Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Amazing Cover Song of the Week: Journey’s Open Arms

Posted in music by commorancy on October 30, 2015
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Rant Time: iOS 9.1 and iCloud Backup == Fail

Posted in Apple, botch, business by commorancy on October 27, 2015

icloud_icon_brokenThis rant will be relatively short and sweet. I recently upgraded my iPhone to iOS 9.1. Not only were there some stupid issues around their new and improved upgrade process, iCloud backup is entirely broken. Let’s explore.

Pre-upgrade problems

Apple has introduced an upgrade after-hours process. What that means is that you need to agree to some terms and then the iPhone will upgrade between 2AM and 4AM as long as your phone is plugged in. I thought, “yay” until I got the agreement screen at which time I promptly yelled, “what the hell?”. Let me explain…

Apple forces on top of all else this automated upgrade agreement screen. It even disables the home button so you can’t get out of that screen by accidentally pressing the home button (like that would ever happen). That means you’re firmly planted on that screen (or so it seems). Anyway, on the agreement screen, you have to type in your Apple login credentials to verify you and to help you with that process, the iPhone conveniently pops up an on-screen keyboard like it typically does. Except, the Apple developers forgot one crucial detail. They forgot to give you a way to get rid of the keyboard when you’re done. Pressing the Enter button at the bottom right of the keyboard does absolutely nothing. The keyboard remains firmly planted on top of, you guessed it, the submit button. This means you cannot press the submit button… and, you can’t press the home button… and, you can’t do anything else.

So, now you’re literally stuck. You can’t press the submit button to complete the action and you can’t get out of this screen, or so it seems. I decided to take matters into my own hands. I pressed and held the power button until the Slide to Power Off slider appeared. Lo and behold, doing this actually made that screen go away. This entire debacle should have been my warning. But noooo. I didn’t listen to that little voice saying not to upgrade now.

Can’t use Automated Update

So now that I forced my way out of that screen with the power button, there is no way to go back in and resume the process. You’re probably wondering why I might want to do that? I had planned on hooking up a bluetooth keyboard to the phone so that on screen keyboard would not present. This would allow me to enter the data and then have access to the submit button, but noooo. Can’t make it that easy now can we Apple? So, I performed the upgrade in the normal way, by going into Settings=>General=>Software Update and used the standard method.

iCloud backup and 9.1 fail

Turn Off & DeleteTo a lesser degree, I had this same problem in 9.0.4 (or whatever the last 9.0 version was). When I attempted to backup my phone to iCloud, for whatever reason the iPhone decides to back up every app on your phone by default. Mind you, I have several gigs worth of apps on my phone on top of the 15G or so of images/videos in my library. I spent a good day working on getting my iCloud backup working on 9.0.x. It took me the better part of several hours working through stupid Settings app bugs just to get all of my apps excluded from backups. Let’s understand that Apple requires you to manually disable each and every app separately from being backed up. Let’s also understand that in order to do so, each time you click to green slider to the OFF position, you have confirm a popup that asks ‘Turn Off and Delete’ for every single app separately. Let’s consider that my phone has hundreds of apps installed. So many apps, in fact, that Settings crashes about 1/4 of the way through the ‘Turn Off and Delete’ confirmation banners. It’s an arduous task at best and it’s frustrating and aggravating at worst.

IMG_1821Yet, rolling into 9.1, Apple promptly reverts everything I spent 1-2 hours doing and now defaults back to turning every app ON (see left image) for backup yet again. How do I know? I get that very annoying ‘Not Enough Storage’ notification on my lock screen. I spent valuable time setting all of that up and Apple promptly forgets my settings. The very definition of bad user experience (UX). Instead, this time I can’t even stop the backups of any apps. Apple only gives 5GB of data storage for free. I had all of my devices comfortably making backups on iCloud using maybe 3.1GB total (4 devices), after the excruciatingly aggravating task of finally excluding all of the unnecessary crap that Apple insists on including. Perfect… until 9.1.

Now, I’m in a catch 22. I can’t make a successful backup because iOS continually resets all of my apps and forces me to back up everything to the iCloud the first time. Yet, iOS won’t allow me to change settings to deselect the apps because it must have a successful backup first. FAIL. You can go try to deselect apps, but that’s all for show. It doesn’t actually work. Oh sure, the green ON buttons turn OFF, but it’s not as if that actually works. It doesn’t respect that those apps are now OFF and the backup fails. Once it fails, all of those buttons you’ve spent tons of times clicking to OFF will all be automatically reenabled after the backup failure.

I have no idea what Apple was thinking here, but they clearly had their heads in the iClouds. This problem has gotten progressively worse with each release and has culminated in iCloud backup being entirely unusable unless you feel the urge to spend at least $1/mo for 50GB of storage so you can work around Apple’s stupid bugs. I have no intention of working around any developers bugs by spending money. Either provide workable functionality or don’t. But, there is no way I will ever spend money to a company to work around bugs in software. Apple, if you really want to force us to pay you to get more than 5GB, then just charge us up front for any space issued. Don’t beat around the bush by introducing bugs that make the freebie you’ve given become worthless. Let’s just be honest here.

If this is about spending yet more money with you to get people to buy into your iCloud storage, then just tell us that’s what you want. Don’t force us to go buy more because you want to force everything on our phones to back up. That’s not how you do it. Just change the terms and send everyone a notice that the 5GB storage you’ve issued us is no longer free and at the end of the month you lose it or you pay for it. Just tell the consumers what you want. You don’t need to do it by introduction of bugs that forces phone owners to backup everything on their phone.

Seriously… 5GB?

In this day and age when Google is giving practically terabytes of storage for free, Apple can only afford 5GB a month? Really? How much money does Apple make off of their products and they’re going to be that stingy with storage? On top of that, they force you to backup your entire 16/32/64GB phone over to iCloud. Not only is that stupid from the 5GB free perspective, it’s just asinine that I can’t control my bandwidth to this service. Seriously, I don’t want to send over 10-20GB of data across my network bandwidth. I want to control what I send and how much I send. Since I can no longer do that…

Buh Bye iCloud Backup.. it was nice knowing ya!

I’m done with iCloud backup. Not only is it stupidly designed, what real purpose does it serve at 5GB? I can backup my entire phone’s contents on iTunes on my local machine(s) as many times as I wish. There are no bandwidth constraints or disk space issues. Yet, I can barely backup my contacts on iCloud at 5GB. I have no intention of dropping $1/mo to get to 50GB, which is still only a pittance, let alone $10/mo for 1TB. Who knows how secure the data really is in iCloud? One breach and Apple will be run out of town on a rail.

I’m tired of dealing with Apple’s stupid developers who can no longer code their way out of a paper bag. I’m tired of dealing with bugs that shouldn’t even exist on a device that used to be the most intuitive device built. Now it’s a device that is merely following behind Android’s, ahem, innovation. So, I’ll happily head back to the time before iCloud existed. I’m done with that service for backups. I prefer to keep my backups local anyway. Buh Bye iCloud backups.

Apple, figure it out !

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Hot Collectible Toys and Scalping

Posted in business, collectibles, scalping by commorancy on October 4, 2015

I’m tired of it and I really don’t much tolerate it anymore. I’m a memorabilia collector, specifically film franchises and video games. Yet, what I find continually frustrating is the hoarders and scalpers. You know, you go to the store looking for something to be there, but there’s nothing there. But, then you find that collectible on eBay or Amazon in droves marked up to at least twice the price. I’m sick of this. Let’s explore.

Collectibles

Star-Wars-TFA-Elite-Series-Captain-Phasma-1aStar Wars The Force Awakens is right around the corner (December 18th) and the toys and other collectibles are now hitting the store shelves. Yet, you’ll be lucky to find much of it due to hoarders / scalpers. In the 70s, scalping was limited to concert tickets. Since Kenner introduce Star Wars toys, these same folks have now jumped from ticket scalping to collectible scalping. A practice of which I do not approve. I realize what it is. People want to make a few bucks on something. I get it. But, it’s not exactly fair to those of us who actually want to find the item in the store and buy it at retail price. We don’t want to have to resort to shopping on eBay from some would-be scalper at hugely inflated prices.

I really dislike heading over to eBay and finding page after page after page of that item marked up by 50% or more. It would be great if stores could do something about this. I’m glad to see that at least one store is doing something about this. Enter Toys R Us. While it may not be the perfect answer, it’s at least a step in the right direction.

Skylanders Superchargers

NitroStealthStingerMany stores are now releasing exclusives for the Skylanders franchise. For example, Toys R Us tends to get Legendary exclusives. The Legendary Skylanders are typically painted navy blue and gold. Target gets the Nitro series. This series also looks like the Legendary series, dark blue and gold. Sometimes the stores get individual characters, sometimes they get combo packs and sometimes they get play sets. For example some Supercharger exclusives this year include:

  • Target => Nitro Stealth Stinger Vehicle
  • Best Buy => Steel Plated Smash Hit SteelPlatedSmashHit1Legendary-Hurricane-Jet-Vac-02a
  • Toys R Us
    • Legendary Hurricane Jet-Vac
    • Legendary Sky Racing Pack (includes Legendary Astroblast, Legendary Sun Runner and Sky Trophy)

I don’t think Walmart has ordered any Superchargers exclusives yet, but I could be wrong. Though, it is guaranteed there will be more store exclusives in the coming months.

Star Wars The Force Awakens

Since Disney has now taken this franchise and plans on reviving it with at least three new films over the next several years, we will see all sorts of Star Wars merchandise and toys hitting the store shelves, including exclusives at the Disney store. Yes, the Disney store has its own line of exclusives. Specifically, a line of die cast 6.5 inch figures labeled Elite Series (see Phasma above).

Again, you’ll be lucky to find these Elite Series at the Disney store or online. In general, heading into any of these retailers, you’re not likely to easily find these exclusives. Why?

Scalpers and Collectibles

The primary problem is that stores order far too little stock for the number of people who want to buy them. Secondarily, scalpers make off with at least half, if not 3/4 of the limited stock fully intending to place the items onto eBay or Amazon at well inflated prices. Likely only 25-50% of the stock (perhaps even less) actually makes it into actual collector’s hands at retail price. The rest of that stock makes its way onto eBay, Amazon, Craigslist or into comic book shops on consignment at sometimes double the retail price.

Scalping isn’t the intent of these collectibles. The intent is to get the collectibles into the hands of collectors who will actually appreciate the toys and who want to display them, open them and enjoy them. Not into the hands of scalpers who don’t care about the item and whose only motive is to make some quick cash from selling the item.

Let’s understand, though, speculating that a toy will make you any money is about as risky as taking your money to Vegas and playing the slots. You might get something, you might not. You might end up keeping those toys as worthless. What may seem scarce today may end up being the peg warmer tomorrow after the mass shipments arrive. Of course, if you return the item to the retailer before the return period expires, you can get your money back from the store. But, that holds stock back from those who were looking for it. As a scalper, you should be careful about returns. Excessive returns could flag your credit card.

Countering the Scalpers

Because stores can’t know purchasing intent of any individual, they must sell the item to the person with the cash. So, there’s really no way to know if a person is a scalper or if they are a legitimate collector. However, there are other ways to counter this problem and Toys R Us has found the perfect way to do it… by opening an eBay store.

LegendarySkyRacingPackaFor example, Toys R Us’s Legendary Sky Racing Pack (mentioned above) is available exclusively on eBay from Toys R Us at retail price ($35.99). In among the listings for this pack, you’ll see a lot of eBayers with their scalped packs marked at $50, $60 and even $70 plus shipping. You may or may not find this pack in the Toys R Us stores and it is definitely not on their web store. It seems to be exclusively available in the eBay store. For collectors, this is the perfect counter to would-be scalpers. As long as Toys R Us continues to operate an eBay store putting ‘hot toys’ up at retail prices, this will undermine the excessive pricing of those attempting to scalp on eBay. This means those other sellers may have to pull their listing down and will hopefully discourage future scalping attempts.

I wholeheartedly applaud Toys R Us taking this action. It’s not only ingenious selling, it’s the perfect way to stop this problem. I wish even more stores would do this to thwart retail scalping at its source. By not placing that stock onto their web site and instead placing these ‘hot items’ into their eBay store at retail prices, this means is that would-be scalpers have to either drop their prices to match Toys R Us, thus not making any money, or they must eat the toy purchase (or otherwise return it to the store to get their money back).

Excessive Returns

If I were Toys R Us, and when these returns start rolling in, I’d place the people who are returning these ‘hot’ items on a watch list. If they exhibit this same behavior of returning ‘hot collectible toys’, especially in larger quantities, I’d place those people onto a do not sell list across the entire chain. Deny their credit card purchase for future sales of hot collectibles. It’s very easy to tag what’s a hot collectible, so it’s also easy to identify those trying to scalp through returns and then deny sales of future items to these individuals. For those of us collectors who never return our items, this whole issue would never affect us. It would only affect scalpers intent on scalping and returning when ‘things don’t work out’.

Countering unnecessary high prices

Of course, Toys R Us could run out of stock at some point and force people to contemplate a higher priced alternative.  As long as Toys R Us keeps the item in stock, those scalper listings won’t ever sell.

I would love to see the Disney Store, Target, Walmart, Gamestop and other retailers exacting this same selling strategy for their exclusive or hot selling items. Pull the items out of the store and put the stock on eBay and Amazon at retail pricing. Make sure you have well enough stock on hand to keep this store stocked continually. Would-be scalpers would need to think twice about using these outlets to perform their scalping efforts going forward. To Toys R Us, I say, “Bravo”… in attempting to counter this problem at its source. You should expand this concept and do this in more places where scalpers sell. I’d personally like to see the toy and collector scalper market shut down entirely for first run retail collectibles.

When do ‘collectibles’ become actual Collectibles?

Of course, once the stores have discontinued selling the item, the item is no longer available and the items can no longer be returned to the retailer (past the return period), this fully opens up the collectible sales market. However, until first run retail stock is discontinued and depleted and the item is no longer carried by the retailer, I don’t considered it a collectible in the sense that it should command a higher than retail price tag. Though, mistakes and variants have their place as unique, these can command whatever price someone is willing to pay. But, for non-special retail items, it is not a collectible as long as it is carried in the store.

As a collector, I don’t believe any item deserves to be opened up to the collector’s market until the item reaches 10 years in age past first run. But, I do understand that people want to rush their collectible to market to “sell it now”. I just don’t believe that any item should command the true collector price tag until after it reaches the 10 year mark. Though, some collectors rush to complete their collections at all costs. It doesn’t help that some buyers are willing to shell out nearly any amount of cash for something that could be had at a retail store for retail prices. These buyers are just feeding into the scalping frenzy which only serves to keep this cycle going. I’m quite happy to see Toys R Us is taking steps to help shut this market down, at least for the toys and collectibles that they sell. Well done Toys R Us.

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