Sunday, June 27, 2021


When it was unveiled in 2015, Microsoft Windows 10 was intended to be the “final” version of the desktop computer operating system, with incremental updates in the years ahead, instead of the usual wholesale replacement after two or three years. On 24th June 2021, Microsoft announced that, along with the launch of Windows 11 later in the autumn, support for Windows 10 will end in 2025.

I have my suspicions about this change. When I initially heard about Windows 11, through reports of its existence having leaked out, I said I couldn’t care less, as my PC, replaced by an Apple Mac mini earlier this year, was being recycled. Apple had decided to replace its operating system last year, macOS X being replaced by version 11 after nineteen years. With eleven being one more than ten, Microsoft had to respond. My second thought upon the official announcement? “But this Windows goes to 11...”

I remember the scale of the excitement that heralded the introduction of Windows 95 in, well, 1995, the introduction of the “Start” button being underlined in blood by the Rolling Stones song “Start Me Up,” playing on seemingly every TV ad break. This was back when Microsoft was the market for desktop computing, and running your computer on anything other than Windows was either for specialist or industrial purposes, or the act of owning an Apple computer. It would be Microsoft’s investment in Apple stock in 1997, along with introducing Microsoft Office to their computers, that helped to stabilise the then financially troubled company, just as Steve Jobs had returned to run it.

I could be considered an apologist for Apple products, being as I am on my third tablet and fourth phone of theirs in ten years, but the universality of Windows as a computer system, binding together almost the entire desktop computing world, made leaving it for macOS a difficult step that involved much deliberation. I was worried about compatibility issues regarding the twenty years of files I would be moving away from it, potentially being locked out of old work of mine. I then moved, and it ultimately didn’t matter. Even now, comparatively few people use Apple desktop computers, with price an obvious factor, but that base is larger than in 1997, and those that do have been catered for, as proved by my continuing to use Microsoft Word, preferring it over the similar Pages program that Apple provide for free.

What I have been most surprised about is how Windows 11 appears to be attempting to copy the experience of macOS 11. The ability to use Android mobile apps on desktop computers matches Apple’s move to add iOS apps to macOS, allowing me to continue using the video editing app I used on my iPad. Rounding off the edges of the windows themselves, more fluid animations between windows, and moving the taskbar icons from the left to the centre of the screen, is very reminiscent of the startle I received on finding how smooth macOS 11 was to use for the first time, and integration of Teams video calls and Xbox Game Pass is not far away from Apple’s embedded FaceTime and iCloud. Both systems have their own app stores, but all systems do now.

The ubiquity of Microsoft Windows means that moving from PC to Mac means opting out of Windows, so what feels like the moving of the Windows experience towards the Mac experience, instigated by the company that created the notion of having the experience, puzzles me. At the same time, the Mac experience is predicated on staying within a gated community – I moving from PC to Mac, I abandoned anti-virus software to which I was already paid up for the rest of the year, but no longer needed. Windows can be on almost any computer you want, so remaking it to follow one particular computer’s experience proves to me I made the best decision in moving away. 

Sunday, June 13, 2021


In the 1987 film “Superman IV: The Quest for Peace,” Clark Kent rushes from the Metropolis Hyatt hotel in an attempt to appear simultaneously as himself and Superman to Lois Lane and Lacy Warfield. Clark dives into a car, getting out the other side as Superman, before stepping on a granite planter to fly away.

Thirty-four years later, I sat on that very step, to eat a yoghurt I bought from the Sainsbury’s down the road. This was something I only realised later.


Last week, I was in the town of Milton Keynes to visit an exhibition of postmodern furniture from the 1980s Memphis collective. Anyone who knows me heard my anticipation of this visit for months. However, I also knew the modern grid of Central Milton Keynes – shortened to “CMK” on all the street signs I passed – had once been used to substitute for Metropolis, a city that, like Batman’s Gotham City, is an analogue for New York, a city distinctly more vertical than a town unofficially intended to be no taller than its tallest tree.


This substitution is nothing new in filmmaking, even for the Superman franchise: 1983’s “Superman III” uses the Canadian city of Calgary for its outdoor scenes, the first two films used New York itself, and all four films recreated New York street scenes on UK sound stages at Pinewood Studios and Elstree Studios, combined with second-unit photography of the real thing. What distinguishes “Superman IV” from the others is its shooting of interior scenes in CMK as well, for both aesthetic and budgetary reasons.

centre:mk shopping centre and walkway, hidden by trees

Formally incorporated in 1967 as a new town, Milton Keynes deliberately avoided being built like a regular town centre. Squares created by the grid of roads became neighbourhoods, supported by a central business and shopping district. Pedestrians are separated from traffic, surrounded by trees and plants – I had not expected to see so many dragonflies. I stayed in a hotel based in a mirrored glass office building, across from centre:mk, originally known as the courageously dull "the shopping building," a half-mile long shopping mall in a light and airy modernist design, now protected as a listed building. I had expected CMK to feel rigid and ordered, but I now want to live there. A town centre never felt so pleasant to me. Absolutely none of this sounds like Metropolis.


As explained in Oliver Harper’s 2017 documentary “Superman IV: The Man of Steel and Glass,” John Graysmark, as production designer, chose CMK as “essential for the budget… Basically, it’s the most contemporary architectural exercise within an hour’s journey from Elstree. That was the brief - otherwise we’d have gone to Toronto.” Graysmark was also dealing with a budget of only $17 million, less than half of the cost of the previous three films, a result of the franchise’s move to Cannon Films, a company in financial trouble that usually sold their films’ distribution rights in advance to pay for their production. This perhaps is why CMK is erroneously thought as being all the production could afford, rather than consciously selecting the best possible location. Putting a fire hydrant outside Milton Keynes train station to make it look like the outside of the United Nations building looks more than a little self-conscious, but as a wide public square, surrounded by glass buildings, it was more effective than what London could offer at the time. (The only location shooting completed in London was for the United Nations building itself, substituted by Wembley Conference Centre, demolished in 2006.)

Milton Keynes train station

One neighbourhood square along Avebury Boulevard contains Avebury House, now used as the headquarters for the retail store chain Argos, but had only just been completed when “Superman IV” was in pre-production in 1986. Next to it is a Holiday Inn hotel, and a health club and Winter Gardens, sheltering tropical trees and plants, is on the other side. Avebury House served as the foyer to the Metropolis Hyatt hotel, while one floor of the building became the offices of the “Daily Planet”. The entrance of the Winter Gardens became the newspaper’s foyer, while the gardens themselves became the Metropolis Museum of Modern Art, where Lex Luthor steals a strand of Superman’s hair from a display to create his “Nuclear Man”. The health club is also used as a gym in one scene. The Holiday Inn was not used on screen, as it hosted the cast and crew.


“Superman IV: The Quest for Peace” is a film that suffers when you look at it too closely. Its plot was rendered incomprehensible when test screenings led to forty-five minutes being cut from its runtime, with no reshoots. As mentioned, the horizontal nature of Milton Keynes clashes with the second-unit footage of New York, but only if you are watching the background rather than the action. The film is derided by many, including myself, as one of the worst ever made, but this comes from poor special effects, a choppy plot, and the result suffering in comparison to previous films in the series. Arguably, the film is unfinished. There is no problem with the production design – Metropolis hadn’t looked so modern before.


I remain surprised that no other town centre in the UK has been built, or rebuilt, like Milton Keynes. Nowhere so modern should be made to feel like a museum piece, but nowhere this modern will remain so for years to come.

Walkway under a road, garnished with rental cycle and electric scooter