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Whole Foods: Everything wrong with Amazon in a store.

Posted in botch, business, shopping by commorancy on September 20, 2018

When Amazon bought Whole Foods in 2017, I wondered exactly what that meant for Whole Foods as a brand and as a store. In 2018, I have found out, and so have the store employees. It’s not exactly what you might have predicted. Let’s explore.

Drastic Changes on the Aisles

One thing is clear, Amazon isn’t keeping Whole Foods stagnant. No, sir. However… are the changes being made inside the stores great? In many cases, no.

At one time, Whole Foods had a huge aisle of bulk tea ingredients. Today, they have maybe 10-15 jars total. Most of the jars are of the caffeinated varieties. Other than loose Rooibos, there was very little in the way of herbal tea ingredients. Whole Foods was the only real place where you could go get bulk tea ingredients. I was sadly disappointed at the state of affairs in visiting Whole Foods this weekend. The sad handful of jars seemed off, but I guess that’s what Bezos wants. In fact, the whole store seemed a little off.

Another department that has undergone drastic remodeling is the health and beauty area. Where they once carried clothing, scarfs, plush toys, mounds of loose organic soaps and various other eclectic HBA goods, today the area is nearly barren with only tiny amounts of certain items. They’ve also decided to do away with the HBA counter and rebuild a new kiosk for Customer Service there, so they can put in more cash registers. As if they need more registers… they barely man the ones they already have.

One other area of HBA (and other products) is product reformulations. I had been using the Whole Foods house brand of 365 glycerin bar soaps. Recently, I purchased new bars only to find a new label. After opening one of the soap bars I noticed a change in the fragrance. Clearly, Amazon is trying to cut costs by changing manufacturing of some of their house brands to new manufacturers.

I’ve also found other brands of products which have now changed. Where once Whole Foods had carried specific brands for years, these are now gone, no where to be found.  Whole Foods was really the only place that stocked these brands. I can’t imagine what this has done to those brand sellers. Whole Foods was likely their lifeblood. Without Whole Foods, they’re dead in the water. Safeway has never considered ordering those brands and likely never will. Good luck trying to find those brands ever again as those manufacturers are likely out of business.

Also, Amazon has started adding in small lockup rollabouts stocking Echos, Fire Tablets and Kindles, among other electronic and gadgety things. This is a grocery store, not Best Buy.

Checkout Lanes

Another change is that the Express lanes were always open with at least 1 or 2 people manning them. In the last 2-4 months, this no longer is true. I’ve walked in in the morning or in the evening and the Express lanes are always closed. Now they are keeping a few regular registers open. Not sure what’s going on with this change, but it seems odd considering the majority of people unloading their carts had less than 10 items to buy. Express lanes make more sense.

Not All Changes Are Good

I never performed my whole house grocery shopping at Whole Foods. It was always too expensive for full cart shopping. I only visit Whole Foods for very specific items that I cannot find at Safeway or other supermarkets. Today, I do most of my grocery shopping at Target, to be honest. Since Target has fully built out a respectable grocery section, when combined with Cartwheel discounts and the extra 5% RedCard discount, it’s usually worth my while to grocery shop at Target. They may not be the cheapest at everything, but considering the amount of discounts I get there, it’s more than worth it in the end.

Why this diversion about Target? Because Amazon and Whole Foods are trying something similar, except they’re mostly failing at it. Certain sale items and items with blue cards give extra discounts if you’re an Amazon Prime member. Considering how few items actually end up on actually discounted with Prime, it’s really not worth it. If Amazon could see fit to offer something like Target’s 5% off the entire basket + extra discounts like with Cartwheel, it might be worth it. Even then, I still find Whole Foods prices to be well above where they should be and nowhere near competitive with Target.

Worse, while Amazon seems to have cut some quality products down in an attempt to make even more money, nearly all of the dry goods still suffer from what I call, “highender syndrome”. What that means is that these items are sold at prices that are intended to entice buyers of a certain affluence level or above and feel make them “special”. However, what I’ve personally found after trying these products is while the price is well above where it should be, these packaged foods when prepared are lackluster and mostly taste of cardboard. Anyone willing to shell out that kind of dough for cardboard food, I got a bridge to sell ya.

As this section began, not all changes are for the best. The changes that Amazon has been making to Whole Foods have been questionable and seemingly geared toward selling Amazon products in a retail store environment. Amazon, if you really want to open an Amazon store, then just open one. Don’t ruin Whole Foods to make it a platform for Amazon products.

Workers Seem Disenchanted

I spoke with one worker at Whole Foods recently who is just as disenchanted with Amazon’s changes as I am. One thing he mentioned was that before Amazon’s purchase, the store could restock individual items as necessary. This meant that items were almost never out of stock and aisles were always full. I certainly noticed this change recently. When I visited to buy my glycerin bars, I noticed the unscented bars were out of stock. I purchased a couple of the other bars to hold me over for a bit. I then visited a day later and they were still out of stock. I’d say all told, I visited the store about 3-4 times before I finally found them in stock.

This employee told me that after Amazon took over, Amazon’s changes stopped allowing individual item reorders. This leaves shelves bare of products until the next whole shipment arrives. This is one of the things I always liked about Whole Foods before Amazon. I could walk into the store and nearly be 100% certain that the item would be in stock. In fact, I can’t even remember a single time when I visited Whole Foods and those soap bars (or pretty much anything else.. especially house brand items) were out of stock before Amazon’s involvement.

Hot Food Bar Changes

At the hot food area, I spoke with another worker who was disenchanted to see the home cooked prepared meals area has disappeared. No longer can you find the hot foods like mashed potatoes, cooked lamb shanks, meat loaf, grilled veggies and other staple foods they carried there every day. Now they’re gone and have been replaced by a Pizza display area. If the food isn’t on the hot food buffet area, too bad, so sad. I always liked buying those mashed potatoes there. They were the best in the store. The mashed potatoes on the buffet bar were plain and flavorless, as is most of that hot food bar food. The home cooked food they made at the food counter was much, much tastier.

Shopping at Whole Foods

Amazon has made no efforts to reduce Whole Food’s overall prices. But, Amazon has done much to remove, change, reduce and limit availability of items. I’m uncertain of this chain’s longevity. One of the things about operating a higher end gourmet grocery store like Whole Foods is attention to customer service and attention to product detail. Amazon doesn’t get it. Draeger’s gets it. Piazza’s gets it. Bianchini’s gets it. I realize these are SF Bay Area high end gourmet markets, but I’m sure you have some like these in your area, too. Whole Foods used to get what it meant to be classed as a gourmet grocery store, but since Amazon, they don’t.

As for the store proper, the reduction in products, the change in brand formulations and removal of mainstay brands doesn’t say Amazon knows what Whole Foods is really about. You can’t just begin gutting the fundamentals that made this gourmet grocery store and expect it to survive. Amazon is playing with fire making these changes to Whole Foods this fast. So far, I still see a fair amount of people shopping here. With each and every product removal or switch, the store will lose more and more customers.  Those customers who once frequented looking for that specific item only available at Whole Foods will end up over at Draeger’s, Bianchini’s or Piazza’s (or any of a number of smaller high end markets).

I know I’m not the only person who stops shopping at places when they kill my favorite brands and products that I relied on. Amazon hasn’t yet fully killed my last remaining reasons to visit Whole Foods, but changing soap manufacturers doesn’t bode well for at least one of those products.  Let’s hope I can use the new formulation without skin problems. We’ll see. They’ve also changed their brand of unsweetened ketchup. Yes, they still carry it, but the new brand jar seems quite a bit smaller for the same price. So far, they still carry the Stevia liquid brand that I use and at a “reasonable” price.

Feedback and Thank You

If you’ve gotten this far into this article, I’d like to thank you for spending your time here reading Randocity articles. In this YouTube age with people putting their faces out there as hosts, I have also contemplated setting up a channel for Randocity. Each time I have considered this, I realize that writing this blog is what I enjoy about blogging. Vlogging has its own set of constraints, time sucks and technical problems that to me don’t seem very enjoyable, particularly buying all of the necessary equipment and spending hours editing videos together.

If your shopping experiences have changed as a result of Amazon’s purchase of and changes to Whole Foods stores, please leave a comment below explaining what problems you have encountered in your shopping experiences. I will consider extending this article to include quotes from various reader’s recent shopping experiences. I’m always interested in hearing reader feedback. If you work at Whole Foods and are willing to speak up, please leave a comment below.

If you would like to be notified whenever new Randocity articles are published, please click the Follow button in the upper right corner of the screen.

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Lost with Apple’s iPhones for 2018?

Posted in Apple, botch, business, california by commorancy on September 12, 2018

iPhone X 2018You might be asking, “What is an iPhone Xr? Why would I want that model?” Well, let’s dive right in to discuss what these phone models are and how they stack up. Let’s explore.

iPhone X models for 2018

What new models iPhones are there for 2018? Well, there are several new models this year. Here’s the rundown of these models. The new models include the iPhone Xs, iPhone Xs Max and the iPhone Xr. Yep, that’s it. No new iPhone 8. No iPhone 9. Nothing else for phones.

iPhone X Compare

Display Res iPhone X 2018

Let’s Talk Models

  • iPhone Xs Max — This is by far the biggest iPhone X model so far. It sports a 6.5″ OLED display. It is about the same physical size as an iPhone 8 Plus.
    • Pricing:
      • 64GB = $1099
      • 256GB = $1249
      • 512GB = $1449 (really, Apple?)
  • iPhone Xs — This is the same size as the former iPhone X, its earlier sibling. This phone sports a 5.8 inch display, the same as earlier iPhone X.
    • Pricing:
      • 64GB = $999
      • 256GB = $1149
      • 512GB = $1349
  • iPhone Xr — This is a “brand new” model in the iPhone X lineup. It sports a 6.1″ sized display. It’s slightly smaller than an iPhone 8 plus. With the iPhone Xr, instead of using the more costly OLED tech, Apple has redesigned this model with a LCD screen. Unfortunately, as with most cost cutting measures, Apple has reduced the resolution by a LOT.
    • Instead of resolution in the thousands, now it’s back in the hundreds at 1792 x 828.  These are resolutions we’ve not seen since the iPhone 8 at 1334 x 750. Somewhat higher than the iPhone 8, yes, but this phone is a huge step backward for Apple.
    • OLED has a contrast ratio of 1 million to 1 where LCD has a contrast ratio of 1400:1. This means that when viewing the iPhone Xr screen, you’re going to see that dull grey background whenever the screen is black.
    • This model is also missing the following features:
      • No 3D Touch
      • 2 meter water resistance reduced to 1 meter
      • No 512GB model.. tops out at 256GB
      • No HDR display (not that this matters much as Apple has dumbed down the OLED display intentionally)
      • No Dual Cameras — Single camera only
    • Pricing:
      • 64GB = $749
      • 128GB = $799
      • 256GB = $899

What it comes down to is that if you’re looking for a less expensive version of the iPhone X and you’re willing to forgo the above features, the iPhone Xr is probably what you want. Personally, I still want TouchID, which is still missing from these newest X models.

iPhoneXSizingThere’s nothing really new here for me to jump for joy over. These models are entirely expected as next versions, though the prices are excessively high. Seriously, $1449 for a 512GB iPhone Xs Max? That’s the price of a notebook computer which has twice the features, twice the power and twice the number of applications. I shake my head at this pricing. Apple has completely lost it.

I still have my iPhone 7 Plus and it’s working like a champ. I’ve no need to jump into the X with that stupid black brow. I was hoping Apple would have gotten rid of that by the second generation. Nope. Apple, what the hell is going on over at 1 Infinite Loop? Are you guys too busy building circular buildings instead of focusing on actually building new innovative products?

Apple Watch

Apple WatchProbably the most innovative thing that has come out of Apple  for 2018 is the newest Apple Watch, with its somewhat larger display and a back that’s supposed to improve LTE service quality. That’s not saying much. Unfortunately, the larger size has the downside of actually making the watch even bigger. Do they think we really want to wear BIGGER watches? Though, a bigger watch may mean a slightly bigger battery and perhaps slightly longer run times. This is important for those of you who actually use the LTE feature. I don’t.

I was hoping for an actual round watch this time around. After all, Android has had these for years now. Where is Apple with a round watch? No idea, they keep focusing on these silly rectangular watches and adding stupid battery hungry technologies like LTE. You can’t really use a watch as a phone, so why bother with that? I guess someone finds the LTE part useful, but I don’t.

MacBook Pro

I’ll make this next 2018 intro short and sweet. It’s about friggin’ time Apple introduced the 32GB version of the MacBook Pro. Of course, the 2018 MacBook Pro also offers 6 core processors. That’s nice, but the 32GB of RAM is much more interesting. Though, by now these computers should be sporting 128GB of RAM, not a piddly 32.

Apple, where’s the touch screen on the MacBook Pro? Why the hell doesn’t this computer have a touch screen in 2018?

iPad 9.7″

New iPadApple reintroduces this size yet again. This size existed several years ago in the Pro format (supported Apple Pencil) and was discontinued. Now they’re introducing it again as though it’s some new thing. The only thing that makes this ‘new’ iPad special is that it now supports the Apple Pencil. Every iPhad… er iPad should have had Apple Pencil support the year after the Pencil was launched. In fact, every touch surface that Apple now produces should support the Apple Pencil including the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Watch and the MacBook Pro. By limiting which products support the Pencil is entirely stupid. Apple, don’t you want to sell your products?

What Apple chooses to do with its product lineup is always questionable, but in reality nothing truly innovative has come out of Apple since the first gen Apple Watch and the Airpods. Everything else has been limited extensions of existing products including “The new 9.7-inch iPad”, which is effectively a reintroduction of the 9.7″ iPad Pro sans the edge connector for the Smart Keyboard.

Lateral Innovation

I don’t consider extending an existing product as true innovation. I consider it lateral innovation. Lateral innovation is defined as copying the design of an existing product and then adding small features that don’t significantly improve the design. True innovation means new products that have never before existed. Apple hasn’t launched a truly new product since the Apple Watch and that was in April 24, 2015. That was over 3 years ago. Apple hasn’t launched a truly new product in over 3 years!

Man, get with the program Apple. Your relevance is waning. If you, the reader, want to find pricing of any of the other (ahem) “new” products, mosey on over to Apple.com and take a look for yourselves. You might be surprised… and not for the better.

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Rant Time: Apple Music vs Twitter

Posted in Apple, botch, business, california by commorancy on September 12, 2018

apple-cracked-3.0-noderivsI know I’ve been on a tirade with the number of rants recently, but here we are. I rant when there’s something to rant about. This time it’s about sharing Apple Music playlists on Twitter… and just how badly this feature is broken. Worse, just how Apple itself is broken. Let’s explore.

Twitter Cards

Twitter has a feature they call Twitter cards. It’s well documented and requires a number of meta tags to be present in an HTML page. When the page is shared via Twitter, Twitter goes looking at the HTML for its respective Twitter meta tags to generate a Twitter card.

A Twitter card comes in two sizes and looks something like this:

Small Twitter Card

Twitter Card Small 2

Large Twitter Card

Large Twitter Card

What determines the size of the Twitter card seems to be the size and ratio of the image. If the image is square in size (144×144 or larger), Twitter creates a small card as shown at the top. If the image ratio is not square and larger than 144×144, Twitter produces a large Twitter card. The difference between the cards is obvious:

  • Small card has an image to the left and text to the right
  • Large card has image above and text below

It’s up to the person sharing on Twitter to decide which size is most appropriate. Personally, I prefer the larger size because it allows for a much larger image.

Apple Music Playlist Sharing

Here’s where the RANT begins… hang onto your hat’s folks. Apple’s engineering team doesn’t get Twitter cards…. AT. ALL! Let me give an example of this. Here’s a playlist I shared on Twitter:

Apple Music Playlist Twitter Card

What’s wrong with this Twitter card? If you guessed the image is way too tiny, you’d win. Apple doesn’t understand the concept of producing a 144×144 image properly. Here’s the fundamental problem. In iTunes, my playlist image is uploaded with a 1200×1200 size image. This image is well large enough for any use on the net. Here’s how it looks in iTunes, albeit scaled somewhat small:

iTunes Playlist Image

Note, iTunes retains the full image size, but scales the image as needed. If you look at the playlist on the web, it looks like this with a much larger scaled image:

Apple Playlist Web

As you can see, the image scales properly and still looks good even larger. Yes, even large enough to produce a 144×144 image on a Twitter card.

Here’s the Twitter card metadata on that Apple Music Preview page:

meta id="1" name="twitter:title" content="‎AstroWorld Pioneer by Klearnote" class="ember-view"

meta id="2" name="twitter:description" content="‎Playlist · 22 Songs" class="ember-view"

meta id="3" name="twitter:site" content="@appleMusic" class="ember-view">

meta id="4" name="twitter:domain" content="Apple Music" class="ember-view">

meta id="5" name="twitter:image" 
content="https://is5-ssl.mzstatic.com/image/thumb/SG-S3-US-Std-Image-000001/v4/a2/c6/6f/a2c66fc6-a63b-f590-c6db-e41aebfc327c/image/600x600wp.png" 
class="ember-view"

meta id="6" name="twitter:card" content="summary" class="ember-view"

You’ll notice that the text in red above is the piece that is relevant. Let’s look at that image now…

600x600wp

Scaled. Click to see 600×600 image

You’ll notice that the playlist image content is centered at 213×213 pixels in size centered in a light grey box that’s 600×600. Yes, that thick light grey border is part of the image. This is actually how the image is being produced by Apple on their servers. That would be okay if the image were scaled to the full 600×600 pixels. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Twitter will scale any image to its preferred size of 144×144 pixels for small Twitter cards. Here’s what a 144×144 image looks like when scaled by WordPress:

600x600wp

Small, but reasonably clear. Here’s Twitter’s crap scaled and unreadable version:

twitter-144x144

I have no idea what Twitter is using to scale its images, but it looks like absolute trash. The bigger problem isn’t that Twitter has scaled this image down, it’s that Apple has provided Twitter with such an already small and crap looking playlist image. Why have a 144×144 image if you’re only going to use 1/9th of the entire space? Apple, why wouldn’t you not want to use the entire 144×144 image space to make the image look like this:

pioneer-1200x1200

That sized image would make the Twitter card look like this…

TwitterCardFixed

… instead of this absolute shit looking card…

TwitterCardBroken

How the Mighty Have Fallen

Apple used to be a well respected company who always prided itself on doing things correctly and producing high quality products. Today, they’re a shadow of their former selves. Producing products as crap as this only serves as a detriment to all of the other products they now offer. It’s clear, Apple Music is an afterthought and Apple seems to have only one engineer assigned to this software product… maybe none.

It’s also clear, Apple doesn’t respect the standards of anyone, not even themselves. I consider this absolute crap attention to detail. Seriously, who wants their images to be scaled to the point of unreadability? No one!

Yet, when I called Apple Support to report this issue, I was told, “This is expected behavior”. Expected by whom? Who would ever expect an image to be scaled the point of nonrecognition? No one. If this is the level of software development effort we’re now seeing from Apple, then I don’t even want to think what corners are being cut on their hardware products.

What’s next? Apple watches catching on fire and exploding on people’s wrists? Phones taking out people’s ears? If I can no longer trust Apple to uphold the standards of high quality, then the mighty have truly fallen. There is no hope for Apple no matter how much crap they try to peddle.

Apple, Hear Me!

If you are serious about your business, then you need to be serious about all aspects including offering high quality products, services and features. This goes all the way to playlist sharing on Twitter. My experience with dealing with Apple in this matter was so amateur including the way Apple Music itself is being handled, why should I continue to use this product? Give me a reason to pay you $99 for such shit! Seriously, in addition to the above, I’m also finding what appear to be bootlegged music products on Apple Music and yet you’re pawning it off as official releases?

And as suggested by your representative, why should I contact Twitter for this issue? Twitter’s features work properly when provided with the correct information. As has been stated for years in software engineering, “Garbage In, Garbage Out”. It is you, Apple, who are providing Twitter with garbage information. It’s not a Twitter problem, it’s an Apple problem. Also, because this is an Apple engineering problem to solve, why should I contact Twitter on Apple’s behalf? I don’t work for you. You need to have YOUR engineering team contact Twitter and have them explain to you the errors of your ways.

This is just the tip of the iceberg here. There’s so much wrong at Apple, if you continue to entrust your family’s safety into Apple’s products, you may find one of your family members injured or dead. Apple, wake up and learn to take quality seriously.

Then next time you are shopping for a computer or a watch devices, you need to ask yourself, “Do I really trust Apple to provide safe choices?”

Apple has now officially and truly reached the level of shit!

Broken Apple Image credit: The King of The Vikings via DeviantArt

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Rant Time: MagicJack – Scam or Legit?

Posted in botch, business, scam, scams by commorancy on September 11, 2018

magicJackThe magicJack company offers a voice over IP phone service. You can use it with an app on your phone or by a device plugged into an actual landline-type phone. It does require Internet to function. Either way you go, it’s VoIP and they have very questionable and deceptive billing practices. Let’s explore.

Internet Phone Service Choices

If you’re in need of phone services on a device that only has access to WiFi, then a voice over IP service (VoIP) is what you need. There are many different VoIP services available on the Internet. You can even make audio and video calls via Facetime on iOS, via Skype on pretty much any mobile or desktop computer or even via Google Hangouts. For this reason, magicJack is yet another VoIP phone service in a sea of choices.

Why would you want to choose magicJack? Initially, they were one of the lowest priced VoIP phone services. They also offered a tiny computer dongle that made it easy to plug in a standard home phone. That was then. Today, mobile devices make this a different story. Lately, this company has raised their prices dramatically and they’re performing some quite deceptive and questionable billing practices.

911 Service

As with any phone service that offers the ability to use 911, the service must tack on charges to the bill by the municipality. You’d think that part of the invoice that magicJack is already collecting in payment of services would also cover for those 911 services. I certainly did. Instead, magicJack isn’t willing to part with any of their service revenue to actually cover services that, you know, they provide as part of your phone service… like any other phone company does.

MagicJack seems to think they can simply pass on said charges right to you in an email invoice and have you pay them separately. Here’s where magicJack gets firmly into scam and deceptive billing territory.

I’m sorry magicJack, but you’re forcing the 911 service when we don’t really need it or want it on that magicJack VoIP phone line. If you’re going to force this service as part of the overall service, then damned well you need to suck it up and pay the expenses from what we pay you. There is no way in hell I’m going to pay an ‘extra’ bill simply because you are unwilling to use the collected service fees to pay for those bills, like any other carrier on the planet. It’s not my problem that you choose not to do this.

You, magicJack, need to pay those bills to the 911 service. It’s your service, you forced 911 onto my line and now you must pay the piper. If you can’t do this, then you need to go out of business. This means, you need to collect the 911 service fees at the time you collect the payment for your services. And you know what, you already collected well enough money from me to cover those 911 service fees many times over. So, hop to it and pay that bill. This is not my bill to pay, it’s yours.

MagicJack Services

Should I consider magicJack services as an option when choosing a VoIP phone service? Not only no, but hell no. This service doesn’t deserve any business from anyone! This is especially true considering how many alternatives exist for making phone calls in apps today. Skip the stupidly deceptive billing hassles and choose a service that will bill you properly for ALL services rendered at the time of payment.

MagicJack is entirely misinformed if they think they can randomly send extra bills for whatever things that they deem are appropriate. Worse, magicJack is collecting payments for that 911 service, but you have no idea if that money will actually make it to the 911 municipal services in your area. That money might not even make it there and you may still receive a bill. In fact, if the municipality does send you a bill, you need to contact them and tell them to resend their bill to magicJack and collect their fees owed from magicJack, which has already been collected in the funds to cover any and all phone services. If magicJack claims otherwise, they are lying. If you are currently using magicJack’s services, you should cancel now (even if you have credit remaining).

Is magicJack a scam? Yes, considering these types of unethical and dubious billing practices. Even though their VoIP service works, it’s not without many perils dealing with this company. As with any service you buy into, Caveat Emptor.

MagicJack Headquarters

Here is the absolute biggest red flag of this scam company. MagicJack claims their corporate headquarters address is located here:

PO BOX 6785
West Palm Beach, FL 33405

Uh, no. Your headquarters cannot be inside of a PO Box.

Yelp claims that magicJack’s US address is here:

5700 Georgia Ave
West Palm Beach, FL 33405

Better, but still not accurate. This is not their corporate headquarters. This is simply a US office address. Who knows how many people actually work there? We all should know by 2018 just how many scams originate from Florida.

When you visit magicJack’s web site, no where on any of the pages does it show their actual physical headquarters address. This is a HUGE red flag. Where is magicJack’s actual headquarters?

magicJack Vocaltev Ltd (opens Google Maps)
Ha-Omanut Street 12
Netanya, Israel

As a point of consumer caution, you should always be extra careful when purchasing utility and fundamental services from any Israeli (or other middle east) companies. Worse, when companies cannot even be honest about where their corporate headquarters are on their own web site, that says SCAM in big red letters.

Class Action Lawsuit

Here’s another situation where this company needs to be in a class action lawsuit. I’m quite certain there are a number of folks who have been tricked into this scammy outfit and are now paying the price for their unethical and scammy business practices. However, because they are located in Israel, setting up a class action lawsuit against this company may be practically impossible. Better, just avoid the company and buy your phone services from U.S. based (or other local) companies where they are required to follow all local laws.

Rating: 1 star out of 10
Phone Service: 5 out of 10 (too many restrictions, limits call length)
Customer Service: 1 star out of 10
Billing: 0 stars out of 10
Overall: Scam outfit, cannot recommend.

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Game Review: Spider-Man

Posted in botch, video game, video game design by commorancy on September 8, 2018

SpiderMan2Here’s Randocity’s review of Sony’s 2018 Spider-Man (Insomniac Games) exclusively for the PS4. Unlike so many other game magazines, this review will be brutally honest. Unfortunately, other than photo mode, there’s not a lot to like here. This review will also be short and sweet and somewhat brutal. Let’s explore.

No Holds Barred

SpiderMan1To be perfectly fair, I wanted to like this game. I really did. Unfortunately, this game is one of the worst Spider-Man games I’ve ever played. The absolute worst Spider-Man game being Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. Dimensions looked great, played like crap. Same problem here, well mostly. Not only is Spider-Man incredibly weak, he dies at the drop of the hat even on casual play. Dying wouldn’t be quite so bad if it didn’t take ages to reload the game. Absolutely worse, the whole game simply devolves into a button masher. This is not why I buy Spider-Man games. I buy Spider-Man games to swing around the city and occasionally get in brawls. I don’t want to spend 90% of my time brawling as a button masher. Basically, this game effing sucks rocks.

Controls

The controls are, in fact, most of the reason this game sucks. I’m all for web slinging fun, but this goes way beyond into craptacular territory. The first mission is practically impossible to complete, even on easy mode. The game simply doesn’t give you enough moves (or health) to take these guys out quickly. The AI on the enemies is frustrating and nonsensical. Worse, the controls make so many mistakes. When I try to get away from enemy, instead, the game chooses to perform a slide under which puts me right next to the enemy… the exact opposite of what I’m trying to do.

Focus

The “focus” game mechanic is entirely unnecessary, distracting and so lamely implemented that it actually prevents you from using it as intended. What is focus for? Healing. In fact, you gain focus so slowly, you can’t even use it to heal. There is no other way to heal other than spending focus. Let’s let that sink in for a moment.

SpiderMan5

What the hell is with healing through focus, anyway? Whose brilliantly crappy game mechanic idea was this? Just let Spider-Man heal naturally on his own. Don’t make me have to take action to heal him. If Spider-Man needs healing by external means, then put first aid kits around the levels and let me just automatically pick them up and apply them. This whole gaining Focus mechanic is so sloppily implemented, I don’t even know how the game designers thought it would be useful. Why not just use health pickups, you know, like practically every other game? Why throw in something so convoluted that it’s useless?

Distracting Game Mechanics

Here’s my biggest pet peeve with these distracting and unnecessary game mechanics. While I understand that Insomniac wanted something new to add to their repertoire of features, game designers should never implement a new game mechanic solely because it’s new. Instead, game mechanics must enhance the game, not detract from it. Why does the focus mechanism fail so badly? It fails because now you’re requiring gamers to watch the focus and health bars constantly. This means moving your eyes away from an ever changing play field of AI enemies.

In this game, even taking your eyes off of the, admittedly, poorly designed and unrealistic AI enemy combat moves, will see your health drop from 100 to 20 (or less) in one blow (even on easy mode). Ignoring the fact that Spider-Man is a superhero in the Marvel universe, has super strength and is super resistant to injury, there should never ever be a mechanic designed that forces the gamer to take his/her eyes off of the combat field and then manually apply health.

Instead, if you’re planning on forcing a health recovery system, then the health system should either auto-regenerate or self-apply at critically low levels. I shouldn’t have to monitor my character’s weak health and manually apply anything. Spider-Man is a superhero… a Marvel SUPERHERO! Treat him as such and at least give him some level of auto-health generation. Seriously, what is the point in manual application of health in this game? It is absolutely not a challenge, it’s just stupid design.

Web Slinging Cooldown

What was the point in this game mechanic? You have six bars of web action that when depleted means you can’t use your web to subdue any more enemies. No NO NO! Why is there an arbitrary count of how many times you can use your web? Again, this doesn’t make the game challenging, it makes the game stupid. If he has the ability to create web, then it should work 100% of the time or until he runs out of web solution. If you plan to add a game mechanic here, then make it a mechanic that sees him run out of web entirely and need to change his web canisters. At least, that’s realistic. Though, why even do that? This isn’t intended to be a simulation, it’s intended to be a superhero game. Just let Spider-Man sling webs infinitely. There’s no point in this web cooldown system at all.

Spider-Man is Weak

The other big problem I have with this game is that Spider-Man isn’t treated like a Marvel superhero at all. He’s like a random schmoe who picked up a costume and decided to be a vigilante. Not only does it take many blows on an enemy to finally knock them out, Spider-Man loses health at an incredibly rapid rate, even from just one bullet or one enemy punch. This is entirely ridiculous. He’s a Marvel superhero, not a random normal guy in a costume.

Insomniac treated this version of the Spider-Man character with all of the grace of a bull in a china shop, bumbling their developmental way through to a game that, in my opinion, barely resembles Spider-Man.

Photo Mode

The one and only one redeeming feature of this game is photo mode. If you’ve used photo mode on Assassin’s Creed Origins, then you’ll feel right at home in this one as photo mode looks and behaves nearly identical. This feature doesn’t make the game worth playing by a long shot. But, the composition tool does have some cool overlays (see the first image in this article), assuming you can actually play enough into the game to use these overlays in some real way.

Overall

My rating for this game is 3 out of 10. It needs a whole lot more developmental time and it needed better usability play testing. It’s not worth playing. If you must play it, then rent it from Redbox or rent it someplace else. Or, wait for it to get to $15 at Gamestop. Don’t waste your money buying this trite piece of Sony garbage unless you truly enjoy torturing yourself with really bad games. If Insomniac can push out patches that can address all of these identified problems (doubtful), then maybe this game might improve. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

For me, this game goes back to Gamestop as a trade-in. I’ll wait until the game drops in price which will have given Insomniac plenty of time to release more patches… not that that will improve this game. Though, I’m willing to give it a second shot much later in the future.

Graphics: 8 out of 10
Audio: 8 out of 10
Voice Acting: 8 out of 10
Gameplay: 2 out of 10 (repetitive, nothing new)
Combat: 1 out of 10 (enemies swarm in unrealistic ways, manual health application)
Overall: 2 out of 10 (rent only)

If this article helped you, please leave a comment below.

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Recipe: Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Posted in baking, food, recipes by commorancy on September 4, 2018

Cinnamon Bread_1I don’t often discuss baking, but in this case, who wants to pay $6-9 for a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread? Anyone? To make this loaf, you can either do it by hand or in a bread machine. I prefer using a bread machine. Skip to the recipe. Let’s explore.

Prices and Specialty Loaves

While commercially baked white bread can offer some of the lowest prices at $1-2 a loaf, the specialty flavored breads can have some of the highest prices… with cinnamon raisin breads fetching between $6-9 a loaf at the store! Wow, that’s a big costly difference.

Cinnamon raisin bread is one of my favorite breads, by far. But, I’m not paying $6 for a loaf of it. I also like straight up cinnamon bread as well… just leave out the raisins. This recipe is quite yummy and no fuss. It’s nearly as simple as making plain white bread. It just takes some time. With a bread machine, this does all the work. You spend maybe 15 minutes or less prepping the ingredients.

Many cinnamon breads require you to roll the dough flat, then sprinkle cinnamon on one side and roll up the dough into a log. This gives that stripy swirled appearance. You can do that with this recipe if you like, but I’m not explaining how to do that here. With this recipe, the cinnamon is fully incorporated into the dough like all other ingredients, which gives the loaf an attractive uniform brown color.

Making your own cinnamon bread can save you a lot of money… and this recipe turns out a very tasty single cinnamon raisin loaf.

Bread Machine

This bread is by far easiest baked in a bread machine, particularly if you don’t want to spend time kneading and waiting for the bread to rise. I have an older Breadman bread machine. It’s functional and works well, but it’s not new. The newer Breadman machines now have fold down paddles to prevent that annoying hole in the bread after baking. Of course, you can avoid that hole if you use your bread machine to create dough, then transfer the dough into a bread pan and bake it in a conventional oven.

Personally, I prefer the convenience of having the bread machine do all of the work including the baking. I’m willing to live with that hole. While this recipe does require yeast, it is a no-proof recipe. This means you don’t need to foam up the yeast. If you have old yeast lying around, you’ll want to proof a small amount to make sure it’s still good or go buy some fresh yeast.

The ingredients are listed in the order you will pour them into the bread machine pan.

Ingredients

1 ¼ Cups lukewarm water (120ºF/48.9ºC is a good temp)
3 Tablespoons Butter minced up
¼ Teaspoon Salt
½ Cup Rolled Oats
¼ Cup Brown Sugar
3 Cups of Unbleached Flour (do not use self-rising)
3 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Dry Creamer or Low Fat Dry Milk
1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon (less or more as you prefer)
2 ¼ Teaspoons Rapid Rise or Bread Machine Yeast (i.e., Fleishmann’s)
½ Cup Raisins

Directions

Notes

➡ Directions for Bread Machine Baking

Pour in water, butter, salt, oats, brown sugar, flour and creamer into the bread machine pan, in this order. Next, pour a ring of cinnamon around the outside of the flour leaving the center without cinnamon. Make a shallow indent in the center of the flour and pour the yeast into this small indent. You’ll add the raisins a bit later.

To bake this recipe in the bread machine, set the bread machine to 1.5 Pound Rapid and press Start. Let the bread machine work until the dough is a solid ball. My Breadman has an ingredient notification timer. The machine will stop and beep. This is the time to drop in additional ingredients like nuts, raisins, dates or any other solid type ingredients.

In reality, you can drop the raisins in as soon as the bread machine has incorporated all of the ingredients into a solid ball of dough. No need to wait on an ingredient notification beep.

Because my bread machine isn’t always perfect at paddling the dough, I grab a plastic rice spoon (so the dough doesn’t stick) and press it on top of the dough lightly so the paddle works a bit more effectively to incorporate the raisins more quickly and evenly. After the raisins have incorporated, I close the lid and let the machine finish the cycle on its own.

The 1.5 Pound Rapid cycle on my machine takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes to complete, including baking. You can also run it on the 2 Pound Rapid cycle if you prefer. I prefer the way the bread comes out with the 1.5 Pound Rapid cycle.

➡ Bread Machine Kneading / Rising + Baking in an Oven

For this preparation method, follow the same instructions as the bread machine baking instructions above. Select the Dough or Bread Dough cycle on your bread machine. This cycle will knead the dough and rise it only, no baking. After the cycle is complete, you’ll punch the dough down removing the air, shape it into whatever your pan shape is and leave it for a final rise of about 20-30 minutes. You only need to punch the dough down to remove the air bubbles from the first rise, maybe 2-6 minutes at most. You’ll want to grease, butter or oil your pan before placing the dough into it, unless you’re using a high heat silicone baking mold.

Bake using the cold oven or hot oven method, your choice.

Because a bread machine also acts as a proof box by running the heating element at a low temperature during the rise cycle, this allows for consistent rising of the dough no matter the ambient temperature of your room. If you have a bread machine, this is the best way rise the dough consistently. It’s also hands off in that the machine does all of the kneading so you don’t have to. This is particularly useful if you have arthritis or carpal tunnel in your hands, thus making this kind of hand activity problematic.

➡ Kneading By Hand + Baking in the Oven

For this method, add the ingredients into a bowl all except for the raisins. Mix until you have a solid dough ball. You can do this with your hands or with a mixer. Once you have a solid dough ball, remove the dough from the bowl and begin kneading the dough on a flat and lightly floured work surface and incorporating the raisins while you knead. You’ll continue to knead the dough for about 10-12 minutes or until it has a solid and stretchy consistency. It’s more important that the dough has created solid glutenous bonds and has the proper elastic consistency. This is what will give the bread its proper spongy texture and preventing the slices from crumbling apart. Work the dough until the dough has this consistency. This part might take some practice to spot.

At this point, place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl to keep the dough from sticking and let it begin its first rise. This first rise will take about an hour or until the dough has doubled in size. Make sure the bowl is big enough to handle the dough double its size. You can do this rise in a proofing cabinet if you have one or you can let it sit out on the counter (covered with a towel) if you don’t. If the room is cool, it may take quite a bit longer. If the room is extra warm, it might be faster. You’ll need to watch and determine when the dough has doubled in size.

Once the dough has doubled, take it out of the bowl and knead it down again to remove the air pockets. You’ll only knead the dough for as long as it takes to remove the air pockets from the first rise, maybe 2-6 minutes at most. Form the dough into a log shape that will fit into your baking pan. Grease, butter or oil your pan. Next, place the log into the pan and let it begin the second rise. This rise takes about 30 minutes.

Bake using the cold oven or hot oven method, your preference.

Notes

Cold Oven Baking

If you start from a cold oven, the warming of the oven to the proper baking temperature will allow the dough to perform its final rise right before it begins baking. To bake, set the oven temperature to 350ºF/177ºC and turn it on. Then, put the pan into the oven with the oven still cold. Let it remain in the oven for about 45 minutes or until the bottom of the loaf thumps hollow and is golden brown. You can begin checking the loaf at around 25 minutes in. You’ll need to use oven mitts to handle the loaf and test for hollowness.

Hot Oven Baking

If you start from a preheated 350ºF/177ºC hot oven, you’ll need to rise the dough on the counter covered with a towel for 20-30 minutes before placing it into the oven. Once in the oven, bake for 30-35 minutes or until the bottom of the loaf thumps hollow and is golden brown, along with the sides and top.

Water Temp

I prefer the water temperature at 120ºF/48.9ºC because this is what the yeast package states is best. I use a microwave to heat the water to this temperature. It takes about 1 minute 30 seconds, but you’ll need to use a thermometer to check. Then, pop it in for 30 second intervals to raise it to that temp. If you don’t have a thermometer, just make sure the water is warmer than your skin and this will also work.

I prefer 120ºF/48.9ºC because pouring the water into the bread machine’s pan (or bowl) will cool it down just a bit. You still want the water warm so that yeast will rise the dough properly. I find this starting temperature gives a great rise in combination with the bread machine. It’s also the temperature recommended on Fleischmann’s yeast packaging. If you use a yeast that lists a different temperature, use the temperature that’s recommended on your yeast package.

Cinnamon Amount and Dry Non-Dairy Creamer

When I first published this article, I forgot to add the creamer to the ingredient list. I’m allergic to cow milk of any type, but I seem to have no allergies with non-dairy creamer. Dry creamer is an excellent substitute for low fat dry milk in this recipe (or really any bread recipe). It adds a richness that you don’t get without using it. You can find non-dairy creamer on the coffee aisle of your local supermarket. I typically buy the house brand as it’s usually the most cost effective. If you have no problems with milk, then feel free to use low fat dry milk instead.

I also prefer my bread very cinnamon flavored. Some recipes similar to this one call for 1 teaspoon. I prefer the flavor with 1 tablespoon. However, not everyone likes lots of cinnamon. I’ll leave it up to you to determine how much you want to add. Anywhere between 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon is fine. Be aware that the more cinnamon you add, the slower the bread may rise.

Differences in Bread Machines

Because bread machines are all slightly different, the proportions for this recipe may or may not work in your bread machine as is. If this loaf doesn’t turn out correctly in your bread machine, I suggest locating your bread machine’s recipe manual and change the above same ingredient amounts to match the proportions listed in your manual’s white bread recipe. This should allow the recipe to work properly in your bread machine.

Happy Baking!

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How To: Killing Apps on iOS and Android

Posted in Android, Apple, best practices, howto by commorancy on September 4, 2018

Kill_AppsHere’s a quick how-to tutorial. This tutorial will show you how to kill running applications on your Apple or Android phone or tablet device. Let’s explore.

Killing Apps

You might be asking, “Well, why would I want to do that?” There are times where apps misbehave or hang leaving a dead app on your phone or tablet. These can drag down the performance of your phone. For this reason, killing an app allows you to restart them to get them working again. Without further adieu, let’s get started…

Apple iOS

To kill apps on iOS 11, it’s simple. For Apple devices that have a home button (this excludes iPhone X), double click the home button. The home button is the button located at the bottom or side of your device (depending on orientation). It’s the only front facing button on the bezel. With the device logged in, double click this home button.

For the iPhone X, the line at the bottom kind of acts like a home button. From the line at the bottom, with your finger drag upwards to minimize the apps into a stacked list. This is similar to double clicking the home button.

Once in the stacked list, kill any specific app or all apps as follows:

  • Press and hold your finger on top of one of the stacked app screens and with a fluid motion, drag your finger to the top of the screen.
    • If you perform this motion correctly, the screen will disappear. The app is now killed.
    • If you notice the screen moving side to side and not up and down, you dragged sideways.
    • Scrolling side to side lets you selectively choose which app to kill. Try again to pull the app screen upwards.
    • If you touch the app screen once, it will bring that app to the foreground.
    • If you touch the background outside of the app, it will bring you to your home screen of icons.
  • To kill all apps, perform this motion on each and every stack app screen until there are no more left.
  • No, iOS does not provide a ‘kill all’ feature. You must kill app separately. Note, you can’t hear the double-clicking of the home button. Here’s an iOS demonstration:

Android

To kill apps on Android 6.x or above, you’ll need to locate the double rectangle button either on the bezel of your phone or on the display of your phone (at the bottom). This double-rectangle button drops you into the screen that shows you all of your currently running apps.

Click this button, then follow along based on the videos:

Obvious isn’t always

Because Apple and Android have both hidden this feature behind cryptic buttons, it isn’t sometimes obvious how to do this. Also note that even if you reboot your device, the apps may still continue to run from the state where they formerly were. To kill an app and start it fresh (particularly on iOS), the only way is to kill the app as described above. I find that, for example, I regularly have to kill Hulu as it likes to hang.

Good Luck!

As always, if you like what you read hear at Randocity, please click the follow button, like and comment below.

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Hottest Video Games for 2018

Posted in video gaming by commorancy on August 31, 2018

The fall of the year is always the time when the majority of video games release. After all, kids are back in school and the holidays are right around the corner. The game industry waits until August to begin trickling out their biggest games, building momentum until the end of the year. As always, there are a number of games this year to consider. Let’s explore.

Video Game Inclusion Criteria

The games selected for Randocity’s top games list for 2018 only include games that I feel will be of high quality, will be fun and will offer the best play value for your money. Nothing is implied about any game that didn’t make this list. The lack of inclusion simply means that the game isn’t likely to offer the best play value for your money. Those other games are also usually for gamers who specifically look for those kinds of games. This is especially true if you’re considering using this as a gift guide. With pretty much any of these games you cannot go wrong giving them as a gift, with the exception of Fallout 76 due to its MMORPG nature. Without further adieu…

Randocity’s Top Video Game Picks for Fall 2018

PS4, Xbox One and Multiplatform Games

Game Platform(s) Release Date Rating Publisher
Destiny 2 PS4, Xbox One September 4th Bungie
Spider-Man PS4 Exclusive September 7th Sony Interactive Entertainment
Life Is Strange 2 PS4, Xbox One September 27th Rating Square Enix
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey PS4, Xbox One October 2nd Rating Ubisoft
Mega Man 11 PS4, Xbox One, Switch October 2nd Rating Ubisoft
Call of Duty: Black Ops IV PS4, Xbox One October 12th Rating Activision / Treyarch
Red Dead Redemption 2 PS4, Xbox One October 26th Rating Rockstar Games
Hitman 2 PS4, Xbox One November 9th Rating Warner Bros. Interactive Ent.
Fallout 76 (requires Internet)
PS4, Xbox One November 14th Rating Bethesda / Zenimax
Battlefield V PS4, Xbox One November 20th Rating Electronic Arts
Darksiders III PS4, Xbox One November 27th Rating THQ
Just Cause 4 PS4, Xbox One December 4th Rating Square Enix

Nintendo Switch Games

Game Platform Release Date Rating Publisher
Lifeless Planet: Premiere Edition Nintendo Switch September 5h Stage 2 Studios
Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut Nintendo Switch September 13th Rating InXile Entertainment
Super Mario Party Nintendo Switch Exclusive October 5th Rating Nintendo
Child of Light Nintendo Switch October 11th Rating Ubisoft
Dark Souls Remastered Nintendo Switch October 19th Rating Namco Bandai Games
Project Highrise: Architect’s Edition Nintendo Switch October 23rd Rating Kalypso
Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! Nintendo Switch Exclusive November 16th Rating Nintendo
Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! Nintendo Switch Exclusive November 16th Rating Nintendo
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Nintendo Switch Exclusive December 7th Rating Nintendo

The games listed above are not all of the games that will release this year, but they are on this list because they will work well as gifts for just about any gamer. Note, some of the games on the Switch may have previously released on other console platforms. This particular year there’s not a whole lot of games that really stand out as must play games. But, there are a few… specifically Pokémon, Super Smash Brothers, Fallout 76 and Red Dead Redemption 2. These are the only true must play games on this list.

The rest of the games will likely be fun, but they’re not games that I feel must be owned day one. Though, they do make great gift ideas. Note that Fallout 76 is an MMORPG in similar form to The Elder Scrolls Online. It requires an internet connection and Xbox Live if playing on an Xbox One. Be careful when considering this game as a gift item if you don’t know whether the recipient has always-on Internet or Xbox Live. If you’re not sure whether your recipient meets these game requirements, you might should consider other games on this list. All of the other games should be safe without Internet, but always read the back of the box to be absolutely sure.

Enjoy!

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Rant Time: Netflix’s Stupid Ideas

Posted in botch, business, california, entertainment by commorancy on August 29, 2018

NetflixApp-smNetflix has had made some questionable product decisions recently. That is, since it has begun buying its own original content. At the same time, it has made some platform changes that don’t make any sense whatsoever. Seriously Netflix, WTH? Let’s explore.

Original Content

Netflix has been having a hard time as of late. It has been heavily dipping its collective toes into original programming. However, much of the movie programming content has turned out to be bombs. Not just everyday bombs, but you know the movie kind that make you cringe so hard, you want to throw something at the TV. Programs like the oh-so-forgettable The Cloverfield Paradox, Bright, Extinction, The Beyond and Tau. With these questionable movies, Netflix seems to be missing its mark so much of the time. So much, in fact, that I’m contemplating cancelling my membership with this service. I’m beginning to think that Redbox streaming might be a better alternative.

Until recently, the only way to find out exactly how crap the movies actually were was to read the Netflix movie reviews. This is not possible any longer.

Netflix Deletes and Closes Review System

In its infinitely stupid wisdom, Netflix has decided to close down its review system (deleting over 10 years worth of reviews in a day), citing that it is not being used by its subscribers. I call bullshit on that excuse, Netflix management team. I, and clearly many others, regularly used the review system all of the time to steer clear of these recent Netflix bombs.

Unfortunately, we can no longer do this thanks to Netflix flipping us subscribers the collective bird after not only closing the review system down, but dumping all of that user review content. If Netflix’s management team is trying to tear the company apart, they’re doing a bang up job at it.

A review system says that service cares about its users’ opinions and it values its users. It allows users to make their views known to the larger community. Unfortunately, Netflix has now deprived its user base of that valuable resource by dumping all of the reviews and no longer supporting a review system at all. In fact, removing the movie review system says Netflix no longer cares about its users.

Worse, Netflix has dumped its 5 star rating system in lieu of a stupidly simple thumbs up and thumbs down approach. This overly simplistic system which, in reality, does nothing at all to influence anything. What this change says to us members is that Netflix solely wants to be the entire wielder of content power. No longer can any content be influenced by external user opinion… or so Netflix management mistakenly thinks. Nope, that is absolutely not important to Netflix. Netflix wants to be able to target its crap content to us with impunity and without those pesky user reviews getting in the way… even if the Netflix original content is the dreckiest dreck ever to have been conceived, which most of it is.

Netflix’s Agenda

I’m really tired of businesses like Netflix always feeling that they need to get the upper hand in every situation. In fact, even with the review system, they already had an upper hand. Netflix’s ultimate agenda to remove the review system isn’t what they stated on the surface. They claimed that people weren’t using the system. False. New reviews were being written every day. People were reading them every single day.

If people weren’t using the system, they wouldn’t write reviews… and yes, people were actively writing reviews. In fact, if the the review system was being used less, it’s because of Netflix’s design choices. It’s not because users weren’t interested in using the review feature. It’s because Netflix kept burying the review system deeper and deeper under menus, making it difficult to find. If reviews were on the decline, it wasn’t that people didn’t want to use it, it was because your UI team made it hard to find. Even with that said, people were STILL finding it and using it. That’s tenacity. That means your valuable subscribers actually WANTED to use it and did.

This means that Netflix intentionally caused the decline of the system. They set the review system up to fail and then blamed it on lack of use by the users. No, it wasn’t for lack of use, it was that it was too hard to find and too hard to navigate. That’s not failure to use by the users, that’s failure of your UX design team. People will use features when they are easily available and front and center. Bury it under layers of menus and it’s certain that usage will decline.

The real agenda is that Netflix no longer wants users to influence content such its The Cloverfield Paradox and the rest of its poor quality original content. Netflix mistakenly believes that if people can’t see the reviews or write them that more people will watch its crap. False. Netflix was likely also reeling over the horrible user reviews being left on its own site. Netflix wanted to stop that problem and the only way they could do that is step 1) bury the feature so it’s hard to find forcing many users to stop using it and then step 2) remove the feature claiming no one used it. Not only is that a lie, Netflix’s UX team is actually responsible for its lack of use.

Review systems work when they’re well designed and placed in conspicuous, well trafficked locations. They don’t work well when they’re buried under layers of unnecessary UI clicking. That’s proven. In fact, if Netflix’s user experience team doesn’t understand this fundamental UX 101 concept, they should all be fired!

Crap on a Stick

Netflix needs to get their crap together. They need to fix their horrible UI system and provide a much more streamlined system. They also need to bring back the user review system and place it into a much more prominent front and center position. A place where people can find it right up front, not buried under many UI layers.

Movies and Reviews

Movies and reviews go together like a pea in a pod, coke and hot dogs and hamburgers and fries. They simply belong together. You don’t get one without the other. Netflix thinking that they can change this fundamentally ingrained concept is a huge misstep. This misstep is as huge as when Netflix renamed its DVD service to Qwickster. That naming and concept failed miserably. This one will too… and it will backfire on Netflix.

I don’t even understand how a movie site like Netflix can even think they get away with not having a review system. By their very nature, movies require reviews. A movie is not 3 minutes long like a pop song. No one will spend 2 hours of their life watching trite, predictable, boring, poorly written garbage. Storytelling is an art form that when done right can take us to places we cannot even imagine. Yet, when storytelling is done wrong (i.e., too many of Netflix’s crap originals), it wastes hours of valuable time. The review system is there to prevent that loss of time.

Sorry Netflix, if reviews actually give you that much butthurt, you either need to grow a pair and get over it, or you need to shut down Netflix. Perhaps Netflix should stop its purchase of its crap original programming and this will no longer be a problem.

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Rant Time: The problem with Twitter

Posted in botch, business, social media by commorancy on August 27, 2018

Twitter-smTwitter began as a lofty idea for small text social conversation. For many of its early years, it managed to keep some semblance of order and decency. As of 2018, the platform has devolved into something far less useful and more problematic. Let’s explore.

Primary Twitter Topics

Today, Twitter is primarily dominated by breaking news, gun control and political rhetoric, sometimes all three at the same time. While these topics do have a place, reading these dominant conversations every moment of every day is tiring. It also goes against the diversity of what the platform is intended to offer. While these topics have a place, they don’t really have a place as the dominant force on Twitter. They exist simply to clog up each Twitter user’s feed.

Twitter’s Failings and Slow Development

When Twitter began back in 2006, it offered a fairly limited social conversation platform with its 140 character limit. In fact, that limit wasn’t raised until early 2018, 12 years later… when the limit went up to 280 characters. Talk about slow development! This 140 character limit was a holdover from SMS days which still to this day hold this limit. I do not know why Twitter chose this arbitrarily small amount of text for a social conversation platform. It had no relation to SMS and couldn’t send SMS messages, so it never made sense.

Twitter has also firmly embraced the “no edit” mantra to the chagrin of many. To modify a tweet, you must delete it, then recreate it. This is a cumbersome hassle. It also means that any feedback you had on that tweet must be forfeit. There’s a real incentive to get the tweet right the first time. For a conversation platform in 2018, this limitation on a text discussion platform is completely ludicrous. Clarification of thought is extremely important in all text mediums. The only way to ensure clarify of thought is via editing. We all make mistakes when typing, such as their for there or they’re. These are extremely common typing mistakes. Sometimes it’s the accidental misuse of homonyms. There are plenty of other types of common mistakes. There is also rewording. Yet, here we are… 12 years after Twitter’s inception and we STILL can’t edit a tweet. What the hell is going on over there at Twitter, Jack Dorsey?

While Twitter has grown little since 2006, only offering better privacy, limited feed customization, an ad platform and some UI improvements, it really has done next to nothing to improve the user functionality since 2006. I’ve worked at companies where the product has almost completely performed a 180º turn in product features in only 1-2 years. Twitter has remained nearly stagnant, feature wise and has implemented clamored features at an absolute snail’s pace (read, it hasn’t implemented them) in its 12 years of existence.

Censorship

As we all should understand, the first amendment free speech protections do not apply to private corporations. This ultimately means that there can be no speech submitted on the Twitter platform that is protected. As much as people want to complain that some left or right winger has been suspended, banned or otherwise dismissed from Twitter, that is Twitter’s right. Twitter is not a government owned or operated corporation. Therefore, they can censor, delete, suspend or otherwise prevent a user or entity from putting any content onto their platform for any reason.

What this means is that Twitter can do whatever they wish and claim violations of ‘terms of service’. After all, Twitter writes the terms of service and can modify them at any time without notification to anyone. In fact, Twitter isn’t even required to have explicit terms listed and they can still delete or suspend anyone they wish, for any reason. As I said, free speech protections on Twitter do not apply.

Leadership Team

Jack Dorsey heads up the leadership team at Twitter as CEO. In the last 1-2 years, he’s spouted rhetoric about reduction of hate speech on Twitter. What that ultimately translates to, within Twitter’s current moderation tool limits, is deletion of selected speech or accounts, regardless whether it contains hate speech or not. If Twitter doesn’t like what you have to say, out you go.

Twitter SuspendedNo more evident is that in those users who have amassed 15k followers or more. One foible on one of these accounts and Twitter closes it. No no, can’t have a 15k or more followers seeing something that Twitter management doesn’t like. Even celebs aren’t immune to this. If you are reading the article and you have amassed more than 6000 followers, your account is a risk with each tweet you post, particularly if your speech primarily consists of political messages, controversial topics or divisive ideas (NRA vs Gun Control, Abortion vs Pro Life, Trump bashing, etc).

The current technical means at Twitter’s disposal to reduce this kind of speech consists of tweet deletion, account suspensions or bans. Twitter has no other means at its disposal. In reality, Twitter has dug the hole it is now in. Twitter has failed to foresee problems of user scale. Whenever the total user base grows, so are the problems amplified that go with that. Twitter should have initially implemented some level of moderation and anointed users to help moderate its platform in a similar fashion to both Wikipedia and Reddit. It didn’t.

Twitter is to Blame

Twitter has only itself to blame for not taking proactive action sooner and in failing to build more complete moderation tools sooner. Additionally, social platforms that have implemented self-moderation automated systems have done exceptionally well. When the community downvotes certain content at a certain level, then Twitter should not promote it into user’s feeds. In fact, Twitter’s continual promotion of tweets into people’s primary feeds has actually propagated hate and problematic speech. Instead, Twitter should have been building a self-policing platform from day one or at least within the first couple of years. They chose not to.

Even today, Twitter still hasn’t built a self-policing platform. I regularly find hate speech in my feed. Worse, while I can mark the stuff I like with a heart, I have no such action to force items out of my feed that I choose not to see. The best I can do is mute the user or mute the account. Why is that Twitter? Why can’t I mark individual types of tweets that I no longer want to see and have that content removed from my feed? Why do I have to trudge all the way into preferences and put in mute words or, even more sledgehammery, mute or block the user? Even then, that only affects my account. It doesn’t have any impact on the global Twitter.

Employing Social Moderation and Tweet Grading

Using social moderation is both effective and necessary when you’re working with millions of users sending millions of messages per day. Twitter is a social platform. Let’s use that social interaction of those millions of people to bubble worthy messages to the top and sink crap messages so they never get seen. This is the ONLY way to effectively moderate at scale on a social platform. The value of each tweet is in its worth to viewers. Many viewers all marking tweets downward means less people see it. Many viewers marking tweets up means more people will see it. I can’t imagine that any sane person would choose to vote up hate speech, death threats or similar unacceptable or violent content.

I’m not saying that any one user should have undue influence over a tweet’s popularity. In fact, users will need to build their trust and reputation levels on the platform. For example, newly created accounts might not even be able to influence up or downward momentum of tweets right out of the gate. It might take 2-4 months of interactions on the platform before the user’s interactions begin to count. This way, users can’t go out and create 100 or more accounts in an attempt to get their tweet to the top of popularity. In fact, any tweet that ends up getting upvotes from too many newly created accounts without other upvotes should be marked as suspect and have their own trust levels locked or reduced.

Additionally, it should take interactions from many trusted accounts simultaneously to raise a tweet’s popularity substantially, particularly if those accounts have no relationship to one another (not following each other). This says that independent users have found a tweet’s content to be worthy of interaction by others.

This isn’t to say this is the only algorithm that could be built to handle social moderation, but it would definitely be a good start and a way to take this platform to the next level. Conversely, I will state that building an algorithm to scan and rate a tweet based solely on its textual content is next to impossible. Using the power of social interaction to grade a tweet and raise or lower its value is the best way to force those who want to game the system out of the platform.

Also, there should be no exemptions from the system. Not for CNN, not for Proctor and Gamble, not for any account. Social moderation needs to apply to all accounts or it’s worthless.

I’m not saying that social moderation is in any way a perfect solution. It isn’t. But, at least it can be fair when implemented properly. Can this kind of system be gamed? Probably. But, the engineers would need to watch for this eventuality and be ready to make change to prevent further gaming of the system. Eventually, the holes will be patched.

Multiple feeds and Topics

Here’s another area where Twitter has failed. As with any social platform, users have likes and dislikes and topic preferences they want to see. For example, I really don’t want to see political bashing. That’s not my thing. I’d prefer a feed that is politic free. My only interest in politics and political candidates is when there’s an imminent election. Otherwise, I want it out of my feed. Same for NRA / Gun control arguments. Same for Trump tweet bashing. Same for Pro Life vs Abortion. I don’t want to waste time with these types of divisive controversial topics in my feed. I have better uses for my time. If I want to see that content, I will explicitly go searching for it. I don’t want it to automatically appear in my feed.

Yet, Twitter has not implemented any customized feeds based on likes, hobbies or preferences of information (i.e., new technology). Instead, Twitter has based this part on following Twitter accounts that offer such information. The problem is, chasing down these accounts to follow. Even then, because those accounts might only post new on-topic information 20% of the time, the other 80% of the time I would see stuff I don’t want to see in my feed. Herein lies the problem with Twitter. It shouldn’t be based on following a user, it should be based on following conversation topics.

I’d prefer to customize my feeds (and have several feeds hooked to different topics) and subscribe to those feeds. I don’t need to follow any given account that’s talks about stuff I’m not interested in. Instead, by following topics, my feed gets interesting tweets. I can then discover new accounts to follow and also discover topics I’m interested in. This is the single important piece that Jack and team have sorely failed to address within the Twitter platform. To reiterate, I want to see stuff in my feeds that I am interested in, even if I don’t follow that account. I don’t want to see stuff I’m not interested in at all even if following an account that tweets about it. Following by topic is more important than following by user.

This is the power of social media. This is the power of Twitter. This is what is missing to make Twitter a complete platform… this, in addition to social moderation.

Twitter’s Hand Moderation

Instead of implementing a social moderation system or an interests based feed system, Twitter has spent its time hand moderating by suspending and banning accounts all in its stated goal of “reducing hate speech”. While deleting accounts may reduce that account’s ability to post hate speech, it doesn’t stop the user from creating a brand new account and starting it all over again. This is Twitter’s flaw in the user follow model.

Only the above two designs: 1) topic based multiple feeds and 2) social moderation will lead to lasting change within the Twitter platform. Nothing else will. Twitter’s hand moderation technique is merely a small bandaid with limited scope. It will never make a dent in reducing hate speech on Twitter. Lasting change only comes from innovating the platform in new and better ways to improve the end user experience and, at the same time, reducing the signal to noise ratio.

It’s time for Twitter to step up and actually begin innovating its platform in substantial new and meaningful ways… or it will perish.

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