Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Rant Time: Snapchat’s update failure

Posted in best practices, botch, california by commorancy on February 14, 2018

In business, the quest is always to provide the best most consistent user interface (UI) and the easiest user experience (UX) possible. Sometimes, that doesn’t always work as planned. Sometimes, it outright fails and backfires. Let’s explore.

Flickr

Before 2014, Flickr had a very useful grid layout. Sometime during 2013/2014 Marissa’s then team decided to “reinvent” Flickr. They gave it a facelift and then rolled it out to much user ire. While it’s every company’s right to make design changes to their application as they see fit, it can also spell doom to an application. Flickr was no exception. After Flickr updated their app in 2014, this drastic UI change immediately drew the anger of thousands of Flickr users. Yet, Flickr still hasn’t changed anything substantial in spite of the massive number complaints. The UI is still the disaster it was designed to be and does not in any way offer what it formerly did.

The formerly well spaced grid layout was convenient and easy to use in that it showed how many views of each photo at a glance. With the new tight grid interface of random sized images, you now have to drill into each and every photo separately to find the views of that specific photo. Sure, you can use the statistics page to see which photos are most popular or most interesting, but that’s of little concession when you simply want to see how well your most recent photos are doing at a glance. In short, the latest Flickr interface introduced in 2014 still sucks and Yahoo has done nothing to right this wrong. I’d venture to guess there are fewer users using Flickr now than ever, particularly with newer apps such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook… and speaking of Snapchat…

Snapchat’s Update

As of February 10, 2018 and taking a page from Flickr’s playbook, Snapchat decided to roll out a brand new interface to its app. An update that has, just like Flickr, drawn the ire of many of its app users. Some users are lamenting this new interface so much, they are seriously contemplating app deletion. Because of the app’s unannounced surprise layout, some Snapchat users were unable figure out how to post causing them to lose their streaks (a way to measure how many consecutive days a user has posted). Some users streaks have been running for several hundred days. Others are just ranting about what they don’t like about it. Here’s what some Twitter users are saying:

What a disaster. Do these companies even perform basic usability testing before a release?

Design Fails

The old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Literally, what problems was Snapchat trying to solve with this update? If you’re planning on a UI and UX redesign, you better throw in some bones for the users to go with it. Give people a reason to want to use the interface and they’re willing to overlook other minor inconveniences. Without such bones, it ends up as merely a change for change’s sake without offering up any useful new features. Burying UI components in ever deeper layers is not more UI efficient and does not offer up a better user experience. I’m not even sure what Snapchat was thinking when they decided to roll out this UI update.

Test, test and more testing

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. If you make a UI/UX change without adding anything useful into the app for the end user, what have you accomplished as a designer? The answer is, nothing. As a designer, you have failed. Changing a UI design requires careful consideration, even more careful planning and product usability testing. This means actually giving your app to your primary target demographic and letting them use it for a few days. Let them tell you what’s wrong with it, what they like and what they dislike. Do this long before putting the new update in the app store for general release. If you do this, you can avoid the problems that Flickr and Snapchat faced with their UI and UX redesigns. If you don’t do this, you end up in the news. Failure is not an option, but so many companies fall into this trap not really knowing how to get out of it.

Rollback Plan

If the Tweet above is true regarding that support team reponse stating that there is no way to roll back, then that’s a failure on the part of the application’s designers. You should always design a rollback plan into your releases. You can’t know what may fail as a result of a release, so offering a rollback plan should always be part of a release.

If you fail to test and fail to include a rollback plan, you’ll end up just like Snapchat (and Flickr) … that is, in the news for all the wrong reasons. What this says is that the Snapchat design team should be fired and replaced. Failure is not something any company needs to endure, especially when that failure is so visible and makes your company look inept…. and it was all preventable. In this day and age, there is absolutely no reason why companies release software into the wild that angers its user base in this way. Seriously, that is such an amateur move, it’s a wonder such companies even remains in business. Worse, after such a seriously amateur move and after the dust settles, you may not have much of a business left. Your app is your lifeblood. Screw it up and you’re done.

Overconfidence

Snapchat clearly doesn’t understand its audience. Teens are some of the most finicky users on the planet. It doesn’t take much for them to dump something and move onto the next better thing. Changing a UI interface that angers so many of them is the quickest way to lose the userbase you’ve spent so much time and effort attracting. Perhaps Snapchat will realize its mistake and correct it pronto? Perhaps it will pull a Flickr and let users suffer through with the horrible new design and not change it. With Flickr, Yahoo at least had some leverage because of all of the professional photographers entrenched in the service. Where would they go? With Snapchat, the company does not have this luxury. Snapchat isn’t a required service like Flickr is to professional photographers. This fail could easily lead to the demise of Snapchat.

It’s time for Snapchat to seriously consider all of its options here, but let’s hope they come to the right decision and rollback the interface and rethink it’s UI and UX design. Best of all, maybe they have learned a valuable lesson in software design… test your interface on your primary demographic before you ever consider a release.

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Welcome to the new Randocity

Posted in entertainment by commorancy on February 7, 2018

In the spirit of random improvements and random explanations, I’ve renamed the blog site to Randocity. It’s still pronounced the same, but is spelled with a ‘c’ instead of an ‘s’. I felt that this blog content was more in line with the definition of this new word and, hence, the new name. This is in part because I liked this spelling better and in part because I’ve added a brand spankin’ new custom domain — randocity.com. The content will remain the same and the blog will continue onward just as it has, with as much randomness as you’ve come to expect. Except now, it’s using its brand new domain with a ‘c’.

Oh, in case you’re curious, the old randosity.wordpress.com domain will continue to work as it always has, except now it redirects you to the new randocity.com.

Welcome to the old Randosity which is now Randocity!

Rant Time: eBay and shipping fees

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on January 30, 2018

This one will be quick. Today is the day I decided to do a little shopping and hopefully find a bargain online. Once again, foiled. Why? Let’s explore.

Bargain Shopping

I open a browser and go to eBay. I go there because I typically expect to find reasonable prices on most things. Sometimes I can find item prices at substantially reduced prices from Amazon. However, today wasn’t one of those days. I began searching for a specific item and I actually found it. In fact, I found the item at a very reasonable price. I even found the same item on Etsy with this very same listing problem. The problem wasn’t the price for the item, but it was in the shipping costs. I’ll skip mentioning this specific item because it’s not really relevant to the article. I’ve seen this problem on and off for many different items over the years. I’ve finally decided to rant about this problem.

While I can find the item I want at $5.99, I see that the shipping fee is $18.00 (or sometimes higher). What ridiculousness is this? Why am I expected to pay 3x the price of the item in shipping fees? No, I just won’t do that.

Stop These Listings

I don’t know what goes into that $18 cost, but many times I see the item is shipping within the US to a US address. Yes, I realize that FedEx and UPS and even the USPS (to an extent) aren’t always inexpensive for shipping. But, who in their right mind would pay $18 to ship an item that costs $5.99 or less? Not me.

It’s time that Amazon, eBay and Etsy stopped these listings. There is no reason to force would-be buyers to weed through useless listings like these to find someone who’s willing to offer a much more reasonable shipping fee. It would be a simple matter for these sites to decline to list items whose shipping fee exceeds 1x the cost of the item. When it gets to 3x the cost of the item’s price, it’s way too high and a waste of a listing. How many people would really pay that?

Maybe there are some people out there desperate enough to pay that high a cost for shipping, but I’m not one of them. I firmly believe that to be any kind of a deal, the shipping fee should be equal to or lower than the cost of item being listed. If shipping costs exceed the price by more than 1x the item’s price, the listing should be refused. Or, alternatively, make the default search filter remove listings with unnecessarily high shipping fees. For the people really interested in paying high shipping costs for an item, then click a checkbox to enable searching these. Yes, it is time to penalize sellers trying to price gouge through shipping fees.

Shipping Scam and Advice

I do realize that for a time there was a scam going around that sellers would back load the cost of the item into the shipping costs. So, instead of listing the item at a reasonable price, they would list the item for $.99 and then back load the item’s cost into the shipping and handling fee at something like $19.99 or similar. The reason for this is that it makes your product seem low priced until people looked at the shipping costs. It was simply a way to game the search listing sort engine. I’m sure that the seller thought they could trick someone into thinking they’re paying $.99 by not looking at the shipping fee. That’s a very old trick. A trick, in fact, that eBay is so well aware of, all of their listings now tell you shipping costs up front right in the search listing page. As a seller, it does you no good to try and trick the system using such tactics. Instead, it only makes you, as a seller, look like you’re trying to pull a fast one.

If you have something to sell, be honest with your prices and your shipping costs. People prefer honesty over trickery. If you know your shipping and handling is going to end up at $40 for a $5 item, don’t even bother to list the item in that way. It’s not worth it. This also makes you look inept. It would be better to front load your costs into the item itself and then reduce your shipping costs. In fact, you might as well just include the cost for the item plus the shipping costs together and state that it’s free shipping. You’re likely to attract more buyers this way than attempting to back load your costs into the shipping and handling fees.

Ridiculousness Abounds

Over the last several years, I’ve seen more and more of these kinds of shipping ripoff listings. These sites need to crack down on the listings with overpriced shipping and stop them (or, at least, filter them out by default). When I go shopping, I’m always looking for a deal. If as a seller, you can’t provide me with a deal at least as good as stores in my local retail area, then don’t show me those listings at all. Few people would want to pay 3x or higher in shipping costs for a seemingly low priced item. It’s just not a sustainable product offering.

If you have put items up on eBay or Etsy and sold them with a shipping cost 3x higher than the price of the item, sound off in the comments below. I’d like to know if you were able to sell that item or if the listing expired. My guess is that the listing expired. If you did sell the item, I’d like to know if your buyer was satisfied or dissatisfied with what they spent on shipping fees. I’d also like to know how many people returned the item once they found out the actual shipping costs.

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Skyrim: Empire vs Stormcloaks

Posted in video gaming by commorancy on January 16, 2018

I’ve recently been playing Skyrim again and have decided to finally finish the civil war storyline. I’d never really completed it when I first played because 1) I knew how it would turn out and 2) it wasn’t something I was terribly interested in completing. I decided to complete this and I have some thoughts. Let’s explore.

Game Choices

When playing the civil war storyline, you must choose a side. You can side with the Empire or with the Stormcloaks. In my case, I decided to side with the Stormcloaks and for one very good reason. The Empire has money, yes, which is why the rich Solitude folks like the Empire. It keeps their money flowing and their rich lifestyles intact. However, the Empire is far too complacent of a protection arm for long term use. The Empire will eventually fall… and fall it must. And, fall it does when the Nightmother has the Dark Brotherhood kill the Emperor.

I chose the Stormcloaks, not because they were the underdog, but because it made more sense for Skyrim. After the Dark Brotherhood quest line has the Dragonborn kill the Emperor, the Empire would be over and done with… at least for quite some time until a new Emperor was chosen. Skyrim needs a leader now, not later. The Imperial troops would then be far less cohesive after the death of the Emperor.

The game didn’t show this of the Empire, but it would be true. It would also make the Empire’s troops distracted and far less effective. This is part of the reason that the Stormcloaks could easily best them in battle.

Ulfric Stormcloak

The game claims Ulfric to be a war criminal, but that is only from the perspective of the Empire. He was vilified for the ‘shout’ that claims to have killed the High King. In fact, Ulfric admits that that was a tall tale. While the shout did temporarily incapacitate the High King, Ulfric’s sword is what did him in. With that said, we didn’t get to see the battle that led to this death, so we really can’t adequately judge if the King’s death was justified or not. We’re only told it wasn’t justified by the game. In fact, because the Daedric Princes are so petty and quarrelsome, I wouldn’t put it past one of those Daedric Princes to have had a hand in causing Ulfric to perform this deed for some reason. It might have even been Sheogorath who thrives on random madness.

In reality, Ulfric was likely a victim of circumstance. I believe he was either manipulated or he did what he thought was right and just at the time. However, it’s really all water under the bridge by the time we play Skyrim since both the Dragonborn and Ulfric are being carted off to their deaths by Imperial troops. I discounted much of the arguments against Ulfric primarily because the Empire almost beheaded the Dragonborn without explanation. I have no sympathy for the Empire at that point in the game. It’s a good thing that Alduin came along to shake it all up at that very moment.

The Thalmor (Aldmeri Dominion)

Many people believe that no matter who is in charge over Skyrim (or indeed Tamriel) that the Thalmor always stand to benefit from it. It seems that the Thalmor are interested in taking over all of Tamriel, including provinces such as Cyrodiil, Hammerfell, Valenwood, High Rock, Morrowind and, yes, even Skyrim. The White-Gold Concordat gave a huge portion of Hammerfell over to the Thalmor as a big concession. Hammerfell heavily rebelled against that and this province eventually became independent and outside of Imperial control. The Thalmor struck the White-Gold Concordat as a way to keep their hand in the operations of Tamriel and put their thumb on Talos worshipers. They side with whomever is currently in power and keep tabs on how it is going so they can strike at any weakness. Apparently, the Thalmor also have a fairly large army contingent… enough to overwhelm the Emperor’s legion so as force the Emperor’s hand (the same Emperor who is killed in the Dark Brotherhood quest in Skyrim) to sign the White-Gold Concordat.

I’m not a big fan of the Thalmor. While the Empire has tolerated the Thalmor and given the Thalmor access to the Empire, Ulfric has absolutely no love for the Thalmor, instead choosing to kick them out. I’m all for that. The Thalmor are nosy busybodies that need to stay the hell out of Tamriel. The Thalmor need to go find their own piece of land and go run that instead of bothering the people of Tamriel with their heavy handed military tactics.

If I had to make a guess, the Thalmor were probably the instigators of the Stormcloak rebellion in the first place. Strife means they can step in and take over the land when the troops are sufficiently weak enough. The Thalmor seem to thrive on strife and wants the people of Skyrim to break the agreements struck in the White-Gold Concordat. With both the Emperor and the Empire out of the way, the White-Gold Concordat is essentially null and void. The Thalmor would need to approach Ulfric with new demands and/or treaties. It also means that the Thalmor could likely come in and decimate Ulfric’s remaining troops. This is probably the biggest single thing that Ulfric has underestimated about the Thalmor, even with the Dragonborn on his side. However, I’m quite sure the Thalmor wouldn’t attack Ulfric without a warning and some posturing before deploying troops. Though, the Thalmor would definitely offer a warning shot to ensure that Ulfric understands the gravity of the situation.

Overall

When playing the civil war story, I sided with the Stormcloaks because I preferred where the story in Skyrim would head without being under Imperial control or under that unnecessary White-Gold Concordat. Skyrim, like Hammerfell, needs to become its own independent nation state for the Nords (and others) rather than continuing to be part of Tamriel. Once Skyrim is independent, the Thalmor would have to bargain with Ulfric, go away or kill everyone to lay claim to the land. Let the Thalmor go back to Cyrodiil and hang out over there… or at least some place other than in Skyrim.

Let’s hope that The Elder Scrolls VI will pick up where Skyrim left off. It would be great if we could see how it all turns out under the Stormcloak rule. Of course, The Elder Scrolls VI won’t use the Dragonborn and will explain off that character’s death in some cheesy way so they can pick up the ES:VI story with a brand new hero character like they do with each new game.

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Can Bitcoin’s bubble burst the economy?

Posted in best practices, economy by commorancy on January 10, 2018

Yes! Let’s explore.

Housing Bubble

Back in 2007, what drove the home mortgage collapse was a combination of factors, but one of the biggest factors that tipped the scale was speculative home buying. That is, people who would double or triple mortgage their homes to pay for secondary homes. When the home mortgage market unraveled, all of those multiple homeowners lost everything. Not only did they lose their secondary homes, but they also lost their primary residence and they ended up bankrupted to boot. I’ve heard tales of people who had taken out 3 or even 4 different mortgages on their home to pay off secondary homes. When those ARMs came due, it all came tumbling down. I know one person who, at their height, owned up to 4 homes and ended up living out of an RV when the home mortgage collapse was over. Do you want to end up being that person?

Bitcoin and the Crypto Bubble

Behaviors don’t change. The fastest way to get a pile of cash is taking out a new mortgage on your home. Today, my belief is that what’s driving up Bitcoin and Ethereum is speculative buying from people who don’t have money to spend. People who are using credit cards and second or third mortgages to buy into these markets thinking they can make a quick buck. The real danger is, of course, when Bitcoin collapses and these folks cannot pay off those loans.

Will Bitcoin collapse? Upward rises on investment products at the unprecedented level that has come to Bitcoin is not sustainable. In fact, Bitcoin’s actual value is no where near the sky high prices that it’s currently seeing. There will be a correction. How deep that correction goes is up for debate. However, it doesn’t really matter how deep it ends up. It only needs to be deep enough to put speculators underwater on their loans forcing them to fail to repay their additional mortgage(s) they used to buy into the Bitcoin market.

It would only take a small correction to wipe out speculators using risky loan vehicles as money sources. It only takes a limited number of speculators to fail to start the dominoes falling.

Economic Danger

The red flags are here and they’re waving boldly. Yet, of course, no one is looking at them. If a Bitcoin correction begins to collapse those speculator’s second and third mortgages, it will take with it first mortgages and the home mortgage market may face yet another collapse. What tertiary triggers fail after that is unknown. Does AIG still sell derivatives? Do other insurance companies? Are there other risky investment vehicles tied to these second and third mortgages that could topple Wall Street yet again? Are there risky investments tied to Bitcoin?

We don’t know. What we do know is that Bitcoin (and the rise of the secondary crypto currencies) could easily knock over the first few dominoes after a correction and start the economic decline. The danger is here and it’s very real.

Word to Speculators

Unless you invested in Bitcoin back in 2011 or so, you’re too late for this party. If you’ve recently taken out loans (no matter the source) to fund a Bitcoin investment, you need to get out of it as rapidly as you possibly can and pay off that loan. Holding onto Bitcoin hoping for long term millions is most assuredly going to backfire on you and ruin your financial world.

My best guess is that you have about 5 months before the whole thing topples. Yes, it could take a little longer or it could be sooner. What starts that topple is anyone’s guess, but it will happen. Having Bitcoin go from $1700 to $17000 to $21000 in less than a year is insane. Anyone in their right mind knows that investments don’t grow that fast. Something nasty is afoot. Do you want to find out the hard way? If so, invest more, but don’t say I didn’t warn you when your world collapses.

Economy and Investment Ties

Unfortunately, economic markets are tied together in very loose, but established ways. When a collapse of any single investment vehicle begins, it takes with it all kinds of other unrelated investments and markets. This means that even your IRA which is investing in vehicles unrelated to Bitcoin will take a hit when Bitcoin collapses. Why? because institutional investors who’ve just lost a pile of cash on Bitcoin will sell out of their holdings in their other investments (which your IRA may be investing in) to make up for their Bitcoin losses and/or to pay off speculative loans they lost money on. This will drive down those unrelated markets and cause IRAs and other similar investment accounts to lose significant value.

If we could see into the future, it would be easy to tell you when to sell out of your holdings in your IRA and wait for the wrath to end. Unfortunately, there is no such crystal ball available. You will need to use your best judgement when you feel is the best time. No one can predict that for you.

There is simply no way to know just how deep this cut will go when the correction occurs. It all very much depends on where the money is coming from that’s driving up Bitcoin (and other crypto). Right now, that information is not transparent at all. But, it is nearly guaranteed that some of the money is coming from Wall Street institutional investors, investment funds and possibly even banks and insurance companies. And… this is the biggest danger to unrelated investment vehicles.

Even if you don’t have a single dime invested in Bitcoin, that won’t necessarily protect your finances and investments from exposure to a crypto bubble burst.

How do I protect my finances?

The short answer is, it’s not easy. Because the markets are so closely tied and there’s so much institutional investing made all over, you can’t know who’s exposed to Bitcoin. The only real way to protect your financial future is to sell out of the markets and wait it out. But, no one can tell you when is the best time to sell. You just need to watch Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies closely and then wait to see what happens. However, by the time you realize that it’s time to sell, it may be too late. Earlier, in these cases, is always safer. However, too early also means you may lose gains you could have realized if you left your investments in place. So, it’s ultimately your call when to choose the best time to protect your financial future.

Movie Review — Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Posted in entertainment, movies by commorancy on January 7, 2018

[Alert: This review may contain spoilers. Though, I have done my best to not to reveal critical plot points and only discuss the technical merits of the film as a whole, you should decide for yourself what is a spoiler. If you are interested in seeing this movie, you should stop reading now, bookmark this review and read it after.]

The Last Jedi is a very long film. Clocking in at 152 minutes, it seems like a marathon. After trailers, your time spent can easily exceed 3 hours sitting inside of a theater. Giving up 3 hours of your life for a mediocre Disney romp is a very tough indeed. Movies with run times close to 3 hours also need an intermission. Let’s explore.

The Force Awakens

I want to like The Last Jedi. I really do. This film begins pretty much where The Force Awakens leaves off. If you’re interested, please check out both my The Force Awakens review and my The Force Awakens Analysis from 2015. If you haven’t seen The Force Awakens recently or at all, see it first. I will also state that my review of The Force Awakens is generally positive touting the look and feel. That look and feel is still retained in The Last Jedi, but I also expected The Last Jedi to have grown and matured this story. Unfortunately, it hasn’t matured nearly enough. With that said, The Last Jedi features lots of battles both in ship and out of ship with blasters and with lightsabers, but no battles of consequence. This film typifies what’s wrong with Hollywood writers. They have no vision. This problem is no more evident than in the many stories that unfold in this romp. There are certainly lots of plot contrivances and save-the-day tropes, but nothing new or notable to see (or say) here. It doesn’t expand on the Star Wars universe in any new or compelling way. It just uses the universe and abuses all of its existing George Lucas tropes, but never feels fresh, new or exciting. It doesn’t even feel like the writers truly understand or ‘get’ this universe or its inhabitants. It almost feels like professionally made fan fiction.

Middle Film Dilemma

Of course, this is a middle film. So, it can’t exactly resolve what was started, but it does its level best to make a dent in what will close out this trilogy. Unfortunately, this film is far too ambitious, trying to interweave too many side stories and not telling any one of them particularly well. There’s the Poe-as-a-rebelious-officer thread. There’s the Finn vs Nobody-Mechanic love interest thread that appears out of nowhere. There’s the Luke vs Rey thread. There’s the Leia vs Poe thread. There’s the Snoke vs Kylo vs Rey thread. There’s the topsy-turvy Rey and Kylo force connection thread. There’s the Millenium Falcon thread. There’s the useless Moz Kanata thread. There’s the new general who appears out of nowhere and gets killed thread. There’s the Phasma vs Finn thread. There’s the Luke vs Kylo thread. There are even more threads than that. There are far, far too many different story threads all competing for precious screen time.

For a middle film, the primary story arc should have been front and center. The rest of the story arcs should have been side stories for character development purposes. You know, stories to flesh out a character’s backstory, likes and dislikes, ruthlessness, charisma, scoundrelness, etc. These are why there are side stories. We need to get to know the characters while the main story is unfolding. And this is the problem with this new trilogy.

We still don’t know anything about Rey or Poe or Finn. Yes, we know Rey was a scavenger based on The Force Awakens, but there is no information immediately before that? Was she a scavenger her whole life? Clearly, she knows how to handle herself with that staff. So, that means she’s seen combat before. What other adventures has she had? What about Poe? He’s been in the Resistance for quite some time. He’s got stories. Where are those? And Finn, he was in the First Order. He’s definitely got stories. His field trip to Jakku in The Force Awakens can’t have been his first time out with The First Order. Yet, it’s like these characters began their existence at the start of The Force Awakens. We still don’t know anything about them even after The Last Jedi ends. Come on writers, give us stories that develop the characters.

Hack Writers

This story needs to be simplified, reduced, rewritten and refocused. The Last Jedi is all over the place and, at the same time forces the writers to cut too many story corners to make ends meet. It also sacrifices character development for unnecessary action scenes and CGI. It’s the typical Hollywood blockbuster writing team that cares less about making sense and more about writing too many threads and then cheating to close those threads because they’ve simply run out of time. It is, for example, killing off much loved characters like Luke, not in glorious battle, but alone on a remote planet using some extraordinary force power he has never once exhibited before. It is tying Kylo to Rey with some kind of force sensitive connection that allows them to communicate over vast distances, which isn’t explained and wasn’t even hinted at in The Force Awakens (the hallmark of bad writers). It’s Poe and Rey and Finn all running off on their own missions, not working together. It’s Finn and Nobody-Mechanic off on a mission to save the fleet with no backing and who are destined to fail (and they do) because of a cheap mole trope. And, to top off the cheesiest of the cheesy plot devices, Leia being blown into the vacuum of space and then exhibiting a force power she has never once even hinted at to inexplicably pull herself from space (with no oxygen) back into the ship, flying like Superman. What… what? Am I watching a Marvel movie?

I’m torn. I want new original story ideas, but not like this. On the other hand, I’m almost now wanting to see copycat stories from the original trilogy because at least copying those formulas might actually work better than this disjointed romp of a movie. Let’s hope that whomever they get to write the last installment can get their head out of their ass and actually produce a cohesive focused ending that makes more sense than these too many unnecessary and unfocused dead end threads in The Last Jedi.

Cliché Story

The story starts off with a rag tag fleet of rebels on the run in space trying to find a new base. Unfortunately, the long of the short of it is, the fleet can’t get a break. Every time they think they are ahead of the game with the First Order, somehow they are found. In the opening of the film, the First Order fleet begins beating the crap out of the Resistance fleet and destroying their ships one at a time. Poe in an extraordinarily brave and stupid move, decides to order the last few bombers of the Resistance to attack a Dreadnought (a glorified battle cruiser). After that ship is destroyed and everyone celebrates for an instant, Leia looks at the amount of ships that were destroyed to make that sacrifice and figuratively face palms. Then they hyperspace jump.

Suffice it to say, this face palm sets the tone of the entire film to come. The scene switches to the planet Luke is on and we continue the story just as The Force Awakens left it. Rey does a whole bunch of nothing with Luke. At this point we’re back with the fleet. We continue with more yelling, screaming, blowing up ships and posturing from both the First Order and from the Resistance. This cat and mouse game continues throughout the entire run of the film until the Resistance thinks they’ve gotten a break on an old fortified rebel base planet. But, that’s just a pipe dream because the First Order, yet again, comes knocking. At this point, the First Order deploys a logic probe (oops, this isn’t Tron)… er, I mean an energy weapon that knocks down the base’s big metal door.

By this time Rey and Kylo are friends and Snoke, well, let’s just say he’s having a divided moment. Back on the new rebel base, Luke chimes in with his new improved ‘magical power’ and begins to taunt Kylo (after Rey runs off) into doing stupid things based on emotion. Rey is nowhere to be found as yet and Finn has decided to ram his speeder into the energy cannon when Nobody-Mechanic knocks him out of the sky for a love-story-then-pass-out trope.

The whole thing comes to a close while Kylo is occupied and the Resistance makes their way to some place safer.

I’m leaving a lot of stuff out.. It’s almost 3 hours. Overall, the contrived storytelling of the rag tag fleet barely making it to the next step each time is an old twice told trope. It’s already been done in Battlestar Galactica, but so much better. There are so many ways this story could have unfolded, but this is not how I would have written it. The fun of Luke, Leia and Han is that they worked together most of the time… only splitting up occasionally. Finn, Rey and Poe are almost never together in a scene. If you’re going to write for a triangle of characters, at least put them together at some point for a together adventure.

The final scene is of a foretelling. It’s of a child holding a broom like a lightsaber. Let’s just hope that by the time this child makes it into the final film that he isn’t still a child. No child actors in the final act, please.

Star Wars Droids in the Story

One thing that has been totally lost on Disney’s Star Wars writers is that the Star Wars story is, more or less, told from the point of view of the droids (R2D2 and C3PO). Meaning, the droids are in almost every scene because they are both helping the heroes and recounting it from their droidy perspective. Since Disney began their version of Star Wars, that idea has been almost completely lost. I say almost because The Force Awakens and to a far lesser extent, The Last Jedi, tried to keep this idea alive with BB-8. However, in both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, there are long stretches of story where there were no droids present at all. When BB-8 is included as a main character or even a plot element, the scene works well. When not, the scene is dry and boring. For example, in The Last Jedi, it’s funny when we finally get to see BB-8 driving an AT-ST walker. Unfortunately, it’s just a token gesture from the writers. They don’t keep it going. The reason it’s important to include the droids in the scenes is that they 1) make for excellent comic relief, 2) they help the heroes get things done with computers and 3) they are the perfect storytellers for such a romp. Unfortunately, BB-8 really had no substantial role in The Last Jedi other than being used as a trope to tie up loose ends. The original Star Wars trilogy showed us just how important droids are to the success of not only the missions, but to the film’s success.

Story Misnaming

This is the second film of, I am assuming, a trilogy. The Force Awakens was the first. However, even at the end of The Force Awakens, we still didn’t know who that awakening referred to. Was it Rey? Was it Finn? Was it Poe? Was it someone else?

At the end of The Last Jedi, we exit the theater asking the same exact question of both this title and of The Force Awakens. Who is The Last Jedi? Who really awakened? In fact, the film postulates the question that there is no such concept as a ‘last Jedi’. Luke explains that even if every last Jedi falls, another will rise on their own because the Force so wills it. I would assume this to also mean that there will be at least one Sith because the Force wishes to remain in balance. This means that there can be no last Jedi ever. So, why call this film that? Why call the first film The Force Awakens? If the writers cannot definitively answer the question posed by the title of the film, why produce a film with that title? If the ending of this film is foretelling of the rise of a new Jedi (and/or Sith), then a more apt title for this film should have been The Rise of the New Jedi or The Balance of the Force or The One Jedi.

A New Hope clearly refers to Luke. The Empire Strikes Back is as clear a title for that movie as there ever could be. You clearly understand exactly what the title means by the time you finish the film. Return of the Jedi is, likewise, the perfect title because you know exactly who is returning 15 minutes into the film. There is no question about why these films are named the way they are or what the titles mean. Even the prequel film names worked properly in this way with The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Leaving the theater after the prequels, there is absolutely no question as to why each film was given its respective title.

These Disney Star Wars films, on the other hand, are entirely misnamed. You leave the theater not knowing what the title means or who it refers to. If your writers can’t answer the question that the title poses within that film’s story, then the writers have failed or the title has. This series definitely needs to choose better titles.

Overall

This film is overproduced and the story is clumsily heavy-handed. The film is way too long and unfocused. The Last Jedi is definitely not any better than The Force Awakens. I give this film 2.5 stars out of 5 or in RottenTomatoes grading: 50%. The film is way too long, way too disjointed and it doesn’t congeal into a cohesive whole by the end. I realize this is a middle film and will be somewhat of a cliffhanger, but still, the way that The Empire Strikes Back was handled as a middle film was classic. This film, on the other hand, is entirely mishandled. Though, in some ways it is marginally better than The Force Awakens and in other ways it dearly sucks. The one thing I will say is that the 3D version of The Last Jedi is well done visually, but it doesn’t make the story any more palatable.

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Home Automation: The good, bad and ugly

Posted in Apple, botch, business, Philips Hue, wink by commorancy on December 17, 2017

You’ve just picked up an Amazon Echo with a Hue Starter Kit and you have decided to take plunge into controlling small devices in your home via Alexa. Well, here is what I’ve learned so far about this process. Take note, it’s not always easy to set this up. Keep in mind that I haven’t explored every system or every device. This article documents only my experiences with those devices I’ve tried. Let’s explore.

Smart Home Hubs

The first thing you need to understand is that many home automation systems still require a centralized hub to control the accessories (i.e., lights, switches, dimmers, and plugs). Systems like Wink and Hue are good in that a hub aggregates all of the accessories under a single logical device, these devices also have their own pitfalls. Some lights and plugs are WiFi only and do not require a hub, leading to even more consumer confusion, more apps and more logins and passwords.

As an example, Hue’s bridge (hub) comes in several versions (I’ll explain the reasons for this shortly). If the you stay within the Philips universe of devices, then you’ll be good. However, the moment you step outside of the Philips universe, just like with Apple’s products, compatibility takes a significant dive. It’s the same situation for Wink. As long as you wholly subscribe to the devices that are compatible with a Wink hub, you’ll be perfectly fine. If you choose to add in a bulb that isn’t compatible, your days will become far less happy. Worse, if you want to intermix devices from the Philips universe with the Wink universe, you’re asking for a world of hurt.

Intermixing Devices

So you’re probably asking, “why would I want to intermix devices?” It’s very simple. Cost. While the Hue color bulbs are spectacular for producing vivid colors, they aren’t so great for their brightness levels and they are substantially pricey. If you want to get a bulb that supplies higher than 50-60 watts of effective illumination, you have to jump out of the Philips universe. I don’t know why Philips is dragging their feet on 75 and 100 watt Hue bulbs, but they are and its frustrating.  That means you might end up over at GE or Cree or even looking at LIFX bulb.

Costs, Value and Brightness

Hue bulbs are also incredibly pricey. At around $60 per color bulb, changing every bulb in your home is likely going to cost hundreds or perhaps thousands of dollars. Even the ambient white colored Hue bulbs at $30 are still quite pricey because they can range their colors between cold and warm white. If you simply want a bulb you can turn on and off and dim, there are far cheaper options… like the Cree Connected (~$15) and the GE Link (~$20). These are quite a bit less costly than the Hue white ambience bulbs. However, Hue also makes a 4 pack of white dimmable bulbs that cost around $13 per bulb (note that this may be holiday pricing). However, these bulbs are simple on, off and dim only. They do not vary the color hue of the bulb. The color they are is basic warm white… same for the Cree and GE Link. You also have to buy these Hue white bulbs in a 4-pack to get this lower pricing. Otherwise, each Hue bulb will cost around $17 separately. This 4-pack is your best deal for low cost hue bulbs. However, they are also not that bright.

At the time when I purchased into the Cree and GE Link, Philips still didn’t make these less costly bulbs. These are relatively new additions to Hue’s line and likely came about because of the Cree and GE Link bulbs.

What that means is that I’m not about to abandon the two bulbs I bought just to go buy four replacement Hue bulbs. The GE Link bulb is also quite bright, brighter than the Hue bulbs even though it is supposedly a 60 watt equivalent. Clearly, some bulbs are brighter than others even when rated similarly. This is why it’s important to look at the bulb illuminated to see if you like the color temperature and the brightness.

Clearly, we want good quality long lasting and bright lights. Specifically, lights that are bright enough for the given fixture and room. You may only need a 40 watt bulb in some instances, but in others you might want a 150 watt bulb. Sad to say, there aren’t many 150 watt LED equivalent bulbs on the market. Even of you find one, it’s not likely to be a connected bulb (see WiFi plugs below). The brightest bulbs seem incompatible with being connected. I don’t know why that is, but few lighting manufacturers want to produce both a connected bulb and a bulb that’s brighter than 60 watts. 60 watts is incredibly dim by itself. You’d need at least 4-7 of them in a fixture to sufficiently illuminate a living room.

Why there aren’t any 100 watt bulbs to date? I have no idea. Philips, GE and Sylvania need to get right onto solving that problem.. and soon.

Compatibility

If you’re willing to stay within a single manufacturer’s universe of apps, plugs, switches and bulbs, then you won’t run into many compatibility issues. If you want to actually do something useful, like use the Amazon Echo or IFTTT or Google Home or any other third party product, that’s when you run into problems.

Amazon’s Echo is probably the single most compatible home automation platform out there. However, that said, I’d consider Amazon’s Echo to only be about 80% compatible with most products. There are still a lot of products that cannot be controlled by Alexa, even though they have apps. IFTTT fares far worse at about 50% compatible. Apple’s Homekit is about 30% compatible with most systems. Though, if you’re willing to stay in the Philips universe, Apple’s Homekit jumps up into the high 90% range for compatibility. On the other hand, Apple’s Homekit has very little compatibility with Wink. Supposedly the Wink hub 2 is compatible with Homekit, but apparently that hub barely even works.

To get a fully functional Wink system, you have to use the Wink hub version 1 which isn’t compatible with Homekit. You’re probably asking, what is Apple Homekit? Homekit is Apple’s built-in small device automation system which is compatible with Siri. If you want task Siri to turn on, off or dim your lights, that assistant uses Homekit to get the work done. If Homekit can’t see your lights or accessories, it can’t control them.

There are many devices that Alexa can see and manage that Apple’s Homekit can’t. Apple has just floundered around doing nothing to improve compatibility to other home automation and lighting systems. This means that clicking the home icon to control your lights may or may not work on iOS… and more likely not to work than work.

Multiple Hub Versions

Hue’s system comes in several different hub versions. So does Wink. So does Zigbee and WeMo and many other device makers. These upgraded hubs add new features, such as compatibility with Apple’s Homekit or Google’s system. Keep in mind that even if a hub says it’s Homekit compatible, that doesn’t mean it’s fully compatible. It may only offer iOS the most bare bones minimums such as lights on and off, dimming and possibly color changing. Hue, for example, still prefers you to singly control all of their lights through the Hue app rather than through Apple’s Homekit compatible controls. Hue adds such extra features as light scheduling, vacation randomization and proximity fencing. Proximity fencing allows you to program the hub to turn lights on when near or off when out of range. These types of services are not visible through Homekit.

Fractured System

So what have I learned then?

  1. Philips Hue system is great so long as you don’t stray outside of it. Philips own bulbs work perfectly. Philips Hue can also see and control Hue compatible, but primarily Wink bulbs. Hue will not update firmware on any devices other than Hue devices. This is not optimal or in any way secure especially since you can only pair a device to one hub at a time.
  2. Wink will update fully Wink compatible bulbs, but won’t update firmware on Hue bulbs. Upgrades for Hue happens through Hue’s system.
  3. It is possible to run two hubs controlling different devices, but Wink’s hub won’t talk to Hue and Hue’s hub won’t talk to Wink.
  4. To bridge these two systems, you’ll need something like Alexa that can aggregate unlike device networks into a homogeneous whole.
  5. Alexa can’t aggregate bulbs and devices that aren’t Alexa compatible. So, you always have to read the box to make sure. Even then, you’ll likely need a skill to make it Alexa compatible.
  6. With Alexa’s skills, you can have Alexa log in to manage any device that offers a skill. You can then aggregate these devices under Alexa groups to control unlike systems.
  7. Homekit is the least compatible home control system out there. Don’t rely on Siri to control your devices unless you are meticulous in ensuring all of your devices are 100% Homekit compatible. This is likely to be costly because Apple is only willing to integrate with companies willing to pay money for this. That automatically means that only those companies making significant bank will be willing to pay off Apple to that end.
  8. Hue’s motion control sensor triples as a light and temperature sensor. Oddly enough, the only way to see the light and temperature pieces is through Homekit. Philips Hue app won’t show these sensors. This means you have to try and piecemeal together a system from pieces here, there and everywhere.
  9. Alexa still cannot directly set the color of Hue’s color bulbs. This must be done via a predefined IFTTT applet.
  10. Homekit can set the color of Hue’s color bulbs directly via Siri, but is limited in many other ways… specifically in the exact wording of how to get Siri to control the devices.
  11. Updating firmware on devices requires the correct app or hub. For example, Hue will update Hue devices, but not third party devices. If you want to update your third party devices, you need the right app or hub. Leading to….
  12. A device can only participate in any one hub system at any one time. Because I wanted the latest firmware on my GE and Cree bulbs, I had to buy a Wink hub and pair them with that. That also means I can’t use my Hue motion sensor to turn off one of the lights in a bedroom any longer. Now I have to buy a D-Link sensor and use that… adding to the cost and more hassles.

I find these systems fractured and annoying. There is no standard at all. Philips does what they do. Wink does similar, but is not compatible with Philips unless you buy into the Hub 2 (which is apparently junk). Sylvania is doing their own thing. Many bulb manufactures are now choosing WiFi for their bulbs to avoid even needing a hub. This means many competing standards in the lighting control area.

Until Philips or other lighting manufacturers put together a consortium to better the home automation world, home consumers will suffer with many competing and incompatible standards.

Electric Outlets

Recently I have gotten into controlling some devices using small connected outlets. Obviously, the devices to be controlled are dumb devices like plain old lamps or holiday lighting. They can’t be dimmed or change their colors, but they can be turned on or off. Once setup for control, I can enable scheduling to turn them individually on or off at specific times. However, what I’ve found here is just as fractured and confusing as the lighting systems. These plugs don’t require hubs. They are straight up WiFi devices.

I’ve so far bought the following:

  1. A WeMo branded outlet
  2. Three Conico / Jinvoo controlled outlets
  3. One TP-Link controlled outlet

Each of these devices has their own app and requires its own username and password. WeMo’s outlet uses the WeMo app, Conico uses the Jinvoo Smart app and TP-Link uses the Kasa app. Three apps and three logins for similar kinds of smart plugs. Yet more garbage on my phone and more passwords to remember.

However, because each of these apps have Alexa skills, I can set Alexa up to control all of them via a single device group. I have two of them controlling my Holiday lighting strands. I have a third as a bathroom night light and fourth and fifth not yet allocated, but likely will control more holiday lighting. I can put individual schedules on each of these plugs and I can voice control them via Alexa individually.

Unfortunately, to set up schedules, I have to do this in the phone app. This setup cannot be done in any single place. This is why this fracturing of devices is so bad.

IFTTT

What is this? This acronym stands for ‘IF This Then That’. It’s a small simple type of programming language. For example, if I say, “Alexa, trigger blue bedroom”, Alexa will send the command to IFTTT.com that will then interpret the command and perform the programmed action. The action could be turn off a light, send an email, send me a text or any of a wide array of actions. It’s a 1 to 1 action. Something happens, something is triggered.

How is this a problem here? I talked about the motion sensor above. This Hue sensor is captive to the Hue world. IFTTT has no way to capture any of the Hue sensor data and act upon it. Hue’s developers have not exposed any of this data to IFTTT for triggering alternative actions. For example, I’d like to turn on some lights if the motion sensor is tripped. While I can do that from within the Hue universe of devices, I can’t turn on both Hue and Wink lights from that motion sensor. Worse, the only thing I can do with the Hue motion sensor is turn on a device. I can’t send an SMS or email or anything else like that. Even though IFTTT can control both my Wink and Hue bridge devices, there is no action to read from the Hue motion sensor.

Instead, I had to opt into buying a D-Link WiFi motion sensor that is IFTTT compatible. This means I can then capture the motion event, send it to IFTTT to trigger an action of turning on a Wink and Hue bulb. It is not possible to do this with the Hue motion sensor. At least, that’s the theory. I haven’t yet received the D-Link sensor, but based on its description, it should be possible.

Overall, the world of home automation of small devices is fractured and confusing. There are many competing standards that don’t help the consumer in any way. In fact, this situation is made worse because device manufacturers intentionally hobble their own systems to prevent use of third party devices. This leaves home consumers to fend for themselves while trying to find a way to get their home system working. While I can understand the profit motivation in creating a captive ecosystem, it doesn’t in any way make it easier for a consumer. Until there’s a standard that all manufacturers agree to follow, we’re going to continue to see device after device using its own standard and supplying its own app to control that device.

If you’re going to invest in a smart home system, I’d suggest staying within a specific manufacturer’s ecosystem if at all possible. However, smart outlets may not be available under all systems. I don’t believe that Philips yet ships any smart plugs that are compatible with Hue. Wanting to add controls for plugs or other devices might mean the need for outside devices. However, even then I’d suggest sticking with a single manufacturer. Even if you use Hue and WeMo, that’s better than buying plugs from all over the place and trying to integrate 5 or more systems together. You may have to pay a premium to keep the number of systems down, but it will help keep the confusion to a minimum.

Why you should NOT use Disqus on your site!

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on October 26, 2017

What is Disqus (pronounced discuss)? This is a service that purports to offer an embedded comment / discussion service to your blog or website. Seems like a good feature, but let’s explore why this service shouldn’t be used.

Discussion Forums

Any good blog site or article site should offer a way to allow for comments. However, I find far too many sites that don’t offer comments at all. This is not the focus of this article, but it is one of my pet peeves. Should you choose to add a discussion or comment service, you should not consider using Disqus at all. Why?

Every good discussion package should offer a way to moderate posts and see every post that’s been submitted to your article. I believe that while Disqus does offer moderation, it also has a built-in spam detection package that hides posts from you that have been detected as spam. The problem with using Disqus, is that not only is their spam detection heinously faulty by filtering out many valid posts as false positives, Disqus does nothing about it. This means that as a site owner, you could be losing many, many valuable and valid comments to Disqus’s spam detection system.

As a site owner, you won’t even get to see those detected posts to know they were even there. They are simply hidden in the user’s profile on Disqus who posted their comment. Secondarily, the person leaving the comment can do nothing to get their comment unspammed. Once it’s detected by Disqus’s spam filter, that comment is lost for all eternity. Disqus not only does not monitor these failures nor do they don’t do anything about them.

If a user clicks on the This is not spam button, nothing happens. The post is not reposted. No one at Disqus looks at the comment. No one approves it. So, the comment remains in perpetual limbo solely on the user’s Disqus profile.

Disqus as a Discussion Service

As a site owner contemplating embedding Disqus as a comment platform for your site, you will want to know that the comments that your readers post will appear timely and fully. This is guaranteed not to happen with Disqus. You don’t want to use a half-baked discussion system thinking you’re actually getting to see all comments on your posts. With Disqus, I’d guess at least 50% of all comments left on an article are lost to Disqus’s extremely stupid spam filtering system. That number might even be higher than that. If you actually want to see all participation on your posts, you should find another system to enable comments on your articles. DO NOT rely on the Disqus platform as they WILL lose valuable comments from your readers… comments that you will never see.

If you really value your reader’s feedback, do yourself a favor and DO NOT USE Disqus as a platform. Until this company actually gives a damn about your users and actually gives you the tools to manage every user response (spam filtered or not), you should find another service to add discussion feedback to your articles that you post.

Better, lead your users to a Facebook page or other social media site where open discussions are, in fact, permitted without the draconian spam engine that Disqus currently uses to hide valid and valuable comments from you.

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Beware of Silicon Valley Clean Energy and energy slamming

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on September 19, 2017

If you live in California, you need to read this. This situation has scam written ALL OVER IT. Let’s explore.

State / City Mandated ‘Clean Energy’

Apparently, as a result of city voting, some cities (such as Cupertino) have decided to force residents in that city to change their power generation provider to a third party instead of PG&E. In my case, it ends up being the scam outfit Silicon Valley Clean Energy. Why are they a scam? Here’s what happened.

First, they enrolled my electrical generation service under SVCE’s generation service without my permission. Then, SVCE waited over 60 days to notify me of my enrollment into their power generation service. Because they offered opting out at less than 60 days for free, this means I am not only being assessed a $5 exit fee from SVCE and I am now being put under PG&E’s transitional rates (which are likely to be higher than normal PG&E for at least 6 months). Oh, it gets even better.

Second, because I was force exited from PG&E’s generation services, PG&E gets to assess a Power charge indifference adjustment (PCIA) charge (effectively it is an exit charge for leaving PG&E’s power generation services). This charge on my last bill was $25.60. If you add this charge together with SVCE’s power generation charges, the total generation fee becomes identical to PG&E’s generation charges. If you spread this fee out over 12 months, SVCE’s charges aren’t as low as they seem. Also, this PCIA seems to be assessed once a year (or as frequently as the CPUC allows PG&E to assess it). Basically, this is a charge that PG&E gets to assess to cover generation fees they lost because you moved to a competitor. And, they get to do it each year.

Third, SVCE’s crap web site would not accept my opt-out request. Their opt-out form is entirely broken. I ended up calling their phone and opt-ing out there. Unfortunately, I have no idea if they really got my opt-out request because this fly-by-night outfit only has 9-5 call-center business hours. So, I have to wait until the following day and contact them.

Fourth, I was only notified of my ‘enrollment’ in this service because of a cheap card sent to me in the mail over 60 days after my enrollment.

Fifth, they make a lot of bold claims about using wind and solar energy for generation, but do not back up those claims anywhere. They could simply be buying PG&E generated power and reselling it.

Charges and electric slamming

Not only does PG&E get to assess random charges as a result of the customer is now using a third party power generation company, the power generation company gets to assess random exit charges for leaving their service when I never voluntarily joined it in the first place.

This entire situation smells of CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT. So far, I will have been assessed around $35 in fees plus an unknown amount for rates (up to 6 months) simply because SVCE grabbed my service without notifying me timely. This is the exact thing that long distance phone companies were doing in the 90’s. It is called slamming. This scam type is just another form of state / city endorsed slamming, now with the electric service.

The Feds need to jump on board and stop this slamming activity quick and force the same payback charges on the company who slammed the customer. Here’s what long distance providers were forced to do if they slammed someone onto their service and the end user paid the bill:

If you have been slammed, but discover it after you HAVE paid the bill of the slamming company, the slamming company must pay your authorized company 150 percent of the charges you paid the slamming company. Out of this amount, your authorized company will reimburse you 50 percent of the charges you paid the slamming company. Or, you can ask your authorized company to recalculate and resend your bill using its rates instead of the slamming company’s rates.

Electric generation companies need to be held accountable for slamming in the same way as long distance providers. Companies like SVCE riding on the coattails of city votes shouldn’t get a pass to switch services without permission. Slamming is slamming whether it’s for telephone service or power generation. No matter what it is, it’s a rip off unless the change is by consumer permission. If there are fees involved, the customer MUST authorize the change in advance. Otherwise, it is slamming.

Is the iPhone X Innovative?

Posted in Apple, botch, california by commorancy on September 17, 2017

Clearly, Apple thinks so. I’m also quite sure some avid Apple fanboys think so. Let’s explore what innovation is and what it isn’t and compare that to the iPhone X. Let’s explore.

What is innovation?

Innovation effectively means offering something that hasn’t been seen before, either on other devices or, in fact, at all. I’ll give an example of this. If I create a transporter that can rearrange matter into energy and safely transmit it from point A to B and reassmble it into a whole, that’s innovation. Why? Because even though the concept has existed in the Star Trek universe, it has never existed in the real world. This is true innovation and would ultimately change transportation fundamentally as we know it. Though I won’t get into the exact ramifications of such an invention, suffice it to say this technology would be a world game changer. This example is just to show the difference between true innovation and pseudo innovation. Innovation should be a world game changer to be true innovation.

So then, what is pseudo innovation? This type of innovation, also known as incremental innovation, is to take an existing device and extend it with a natural progression that people expect or, perhaps, have even asked for or because other devices on the market have already added it. As an example, this would be taking a traditional blender and exchanging the blender bowl with a small single service container that can double as a cup. This is a natural progression from an existing blender to a more useful and functional device. This is the kind of change that doesn’t change the world, but solves a small problem for much smaller subset of people.

iPhone X Design

Let’s dissect this design from top to bottom to better understand it better and understand why the iPhone X is not in any way truly innovative and only presents pseudo innovation.

  • OLED display While this is new to the iPhone, it is in no way new to mobile devices. Samsung has been shipping tablets and phones with AMOLED displays for years now. In fact, I’ve personally owned the Samsung Galaxy Tab S for at least 4 years that has a Super AMOLED display. This display has been amazing and remains that way to this day. Apple is substantially late to this party for the iPhone. While it’s new to Apple’s devices, OLED is not in any way a new technology created by Apple. Worse, Apple hobbled their OLED display with the unusual design of that large black brow at the top. I still have no explanation for covering 10% of the display with an unsightly black bar. Worse, when videos play or other active content is viewed, 1/10 of that content is now being obscured by that black bar unless you change the settings. Such a questionable addition to an expensive phone.
  • Removal of Touch ID This is actually negative innovation. Removal of useful features from a device serves only to leave more questions than answers. Touch ID is a relatively new addition to the iPhone. That Apple shipped the iPhone X without it is entirely unexpected. Apple should have postponed the release until they got this right. Touch ID is an intrinsic, non-intrusive technology that works in all conditions, secures the device using biometrics and offers a much safer alternative to login IDs and typing passwords (something entirely cumbersome on small phone devices).
  • Addition of Face ID — Face recognition on a phone, while new to the iPhone isn’t a new technology, nor was it created by Apple. Cameras have been capable of recognizing faces when taking photos, but it does not necessarily take the step to identify the person. Apple takes it to the identification level with Face ID. In fact, it takes it to the next step to use it to identify the owner of the phone. However, this is an untested new technology when used on a phone. While computers with hefty internet connections have been capable of performing this type of fast facial recognition, a phone will require a cloud service to provide such an identification. This means that your facial information will need to transmit to a cloud service and attempt to determine that you are you. It also means that this picture information may be stored on Apple’s servers for this purpose. It also means there’s a huge privacy concern here if Face ID captures something it shouldn’t have. Touch ID is never susceptible to this privacy intrusion problem.
  • Wireless ChargingAgain, Samsung devices have had wireless inductive charging for years. This addition, while new to Apple’s phones, is not in any way innovation. Wireless charging has previously existed on other non-Apple devices and, again, has not been created by Apple. Apple has embraced the Qi wireless charging standard up to a point. However, Apple has denied iPhone devices from using Qi fast charging, instead choosing to offer up Apple’s own standard sometime in 2018.
  • Fast Charging — This allows the phone to charge the battery perhaps 5x faster than the iPhone currently charges today. This is separate from Wireless Charging, but Wireless Charging can take advantage of it.
  • Edge to Edge DisplayWhile Apple’s implementation of this screen seems edge to edge, it really isn’t. There is a small bezel around the display due to the way the case is designed. While it is probably the most edge to edge display we’ve seen in a phone to date, it isn’t the first. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 offered at least side to side edge to edge display and a reasonably small top and bottom bezel. Suffice it to say that what Apple has done is merely semantics. Now, if Apple hadn’t added that questionable brow covering 10% of the display, it might have been a small achievement.
  • Faster CPU, more RAM, faster overall performance — To be expected in any new release, though it will be outdated quickly

In fact, none of what has been included on the iPhone X is in any way newly created ideas by Apple. Apple is firmly playing catchup with the Joneses (or in this case, Samsung). Samsung has already produced phones with every single one of the technological advances that Apple has put into the iPhone X.

Fanboys might claim that the iPhone X is all new. No, it’s all nuances. Apple is simply catching up with existing technologies and ideas to improve their new phones (and I use the word improve loosely). There is nothing actually innovative about the iPhone X. In fact, from a design perspective, it’s probably one of the ugliest phones Apple has yet produced. The brow seals that fate. If there were such Razzie awards for design, Apple would win it for 2017.

iPhone 8

This is one of those things that always irks me about Apple. That they’re releasing the iPhone 8 at all is a bit of a mystery. If you’re introducing a new phone, why keep this line of phones at all? Bet the bank on the new model or don’t do it. This is what Apple has always done in the past. That Apple is now hedging its bets on two different models seems a bit out of ordinary for a company that has typically bet the bank on new ideas. I guess Apple is getting conservative in its old age.

Other than wireless and fast charging introduced into the iPhone X, nothing else has trickled its way into the iPhone 8. Effectively, the iPhone 8 is simply a faster iPhone 7 with Qi wireless and fast charging support.

Let’s talk about wireless and fast charging a little here. While the iPhone 8 is capable of both wireless and fast charging, it won’t come with it out of the box. In fact, Apple’s fast wireless charging pads won’t be released until sometime (probably late spring) 2018. While there are other Qi Wireless chargers you can buy now, these chargers won’t fast charge. Worse, the iPhone 8 still ships with the standard Lightning USB cable and standard speed charger. If you want fast charging, you’re going to need to invest in the extra accessories (cables and chargers) to get that faster charging performance. Until Apple releases its wireless charging pad, you can’t even get wireless and fast charging together. In addition to your phone’s cost, expect to dump an extra $100-200 on these accessories (several times if you want something now and then again when Apple releases its accessories).

Mac Computers

Just to reiterate the point of lack of innovation, I’ll bring up one more point. The MacBook and Mac line of computers has been so stagnant and so far behind the times, I’m not even sure Apple can catch up at this point. While every other non-Apple notebook on the market (even the cheapest, smallest model) now includes a touch display, Apple continues to ship its Mac computers without touch surfaces in defiance of that trend. There’s a point where you have to realize that touch surfaces actually are a necessity to computing. The ironic thing is, we have Apple to blame for this dependency by Apple introducing the original iPad.

Yet, Apple’s stubborn stance on introducing touch displays on the Mac has actually become a sore point with these devices. Apple, lose your stubbornness and finally release touch friendly MacBook computers at the very least. Though, I’d like to see touch screens on every Mac computer. You’ve had Spotlight on the MacOS X for years now (the first step towards touch displays), yet here we are with one computer that has a Touch Bar. The Touch Bar is such a non-innovation as to be a step backwards.

Let’s just get rid of the worthless Touch Bar and finally introduce Macs with touch displays, which is what we want anyway. Since we’re playing catchup, let’s finally catch the Mac line up to every other non-Apple notebook.

Apple’s Worms

It’s clear, Apple has lost its innovative ways. Apple is now relying entirely upon existing technologies and ideas, firmly throwing together half-assed ideas and calling them complete. The iPhone X idea should have been tossed before it ever saw the light of day. Had Jobs been alive to see it, the iPhone X idea would have been tossed out the window in lieu of a new idea.

Additionally, Apple’s technology ideas across its product lines are entirely fractured:

  • The iPhone ships with Lightning connectors, but no other non-mobile computing device in Apple’s line up supports Lightning
  • The iPhone has removed the 3.5mm headphone jack for no other reason than, “just because”
  • New Macs now ship with USB-C, yet none of Apple’s mobile devices support this standard
  • USB-C Macs require dongles because none of Apple’s accessories support USB-C (other than the converter dongles)
  • The Apple Watch has no direct integration with the Mac. It only integrates with a single iPhone.
  • Apple ships Lightning headphones and those can only be used with the iPhone line, not Macs
  • Macs still fail to support touch displays
  • Macs still ship with 3.5mm headphone jacks
  • Apple’s magsafe adapters were amazingly innovative to supply power to the system, yet have been tossed out in lieu of the inferior USB-C connector
  • The iPhone and Mac are only half-assed integrated with each another. The best we get is USB connections and Airdrop. The Universal clipboard only works about half the time and even then it’s not always useful depending on copied content. The single app that works quite well is iMessage. In fact, the entire reason this integration works at all is because of iCloud.

Innovation is about putting together ideas that we’ve never before seen and that take risks. It’s about offering risky ideas in creating devices that offer the potential of changing the game entirely. There’s absolutely nothing about the iPhone X that’s a game changer. Yes, I do want an iPhone with an OLED display because I want the super high contrast ratio and vibrant colors. If that had been available on the iPhone 8, I’d probably have upgraded. For now, there’s no reason to upgrade from any of Apple’s most recent products. Wireless charging just isn’t enough. A hobbled OLED display is just not worth it.

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