Random Thoughts – Randocity!

How to make iTunes 12 look and act like iTunes 10

Posted in Apple, botch, business, california by commorancy on January 17, 2015

iTunes 12 has been out since just about the release of Yosemite. In the fall, out of the box iTunes 12 looks like iTunes 11, with that horrible all new interface that Apple foisted onto us. Well, all is not lost. You can now make iTunes 12 look and act a whole lot more like iTunes 10. Though, keep in mind that it’s not a perfect reincarnation of iTunes 10, for most purposes it is still very functional. Let’s explore.

The New Interface

When you first kick off iTunes 12 (or 11 for that matter), you’ll see that it shows your albums as large icons. If you click an icon, it expands and shows track listings below it in a split screen setup.

Here’s a tutorial video that shows what can be done. This video is HD, so you should expand it full screen to see the detail.

How to set up iTunes 12 like iTunes 10

 

Obviously there are still differences between iTunes 12 and iTunes 10, such as the row of buttons moved to the top rather than in the left playlist sidebar. But, these are more cosmetic than a problem. As long as I can get to list mode that I am most familiar with using, this was my biggest gripe with the the new iTunes views. I’m glad they’re back.

Searching, Movies and Playlists

Searching has changed somewhat. When you search, you will get search results by song and by album. This is relatively handy when creating a new playlist. You simply drag the album over and drop it on playlists and it will create a new playlist. Though, the playlist info is shown on the right including renaming it. Once you click ‘Done’, it will be saved into the playlist sidebar and you can edit it there the normal way.

You can also create playlists that now contain movies. So, you can drag your favorite trilogies over and create a playlist of these films. It will them play the playlist in order. These will also show in the left sidebar under Playlists when on Movies. The Playlists view is in the center section.

Changing Art

If you highlight all of the tracks in list view then right click and ‘Get Info’, you can paste the art in the upper right corner with the keyboard (as long as it’s on the clipboard already) and then save. It will then apply the art to every selected track. This is not much different from iTunes 10 if you used the get info panel. However, if you used the drag and drop method in the lower left of the window, that method is no longer here.

Cover Flow

Unfortunately, Cover Flow is still not back in iTunes 12. It’s funny too, because Cover Flow is still available as an option in MacOS X Yosemite in Finder. I don’t fully understand why it was removed from iTunes 11, but for whatever reason was left in MacOS X. This is inconsistent and odd. Apple is usually very consistent in UI design, mirroring whatever is in the OS in the applications. For whatever reason, the iTunes engineers have inexplicably removed Cover Flow from iTunes. I know that there was a lawsuit against Apple for the use of Cover Flow. So, it’s possible it was removed from iTunes 11 to satisfy that patent lawsuit. Apple, just pay the friggin’ patent trolls off and put Cover Flow back in.

iTunes 10

While I still like iTunes 10 for many reasons (full screen artwork), the small art panel in the lower left, etc. These are small concessions when considering an upgrade to iTunes 12 when you need to manage your library and you need to sync your latest iOS devices. Most all of the functionality I used is now back in iTunes 12 and I’m glad that it’s there. The ugly horrid album view is, mostly, a memory for me. I use that view only for films because it makes sense. I want to see the movie poster to know that’s the movie I want to watch. For albums, I want the track lists in the original way that made it easier to manage.

So, there you go. It’s now easy to get your iTunes 12 install very close to the way iTunes 10 use to work. Of course, there are still some things that haven’t been added back in. Though, the list view that looks like iTunes 10 is the thing that allowed me to finally upgrade to this this latest version.

Update for iTunes 12.4+

As of iTunes 12.4, Apple has once again rearranged the UI interface in Apple’s never ending revisionist tendencies. So now they’ve have added more buttons and buried some functions. They also removed the drop down available on playlists to make for easy configuration. The option is still there, but it’s now buried in a menu.

To change the playlist look-and-feel, you must now use the View=>Show View Options menu selection or use the J keystroke to bring up the options window.

iTunesViewOptionsAs you can see in the image to the left, the top most portion is what is most important for playlist setup. Click ‘View As’ to change the way the playlist looks. This drop down was formerly at the top of the playlist bar, but has now been removed. The only place where this option is now is in the View Options panel.

I guess Apple is now taking pages from Microsoft’s book of UI design. Meaning, they are now choosing to bury things under tons of mouse clicks which is extremely inefficient from a movement and time perspective. This does not in any way make moving around in this UI interface any faster. It is now firmly more cumbersome and pointless.

I just don’t even get what Apple is trying to accomplish here with these stupid and unnecessary design changes. If Jobs were alive, he’d be not only bringing some of these people to tears, but some of them might even see the door. It’s quite clear, there is no clear direction at Apple. If this is the work of Jony Ive, then please, let’s walk him to the Apple Campus door as fast as physics allows.

There seems to be no bad design depths to which Apple will now reach. I shake my head at just how far this malus domestica has fallen.

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Skylanders Trap Team: Review + Kaos Trap?

Posted in botch, video game, video gaming by commorancy on January 9, 2015

trap-team-compatibility-logo[Update 3: 4/6/2015]: Gamestop.com has several Kaos Trap bundles now available online for purchase. Not only do they now have the same 3 trap bundle as on Amazon for $15.99 (only available in stores), Gamestop.com also carries 3 additional Kaos Trap bundles (online only) that Gamestop has created (Kaos-Water-Magic, Kaos-Water-Earth & Kaos-Water-Life) containing 3 trap singles as a bundle for $17.97. If you’re looking for the individual trap (not as part of a 3 pack), this is the best and least costly way to get it. Now I know why Gamestop has been hoarding Kaos Traps from their case packs at their warehouse instead of sending them to the stores. They have been stockpiling these Kaos Traps to create these 3 trap single bundles for online sales. Retailers should not be allowed to break case packs open and hold out stock for months for the purpose of creating bundles. All I can say is, if you want this trap, hurry.

[Update 2: 4/1/2015]: It seems Amazon’s stock of the 3 trap bundle has been temporarily depleted at $14.99. Try back in a day or two as Amazon refreshes their stock every day. However, don’t limit yourself to Amazon. All retailers are likely to get this 3 pack. Try looking at (or calling) Best Buy, Walmart, Gamestop, Target, Kmart, Toys R Us or any other retailer near you that carries Skylander’s toys.

[Update 1: 4/1/2015]: If you’re looking for the Kaos Trap, it is now included in a 3 trap bundle (Air, Kaos, Earth) for KaosTrapBundle$14.99 available now at Amazon. Be sure to choose the Amazon version marked at $14.99. Amazon has a tendency to put items in stock as the first item in the listing (even if it’s a higher price). Choose the Amazon item at $14.99 even if it says it ships later. If you don’t see a $14.99 listing, it means Amazon’s stock has been depleted and their listing has been temporarily removed. Try back again another day.

Skylanders Trap Team

While I have to give kudos yet again to Activision for producing a top notch installment to the Skylanders franchise, there is one huge peeve I have with this series. What is Skylanders you ask? Let’s explore.

Skylanders Video Game and RFID

This game is relatively simple video game with a brilliant gimmick that parents all over the country are cursing their wallet. This is exactly how it was designed by Activision. So, what is it?

It’s simple, it’s basically a cartoon turned into an action fighting game with characters that you must purchase separately. Each figure you purchase has its own strengths and weaknesses in battle. These are determined by the character’s abilities. Once you buy a character toy, you place it on the Traptanium Portal (included with the Starter Pack) and an RFID reader pulls character information stored on the toy into the game. So, the more you play with that character, the higher it levels up and the stronger it becomes.

In fact, it’s a brilliant use of RFID technology and video games. I’d love to see more RPG games use this idea. For example, a series like the Elder Scrolls or Mass Effect or even Star Wars RPGs could benefit from this. Instead of relying on finding items in the world, you would buy them at the store and level them up on your character. The item could then be added to any character you own. There are so many uses for this idea in gaming, it’s sad that it’s not being used more. I think it’s absolutely brilliant for gaming.

Toys and Scarcity

My peeve.. Activision has taken the approach of releasing toys in waves and at random times throughout the year. This does a couple of things. First, withholding some toys means that you can’t play parts of the game until the toy is released. Second, some of the toys are intentionally hard to find so that parts of the game cannot even be completed until you manage to find it or you are willing to pay the highly inflated price on eBay or Amazon.

For Skylanders, this approach is extremely frustrating and introduces kids into the fray of toy collecting early. But, unfortunately, kids don’t have the money to locate or pay for these toys. The parents are firmly on the hook for locating and placating their child’s video game play.

To this I say, “Shame on you Activision”. This series appeals to children at an age that have little concept of collectible toys or scarcity of toys on the shelves. What am I talking about here?

Skylanders Traps

The latest Skylanders game is titled Trap Team. The concept behind this game is that not only can you buy and use toy characters, you can now trap the villains you defeat and they become good characters you can use to defeat new villains and trap them. But, this is not just about any old trap. I’m specifically talking about the Kaos trap. Note that there are 40 or so villains in the game. This also means you need to invest in about 40 traps to to entrap the villains. What is a trap? It’s a small toy that looks like a crystal. It is initially empty, but once you trap a villain, it becomes associated with that specific toy trap. So, everytime you place that trap into the portal, it recalls that same villain. If you take that crystal and put it in someone else’s game, it will also pull in that villain into their game.

In addition to buying small traps, there are different elements (earth, air, water, fire, life, tech, magic, undead, light and dark). Each of these element types requires a special trap that is color coded. So, unless you have one of these specific types of traps, you cannot trap a villain of that type. More specifically, the main villain in the game is Kaos. He has his own personal trap type called, creatively enough, the Kaos trap. This trap can only ever hold Kaos. Once you trap Kaos, you can use him as a character in battle.

KaosTrapUnfortunately, Activision has dropped the ball heavily with this game in this area. While it’s easy to find Fire, Water, Earth, Air, Tech, Life, Magic and Undead traps pretty much everywhere, the Kaos trap is extremely hard to find. In fact, in a case of 20-30 traps, there may be only 3 Kaos traps. This means the store gets a boatload of these easy-to-find elements and Kaos trap immediately sells out. Because Kaos can only be trapped in a Kaos trap, you have to find that trap or your child cannot play as Kaos. Kaos is the absolutely strongest villain in the game, so having him to use in battle is extremely useful.

Note, a lot of people believe this trap has never been released. It has. It was released when all of the traps first released. However, there are so few in the retailer case packs that you’re unlikely to ever see it in the store. What I recommend at this point is to buy the Dark Edition Starter Pack which contains an Ultimate Kaos trap. This will at least let your child play as Kaos. The Dark Edition is a whole lot more expensive than buying the Kaos trap at retail price, but this trap is almost impossible to find in any retailer. At this point, to buy the Kaos trap alone aftermarket might cost you $50. Though, that’s cheaper than buying the Dark Edition Starter pack. But, if you’re buying the game brand new, I highly recommend buying the Dark Edition set. If you’ve got an existing a game you’ve already purchased, then buying an aftermarket trap may be the only answer. I’d also suggest filing a complaint with Activision on the scarcity of this trap.

Light and Dark Traps

The reason I excluded the Light and Dark traps from the above is that both of these sets were released immediately prior to Christmas. These traps are a bit hard to find because they are brand new. But, they can be obtained in the light and dark adventure packs that also contain the new level, the trap and a trap master. The light (Sunscraper Spire) and dark (Midnight Museum) adventure sets can be found periodically on Amazon. Note, make sure that it says you’re buying these from Amazon and not a third party seller to get the lowest price. When Amazon (or any store) has these in stock, they should cost around $29.

Activision’s Game Clock

There is absolutely no reason the Kaos trap is so hard to find. Activision could ship retailers cases entirely of the Kaos trap and completely eliminate the scarcity of this trap. In fact, there is no reason this trap is so scarce. This is an artificial scarcity that Activision has introduced into the series, but this type of scarcity doesn’t belong with this game. This is a completely mistaken and asinine strategy. If this were a series aimed at adults (and specifically adult collectors), such as The Elder Scrolls series, this situation is perfectly acceptable. Unfortunately, this game is targeted completely at children. This scarcity of the Kaos trap is likely backfiring on Activision hard and ruining their PR, but they seem oblivious to this issue.

Parents have no interest in playing this game (other than getting things for their children) and will ultimately take the game away from little Timmy when it becomes too costly and problematic. That means, no more money to Activision from that family. More and more families are pulling the plug on this game in their household because of this exact scarcity issue. To avoid disappointments in children, you take away the thing that’s causing it. Worse, children don’t have the longest attention span in the first place. So, when a child can’t do what they want to do in the game, they’re going to give up on it sooner rather than later and never come back to it. Meaning, if they can’t get the Kaos trap to play as Kaos when they need it, they’ll give up on the game and forget all about it by the time the Kaos traps do arrive.

Shelf Life of Games

Games typically have a 6 month or so shelf life at the longest before a newer more compelling game is released. Seeing as this game released October 4th, 2014, the clock is firmly ticking on Activision to make these toys more readily available. If Activision cannot solve this Kaos scarcity problem, assuming the parents haven’t already pulled the plug on the game, the kids will lose interest by the time the next game arrives.

Kaos Arena Game Play

What’s worse is not only the shelf life, but the replay-ability. This game is short. It doesn’t take long to get through the entire story piece. Getting through the arena levels takes only slightly longer. However, if you want to open every door and unlock every treasure, that takes substantially longer. Unfortunately, you can’t easily do this because Activision was, until recently, withholding critical toys to make this a reality. But, in gaming, not everyone is a completionist, let alone assuming this of children. While some children may want to finish the entire game and get every medal, not everyone will.

In reality, once you get through the story entirely, you’re pretty much done with the game. You don’t learn anything new or gain any new story by completing everything. So, it’s a stretch to ask kids to wait months to get the final content they need to complete the game. In fact, Activision is stretching it if they think they can stretch this game’s lifespan longer with this slow drip toy strategy. Activision will be lucky if many kids are still playing this game come March. Timing is everything with this game and Activision not delivering critical pieces of the game within a few weeks of the release of this game is really not a great strategy.

Costly

SkylandersDarkEditionOne aspect of this game that I haven’t yet touched on is cost. To really play this game properly, in addition to buying the Starter Pack Edition game kit (around $50) or the Dark Edition Kit (around $125), you need a Trap Master of every element and purchase traps of every element. Like Skylanders Swap Force required purchasing characters that you could swap their top and bottoms, you also needed every element and every power type to complete Swap Force. The same goes with Trap Team. Not only do you need a Trap Master of every element (of which Magic, Light and Dark are the hardest to find), you also need to buy a trap to contain each villain to be a completionist. That entails purchasing 40 traps in addition to 10 trap masters. Traps cost around $6 a piece and trap masters anywhere from $12.99 to $14.99, though Toys R Us puts them on sale at buy one get one 40% off regularly. So, you can reduce the cost by taking advantage of this deal. You can also save a little money if you buy the bulk trap packs that contain 3 or 8 traps bundled together.

And don’t think you can get away just with purchasing the toys. No. You’ll need to organize and store them. So, you’ll also need to purchase a chest for the traps and a case to hold the figures to keep them organized and stored.

EliteChopChopIt doesn’t stop there, there are also standard toy characters that you can buy to battle with and more powerful characters called Eon’s Elites (which are primarily collectibles and only available at Gamestop and EB Games in North America, Australia and New Zealand, and select retailers in Europe). They also appear to be limited. Be prepared to call Gamestop or EB Games looking for these Elites if you need to find them. There are adventure packs to add new levels to the game which usually retail around $30-35.

This is a fairly substantial investment for a game. Most games cost $60 with at most $10-20 worth of DLC. But, Skylanders can run you into the hundreds of dollars with all of the toys and add-ons. I’d recommend that, unless absolutely necessary, the toys should remain in their packaging. This will retain the value of the toy. So, when the game is done, you can put it on eBay and sell it off at a reasonably good value. People are willing to buy figures still in the package, so it’s always wise to do this when possible. Keep in mind that this is impossible to do for the traps. The traps have to be extracted from their packages to be used. But, the Trap Masters and most of the characters will play just fine if left in the package. The only exception to this is the Light and Dark adventure packs that include traps that must be extracted to be used. So, you have to rip open these packages for the traps.

Overall

The game is reasonably fun and plays like watching a cartoon. The voice acting is superb and the story is well written. But, it does require a costly investment in toys and extras. Unless you have the means and you are willing and able to run around or call stores constantly to find that ever-elusive toy or trap, you might not want to consider this game for your child. It could end up being a huge source of frustration. Else, you’re likely to find yourself spending a lot of time running around looking for the elusive trap, toy or character. And, these waves of new toys don’t stop. There are many variations of trap shapes (well more than there are villains). Toys will continue to show up in stores until Activision releases the next version of Skylanders. However, you will be able to use these toys in the next Skylander’s game, but Activision will require a new gimmick to force repurchase of an entirely new set of toys. Ultimately, the game itself is fun, but not overly replayable. However, for some children Trap Team may offer some level of replay.

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The Million Dollar Money Drop: $800k loss analyzed

Posted in botch, business by commorancy on January 6, 2015

Fox aired a game show entitled The Million Dollar Money Drop in late 2010. This show’s gimmick had contestants placing money piles (starting with $1 million dollars in $20 wrapped bill piles) on answers. If you answered correctly, the money stayed on the table and you got to answer more questions with that money. If the money fell, you lost that money. After a number of rounds, you might get to keep some or all of the money depending on how many answers you got right. The show ran for 1 season for a total of 12 episodes before being cancelled.

In 2010, a couple is seen placing $800,000 on an answer only to lose it all based on an incorrect answer. Let’s explore.

The Controversial Question

Category: Inventions
The answers:

  1. Macintosh Computer
  2. Sony Walkman
  3. Post-It Notes

The question: Which of these sold in stores first?

While this may seem like this question has a definitive answer, it doesn’t. In fact, it is in every sense of the word a trick question and should have never appeared on this show. Let’s understand why.

Point of View

While a predecessor to Post-It Notes may have been on sale during a limited test market run in 1977 as Press ‘n Peel offered by 3M (performing dismally), the product officially branded Post-It Notes didn’t go on sale nationwide in the US until 1980. But, the trick to these answers doesn’t stop here. Sony also introduced the product brand named Sony Walkman in the US in 1980. However, the Sony Walkman was on sale in Japan in 1979. But, since the question wasn’t explicit on where those stores were, the correct answer is still that there is no correct answer because of too much ambiguity based on the person’s point of view.

If you take the answer literally by looking only at the brand names, then Post-It Notes and Sony Walkman both went on sale in the US during the same year: 1980. Why is the US piece important? Let’s understand that this show was geared towards a US audience. This means that neither the contestants nor most of the audience would be aware of sell dates of products in other countries. So, the ‘first sold in stores’ would have to be taken implicitly to mean ‘in the US’. Taking only US sales of these explicit brand names into consideration, the answer would be a draw. They were both sold in stores the same year in the US.

If the question had asked more explicitly about worldwide sales, then the correct answer to the question would be Sony Walkman (still going by the product’s literal name) because of the sales in Japan in 1979.

Category Inventions

Because this category is explicitly discussing inventions, you have to ask if this question covers all incarnations of the invention branded or not? Which means that if you aren’t literally using the brand names and are covering all incarnations and names of the product before it was finally sold as these names (i.e., covering the entire invention history), then 3M’s product is the winning answer as Post-It Notes because they were introduced and sold in test markets as early as 1977. However, that also means that early Sony cassette players may also be considered Walkmans even if not branded explicitly with that name. Again, this adds even more ambiguity to this answer.

The Million Dollar Money Drop

Let’s bring this back around to the show. Why would a show ever put such a trick question on a show? Some people blame the show’s research department for (im)properly researching the answers. Personally, I don’t think this is true. I believe the question was properly researched and was used intentionally for one reason: To thin out the contestant’s money. Because this question was a trick, the answer that had the most money would have been the wrong answer. In fact, any answer with the most money would have been the wrong answer. The show could have justified that wrong answer by taking any of the above ambiguous points of view to justify dropping the money.

The point to the questions on shows like this is not to give you a chance to keep the money, but to take it away. These shows are in business to be, first and foremost, a TV show… to be entertainment. They want to give away the least amount of money possible. They do this by asking questions without simple answers.

Answer Controversy
 

Infamous clip from the show.

 

In this particular case, the show went way overboard with this question. But, their ultimate goal was achieved by taking away $800,000 from the contestants. That was entirely intentional by the producers. The point is to take away as much money as possible from the contestants.

Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding this entire issue left the show in a tough position. Because so many people believe that the 1977 date is the ‘correct’ date for the 3M product, they also believe the couple lost the money on the ‘correct’ answer. They didn’t. This was a trick question that had no correct answer. They didn’t lose the money either because it wasn’t theirs to begin with. The show gives you the money as part of the show to ‘gamble’ with and that’s exactly what the contestants did. They gambled on that answer and lost. The contestants couldn’t have walked away with that money at that time. They had to answer the question. If they had walked away, they would forfeit the game and the show. Were that to happen, the show would likely have never aired.

If the couple had actually realized the controversy surrounding this question at the time of the show (which was evident in their own bickering), they could have hedged and placed 50% on one answer and 50% on the other. This would have at least kept 50% for further questions. The show was going to pull the drop on whichever answer had the highest amount of money. It just happened to be Post-It Notes. But, if they had placed all or most of their money on Sony Walkman, it would have dropped as the wrong answer. If they had put 50% on the two answers, the show couldn’t drop both. So, they would have at least kept $440,000 to continue playing.

If anything, what this says is that in the age of the Internet search, Game Shows would be wise not to use such ambiguous questions and answers. As soon as people walk away from a game show, they’re going to Internet search for the right answer immediately. If the contestant had had a phone on stage, I’m sure he would have looked it up right then and there.

Note that this show offered for these contestants a second chance to ‘try again’ because of this issue. Though, I’m sure that after this public humiliation, why would they want to do it again? After all, this YouTube video is likely to be around forever. I’m also certain that the controversy around this entire issue is what caused the cancelation of this game show. Fox just wanted to distance itself as far away from this as possible. The best way to do that was get rid of the show, and that’s exactly what Fox did.

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