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Shopping Tip: Target App and Prices

Posted in botch, business, shopping by commorancy on February 7, 2019

img_4265.pngTechnology has finally caught up with “live pricing”. While shopping at a competitor grocery the other day, I scanned an item while in that store within Target’s app to get a price comparison. What I found before and after visiting Target was surprising. Let’s explore.

Target App and Item Scanning

Assuming you have a smartphone running iOS or Android, the Target app is a way to both shop online as well as comparison shop. However, I found the following money saving trick that you’ll want to use to save money at Target.

Target’s phone app offers a UPC code scanning feature. This allows you to scan the UPC code and check that item’s pricing at your local store. As I said above, what I found when scanning away from Target versus inside of Target was a little unsettling… but is also handy trick to save money when shopping at Target.

Scanning Items In-Store

When you’re inside a Target store, you can scan each item’s UPC code and it will show you not only the price of the item in the store, it will tell you which aisle it’s on. It may also trigger a Cartwheel discount if you’re lucky. For example, if you happen to find a random loose item sitting on a shelf in the store (stray merchandise) and you want to know where it’s located in the store, you simply need to scan it in Target’s app and it will tell you what aisle it’s on and it actually shows you a map in the store. It will also tell you the item’s price. This actually works in the Walmart and Home Depot apps too.

This means you can easily find items in the store and determine the item’s price. This locate feature is particularly handy after a Target store remodel when items that were formerly on the left side of the store have been moved to the right side of the store. I’m not terribly a fan of such remodels, but I guess Target thinks it makes their stock seem “fresh and new” when it simply makes it confusing to find stuff in the store. It’s also a way for Target to raise in-store prices.

Cost Savings

Now for the cost savings tip that you’ve been waiting for. Target’s pricing shown in the app is entirely based on proximity to the store (assuming you have a GPS on your phone). For example, I was at a local grocery looking at Gold Medal Self-Rising Flour. The cost for a 5lb bag at this particular store was $3.99. I decided to pick the item up and scan it through Target’s app for a price comparison. The price at Target came up as $3.69. I thought, “Great, I’ll save 30¢. I’ll stop by Target on the way home and pick it up. Little did I know the surprise that my Target store had waiting for me.

A few minutes later, I arrived at Target and wandered through to their baking section and noticed the exact item priced at $4.29. I’m like, “Hold up.. what’s this?” When I scanned the item in the Target app inside the Target store, it again showed $4.29… not the $3.69 price I had been shown when at the other market. I had even confirmed that the “my store” location was set to the store where I was. Yep, that’s my store.

I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on with Target’s App, so I drove back to the other market thinking the UPC code might be slightly different. I hadn’t bought that other item over there before heading to Target. When I arrived at the other market, I again scanned it in Target’s app and it again showed the $3.69 price. I also took a picture of the UPC code so I could compare when I got back to Target. Stumped at this discount pricing I was being shown, I decided to add the item to Target’s cart and buy it via Target’s app for in-store pick up. Surprisingly, this worked.

By the time I arrived back at Target, my order was ready for pickup. In fact, the “Your Order Is Ready” notification arrived on my phone just as I drove into Target’s parking lot. I walked in, picked up my order and headed towards the door. I did actually get the item for the $3.69 price. Before I walked out of the store, I scanned the UPC code on what I had just purchased for $3.69 and it showed $4.29. I compared the code to the one from the local market. Same UPC code. I’m like, “Hmm…” I decided it had to do with Target’s proximity beacon. The app knew that I was in the store and raised its Target app pricing to reflect the store’s shelf prices.

As I had drove away and while waiting at a traffic light in front of Whole Foods Market (a store about a block away from Target), I scanned the item in the car. It once again showed the $3.69 pricing. Aha, Target is using its store proximity beacon to raise its prices to match its in-store shelf pricing.

Cost Savings Tip

If you’re looking to get your best savings from Target, you need to scan your items in Target’s app away from your local Target store. Because you’re not in proximity of the store, you could find lower prices on some items. Unfortunately, you won’t know that you’re saving money until you get to the store and scan the item inside the store. For this reason, ordering for store pickup may save you money over visiting the store and physically shopping in the store.

Just be aware that Target changes its prices on items in the App depending on where you are and whether you’re in or out of a store. It may even detect when you’re in a competitor’s store and mark prices in the app to compete with that competitor. Note that if you do place an order for pickup and find that an item you ordered is cheaper in the store or there’s an in-store coupon, Target will refund you the difference as long as you’re still within the return period. You simply need to ask.

For the reason of proximity pricing, you should save the UPC codes from your regularly consumed items in a drawer and scan them in the Target app at home. Then, place an order for pickup. You may find that you can save more money at Target before ever leaving home. It also saves you time because you don’t have to roam the store looking for stuff. It can also save you money by not seeing and buying random stuff that you don’t need.

If you scan for a price in the Target app while away from the store, take a screenshot. Screenshots are your friend for lower pricing. You can then compare those screenshots to price scans you make in the store to see if the pricing has changed. Because I’m assuming that scanned prices can go both ways (up and down), you might not always find your best deal in the app. However, it seems more likely you’re to find a better deal using the app away from the store than in the store. For this reason, taking a screenshot of the items you scan saves you hassles later. Whether or not Target’s customer service team will honor a price markdown as a result of a screenshot taken away from the store, I’m uncertain. You’d have to visit the customer service desk with the item in hand and ask. Target is usually willing to give the lowest price if you bring it to their attention, but in this case who knows? Worst case, just drive away from the store and order the item for in-store pickup. Then drive back to Target and wait for the item to become ready.

Proximity Pricing

Because most everyone is looking for a savings advantage when shopping, proximity pricing is likely to become an even bigger deal as we move forward. That Target is now using proximity pricing in its app shouldn’t be a revelation, but it is surprising to see Target using it in this way.

Always consider scanning items in the Target app when you’re looking for cost savings at Target. It can save you money without ever leaving home.

Trick of the Eyes

Here’s the part about proximity pricing that I don’t like, making this is a bit of a rant. When I first scanned the package of flour away from Target, Target’s app showed me the $3.69 price. When I visited the store and scanned the exact same item on the aisle, it scanned at $4.29 (30¢ more than my local grocery market at $3.99 and 60¢ more than the Target app had previously shown me). I couldn’t get the app to show me that $3.69 price no matter what I did while inside of Target. I felt that this was a kind of bait and switch tactic, something I have never before seen Target use.

This meant that I couldn’t get the app to show me that price at all while at Target. I was understandably miffed, particularly after having spent the time to drive over there thinking I would get the $3.69 price.

As a result, I couldn’t show that lower pricing to the customer service desk nor could I even prove at all that that pricing had ever been shown to me. The history in Target’s app is practically non-existent. What is there shows you the price wherever you happen to be… not what might have been shown to you earlier. I actually had to leave the store and travel a quarter mile away before I could see that $3.69 price again.

For this reason, that’s why I decided to order the item for pickup while still in the parking lot of my local grocery market and away from Target. To my surprise, I was able to add the lower priced item to my Target app cart and place an order. When I arrived at the store, I walked away with my order at the lower $3.69 price.

Higher In-Store Pricing

The proximity pricing problem signifies three things: 1) Target intentionally marks up items when you’re physically visiting the store, 2) these markups are impossible to detect (or argue) while you’re in the store and 3) you can only find these markups while away from the store.

You’re required to check the prices before and after arriving at the store. This means making a list of prices while away from the store, then again at the store and then see how proximity affects your Target’s in-store prices.

Ultimately, it’s a scammy practice by Target. It’s a scammy practice by any store that performs this kind of proximity markup. If anything, this article intends to call out this practice and warn consumers that the pricing you see in the store may not be the lowest price that store is willing to sell you that item. While you can’t haggle with a store (other than via competitor price matching), you can be armed with ways to cut your costs by being a shrewd shopper, particularly by taking full advantage of each store’s app proximity mark downs and avoiding store mark ups.

Note that this kind of proximity pricing is not considered under the store’s “price matching” guarantees. Whatever the store’s in-store pricing is, you’re expected to pay that… even if you find that the app shows you a cheaper price while away from the store. If you want that cheaper price, you’ll need to place an order in the app for in-store pickup. The unfortunate part is, you won’t know which is the cheapest price until you compare the item’s away app prices against in-store prices.

Even then, Target may offer differing prices in the app when in a Big Lots than when in Safeway. This means you might need to run around town and visit various discount stores to find your best price in the Target app. Yes, kind of a hassle.

Good Luck and Happy Shopping!

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Rant Time: Fallout 76

Posted in botch, business, fail by commorancy on January 30, 2019

12-9-2018_10-41-26_PM-qybv0b53I’ve been playing Fallout 76 on and off since its release. However, Bethesda has not only miscalculated the quality of the game itself, Bethesda’s devs have repeatedly introduced more bugs than they have fixed. So far, the patches have been a strategy of one step forward and three steps back. This game has all of the signs of code outsourcing and illustrates all of the dangers of this practice. Let’s explore.

Game Development

Having worked at many different high tech companies that write code for their business to succeed, I have seen many different code writing practices… some good, many more that are bad.

Typically, when code is written “in-house” (meaning, by developers on site at the headquarters), the quality control remains at a “standard bar” set by the development manager. This doesn’t mean that every piece of code written is great, but it does mean that the bad code likely won’t make it into production after “code review”. The “code review” process is a process by which all code is peer reviewed by other developers to make sure the code is up to formatting standards, that it doesn’t make any egregious mistakes and that such things as math calculations make sense. Comments in the code are usually optional and up to the development team to set how code gets documented.

I’ve worked at many companies where code is not documented at all. Instead, the documentation is written in a Wiki or similar internal web site describing the design goals of the code. I don’t particularly like this practice when working on the production side of the house, but it’s generally not a practice we can win a fight against. Reading documentation in the code is sometimes the only defense when code acts up in production. If they choose not to write inline documentation, that’s on the development team. Though, I will say that this practice leads to technical debt and is not recommended.

Without diving too deeply into code development practices, let’s apply all of what I’ve said to Bethesda’s Fallout 76.

Bad Coding Practices

I don’t even know where to begin with how Bethesda is managing this product. Let’s just say that having worked in several large Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) organizations, how Bethesda is handling Fallout 76 is so behind the times, it’s not even funny.

Today, the current practice is to use the following code development cycle otherwise known as Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC). This cycle has the following phases:

  1. Planning
  2. Analysis and Requirements
  3. Design
  4. Development
  5. Integration and Testing
  6. Implementation / Release
  7. Operational Maintenance

These 7 phases are a never ending cycle in a continuing software product. In fact, there could be several releases all running in concert each at different phases. Meaning, the current release is at phase 7, the next release is at phase 4 and two or three future releases are at at any of the phases prior to release.

The SDLC process has grown out of bad coding practices used during the 90s and has been adopted to counter those bad coding and release practices. This life cycle is a way to ensure quality of code when it is finally released. It’s also a way to ensure that the end user has the highest quality experience possible with the end product. Quality assurance is the name of the game. As a development company, the key to success is to minimize disruptions via bad code and maximize user experience with high quality features. No code is ever perfect, but you can reduce problems by following best coding practices and implementing solid SDLC processes.

Bethesda’s Coding Practices

Unfortunately, Bethesda has chosen a poor coding cycle for Fallout 76. Instead of treating Fallout 76 like a professionally produced product using SLDC practices, they are simply slinging code as fast as possible without actually performing any sanity checks or, indeed, performing any quality assurance on the end product.

In fact, with each new Fallout 76 release, the product has become increasingly worse, less reliable, less performant and increasingly more unstable. By “worse”, I mean that they’re introducing not only regression bugs that break previously and correctly working features, they’re introducing new bugs and not even fixing the bugs they claimed to have fixed. Indeed, the product is actually getting worse.

While I realize that coding a game like Fallout 76 is probably reasonably complex, the difficulty I have with this game is why a developer is touching code in portions of the game where bugs did not exist. What were they doing touching that part of the code? And yet, here we are, this newly broken code is being rolled out to their production servers?

Clearly, Bethesda performs absolutely zero testing. These bugs are so basic, anyone spending 5 minutes using the game would spot them instantly. It’s crystal clear that Bethesda is NOT following an SDLC process. They’re just releasing code by the seat of their pants and hoping it does “something positive”.

Outsourcing

Because Fallout 76 gets worse with each successive release, this has all of the telltale signs of Bethesda outsourcing their software development efforts to an off-shore team (possibly in India). Having worked with outsourced developers in India in the past, you MUST micromanage these outsourced companies at every tiny step. You also need to be extremely explicit with how you want the implementation and you need to 100% test every piece of delivered code.

Failing to micromanage an outsourced software development company leads to the exact problems seen in Fallout 76. While I can’t be 100% certain that Bethesda is outsourcing, their release practices certainly have all of the earmarks of using this practice for Fallout 76. There’s absolutely no reason why previously working features in the game should inexplicably become broken in the next release.

And believe me, I’ve become exceedingly tired and irritated of fighting these compounding stupid bugs in this game. Not only does it show Bethesda as a low quality developer, it says they have no quality standards of any kind. You don’t intentionally roll out broken features in a formerly working product… you just don’t do this.

Chasing Abusers

Bethesda has clearly bitten off more than they can chew. They certainly have no one on their team who understands SaaS product scaling. If one gamer on the server crafting boiled water can bring the server to its knees, there’s a major problem with this product. In a properly designed multi-user product, no single user should be able to overload the server with any “standard” user interface activity. By “standard”, I mean features that the product is supposed to properly support.

There are many instances where a single user can craft foods at a crafting table which causes “Server Not Responding” or incurs major lag for other users on the server. These are sanctioned activities intended to be used by the users, yet they can break the server?

Abusers, on the other hand, find loopholes to allow them to perform activities that the software was not designed to do. For example, duplicating items by logging on and off in very unusual ways… ways in which the developer didn’t test or consider during the design phase.

Right now, Bethesda is chasing down these unintentional holes at all costs… and by that I mean, by introducing game breaking bugs that affect standard users who are not abusing. And, they’re attempting to fix these holes at the cost of ignoring the design failings of the game that also need to be addressed. Many of these design failings were introduced at release and are still waiting in the queue to be addressed by Bethesda. Yet, instead of taking care of these long standing bugs, the devs are flying by the seat of their pants fixing the holes… which honestly don’t need to be fixed as a fire drill.

Penalizing Players

Bethesda doesn’t understand the dangers of reduction. Removing or degrading product features is always a negative for the end user, never a positive. For example, the Two Shot Explosive weapons are what players long to find. These rarely dropped highly powerful weapons are, in fact, one of the sole reasons players come back to the Fallout franchise.

Sure, the questing is fun, but it’s the Legendary dropped loot from these difficult bosses that is the actual Win. It’s the trophy that says, “Hey look what I got after spending all that time defeating the Scorchbeast Queen”. By degrading, limiting and/or removing these highly sought after items from the game, this removes a substantial reason to even play Fallout 76.

If you spend an hour defeating a boss only to see it drop a 12 damage Pipe Pistol (the same as a Level 1 enemy kill), what have you really accomplished? How does that make the gamer feel? Does it make the gamer feel good about what they’ve just done? No. Does it make the gamer want to come back and do it again? No.

On the Wrong Track

Bethesda is entirely on the wrong track. If you have abusers in the game, chase them down and ban them… no holds barred. If you find a player who is carrying 300,000 weight in duplicated items, ban them. Remove them from the game. Find them all and remove them. Logic dictates that anyone carrying 25,000 Stimpaks along with 25,000 guns stacked didn’t create them through legitimate means.

You ban the abusers. You don’t code around them. You don’t hobble your universe to make the duplicated guns worthless. Instead of spending precious time alienating your intended gaming audience, you focus on making the game better for legitimate users willing to stay within the game’s design framework. For those who stray and choose to test the coding boundaries of the game, you ban them… permanently. You also make a warning statement that any persons intending to cause harm to or disrupt the services will be banned without warning. In-game abuse can only be dealt with one way, the ban hammer.

Yes, you can fix the bugs along the way that enabled that abuse, but you don’t make that your sole and entire means of existing. You focus on fixing the bugs that are getting in the way of your legitimate paying gamers who are willing to stay on the game’s “golden path”. By “golden path”, this is a software development phrase that means the track designed by the developers for end users of the software product to follow. Anyone who strays from the “golden path” may encounter bugs, unexpected consequences or crash the software system. Though, your developers should have coded proper error handling so that crashing is nearly impossible.

Yes, some users can unintentionally stray from the “golden path” occasionally. These users are not the target. It’s the users who intentionally stray from the “golden path” to exploit holes in the software to gain access, privilege or items which are unintended. Speaking of gaining access….

Dev Room

There’s been much controversy over this room. Personally, I don’t care if it exists or not. However, that this room made it into Bethesda’s Fallout 76 production servers is entirely a design miss. Such dev environments should never make it onto production servers. That this room rolled out onto the production network is a problem Bethesda needs to address internally. Users who stray from the golden path into this room isn’t the fault of the gamer. Bethesda, you left the room in the game. It was your responsibility to ensure such rooms don’t exist on the production servers. That users ended up in there, that’s your mistake, Bethesda.

Sure, you can drop the ban hammer on these users, but that’s not good public relations. In fact, dropping the ban hammer on users for entry into this room is severe. If they didn’t cause damage to the game or take anything from the room, there’s no damage done. Those users who took items from the dev room and duplicated them should be banned… not necessarily for entering the room, but for exploiting the duplication bug which disrupts a server for other players.

Again, it comes back to disruption. Any gamer intentionally causing disruption to the game outside of the “golden path” should be perma-banned. This act of disruption should be spelled out as abuse in the terms and conditions for the game.

Fallout 76 is SaaS

Even though Fallout 76 is a game, it’s also a Software-as-a-Service product and it should be treated in the same way as any SaaS product. Yet, Bethesda hasn’t the first clue of how to build or operate a SaaS product. That’s crystal clear.

Bethesda’s SDLC seems non-existent. Without any kind of software quality assurance team, there’s no way to ensure the product lives up to any kind of quality standard. Right now, this game is a piss poor attempt by a game studio at a SaaS product. A product that is on the verge of being a spectacular failure. I might even argue, it’s already reached the failure point.

Bethesda, you have a hard choice to make. If you continue to chase the abusers at the cost of fixing the REAL problems with this game, your game WILL DIE. The choice you need to make is whether to stay on this insane path of chasing abuse bugs or stop this insanity and begin fixing the real reliability and stability problems with this game. Such real problems include severe frame rate drops, enemies can spawn in unkillable states, invisibility problems (enemies and players alike), the problem with quests that can’t be completed, the problem where Legendary enemies drop without any loot at all.

Game Economy and Systems Design

Bethesda continually argues that the abusers caused disruption to the economy in the game. What economy? There is none. If you call vendors with 200 caps an economy, that’s not an economy. An economy is players buying, selling and trading with one another. You know, the whole reason you designed the game with 24 players in each “World”. Yet, when players actually tried to create an economy, you shut them down with patches and then released many of the rare items to the vendors to make them “less rare”.

Part of the reason items were rare was entirely due to incidence of spawn rates. Spawn rates, I might add, that you designed into the game intentionally. Spawn rates intended to force players to hunt for stuff. Yet now you’re all butthurt over the fact that players actually created an economy around this.

What exactly are you wanting the players to do in this game then? Aren’t the players supposed to “rebuild” the wasteland? Setting up trading shops and whatnot is exactly what players would do in a world like this. In fact, in the ruthless wild-west of the wasteland, players would likewise be ruthless in obtaining anything and everything they could. That players used duplication exploits comes with the ruthlessness of wasteland territory. The problem with the duplication exploit isn’t the duplication. It’s the disruption it causes to other player’s games. That’s the abuse vector. That’s the reason to ban-hammer the player. The server disruption is the abuse, not the duplication.

Still, you should have been warning players all along the way when their weight got too high. That you didn’t have anything in place to monitor this part of the game is a design miss. A miss that wouldn’t have been missed if you had had a proper Systems Engineer reviewing the design all along the way. Yet, you chose to rush the game to market unfinished and now you have to redesign it along the way… a redesign that is causing player unrest and player abandonment.

Patch Upsides vs Downsides

The last several patches have been attempts at thwarting the abusers by fixing the exploit vectors at the cost of not fixing long standing disrupting bugs… bugs that have existed since the game’s release (i.e., getting stuck in power armor, unkillable enemies, invisible enemies, loading screen problems, etc). This strategy has been to the entire detriment of the Fallout 76 gaming community. Not only have you alienated so many users from the game, you continue to alienate more and more with each new patch.

If you’re planning on releasing a patch, you need to focus on the upsides of patching. You know, like fixing bugs that players NEED to have fixed… like frame rate issues, like audio glitching, like server lags, like a bigger stash, like improved features. Sure, you can throw in fixes like nerfing the Two Shot and Explosive weapons, but you also need to offset these heavily negative gaming experiences by adding positive new things to the game to entice gamers back… like adding new weapons to the game to take the place of those heavily nerfed Two Shot Explosive weapons.

There’s no reason for gamers to play Fallout 76 if the Legendary dropped loot is now no better than standard dropped loot. Focusing entirely on downside patches isn’t going to win you new players. It’s simply a quick way to the death of Fallout 76… as if the game needed any more help in this department.

Overall

Bethesda, you need to rethink your strategy for Fallout 76 and future MMO endeavors. The current strategy you are taking to address the issues in this game will not bring more players to this game. In fact, you’re likely to turn this game into a wasteland with only a handful of players ever playing.

If you stay on this path, I predict that you will end up shutting down your servers for this game by the end of 2019. Gamers won’t continue to play in an environment where the loot is not worth their time.

And what the hell? Serum recipes cost 19,000+ caps? Considering you can only hold 24,000 caps in the game, this is insane. Even 6,000 caps would be excessive.

Bethesda, figure it out quick or the game ends.

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Rant Time: Polaroid Zip and App

Posted in botch, business, california, fail by commorancy on January 5, 2019

polaroid-zip-printerI haven’t ranted in quite a while and it’s time, especially considering this is the new year. Polaroid is the target of my tirade today. Let’s explore.

Polaroid Zip

The Polaroid Zip is a small pocket photo printer priced around $99. You can sometimes find it on sale. But, don’t go out and buy it before you read this article!

There are a number of these small pocket Zink paper photo printers available such as the Polaroid Zip, the HP Sprocket, the Canon IVY, the LifePrint, the Kodak Mini2 and even the not-so-pocket-sized zInk Happy photo printer. Every one of these printers depends entirely on an app designed by the company selling the printer. In fact, without this app, the printer device is an entirely useless brick… they don’t support Airprint!

Useless is exactly what Polaroid Zip has become when Polaroid updated its software with a major update in mid 2018. The formerly working app, which was a just a slight bit rough around the edges, worked to produce high quality prints. This latest 2018 app version is a piece of trash the size of Mount Everest, once you toss all of these now useless Polaroid Zip printers into a mound at the landfill.

The updated app is entirely junk!

The Dangers of Portable Devices with Apps

I have no idea what compelled Polaroid (C&A Marketing) to toss out the older, completely working app and replace it with a broken piece of junk. However, it completely spells out the danger of buying into these app enabled devices.

In yesteryear, we used to buy printers which had standard printer drivers that would simply just print from any app capable of printing. On iOS, these are known as Airprint printers. With the introduction of the Polaroid Zip and similar devices, this is no longer a concept in the printer industry. Now, you must using a single proprietary app to funnel and print your images. If the app breaks, you can’t print.

I’m not sure WHY this standardization change made its way out of the printer industry, but I don’t like it one bit. It makes the devices far less flexible than their distant printer brethren and it makes printing images far more complicated than it needs to be. I don’t want to have to always use your stupid little app just to print an image. I want to be able to print from any app on my phone. Being tied to and dependent on your stupid little app is not only an asinine requirement, it’s insanely stupid. Please, just open your printer up to iOS as an Airprint device. Let us use whatever app we want to use. I don’t want to be dependent on your stupid app that you can hack up and break at the drop of a hat.

Polaroid as a Poster Child

I’m sorry that I have to rail so hard against Polaroid, but they made their bed and now they must lie in it. It’s their app and they ruined a perfectly good printing device by producing such a crap app to go with it.

The older app was at least functional, had semi-intuitive tools and simply just worked. This new app requires jumping between multiple screens, has tools buried in several different places, is more complicated to use, they removed “magic” enhancements designed to print images correctly on Zink paper and overall hobbled the printer.

Worse, now you have to waste tons of paper because you have to tweak and retweak the image OUTSIDE of the app to get a decent print out of the printer. The Zink paper is expensive and wasting sheet after sheet just to get a print is stupid and costly! With the old app, I never wasted one sheet. What I saw on screen was what I got out of the printer (pretty much). This new app provides no such predictable output. What you see on the screen is definitely not what you’ll get out of the printer… and this is why this newest 2018 update is such a #FAIL on Polaroid’s part.

Get With The Program, Polaroid

Polaroid, do the right thing! Pull that crap of an app from the store and revert to the older app version. Let your new developer update that crap app to the point where it is at the same level as the older app. That might take 6 months to 1 year. Whatever it takes, just do it.

For now, remove that app from the store and put the old one back. This new one sucks hard and doesn’t work. Right now, my printer is a useless $99 brick. Polaroid, do you want to reimburse me my money?

Class action lawsuit anyone?


If you’ve had a similar experience with your pocket photo printer from another brand, please leave a comment below and let me know.

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How important is nutrition education in Schools?

Posted in food, Health, nutrition, school by commorancy on January 3, 2019

Stalks2Happy New Year, Randocity Readers! Welcome to the first post of 2019. Here’s a topic that’s been boiling for quite some time, but never quite mashed it into a written article. With the new year comes resolutions. Considering this is typically a new year resolution, it’s the perfect time to roll this article out. This topic is something I think that public schools and even colleges need to rethink. Let’s explore.

Growing Up, Food Choices and School

One of the things that more or less caused me lots of angst throughout grade school (and even into college), as I now reflect on it, was the lack of mandated nutrition education. I grew up in Houston and went to public school there and later went to college up state. At the time I was in grade school, I obviously didn’t know any better about nutrition and wouldn’t have challenged the ‘establishment’ even if I did. No, I was clearly in the dark on this topic.

One thing that I can definitively say about Houston ISD was its serious lack of food education. While there were classes available like Home Economics, these classes were far less about nutrition and more about how to prepare a meal and not burn it and not cut yourself. You know, the logistics of using pots and pans, cooking in the oven, using a blender or food processor, time budgeting and how to handle kitchen cutlery safely. As I said, logistics. While these are incredibly valuable kitchen safety and functionality education conversations, they have nothing whatever to do with smart food choices or in understanding healthy nutrition.

No, there was no such class available in elementary, junior high (now called “middle school”) or even high school. In fact, the cafeteria’s food choices served to the kids was actually some of the worst, least nutritional meals I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. They were edible, yes, but just barely.

Not only was the school remiss in teaching proper food education, the school entirely failed in feeding the students a proper meal that would aid in the nutrition learning process… which is really the most important part of any nutrition program. If you’re falling asleep in class because you ate the wrong foods, then perhaps it’s important to teach better food choices to avoid this outcome?

Unhealthy Choices

Before I dive deeper, let’s talk about the weird food choices from my school’s cafeteria. While I don’t recall exact meals served in my elementary school, I do recall the pints of milk that nearly every student bought and drank each day… sometimes two. Mostly I missed what was served each day due to the fact that I rarely bought a meal from the cafeteria. My parents packed me a lunch each day. However, what the cafeteria served was one from a set menu each day. One day might be pizza, another day might be hamburger and another might be Salisbury steak. If they served any fruit with the lunch, it was usually in the form of Jello. Oh, how I hated the school’s Jello. For whatever reason, it always had a very hard top “crust” that formed on the Jello that resembled more of chewing on rubber than a food product. Horrible.

As I said, I thankfully missed much of that nutritionally deficient and poor quality food fare as I rarely bought food from the cafeteria. Throughout elementary school, my parents made and packed my lunch in lunch box or bag and I would only purchase a pint of milk to have something to drink with my lunch.

When I did rarely eat a meal at the elementary school cafeteria, pretty much any meal served was either way overcooked, under cooked or simply tasted like a really bad 70s frozen TV dinner. I recall that the food mostly tasted of cardboard (little flavor from that grade C or D food). There was absolutely no care in the quality or the nutritional value of the food. It was simply supplied to “feed” the kids and, hopefully, get them through the rest of the day (at the cheapest cost possible).

It’s not that my bagged lunch was so much better, though. I mean, how many days in a row can you eat a bologna and cheese sandwich, some chips and/or maybe an apple or banana? Yep, that’s pretty much what my parents packed… that or peanut butter and jelly. It was a meal that needed to withstand no refrigeration. By the time we were ready to eat lunch, it was room temperature and was, well, not that tasty.

It was definitely a meal that left me wanting. Peanut Butter and Jelly offered its own share of problems, such as solid sustenance. Peanut butter is tasty enough, but it’s no where near filling enough to substitute for actual protein. The Jelly is just glorified fruit sugar. Jelly simply gave you a sugar high that would eventually drop so low as to make you tired and sleepy. Peanut butter and jelly was, in fact, one of the worst meals I could have eaten. I’m not necessarily speaking for others, but for me that meal didn’t work out. Thankfully, I almost always got lunch meat on a sandwich. Better, but obviously not best. It was almost always a sandwich so they wouldn’t have to pack silverware or containers. Occasionally, they might use the thermos in my lunch box to pack some soup, but that also lacked in being filling as PB&J… mostly because it was usually Campbell’s soup.

I don’t fault my parents as they really didn’t know better. Their food education throughout their schooling was as poor for them as it was for me. They made these food choices for us kids even though it wasn’t always the smartest of choices. It was mostly out of cost value or convenience (read speed). I can certainly understand them not wanting wake up two or more hours early to prepare cooked meals for us, then still be required to go to work later. I get it. But it also meant nutrition that didn’t fulfill our nutritional requirements. The cafeteria meals were hot and cooked, but not always that fresh or tasty. Either meal type left me wanting.

Middle and High School

As I moved into junior high and high school, my stance on nutrition only got marginally better. What I mean by that is that in junior high, I ate most of my meals by buying a cafeteria lunch. I rarely brought in bag lunches at this point. I guess, my parents were tired of having to make a meal every day and I was certainly tired of eating nearly the same sandwich every single day. So, I began buying meals at the cafeteria. Not the best choice I could have made in hindsight, but I definitely remember these meals.

These cafeteria meals consisted of a poor quality protein, including fried chicken, chicken fried steak and gravy, pizza (very, very bad pizza), spaghetti, Salisbury steak, hamburger (tasted like it was frozen) and other similarly horrible entrees. Everything served tasted as if it had been frozen solid an hour before. Our rectangular 4 or 5 compartment trays would also be fitted with a horribly overcooked and/or canned side dishes (i.e., green beans, corn, peas, etc) and a desert (Jello, ambrosia, carrot raisin salad, etc). Sometimes one of the tray slots would be filled with bread. The choices and food combinations were questionable, but always predictably the same. Because the school lunch program published its monthly meal schedule in advance, you could avoid the days when the worst foods were served… which was pretty much every day.

As I moved into High School, the whole lunch food dynamic changed for my first 1.5 years (before the school moved to a new location). Because my high school had no cafeteria at all when I started as a freshman, we had to fend for ourselves at lunch. Yeah, I know, it’s weird. Because of this dilemma at the school, a few of the faculty took it upon themselves to run to Del Taco or some other fast food place and buy a bunch of burritos or hamburgers, bring them back and sell them to us. I’d occasionally used this option when I didn’t have much time between classes. Again, nutrition was a second thought. It was less about feeding the kids a proper meal and more about getting the kids fed. It’s that cattle mentality.

Thankfully, our school campus overlapped with part of Houston Community College’s campus. Because HCC had a culinary program (such that it was), the students were tasked with operating an eatery and, thus, there was a school operated cafeteria on the top floor of their classroom building. Occasionally, I would end up there to eat lunch and, I will say, for the first time I had a reasonable quality and tasty lunch. It was probably even somewhat nutritious as they had a salad bar that I occasionally used. The bar was expensive because it was “by the pound”, but the ingredients were always freshly made and tasty. For me, it was a treat to eat this kind of food for lunch rather than burritos.

The last half of my high school years, the school had moved out of that facility and into a “new” building. I put that in quotes because while it was “new” it was horribly lacking in design and it was incredibly small for a high school building. I’m not sure what HISD was thinking when they designed it. I digress.

Anyway, we were again dependent on HISD to provide us with meals. This basically meant, we had to fend for ourselves because, once again, the food was total garbage. Instead of the cafeteria where you ask them to plate foods from a buffet bar, this was a walk up window and there was a fixed menu. One day it might be hamburgers, another day it might be pizza and another day who knows what crappy concoction they would sell us. The food was horrible, salty, sugary and greasy all at the same time. Yet, that’s what they served us at a similar (or sometimes higher) price to McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Del Taco or Wendy’s. In fact, because we had been so spoiled by being allowed to leave the campus for lunch during those 1.5 years at the older campus, we still took the opportunity to leave the campus to go get lunch. However, many of us ended up over at 7-Eleven because it was on the next block over and we could walk there and back in less than 10 minutes on our strict 30 allotted minutes. Fast food places required hopping into a car and driving for at least 5-10 minutes in addition to waiting on the order during a busy noon lunch crowd. You ended up eating your meal in the car on the way back because you had maybe 5 minutes to eat it if you waited until you got back.

None of these were terribly smart food choices, but this is what choices we had as students. Choices that could have been made better if we had had some nutrition classes to teach us better eating habits and had had better food choices served to us in the cafeteria. Or better, offer the students (at least in junior high on up) a real kitchen facility with microwaves to allow us to make our own lunches and offer up a fridge system to store our lunches until lunch time so the lunches aren’t sitting out for 4 hours without refrigeration.

Junk Food, Candy and Time Management

Candy bars, soda and generally sugary junk foods were common staples in my lunchroom beginning in junior high (7th grade). This was in addition to vending machines… which you couldn’t use during lunch because we were captive in the lunch room (doors were basically locked) and the vending machines were in the hall a fair distance away. If you managed to walk buy one during class exchange, you could buy and stock up before lunch, leaving it in your locker. If you did leave the lunchroom to go to the vending machine and were caught, you got detention.

In junior high, there was the cafeteria line which served “hot meals” on trays with very long lines, but there was also a concession booth in the back of the lunchroom that served foods like hot dogs, candy bars, chips, soda, granola bars, gum, candy with a much, much shorter line. It was basically the prepared stuff you’d find at a 7-Eleven or at a movie theater (minus popcorn).

Why is this important? During junior high school, the lunch line was so long, if you weren’t at the lunch room early, you’d be waiting to get your meal for upwards to 25 minutes in a very long line. The cafeteria workers were incredibly slow and it took even longer to pay for your meal due to the “meal program” slowness. Because the lunch lasted 30 minutes on the dot, that meant 5 minutes or less to woof down your meal.

This is an important point. Having enough time to eat a meal is just as important as the food that’s being served. The school didn’t care that it took students upwards to 25 minutes simply to buy their meal. Woofing down a meal in 5 minutes doesn’t offer enough time to properly chew your food. It just doesn’t work. Again, naïve school administration. It wasn’t my fault that my class was the farthest away from the lunchroom and let out last, yet I was constantly penalized with excessively short amounts of time to eat my meal if I chose to buy a meal from the line.

This meant three choices: bring your lunch, 5 minutes to eat or junk food available almost immediately. There were many times were I opted for the junk food so I could at least have 15-20 minutes to sit down and relax before the next class. It wasn’t the greatest choice, but it was “the lesser of those evils.” Junior high school ultimately taught me how to eat fast AND eat junk, but never eat nutritiously.

When I got to high school, the high school’s lunch window (toward the latter half of my time there) sold both a combination of meals and junk food. You made the choice when you got to the window. Because this window wasn’t part of the “official” HISD lunch program, you’d only find out what was being served the day of. This meant asking when you got to the window and then making a choice to buy or not. If you chose not, then you’d have to leave the campus and find a meal elsewhere. Believe me, the “meals” being served from that cafeteria window were some of the most questionable I’d ever had in school. Not only was the food expensive, it was simply horrible quality food. I walked away empty handed and ended up at 7-Eleven far too much of the time. Ultimately, it was trading one bad choice for another. But, at least it was something I could eat.

However, because of lunch period time constraints, sometimes there was no choice. As an example, one of the “meals” my high school lunch window regularly served (more than twice a week) was a Frito Pie. You know, pouring chili over the top of Fritos and topping it with cheese and onions. Yeah, such great nutrition there, if you consider salt, carbs and grease as nutritious. If you wanted fruit or salad, I can’t recall them ever selling that. Because these healthier choices of foods are more perishable than canned, frozen and bagged items, they didn’t want to keep it in the kitchen. Oh, how I longed for the days of the HCC cafeteria. In fact one or two times I decided to drive over there and eat instead. It wasn’t that far from the new school, but it was a hassle to leave and make it back on time. Instead, I’d usually make my way to 7-Eleven to their cold case and buy something prepackaged or to get a piece of fruit. Even then, towards my final year, the school office was trying to enforce not leaving the campus at lunch time. There’s no way that was not going to happen. Many of us still left to picked up lunch from 7-Eleven or McDonald’s or Wendy’s… just try and stop me.

In my senior year, one of the stickler academic instructors tried to hassle me one day for going to 7-Eleven. I simply told them I was on an errand for another instructor, which was a common request. He had to shut up and go away. Thankfully, it was my senior year and I could finally get away from that crap food.

Nutrition Education

The problem with public schools is that while they do a decent job at teaching the academic basics of history, math, biology and general science, schools typically neglect food science and fail to embrace the holistic idea of how food acts on the body. Students might learn about this topic if they happen to have parents who work in that profession, but many won’t learn it from school… which means most students didn’t learn it during my time in school. Today, schools may have added some nutrition classes, but I kinda doubt they’re where they need to be… teaching only the barebones basics and still serving questionable quality meals.

The closest that schools came to nutrition education at the time I was there was Home Economics (or whatever they might be calling it today). Home Economics is less about food and nutrition and more about the logistics of navigating a kitchen safely, knife handling, food prep, using kitchen appliances and timing of cooking so that all of the food lands on a plate at or close to the same time. It might have even included a discussion on budget shopping. That’s not nutrition, that’s logistics.

Basically, I learned nothing about food or nutrition until into my late-30s. I learned about it on my own slowly, which allowed me to better understand some of the problems I was experiencing to better my own quality of life through better food choices. To some degree, I still struggle with this only because of the lack of formal education around food and nutrition, thanks mostly to the lack of public education in teaching this important knowledge area.

Unfortunately, I moved from one type of “school” to effectively another when I took my first job at a theme park. Because the food being served there was only marginally better than my school’s food, I still didn’t learn about food and nutrition while working there. The food choices there were also questionable… and mostly consisted of a hamburger and fries. The park simply didn’t treat nutrition as anything important. It was more important to serve foods that people liked instead of supporting healthy nutritious choices. As employees, we had to suffer through with that food rationale geared towards park guests.

As employees, we also had no kitchen or fridge facilities to store our foods. If you wanted to bring something from home, you had to bring a small cooler yourself and then find a place to store it. Coolers only marginally worked because of the high outside temperatures during summer. For folks who worked in food service, they might be able to store a brought lunch in their restaurant’s fridge if the manager allowed it. That was only a perk for those specific workers. The general staff was offered no such kitchen facility when there was plenty of park space to build and offer such a lunchroom location.

Food is Energy

It’s clear, food is the energy needed to keep the body working. As they say, “You are what you eat.” That is a fairly accurate statement. Food is about balanced nutrition including balancing carbohydrates, proteins and fats in combination with vitamins and minerals. It’s also about understanding which foods contain which vitamins and minerals and understanding which specific foods fall under carbohydrates, fats and proteins by eyeing the food. For example, a hamburger patty is both fat and protein with very little carbs. A hamburger bun is almost all carbs with some fats. When you add vegetables, such as tomatoes and onions, this is primarily where vitamins and minerals come in.

Candy bars are primarily sugar and fats with a bunch of fillers, flavors and cocoa.

It’s really easy to write this now only because I’ve come to understand what is what. But, when you’re 5-18 years old, you don’t learn this. Like a foreign language, students learn best during these early years. Why this information is not imparted to children at that age just doesn’t make sense.

If I had been taught nutrition during my early school years, I could have moved into my 20s much more informed, with a healthier weight and ultimately made better food and nutrition choices during college years. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

Nutrition Classes

Nutrition is not a hard topic to grasp the basics. For example, understanding the Nutrition Facts label, understanding how to read an ingredient label and understanding what foods fall into which category (fats, carbs, protein) is actually mostly easy today, thanks to the standardized nutrition labeling requirements.

I guess schools thought that the Nutrition Facts label was so simple to understand that there’s no need to teach anything. Well, that’s not true. There are plenty of gotchas when reading a Nutrition Facts label. Sometimes it’s not about what’s on the label, it’s what’s missing from the label, such as food combinations.

Also, it’s quite important to offer sufficient time to consume the food in combination with supplying fresh, high quality meals is what would help the students to perform their best. For a timing example, the short 30 minutes offered to eat lunch in the cafeteria and the 10-15 minutes to woof down breakfast during the first class of the day. Teaching kids to eat fast is not a smart choice. Eating smart and chewing it properly is the smarter choice. As an example, sweet laden breakfasts causes the body to fight against sleepytime as insulin crashes because of the 150g of carbs during breakfast or lunch. This is why understanding smart nutrition is so important… such as how the foods act on the body.

For those students who have diabetes or require special dietary needs, these students become well versed in what to eat and what not to eat because of severe health consequences. Though, temptation is always there, there are severe consequences if they cheat. Kids with diabetes or food allergies learn these consequences early. Why does it take this level of consequence for kids to learn? Why can’t this type of information make its way to the general population of students? Setting up a nutrition class is not that hard to design, but it does require funding by the school. I guess schools just don’t feel that this level of nutrition education is important. It’s a short-sighted point by the schools.

Equipping our Kids for Success

Giving our kids every opportunity to succeed in life should be the goal of every school. Yet, withholding such vital information as how to eat properly in a world full of bad food choices simply doesn’t make any sense.

We teach students about such things as history to help prevent history repeating itself, yet we give students no tools to help manage food, nutrition and their body. Food can make or break the body. As a child, the body is very resilient to the fillers and chemicals placed into junk food. As we age, the body becomes less tolerant to these. This means that as our kids move into becoming young adults, then adults, many will forever struggle with weight issues and food related health problems… because they were given no tools in school.

By failing to equip our students to identify and avoid problematic foods, we are leading some of our kids down a path that will fail them. Knowing history, math, biology and science is great, but it doesn’t fully equip our kids to survive in the world, particularly when it comes to food choices.

Kids need to learn to make smart food choices in elementary school. They need to understand the difference between eating green beans or a salad over mac and cheese and chicken nuggets. They may not like green beans or salad, but they need to understand the positive benefits they could experience by eating them. Kids that age may not want to explore foods like these that early, but with a proper class, we could entice kids to want to explore these foods and become excited over them. This is the benefit of offering food choices and nutrition classes.

Bullying, Obesity and Kids

Much of the reason kids bully one another due to body weight issues. It might be that the kid is too thin and lanky, but it’s just as likely they’ll be overweight or even obese. Thin or fat are two sides of the same coin, usually resulting from improper relationships with food and simply not understanding nutrition. Being overly thin could be a metabolism thing, but it might also be the food choices. Being obese is also a metabolism problem in relation to food choices.

Weight loss or gain starts in the kitchen. The body needs proper nutrition based on the body type. If you’re predisposed to gaining weight, then that requires a different course of action with food than if you’re thin trying to gain weight. It’s all about tailored nutrition.

As I said above, the young body bounces back easily even when the wrong foods are being eaten. This is why kids can be both overweight and still be considered ‘healthy’. At that point, it would be considered a degree of health. Healthy isn’t simply a specific number. There’s variation between levels of health. You can fall under healthy with medical tests, but still feel awful, have aches and pains, sleep poorly and generally feel crappy overall. That’s a degree of unhealthy. Even kids can suffer from this problem.

Growing up, I couldn’t sleep more than 5-6 hours at a time. That wasn’t a sleeping behavior problem alone. That was a food and nutrition problem. When I eat properly at the proper times during the day, I can sleep for up to 8 hours, but generally hit the 7 hour mark before waking. I still struggle with proper nutrition. Today, that’s less about naïvety than time constraints.

It’s also important to understand moderation and variety in food consumption. Eating the same food day in and out may be tasty, particularly if the food is Pizza or Mac and Cheese, but that doesn’t make it a healthy food habit. It’s easy to become deficient in nutrition if you’re not getting balanced foods… like eating a piece of fruit or vegetables at some of the meals. It’s also about cooking and raw foods. Vegetables can be eaten raw or cooked.

The point is, teaching a proper food lifestyle from an early age can mean better body image, feeling better, more energy and a more positive outlook when at school. By eating only junk food and sticking to a diet that consists of the same foods over and over, the body may not be getting what it needs to concentrate in class or getting proper sleep. This can mean irritability, irrational behavior and perhaps leading to bad grades or being a troublemaker. Eating properly cannot in any way fix mental health issues, but it can improve health and well being, including mental well being. This is why it’s important to give students every possible tool to help them not only succeed in school, but have life tools to help them succeed into adulthood.

Raw vs Cooked

School cafeterias always cook the food until it’s overcooked. However, eating raw fruit or vegetables is a very good way to add more vitamins and minerals to your diet. Because we’ve recently had a spate of problems with raw vegetables (i.e., Salmonella or E.Coli), many people feel that they should be cooking their vegetables. Cooking vegetables is great, but it also strips some of the important nutrients from the food. This is why it’s important to include both raw and cooked vegetables in your diet. If you’re concerned over Salmonella or E.Coli, then lightly steam the vegetables. Let them remain mostly raw, but give them enough hot steam time to kill off any outside bacteria. Try to keep that vegetable as raw as possible. If a green vegetable has turned a dull yellow-green, then it’s overcooked. Green vegetables should remain a vibrant green color even when steamed.

To eat fruits and vegetables raw, wash them with at least water. Better, wash them in a diluted vinegar solution (3 parts water to 1 part vinegar). The vinegar won’t damage the produce and also won’t in any way preserve it, but it will kill off almost all of the bacteria and pesticides (and any remaining soil). You can also buy commercial produce wash solutions like FIT or Veggie Wash, but these can be more expensive than plain vinegar.

If you’re really concerned about this problem, I’d suggest visiting your local farmer’s produce market and get to know your local growers. Ask them how they manage their crops, the kinds of pesticides they use, the kinds of fertilizer they use and also ask about their general produce storage and handling practices (make sure they’re keeping the produce properly stored, such as chilled and that they are packed separately from other vegetables).

Shopping for produce also gives you the opportunity to take your children with you and let them pick out produce that is appealing to them. Shopping lets them explore the fascinating world of fruits and vegetables and lets them pick them up, touch them and see how they feel. It’s a way to get your kids interested in more than chicken nuggets, pizza and mac and cheese. Children are naturally curious explorers. Let’s let them do what they do best and explore the world of fruits and vegetables through new eyes. They may not like everything they try, but that’s okay. They’ll find at least something that they like. Kids are also more likely to like it if you let them choose rather than trying to force the foods on them. Food exploration is an important tool to entice children into trying fruits and vegetables. If you take them to a farmer’s market, many produce vendors cut up and offer fruit samples right there. This gives your child a chance to try the fruits right at the market.

Buying local produce, you can typically avoid many of the problems you find with the large commercial growers who supply your local supermarkets… and that includes supermarkets like Whole Foods and Sprouts, even as much as they tout fresh, healthy, whole foods and produce. Buying local doesn’t necessarily get you better tasting produce, but many times it does. For example, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries in the supermarket are often bland and not at all sweet. Buying from a local grower, many times you’ll find much, much sweeter berries at or less than store prices. But, it’s really less about the price and more about the quality of the nutrition. It’s also about food exploration.

College

When I moved onto college, not much changed in terms of food quality. Our college cafeteria treated food towards students like someone might treat feeding pigs on a farm…. just throw some random slop out there and they’ll eat it.

My college cafeteria food clearly created some of the worst food I’d ever experienced at a school. In hindsight, the food itself was probably not much worse than HISD’s food… it was the extremely poor food handling practices that made it much, much worse. For example, when the college cafeteria served hamburgers, they would cook the meat in advance, place them into some kind of flavored water solution and leave them overnight in the fridge. Then they’d pull the metal hot table bins from the fridge, unwrap them and place them onto a hot grill to heat them up for the day.

Not only were the hamburger patties not fresh, they tasted weird. I think I only ever ate one or two before bowing out of that mess. Now keep in mind that the college forced a meal plan on every incoming freshman and sophomore who lived in the dorms. I can understand why they forced it. The food was so grade D that there was no other way they could sell that trash to anyone actually willing to pay at the register. On these bad hamburger days, I’d make my way to Whataburger, who always cooked at least grade B burgers fresh to order… none of that weird floating in hot water grade D nonsense.

It also meant that, for the first time, I had the option to make better food choices for myself. Food choices that not only worked for my budget, but that also provided fresh hot nutritious meals; meals that didn’t leave me feeling lethargic, sleepy and generally crap. That not to say I didn’t occasionally overindulge and get that way, but I began learning much more about nutrition on my own while in college. I also began learning because due to the crap way I had been taught to eat my meals in 5 minutes in junior high (reinforced by my first job) and the kinds of food I’d been taught to eat. I had also begun experiencing digestive problems.

At the time, I’m quite sure the college offered nutrition classes because of their various athletics and Kinesiology programs, but I didn’t take any of these classes. Though, I’m certain they were offered. In hindsight, I probably should have taken at least one class just to find out what I didn’t know. Unfortunately, my college degree already kept me busy. My degree plan just didn’t have any room after I’d filled in all of very few electives with classes that helped me graduate faster. However, my public school days definitely offered no nutrition classes. There was simply nothing available. If I had wanted to take a class like this, I’d have had to do it after school on my parent’s dime. My parents wouldn’t have agreed to this. Though, even in junior high, I was aware of services like Weight Watchers… and I’d even considered joining. I simply had no spare time (or spare money as they required you to buy into their food).

In high school, there were sex ed classes, but there were no nutrition classes… definitely none at my high school. In junior high, if there was any nutrition conversation, the extent of it was in a biology class, usually offering a very academic overview… being less about proper nutrition than the sheer basics about how food works on the body. There were zero nutrition classes available during elementary school, the most formative time when children should be exposed to proper nutrition.

Sure, we understand what tastes good (ice cream, Cheetos and Coke) and what tastes bad (broccoli and liver), but that’s such a basic understanding for a child, it’s just surface understanding of food, but completely skips healthy nutrition. It’s just a “I like this, but I don’t like that” kind of preference… which has nothing at all to do with making healthy food choices or nutrition.

No, it seems many public schools completely ignore nutrition and just how much healthy eating contributes not only to weight, but also to overall health, mental health, well-being and focus. That’s not to say that we should eat nothing but Kale salads with sprouts. Moderation is the key, eating healthy means making choices that allow the body to feel its best, act its best, look its best and be its best. Splurging on ice cream or soda or pizza or fried chicken is fine, occasionally. Everyone needs moderation in their diet. These should be rare events rather than every day. Treat them as ‘treats’, not as ‘staples’.

Controversial Topics, Making Choices

Nutrition is kind of a “he said, she said” world. Because there are so many foods (real and fake) on the market, every food industry wants an edge to get their product to sell. For this reason, this is why there’s all of these conflicting food topics… such as eggs are good, then eggs are bad, then eggs are good again… and so on. This has happened with salt, eggs, shrimp, avocados, sugar, saccharin, food dyes, food additives and even Coke. This is why schools probably shy away from setting up classes.

If you set up nutrition class, you’d have to decide which side of the fence you’re on… or at least so a school might think. This means that they might need to side with the egg industry that “eggs are good”. But then, some parents might not like that their child is being taught that.

Schools prefer to avoid this kind of confrontation with parents, particularly vocal parents who might do damage to the school. This is a misguided reason not to include a nutrition program in the curriculum. It would be simply easy to avoid this problem. You don’t spout the marketing rhetoric at all in the class. For something like an egg, simply offer what an egg is made of, the nutrition it offers and let the student (and parents) decide if the food belongs in the child’s diet. Don’t even bring up the industry politics of the egg. The point to school is to create an environment for critical thinking. After all, critical thinking is what we’re expected to do as adults. We need to think for ourselves and come to our own conclusions. No one can really make a choice about their own body but each person. This is the very message that needs to be driven home in any nutrition class. Basically, don’t blindly listen to an advertisement that says, “Eggs are good” or, “Eggs are bad”. Come to your own conclusion for yourself. If you eat an egg and it doesn’t agree with you, then clearly eggs are not for you. If the parents are strict vegans and they project that onto their children, then eggs may not be for the child.

Teaching students to listen and pay attention to how their own body reacts to eating a food is the only way that student can make an informed choice. For example, if drinking milk equals upset stomach and indigestion, this could mean lactose intolerance. This is the perfect example of listening to your own body. If you try something and your body reacts in a way that you don’t expect, perhaps you eliminate that food from your diet.

That’s the key element that needs to be taught in a nutrition class. That’s smart food choices. That’s choosing foods based on how your body reacts to it. We are not taught to do this as children. But, it’s something we learn going into are 30s and 40s when we can put 2 and 2 together. We learn which foods work for our bodies and which do not. Most of us learn this by trial and error. Some of us never learn and continue to feed our bodies with foods that make us sick and sicker.

Nutrition Concepts

This is why it’s important to introduce nutrition concepts early in a child’s life. Get them thinking about it in 5th, 6th or 7th grade. By this point, most children have probably experienced getting sick by eating some sort of food. Learning by experience is an important tool that schools can leverage in any nutrition class. Teaching young children about these concepts early will help them use critical thinking skills in the future… a valuable tool that can be used for a whole lot more than food choices and nutrition. It may even save a child’s life for critical food allergies.

For example, when I was aged 10-12, I never put 2 and 2 together about food. My parents would drop me off at the YMCA for a summer camp program. We would be out and about on a bus the whole day. I was packed a bag lunch, just like at school. Every day when we arrived back at the Y and before being picked up, I’d have a raging headache… every single day. One thing that I would get nearly every day was a chocolate candy bar from the vending machine when we would get back. Because we ate promptly at noon, we had no other food for the rest of day from then until around 5PM when I got picked up. I was rather hungry when we got back to the Y, particularly if we had run around outside most of the day. I’d save up the 35¢ or so for the candy bar and buy one most every day.

It never dawned on me that it was likely both the chocolate and the sugar rush that either caused or exacerbated the headache. I can’t say it was a migraine as it didn’t last overnight. Looking back now, I’m almost certain it was a sugar related headache. It might have been low blood sugar due to not eating much after our lunch or it could have been the rapid rise and fall of blood sugar from the precipitous insulin rush. It might have also been that I already had the headache and chocolate bar doubled or tripled its effect.

Since I was never diagnosed and because I had no classes in nutrition, it was only guesswork for both myself and my mother. She always found it curious that I had these, but it was never investigated because it was gone the next morning. If I had had nutrition classes during my time at public school, I might have been able to find the trigger and, with my parents help, eliminate the problem so that I could come home each day after camp feeling just fine with fond memories of what we had just done that day. Instead, most of what we did at camp is just a blur because the headaches seems to have not allowed those memories to “set”. Keep in mind that just a few years later, I worked outdoors every day and rarely, if ever, had headaches at the end of the day. I also didn’t eat candy bars after working. It’s one of life’s critical thinking skills that you must learn when considering nutrition and how nutrition and food affects each of us. This is an important lesson that could be taught much earlier to students, but isn’t.

Grade School Today

It has been a while since I’ve attended grade school, so I will concede it appears school districts have implemented some food science and nutrition programs. It seems that HISD is now offering a Breakfast in the Classroom program which allows students to eat at their desks during morning announcements. Unfortunately, what is served is limited to a single entree item. Students are also given a short amount of time to consume the food. If what’s offered is not something a child can eat (i.e., diabetes, allergies or autism), then they go hungry for the morning. I’d also include that some example meals include Turkey Sausage Egg Sandwich, Beef Kolache, Yogurt, Chicken Biscuit and Strawberry Oatmeal Breakfast Bar as the ‘main entree’. Along with this ‘entree’ portion, the students are served regular or skim milk and a selection from: apple juice, an apple, Craisins or similar fruit (basically, something sugary).

While having the students eat breakfast in the classroom isn’t something that happened in my school days, starting the day off with these fatty and sugary foods isn’t a recipe for focus because the foods served are sometimes too rich to start the day. The school should start the day with fresher whole ingredients that satisfy student hunger better with less emphasis on sausage egg biscuits, dried sugary fruits, breakfast bars and apple juice. You can serve these kinds of rich foods once a week, but not every single day. Serving these as “treat” foods gives the students something to look forward to… or better, offer the students a menu and let the parents and/or student pick their morning breakfast in advance. If the student fails to choose their breakfast, then serve them the ‘selected’ entree of the school’s choice. Letting the parent decide what their child eats at school allows the parent to head off health problems with their child.

HISD also claims to be helping students learn about food and nutrition. Here’s an excerpt from HISD’s web site about its nutrition education program:

Houston ISD is committed to teaching food literacy and food inclusion through a nutrition-focused curriculum. Food literacy starts with understanding where food comes from. It then expands to understanding relationships with food. This begins at a personal level; how different foods can be beneficial to the body and how some foods do not have any benefits for the body. This includes an openness to trying new foods and seeking out exposure to new foods. The relationship with food expands to cultural preference with foods, understanding both personal culture and others’ cultures and how that impacts food choice and why preferences vary between cultures. Expanding even further, food literacy includes the relationship with food/agriculture on a global, environmental, and economical scale. Food inclusion promotes a pattern of healthy choices that are flexible enough to fit into many cultural preferences and promote balance, variety and moderation. Overall, this means making delicious choices that benefit your body. The message of health should promote a positive relationship with food, avoiding messaging that use fear instead of facts. Nutrition Services aims to educate our students in the classroom, in the garden and in the cafeteria.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any information on HISD’s web site that discusses its class offerings, its class content, how or when the students can take these classes (i.e., are they electives?, are all grade levels required to learn this?, etc), or even if this curriculum is required by the students. It’s good that HISD has itself learned the effect that food has on students in focus, but I’m not sure that what’s being served to the students and what is taught encourages students to eat healthy meals and understand why some foods are to be considered ‘good’ and some are considered ‘bad’. It seems most of what HISD has implemented is more being driven by bad press against the school district and keeping up with competing school districts than actual commitment to the importance of food.

What HISD has done so far is definitely a step in the right direction. However, it’s nowhere near getting the importance that it needs in the classroom. Food and nutrition is equally important to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses. Food and nutrition clearly falls under science, but it is almost never treated with the same level of importance as a biology, physics, chemistry and others. Teaching the students the importance of food in the world may lead one of these students into a food breakthrough that helps out the world. That can’t happen when students aren’t properly exposed to the importance and role of food in everyday human life.

Sure, we must eat food to live. That’s the very basics of food. Food science goes well beyond that by enabling students to become productive adults who might create a food invention that can feed the hungry of the world. Yes, food keeps our own bodies fueled, but food science education can bring about positive food changes in the world. Only these new fresh eyes can see what adults cannot.

Other ISDs

In researching this article, I’ve found many larger ISDs also offering Breakfast in the Classroom programs. For example, New York and Los Angeles both have BIC programs. In the case of LA Unified, the students basically do all of the work from retrieving the food in a cart, to serving themselves, to cleaning up and returning the cart. Here’s a video that describes Los Angeles Unified School District’s program:

Of course, this doesn’t mean every school district offers a BIC program yet. Many still do not. They may offer breakfast in a cafeteria, but apparently participation in cafeteria breakfasts is as low as 30%. It makes sense, arrive at school early to eat breakfast or sleep in longer? I’d say that one is a no-brainer. No student wants to get to school any earlier than they absolutely have to. However, serving breakfast in the classroom is a smarter approach because it means students don’t have to show up early to eat breakfast. Students are already be in their first class by a certain time anyway and eating breakfast during that dead 10-15 minutes while the teacher is performing morning attendance, making announcements and getting their daily plans together is a smarter way to use that time. Though, it is also costlier because someone needs to pay for the meals. I would hope that students could bring their own meals from home and are allowed to eat those instead of eating the supplied food if they so choose.

If I could have eaten food during the first 15 minutes of my first class, I certainly would have taken advantage. However, at the time, my school had a strict no-eating-in-the-classroom policy. Though, some of us did sneak eat when we had the chance. We didn’t do it often because the penalties were pretty severe if caught. It also meant less food to eat at lunch.

While I’m all for the Breakfast in the Classroom program idea, the way it’s currently implemented is a bit lacking both from a nutrition perspective and definitely from a tailored nutrition perspective. In the case of food, one size does not fit all.

Health begins in the Kitchen

While performing exercise improves the body’s conditioning, it doesn’t always help with weight loss. There are many people who exercise every day and never lose any weight. Why? Because their nutrition is wrong. Many people mistakenly believe that exercising equals weight loss. That’s not true. Weight loss begins in the kitchen, not at the gym. To lose weight, you have to eat smart. Eating smart means understanding your body’s energy requirements for the day. In fact, you can lose weight simply by changing your food lifestyle.

I write, “food lifestyle” instead of “diet” because the word “diet” has negative connotations. It also has connotations to mean “temporary”. Meaning, you do it for a short time, lose the weight and then go back to “regular eating”. That doesn’t work. That’s also a recipe for the Yo-Yo problem. Weight goes down, then weight goes back up. In fact, the Yo-Yo problem is actually worse on health than staying at a consistent weight, even if somewhat overweight.

To lose weight, you need to change your thinking about food from “dieting” to making food lifestyle choices. What “lifestyle choices” means is changing the way you think about and eat on a permanent daily basis. For example, drop the candies, cakes and sugary foods from your diet entirely and adopt a cheat day system. Make the healthy foods your primary goto foods. If you want to snack, grab carrots, celery, broccoli and cherry tomatoes instead of a granola bar, a breakfast bar, chips or even cereal.

Adopt a don’t buy it attitude. If you keep the “bad” foods at a minimum around the house, you can’t cheat on them. No ice cream in the freezer? You can’t eat it. No cookies? You can’t eat them. And so on. This is a healthy food lifestyle. Instead, keep carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and cherry tomatoes around. Keep oranges, apples and bananas around. If you have these around the house, then you’ll eat them if you really want a snack.

Better, don’t snack and wait until your next full meal. Sometimes it’s only an hour away. In fact, if you’re an hour or less away from your next meal, get some water and wait for that. In fact, water is a good quencher. If you think you’re hungry, go get some water and drink it first. You might find that that satisfies your hunger for long enough to get you to your next meal. If you do find that you really do need a snack, grab something fresh (fruits and vegetables) over something packaged (chips, granola, breakfast bars, cereal).

For the cheat day, you can eat out, eat ice cream or basically eat anything you want, though I always recommend eating in moderation. Don’t stuff yourself to the point of being sick or uncomfortable. Eat until you’re no longer hungry, not until you are “full”… there is a difference. This allows you to partake in holiday meals, birthday meals and other special occasions. Leave these decadent foods to the special occasions, not your regular meals. Also, don’t skip meals because you’re “not hungry”. Eat something anyway… it doesn’t have to be a lot, it just needs to be enough to keep your body regular. If you want to eat a cookie or a piece of cake occasionally, that’s fine. It shouldn’t be everyday. If you’re single eating alone, don’t buy a gallon of ice cream or full sized pie. Buy smaller portions and individual sizes.

Food Combinations

Without getting into a ton of nutrition detail here, eating certain foods together is more likely to encourage weight gain than eating these foods an hour apart. For example, drinking milk together with cereal is a great way to gain weight. There’s fat (and sugar) in the milk and sugar in the cereal. The sugar in the cereal and milk act on the body to release insulin which then prompts the body to uptake the fat in the milk into storage via adipose tissue. This is especially true when you consider what other foods you might have already eaten that day. You don’t want to encourage the body to store fat. You want the encourage the body to use the fat stores that are already there, this reducing weight.

There are many food combinations that can lead to fat gain. There are also food combinations that lead to fat loss simply by eating certain foods together or eating certain foods far apart (or not at all).

Of course, calories also matter. Calories are a unit of energy consumed versus expended. Unless your body is in a near constant calorie deficit, you could gain weight by consuming the wrong foods together.

There are two ways to get into a calorie deficit. The first is obvious… exercise. The second is through food choices. Exercise doesn’t guarantee a calorie deficit because you can still consume more calories than you have expended. For this reason, exercise doesn’t guarantee weight loss… only a calorie deficit does, and that is achieved in the kitchen, not in the gym.

Kids, Food and Obesity

Armed with that information, let’s bring it full circle. Food isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. Offering the same Breakfast in the Classroom meal to all students may not be the smartest nutrition approach for every student and may still lead to obesity in some students. For example, if a student already ate a huge breakfast before coming to school, they may still consume the BIC food simply because it’s there. This encourages overeating. The BIC program in no way polices the student to find out if they have already eaten a meal for the day. It simply assumes that every student hasn’t eaten before coming to school. Many haven’t, but some have.

This is a lax approach to nutrition for the students. If the school wants to be responsible for maintaining a healthy student weight, then they should be responsible for all of the meals for the student during their charge. The parents should refrain from serving the student any food other than dinner… and even then, the school should provide a nutrition plan for the student so that the parent knows what and how much to serve the student at the end of the day as a guide. Of course, the parent is free to do whatever they want, but that encourages obesity if they do.

When creating exercise programs for the students, the school should take into account the nutrition being fed to the students and offer exercise programs that work in concert with the amount of food being served. This means that the students will receive a balanced amount of exercise against food intake and lead the student to maintain their body weight.

If a student is overweight or obese, the school needs to have a nutrition counselor on staff who can tailor a meal program to help the student get back into a healthy weight by tailoring their meals to lead to that outcome. This means a tailored breakfast and lunch program. Once the student is back at their correct body weight, put the student onto the balanced nutrition program to maintain that weight.

Right now, the schools are simply throwing standardized food at the students to help maintain attendance (primary goal) and keep the students awake and focused (secondary goal). Those goals, while commendable, don’t aid the student into a healthy body weight. The schools aren’t taking a holistic approach to food, exercise and nutrition to not only keep students focused, but also to help the students maintain a healthy body weight for their height. A holistic approach is a smartest approach for the students health and well-being. School districts are still no where near this level of holistic understanding of food and nutrition for students. If the schools were to tailor food programs to an individual student’s needs, healthy body weight can be achieved and maintained giving bully students one less piece of ammo against fellow students. More than the bullying, it teaches the student how to maintain a healthy body weight going into adulthood (the most important aspect). Empowering students with understanding of proper nutrition and how to manage their own bodies will give them a huge edge when getting a job.

Being overweight or obese can affect your chances at landing a job. Being at a healthy body weight gives you that extra first impression you need when interviewing for a job. Don’t think for a moment that being overweight isn’t considered by a hiring manager. If a specific job requires a certain level of mobility, movement and carrying capacity, a hiring manager might not consider someone who is overweight or who appears overall unhealthy. Weight discrimination is real in the job market. Learning how to manage weight early in childhood and in the teens goes a long way to maintaining that weight into adulthood. Children who fail to be taught this are at a disadvantage when becoming an adult.

Schools need to consider a holistic and individualistic approach to food and nutrition when putting together their food and exercise programs for students. One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to nutrition and exercise.

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What is 35mm film resolution?

Posted in entertainment, film, movies, technologies by commorancy on December 26, 2018

filmstrip-fI’ve seen a number of questions on Quora asking about this topic, likely related to 4K TV resolution. Let’s explore.

Film vs Digital

What is the amount of pixels in a 35mm frame of film? There’s not an exact number of pixels in a single frame of 35mm film stock. You know, that old plasticky stuff you had to develop with chemicals? Yeah, that’s stuff. However, the number can be estimated based on the ISO used.

Based on an ISO of 100-200, it is estimated that just shy of 20,000,000 (20 million) pixels make up a single 35mm frame after conversion to digital pixels. When the ISO is increased to allow more light into the aperture, this increases film noise or grain. As grain increases, resolution decreases. At an ISO of 6400, for example, the effective resolution in pixels might drop to less than 10,000,000 (10 million) due to more film grain. It can be even lower than that depending on the type of scene, the brightness of the scene and the various other film factors… including how the film was developed.

If we’re talking about 70mm film stock, then we’re talking about double the effective resolution. This means that a single frame of 70mm film stock would contain (again at ISO 100-200) about 40,000,000 (40 million) digital pixels.

Digital Cinematography

Panavision Millenium DXL2With the advent of digital cinematography, filmmakers can choose from the older Panavision film cameras or they can choose between Panavision‘s or RED‘s digital cameras (and, of course, others). For a filmmaker choosing a digital camera over a film camera, you should understand the important differences in your final film product.

As of this article, RED and Panavision digital cinematography cameras produce a resolution up to 8k (7,680 × 4,320 = 33,177,600 total pixels). While 33 million pixels is greater than the 20 million pixels in 35mm film, it is still less resolution than can be had in 70mm film at 40 million pixels. Red DragonThis means that while digital photography might offer a smoother look than film, it doesn’t necessarily offer better ‘quality’ than film.

Though, using digital cameras to create content is somewhat cheaper because there’s no need to send the footage to a lab to be developed… only to find that the film was defective, scratched or in some way problematic. This means that digital photography is a bit more foolproof as you can immediately preview the filmed product and determine if it needs to be reshot in only a few minutes. With film, you don’t know what you have until it’s developed, which could be a day or two later.

With that said, film’s resolution is based on its inherent film structure. Film resolution can also be higher than that of digital cameras. Film also looks different due to the way the film operates with sprockets and “flipping” in both the camera and projector. Film playback simply has a different look and feel than digital playback.

RED expects to increase its camera resolution to 10k (or higher) in the future. I’m unsure what exact resolution that will entail, but the current UW10k resolution features 10,240 × 4,320 = 44,236,800 pixels. This number of pixels is similar to 70mm film stock in total resolution, but the aspect ratio is not that of a film screen, which typically uses 2.35:1 (Cinemascope widescreen) or 16:9 (TV widescreen) formats. I’d expect that whatever resolution / aspect that RED chooses will still provide a 2.35:1 format and other formats, though it might even support that oddball UW10k aspect with its 10,240 pixels wide view. These new even wider screens are becoming popular, particularly with computers and gaming.

Film Distribution

Even though films created on RED cameras may offer an up to 8k resolution, these films are always down-sampled for both theatrical performance and for home purchasing. For example, the highest resolution you can buy at home is the UltraHD 4K version which offers 3,840 x 2,160 = 8,294,400 pixels. Converting an 8k film into 4k, you lose around 24 million pixels of resolution information from the original film source. This is the same when converting film stock to digital formats.

Digital films projected in theaters typically use theatrical 4K copies, much the same as you can buy on UltraHD 4K discs, just tied to a different licensing system that only theaters use.

Future TV formats

TV resolutions have been going up and up. From 480p to 1080p to 4K and next to 8K. Once we get to 8K in the home, this is the resolution you’ll find natively with most digitally captured films. Though, some early digital films were filmed in 4K. Eventually, we will be able to see digital films in its native resolution. 8K TVs will finally allow home consumers to watch films in their filmed resolution, including both 35mm film and 70mm film stock both as well as many digital only films.

For this reason, I’m anxious to finally see 8K TVs drop in price to what 4K TVs are today (sub $1000). By that time, of course, 4K TVs will be sub $200.

8K Film Distribution

To distribute 8K films to home consumers, we’re likely going to need a new format. UltraHD Blu-ray is likely not big enough to handle the size of the files of 8K films. We’ll either need digital download distribution or we’ll need a brand new, much larger Blu-ray disc. Or, the movie will need to be shipped on two discs in two parts… I always hated switching discs in the middle of a movie. Of course, streaming from services like Netflix is always an option, but even 4K isn’t widely adopted on these streaming platforms as yet.

Seeing in 8K?

Some people claim you can’t see the difference between 1080p and 4K. This is actually an untrue statement. 1080p resolution, particularly on a 55″ or larger TV, is easy to spot the pixels from a distance… well, not exactly the pixels themselves, but the rows and columns of pixels (pixel grid) that make up the screen. With 4K resolution, the pixels are so much smaller, it’s almost impossible to see this grid unless you are within inches of the screen. This makes viewing films in 4K much more enjoyable.

With 8K films, the filmed actors and environments will be so stunningly detailed as to be astounding. We’ll finally get to see all of that detail that gets lost when films are down-converted to 4K from 8K. We’ll also get to see pretty much what came out of the camera rather than being re-encoded.

Can humans see 8K? Sure, just like you can see the difference between 1080p and 4K, you will be able to see a difference in quality and detail between 4K and 8K. It might be a subtle difference, but it will be there and people will be able to see it. Perhaps not everyone will notice it or care enough to notice, but it will be there.

Film vs Digital Differences

The difference between film and digital photography is in how the light is captured and stored. For film, the camera exposes the film to light which is then developed to show what was captured. With digital photography, CMOS (Complimentary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) or possibly CCDs (Charge Coupled Devices) are used to capture imagery. Most cameras today opt for CMOS sensors because they’re less expensive to buy and provide equivalent quality to the CCD sensors. For this reason, this is why RED has chosen CMOS as the sensor technology of choice for their cameras. Though, RED cameras are in no way inexpensive, starting at around $20k and going up from there.

Overall

In concluding this article, I will say that 4K is definitely sufficient for most movie watching needs today. However, Internet speeds will need to improve substantially to offer the best 8K viewing experience when streaming. Even Netflix and Amazon don’t currently provide even an amazing 4K experience as yet. In fact, Netflix’s 4K offerings are few and far between. When you do find a film in 4K, it takes forever for Netflix to begin streaming this 4K content to the TV. Netflix first starts out streaming at 480p (or less), then gradually increases the stream rate until the movie is finally running at 4K. It can take between 5-10 minutes before you actually get a 2160p picture. Even then, the resolution can drop back down in the middle and take minutes before it resumes 4K.

Today, 4K streaming is still more or less haphazard and doesn’t work that well. That’s partly due to Netflix and partly due to the Internet. The streaming rate at which 4K content requires to achieve a consistent quality picture can really only be had from Blu-ray players or by downloading the content to your computer in advance and playing it from your hard drive. Streaming services offering 4K content still have many hurdles to overcome to produce high quality consistent 4K viewing experiences.

For this reason, 8K streaming content is still many, many years away. Considering that 4K barely works today, 8K isn’t likely to work at all without much faster Internet speeds to the home.

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Apple Music on Amazon Echo via Alexa

Posted in Amazon, Apple, howto, music by commorancy on December 17, 2018

AppleMusicThis one’s a quickie. Let’s explore.

Apple Music and Amazon

Apple has recently begun expanding its reach of Apple Music onto non-Apple devices. First was Android. Now, Apple Music has come to Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant on the Echo, Dot and other Alexa enabled devices. Of course, you’ll also need to subscribe to Apple Music to take advantage. Personally, I find Amazon’s digital music selection a bit lacking when compared to Apple’s catalog… part of the reason I chose to buy into Apple Music instead of Amazon Music Unlimited.

That’s not to say Apple Music is in any way perfect. There are plenty of artists who don’t publish digitally on Apple’s or Amazon’s platforms. For these artists, Apple offers a solution. Amazon doesn’t.

Unlike Amazon, who recently shut down the ability to upload songs into its platform, Apple Music allows iCloud upload for sharing music not found on iTunes between all of Apple’s devices. This means that even if you can’t find the song on Apple Music, you can buy a CD, rip it and then upload it to the iCloud platform for sharing and download on all of your devices. You can even buy it digitally, if you can find it, import it into iTunes and upload it for all of your devices.

I actually liked this feature on Amazon before they shut it down this summer. This is other half of the reason I have chosen Apple Music over Amazon Music Unlimited. I have a number of artists in my personal catalog that do not exist on Amazon or Apple’s platforms. I still want to be able to listen to these songs on all of my devices and have them in my Apple playlists. Apple’s iCloud sharing works perfect for this purpose. Amazon no longer has a solution for its Amazon Music Unlimited platform.

If you have music outside of Amazon Music Unlimited platform, you’ll have to figure out some other way to listen to it. You won’t be able to listen to it via Amazon Music Unlimited or by asking Alexa to play it… though, you can play it on your Echo by using your Echo as a Bluetooth speaker.

Installing Apple Music on Alexa

AppleMusic

  1. It’s really simple to enable this. Launch a browser to alexa.amazon.com (intentionally not linkified, select it, right click and then “Open in a new tab”) and login. You can also perform this setup from the Alexa app on your phone or tablet.
  2. Once logged in, click Music, Movies and Books from the left panel. It doesn’t matter which device is currently selected as this skill applies to all devices, but make sure the device can play music.
  3. Scroll down under Music and look for Apple Music and click it.
  4. If you’re in a browser, a new tab will open and take you to an Apple login & password screen.
  5. Log in with your Apple ID. Once logged in with your Apple ID, you’ll need to allow linking between Amazon Alexa and Apple Music.
  6. Done. Time to play some music!

Asking Alexa to play Music

To play music, simply ask Alexa like, “Alexa, play the playlist Fallout 76 Modern Radio on Apple Music” or “Alexa, play the song Pistol Packin’ Mama by Bing Crosby on Apple Music.”

If you leave off the “on Apple Music” statement, Alexa assumes you want to play the song via Amazon’s digital music platform such as Prime Music or Amazon Music Unlimited. Don’t forget to say this.

Alexa will respond by telling you that the song or playlist is playing via Apple Music. Keep in mind that this is a new skill for Alexa from Apple. This means that Apple may not yet have all of the bugs worked out. Expect some problems, particularly if you’re trying to use multiple Dots or Echos to produce stereo. Apple will get all of this worked out, but it may not work perfectly for a while.


Third party Alexa enabled devices, such as Sonos, may not yet support the Apple Music skill. If your device isn’t yet supported, contact your device manufacturer and ask when the skill will be supported. Amazon’s own devices should all work fine.

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Top 25 reasons to hate Fallout 76

Posted in botch, business, video game design by commorancy on December 10, 2018

11-24-2018_1-30-49_AM-oyduc45dIt’s clear, Fallout 76 is a failure. From its lackluster controls, piss poor collision detection and poor enemy AI to its poor graphics quality and poor storytelling, this game fails in practically every conceivable way. Here are the top 25 reasons this game sucks. Let’s explore.


25. Map and Pins

Fallout76-MapWhile the map mostly works in terms of seeing locations, this game really needs multiple pins to mark items found that don’t have map markers, such as where specific plants are, veins of ore, small houses and other points of interest.

How it should have worked — Support multiple pins with labels which can be placed onto the map to allow for marking points of interest, specific areas of plants and other things that may be difficult to locate again.

How it actually works — You get a single custom marker that you can place down. You can’t mark anything else after that one marker, you simply have to remember where you found something. There’s only a single large marker that points your way to whatever you’ve marked. And believe me, you do need this in the game. Because all of the quest markers all look the same, when all of the quests are active at once, there are so many markers on the HUD, you have no idea which one is which.

This problem is mostly insignificant next to those problems yet to be described below. Only after all of the other major problems are resolved would I ever consider adding this to the feature improvement list.

24. Farming at your CAMP and in Blast Zones

You can plant certain limited fruits and vegetables, but they are not irradiated when in a blast zone.

How it should have worked — You should be allowed to plant any type of plant at your CAMP that you have discovered and picked. Any camps in a Blast Zone should be removed from the map and/or severely damaged. If not moved, then at least any planted crops should be irradiated like the ‘naturally occurring’ plants in the area.

How it actually works — Fallout 76 limits you to planting but a few fruits and vegetables from the build menu. In Skyrim, if you could pick it, you could plant it. Here, you can only plant those limited fruits and vegetables selected by the devs, such as Blackberries, Muttfruit, Corn, Razorgrain, Melon, Carrots and Gourd. If you want to plant Soot Flowers, Snaptails, Bloodleaf, Diseased Cranberries or anything else, you cannot. If your camp ends up in a blast zone from the Death from Above quest, your camp remains totally intact including your fruits and vegetables. I wandered into it wearing a Hazmat Suit that I found at the Westek building. While other flora in the area become irradiated, your CAMP planted foods remain completely ‘normal’.

23. Random Server Disconnects

This one might be expected occasionally considering it’s an always-on multiplayer game experience.

How it should have worked — Actually beta test your games and your servers so that server disconnects are the fewest type of failure points.

12-9-2018_10-41-26_PM-qybv0b53How it actually works — Random server disconnects are very common. You’ll run around the wasteland and with or without a *hang*, followed by a “Disconnected from Server”… well no duh… I can see that.

22. The Wrong Gender

At one point, I heard female grunts coming out of my male character.

How it should have worked — Keep track of the character and its associated characteristics.

How it actually works — The wrong vocal grunts were played for about 5 minutes while running around the wasteland. I have no idea why the female grunting began at all, but it’s clear that this game was not beta tested. And no, there was no one else around me at all. The game was playing female player character noises from my definitely male character.

21. Changing Weapons and Applying Medicine

Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 1.34.10 AMThe supposedly favorites wheel to help get to stuff faster isn’t actually any faster than using the Pip Boy. In fact, neither the wheel nor is the Pip boy easy to use to change weapon loadout or apply Stimpaks when you can’t pause.

How it should have worked — For controller systems, it should have used the D-Pad to cycle through the favorites in a vertical list to the side of the screen so that doesn’t block your vision and it should remember the last choice so you can use it again quickly. Simply by pressing the D-Pad up and down, the favorites cycle to the next and previous. This way, the next time you press the D-Pad, it will bring up the last used item, then press the A button.

Favorites WheelHow it actually works — On the Xbox One, D-Pad up is assigned to favorite choices. D-Pad down is emotes. D-pad left and right seem to automatically assign to a weapon on the left and a healing item on the right. I haven’t actually determined how to assign these. It may have something to do with ‘last chosen’ from the wheel. When you have the wheel actually open, D-pad left cycles through the wheel clockwise starting at the 1 O’Clock position. D-pad right cycles through counter-clockwise starting at the 11 O’Clock position. There is no easy way to get to the item in the 12 O’Clock position when you’re fumbling for items from the wheel. The wheel covers your vision instead of keeping the vision open so you can see what the enemy is doing.

20. Pacifist Mode

This mode is mostly pointless the way it is currently implemented.

How it should have worked — Pacifist mode should prevent your player from giving damage to other players and prevent taking damage from other players.

How it actually works — This mode, while it does stop damage to other players from your weapons, it doesn’t prevent other players from damaging or killing you. This is wrong on so many levels and is entirely designed incorrectly. Bethesda, take a page from Rockstar’s book in GTA 5 and make it so Pacifist mode both stops outgoing and incoming damage to the player.

19. Obtaining Caps

You know, this one really shouldn’t be this hard!

How it should have worked — Caps should be bountiful practically everywhere. Traders should actually buy items for close to their ‘worth’. Sellers should carry more than 200 caps. Caps should always be given as part of the rewards when you finish all quest types.

How it actually works — Caps are exceedingly scarce and probably one of the scarcest things to find in Fallout 76. Caps are not given when a quest ends. Instead, you get mostly useless stuff. When you do find a trader, they carry 200 caps at most. Most sold items yield 1-4 caps per item. However, you can sell practically anything to a trader including Soot Flowers, Mongrel Meat, Plastic Plates and even flower pots. The difficulty is that it requires carrying a bunch of junk around with you until you can find a trader. Obtaining caps in Fallout 76 shouldn’t be this hard. The only quest types that seem to give caps on completion are Events and possibly Daily. Even then, they only give like 20 caps at most.

18. Fast Traveling

How it should have worked — The point in discovering a location is that you can fast travel to it. Fast traveling should be free as part of the perk of discovering that location. Charging caps to fast travel is just stupid design.

How it actually works — When you choose to fast travel, you are required to pay caps to every discovered place other than Vault 76 and your CAMP, which are both free (See CAMPs below for additional problems). You’ll also pay progressively more caps the farther away the place is. Because this is the primary means of travel in the game, fast traveling shouldn’t cost anything. The only point in making people pay is to deter them from using the feature. Why would you include the feature at all if you are intent on deterring gamers from actually using it?

17. Eating, Drink and Diseases

To disguise the leanness and the barrenness of the game’s features and quality, Bethesda devs force you to search for and create boiled water and cooked food. Otherwise, you’re subject to radiation, starvation, dehydration and diseases.

How it should have worked — Leave it out… a totally unnecessary addition that only serves to degrade the game.

How it actually works — You are forced to continually go get water, food and disease cure potions so you can actually play the game. You know, the thing that we’re supposed to be doing. Instead, because at least 50% of the time is spent constantly foraging to prevent from running out of food, water and avoid catching diseases (which you can’t avoid), you must constantly stop whatever it is you are doing and go get supplies. This problem is compounded by the fact that the inventory system is so poorly designed and because these supplies weigh far too much, particularly water.

16. Photo Mode

12-7-2018_5-54-58_AM-ma4zjmynPhoto Mode is a new thing many game developers are adding to games. However, some game development companies haven’t figured out how to build it properly. In the case of Fallout 76, while it works, it’s a hassle to use and isn’t properly designed.

How it should have worked — When in Photo Mode, the character should disappear from the world and not be visible to enemies or other players. This allows you to line up and take your shot without interference from enemies or other characters. This would allow you to actually take pictures of enemies doing whatever they are doing while in close proximity. The depth of field system should allow for both shallow and deep depth of field shots to blur both the foreground and background once the focal distance is set. Photo mode should support unlimited photos limited only by the Xbox’s hard drive.

How it actually works — Photo Mode leaves the character live in the environment. This means that if an enemy comes along, it will see you and attack you, losing the shot. Getting out of Photo Mode is slow and cumbersome when it should be a single button rapid exit. The quality of the photos could be improved a lot. We got 50 photo slots that requires us to go delete photos every time we run out… irritating.

15b. Crafting

I’m separating Crafting and Inventory into parts A and B to be more clear, but these two go together. Modifying and creating armor and weapons should be easy, yet it is completely cumbersome. Crafting food should be easy, but it is also cumbersome.

How it should have worked — Recipes requiring water should work with any water you have in your inventory including Dirty, Boiled or Purified. Water is water is water. If you choose to make your food out of dirty water, then you need to take the consequences of that choice. Crafting armor or weapons sometimes requires inexplicable items (i.e., Ballistic Fiber). The game should lead (or at least show you a small area marker) where you can search to find these needed items. Like Skyrim, Fallout 76 should have forced you to scrap new items to ‘learn’ what they are made of. Once you learn this, the game can then point out potential sources using pointers, instead of running around blind.

How it actually works — Recipes requiring water only allow the use of ‘Boiled Water’ . This means that even if you have a water purifier set up, you must still go draw water from a dirty water source (a very time consuming operation and adding Rads) and then spend time boiling it at a food craft station. These two steps are overly time consuming when you could have cooked with purified water and been on your way.

Locating specific components in the game is like pulling teeth. You have no idea what items contain what components until you carry them back and actually scrap them at a crafting table. Even then, putting a search onto a component only means you’ll see a magnifying glass on the item when you get close enough to pick it up. The game doesn’t offer a mechanism (at least that I have found) to locate the item on the map or via a sound in close proximity.

15a. Inventory

The inventory system in Fallout 76 is entirely broken. Each player only has two places to store stuff. The first place is directly on the player. The second place is the Stash Box. The player is limited by weight, but inexplicably so is the ‘Stash Box’.

stash.pngHow it should have worked — Inventory should be able to be sent to the ‘Stash Box’ at any time right from the Pip Boy. Permanent sharable boxes should be available to drop stuff off for friends or other players. Sharable boxes should hang around even when you log out of the game. Instead of a single Stash Box, we should be able to create independent objects in our CAMP that limit only by number of items and not limited by weight. A physical box on the ground doesn’t have weight limits, but has physical number limits.

12-7-2018_5-55-03_AM-iujn21rsHow it actually works —  The inventory system is way too limited and uses weight to judge capacity. On a person, weight makes sense as you can only carry so much. However, the game gives far too little per person. For a stash box sitting on the ground, weight limits make absolutely no sense. The Stash Box is always linked to you and there’s only one. If your Stash Box fills up, you’re screwed. You have to start dumping items out of your inventory in a paper bag to be lost. Paper bags are entirely transient. If you drop a second paper bag of stuff, the first one disappears. Be absolutely certain that whatever you drop in a paper bag isn’t something you want… otherwise, that bag may disappear at any time.

The Stash Box currently holds 600 weight which is not nearly enough as you progress in levels. By level 30, you’ll already be running out of space. The only way you can actually play is to have two characters and move stuff between them when both are logged in. The second character is just a storage place, but that means you need to have two systems to play the game. The Stash Box was recently raised from 400. Instead, Bethesda should charge atoms for more space. Just let us pay for the space we need. I don’t want to be limited with no options.

14. Power Armor

12-9-2018_9-41-56_PM-3ra4ojsuThroughout the game, you’ll find power armor in various buildings. The Power Armor may have Raider, T-51, T-45 or T-60 armor attached, usually only some of the pieces and usually with only half or less condition. Instead, you’ll have to go find the rest of the pieces you’ll need for that armor and you’ll need to find Power Armor crafting station somewhere so you can actually repair your armor.

How it should have worked — Power armor should add a seamless combat experience similar to Fallout 4. You enter your armor, you use it as you need to, you exit the armor and leave it behind. Wearing the armor actually gives you, you know, armor protection. Instead, you are forced to carry it in your inventory with a weight of 10 and it provides very little actual HP protection.

How it actually works — Power Armor is only slightly better than without it. It’s glitchy, buggy and sometimes it will trap you in it and you’ll be unable to progress in the game. Use the armor sparingly to avoid glitching up your game that you can’t even play. It takes up space in your inventory and it’s clumsy to use. The only one benefit is that you can jump from great heights without injury. Other than that one benefit, Power Armor is mostly for looks, not functionality. You must exit the armor to perform any crafting.

13. Collision detection

As a shooter, the single thing the developer must get right is the collision detection between a fired weapon and hitting an enemy with the bullet. Otherwise, the game just won’t work.

How it should have worked — With proper working collision detection, you shouldn’t be able to walk into or under objects, projectile physics should always land on their targets when the cross hairs are even remotely lined up and random animals and objects shouldn’t get stuck inside or walk through other objects.

How it actually works — You’ll never see bullet trajectories in a game unless the game developer adds a slow-mo bullet-time option. None of that here. Instead, aim, fire and miss. Even worse, you can use a high power sniper scope’s cross hairs on your enemy’s head directly in the middle and still manage to miss the target when pulling the trigger. If you’re up-close and personal with a Ghoul, it’s even worse. Up close, you’re actually much more likely to miss your target and you’ll expend a great deal of ammo on miss after miss. The only sure fire way to hit is to use a melee weapon or gun bash them.

This the poor collision detection isn’t limited to weapons and bullets. It includes trees, animations (getting into and out of Power Armor), enemy AI walking through environmental objects or other enemies including items getting stuck inside of doors and walls. This isn’t all possible examples, but these are the ones most prominent to show off how bad this part works.

12. Leveling up doesn’t work as expected

I’m not talking about the level up screen itself. In fact, the mechanics of actually applying perk cards to your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes works just fine. It’s one of the few things that seems to work well in this game, though I’m not fond of the card system. It’s what comes after that doesn’t work.

Lucky BreakHow it should have worked — Characters should always fight enemies at or close to their own strength and level. If you wander into a building, you should only find enemies within 4-5 levels of your own level. If you’re a level 4, this means you should only see levels 1-8 near you. This is how every other Bethesda RPG has worked this. This prevents having a level 5 character trying to kill, for example, a level 63 enemy. Perhaps Bethesda needed to find a Lucky Break card?

The card system should have been simplified to require less perk cards to provide the same amount of perks instead of needing loads of perk cards which do less per card. Simpler is always better, even in video game design.

How it actually works — When wandering around, not only will you find AI characters leveled randomly from 1 to 63, you’ll find random levels all bunched together. For example, as a level 5 character wandering into a camp, you can find ghouls and scorched ranging from level 1 to level 63. This means trying to fight level 63 enemies as a level 5 or 10 character. You’ll also find Scorchbeasts randomly flying around that are at always level 50, but in fact are probably level 100 or better. It takes so many shots to kill a level 50 Scorchbeast, it’s almost not even worth it unless you’re on a big team.

On top of this, you can run into randomly leveled up multiplayer characters who add to the problem. Thankfully, unless you engage in two-sided combat, the game sees to it that your character takes minimal damage from an opposing player of any level.

HomebodyThe cards have been broken out to the point of being pedantic. Instead of categorizing cards so that Lead Belly should cover for ALL food, drink and disease, it only covers for ‘food’ only. You have to get the Lead Stomach perk to drink irradiated water unharmed, even then there are limits. Because the cards are so pedantic, there are other perk cards like Natural Resistance to reduce diseases and All Night Long to reduce hunger and thirst (a stupid unnecessary addition).

The pedantic actually carries to the point of being broken. For example, the Aqua Boy perk allows you to swim and wade in water without taking radiation damage, yet drawing water from a water pump still incurs +5 rads damage (or more)? Huh? Clearly, the designers didn’t carry that logic through.

One perk card is actually broken and rarely works. This is the Stormchaser card which allegedly regenerates health when equipped and when standing in the rain, in a storm or in a radiation storm. Unfortunately, this card’s perk works less than 50% of the time. You can be standing in the rain and…. there’s a whole lotta nothin’ going on… no health regeneration. I don’t know how many other perk cards are broken, but this one most definitely is.

11. Crap enemy AI

Here’s a gaming portion where you think Bethesda might have been able to lock down, particularly on the heels of the Elder Scrolls Online. Nope. When you wander the wasteland, you’ll find either animals (Wolves, Mongrels, Radrats, Radroaches, Radstags, etc) or Supermutants, robots (i.e., Eyebots, Mister Handy, Miss Nanny, Protectrons, Assaultrons or Sentry Bots), Feral Ghouls, Scorched or Scorchbeasts. Whatever you run into, you’re likely to find them acting strangely. Sometimes they attack and sometimes they just stand there.

How it should have worked — Like, Fallout 4, when you run into an enemy, they should behave and act like they’re trying to kill you. They should point their gun at you and they should move in naturalistic ways. You know, like they’re actually walking around.

How it actually works — Many enemies, particularly Ghouls, slide around the environment without actually moving. Some people have found them sliding around in “first position” (the initial position a 3D character assumes without having been posed). I haven’t found the enemies in “first position”, but I have seen them locked into a single pose, then moving around the environment like a static posed action figure. They even shoot from these locked posed positions.

When I do find characters not locked up like this, the characters hold their weapons incorrectly. Some hold them downward, yet still manage to shoot at my character. The enemies also move way too fast. They can be on top of you in a matter of one jump or movement. One top of the AI movement, they can see and shoot me through walls, through floors and through buildings. There is no such thing as line of sight in Fallout 76. Even if you hide, they can still find you and kill you through walls.

Molerats must somehow be magic in this game as they can burrow not only into ground surfaces, but wood, cement and even thin air. They can also burrow and jump incredibly long distances in a fraction of a second. Radscorpions can also burrow into cement and other incredulous surfaces, yet they don’t even leave a burrow hole behind like Molerats.

10. Screen blur filters

For whatever reason Bethesda decided to not only add an intense depth of field to the actual gameplay making distant objects blurry, it also added an unnecessary light halo overlay making it seem like you might have vision problems.

lens flareHow it should have worked — Filters applied to the screen should be controllable (on, off and strength) on the settings screen. There is no reason to hard apply such annoying settings to the screen when not everyone wants it. Let the gamer choose what filters they want applied to the screen.

How it actually works — The depth of field applied to the full screen makes the game difficult to look at. When looking at a light source, the game applies a lens flare type blur filter that looks less like lens flare and more like your character has eye problems. These effects degrade the overall gameplay look and feel.

9. Scorchbeasts and Loot

In any game where there’s an oversized and consequently much more difficult opponent, when you do finally kill it, you should get fairly substantial loot more than, say, nothing.

How it should have worked — When you kill a Scorchbeast, the Scorchbeast Queen or a Deathclaw, the loot that is dropped should contain at least one legendary item. In addition, it should drop rare components in reasonable quantities. You should also receive a fair amount of caps.

How it actually works — When you kill an oversized ‘boss’ kind of creature, the dropped enemy loot may range from nothing at all to meat and hide. Basically, worthless items. They’re worthless because even if you do cook the meat, it offers nothing special. Radstag meat is probably the best meat in the game as it offers 20 extra carry points. Eating Scorchbeast steak does nothing for you and is mostly worthless. What’s the point in killing a Scorchbeast?

8. Non-existent non-player characters

While there are talking trader robots, the lone wandering Supermutant trader Graham and a few Mister Handy or Miss Nanny robots dotted throughout the game to provide some quest progression, this is of little consolation when you’re trying to find meaningful interaction with other Vault 76 or locals within West Virginia. Unfortunately, there are no NPCs to be found. See ‘Story’ below for more details as to why.

How it should have worked — While the overseer of Vault 76 may have died and there are 24 players wandering around the environment with you, there have to have been at least a few Vault 76 dwellers who aren’t player characters. In fact, 24 seems an awfully small number of live inside of a vault that big. Ignoring the vault situation, having everyone not in Vault 76 dead is improbable. Because there are also other vaults in the area, a few of these settlers should have survived and been available to talk with. Cities around the area should have been teaming with NPCs, some of which you should be able to convince to come to your own settlements.

How it actually works — Instead, Vault 76 churns out 24 people who are all multiplayer characters. As we all know by now, multiplayers characters don’t interact in meaningful ways. Those who don’t know each other rarely, if ever, work together. In fact, you’re likely to find more hostile multiplayer characters than you will find friends. It’s the nature (and expectation) of PvP. This means that the story failed to consider this problem. Trying to rely on 24 multiplayer characters to bring a story together is like mixing gasoline with fire. It just doesn’t work, unless you’re itching for an explosion… and an explosion is exactly what Bethesda got.

7. Graphics

nuka quantumWhile Bethesda touted an all new rendering look in this engine, it’s pretty much the same rendering engine used in Fallout 4. On top of the unnecessary screen blur (see #10 above) and filters, the rendering distance, shadow distance and up close textures are amateur attempts at best. There are times where the game devolves into a sheer mess, such as invisible buildings, structures that aren’t there and textures are so low-res, you could swear you were playing it on a PS1. This Nuka Cola Quantum bottle looks B_A_D (click on it and see)! When added to the low res background and texture, this looks like something rendered on a PS1.

How it should have worked — We should have gotten a next gen engine capable of producing superbly realistic rusty, sharp, dangerous environments. Sunbeams and moonbeams should be blocked by corresponding solid objects. Textures should hold up on close inspection. Textures should resolve when looking through a sniper rifle sight or binoculars. You shouldn’t notice pop-in at all when wandering.

How it actually works — The sun up and sun down moves too fast. There’s too much night and not enough day time. The sunset and sunrises are almost impossible to distinguish the difference. Textures look fine at an average distance from the player. Up close textures look horrid. Pop-in is horrible and happens way too close to the player.

If you try to zoom in with a sniper, everything falls apart. The sun remains the same size overhead as it does on the horizon. The moon always produces moon rays. The rays don’t actually come from the same direction as the sun and moon sky objects. Moonbeams and sunbeams shine out of rocks, the ground and structures. The smoke coming out of chimneys looks like flat spinning blobs. The character models actually look bad. The only saving grace here is the naturalistic lighting, but the rest of it might as well be cartoons.

The 59 sign below shows everything wrong with this game. The word INTERSTATE is much higher resolution than the 59. At least the texture folks could have used sufficiently high resolution images to create these signs. I just don’t even get why sun shines out of rocks and objects.

 

The only good thing about the graphics is the naturalistic lighting on the trees and house structures. You can get some great environmental shots with the sunbeams through the tree branches. Other than that, nothing else looks particularly realistic.

6. Multiplayer

Here’s one of the saddest parts of Fallout 76. This feature, in fact, is the entire reason Fallout 76 even exists. Yet, it’s one of the worst designed parts of this game. Though, it’s not this game’s #1 problem.

How it should have worked — Bethesda should have sat down and designed a compelling multiplayer experience around the Vault 76 reclamation date rebuilding goal. This means allowing players to fix up, build and then set up shops in towns. If the idea is to rebuild the wasteland, where is this idea in execution?

How it actually works — The Player vs Player (PvP) available in Fallout 76 consists of taking over a workshop and then fighting to keep it. When you do take over a workshop, you are required to spend your own resources to fix it all up. Yet when you log out, you lose that workshop. At most, you get to keep that workshop for as long as you remain logged in.

Once you claim ownership of the workshop, the game forces you to go into a PvP battle to keep it within just a few minutes of taking ownership… most definitely not enough time to both fix up the workshop and build defenses. The only way this would work is if you are on a team of at least 6-10 people who can all pool their resources to fix it up and build defenses simultaneously. One person has no hope of fixing up a workshop alone, particularly considering how little resources you can actually carry with you (See problem #

5. CAMP and Plans

12-7-2018_5-55-03_AM-uba3cuivCAMP is a portable device you can set down in the wilds of the wasteland and create a small CAMP. It doesn’t hold that much. Finding new plans allows you to craft new items.

How it should have worked — Actually, CAMP is entirely unnecessary. Without NPCs to recruit back to your CAMP to live there and help defend it, the point of the CAMP as a settlement is entirely useless. CAMP as a crafting area works, but it could have been implemented better. Plans shouldn’t be needed. Everything you need should already be available to build if you have the resources. If you scrap any weapon or object, it should automatically give you the plan to it. Big items that you can’t carry or scrap should have been unlocked from the beginning.

How it actually works — You drop your CAMP device in the wasteland and that gives you the ability to build a building and crafting tables. Unfortunately, the building allotment is far too small to actually build anything meaningful. In my allotment, I was able to build a small cabin with all of the crafting tables except a Power Armor station as I have no plan for it yet. After that, my CAMP is entirely out of available building allotment. Other than having a portable building that contains all of the crafting tables, there’s no point in CAMP. Plans are dotted all throughout the wasteland like a needle in a haystack that you have to go hunting for. The difficulty with this idea is that they’ll get found by players and documented on the Internet. The idea of hunting for a “thing” is pointless because the Internet will eventually find even the most rare thing and tell you where it is. Instead, plans should come to you by way of scrapping items. As it is now, scrapping certain weapons unlocks certain mods for that weapon… the wrong design.

12-7-2018_5-55-04_am-tgn02n2u.pngWorse, the game encourages you to move your CAMP frequently, yet it continually charges you more and more caps to move it from place to place. The cap rate to move it is also entirely random. Some days it’s 5 caps, other times it’s 25 caps and others it’s somewhere in between that. The game can’t even seem to make a decision on exactly how many caps it costs to move the CAMP. If you move your CAMP, there’s a very real possibility you will lose all of the items outside of your build structure (i.e., crops, water purifiers, turrets, defenses, etc). If the CAMP is supposed to be semi-permanent, then it needs to remain no matter what. If someone else has plopped their CAMP in the same location and there’s a conflict on that server, then the game should auto-disconnect and choose an alternative World server where there isn’t a conflict so the CAMP can be placed. This should be an automatic part of the login process.

Even more poorly designed, your CAMP may disappear at any time including objects in the CAMP. Placing a CAMP is not in any way meant to be permanent. There’s just no place to park it where it’s cannot disappear. I’ve had my CAMP disappear at least 6-8 times or more. The last time it disappeared, it lost every item outside of the building structure. I had a bunch of crops, a turret, a water purifier, a floor decoration and a water pump all outside of the building structure. All disappeared entirely from my inventory. These objects were not stored. Normally, these items should be stored under the STORED area, but not this time. Those items completely disappeared with no explanation and without a trace. It’s frustrating and stupid that the game makes you go find all of the food crops after it wipes them all out.

4. VATS

How it should have worked — Without pause, VATS should have been left out. It’s pointless without pause.

How it actually works — Because this game doesn’t allow pausing, VATS remains live as you attempt to shoot whatever enemy that it is. As the enemy moves around, VATS percentage of hitting the target constantly changes. Unlike Fallout 4 where the game paused to allow proper targeting, this VATS is entirely worthless without pause. However, the Mysterious Stranger remains, but only works with VATS. You have to remember to use it if you have the Mysterious Stranger card in play.

3. Story

As mentioned above about utilizing limited robot characters to progress stories, the rest of the time the stories are progressed by popping a Holotape (audio log) into your Pip-boy and listening. Boring and so easily interrupted by combat!

How it should have worked — Any RPG should have NPCs who not only exist to provide conversation, but also provide story development. You get to learn about these characters along the way and expand on the story.

How it actually works — Because no NPCs exist in the game, the entire story narrative plays out through a series of holotapes you must find and play. Because the holotape system is simply an audio log, it’s as boring as watching paint dry. If Bethesda had taken a page from a few other games that staged “ghost” reenactment scenes in the area, you could examine the scenes and watch the story unfold through a sort of hologram type environment. None of that here. It’s simply a series of boring holotapes audio logs. Without interactive characters, there is effectively no story worth exploring. The story and its quirky characters is the reason we play Fallout. Without NPCs, it’s not really Fallout.

2. Player Death and Dropped Loot

How it should have worked — When a player dies, the loot should remain on the player. There’s entirely no need to drop loot in the game on death. Also, respawn the player in place or alternatively, allow the player to respawn at the last death marker.

12-7-2018_5-55-03_AM-iujn21rsHow it actually works — When the player character dies, a death marker is placed on the map where the player last died and also marks the place where the player’s loot is dropped in a paper bag. When the player character dies, the game also gives the choice to “call for help” and get someone to revive the player with a Stimpak or you can “give up” and then respawn. If you do neither, you sit in limbo and can do nothing. When you choose to respawn, the game requires you pay caps to move to the nearest spawn location or if you can’t pay, then you’ll have to respawn at Vault 76 or at your camp, if it’s still there… that or kill the game and restart it (which, of course, loses your dropped loot). This player death and dropped loot issue is completely unnecessary and has never been part of Fallout in the past and shouldn’t be in Fallout 76.

If your game happens to crash immediately after dying or if you are killed by something on the way to pick up your loot, your loot is entirely lost. You get ONE chance to go pick up your dropped loot or it’s lost forever.

Oh… and the paper bag is such a stupid and unrealistic idea, I don’t even know how this idea passed design review. How can you possibly fit a Fat Man or a Missile Launcher into a tiny paper bag?

1. Glitches, bugs, quest bugs and client crashing

How it should have worked — Actually beta test your game product with real live QA folks, not holotapes. Get them to sign off that both the game client and the servers work consistently, as expected and are better than 95% stable. Actually play test the game internally. Get people to walk through the environment and see if they can break things.

How it actually works — There is so much to say here, that’s why this is the #1 problem. The game client is closer to 50% stable (maybe less). If it crashes or disconnects twice a day, consider yourself lucky. Sometimes it goes on a crashing / disconnect spree and just doesn’t stop. The network servers disconnect far too frequently. As mentioned above, you can be playing and *hang* with a long pause, then disconnect. Sometimes, the game hangs and then recovers. Sometimes it just disconnects out of nowhere. If any hangs or random disconnects happens you should always disconnect and reconnect and get a different server as that other server is likely having problems.

Sometimes the entire client crashes with the repeating audio loop and then the whole client dies. You have to start completely over when this happens. Hopefully, it’s not immediately after having dropped loot or you’ll have lost your “loot”. Below is a texture glitch video. I’m certain this is a client side problem.

Quest bugs are common in Bethesda games. These types of bugs prevent completion of quests because the character you need to interact with, for example, is already dead. This means you can’t complete the quest. There are plenty of other bugged quests as well.

Commentary as of 12/21/2018

The game has officially gotten even worse. With each new passing release, instead of improving performance, features and stability, the game gets more unstable. And, with each new update, Bethesda introduces even more and more bugs… bugs that didn’t exist in prior releases. In fact, I can’t even think of any place in this game where I’ve not encountered a bug, glitch or frustrating problem.

At this point, I actually suspect that someone at Bethesda is intentionally trying to sabotage this game and franchise. If I were management team at Bethesda, I’d actually have the engineers stop rolling out “bug fixes” post haste and evaluate what is going on with both the game and the team. I’d also remove Todd from further involvement in this game. Move him off to other projects and get a new lead… one who can bring some measure of stability and sanity to this game.

Fallout 76 is entirely laughable. There is so much wrong with this game it’s a comedy of errors. This game is literally the poster child of what-not-to-do when building and maintaining an online game. It seems like that for every bug they seem to squash, they introduce 10 more to take its place. It’s just insanely laughable… and it seems Bethesda is entirely oblivious, doesn’t care or is apathetic.

Hey Bethesda, if don’t care to make the game better, then please, just shut down the world servers, cancel the game and issue refunds to those of us who bought it. Admit your failure, cut your losses and move on to building better games in the future. Sometimes admitting failure is the only way to move forward.

Overall

This game was released way too early! Without NPCs, this game is completely devoid of feeling like ANY Bethesda RPG, let alone Fallout. Whomever’s idea it was to include no NPCs should be walked to the door at Bethesda. I realize this is considered an off-shoot game, but it is still a Fallout product. It should always true to being a Fallout product. Fallout 76 isn’t true to Fallout.

However, the instability trumps everything. If you can’t reliably even play the game without crashes, bugs and quest failure, then you don’t really even have a game.

Ultimately, this game needs a whole lot more development time and effort. I have no idea why Bethesda released this product so finished. Yet, here we are. Note that there are plenty more reasons to hate Fallout 76. These 25 reasons are just the tip of the iceberg. I’m quite sure you’ll find many more to hate on if you choose to buy this game.


If you’ve had a different experience when playing, please leave a comment below.

The FTC is investigating pay-to-win loot boxes

Posted in advice, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on December 4, 2018

img_3728.jpgThe FTC is investigating video game loot box issue that was so prominent in Star Wars Battlefront II and in many other games. Is it a form of gambling? Let’s explore.

Pay to Win?

The issue with loot boxes is that people feel ripped off by them, particularly after having already spent $60 for a big named video game title. If you spend $60 to buy a game, the implicit nature of that already hefty price tag is that it covers everything needed to play and win the base game without any additional payments. Any additional downloadable content (DLC) that appears later has a separate price tag. We understand this aspect of DLC. You can buy DLC if you want, but it’s not necessary to pay for DLC to win the base game. DLC is a tried-and-true model and it works to extend the gaming experience, but is not necessary to win the base game. Not everyone likes DLC, but as long as the DLC is created as separate world components, it’s fine.

When loot boxes were introduced, you might end up spending another $60 in addition to the already spent $60 to for the random chance to gain rare weapons or armor or level-ups that are not available in any other way and which are required to progress in the game.

The argument by game developers is that these pay add-ons are not strictly necessary. It depends on how you interpret that statement. It may not be strictly necessary to play the game, but it may make the game experience less enjoyable and possibly even problematic. If you plop down for the loot in the loot boxes, then your experience becomes much easier and better. Loot boxes turn games into a pay-to-win model.

Pay-to-win games to me are not fun. There’s no challenge in plopping down $5 here and $5 there just to get past a level or a boss or whatever it is holding you back. The challenge is and should be in the base game, not in buying add-ons needed to win. If the add-ons become the game, then the base $60 you paid is seen as a rip-off.

Smart Phone Games

Pay-to-win games have been available on the smart phone market for years and that’s fine. These games are typically free to download and free to play to a point. You only run into pay-walls when you want to progress beyond certain points or to buy more lives. Again, most phone game apps are designed around a pay-to-win model. However, there’s no challenge in paying to win a game. Paying to win only depends on how much money you are willing to spend. It’s just a money making scheme.

In the free download app model, you’re not paying an initial $60 to download the game. You’re paying nothing. This means there’s no base expectations set. So then each micro-transaction does help cover the developer costs of producing that free game. In the AAA $60 game arena, you’ve already paid for the development costs and you expect a fully functioning game in return for that $60. That’s the expectation of paying $60.

For example, adding loot boxes to Star Wars Battlefront II was simply a money grab by EA and nothing more. Everyone expected this loot to drop as a result of completing levels. No one expected that you’d have to pay to buy level up cards in addition to the already spent $60… cards that you might not see for many, many hours of play if they ever drop at all. Cards that are needed to unlock key pieces of the game.

Rethinking this Model

Fundamentally, game producers need to think long and hard about the pay-to-win model. Personally, I don’t like it and I will never be a fan of pay-to-win. You pay for the game itself, not for the ability to win it.  You should win the game or not on your own skill as a game player. For a $60 price tag, the game should drop all necessary loot or, if absolutely necessary, offer some kind of in-game credit system that you can spend towards the loot crates as you progress. Many games do give in-game credit that are awarded at level’s end that can be used towards ‘buying’ loot. You can also spend real money to buy those same credits in a store. This gives you two ways to ‘buy’ loot in the world. You can play the game and win credit or you can pay for it. The difficulty is when the game only drops the tiniest amount of credit within the game and then expects you to make up the difference with real money. Again, pay-to-win and I am so not a fan of this.

If you’ve already paid $60 to buy the game at the store, then don’t throw down real money loot boxes in front of the gamer and expect people to open their wallets and be happy about it. Real cash microtransaction loot boxes, again, turn the game into a pay-to-win model.

The argument here is that loot box costs offset the already expensive price tag of video game production. I counter argue that if a game now costs $80 or $100 or $120 per copy to develop, then simply raise the price of the game in the store accordingly and leave out the unnecessary loot boxes. No one says that a developer must sell a game at $60. They can price it at whatever they need to recoup their costs. If they can’t recoup their costs of a game at a $60 price tag, then perhaps they shouldn’t be in the video game business. Or, perhaps they should have kept to a lower budget production. However,  they are also free to raise the price of their game of they want to build bigger, flashier and more expensive games.

Other Alternative Systems

Let’s take a page from the toys-to-life games area. If developers want to offer a level-up swag system for the game, then do it through physical trading cards you can buy at Target or Walmart. Then, use a code on the card to load the card into an app linked to the game. This then gives you legitimate reasons to go buy the cards at the store. It also means anyone can go buy these cards to enhance their game experience… and you’re getting actual collectible trading cards for your money.

It also means the retailer can put the cards on sale and offer discounts on them. Digital cards coming from loot boxes purchased in-game are a waste that can only be used once and have no value after the game ends. It’s just money lost in addition to whatever you paid for in the game itself. Physical trading cards hold their value long after a game becomes a fond memory running on a Raspberry Pi emulator years later. It also means you can trade or sell these cards to others who might value them and at least recoup some of the money spent towards the game. Some of the cards might even become extremely valuable. A video game copy will never have that value.

Having cards produced into 5 or 8 card blind packets means the consumer gets to discover what cards they got and they can trade them with their friends if they get duplicates. It’s a real world way of adding value to the game and a shareable component, but at the same time offers a real world tangible component. Having these cards should also not be necessary to win the game, but they can be used to gain access to weapons, armor and character stats that might otherwise take a lot of grinding to obtain. All physical cards sold in blind packs should be discoverable in the game itself. But, they may contain exclusives that aren’t necessary, but add fun value to the game.

I’m a much bigger fan of using add-ons like real world trading cards than using in-game digital loot boxes… as long as these items are not needed to win the game. Pay-to-win needs to stop in general and these pay-to-win systems definitely have no place in a game sold at $60.

Are Loot Boxes a form of Gambling?

Here’s where some people feel that there’s a problem with loot boxes within video games. If you pay real USD to purchase a loot box, then you’re paying for the ‘chance to win’ something rare. In fact, when you pay for a loot box at all, it can be seen as a form of gambling strictly because of the ‘chance to win’ aspect. If the loot boxes drop on their own for free, there’s still a chance to ‘win’ something rare, but you’ve paid nothing for it and this would not fall under gambling. Gambling is when you pay money for a chance to win.

The paying of real USD to ‘win’ in-game loot is THE bone of contention and is the part in all of this that is seen as a form of gambling. Paying money to win anything is technically a form of gambling. It could also be considered a form of a lottery, much like a scratch card. Because lotteries are considered illegal unless operated by official state organizations, placing an illegal lottery into a video game could result in legal problems for video game producers. As a result, many people view for-pay in-game loot boxes as a form of gambling and in need of regulation under US gambling laws. Because gambling, at least in the US, is only allowed by persons 21 years of age or older, placing pay-to-win ideas into a video game designed to target minors and underage persons could be a problem for the video game industry. It also means the game should, at the bare minimum, put an M rating on any game that includes this mechanism.

These games could also be considered a form of early conditioning designed to teach children about gambling early and get them addicted to its risk-reward system. Because many video game companies also hold stakes in gambling operations, such as producing gambling machines for Las Vegas or actually own stakes in casinos, loot boxes could become very problematic for video game companies.

On the other hand, gambling usually entails winning money, not prizes. In Vegas, you pay to win money. At Dave and Busters, you pay to win prizes. So far, playing games to win tickets at an arcade has not fallen under gambling laws. However, you’re winning tickets, not prizes. The only random chance involved is how many tickets you win. In an arcade, simply playing the game is guaranteed to give you at least one ticket, usually more. The tickets are then redeemed for prizes of your choice. It’s not exactly a random chance kind of thing like a loot box. In addition, arcades use the payment given towards playing a game of skill which then gives you tickets. Giving tickets after playing a skill game that you can redeem is not exactly like paying for a loot box in a game with random chance to win its contents. Loot boxes are much more like a slot machine or lottery scratch card than they are like Dave and Busters skill-game ticket model.

I’m hoping that the FTC will find that any payment of real money towards ‘winning’ in-game loot is ruled as a form of gambling. This would mean that instead of paying for blind random chance boxes, that video game producers would have to set up a store and sell you exact items needed in the game. No ‘random chance to win’ involved. Either that or they must continue to drop the loot boxes in-game at no cost. Better, don’t drop loot boxes at all. Just create a store and sell us the the things we need… that, or use the suggested trading card system sold separately outside of the game.

If the FTC rules that the loot box is considered an illegal form of lottery, this mechanism could no longer be added to video games. I’d be fine with that outcome too.

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Should I buy an Xbox 360?

Posted in botch, business, scam, scams, video game console by commorancy on December 3, 2018

Xbox 360 EThis question seems to be common for some reason. I’ve seen it asked on Quora and on various other sites. I’ve even seen YouTube channels discussing the purchase of Xbox 360s. Let’s explore.

Design Flaws

First, a little history. The difficulty with the Xbox 360 was the Xbox team’s design of Xbox 360’s main board. Because this system was designed by an in-house design team at Xbox, they got a lot of things wrong with the hardware design based on incorrect assumptions. The primary problem was cooling the GPU down properly. This issue compounded with the thin flexible main board (intended to flex as the system got hot). The difficulty with this flexion is that it doesn’t want to work with surface mounted components and it could lead to the board becoming permanently warped and did lead to the GPU unseating itself unceremoniously.

For this reason, the later Xbox 360 editions, specifically the Slim models, clamped the board to the aluminum chassis to limit flexion of the board around the GPU and CPU. However, even this updated clamping system only delayed the inevitable… the Red Ring of Death commonly known as the RRoD. The difficulty of the design was primarily as result of using lower temp solder that would become molten at GPU operating temperatures. This meant that as the board flexed, as the CPU and GPU heated, as the fans and the hard drive caused vibration and even as external audio sounds from neighboring TVs and stereo system caused vibration, this could cause the GPU to lose solder cohesion and shift this chip off it is surface mount pads.

This GPU shifting would leave the system with the Red Ring of Death. One fix for this was using a towel and wrapping it around the Xbox 360 to let it heat up. What this did was cause the internal temperature of the Xbox 360 to rise which allowed the solder to reflow under the GPU and cause the chip to sort of move its way back onto its correct pads. The difficulty is that this was a temporary fix. The operating conditions that led to the original Red Ring of Death would eventually see to it that it would happen again, usually in only a few days. For the towel reason alone, you should avoid buying used Xbox 360s. It means that someone could have toweled their system right before selling it to you… and it might only run for a few days.

Refurbishment Process

Because of the design problems that led to the Xbox 360’s RRoD, the Xbox hardware team decided to try different things to see if they could improve the situation. As mentioned, one of these changes was the chassis clamp. Other changes included better and smarter positioned heat sinks. All of these changes only treated the symptom, not the actual design problem.

Ultimately, the primary fix for an Xbox 360 suffering from RRoD is to reball the chip with a higher melting point solder and then remount the chip. Then, adding on the smarter heat sinks to ensure proper heat dissipation from the chassis. Once the chip was reballed with higher melting point solder, it should no longer shift its position under standard operating conditions. Of course, the board could still flex and warp which could lead to other surface mount chip failures besides the GPU.

Companies like Gamestop employ either internal or third party refurbishers to perform refurbishment on Xbox 360s before selling them as ‘certified refurbished’. The problem is that reballing chips is time consuming and expensive. Gamestop doesn’t seem to want to afford such refurbishment processes and instead lets the refurbisher perform whatever they deem appropriate short of reballing, which is usually inadequate to provide a long term stable fix to these consoles.

Buying Refurbished

When you buy an Xbox 360 that’s been refurbished from Gamestop, the store has no idea what work has been performed on any unit. It might be simple DVD drive replacement to full main board replacement from other Xbox 360s. It’s possible to actually find frankenboxes with refurbished Xbox 360s having been rebuilt from a bunch of different generation parts. This means you could see some parts from the first gen, second gen, third gen Xboxes and so on… all coming together into the same unit. It means that the heat sinks might be the incorrect version for that version of the unit. Who really knows what you might find inside?

This is the problem with buying refurbished units from not only Gamestop, but any company. The design decisions that made the Xbox 360s so problematic compound into making the purchase of any used or refurbished Xbox 360 system a grab bag of problems.

Not Built to Last

The bottom line is that the Xbox 360 was not designed to last. It was designed to fail because of a set of design decisions that just didn’t work out. In short, it’s a lemon. It’s not just one version that’s the problem, it covers all generations.

Sure, some have claimed their their Elite has lasted. Some have claimed their slims have lasted. Even the last version of the Xbox 360, the Xbox 360 E suffered from the Red Light of Death. There has not been one version of the Xbox 360 produced that has been immune to the Red Ring of Death (or Red Light of Death) problem. You can’t rely on buying a more recent version of the Xbox 360 on the assumption that the failures have been eliminated. Some versions of the Xbox may have been a bit less susceptible, but at some point they will all succumb to failure.

Don’t believe the current sales hype that because this is the newest version of the Xbox 360 that it won’t have a problem. It very likely will. In fact, you should consider the Xbox 360 a unit with limited mileage. At some point, the system will fail and you’ll be left with a dead brick. The question is, when it will happen. It could happen 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months or even 3 years in the future. The point is, you spend your money and you just don’t know. However, because of the age of these systems now, it’s more likely the system will fail sooner than later.

Aging Hardware

The last Xbox 360 E model was discontinued in spring of 2016. This means that any Xbox 360 you might consider purchasing is now over two years old as of this article. That’s only if it’s an E model. Any other models will be much older.

There’s nothing new about any of these systems. Though, it’s entirely possible that some warehouse somewhere has some Xbox 360 E models stashed as new unopened stock. If you could find one of these, you might have some possibility of longevity with that Xbox 360. However, anyone claiming to be selling new unopened stock is probably scamming with a used or refurbished unit. I wouldn’t even trust Gamestop with this kind of a claim, even as big a company as they are. The only way you could trust this statement is to have them show you the merchandise. If you’re buying over the Internet sight unseen, don’t trust anyone.

No. You should always consider any systems on sale as, at best, used. Even refurbished consoles should be considered suspect. Better, don’t consider the purchase of any Xbox 360 at all.

Should I Buy?

In fact, you shouldn’t. Because of all of the aforementioned problems with the design, there’s just no way to know exactly what kind of condition any Xbox might be in. Unless you want to disassemble the unit to find out what’s on the inside and that you understand what you’re looking at, you should avoid spending any money towards an Xbox 360.

The bottom line is that the Xbox 360 is a risky investment that you might only get a few days of use out of before your new purchase dies. The Xbox 360 was a risky investment when buying it new. When buying it used or refurbished, the chances of receiving a unit that lasts only a few weeks is very high. In fact, it could be that the unit might last you long enough to get past the return policy, but a few days after that the unit dies. Then where are you?

Xbox One and Xbox 360 Compatibility

While not every Xbox 360 game has been made compatible with the Xbox One, many Xbox 360 games have been made to function on the Xbox One. Unless you want to play a game that isn’t compatible with the Xbox One, there’s no real reason to buy an Xbox 360.

For this reason, putting your money towards an Xbox One not only guarantees a better hardware experience, it also guarantees you’ll be able to play not only Xbox One games, but also all compatible Xbox 360 games. This is a much better deal than wasting your money on an old console that could die at any moment.

Xbox 360 Purchase Disclaimer

With that said, if you can find someone willing to sell you a fully functional Xbox 360 for $25 or less, then it’s probably fine to buy it… as long as you understand the unit may only work for a few days. If you’re considering spending well more than $25 for an Xbox 360 console bundle, you should consider the purchase of Xbox One instead and avoid the almost certain limited lifespan of the Xbox 360.

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How not to run a business — Case Study: Tumblr

Posted in botch, business by commorancy on December 3, 2018

tumblr-logoToday, Tumblr announced that on December 17th, 2018, it will be removing and banning all “Adult” content on its site. I’m going to call it. This is the death knell that will almost assuredly see to Tumblr’s demise in less than 1 year. Let’s explore.

Tumblr and Adult Content

Tumblr started out as a kind of web blogging platform where users could share various content of any variety. Pretty quickly, adult content began to fill the pages of Tumblr. Adult content included naked people posing alone or performing sex acts with others. Whatever the imagery, it actually became a staple of Tumblr as a platform… and ultimately the Tumblr platform became known for its adult content.

The difficulty with not clamping down on adult content early in the life of Tumblr meant that Tumblr management and staff were okay with Tumblr being used to host adult content. If they had nipped this content type early in the life of Tumblr, we wouldn’t be in the dilemma that Tumblr currently faces.

Every platform has to make a decision early in its life about whether adult content is okay or not, particularly with sites that allow User Generated Content (UGC). When you create a UGC platform, you have to make the decision about adult content early and swiftly. If you don’t make this choice early and seal the deal in the Terms and Conditions agreement, your users will use the platform for adult content.

Knee Jerk Reactions

Even though Tumblr’s app was delisted by Apple in late November due to a case of child pornography appearing on a Tumblr page, it’s also crystal clear that the management team at Tumblr is entirely out of touch with exactly how Tumblr is used. Of course, now that Verizon owns Tumblr, they’re probably okay with taking the hit at losing better than 90% of their viewing traffic by making this knee jerk decision. Unfortunately, after the adult dust settles out of Tumblr, there won’t be much of a platform left to see or explore. Tumblr’s claim to fame was its adult content. Without it, this platform is dead. D.E.A.D! Tumblr, for better or worse, was really one of the few goto places for adult content. The Internet knew this. Tumblr really has no use as a G-rated platform. Too many other platforms fill that gap much better, including Pinterest and WordPress and Medium. No, the executives left at Tumblr really don’t seem to understand that Tumblr’s value as a platform was its adult content. Removing that content, you remove Tumblr’s value to exist as a site.

In reality, Verizon would do better to simply shutter Tumblr entirely… because effectively that’s what they are doing on December 17th. There’s literally no reason to go to any sites left on Tumblr once the adult content is removed. Those few G-rated sites left would also do better to move their content to a different platform such as Deviant Art, Medium or WordPress. The fallout from this change will be swift and immediate.

Chasing Page Owners Away

What’s worse in this situation is that non-adult content owners on Tumblr might have to move their content anyway. Many artists use the platform to host their art. Yet, Tumblr robots have been running around classifying their artwork as adult, even when it isn’t. This problem is likely intended to chase away not only those pages classed as ‘adult content’ but also those who don’t actually post adult content. Ultimately, whatever few sites are left after this shakeout means effectively a danger to those legitimate page owners left in the shambles of the former Tumblr. What drove traffic to Tumblr was its adult content, not the g-rated content. When all of that adult content is gone and most of Tumblr’s revenues are missing in action, legitimate content sites will now be in jeopardy because of the tenuousness of the Tumblr platform.

If you are a g-rated content owner on Tumblr, you should seriously consider moving your stuff somewhere else in the wake of this huge platform mistake. You don’t want to be doing this under a deadline in six months because Tumblr is about to close. Do it now while you have plenty of time. Removal of adult content is a mistake anyway you slice it and it is why this is appearing as a case study in the How not to run a business series.

I understand the issue for Verizon. Having worked for Verizon in the late 90s, I am fully aware of just how much of a conservative organization Verizon really is. It’s actually surprising this change wasn’t made sooner to Tumblr. So, I fully understand this knee jerk reaction of Tumblr being delisted from Apple’s App store over child pornography content. At the same time, making this knee jerk reaction by removing all of Tumblr’s adult content is a severe mistake for this platform.

Tumblr would do better to split its platform in two. Create Tumblr Adult and leave Tumblr for the G-rated stuff. Then, cordon off Tumblr Adult for those sites that fall under adult content. Then, hire mods to police the content on Tumblr Adult more closely to prevent child pornography content.

Compensating Controls

Typically, if you decide to make a rash decision about a platform, you must also introduce something to compensate for that rash decision. Removing the adult content kills many people’s reason’s to visit (or use) Tumblr at all. Take away that reason and you get far fewer visitors. Visitors that drive revenue into your site. Take away those visitors and you’re paying to host a site that makes you no money. In other words, it becomes a money losing proposition. For Verizon, it might be willing to soak up these losses for a short time, but there’s no way Verizon will allow a money pit to remain active for very long.

With the introduction of this new policy, it appears Tumblr isn’t implementing anything to make up for the loss of that adult traffic. Oh, well. It’s the death of Tumblr.

Ultimately, I predict no more than six months for Tumblr after December 17th and then the entire site will shutter to be heard from no more. Verizon might allow the site to continue operations longer than six months if they’re complacent. However, keeping a money sucking site open is not likely to go over well with Verizon management for very long. It’s almost a guarantee that Tumblr cannot survive on its G-rated content alone when other sites do this piece so much better.

Soooo…. Buh Bye, Tumblr.

Part 10 | Chapter Index | Part 11

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