Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Should I buy a Sony PS5?

Posted in tips, video game console, video gaming by commorancy on February 18, 2020

ds4-gamingI know that the purchase of a PlayStation 5 is a burning question on every console gamer’s mind. Let’s explore.

PS4 Launch

To help begin to answer this burning 🔥 question, we’ll need to take a look back at the PS4’s 2013 launch. When the PS4 was first launched, it was absolutely the most bare bones basic console imaginable. Consider that both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 already had tremendous feature sets included at that point. Taking a jump into the PS4 felt like taking a huge leap backwards in time. When the PS4 launched, there was no Hulu, no Netflix, no apps of any real note, no browser and a barely functional store with literally nothing to see. It was so disheartening to turn on my brand new “day one” PS4 console only and find it such a barren wasteland.

What was in the PS4 store was limited to but a handful of game titles which you likely already owned. While all of this “lite” aspect of the PS4 would only last for a longish period of time, many of the features that eventually became standard on the PS3 never even materialized on the PS4 (i.e. CD ripping). Additionally, some common standards we take for granted today have likewise never made it to the PS4.

Bluetooth

For example, the prevailing Bluetooth headphone profile (AVRCP) has never made it into the PS4. You simply can’t go buy a standard set of Bluetooth stereo headphones (or a speaker) and use them on a PS4 without purchasing additional add-ons. The only Bluetooth headset standard adopted by Sony for the PS4 is the backwards and unrealistic HSP standard… a standard that almost no headphones manufacturers actually support. This fact forces you into buying Sony’s expensive dongle-based wireless headphones rather than using Bluetooth headphones you likely already own.

To this day, Sony has STILL not implemented the widely used AVRCP headphone and speaker profile on the PS4. If you wish to use this standard, you must do it by connecting another costly device to a PS4 output port, such as relying your TV’s audio system, an external amplifier connected via HDMI, the optical out port or by using dongles attached to the DualShock controller. It all ends up a kludgy hackjob that Sony could have resolved (and avoided) simply by updating their system software to support AVRCP … possibly even a fairly simple change to their operating system.

First Six Months

You may be thinking the six months that I am talking about applies to the PS5. In fact, I’m discussing the PS4’s first six months after launch. For the 12 months after the PS4’s lackluster launch, there remained a drought of not only apps, but name brand video games. In fact, applications were entirely non-existent, save a handful of Sony only apps. Only but a handful of launch titles kept the PS4 afloat for the first 9-12 months after launch. The PS4 remained a fairly barren wasteland other than for those first few launch titles.

After my first six months of owning a PS4, I ended up putting the system down and not using it for at least another 8 months before the next game arrived that I wanted to play. I literally couldn’t use the console because of the lack of applications. As I said, there was no Netflix, no Hulu and no Amazon Prime Video. These apps have since launched on the console, but it took ages before they finally arrived… and by ages, I mean at least 12-15 months. It was an exceedingly long amount of time before these apps fully arrived on the PS4.

Before these apps arrived, the PS4 became an exceedingly expensive paperweight. Literally months passed when I didn’t turn the PS4 on because I had completed playthroughs of all of the launch titles and there was literally nothing else to do with the console. I couldn’t watch TV. I couldn’t listen to music. I couldn’t rip music to the hard drive. I couldn’t even watch Netflix. It was a useless paperweight. This forced me to return to using my PS3 and Xbox 360 because at least Netflix and other apps were available there, along with some of my ripped music.

Looking Forward

Looking 9-10 months from this article’s publication date, Sony expects the PS5 will take the world by storm. In fact, I highly recommend not purchasing the first incarnation of the PS5. Why? Because you’ll end up finding yourself in the same exact boat as I did with the PS4. No apps, nothing to use it for after consuming the launch titles. It will become a heavy and expensive paperweight for those first 12 months. Sure, you can play the launch titles again, but that wears thin!

I’m near certain that Sony will have spent their time readying the hardware, not wooing developers to write apps (or even games) or in making their OS stable. When the PS5 does launch, it will be just as lean and lite as was the PS4. It’s pretty much guaranteed given Sony’s track record with new console introductions.

A year or two after launch, the PS5 will have all of the apps and alternative uses. But, for the first 12 months, it will likely be a paperweight for at least half of that time. In the PS5’s case, this problem might last even longer.

Don’t expect to be able to use the PS5 as a music device or anything similar for months. Plex, a home media sharing app, probably won’t appear until well after the 12 month mark. Even on the PS4, the Sony Media app took months to finally appear before you could even use DLNA. There was no DLNA support on the PS4 for over 6 months after launch. I’d fully expect the exact same problem with the PS5’s launch.

Considering that Sony is having trouble sourcing components for its PS5s, this situation seems to have driven up the price tag of the PS5. In fact, the first release of a new console is always the most expensive. After Sony can wrap its head around where and how it can trim component costs, how it can merge components and see the same functionality and when it can trim components not needed, it won’t be able to reduce the cost of the PS5.

Worse, the first console release is always the worst of the bunch. Within 6-12 months, Sony always releases an updated hardware version that is better than its initial release version. It’s always worth waiting to buy the second version rather than investing in a “day one” system that will have little use and be the most expensive, least useful version. If you’re a “must have every first edition”, then by all means buy it. However, if you’re buying it as a gamer for the gaming utility of the console, then it’s well worth waiting through this “awkward” phase… which lasts at least 12 months after a console’s launch.

Launch Titles

Sony always readies one major game title that seems to be “must play”, to get people enticed to buy into their new console. The difficulty is that that game is not going anywhere. Day one releases can be fun to play, but more recently they can be a chore to play considering all of the “day one” bugs.

With the PS5’s version 1.0 operating system coupled with version 1.0 versions of the launch games, you’re looking at a major amount of bugs. In fact, you’re looking at far too many bugs. It will take Sony to release the 2.0 version of the operating system before I’d feel comfortable enough to say Sony has even the smallest handle on its bugs. Even the PS4’s OS at version 7 still has bugs. With the PS5’s 1.0 OS version, you are guaranteed to have day one bugs requiring a huge day one patch.

While the operating system bugs may not be too bad at times, you have no idea what the game developers have in store for us. What that means is that these big, bold games may turn into big, bugged games. Games that they may not see bugs resolved until Sony updates their operating system. Even then, 1.01 and 1.02 won’t be great OS versions either. While a 1.5 version might be somewhat better, it’s guaranteed it still won’t be great.

Applications

In addition to all of the bugs, the PS5 isn’t likely to have very many apps at all, if any. Sony’s apps like Crackle and PlayStation’s own subscription services may be present, but apps like Spotify, Pandora, Hulu, Netflix and similar are highly likely to be absent for the first several months. This means that besides gaming and possibly playing Blu-ray movies, there’ll be very little to do with the console. This assumes they plan on releasing Blu-ray and not forcing the console all digital.

Further, apps are a huge part of all computing ecosystems today. Releasing a console without third party apps could be the death of sales for the PS5. In 2013, apps were a thing just coming into their own. Sony’s misstep in 2013 wasn’t that devastating for them. The PS4 still sold respectable numbers.

Releasing a console today without apps on day one may become the death of the console (at least for a while). I’m fairly certain that Sony is more worried about getting the console out to the door than how many third party apps will be available on Day One, just as they did with the PS4.

Buyer Beware

When buying anything, “Buyer Beware” is always the motto that rules. Sony is no exception to this rule. They are just as likely to rope you into a purchase, where you’ll find maybe one or two games that last you a month or two of play. But then what do you do with the PS5 after that? You wait until something else is released. You wait until apps are released. In short, you wait.

If you’re going to be waiting for stuff to appear, you might as well use that money for other purposes and wait without making a purchase. Buy a PS4 and use it. It already has a huge game library. It already has apps. It already has much of what the PS5 won’t have. The PS4 will remain a viable console for at least 1-2 more years even after the PS5’s release.

Wait and See

Sony could resolve all of this if the PS5 also offers a full PS4 compatibility mode. This means that all of the PS4 apps and games can work right out of the gate on the PS5. If Sony adopts this, then it may be worth replacing your PS4 with a PS5. However, I don’t trust that Sony will include such a mode. It cost Sony a huge sum of money to include PS2 and PS1 compatibility modes on the PS3. Eventually, it cost Sony so much they had to remove at least the PS2 mode from the PS3. They didn’t even bother to try to include these modes on the PS4.

It’s exceedingly doubtful Sony will spend the time, effort or money in building such costly modes on the PS5 unless they’re basing the PS5 directly off of the PS4. If it’s to be a sub-$500 product like it always has been, Sony simply can’t afford to build in such features. I simply won’t expect to see the PS3 compatibility effort placed into the PS5 when it didn’t even make it to the PS4.

However, Sony could include PS4 game disc and store compatibility features allowing play of existing PS4 games, as long as the hardware is similar enough to the PS4… and it probably is. Unfortunately, I simply wouldn’t expect to see the PS5 offer compatibility modes for the PS3, PS2 or PS1. It would be great to see, but I simply don’t expect Sony to spend the money to include it in a sub-$500 product. Even then, the PS4 compatibility mode might not be available day one. It may be a promised feature that actually arrives months after launch… or possibly not at all. Sony has changed their minds about features in the past.

Professional Console

If Sony were to price out a “Pro” version of the PS5 at around $1000 or $1500 (a price point that’s way out of line for a console product, I might add), Sony could include such “advanced” features. The problem is that few gamers will spend that amount of cash for such a product. A greater than $1000 price point is the same as an iPhone 11, an iPad Pro or even many notebook computers. A parent is going to find that price tag difficult when comparing it to much more useful and educational computer devices at or close to that price point. That’s a hard pill to swallow solely for a dedicated gaming console. Sony will have to majorly increase the PS5’s usefulness as a generalized computer device and/or portability to make a $1000 or $1500 price point ever become feasible.

As it is now and based on the how the PS4 looks and works, I expect the PS5 to have a similar form factor and function. In fact, I doubt that the PS5’s case will be smaller. It will likely be the same size or larger than the PS4. Larger doesn’t necessarily make a product better.

The PS5 might have an option for a solid state drive (512mb or 1TB) rather than spinning hard drives. But, that’s not really a selling point. It makes the PS5 boot up faster and the games launch faster, but it won’t make the PS5 any cheaper. In fact, adding a solid state drive is very likely to drive the price tag up by a minimum of $50. Knowing Sony’s pricing premiums, however, expect such features to raise the price by at least $100.

Price Point

The PS5’s price point is likely to be its biggest hurdle in adoption. Since Sony has made some waves at potentially breaking with the “tradition” of a sub-$500 price tag, that means I might expect the PS5 to see a price tag of at least $800-900. Games may even see a “standard edition” price increase to $69.99 per game (a price hike of $10 per game). This will further push the “Deluxe” and “Limited” editions of the games up by $10-20.

If Sony attempts to not only raise the console price to nearing the $1000 price point with games nearing the $75 price point, this could further erode sales of consoles… pushing game developers onto more defacto devices, such as the iPad and Samsung tablets. Tablets are far more entrenched and compatible version to version than consoles have ever been. It wouldn’t surprise me to see big developers jump ship from the PS5 and begin porting their games over to iOS and other tablets… leaving the PS5 without much in the way of game developers, much like what happened with the PS Vita.

Sony is playing a dangerous game by mucking with the console’s traditional price point, particularly considering how lean the PS5 is likely to be on day one. Sony will need to seriously consider all of this (and, of course, Microsoft’s console plays) to get this part right.

My Opinion

Considering the PS4’s excessively lean launch and the length of time with which the console was more-or-less useless, I personally endorse waiting for at least 12-18 months for a purchase of a PS5. Don’t buy it in 2020. Buy it in 2021 or after. Why? Because this will give both Sony and the developers time to launch many more game titles and mature their operating system. You can always go back and try the launch titles, but typically the launch titles are never worth playing once better games are released. In fact, the launch titles are mostly looked on as amateur efforts once those more mature games launch, which almost fully utilize the hardware.

For me, I felt entirely betrayed by Sony in 2013, releasing such a uselessly lean console. Because of being burned by Sony, I fully intend to wait until 2021 to buy into a PS5. That will give Sony well enough time to not only work out bugs, but solidify its app ecosystem, add more peripherals, build a video game library and woo developers on board. It will also give time for Spotify, Pandora, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon to embrace the platform and release solid, functional apps. Until that point is reached, for me the purchase of a PS5 is simply a waiting game.

So let’s answer the question, “Should I buy a PS5?” Yes, but not day one. Buy it only after the console has sufficiently matured.

This advice won’t stop YouTubers from buying and reviewing day one editions. They will do it because that’s what they do. That doesn’t make their console purchase smart, but it does make their purchase into channel fodder to rope you in as a viewer. Don’t be fooled by these YouTubers. Just because they bought it doesn’t mean you should.

I’ve told you what I plan to do. Now it’s time for you to sound off and tell me if you intend to wait or if you will buy a PS5 on day one! Let me know below.

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Are contact thermometers spreading the coronavirus?

Posted in advice, Health, medical, personal security by commorancy on February 14, 2020

contact-thermometer2This seems a fairly straightforward question and seems like it should have a fairly straightforward answer. With all sorts of makeshift fever checkpoints being set up to screen for the coronavirus by so many cheapskate companies, it’s definitely a risk. Let’s explore.

Contact Thermometers

What is a contact thermometer? It is an electronic thermometer that looks something like so:

contact-thermometer

These contact thermometers must come into skin contact with the forehead or ear to perform its job. Why is this important to your health? It’s important because many makeshift fever screening zones for the Coronaviris (COVID-19 aka nCoV-19) utilize such low cost contact thermometers to check for fever, but at a severe risk of transmitting it.

Sweat and Transmission

Many people believe that sweat can’t transmit a virus. However, if you’ve got a fever, you’re likely perspiring a little. Even still, that doesn’t make using a contact thermometer an unsafe choice by default. But, it can still spread a virus for other reasons.

When people are asymptomatic (or even symptomatic), they can rub their noses or eyes, then rub or scratch other parts of their faces. This can then rub the virus on other portions of skin. This means that using such a contact thermometer could pick up a latent Coronavirus on a forehead or ear and transmit it to at least the next person that thermometer touches.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to protect yourself from such a screening point unless you turn around and leave or refuse to use their contact thermometer. While in the US, such refusals might be met with some consternation until explained, in a country like China, it might lead to much more drastic action by the authorities.

Amateur Hour

However, those in charge over the setup of these impromptu screening zones and which are forcing the use of contact thermometers (without any sanitary protection) are clearly medically untrained amateurs. A virus is a virus. It transmits like all other cold viruses, through contact. If that contact is through the surface of a thermometer or by rubbing your hand across a railing someone has just touched, you can pick up a virus. This type of spreading is called contact spreading. It’s one of the primary reasons that cold viruses spread so easily and rapidly.

You will still need to put your hands in your eyes, nose or mouth to fully infect you, but that’s not at all difficult considering how frequently we touch our eyes and noses and scratch itches. We also must eat, so touching our food with an infected hand is very common. It’s not a matter of if, but when after exposure.

Washing Hands

Hand washing is important, particularly before consuming any food or drink, after having been out and about in public. If someone touches an unsanitary thermometer to your forehead at a screening zone, visit the restroom and wash your face and hands immediately. Don’t wait. Use soap and hot water, if available. Better, don’t allow a fever screening area to touch anything to you.

Non-contact Thermometers

non-contact-thermometerThere are non-contact thermometers available on the market. Unfortunately, they are much more costly than the contact variety. Cheapskate companies may not be willing to shell out the $$$ to buy these more sanitary thermometers. There are also other sanitary versions of thermometers which utilize disposable tips. Either of these two methods of screening thermometers would be fine for use at a public screening check point. However, all skin-to-skin contact thermometers need to stop being used  at public screening checkpoints.

In fact, I might even attribute some of the spread of the coronavirus to such well-meaning, but entirely amateur fever screening points… points which have unwisely chosen contact thermometers for public screening.

If someone intends to place a thermometer against your forehead, say, “No.” If they seem dismayed by your statement, explain, “That contact thermometer is likely already infected, if not even by the coronavirus.” No one wants to get the regular cold or flu, let alone the coronavirus. Nothing should touch your skin when being checked for fever at a public screening point. If that screening point can’t determine if you have a fever without touching something to your skin, that’s a sanitary issue on their part… and not your problem.

Screening Points

Anyone in charge of setting up impromptu screening points to test for fever needs to use a device that either has disposable sanitary coverings between each check or is of the non-contact variety. Preferably, nothing should be touched to the surface of anyone’s skin, then touched to another person. Anything that performs skin to skin contact has a high probability of transmitting viruses from one person to another. This makes these fever screening checkpoints exceedingly risky ventures with a potential for legal liability should death or injury occur.

I’m guessing that these check points were not designed by someone in the medical profession, that or these operators simply don’t understand how viruses are transmitted. Either way, it comes down to amateur hour.

If you happen upon an impromptu fever screening check point, do not allow anything to touch your skin. If they can’t check your fever without touching you, simply leave and go somewhere else. There’s too much risk of infection by allowing someone at a checkpoint to touch you.

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Should I allow a team work-from-home day?

Posted in analysis, botch, business, Employment, fail by commorancy on February 13, 2020

mai-tai-beachI worked at a company which, at the team leader level, endorsed a once-a-week work-from-home day. I can now definitively state, “No, you shouldn’t allow or offer full team work from home days.” Let’s explore why.

Day Off?

The biggest reason not to allow such a work-from-home day is that it is typically treated as a “day off”. This is even true of the managerial staff. At the business where I worked and on this specific day, after we had our “morning teem meeting”, everyone went their separate ways doing whatever they pleased… and it was usually not work related.

This becomes a very difficult situation for those who are consigned to pager duty for that week. When you need to get in touch with someone to resolve a problem, it can become nearly impossible to reach them while during office hours on “work from home” day.

Work from home days should be limited to individuals rather than teams, assuming you wish to allow this perk at all. For example, allow an individual to choose a work from home day and allow that single individual to work from home on that day. That leaves the rest of the team in the office performing their daily routines. This allows for timely problem resolution in almost every case. Even then, if the team member who is at home is needed, they can typically be reached. It also allows other teams to get in touch with your team should the need arise.

Rant

The biggest problem I personally experienced with a “work from home” perk day was that I had no choice in it. If I showed up in the office on the work-from-home day, no one was there. The desks were all empty. Even if I were at the office, I still had the same problem. car-drivingEveryone else was running around in their cars or doing something other than work. This meant that even after spending a long time locating a co-worker, trying to get someone’s mind wrapped around a work problem might take ages longer than normal.

Their thoughts were on driving their car or picking up groceries or ferrying their kids or whatever their assumed “day off” tasks entailed. Their minds were clearly not focused on work. This meant that waiting for people to get back in front of their computers and get into the correct mindset might take an hour or longer. That’s an hour that a problem is not getting resolved. It’s an hour that’s causing delays because they are not doing what they are being paid to do.

This is a big work ethic problem. If I’m handling the pager and I’m expected to resolve problems, some of which I have no first hand knowledge how to resolve, I’ll need someone else’s involvement to help me understand the system that’s broken. Yet, the person with the expertise is out running around instead of working at the their computer at home (where they are supposed to be).

Knowledge Transfer

Some of this might be considered a documentation problem or a knowledge transfer problem. I agree, it is. But, there are many, many companies where selective staff choose to keep their knowledge close to the vest rather than documenting it. This is usually a sign of job security… that this person believes that if they openly document what they are doing, that they will have no value to the company.

This situation is particularly a problem if the person also happens to be the team leader. As a subordinate, I’m not tasked to manage a manager. Though, I can strongly urge them to document. However, that’s not the working relationship. I can ask, but they don’t have to comply. In many cases, they don’t and won’t comply. This leaves me back at square one. I’ll need their help to resolve the problem… every time until I can reverse engineer what they know. What they know about the systems is in their brain and in no one else’s. Until I spend hours reverse engineering that system to understand what they know, I’ll always need their help. That’s job security.

Worse, many times, these folks have PGP locked all of the doors. This means that even were I to try and reverse engineer what they did, I can’t even resolve the problem because I’m led to a PGP locked door. This means that they hold the literal key and they must be the one to open it. For this reason, teams must be in the same office together through the work day… rather than separated across city distances at various dwellings. Businesses rent office spaces for a reason. By having a team “work from home”, it means that the office rental space isn’t being used and the monthly rental money is being, at least on that day, wasted.

Work from Home

I will, however, state that work from home CAN work, if it’s implemented properly. A manager can allow one of their subordinates to work from home IF they are properly monitored. Monitoring means keeping in contact with the person via chat servers, email and pagers. Communication is your friend. That doesn’t mean pestering the person, but it does mean regularly staying in touch when the need arises. Clearly, if there is no need of this person, then let them work in silence. But, pinging them occasionally via email, chat or messaging will give you (as a manager) a sense that the person is at home in front of their computer doing work, not running around in their car taking care of non-work business. At the same time, there’s the “out of sight, out of mind” problem. If a person is out of the office, the optics from other staff might cause issues. Allowing one person to work from home means they’ve gotten a perk no one else may be getting. Offering this to one person means offering it to all staff.

Working from home is, however, a double edged sword. While on the receiving end, I did find the freedom itself is nice enough and not having to spend for the gas and wear and tear on my vehicle is cool. The difficulty is that when the team isn’t together, it kills a work day where things could have gotten done. That forces doubling up on work the following day when we all, again, meet in the office. Doubling up on work is difficult at the best of times, but moreso if that day happens to be Friday.

Teams should work together every day, each week. They should work on projects together, manage the business together and functionally be a team IN the office. You can’t be a team when the team isn’t together.

HR Advice

If a manager or executive approaches you about having a team “work from home” day, you should seriously discuss these downsides with them. The biggest problem is that it kills productivity between team members.

For example, we had our team “work from home” day on Thursday. In fact, it was the worst of all possible days to offer this. It’s the day before Friday… the day when everyone has mostly “checked out”. Friday is one of the worst days for productivity because people are concerned with the bar or a party or the weekend. Their minds are not on the work day at hand. Their minds are on the end of the day and the weekend.

By having the team “work from home” day set to Thursday, this means that it will effectively be a 3 day work week. There is Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday which supports solid team efforts. Then there’s a break on Thursday which means a huge loss of productivity for the final two work days of the week. Some people may even schedule Friday off which effectively offers a 4 day weekend breaking productivity even further.

If a manager or leader is thinking of a setting up “work from home” day, the only two days where it’s feasible is Tuesday or Wednesday. I wouldn’t allow any other days… definitely not Friday or Monday and definitely not Thursday. I also wouldn’t allow a work from home day every week. That’s too frequent.

Working from Home

Don’t get me wrong, being able to work from home is nice on the surface, but it’s horrible for business logistics. You hired your team to be in your rented office space and work together as a team. Having that team work from home can be difficult to keep track of people… particularly when other teams need access to these staff members. Other teams must put requests on hold when a full team is out of the office.

In fact, it’s almost unheard of to allow an entire team out of the office for a single day, let alone every single week. Business must be conducted every day, not just the days when people feel inclined to show up.

The difficulty, however, comes when a VP or executive proposes a “work from home” effort. While I understand there might be a personal issue requiring this VP to be at home on a specific day, he could have simply set up his own personal work from home day solely for himself. Keep the rest of the team in the office. Instead, he endorsed an entire team work from home day… a mistake.

Personally, that (and a number of other problems surrounding this person and another manager) didn’t work for me and I had to leave that job. Jobs are already difficult enough without throwing in these unnecessary wrenches. I felt the team didn’t get enough done throughout the week, partly because of this incorrectly placed “work from home” day, but also because of sheer lack of team bonding. The manager over the team really did nothing to attempt to bond the team together… instead leaving us to our own devices. This is a separate problem, just like the knowledge transfer issue above, but it definitely compounded with the work from home issue to create a large set of problems which made working for this company much more difficult than it should have been.

Team Bonding

athletesLet’s talk about team bonding for a moment. Every work team is effectively “thrown together”. It’s a bunch of people who don’t know one another initially, but must find common ground to get work done as a team. To that end, the team must have the occasional get together to allow some time away from work to talk and mingle, but that time can also be used by managers to discuss how overall work efforts are progressing.

Team outings need to offer, first, a work related meeting that discusses ongoing metrics that affect the team. If the team is in charge of keeping the servers functioning, then the meeting should discuss these efforts. If there are efforts to secure the servers, then it should discuss the security efforts. Whatever projects are currently underway, these should also be discussed so that all team members are aware of who is doing what projects and who might be needed to help these projects succeed.

Then, after the formalities of work related discussions end, the team will be free to mingle, talk and eat dinner or play video games or whatever fun team bonding activities have been scheduled. At the office, there’s limited time to bond with your co-workers other than at lunch. Having out of the office team bonding events is important to make give the team time to talk about things other than work.

When a workplace offers “work from home”, this activity completely disrupts the ability of co-worker bonding in the workplace. Without a monthly or quarterly team bonding event, there’s no way for co-workers to functionally bond… leaving a scattered team.

Team bonding is important to ensure that work efforts proceed efficiently and normally. Otherwise, you get conflict between team members who refuse to work with one another because each person thinks that their project is the most important… when all projects are important, but no more important than the next person’s project. Still, the projects are all for the benefit of the employer, thus it is the manager’s responsibility to make sure the staff manage the priorities of those projects accordingly.

Team Perks

As a team leader, consider the perks you offer your team carefully. Don’t choose perks like “work from home” because eventually (yes, even you) will abuse it. But, that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that a work from home day sacrifices productivity for that and the following day. Be careful when choosing perks that sacrifice two or more days of team productivity. If you plan to allow a work from home perk, choose to allow it for a one-on-one basis so that you can control who is out of the office when.

By making this change, you be in better control over when key people are in and out of the office. Full team “work from home” days should not be permitted or offered. If you currently support such a one-day-a-week perk, you should rethink this stance.

If you are a manager over a team that already has a once-a-week work from home day, you should stop this perk immediately! Be careful to offer a compensating perk once you get rid of this one, such as individual work from home days which are scheduled well in advance. Or, alternatively, allow team members to arrive late, leave early or have flex shifts on specific days as long as their in-office hours offer a minimum of 3-4 hours of overlap with other team members. With such a retooling of this perk, the team will work together in the office every day, offering much more weekly productivity and provide better team bonding.

If this article helped your situation, please leave a comment below letting me know how you managed your work situation.

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Why doesn’t Randocity write about celebrities?

Posted in Random Thoughts by commorancy on February 12, 2020

dog-cupWhile no one has specifically asked this question here on Randocity, I’d like to answer this one anyway. Let’s explore.

Celebrity and Fame

Both of these are fleeting things. Just ask any celebrity. Part of the reason I don’t write about specific celebrities or their antics is that there are already “professional” (whatever that means) gossip monger sites out there that perform this service to the extreme. There’s no reason for Randocity to jump into this boat and begin writing about celebrities and their shenanigans.

For example, why do I care if some lesser celeb decides to take a walk down Rodeo drive or to the grocery store for a day of shopping? I don’t care about that. We all have to go shopping. Seeing them out and about is as natural as seeing any non-celeb out and about. For me, that kind of article is a non-article. It’s non-news. It’s, in fact, filler. Perhaps the celebs like this sort of non-coverage coverage, but to me it’s simply fluff designed to fill space.

Randocity is here to write about, yes, random thoughts, but also provide useful information… but not about celebrities or what they choose to do or not do. If you’re really interested in following a specific celebrity, there’s Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for that. Head over there and you can find out their latest news. If you can’t find it there, I’m sure you can find all about the minutia of a celebrity’s life on sites like The National Enquirer, TMZ or even DailyMail. That’s what those sites specialize in. That information is not what Randocity is about or why Randocity exists.

Randocity and the lack of Celebs

This site isn’t designed to deal with celebrities or their “fabulous” lives. In fact, I find celebrities far less interesting to write about than standard everyday folks. Why? Because we already know about celebrities. We know what they look like. We know how they act. We know how they dress. We know what cars they drive. We know what their profession is. We also know who their lovers are. It’s all pretty much an open book. Randocity doesn’t care at all about that. There’s nothing unique in writing about something that’s already been written about many times over.

No, I’d rather write about unique people and topics that are not typically discussed. I prefer writing about ideas and folks that are interesting, but not widely discussed. It’s not that celebrities aren’t interesting, but any celebrity is already a celebrity. There’s no need for me to help their career along on Randocity. There are plenty of other sites for those promotional efforts. Randocity isn’t the place for celebrity promotion.

Instead, Randocity would rather write about the latest toy, movie, book or even just a random thought rolling around. There are plenty of “News” sites that can tell you what happened around your town. There are plenty of tabloid sites that will gossip you into oblivion. Randocity is not here for that.

I’d rather discuss a great recipe or a way to save money when shopping or even talk about a great video game. You might say, “Well there are already recipe sites or video game review sites!” Yes, there are. But, these sites are not always great at providing the necessary levels of details that I can provide here on Randocity. That’s what Randocity is about. This is why Randocity exists. It’s about telling you about something that you couldn’t find on any other site. It’s the value in getting better and more detailed information than you can find on other web sites. That’s why Randocity exists. That’s what I have hoped to achieve with Randocity in the past and going into the future.

Randocity through the years

This blog has been continuously operating since October of 2008. That’s over 12 years of content. Yet, you’ll find little of that content related to Hollywood celebrities. While I have ranted on and railed against Hollywood’s commercialism and written a few movie reviews here and there, that’s as close as the content has gotten to talking about celebs.

Looking forward, I will continue to provide this same kind of content this site has always provided going forward. I like writing articles. What I don’t like writing is fluff pieces. I don’t intend to bring out the fake boobs and large butts or talk about someone’s bad plastic surgery simply to get people interested in this site. You can see boobs, butts and bulges at other web sites, but not here on Randocity.

Yes, I do realize that “sex sells”. But, I also realize that intelligence is more important than the shape of someone’s ass or the size of someone’s bra. Randocity has not in the past nor has any future plans to begin catering to that level of content on this blog.

Random Thoughts from the Vault

Randocity intends to continue its current trend of writing about random thoughts, but not about celebs, fame or any portion of Hollywood. I will discuss and critique bad writing, bad video games and, in general, critical failures in the creative world. But, I won’t discuss someone’s butt or kids or any other portion of celebritydom or fame, unless I’m ranting against it.

I will also discuss topical health discussions, such as the current nCoV-2019 outbreak and ways of helping you stay safe and healthy. While there’s no surefire guarantee to protect yourself from getting sick, you can perform certain things to help prevent getting sick.

I might also discuss using Portals within the No Man’s Sky video game. I might even decide to talk about how much I dislike Robocalls. Then there are work-related discussions such as wearing fragrance to work. In the kitchen, I might discuss how to make cinnamon raisin bread in a bread machine or how to create perfect Sushi rice in the microwave.

I occasionally review movies, such as 2010’s Tron Legacy, 2017’s Alien Covenant or even 2013’s Man of Steel. While I don’t go see every movie that’s released, I do go see movies that pique my interest. Unfortunately, Disney has lost me as a viewer to any of Disney’s films going forward after the incredibly poorly handling of its Star Wars franchise. Even were another Tron to release, I won’t go see it. It’s not an official Disney boycott, but it most definitely is unofficial. I just don’t want to fill the coffers of anyone at Disney when I know their goal is solely about making money and not about producing quality products.

I’ve also reviewed video games like 2019’s The Outer Worlds, going back to such games as discussing the now-defunct studio Irrational Games’s poorly conceived 2013 video game Bioshock Infinite and Bioshock Infinite’s poor storytelling choices. I’ve even discussed Rockstar’s bomb of a game, Red Dead Redemption 2, which is nothing at all like its predecessor, Red Dead Redemption… an amazing older video game only hindered by having been released using the Xbox 360’s limited graphics capabilities. I’ve even discussed how to articles, such as how you can pair your PS4’s DualShock controller wirelessly.

I’ve even discussed CBS’s bad choices with Star Trek Discovery. I’ve even further written about the now-defunct Star Trek Experience, which was located in Las Vegas before being dismantled and closed.

Back to more real world issues, I’ve discussed trying to use WiFi while traveling by Amtrak train and Getting the most out of Black Friday. I’ve even discussed such niche products as How to reset Philips Illuminate Lights.

There’s lots to discover and uncover from past articles here on Randocity. Simply use the search panel in the upper right corner of your browser or search from the mobile app to see if there’s anything I’ve written in the last 12 years that you might enjoy reading.

Sure, some of my articles approach 10,000 words, though many are in the 2,000 – 5,000 word range. A few are shorter. Whatever length it is, I hope you enjoy reading these articles as much as I have enjoyed writing them.

Thank You

From here, I would like to give a heartfelt thank you to all my current readers and followers. I hope that Randocity will continue to be a site that you value and enjoy in the future. If you enjoy reading the articles I write, I’d like to hear from you in the comments. Please feel free to write your comments in the space provided below. If you have a specific question about an article or you have a suggestion for a topic, please feel free to comment below or use the contact page and send me a message.

Thanks for reading…

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How To: Portals in No Man’s Sky

Posted in botch, business, video game design by commorancy on February 9, 2020

NoMansSky3While there have been a number of articles describing the portal travel system within No Man’s Sky, it seems that these articles leave out some very important details and restrictions when traveling by portal. Let’s explore.

Finding a Portal

The difficulty with using a portal is finding one. Portals look like a Stargate from the SG1 TV series. In fact, they “dial” almost identically to the SG1 gates, thus requiring glyphs to complete the “dialing sequence”. Once a sequence is input, the gate will either open or fail to open. Putting in random values may lead to a world, but it can also lead to your own peril.

If you choose to dial a random sequence, you should make sure to have a current saved game position that you can go back to if it ends up some place perilous. I should also mention that for the first portal you find, you’re going to need to repair each portal glyph button with varying resources. Expect to carry a bunch of various resources like Indium, Sodium Nitrate, Oxygen and so on to repair the entire panel.

NoMansSky-PortalFinding a portal, however, can be a real challenge. With that said, there are multiplayer quest lines (you can reach these from the Anomaly space station) that will lead you to a portal as part of the quest line. Once you complete one of these basic quests that lead you by starship to a world with a portal, build a base near that portal before you use it. Place a terminus on your base and you can always return to that base right near the portal for use later. You’ll thank me for this advice later. Once you find a portal on a world, it’s always a good idea to build a small foothold base near it so that you can return and reuse that portal later. Otherwise, you’ll be hunting for a portal again once you leave it. Once you have a base near a portal, you can then find portals on other worlds. It’s a complicated process to get back to remote portals, but suffice it to say that it can be done in defiance of the below documented restrictions.

The second way to locate a portal is that you can accidentally happen upon portals on worlds simply by flying over them. If you happen to find a portal through happenstance, create a base near it so you can return to it and use it later. You can reuse any portal you find. You really only need access to one portal in the game. All others are extraneous. However, if Hello Games decides to add world destruction scenarios into the game (not currently in the game), then you might want to have access to several different portals in your chain of bases.

The third way to locate a portal is to use a structure scanner or an acquired navigational map to find one, but this is a hunt in the dark. The scanners (and maps) only locate a close / random structure and may not locate a portal. Though, every world appears to have a portal somewhere on it… including moons apparently. Airless worlds might be easiest to locate a portal as there are no clouds to get in the way of scouting by air.

Using a Portal

Using a portal is easy. To find the portal address of a world, you simply need to enter photo mode. Once in photo mode, a glyph sequence like the following…NoMansSky-GlyphsLarge (to the current closest planet) will appear on the bottom left corner of the screen. You can then snapshot this screen and use these symbols to get back to that world’s portal.

NoMansSky-GlyphsIn fact, using Photomode is the easiest way to find a portal address for a given world. Using the glyphs on your screen snap will land you at that world’s portal. You can then leave a Save Beacon at the portal location to find your way back there easily while revisiting in your ship.

Unfortunately, here is where the restrictions for portals come into play. Using a Save Beacon only really works if you’re within jumping distance of the world. If you’re hundreds of thousands of light years away, it’s going to take you a long while to get back to that world by ship.

Portal Restrictions

When you use a portal to reach a destination, Hello Games has designed some heavy restrictions on that solar system you are visiting via portal. These restrictions include:

  1. You cannot use the Galactic Map while visiting a system via portal. The open portal apparently creates “interference”.
  2. You cannot create a Base Computer on any world in the system you are visiting via portal. This means you cannot build a base there. However, you can leave a Save Beacon behind which will allow you to return to that specific ground location on that planet after you have returned back through the portal and flown there in your starship.
  3. You cannot shut down a portal at all… either on the visiting side or on the dialing side. On the dialing side, you can dial a new system and that will override the currently open portal.
  4. You cannot dial a portal while still on the visiting side. In fact, the dialing controller will not even raise out of the ground. You can only dial on the side where you began.
  5. You cannot dial out of any other portal on any other planet in the visiting system. In fact, all portals on all worlds, for whatever reason, only allow you to return to your dialing point. This means even if you leave the dialed world and head to another world in that system… and then you manage to find the location of the portal on another planet there, you still can’t dial out. You’ll find that that portal (and every other portal) is currently open back to your dialing world.
  6. The Terminus at the local space station is shut down and locked. You cannot use a terminus to leave that visited system.
  7. You cannot call the Anomaly Station (Nada and Polo’s ship) while visiting a system through a portal.
  8. You cannot call your freighter.

NoMansSky2These restrictions are intended to dead end you in the solar system you’re visiting by portal. You can’t leave that system in any other way than back through the portal. You can’t build on any of the worlds you’ve visited while through the portal, with the exception of certain small tech devices like a Save Beacon or a Message Beacon. As I said above, you can’t build a Base Computer on any planet in a Portal visited system. You also can’t leave that solar system in your ship. You can travel from planet to planet in that system. You can pick up resources and return with them through the portal, but you cannot use the Galactic Map to leave the system. You must head back to the open portal and return to your dialing point to continue playing.

Save Beacon

The only sort-of workaround here (at least to find the world again) is to leave a Save Beacon behind on one or several of the worlds. You can then hop into your ship from your own system (the dialing system), then use the Galactic Map to navigate back to that system. Once there, you can then use your Save Beacon to lead you back to that specific portal point on that world.

If you travel to that same system with your ship using Hyperdrive, there is no problem building Base Computers or any other structures. Basically, if you find a particularly compelling system via portal, you must return back through the portal and then use your ship’s Hyperdrive to get you back there. Of course, it could be many thousands of light years away… so there’s that.

Commentary

I can’t really understand the unnecessary portal restrictions within No Man’s Sky. In Stargate SG1, there were no similar restrictions. The one rule in Stargate SG1, though, is that you couldn’t return back through an already open gate. Gates in SG1 were one way. If someone tried to return through an already open Gate, the person would be fried. This is the reason that after traveling through a Gate in SG1, the gate would shut down. This meant that the person visiting via the portal would need to dial back out to open their own portal back to the originating world. This is how No Man’s Sky should work.

I want to understand the developer’s rationale here. I do. But, I must counter any such argument that this is an exploration game. There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t use a portal to travel to another system as open-ended exploration, then continue our journey from there or build as we see fit.

If the developers are concerned that we’ll shortcut our way to the center of the galaxy, restrict that. If the dialed system is at or near the center or within a small diameter of the center, then restrict how travel is handled. Don’t restrict every solar system simply because you’re trying to keep us from using a portal to get to the center. Even then, this restriction is somewhat stupid.

Portals are Mostly Worthless

Ultimately, the restrictions imposed on visiting portal worlds make them a novelty form of travel, but entirely useless. You can only use them to “see” a specific world. You can’t use a portal for any other travel purposes.

Once you understand the heavy restrictions imposed when using portals, you’ll quickly realize the futility of using them. Basically, Hello Games wasted their time building this portal system feature. Unless Hello Games chooses to lift these unnecessary portal restrictions, the best way to travel is strictly by Hyperdrive. There are no such silly restrictions when traveling by Starship or Freighter… at least none that I know of.

Consider that it’s also a major hassle to portal to a world, drop a beacon, travel back via portal then hop into your starship and make your way back there. Yeah, it’s a real pain in the ass. I don’t get why game developers feel the need to place such silly restrictions all over games when they are entirely unnecessary.

NoMansSky4No Man’s Sky is supposed to be an open exploration game. Why close off avenues of game play when using a built-in travel system? If I choose to build on a world in a portal system, let me. If I want to use the Galactic Map, there should be no problem. If I want to use the Terminus to get back home, that’s my choice. These stupid restrictions should not exist in No Man’s Sky. Hear me, Hello Games!

The only restrictions that should exist are restrictions on traveling to worlds within 10,000 light years of the center. Simply place the restrictions on these worlds and systems. Don’t allow portal travel at all to these worlds. Force the player to fly in by ship. Honestly, though, what difference does it make if the player flies in by ship or arrives by portal? Why does it matter if the player has chosen to use a portal instead of a starship?

Video games should allow players to travel in whatever method they choose, even if it ruins their own game experience. What difference does it really make if the gamer flies to the center by ship or arrives by portal? However, if you must, place restrictions on key worlds… but don’t restrict the entire game of billions of worlds strictly for a very small subset use case. 🧐

If this article helped you better understand No Man’s Sky‘s portals, please let me know in the comments below.

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Fallout 76: Where to find Deathclaw Hide

Posted in botch, business, video game design by commorancy on February 6, 2020

NukaColaPA-fIf you’re trying to complete the Possum challenge for Leatherworker, you’re probably looking for Deathclaw Hide. Let’s explore.

Possum Challenges

The one thing about the Possum Challenges is that there’s always this “one thing” you can’t seem to find (or do). With the Leatherworker challenge, this one is no different. I have no idea why Bethesda feels the need to make these challenges drastically more difficult by limiting the ability to find the things you need. For example, the Possum Electrician challenge is entirely broken. There’s no way to actually succeed with this challenge because the ‘Restore power to a Power Plant’ challenge won’t complete no matter how many times you “Light Up” the Poseidon Power Plant.

Fallout 76_20200206065538

With pretty much every other animal in the game, you can find their hide on them when you kill them. Perhaps not all of the time, but at least 50% of the time. This would mean you need to kill a minimum two of these animals to find its hide.

With the Deathclaw, unfortunately, Bethesda took Deathclaw Hide off of a Deathclaw’s drop list which you only find out after spending time and ammo to kill several Deathclaws. So, no longer does a Deathclaw drop Deathclaw Hide. This makes the Leatherworker Possum challenge nearly impossible… until you know where to look.

Fallout 76_20200206065455

Thanks, Bethesda.

Rant Mode On

At this point, I can’t believe this is an oversight. In fact, I believe that it isn’t. I believe these changes are intentional by people within Bethesda. To consider this unnecessary change as anything more than accidental in among so many other “accidental” changes is naïve. There is absolutely no way Bethesda is this mistake prone. No way! No company makes so many mistakes in writing code. No one does this. One or two mistakes here and there I can accept as accidental. With Fallout 76, it’s been a series of mistakes after a series of mistakes after even more mistakes.

In fact, it’s almost like Fallout 76 came to exist through a series of mistakes. No one (let alone a company as big as Bethesda) makes that many “accidental” mistakes and still produces a semi-functional product. No! These changes are not accidental, incidental or unintentional. No company operates like The Keystone Cops (too young for this reference?   ⃪ click here).

These mistakes are definitely intentional! They have been introduced by Bethesda’s engineers intentionally. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps job security? No company I’ve seen introduces bugs intentionally… except Bethesda and software engineers hoping for …

Job Security

What exactly is “Job Security” in the software and technical professions? I’ll explain.

Many technical staff are not confident in their own skills or abilities. Their job insecurity sees them play games to make themselves appear “more valuable” and, thus, help their prospects with job security. Everyone wants to be considered a valuable team member. Unfortunately, playing this “job security” game in the way described below is highly unethical, but few technical staff see it this way.

By Technical Staff, I’m referring to software engineers, software designers and software coders. I also include systems administrators, systems engineers and systems architects as well. All of these technical roles have the ability to play such games to help increase their perceived “value” to the company.

No one wants to be considered obsolete by their employer. To that end, many software designers, engineers and even systems administrators, choose to keep their jobs secure by engineering their own continued necessity. How do technical employees engineer their own continued necessity? By introducing system breaking bugs. If things are “broken”, the company will continue to need someone to “fix” it.

How this situation manifests is that these folks break small things here and there. They don’t break the whole system, though they could very easily do this if they wanted. No, instead, they engineer breakage in small tertiary components. They engineer situations that are just problematic enough to be annoying, but not problematic enough to keep the product from working entirely. Though, I have worked with some folks who will and have chosen to break the entire system, bringing down the entire product for several hours.

There’s a fine line when considering breaking small things versus large things. Breaking the whole system is a firing offense. If you break the entire system such that no one can use it for hours, that’s something that will get at least one person fired. This doesn’t afford job security. Just the opposite, in fact. Breaking the entire system will get someone fired.

Breaking tiny tertiary pieces isn’t a firing offense (at least as long as the engineer doesn’t go blabbing about what they did). In fact, breaking something small is usually seen as unintentional by most bosses. After all, a boss might think, “Why would they break this tiny thing intentionally?” For this thinking logic, such small things are assumed to be a bug.

Many software engineers (and similar people in similar lower level positions) take advantage of this flawed managerial thinking logic and choose to break underlying, but very small components. Why? As this section states, job security. If small things are continually broken, the company will need someone who “knows that code” to fix it. Hence, continued employment for that person. Yes, it’s a shitty thing to do, but people also want to remain employed. When you hire bright people to write code, you also hire their scheming minds. Expect them to take advantage of such internal managerial flawed rationales to their own benefit.

How does this relate to Deathclaw Hide? It relates because the person who manages this specific portion of Fallout 76 wants to remain employed by Bethesda. If they break something small, Bethesda will eventually turn to them to ask them to fix it once enough people complain. See, job security does sometimes work… as long as they don’t get caught at it. It seems that too many employees at Bethesda are playing the “Job Security” game at the expense of Fallout 76. After all, this video game is already mostly a piece of junk. No one is going to see a few more mistakes as any more than “par for The Whitespring golf course”.

Rant over.

So where can I find Deathclaw Hide?

I’m coming to that. I wanted to rant a little about Bethesda before I got to this point. Since Deathclaw Hide no longer spawns on Deathclaws after you kill them, you must rely on loot containers and via other means.

Unfortunately, it seems that the same engineer who removed Deathclaw Hide from the loot drop list for Deathclaws also seems to have removed it from the drop list for regular containers as well. This means you won’t find it in toolboxes, wooden containers, coolers, safes or any other similar containers. I know. I’ve spent days culling through every container I could find looking for it. Deathclaw Hide doesn’t even spawn in Deathclaw nests!

I even went looking in non-conventional places. I started searching through Scorchbeast nests. Specifically, the nests in Watoga. I rationalized that Scorchbeast nests tend to turn up unusual bones and stuff. There is a nest on top of Watoga’s Municipal Building (where Mayor for a Day is located). There is also a nest on top of Watoga’s Civic Center. While these nests both spawn all sorts of goodies, such as Scorchbeast Hide, Scorchbeast Brain, Scorchbeast Meat and Scorchbeast Heart, it doesn’t spawn anything related to Deathclaws.

However, the Scorchbeast Guano piles will occasionally spawn Deathclaw Hands. Unfortunately, these don’t count towards the Possum Leatherworker challenge, even though Deathclaw Hands provide 3 leather. Go figure.

After spending time making various runs to these Scorchbeast Nests, I then had another thought.

Fissure Sites

I realized that I was going about this all wrong. Around the lip of every fissure is an array of dead animals. I also realized long ago that existing already-dead carcasses in the game spawn the hide of the dead animal.

While a Bethesda engineer decided to remove Deathclaw Hide from the live Deathclaw drop list, he/she forgot to remove it from the already dead carcasses that you can find around Appalachia. For example, there’s an already dead Yao Guai at the Abandoned Waste Dump. This permanently dead carcass spawns Yao Guai hide. If you ever need Yao Guai hide for any challenge, make your way to the Abandoned Waste Dump and pick it up. No need to kill anything. Just loot and be done.

This is why I began thinking, “Where can I find already dead Deathclaw carcasses in this game?” That’s when it dawned on me to visit the fissure sites.

Sure enough, there are already dead Deathclaw (and other) carcasses around the lip of fissures. Deathclaw Hide still spawns on these already dead Deathclaw carcasses. Yay! No need to run around killing Deathclaws if we don’t have to, eh? If you’re looking for Deathclaw Hide, you’ll want to visit the lip of the fissure sites to loot these already dead Deathclaws. The difficulty, of course, is that these fissures tend to spawn a crap ton of Scorched and at least one Scorchbeast, in addition to irradiating you. Be prepared with RadShield, RadX, Radaway or Power Armor and also be prepared to take out the enemies… or, alternatively, use the Sneak card to sneaky sneak your way in and out without being easily detected.

Unfortunately, you will only find one hide per carcass. Even then, it doesn’t always spawn. But, it spawns more often than anywhere else. Fortunately, there are 9 fissure sites around Appalachia that you can visit and check out the dead Deathclaw carcasses. At least one of them will have a hide. If you server hop, you can probably find all 5 of the hides that you’ll need to complete the Possum Leatherworker challenge.

I have found that the fissure sites are the most reliable places to locate Deathclaw Hide in Fallout 76. That is, until another engineer chooses to remove Deathclaw Hide from the loot drop list for these already-dead Deathclaws at the fissure sites, too. 😕

Good Luck.

If this article helped you, please leave a comment below. If you know of the location for other dead Deathclaw carcasses around Fallout 76 (besides fissures), please let me know where you found it in the comments below.

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Virus Outbreak: nCoV-2019

Posted in Health, tips by commorancy on January 25, 2020

virus-1280In recent days, it has been reported that a new coronavirus has emerged from Wuhan city in the Hubei province in China. It is dubbed nCoV-2019. Let’s explore.

Outbreak

The “novel Corona Virus” (nCoV-2019) outbreak began sometime in early December in Wuhan with the WHO being notified on December 31st of a possible new coronavirus strain. It seems the incubation period of this virus is somewhere around 7 and 14 days, after which symptoms begin to manifest. It was first assumed that nCoV-2019 was spread through a seafood market and food items. However, it seems that many in China are now getting the virus without having visited or eaten the suspected foods. The CDC is currently investigating exactly the means of transmission, but it is suspected that this virus has now moved into a person-to-person contact phase. Assuming person-to-person contact, then it is worth following standard winter Cold and Flu virus transmission precautions.

The nCoV-2019 virus is not an influenza or “the flu” type virus. This is an entirely different type of virus, but it does have similar symptoms to a cold virus, including respiratory distress. You can read this CBS news article to understand how it has been determined (so far) that this virus spreads. However, the means of spread should now be considered like most other viruses, including cold and flu, such as through body fluid contact. It may even be able to live on surfaces for a time like other viruses. That means if you touch a surface that has a latent virus on it and you touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you could become infected. It may also be transmitted through airborne contact by a sneeze or a cough.

Cold and Flu Prevention

In 2009, I wrote an article regarding flu prevention during winter months. I updated this article in 2018 to discuss getting the flu vaccine (which that vaccine won’t apply to nCoV-2019). However, this prevention information is now more prescient than ever when a new virus outbreak occurs. While we must all venture out into the public for various reasons, such as grocery shopping and for work. You can help prevent and limit your exposure by taking certain preventative measures as described in my earlier article. Let’s take my previous article’s advice and expand on it a bit further.

Limit Your Exposure

For nCoV-2019, it’s more important than ever to limit your exposure to others and particularly avoid face-to-face meeting with those people who tend to travel to and from China. If you work at a business where travel to and from China is important to your employer’s bottom line, you should warn your employer and the HR team to enforce mandatory quarantine on all staff returning from China. Insist that these folks must work from home for at least 16 days before returning to work. There’s no reason to risk your entire office staff’s exposure to a possible serious contagion by those returning from China. If a person begins showing any symptoms during that 16 day home quarantine, they should immediately seek medical attention.

Face Masks

surgical-maskWhile I know that these surgical face masks seem popular, they can’t fully prevent exposure to viruses. They may help limit the possibility, but they absolutely will not prevent exposure. Why? Because they still allow air around the edge of the mask. Further, you can still touch a surface with your hand or glove and then wipe your eyes. If you have open sores or cuts, you can easily expose yourself to a virus simply by touching a surface. When you can smell odors with a mask on, then the mask allows very small particulate matter through the mask to your nose and mouth (either at the sides or through the mesh). This can allow a virus in. Standard surgical face masks may help some, but they are no where near perfect.

A face mask only eliminates some airborne particulates, but does nothing to stop body fluid contact on surfaces or air flow around the edge of the mask. Shaking hands with someone might also be enough to transmit and expose you to a virus like nCoV-2019… particularly if you rub your eyes. Even a sneeze in your direction could cause you to inhale it through the sides of a mask.

If you must shake hands with someone, use hand sanitizer immediately after. Better, don’t shake hands. If you can get to a restroom to wash your hands in hot water after shaking hands, you can likely wash off any viruses with soap and hot water. Cold water will work, but hot water works better.

Airborne Viruses

While many state that the nCoV-2019 virus isn’t airborne, that’s kind of a misnomer and somewhat deceptive. Once a person begins showing signs and symptoms of a virus infection, such as coughing and sneezing, it’s possible to spread the contagion. These symptoms ensure that the ill become carriers for the virus. It’s all part of the virus’s plan to spread itself. It uses the body’s reflex mechanisms to launch the virus into the air through coughing and sneezing.

If you hear someone coughing or sneezing near you, you should move as far away as possible. If you’re on a multi-car public transportation system (like a train), you should move to another car. If you’re on a bus, you might want to consider pressing the stop bar, stepping off and waiting for the next bus.

If you’re on a plane, you’re kind of stuck. Planes offer closed recirculated air environments, which can actually lead airborne viruses around the entire plane through the ventilation system. On a plane, if someone is infected with a cold or flu or even nCoV-2019, you’re likely going to get it if they are coughing or sneezing even if they aren’t seated near you.

Office Buildings

Unfortunately, like planes, many office buildings also use closed recirculated air systems. This is done to retain the heat or cold air within, requiring less energy to heat or cool that air again. This also means that it takes only one person to sneeze or cough near an intake vent and a virus can be carried and spread over the entire building, landing on surfaces and making the virus airborne.

Yeah, kinda gross isn’t it? If the building uses HEPA filters on its HVAC system, this may or may not reduce the spread of such particulate matter. Unfortunately, HEPA filters are expensive to set up and maintain on so many intake vents in a large building. Even then, HEPA filters may not reduce airborne viruses. Many building landlords don’t and won’t spend for such filtration systems, mostly because of their limited effectiveness.

In other words, don’t rely on a HEPA filter to protect you from viruses.

Wearing Masks Part II

If you want to completely remove particulate matter and drastically reduce infection possibilities, then you’ll need a mask that not only seals tightly about the face, it must contain strong particulate filters. Such a respirator mask looks like so:

respirator-mask

There are many respirator masks similar to this one. It doesn’t have to be this exact respirator mask model. But, it must fit tightly to the face. If you’re a man with a beard, plan to shave your beard so that no beard portion sits under the edge of the mask. The mask must make tight contact directly with skin, not hair, to fit properly and allow for proper air flow through the mask without leaking air around the edge.

When wearing one of these masks, you should notice three things:

  1. No odors should be discernible
  2. The mask should allow for easy air flow through the mask and not get hot
  3. No air should flow around the edge of the mask

You should not have to struggle to breathe when wearing a mask like this. Air should flow easily, but seemingly all particulate matter should be eliminated. If you can smell nothing in the air, even when around solvents, spray paints or food smells, then the mask is working properly and is fitted correctly. If you begin to smell odors or the mask seems to perform differently than it did, it’s time to replace the filters or check the mask’s fit.

The above type of respirator mask is typically used when spray painting, sandblasting, when using chemicals with noxious fumes or when handling other noxious substances.

I used a respirator mask similar to this when I airbrushed T-Shirts at an amusement park. The particulate overspray coming from the aerosolized paint was palpable until I donned a similar respirator mask. Once I donned a properly fitted respirator mask, I could no longer smell the paint fumes or any other odors (not even the hamburger and fries scent coming from just across the way). Wearing the respirator mask made painting so much more enjoyable and allowed me to focus on the job. I didn’t have to worry about breathing in unnecessary and potentially harmful fumes.

If you’re looking for much better airborne virus protection, a respirator mask is a better option to the mostly ill-fitting surgical masks, which those masks offer only limited protection. Of course, a respirator won’t stop surface to surface contact of a virus, but it can drastically reduce airborne infection. In fact, it might be worth wearing one of these styles of masks when flying on a plane… only taking the mask off to eat or drink. Even then, I’d suggest eating and drinking before the flight and not taking it off until you’re off of the flight. If it’s a 13 hour flight, that might be a little difficult, however.

Just be sure that whatever filtered respirator mask that you choose to buy is well supported by its manufacturer. No-name manufacturers tend to discontinue their masks and filters quickly, leaving you with no way to buy replacement filters. You’ll be forced to buy a brand new mask with an all new filter system. If you choose to buy a respirator mask, be sure to buy enough filters with your purchase to last for as long as you think you’ll need. When you run out of filters, you may be forced to buy a new mask simply because the manufacturer has discontinued that product. Don’t think that because you decide to buy a 3M respirator mask that they will continue to support their products indefinitely. A large brand name is equally likely to discontinue a product as a no-name brand. This is the reason to stock up with as many filters as you can afford while they are available. Don’t let brand names lull you into a sense of security with the availability of product. Even just 1 year can see product changes.

Additionally, these masks rely on rubber and other parts that must come into contact with skin surfaces and whatever chemicals you may work around. It’s possible that skin oils and chemical exposure can degrade the mask’s components over time. Expect to buy a new mask whenever you notice signs of wear and tear or if the mask begins performing poorly even with new filters. Don’t forget that you bought the mask to protect you. If the mask has lost its ability to do this, you’ll want to buy a new one.

nCoV-2019

This new virus underscores the need to always be vigilant in our every day lives, particularly during winter months. During the height of winter is our most susceptible time to viruses because they can live on surfaces much, much longer than during summer months when it’s hot. This is the reason why colds, flu and viruses flare during the winter months. Cold temperatures are a great preservative to viruses.

Unfortunately, the nCoV-2019 virus isn’t something that has any protection yet. Taking a flu shot won’t protect you from nCoV-2019. It’s a virus that is a new strain and it’s also not a form of influenza.

When you’re out and about, be cautious of placing your hands anywhere on your face. If you must, visit a restroom first, wash your hands with warm soapy water, then touch your face. If you’ve been out shopping, you’ll want to wash your hands as soon as you leave the store. In fact, you might want to wash your hands in the store’s restroom once you have your bags loaded into your car. If you want, you can use hand sanitizer, but it’s not always as effective as washing your hands.

Shopping for Delivery

With apps like Instacart, Safeway and Postmates, it’s easy to avoid leaving home for certain types of shopping. With services like these, it’s easy to place an order for 1-3 hour delivery later that day. You’ll pay a little more for the delivery, but it avoids leaving the house. You can even use GrubHub and Yelp delivery services for home delivery of meals. This also avoids visiting a restaurant, potentially infecting yourself at the restaurant.

Dine-In Restaurants with Buffet Bars

As was described in my 2009 article, I’ll reiterate this point here. During fall and winter months, October through March, it’s wise to avoid buying foods from buffet bars (whether at a restaurant or a grocery store). In fact, it’s worth avoiding these types of bars year round. These buffet bars are completely unsanitary. The serving utensils are rarely changed throughout the day. This means that perhaps hundreds, if not thousands, of people could have touched that very spoon you are holding. Yuck!

While the serving trays get regularly changed for fresh foods, the utensils remain. Simply by touching one of these utensils, you may infect yourself with a cold or the flu, let alone nCoV-2019.

I can’t even recall the last time I visited a restaurant that had a salad bar or hot food buffet. Not only are these restaurants far too expensive these days, the food is typically grade C or worse. I’m looking for much better quality food. To get that, I visit restaurants with dine-at-the-table only options. Because sit-down restaurants make your order fresh in the kitchen, you’re unlikely to catch a virus by eating at this type of restaurant. However, serve-yourself restaurants may seem like great ideas, they are far from it.

Restaurants and grocery stores with food bars should be required for each person to grab their own clean serving utensil from a holder then place that utensil into a dirty bin when they are done. For restaurants, it’s better to have a waitperson from the restaurant dish out the food to your plate and not allow the unsanitary practice of people serving themselves from dirty communal serving utensils. This practice is so unsanitary.

Worse, while these bars typically have sneeze and cough glass coverings over the food, children’s faces sit under these protection mechanisms. Children can cough and sneeze all over the food… and it is these children who are typical carriers of cold and flu due to their school age nature. Avoid buffet bars!

Diligence

Always be vigilant with your health in winter months, regardless of outbreaks like nCoV-2019. Yes, this virus strain seems particularly virulent, but you should assume (unless told otherwise) that it is communicable in the same way as a standard Cold and Flu virus. This means following all of the same precautions as documented above (with the exception of the respirator mask). The respirator mask is a bit odd looking, yes, but if you’re heavily concerned that you could come into contact with this virus or if you are particularly susceptible to sinus or bronchial infections, wearing a respirator mask (instead of a surgical mask) can reduce your chances of contracting a virus through airborne means.

With a mask, this means that you’ll need to be diligent to keep your hands away from your eyes and keep all open sores fully covered when out and about. You must always be vigilant and maintain strict health protocols to avoid getting the flu or a cold, let alone a virus like nCoV-2019.

In the US, it seems the nCoV-2019 cases are presently limited to but a few. The difficulty with this situation is that it can change quickly. It only takes a few people who are not known to be infected to head home to the US to begin a large scale infection within the US. The CDC is monitoring the situation, but unfortunately, they can’t stop the spread of an infection like nCoV-2019 themselves.

Traveling is the easiest way for viruses to spread around the world. It only takes a few infected people to visit a few public places and the situation can easily get out of control. You, however, can limit your own exposure by taking the steps described to help keep you healthy and well.

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Fallout 76: Vault 94 to close

Posted in botch, business, video game design by commorancy on January 24, 2020

Fallout 76_20200124171712

Vault 94 was to be one of the first “group dungeons” (i.e., vault raid) to come to Fallout 76’s Wasteland. Vault 94 is scheduled to close when Wastelanders opens. Let’s explore.

Group Raid Areas

With every online game that Bethesda has produced, at some point during the game’s online lifecycle, Bethesda introduces higher level group dungeons. These dungeons usually entail the need to be at least level 50 or higher and you’ll need pretty decent weapons and armor to survive. So, with that, Bethesda introduced Vault 94 as a group raid area within Fallout 76 sometime around August 20th of 2019. No, it hasn’t been open for every long at all. When something is bad, though… *shrug*

Hodge Podge

After having visited Vault 94 myself, I can conclusively say, “It’s a mess.” Oh, and what a mess it is… in more ways than one. Not only is the plant life overgrowth abundant throughout the vault, finding anything in the disaster of a vault is an absolute chore… and that’s even if there weren’t a single enemy down there. What’s worse is the reward, but we’ll come to that topic soon enough.

Throw on top of the fact that the entire interior is an unmitigated disaster of a design, you have a never ending smorgasbord of enemies thrown at you continually. From Ghouls to Mirelirks to Mirelirk Kings to pretty much you name it and it’s in down there. I’m surprised they didn’t throw a Yao Guai, Mothman and a Scorchbeast in, too.

Lag City

It’s not so much that there shouldn’t be enemies there, it’s that the enemies are so densely packed in that space that, when combined with the overly detailed plant overgrowth 3D environment, the game’s engine simply can’t keep up. It gets so laggy, you can barely even run and shoot. I can’t even imagine taking a team of 4 people down there with miniguns. The entire run would come to a crawl. It would become so laggy, it would be pointless to try. It’s bad enough with two people down there.

Bethesda way overcompensated with this vault and pushed the engine way beyond its limits. It’s also quite clear that Bethesda didn’t even bother to run any performance or gamer tests to determine how badly this challenge ultimately failed. Yes, if you’re really diligent and patient (and can wade through the myriad of problems), you can complete the dungeon and get your ending reward. The problem is, that end reward so very much sucks. It’s honestly one of the worst reward drops I’ve seen from Bethesda.

The point is, this raid is ultimately pointless. It’s overly difficult with the number of enemies thrown at you, but it’s made much more difficult by the fact that the interior frame rate lags so badly that you sometimes have to give up and leave. It’s just that bad.

Reward?

The biggest part of the problem with Vault 94 is actually its final reward. A great reward is the only reason to even consider going into Vault 94. Sadly, the weak reward and laggy play actually gives us no reason to go there. Without a reason to go down there, it’s a pointless exercise. Let’s get to it, then. The rewarded power armor skin is absolutely hideous. It’s not even the slightest bit “cool looking”. It’s so ugly, in fact, that that’s the sole reason no one wants to make this vault run. The armor set looks just like the interior of Vault 94, covered with overgrown plants. It’s not something that most people would want to wear, unless you want to look like an armor covered Poison Ivy from various comic books.

Why spend all of that time and effort fighting with the crap ton of enemies in a badly designed vault under HEAVY lag only to receive a hideously ugly PA skin as a result? It is a crappy skin worth less than 500 Atoms. You’ve spent a crap ton of your ammo and stimpaks to make that run and then you get an ugly worthless skin? Really? Clearly, no gamer wants to spend their time and resources doing this, just as Bethesda’s stats support. Bethesda needs to rethink its reward system. If you can’t make the reward worthy of spending the time, effort, ammo and stimpaks, no one will make the run. That’s exactly what’s happening with Vault 94.

It’s not even like power armor is actually very useful in Fallout 76. Bethesda has nerfed the usefulness and strength of power armor so much that you can actually do better out of power armor than you can in it. It also costs way too much to keep power armor repaired and then there’s the fact that you burn through Fusion Cores every few minutes now… when early in 2019 a Fusion Core could last you several days. Yeah, making the Vault 94 run is so not worth it. Locating 100% topped up Fusion Cores is nearly impossible unless you’re willing to take on the challenge of a possible PVP activity by taking over the Poseidon, Thunder Mountain or Monongah power plant workshops. This on top of Vault 94’s crapfest reward? Yeah, no. Even then, Bethesda could cause these workshops to begin dropping Fusion Cores of random lower charged amounts even from a Fusion Core Processor in the future, thus making Power Armor even more worthless than it already is.

In fact, not only is Bethesda continually nerfing every part of Fallout 76, making it worse and worse and requiring longer and longer grinding efforts, they’re also nerfing quest end rewards giving us less and less value at the end of each new quest. Instead, they choose to put those “great looking” things in the Atomic shop where you have to pay for them… instead of placing the items into the game as reward drops. Come on, Bethesda. You can seriously do better. If you can’t give us a reason to want to make a vault run, we’re not going to run it and you will simply have wasted months worth of programming efforts on nothing. You must make the end reward drop worth our time and effort and worthy of draining us of our ammo, thus giving us solid reasons to make that run!

Closure

From Bethesda’s January 16th’s Inside the Vault:

Through community feedback we’ve received and our own monitoring since that time, we’ve decided that Vault 94 and its Missions are not delivering the quality of experience that we had hoped to provide. As a result, we are currently planning to shut down Vault 94 alongside the release of the Wastelanders update.

It’s no wonder then that Bethesda’s recent stats show that Vault 94 barely has any visitors. Vault 94 is a crapfest extraordinaire. Not only is the reward incredibly bad, the dungeon itself is a horrid laggy mess. Bethesda would actually have to try harder to actually make a worse group dungeon than Vault 94.

Sometimes you just have to say, “Good riddance to bad rubbish” and with Vault 94, it’s far too long in coming. This dungeon needed a redesign the day it arrived. Yet, Bethesda entirely ignored gamer complaints. Unfortunately, we don’t know the exact release date of Wastelanders, so we don’t know the exact date of Vault 94’s closure.

Oh, and Bethesda states they will move that sucky power armor skin reward to some other location so we can get it in some other way after Vault 94 closes. Yeah, like we all want that ugly power armor skin? I don’t think so. Here’s what Bethesda states:

When the Vault is disabled, we are planning to make all of its rewards, including the exclusive Power Armor sets and Vault Steel, achievable through other means.

As if we’re going to be anywhere close to excited for that power armor skin or vault steel when it becomes available “through other means”. Don’t think so.

If you really, really personally love this lagfest of a vault, then you’ll want to make sure to run it a few times before it disappears. Personally, the last time I was in that vault is the last time I’ll ever be in that vault. Yes, it really IS that bad.

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Apple and Law Enforcement

Posted in Apple, botch, business, california by commorancy on January 14, 2020

apple-phoneApple always seems to refuse law enforcement requests. Let’s understand why this is bad for Apple… and for Silicon Valley as a whole. Let’s see how this can be resolved.

Stubbornness

While Apple and other “Silicon Valley” companies may be stubborn in reducing encryption strength on phones, reduction of encryption strength isn’t strictly necessary for law enforcement to get what they need out of a phone device. In fact, it doesn’t really make sense to reduce encryption across all phone devices simply so law enforcement can gain access to a small number of computer devices in a small set of criminal cases.

That’s like using a sledgehammer to open a pea. Sure, it works, but not very well. Worse, these legal cases might not even be impacted by what’s found on the device. Making all phones vulnerable to potentially even worse crimes, such as identity theft and stealing money in order to prosecute a smaller number of crimes which might not be impacted by unlocking a phone doesn’t make sense.

There Are Solutions

Apple (and other phone manufacturers) should be required to partner with law enforcement to create a one-use unlocking system for law enforcement use. Federal law could even mandate that any non-law enforcement personnel who attempts to access the law enforcement mode of a phone would be in violation of federal law. Though, policing this might be somewhat difficult. It should be relatively easy to build and implement such one-use system. Such a system will be relatively easy to use (with the correct information) and be equally difficult to hack (without the correct information).

How this enforcement system would work is that Apple (or any phone vendor) would be required to build both law enforcement support web site and a law enforcement mode on the phone for law enforcement use only. This LE support server is naturally authentication protected. A verified law enforcement agent logs into Apple’s LE system and enters key information from/about a specific device along with their own Apple issued law enforcement ID number. Apple could even require law enforcement officers to have access to an iPhone themselves to use FaceID to verify their identity before access.

The device information from an evidence phone may include the iPhone’s IMEI (available on the SIMM tray), ICCID (if available), SEID (if available), serial number, phone number (if available) and then finally a valid federally issued warrant number. Apple’s validation system would then log in to a federal system and validate the warrant number. Once the warrant is validated and provided the required input data specific to the phone all match to the device (along with the Apple’s law enforcement ID), Apple will issue a one-time use unlocking code to the law enforcement agent. This code can then be used one time to unlock the device in Law Enforcement Mode (LEM).

To unlock an evidence device, the agent then boots the phone into LEM (needs to be built by Apple) and then manually enters an Apple-generated code into the phone’s interface along with their law enforcement ID. The law enforcement mode then allows setup and connection to a local WiFi network (if no data network is available), but only after entering a valid code. The code will then be verified by Apple’s servers and then the phone will be temporarily unlocked. Valid entry of a law enforcement code unlocks the device for a period of 24 hours for law enforcement use. There is no “lock out” when entering the wrong code when the phone is in “law enforcement mode” because these codes are far too complex to implement such a system. Though, the phone can reboot out of LEM after a number of wrong attempts. You simply can’t randomly guess these codes by trial and error. They are too complex and lengthy for this.

This specific one-use code allows unlocking the device one time only and only for a period of 24 hours. This means that phone will accept that specific code only once and never accept that specific code again. If law enforcement needs to unlock the phone again, they will have to go through the law enforcement process of having Apple generate a new code using the same input data which would then generate a new code, again, valid for only 24 hours.

A successfully used LE code will suspend all phone screen lock security for a period of 24 hours. This means that the only action need to get into a phone for up to 24 hours (even after having been powered off and back on) is by pressing the home key or swiping up. No touch ID or Face ID is needed when the phone is unlocked during this 24 hour period. This allows for use of this phone by multiple people for gathering evidence, downloading information or as needed by law enforcement. This mode also suspends all security around connecting and trusting iTunes. iTunes will also allow downloading data from the phone without going through its “trust” security. After 24 hours, the phone reboots, deletes LE configuration parameters (such as WiFi networks) and reverts back to its original locked and secured state.

The iPhone will also leave a notification for the owner of the phone that the phone has been unlocked and accessed by law enforcement (much the same as the note left in luggage by the TSA after it has been searched). If the phone still has Internet access, it will contact Apple and inform the Apple ID that the phone has been unlocked and accessed by law enforcement. This Internet notification can be suspended for up to 30 days to allow law enforcement time enough to get what they need before the system notifies the Apple ID owner of access to that device. Though, I’d recommend that Apple notify the owner right away of any access by law enforcement.

How to use the code

When a valid generated Apple law enforcement code is entered into the phone in LEM, the phone calculates the validity of the code based on an internal process that runs on the phone continuously. While the phone is validly being used by its owner, this process will periodically sync with Apple’s LE servers to ensure that an iPhone’s LEM process will work properly should the phone fall into the possession of law enforcement. This information will have to be spelled out and agreed to in Apple’s terms and conditions. Apple’s servers and the phone remain synchronized in the same way as RSA one-time keys remain synchronized (within a small calculable margin of error). Thus, it won’t need to synchronize often.

How to use Law Enforcement Mode

This mode can be brought up by anyone, but to unlock this mode fully, a valid Apple issued law enforcement ID and one-use code must be entered into an iPhone for the mode to unlock and allow setup of a WiFi network. Without entry of an Apple issued law enforcement ID number or because of successive incorrect entries, the phone will reboot out of LEM after a short period time.

Law Enforcement ID

A law enforcement ID must be generated by Apple and these IDs will synchronize to all Apple devices prior to falling under law enforcement possession. To keep this list small, it will remain compressed on the device until LEM successfully activates, at which time the file is decompressed for offline validation use. This means that a nefarious someone can’t simply get into this mode and start mucking about easily to gain entry to a random phone. It also means someone can’t request Apple issue a brand new ID on the spot. Even if Apple were to create a new ID, the phone would take up to 24 hours to synchronize… and that assumes that the phone still has data service (which it probably doesn’t). Without data service, the phone cannot synchronize new IDs. This is the importance of creating these IDs in advance.

Apple will also need to go through a validation process to ensure the law enforcement officer requesting an ID is a valid officer working for a legitimate law enforcement organization. This in-advance validation may require a PDF of the officer’s badge and number, an agency issued ID card and any other agency relevant information to ensure the officer is a valid LE officer or an officer of the court. This requires some effort on the part of Apple.

To get an Apple law enforcement ID, the department needing access must apply for such access with Apple under its law enforcement support site (to be created). Once an Apple law enforcement ID has been issued, within 24 hours the ID will sync to phones, thus activating the use of this ID with the phone’s LEM. These IDs should not be shared outside of any law enforcement department. IDs must be renewed periodically through a simple validation process, otherwise they will expire and fall off of the list. Manufacturers shouldn’t have to manage this list manually.

Such a system is relatively simple to build, but may take time to implement. Apple, however, may not be cool with developing such a law enforcement system on its own time and dime. This is where the government may need to step in and mandate such a law enforcement support system be built by phone manufacturers who insist on using overly strong encryption. While government(s) can legislate that companies reduce their encryption strength on their devices to avoid building a law enforcement system as described, instead I’d strongly recommend that companies be required to build a law enforcement support and unlocking system into their devices should they wish to continue using ever stronger encryption. Why compromise the security of all devices simply for a small number of law enforcement cases? Apple must meet law enforcement somewhere in the middle via technological means.

There is also no reason why Apple and other device manufacturers are denying access to law enforcement agents for phone devices when there are software and technical solutions that can see Apple and other manufacturers cooperate with law enforcement, but yet not “give away the farm”.

I don’t even work for Apple and I designed this functional system in under 30 minutes. There may be other considerations of which I am not aware within iOS or Android, but none of these considerations are insurmountable in this design. Every device that Apple has built can support such a mode. Google should also be required to build a similar system for its Android phones and devices.

Apple is simply not trying.

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Rant Time: Google’s Lie

Posted in botch, business, california, rant by commorancy on January 7, 2020

finger-512I’ve already written an article or two about YouTube giving content creators the finger. I didn’t really put that information into this article’s context so that everyone can really understand what’s actually going on at YouTube, with the FTC and with Google. Let’s explore.

Lies and Fiction

Google has asserted and maintained, since at least 2000 when COPPA came into effect, that it didn’t allow children under age 13 on its platforms. Well, Google was caught with its proverbial pants down and suffered a $170 million fine at the hand of the FTC based on COPPA. Clearly, Google lied. To maintain that lie, it has had to do a number of things:

  1. For YouTube content creators, YouTube has hidden its metrics for anyone under the age of 13 from viewer stats on YouTube. What that means to creators is that the viewer metrics you see on your stats page is completely inaccurate for those under the age of 13. If Google had disclosed the under 13 age group of stats on this page, Google’s lie would have unraveled far faster than it did. For Google to maintain its lie, it had to hide any possible trail that could lead to uncovering this lie.
  2. For other Google platforms (Stadia, Chromebook, Android phones, etc), they likely also kept these statistics secret for the same reasons. Disclosure that the 12 and under age group existed on Google meant disclosing to the FTC that they had lied about this age group using its services all along.
  3. For Android phones, we’ll let’s just say that many a kid 12 and under have owned Android phones. Parents have bought them and handed them over to their children. For the FTC to remain so oblivious to this fact for years is a testament to how badly operated this portion of the government is.
  4. Google / YouTube had to instruct engineers to design software systems around this “we don’t display under age 13 metrics” lie.

Anyway, so lie Google did. They lied from 2000 all of the way to 2019. That’s almost 20 years of lying to the government… and to the public.

YouTube’s Lie

Considering that even just one COPPA infraction found to be “valid” could leave a YouTube channel owner destitute. After all, Google’s fine was $170 million. Because a single violation could cost a whopping $42,530, it’s a major risk simply to maintain a YouTube channel.

Because of the problem of Google perpetuating its lie about 12 and under for so long, this lie has become ingrained in Google’s corporate culture (and software systems). What this means is that for Google to maintain this lie, it had to direct its engineers to write software to avoid showing any statistic information anywhere that could disclose to anyone that Google allows 12 and under onto any of its platforms, let alone YouTube.

This also means that YouTube content creators are entirely left in the dark when it comes to viewer statistics of ages 12 and under. Because Google had intended to continue maintaining its “we don’t serve 12 and under here” lie, it meant that its systems were designed around this lie. This meant that any place where 12 and under could have been disclosed, this data was specifically culled and redacted from view. No one, specifically not YouTube content creators, could see viewer metrics for anyone 12 and under. By intentionally redacting this information from its statistics interfaces, no one could see that 12 and under were actually viewing YouTube videos or even buying products. As a creator, you really have no idea how many 12 and under viewers you have. The FTC will have access into YouTube’s systems to see this information, even if you as a content creator do not.

This means that content creators are actually in the dark for this viewer age group. There’s no way to really know if this age group is being accurately counted. Actually, Google is likely collecting this information, but they’re simply not disclosing it over public interfaces. Though, to be fully safe and to fully protect Google’s lie, they might have been purging this data more often than 13 and older data. If they don’t have the data on the system, they can’t be easily caught with it. Still, that didn’t help when Google finally did get caught and were fined $170 million.

Unfortunately, because Google’s systems were intentionally designed around a lie and because they are now already in place, undoing that intentional design lie could be a challenge for Google. They’ve had 19 years worth of engineering effort build code upon code avoiding disclosure of 12 and under using Google’s platforms. Undoing 19 years of coding might be a problem.

Swinging back around to that huge fine, this leaves YouTube in a quandary. It means that content creators have no way to know if the metrics that are being served to content creators are in any way accurate. After all, Google has been maintaining this lie for 19 years. They’ve built and maintained their systems around this lie. But now, Google must undo 19 years of lies built into their systems to allow content creators to see what we already knew… that 12 and under have been using the platform probably since 2000.

For content creators, you need to think twice when considering setting up a channel on YouTube. It doesn’t matter what your content is. If that content attracts children under 13, you’re at risk. The only type of channel content that cannot at all be seen as “for kids” is content that kids would never watch. There is really only a handful of content type I can name that wouldn’t appeal to children (not an exhaustive list):

  1. Legal advice from lawyers
  2. Court room video
  3. Horror programs
  4. Political programs
  5. Frank sex topics

It would probably be easier to state those types of programs that do appeal to children:

  1. Pretty much everything else

What that means is topics like music videos, video game footage, cartoons, pet videos, singing competitions, beauty channels, fashion channels, technology channels and toy reviews could appeal to children… and the list goes on. You name it and pretty much every other content type has the possibility of attracting children 12 and under… some content more than others. There’s literally very little that a child 12 and under might not consider watching.

The thing is, when someone decides to create a channel on YouTube, you must now consider if the content you intend to create might appeal to children 12 and under. If it’s generalized information without the use of explicit information, children could potentially tune in. Though, YouTube doesn’t allow true adult content on its platform.

Google’s lie has really put would-be channel creators into a huge bind with YouTube, plummeting the value of YouTube as a platform. For monetization, not only is there now the 1,000 subscriber hurdle you must get past and you must also have 14,000 views in a month, but now you must also be cognizant of the audience your content might attract. Even seemingly child-unfriendly content might draw in children unintentionally. If you interview the wrong person on your channel, you might find that you now have a huge child audience. Operating a YouTube Channel is a huge risk.

YouTube’s Value as a Platform

With this recent Google change, compounded by Google’s lie, the value of YouTube as a video sharing platform has significantly dropped. Not only did Google drop a bomb on its content creators, it has lied to not only the government, but to the public for years. With the FTC’s hand watching what you’re doing on YouTube, YouTube really IS moving towards “big government watching” as described in George Orwell’s book 1984. Why Google would allow such a deep level of governmental interference over its platform is a major problem, not just for Google, but for the computer industry as a whole. It’s incredibly chilling.

$42,530 per COPPA violation is not just small change you can pull out of your pocket. That’s significant bank. So much bank, in fact, that a single violation could bankrupt nearly any less than 100,000 subscriber channel on YouTube.

Not only do you have to overcome YouTube’s silly monetization hurdles, you must attempt to stay far away from the COPPA hurdle that YouTube has now foisted on you.

Google’s Mistake

Google did have a way to rectify and remediate this situation early. It’s called honesty. They could have simply fixed their platform to accurately protect and steer 12 and under away from its properties where they don’t belong. It could have stated that it did (and does) allow 12 and under to sign up.

If Google had simply been honest about 12 and under and allowed 12 and under to sign up, Google could have set up the correct processes from the beginning that would have allowed not only Google to become COPPA compliant, but by extension allow YouTube creators to remain compliant through Google’s tools. Google should have always remained in the business of protecting its creators from governmental interference. Yet, here we are.

In fact, the COPPA legislation allows for parental permission and consent and it’s not actually that hard to set up, particularly for a large organization like Google. For Google, in fact, it already has mechanisms it could leverage to attempt to obtain verifiable parental consent. If Google had chosen to setup and maintain a 12 and under verifiable parental consent program all along, YouTube content creators could have been left off of the hook. Instead, YouTube has given content creators the finger.

If YouTube content creators must share in Google’s lack of COPPA compliance, then content creators should equally share in a Google created parental consent system. Parental consent isn’t that hard to implement. Google could have spent its time building such a system instead of lying.

Trust and Lies

When companies as big as Google participate in lies of this magnitude, you should seriously question any business you do with such a company. Companies are supposed to be ethically bound to do the right thing. When companies don’t do the right ethical thing and perpetuate lies for years, everyone must consider how much you trust that company.

What else are they lying about? It’s difficult to trust someone who lies. Why is it any different when a company chooses to lie?

When that lie can cost you $42,530 per violation, that’s what comes out of lying. Google not only didn’t protect its content creators, it perpetuated a lie that has now left its content creators hanging out to dry.

This is why YouTube as a content creator platform is about as worthless as it can possibly be… not only for the lie and COPPA, but also the monetization clampdown from 2017-2018. Every year has brought another downside to YouTube and for 2019, it’s Google’s lie.

For large creators who have an entrenched large audience and who are making ad revenue bank from their audience (at least for the moment), I understand the dilemma to ditch YouTube. But, for those content creators who make maybe $5 a month, is it worth that $5 a month to risk $42,530 every time you upload a video? Worse, the FTC can go back through your back video catalog and fine you for every single video they find! That’s a lot of $42,530 fines, potentially at least one per video. Now that’s risky!

Solutions

There are solutions. The biggest solution, ditch YouTube for other video platforms such as Facebook, SnapChat, Vimeo or DailyMotion. If you’re live streaming, there’s YouNow, Twitch and Mixer. You’re not beholden to YouTube to gain an audience and following. In fact, with the huge black COPPA cloud now permanently hanging over YouTube, it’s only a matter of time before the FTC starts its tirade and cements what I’m saying here in this article. For small and medium sized creators, particularly brand new creators, it’s officially time to give YouTube the finger-512 (just as Google has given us the finger-512). It’s long past time to ditch YouTube and to find an alternative video sharing platform. You might as well make that one a 2020 New Year’s resolution. Let’s all agree that YouTube is officially dead and move on.

Just be sure to read the fine print of whatever service you are considering using. For example, Twitch’s terms and conditions are very explicit with regards to age… no one under 13 is permitted on Twitch. If only Google had been able to actually maintain that reality instead of lying about it for nearly 20 years.

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