly if hype and excitement grows, as it may for the likes of Diablo IV.

I’m pretty sure that a lot of critics and commentators will be back for Diablo IV, regardless of what they may have said about Activision Blizzard in the last few days.

We’ve been here too many times for me to have any confidence in people sticking to any promises or commitments that they may have made in the heat of a (scripted and well-planned) rant to camera about Activision Blizzard. Not only that, but the backlash a publication or critic can expect to receive for reneging on such a promise is basically non-existent. They might get a few comments calling them out for going back on their word, but that’s all. If history is any guide, most readers or viewers won’t even remember the Activision Blizzard scandal in a few weeks’ time, let alone be willing to hold a publication or critic to account for failing to live up to a commitment not to cover their future releases.

As the news of the scandal was breaking and I saw the increasingly manufactured outrage from professionals and amateurs unfolding, I felt there was no way to cover the story without getting sucked into all of this. I don’t like my website to be a space for negativity, so I haven’t talked about the Activision Blizzard scandal until now.

Trying to step back from the quagmire surrounding the story and address it head-on is a challenge, but here we go. There needs to be a complete overhaul of Activision Blizzard from the top down. Senior executives and managers need to be investigated to see what they knew and whether or to what extent they were complicit in the behaviour or in covering it up. The company needs to make real changes to the way it deals with its employees, and there needs to be some way of enforcing that and holding the company to that commitment. If those things can’t happen, the only other option is for the company to disband and be shut down.

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick.

In 2021 it’s so incredibly depressing that we’re still dealing with sexual harassment of women in the workplace. It feels like the kind of story that should’ve been dealt with fifty years ago or more, and the fact that this kind of behaviour can still happen, and happen so openly at a large company, is unacceptable and deserves all of the criticism it gets – and more.

But at the same time, much of the criticism that I’ve seen smacked of the kind of soft-touch, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it coverage that has been all too common in recent years. And I note echoes of similar scandals at other large companies in the video games industry that have all but disappeared despite no senior managers or executives even being fired, let alone prosecuted for their actions.

The even more depressing truth is that I expect the vast majority of critics and players to drift back to Activision Blizzard in the weeks and months ahead, regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit and regardless of whether any substantial changes are actually made at the company. Activision Blizzard will try to get away with doing the bare minimum, making superficial changes and perhaps finding a scapegoat or two to fire in public. The company will then likely spend a lot of money on a marketing blitz for upcoming titles, wooing critics with everything they can muster.

A new Call of Duty game is scheduled to be released this year.

I could be wrong, and this could be the first time a company actually sees long-lasting consequences from its customers. But I doubt it. The sad truth is that most people don’t care. They want to be left alone to play Overwatch or Call of Duty, and even if they joined in the discussion and said they’d never buy another Activision Blizzard game again, chances are it’s only a matter of months before they go back on that and quietly pick up Diablo IV or whatever game they get excited about after seeing a slick, expensive marketing campaign. The same goes for publications and professional critics. Having made hay with their righteous indignation at the company’s behaviour, they’ll go right back to reviewing their games and publishing lists of “the ten worst Call of Duty levels ever!!!” because they know hardly anyone will remember or even notice their empty words and hollow promises.

As for me, I’m not making any such commitment. I don’t play games like Call of Duty, and I can count on one finger the number of Activision Blizzard’s upcoming games I was even vaguely interested in. I’ll do my best to keep tabs on this story as the lawsuit and the fallout from it rumbles on, but I think the ending will be depressingly familiar. Activision Blizzard will bring in people to manage the “optics” of the scandal, they’ll do the bare minimum to convince people they’re taking it seriously, and sooner rather than later it’ll drop off the radar entirely. The company will lay low for a while, then return with their latest game – and most folks will have forgotten all about it. That’s what happened with Ubisoft, with Rockstar’s crunch scandal, and many, many others. Despite the way people have reacted to Activision Blizzard in recent days, I’ve seen nothing that makes me think this scandal will play out any differently.

This is why it’s been so difficult to know what to say about the Activision Blizzard scandal. It’s such a serious story that it deserves to be covered extensively, but at the same time the manufactured outrage and over-acting has been cringeworthy to watch and listen to in some quarters. I’m not calling out any one individual critic or commentator for their coverage, but as a general point this is how I feel about it. It’s been interesting to see the story hit the mainstream press, but even then it barely lasted a day before dropping out of the headlines. Activision Blizzard will try to ride this out, and for my two cents, I think most players and publications are going to let them, just as they let other companies survive their respective scandals.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective publisher, developer, etc. Some stock images courtesy of Pixabay. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

So Windows 11 is happening…

I avoided covering the rumours and so-called leaks a few weeks ago, but it turns out that Windows 11 really does exist and will begin being rolled out later this year or early next year. I was surprised to hear that Microsoft planned to release a whole new operating system so soon after Windows 10’s 2015 launch; Windows 10 was billed as the “final” version, with the prospect of updates and tweaks but no replacement. A mere six years later – or fewer, assuming that the new OS has been in development for a while – and Microsoft is ready to abandon that pledge.

Windows 10 is far from perfect. It’s an improvement over past versions of the operating system, of course, but it has its problems. For me, though, the worst thing about Windows 10 has been Microsoft’s lack of care. Bugs and issues which were reported to Microsoft more than five years ago – such as 4K displays not being able to use extra large icons – are still in the OS and it seems Microsoft just opted to ignore them.

Windows 11 is coming. Prepare yourself!

An update to Windows has been needed for a while, not just to address some of these bugs but to give the whole OS a bit of a refresh. But does it need to be a completely new operating system? Though Windows remains dominant across the PC space, a lot of people were initially sold on the upgrade to Windows 10 based on the promise that it would be the final version of the OS. Windows 10 had a solid launch because people were keen to upgrade from Windows 7 and Windows 8 on that basis – something that was helped by the upgrade being free at first.

To abandon that promise so soon after making it is going to sour at least some people on Windows 11 – even more so if the new upgrade won’t be free. I can’t find any information on that, by the way, so watch this space. Windows 10 has, over the course of the last few years, come to eclipse Windows 7 and 8 as the most-used operating system around the world, and with a renewed growth in the PC market partly thanks to lockdowns and working from home, I would have argued that Windows 10 is well-placed to ensure Microsoft’s continued dominance of the PC space going forward.

An example of a Windows 11 desktop.

Windows 10 will be Windows 11’s main competitor, at least in the first few months and even years of the new OS’ life. Apple Mac is its own walled garden, and Linux, despite some attempts to make “user-friendly” versions, is still a niche, enthusiast product. So Windows as a whole has no major competition in the PC realm – but Windows 11 will have to stand up against Windows 10, an OS with a built-in userbase that numbers in the billions.

Windows 11 will have to strike the right balance between offering improvements and changes but without being so different as to discourage users familiar with the basic Windows interface. Moving the Start button to the centre of the taskbar instead of leaving it in its familiar left-hand position is one of those dumb aesthetic things that’s likely to prove costly. Windows isn’t Mac, and shouldn’t try to imitate everything Apple does. Folks need familiarity, especially considering the prevalence of Windows in the business world, where many users aren’t as tech-savvy and just want something that they know how to use.

Does Windows need to copy Mac?

If Windows 11 can smooth some of the rougher edges of Windows 10, perhaps it will see success. And in the longer term, unless we get a repeat of the Vista problem followed in short order by another upgrade, I think Windows 11 will, simply by default, gradually roll out to more and more devices. As noted above, there simply isn’t a viable alternative for most PC users.

There are some concerning elements, though. I mentioned Vista, and that greatly-disliked operating system brought some elements to Windows that seem superficially similar to Windows 11. Widgets for the taskbar and desktop are the most notable. And from Windows 8, which was also considered a major disappointment, Windows 11 is bringing back the “multi-device” design, with the new OS supposedly being able to work on phones, tablets, touch-screens, and laptops as well as PCs.

Gaming was mentioned as part of Microsoft’s Windows 11 presentation.

One thing Windows 10 got absolutely right was its return to a focus on PC and standard keyboard and mouse input devices. I’m not convinced that enough people want a Windows 11 tablet or laptop to make building the entire OS around that concept worthwhile. Doing so risks making the desktop PC experience worse for users – and considering 99% of folks who use Windows do so on a desktop PC or laptop, that’s a mistake Microsoft can’t afford to repeat.

All that being said, I’ll give Windows 11 a shot when it’s ready. I like to stay up-to-date, and the newest version of Windows is an inevitability for someone who uses a PC daily. Might as well get in at the ground floor and start getting used to things – that’s been the attitude I had with every version of Windows since I first owned a Windows 95 PC!

I’ve been using Windows for a while now…

One point to note is that Microsoft’s current policy is to continue to support Windows 10 “through October 14, 2025.” That’s a scant four years away, and if it should happen that support for Windows 10 ends on that date, as Microsoft seems to be implying, then everyone will need to upgrade to Windows 11 at that time. If there’s a free upgrade offered for a limited time, as there was with Windows 10, it would make sense in my opinion to take it.

Despite lofty promises in 2015 about kids being able to grow up with the ever-present, unchanging Windows 10, six years later Microsoft is ready to ditch it in favour of a new operating system. It looks to offer some superficial visual changes, and while I’m hopeful it’ll fix some of the problems with 4K displays that Windows 10 has suffered from I don’t know that for sure. It feels unnecessary, but as Microsoft is utterly dominant in the PC realm, anyone with a Windows machine should think seriously about taking the upgrade when it rolls out in the months ahead.

When the official Windows 11 upgrade or launch happens, I hope you’ll check back for my full thoughts on the latest version of the operating system. Until then, all that’s left to say is I hope it’s a success along the lines of Windows XP, and not a disappointment like Windows 8 or, god forbid, Windows Vista.

Windows 11 is being released in late 2021 or early 2022 by Microsoft. Windows 11, Windows 10, and all other properties mentioned above are the copyright of Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Why we should be sceptical and think critically about UFOs

Headlines have been made around the world in recent weeks about an official United States government investigation into UFOs; “unidentified flying objects.” It seems from news reporting as though the existence of alien visitors, which has been denied for decades by successive American governments, is about to be revealed to the public. A handful of images and even videos from official United States military sources have also come out, seemingly showing unknown objects moving through the sky.

But let’s slow down and try to put our critical thinking hats on for just a moment. What have we actually been shown? Beyond the headlines screaming about alien spaceships, what have we really seen in these photos and videos, and could there be an alternative, far more boring explanation?

Have we really seen alien spacecraft?

If you’ve ever studied philosophy, or even read articles on some pop-science websites, you might know what Occam’s razor is. Also known as the law of parsimony, in short the razor says that, when confronted with multiple hypotheses or potential explanations for an unknown event or phenomenon, the one with the fewest or smallest assumptions is preferable and most likely to be correct. To put it another way: the simplest explanation is the most likely.

So what is the simplest explanation for these UFO pictures and videos?

One thing we don’t have are any photographs or live video recordings. The clips and images shown off are all radar, infrared, and images put together from other scans and sensors. A computer takes the information taken in by the lens or scanner and translates it into a visual image. These are not “images” from a “camera” in the usual sense of either term.

It isn’t clear what this image represents.

When dealing with any technology, there’s scope for things to go wrong. An infrared sensor attached to a fast-moving aircraft could misinterpret something close as being far away, or something moving relatively slowly as moving quickly. Changes in the aircraft’s speed and position mean the sensor has to move and adjust its trajectory to keep track of an object, and this can make it appear as though the object is moving unnaturally.

There are many different objects that could be detected by a sensor, infrared scanner, and other sensitive equipment that would be far more likely than an alien spaceship. Balloons have been suggested in the past as one such example, and there are myriad others from reflections and clouds to other aircraft. There’s also the prospect of newly developed technology – either domestic (i.e. American) or foreign – some of these aircraft could be Russian or Chinese spyplanes or drones, for example. Even if we can’t account for every UFO by saying there’s a bug in the code or a problem with sensors or onboard computers, everyday phenomena are still more plausible explanations than alien spacecraft.

The F-117 “Nighthawk” stealth aircraft was developed in secret and is designed to be difficult to detect.

I’m not sure how I feel about aliens. On the one hand, it seems rational to imagine that alien life exists given the size of the observable universe and the consistent detection of exoplanets around practically every observed star. On the other, the lack of concrete proof of their existence, at least in our galactic neighbourhood, could mean that intelligent alien life is exceptionally rare. This is commonly known as the Fermi paradox; the absence of alien life in a universe that can support it.

But if intelligent alien life did exist, is this the way we would expect to detect it?

UFOs have been reported for decades, so if even 1% of the UFO sightings and reports are genuinely of alien origin, what have they been doing all this time? Obviously they don’t intend to contact us or make their presence widely known or they’d have done so by now. Any alien race that’s advanced enough to build interstellar or even interplanetary spacecraft is far superior in technological terms to humanity, and with their knowledge they’d be more than capable of announcing their presence to the world, conquering the world, or doing whatever else they might want to do. The fact that they haven’t is a significant hurdle for alien believers and advocates to surmount.

Another grainy and unclear still frame from one of the UFO report videos.

Then we come to a pretty big question: what’s the point? If an alien race is capable of travelling to the stars, why come to Earth and fly around in our atmosphere? What possible purpose could that serve? It can’t be for any kind of observation; even humans don’t need to fly at 30,000 feet to perform observations of things on the ground. Our satellites, even commercial ones like those used for services like Google Earth, are more than capable of performing accurate scans of the surface of our planet. If aliens existed and wished to observe us, they could do so at a great distance without us ever knowing.

And speaking of “without us ever knowing,” were these aliens careless or did they allow themselves to be detected? If they wanted to make their presence known, this is not a rational way to accomplish that goal. Nor is it particularly threatening or intimidating. If aliens wanted to let the peoples of Earth know that they were here, they could land in the middle of a big city and announce themselves. And if they’re possessing such technology as to be able to travel to the stars, would they really be so dumb as to allow a primitive human to catch them with an infrared sensor or a night-vision camera? I doubt it.

A third UFO as seen from the USS Russell.

The U in “UFO” stands for “unidentified.” By definition, that means we don’t know what these objects are; they were not able to be identified in the short span of time that the various pilots and military personnel spent in the vicinity. That could mean we’re dealing with alien spacecraft, but it also seems very likely that we aren’t. This is not the coup that tabloid headlines and the tin foil hat brigade want it to be. The United States government has admitted that it has detected a handful of objects that it can’t identify. Given the size of the US military, the number of daily flights undertaken, and the increasing reliance on technology, sensors, and computers – all of which are subject to glitches, issues, and even misinterpretations – it doesn’t seem all that far-fetched that they’d occasionally spot something that they couldn’t immediately identify.

I like science fiction, and there have been some wonderful depictions of aliens and extra-terrestrial worlds over the years. But we can’t let our wishes and our fantasies guide the real world, and the fact remains that no matter how much we might want to believe in aliens, there still isn’t any proof. When making an argument and building a case, you can’t just slap down any old explanation into the gaps in our knowledge and cry “gotcha!” as if that’s the end of the matter. That’s the classic “god of the gaps” argument that many religious people often make; “you can’t explain X, therefore god.” In this case, some people seem to be making an “alien of the gaps” argument, proclaiming that, because the US military has been unable to identify something, it must be an alien spaceship. That’s simply not a valid argument.

The United States military (Pentagon HQ pictured) is investigating these incidents and will soon release a report.

So I’m sorry to pour cold water on this story. Maybe some of these UFO encounters are genuinely down to alien visitors, but until there’s more proof than a grainy non-image from a sensor made by the lowest-bidding military contractor, I’ll remain sceptical. The discovery of intelligent extra-terrestrial life would be the single biggest scientific achievement of the century, and has the potential to radically change many aspects of human life. Given the scope of such an important moment, we need to be absolutely sure of what we’re dealing with, and this set of unknowns may be circumstantial evidence in its favour, but it’s a long, long way away from being conclusive. It’s possible that “they” are hiding things from the public or not revealing everything they know, but unfalsifiable conspiracy theories and a lack of evidence to the contrary do not make for a valid argument and do not come close to constituting proof.

It’s possible that one day we’ll discover more about extra-terrestrial life. It seems almost certain, for example, that microbial life and bacteria once existed on Mars. But aliens in UFOs flying over United States airspace (and seemingly no other country’s)? As long as these items remain unexplained, aliens are always a possibility. But on a ranked list of all the possible explanations, they have to be at or very near the bottom. So despite all of the excitement, these images and video clips, and the impending government report about them, don’t come close to proving the existence of alien spacecraft. Sorry!

The United States government will soon release a report into “unidentified aerial phenomena.” Some stock photos courtesy of Unsplash and Pixabay. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Building a basic two-week emergency kit

This subject is pretty far outside of my usual wheelhouse here on the website, but it’s something that the past year has highlighted and I feel it’s important. For a little background, about ten years ago I got really into survivalism – you know, the whole “doomsday is coming, let’s stockpile and plan” thing that you might be familiar with from television series like Doomsday Preppers. Partly this was because I was pretty unwell at the time, going through some tough mental health issues, and one way I found to deal with my anxieties and other issues was to make intricate plans for all kinds of highly unlikely scenarios… like worldwide pandemics!

The coronavirus pandemic caught many people entirely off-guard and unprepared. Here in the UK, they say that the average household only has enough food, water, medicines, and other basic necessities to last three or four days without running into major problems, and while the pandemic has brought this into focus for a lot of people, particularly in the early days when shortages of things like toilet paper threatened to become a big issue, there are still many folks who haven’t taken any steps to get themselves better prepared to ride out an emergency.

A flood is just one of many emergency scenarios that could happen.

A global pandemic or the zombie apocalypse aren’t the only things to be concerned about, and there are many smaller-scale but far more likely events that make having the kind of basic emergency kit we’re going to look at today a sound and practical investment. Local weather events like windstorms or flooding are relatively common in the UK and around the world, and while the damage they cause is not usually extreme, when a major storm is raging simply going out to the shops – or ordering anything for delivery – can be difficult or impossible. Then there are personal-scale events: something like contracting the flu (or coronavirus) can mean days or a week stuck at home unable to get out or do much, and a basic emergency kit can even come in handy if you experience financial issues or things like identity theft. Such things are manageable and are usually resolved within days, but having no access to money or credit cards can become a major headache in the short term if you don’t have the basics at home to tide you over.

So this time we’re going to work on building a basic two-week emergency kit. Obviously the kit I’m showing you today is based around items that are easily accessible here in the UK and that make sense for the kinds of emergencies that are plausible in this neck of the woods. Your emergency kit should be adapted to the needs of your local area; there’s no point in buying heavy winter clothes, for example, if you live in a tropical area that’s warm year-round!

Though we aren’t necessarily talking about the zombie apocalypse, if that inspires you to get prepared then that’s great!

Though I should caveat this by saying that I’m not an expert and make no guarantees about emergency survival, the items we’re going to talk about have done well for me over the years and I wouldn’t want to be without them. Having even a very small kit designed to last 3-4 days already gives you a significant boost ahead of 90% of the population who have made no such efforts, and considering that many of the items we’re going to look at are relatively inexpensive, to me having something like this makes a lot of sense.

So let’s get started and build up a basic two-week emergency kit.

Number 1: Extra medication

I have to take a cocktail of different medications every day as a result of the various conditions and health issues I suffer from. If you or someone in your household are in the same boat, having extra medication on hand is going to be important. You can have all the food, water, and other supplies you want, but if you need to take daily medication and you don’t have enough, your emergency kit can’t be considered complete.

The most important thing to say is to never skip doses to try to build up a stockpile. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist and explain that you need a little extra; or else try collecting your prescription early so you’re never going down to the wire. Remember that medication, like food, has a shelf life, so you should always be taking medication and not squirreling it away for later.

I have a repeat prescription which I collect every four weeks. What I started doing was picking it up a few days early every time, and by now I’ve never got less than a two-week supply on hand. In the worst case you could always come up with a “little white lie” and tell your pharmacist that you’re going to be out of town and unable to collect your prescription for a couple of weeks so you need extra!

Number 2: Food

If you read a lot of blogs or even books by self-proclaimed “preppers,” you’ll often see things like rice, pasta, and flour talked about as things to keep and store. There is a role for dry foodstuffs like that, and having things like rice on hand is no bad thing. However, one thing that concerns me with the approach of basing one’s food supply around these dry items is that they all use a lot of water to prepare and cook. Rice, if stored correctly, keeps for a very long time, but it also requires twice its volume in water to cook; one cup of rice needs two cups of water.

Some emergency events can damage water pipes, treatment plants, and pumps, meaning the water supply system is not something that can always be relied upon; it takes a lot of effort and maintenance at the best of times to keep clean water coming out of the tap. If someone’s food supply is entirely dependent on dried foods like rice and pasta that need large volumes of water for preparation, that cuts into their supply of water for other basic needs, not least drinking. So while there’s a place for dried foods, especially if you get into “hardcore” prepping and go down that rabbit hole, if we’re looking at a basic emergency kit I’m going to advocate keeping that to a bare minimum.

In this case, tins (cans) and packets are your friend. Look for things like potatoes, pasta in sauce, vegetables, soups, and fruits. These are things which, generally speaking, have a shelf life at room temperature of several years, and crucially, they can be opened and eaten without wasting any water on preparation. Many tinned foods are designed to be heated, but even those are usually pre-prepared or pre-cooked; it’s uncommon to get raw food in a tin that’s inedible without extensive preparation.

So how many tins of food are we talking about? For an adult, you can get away with two tins per day – according to some online sources – but I like to figure that if we’re going to stick to three meals a day, each meal can be approximately one tin. Tins vary in size, and it will depend on the contents and calories, but this is a good general rule.

If we say one adult is going to consume three tins of food per day for fourteen days, we’re talking about 42 tins per adult. Children could perhaps consume two tins per day, so two tins times fourteen days gives us 28 tins per child. These are very rough guidelines, and you should consider it for yourself.

A variety of different foodstuffs is a good idea, not least in case of spoilage! If you buy a job lot of 200 tins of potatoes, they could all spoil at once if you’re unlucky. Or you could get incredibly bored of eating the same thing every day! A mix of different items is the best bet. And whatever you do, don’t forget to have at least one tin opener! All those tins of food are useless if you can’t safely open them. Considering how important your food supply is, I recommend having at least two tin openers so you always have a backup.

While we’re on the subject of food, don’t think that everything you keep in your emergency kit has to be purely nutritious and functional. Emergency situations can be incredibly stressful, and for a lot of people having a treat like a piece of chocolate or candy can be helpful. Your emergency kit shouldn’t only consist of candy bars, of course, but there’s incredible value in such things from a psychological perspective, so my emergency kit contains some milk chocolate, as well as packets of hot chocolate mix, expressly for that reason.

One final note about food: your emergency kit should consist of things you enjoy eating, or at least can put up with. If you hate green beans, for example, why would you keep tins of green beans in your emergency kit? As noted above, psychological factors come into play in emergencies in ways we won’t necessarily expect, and if the only thing to eat is something you hate, that’s going to have an impact on your state of mind. So the best advice when it comes to food is find shelf-stable, long-life versions of things that you know you at least tolerate eating, if not enjoy.

Number 3: A power brick/battery backup

Battery banks, power bricks, or whatever terminology you use can be incredibly useful in a situation where mains electricity is out. The average mobile phone these days might last 24 hours on a full charge; 36 if you’re lucky, and the length of use per charge decreases over time. If the emergency situation you’re in sees power outages that last for days, you’ll need a way to charge your phone.

These backup power supplies can handle several complete phone charges – so long as you remember to keep the battery itself charged! – and are incredibly useful. In an emergency situation, getting information and communicating with loved ones are both going to be vital, and with phones being the primary way folks keep in touch these days, having a way to stay charged even if the power goes out is important. That said, it’s worth having a backup “offline” copy of important telephone numbers – in case you need to contact a loved one and your phone isn’t working. Write these numbers down and keep them with other supplies in your kit.

These backup power supplies can power many USB devices, and while mine is primarily a backup for my phone, having that facility could be useful for all kinds of things. A small LED light can be powered by USB, for example, or a fan.

Number 4: Lighting

Unless you live in a rural area or have lived through a major blackout, I think it’s not unfair to say that a lot of folks don’t really appreciate just how dark it can get when there’s no street lighting or other ambient light outside. If the power goes out in a major way, you can’t rely on any kind of electric lighting, including street lighting, to illuminate your home or the surrounding area after nightfall.

Where I live, in the dead of winter nightfall comes very early – the sun sets around 4pm in mid-December – and for around five months of the year we’re dealing with at least as much darkness as daylight. Autumn and winter are also the seasons where extreme weather is more likely. For all of those reasons and more, having a source of illumination that doesn’t rely on electricity is a worthy investment.

Though torches (flashlights) are useful and a good one is definitely a fine addition to an emergency kit, if we’re talking about building up a kit that can sustain you for two weeks, battery life becomes an issue. Many torches on the market today come with a built-in rechargeable battery, which in my experience tend not to last as long as regular disposable batteries. Under normal circumstances that would be fine, but if the power is out for days on end, that battery is going to run down.

Candles are inexpensive, especially if you buy a bulk pack, and as long as you’re careful with them they provide perfectly adequate illumination, especially if you use several at once. If you do decide to add candles to your emergency kit, remember you’ll also need a way to light them! Safety matches are by far the best option, but you can also get a lighter or something like that if you prefer. It can be a good idea to store matches and other fire-lighters in a waterproof bag or container.

Number 5: Heating and cooling

Depending on where you live, you might need to add a way to keep warm or a way to keep cool to your emergency kit. If your home’s central heating or air conditioning isn’t working, the additional stress of being too hot or too cold can make an already-difficult situation worse, so this isn’t something to overlook.

Anything to do with heating tends to involve fire or burning, so make sure that any fuel you keep around is properly and safely stored! If you have a fireplace with a chimney, you’re probably good to go as long as it’s clean and useable and you have wood or coal to burn. The rest of us will have to make do with things like butane-fuelled heaters. Look for anything called a camping heater or greenhouse warmer; get a good quality one and make sure to read the instructions and get the right fuel. Small kerosene heaters are a good option, and kerosene has a long shelf life.

On a smaller scale, getting a collection of warm blankets, good winter coats, gloves, and other cold-weather gear is going to be helpful as well. You can also invest in a pack of those disposable hand warmers! Emergency foil blankets don’t take up much space and can also help keep you warm in a crisis.

For cooling, you’re basically limited to fans as air conditioning isn’t something that can be easily simulated without power! However, it’s also worth getting spray bottles which can be filled with water; some people find that helpful in keeping cool – though it’s not my favourite method! A battery-powered fan (often sold as a travel fan or camping fan) is a worthwhile investment – just make sure to keep extra batteries on hand.

Number 6: Water

Water is perhaps the most important thing to consider when preparing an emergency kit. Many people can survive even a couple of weeks without food, but with no access to clean drinking water you can become very ill in hours. As above, we have to assume that, in the worst-case scenario, water will either not be coming out of the tap or the water that does won’t be potable.

Bottled water is your friend here – as long as you have the space for it. According to the NHS and other health bodies, men need anywhere from 3-4 litres of water per day, and women need 2-3 litres per day. Here in the UK, bottled water can be bought in 2l bottles, so for me on my own for a fourteen day survival kit I’d want to have 28 2l bottles – two bottles per day times fourteen days. You can do similar maths for your household!

You can get larger drums of water, like the big five-gallon (19l) ones designed for water coolers. They may be more cost-efficient, but you have to consider ease of use. Can you effectively carry such a large container and access the water inside without spilling? In my opinion the 2l bottles are a good middle ground, and as they’re easily accessible and relatively inexpensive that’s my preference.

Water is heavy. When considering storage, you need to keep in mind that weight can be an issue. In my case, if I want to store 28 2l bottles for my fourteen-day kit, those bottles have a combined weight of around 56kg (over 100lbs). If you store your water on shelves, you’ll have to make sure the shelves can take the weight. Likewise if you’re on an upper floor like an apartment or storing your water in an upstairs room or attic. The last thing you need is for your emergency kit to cause damage to your home – or even a flood!

Bottled water has a shelf life. The shelf life is important to keep in mind, because water stored in plastic bottles eventually becomes contaminated with molecules from the plastic which can be harmful. Like with your food, medication, fuel, and everything else in your kit, you can’t just buy up a bunch of water bottles and leave them sitting around forever. Eventually you’ll need to cycle through the bottles and replace them – though bottled water usually has a shelf life of at least a couple of years. But it’s something to always keep in mind.

Some folks advocate having a rainwater collection system, but this is something to only consider if you really know what you’re doing and you know how to get potable water at the end of the process. Making yourself sick because you tried to drink rainwater that had ran through your gutters and drainpipes will make your emergency a lot worse! However, if you don’t have the space for two weeks’ worth of water, something like this could be useful – but you really need to work at it to make sure you know what you’re doing.

Water purification tablets are relatively inexpensive – again, look to camping supply shops for this kind of thing. As always, read the instructions so you know when they can and can’t be used, but having some around won’t take up a lot of space and could be a lifesaver.

Number 7: First aid

You don’t need to go crazy and stockpile enough medical supplies for a small hospital, but a decent first aid kit should be part of your emergency kit. Websites like Amazon sell pre-prepared first aid kits designed to be kept in your car, and larger ones for workplaces. These can be a good place to start, but in my experience they often need to be augmented with a few extras – and better-quality items like tweezers and scissors than these kits typically provide.

A basic first aid kit should have: plasters (a.k.a. elastoplast or band-aids) in a variety of sizes, sterile gauze dressings, eye dressings, at least one roll of cloth/linen bandages, tweezers, scissors, medical tape, a thermometer, safety pins, disposable gloves (in the correct size), cleaning wipes, rash cream, basic painkillers (paracetamol, ibuprofen, and/or aspirin), antihistamines, distilled water (for cleaning injuries), antiseptic wipes and cream, hand sanitiser, face masks, and anti-diarrhoea medicine.

Most importantly you’ll also need a first aid manual or guide book – the items you have aren’t going to be a lot of use if you don’t know how to use them correctly! I have a first aid manual published by a charity called St. John’s Ambulance, and it’s detailed while being easy enough to understand. If you can’t take a proper first aid course, having a good book is the next best thing.

It’s also worth looking up some of the basics ahead of time. For example, do you know how to perform CPR? There are classes you can take in CPR, basic first aid, and the like that will all impart useful skills – and even websites like YouTube offer tutorials that are better than nothing. In an emergency situation, it’s possible that the emergency services will be very busy, overwhelmed, or even unable to access your location for a time. Knowing the basics – and having access to the right supplies – could quite literally save life and limb.

Number 8: Supplies for babies, children, and/or pets

You’ve thought through your own food supply – but what about your furry and feathered friends? If we’re building a two-week emergency kit, you’ll also need two weeks’ worth of food and other pet supplies. Same goes for babies and children: do you have enough nappies (diapers) and changing supplies, as well as baby formula, food, etc?

If your children are growing up fast, make sure you’re regularly updating their part of the emergency kit. Having two weeks’ worth of nappies is useless if the child has outgrown that size, for example. I don’t have kids myself, so I’m not the best person to put together a comprehensive list of everything a child might need. But if you think about the things they go through on a weekly basis, you’ll need to add most to your emergency kit.

If any part of your kit is delinquent, it compromises the entire thing. In an ongoing emergency situation, where access to supplies may be difficult or impossible, the last thing you need is to run out of nappies or dog food because you didn’t include those elements in your plan!

Number 9: Cleaning and hygiene

Keeping clean – or at least as clean as possible – is the best thing you can do to prevent illness and infection during an emergency situation. As such, you’ll need some basic cleaning and personal hygiene supplies.

Soap. A good bar of pure soap lasts a long time, though those augmented with scents, oils, and the like tend to expire sooner. Regardless, a bar of soap is a great basic thing to keep around, and you almost don’t need anything else if you have enough bars of soap for each member of your household. If you only get one item from this section to begin with, make it a good quality bar of pure soap.

Dry shampoo and bodywash. Often sold as camping supplies, these are products for cleaning hair and your body that, as the name suggests, don’t need water.

Hand sanitiser. After the year we’ve all had, I think practically all of us have hand sanitiser lying around! Though I did include this above in the first aid section, having extra for personal hygiene and keeping your hands clean is a good idea too.

Feminine hygiene products – enough for everyone in the household.

Baby wipes and toilet tissue. Even if you don’t have kids, baby wipes are still a good idea to keep in your emergency kit.

Plenty of waterproof bin liners (garbage bags). In the event that the water supply is compromised, you’ll need somewhere to do your “business” – and some way to seal it up and get it away from your living quarters. Toileting in an emergency could be a whole essay in itself, but suffice to say that you’ll need somewhere to put bodily waste, and unless you want to invest in an expensive camping toilet or spend time digging a latrine outside, bin liners are probably the least bad option.

Number 10: Miscellaneous supplies and tools

In this category I’m going to dump everything not already covered! Let’s start with a basic tool kit. At the minimum you’ll want a hammer, a couple of screwdrivers, some nails, screws, tape measure, wire cutters, strong gloves, a spirit level, and a good box cutter/stanley knife. You never know when any of these items might come in handy, and if you don’t have them already it’s worth investing in a basic tool kit just to keep around the house!

You may also want to add a spanner or wrench, particularly if you think you may need to turn off your home’s water supply at the stopcock/stop tap. Contaminated or dirty water can be a source of disease, and in some cases it may be necessary to turn off the water supply entirely to prevent leaks or to stop dirty water entering your home.

This is a controversial one, but keeping at least a small amount of cash may be invaluable if payment systems aren’t working and you can’t get to an ATM. Obviously this is something that needs to be carefully and secretly stored, but it’s worthwhile having some just in case. This can also be useful if you’ve had your credit card or card details stolen and need to wait for the bank or your card issuer to resolve the situation. In short, there are possible scenarios where you’ll need cash – so keep some squirreled away!

A spare pair of glasses or extra contact lenses for everyone in the household who uses them.

A waterproof box or container to store important documents – the deed to your house, insurance policy, passport, birth and marriage certificates, etc. It can be worth investing in a fire-proof box for this purpose, but those are more expensive.

A good fire extinguisher. Before you buy or use one, check! Is it suitable for use on all types of fires or only some? If you get a water-based fire extinguisher, for example, you won’t be able to use it on electrical fires. Fire extinguishers also have a shelf life – typically several years – so you will need to check this and update it when required.

Disposable plates, bowls, cups, and cutlery. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have very many knives, forks, spoons, or plates! If we’re building a two-week emergency kit, having plenty to eat and drink is great – but not if you have no way to eat or drink it safely. Putting your bare hands into an open can could lead to injury, and if your hands aren’t clean you could get sick. Dirty crockery and cutlery can also harbour bacteria, so disposable is the way to go. There are a lot of card and paper-based options, so you don’t have to go with plastic if you’re concerned about the environment.

A wind-up (hand-crank) radio. Even if you have two or three portable battery banks and use your phone sparingly, it may eventually run out of battery power. A wind-up radio may be your best way to hear what’s going on in the outside world – including potentially important information about the emergency and the response from the authorities. I consider this one absolutely vital, something to add as soon as possible to your emergency kit.

A map of your local area – the higher-quality the better. Do you know all of the routes in and out of your local area? If the main road was cut off or unusable and there’s no Google Maps or sat-nav in your car, would you know an alternative? Having a good quality paper map of your local area could be valuable, not only for your own navigation but if you need to guide emergency responders to your location.

Pen and paper (or pencil and paper). Who knows what you might need to write down in an emergency. The time and date of events for insurance purposes, telephone numbers or contact details, or something random that we can’t predict! Having something to write with and something to write on is potentially going to be important. And if you’re artistic (or have artistic kids) having extra supplies for drawing and colouring is no bad thing too!

A good quality all-purpose knife is also a valuable tool to have. It can be used for all manner of things, from preparing food to household repair. Beware of anything that looks too cheap; the last thing you want is a broken knife blade potentially injuring someone.

You might want to invest in heavy-duty plastic sheeting. Not only is this waterproof, but if your emergency situation requires you to seal off part of your house, seal the doors and windows, or even just replace or patch a damaged or broken window, heavy-duty plastic and good strong tape will do a good job in the short term.

Number 11: Activities

Though an emergency situation is hardly a vacation, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll have a certain amount of down time – perhaps more than you’re used to. So many of us live digital lives, with our activities being primarily conducted via electronic devices. You know best what members of your household will like doing, but a library of fiction and non-fiction books is a good place to start, as well as board games like chess, scrabble, and the like.

You’ll want to have access to things that can keep your spirits up, as well as the spirits of others in your household. This will vary depending on the individual, but think ahead and make sure you can keep yourself and others entertained.

So that’s it.

That’s my guide for a basic two-week emergency kit. Two weeks is the longest that 99% of emergency scenarios I can think of could reasonably last. Obviously some exceedingly rare events can last longer, but even then your two week kit will have given you a real head-start.

An adequate water supply is, as you may have gathered, something I consider top priority. Many of the items in your emergency kit are designed to preserve as much of your water supply as possible for drinking – so you should use the bare minimum for things like washing, preparing food, etc. Water is also the bulkiest and heaviest part of your kit, so figuring out how and where to store it safely is important.

As I found when I got into preparedness and survivalism a few years ago, this is a rabbit hole that’s easy to fall down and get lost in. If you start thinking about all manner of unlikely scenarios it’s possible to convince yourself that no emergency kit will ever be complete and that you need ten years’ worth of food, expensive systems for storing and preparing things, and so on. If you have an unlimited budget and want to dig a bunker, go for it I guess. But in 99% of cases, having a two-week emergency kit will get you through whatever life throws at you. That’s what I base my current kit on, at any rate.

So this was a total change from what I usually talk about. But you know, I think it’s important. Not only to share my (admittedly limited) knowledge in this area, but also to shake things up and spend some time considering a different subject. I hope it was interesting and informative, and if you do decide to build an emergency kit for your household – which I fully encourage – I hope you’ll check out other sources as well, as there’s no telling what I might’ve missed!

Some stock photos courtesy of Pixabay and Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The Amazon buyout of MGM is another blow to cinemas

We’ve recently talked about how the pandemic may have a long-term impact on cinema attendance and the box office, with many folks getting used to the convenience and practicality of streaming big blockbusters at home. But it seems cinemas just can’t catch a break, because it was recently announced that Amazon will be buying legendary Hollywood studio MGM.

Make no mistake, this is all about streaming. Amazon Prime Video looks set to benefit greatly from this acquisition, helping the service compete with the likes of Netflix and Paramount+ in terms of films. Though Amazon does have its own film studio, and has had a hand in titles like the Academy Award-winning Manchester By The Sea, most films available to stream via Amazon Prime Video were licensed from other companies. As more and more companies try to launch their own streaming platforms, these licensing deals are increasingly difficult (and expensive) for the likes of Netflix and Amazon, so finding ways to get their own in-house content is hugely important.

Buying MGM will enable Amazon to add a huge library of titles to its Prime Video streaming service.

Netflix has branched out into making more and more of its own original films – for better or worse! But Amazon is one of the world’s largest and most successful companies, having grown massively during the last year, and can throw its money around to buy up studios – and the rights to properties like The Lord of the Rings. We’ve recently seen Microsoft do something similar in the gaming realm, buying up Bethesda and adding that studio’s games to Xbox Game Pass. Amazon is doing the same thing with MGM.

I’ve seen some outlets trying to make the case that this is Amazon further diversifying its business model. What began as an online bookseller in the mid-1990s has grown to sell practically everything and has involvements and holdings in industries as far apart as space technology and baby nappies. But this MGM acquisition is not about diversification. Amazon doesn’t want to break into the film distribution market any more than they’re already involved; they want films, both old and new, to add to Amazon Prime Video for the sole purpose of driving more subscriptions. It’s that simple.

Amazon announced a deal to buy famed American film studio MGM for $8.45 billion.

This is a hammer blow for cinemas and cinema chains already reeling from the pandemic and associated closures and cancellations. We’ve already seen many films that would otherwise have received a theatrical release go direct-to-streaming, and Amazon’s acquisition of MGM comes with the real threat of all future MGM titles following suit. There aren’t many studios the size of MGM, releasing multiple high-budget titles per year, so this is a coup for Amazon.

Upcoming titles like the sequel to Tomb Raider, Legally Blonde III, Soggy Bottom, and House of Gucci would have all been draws at reopened cinemas around the world, but their theatrical releases are now in doubt. And that’s before we even consider one of the biggest upcoming MGM titles (at least from a UK perspective!) No Time To Die, the latest instalment in the James Bond series.

No Time To Die may still manage a theatrical release… or it may not.

It’s not unfair in the slightest to say that British cinemas have been desperately waiting for No Time To Die’s release, as no other upcoming film has quite as much potential to bring audiences back after well over a year of closures, lockdowns, and cancelled titles. Even the mere threat of No Time To Die going direct to streaming is enough to make a lot of people involved in the UK cinema industry very nervous, and I’m not sure we can rely on promises that the film will still meet its planned theatrical release in September – especially if the pandemic causes further disruption in the months ahead.

As I said when Microsoft acquired Bethesda, companies don’t spend these vast sums of money and expect nothing in return. With Amazon making this move to shore up and expand its library of streaming titles, any future MGM release now has the potential to end up on Amazon Prime Video either exclusively or alongside a release in cinemas. Even if imminent titles like No Time To Die meet their theatrical obligations – which will almost certainly be due to pre-existing contracts if it happens – future titles, both announced and unannounced, are almost certain to join Amazon’s streaming line-up. In short, cinemas may get a temporary reprieve from the fallout of this acquisition, but it won’t last much beyond the end of 2021.

Amazon will be expecting a serious return on such an expensive investment – and that’s all focused on streaming.

The way people consume media has been changing for years. The pandemic may have accelerated some of those changes to light-speed, but it isn’t the fundamental cause of a shift in audiences away from cinemas and broadcast television to online on-demand streaming. Just like the pandemic isn’t the root cause of problems with many high street shops, it can’t be blamed for people moving en masse toward an all-digital streaming future. The future of companies like MGM is in the digital space, and unfortunately for cinemas that means fewer films, smaller audiences, and growing irrelevance as bigger titles bypass a theatrical release altogether. Even in the pre-pandemic years, going to the cinema had become, for many folks, an occasional treat rather than a regular outing, and this move is simply a reflection of the changing way in which people choose to watch films.

Amazon’s acquisition of MGM is a big deal, but it’s unlikely to be the last such move as the so-called “streaming wars” look for new battlefields. It isn’t yet clear how many streaming services people are willing to put up with, nor which will ultimately survive, so it seems inevitable that more big studios and distributors will eventually team up with – or be bought out by – other big players in the streaming landscape. None of which is particularly pro-consumer, it has to be said, but then again I’d rather see MGM films go to Amazon Prime Video – a streaming service I already have access to – than wait for MGM to set up their own “MGM Plus” or whatever they would’ve called it!

It’s a serious blow to cinemas in the medium-to-long-term, even if some titles scheduled for this year will still get a full theatrical release. But will audiences really care? As I said last time, the shift away from the cinema had already set in long before the pandemic struck, and with film studios and audiences alike having discovered the many advantages of at-home streaming, it seems like we’ll be seeing a lot more of this type of acquisition or merger in the months and years ahead, with many more films going direct-to-streaming in the very near future. MGM may be one of the biggest so far, but it won’t be the last. Cinema chains and owners are already feeling the effects.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright and/or trademark of their respective owner, studio, company, distributor, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Have we seen an unstoppable shift away from the cinema?

One of the consequences of the pandemic has been the long-term closure of many cinemas (movie theaters for my American readers). Aside from a short respite last July and August, most cinemas here in the UK have been shut since March 2020 – for well over a year now. Some, like a local independent cinema near me, have had no choice but to close permanently, even with the end of lockdown seemingly in sight. Even when cinemas are able to reopen, limits on capacity due to social distancing, the general unease among many people about sitting in a room with dozens of strangers with the pandemic still ongoing, and most significantly, the lack of major film releases in the near term will – in my opinion, at least – most likely mean it will be a long time before things are able to get back to normal.

But will things ever get back to normal? That’s the question I want to ask today.

Will empty cinemas be full again one day?

In the early days of the pandemic, most films scheduled for release in spring or summer 2020 were simply postponed; their release dates pushed back by a few months so that they could be released to full crowds when lockdowns were lifted in their key markets. But as the pandemic has dragged on and on, film studios have begun to switch the way they release many big titles – opting to send them to streaming platforms rather than wait.

Without Remorse was originally supposed to get a theatrical release, but premiered on Amazon Prime Video instead. Raya and the Last Dragon went directly to Disney+. Then there are titles like Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Mulan, The Little Things, Godzilla vs. Kong, Bill & Ted Face The Music, News of the World, and Tom & Jerry. Upcoming titles such as Jungle Cruise, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Black Widow, Malignant, and A Quiet Place II are all going to either be released directly on streaming or with a limited theatrical run at the same time as going straight to streaming.

Animated film Raya and the Last Dragon went straight to Disney+ earlier in the year.

Is this a one-time thing, purely caused by the pandemic? And if it is, will audiences be happy to return to cinemas once the pandemic has cleared and they can fully reopen? If you’d asked me in March or April last year, I’d have said yes to both questions without hesitation. But now I’m not so sure.

There are a lot of advantages to streaming compared to going to the cinema, and as more and more people come to see those advantages, the cinema becomes a less-attractive option in contrast. This trend is not new – cinema attendance has declined a lot from where it was a few decades ago, and with the rise of high-quality television series which can rival and even surpass films in many cases, this is a reckoning that cinemas have had coming for a while. The pandemic has accelerated that to light-speed, but the trend has been going in this direction for a while.

Paramount+ is one of many competing streaming platforms that have arguably benefited from the forced closure of cinemas during the pandemic.

So what are the supposed advantages of at-home streaming? The first has to be convenience. Viewers can watch what they want on their own schedule, with the ability to pause a film to take a phone call or go to the bathroom, watching before or after work, or even late at night. It’s possible to watch with subtitles, audio description, director commentaries, and even watch in other languages. Most folks are more comfortable in their own homes than they are in a cinema chair – even the nicest cinema seats aren’t as pleasant as a comfy armchair or couch. There are no distractions from (other people’s) noisy kids, people munching popcorn, or idiots on their phones. You don’t have to sit through half an hour of adverts and trailers to get to the film. If you’re using a phone or tablet it’s possible to watch on the go, or literally anywhere. And some of the things we might’ve considered to be disadvantages a few years ago – such as screen size, resolution, and audio quality – are all easily surmountable even for folks on a limited budget.

Obviously not all of these points apply in every single case, but as a general rule, as screens get bigger and better, the need to watch something in the cinema is dropping. The old adage that a particular film was “better in the cinema” or “made for cinemas” no longer applies in many cases.

Amazon Prime Video have snapped up a number of films that couldn’t get a theatrical release this year – including Without Remorse.

I have a relatively inexpensive 4K television that doesn’t have OLED or HDR or any of those higher-end features, just a bog-standard LED set. But this model, even when I was buying it a few years ago, only started at a 40-inch screen size, with sizes going all the way up to 60″ or 65″. Nowadays, 85″ and 90″ sets are on the market and within reach of many consumers. Sound bars and speakers that put out fantastic quality audio are equally affordable, with prices dropping massively from where they had been when 4K and large screens were new. Even on my cheap and cheerful set, films look great. And if you sit reasonably close, it really does feel akin to being in the cinema – in the comfort of my own home.

It’s difficult, in my opinion, for cinemas to compete on price or quality. Even the more expensive streaming platforms, like Netflix, cost around £10-12 per month. It’s been a while since I was able to go to the cinema – health issues prevent me from doing so – but the last time I was able to go, £10 wouldn’t even stretch to two tickets. For that money you get one month’s worth of access to a massive library of titles – including many brand-new ones and Netflix originals made specially for the platform.

Large, good-quality television screens are increasingly affordable and offer a cinema-like experience at home.

In the late ’40s and ’50s, when my parents were young, going to the cinema was a frequent outing. You’d see an A- and B-movie, as well as perhaps a newsreel or something else, and it would feel like good value. Since the early 20th Century, going to the cinema on at least a weekly basis was a big part of many peoples’ lives – but things have been changing, slowly, for quite a while.

For at least the last couple of decades, going to the cinema is something most folks have viewed as an occasional treat rather than a regular outing. The price and value of a cinema ticket – and the additional extras like drinks and snacks – have shot up in relation to earnings, while at the same time the number of advertisements and trailers have also increased. Though the cinema still has a place in many folks’ lives, that place had been slipping long before the pandemic arrived. In the ’90s and 2000s, the blame for that lay with cable and satellite television channels, including many dedicated film channels. Nowadays, the blame has shifted to streaming.

Netflix has picked up a lot of subscribers in the past year.

Many film studios are keen to play their part in this trend, too. Sharing a big chunk of their profits with cinema chains and operators was never something they were wild about, which is why we’re seeing more and more studios and production companies either partnering with big streaming platforms or else trying to launch their own. Paramount+ exists for this reason, as do Disney+, HBO Max, and many others. These companies don’t care in the slightest about the fate of cinemas – except insofar as they can use them to turn a profit. When the pandemic meant that wasn’t possible, many companies happily jumped ship and released their films digitally instead.

Though I know a lot of people who have told me they’re keen to get back to the cinema as soon as possible, when I probed most of them further and asked how often they would go to the cinema pre-pandemic, or what films they were most excited to see at the cinema next, all of the answers I got back up everything I’ve been saying. Most folks go to the cinema infrequently at best, and while they’ve missed some of the social aspects of the “cinema experience,” they certainly haven’t missed the adverts, loud seat neighbours, and hassle. Streaming, while not as glamorous or exciting in some ways, is a more enjoyable experience in others.

Some people have missed every aspect of being at the cinema… but many haven’t!

I know I have to acknowledge my own bias here. As someone whose disability prevents them going to the cinema, I’d be quite happy if every film I want to watch from now on comes directly to streaming! On a purely selfish level, that’s something I’m fine with. And while I stand by the fact that the trend away from the cinema in a general sense is real and demonstrable, the pandemic probably hasn’t killed the entire concept of the cinema stone-dead. Nor would that be a good thing. Many cinemas offer more than just the latest blockbusters, with classic films, recorded theatre plays and ballet performances, and other such events. In the rural area where I live, the idea of being able to see something like the Royal Ballet is beyond a lot of people due to the distances involved. But local cinemas occasionally show things like ballets, operas, and Shakespeare plays, bringing a different kind of culture and entertainment to the region. Cinemas are also big local employers, and it’s nothing to celebrate when a local business is forced to close.

So most cinemas will eventually re-open. But the question I asked is still pertinent, because I don’t know whether they’ll see pre-pandemic numbers of visitors for a very long time – if at all. The pandemic has forced the hand of film studios and distributors, and the result has been an uptick in the number of subscribers to streaming platforms. Many folks have tried streaming for the first time, and while there will always be holdouts, people who proclaim that it really is “better in the cinema,” I think a lot of people have been surprised at how enjoyable streaming a film at home can be, and how favourably it can compare to the cinema experience.