Random Thoughts – Randocity!

No Man’s Sky Review: What are Expeditions?

Posted in botch, video game, video game design by commorancy on July 27, 2022

No Man's Sky_20200306074944What exactly are No Man’s Sky Expeditions? Simply put, they are extended gameplay tutorials. Let’s explore.

Early Tutorials

Sometime around the year 2000, game designers found that it was simpler (and cheaper) to include a small intro tutorial in the game than producing an expensive and time consuming instruction manual. The purpose of a tutorial is to show the gamer how to use basic game mechanics to accomplish various tasks. It’s easier to do this interactively than trying to explain it in a written manual, which ultimately no nobody really reads.

In games like Call of Duty, these tutorials show you how to use the weapons, learn the button controller layout, such as stealth moves and so on. These tutorials began as simple introductory systems. These tutorials typically occur outside of the game’s normal play mode. Some games force tutorials to be completed, which prevents you from progressing into the game’s normal play mode until you complete all of the necessary tutorials.

However, game developers quickly realized the problem with these locked tutorials. Gamers weren’t happy with this forced intro system which tested a gamer’s patience before they could actually begin playing the main game. Gamers simply wanted to get into the meat of the gameplay immediately and couldn’t while locked into completing a silly, but long tutorial session.

Worse, many of the tutorials produce situations that ultimately never materialize in the game. It’s really frustrating to teach a gamer a specific technique which is never useful once actually in the game. The Titanfall game is guilty of forcing such a tutorial system, which also taught techniques never used in the game. What was the point in teaching a useless technique?

Tutorials Today

Today, game developers still use these in-game tutorial systems in various forms. Rarely are these tutorials forced, like in the above example. Many games allow you to skip the tutorials entirely, but they allow you to revisit any of the tutorials later if you want to learn a specific move, understand a mechanic better or simply hone skills around specific mechanics.

The best of all worlds is when a game developer chooses not to force a tutorial, but allows the player to skip them and revisit them later if needed. If tutorials are required, then the game developer should offer up a reward for completing them… as is done in the No Man’s Sky Expeditions.

Since most games have settled on standard controller layouts and many use similar mechanics, most gamers can easily fall right into a game within a few minutes, being required to learn only a few new concepts specific to that game.

No Man’s Sky has taken Tutorials to a New Level (aka Ways to Improve)

With the introduction the Expedition idea in 2021, Hello Games has turned long, but very basic tutorials into a gameplay mode, for better or worse. It is a gameplay mode that sees gamers earn rewards for all of their other game saves, but only after enduring very basic tutorial concepts.

Personally, I’d have preferred if Expeditions could be played on our existing game saves rather than cluttering up our game with a bunch of new saves, each used for a separate expedition. It’s a waste of space on our PC or console… space that we can’t get rid of easily because those saves earned the rewards.

More than this, I’d like to see expeditions offer us more than the simple, basic tutorials. Instead of teaching us basic concepts like using a portal, flying our starship, using hyperdrive on our freighter or installing technology modules, I’d prefer adding much more advanced features added to the expeditions that eventually get added into our normal play after the expedition is over. Basically, Hello Games should use expeditions as a preview mode for new features that eventually get rolled up and unlocked for our regular saves. As for these tutorials, the vast majority of players aren’t playing No Man’s Sky for the first time. We already understand all of these basics in abundance. That we must endure a somewhat condescending tutorial gameplay mode just to get some very basic rewards is quite time-wasting and insulting.

I’d have preferred a system that turns No Man’s Sky on its head, like allowing us to test out new features before being fully release to all game save modes. As an example, pick a planet and setup a PVP area. Then flatten that area and allow players to use a new unique vehicle to enter a new arena tournament. This allows full on competitive PVP on a specific planet. More than this, allow normal save players (not part of the expedition) to visit and spectate if they choose not to play the expedition. Simply spoon feeding us basics to collect a few low-level rewards seems mostly pointless. Instead, design brand new creative uses of the game engine, worlds and environments… then allow players to use those new areas in completion of an expedition. Better, use expeditions as a pre-release area to entice gamers to want to see what’s new and what’s coming.

Another example. Most worlds have large cave systems. Enable some kind of “egg hunt” in the caves of a specific world. Once you collect all of the necessary items and turn them in, you’ll get your expedition reward. This might require a new technology to be equipped on the scanner to allow searching for underground cave hollows. As it is now, it’s almost impossible to locate caves, thus a new technology must be added to the Multitool to allow for locating hollowed areas underground. Such a new Multitool feature would be an excellent use of an expedition to test this tool and get player feedback.

Now, I’m not advocating for expeditions to become strictly beta test areas, but pre-releasing fully working, but unreleased ideas allows Hello Games to understand if a feature is a hit or a bomb.

No Man’s Sky — 2016 Version

When No Man’s Sky (NMS) arrived in 2016, it had no tutorial. Gamers had to learn to play by doing. That’s fine, too. I find that tutorial systems take some of the fun out of learning the mechanics of the game and how far you might be able to take those mechanics. Tutorials teach you a straight-and-narrow approach for an individual mechanic, but it does not at all teach you the ways of using those mechanics in creative and unique new ways… ways that the developers might not have intended or, indeed, understood.

No Man’s Sky Expeditions

Let’s get into the meat of this review. What exactly is an expedition? To make an analogy, an Expedition is to No Man’s Sky as a Season is to Fortnite… mostly. More than this, an expedition is simply an extended tutorial for No Man’s Sky.

There are a number of pluses and minuses to expeditions and that’s what this article intends to uncover. Before we get into the advantages and disadvantages, let’s understand deeper what an expedition further is.

Extended Tutorial

Yes, a No Man’s Sky expedition is effectively an extended tutorial. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. Hello Games takes you on a long-winded, convoluted journey by teaching you how to use, obtain and unlock features in No Man’s Sky in each expedition in an extremely detailed tutorialized way. Along the way, this very long extended tutorial will unlock a few exclusive items such as decals and decorations and an occasional piece of technology. These are both a plus and a minus.

If you’re thinking you would like to jump into the latest expedition, understand that it really only serves to teach you, in an almost condescending way, how to do extremely basic things in the game. When you complete a single phase milestone, the game unlocks certain rewards.

For example, in Expedition 8 (the current expedition running as of this article), visiting another player’s Freighter (a milestone), the game will give you a full Atlas Pass set, 5 million units and unlock all of the Portal glyphs. Nevermind that you have to find a random gamer, team up with them in a group, then hop aboard their freighter. Other player freighters don’t appear in multiplayer. They only appear after you’ve explicitly teamed up with another player. A hassle, to say the least. Why HG couldn’t have improved the game to allow all active gamer freighters to be visible and visitable without teaming up is unknown. That would have been an exceptional improvement to the game.

Almost all of the items that a phase milestone unlocks can usually be had without a phase milestone. It’s that if you perform a specific milestone, you’ll unlock them more quickly and easily in one step. The exceptions here are the expedition exclusive rewards. You can’t easily see which one these are, but you’ll know if you’ve played No Man’s Sky before. In effect, think of an expedition as a way to cheat your way through the game in just a few weeks simply by following the extended tutorial. By cheating, I mean that you get “sets” of basic items unlocked, like the Portal Glyphs, simply by doing a fairly simple thing. In a “Normal” game, it would take you way longer to get these Portal Glyphs.

On the flip side, however, the “new” exclusive Expedition rewards require extensive hoop-jumping exercises before the game unlocks these. If it’s an old mechanic, one thing unlocks the entire set. If it’s a new mechanic, expect to spend hours and hours jumping through burning hoops to unlock a couple of silly decals.

Advantage: Milestone Rewards

As mentioned just above, each phase milestone issues various rewards, most are standard while a few are exclusive to the expedition. While this is technically an advantage, it’s also a disadvantage because the game teaches you to get the basic items simply by performing basic milestones. With exclusives, you can only get these by performing a milestone. With the basics, you can get them by performing the milestone (the fastest way) or by doing standard in-game play (slower). While this is considered mostly an advantage, it honestly teaches the gamer the wrong way to get the basics if you intend to play using a “Normal” save. In other words, to get the basic rewards in a non-expedition save, you’ll have to do a whole lot more work by following the originally designed and intended method. There are no “expedition shortcuts” available in a normal game.

Disadvantage: Crap Rewards

Likewise, the primary disadvantage of expeditions is that they offer fairly crappy exclusive rewards. What I mean by that is, for example in Expedition 7, the final “big” reward was collecting the Living ‘Leviathan’ Frigate for your frigate fleet. While this frigate is unusual in its looks, it’s really nothing special as a frigate. It doesn’t have any features that are more unique than any other frigate you can find in the game. It’s a living frigate, but beyond that skin on the ship, it offers little unique benefit. In fact, it’s not even really a great frigate in and of itself. I have way better frigates in my fleet than this “reward” frigate.

What that means then is spending 6 weeks working your way through achieving 40 different milestones, each taking a substantial amount of time to complete. Then, only to be rewarded with something that isn’t substantially better than what you can buy with a couple million units. You can spend 6 weeks getting this “reward” or you can spend 6 weeks or less gathering enough units to buy several regular frigates, not just one.

That’s not say that the unique rewards, such as decals, aren’t somewhat interesting, but it may not be worth spending 6 weeks to complete an expedition that’s effectively a basic, but very extended tutorial.

Advantage: Rewards collected on other saves

Since the introduction of the Quicksilver shop in the Anomaly station, Hello Games has added the ability to collect expedition rewards for all of your game saves. So long as you play through an expedition, it will unlock unique rewards during that expedition. Thus, your other game saves can also collect those rewards, such as the Leviathan Frigate. That’s cool and all. Again, is it really worth spending 6 weeks just to unlock this reward for another game save?

Disadvantage: Starting Over

Starting any expedition, you must start a brand new game save. This means starting No Man’s Sky over from scratch with a minimally configured Exosuit, Multitool, Starship and, if given, a Freighter. It also means spending loads of time again collecting resources, units and nanites. It further means you need to collect salvaged data so you can, once again, unlock all of the unlockables at the Anomaly station and it means spending loads of time finding, then unlocking features in the Exosuit, Starship, Multitool, and Freighter.

In the case of Expedition 8, this “tutorial” is all about the newly introduced Freighter features. I’ll specifically discuss Expedition 8 more below. This means that Expedition 8 is effectively a very long tutorial to teach you how to unlock rooms in your freighter and build them. As a tutorial, it’s really basic. There’s a huge disadvantage to Expedition 8 in and of itself and I’ll also discuss that below.

After about the 3rd time going through an Expedition, the entire having-to-start-over thing gets very old. Being plopped down in a system with hazardous planets and being forced to forage for resources on these annoying planets is at once, time consuming and yet very, very pointless. If you choose to join an Expedition, that’s where you start.

Hello Games needs to figure out a way for us to import our character and at least one starship from a previous save into an Expedition save so we can start off with our suits and ships unlocked. Unless the goal is to tutorialize our way through the Exosuit and the Starship, then give us the ability to import those things that make no difference to the Expedition. Why make us continually start over from the beginning when it isn’t needed or relevant? It’s pointless and actually a severe disadvantage to expeditions. It also makes an expedition take way longer than is necessary.

Disadvantage: Slots

When starting over from scratch, that means minimal slots unlocked on the Exosuit, Multitool, Starship and Freighter… with the Freighter being the most difficult to unlock and the Exosuit being the most expensive. You can wait through achieving milestones to unlock some Exosuit and Multitool slots or you can buy your way into unlocking them.

During Expedition 8, I needed my Exosuit slots unlocked much, much faster than the milestones were offering. There were simply not enough slots given on the Freighter or Starship or Exosuit to proceed. I decided not to wait and paid 6 million units to buy 72 Drop Pod Coordinate Data, which I randomly found at a single Trade Terminal vendor.

I’d already paid to unlock all of the “General” slots by visiting space stations and the anomaly station. These slots are relatively cheap to unlock with the most expensive costing around 220,000 units. The only slots left unlocked are the incredibly expensive “Cargo” slots. I could spend a million or more units to unlock 1 slot at a time (after the first two or three) or I can pay 6 million units and chase down Drop Pods on a planet. I chose the latter.

I found a suitable anomaly “mushroom” planet, which has perfect weather and few sentinels. Then, I went to work with my trusty Signal Booster. Just craft this bad boy and drop it on the ground. Then use it to locate a Drop Pod using one of the purchased Drop Pod Coordinate Data items each time. Rinse and repeat. I did this maybe 45 times or however many slots were locked. It’s also way faster to do it this way than hyper traveling to system after system to unlock them at new space stations.

After I finished unlocking all Cargo slots, I proceeded to unlock the remaining Technology slots. That left me with 26 unused Drop Pod Coordinate Data items. I sold them back for 3 million units. To unlock almost every single Cargo slot and half of my Technology slots cost me around 3 million units all told… way, way cheaper than purchasing Cargo slots from a bunch of newly discovered space stations. In fact, if I had paid at space stations, I’d have spent maybe 20-50 million in total to unlock all of the Cargo slots. No. Using Drop Pod Coordinate Data is the cheapest and fastest way to unlock Cargo slots… and, it can be done on one single docile planet. In my case, unlocking that number of slots took me around 2 hours of real time. It’s pretty monotonous and repetitive, but once it’s done you don’t need to do it again.

Expedition 8: Polestar

Let’s review this latest expedition. With Expedition 8: Polestar, Hello Games has introduced some questionable new additions to the Freighter that really offer no added value to the game or to the freighter itself.

To reiterate, these new freighter room additions really add no substantial value to the overall game. In fact, the building additions dumb down parts of the game so much as to take the game in a completely wrong direction.

Building and Freighters

Building in No Man’s Sky has always been about using a construction kit and then placing specific technology objects wherever the player chooses. It’s a creative and rewarding endeavor because the player can use these objects in creative and interesting ways. The construction kits offer basic room designs that can be placed in unique layouts, including upper and lower floors.

Unfortunately, Hello Games has taken a huge step backwards with this latest freighter update. Gone is the basic room construction kit in the freighter and in replacement we get dumbed down and stupid single purpose rooms. Worse, though, is that these single purpose rooms are unconfigurable. Meaning, you must plop the room down as a whole as is. Gone is the empty room where you can place technology objects creatively. Now it’s just a single purpose whole room. Nothing creative at all about that.

Worse, Hello Games has decided to force the player to unlock these rooms from the freighter configuration area using Salvaged Frigate Modules (a form of in-game currency). Unfortunately, bar none, these modules are the single most difficult items (and currency) to locate in the game world. The only way to obtain them is by random spawn only. The chances of one of these spawning is probably 1 time out of 50, with the odds perhaps even higher than that. Meaning, it’s rare that these will spawn.

They can’t be purchased at all with any other more abundant currency, such as units or nanites. Nope. You must spend loads of time grinding in and around places that may or may not randomly spawn them.

Prior to this latest update, there were limited unlocks that required the need for the Salvaged Frigate Module currency. Since this update, there are many, many new items that now require them. Yet, Hello Games has not improved the spawn rate of these modules or made them easier to locate, making this Freighter update (and this expedition) at best a chore to complete. Worse, few of the expedition rewards offer Salvaged Frigate Modules as rewards. When they do, it’s between one and three at most, when the game ultimately requires around 15-20 of them to unlock all of the rooms, not counting the need for at least that many again to unlock hyperdrive add-ons and other useful freighter features.

When you’re playing outside of an expedition, you could spend several weeks and chase down only a handful of Salvaged Frigate Modules. Yes, they’re that rare.

Hello Games did a complete disservice to us with this update. Not only are these rooms almost 100% pointless to unlock as they don’t increase the freighter’s usefulness (thus wasting Salvaged Frigate Modules), the game itself is worse because of the new dumbed down building system combined with the need for even more Salvaged Frigate Modules to unlock these new features.

Overall, Endurance (the name of the update) is probably one of the crappiest updates Hello Games has dropped for No Man’s Sky.

New Rooms vs Old

Why is it so crappy? Because these new rooms don’t play well with one another, but more importantly, with the older legacy rooms. When you put these new rooms side by side with an older room, there are too many glitches and visual problems. Sometimes, the game leaves huge gaping holes. Yes, it’s that bad.

It’s also crappy because of the dumbed down building. With a game that includes building features, we don’t want single use rooms. We want a construction kit that offers creative building options. By dumbing down the construction in this way, Hello Games clearly doesn’t understand what us as gamers want from a building mode. Though, Hello Games was on the right track with the newest construction kit add-on for bases, these new one-use rooms in the freighter are a huge step backward for the game.

Freighter Improvement?

That’s the question, does this update greatly improve the freighter? No. Why? The freighter’s two main purposes include 1) being a starship garage and 2) launching frigate missions. That’s really the entire purposes of a freighter. With this update, nothing’s changed. The freighter’s usefulness is still limited to those two purposes. It’s far easier to equip your Starship for long distance hyperdrive travel using easier-to-obtain Nanites than trying to chase down rare Salvaged Frigate Modules only to get maybe half the distance with a freighter. No. The way to hyperdrive travel long distances in No Man’s Sky is still by using a starship. You simply cannot equip a freighter to achieve the hyperdrive distances that a starship can when properly equipped with technology modules. Freighters still do not offer enough technology modules in this or any other area.

With Endurance, we are once again forced to run around re-buying and re-unlocking all of the technology we had already spent weeks unlocking for base building. Instead, Hello Games has firmly separated base building from freighter building to the detriment of No Man’s Sky.

Freighter and base building should remain interlocked using the exact same features. If there’s a zone where you can build, all building construction tools should be available in every location. Instead, now we have these stupid one-use rooms that only work on a freighter and which also make zero sense. This change effectively takes the fun of building out of the game.

Base Building

The bigger problem is that, eventually, Hello Games will pull these single purpose rooms down into planetary base building. It doesn’t make sense to support two completely separate build systems. Eventually, Hello Games will want to marry this newer room based build system onto all build zones. What that means is that eventually base building will inherit this single use room concept, doing away with all of the current structures and technology by replacing them with these insipid all-in-one rooms.

For a game with construction capabilities, this really takes No Man’s Sky too far backwards. If you’re planning to take building back this far and dumb it down this much, then simply take building out of the game entirely. There’s no purpose in offering single purpose rooms and calling it “building”. Plopping down a handful of single purpose rooms is not considered in-game building. There’s nothing at all creative about that. Creation comes from construction kits, not from single pre-configured rooms.

This idea as a huge mistake and it is also badly implemented. In short, it’s an extremely disappointing move for No Man’s Sky.

Should I play No Man’s Sky Expeditions?

It depends. For Expedition 8, I’d suggest not. The Freighter additions are ultimately pointless and useless. With the exception of one thing, the Singularity Drive. This drive might be worth playing through to get this. Unfortunately, to get this drive, you have to play through Phases 1-4 and parts of Phase 5 to unlock it. There are still questions surrounding this drive, though. Since it’s a Singularity Drive, that means it likely uses the same jump mechanism as a black hole. When you traverse through a black hole in No Man’s Sky, technology ends up breaking once you emerge.

This means repairing technology after using a black hole and likely after using the Singularity Drive. I’ve stopped using this mode of travel because 1) it’s too random, 2) it doesn’t really get that much closer to the center and 3) technology breaks after using it. Traveling through a black hole is like circling a drain. You pop a teeny bit closer to the center, but you’re still just circling. It takes hundreds of hops through a black hole to get you even the tiniest bit closer to the center. It’s really, really pointless and it means repairing lots of technology with wiring looms along the way.

Outfitting your starship with the longest light year jump distance is really the best way to get to the center of the galaxy. It also avoids the broken technology problem each time you jump. I really despise it when Hello Games insists on breaking technology on the ship after using a jump technology. It’s such a complete waste of time and resources.

Also keep in mind that the Polestar expedition is entirely designed as a tutorial to teach you about these pointless freighter add-ons. Since the freighter itself isn’t drastically improved by these additions, I can’t recommend playing Polestar. Play if you like, but don’t expect great things if you do.

I also find that the rewards from the expeditions don’t match the time and energy expended to get through the milestones. While the rewards are “nice to haves”, they’re not ultimately required to play the game. That’s partly because Hello Games knows there’s no other way to get these rewards other than completing an expedition that eventually ends and may never return.

That means that if you never play a single expedition, you’re locked out of those expedition rewards. You can’t unlock them in any other way than by playing the expeditions. Ultimately, that means that the rewards offered by playing an expedition must ultimately remain inconsequential to any other game saves you may already have. This is why most of the rewards consist of posters or decals or other cosmetic items to decorate your base, with only one or two rewards being even moderately functional items.

Completed

[Updated Aug 6, 2022] I’ve recently completed Expedition Polestar. I didn’t complete the “Optional” milestone because it is a pointless multiplayer exercise that does nothing to help this expedition succeed; with its reward of 5 million units, unlocking of 16 glyphs and Atlas Pass set. The extra units are actually the most useful portion of this milestone, but units can be had in so many better ways than this. Unlocking the portal glyphs and the Atlas passes are entirely pointless as they are unneeded.

After completion of Expedition Polestar, there are still a large number of unresolved problems. The first problem is that while Starship Hyperdrive plans are unlocked, the red, green and blue drives are not! This means that your Starship is limited to yellow star systems only, forcing you to unlock all of the drives for the freighter ?!?? This also means that even though you have completed the expedition, the game is still nowhere near close to a “normal” save game mode. Secondarily and more importantly, the base computer remains locked with no way to unlock it. This precludes any base building after completing Expedition Polestar. Worthless!

I don’t know if the lack of unlocking these items was a simple oversight on the part of Hello Games or if they’re intentional. Either way, the left over save is pointless. Not only can you not build bases after you’ve completed this expedition, you can’t mine for resources on planets. This means you’re stuck using your crappy multitool alone to continue to gather resources from resource piles on planets. A complete waste of time and effort.

Some may think that these plans might get unlocked after the expedition clock times out weeks later, but I doubt it. If it hasn’t unlocked by the end of the expedition as part of the expedition, it’s never likely to unlock for that expedition save.

If you’re thinking of playing this expedition with the intent you can continue to use this game save after, you likely won’t want to. Even the biggest reward, the Singularity Drive, is more of a gimmick than it is useful. I wouldn’t suggest playing this expedition strictly for the Singularity Drive. It’s really not worth it for that. In fact, it seems Hello Games has been giving us ever crappier rewards (and saves) for each successive expedition.

To be honest, this is not only the single crappiest update for No Man’s Sky, Expedition Polestar is the single crappiest expedition to date. There’s nothing really of value to be had from these Freighter additions. In fact, these additions are so bad as to take the game back to a worse state than before the update… not just from a bugs perspective, but also from the single-purpose room building that Hello Games has now foisted onto us. There’s really very little that’s redeeming about this expedition overall.

Recommended: No
Stars: 1.5 out of 5
Play Value: 1.5 out of 5
Overall Rating: 1.5 out of 5
Overall Comment: Don’t play expeditions unless you really enjoy condescending tutorials that take forever and offer mostly pointless rewards.

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Is Trump Guilty or Not?

Posted in legal, politics, verdict by commorancy on July 22, 2022

brown wooden gavel on brown wooden table

I know there’s a lot of speculation, particularly since the January 6th Select Committee Hearings. Let’s explore what might make Trump guilty of something and what that something might be.

Electoral College Vote

To begin to understand how the January 6th riots became a reality, we must jump back in time to the Trump “Save America Rally” at the Ellipse the morning of the riots. However, before we discuss the content in this rally, let’s talk about what it takes to put together such a rally. More than this, why was January 6th chosen for this specific rally in the first place?

Election Lost

We all should now know and understand that Trump lost the 2020 election. We actually even knew it long before January 6th, but Donald Trump is a major sore loser. He simply cannot stand to lose. Thus, to avoid having to admit defeat, he chose to lie and claim the election was stolen. This lie is ultimately how the Save America Rally began.

Invitations to this rally began to circulate perhaps weeks before the actual event. In fact, I saw a tweet requesting attendance to the event on January 2nd, before the event from Donald Trump’s now suspended Twitter account. I even replied to a tweet in this stream.

More than this, this invitation was also sent to extremist groups known for violence, such as The Proud Boys, the Oathkeepers and others. Donald Trump was well aware of whom were being invited to the Rally. Of course, he didn’t know which groups might show because it wasn’t an RSVP thing, but he assumed at least some of these groups, if not all of them, would show… and show up, they did.

This is the precursor that must be understood to what later transpires at the “Save America Rally” the morning of January 6th at the Ellipse.

The Ellipse

The morning of the Ellipse began with a mostly RA RA session, but with some inciting rhetoric from both Trump and a bunch of Trump sycophants, including Rudy Giuliani. Trump, during his speech, included certain key phrases to work up the crowd and to specifically incite them to take action. Let’s read his closing words from that speech!

But I said, “Something’s wrong here.” Something’s really wrong. Can’t have happen. And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore. Our exciting adventures and boldest endeavors have not yet begun. My fellow Americans for our movement, for our children and for our beloved country and I say this despite all that’s happened, the best is yet to come. So, we’re going to… we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give… the Democrats are hopeless, they’re never voting for anything, not even one vote… but we’re going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country. So, let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I want to thank you all, God bless you and God Bless America.

Thank you all for being here, this is incredible, thank you all very much.

Former President Donald Trump at the Ellipse on January 6th

Donald Trump was, after this speech concluded, advised by his team not to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue and he took that advice and did not march along side the crowd. Instead, they did so of their own accord, but at Donald Trump’s prompting.

Let’s take a few more words of this apart. For example, “the bold ones”. For this he is specifically referring to those like The Proud Boys and The Oathkeepers. He didn’t mention them by name, but he knew such “bold” groups were in attendance. He could see them in the crowd from the podium. For “the weak ones”, he’s trying to incite the people who don’t normally perform violent acts to step up and “take back our country”. For “take back our country”, that rhetoric is specific to the “Stop the Steal” lie discussed below.

Because Trump and his followers believe the election was stolen, he wanted everyone at that rally to “take back the country” from those who have been labeled as “thieves”… when, in fact, it was Trump who was the thief and who, at the time, was attempting to dismantle Democracy and the Constitution and illegally take a position from the duly elected candidate, Joe Biden and harm the rest of America by setting aflame the fabric of Democracy.

“Fight Like Hell”

A lot of people claim that these words are innocent. They aren’t. They’re actually fighting words. Let’s understand fighting words.

Screen Shot 2022-07-22 at 2.23.38 AM

Violent actions began almost immediately (within a few minutes) after this speech concluded at the Capitol… as it was stated by Trump where “fight like hell” needed to occur. Once the people had walked down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol, all hell broke loose and the violence began. In this definition above, it says “incite an immediate breach of the peace”. How quickly “immediate” must be is a matter of debate, but I’d say it also matters based on its context… context that Trump supplied in his speech. “We’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue… we’re going to try and give them (the weak Republicans) the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”

Trump told the crowd exactly what to do, where to do it and when to do it… and then followed through.

Once the rioting began, there were 187 minutes of continuous rioting that remained until Donald Trump broke his silence and requested the rioters to leave the Capitol grounds. However, by that time, the police may have been getting the crowds under control, no thanks to the President’s 187 minutes of inaction and silence.

It’s not just the “fight like hell” words, though. It’s all of the subtext in his and other people’s speech both before and after and the Save America Rally. It’s even in the name of the rally, “Save America” as though America needed saving. Saving from what exactly? The peaceful transition from one president to the next.

Stop the Steal

Again, we must step back in time to understand where this rally began and why. The “Save America Rally” wasn’t a one-off rally that appeared out of nowhere without context. No. It began as part of the “Stop the Steal” campaign that Trump initiated.

As we all know, Trump rejected (at the time in 2020) the idea that he had lost the election. In fact, he so rejected the notion that he lost the election, he fabricated all sorts of scenarios as to why it cannot be possible. From bad voting machines, to dead people voting, to faked ballots, to voting fraud, to election rigging on the part of the Democrats. He even attempted to rig the election himself in his favor by trying to replace the legitimate Electors with a set of his own choosing, Electors that would be faithful to Donald, not to Democracy.

Anything Donald could wrap his little greedy paws around, he’d use as a possible reason for Biden having won illegitimately. This included many, many failed lawsuits and paying for independent third party auditors to re-audit ballots in some key states. None of this worked… not the lawsuits, not the audits and definitely not his lies. The states that were accused of “rigging” or “cheating” have since audited and re-audited each and every vote cast many times to prove Biden legitimately won the election.

All of this was to no avail. Nothing has convinced Donald Trump that he has lost the 2020 election. As of this article’s date, Donald Trump is still attempting to perpetuate this lie.

No, the Save America Rally was intended for one singular purpose: to storm Capitol Hill and prevent the Electoral College from completing its job. That was the single, solitary purpose behind the Save America Rally. The rally was simply a precursor to rile up the crowd and give them a purpose. That’s exactly what Trump did in his speech.

The crowd, however, knew exactly the reason why they were there… to “Stop the Steal”. Of course, there was no steal involved. The election was free and fair and just. Nothing was stolen from anyone, least of all Donald Trump. Trump lost the election in the same way he had won it four years earlier. The voters cast their vote for Joe Biden in 2020 just as they had cast their vote for Donald Trump in 2016.

However, because the rally attendees knew exactly what “Save America” meant and knew exactly why the rally came to exist, it opened the door for exactly what happened on January 6th on the Capitol grounds.

Violence

Because it was known to at least some people in Trump’s administration, and likely to Trump himself, the types and groups of people who were invited to the rally, not just everyday citizens, but groups of extremists, it should have been known that violence was an inevitable outcome. Instead of attempting to quell that possibility during the Save America Rally, Trump did the opposite. He told them to “fight like hell” because “something is wrong”. The crowd knew exactly why they were there and it wasn’t to stand and listen to Donald Trump.

The day was January 6th, the day the Electoral College votes were to be counted. Having a rally specifically on that day with a march down to the Capitol was handwriting on the wall. There’s no way to “stop” the Electoral College by standing there peacefully outside. No. The crowd knew this. They didn’t need to be told, even though Trump more or less spelled it out with “Fight like Hell”.

The people handling this Electoral counting activity in the Capitol could only be stopped from within. That meant breaching the grounds and entering the building… which is exactly what the crowd proceeded to do and ultimately did. However, Pence and the rest of the House and Senate took shelter away from where the crowds were, thwarting advances by the crowds… only delaying the counting process.

The point to all of this is that Donald Trump’s prior rally lies combined with this Save America Rally speech lead directly to the violent outcomes of the crowd that commenced. If the Save America Rally hadn’t taken place, there would have been no riot. The riot was a direct result of the Save America Rally and, more specifically, because of Donald Trump’s words immediately prior to the crowd walking to the Capitol.

Motives

Clearly, Donald Trump had motive, opportunity and intent here. We know what that motive is. We understand the opportunity because of the Rally. We also understood the intent and outcome he desired. The motive was to stop the Electoral College and prevent them from continuing with their vote count so that he could continue his Presidency. How exactly that was to happen, Trump didn’t really care. Stopping the Electoral College vote would have been simply a stopgap measure. Meaning, even if the House and Senate hadn’t performed their vote count, President Biden would have still taken office. The vote was already official. The Senate and House portion is simply a formality. It is a formality which could likely be forgone without any problems in the system.

Exactly what Donald Trump thought he could accomplish by stopping that vote count with people breaching the Capitol is unknown.

Mike Pence

As Vice President, at the time, Mike Pence was requested by Donald Trump to reject some or all of the Electoral College vote counts. However, that’s not a power that the Vice President holds during the Electoral College vote count procedure. His role is procedural and as a facilitator of the process. The Vice President holds no power to veto, change or alter Electoral College votes in the way that Donald Trump had requested.

Why is this information important? It goes to motive on the part of Trump. Clearly, Trump was willing to try any and every avenue at this disposal to try to retake the office come January 20th, inauguration day. Trump wanted to be the one being inaugurated. Unfortunately, there was no way forward to that end short of dispensing with Democracy and the Constitution entirely… which is likely what Donald Trump wanted. Clearly, Donald Trump didn’t care whose toes he stepped on, whose coat got wet, or who fell in his puddles of water, so long as the outcome he wanted materialized.

When Pence told Trump he would be unable to do as requested by attempting to change the outcome of the Electoral College, Trump effectively tweeted that Pence had effectively turned on him. This, at the time that Pence and other representatives were holed up in fear of their lives against rioters… and at that time the tweet went out, the rioters began chanting “Hang Mike Pence”. Trump’s tweet alerted the rioters to the fact that Pence was not on board with keeping Trump in power.

Pence remained steadfast and continued with his oath and duties all while Trump did nothing to quell the rioting for 187 very long minutes.

187 minutes

Here’s a turning point. If you didn’t believe Trump had any hand in launching the riots, then you should after you understand that it took Trump 187 minutes to make a statement to stop the rioting, which he himself launched at the Ellipse. He wanted the Electoral College vote count to stop. He wanted to remain in power as President. This is all a given.

So, for that 187 minutes, he sat quietly (mostly), Tweeting only a few times. None of those communications were to tell the rioters to stop. No. Instead, they were, like the Pence tweet mentioned above, more or less attempting to egg the rioters on.

Even still, at the end of those grueling 187 minutes (at least for the cops there at the Capitol), Trump finally called a halt, but then rewarded the rioters with “Go home. We love you. You’re very special”.

You don’t reward people for bashing other people’s heads with barriers, fire extinguishers and flagpoles all while dousing them with pepper spray. That’s not what you say to people involved in violent activities. That statement was, in fact, so inappropriate as to be distasteful. It also goes to show, once again, motive, opportunity and intent. A person truly wanting the violence to stop doesn’t offer up rewarding words. Truly disgusting.

Motive, Opportunity and Intent

All three of these indicate a mindset of Trump at the time. Let’s support these with Trump’s actions:

  1. Trump knew he had lost the election, but created the big election lie
  2. Trump began the Stop the Steal rallies
  3. Trump sued states to attempt to prove voter fraud
  4. Trump invited people to the Capitol on the day of the Electoral College vote count specifically to interfere and stop the count
  5. Trump incited and fomented the riot at the Capitol from the people who attended the “Save America Rally”
  6. Trump more than likely knew violent extremist groups were present at the rally
  7. Trump incited the crowd with phrases like “Fight like hell” and “Save America”
  8. Trump did nothing for 187 minutes while these groups continued attacking the Capitol
  9. Trump rewarded the attendees at the end of those 187 minutes once he knew they couldn’t succeed
  10. Trump lost at this attempt

The motive, then, is to attempt to stay in power as President illegally beyond his Presidential term. The opportunity is to use his public power and words to wield citizens as weapons against the U.S. Government. The intent is to stop the peaceful transition of power.

What was the intent during his 187 minutes of mostly silence? The same as stated above. However, there’s no way to know what was going through Trump’s head. That’s the reason for the January 6th hearing testimony. To uncover conversations people had with Donald Trump during those 187 minutes. These conversations and other information may be very relevant to see a glimpse into the mind of Donald Trump, to see what he was thinking and possibly doing (or not doing).

Guilty or Innocent?

While 187 minutes with him doing nothing to stop the riot may not be considered a crime as part of his Presidential duties, as part of a wider and larger operation, including his election lie, the Stop the Steal concept, the Save America Rally insurrection incitement and the subsequent riot when combined, it may point to other illegal activities. It certainly leads to this conclusion.

That Trump is likely guilty of attempting to overthrow the election to remain in office. What he did is actually a form of Advocating to Overthrow the Government, which is highly illegal and carries a fine and up to 20 years in prison, along with a 5 year ban on holding any government position. Advocating to overthrow may be further considered a form of treason if other conditions are present (i.e, 187 minutes of silence).

At the time of the Capitol riot, the rioters should be considered an enemy of the United States. As a result, Trump doing nothing during those 187 minutes to stop the rioters could see him considered guilty of “adher[ing] to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort in the United States.” The very definition of Treason. If the rioters are labeled an enemy of the United States for the duration of the riot, then Trump should be considered “giving aid” during that 187 minutes of silence. He started the whole thing and then did nothing to stop it. That’s very much “giving aid”. His “rewarding” words stated when he asked the rioters to go home solidifies the fact that he was “giving aid”.

Screen Shot 2022-07-22 at 3.50.44 AM

Anyone who attacks a Federal building should automatically be considered an enemy of the United States for the time they continue to attack. It doesn’t matter if the person is a natural born citizen or not. It’s the action of attacking which changes the status of the person to an enemy of the United States.

Some argue, well Trump would be overthrowing himself as he was still in power at the time. No, he was actually attempting to overthrow the future Biden administration, which was just days away from taking office. Trump’s tenure was ending and he knew that. Trump wasn’t overthrowing himself, he was attempting to overthrow Democracy (and Biden). He was attempting to light the Constitution on fire and burn it all to keep himself in power and keep Biden out of the office after Biden was so duly elected.

Clearly, it failed. Trump failed. It wasn’t for lack of trying and it wasn’t without damage and consequences to police who lost their lives, to the Capitol building that needed repairs and to at least one rioter who was killed… not to mention, the damage it has done to the reputation of the United States around the world.

This all means that because of Trump’s direct actions, not only is he likely guilty for Advocating to Overthrow the Government, not only may he be further guilty of Treason, he is likely also responsible for the deaths during the Capitol riot. After all, if he hadn’t held the “Save America Rally”, those extremists might never have showed up. It was due to his Tweet and his prompting that led people to the Ellipse and ultimately to the Capitol that day. Therefore, at the very least, Trump is partially responsible for the deaths of those at the Capitol on January 6th, 2021. Because of his 187 minutes of inaction, he likely intentionally let the rioters continue unabated which appears that he had “given them aid and comfort in the United States”, the very definition of Treason.

Trial and Consequences

All of this means, especially after all of the January 6th Select Committee’s investigation, that there should be more than sufficient evidence for the Department of Justice to hold a trial over Donald Trump’s actions prior to and leading up to the January 6th riot event.

Leave the trial up to a jury to decide whether or not Trump is guilty of any or all of these charges. Personally, I don’t see innocence here. There is nothing at all innocent about lying about election fraud, then inviting violent extremists to the Capitol, unleashing them onto an unsuspecting police force and then giving them 187 minutes to perform their damage, kill people, all in an attempt to halt the Electoral College vote process. That doesn’t at all say innocent to me. No, Trump definitely needs an indictment and a trial over all of this.

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Are Nielsen Ratings Accurate?

Posted in botch, ratings, television by commorancy on June 9, 2022

man holding remote control

This article seeks to show that how Nielsen Media Research chooses its ratings families may alter the accuracy of the Nielsen’s ratings. More than this, this article seeks to uncover just how antiquated and unreliable Nielsen’s household rating system actually is. Let’s explore.

What is Nielsen?

I’ll give a small synopsis here, but Wikipedia does a much better job at describing who and what Nielsen Media Research (one of this company’s many names) is. For all intents and purposes, I will refer to Nielsen Media Research as simply Nielsen for the purpose of this article.

Nielsen is a research group who seeks to identify how viewers, among other avenues of information that they gather, watch Television. During the 70s, this was the primary means by which TV executives learned the ratings fate of their television programs.

How does Nielsen work?

Nielsen still relies on its Nielsen households to provide the vast majority of its television ratings information. It does this by sending out unsolicited mail to households around the country attempting to solicit a household into becoming a Nielsen household. By using this moniker, it means the family who resides at a specific household must do certain things to not only participate in the Nielsen program, but must also provide feedback to Nielsen around its viewing habits.

How does Nielsen collect its ratings information?

According to Nielsen’s own site, it says the following:

To measure TV audiences and derive our viewing metrics (i.e., ratings, reach, frequency), we use proprietary electronic measuring devices and software to capture what content, network or station viewers are watching on each TV and digital devices in the homes of our Nielsen Families. In total, we measure hundreds of networks, hundreds of stations, thousands of programs and millions of viewers. In the U.S., electronic measuring devices and millions of cable/satellite boxes are used to provide local market-level viewing behaviors, enabling the media marketplace to gain a granular view of TV audiences.

What that means is that, as a Nielsen household, they will send you a device and/or require you to install certain software on your existing devices which will “measure” your viewing habits. In other words, they spy on what you’re watching and it reports back to Nielsen what you specifically watched and for how long. For example, Nielsen might install software onto your smart TV device, Roku, TiVO, Apple TV or possibly even your cable TV provider’s supplied box.

Nielsen may even be willing to supply you with their own device, which you will place in-line with your existing TV and devices. It does say “devices and software”, meaning one or both can be used.

Rural vs Urban

Typically, larger urban city areas tend to vote Democrat more often than Republican. These urban areas are also typically more densely populated. On the flip side, rural areas tend to vote Republican more often than Democrat. Why is this information important? It’s important to understand these facts because it can drastically alter the accuracy of Nielsen’s ratings. Let’s understand why.

For participating in being a Nielsen household, you’re given a stipend. In other words, you’re paid for this service. Let’s understand more about this pay. You’re paid around $10 a month to participate. If you remain a Nielsen household for a certain period, around 6 months, Nielsen will pay you a bonus. All told, for 6 months of service, a Nielsen household will receive around $200.

Here’s where the Urban vs Rural comes into play. Rural areas tend to be more depressed economically. Meaning, income is generally less and the need for extra money is, therefore, higher. Urban areas tend to boom more economically meaning the need for extra money is, therefore, lessened.

If a rural household receives a card inviting them to become part of the Nielsen family, explaining all of the “benefits” (including the pay), rural viewers are much more likely to take Nielsen up on their pitch. It seems easy enough to get paid simply for watching TV. On the other hand, urban areas are less likely to take Nielsen up on their offer not only because the pay is so low, but because urban viewers are much more savvy around their privacy.

Who would intentionally invite a company into your household to spy on you, even for money? One might say, well there’s Alexa. Alexa offers benefits to the user far greater than what Nielsen provides. Nielsen provides spying for cash. Alexa offers app features, smart house features, music, calling features, recipe helpers, and the list goes on. Nielsen’s device(s) and software(s) don’t provide those much extended features.

Nielsen’s spying is one tracked and only helps out TV executives. I might add that those TV executives PAY Nielsen to gain access to this information. Which means that if you’re a Nielsen household, you’re getting paid out of money collected from TV executives. In effect, it is the TV executives who effectively sign your Nielsen paycheck that you receive. I digress.

Random Solicitation

Make no mistake, Nielsen solicits households through a random mail selection process. It sends pitch cards out to inform and solicit households to participate. They may even include a crisp $1 bill to entice the household. Nielsen knows that a certain percentage of people will take Nielsen up on their offer to participate in the program.

The difficulty is that this selection process relies on random chance for whomever chooses to participate. This goes back to Urban vs Rural argument. Because depressed areas are more “hard up” for cash, they are more likely to take Nielsen up on their offer than Urban areas, who urban viewers are not only likely to be mistrustful of spying using digital devices, these people also don’t necessarily need the small-ish amount of cash that Nielsen is offering… considering the amount of time required to watch TV (and do whatever else Nielsen requires). Yes, Nielsen requires you to watch TV to participate. The whole thing doesn’t work unless you actually watch TV.

This ultimately means that it is more likely rural Republican areas of the country are over represented in Nielsen’s households and equally likely Democrat areas to be under-represented in Nielsen’s ratings. While Nielsen has no control over who chooses to accept the “Nielsen Household” solicitation, Nielsen does control the parameters to entice people into the program. Thus, their parameters are skewed toward lower income households, which are likely to be in predominantly rural areas.

In other words, depressed rural areas are far more likely to need the extra cash and be willing to jump through Nielsen’s hoops than more affluent urban areas. That’s not to say that there won’t be a percentage of viewers in urban areas as some households in those areas may elect to participate.

Disposable Income

Urban areas can be a bit more affluent than rural areas. Urban area residents may have more in disposable income, but also because it’s a larger city, it has more entertainment options. This means entertainment options besides watching TV. When you live in a small rural town, entertainment options can be extremely limited even if disposable income is available. Rural townships tend to encourage more TV watching more often than urban areas where night clubs, restaurants, theme parks, opera, live theater events, shopping and large cinemas are common. More entertainment options means less need to watch TV as often.. except for specific shows.

Thus, urban viewers are less likely to want to participate in Nielsen’s household program than rural viewers, whose entertainment options may be limited by both what’s available near them and by their disposable income.

Extrapolation

Here’s the crux of Nielsen’s problems. Based on the over and under represented areas due to Nielsen’s flawed selection process, they attempt to make up for this by extrapolating data. Regardless of how the households may be skewed, Nielsen intends to extrapolate its data anyway.

Nielsen estimates that it has around 42,000 households participating in 2022. Though, I’d venture to guess that that number is not completely accurate. I’d suggest Nielsen may have perhaps half that number actively participating at any one time. There might be 42,000 households signed up as a Nielsen household, but likely only a fraction actively participate at any specific moment in time.

For example, not every household will watch a specific sporting event when it’s on. Only those who truly enjoy watching a specific football game might be watching a specific game. This could drop that 42,000 households down to under 5,000 viewers. If it’s a local sporting event, it could drop that number down well below 1,000 and maybe even below 200 actively watching.

200 equals 1 million, 5 million, 100 million?

How does this affect the ratings? Good question. Only Nielsen really knows. The problem is, as I stated above, Nielsen uses extrapolation.

What is extrapolation? Extrapolation is the process of using 1 viewer to represent many viewers. How many is a matter of debate. It is a process that Nielsen has employed for many years, and it is highly inaccurate. It makes the assumption that for every one viewer watching, there will be a specific number also watching. How many are extrapolated is really up to Nielsen. Nielsen must come up with those numbers and herein lies the inaccuracy.

Effectively, Nielsen fudges the numbers to appear great (or poor) depending on how it decides to cull the number together. In other words, extrapolation is an exceedingly poor and inaccurate way to determine actual viewership numbers. Yet, here we are.

Digital Media Streaming

With digital streaming services, such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Crackle… more specifically, devices such as DVRs like TiVO and devices like Apple TV, Nielsen’s numbers may be somewhat more accurate when using these devices. However, one thing is certain. Nielsen still doesn’t have 100% accuracy because it doesn’t have 100% of every TV household participating.

Again, Nielsen’s numbers may be somewhat more accurate because we now have active digital streaming devices, but Nielsen still employs extrapolation to inflate the data they collect. Nielsen takes the numbers they collect, then guess at how many might be watching based on each single viewer’s behaviors.

Why Extrapolation over Interpolation?

Interpolation requires two distinct sets of data points in which to fill in the interior data gap between those two sets. Filling in data between two distinct sets of data is a bit more accurate than attempting to guess at data points outside of them.

With viewership numbers, it’s only one set of data at a single point in time. Everything that is gleaned from that single set of data is always considered “outside” or “extrapolated” data. There’s nothing in a single data set to interpolate. You have 42,000 households. You have a smaller number watching a TV program at any point in time. That’s all there is.

If Nielsen ran two unique and separate sets of 42,000 households of viewers (a total of 84,000 viewers), interpolation would be possible between those to separate sets of 42,000. Nielsen doesn’t utilize this technique, thus making interpolation of its collected data is impossible.

How Accurate is Extrapolation?

Not very. I’ll point to this StackExchange article to explain the details as to exactly why. In short, the larger the number gets outside of the original sample size, the larger the margin for error… to the point where the error outweighs the value of the extrapolation.

One answer provides this quote:

[Extrapolation] is a theoretical result, at least for linear regression. Indeed, if one computes the so-called ”prediction error” (see this link, slide 11), one can easily see that the further the independent variable 𝑥 is away from the sample average 𝑥¯ (and for extrapolation one may be far away), the larger the prediction error. In the link that I referred to one can also see that in a graphical way.

In a system where there is no other option, such as during the 70s when computers were room-sized devices, extrapolation may have been the only choice. Today, with palm sized internet enabled phones containing compute power orders of magnitudes faster than many of those 70s room-size computers, continuing to use extrapolation honestly makes zero sense… especially when accuracy is exceedingly important and, indeed, required.

Extrapolation Examples

If 1 Nielsen viewer represents 1,000 viewers extrapolated (1:1,000), then 100 Nielsen households watching suggests 100,000 viewers may actually be watching. If 100 Nielsen viewers watch a program and each household represents 100,000 viewers (1:100,000), then this suggests 10,000,000 viewers may be watching. Just by changing the ratio, Nielsen can alter how many it suggests may be watching. Highly inaccurate and completely beholden to Nielsen making up these ratios. As stated above, the larger the number diverges from the original sample size, the larger the margin of error… possibly making this data worthless.

These suggested extrapolated viewership numbers do not actually mean that that many viewers were, in reality, watching. In fact, the real viewership number may be far, far lower than the extrapolated numbers suggest. This is why extrapolation is a bad, bad practice. Extrapolation is always error prone and usually in the wrong way. It makes too many assumptions that are more than likely to be wrong.

Unless the person doing the extrapolation has additional data points which logically suggest a specific ratio is at play, then it’s all “best guess” and “worst error”.

How many businesses would choose run their corporation on “best guess”? Yet, that’s exactly what TV executives are doing when they “rely” (and I use this term loosely) on Nielsen.

Biased

Even above the fact that extrapolation has no real place in business, because of its highly inaccurate and “best guess” nature, these numbers can be highly biased. Why? Because of the Urban vs Rural acceptance rates.

Unless Nielsen explicitly goes out of their way to take the under vs over represented nature of Nielsen households into account when extrapolating, what Nielsen suggests is even more inaccurate than I even suggest just from the use of extrapolation alone.

CNN vs Fox News

CNN has tended to be a more liberal and, thus, a Democrat favorable news organization. Though, I’d say CNN tends to be more moderate in its liberal Democrat leanings. Fox News, on the other hand, makes no bones about their viewpoint. Fox News is quite far right and Republican in too much of its of leanings. Fox News is not always as far right as, for example, Alex Jones or other extremist right media. However, some of its leanings can be as far right as some quite far right media. Here’s an image from the Pew Research Center that visually explains what I’m describing:

https://www.pewresearch.org/journalism/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2014/10/PJ_14.10.21_mediaPolarization-08.png?w=640

Whether Pew’s research and datapoints are spot on, I’ll leave that for you to decide. I’ve reviewed this chart and believe it to be mostly accurate in terms of each outlet’s political leanings. Though, I personally have found PBS to be somewhat closer to the “Average Respondent” location than this chart purports… which is why even Pew might not have this chart 100% correct. For the purpose of CNN, Fox News and Hannity, I’ve found this chart to be spot on.

As you can see in the chart above, Fox News itself is considered a right leaning news organization, but not far off of center at around a 2. However, the Sean Hannity show is considered just as far right as Breitbart at about 6-7. CNN is considered slightly left leaning at around a 1 (less left leaning than Fox News is right leaning at 2).

What does all this mean for Nielsen? It means that those who are Republican, which tends to include more rural viewers than urban, those rural viewers tend to be conservative. Because Nielsen is more likely to see participation from rural viewers than urban viewers, due to its enticement practices, this skews Nielsen’s accuracy towards conservative viewership and away from liberal viewership. Nielsen’s enticement practice isn’t the only problem which can lead to this skew, though.

Meaning, Fox News viewership numbers as stated by Nielsen may be highly overestimated and inaccurate. Quantifying that more specifically, Fox News viewers may be over-represented where CNN viewers may be severely under-represented. It further means that unless Nielsen actually realizes this liberal vs conservative under vs over representation disparity in its Nielsen households (respectively) and, thus, alters its extrapolated numbers accordingly, then its viewership numbers published for CNN vs Fox News are highly suspect and are likely to be highly inaccurate.

Worse, Fox News is owned by Rupert Murdoch. Because this man is in it for the cash that he can milk from the Fox News network, he’s more than willing to pay-for-play. Meaning, if he can get companies to favor Fox News by asking them for favors in exchange for money, he (or one of his underlings) will do it. Murdoch can then make more money because more advertisers will flock to Fox News under the guise of more viewership. Fake viewership is most definitely lucrative. Because Nielsen extrapolates data, this makes faking data extremely easy.

Unlike YouTube where Google has no reason to lie about its reported views, Fox News has every reason to lie about its viewership, particularly if it can game other companies into complying with its wishes.

Nielsen Itself

Nielsen purports to offer objective data. Yet, we know that businesses are helmed by fallible human CEOs who have their own viewpoints and political leanings and who are in it for the money. One only needs to look at Rupert Murdoch and Fox News to understand this problem. Some CEOs also choose to micromanage their company’s products. Meaning, if Nielsen’s current CEO is micromanaging its ratings product, which is also likely to be Nielsen’s highest moneymaking product, then it’s entirely possible that the ratings being reported are biased, particularly in light of the above about Rupert Murdoch (who is also a Republican).

Conflict of Interest

When money gets involved, common sense goes out the window. What I mean by this statement is that since TV executives / networks pay Nielsen to receive its ratings results periodically, Nielsen is beholden to its customers. The word “beholden” can have many meanings in this “sales” context. Typically in business, “beholden” means the more you pay, the more you get. In the case of Nielsen, it’s possible that paying more to Nielsen potentially means that business may get more / better ratings. That sort of breaks the “objective” context of Nielsen’s data service. It’s called “Conflict of Interest”.

In essence, in this case it could represent a pay-for-play solution, a true conflict of interest. There’s honestly no way to know what deals Nielsen has brokered with its clients, or more specifically with Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Network. Most companies who do sales deals keep those details close to the vest and under non-disclosure binding contracts. The only way these deals ever get exposed is during court trials when those contracts can become discovery evidence for a trial. Otherwise, they remain locked in digital filing cabinets between both parties. Even then, such contracts are very unlikely to contain words disclosing any “back room” verbal handshake deals discussed. Those deal details will be documented in a separate system or set of systems describing how to handle that customer’s account.

Let me count the ways

There are many problems in the Nielsen’s rating services that may lead to highly inaccurate information being released. Let’s explore them:

  1. Nielsen’s solicitation of households can easily lead to bias due to its probability of luring in people who are hard up for cash (e.g., rural Republicans) vs those who are not (e.g., urban Democrats).
  2. Nielsen’s products and software spy on knowing users about viewership habits. Spying of any variety is usually viewed with skepticism and disdain, especially these days and especially by certain types of people in the population (usually liberal leaning individuals). Rural Republicans are less likely to understand the ramifications of this spying (and more willing to accept it) than urban Democrats (who tend to be more likely to work in tech based businesses and who see this type of spying as too intrusive).
  3. Nielsen’s numbers are “fortified” using extrapolation. Fortified is a nice way of saying “padded”. By padding their numbers, Nielsen staff can basically gyrate the numbers any way they want and make any channels viewership numbers look any particular way. Which ties directly into…
  4. Nielsen sells its ratings product to TV producers and networks. Because these deals are brokered separately for varying amounts of money, the network who pays the most is likely to see the best results (i.e., pay-for-play).
  5. Nielsen moved away from its “on paper” auditing system to the use of digital device auditing. Because Nielsen removed the human factor from this ratings equation (and fired people as a result), it also means that fewer and fewer people can see the numbers to know what they truly are (or at least were before the extrapolation). Fewer people seeing the numbers means higher chances of fabrication.

Looking at all of these above, it’s easy to see how Nielsen’s numbers could be seriously inaccurate, possibly even intentionally. I won’t go so far as to say, fake, although that’s entirely possible.  However, because Nielsen employs extrapolation, it would be easy for a Nielsen staffer (or even Nielsen’s very CEO) to make up anything they want and justify it based on its “proprietary” extrapolation techniques. Meaning, numbers stated for any network’s viewership could be entirely fabricated by Nielsen, possibly even at a network’s request or possibly even as part of that network’s deal with Nielsen.

In fact, fabrication is possible based entirely on number 4 above. A TV network could pay significantly to make sure their network and their programming is always rated the highest, at least until they stop paying for it. With Nielsen’s extrapolation system and when data can get played fast and loose, it’s entirely possible for such a sales scenario to manifest.

Why are Nielsen’s Numbers Important?

Advertising. That’s the #1 reason. Companies using TV advertising wish to invest their advertising dollars into channels with the highest viewership. The higher, the better. Nielsen’s ratings are, therefore, indicative that a higher ratings share means higher viewership. The problem is, Nielsen’s extrapolation gets in the way of that. Regardless of whether or not cheating or fabrication is involved, the sheer fact that extrapolation is used should be considered a problem.

The only thing Nielsen really knows is that of the 42,000 Nielsen households that it has devices in, only a fraction of those households watched a given program or channel at any specific time. Meaning, the real numbers of viewership from Nielsen offers a maximum of 42,000 viewers at any moment in time… no where close to the millions that they claim. Any number higher than 42,000 is always considered fabricated whether extrapolation or any other means is used to inflate that number.

That companies like Procter and Gamble rely on those 42,000 Nielsen households to determine whether to invest perhaps millions of dollars in advertising on a channel is suspect. That companies have been doing this since the 70s is a much bigger problem.

In the 70s, when there was no other way to really determine TV viewership, Nielsen’s system may have held some measure of value, even though it used extrapolation. However, in 2022 with live always-on internet enabled phone, tablet, computer, game console and other smart TV devices, measuring actual live viewers seems quite feasible directly from each device tuned in. If someone is live streaming CNN over the Internet, for example, it’s not hard to determine and count this at all. If hundreds of people are streaming, that should be easy to count. If millions, it’s also easy. Why extrapolate when you can use real numbers?

The days of extrapolation should have long ended, replaced by live viewer tallies from various digital streaming devices, such as phones, computers and Apple TVs. Whether these devices are allowed to phone home to provide that data, that’s on each viewer to decide. If the viewer wishes to opt-in to allowing their viewership metrics to be shared with each TV station, then that’s far more realistic viewership numbers than Nielsen’s extrapolated numbers. If they opt-out, then those stations can’t see the numbers. Opting in and out should be the choice of the viewer.

That’s where privacy meets data sharing. Some people simply don’t want any of their private data to be shared with companies… and that’s okay. That then means some level of extrapolation (there’s that word again) must be used to attempt inflate the numbers accordingly.

Let’s consider that 42,000 is 0.01273% of 330 million. That’s trying to represent the entire population of TV viewers in the United States from less than 0.01% of people watching. Insane! With always-on digital devices, if 10% opt out, that’s still provides 90% more accurate viewership numbers than relying on Nielsen’s tiny number of households. Which means there’s way less amount of data to attempt to extrapolate. That advertisers don’t get this point is really surprising.

Auditing

You might think, “Well, isn’t Nielsen audited?”

Most companies dealing with numbers are typically audited. Unfortunately, I’ve found that working in a tech business which sees regular audits can still have fabrication. How? Because those who work on the technical side of the house are not those who get audited. Meaning, those systems administrators who maintain the logs and records (i.e. databases) aren’t under the scrutiny that the financial side of the house gets.

If it relates to money and sales, auditing of the accounting books is a regular occurrence and must uphold specific standards due to legal requirements. Auditing when it relates to anything else is catch-as-catch-can, particularly when laws don’t exist. Meaning, the auditors must rely on the statements of staffers to be accurate. There’s no way for an auditor to know if something has or hasn’t been fabricated when viewing a log.

Worse, if the company employs a proprietary algorithm (read private) to manage its day to day operations, auditors typically are unable to break through its proprietary nature to understand if there’s a problem afoot. In other words, auditors must take what’s told to them at face value. This is why auditing is and can be a highly inaccurate profession. I should also point out that auditing isn’t really intended to uncover treachery and deception. It’s intended to document what a company states about specific questions, whether true or false. Treachery and deception may fall out of an audit, but usually only if legal action is brought against the company.

In the case of money, it’s easy to audit records of both the company and third parties to ensure the numbers match. In the case of proprietary data, there’s no such records to perform this sort of matching. What an auditor sees is what they must accept as genuine. The only real way that such deception and fabrication becomes known is if an employee performing such fabrication blows the whistle. An independent auditor likely won’t be able to find it without a whistleblower. Because jobs tend to be “on the line” around such matters, employees are usually told what they can and cannot say to an auditor by their boss. Meaning, the boss might be acutely aware of the fabrication and may instruct their employees not to talk about it, even if directly asked.

In fact, employees performing such fabrication of data may intentionally be shielded from audits, instead throwing employees who have no knowledge at the auditors. It’s called, plausible deniability.

Overall

None of the above is intended to state that Nielsen fabricates numbers maliciously. However, know that extrapolation of data is actually the art of data fabrication. It takes lower numbers and then applies some measure of logic and reasoning that “makes sense” to deduce a larger number. For example, if one person complains of a problem, it’s guaranteed a number of other people have also encountered the same exact problem, but didn’t complain.

The art is in deducing how many didn’t complain. That’s extrapolation by using logic and reasoning to deduce the larger number. Extrapolation clearly isn’t without errors. Everyone who deals in extrapolation knows there’s a margin of error, which might be as high as 10% or possibly higher and which grows as the extrapolation data size increases.

Are Nielsen’s ratings numbers accurate? Not when you’re talking about 42,000 households attempting to represent the around 122 million households with TVs. This data doesn’t even include digital phones, tablets and computers which are capable of streaming TV… which smartphones alone account for about 7.26 billion devices. Yes, billion. In the United States, the number of smart phone owners is around 301 million. There are more smart phones in existence in the United States (and the rest of the world) than there are TV’s in people’s homes.

So, exactly why does Nielsen continue to cling to its extremely outdated business model? Worse, why do advertisers still rely on it? 🤷‍♂️

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If you’re a gun owner, you need to read this!

Posted in gun ownership, law enforcement by commorancy on June 7, 2022

red flagGun ownership comes with a whole passel of responsibility. However, on the heels of the Uvalde mass shooting and, inevitably, ever more mass shootings to come, some legal suggestions are brewing in Congress… suggestions that may impact your very freedom to live in the United States. Are these ideas good for gun ownership or indeed individual freedom? Let’s explore.

NRA as champions for gun ownership?

Many believe the NRA is a champion over gun ownership and for gun owners. Let’s explore why this may not be the case in the long term. If you’re a card carrying NRA member, you should definitely read this article to better understand how the NRA might not actually be looking out for your own welfare as a U.S. Citizen. Before we get into exactly why, we need more details on where we stand and where things are headed.

Uvalde Mass Shooting awakens Outrage

The Uvalde mass shooting, which saw a total of 21 people dead, including 19 children and 2 adults with 17 injured, has once again stirred the outrage pot. With that outrage comes many outrageous claims of how to handle the ever perpetuating gun violence clearly gripping the nation.

Some suggest repealing the 2nd Amendment. Some suggest banning only assault style weapons. Some suggest “red flag” laws. Some suggest “mental health” watches. Some suggest “Enhanced Background Checks”. Congress is now focusing on “red flag” laws and “mental health” issues. Here’s exactly where gun owners need to be concerned and outraged themselves. None of the suggestions currently on the table are actually good for gun owners. Why?

The 18 year old Uvalde shooter had purchased his rifles and ammo just 3 days prior to the incident. More than this, this shooter tagged his actions instantly as they were progressing. However, very little was tagged prior to the rampage beginning. What this meant for this shooter is that “mental health” examinations and/or “red flag” laws likely would have done little, if nothing at all to prevent this mass shooting. This shooter was, for all intents and purposes, clean of these possibilities. In other words, his purchase likely wouldn’t have triggered “mental health” concerns or “red flag” laws (if they had existed). This is why these “red flag” and “mental health” laws won’t work under these conditions.

How will “red flag” laws actually work?

Think about the movie Minority Report. If you haven’t watched this film, I highly that suggest you do so if only for research purposes. What exactly is a “red flag” law? The idea behind “red flags” is to find people of dangerous intent BEFORE a problem exists. These laws attempt to be “proactive” laws which seek to find “dangerous intentioned people” before any damage, injury or death can occur. That’s a very tall order. That also sounds a lot like clairvoyance.

As I suggested, “Doesn’t this sound like Minority Report?”. Having seen this movie, you know that its premise uses clairvoyant people known as Precogs to “see” crimes BEFORE a crime occurs. That’s exactly what “red flag” laws also attempt to do. How will “red flag” laws actually work?

We know that crystal balls and other clairvoyant techniques are not really possible in law enforcement. To a small degree, psychics may exist who can see small and limited information at specific times, but not to the degree or level of the Precogs in Minority Report. No. What will happen with these so-called “red flag” laws is that they will rely on everyday people to report suspicious activity by others to the authorities. We also know people tend to lie, cheat and steal. So there’s that.

Texas New Bounty-based Abortion Law

If “red flag” laws take the shape of the new bounty-style abortion law, then we have a serious problem. Bounty-style laws are ripe for abuse, lying and cheating against fellow citizens. It’s also ripe for use as cancel culture. If any “red flag” laws are bounty-based, it’s a guarantee that unscrupulous people will take advantage of the bounty by lies and cheating to cancel people they don’t like.

It gets worse. Because cops are masters of profiling, someone’s lie coupled with a perfect profile could lead to a “pre-arrest” over “red flags”. What exactly is a “pre-arrest”? It means the cops are authorized to take the person into custody over the possibility of an action not having yet been performed. Yes, this sounds exactly like Minority Report.

Let’s understand how such a scenario may unfold. You’re a family of four with another on the way. The typical 4.5 member household. You’re also avid gun owners. At least one of your kids is old enough to use guns for recreation purposes… and they do. Let’s also assume a bounty-based “red flag” law exists in your jurisdiction. Your neighbor sees little Billy out in the front yard playing guns with toy rifle you’ve given him, aiming it at random animals. The next day, a squirrel lay dead on that neighbor’s doorstep of what seems to be a gunshot wound.

These are all now incontrovertible facts. Coupled with a solid gun ownership profile in your family and what the neighbor witnessed, the facts line up to trigger both “mental health” evaluations and “red flag” laws. This means the cops now have the right to come take your son in for “mental health” evaluation based on “red flag” laws and those cops may also now have the right to confiscate your weapons as evidence. They might even have the right to take you, the parents, into custody.

This situation is likely “best case”. Meaning, the evidence is now fact and incontrovertible. This scenario doesn’t involve lying outright, but it does involve bad assumptions and bad conclusions. That doesn’t matter, however. The “red flag” laws take over and supersede bad assumptions. The cops have a duty to make sure the laws are enforced and that people are “safe”. Thus, off little Billy goes to be checked into a sanitarium for evaluation and held under suspicion of “red flag” violations.

14th Amendment vs 2nd Amendment

This is where we see a clear violation of the 14th Amendment. What exactly is the 14th Amendment? Let me give you a quick refresher…

Section 1

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

How is this a violation? Because now, based on “red flag” laws, the child has been detained into “medical custody” (though it’s to a mental health facility, not a jail) and those guns may have been taken into evidence under that “red flag” law as evidence… without due process.

The question is, will the “red flag” laws be subject to due process as the 14th Amendment requires? Even if it does require due process, what is the person charged with? The future possibility of a mass casualty event? Are we really trying to make Minority Report a reality here? Are we truly trying to pre-arrest and pre-charge people based merely on suspicion of harm to others?

This situation is exceedingly dangerous, not for mass shooting events, but for the foundation of democracy itself. This is yet another severe erosion of the constitution. We cannot sacrifice the 14th Amendment to allow the 2nd Amendment rights to stand. We also should not erode 2nd Amendment rights to allow the 14th to stand. Both amendments must stand together or not at all.

Profiling and McCarthyism

We’re heading into dangerous territory with “red flag” laws. These types of laws won’t stop mass shootings, but they will halt democracy because of lack of due process. Minority Report is a film with a unique idea. It’s also an idea that has no place in today’s democracy.

We simply cannot create laws to “pre-arrest” people for something they might or might not do. Laws are intended to be reactive and handle situations AFTER a crime has been committed. Law was never designed to be “proactive” to stop crime before it happens. Some might say laws deter. In some cases they do, but a deterrent is not the same as proactive law. There is a difference. A deterrent shows people there’s a severe consequence and penalty for certain actions. It lets people decide whether to perform an action. If they choose to perform that criminal action, then they take the legal consequence. Proactive law seeks to empower law enforcement to arrest and detain people before they’ve done anything wrong, merely on suspicion of intent.

What “red flag” laws do isn’t a form of deterrent. Just the opposite. “Red flag” laws seek to use people to lie about others to get law enforcement to “handle” them. It’s a way to allow people make shit up, possibly plant evidence, then have people they don’t like carted away on suspicions alone.

What that means for gun owners is that after “red flag” laws pass, gun owners are on exceedingly shaky ground (and so are their guns). All it takes is an exceedingly nosy neighbor and your kid’s questionable behavior or even you may find yourself locked up in a “mental health” facility for an indefinite period of time. If law enforcement decides they believe you or your family are a “danger to yourself or to others”, the “red flag” law triggers and bye-bye 14th Amendment. No due process. No court trial. No charges even. Just locked up, possibly forced to take drugs, forced evaluation and no more liberty or 2nd Amendment rights until, well, who knows really? No due process means possible indefinite detainment.

Red Flags and Gun Ownership

As a gun owner, you should be exceedingly concerned over these “Mental Health” and “Red Flag” laws now being considered because these laws can and will be used in retaliatory ways against gun owners. Not only can these laws be used to take away your liberty on mere suspicion, they can be used to take your guns into evidence… depriving you of both 2A rights AND 14A rights simultaneously.

If you’re a gun owner and wish to remain that way, you should be vehemently against both “red flag” and “mental health” combined laws. Both will undermine your ability to continue to own guns. These “mental health” laws won’t seek to find the lying and cheating among us. No, they will seek to find those who are considered a “danger to self or others”… and those people are easy to spot being gun owners.

Why? Because the “red flag” laws are intended to target people who “might” use guns in very specific and mass damaging ways. These laws won’t and can’t target non-gun owners. These laws are, therefore, specifically intended to target any gun owner who appears intent on perpetrating gun violence upon others… which can be easily trumped up with seemingly innocent photos. Even simply owning a gun might be enough to make the leap to that suspicion.

Cancel Culture

A lot of people bring this topic up frequently, particularly on social media. Because many believe we are in the midst of a cancel culture, “red flag” laws give opportunistic “cancel culture” people the very means by which they can cancel gun owners that they don’t like. If you own a gun, be prepared for cancel culture. In fact, you might even consider these “red flag” laws as a type of law intended to be used for the purposes of cancel culture.

A neighbor doesn’t like how you think or how you act AND you own a gun? With “red flag” laws you’re at risk. You now fit the exact profile that “red flag” laws seek to find and eliminate. Nevermind that you never intend doing anything like a mass shooting. The fact that you fit the exact profile of that type of person is enough for “red flag” laws to trigger your capture. Yes, cancel culture may become very real.

Say, “No” to “Red Flag” laws. Say, “Yes” to gun licenses.

“Red Flag” laws have no place in our world. Not only do they violate the 14th Amendment to both life and liberty, but they also violate due process. I also guarantee these laws will be used to unfairly target gun owners. These laws also won’t solve our mass shooting problems.

Those intent on finding a weapon to perform a mass shooting will still manage to find them. Why? Because profiling doesn’t work. Let me say that again. Profiling doesn’t work. A small percentage of the time, background checks and intuition might aid in stopping a mass shooting. The vast majority of the time where there is no background information, there’s no red flag information and there’s no way to know the person’s intent, those people will find a way to gain access to a weapon and use it for mass casualties. These “no information” scenarios are most common (see Enhanced Background Checks below as to why) and won’t be caught by suspicions or mental health evaluations.

How do we solve the gun problem? Gun licensing.

Gun licenses solve two things at once:

1) It forces people into a specific process to obtain that license by paying a fee.
2) It forces people to learn required information about gun safety and owning a gun to obtain that license.

We’re required to have a license to drive. We’re required to have a license to practice medicine. We’re required to have a license to practice law. We’re even required to have a license to hunt and fish. Why are we not required to have a license to own a weapon?

Obtaining a license does a lot of things at once, beside those two mentioned above. It allows the license issuer to perform necessary checks prior to issuing the license. It also has the issuer inform necessary other government agencies of the license request. It also means a person cannot run out and buy a weapon without first presenting a valid license.

Applying for a license also tells the issuer that the person has passed any necessary tests to prove competency. If an eye exam is required, it tells the issuer that the person’s eye sight is enough to properly see to use the weapon. More than this, a licensee may be required to register all weapons owned under that license. Meaning, the license issuer knows which weapons the licensee owns.

Licenses may also grant other benefits, such as “concealed carry” as long as certain conditions have been met. If specific training has been learned around assault style rifles, that kind of a license may also be issued. For example, if you were in the military and trained with certain types of military grade weapons, that might grant a certain type of license.

There’s also the flip side. If the person violates the terms of the license, it can be revoked, suspended or confiscated, thus preventing the use of any weapons. If the license is revoked, all ammunition must be surrendered and all weapons that person owns must be sold within 10 days or be forfeit to authorities. This licensing, in fact, is the very definition of “well regulated” as defined in the 2nd Amendment.

Holding a valid license means you understand the value of what that license means and what those guns mean. Law abiding gun-holding citizens should have no problem obtaining a license or maintaining it.

Will licenses alone solve the mass shooting problem? No. There are those who are intent in doing what they intend to do. That means, they’re patient and willing to follow the processes. It does weed out those who are unwilling to follow the rules, which is a small percentage. In fact, it probably would have stopped the Uvalde shooter as he wouldn’t have been able to obtain a weapon without a license.

However, for those who are patient and willing to follow the rules, that won’t stop someone from performing a mass shooting while carrying a valid license. That’s why more is needed.

Minimum Liability Insurance

Like cars, gun owners need to carry liability insurance. If a gun is used to damage person or property, the owner of the weapon is responsible for that damage, in similar form to owning a car. Thus, minimum liability insurance should be required when purchasing any weapon. For every weapon you buy and own, you must inform the insurance company to add that weapon to the policy. Owning certain types of weapons or too many weapons might trigger higher insurance premiums, for example. Age might also dictate higher insurance costs, in similar form to car insurance. Some weapon types might even be considered uninsurable, preventing you from buying it.

This type of monetary cost of ownership is also a type of deterrent. Remember when I discussed various deterrents above? Well, this is a type of deterrent. By enforcing certain costs to gun ownership, it means the person is willing to take on those costs to own a weapon. Owning one (1) gun for protection is expected, thus insurance may be affordable. Owning 100 guns could be considered excessive and/or a hazard by insurance companies, thus higher rates. Owning too many guns might be cause to prevent insurance. Let the market decide what is considered socially acceptable.

Federal Taxation

The Federal government needs to heavily tax certain styles of weapons and firearms. If a gun falls into the assault style category, for example, the tax on the weapon might be as much as 50% of the cost of the weapon. If you want to own it, it will cost you. You don’t need assault style weapons to protect yourself. A small pistol is just as effective to prevent and deter bodily harm as an assault rifle. All firearms protect equally in this regard. Thus, weapons which cause overly excessive property damage or cause excessive injury should be taxed exceedingly high. Weapons which cause less injury or damage would be taxed at a much lower rate.

Taxation and insurance together won’t stop mass shootings because people will find the money to purchase the weapon regardless of its costs. Let’s talk about…

Enhanced Background Checks

Some have proposed enhanced background checks as a possible solution. Let’s examine why this one won’t work either. It’s all in the demographics. Let’s take a look at statistics of school shootings by age:Screen Shot 2022-05-25 at 2.30.57 PM

The vast majority of shooters start at age 12, peak at age 17 and taper off after age 21. That’s 836 shootings between those ages. Then, there’s a spike after age 31+ for a total of 125 shootings. The vast majority of shootings occur in that child to young adult age group demographic tapering off around age 21.

Between the ages of 12-21, there may be very little data to “red flag” or “mental health” to evaluate and likely even less for “enhanced background checks”. The one case where we absolutely need these proposed laws to affect change will, ironically, do absolutely nothing. These are mostly kids who’ve yet done anything. Most of the mass shooters are first offenders of anything. They’re not even in the system to find. Meaning, it is these shooters who end up the biggest problem, yet there’s likely almost no information to be found on them prior to their rampage. “Red Flags” require actual red flags. Meaning, you have to be able to find information on the child’s behaviors to know if any red flags exist. Without any data, attempting to apply “red flags” is meaningless.

For some, it may be possible to scour social media to find one or two of these of these children who may exhibit a behavior that could be considered suspect. However, does one or two posts sufficiently trigger “red flag” laws or even “mental health” concerns? Clearly, these kids likely won’t even have a background to review. Meaning, enhanced background checks won’t work.

This is why these “red flag” and “mental health” laws also aren’t likely find these shooters in this age group. These laws are likely to only impact only adults above the age group listed, not children in the mass shooting age group shown. Meaning, more mass shootings continue while “pre-arrests” take place against adults who likely weren’t even a threat.

Gifting Weapons

Children who want weapons are usually taught to like and want weapons by their parents. Meaning, the parents are usually gun owners themselves. Kids learn from their parents. Thus, when a child wants a gun, it’s typically because a parent already owns one. What does this mean for background checks exactly?

It means that parents know kids want to have a weapon of their own. Some parents oblige and are willing to buy their kids a weapon as a gift. Buying and gifting weapons to children means background checks are entirely subverted, as are “red flag” laws and “mental health” evaluations. Any background check performed would be on the parent, not against the child. A background check system can then be subverted by having a parent buy the weapon, then gift that weapon to their child. Even if the parent knows the child has violent tendencies, a parent might still buy and gift such a weapon to their child. Would a background check have found that child’s violent tendency? Possibly not.

Child privacy laws are fairly strict in the United States. Meaning, unless law enforcement has sent a subpoena to Facebook or Twitter or Instagram for those sites to release “hidden” child data, law enforcement may not even see the child has posted questionable, but hidden content. Even then, many of these posts aren’t uncovered until long after the fact… once law enforcement gets involved. As I said above, laws are reactive.

Even now, children are learning the lesson of what to post, when to post and what not to post. Such background checks are predicated on children continuing to post “red flag” content to social media without thought. Children learn quickly and, thus, “background checks”, “mental health” evaluations and “red flag” laws would only be as good as children are smart. Those kids will smarten up quick if they know their Instagram is being watched.

Would “red flag” laws help here? Likely not. However, these same “red flag” laws might actually end up flagging the parents over a child’s behavior. In fact, some recent cases seek to hold parents accountable for their child’s actions.

Holding Parents Accountable

Such a case is now pending. If this case is successful, it may open the door to charging more and more gun owner parents with their child’s actions. James and Jennifer Crumbley are looking at potential jail time over involuntary manslaughter charges stemming from their son’s actions. The trial is still ongoing as of this article, but the outcome of this trial could lead to further gun owner parents seeing jail time over their own child’s violent actions. This is the first in what’s likely to become a commonplace situation for many parent gun owners. “Red flag” laws only seek to expand this situation.

This Crumbley case, however, is not without merit. If a parent knows their child may have mental health issues and is a danger to themselves or others, the parent shouldn’t encourage and indulge in their child’s violent fantasies by buying them a gun. This is allegedly what James and Jennifer did for their son. Ethan Crumbley then allegedly killed four classmates at school with that gun. Now, the parents are being charged for involuntary manslaughter over knowing their son could do this, yet doing nothing to stop him… and even encouraging him by buying him a gun.

Where do “Red Flag” laws end?

That’s a good question. Since these laws have not yet been written, it’s too early to tell. However, based on the Crumbley situation above, it’s easy to see “Red Flags” laws covering not only the person flagged, but also people around them who’ve enabled that person, such as the situation with the Crumbleys. If the parents are found to have enabled and indulged their own child’s violent fantasies by buying weapons for them, those “Red Flags” could end up covering parents as well.

For this reason, gun owners need to be concerned over what these “Red Flag” laws are intended to do. The first major problem is that these laws more-or-less try to rely on clairvoyance. Cops aren’t clairvoyant. Therefore, the only thing cops can rely on is suspicion, experience and intuition coupled with reports from others. What that translates into is a cop possibly seeing things that aren’t there. If the laws are written vague enough and which give carte blanche to the officer, then as a gun owner and a parent, you could be carted off to a mental health facility simply because of a Facebook post of your child brandishing a weapon.

Nothing of what was done was considered “illegal” by itself. However, these “red flags” are enough to detain a person indefinitely under psych evaluation. That’s a grey area under the law. In a mental health facility, you’re not exactly jailed. Under certain exceptions, it can’t be considered unlawful detention. It also bypasses due process. Because “red flags” laws can’t really charge someone with a crime as none yet exist, which means detention in a medical facility. And.. here’s the loophole which allows that detention:

Although nurses or patients may disagree with the wisdom of such a decision, in most situations, patients do have the right to refuse treatment. Exceptions arise for mental incompetence, patients who are a danger to self or others, or where capacity is diminished due to drug or alcohol use.

These “red flag” laws when combined with “mental health” concerns will end up falling under the “danger to self and others” exception listed above. Because a person has been “red flagged” as a “danger”, that means they have given up their rights to live in society. Meaning, the concept of “false imprisonment” is now no longer on the table because those “red flag” laws will have superseded those rights.

Let’s take this concept one step further. Because the “red flag” laws have not yet been written, there’s no way to know how easy it will be to trigger cops into “red flag” action. Assuming it’s likely to be relatively easy, this means it will also be easy to have anyone committed to a mental health facility indefinitely under “danger to self or other” watch. This also means the person loses their liberty, which is protected by the 14th Amendment over a “red flag” law.

Effectively this becomes George Orwell’s 1984 on steroids.

Overturning Laws as Unconstitutional

Laws are valid until they aren’t. What I mean by this statement is that laws remain legally enforceable until a court enjoins them from being enforced. That means going through a court of law and requesting a judge to enjoin the law from enforcement on specific grounds. Until that happens, people who’ve been detained under “red flag” laws must remain detained until the law is enjoined. Even if a law is enjoined, it may prevent future detainment, but those already detained may remain detained until the court trial concludes.

This kind of law is an exceedingly slippery slope. Once we’ve walked down this path, other laws will begin popping up under this same “predictive” model, using these same “mental health” loopholes. Having words with your neighbor, then claim that person’s actions are a “danger to self and others” and off they are carted. This silliness could be perpetuated on many different items around the household and in many different forms, not only with guns. As I said, it’s a slippery slope.

“Red Flag” Laws have no place

There is no place in our society for “predictive” law enforcement. It’s ripe for abuse from unscrupulous people who will alarm police to false flags. Yet, police must follow up and investigate. If the person fits a specific profile or appears a “danger to self or others” (for whatever reason), they can be taken into custody and held for indefinite time under “mental health” evaluation, bypassing both due process and liberty rights given us by the 14th Amendment.

Predictive law enforcement has no place because it’s easily abused. Even our current reactive law enforcement is abused at times. However, these laws are mostly not based on bounties. If these new laws being considered are enacted using this new “bounty” model, all bets are off how the situations will be handled or how many people may end up detained.

This is a dangerous time to own a gun in the United States. That danger comes not only from the weapon itself, but from the laws that are being considered to manage the people who own them. Eventually, the stigma of owning a gun might be so severe that people are forced to get rid of their weapons or face “red flag” retribution from unsuspecting non-gun owning cancel culture neighbors.

Beware. This future is dawning.

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Dumb Commercials Series: Uber Eats (again)

Posted in commercials, entertainment by commorancy on June 4, 2022

Here’s yet another extremely dumb Uber Eats commercial depicting even dumber actors chowing down on paper goods, deodorant and other non-food items. We just got past people eating Tide-Pods and now this? Let’s watch.

I understand that some people may find this hilarious, but I find it sad that commercial producers need to resort to this sort of both low brow humor and depiction of people taking things so literally. I guess actors get off on playing these extremely dumb roles, but for me it’s off-putting.

For Uber Eats, this one is right out of the frying pan and into the fire. Directly on the heels of those stalker Simone Biles commercials right to this inane idea? Yeah, let’s show the exceedingly dumb people of the world that eating paper goods, deodorant and liquid soap is possible. Yeah…

… and then there’s also this one…

… and this one …

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Investor Alert: Is Masterworks.io a scam?

Posted in advice, investing, scams by commorancy on April 9, 2022

calm male artist painting on canvas using paintbrushes

Every once in a while, someone decides to sell shares in “something” new. Today, that something is Fine Art. Let’s explore the pitfalls of investing in this idea.

Investing in Art

Purchasing art has always been about buying a single piece of artwork outright. Meaning, you find a piece of art you like and you buy it. That means that piece of art is yours to display in any way you wish. This type of purchasing of art is (and remains) the most optimal way to purchase art. You buy it outright and you own the entire work in totality.

However, there are exceptions to the above. If you purchase a reproduction of an original work of art, this purchase offers much fewer rights to the buyer. Some rights that you forfeit when purchasing a reproduction include reproduction of that art. Meaning, you can display your purchase in any way you choose, but you cannot photograph it and/or sell photographs of that art. The reproduction rights remain with the original work’s owner. Only the person who owns the original artwork may reproduce the work in any way.

Mass Produced

You may be thinking, “But, mine is painted with real paint on real canvas”. That doesn’t matter. What matters is if the painting is the first and the original. Many painters reproduce their works using paint on canvas, many times over. Typically, these reproduction paintings are painted by employees (in a sort of paint-by-number situation), but is not always painted by the original artist. These are painters hired for the sole purpose of creating a copy of the original. These reproduction paintings are sold typically at a fraction of the original art’s cost. These reproductions rarely become valuable simply because of the total number produced. It’s the same reason why many mass produced items rarely go up in value.

Because the original was painted by the actual artist, this original painting is the one that holds value. That’s not to say that every original painting by every artist will increase in value. Many do not. It depends on the artist, the artwork and that artist’s contribution to the art world. Perhaps in time that artist might be seen in some kind of historical light, thus propelling their artwork values upward.

Because an original art piece might spawn many “authorized” copies, copies that could become very popular in sales, that makes the original work much more valuable. For example, an original Thomas Kinkade painting would be worth far more than one of its many reproductions. That doesn’t mean reproductions can’t increase in value, but they will never be valued the same as the original first painting.

Masterworks.io

Masterworks takes the idea of Fine Art to an “investment” level. By that I mean instead of owning the actual painting / art piece in full, you only own a “share” (or small portion) of the art. In reality, this type of investing is an abstract concept. At the moment, Masterworks appears to focus solely on paintings. You might be wondering, “How does owning a small piece of a whole actually work?”

The short answer to this question is that it doesn’t. Investing in a tiny piece of a valuable work of art doesn’t do anything but ultimately make Masterworks as a company rich. You, in fact, don’t own anything but the knowledge that you “might” own a small piece of a work of art. You also own the knowledge that that investment might, maybe return value IF the painting is (eventually or ever) sold at a profit. In essence, you’re essentially placing a long shot bet that eventually that painting might be sold for a profit.

Let’s understand some of the problems with this idea.

Where is that painting?

Good question. If you’re buying into an investment object, you definitely want / need to know exactly where that “object” is physically located in the world. If you invest in a company, for example, you know where their headquarters are. You know who their executives are. You know their physical address and phone number. You can call and talk to someone. You can even find out their sales plans, the products or services the company sells and how much they make in revenue per quarter. Keep in mind that some private companies may be unwilling to disclose their sales numbers. With public companies, that company’s revenues are public knowledge.

Buying into a Masterworks painting, on the other hand, you don’t know exactly where it is. You don’t know under what conditions it’s being stored. You don’t know who currently has possession of it. Masterworks can “assure” you that that item is safe… but is it? Paintings are particularly susceptible to deterioration if not kept under the strictest of environmental controls. Artwork is also susceptible to theft. Both of these issues are difficult to manage at the best of times.

One might think that paying to invest in small bit of a painting might help protect it from being lost to time. It’s a lofty ideal. It’s, unfortunately, an ideal that when considering the underlying logistics of it all, make the investment seem highly risky. It’s also an ideal that may not hold true.

An investor should always ask, “Who owns the original work?” You must also consider the following:

  • Is Masterworks attempting to sell shares in art they don’t legally own?
  • Is Masterworks actually in possession of the art they claim to have bought?
  • Did Masterworks actually buy the painting or is it under some kind of “lease”?
  • Is the art being stored in correct conditions?

Who knows for sure? These are all very good questions. They’re also questions that should greatly concern you when considering “investing” in art through Masterworks.

Paintings as Investments

Art is entirely subjective to every person, but it is also highly volatile in its salability. What I mean is that paintings, particularly abstract paintings, go through ebbs and flows, waxing and waning in popularity and, yes, value. What might seem like an excellent painting today may be seen as outdated and worthless next year. Art’s value comes and goes, sometimes as a result of changing style trends. Painting values are, as I’ve said above, highly volatile. Way more volatile than investing in company stocks, bonds or even precious metals.

Sure, this investment type is yet another “thing” you can put some money into as part of your larger investment portfolio and hope to see a return on investment, but it may not return anything. The problematic issue with this concept is, can Masterworks be trusted or are they simply another Bernie Madoff? This is the ultimate question.

Novel Concept, Poorly Realized

The idea of share investing in art is definitely novel, even Masterworks states as much. However, is it realistic?

First, there’s the idea that you only own a tiny fraction of a painting. How does that work anyway? Are they planning on cutting up the piece of art if the art price bottoms out and there’s nothing left to pay you back your investment? Clearly, no. They’re simply going to tell you that you’re out your money and they STILL get to keep that art even if it’s worthless. Not only do you NOT get the art after investing, you don’t get your investment back if the painting is sold at a loss.

Second, there’s the logistics of where this art is stored. You have no idea as an investor. Unless Masterworks intends to spend boatloads to create a location to store all of this art under perfect archival environmental conditions (highly unlikely) AND they can prove that fact to investors, the art is then completely open to deterioration, decay and possibly destruction or even theft. Some art, in fact, may be produced using non-archival media. This means that no matter how well a piece of art is stored, it may still slowly (or quickly) deteriorate to the point of no longer even being art (or saleable) even within a few months. You can’t stop deterioration, which actually makes some art less valuable every day that passes.

Third, who actually owns (and holds) that art? Are art owners selling the full piece of art, selling it under consignment or are they selling only the concept of ownership as shares, so then Masterworks then manages that “concept trust”? If Masterworks is selling shares in works of art they do not rightfully own and possess, that is very close to a Ponzi scheme. It may also be very illegal. That’s like someone claiming to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge. Sure, anyone can claim to sell it, but they do not own it. They do not even own a piece of it. Giving money to someone claiming to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge is, thus, the very definition of a scam and fraud. With Masterworks, be very careful.

Masterworks needs to also be very careful in what they are doing, making sure their ‘i’s are all dotted and their ‘T’s are all crossed.. Here’s what Masterworks has to say about their own model and art investing:

‣ We have a novel and unproven business model.
‣ Masterworks issuers do not expect to generate revenue, so investors will only recognize a return on their investment if the painting is eventually sold at a profit
‣ No market exists for the shares and paintings are highly illiquid, so you must be prepared to hold your investment for an indefinite period.
‣ Each Issuer owns a single painting and this lack of diversification magnifies risk.
‣ Your ability to trade or sell your shares is highly uncertain.
‣ Paintings may be sold at a loss.
‣ Costs will diminish returns.
‣ Investing in art is subject to numerous risks, including (i) claims with respect to authenticity or provenance, (ii) physical damage, (iii) legal challenges to ownership, (iv) market risks, (v) economic risks and (vi) fraud.
‣ Issuers are totally reliant on Masterworks.
‣ Masterworks has potential conflicts of interest.
‣ Timing of sale of a painting is uncertain.

https://www.masterworks.io/

photo of a man arranging in a depot

None of the above (or even their web site) describes how or where the art is actually stored or maintained. It almost solely discusses the risks of investing. The fact that Masterworks also finds the need to call out that purchased shares are “illiquid” says a great deal here. This word means that there are few participants, thus low volume, which ultimately means a very low chance of ever being able to sell out of purchased shares.

Consider stocks and bonds. You can likely sell out of any of these positions in about a day. With Masterworks investments, the low volume and few participants means once you invest, you’re likely stuck holding onto that investment until the painting either sells (at a loss or profit) or fails to sell at all. Masterworks doesn’t really state what happens if you can’t sell your position with a painting that never sells. I guess you’re ultimately out your investment money.

Art Storage

As with any artwork and has been stated above, it’s important to understand how and where the art is stored and who actually owns the art. None of this is explicitly stated on Masterworks’s site. I’m actually taken aback by the fact that for all the deluge of investing information provided, there’s equivalently a severe lack of information regarding the artwork itself, where it’s stored, how it’s managed or who owns it while it’s being held for shares. That’s a big, nay HUGE, problem in my book.

However, Masterworks does say this…

Screen Shot 2022-04-06 at 6.23.51 PM

What this ultimately says is that Masterworks locates and purchases art. It doesn’t exactly state what “purchase the work” actually means. Are they taking possession of the work or are they leaving it at the gallery where they found it to remain on sale? They do claim to hold a work of art for 3-10 years. I’m uncertain how this works exactly considering the second half of that “OR” statement. Only questions, few answers.

As I said, for as much information as there is about risk of investing, there’s equally as little about the actual artwork itself… which is huge red flag 🚩.

Any business straddling both the art world and the finance world should be, at once, both engaged in explaining how and where the art is to be stored and handled, but also able to explain the risks of investing. Clearly, Masterworks is only interested in documenting half of this equation.

Volume Investing

Masterworks hopes that as more people jump on board with their share idea and begin investing, a larger and higher volume share marketplace will eventually emerge to allow for easier share trading. At this moment, however, Masterworks has stated that any position you buy is likely to be “illiquid”, thus implying that this is a new market with limited options for selling shares.

In other words, if you invest $100 into a painting and gain 2 shares, those shares in that painting are most likely to remain yours until the painting sells at a profit or a loss. The question is, though, even if the painting sells, does Masterworks have the painting to sell? I’m still skeptical.

Art Galleries

Masterworks, as a company, needs to be a whole lot more forthcoming about all aspects of its business operations, especially surrounding where, how and who stores the art after it’s purchased.

What Masterworks should have planned for is purchasing a number of galleries around the United States (or around the World) to support their business model. Instead of simply attempting to sell the investment share idea, they should have worked this idea full circle.

4cycle

Here’s where things get a little dicey for Masterworks. Instead of creating a complete sales cycle (or sales funnel as some might call also it), they leave out one very important piece: Galleries. Clearly, they have Acquisition, Investments and Sales. Though, questions about Masterworks’s acquisition process remains, primarily because they don’t have galleries.

To really make this business model complete, Masterworks needs to own and operate its own set of galleries. Why galleries? Owning galleries sets a tone that you know how to properly store and manage expensive artwork in addition to offering a place to actually sell it properly. Though, paintings can be sold through auction houses as well. Masterworks is attempting to sell art for millions of dollars, yet Masterworks doesn’t really state where, or more specifically how, that artwork is managed and stored. It’s an important and necessary piece that’s conveniently missing.

Owning galleries keeps Masterworks honest and allows for auditing. If there is a gallery where a specific investment work lives, investors can visit the gallery and physically see the art they have invested in. This verifies that the artwork exists, that it is genuine (not faked), that it’s in Masterworks’s possession and that it can be verified. Without this piece, verification of the actual art remains an open question. Images on a web site do not verify that anything is genuine. Talking to someone on the phone doesn’t verify authenticity either. Only physically seeing the artwork in person can an investor verify the painting and, thus, verify that their investment is backed by something real.

Questions without Answers

That leaves too many open questions. Questions like, “What exactly am I investing in?” Like, “Where is the artwork stored?” Questions like, “Is the artwork properly stored for a long sales wait?” Like, “Is the artwork in the possession of Masterworks directly?” All of these questions could be easily resolved if Masterworks owns and operates a set of galleries… or at least a showroom at the bare minimum.

Additionally, with Masterworks ownership of galleries, this means you, as an investor, can physically go see the art you’ve invested in. You can see if it’s as it appears in the images. You can see it on exhibit, or at least it can be brought out for a viewing. You can see that it’s being kept and stored in appropriate environmental conditions.

There are so many questions surrounding the art itself, there is absolutely no way I would recommend anyone to invest in Masterworks… unless you absolutely like throwing money away on odd “investment” strategies. Knowing where that art is, how it’s being stored and if it’s being stored appropriately combined with knowing you’re able to view the actual art is extremely important BEFORE investing any money in a share of a painting.

Ponzi Scheme?

While I previously made reference to Bernie Madoff and his ponzi scheme, that statement isn’t intended to suggest that Masterworks runs a Ponzi scheme or that it intends to make off with your money. However, because of so many lingering questions, this business model seems unnecessarily risky… especially not knowing the answer to far too many questions surrounding the paintings.

Additionally, because of the volatility in art sales, as an investor, you must fully trust and be reliant on Masterworks buyers and appraisers to locate “valuable art” that might sell for some amount of money higher than what was paid. However, you’ve no idea if the art they’ve selected will actually sell at all. Because art is so subjective, what a few like, too many others may hate.

It also means betting that some nebulous “whale” will come along and snap up that piece of art (for millions) you just so happen to have invested in. That isn’t likely to happen often. Unless the art is of great historical value (i.e., Leonardo DaVinci or Michaelangelo or even more recent artists like Mark Rothko, Roy Lichtenstein or Marcel Duchamp), art produced by artists living and working today might fetch random amounts, but perhaps not millions. There’s just no way to know what any piece of art might fetch when produced by today’s artists. It’s all a calculated, but a seriously risky best guess.

Unfair to Artists

One thing Masterworks also seems to be attempting is to force art to be sold at far higher prices than it’s actually worth. This is what many collectors attempt to do, usually via auction. That is, Masterworks appears to intend to artificially inflate art prices to make better returns on shareholder investments. The difficulty is that this artificial inflation (nor does the sale itself) benefit the artist at all.

Where Masterworks might “buy” a work for $70,000 from an artist via a gallery, they may attempt to turn it for $1.3 million. That nets a huge profit for Masterworks and a lesser amount for shareholders in that work. However, for the artist, $70k is all they have received. The artist is not fairly compensated from a Masterworks sale.

One might argue that aftermarket sales of art never has benefited the artist. Yes, but here’s a business model that could arguably help bring artists into the fold by making sales on behalf of the artist. This goes hand-in-hand in owning galleries. Instead, it seems Masterworks has chosen an aftermarket sales model that excludes the artist. A model that only makes money for investors and Masterworks, but not for the artist. Intentionally leaving the artist out of this process is entirely greedy and unfair to the artist.

Artists Deserve Compensation

One might think that $70,000 is a lot of money for the sale of a painting. It is. But, it is nowhere near the amount that the artist could have netted if they had sold it for $1.3 million.

Artists shouldn’t be required to invest in their own paintings with Masterworks just to net more profit on an aftermarket sale. Instead, Masterworks should work directly with artists to list the work and then compensate the artist for at least 50% of the sale, either directly or by issuing a 50% ownership stake in the art via shares. The rest of the profits should go to paying out shareholders. This model would not only fairly compensate every artist, but it also fairly compensates the shareholders and Masterworks itself.

Artists are always the one who seem to get the shaft. This problem has existed for many, many years. Masterworks can modify their business model to make sales that directly benefit the artist while also properly compensating shareholders and turning a nice profit for Masterworks. Instead, it seems they have ignored this aspect only to make their sales benefit mostly Masterworks executives the most, leaving out the artist.

Artists vs Corporations

If you’re of the mindset that you would like to see artists fairly compensated for their work, skip these risky investment schemes and buy directly from an artist. If you buy directly from an artist, you are helping that artist, not some random corporate executives operating a more or less faceless and questionable company. If you’re willing to shell out $20 to see a movie actor perform, then why wouldn’t you be willing to pay an artist for the artwork they produce?

Not only can you carry pride in the fact that you purchased art directly from the artist, you also own an original work of art in full, not solely just a share in a work of art that you’ll never see. You can also hold pride in knowing that you have helped the artist produce even more work. Buying art from Masterworks does not, in any way, encourage artists to continue to their craft. In fact, the pittance that the artist might receive in the first sale may be barely enough to cover the time and effort put into producing that painting let alone help them produce future paintings. Art supplies are expensive.

Art Valuation and Secondary Market

Let’s talk about the investing and trading pieces. Masterworks operates a secondary market where shares can be traded. Unlike Wall Street stocks where a stock’s value is based on such fluctuating data points as company profits, company revenue, investor calls, product sales and announcements, analyst recommendations, investor confidence and volume of trading, paintings have no such intrinsic back end data points (other than perhaps trading volume… and even that is drummed up via this questionable investment scheme).

Art valuation is entirely subjective, made solely by a random person appraising its value. What that means is that if you invest in a work that claims to have a $30 “share price”, you’re at the mercy of an appraiser to raise or lower this price. Bid and ask sale prices might influence pricing some, but the pricing seen on the secondary market site is mostly “best guess”. There’s nothing behind that painting to “prop up” its changing value. There are no profit margins, no new product announcements, no analyst calls, no company books to review, nothing. It’s a painting. That’s it. Paintings don’t randomly change value UNLESS they are sold. Anything else purported is a dubious scheme.

Investing in a painting with a fluctuating value is a false equivalence to stock. There’s nothing there to change the value of the share in a painting, yet it seems that the values do change. Why? The painting hasn’t yet sold, so it makes zero sense. As I said, there’s nothing in any painting to justify changes in the share price until AFTER it’s sold. Once a painting has been sold, then the share price will change to reflect the sale price of the painting.

If Masterworks intends to see a painting’s share price fluctuate daily, like stocks, then there’s something seedy, dubious and awry going on. It’s also something that you as an investor need to understand before investing a cent. Intraday changes in painting’s share price prior to a sale is extremely dubious.

One might argue that there are a limited number of shares in the painting. That each share sold makes every share more valuable. I might be willing to accept that argument except a painting can be arbitrarily divided 100 times, 1,000 times or even 1 million times. When does that share division end? You can’t really divide a painting up like that. If you’re going to apply a random investment concept, such as a share, onto a painting, then any division into shares is entirely arbitrary and disconnected and holds effectively a fractional value tied to the current “worth” of the painting. Ultimately, there’s only one (1) painting. Therefore, there should only be one (1) share. When you buy that one (1) share, you buy the painting.

Having this sub-construct of many shares which are separate from the “painting as a single commodity” is not only an odd concept to apply to a physical object, it might be seen as a form of Ponzi scheme. These “shares” are actually an abstract idea applied to a single physical object which cannot be subdivided physically. So, how exactly does this abstract division concept work? That’s exactly what Masterworks is attempting to find out. It’s also why the Masterworks business model is unproven.

Overall

I can’t recommend investing “shares” in paintings via Masterworks for reasons already outlined above. However, let me summarize these points:

  • Proper art storage isn’t explained (very high risk)
  • Returns on investment isn’t fully explained (high risk)
  • Paintings aren’t guaranteed to sell (high risk)
  • No sales benefits given to the artist (problematic)
  • No galleries to physically view or confirm ownership (exceedingly high risk)
  • Art prices are highly volatile (high risk)
  • Art sales are solely dependent on subjective criteria (overly risky)
  • Art values are solely dependent on Masterworks “appraisers” (highly risky, requires high trust)
  • Intraday changes in share prices are nonsensical prior to the painting being sold (dubious)
  • Must trust Masterworks for both valuation and truth (overly risky)
  • Must trust Masterworks that they actually own and possess the art (exceedingly risky)
  • Secondary market attempts to treat shares in a painting like stocks (exceedingly risky & dubious)

Without seeing the painting physically, as an investor, you have no idea if Masterworks truly has that painting in their possession. It’s easy to take a picture and put it on a web site, making claims that they own and possess the work. This then tricks the investor into a purchase. Then, you hold and hold and hold and the painting never sells. In fact, you could come to find they don’t even own the original art. You might find that they’re selling something they don’t even have possession of.

While Masterworks may own some of the work they claim to own, there’s literally no way for an investor to confirm that every piece of art listed is actually in the possession of Masterworks. This problem is exacerbated mainly because Masterworks operate no galleries.

For this reason, Masterworks could be selling you shares in a work that they do not, in fact, own or possess. That’s effectively a form of fraud.

Masterworks would do best to modify their business model to offer a process that can prove they physically own the paintings they claim to own. The only way this is really possible is if they open and operate at least one Masterworks gallery somewhere so shareholders can visit and request a viewing of the art they’ve invested in. This is effectively an audit system which holds Masterworks accountable to all shareholders. Without this change in their business model, investing in any work that Masterwork claims to own is unnecessarily risky. To anyone willing to give money to this company, I say, “caveat emptor!” Let the buyer beware.

Without such basic investor auditing responsibilities, I strongly recommend staying away from this novel, but highly problematic investing concept and stay away from Masterworks as a corporation. That’s not to say this concept can’t be revised to be more functional, but at the moment this concept is just not there. This concept forces an over-burdensome amount of trust and risk onto the investor and off of Masterworks, while leaving too many unregulated, unauditable and manipulable pieces in the hands of Masterworks executives.

Bottom Line: If an employee at Masterworks wished to game the Masterworks system, the lack of proper auditing over this concept would allow any executive far too easy access to game it… thus losing investments from investors and truly turning this into a huge fraud scheme.

Business Concept: B
Business Execution: F+
Scam Risk Level: Exceedingly High, Stay Away
Recommendation: Don’t Invest in Masterworks

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Business: Does my company have a toxic culture?

Posted in best practices, Employment, workplace by commorancy on April 5, 2022

meeting-1280Toxic work cultures aren’t always obvious, at least not when you’re first hired and not always to managers. As a new hire, these work cultures can become apparent over time, but many times it creeps up on you unaware. Sometimes it’s even ingrained as part of the culture. For managers, a toxic workplace is yours to manage, but too many managers fail to see it and fail to act on it. Let’s explore the business of a toxic workplace culture.

Business Culture

Founders and CEOs must cultivate not only their business ideas and breathe life into them, they must also breathe life into a thriving business that operates and implements those ideas. That means hiring staff. However, hiring qualified candidates and hiring honest, ethical and affable people are two entirely different things. Sometimes, hiring a qualified candidate brings with it toxic baggage under the guise of affable.

Hiring Practices

Businesses today hire primarily based on qualifications, not on interpersonal skills. What this means is that companies end up with all manner of people on the payroll. At least some of these people are likely to be toxic in many different ways. Simply because the hired person can do their job correctly doesn’t necessarily make that person the best choice for your business’s success. A toxic person can overwhelm an office with distrust, negativity, bad morale and seek to destroy the very business itself… all while performing their job perfectly and correctly.

Why? The above example person is toxic, through and through. They have no sense of moral compass and are willing to do anything to torpedo anything and anyone who stands in their way. This is the very type of person you really don’t want to hire. Yet, many companies unknowingly do.

Why does this happen? It happens because businesses don’t have a means to screen for this level of toxicity from any candidate. However, there are some ways to help determine toxicity levels, but very, very few companies employ such behavioral culling during an interview. Keep in mind, though, that even the best of behavioral tests to determine toxicity can be foiled by candidates who intentionally and knowingly practice toxic workplace behaviors. If a candidate seems too ideal even after taking a behavioral test, that person might become problematic when in the workplace.

Interview Questions

Many hiring managers naively believe you can ask simple questions and determine if someone is toxic. While this might work a small portion of the time, a large portion of the time it simply doesn’t work. Unless that toxic candidate is completely naïve about hiring practices (hint: they’re likely very knowledgeable), they’re not likely to intentionally (or accidentally) reveal their toxic nature during an interview. That’s not to say it can’t happen. However, for these naïve candidates, you don’t really have to go out of your way to find them. These candidates will out themselves just by their own stupidity. These naïve people are the exception, not the rule.

Far too many toxic people are the shrewd, cunning and know exactly what they are doing. They see your questions coming and answer them to impress, not reveal their own personal flaws. Any questions designed to elicit personal responses will be turned around into how their work skills have improved business operations.

For a hiring manager, these are the kinds of candidates who are the most difficult to weed out because they are, as I said, shrewd and cunning and seem the perfect candidate, on the surface. They know how to ace an interview and they’ll do it with flying colors. When a candidate seems too good to be true, this should be a red flag in and of itself. No one is that good.

Looks

Many people, particularly those who are overly attractive, can easily betray and feed into the toxic culture problem. That’s not to say that people who appear “perfect”, “flawless” and “beautiful” are all toxic, but as a hiring manager, you should always remain on your toes when considering hiring those who fall into the “perfection” bucket. What exactly is “perfection”?

It’s those men and women who look like they’ve stepped off of a runway, out of an advertisement or look like a model. These people are impeccably fit, immaculately coiffed, perfectly groomed, carry themselves in an overly confident way and both have overly engaging smiles and a personality to match. People who are genuine don’t tend to look or act like this. Everyone is beautiful in their own way, but these people who exude that “perfect model” appearance and who appear “perfectly flawless”, not just in appearance, but also when talking with them, should leave you skeptical as a hiring manager. Nobody is that “perfect”. The problem with many of these people is “ego”, which is one of the primary driving factors behind toxic workplace behavior.

The one job where such beautiful people can be hired, albeit with trepidation, is outside sales. These people can become the face of your sales team. Because sales jobs are grueling, tiring and relentless, hiring flawless and beautiful people to visit with clients can greatly help make a sale. You just have be aware that these people can sow seeds of discord while in the office, if allowed. However, they can just as easily land million dollar deals for the company. Ego has its place… and having overly beautiful people on a your sales team is typically the one and only one job role where ego works.

Yes, I do understand how tempting it is to hire that beautiful office assistant. I get it. They’re eye candy every single day. However, that eye candy for you can turn into a nightmare for everyone else. Be cautious when considering the “overly beautiful” people of the world for internal positions outside of sales.

Note, there is a significant difference between simple beautiful and glamorous beautiful. It’s these glamorous beautiful people who bare watching. “Simple beautiful” people are typically down-to-earth, aren’t overly made up, don’t have perfectly coiffed hair, don’t wear overly flattering clothing and are focused on the work at hand. The “glamorous beautiful” people are overly concerned about their appearance, smell and personality, yet still manage to get their work done. It’s these overly glamorous people who are more likely to fall into the toxic bucket due to ego.

Probation Period

Many companies hire new employees on a conditional basis. Basically, so long as the employee is able to perform properly for a period of time, usually 90 days, then the job becomes permanent thereafter.

Don’t think that a probationary period actually offers enough time to out a toxic employee. Toxic employees are patient. They are more than willing to wait through any probationary period while remaining on their best behavior. They’ll do their job well and everyone will praise that employee’s work efforts. This type of toxic employee is seething and ready to let lose their toxicity, but they’re more than willing to temper that toxicity until they know the job is fully theirs. As I said, this type of toxic employee is overly patient.

Once their “tenure” actually begins, that’s when the employee will slowly begin to unleash their toxicity. Small at first, then no holds barred after several months.

They do this for several reasons:

  1. By being patient allows slowly ingratiating themselves into the company. They can then make their skillset (in)valuable to the point that the company might have a hard time replacing them.
  2. Waiting through that waiting period, they get to know who they can “beat up” and who they must “kiss ass”. It gives them plenty of time to determine the “lay of the land”.
  3. Kissing up. This may start right away, but usually takes a few weeks because they don’t want to kiss up to the wrong person. This type of toxic employee will “kiss up” to their immediate superior to make them feel superior. They’ll accept lots of work from their manager and turn it all in perfectly. In effect, they become the perfect “Yes, man” and a model employee. They might even win a monthly employee award.

Kissing Up and Overly Friendly Attitudes

Someone who “kisses up” and who exhibits artificially friendly attitudes is someone to watch closely. This kind of behavior seems like the flip side of toxic behavior. In fact, these friendly attitudes are actually part of toxic behavior. It’s just that because this behavior seems friendly and nice, it’s difficult to see it as part of a toxic person. Toxicity comes in many forms, but most people tend to classify it with only negative behaviors. Positive behaviors tend not to be classed under toxicity simply because they are positive.

Most toxic people will exhibit a mix of both positive and negative behaviors, but that are both fully tied to their toxicity. They’ll start mostly with positive and then slowly work their way to the negative spectrum. Know that the reason behind the overly friendly attitudes and “kissing up” is tied to their toxicity.  “Kissing up” usually only occurs with their direct manager or managers above them. The toxic person almost never uses these artificially friendly attitudes toward coworkers. In fact, most coworkers will typically see a toxic person as aloof and arrogant.

Lone Workers

However, don’t assume that a lone worker indicates toxicity. Lone workers can be some of the most productive people in your organization and that has nothing to do with toxicity. A lone worker may choose to work alone solely because the “team” around them may, in fact, be toxic and may be the ones holding that person or project back. Lone workers may, in fact, be a product of a toxic workplace culture. Toxic employees tend to want to sabotage the work of others, including that person who is seen as a lone worker. Because it’s nearly impossible to alert anyone in a company to one or more toxic employees without being seen as a “problem”, to avoid that scenario entirely, many employees instead turn to becoming a lone worker to avoid having to interact with toxic workers bent on sabotaging projects (and other employees).

Toxic employees then choose other “behind the back” strategies to discredit one or more lone worker employees. I’ll come back to this “snitching” topic shortly.

The only time a toxic person seemingly works well with others is if the manager explicitly asks the person to do so as part of their job duties… at which point, the toxic person will immediately ingratiate themselves into the “group” as if they were always the best of chummy buddies. For the rest of the group, it’s odd and offputting and they can see exactly what’s going on. For the manager, they see it as a person taking initiative and taking direction well. Managers don’t get to see what’s really going on behind that toxic curtain when they’re not in the room.

However, that group of workers definitely get to see it. They see the artificiality of the attitude. The taking on of extra work. The sometimes doing the work of others. It even can get to the point that the toxic employee will intentionally take work from another, do it intentionally wrong and then attempt to pin that “shoddy” work on the original owner. It’s all overkill, but it’s something the toxic person does to ensure they are accepted by the manager and to make sure their skills are seen as irreplaceable. They sow the seeds of being irreplaceable so that at the point they think that they are, they can fully unleash their toxicity.

Snitching

One behavior that should immediately shoot up red flags to a manager is “snitching” or “tattling”. These traits may seem like a good thing, but these behaviors are, in fact, a form of toxicity. When one employee goes behind the back of another to make disparaging remarks without them having attempted to resolve the issue first, this firmly indicates toxicity.

These types of “snitches” are the very definition of toxic. This behavior intentionally sows seeds of discord between the manager and staff. Effectively, this toxic person is a wedge attempting to drive a huge gap between the manager and the workers… to cast doubt and suspicion on a specific person or group of people.

When an employee steps into your office and attempts to convince you, as manager, that one or more people is/are a problem, red flags should appear instantly. Not about the people being mentioned, but about the person sitting in your office. This is why toxic people tend to like to win “lead” roles on teams. That title gives them more credibility and trust to step into a manager’s office to disparage others.

Unleashed

Once a toxic worker has been working long enough to feel irreplaceable, perhaps even being told so by a manager, the gloves come off. Sometimes they do so after waiting to be promoted to a “lead” position, cinching their toxicity. Becoming a “lead” allows a toxic person to unleash their toxicity in full. Usually, this type of person begins by latching onto the person they like least. In fact, they don’t really care who it is, just that there’s someone they can pour their toxicity onto. And, boy do they ever.

First, they start with subtle hints that the person is doing something untoward (snitching). Nothing specific, mind you, but they sow enough seeds of doubt with the manager that the manager must take a much closer look. These lies, of course, are usually just that. Lies. Yet, the manager now trusts the toxic person enough to begin to believe their lies. The lies usually start with a shred of truth, like claiming the person has been spending too much time on email and not enough working. When, in fact, the person has written the same amount of email they always have. Or, that the employee has been taking too many smoking breaks.

Second, the toxic person may even go so far as to not only lie, but plant “evidence” in the desk of the person they are now directing their toxicity to. Because most offices are fairly open and trusting, many employees leave their desk drawers unlocked while away from their desks. This facilitates the toxic person’s behaviors, particularly planting of evidence.

This leaves trusting employees open to abuse from toxic employees. Depending on the kind of “evidence” planted, it might even elicit probation for the employee or even termination. The toxic employee thinks, “One down, many to go”. This is the start of a huge morale problem which lasts until enough employees leave that there’s no one left to complain.

As employees begin to disappear one at a time, the manager won’t suspect the toxic employee, but instead will fail to understand why so many employees are leaving. Because the now trusted, but highly toxic employee, is now running the show, so to speak, they have full reign to do as they please.

Once they’ve cleaned house sufficiently, this is where they turn their ire onto their manager seeking that job role. At this point, they’ll both lie and plant evidence to implicate the manager in some kind of in-house scam. That manager’s manager might or might not fall for the bait. It depends on how loose or tight that relationship is. At this point, the toxic employee might be discovered, but possibly not.

These toxic employee scams are generally so subtle that it’s hard to trace it back to a specific employee.

Agenda Behind Toxicity

Sometimes there’s an agenda. I’ve seen the above toxic situation unfold before, in fact. Here’s the story.

Note that this didn’t occur in my office, but we got the details of it by all of the employees who fell into it. We had a new person hired. I’ll call her Jill. Jill was a fairly competent worker who did her job well… at least for a few months. After a few months, the manager promoted her to “lead”. At this point, she was still liked by most and did her job fairly well.

However, once promoted to lead. The entire workplace changed. Employees began seeing a side of her they hadn’t seen. Over the next couple of months, her behavior changed towards them. Yet, her manager saw none of this. In fact, her manager got caught up in a problem of his own, which kept his attention focused on that problem.

Within one to two months, her manager left the company and she was again promoted to manager. At once, she fired nearly every single person on the team and simultaneously hired a bunch of her “friends”. Only one or two “original” employees remained. This was her goal. To hire people she wanted and get rid of those she didn’t want.

At this point, the company was in a financially dire situation, not entirely of her making, but her shenanigans didn’t help and her ineptitude in managing was felt over our services being sold… leading would-be buyers to competitors. Over a month or two, her and her new “team” was unable to properly manage the equipment she was to tasked to manage, causing outages and she was forced to leave (not fired, but asked to resign). After that, many of her hires were also laid off, mostly because of the company’s financial situation. The few who managed to stay through her firing spree stayed on to manage the equipment after her departure, one of which became the new manager.

Unfortunately, the company only remained in business for ~9 more months before ultimately closing its doors for good.

This is a perfect example of a toxic workplace culture. It also impresses the importance of watching closely who is managing your company. Even managers can impact the bottom line. Even managers can cause toxicity. Oh, and her toxicity attempted to reach us in our remote office. However, our manager realized exactly what it was an completely ignored her. Since she had nothing to do with the services we managed in our office, her toxicity remained mostly confined to her office. Though, I firmly believe her toxicity was part of the reason the company ended up folding.

Workplace (mis)Trust

This is a fairly typical scenario above. Toxic employees tend to, at least over a period of time, cause large departures of other employees and generally sow mayhem by their toxicity. Many times it’s for a specific agenda, such as wanting to hire specific people they know. It is not only because the toxic employee is willing to lie, cheat and back stab, but also because no one wants to be around this type of toxicity every day. Toxicity is easily spotted by those on the ground and it grows over time to the point that employees must make a decision: stay or go. Managers typically stay insulated from this toxicity because that’s how a toxic employee wants it.

In fact, toxic employees typically sow seeds of doubt and distrust about all of the employees they intend to “stab” with the manager. Once they have these seeds of doubt planted, any one of those employees who attempts to have a conversation with the manager ends up finding that the manager no longer trusts them. Sometimes you don’t find out about that lack of trust until a performance review.

Losing trust in a workplace is tantamount to being fired. The point at which you have lost your manager’s trust, an employee should line up another job. Trust between manager and worker is paramount. Losing that trust means being unable to do your job correctly, even if you do it correctly.

Toxic employees intentionally seek to sow seeds of mistrust between manager and staff, with the exception of that toxic employee, who seeks to have the highest level of trust from the manager. Again, this is a huge red flag. Any new-ish employee who immediately tries to impress upon you, as the manager, how trustworthy they are and how untrustworthy everyone else is should be viewed as toxic.

Managers don’t need to be told whom to trust. Managers need to determine and establish trust level between their employees themselves. Unless an employee shows that they are untrustworthy, there is no reason to mistrust an employee based on another employee’s word.

There’s where a toxic employee can up their game by planting “evidence” of mistrust. If, as an employee, you’ve been framed by a co-worker over something that has been “planted”, you definitely need to find another job. Trying to win a “I said, they said” battle can be almost impossible over planted evidence. Worse, if another employee is willing to stoop so low as to actually plant evidence onto another employee, it’s time to leave. There is almost no way to convince a manager that the evidence was planted.

As a manager, having to evaluate alleged evidence found in or on someone’s desk can be exceedingly difficult. You’re a manager, not a detective. I get that. How do you manage this issue if it arises? It’s a difficult challenge, one where I can’t easily give you answers.

However, I an point you in this direction. Review who is he senior of the two employees. If the employee who “found” the evidence is claiming another more senior employee is untrustworthy, you need to better understand why that newer employee was rooting through another employee’s desk AND how they knew that “evidence” was even there. If the reporting employee is only a few months into the job, you should suspect more of that new employee than sincerity. If you’ve never had any issues with the more senior employee, then that new employee may be a toxic employee.

Employees who seek to pit manager against older employees should be immediately suspected as toxic. Once you suspect a toxic employee, you need to monitor them closely. You don’t need to alert your other employees, though. However, you also need to accept any of the toxic employee’s claims as insincere. You should make note of each and every one of them. Once you can confirm the toxic employee is sowing seeds of discontent around the office, you’ll need to take them aside and with the assistance of the HR team, place them onto a probationary period.

Know, however, that placing a toxic employee on probation won’t solve their toxicity. Once you identify a toxic employee, the only means to solve that problem is by firing them. The probationary period is simply a stepping stone to firing them. By placing them into probation and following through with standard procedures, you can then fire the employee without them having any legal recourse against you or the company.

Toxic employees are shrewd both in and out of the office. If they’re fired, expect a wrongful termination lawsuit. They won’t have any problems bringing legal action against a company for being terminated. That’s also part of their toxicity. As a manager, you must follow all procedures that allow you to fire the employee correctly.

Toxic employees know that their actions in the office cannot be easily covered by office etiquette or code of conduct rules. Meaning, toxic behaviors are almost impossible to enforce as a firing offense. Instead, you would need to fire them for not performing their work duties, which work performance is a reason to fire an employee. Playing psychological games, however, is not a reason to fire and is never written into code of conduct rules as part of the terms of employment.

The problem with probation, however, is that the employee can pass the probation requirements easily and still allow them to sow seeds of discontent. This is why probation exercises may be futile when you’re seeking to fire a toxic employee. You may simply have to rely on your company’s “at-will” hiring clause (you do have one of these, correct?) and simply fire them straight up.

↩︎

Rant: Fallout 76 Event — Invaders from Beyond

Posted in botch, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on March 11, 2022

Photo_2022-03-07-220612_On the close of the Fasnacht event, not a week later Bethesda launches Invaders from Beyond, a new limited time “seasonal” Fallout 76 event. Let’s explore.

Invaders from Beyond

Since the inception of Fallout 76 (and indeed, the Fallout franchise), hints at aliens have been littered throughout the lore. However, Bethesda has now taken the leap and created a full fledged event out of aliens. Too bad they released this just a month or so after the alien invasion in Grand Theft Auto. This one feels like Bethesda is ripping off Rockstar.

The event begins with a round typical saucer ship hovering overhead. The aliens are typical and what you might typically expect when you think of an alien, but a bit more menacing looking with jagged teeth. There are some in power armor. There are also robotic floating drones, for whatever reason.

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Fallout 76 has hinted at the presence of aliens with the inclusion of the Alien Blaster weapon since the launch of the game. This weapon could be found in Toxic Valley in a sunken and broken safe, along with a few other items and a key since day one of the game. This weapon, unfortunately, has always been more of a joke than useful. In fact, it still is. Additionally, while a small amount of AB rounds of ammo have been available in the game, it could never be crafted. Thus, you had to get the plan to convert the Alien Blaster to use Fusion Cells, which could be crafted.

Unfortunately, the conversion to using Fusion Cells with the Alien Blaster heavily nerfs the damage output of this pistol, making it effectively worthless for in-game use. Even with the AB rounds, it’s not that powerful.

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With the introduction of the Invaders from Beyond event, the Alien Blaster Pistol and the new Alien Disintegrator Rifle plans now drop as potential loot from this event. In addition, not only can the weapon plans drop, so to do the mod plans that go with them adding cryo or poison damage to the each gun’s energy damage, in addition to some other limited mods.

Additionally, there are a number of CAMP decoration plans which can drop, such as Alien Autopsy Bed, Alien and Human Tubes, an Asteroid and an Alien Stashbox. Because of the new Alien Disintegrator addition, Bethesda has unlocked crafting of AB ammo, which works in both the Alien Blaster and the Alien Disintegrator.

Unfortunately, Bethesda forgot to unlock AB round creation in the CAMP ArmCo Ammo appliance and supplying AB rounds in the Ammo Converter appliance. This is currently Bethesda’s half-assed method of operation. Unlock something new in one place, like the Tinker’s bench, but then forget all about all of the other places where it also needs to be supported.

Bethesda did this same shtick with Fallout 1st members. Sure, Bethesda gives us an infinite Scrapbox with Fallout 1st, but then conveniently forgets to support Fallout 1st members at train stations by adding Scrapboxes there. Fallout 1st members should be considered “premium” players. First members are actively paying monthly for that service. Yet, Bethesda still treats Fallout 1st members as second class players, giving priority to non-1st players. It makes zero sense. I digress.

Locations for the Event

This event, unlike Fasnacht which spawns only in Helvetia, spawns in a number of different locations on the map. The multiple event location is both a good and bad thing.

The good thing is that it prevents players from nuking the area in advance of the event. Though, they could wait and nuke the location immediately after the event starts. It’s possible, though, that the event disallows nuking while active. I haven’t tried nuking the area with the event active to find out.

The bad thing is that one of the locations entirely sucks when playing this event.

The event locations are as follows:

  • Dyer Chemical (The Mire)
  • Charleston (Forest)
  • Sparse Sundew Grove (Cranberry Bog)
  • Garrahan Mining HQ / Garrahan Estate (Ash Heap)
  • Monongah (Savage Divide)
  • Wavy Willard’s (Toxic Valley)

Couldn’t they have chosen some better locations? These locations really do suck overall.

The event claims to be “Easy”, but that is all dependent on the player and the location where it spawns. It also depends on your character’s build. For example, Sparse Sundew Grove is the most difficult location, but only because the plants are like rocks and immovable. What I mean is that, unlike most plants in most games (and in real life) which move out of the way when you intend to shove past, you know like plants actually do, these plants do not move. The game offers no physics on these plants at all, preventing the plant from moving should you run into them. They become like brick walls that block movement. This makes the event much more difficult than it should be.

Additionally, unlike Helvetia where the Scorched are temporarily removed to make way for the event, these event locations are not cleared of enemies, requiring players to clear the entire area of the existing enemies prior to starting the event. Way to go, Bethesda. You had one job.

Grenade Drops

This event is narrated by “Homer Saperstein” and the event has 3 “Brainwave Siphons” which must be destroyed. To do this, you must kill all of the aliens in each wave (30), then kill the bosses that appear for each siphon. The final siphon boss is a 3 star legendary which drops random legendary loot, usually worthless one-star crap.

Photo_2022-03-04-230531_By the second siphon, the overhead alien ship changes tactics and begins dropping grenades, denoted by a red streak. The grenades aren’t randomly dropped. Oh, no no no. The game explicitly targets gamer positions, sometimes multiple times in a row. Sometimes even without warning. Just, boom and if you’re Bloodied, you’re dead. No warning.

Let’s talk about the worst location for these grenade drops. Because Sundew Grove plants don’t move with physics, if you get pinned by one of the plants, unable to move, the grenade will hit you. In open areas like Dyer Chemical or Garrahan, there’s no problem moving away. With these stupid plants, it can make player movement impossible. Even simple movement like jumping or running can see the player blocked by a plant. It’s a pain in the ass. The lack of plant physics makes this event 3 times harder in this grove than it is in other open area locations. Simply even walking through the plants is a pain in the ass.

Why is all of this important? It’s important because Bethesda has changed how (and where) characters respawn. No longer do you spawn near where you fell. No. Now you respawn sometimes so far away you’re outside of the event area. You have to spend at least 30 seconds running at full speed to get back to where you were. By that time you reach that location, it’s too late to participate because other players have already killed everything and the event is over. This respawn mechanic fucking sucks. So too do these fucking grenades.

Crap Event for Bloodied Build

Here’s where things get exceedingly dicey when you’re running a bloodied build. This event explicitly targets bloodied players, both in dropping grenades on them and in heavily nerfing bloodied weapons against the aliens at the same time. Oh, it gets so much worse. Because a bloodied build must rely on ranged weapons, implicitly requiring VATS, to effectively make the bloodied build actually work, Bethesda heavily nerfs VATS against the Aliens. Where you can stand a car length away from any other enemy in the game and see a 95% VATS hit chance, Aliens show 72% or less. Way less if you’re a house distance away or more.

Bethesda has explicitly targeted bloodied builds to make this event much more difficult for no added benefit. I also find that alien grenades target my bloodied character way more frequently than other players.

The “Brainwave Siphons” also aren’t siphons. What they are is big ass grenades. When they go off, they wipe away HP instantly. If you’re running a bloodied build, being anywhere near a siphon will instantly kill you when it pulses. Homer says that the siphons may “sting” a bit. It’s way more than a “sting” if you’re running a bloodied build. However, it is simple enough to stay far away from the siphons. The grenades, on the other hand are frustrating as hell for all the reasons I discuss above (and below).

Sneak Card

This event negates the Sneak perk card entirely specifically against alien grenade drops. The point in the Sneak card is that if you’re [ CAUTION ] or [ HIDDEN ], then nothing should know you’re there. Yet, the grenades ALWAYS target my character directly even when [ HIDDEN ]. The red warning indicator doesn’t land in front of my character or next to my character. It always lands directly ON my character. Sneak should protect you from grenades if you’re seeing [ CAUTION ] or [ HIDDEN ]. Yet, many of these crap Bethesda events entirely disable Sneak from functioning. This Sneak card bullshit started during the first Daily Ops event when Super Mutants had stealth ability. That Daily Ops bullshit sneak card problem is the reason I don’t play Daily Ops at all ever. It seems Bethesda intentionally keeps bypassing Perk cards willy nilly with these new game modes. We spend our time tweaking our character build and combat strategies and Bethesda spends their time building game modes that bypass it all.

What’s the point in buying into this perk card system (or, indeed, this game at all) if you don’t intend to use it as it was built? Why even have a Sneak card if you don’t intend to honor it ALL of the time? Or, do you Bethesda guys sit in a room when designing and say, “Fuck the Sneak card users. Let’s target them anyway.” ??

Invaders from Beyond is a Technical Failure

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This event shows everything wrong with Bethesda in one single event. Not only does the event unfairly target certain players types, it does so with intentional vengeance. Yes, I said intentional. Basically, the event intentionally penalizes bloodied builds for being bloodied. Not just from the player health perspective, but reducing damage output from bloodied weapons to be mere pin pricks on the aliens, reducing VATS to being entirely useless and by negating perks from perk cards. Literally, targeting the torso (the most basic of VATS hits) misses at least 50% of the time even when VATS shows 95% chance). Missing 50% of the time is not a 95% chance.

While other non-bloodied builds can shred aliens almost instantly, bloodied characters must take 6-10 (or more) shots to kill a single alien. It’s ridiculous. Bloodied weapons that shred HP on robots, Liberators, Scorched, animals and even Super Mutants can’t kill one tiny alien in one or two shots? It doesn’t make any sense and it’s entirely fucked up. Because it makes no sense, it means Bethesda has intentionally targeted Bloodied build characters against this event unfairly, though this issue probably also affects other player builds to a lesser degree.

And yes, it even gets worse. The grenade drops are timed perfectly to interfere with the event. Right when the boss arrives, within 5-10 seconds, a barrage of grenades fall, typically targeting my player. This means I have to stop what I’m doing, move far away to avoid grenade damage, which means I can’t even shoot at the boss (or at anything). Typically, that allows other players to shred the HP of the boss with their OP weapons while I’m trying to avoid a stupid grenade.

Once the boss is down, within 5-10 seconds of that and right after Homer suggests we start shooting the siphon to destroy it, another huge barrage of grenades fall from the sky again targeting my character. This means I have to move again to someplace else, preventing me from, you know, actually shooting the siphon.

This event should not be about avoiding damage from fucking grenades! It’s about the combat against the aliens. Why the hell should I invest time in an event when the only thing I’m doing is avoiding fucking grenades? Grenades that I shouldn’t even be avoiding because my Sneak 3 card is active and my screen says [ HIDDEN ]. If I’m hidden, then those grenades can’t find me. Capeesh, Bethesda? That the grenades can and do find me with the Sneak card active is fucking insane.

“Don’t play Bloodied”

I can hear some players exclaim. To that I say, “Fuck Off!” It took me months to get my character tweaked to be a bloodied character. I can’t just turn it off overnight and choose an entirely different play style. That means not just redoing my character’s stats and SPECIAL, that means changing crap tons of things about my character including carry weight, finding entirely different weapons and armor and completely rearranging my perk card stack to accommodate that new build. I don’t tell you how to run your character, don’t tell me how to run mine. So, “Fuck Off”.

To Bethesda and this event I also say, “Fuck Off”. Do you really want us to play this game or not? Why must you keep rewriting the game’s established rules arbitrarily for each of these events? If my gun does a specific and expected level of damage using VATS, then stick with that on ALL enemy types. These aliens aren’t special. In fact, they’re weaker than even a Ghoul. So why the hell are my weapons so fucking nerfed during this event?

Environmental Perks

Here’s something that’s ongoing with the game, but is now exacerbated by this event. When your character picks up any environmental perk, such as Kindred Spirit, Strength, Agility, Luck or Endurance perks via camp items like the exercise bike, the weight bench, the fortune teller or similar, Bethesda has not only reduced damage resistance while these perks are active, but allows enemies to unfairly target your character.

It’s even worse, though. It seems the game has seemingly put a bright red halo around the character alerting every enemy in the game of the character’s presence while carrying these perks. It also seems that the more of these you stack, the brighter that halo becomes. Not only is your damage resistance drastically reduced by carrying these perks, the game allows enemies to find and target your position in an attempt to instantly kill you. Carrying these perks even seems to give the enemies better accuracy. Worse, it seems that this “halo” allows enemies to teleport instantly to your position and silently attack from behind. If you’ve been wondering what the hell is going on with this game, well this is it!

Again, it’s another case of Bethesda intentionally, yet unfairly targeting players who are using standard in-game features, like a bloodied build and bloodied weapons AND environmental perks.

The problem with these environmental perks is that they’re instantly wiped away upon death and respawn. It’s like someone at Bethesda doesn’t want you to actually use or carry these perks. Why the fuck did you include them in the game if you didn’t want us to use them? Worse, why the hell are you penalizing us when we do use them?

Literally, one swipe from a ghoul of any level can kill my character instantly with ANY environmental perk active. Without these perks, a swipe with my character carrying the same exact amount of HP only does half the damage and my character remains alive. I’ve tested this. Why the hell did Bethesda reduce damage resistance while carrying these perks? I don’t know, but it’s entirely facetious.

Bethesda also knows these perks disappear after a character death. Why paint a huge fucking target on me when I carry them? That’s not cool at all and it’s entirely unbalanced and unfair gameplay… which is entirely what Fallout 76 has devolved into.

Why Intentional?

Because of the duping scandal in the game’s early life, Bethesda has been itching to take intentional vengeance against ALL players by specifically and unfairly targeting players choosing to play using officially supported builds and taking advantage of official environmental perks.

Worse, it seems that Bethesda is now targeting not only players carrying environmental perks, but those also playing using a bloodied build. How do I know this? Because whenever I kill legendary enemies, the chances of a bloodied weapon drop have drastically increased. Just like the game knows that I’m predominantly using a .45 ammo weapon and drops this exact kind of ammo with every enemy’s loot, the game knows I’m playing using a bloodied build and using a bloodied weapon. Thus, the chances of receiving a bloodied drop is drastically higher.

The game is now unfairly targeting bloodied build players to not only instantly kill them as often as possible, the devs are also intentionally nerfing damage output and screwing with VATS percentages to reduce the frequency of hits and damage output. Again, I call bullshit on this.

Bethesda, if you don’t want us playing a bloodied build, then remove all of these fucking bloodied weapons and all perk cards enabling this build. Simply remove it. Don’t play internal games to fuck us over in an attempt to deter us from using this build, simply TAKE IT OUT entirely. If you don’t want us playing this build, then take it out! Don’t silently fuck us over because we have chosen to use this build.

Losing Perks after Death

This one chaps me so hard. Oh no, can’t lose that stupid disease after death and respawn, but yes, we’ll wipe away all of those environmental perks and force you to go get them all again. What a fuck job, Bethesda. Even Homer’s Aid remains after death and respawn, which is the same fucking thing as an environmental perk. Oh sure, that one can remain, but not Kindred Spirit. Not the SPECIAL perks. Oh no. Gotta fuck us over, but keep only the things you think we should keep.

This game is completely inconsistent and ridiculous. If one perk can remain, then they all can. If one can’t remain, then they ALL must be wiped away. That’s what consistent means. Having these exceptions is bullshit.

Crashing

The one last important thing I almost forgot to include is crashing. The game client now officially crashes just as often as the Beta in 2018. Probably more often. Bethesda had been working towards some semblance of stability in the game client, but it seems that has all been tossed out of the window. Now the game crashes randomly after having played the event.

I’m playing on a PS4, so I guess Bethesda has given up any thought of trying to keep this game playable on the “last gen” consoles. If you’re going to go so far as to abandon all stability for the game, then just pull it from the platform entirely. Why support a “last gen” platform when the game literally crashes at the drop of a hat?

Crashing was bad during Fasnacht, but is officially twice as bad with Invaders from Beyond. And note, I’m no longer reporting crashes on my PS4. They never fix the bugs anyway. So, why bother reporting them? If they can’t be bothered to fix bugs, I can’t be bothered to report them. Seems only fair.

Rating

Photo_2022-03-03-111407_Overall, I give this event 1 star out of 5. Not only is the event insanely predictable and stupid easy once you know what to do, the fact that Bethesda has chosen to play fuck games with certain types of player builds makes this event (and this game) completely worthless. More than this, the loot drops are effectively junk. The best items are the CAMP decorations. The weapons are worthless.

The reason for the 1 star and not 0 is that the event is playable and it does drop loot. You can also choose to stand at the edge of the event border, do nothing and collect loot from the event and not participate. Though, I expect Bethesda will nerf this too. At some point, events may require participation (i.e. killing at least one enemy) to get dropped loot out of the event. I wouldn’t mind this change as it prevents players from idling while farming events for loot.

The lowered rating is also because the alien grenades are entirely pointless and they intentionally bypass the Sneak card. Bloodied weapons are nerfed all to hell and so is VATS making the event frustrating and pointless for no real benefit. So now, there are other builds that are way overpowered. It used to be Bloodied builds that were, but Bethesda has seen to it that anyone running a bloodied build is now so weak it’s pointless. But, I’ve seen other non-bloodied builds that can shred the HP of the final Legendary enemy in seconds. In fact, this same build can shred the HP of any of the alien enemies in seconds.

So, what was the point in screwing with bloodied builds here, Bethesda? You simply pushed the problem off to other overpowered builds. Now, those overpowered builds are the ones using machine gun weapons or shotguns. Are you going to go and nerf those builds and weapons, too?

If you plan on nerfing every single build in the game, then why even run Fallout 76 as a game? The point in this game is to build out high powered characters. That’s the reward for reaching the endgame. That’s why we as gamers play your games. That’s why we spend time getting our characters to level 400 or 500 or 1000 because we want to have an overpowered build.

By picking these builds out and nerfing the hell out of each and every build (because some random game player complains), you’re simply chasing more and more gamers away. Leave the game the fuck alone. If you don’t want players building overpowered characters, then just shut the game down. Don’t fuck with nerfing every single weapon, armor and build in the game. SHUT IT DOWN. There’s no point in running a Fallout game if players aren’t rewarded for reaching the endgame and reaching a high level.

Instead, it seems we’re expected to live with level 1 underpowered weapons because you want to fuck us over with every single release and every single event type. Stop screwing with us. If you can’t do that, then just shut the whole fucking thing down. There’s no reason to keep the game system alive if all you want is for every player to play with level 1 powered weapons against level 100 enemies.

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Can the Steam Deck succeed?

Posted in botch, business, gaming, portable by commorancy on February 28, 2022

SteamDeck1I’ve not yet had my hands onto this new Valve bad boy of a handheld, but I still want to give my first impressions of this device with its base $399 price tag. Let’s explore.

Handhelds in Gaming

Before I jump into my opinion of Valve’s new Steam Deck, let’s take step back in time to understand this device’s origins. I’m sure you may already be aware of many of the devices listed, but for those who may be new to some of them, I’ll list them below.

Handheld gaming began with Nintendo going as far back as early 80s with the Nintendo Game & Watch series of handheld gaming devices. These were single game devices that played very simplistic games, such as Fire and Ball. These simplistic games had you doing very simplistic things, such as with Fire, catching people as they tumble out of a burning building or in Ball, juggling balls.

Nintendo realized the magic of these small single-game handhelds and introduced the more flexible cartridge based GameBoy. Using cartridges, this handheld gaming unit offered the ability to switch games out and play many different games, up to as many as cartridges were made. It also offered game play on the go in a compact format.

Since then, we’ve seen a number of portable gaming handhelds in the subsequent years including:

  • Gameboy Color
  • Gameboy Color Clamshell
  • Atari Lynx
  • Sega Gamegear
  • Nintendo DS
  • Nintendo 3DS
  • Neo Geo Pocket
  • Sony PSP
  • Nokia NGage
  • Sony Xperia Play
  • Sony PS Vita
  • NVIDIA Shield
  • Nintendo Switch

and now we have the Steam Deck to add to this list. I didn’t include the Nintendo Wii U because while it had a portable element in the Gamepad, it simply wasn’t possible to play games strictly on the Gamepad on-the-go.

The Reviews

The early reviewers of the Steam Deck call it groundbreaking. Yet, the Steam Deck doesn’t solve any of the fundamental problems of handheld consoles of this variety. So, how exactly is it groundbreaking? It isn’t. It has one huge limitation that makes it fall far short of “ground breaking”. It’s also buggy as all get-out in far too many places that matter. Let’s take a closer look at the Steam Deck. SteamDeck2

From the above image, it looks like a fairly standard kind of handheld with …

  • A large touch screen
  • Two thumbsticks
  • A D-Pad
  • ABXY buttons (using the Xbox Controller layout)
  • A ‘Steam’ button
  • A ‘…’ menu button
  • Two shoulder and two trigger buttons
  • (new) Two trackpad buttons below the thumb sticks
  • (new) Two additional buttons (View and Options) between the thumbsticks and the D-Pad and ABXY buttons.
  • Power, volume up (+) and down (-), headphone jack, USB-C port and reset buttons are on the top edge.

This console runs Linux, or rather SteamOS, apparently. I’m uncertain why Steam chose to go with Linux on this handheld when choosing Windows would have been a much more compatible option. I mean, every single PC game would operate right out of the box on a handheld built on Windows. My only thought is that Gabe Newell didn’t want to fork over a bunch of cash to Microsoft to make this console a reality. Using a Linux based SteamOS meant cheaper outlay and no royalty fees.

Unfortunately, that design choice immediately sacrifices game compatibility right out of the gate. No where is this more apparent than when you attempt to play some games, which simply crash outright. Seeing as this is Linux based, it must use a Windows compatibility stack. The SteamOS apparently uses the open source Proton for its Windows compatibility stack, in similar form to Wine (Wine Is Not an Emulator). In fact, Proton’s Windows compatibility is based on Wine, but is being developed and improved by Valve and CodeWeavers. If you’ve ever used Wine, then you know it’s not ready for everyday use the vast majority of the time. Valve’s Proton layer may be better, but it can’t be that much better than Wine.

One thing I’ll say about compatibility is that it can work great one minute and suck hard the next. It’s entirely dependent on so many tiny little things to line up. Instead of fighting with compatibility layers, the Steam Deck could have run Windows directly and avoided all of these compatibility problems. Assuming the the point is to play Windows games, then why fake Windows when you can use the real thing? If the Steam Deck had at least been given the option of loading Windows as its operating system, then a buggy Windows compatibility layer wouldn’t have been required.

Pricing

The Steam Deck isn’t cheap. Let’s examine the Steam Deck’s pricing levels:

Screen Shot 2022-02-28 at 11.08.47 AM

For $399, that gets you an entry level handheld device and a carrying case. I’m assuming the Steam Deck also ships with a power cord and power brick, but it’s not listed in the above. If you want the top end version of the Steam Deck, you’re going to fork over $650 … more once you’ve bought accessories and games and paid taxes.

Let’s put this into perspective. For $499 ($100 more than the Steam Deck’s base model), you can buy a PS5 or an Xbox Series X. Both are true gaming consoles, but not handhelds.

PlayStation Vita, NVIDIA Shield, Nintendo Switch

All three of these consoles are the most recent iteration of touch screen “tablet” handhelds. These are the handhelds that should have been able to perform the best. In fact, the NVIDIA Shield should have been competitive with this console. Although, the Shield is now several years old at this point.

However, the Shield tried exactly what the Steam Deck is now trying. To bring PC gaming to a handheld. Yet, for whatever reason, it hasn’t ultimately worked.

That’s not to say that the Steam Deck won’t have some success, but ultimately it likely won’t succeed in the way Gabe hopes. It’s not for lack of trying. This format has been tried multiple times each with varying degrees of success, but none so runaway as to call it massively successful. As I said above, though, there’s one huge fail in the Steam Deck’s design. I’ll come to this shortly.

Of all of them, Nintendo’s Switch is probably the closest to a ‘runaway success’, but it’s still not winning the handheld space. What is? The Smartphone. Why? Because of it’s multifunction purpose. You can play games as easily as answer the phone as easily as book your next flight to Aruba. A phone supports always on data and, thus, gaming can take full advantage of that fact… making carrying around a phone the easiest gaming handheld available. On top of this, smartphones are updated about every year, making them 100% compatible with your current software, but allowing them to run that software much more fluidly. Gaming handhelds, like the Steam Deck, are lucky to be updated once every 3 years.

The point is, the handheld market is dominated by smartphones, not gaming handhelds. The reason for this, as I stated above, is clear. Not to mention, the battery life on phones, while not perfect, is about as good as you can expect in that sized device. It lasts all day, at least 8 hours. Many phone batteries can last up to 12 hours.

Handheld Gaming Battery Woes

Handheld gaming devices, at best, offer about 2 hours of play time with the best games. That’s a problem with the Nintendo Switch, the PS Vita, the NVIDIA Shield and, yes, even the Steam Deck. The point is, 2 hours of play time is simply not enough when you’re attempting to become immersed in a brand new game. All immersion is immediately broken when you see that sad red flashing battery icon letting you know your battery is about to die.

Sure, you can then find a wall outlet to plug into to continue your gaming, but that can be a hassle. This is also the fundamental problem why such handheld gaming consoles don’t sell as well as they should. You can’t produce fabulous looking games at a rock stable 60 FPS gaming experience when you’re limited to 2 hours of play time. The OS must then play internal conservation tricks with frame rates, CPU power levels, GPU power levels, shutting hard drives down and so on. These power saving techniques mean better battery life, but poor gaming performance. It also gets worse as the battery runs down. Less amperage and voltage means limiting CPU and GPU computing speeds.

This problem exists even with the Nintendo Switch, but Nintendo has taken a balanced approach by reducing the resolution to 720p when playing on the console’s screen. Moving the Switch to OLED, though, likely means even better battery life. An LCD screen backlight is a huge power drain. When using OLED, each LED in the screen uses much less overall power than a full sized backlight. Unfortunately, OLED also raises the cost of the unit simply due to its inclusion. Basically, to get a small amount of battery savings from an OLED display means the consumer shelling out $50 more ($349) to replace a Switch that you may already paid $300 previously.

Display Technology

Unfortunately, Valve chose not to use OLED to help save battery power for the Steam Deck. Instead, Valve chose to build it with a TFT LCD screen with a backlight. Let’s talk about the screen for a moment. What type of screen does the Steam Deck offer?

  • 7-inch touchscreen
  • 1280 x 800 (16:10)
  • 60 Hz
  • IPS (In-Plane Switching)
  • Anti-glare etched glass

This is a decent screen type for handheld. Consider, though, that the Nintendo Switch offers OLED at 1280×720 (720p) at $349, meaning that the screen on the Steam Deck is only 80 pixels wider. However, even were the Steam Deck to ship with an OLED screen, the CPU and GPU are the power hungry hogs in this unit. Yes, the Backlight does consume power, but not at the same rate as the CPU and GPU. An OLED screen might buy the unit an additional 15-45 minutes of play time depending on many factors for how the screen is used. Meaning, the fewer pixels lit, the less power it takes to drive the screen.

On a handheld, OLED should always be the first consideration when choosing a display, if only because of the backlight power savings. For a TV monitor, OLED’s benefits are inky blackness in dark areas.

I give it to Valve, though. You gotta start your design somewhere and LCD was the easiest place to start the Steam Deck, I suppose. Let’s hope that the next iteration, assuming there is one, that Gabe considers the power savings an OLED screen affords in a handheld design.

Can the Steam Deck succeed?

Unknown, but probably not this version. Did I mention that one huge flaw in this design? It’s still coming. Though, based on its current specifications, I’d give it a relatively low chance for success. Why? Because a gaming-only piece of hardware swimming in among a sea of smartphones doesn’t exactly indicate success. Oh, the unit will sell to various die-hard gamers and those who really want to be out-and-about gaming (ahem). But, those die-hard gamers are not going prop up this market. If that were to happen, the PS Vita would have succeeded. Yet, it hasn’t.

The only reason the Nintendo Switch has done as well as it has isn’t because of the Switch itself. It’s because of the franchises that Nintendo owns: Super Mario, Donkey Kong, Pokémon, Animal Crossing, Super Smash, Zelda, Mario Party, Kirby, Metroid and so on. These franchises drive the sales of the device, not the other way around. Nintendo could put out the worst piece of handheld garbage imaginable and people would still flock to it so long as they can play Pokémon.

Unfortunately, the Steam Deck doesn’t have legitimate access to these Nintendo franchises (other than through emulation after-the-fact). The Steam Deck must rely on games written for SteamOS or that are compatible with SteamOS. Even then, not all of these Steam games work on the Steam Deck properly, because they were designed to work with a mouse and keyboard, not a console controller. In essence, putting these games on a Steam Deck is tantamount to shoving a square peg into a round hole. Sometimes you can get it to work. Sometimes you can’t.

Ultimately, what this all means for the Steam Deck is a mixed bag and a mixed gaming experience.

Games Should Just Work

Consoles have taught us that games should simply “just work”. What that means to the gamer is that the simple act of opening a game on a console means that it launches and plays without problems. Though, recently, many games devs have taken this to a whole new and bad level… I’m looking at you, Bethesda.

With the Nintendo Switch, for example, games simply just work. The Nintendo Switch is, if nothing else, one of the best handheld gaming experiences I’ve had with a handheld. Not from a battery perspective, but from a “just works” perspective. I can’t even recall the last time I ran a Nintendo game that crashed outright back to the dashboard. Nintendo’s games are always rock solid.

Unfortunately, for the Steam Deck, that experience doesn’t exist. Some games may work well. Some may work halfway. Some may crash part way through. Some games won’t launch. The experience is a mixed bag. This poor level of experience is exactly why the Steam Deck may or may not succeed. That and the Steam Deck’s one big flaw… yes, that info is still coming.

When paying $400-700 for a gaming console, you expect games to play. Yet, even though the game is listed on the Steam store doesn’t imply the Steam Deck will run it. That’s a fairly major problem with the Steam Deck.

Instead, the Steam Deck folks need to create a tried and tested list of Steam Deck games and limit only those games to being visible, available and playable on the Steam Deck’s interface. Basically, the unit should prevent you from seeing, downloading and attempting to play any game which has not been thoroughly tested as functional on the Steam Deck. This vetting is important to bring the Steam Deck back into a similar stable play experience to other handhelds, like Nintendo. If a game doesn’t work, you can’t see it or download it on the Steam Deck.

This “games just work” mentality is an important aspect to a gaming handheld like the Steam Deck. It’s a make or break aspect of marketing this handheld. It’s not that difficult to limit which games can be seen and downloaded. There’s absolutely no reason why this handheld shows games that knowingly don’t work or that are knowingly unstable. Yes, such limits will reduce the amount of games available, but will improve the overall play experience of this device for buyers.

When spending $400, we’ve come to expect a specific level of sanity and stability. This goes hand-in-hand for the price tag, even for the Steam Deck.

Yet, reviewers have stated that their review models have experienced a completely mixed bag. Some games that work, work well. Some games that were expected to work, haven’t worked at all. Some games that worked well have crashed the following day of play. This problem all comes back down to the Proton compatibility problems mentioned earlier.

Success or Failure?

At this point, it’s too early to tell, but one big flaw will likely prevent full success. However, let me dive right into my own opinion of this handheld console. My first observation is that the Steam Deck is physically too big. I understand that Steam wanted it to have a big enough screen with the Steam Deck, but its simply too big and bulky. With the added bulk of the controls, it simply becomes oversized.

Instead, how I would handled design of this platform would have been to use a separate remote joystick. Design the screen to be a simple tablet display with a hefty fan, kickstand and no controls on the tablet at all (other than volume, power, reset and headphone jack). Then, have a separate joystick that can be charged and carried separately. This does a couple of things. Joysticks with separate batteries mean no drain on the console battery under use. Additionally, a battery in the joystick could be hefty enough to be used as a supplemental power source, which can be tapped by the console to extend its battery life once the console is out and about. Having a separate battery means longer play time, thus carrying a separate and charged joystick means extra playtime.

Separate joysticks also feel better in the hand than attached joysticks on handhelds like this. The wide spaced joystick always feels somewhat awkward to use. This awkwardness can be overcome after using it for some time, but I’ve never really gotten past the awkwardness of the Nintendo Switch. I always prefer using the Pro controller over the attached JoyCons. The mechanics used to drive the sticks in a small form factor like the Steam Deck are squashed down and usually don’t feel correct. Using a full sized joystick, these awkward sizing and design issues don’t exist.

With the PS Vita, this spacing problem was less of a problem due to the smaller screen. Though, playing games with the smashed-flat thumbsticks on the PS Vita always felt awkward.

I do get having an attached controller, though. For places like on a train or a bus or in a car, it may be difficult to use two separate devices. Thus, having a controller built-in solves that problem in these few situations. Yet, I don’t know if I’d hamper a handheld device’s size simply to cover a few limited places where having a separate controller won’t easily work. The vast majority of out-and-about play locations would allow for using a controller separately from the LCD screen base, which can be propped up or even hung.

However, these are all relatively minor problems not likely cause failure of sales of the device. The major problem with this device is its lack of additional functionality. For example, it’s not a phone. You can’t make calls using the device.

SteamOS also seems to also offer limited productivity apps, such as word processors, video editors and so on. It does have a browser, but even that seems limited because of the limited controls. You’d have to pair a keyboard if you want more functionality.

Because SteamOS is based on Linux, there’s limited commercial software available for Linux. Unlike MacOS X and Windows, where the vast majority of software is being written, Linux doesn’t have many of these commercial software options. To run Windows apps requires a compatibility stack like Proton, to which those problems have been discussed above.

The Steam Deck goes way deeper than not being a phone, though. It has no cell phone data capability at all. I’ve been teasing the Steam Deck’s biggest flaw… so here it is. No on-the-go always on networking. Meaning, there’s no way to play multiplayer games while out and about without carrying additional devices. Which leads to….

Multiplayer Games?

Don’t go into the purchase of a Steam Deck for any purpose other than single player offline gaming. Know that you won’t be making cell phone calls nor have any easy always-on data options available. If you want data while out and about, you’re going to need a WiFi network handy, to carry a MiFi hotspot with you or use your phone as a WiFi hotspot. This means you’ll need to carry a second device for playing any games which require multiplayer. Because too many games these days require multiplayer always-on Internet, the Steam Deck substantially misses the boat here.

Even still, using a phone or MiFi hotspot may limit your speeds enough to prevent the use of multiplayer in some games. If you try to use a Starbucks or Target store WiFi, you may find that gaming is blocked entirely. This is a huge downside to this device for out-and-about multiplayer gaming. Basically, the only games you can play while out and about are single player offline games only, not multiplayer. While some offline games are still being made, many games now require online Internet at all times, regardless of whether you are playing multiplayer. As more and more game devs require always online status, this will limit the usefulness of this model of the Steam Deck over time.

Instead, Valve needs to rethink this design of the Steam Deck. Valve should include a cell phone radio so that this unit can join a 5G network to enable always-on networking. This is a huge miss for the Steam Deck… one that shouldn’t have been missed. Multiplayer gaming is here to stay and pretty much so is always online Internet. As I said, many game devs require always online Internet.

The lack of a cell phone data network on the Steam Deck limits out and about play for far too many games. Ultimately, the novelty of the Steam Deck’s handheld’s remote play basically limits you to playing multiplayer games in and around your home or at places where you know high speed online gaming is allowed, which isn’t very many places. Even Hotels may limit speeds such that some online games won’t function properly. Thus, the lack of always-on Internet actually undermines the portability of the Steam Deck, making it far less portable for gaming than one might expect.

Instead, Valve needs to team up with a large mobile carrier to offer always-on data networking for the Steam Deck that also allows for full speed gaming. Thus, this would mean including a built-in cell phone radio that offers purchasing a data plan offering high-speed 5G always-on network multiplayer gaming. Once this is achieved, only then could this device be considered ‘ground breaking’. Without this always-on networking capability, the Steam Deck handheld is firmly tied to a past where fewer and fewer offline games are being created today.

Success or Failure Part II

Circling back around… the Steam Deck, while novel and while also offering access to the Steam library of games may not yet be all that it can be. This handheld needs a lot more design consideration to become truly useful in today’s gaming circles.

Some gamers may be willing to shell out $399 to play it, but many won’t. The limitations of this unit far outweigh it’s usefulness as a modern handheld console. Back when the PS Vita offered two versions, WiFi only version and a Cell Phone version, that was at a time when multiplayer gaming was still not always online.

Today, because many games require always-on Internet, not having a cell phone network available on this gaming “tablet” (yes, it is a tablet), is highly limiting for multiplayer gaming. Multiplayer gaming isn’t going away. If anything, it’s getting bigger each year. Choosing not to include or offer a cell phone data version of this tablet is a huge miss.

My guess for success of this specific version of the Steam Deck is that its success will be limited. It will sell some, but only to very specific gamers. I seriously doubt that it will be considered “ground breaking” in any substantial way, particularly after missing the general purpose nature of a tablet combined with including an always-on a cell data network feature.

I felt this way both with the Nintendo Switch and with the NVIDIA Shield. Both of those tablets have done okay with their respective markets, particularly Nintendo’s Switch. It’s done exceedingly well, but only because of Nintendo’s major game franchises and because none of those franchises (other than Mario Kart) require heavy networking. The Shield, like this tablet, has only done okay in sales. Not great, not horrible.

If Valve wants to sell this gaming tablet as it is, it needs to strike while the iron is hot and while this tablet is new. Advertise the crap out of it everywhere. Because it’s new, people will be interested to have a look. Many more will buy it because it’s new. Eventually, all of the above limitations will be apparent, but only after people have paid their cash and already purchased it.

Personally, this unit has too many limitations for me to consider it. If this gaming tablet offered both cell phone data options AND full Windows gaming compatibility, I might have considered it. It isn’t enough to offer many from the Steam library of games. It also needs to offer the fundamental basics for multiplayer gaming.

For example, you wouldn’t be able to play Fallout 76 while out and about without access to a high speed MiFi hotspot. Thus, you also won’t be able to play multiplayer games like Fortnite, Overwatch or Destiny using a Steam Deck while riding a train to work. The lack of a multiplayer always-on data network is huge miss that ultimately undermines the usability of the Steam Deck and is also its biggest design flaw; a flaw that shouldn’t have been missed by the Valve team at the Steam Deck’s price tag.

Overall, I can’t personally recommend the purchase of the Steam Deck as a portable modern gaming device strictly because of its lack of thoughtful design around multiplayer gaming while on the go. However, the Steam Deck is probably fine if used as a home console device using a wireless controller while hooked to a widescreen TV and connected to a home high speed WiFi network. It may also be worth it if you intend to use it primarily to play offline single player games or if you intend to use it as a retro emulator for 80s and 90s games. Still, it’s way overpowered for the likes of Joust, Dig Dug or Defender.

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Recipe: Mug Cake

Posted in dessert, food, recipes by commorancy on February 24, 2022

white teacup

Every once in a while, I have a hankering for some cake. Yet, I don’t want to whip out a full complement of kitchen gadgets, bowls and utensils, then spend time mixing it all and then waiting for it to bake in an oven simply to satisfy an immediate craving. This recipe explores the fascinating world of the Microwave Mug Cake, which takes perhaps 10 minutes from start to finish. The most amount of time is spent assembling the ingredients. The image depicted is for illustration purposes only and does not reflect the final cake. Let’s explore.

Mug Cake Batter

This cake batter base below is a great base to begin adding flavor to your Mug Cake, such as vanilla, spices, chocolate, strawberry, sprinkles, apples, etc. This recipe is designed for a 12 ounce sized mug. You may need to reduce the portions if your mug is smaller than 12 ounces. A 12 ounce mug provides an excellent portion size.

This cake recipe comes out light and airy with an excellent cake crumb texture. The cake rises just below the top of the mug, so you’ll have a full mug of cake. Many recipes provide half mug sizes which are okay, but I want my cake to reach the top of the mug to enjoy a full mug of cake.

Self-rising flour is used below because it has baking powder already mixed in. No need to add any baking powder. If you don’t have self-rising flour on hand, substitute regular flour and add 1 teaspoon of baking powder.

All ingredients should be measured level, not heaping.

Cake Batter Base

2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
4 Tablespoons Sugar
1 Tablespoon Non-fat Dry Milk
2 Tablespoons Water (more if the batter is still too dry)
1 Egg Yolk (separated)
1 Teaspoon Egg White
1 Packet Sweet-N-Low
1 Dash Salt
1 Dash Stevia
6 Tablespoons Self-Rising Flour

Other Items Needed

1 set of Measuring Spoons
1 12 oz sized Mug
1 Fork for mixing (clean or use a different fork to consume the cake)
1 Spatula for mixing
1 Microwave (for cooking)

Substititions

Sweeteners

I add the Stevia and Sweet-N-Low to boost the sweetness without extra calories. You can add more or less sugar as you prefer. The list of ingredients above is in the order in which you add them to the mug. The above is the basic batter in which you can add other ingredients to flavor the cake.

Milk

If you only have fresh milk on hand, replace both the non-fat dry milk AND water in the recipe for 2 tablespoons of fresh milk. I prefer to use milk for baking reasons only, never to drink. Dry milk stores much, much longer on the shelf than fresh milk. Fresh milk lasts for a week or two max in the fridge. Dry milk stores for months. Having dry milk on hand also allows you to make fresh milk any time you need it. You can also mix your milk at whatever flavor concentration you like, something you can’t easily get with fresh milk. For consuming dry milk reconstituted, it is recommended to allow the milk to fully hydrate in the fridge overnight to eliminate the ‘dry milk’ flavor. When baking, you won’t ever taste this.

Ingredient Suggestions

If you want carrot cake, you’ll need to mince up some carrots in two tablespoons. If you want spice cake, you’ll want to add a Cake Spice mixture like Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Coriander, Ginger, Allspice, Mace or Clove.

Dry / semi-dry flavorings should be added at 2 tablespoons per flavoring. Liquid flavorings, such as Vanilla Extract, should be added at 1-2 teaspoons.

Butter

Melt the unsalted butter in the mug prior to beginning and let the butter cool somewhat before adding the remaining ingredients. You don’t want to butter temperature to begin cooking the egg once mixed in. Let the butter (and mug) cool sufficiently to lukewarm. Place it into the fridge or freezer for a few minutes if needed. You can substitute a tablespoon of vegetable oil for butter if needed.

Spice Mug Cake

Base Batter +
2 Tablespoons Cake Spice
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Tablespoon Raisins (optional)

Chocolate Mug Cake

Base Batter +
2 Tablespoons Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Tablespoon Chocolate Sprinkles or Chocolate Morsels (optional)

Add one (1) more Tablespoon Cocoa Powder if you prefer no morsels or sprinkles.

Vanilla Sprinkles Mug Cake

Base Batter +
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Tablespoon Rainbow Sprinkles

Other Flavors

You get the idea of how to flavor the base batter. However, be sure that if you add purees or other liquid flavorings, you may need to reduce the amount of water to compensate. You don’t want the batter to become overly runny.

Batter Consistency

Once you add all of the ingredients, stir with a fork until thoroughly mixed. Stirring may take 2-3 minutes of hand mixing. You may need to spatula down the sides and bottom to ensure all of the dry ingredients have been thoroughly incorporated. Once mixed, the batter should be somewhat stiff, but still liquid looking when you stop stirring. If you pick up, then drop batter onto itself, it should reincorporate slowly. This is the correct thickness. You don’t want the batter runny.

Resist the urge of throwing in the remaining egg white. You don’t want to do this. Egg whites reduce the crumb of the cake, making the texture come out rubbery, like Angel Food cake, rather than having a standard crumbly cake texture. Save the remaining egg whites for other purposes.

Cooking Instructions

To “bake” this cake, you’ll want to use 50% power in a microwave for 2 minutes and 30 seconds. However, you may need to stop the microwave at around 2 minutes to check and make sure it’s not overcooking. If it seems still too wet at 2 minutes, place it back into the microwave for 30 seconds at a time until done.

When done, the top of the cake should have a springy cake texture and appear like a standard cake.

Icing

If you’re really a fan of icing on the top, then you can make your own if you so choose, but I’d suggest store bought varieties. They’re cheap and easy enough to use. However, because this cake will be hot, applying icing to the top can be tricky and difficult. If you can resist the urge of eating it right away, you can wait for the cake to cool and the icing will go on much easier.

If you can’t resist or wish to eat it hot, then spoon a dollop of icing on the hot cake and wait for it to melt and warm up a little. You can then spread it on a bit easier.

Top with sprinkles or whatever toppings you like. In about 10-15 minutes, you have a tasty Mug Cake.

Dig in and Enjoy!

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