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Investor Alert: Is Masterworks.io a scam?

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

calm male artist painting on canvas using paintbrushes

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

Investing in Art

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

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

Mass Produced

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

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

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

Masterworks.io

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

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

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

Where is that painting?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paintings as Investments

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

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

Novel Concept, Poorly Realized

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.masterworks.io/

photo of a man arranging in a depot

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

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

Art Storage

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

However, Masterworks does say this…

Screen Shot 2022-04-06 at 6.23.51 PM

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

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

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

Volume Investing

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

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

Art Galleries

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

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

4cycle

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

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

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

Questions without Answers

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

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

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

Ponzi Scheme?

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

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

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

Unfair to Artists

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

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

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

Artists Deserve Compensation

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

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

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

Artists vs Corporations

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

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

Art Valuation and Secondary Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

↩︎

Business: Does my company have a toxic culture?

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

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

Business Culture

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

Hiring Practices

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

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

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

Interview Questions

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

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

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

Looks

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

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

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

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

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

Probation Period

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

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

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

They do this for several reasons:

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

Kissing Up and Overly Friendly Attitudes

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

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

Lone Workers

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

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

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

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

Snitching

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

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

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

Unleashed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agenda Behind Toxicity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Workplace (mis)Trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

↩︎

Rant: Fallout 76 Event — Invaders from Beyond

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

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

Invaders from Beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Locations for the Event

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

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

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

The event locations are as follows:

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

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

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

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

Grenade Drops

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

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

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

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

Crap Event for Bloodied Build

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

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

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

Sneak Card

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

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

Invaders from Beyond is a Technical Failure

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t play Bloodied”

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

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

Environmental Perks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Intentional?

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

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

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

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

Losing Perks after Death

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

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

Crashing

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

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

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

Rating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Can the Steam Deck succeed?

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

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

Handhelds in Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pricing

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

Screen Shot 2022-02-28 at 11.08.47 AM

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

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

PlayStation Vita, NVIDIA Shield, Nintendo Switch

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

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

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

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

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

Handheld Gaming Battery Woes

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

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

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

Display Technology

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

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

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

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

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

Can the Steam Deck succeed?

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

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

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

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

Games Should Just Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Success or Failure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multiplayer Games?

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

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

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

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

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

Success or Failure Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Recipe: Mug Cake

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

white teacup

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

Mug Cake Batter

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

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

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

All ingredients should be measured level, not heaping.

Cake Batter Base

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

Other Items Needed

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

Substititions

Sweeteners

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

Milk

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

Ingredient Suggestions

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

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

Butter

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

Spice Mug Cake

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

Chocolate Mug Cake

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

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

Vanilla Sprinkles Mug Cake

Base Batter +
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Tablespoon Rainbow Sprinkles

Other Flavors

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

Batter Consistency

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

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

Cooking Instructions

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

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

Icing

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

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

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

Dig in and Enjoy!

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CEO Question: Should I sell my business to a Venture Capital group?

Posted in botch, business, howto, tips by commorancy on February 5, 2022

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This may seem like a question with a simple answer, but there’s lots to consider. The answer also depends on your goals as CEO. If you’re here reading this, then you’re clearly weighing all of your options. Let’s get started.

Selling Anything

A sale is a sale is a sale. Money is money is money. What these cliché statements lack in brilliance is more than made up for in realism. What these statements ultimately mean is, if the entire goal of selling your business is to make you (personally) some quick money, then it honestly doesn’t matter to whom you sell.

Selling your company to your brother, a bank, another corporation or, yes, even a Venture Capitalist group, the end result is the same: a paycheck. If your end goal is that paycheck and little else matters, then you can end your reading here and move forward with your sale. However, if your goal is to keep your hard built business, brand and product alive and allow it to move into the future, I urge you to keep reading to find out the real answer.

Selling your Company

Because you are here reading and you’ve got some level of interest in the answer to the question posed, I assume, then, that you’re here looking for more than the simple “paycheck” answer. With that assumption in place, let’s keep going.

Companies are complex beasts. Not only does a company have its own product parts that makes the company money, companies must also have staffing parts, the people who are hired to support those product parts and maintain those new sales.  Basically, there are always two primary aspects of any business: product and staff. As a CEO, it’s on you to gauge the importance levels of each of these aspects to you. After all, your staff looks to you for guidance and they rely on you for continued employment. There’s also your legacy to consider and how you may want to be remembered by the business (and history): positively, negatively or possibly not at all.

Reputation

Let’s understand that in countries like China, reputation or “face” is the #1 most important aspect of doing business. I don’t mean the business’s reputation. I mean the person’s own reputation is at stake. If the person makes a critical misstep in business, that can prevent future opportunities. In the United States, however, “face” (or personal reputation) is almost insignificant in its importance, especially to CEOs. Short of being found guilty of criminal acts (i.e., Elizabeth Holmes), there’s very little a CEO can honestly do to fail their career.

Indeed, I’ve seen many “disgraced” CEOs find, start, and operate many more businesses even after their “disgrace”. It’s even possible Elizabeth Holmes may be able to do this after serving her sentence. As I said, in the United States, someone’s business reputation means very little when being hired. In fact, a hiring business only performs background checks to determine criminal acts, not determine whether the person has a success or failure track record at their previous business ventures.

Why does any of this matter? It matters because no matter what you do as a CEO, the only person you have to look at every day in the mirror is you. If you don’t like what you see, then that’s on you. The rest of the industry won’t care or even know what you’ve done in the past unless you disclose it.

Venture Capitalist Buyouts

At this point, you’re probably asking, what about those Venture Capital Buyouts? Are they good deals? That really all depends on your point of view. If you’ve put “blood, sweat, tears and sleepless nights” into building your business from literally nothing to something to be proud of and you still hold any measure of pride in that fact, then a Venture Capital group buyout is probably not what you want. Let’s understand the differences in the types of buyouts.

  1. Direct Business Buyouts — These are sales made directly to other businesses like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and the like. These are sales where the buyer sees value in not only maintaining the brand and products under that brand, but building that brand as a sub-product under the bigger buyout company. With these kinds of buyouts, your product will live on under that new company. Additionally, the staff have the option to remain on board and continue to maintain that product for the new company for potentially many years. This kind of buyout helps maintain the product and maintains “face” among staff members. This kind of buyout rarely involves resale and, after the acquisition dust settles, is usually seen as a positive change.
  2. Venture Capital Buyouts — This kind of buyout is an entirely different beast. Venture Capitalists are in the purchase solely to make money off of their “investment” as a whole. The business itself is the commodity, not the products sold by the company being purchased. No. Venture Capital buyouts are a type of investor who buys a “business commodity” to “fix up” then “flip” to make their investment return. Thus, Venture Capitalists don’t honestly care about the internals of the products or solutions the company offers, only that those products / solutions become marketing fodder for their sales cap. Venture Capitalists do weigh the value in the products prior to the purchase, but beyond that and once the purchase completes, the business is treated not as an ongoing concern, but as a commodity to be leaned out, fixed up and made attractive to a buyer. This kind of buyout always involves resale. This fact means that remaining staff must endure acquisition twice in succession, probably within 1-2 years. This kind of buyout is usually viewed by staff (and the industry) as a negative change.

Thus, the difference between these two types of purchases is quite noticeable, particularly to staff who must endure them.

Undervalued

[Update 2/8/2022] Everything up to this point has only implied what this section actually states. I’ve decided to explicitly state this portion because it may not be obvious, even though I thought this information was quite obvious while writing the initial article.

Bottom Line: If a Venture Capital group is considering a purchase of your business, know that what the VC group is offering is only a fraction of what your business is actually worth. They can’t make money if they pay you, the seller, the company’s full value. Keep in mind that the VCs consider the business a “fixer upper”. That means they will invest “some” money into the business to “dress it up”. How that “dress up” manifests isn’t intended to turn your business around, however. What “dress up” means is investing money to make the business look pretty on paper… or, more specifically, so the books look better. That means they’ll pay an accountant to dress up the numbers, not pay to make your business actually better. Though, they will cut staff and then pull out the whips to make sure everyone sells, sells, sells so the business appears to have better year-over-year profits. When a prospective buyer looks at the books, the buyer will notice improved numbers and, hopefully, be willing to fork over double (or more) what the VCs paid to buy the “company” from you, the original seller.

Even the smartest, brightest, most intelligent CEOs can be taken in by the lure of a Venture Capital Group company purchase offer. Know then that what VCs have offered you isn’t what your company is actually worth.

Ultimately, it also means that you as the seller are being taken for a ride by the VCs. You can dress up your own company and do exactly as the VCs. Then, find a direct buyer willing to pay double what the VCs offered, which will make you twice as much money AND remove the VCs entirely from the picture as an unnecessary profiting middleman.

Acquisition Woes

Being the acquired company in an acquisition is hard on staff. Lots of questions, few answers and during the transition there’s practically silence. It’s a difficult process once the deal closes. It only gets worse. Typically, the then CEO becomes a lesser executive in the new firm. However, most times the CEO changes position not because they want to, but because the buyout contract stipulates a 6-9 month transition period and obviously most companies don’t want two CEOs. Though, I have rarely seen transitions that agree to co-CEOs. It’s an odd arrangement, though.

This means that the newly demoted executive is only on board to complete the transition and receive 100% of their contractually agreed buyout payment. In fact, most buyout contracts stipulate that for the CEO to receive their 100% payout, they must not only remain on board in a specific position for a specified period of time, they may also be required to meet certain key performance indicator (KPI) metrics. So long as all goals are met, the contract is considered satisfied and the former CEO receives 100% payment.

However, if some of the goals are only partially met, then reduction of payment is warranted. Such other metrics may include retaining key staff on board for a minimum of 6 months. If any general staff have ever gone through a buyout and have received a special bonus or incentive package, that’s the reason. The incentive package is to ensure the CEO’s KPI is reached so that the contractually defined buyout payment is paid at or as close to 100% as possible. This is also why these acquired executives can get both grumpy and testy when they realize their KPIs are in jeopardy.

Trust

Let me pause for just a moment to discuss a key issue, “trust”. While contracts stipulate very specific criteria, such as payment terms, not everything in a buyout is covered under the contract. For example, the acquiring company’s executives can find anything they wish wrong with the KPIs to reduce payment. Contracts usually do not contain intent clauses that hold the acquiring company execs accountable if they “make up” flaws in the agreement that don’t exist. It is ultimately the acquiring executives who decide whether the KPIs have been met, not the incoming CEO. If you trust these people to be morally and ethically sound, then you have nothing to worry about. However, because Venture Capitalists aren’t always practical in what they do and are driven by the need to see a return on their investment, they could find faults in the KPIs that don’t exist, solely to reduce payments. Basically, you’ll need to be careful when extending trust. Meaning, you must place full trust in those VCs willing to purchase your company. This means, doing your homework on these people to find out where they’ve been, who they’ve worked with and, if possible, get references. Let’s continue…

Buyouts with Strings

Every buyout has strings attached. No buyer will purchase a company outright for straight up cash without such strings. Such strings ensure the company remains intact, that key staff remain on board and that the product remains functional. These are handled via such stipulated “insurance policy” clauses in the form of KPIs applied to acquired CEO and executive team. These KPIs, when reached, allow the business seller to receive payment for reaching those KPIs. Were key staff to leave and the product have no knowledgeable or trained staff left to operate the product, then the purchase would be useless and the product would fail. For a buyer, requesting such insurance policies in the contract is always a key portion of buyout contracts. Expect them.

Saving Face

Circling back around to Venture Capital group buyouts, it’s important to understand that the point of such a buyout is for those “investors” to return their investment sooner rather than later. The sooner, the better. That means that their point in a company purchase by a Venture Capital group is not to take your business into new and bigger directions by dumping loads of money in and growing it. If they dangle that carrot in front of you, know that that’s absolutely not how these deals work. Don’t be deceived by the dangling of this carrot. This carrot is absolutely to get you to sell, but will almost just as definitely not pan out… unless it’s contractually obligated.

On the contrary. They’ve spent loads of money already simply buying the company. They’re not planning on dumping loads more cash into it. Instead, they plan to lean it out, get rid of stuff that wastes money (typically HR, insurance and such first), then move onto erasing what they deem as “useless” staff and wasteful costly third party services (ticketing systems, email systems, marketing systems, etc).

As for staff cuts, this means asking managers to identify key staff and jettisoning those staff who aren’t “key”. This usually comes down in the form of a mandate that only X people can be kept on board out of Y. For example, 10 people may be employed, only 3 may stay. Who will you pick? That then means jettisoning 7 people from the staff roster.

You won’t know this aspect going into the deal because they won’t have made you privy to these “plan” details. It also likely won’t be in the buyout contract either, unless you requested such a buyout stipulation. It’s guaranteed you’ll find out this plan within 10-20 days after the deal closes. As I said, the Venture Capitalists don’t look at it as an ongoing business to help flourish, they look at it as commodity to lean out, pretty up and hope for a high priced buyer to come along.

Venture Capitalists understand that it does cost some money to make money, but they’re not looking for a money pit. The purchase price is typically where the money pit ends. You shouldn’t expect an infusion of cash as soon as the Venture Capital firm closes the sale, unless such investment has been stipulated in writing in the purchase contract. Of course, you are free to take some of your own sale money and invest it into the business, but I don’t know why you’d do that since you no longer own the company.

What this means and why this section is labeled “Saving Face” is that eventually you’re going to have look into the face of not only the 7 people you had to fire, but the 3 people left and explain what’s going on. These situations are extremely hard on morale and makes it exceedingly difficult for those 3 who stayed on to remain positive. Surviving a huge layoff cut is not a win. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s also not simply a perception issue, either. Such a huge layoff places an even bigger burden on those who remain.

The 3 who remain feel as though they’ve lost the lottery. Now those 3 must work at least 10 times harder to make up the work for the 7 who are no longer there. Honestly, it’s a lose-lose situation for the acquired company. For the venture capitalists, it doesn’t matter. They’ve leaned out the company and the books now “appear” way better and the business also “appears” far less costly to operate in the short term. “Short Term” is exactly what the VCs are banking on to sell the company. This makes the “business” look great on paper for a buyer. As I said, the quicker the Venture Capitalists can flip their investment and make their money back, the better. The VCs are more than willing to endure hardship within the acquired company to make the company appear better for a buyer. As the saying goes, “It’s no skin off their noses”.

Technologists vs Venture Capitalists

Being a Venture Capitalist and being a Technologist are two entirely separate and nearly diametrically opposed jobs. It’s difficult to be both at the same time. As a technologist-founder-turned-CEO, the point is to build a business from scratch, allow the business revenues to help grow the business further and expand and build a reputation and customer base. Building a business from scratch is a slow road to a return on investment, which typically takes many, many years. That investment takes years to accrue, but can make an executive a lot of ongoing money. Just look at Jeff Bezos and Amazon. It can and does work.

As a Venture Capitalist group buying companies, the point isn’t to build a business. It’s to buy already built businesses as “commodities”, lean them out, make the books look great, then sell them for at least double the money, usually in months, not years. If the VCs dangle a “five year plan” in front of you, claiming to grow the business, please re-read the above again. To spell it out, there’s no “five year plan”, unless it randomly takes the VCs that long to line up a buyer. That’s more of an accident than a plan. The VCs would prefer to line up a buyer far sooner than 5 years. The “five year plan” rhetoric is just that, rhetoric. It was told to you, the seller, to keep you interested in the buyout; not because it is true.

If the “5 year plan” carrot is dangled in front of you, then you need to have the VCs put up or shut up. What this means is, make them write the “5 year plan” investment explicitly into the purchase contract. If they are legitimately interested in growing the acquired company, they should have no problems adding this language into the buyout contract. This will also be your litmus test. I’d be highly surprised to actually see VCs contractually agree to adding such “5 year plan” language into the purchase contract.

As I said above, these two types of jobs are nearly diametrically opposed.

One method slowly builds the company as a long term investment opportunity, the other uses the existing whole company itself as a commodity to sell quickly as a fast return on an investment. As a CEO, this is what you must understand when considering selling your business to a group of Venture Capitalists.

If you want your business and brand to continue into the future and have a legacy listed in Wikipedia, then you want to keep your business going and growing. Once you sell your business to VCs, the brand, product and, eventually, staff will all disappear. Nothing of what you built will remain. Selling to a Venture Capital group likely ensures that this process happens in less than 1 year.

Selling to a direct business, the brand naming may hang around much longer than 1 year. It’s really all about whether you care about your legacy and your resume. You can’t exactly point to producing a successful business when nothing of it remains. Selling the company makes money, yes, but has a high chance of losing everything you’ve spent loads of time building. Unfortunately, Venture Capital group purchases almost ensure the fastest means to dissolution of the brand and of that time spent building your business. Still, a paycheck is a paycheck and you can’t argue with that in the end.

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Politics: What happens if Trump runs again?

Posted in advice, botch, politics by commorancy on February 1, 2022

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While I’ve pretty much avoided political debate and politics on Randocity, I also recognize that this blog is called Randocity. Political discussion is never off of the table. I’ve avoided politics because it’s like playing with Playdough. It’s salty, dries out and becomes no fun after just a few minutes. Because democracy actually hangs in the balance with this former President, I’ll grit and bear my way through this article as this needs to be said. Hopefully, you’re willing to do the same. Let’s explore.

Prophetic

I’m not one to try and be a prophet, but let me don this hat for this next few sections of the article. We all know what Trump did during the 2020 election. Let’s just list his actions leading up to and after the election:

  1. Trump began his lead up to the 2020 election by sowing seeds of mistrust and doubt in the election system by claiming that mail-in ballots are a major source of fraud. Don’t trust me on this? Follow the link. Trump made this claims many times well prior to the election. Trump’s action intended to sow distrust in the United States’s election system. For better or worse, it worked. It also set the stage for what came after. This is the start of Trump’s “Big Lie”.
  2. Election day arrives and Joe Biden wins. Yet, according to Trump (and his followers), Biden and Democrat party somehow managed to “rig” the election (and 50 states worth of voting systems) to see Biden win. See #1 for the beginnings of this “Big Lie”.
  3. Trump refuses to concede the election on election day, the day after or even today as I write this article. Instead, he begins a concerted effort to prove that he won and that Biden lost. This effort includes a number of steps including discrediting election officials, discrediting election workers, discrediting election polling places, discrediting election equipment and basically discrediting anyone involved in the election system. Make no mistake, this discrediting tactic was systematic and entailed making wild claims about the entirety of the election system… which, of course, those claims could not at all be supported or corroborated. Courts all over the country were entangled in many (frivilous) lawsuits set up by Trump and his followers to challenge the election integrity and discredit many people in the process. Trump didn’t stop here. However, Trump lost every single one of those lawsuits, over and over and over. No election fraud was (or is) ever uncovered.
  4. On January 2nd, 2021, in a vain attempt at overturning the election results in the state of Georgia, Trump calls Brad Raffensperger, the Secretary of State over Georgia, requesting that Raffensperger “find” 11,780 votes for Trump. Of course, he made no mention of exactly how Raffensperger might go about “finding” those votes. Clearly, this was an attempt at persuading election officials into performing actual voter fraud on behalf of Trump using veiled words. It’s most definitely not the first time Trump has used veiled words to prompt someone take potentially illegal actions which greatly benefits Trump. However, those words can then be claimed by Trump as “innocent”. It also wouldn’t be the last time Trump uses veiled words to do his bidding.
  5. Trump organizes a rally at the Ellipse near Capitol Hill on January 6th, 2021. January 6th was the day the winning candidate was to be confirmed as the Presidential winner by the Electoral College. This congressional procedure is primarily symbolic in nature, but it also serves a purpose for congress to go through the motions to ensure the candidate is fully recognized as having been duly elected. Trump’s rally brought throngs of Trump supporters to Washington DC on the day of the Electoral College vote in the hopes that he could somehow disrupt the Electoral College process.
  6. On the same day of the Rally, Trump calls Mike Pence, the then Vice President of the United States, to request him to discredit Electoral Vote counts from key states. States that, if discredited, would aid in Trump remaining in office by overturning the election results. Pence refuses and performs his duties as President of the Senate. Pence, as Vice President, is the person who facilitates and presides over Electoral Vote tabulation in front of the House and Senate. In fact, the Vice President doesn’t appear to have such requested power even if he had wanted to do as Trump asked. Again, Trump likely used veiled words with Pence to “get him” to do something untoward that, again, greatly benefits Trump.
  7. Trump, along with a bunch of Trump allies, make veiled, but now inflammatory rhetoric riling up the crowd at the Ellipse, effectively making it appear as if the election was about to be stolen from Trump by the Electoral College. Again, Trump uses flowery veiled rhetoric to incite the crowd into a frenzy. Trump knew exactly what his rhetoric would have the crowd do, particularly knowing a large extremist Trump-supporting fringe element had also shown up. The vote, at that time, was just several hours away. Trump and Co’s inflammatory, but veiled rhetoric lead to the riotous results which immediately followed on Capitol Hill.
  8. After the walk from the Ellipse, the riots begin in earnest. As a result, this riot forces the Electoral Vote count proceedings to halt for a period of time while the House and Senate staff take cover in a safe location until the grounds can be brought back under control with the rioters gone. Until that time, the Electoral Vote count remains suspended. Yes, Trump was instrumental in encouraging this action. Yes, Trump, the then sitting President of the United States, based on his veiled rhetoric speech, intentionally caused suspension of the prescribed formality of counting and tabulating the Electoral College vote counts. Keep in mind that this intentional suspension was all for the purpose of overturning the election results… IN TRUMP’S FAVOR.
  9. Several hours later after the rioters had gone and the DC police had brought the grounds under control did the vote count resume, with Mike Pence presiding. The vote count was uneventful and, as the voting had concluded, Biden was confirmed as the next President by the Electoral College.

These above facts are irrefutable, even though Trump would have you believe it’s all fake. Let’s stop here. I think I’ve included enough pertinent information to predict the outcome should Trump run again. Trump is, if anything, predictable.

Trump hates Losing

It’s clear, Trump hates losing. In fact, he hates it so much that he began planning his road to the “Big Lie” months before the election to ensure he couldn’t lose, at least in his own mind. If he can drag some people into his “world” of lies, then all the better. To date, Trump has still not conceded the election and still insists that the election (and election system) was (and is) rigged.

In fact, Trump is so adamant that he had won the election (both before and after) that he filed many, many lawsuits in an attempt to “prove” the election was somehow rigged, sometimes forcing a vote recount. In some places like Arizona, the votes were recounted a number of separate times all confirming and proving that Biden had won, even by his own requested staffers. Yet, Trump simply won’t take, “No” for an answer. Trump still insists that the election was rigged, is fraudulent and that he is the rightful winner of the 2020 election. No such evidence has ever been shown that this claim is, in fact, true. In fact, all evidence points to the fact that the 2020 election was free, fair and without major fraud. Sure, every election has its irregularities, but no more than any other past election.

Trump simply can’t look at the irregularities and call foul when the statistics indicate no such fraud exists.

Election Lies and Rigging

Let’s understand the preposterousness of Trump’s lie claims and understand better who is actually doing the rigging here. In order for Joe Biden and others in the Democrat party to have truly rigged the election in favor of Joe Biden, this action would have required an extremely enormous coordinated effort from many, many election officials, election workers and modification of election equipment all over the United States, in every single state. Such an enormous coordinated effort would have required many thousands of people’s synchronized participation at the polls and many, many hours of planning.

If our election system is truly that easily compromised, then there’s no way possible we can possibly use it for any future elections… ever.

Let’s examine what’s more probable, plausible or even possible? Trump’s Lie that thousands and thousands election workers all conspired against Trump to make Biden win? Or, the American people voted correctly, accurately and fairly… and that Biden was duly and fairly elected! Let’s even qualify this more. Whom do you trust in the above scenario? One single person who is known to lie (i.e., Trump) or thousands of election workers all over the country who voluntarily devote their time and resources to ensuring we have a free and fair election? Again, I ask, “Which situation is more probable?”

Just to be sure we’re on the same page, I’ll answer that question. Trump has more than proven he is not trustworthy. Thousands of election workers and election staff cannot ALL be at the level of untrustworthy that Trump claims in his “Big Lie”. It is, therefore, Trump who is lying.

Obviously, Trump’s lie is THE ludicrous and unbelievable claim here. It is way more probable that Trump is lying than suggesting an enormous coordinated effort existed to place Biden into the Presidential seat over the will of the voters. Further, if such a coordinated effort truly existed, why stop at such narrow voting margins and not go for an all out landslide victory? If the election machines can be truly compromised and modified, then why bother with slim margins? No, Trump’s claims just don’t hold water.

Biden didn’t win by any sense of a “landslide”. Oh, no no. The votes were so close that some battleground states weren’t able to call the election results for days after the election. By ‘close’, this could be as few as several thousand votes. This meant election workers were forced into counting and recounting to ensure the vote counts are all counted accurately and tabulated properly. With that many recounts all showing Biden won, there is no possible way that Trump’s “Big Lie” is in any way plausible, let alone realistic or even true.

Trump and 2024

Looking ahead, let’s really talk about what’s likely to occur should Trump end up on the ballot again. In fact, Trump is already sowing the seeds of distrust even deeper right at this very moment. As long as Trump maintains his “big election lie”, he WILL continue to both expand and reuse it against the 2024 presidential election should he choose to run again. Believe me, he will most definitely use it again and will up his game based on what he learned during the 2020 process! He’s that predictable. Prediction noted.

Let me say right now that this man should never be able to run for President again. In fact, Congress performed a major disservice to this country for not finding Trump guilty in his final Impeachment hearing. If they had found him guilty, that would have prevented Trump from ever holding office as President again. This would be a blessing come 2024. The man cannot be President again or even be allowed to run or else this country may entirely lose the meaning of the word, “Democracy.” Prediction noted.

Trump Wins?

Assuming Trump were to win in 2024, Trump will not only continue to do everything with his reacquired Presidential power to discredit the election system entirely. It’s nearly guaranteed he will want to ensure that he remains in office indefinitely by attempting to halt everything to do with future elections. That’s just the beginning of his tirade. Trump will see to it that not only can he not be voted out again, that no one else can be voted in. At this point, Democracy and the Constitution’s power ends. Worse, Trump’s “back pocket” GOP will likely follow the leader here and continue to do Trump’s bidding by seeing to it that legislation is passed that allows Trump to remain in power beyond 4 years, possibly even indefinitely. Prediction noted.

Election Lie 2.0

What if Trump loses? The outcome is just as bad simply because he was allowed to run. If we think Trump’s election lie is bad now, just wait. If Trump is allowed to participate and again loses, not only will Trump parade his next version of the Election Lie v2.0, he will see to it that both he and the GOP make sure the elections are so undermined that we can’t even use our election system come 2028. The courts will also be so completely saturated with meritless case after meritless case all for the sole means of attempting to prove that the election was, once again, rigged and stolen from Trump.

Trump will most definitely up his lying game to make sure everyone knows he was, again, cheated out of his win. That somehow the election system was (and is) majorly rigged against him with yet more fabricated evidence. This will then lead to even more voter law changes by Trump supporting states. Prediction noted.

Let’s put this into a bit more perspective with how Trump can leverage the GOP leadership team. The GOP (aka Republican party), is hanging onto Trump’s coattails for all it’s worth. These elected officials continually and constantly push Trump’s lie, but not verbally. They do so by introducing legislation that is tantamount to a modern version Gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is technically redrawing district lines around population centers so as to change the outcome of an election from a Democrat win to a GOP win. It is a form of political scam. When districts are drawn correctly and properly, the vote distributions are fair. When redrawn using Gerrymandering, it unfairly rigs voting in favor of one party over the other. Gerrymandering is an old tactic, but there are many new age tactics that can also be used in addition to redrawing districts in unfair ways.

States have now taken it upon themselves to craft laws that restrict voting in ways that make it easier for Republicans to vote and much more difficult for Democrats to vote. This is a legal form of Gerrymandering. Laws, in combination with actual district Gerrymandering, pretty much ensures a win for the party who set all of these scams up, even if that party is in the minority. This is a form of…

Election Rigging

Who is actually doing the rigging here? The problem I really have with all of Trump’s (and by extension, Trump’s GOP) hoo-ha above is that the reverse is actually true. Everything that Trump has crafted in an attempt to discredit the election results was actually performed with the intent to rig the 2020 election in Trump’s (and, more specifically, the GOP’s) favor. His “Big Lie” wasn’t intended to uncover any truth as there was no “truth” to actually uncover. Instead, his claims of election fraud by Biden were all intended to allow him to rig the elections in Trump’s favor. It’s a reverse ploy. He takes a functional, legitimate, working system and twists it into something that appears broken, corrupt and perverse for the sole means of turning it around and using it to his own benefit. It’s a classic victim ploy.

It’s also diabolical. Rigging is rigging whether by Trump or by someone else. Trump’s attempts to use the justice system, the media, his supporters and veiled words are simply attempts to get people to do his bidding, which meant overturning the 2020 election results by illegitimate means and usurping the 2020 election for himself. Can we say, “Rigged by Trump”? Yet, for whatever reason, people actually fail to see this diabolical scheme that Trump has concocted. It’s a plot that seemingly turns Trump into a victim rather than exposing him as a con man. Trump is, plain and simple, a con man. He intended to deceive his followers into believing fake information and, thus, attempt to take a legitimate free and fair election system and actually twist it by rigging it to Trump’s will.

Let me ask. Who exactly is doing the rigging here? It’s certainly not Biden.

However, few Trump supporters want to believe that they’ve been conned by Trump. It’s way easier to accept Trump as a victim than to view themselves as being duped by Trump. If you accept Trump’s lies, however, you ARE being duped. Accepting a known lie is the very definition of being duped.

Can Trump be Trusted?

A very good question. Let’s examine. At this point, it should be completely clear that this man cannot be trusted, not with Presidential power, not even with participating in the election system as a candidate. Anyone so intent on treating our election system so recklessly, callously, with disdain and with so much malice of intent cannot be trusted. Trust is earned. It’s clear that Trump has failed to earn trust and respect from almost anyone. Yet, followers still flock in his direction. I’m still at a loss as to why. The man has proven that he has no morals, moral compass, ethics or scruples.

It’s one thing for a politician to make boasting claims about doing great deeds while in office, then fail to accomplish those goals. It’s entirely another when the President of the United States holds a rally intended to halt counting the Electoral Votes which undermines the election system and the basic fundamentals that hold Democracy together.

Lies and Fraud

Trump’s deception has not ended and will not end until he is pushed out of politics entirely. That means that the GOP must force Trump out of the party. The GOP cannot continue as a legitimate political party when someone so corrupt and so ill-intentioned remains within. Someone who was (and still is) willing to sacrifice the entirety of the United States Constitution and Democracy’s fabric itself simply so that he can remain in office, that’s someone we absolutely do not need running this country, let alone even being allowed on the ballot.

If Trump is placed on the ballot in 2024, Democracy literally hangs in the balance. If we think we’re in a constitutional crisis after the January 6th Capitol attack, that’s simply the first salvo in what will likely bring down the United States if Trump regains the office of President. Prediction noted.

Trump absolutely in no way cares about the continuance of Democracy and only cares about one thing… Trump and his ability to gain and retain power, particularly Presidential power. He also wants to take that power and bastardize it into something that was never intended by the framers of the Constitution.

Regardless of whether Trump wins or loses in 2024, the United States faces a serious existential threat, one that Trump seems to want to seriously undermine (at best) and dismantle (at worst). No, Trump cannot be allowed to even participate in the 2024 election process at all. His corruption will taint the election system, win or lose. The GOP leadership must eject Trump from the party and shun any further interaction with him. That is, unless the GOP (Republican party) wants to become known as the party that brought down United States Democracy, which also likely means the GOP (and all other parties) will cease to exist once Democracy dies. No need for Democratic processes once the President wields all of the power, forever.

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Fallout 76 Event: How To – Radiation Rumble

Posted in advice, tips, video game, video game design by commorancy on January 30, 2022

drumsWhile there’s lots to discuss about this event, here’s a How To article which is short and sweet and offers a quick important tip when playing the Radiation Rumble event. Let’s explore.

Enough People

[Updated 4/4/2022] If you’re one of those “can’t wait” people who joins this event and instantly runs to Marion Copeland to start it. Don’t! Just don’t. If we’re all standing around not starting the event, it’s because there’s a reason. WE NEED ENOUGH PEOPLE to run it. It takes a minimum of 4-5 people to successfully run this event. We need enough people to defend the scavengers, but we also need at least ONE person in a power armor suit to run the tunnels and gather ore.

Without enough people to properly defend the scavengers, this event will FAIL. If there’s no one running the tunnels to gather ore, this event will ALSO FAIL. THIS is why we wait nearly the full 6 minutes before activating the event. We are waiting for enough people to arrive to successfully start and run the event.

Therefore, do not rush to Marion to start the event. Wait until the timer has nearly timed out before starting. If you rush to start the event early, you may find people leaving you by yourself standing there with no way to successfully complete the event. Yes, we’ve learned and so will you… the hard way.

Friendly Fire

Let’s get right to the point. Radiation Rumble is a defend event. It has “Scavenger” NPC friendlies which must be defended against ghouls and various foes inside of a mine in Fallout 76. The friendlies have white HP bars which reduce as they are attacked.

It seems a lot of players don’t understand that you can health up these friendlies! Yes, you can! It’s easy with a fire based weapon and the perk card Friendly Fire. This card applies health back, like a stimpak, to any friendly you strike with a fire based weapon. The card states:

Teammates hit by your flame weapons regenerate health briefly (no molotovs).

Any NPC friendly in an event is considered a “teammate” and therefore this card applies. It also applies to teammates of the human player variety.

What kind of weapons can be used?

  • Heated Baseball Bat
  • Flamer
  • Heated Pitchfork
  • Shishkebab
  • Heated Power Fist
  • Crossbow with Fire Arrows
  • Bow with Fire Arrows
  • Heated Chainsaw
  • (Maybe) Floater Flamer Grenades

Basically, ANY weapon that produces fire damage of ANY kind (except molotovs) will health up your friendlies with the Friendly Fire card equipped. It works fastest and offers the most health up with each strike using a 3 star version of this card, but all versions of the card will work. This can be used during any event where protection of NPC friendlies is required. This includes Radiation Rumble, Project Paradise, Bots on Parade and even during the Fasnacht event with the robots.

However, it only works on “live” friendlies. It doesn’t work on plants, like in Death Blossoms. Any robot, person or creature will gain health from Friendly Fire when struck by fire based weapon. There may be some type of friendlies (like Death Blossoms) where it doesn’t work, so you’ll have to try it and see. Most event NPCs work properly with Friendly Fire.

When Friendly Fire doesn’t work

The Friendly Fire card doesn’t work with any “energy” weapon like the Tesla or Gatling Plasma or Gauss. Don’t think you can equip just any energy weapon and have this work. Electric energy weapons aren’t the same as fire weapons. The weapon must specifically produce fire damage to add health to a friendly. It also doesn’t work with energy grenades. Floater flamer grenades may work, but since these are new to the game, Bethesda may have excluded these grenades from working with Friendly Fire. Stick to legacy fire based weapons which are guaranteed to work with Friendly Fire.

Failure is not an Option

I’ve seen Radiation Rumble fail so many times, I can’t even count. It fails because everyone is running around trying to kill stuff and actually failing to protect the scavengers. Protecting the scavengers means hanging around them and being ready to health them up with fire weapons using Friendly Fire whenever their health drops.

Menu Failure during the Event

One word of caution. Set up your weapon and perk card loadouts BEFORE entering the Radiation Rumble event. There are so many creatures, fire and random junk moving about in the environment, you can’t open the Pip Boy to change your load out. If you intend to switch to a fire weapon during the event, make sure your loadout is set up prior to entering the event OR have the weapons set up on the wheel.

The Pip Boy menu gets so slow and bogged down in the event that you can’t even move the cursor. There’s no way to set up your load out using the Pip Boy once inside the event. However, the wheel mostly works. Meaning, you can mostly rely on using the wheel to change weapons, but you cannot rely on the Pip Boy menu or in setting up your perk cards. Do that activity before entering… which means planning this in advance.

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Should schools remain open amid Omicron surge?

Posted in best practices, COVID-19, school by commorancy on December 23, 2021

teach dice ornament on table

I’ve watched a number of people appearing on large news networks who are proponents for schools to remain open amid the Omicron surge. Their primary reason behind this “remain open” argument is that kids are at low risk for dangers from Omicron. This is an entirely one sided argument and fails to take into account too many other risk factors. Let’s explore this fallacy.

COVID-19 Risks

While I may agree that kids may be at far lower risk from severe effects from Omicron if they acquire it, that argument largely holds no water and here are the relevant points:

  1. School administrators are adults, not children. These adults are those who must teach these children and it is these very adults who are susceptible and at risk from illness.
  2. It’s already proven that schools are germ factories for diseases. Meaning, children are well known for catching and passing around diseases among their school age peers. I can’t even count the number of colds I caught during my time in public schools. Yes, schools are a petri dish both in growing and spreading pathogens easily and, most importantly, rapidly.
  3. Children bring home pathogens to their household and spread it amongst family members and school friends.

While children may be more resilient to the effects of pathogens, they aren’t immune to spreading it amongst school faculty, staff and within their own households and to their friends. This is important to understand.

But, the psychological effects?

True, there may be psychological effects of children being unable to properly bond or have in-person friendships because of school closures. I get it, but we have to look at the importance levels of these factors. Does the child’s psychological effects from being in school trump the practical safety of those adults who may get seriously ill or die because one or more children spread COVID?

Clearly, these proponents are claiming that the psychological effects are far more damaging than people dying from COVID around these children. They’re not outright making this claim, but it’s the logical subtext that’s being unspoken with their arguments.

It’s also entirely wrong thinking. Children aren’t dying because they can’t sit in a classroom with classmates and learn. However, those around them are. What good does it do to open classrooms only to find more and more teachers either dying of COVID or becoming so seriously ill they can no longer work? How does that help the children or the school?

How many teachers must die to make this point? When do the mounting deaths in school become enough to warrant school closure? 1, 10, 50, 100 or more? Children cannot teach themselves. They require adults to impart that knowledge. However, when more and more adults around them continue to get sick and potentially die from COVID, then what?

Worse, children tend to blame themselves for such chaotic and serious situations even if it’s not true. However, with COVID, the child might actually be correct that their actions directly led to the death of their favorite teacher. How does a child psychologically cope with that? The psychological damage from knowing that child might have spread COVID to a teacher who died is way more damaging than a child lacking meaningful social interactions with their friends by learning at home, away from their classmates.

Learning Environments

Remote learning works. It does. Anyone who claims that it doesn’t work is only making excuses. The problem isn’t remote learning, it’s that these proponents typically have school age children themselves. The point, their motivation isn’t protecting the safety of the school system, but the inconvenience of having children at home. When a child is at home remote learning, a parent must remain home to watch that child. Inconvenient.

It’s this simple inconvenience that is motivating these “parent” proponents to pressure schools to remain open. It’s this inconvenience that motivates them to make statements stating psychological problems and ignoring all else. Again, their argument has nothing to do with protecting the safety of the school.

Variants and Safety

If anything, Omicron has pointed out that the variants are coming and they’re likely to get much, much worse than become weaker. What this means for schools is that eventually a variant will impact children negatively. In fact, Delta had already begun to show this. Many more children died due to Delta than any other variant before. With Omicron, these school “stay open” proponents are merely guessing that Omicron will play “nice” to children. We simply don’t know enough yet about Omicron to make this assertion.

Allowing children to spread Omicron might become a harsh lesson to parents… a lesson that shows us that children may no longer be spared from their “youngness”. Even if it’s not Omicron, it could be the next variant down the road.

Do we really want to congregate masses of children in places with little safety protections simply to teach them math and history? What good does it do if children begin succumbing to the variants and dying in masses? Then what? Will these “stay open” proponents take the blame for their callous disregard for safety? No.

Leave the Decision to the Schools

Ultimately, it’s the school district’s responsibility to protect its teachers, staff and, yes, even the students. The school districts should make the decision as to whether they remain open. Not the parents. Not the teachers. Not the children. Each school, in conjunction with the school board, should make the determination of the threat level any variant poses to each school’s safety.

The school is responsible for creating a safe and effective learning environment. You can’t have one without the other. Tossing safety over learning isn’t a road that leads to success. Just the opposite, in fact. It’s a road that leads to failure.

Parental Inconvenience

I’m sorry that parents feel inconvenienced after school closures. However, it’s your child. Your child is your responsibility. If you didn’t want to bear that burden, you shouldn’t have had children. The school system is not a free day care service. It’s a school. It has the responsibility to teach your child, not babysit them.

As a parent, you may view a school as an all-day babysitter. I guarantee you schools absolutely do not see it that way. Schools exist to “school” your child. Sure, schools take children off of your hands for 8 hours to teach them, thus giving you a reprieve from having a child for a portion of the day. However, that doesn’t mean the child is no longer your responsibility during those 8 hours away.

If a school feels that a closure is needed to ensure the safety of every student, teacher and staff member, then that’s an appropriate measure from the school. That also means it’s on you, the parent, to determine the best way to handle your child while the school remains closed, inconvenient or not.

Pandemic

A pandemic is most definitely a reason for schools to close and remain closed. After all, we know children are not responsible when handling and touching dirty items. Thus, it’s easy for a child to become exposed to colds and flu, and, yes, COVID while at school.

A pandemic means that a virus is spreading uncontrollably throughout the world. Children don’t fully grasp the concept of a pandemic. However, they do understand when they can’t visit friends or go to school or play football. These are things children do understand.

Yes, these may have psychological impact on a child’s well being. However, we’re all suffering during this pandemic. Are we trying to somehow “shield” our children from the effects of the pandemic by attempting to keep schools open in defiance of public safety?

Mass Spreading and Ending the Pandemic

Everyone becomes impacted once the spreading of COVID begins, regardless of where it begins, such as in a school or at a movie theater or even at a stadium full of people. Unnecessary spread is unnecessary spread. The more the virus spreads, the more likelihood this pandemic will never end. Worse, the more often the virus spreads, the more chances it has of creating a new variant. Variant creation is never a good thing.

By keeping children in school, regardless of the severity level on a specific child’s health if they contract COVID, the more chances COVID has of spreading both inside and outside of the school and creating a mass spreading event. As I said, we’ll never get out of the pandemic if we continue to do things that cause mass spreading. If we want to stop COVID, we need to halt mass spreading.

Halting the Pandemic

To stop this pandemic means halting large congregations of people coming together in the same location untested. There is no other way around this issue. We must halt untested mass congregations to halt the virus’s spread. The only way viruses spread is by large numbers of untested people congregating together in close proximity, such as in a plane. Because of lack of testing, this spawns mass spreading events.

Clearly, Omicron is now a mass spreading event. Could the spread of Omicron have been stopped? Not easily. Why? Because, at least in the U.S., we seem to have the poorest testing system of any nation. In fact, testing should have been our top priority from day one.

The only definitive way to halt mass spreading is to test everyone immediately prior to entry. However, our testing has been woefully inadequate all throughout this pandemic. Instead of focusing on testing, we have focused on vaccination. Vaccination has really only helped somewhat reduce spread in adults, not in children. It’s only recently that vaccines have been approved for children of certain ages. Even then, there’s some question as to how effective the vaccines are in children. This means that the dosage may not yet be correct to elicit a proper antibody response in children. This could still leave children vulnerable to contracting and spreading COVID, even though they have been vaccinated.

Testing and Tests

Testing is our #1 way out of this pandemic, which the United States has almost entirely ignored since the start of the pandemic. If the United States had focused on producing accurate mass amounts of home test kits in the first few months of the pandemic, we might have been able to halt the pandemic long before now.

Why? Because you can’t spread what you don’t have. If everyone is required to test negative to enter a store, stadium, restaurant, school or board a plane or train, we could have halted the spread within a few months. Mandating the use of instant tests at the entry to every mass public gathering area would have almost instantly halted the spread. A negative test means no one in that venue has COVID-19.

Sure, testing will inconvenience those who test positive, but inconveniencing a few who are carrying and spreading the virus is well worth the pain to halt the spread of this virus in its tracks. Testing is the answer, not vaccines alone. Vaccines help reduce death rates once infected, but they effectively do nothing to halt the spread. Testing combined with quarantine rules halts the spread and this should have been mandated from the very beginning. Testing is the holy grail to stopping this virus.

Instead, we ignored testing as a means to halt the spread and mistakenly put vaccines way out in front as the “Holy Grail”. We can see how well that has worked. Omicron is spreading like wildfire even though 60% of the U.S. population is now vaccinated.

I’ll even venture to guess that once we reach an 85% vaccination rate, we’ll still see COVID spread like wildfire among the vaccinated. The symptoms may be more mild, but spread is still possible among the vaccinated. Right now, the news media is playing the “unvaccinated” card as the reason for the spread. Eventually, they’ll no longer be able to play this card to explain away the latest surge after vaccination rates reach the suggested “herd immunity” minimum level.

Testing in Schools

Testing goes for schools, too. Each morning, a parent should be required to run a test kit on their child. The school nurse should then be required to review each student’s test for negative or positive results. If a child tests positive, they go home and stay home. Any child who has had immediate contact with that positive child also goes home to quarantine. No child will be allowed to attend a school if they test positive for the day or if they have had immediate contact with someone who has tested positive.

The same goes for teachers and staff. Every morning, these employees must also perform a test before they can report to work. If a teacher or staff tests positive, they’re sent home to quarantine.

As I said, the only way to halt the spread is to mandate testing at every single entry point to public spaces and reject those who test positive. If the person cannot or is unwilling to show a negative test result for that day, then they must be required to have a test performed immediately or be barred from entry. Refusing to test is the same to testing positive and the person will be refused entry.

We halt this virus through the use of policies including policies for testing, policies against belligerence and entry refusal policies. The more we do this, the faster we can burn this virus out. If the virus cannot propagate, it cannot survive. With mandated testing and strict entry controls, we can halt this virus in its tracks. There is ultimately no other way.

Schools Staying Open

If parents wish schools to stay open, then the only means by which this can be done is utilizing the testing method described above. That means test providers need to drastically ramp up production of instant test kits so that any school, restaurant, store or stadium can require that every person test negative immediately prior to entry. Testing applies to both the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike. No one is given a ‘pass’. A positive test = no entry… period. No discussion. You go home and stay home until your test shows negative.

This also follows for schools. Students who test positive go home. Students who test negative can remain in class. This is the only method by which schools can also remain open. We cannot rely on supposition that because students have fewer problems when infected that it’s somehow okay to keep the school open. Infection = spreading. Spreading = mass spreading. Mass spreading = pandemic continues and more deaths.

We all want this pandemic to end. We can’t have that if schools remain open without appropriate testing of students prior to entry. If schools wish to remain open, they must adopt a test-before-entry protocol to allow or deny entry based on immediately prior test results. While the vaccines help keep us out of the hospital after infection, testing is the key to ending this pandemic once and for all… not only in schools, but in every large public venue.

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Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Posted in botch, entertainment, movies, reviews, storytelling by commorancy on December 22, 2021

theriseofskywalkerUsually, I write reviews and analysis immediately after I see a film. Well, I have to be honest, I did just see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker recently. You might be wondering why that is? Well, let’s explore.

Obligatory Note: This review contains major *spoilers*. Stop reading now if you haven’t seen this film.

Rewarding Poor Business Decisions

I’m not one to necessarily boycott businesses, but with Star Wars I’ve made an exception. I boycotted seeing the film in the theater and I, likewise, boycotted paying money to see it at any rental venue. The reason I saw it last weekend is because finally a channel has released an on-demand version that’s included with something I already pay for.

To be honest, Disney will get a small amount of money from me watching it via on-demand. It’s called the pay-for-play royalty system. That means that every time someone plays it, Disney will derive some amount of money from the playback (probably 10-25¢ at most). I’m okay with that because that’s about what it’s worth. Though, I don’t have to pay directly. I refuse to reward companies for producing crap. I simply won’t do it. I know that this paragraph’s sentiment is entirely brutal… but hey, that’s part of the review.

Retroactive Continuity Bonanza

Congratulations! You’ve hit the Retcon Bonanza! One thing about applying retroactive continuity (retcon) to a story line is that it’s fairly obvious. See, the thing is, retcon runs all through Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in very blatant and obvious ways. I already knew going into The Rise of Skywalker that it would be chock full of retroactive continuity.

So what’s wrong with retconning a story? Let me count the ways.

  1. Trite
  2. Cliché
  3. Poor writing
  4. Bad planning
  5. Bad storytelling
  6. Contrived
  7. Unsatisfying

Great storytelling sets up little bits and pieces all along the way. Then brings those bits and pieces together at the end in a cohesive way to explain why those seemingly unrelated bits and pieces were included. It’s a standard storytelling practice that shows the writer had planning of forethought when crafting their story.

It’s also an immensely satisfying storytelling practice. If you’re an astute observer, you can put these foreshadowing pieces together early to conclude what’s about to occur. If storytellers are too obvious with their clues, it makes guessing the ending too easy. For example, many people were able to easily guess the premise of M. Night Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense, when the ending was all but revealed by four words of dialogue spoken very early in the film. However, this situation also depended heavily on whether you believed the visuals of the film or you chose to believe the spoken words. It also means the writers concocted a poorly conceived clue delivery system. It should have been way more subtle than that. In fact, those words shouldn’t have been uttered until much later in the film.

That’s not the case with The Rise of Skywalker, though. With this film, it wasn’t a matter of clumsy clues. It was the fact that no clues were given at all, not in The Force Awakens and not in The Last Jedi where it makes much more sense to leave these clues behind.

Emperor Palpatine

Palpatine was the primary villain in the first 3 Star Wars films. He was dispatched at the end of Return of the Jedi by being dropped down a power shaft. This villain was firmly dead. However, The Rise of Skywalker latches onto this story context for all that its worth. That, and cloning.

The thing is, Attack of the Clones wasn’t really referenced… or more specifically, Kamino. Specifically mentioning this planet somewhere along the way, such as earlier in The Force Awakens would have set up the notion of cloning as a possibility somewhere in the story. For example, if Snoke had been found to be a clone based on DNA testing or something similar after he’d been chopped in half in The Last Jedi, that would have explained what was said by Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker. Yet, no such reference in either of the first two films exists.

As an another example, even the simple act of dropping Palpatine’s name in any small kind of way, such as mentioning the similarity to Snoke’s villainy. Even simple name dropping can open whole doors up later and it’s those kinds of clues that avoid retroactive continuity problems. Simple name dropping Palpatine or Kamino or Cloners in any capacity along the way in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi would have been enough to prove the writers were thinking about closure of the story at the beginning of it.

Instead, the writers and filmmakers were so self-absorbed in their own self-indulgence that they couldn’t even consider such prior setup in the writing of the first two installments.

To be honest, this is really the fault of J.J. Abrams. He had the task of opening the storyline in The Force Awakens, but fails to really give a hint at what’s to come. Hints and clues are what make great stories. It’s called foreshadowing and it’s an incredibly impressive storytelling tactic when it’s done correctly. When it’s not done at all, then it’s called retroactive continuity… or building a new story by making up establishing facts instantly rather than relying on clues laid down earlier.

Sure, the original films and the prequels had information that could be leveraged, but not in a way that would be seen as clues for Disney’s trilogy. You don’t just pull crap out of the air and hope people somehow magically get the reference. Proper build-up is essential to a story. Without it, it makes a story fail.

Palpatine Again!?

When Palpatine is, again, introduced as “the man behind the curtain” in The Rise of Skywalker, it’s groan time… ugh! I’m thinking, “Not again”. Can’t these guys think up anything original? At least there wasn’t yet a third Death Star… at least we’ve made some progress, I guess. Not much, though.

Bringing Palpatine back to life without really so much as an explanation is such a bad storytelling idea that it makes the rest of the story feel like garbage. You either believe Palpatine is back or you don’t. The worst thing about Palpatine is that he stands there like a statue and simply taunts people with words. Granted, in Return of the Jedi, he was also fairly catatonic. Though, he did get up and walk around a little. In this film, he’s a literal statue standing in one spot the entire time spouting platitudes. It’s his same old tired self-assured, over-confident, self-righteous Sith rhetoric about eliminating the Jedi. He died for those same clichéd thoughts in The Return of the Jedi. Has he learned nothing? You’d think that after his first death at the hands of Vader, he’d be a little more cautious and wiser the second time around. Yet, *crickets*.

The storytellers don’t give Palpatine an ounce of credit as intelligent or thoughtful. The man is made out to be as dumb as brick. Seriously, after Palpatine’s trip down the power conduit, you’d think he’d rethink his over-confident, self-assured, self-righteous threatening demeanor and, instead, try something new. Nope.

Snoke

You might also want to point to Snoke as an example of that, but then you’d be wrong because Snoke was summarily chopped in half midway through The Last Jedi. That was that for Snoke. It’s one thing to use Snoke as a puppet, but it’s clear that that puppet failed utterly to its own demise. Stupid Villains!

Just to make it perfectly clear, none of the above was mentioned anywhere in The Last Jedi. Again, no such clues were left behind for bringing it all together in the end. Nope. No where was it mentioned that Snoke was a puppet of Palpatine, though a clue should have been left somewhere in TLJ if not by Snoke himself. For example, a quick scene where we see Snoke nodding to a shadowy figure in a cloak which fades out followed by Snoke going directly into communication with Ben. That would have been something.

Of course, in Star Wars revisionist tendencies, Disney may go back into both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi and retrofit dialog, extra scenes and whatnot to shoehorn these clues…. which is an even worse practice than what they did in the contrived storytelling in The Rise of Skywalker. Revisionism has no place in movies, let alone Star Wars films. To be honest, what George Lucas did with his revisionism was add better FX and reintroduce scenes that he wanted, but those changes didn’t fundamentally alter the storyline and were not introduced to ‘fix’ a story problem for a later film.

No, George’s stories were solid from the beginning, so the stories didn’t need ‘fixing’.

Disney Hires Crap Writers

Part of the problem here is that Disney doesn’t have a clue how to run a live action film business, nor exactly what a good live action script is. Disney comes from an animation background. The stories in Disney’s animated films have been simplistic and intended for children.

For some reason, Disney thought they could insinuate themselves into a live action movie business and have those films turn out great. Well, it’s clear, that’s not true.

No where is that more apparent than in how the stories for the Disney Trilogy were handled. The first mistake was hiring J.J. Abrams to write these films. Instead, Disney should have hired actual film writers with experience in writing. Before that, they should have hired actual story writers to come up with the overall story arc encompassing the three films prior to embarking on filming them. This would have meant that going into each film there was an outline of the necessary elements needed to craft each film’s story which would support the rest.

The director might take some liberties in some areas around portions of the story telling, but the required story elements must be included for the entire story arc to work. This would have also meant that all three films were essentially written up-front. Instead, Disney apparently allowed the writers of each film to craft their own story in pre-production for each film. Basically, the films were made up at the time of each production.

This isn’t a recipe for success. In fact, it’s a recipe for failure. It’s exactly why J.J. Abrams Alias and Lost series failed to ultimately work. The stories were “made up” as they went along rather than attempting to at least write an overarching story outline that encompasses the entire season. Each story doesn’t need to be written, but certain specific points must be included in the season to reach the conclusion properly. Without such inserted clues, the conclusion absolutely cannot be satisfying… and so it goes with Lost. Lost‘s conclusion was such an awful mess that not only did it make no sense, what little pieces did try to make sense were awful. It was like watching a train wreck unfold.

So then, Disney hires this two-bit hack to pen Star Wars? Here’s a guy who can’t even write two TV series properly and yet Disney hires him for Star Wars? Yeah, I could see this wasn’t going to end well… and so it goes.

Endings

Speaking of things not ending well, let’s continue with The Rise of Skywalker and its ending. Disney would have been smarter to leave a thread open that could be followed up with a new trilogy. Instead, Disney, and more specifically, J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy were so focused on damage control that they forgot to add intentional cliffhangers leading into a new series of films. However, I believe at the time the film was being created, damage control was the primary means of closure for the The Rise of Skywalker storyline.

With that said, the ending is simultaneously satisfying and disappointing. On the surface, it’s a satisfying conclusion to this series of films. Diving deeper, the entire story is incredibly unsatisfying, thus leaving the conclusion disenchanting. The whole shoehorn-this-story-into-a-Palpatine-issue is deeply distasteful. Not only does it ruin the thought that Palpatine is, in fact, dead, it does so in a way that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and simultaneously leaves a gaping hole open as wide as the Grand Canyon.

The original Palpatine was shrewd, cunning and incredibly intelligent. Yet, this film treats Palpatine as one of the dumbest villains to have ever graced the Star Wars universe. Granted, the Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker is supposed to be a clone. I suppose one could argue that the cloning process dumbs down its clones unintentionally (or even intentionally). The Kaminoan cloners might have seeded its clones so that they would never become aggressive towards Kamino, thus dumbing them down in other ways. It would make sense for the Kaminoans to protect Kamino from its clones turning on its masters or on the world. This argument could be said of all of the Clone Troopers. Yet, this fact has never been established in canon outright.

Palpatine, the original, would have also known and understood this dumbing down limitation of Kamino Clones and probably would have attempted to mitigate it long before it became a problem. Yet, it seems that didn’t happen based on clone Palpatine’s overall dumb self-righteous behavior. This cloned Palpatine is one of the least intelligent villains I’ve yet seen in a Star Wars film, save that perhaps Snoke was likely also a clone considering that Palpatine claims to have “made Snoke” (implying a clone).

Whether Palpatine used Kamino to produced the clones or if Palpatine bought and established his own cloning technology separately, it’s not really stated. Watching this film, I assumed that all of the cloning occurred on Kamino… or at least, Kamino cloning technology was utilized by Palpatine even if not cloned directly on Kamino.

I know that Palpatine suggested bringing the dead back to life in the prequel Revenge of the Sith (which was lightly referenced in The Rise of Skywalker). Don’t take my word for it. Here’s the conversation from Palpatine himself.

This platitude by Palpatine may have been a veiled reference to cloning or to an unseen force power or both, which by the time of this scene, the world of Kamino and its technology had been established by the prequel, Attack of the Clones. Of course, this information wasn’t definitively stated in The Rise of Skywalker or even in Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith. The information in The Rise of Skywalker was all left to the audience to put 2 and 2 together and theorize Palpatine was talking about cloning and/or the conversation above. If you hadn’t watched the prequels before seeing The Rise of Skywalker, you wouldn’t be able to correlate this information, leaving the means by which Palpatine reappears as a mystery that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and isn’t resolved in the narrative.

What this all means for the ending is a somewhat convoluted, complex, yet simpleminded ending. In fact, the ending was so simpleminded and single tracked, it was easy to predict the outcome.

Is It Over?

This is a lingering question that remains. If there’s one clone, there can be many. Did Rey fight the last and final clone? We don’t know. This is the gaping hole the size of the Grand Canyon. If it took Rey to the point of death to kill one single clone, then fighting any more means she probably won’t succeed in killing any others. After all, she won’t have Ben there to give her his remaining life force and bring her back to life again.

For the reason of clones, the ending is entirely unsatisfying. Once you open this story door to clones (plural), it’s a never ending cycle. You simply can’t win against potentially thousands of Palpatine clones strewn throughout the Star Wars galaxy. This is why the ending is simultaneously satisfying at face value and completely unsatisfying when you dig deeper.

Cheap Cop Out

Ultimately, the two main problems in this story stem from relying on the concept of cloning combined with using a duplicate (cloned) Palpatine to carry this story. Out of thousands of better possible ideas, JJ chose these two weakest and most trite ideas over any others? This simply shows just how inept a writer JJ actually is. Though, the “Mary Sue” idea was almost completely squashed by introducing the “Palpatine’s Granddaughter” idea. My problem with the ending of this story is, why did we miss a generation? In fact, the whole “Palpatine having children” storyline could have been a far better story idea to base this final set of films on over what’s included in this mess of a trilogy. Definitely, the “Palpatine having children” story idea is a far, far superior story in establishing the idea of the carrying forward of the Sith vs Jedi conflict over the mess-of-a-story shown in this bankrupt trilogy. This is particularly true if you truly want to hand off this conflict to a new generation of Sith and Jedi. Unfortunately, JJ has already given away the farm.

Following the “Palpatine had Children” idea, when did Palpatine procreate and with whom? Why wasn’t it THIS story that begins these final 3 films? If, as a storyteller, you’re going to tease us that Palpatine had children, then we need to know more about this situation. Who was his “wife”? How many children did Palpatine have? Was Rey an only child? Have these children chosen to be dark or light? None of these questions are answered. They’re left open. JJ’s story elements weren’t added to tell us that Palpatine had children. They were useless contrivances included simply to carry The Rise of Skywalker to conclusion. These contrivances are the very definition of retroactive continuity, “Let’s add something random about the past that lets the future proceed in a specific way.” That’s entirely retroactive contrivance

If past historical events had been introduced early in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, I’d not be critical of these “convenient” story elements included in The Rise of Skywalker. It would have meant that the writers were thinking ahead to the future film. It also means that the story arc was properly planned. Without these elements in any prior films, it’s included for mere convenient storytelling. It’s also the very definition of a “hack writer“.

Palpatine’s Children

Before we dive deep into the the “hack writer” concept, let’s explore what we could have had in this final trilogy. Oh, and boy is it a doozy! It’s actually hard to believe that JJ chose not to run with this story idea, which would have made the final trilogy not only completely satisfying, but would have opened the door up to so many more films and TV shows. Disney could have made twice the amount of money off of this (and it would still be going) and the Star Wars brand would be stronger than ever instead of petering out after The Last Jedi ended up like dropping a gallon of water on lit candle.

If The Force Awakens had opened, instead, using one of Palpatine’s children as a primary villain with that child obviously dark side leaning, the whole tone and concept of this entire trilogy would have completely changed. Talk about introducing a “new generation”, well this was the way to do it! It would have also changed the entire story concept over these three films. Instead of a Mary Sue story unfolding around Rey, we could have focused on the brashness, harshness and destructiveness of a Palpatine child and in a growing Jedi order to combat that new Palpatine threat.

Except, this time it’s not Palpatine. It’s the child of Palpatine and they have a completely new idea on how to squash the Jedi order, not using Palpatine’s old, tired rhetoric… that didn’t work anyway.

If Palpatine had had more than one child, which of course we knew nothing about those other children, another child could emerge as a conflict mechanism, both against the Jedi and also against the Sith. This would allow the story to pit both Palpatine children against one another, but at the same time against the Jedi. See, so much potential lost!

This could have turned Star Wars a bit darker, more modern, updated, yet still fall within Star Wars ideas and visuals. Instead of the crappy Disney trilogy that we got, which was a bunch of cotton candy fluff, we could have dived deep into a darker, more sinister plot involving Palpatine’s children. Snoke could have still been involved as a puppet of this Palpatine child, but we don’t even have to bring back Palpatine as a clone to accomplish it. We simply need this dark side leaning child to “carry the torch”.

So many ideas and so any concepts swirling, it’s amazing JJ didn’t realize that THIS is where the story should have headed… not with his carnival of cotton candy and candied apples. JJ’s trilogy was, in fact, so candy-bar sweet as to get diabetes. No, that’s not where Star Wars needed to go. Star Wars needed to begin with a darker, more sinister villain to launch the story, then slowly emerge (over 3 films) from that darkness with a huge win at the end… a win that perhaps doesn’t even stem from the Jedi. Such a win could then lead into not only more films, but also spin off into a whole bunch of TV series.

Disney missed the boat here in an immense way. So much potential completely wasted and lost.

Hack Writer

A hack writer is a pejorative term for a writer who is paid to write low-quality, rushed articles or books “to order”, often with a short deadline.

That’s exactly how J.J. Abrams comes to The Rise of Skywalker. He was most definitely paid to write a rushed low-quality script and the film most definitely reveals that. It also reveals that JJ doesn’t have the creative chops to come up with solid, great story ideas and concepts, such as using a Palpatine child to not only bring Star Wars to a brand new generation of children, but also breed a whole new generation of Sith and Jedi alike. Instead, we got…

High Gloss Cotton Candy

One of the things that most disturbs me about this film is its high gloss nature. This gloss defines the term putting “lipstick on a pig“. This phrase means taking a low quality, bad product and dressing it up to disguise its fundamental failings.

The “gloss” here is the film’s far too quick pacing and the overuse of CG effects, right from the opening. Yes, it’s a pretty film. It also includes throwing random and rapid paced information at the viewer, but not giving the person not enough time to react to that information. If the viewer attempts to think anything through, they’ll miss the next scene of the film. This is intentional. You can’t really go into deep thought and stay focused on the film in front of you. You can only go into deep thought after the film is over, at which point you’ll already be initially “satisfied” (or at least sated) by the film’s intended conclusion.

However, thinking the film through, you’ll understand all of the points I’ve made above.

That’s the whole point of the “glossy coating” and, thus, to put “lipstick on a pig”. It’s not that the story is the worst story I’ve ever seen in a film, but it’s definitely not a great story by any stretch. It was cobbled together from elements not established in this trilogy. Instead, the story had to fall back on story elements established from the prequels and the original films, but which hadn’t been discussed in this trilogy until the final film. Yes, that’s the very definition of a “Cop Out”.

Instead, this trilogy should have relied on itself and its own stories to carry its way through to conclusion. It didn’t need a cloned Palpatine to carry this story. That’s perfectly clear. Here’s one of the primary problems I have with this whole cloned Palpatine issue. How and when did Palpatine become cloned? Is someone else pulling the strings? Was that cloned Palpatine merely a test for Rey? Was it merely the first in a series of tests? Was that clone the only one?

So many questions left unanswered. So many questions that needed to be answered for a proper conclusion. Yet, no. These are not “cliffhanger” questions. These are fundamental questions which should have been answered over the course of the Disney trilogy, yet were not. To really underscore the Cop Out problem, we must examine…

The Last Jedi

The closing shot of the kid in the The Last Jedi shows a force capable child. Yet, The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t even attempt to close that narrative. The ring that Finn and Rose bestow onto that kid meant nothing? The whole almost 30 minute romp through the Casino was pointless? Indeed, it means the whole Rose storyline was more-or-less pointless considering they set up an almost blatant new romantic interest in The Rise of Skywalker in Naomi Ackie’s Jannah character. Yet, neither the romantic storyline between either Rose or Jannah materializes in The Rise of Skywalker. Rose has a few scenes in the Leia camp, but it’s all for naught and is a fairly useless means of closure for this character. Set her up in The Last Jedi to be a romantic interest, then ignore Rose as mere wallpaper in The Rise of Skywalker. The interest around Rose was molded into yet another new character of Jannah.

Yes, The Rise of Skywalker trounces all over The Last Jedi in an attempt right-its-wrongs for better or worse. More specifically, The Rise of Skywalker simply chooses to ignore those things it deems as unimportant from the previous film. Examples: the force-capable kid, the Casino romp, Rose and even the ring. Whatever The Rise of Skywalker writers deem as unimportant are left without acknowledgement or conclusion. Indeed, The Rise of Skywalker plays too much fan service and not enough at closing elements already opened in prior films.

It wouldn’t have taken much to include a small scene showing that force-capable kid wearing the ring somewhere in The Rise of Skywalker. It doesn’t need to be a long or even important scene, it simply needs to be in there. Maybe a scene between Rey and that kid moving rocks around briefly, as though she or Leia is training him. We don’t need to know more about the kid other than he’s still around and he may or may not become important later, just not in this film.

Change of Clothing

One of the most obvious and out of place elements is that Rey wears the same outfit and hairstyle throughout much of all three films. At least Leia was given proper costume changes along the way including her film’s iconic opening outfit with buns, her braided pony tail ceremonial outfit at the end of Episode 4, her Hoth ice outfit, her Bespin outfit, her ever important Jabba Bikini and so on. With each new environment, she changes clothing. No, it’s not explained how Leia does this, but she does.

Rey, on the other hand, almost never changes clothes. She effectively has two outfits. Her scavenger outfit which she wore in The Force Awakens and again in The Rise of Skywalker. In The Last Jedi, the costumers gave her a new darker outfit and a new hairstyle while on the Luke Skywalker banishment planet, but that was a short stint with that outfit. However, once she leaves, she’s back into yet another version of her scavenger outfit. For battling, I guess that outfit is fine, but you’d think that Leia could have issued her more appropriate resistance clothing along the way. For scavenging on a hot planet, what she was originally wearing was fine. For a resistance member, she should have changed into something more befitting of her new role. Additionally, being a budding Jedi, she should have at least donned more Jedi befitting clothing. Nope, she was placed right back into her scavenger outfit all throughout The Rise of Skywalker, even at the end of the film.

This is a small point, but it’s a relevant point to the development of a character. The costumes indicate growth of a character as much as her actions and words.

Story

After all of this lead up, let’s finally talk about the film’s story as a whole. The story itself is both simplistic and meh. It concludes in a way that leaves a bad taste for Star Wars and for Disney in general. Because hack writers were chosen to not create a cohesive whole, but a chopped up mess of a hack-job over three films which almost have no relation to one another other than characters, it ends up a truly sad affair. It also concludes in this way.

However, Disney also felt obligated to conclude this problem child. They did so only because they had started down this road and felt the need to finish it. Personally, I think Disney should have shelved the entire project after The Last Jedi and called it done. The whole thing was too irreparably damaged by that point, at least as a creative project. For Disney, the dollar $igns lingered too much in front of someone’s eyes to give it up.

Let’s talk about the film itself. When we begin The Rise of Skywalker, we’re greeted by the familiar text crawl followed by the familiar and obligatory space pan shot. Before we step into the visuals, let’s talk about this text crawl. The text crawl mentions Palpatine by name and that he’s back, never mind those pesky details of exactly how. Basically, the story opens with retroactive continuity before an actor ever graces the silver screen. We already know the lay of the land before one single actual live action shot. From that crawl alone, we now know exactly what we’re in for in The Rise of Skywalker, but we don’t yet know how it will unfold. Though, giving it two minutes of thought, you can understand where the story is heading, we simply need to see it visually.

How it actually ends up playing out is a series of scenes, the Millenium Falcon, a cameo by a now aging Lando Calrissian and a bunch of throwbacks and nods to the original Star Wars, simply to keep the visual interest high. In other words, visually the film relies almost solely on reminiscing over the original three films by attempting to ignore the failings of The Last Jedi specifically, but also glosses over some of The Force Awakens. The Rise of Skywalker attempts to be the one and only one film that matters in this Disney trilogy. In fact, it tries way too hard at this and ultimately feels hollow and disappointing.

It’s a film that feels whole and solid while you watch it, but like a chocolate Easter Bunny once you bite down and realize it’s hollow, the film ultimately lacks any real reason to exist. For this reason, this is why George Lucas decided not to create films 7, 8 and 9 himself. He realized that once the 6 films were complete, there was nothing left to say.

The Rise of Skywalker proves this fact out in amazing abundance. At the end, we’re left not with the question about how great Rey is, but what the hell just happened? More importantly, what was the point? How exactly does Rey’s existence perpetuate the Star Wars narrative in a positive or useful way? Rey is clearly not a Skywalker. She’s a Palpatine. She’ll always be a Palpatine. She’ll always have the potential for falling into the dark side. Yet, she takes the Skywalker name because, plot.

Was it necessary or important for Rey to be a Skywalker? *shrug* I’ve no idea. There’s nothing that comes after to explain the need for this inexplicable naming. Yet, that’s exactly how the story ends. She’s now Rey Skywalker in name only. She’ll always be Rey Palpatine or whatever her father’s family surname was. We don’t even know if it was her father or mother who was the daughter or son of Emperor Palpatine. For all we know, Palpatine didn’t even have a child. Instead, he may have made a clone of himself who ultimately broke away, got married and had a child. We just don’t have enough backstory to know how this whole Rey situation came about.

We came too late in The Force Awakens to get this backstory. It was also never explained throughout the Disney trilogy. We’re simply left in the dark. Even at the very end of The Rise of Skywalker, we’re still left in the dark about how Rey came to be the granddaughter of Palpatine. Bad storytelling. If you’re planning on including retroactive continuity, you could at least fill in these rather important details so we can better understand how and from where Rey came… or, more specifically, how Emperor Palpatine managed to have kids. We don’t even know if Palpatine’s kids were from the “original” Palpatine or if one of Palpatine’s clones had kids. Yes, I said clones… as in the plural form, meaning “more than one”.

Ben and Rey

One thing that The Rise of Skywalker postulates is that Rey and Ben are a force dyad. The only way that’s possible is if Ben and Rey are twins, or at least from the same parent. That implies that Leia may have given birth to twins (like her mother who also had twins Luke and Leia) and somehow Rey was kidnapped by a Palpatine clone and assumed it to be his own child birthed by, well, whomever was on the ship with Rey whenever she was left on Jakku.

Again, this was not explained in the film, but a force dyad doesn’t make much sense unless they’re siblings or, in some way related… which makes that kiss at the end all the more “ewww”. Again, not explained.

Never Ending Ending

Here’s the ultimate problem that exists and persists after closure of The Rise of Skywalker and it’s a big one! An ending that never ends is what we have left over from The Rise of Skywalker. What exactly do I mean? I mean that because Palpatine is a clone, there were likely many Palpatine clones. If Palpatine were to make one clone, he would make several. Why? To ensure the survival of at least one of the clones, there must be many.

The question remains, how many and where are they? We don’t know. Clearly, Rey seems to have fought a particularly weak clone. Perhaps they’re all weak. The fact that they’re clones, they might not have inherited all of the force strength of the original. Because Rey couldn’t defeat this Palpatine clone all by herself implies that she herself was most likely born of a clone and not the original Palpatine. While that may or may not be a problem, the bigger problem is that the ending of The Rise of Skywalker has no end.

As Rey heads off into the galaxy for future travels, she’ll inevitably encounter more Palpatine clones and she’ll be forced to dispatch each and every one. In fact, it’s highly likely she’ll have to dispatch many Palpatine clones, because like the original Palpatine, even the clones will have the drive to survive and those clones will also hire cloners to clone the clone making yet more Palpatines. Like a virus, this situation perpetuates and never ends. Rey will never run out of an army of Palpatines to defeat.

This is the problem you bring into a story when forcing such concepts as clones as a story element for story closure. Like waking up from a dream sequence as an ending, using clones to close the final story element leaves the story’s ending unsatisfying. There’s nothing at all satisfying about the possibility of hundreds or thousands of Palpatines all infesting the universe waiting to attack the next Jedi that happens along.

See, I didn’t even have to resort to holding up the unmitigated pretentious disaster of a story that was J.J.’s Star Trek to illustrate just how much of a hack writer J.J. Abrams really is. Oops, I guess I just did. Yes indeed, J.J. seems to have the uncanny ability to ruin just about any franchise he touches.

Graphics: 5 out of 5
Story: 1 out of 5
Pacing: 2 out of 5
Overall: 2 out of 5 (wait until it’s available to watch without paying)

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