Random Thoughts – Randocity!

How to revive old Wasabi powder

Posted in food, food connoisseur, howto by commorancy on October 30, 2018

You bought some powdered Wasabi 3 years ago in a can and forgot all about it. You’ve let it sit in your pantry all that time. You need wasabi and you remember that you have some powder. When you try to mix it up, it tastes bitter and not at all like Wasabi. There is a fix. Let’s explore.

Genuine Wasabi Japonica vs Horseradish

I’d be remiss by not leading with this. Genuine Wasabi comes from the Wasabi Japonica plant. This plant is notoriously difficult to grow and is extremely persnickety when it comes to where in the world it wants to grow. Obviously, it grows well in parts of Japan. It also grows in parts of New Zealand. It looks like this when growing:

Wasabia_japonica_2

Photo courtesy of Qwert1234

Wasabi Japonica also has a long tapered cylindrical root that when grated or ground becomes the signature garnish we’ve come to know and love. The roots look like this:wasabi-root

Photo courtesy of hfordsa via Flickr

This is Wasabi Japonica.

The difficulty with this green garnish is that it can be readily mimicked by horseradish, hot mustard and green food coloring when dried into a powder. Some people call this “fake” Wasabi. I simply call it “wasabi” with a lower case ‘W’.

This ‘wasabi’ version is most often the powdered form that you’ll find in supermarkets and is what is most often served at Sushi restaurants in the U.S. (read the label or ask your sushi chef). If you live in North America,  “wasabi” (horseradish) is typically what you’ll find 99% of the time. The 1% of the time where you find genuine Wasabi Japonica is a rarity and it means the Sushi restaurant understands the subtle, important difference in flavor between the genuine article and the horseradish version. I’ve even found fresh cut Wasabi Japonica at one sushi restaurant. That was a treat!

The most often cited reason for using horseradish over genuine Wasabi Japonica is cost. While that may be mostly true, the truth is that it’s actually much more difficult to get genuine Wasabi in the US simply because it’s notoriously difficult to grow. This, of course, raises the price because you have to import it.

This means importing Wasabi Japonica from places like Japan or New Zealand and there is a monetary cost to importing produce. However, the flavor profile between the horseradish version and genuine Wasabi Japonica is markedly different. Even though they both produce the signature nose heat we know and love, Wasabi Japonica simply tastes different.

Powdered Wasabi

Dried and powdered wasabi, whether genuine or horseradish must be rehydrated to be useful in all of its green pasty glory. The difficulty with its powdered form is that, depending on the powder’s age, it takes longer and longer to hydrate fully to bring back its signature heat. This is called blooming.

For example, if you hydrate wasabi powder and immediately taste it, you’ll notice no heat at all. It’ll only taste bitter. This means that the wasabi has not yet bloomed. You must wait a period of time before the wasabi has fully bloomed back into its signature hot flavor and lost that bitterness.

How long that bloom takes depends entirely on the ….

Age of Powdered Wasabi

Let’s get back to that old powder you have sitting in your cupboard. The longer the wasabi sits in a zippered bag, can or jar, the slower it takes to rehydrate. As I said above, it will take time to bloom back into its signature flavor. How long it takes depends on how old your wasabi powder is. So, don’t throw your powder away if you rehydrate the powder and it still tastes bitter 10 minutes later. You might be thinking that because it’s bitter it’s bad. It isn’t bad. It’s just super dry.

Sure, fresh powder hydrates to full strength in about 8-10 minutes. If you need some wasabi quick, getting fresh powder from the store may be your best answer. If you can plan ahead a little, your aged wasabi powder may take up to 24 hours to reach full flavor.

For several year old powder, simply mix it up, place it into a closed container and let it finish blooming in the fridge. I personally have some aged wasabi powder that now takes up to 24 hours to bloom. This is a horseradish + hot mustard version. I keep a small amount ready in the fridge as a condiment. When it gets low, I hydrate more and let it bloom overnight. I do have some genuine Wasabi Japonica powder which blooms fully in about 8 minutes. But, I only use that for special occasions or if I need some quick. I use the horseradish version when I’m mixing it into ketchup, mayonnaise or mustard or for any other recipe purposes.

Don’t throw out your older powder thinking it’s bad because it appears to remain bitter. You just need to wait longer to let the flavor work its way back out. The fix to old powder is that might take up to 24 hours in the fridge to fully bloom! However, it also means you need to plan ahead when using older wasabi powder.

Heating Wasabi Powder

You might be thinking you can heat the hydrating bitter wasabi and make it hydrate faster. Never do this. It doesn’t work. It will make the wasabi gluey and useless. It will become bad and you will have to toss it. Do not heat wasabi powder when hydrating it. Instead, mix it up with water and let it rehydrate in the fridge overnight.

Rehydrating wasabi Powder

If you’re new to wasabi and you’re wondering how to rehydrate it, it’s simple. Grab a small container and put a teaspoon of powder in the container. Now, fill your teaspoon with water and pour about half in and begin mixing. If the powder is still too dry and thick, add a little more water to bring it to a paste consistency you like. If you like being able to shape it into a ball with your fingers, then you’ll want it a little dryer. If you like it a little more runny, then add more water.

The consistency of the paste doesn’t play a part in blooming speed. The water does need to be mixed in thoroughly, though. The paste simply needs to sit to fully bloom and that takes time. Speaking of hot mustard, this problem also applies to cans of hot mustard powder as well.

Itadakimasu!


As always, if you have found this Randocity article useful and it helped you revive some old wasabi powder, please leave a comment below.

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Game Review: Red Dead Redemption 2

Posted in botch, video gaming by commorancy on October 27, 2018

Red Dead Redemption 2_20181026235524

I was so wanting to like Red Dead Redemption 2 right out of the gate. For Rockstar, this game’s lengthy intro and dragging pace is a total misfire. Let’s explore.

A Horrible, Horrible Intro

The whole slow snow covered mountain terrain opening is an incredible fail for a game series like Red Dead Redemption. It’s so slow and rail based that I just want to toss the disc in the trash. This insipid opening doesn’t inspire me to want to “wait it out” for the “rest” of this game. All I desperately want to do is skip this opening and get through it as fast as possible. Unfortunately, not only is it unskippable, it’s ….

Slow, Slow, Slow

Red Dead Redemption 2_20181027022716

When following the rail based opening “stories”, even when you do manage to follow the correct path (a feat in and of itself), it’s entirely far too slow of a pace. I could run to the kitchen and make a sandwich in the time it takes to get from point A to B in this game.

The horses run like they’re drugged. Even worse is the forced stamina meter on horses. This isn’t a simulation, it’s an RPG style “Old West” game. We don’t want to water and feed our horses so they can run fast. Then, have to stop and feed them again when they run out of “energy”. That’s akin to making us fill our GTA5 cars up with gas at in-game gas stations. Thankfully, they didn’t make us endure that stupidity in GTA5. Unfortunately, that stupidity is included in RDR2. We also don’t want our horses to run out of energy while running at full gallop. A stupid concept made stupider by the mere inclusion of it in this game.

The game seems like it’s running in slow motion. I’m not sure what’s going on here or why R thought this opening play style would be okay, but it isn’t. At least with GTA, when you got in a car, it was fast. Here, everything moves at a snail’s pace and the rail based gang quests are sheer torture. I just want this part to be over so I can finally get to the meat of the game.

R, let us skip these insanely boring, long and insipid intros. I don’t want to endure this crap. This opening is a horrible misfire for a game in a franchise like Red Dead Redemption. It’s fine if a tutorial opening takes 15-20 minutes. But, when an opening takes 2 hours or more to get past, it’s entirely WAY TOO LONG. Cut it down… seriously.

Failed Intro Setup

I understand what Rockstar was trying to do with this opening. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. It’s fine to see the gang camaraderie being built, but it doesn’t take 2+ hours and snail’s pacing to do it. This dragged-out opening is a horribly unnecessary.

I realize the opening of any game is typically tutorial city, but let me skip most of it. I don’t want to be told how to open a cabinet or how to sit down. I can figure this out on my own. Just show me the screen icon and let me do the rest. I don’t need little black boxes appearing in the corner telling me how to do the most simplistic things. It’s like Rockstar thinks we’ve never ever played a video game in our entire lives. Shit, it’s RDR 2 for crisake. It’s a sequel. We’ve likely already played RDR. I have.

Condescending treatment to gamers by hand-holding even the most basic of actions is as torturous as this far-too-slow-paced intro. Whoever greenlit this intro should be removed from producing future video games. Just get to the game already, Rockstar!


Camera

Batter Batter Batter… swing and miss. And, what a miss this one is for R! Let me start this section by saying there is no “photo mode” at all in this game. Instead, you have to obtain an “old timey” camera from some hack who’s in a bar. Then, you have to equip it from your satchel. Only after you obtain and equip this camera can you actually take pictures in-game. Uh, no. I realize this is supposed to be some kind of immersion tactic, but having characters take photos for quests with an in-game camera should be entirely separate from having a photo mode built into the game for player use and sharing. A photo mode should be available from the moment the first gameplay begins. It shouldn’t be something that’s “found or earned” later in the game.

Rockstar again swung and missed on this one. Rockstar, next time, just add a photo mode into the game as part of the UI for the player to use from the start. If the player character needs a camera to take pictures for a quest, just make it disposable and disappear after the quest is completed.

The reason for having a photo mode is so you can add features like exposure, filters and get bird’s-eye views of the environment. Limiting the photos to the perspective of the character holding the camera is stupid and wasteful. We want to use an actual photo mode, not a character acquired and limited camera.

Lighting and Graphics

I was actually expecting a whole lot more from the RAGE engine here. While Grand Theft Auto wasn’t perfect in rendering realism and didn’t always offer the most realistic results, the lighting did offer realistic moments, particularly with certain cars and with certain building structures under certain daylight lighting conditions. With Red Dead Redemption 2, I was actually expecting at least some improvement in the RAGE engine for 4K rendering. Nope. It seems that Rockstar simply grabbed the same engine used in GTA and plopped it right into Red Dead Redemption 2.

So far with Red Dead Redemption 2, I’m entirely underwhelmed with the indoor lighting model being used. “Wow” is all I can say, and that’s not “wow” in a good way. I am not only underwhelmed by the realism of the character models themselves, but of how the lighting falls on the character models. When a character opens his/her mouth, the teeth read as a child’s attempt at a drawing. It’s bad. B.A.D! Let’s take a look at RAGE’s poor quality indoor lighting:

The wood looks flat and dull. The clothing looks flat and dull. Metal doesn’t look like metal. Glass doesn’t look like glass. The faces just don’t read as skin. The skin on the characters looks shiny and plastic and, at the same time, flat and dull. The teeth look like a child’s drawing. Part of this is poor quality lighting, but part of it is poor quality models and textures. The three main character models in GTA5 (Michael de Santa, Trevor Philips and Franklin Clinton) looked way better than this, likely using the same RAGE engine. The RAGE engine is not aging well at all. Even the “sunlight rays” here look forced and unrealistic. This game looks like something I would have expected to see in 2004, not 2018. Let’s compare this to Ubisoft’s AnvilNext engine which is night and day different:

Wow! What a difference… (click to read Randocity’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey review)

Screenshots vs Camera

And speaking of teeth… trying to get these Red Dead Redemption 2 screenshots is like pulling teeth. I have to attempt to position the gameplay camera just so. I can’t use the “Old Timey” camera for the above in-game shots as there’s no way to get that “Camera” into the proper position using the player character. Using the actual gameplay camera is always hit or miss. If the camera moves a little bit too far or too close to a figure, it pops over the character and you can’t see them.

The point to adding a photo mode is positioning the camera exactly where you want it, to get the best shot. It also allows you to use depth of field. I can’t do that in Red Dead 2 and I’m limited to playing tricks with the camera placement and hope it turns up with a shot using the PS4’s share button. Not to mention, I have to spend time running to the menu to turn off HUD elements (the reason the map and the money is visible in one of the RDR2 screenshots).

R⭑ , get with the program. It’s time to add a real photo mode to RAGE… a photo mode that offers so much more than the player character holding and using an “old timey” camera. It’s fine if the character needs an in-game camera for quest reasons, but it’s time for a real photo mode… which is how I captured all of these Assassin’s Creed Odyssey screenshots above. I should also point out the reason for having photo mode in a game is for the game player, not for the benefit of the in-game character. Adding a photo mode means you’re thinking of the gamer and how they want to use the game to capture and share their gameplay. By not including a photo mode and having such poor quality graphics, it shows that R‘s interest is more in making money and not in advancing their RAGE technology to provide a next gen quality experience.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a huge step backwards for realism in video games.


Meat of the Game

I’m finally past the torturous intro and I’m sad to say that the game itself is absolutely nothing like Red Dead Redemption. Red Dead Redemption was open prairies, tumbleweed and Arizona-like environments. These environments worked tremendously well for “The Old West”. This game is lush green valleys with trees, forests and streams. It’s not so great to set an “Old West” kind of ambiance. Ignoring the wrong environmental settings in which to place an “Old West” kind of game, the game’s pacing is sheer torture to endure. The pacing in Red Dead Redemption was near perfect.

Here, the leisurely slow pace in how the player character moves and walks and how slow the horse runs is totally wrong for this game and is *yawn* b.o.r.i.n.g. Again, this is nothing like Red Dead Redemption. I’m not looking for Lamborghini speeds, here. But, I am looking for a much quicker pace than the la-la-la leisurely pace of this game. In fact, this game’s pacing is so arduous, it makes you want to pop the game out and go do something else at a faster pace. Again, another total Rockstar misfire.

Town Bounties and Game Interference

Just for the sheer heck of it while trying to relieve the boredom with the game’s slow pacing and lame story activities, I decided to have a shoot out in Valentine, the first town you’re supposed to reach in this game. As you progress in dying and getting a higher and higher bounty, the game stupidly pushes your character farther and farther away from the town with each respawn. Game, if you don’t want the character doing this in a town, then just prevent it. Don’t respawn my player character farther away from the town each time. Respawn the character where he fell and let me choose whether to leave or stay. This intentional interference is not only an asinine game design mechanic, it makes me want to break the game disc in half.

I’m merely trying to make the game at least somewhat more interesting and tolerable than the forced slow pacing… but then the game feels the need to frustrate and interfere with my efforts by sending my character farther and farther away from town. On top of that, once you get a bounty, the NPCs that come after you are practically unkillable. I’ve hit them with perhaps 5-10 shots of a shotgun (many times in the head) and they’re still getting up and shooting at me. There is absolutely no way that’s possible. I realize this is a game, but that’s taking the unrealistic nature of this game way too far. It’s not like they’re wearing Kevlar. If I shoot an NPC twice, they need to die. This includes any character, deputy or otherwise. These are not SWAT characters in Los Santos wearing police armor. It’s asinine how the game works this bounty mechanic by protecting the town residents.

If this game is truly supposed to offer RPG style open world play, then I should be able to go into any town and have a gunfight with the entire town if I so choose… and the characters in the town need to die with a realistic amount of bullets. It might make my character wanted, put a bounty on his head, turn him to the “dark side” or whatever, but I should be able to play this game on my own terms without the game interfering with my choice of play. By interfering with my choice of play, the game is specifically telling me that this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing and that I should be following the story path laid out by the game developers. That’s the very definition of a rail based game. That’s NOT an open world make-my-own-choices game.

Now, I do realize this interference is intended, but this interference takes away an important gamer choice… to play the game in any way the gamer chooses. If you’re going to offer guns and bullets, you need to make them count in the game. Bullets can’t act deadly in some situations and act as mere bee stings to other NPCs. Bullet damage must remain consistent against ALL NPCs under ALL conditions unless you implement a visible character level system.

Because of the boring slow pace, the lame story elements (Really? A tavern brawl is the best you can do?), the absolute crap hand-to-hand combat mechanic, the unkillable-NPC-bounty situation, the lackluster lighting, the game’s meddling interference in my choice of play, the poorly created character models and textures, the lack of photo mode and the broken Social Club site, my 2 out of 10 stars firmly stands for this game.

An Utter Disaster

This game is a disaster for Rockstar. I guess every game studio is entitled to a dud. Most times I can give some creative advice on how to improve a game. I’m at such a loss for improving this game’s disastrous design, I can’t even begin to tell Rockstar how to get this hot mess back on track. I think it needed to go back to the drawing board. Oh well, my high hopes for this game have been utterly dashed. It’d be nice to get my money back. This game is crap. Avoid.


Graphics: 5 out of 10
Sound: 7 out of 10
Voice Acting: 2 out of 10
Brawling: 2 out of 10
Gunfights: 5 out of 10
Pacing and Stories: 1 out of 10
Stability: N/A

Overall Rating: 2 out of 10
Recommendation: Don’t buy. Avoid. If you must try it, rent only.

I’d actually rate it lower, but I’m giving it 2 stars for sheer effort. Let’s just forget all about this game and remember the fun we had with Red Dead Redemption.


Agree or disagree? Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think about Red Dead Redemption 2.

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What does Reset Network Settings in iOS do?

Posted in Apple, botch, business, california by commorancy on October 25, 2018

apple-cracked-3.0-noderivsIf you’ve experienced networking issues with your iPad or iPhone, you may have called Apple for support. Many times they recommend that you “Reset Network Settings.” But, what exactly does this operation do? Let’s explore.

What’s included in this Reset Network Settings process?

This is a complicated answer and how it affects you depends on several factors. What this process does, in addition to resetting a bunch of locally stored device settings on the iOS device itself, it also deletes network settings stored in your iCloud Keychain. If you have only an iPhone and own no other devices (i.e., no iPads, no Macs, no iPods, no Apple Watches, no Apple TVs, nothing else), resetting these settings will likely work just fine for you.

However, if you own or use multiple Apple devices and these devices participate in iCloud Keychain, things can get complicated… very, very complicated. The “or use” statement is the one that makes this process much more complicated. If you have a work Mac computer that’s hooked up to your Apple ID and is participating in iCloud Keychain, performing “Reset Network Settings” on an iPhone can become problematic for your work computer. How? First, let’s find out more about iCloud Keychain.

iCloud Keychain

What is iCloud Keychain? This is an iCloud network service that stores sensitive passwords and credit card information in a secure way. This iCloud service also lets multiple iOS, MacOS, tvOS and WatchOS devices participate and use this data as part of your Apple ID. If you own multiple Apple devices, they can all share and use this same set of sensitive data without having to enter it individually on each device (convenience).

Your iCloud Keychain is specific to your Apple ID which is protected by your Apple ID login and password. The iCloud Keychain was created as both a convenience (all devices can share data), but also secure in that this data is protected behind your Apple ID credentials.

When you “Reset Network Settings” on any iOS (or possibly even MacOS, tvOS or even WatchOS) device and your devices participate in iCloud Keychain synchronization, a “Reset Network Settings” can cause networking issues for all of your devices. Why?

The iCloud Keychain stores WiFi access point names (SSIDs) and passwords. Not only that, it also stores credit cards that you might use with Apple Pay (this becomes important later). When you run “Reset Network Settings” on any iOS device, it will wipe all access point SSIDs and Passwords from your iCloud Keychain.

You might be asking, “Why is this a problem?” This will become a problem for all devices participating in iCloud Keychain. All of your Apple devices share in using this SSID and password data from your iCloud Keychain. This important to understand.  Because of this level of sharing, it only takes one device to learn of an access point for all Apple devices to use that network when in range. For example, if you bring your Mac to a convention and log it into an access point at the convention, your Mac logs this access point data to the iCloud Keychain. Your phone will immediately pick up on this new access point addition and also connect to that access point using the newly stored password as soon as it finds it… automagically.

Likewise, it only takes one device to wipe an access point and all devices lose access to it. It’s a single shared location for this networking data. One device adds it, all can use it. One device deletes it, all devices forget about it. Is this a good idea? You decide.

Reset Network Settings and Multiple Devices

Here’s where things get complicated with iCloud Keychain. If you are having network troubles with your iPhone, you might be requested by Apple Support to “Reset Network Settings”.

If all of your MacOS, tvOS, iOS and WatchOS devices participate in iCloud Keychain and you actually perform “Reset Network Settings” on your iPhone, it will wipe not only the current access point, but every access point that every device is aware of. It returns your network settings on iOS (and in iCloud Keychain) to a clean slate to start it over. It does this to try and clear out any problematic network settings. It also deletes known access points from the iCloud Keychain. This wipes access to this data for ALL of your Apple devices, not just the one you performed “Reset Network Settings” on.

What this means is that every device participating in iCloud Keychain will lose access to ALL access points that had previously been known because they have been deleted as part of “Reset Network Settings”. If your iOS device knew of all access points, they will ALL be wiped from iCloud Keychain. This means that every device will immediately lose access to its current access point. It also means that every Apple device you own must now be touched to reselect a new access point requiring you to reenter the password for that access point… On. Every. Apple. Device!

For example, I own two Macs, two iPads, three iPhones and two iPod Touches. A “Reset Network Settings” from a single device means I will need to go and manually touch 9 different devices to reconnect them to WiFi after a single iOS device performs a “Reset Network Settings” operation. It requires this because every device has lost access to even its home network which means no access to iCloud Keychain… which means, touching every device to get them back onto a WiFi network.

For me, it was even more complicated than the mere hassle of setting up WiFi on every device. It wiped known access points created by my employer on my Mac which were put into my iCloud Keychain… access points where I didn’t know the name or passwords. Thankfully, I was able to recover this data from another co-worker’s Mac and get back onto my corporate network. Otherwise, I’d have been down at my IT team’s desk asking for them to fix my Mac… and all as a result of performing “Reset Network Settings” on my iPhone.

Horrible, horrible design.

Avoiding This Problem

Can this problem be avoided? Possibly. If you turn off iCloud Keychain on your iOS device BEFORE you perform “Reset Network Settings”, it may avoid wiping the data in the iCloud Keychain. I say “may” because after you take the device out of iCloud Keychain, then reset the network settings and then rejoin it to iCloud Keychain, it may propagate the differences at the time the device rejoins. Hopefully, not. Hopefully, the newly reset device will ONLY download the existing data in the iCloud Keychain without making any modifications to it. With Apple, you never know.

The secondary issue is that removing your iPhone from iCloud Keychain may remove stored credit cards. This may mean reentry of all of your credit cards after you have “Reset Network Settings” and after you have rejoined your device to the iCloud Keychain. This may also depend on iOS version. I just tried removing iCloud Keychain, then performed “Reset Network Settings”, then rejoined iCloud Keychain and all my cards are still intact on the device. If you’re on iOS 11 or iOS 10, your results may vary.

Why is this a problem?

First off, I don’t want to have to go touch many devices after a single device reset. That’s just stupid. Second, removing the device from iCloud Keychain to perform “Reset Network Settings” will wipe all of your current credit card data from the device and likely from the iCloud Keychain. Third, Apple needs to fix their shit to allow more granularity in what it wipes with “Reset Network Settings”. In fact, it shouldn’t even touch iCloud Keychain data. It should wipe only locally stored information on the device and then see if that works. If that doesn’t work, then wipe the data on iCloud Keychain, but only as a LAST RESORT!

I understand that Apple seems to think that wiping all network data (including what’s in iCloud Keychain) might solve “whatever the problem is”, but that’s just a sledgehammer. If what’s stored in iCloud Keychain were a problem, my 8 other devices should be experiencing the same issue as well. It’s basically, stupid Apple troubleshooting logic.

As I mentioned, disabling iCloud Keychain may unregister your credit cards from your device (and from the Keychain). I know this was the case in iOS 11, but in iOS 12 it seems to not require this any longer. I definitely don’t want to have to rescan all of my credit cards again onto my iOS device to restore them. It takes at least 30 minutes to do this with the number of cards I have to input. With the Apple Watch, this process is horribly unreliable and lengthy. It can sometimes take over an hour diddling with Bluetooth timeouts and silly unreliability problems to finally get all of my cards back onto the Watch (in addition to the iPhone).

Such time wasting problems over a single troubleshooting thing that should be extremely straightforward and easy. Horrible, horrible design.

Representatives and Suggestions

If you’re taking to an Apple representative about a networking problem and they suggest for you to “Reset Network Settings”, you should refer them to this article so they can better understand what it is they are asking you to do.

Neither Apple Support, nor will any of your phone carrier support teams warn you of this iCloud Keychain problem when requesting “Reset Network Settings.” They will ask you to perform this step as though it’s some simple little step. It’s not!

Whenever Apple asks me to perform the “Reset Network Settings” troubleshooting step, I always decline citing this exact problem. Perhaps someone at Apple will finally wake up and fix this issue once and for all. Until then, you should always question Apple’s troubleshooting methods before blindly following them.

How to disable iCloud Keychain

To disable the iCloud Keychain on your iOS device, go to …

Settings=>Your Name=>iCloud=>Keychain

… and toggle it off. Your Name is actually your name. It is located at the very top of settings. Once toggled off, it will likely unregister your credit cards stored on your iOS device, but I guess it’s a small price to pay if you really need to reset these network settings to your restore networking to 100% functionality. Of course, there’s no guarantee that “Reset Network Settings” or jumping through any of these hoops will solve this problem. There’s also the possibility that “Reset Network Settings” could still screw with your iCloud Keychain even if you disable it before performing “Reset Network Settings”.

With Apple, your mileage may vary.

How to Reset Network Settings

Settings=>General=>Reset=>Reset Network Settings

If you own multiple Apple devices and they are using iCloud Keychain, don’t perform this step first. Instead, disable iCloud Keychain first (above), then perform this step. If you only own one Apple device, there is no need to disable iCloud Keychain.

Network Problems and Quick Fixes

In my most recent case of being prompted to “Reset Network Settings”, my phone’s Wi-Fi calling feature simply stopped working. I first called T-Mobile and they referred me to “Reset Network Settings” (based on Apple’s documentation) and they also referred me to Apple Support. Because I already knew about the iCloud Keychain problem from a previous inadvertent wipe of all of my network access points, this time I opted to turn off iCloud Keychain before attempting “Reset Network Settings.” Suffice it to say that “Reset Network Settings” didn’t do a damned thing, as I full well expected.

In fact, I tried many options prior to “Reset Network Settings”. These included:

  • Disabling and enabling Wi-Fi calling
  • Joining a different access point
  • Restarting my Comcast modem
  • Restarting my network router
  • Restarting my Apple Airport
  • Restarting my phone
  • Hard restarting my phone
  • Disabling and enabling Wi-Fi
  • Dumping Sysdiagnose logs and digging through them
  • Killing and restarting the Phone app

I tried all of the above and nothing resolved the issue. No, not even “Reset Network Settings”.

I recall reading a year or two back that sometimes Airplane Mode can resolve some network connectivity issues. I’m not sure exactly what Airplane Mode actually does under the hood in detail, but it appears to modify a bunch of configs and disable all networking including Cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and anything else that performs networking.

Once Airplane Mode was enabled, I allowed the phone to sit for 30 seconds to make sure all components recognized Airplane Mode. Then, I disabled Airplane Mode. Almost immediately, the phone’s menu bar now says ‘T-Mobile Wi-Fi’. Wow, that actually worked.

If you’re having networking problems on your iPhone, try enabling then disabling Airplane Mode instead of “Reset Network Settings”. At least, it’s worth a try before resorting to disabling iCloud Keychain followed by “Reset Network Settings”.

iOS 11 vs 12

The first time I experienced my issue with the iCloud Keychain and “Reset Network Settings”, I was using iOS 11. I’m firmly of, “Once Bitten, Twice Shy.” This means, I haven’t tested this on iOS 12 to see if Apple has changed their ways. It’s very doubtful they have and very likely this problem still persists even in the most current version of iOS.

Design Rant Mode On

Apple seems to be under the delusion that we’re still living in a one-device-ownership-world. We’re not. We now own Macs, Apple TVs, Watches, iPhones and iPads that all rely on their multi-device services, such as iCloud Keychain. To design a feature that can wipe the entire data shared by multiple devices is not only the very definition of shit software, it’s also the very definition of a shit company that hasn’t the first clue of what the hell they’ve actually built.


If this article is helpful to you, please leave a comment below.

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How to iCloud unlock an iPad or iPhone?

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on October 21, 2018

apple-cracked-3.0-noderivsA lot of people seem to be asking this question. So, let’s explore if there are any solutions to the iCloud unlock problem.

Apple’s iCloud Lock: What is it?

Let’s examine what exactly is an iCloud lock. When you use an iPhone or iPad, a big part of that experience is using iCloud. You may not even know it. You may not know how much iCloud you are actually using (which is how Apple likes it) as it is heavily integrated into every Apple device. The iCloud service uses your Apple ID to gain access. Your Apple ID consists of your username (an email address) and a password. You can enable extended security features like two factor authentication, but for simplicity, I will discuss devices using only a standard login ID and password… nothing fancy.

iCloud is Apple’s cloud network services layer that support service synchronization between devices like calendaring, email contacts, phone data, iMessage, iCloud Drive, Apple Music, iTunes Playlists, etc. As long as your Apple ID remains logged into these services, you will have access to the same data across all of your devices. Note, your devices don’t have to use iCloud at all. You can disable it and not use any of it. However, Apple makes it terribly convenient to use iCloud’s services including such features as Find my iPhone, which allows you to lock or erase your iPhone if it’s ever lost or stolen.

One feature that automatically comes along for the ride when using iCloud services is an iCloud lock. If you have ever logged your iPhone or iPad into iCloud, your device is now locked to your Apple ID. This means that if it’s ever lost or stolen, no one can use your device because it is locked to your iCloud Apple ID and locked to Find my iPhone for that user (which I believe is now enabled by default upon logging into iCloud).

This also means that any recipient of such an iCloud locked device cannot use that device as their own without first disassociating that device from the previous Apple ID. This lock type is known as an iCloud lock. This type of Apple lock is separate from a phone carrier lock which limits with which carriers a phone can be used. Don’t confuse or conflate the two.

I should further qualify what “use your device” actually means after an iCloud lock is in place. A thief cannot clean off your device and then log it into their own Apple ID and use the phone for themselves. Because the phone is iCloud locked to your account, it’s locked to your account forever (or until you manually disassociate it). This means that unless you explicitly remove the association between your Apple ID and that specific device, no one can use that device again on Apple’s network. The best a would-be thief can do with your stolen phone is open it up and break it down for limited parts. Or, they can sell the iCloud locked device to an unsuspecting buyer before the buyer has a chance to notice that it’s iCloud locked.

Buying Used Devices

If you’re thinking of buying a used iPhone from an individual or any online business who is not Apple and because the iCloud lock is an implicit and automatic feature enabled simply by using iCloud services, you will always need to ask any seller if the device is iCloud unlocked before you pay. Or, more specifically, you will need to ask if the previous owner of the device has logged out and removed the device from Find my iPhone services and all other iCloud and Apple ID services. If this action has not been performed, then the device will remain iCloud locked to that specific Apple ID. You should also avoid the purchase and look for a reputable seller.

What this means to you as a would-be buyer of used Apple product is that you need to check for this problem immediately before you walk away from the seller. If the battery on the device is dead, walk away from the sale. If you’re buying a device sight unseen over the Internet, you should be extremely wary before clicking ‘Submit’. In fact, I’d recommend not buying used Apple equipment from eBay or Craigslist because of how easy it is to buy bricked equipment and lose your money. Anything you buy from Apple shouldn’t be a problem. Anything you buy from a random third party, particularly if they’re in China, might be a scam.

Can iCloud Lock be Removed?

Technically yes, but none of the solutions are terribly easy or in some cases practical. Here is a possible list of solutions:

1) This one requires technical skills, equipment and repair of the device. With this solution, you must take the device apart, unsolder a flash RAM chip, reflash it with a new serial number, then reassemble the unit.

Pros: This will fix the iPad or iPhone and allow it to work
Cons: May not work forever if Apple notices the faked and changed serial number. If the soldering job was performed poorly, the device hardware could fail.

Let’s watch a video of this one in action:

2) Ask the original owner of the device, if you know who they are, to disassociate the iDevice from their account. This will unlock it.

Pros: Makes the device 100% functional. No soldering.
Cons: Requires knowing the original owner and asking them to disassociate the device.

3) Contact Apple with your original purchase receipt and give Apple all of the necessary information from the device. Ask them to remove the iCloud lock. They can iCloud unlock the device if they so choose and if they deem your device purchase as valid.

Pros: Makes the device 100% functional.
Cons: Unlocking Apple devices through Apple Support can be difficult, if not impossible. Your mileage may vary.

4) Replace the logic board in the iPad / iPhone with one from another. Again, this one requires repair knowledge, tools, experience and necessary parts.

Pros: May restore most functionality to the device.
Cons: Certain features, like the touch ID button and other internal systems may not work 100% after a logic board replacement.

As you can see, none of these are particularly easy, but none are all that impossible either. If you’re not comfortable cracking open your gear, you might need to ask a repair center if they can do any of this for you. However, reflashing a new serial number might raise eyebrows at some repair centers with the assumption that your device is stolen. Be careful when asking a repair center to perform #1 above for you.

iCloud Locking

It seems that the reason the iCloud Lock came into existence is to thwart thieves. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually solve that problem. Instead, it creates a whole new set of consumer problems. Now, not only are would-be thieves stealing iPads still, they’re selling these devices iCloud locked to unsuspecting buyers and scamming them out of their money. The thieves don’t care. The only thing this feature does is screw used device consumers out of their money.

Thieves

That Apple thought they could stop thievery by implementing the iCloud lock shows just how idealistically naïve Apple’s technical team really is. Instead, they created a whole new scamming market for iCloud locked Apple devices. In fact, the whole reason this article exists is to explain this problem.

For the former owner of an iPad which was stolen, there’s likely no hope of ever getting it back. The iCloud lock feature does nothing to identify the thief or return stolen property to its rightful owner. The iCloud lock simply makes it a tiny nuisance to the thief and would-be scammer. As long as they can get $100 or $200 for selling an iCloud locked iPad, they don’t care if it’s iCloud locked. In fact, the fact that this feature exists makes no difference at all to a thief.

It may reduce the “value” of the stolen property some, but not enough to worry about. If it was five finger discounted, then any money had is money gained, even if it’s a smaller amount than anticipated. For thieves, the iCloud lock does absolutely nothing to stop thievery.

Buyers

Here’s the place where the iCloud lock technology hurts the most. Instead of thwarting would-be thieves, it ends up placing the burden of the iCloud lock squarely on the consumer. If you are considering buying a used device, which should be a simple straightforward transaction, you now have to worry about whether the device is iCloud locked.

It also means that buying an iPhone or iPad used could scam you out of your money if you’re not careful. It’s very easy to buy these used devices sight unseen from online sellers. Yet, when you get the box open, you may find the device is iCloud locked to an existing Apple ID. At that point, unless you’re willing to jump through one of the four hoops listed above, you may have just been scammed.

If you can’t return the device, then you’re out money. The only organization that stands to benefit from the iCloud lock is Apple and that’s only because they’ll claim you should have bought your device new from them. If this is Apple’s attempt at thwarting or reducing used hardware sales, it doesn’t seem to be working. For the consumer, the iCloud lock seems intent on harming consumer satisfaction for device purchases of used Apple equipment… a market that Apple should want to exist because it helps them sell more software product (their highest grossing product).

Sellers

For actually honest sellers, an iCloud lock makes selling used iPad and iPhone devices a small problem. For unscrupulous sellers, then there is no problem here at all. An honest seller must make sure that the device has been disassociated from its former Apple ID before putting the item up for sale. If an honest seller doesn’t know the original owner and the device is locked, it should not be sold. For the unscrupulous sellers, the situation then becomes the scammer selling locked gear and potentially trafficking stolen goods.

It should be said that it is naturally assumed that an iCloud locked device is stolen. It makes sense. If the owner had really wanted the item sold as used, they would have removed the device from iCloud services… except that Apple doesn’t make this process at all easy to understand.

Here’s where Apple fails would-be sellers. Apple doesn’t make it perfectly clear that selling the device requires removing the Apple ID information fully and completely from the device. Even wiping the device doesn’t always do this as there are many silent errors in the reset process. Many owners think that doing a wipe and reset of the device is enough to iCloud unlock the device. It isn’t.

As a would-be seller and before wiping it, you must go into your iPad or iPhone and manually remove the device from Find my iPhone and log the phone out of all Apple ID services. This includes not only logging it out of iCloud, but also logging out out of iTunes and Email and every other place where Apple requires you to enter your Apple ID credentials. Because iOS requires logging in multiple times separately to each of these services, you must log out of these services separately on the device. Then, wipe the device. Even after all of that, you should double check Find my iPhone from another device to make sure the old device no longer shows up there. In fact, you should walk through the setup process once to the point where it asks you for your Apple ID to confirm the device is not locked to your Apple ID.

This is where it’s easy to sell a device thinking you’ve cleared it all out, but you actually haven’t. It also means that this device was legitimately sold as used, but wasn’t properly removed from iCloud implying that it’s now stolen. Instead, Apple needs to offer a ‘Prep for Resell’ setting in Settings. This means this setting will not only wipe the device in the end, but it will also 100% ensure an iCloud unlock of the device and log it out of all logged Apple ID services. This setting will truly wipe the device clean as though it were an unregistered, brand new device. If it’s phone device, it should also carrier unlock the phone so that it can accept a SIM card from any carrier.

Apple makes it very easy to set up brand new devices, but Apple makes it equally difficult to properly clear off a device for resale. Apple should make this part a whole lot easier for would-be sellers. If need be, maybe Apple needs to sell a reseller toolkit to scan and ensure devices are not only iCloud unlocked, but run diagnostic checks to ensure they are worthy of being sold.


 

If you like what you’ve just read, please leave a comment below and give me your experiences.

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Software Engineering and Architecture

Posted in botch, business, Employment by commorancy on October 21, 2018

ExcellenceHere’s a subject of which I’m all too familiar and is in need of commentary. Since my profession is technical in nature, I’ve definitely run into various issues regarding software engineering, systems architecture and operations. Let’s Explore.

Software Engineering as a Profession

One thing that software engineers like is to be able to develop their code on their local laptops and computers. That’s great for rapid development, but it causes many problems later, particularly when it comes to security, deployment, systems architecture and operations.

For a systems engineer / devops engineer, the problem arises when that code needs to be productionalized. This is fundamentally a problem with pretty much any newly designed software system.

Having come from from a background of systems administration, systems engineering and devops, there are lots to be considered when wanting to deploy freshly designed code.

Designing in a Bubble

I’ve worked in many companies where development occurs offline on a notebook or desktop computer. The software engineer has built out a workable environment on their local system. The problem is, this local eneironment doesn’t take into account certain constraints which may be in place in a production environment such as internal firewalls, ACLs, web caching systems, software version differences, lack of compilers and other such security or software constraints.

What this means is that far too many times, deploying the code for the first time is fraught with problems. Specifically, problems that were not encountered on the engineer’s notebook… and problems that sometimes fail extremely bad. In fact, many of these failures are sometimes silent (the worst kind), where everything looks like it’s functioning normally, but the code is sending its data into a black hole and nothing is actually working.

This is the fundamental problem with designing in a bubble without any constraints.

I understand that building something new is fun and challenging, but not taking into account the constraints the software will be under when finally deployed is naive at best and reckless at the very worse. It also makes life as a systems engineer / devops engineer a living hell for several months until all of these little failures are sewn shut.

It’s like receiving a garment that looks complete, but on inspection, you find a bunch of holes all over that all need to be fixed before it can be worn.

Engineering as a Team

To me, this is situation means that software engineer is not a team player. They might be playing on the engineering team, but they’re not playing on the company team. Part of software design is designing for the full use case of the software, including not only code authoring, but systems deployment.

If systems deployment isn’t your specialty as a software engineer, then bring in a systems engineer and/or devops engineer to help guide your code during the development phase. Designing without taking the full scope of that software release into consideration means you didn’t earn your salary and you’re not a very good software engineer.

Yet, Silicon Valley is willing to pay “Principal Engineers” top dollar for these folks failing to do their jobs.

Building and Rebuilding

It’s an entirely a waste of time to get to the end of a software development cycle and claim “code complete” when that code is nowhere near complete. I’ve had so many situations where software engineers toss their code to us as complete and expect the systems engineer to magically make it all work.

It doesn’t work that way. Code works when it’s written in combination with understanding of the architecture where it will be deployed. Only then can the code be 100% complete because only then will it deploy and function without problems. Until that point is reached, it cannot be considered “code complete”.

Docker and Containers

More and more, systems engineers want to get out of the long drawn out business of integrating square code into a round production hole, eventually after much time has passed, molding the code into that round hole is possible. This usually takes months. Months that could have been avoided if the software engineer had designed the code in an environment where the production constraints exist.

That’s part of the reason for containers like Docker. When a container like Docker is used, the whole container can then be deployed without thought to square pegs in round holes. Instead, whatever flaws are in the Docker container are there for all to see because the developer put it there.

In other words, the middle folks who take code from engineering and mold it onto production gear don’t relish the thought of ironing out hundreds of glitchy problems until it seamlessly all works. Sure, it’s a job, but at some level it’s also a bit janitorial, wasteful and a unnecessary.

Planning

Part of the reason for these problems is the delineation between the engineering teams and the production operations teams. Because many organizations separate these two functional teams, it forces the above problem. Instead, these two teams should be merged into one and work together from project and code inception.

When a new project needs code to be built that will eventually be deployed, the production team should be there to move the software architecture onto the right path and be able to choose the correct path for that code all throughout its design and building phases. In fact, every company should mandate that its software engineers be a client of operations team. Meaning, they’re writing code for operations, not the customer (even though the features eventually benefit the customer).

The point here is that the code’s functionality is designed for the customer, but the deploying and running that code is entirely for the operations team. Yet, so many software engineers don’t even give a single thought to how much the operations team will be required support that code going forward.

Operational Support

For every component needed to support a specific piece of software, there needs to be a likewise knowledgeable person on the operations team to support that component. Not only do they need to understand that it exists in the environment, the need to understand its failure states, its recovery strategies, its backup strategies, its monitoring strategies and everything else in between.

This is also yet another problem that software engineers typically fail to address in their code design. Ultimately, your code isn’t just to run on your notebook for you. It must run on a set of equipment and systems that will serve perhaps millions of users. It must be written in ways that are fail safe, recoverable, redundant, scalable, monitorable, deployable and stable. These are the things that the operations team folks are concerned with and that’s what they are paid to do.

For each new code deployment, that makes the environment just that much more complex.

The Stacked Approach

This is an issue that happens over time. No software engineer wants to work on someone else’s code. Instead, it’s much easier to write something new and from scratch. It’s easy for software engineer, but it’s difficult for the operations team. As these new pieces of code get written and deployed, it drastically increases the technical debt and burden on the operations staff. Meaning, it pushes the problems off onto the operations team to continue supporting more and more and more components if none ever get rewritten or retired.

In one organization where I worked, we had such an approach to new code deployment. It made for a spider’s web mess of an environment. We had so many environments and so few operations staff to support it, the on-call staff were overwhelmed with the amount of incessant pages from so many of these components.

That’s partly because the environment was unstable, but that’s partly because it was a house of cards. You shift one card and the whole thing tumbles.

Software stacking might seem like a good strategy from an engineering perspective, but then the software engineers don’t have to first line support it. Sometimes they don’t have to support it at all. Yes, stacking makes code writing and deployment much simpler.

How many times can engineering team do this before the house of cards tumbles? Software stacking is not an ideal any software engineering team should endorse. In fact, it’s simply comes down to laziness. You’re a software engineer because writing code is hard, not because it is easy. You should always do the right thing even if it takes more time.

Burden Shifting

While this is related to software stacking, it is separate and must be discussed separately. We called this problem, “Throwing shit over the fence”. It happens a whole lot more often that one might like to realize. When designing in a bubble, it’s really easy to call “code complete” and “throw it all over the fence” as someone else’s problem.

While I understand this behavior, it has no place in any professionally run organization. Yet, I’ve seen so many engineering team managers endorse this practice. They simply want their team off of that project because “their job is done”, so they can move them onto the next project.

You can’t just throw shit over the fence and expect it all to just magically work on the production side. Worse, I’ve had software engineers actually ask my input into the use of specific software components in their software design. Then, when their project failed because that component didn’t work properly, they threw me under the bus for that choice. Nope, that not my issue. If your code doesn’t work, that’s a coding and architecture problem, not a component problem. If that open source component didn’t work in real life for other organizations, it wouldn’t be distributed around the world. If a software engineer can’t make that component work properly, that’s a coding and software design problem, not an integration or operational problem. Choosing software components should be the software engineer’s choice to use whatever is necessary to make their software system work correctly.

Operations Team

The operations team is the lifeblood of any organization. If the operations team isn’t given the tools to get their job done properly, that’s a problem with the organization as a whole. The operations team is the third hand recipient of someone else’s work. We step in and fix problems many times without any knowledge of the component or the software. We do this sometimes by deductive logic, trial and error, sometimes by documentation (if it exists) and sometimes with the help of a software engineer on the phone.

We use all available avenues at our disposal to get that software functioning. In the middle of the night the flow of information can be limited. This means longer troubleshooting times, depending on the skill level of the person triaging the situation.

Many organizations treat its operations team as a bane, as a burden, as something that shouldn’t exist, but does out of necessity. Instead of treating the operations team as second class citizens, treat this team with all of the importance that it deserves. This degrading view typically comes top down from the management team. The operations team is not a burden nor is it simply there out of necessity. It exists to keep your organization operational and functioning. It keeps customer data accessible, reliable, redundant and available. It is responsible for long term backups, storage and retrieval. It’s responsible for the security of that data and making sure spying eyes can’t get to it. It is ultimately responsible to make sure the customer experience remains at a high excellence standard.

If you recognize this problem in your organization, it’s on you to try and make change here. Operations exists because the company needs that job role. Computers don’t run themselves. They run because of dedicated personnel who make it their job and passion to make sure those computers stay online, accessible and remain 100% available.

Your company’s uptime metrics are directly impacted by the quality of your operations team staff members. These are the folks using the digital equivalent of chewing gum and shoelaces to keep the system operating. They spend many a sleepless night keeping these systems online. And, they do so without much, if any thanks. It’s all simply part of the job.

Software Engineer and Care

It’s on each and every software engineer to care about their fellow co-workers. Tossing code over the fence assuming there’s someone on the other side to catch it is insane. It’s an insanity that has run for far too long in many organizations. It’s an insanity that needs to be stopped and the trend needs to reverse.

In fact, by merging the software engineering and operations teams into one, it will stop. It will stop by merit of having the same bosses operating both teams. I’m not talking about at a VP level only. I’m talking about software engineering managers need to take on the operational burden of the components they design and build. They need to understand and handle day-to-day operations of these components. They need to wear pagers and understand just how much operational work their component is.

Only then can engineering organizations change for the positive.


As always, if you can identify with what you’ve read, I encourage you to like and leave a comment below. Please share with your friends as well.

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Cytokine Storm Syndrome: The Drug Trial That Went Wrong

Posted in botch, business, medical by commorancy on October 13, 2018

Here’s a story about six men, in 2006, who endured the fight for their lives after a drug trial went horribly wrong. The above program runtime is 58m 15s. Let’s explore.

Method of Action

As soon as the method of action of this drug was revealed in this documentary, my first thought was, “Uh oh”. Trying to teach the immune system to do anything is somewhat akin to attempting to steer a flood away from a town. The immune system attacks foreign invaders. That they injected this drug not knowing exactly how many receptors it might bind to was a severe “UH OH” moment before I even watched this. I already know how unpredictable the immune system can be. To intentionally try to tame the immune system to solve a medical problem is essentially playing with fire.

Too Many Mistakes

There were a number of mistakes made during this trial as well.

  • Not enough separation between patient injections
  • When reactions began to occur, the trial should have been halted until determining each injections patient’s reaction extent. Isn’t the point to document the reactions?
  • Waiting too long to determine the problem and attempt countermeasures.
  • The trial doctor was horribly uninformed of reaction possibilities
    • Because doctor was uninformed of side effects, the facilities were ill prepared to handle what came after
    • Not enough drugs or equipment handy to handle medical complications

Trial Paradigm Failure?

The 10 minute separation between the patients was far too quick a succession, particularly when you’re screwing with the immune system, to fully understand how the drug might react. When the first patient began experiencing problems, the trial should have halted further injections to assess the already injected patients. This trial simply threw caution to the wind and endangered all of its trial participants even when they had huge red warning flags from patient 001.

That the doctor wasn’t self-informed on the possible reactions and had to spend valuable time to seek information later, “Wow”. If that’s not the very definition of uninformed, I don’t know what is. Before a single vial was injected, the doctor should read and understood each and every possible manufacturer side effect including having enough known remedies handy. You can’t know what you don’t know, but you can know what is written down by the manufacturer. Not reading and comprehending that literature fully before starting the trial is a huge mistake. If he had fully understood the ramifications of cytokine storm syndrome before injecting a single patient, he could have had started countermeasures much, much sooner in these patients.

If he wasn’t proficient in cytokine storm syndrome, he should have had a doctor on standby should the patients need another opinion.

The almost fatal mistake here was the attending doctor bought fully into the hype of the manufacturer that “nothing bad” would happen after injection. That’s called taking things for granted. Trial drugs are experimental for a reason and must be treated with all of the seriousness and respect they deserve.

Patient Trials

While it’s critically important to trial medicines in humans, it’s equally important to perform those trials in as safe a manner as humanly possible. This includes performing these trials in facilities capable of handling the load of every patient in the trial potentially crashing. If there’s not enough equipment in the hospital facility to handle that number of simultaneous crashes, then the trial needs to be moved to a hospital that can handle this patient load.

No trial clinic should be waiting for ambulances, equipment and medicines to arrive from around the city. All of this should be immediately on-hand, ready and waiting. To me, that’s a huge failing of the company that scheduled this trial. That company should definitely be held accountable for any problems that arise from being ill prepared at its clinic facilities.

Cytokine Storm Syndrome

One of the possible side effects after the doctor read the manufacturer’s literature of the trial drug TGN-1412 was a cytokine storm. He only read this after the trial had started and patients were already suffering. Cytokine storm is when the body’s immune system reacts systemically over the whole body. It can cause basically rapid shutdown of organs including fever, nausea, redness (heat) because the body’s immune system is attacking… well basically everything. That this reaction was fully documented in the drug’s literature is telling. It says that the manufacturer knew this was a possible complication, yet the trial doctor didn’t look at this literature until it was nearly too late.

Of course, by that time other doctors had been consulted in the midst of crashing patients, these other doctors felt the need throw their own wrenches into the works by claiming the drug itself may have been tainted or improperly stored, prepared or handled… possibly causing these patients to have an systemic infection. Throwing this wrench into the works was also reckless by those additional doctors who joined in on the action. Perhaps they needed to also ready the manufacturer’s literature before jumping to that conclusion.

It’s good that someone finally decided the correct course of action was to treat for cytokine storm as the manufacturer’s reactions suggest, but not before one of the trial patients had ended up with dry gangrene losing his fingertips and parts of his feet. A horrible ending to a drug trial that was ill prepared and improperly staffed for that kind of a drug reaction.

Hindsight

I know it’s easy to both see and say all of this in hindsight. But, I have worked at many companies where the all mighty buck is rules… basically, “Do it for as cheaply as possible”. The saying, “You get what you pay for” applies in every situation. I’ve worked for many organizations that blaze ahead with projects without fully evaluating all consequences of their actions. They do this simply because they want the product out the door fast for the least amount of money. They don’t care what problems might arise. Instead, they deal with the problems along the way. If that means throwing more money at it later, so be it. Just don’t spend it now.

To me, that’s reckless. Thankfully, I have never worked for a medical organization at all. I’ve chosen to stay away from that line of work for the simple reasons of what this level of recklessness can do when put into the hands of medical organizations. This trial should be considered the very definition of reckless and what can happen when the all mighty buck is more important than patient’s lives. Thankfully, the NHS stepped in on behalf of the patients and treated them as the sick patients they were, not guinea pig trial participants.

I encourage you to watch the program in full. Then please leave a comment below if you agree or disagree.

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Game Review: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Posted in reviews, video game, video game design by commorancy on October 6, 2018

a2b4debe8beb1ac5dee92d4a3774b014Truly, there’s nothing wrong with this game. Nothing, except for the fact that it’s an almost identical functional clone of Assassin’s Creed Origins, chock full of all the same bugs in Origins. I’ll make this one somewhat short and sweet. Let’s Explore.

Assassin’s Creed Origins

Earlier in the year, I wrote a rather lengthy game review of Assassin’s Creed Origins. I had a lot of gripes about Origins. Well, I’m sorry to say that few of my suggestions in that review made it into Odyssey. Most of those design flaws were pulled straight into Odyssey, something I should have expected.

I’m not going to write much on this game because I already had my long-winded say with Origins. Writing it here again would simply be redundant. I’ll suggest heading on over to read Randocity’s Assassin’s Creed Origins game review if you’re curious to find out what things I truly disliked.

Clone

If we thought Origins was a simple money grab, Odyssey most definitely is. Ubisoft basically copied the entire Origins game, created a new character or two, added a few new quests and called it a day. Odyssey is literally just a rethemed Origins with a slightly different locale and storyline. There’s also a bit more sailing involved, but the ship battles still offer a mostly horrible game mechanic. Senu is replaced by Ikaros. It also adds recruiting lieutenants for the ship which is akin to Brotherhood and already been done. You can recruit them all day, but you can’t do anything with them. Though, it’s a good mechanism to use to prevent bodies from being littered all over a fort when you’re trying clear it out in a stealthy way.

Overall, Odyssey feels like a clone designed to make Ubisoft yet more money without doing a lot of work. I was actually afraid of this possibility when I heard that Odyssey was announced so quickly after Origins.

Combat

I take some of what I said back. Odyssey is actually worse than Origins in combat. Now not only do enemies STILL use the stupid backing up tactic, now they climb away from you. I don’t know who thought THAT was a good idea? Enemies who are engaged in combat should STAY engaged in combat WHERE THEY ARE. Finish the battle right there. I don’t want to have to keep chasing them down to fight them somewhere else. Stay put!

Worse, the enemies are even MORE sensitive than in Origins. As soon as even one sees you, the whole camp knows you’re there. That’s just ass. There is no way one single enemy can alert the whole camp without a warning. And since he’s been engaged in combat the whole time, there is no way for him to alert. Sure, you might argue the clanking of swords might alert someone, but in reality, these guys fight test fights anyway. So, that’s not enough alone to alert the whole camp.

Desynchronization Game Loading

This part is just a total clusterf***. When I save a manual game save, if it is the most current save, I expect that game to be loaded after a desync. No, it doesn’t. It loads some random previous autosave instead. This forces me to wait through that autosave to load, then I have to go and load my manual save again. Stupid and time wasting. Ubisoft, get with the program here.

After a battlefield battle, it’s even worse. This is just some shit. If you run off the battlefield, the battle restarts immediately. If you desync, the game forces you to endure the entire restart of the battle including talking to Stentar and going through all of the game choices. OMG. NO effing NO. If you can restart the battle simply by abandoning it, you can let us rejoin without having to go through that long ass restart process.

Battlefield Simulators

Okay, no. This piece is just suck, all the way through. This is Assassin’s Creed. Got it, Ubisoft? It’s about Assassins. It’s not Warrior’s Creed, it’s Assassin’s Creed. Right? Say it with me Ubisoft, “Assassin’s Creed.” If I wanted to play WAR battles, I’d play Battlefield or Call of Duty or any other war simulator. Ubisoft has plainly gone off the deep end. No more battlefield simulators in Assassin’s Creed games, particularly when they are entirely useless (more about that later).

If you want to add this crap in, then at least let the hero act as an assassin and use the assassin moves. At least let my character get away from the battle and work on stealth or long range tactics. No, you can’t. As soon as the battle starts, at least two guards earmark you and there’s no way to get rid of them short of killing them. Even then, that triggers even more guards to come after you. You can’t shake them to hide and perform stealth maneuvers. Again, this is Assassin’s Creed!

Worse, there’s absolutely no warning of this play mechanic until it’s on top of you. Then, it’s too late to go back and bone up on the warrior skills. You have to fail out and then “come back later”. I hate that shit in a game. If you’re going to lead me into a battle simulator, at least give me a warning that shit is coming long before I get there so I can plan my skill-ups and armor accordingly.

Worse, these battlefield simulators are entirely pointless. You can win the war and claim victory for Sparta, then about a day later in the game be required to go do it again. What’s the point in claiming victory over a territory if you have to keep doing it over and over and over? At least warn me the territory is about to fall to the hands of the Athenians and let me go take care of it before it does.

Such absolute crap!

Bosses

I can’t speak for all bosses, but this particular boss is annoying as all hell. This is the Kalydonian Boar. This thing has two attack phases and the second phase is as frustrating as it is unnecessary. Thanks Ubisoft for making such crap bosses. The boar claims to be a level 13, the same as me. Yet, it takes massive numbers of hits to even whittle its health down. It’s not a 13, it’s like a 26. I hate this fake numbering of bosses when they are many, many levels of above you. Truth in labeling, Ubisoft. Tell us what the actual boss’s level is. Don’t sugarcoat it making us think it’s a 13 when it’s actually 26.

As soon as you enter the ring, it runs at you full speed. If you’re lucky, you can miss this attack and start hammering on it. That’s not the issue. As soon as you whittle its health down by about 1/8th, 4 baby boars show up and start goring you, in addition to big boar boss. Swarming is not something I go in for in any game of any type. When swarming is the tactic, I’m out. I also call bullshit on that tactic. It’s just a way to whittle your health down for big daddy boss. To me, this is a bullshit tactic. I’m here to fight the boss boar, not a bunch of annoying baby boar. And, where the hell did they come from anyway? They’re not in the cave and don’t emerge from the cave. They just miraculously spawn onto to the field. Again, I call bullshit. If you’re going to have enemies show up on the field, make the idea at least appear real. Put cages and open them up so we can at least know what’s coming. Just magically making them appear out of thin air is total BS.

The problem I have with the baby boar is that they gored at me so much, they pushed me off the playing field which… stupidly… resets big boss boar’s health, but not mine. I’m still being gored with red health, yet big boss boar has miraculously healed and the whole thing has reset. Yet, baby boar hang around to be a nuisance? Get with the program Ubisoft.

Even though big boss boar won’t leave the playing field, baby boar will and they’ll chase you down even if you leave the ring. Again, I call bullshit on this design.

In fact, there are so many design problems with this boss level I don’t even know where to begin:

  • If you’re going to have a border that resets the whole thing, then mark it clearly with some kind of translucent effect. I need to know when I’m about to leave it and can move back into the field.
  • I also need to be warned with a “return to the battle” timer to avoid resetting the boss.
  • I should be able to kill this thing from the top of a cliff with an arrow. Nope, you are forced to enter the playing field and battle the boss boar strictly with melee weapons. Total bullshit.
  • No baby boar necessary. The level is well hard enough without that extra crap.
  • If you’re going to spawn baby boar, when I leave the area, they need to despawn immediately.
  • Set up the baby boar in the cave and have them come out of there so at least it makes sense where they came from.
  • Truth in labeling. If the boss is level 26, then put that number above its head.

More crap design from Ubisoft. This is kinda becoming a trend, Ubisoft. Might want to work on that.

Wood, Wood Everywhere, But None To Cut

As you wander around this forested landscape in Greece, you’ll notice a lot of wooded areas with so much wood, you might be wondering why you’re limited to “Olive Wood”? This part about games like this one makes me terribly frustrated. Just give me an axe and let me chop trees down. Don’t make me hunt all over the land for tiny “special” spriglets that are difficult to find and even more difficult to see.

Wood can only be obtained through the small mentioned spriglets like so:

Assassin's Creed® Odyssey_20181019111022

Instead of being able to use the ready amount of wood you find everywhere as far as the eye can see, you’re limited to locating these tiny little shrublets and harvesting them. It’s stupid.

The resources needed to upgrade your weapons and armor are wood, leather, metal and various crystals. You find these only in specially marked items on the ground and in war chests. In fact, it takes a ton of wood to make arrows, so you’re almost constantly running out just to keep your arrows stocked. On top of this, upgrading your weapons and armor requires tons of all of the listed resources… particularly Legendary Armor that requires a literal shit ton of it.

Assassin's Creed® Odyssey_20181019105956

I can understand the leather problem to an extent. The wood problem has no explanation at all. With piles of wood sitting around like this, what the hell?

The problem I have with leather in this game is that a steer that should yield the maximum amount of leather for any animal, but instead yields about 3 pieces. A bear which is probably smaller than most steer yields 10-15 pieces. An elk yields about 3 pieces. An elk is easily the size of the steer. These numbers are so artificially low, it’s just frustrating to go out and search for this. Oddly enough, wolves tend to yield the most amount of leather even though they’re dog sized. Go figure.

Ultimately, the resources are so scarce it’s not really even much fun to go chase after them. I easily spend hours running around collecting this stuff when I should be concentrating on making progress in the game’s story. Yet, to progress I need to upgrade my armor which requires these resources. So here I am, spending hours running around the game trying to find stupid little trees.

Then there’s Orichalcum. How many currencies do we need in a game and why? I’m getting a little frustrated with having 10 or more different currencies to buy from various vendors. Can we standardize on a single in-game currency, please?

Chickens

This story is as humorous as it is frustrating. It also sums up all of the things wrong with Odyssey in a nutshell. I had just gotten my behind kicked by some animal or NPC. I was running away to recoup my health. Anyway, my health was on the verge of being out (like one tiny little tick). I made my way into a city and a chicken attacked me. I’d never been attacked by a chicken EVER in Assassin’s Creed of any version. That chicken’s attack desynced my character. I know this was an intentional addition. The game made the chicken attack me because my health was that low.

This game is wrongly opportunistic in this way. I’m sure some developer thought this is extremely funny to add this in, but it isn’t. I wasn’t attacking this chicken nor had I made any motions to attack it. However, I do now. Every time I cross paths with a chicken, it dies. This is something that should be removed from the game as it is entirely unnecessary.

Perfect Vision

NPC characters in the game have perfect vision. I’m not even visible around a corner and NPCs see me and come after me. Again, this is so wrong. NPC vision shouldn’t be that acute. Yet another game design flaw. This is one of those pet peeves about games that truly drives me crazy. Game AI characters should have the ability to “see” about as far as 10 feet in the dark, maximum.

Overall

If you like Origins, you’ll probably like Odyssey. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer anything substantially different over Origins in combat, exploration or play value. In fact, I haven’t found much that’s majorly different from Origins. The one substantial change I’ve found is that you can play as either Alexios (male) or Kassandra (female). Everything else is pretty much Origins all over again. You can easily fall right into Odyssey as an extension of Origins without batting an eye. The controls are the same, the play value is the same, heck even the lands seem the same.

The graphics are still very pretty and the landscape is amazing to behold, but I got jaded by that with Origins. What I see in Odyssey seems just the same as Origins. In fact, I thought that in some ways, the Bayek character and his armor looked better than Alexios and his armor. It’s almost like the Alexios character was rushed or something.

It’s also nice not to hear the same NPC banter constantly being spoken over and over and over. So, that’s a nice change in Odyssey. It makes the play experience quite a bit less annoying, but you can avoid that in Origins simply by turning the voices off.

Because all of the same things about Origins that I disliked went directly into Odyssey (sans the NPC sayings), I’m giving this game the same review I gave to Origins. You’ll want to read Randocity’s Origins review to find out all of those nitty-gritty details. So, head on over to the Origins review right after this one.

Photo Mode Broken

I’m not sure what Ubisoft is doing over there, but they love breaking photo mode. It was broken in Origins and it is again broken in Odyssey. Half of the time the filter selection doesn’t work (up and down d-pad is locked out). The other half of the time, the HUD doesn’t disappear after 10 seconds preventing using the console’s snapshot feature. Seriously Ubisoft, if you can’t get photo mode working 100%, then why include it at all?

Slideshow

Here’s a slideshow of various images I’ve captured in Odyssey. Oh yes, it’s pretty… very, very pretty. Too bad it doesn’t play as nicely as it is pretty.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Score for Odyssey

Graphics: 9 out of 10
Sound: 7 out of 10
Game Saves: 4 out of 10
Gameplay: 4 out of 10
Controls: 4 out of 10
Combat: 3 out of 10
Stories: 5 out of 10
Multiplayer: 0 out of 10 (there is no multiplayer or co-op).
Stability: 2 out of 10 (unstable, laggy, infused with same bugs as Origins, at times unplayable)

Final Rating: 4 stars out of 10
Recommendation: Buy this game at $20 or less from the bargain bin or rent it.

Rant Time: Bloomberg and Hacked Servers

Posted in best practices, botch, data security, reporting by commorancy on October 5, 2018

Bloomberg has just released a story claiming SuperMicro motherboards destined for large corporations may have been hacked with a tiny “spy” chip. Let’s explore.

Bloomberg’s Claims

Supposedly the reporters for Bloomberg have been working on this story for months. Here’s a situation where Bloomberg’s reporters have just enough information in hand to be dangerous. Let’s understand how this tiny chip might or might not be able to do what Bloomberg’s alarmist view claims. Thanks Bloomberg for killing the stock market today with your alarmist reporting.

Data Compromise

If all of these alleged servers have been compromised by a Chinese hardware hack, someone would have noticed data streaming out of their server to Chinese IP addresses, or at least some consistent address. Security scans of network equipment require looking through inbound and outbound data logs for data patterns. If these motherboards had been compromised, the only way for the Chinese to have gotten that data back is through the network. This means data passing through network cards, switches and routers before ever hitting the Internet.

Even if such a tiny chip were embedded in the system, many internal only servers have no direct Internet access. This means that if these servers are used solely for internal purposes, they couldn’t have transmitted their data back to China. The firewalls would prevent that.

For servers that may have had direct access to the Internet, these servers could have sent payloads, but eventually these patterns would have been detected by systems administrators, network administrators and security administrators in performing standard security checks. It might take a while to find the hacks, but they would be found just strictly because of odd outbound data being sent to locations that don’t make sense.

Bloomberg’s Fantasy

While it is definitely not out of the realm of possibility that China could tamper with and deliver compromised PCB goods to the US, it’s doubtful that this took place in the numbers that Bloomberg has reported.

Worse, Bloomberg makes the claim that this so-called hacked hardware was earmarked for specific large companies. I don’t even see how that’s possible. How would a Chinese factory know the end destination of any specific SuperMicro motherboard? As far as I know, most cloud providers like AWS and Google buy fully assembled equipment, not loose motherboards. How could SuperMicro board builders possibly know it’s going to end up in a server at AWS or Google or Apple? If SuperMicro’s motherboard products have been hacked, they would be hacked randomly and everywhere, not just at AWS or Google or whatever fantasy Bloomberg dreams up.

The Dangers of Outsourcing

As China’s technical design skills grow, so will the plausibility of receiving hacked goods from that region. Everyone takes a risk ordering any electronics from China. China has no scruples about any other country than China. China protects China, but couldn’t give a crap about any other country outside of China. This is a dangerous situation for China. Building electronics for the world requires a level of trust that must exist or China won’t get the business.

Assuming this alleged “spy chip” is genuinely found on SuperMicro motherboards, then that throws a huge damper on buying motherboards and other PCBs made in China. China’s trust level is gone. If Chinese companies are truly willing to compromise equipment at that level, they’re willing to compromise any hardware built in China including cell phones, laptops and tablets.

This means that any company considering manufacturing their main logic boards in China might want to think twice. The consequences here are as serious as it can get for China. China has seen a huge resurgence of inbound money flow into China. If Bloomberg’s notion is true, this situation severely undermines China’s ability to continue at this prosperity level.

What this means ultimately is that these tiny chips could easily be attached to the main board of an iPhone or Android phone or any mobile device. These mobile devices can easily phone home with data from mobile devices. While the SuperMicro motherboard problem might or might not be real, adding such a circuit to a phone is much more undetectable and likely to provide a wealth more data than placing it onto servers behind corporate firewalls.

Rebuttal to Bloomberg

Statements like from this next reporter is why no one should take these media outlets seriously. Let’s listen. Bloomberg’s Jordan Robertson states, “Hardware hacking is the most effective type of hacking an organization can engineer… There are no security systems that can detect that kind of manipulation.” Wrong. There are several security systems that look for unusual data patterns including most intrusion detection systems. Let’s step back for a moment.

If the point in the hardware hacking is to corrupt data, then yes, it would be hard to detect that. You’d just assume the hardware is defective and replace it. However, if the point to the hardware hack is to phone data home, then that is easily detected via various security systems and is easily blocked by firewalls.

The assumption that Jordon is making is that we’re still in the 90s with minimal security. We are no longer in the 90s. Most large organizations today have very tight security around servers. Depending on the role of the server, it might or might not have direct trusted access to secured data. That server might have to ask an internal trusted server to get the data it needs.

For detection purposes, if the server is to be used as a web server, then the majority of the data should have a 1:1 relationship. Basically, one request inbound, some amount of data sent outbound from that request. Data originating from the server without an inbound request would be suspect and could be detected. For legitimate requests, you can see these 1:1 relationships in the logs and when watching the server traffic on a intrusion detection system. For one-sided transactions sending data outbound from the server, the IDS would easily see it and could block it. If you don’t think that most large organizations don’t have an IDS even simply in watch mode, you are mistaken.

If packets of data originate from the server without any prompting, that would eventually be noticed by a dedicated security team performing regular log monitoring and regular server security scans. The security team might not be able to pinpoint the reason (i.e. a hardware hack) for unprompted outbound data, but they will be able to see it.

I have no idea how smart such tiny chip could actually be. Such a tiny chip likely would not have enough memory to store any gathered payload data. Instead, it would have to store that payload either on the operating systems disks or in RAM. If the server was cut off from the Internet as most internal servers are, that disk or RAM would eventually fill its data stores up without transfer of that data to wherever it needed to go. Again, systems administrators would notice the spike in usage of /tmp or RAM due to the chip’s inability to send its payload.

If the hacking chip simply gives remote control access to the server without delivering data at all, then that would also be detected by an IDS system. Anyone attempting to access a port that is not open will be blocked. If the chip makes an outbound connection to a server in China and leaves it open would eventually be detected. Again, a dedicated security team would see the unusual data traffic from/to the server and investigate.

If the hacking chip wants to run code, it would need to compiled it first. That implies having a compiler in that tiny chip. Doubtful. If the system builder installs a compiler, the spy chip might be able to leverage it, assuming it has any level of knowledge about the current operating system installed. That means that chip would have to know about many different versions of Linux, BSD, MacOS X, Windows and so on, then have code ready to deploy for each of these systems. Unlikely.

Standards and Protocols

Bloomberg seems to think there’s some mystery box here that allows China to have access to these servers without bounds. The point to having multi-layer security is to prevent such access. Even if the motherboards were compromised, most of these servers would end up behind multiple firewalls in combination with continuous monitoring for security. Even more than this, many companies segregate servers by type. Servers performing services that need a high degree of security have very limited ability to do anything but their one task. Even getting into these servers can be challenge even for administrators.

For web servers in a DMZ which are open to the world, capturing data here might be easier. However, even if the hacker at SuperMicro did know which company placed an order for motherboards, they wouldn’t know how those servers would ultimately be deployed and used. This means that these chips could be placed into server roles behind enough security to render their ability to spy as worthless.

It’s clear, these reporters are journalists through and through. They really have no skill at being a systems administrator, network engineer or security administrator. Perhaps it’s now time to hire technical consultants at Bloomberg who can help you guide your articles when they involve technical matters? It’s clear, there was no guidance by any technical person who could steer Jordan away from some of the ludicrous statements he’s made.

Bloomberg, hire a technical consultant the next time you chase one of these “security” stories or give it up. At this point, I’m considering Bloomberg to be nothing more a troll looking for views.


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Theme Park Music Series: AstroWorld

Posted in astroworld, music by commorancy on October 5, 2018

If you have ever visited the now defunct Six Flags AstroWorld theme park which was located in Houston, Texas until 2005, here is the music that set the ambiance of the park. If you came here by accident seeking Travis Scott’s ASTROWORLD, click here to listen to his music on Apple Music. Now, a little history…

A Short Park History

AstroWorld was a theme park that began its existence in the late 60s and was the brainchild of a former mayor of Houston, Judge Roy Hofheinz. It was located across the 610 freeway from the Astrodome. AstroWorld opened its doors on June 1, 1968 and operated seasonally each year until October 30, 2005 when it ceased operations.

When the park opened in 1968, it featured a unique sled ride called the Alpine Sleighs that wound its way through a constructed mountain. The Alpine Sleighs were located in the Alpine Valley section of the park and had the same thrill value of a roller coaster. A “sleigh” consisted of an electric powered 4 person cars with rubber tires. A steel roller coaster, called The Serpent, located in the Oriental Village section of the park opened in 1969. Even though The Serpent started out as an adult coaster, because of its relative size and tameness, it would eventually be classified as a children’s ride once Dexter Frebish’s Electric Roller Ride opened in 1972.

In 1975, the park was sold to Six Flags corporation. From 1975 to 2005, the park was owned and operated by Six Flags. In that time, Six Flags grew the park with more and more thrill rides including many large and wild roller coasters.

In 1976, The Texas Cyclone opened. This wooden roller coaster was located in the Coney Island section and was designed to mimic the feel of the original Cyclone located Coney Island in New York, but it did not mimic the track layout. It would be the only wooden coaster in the park. All other coasters built would be steel coasters.

A number of rides cycled in and out of the park from 1968 through to its closure in 2005, but the sections pretty much remained intact with only the occasional rename. Not many were renamed or rethemed. In fact, only one section would actually be rethemed in all of that time, Country Fair became Nottingham Village going from a midway carnival atmosphere to a renaissance fair look and feel including a Biergarten sporting Octoberfest style food all year round. In fact, with the introduction of Nottingham Village, they also introduced alcohol into the park through that same Biergarten.

The park was host to a number of themed sections including:

  • Americana Square (front gate)
  • Modville => International Plaza => USA
  • Coney Island
  • Alpine Valley
  • European Village
  • Western Junction
  • Plaza de Fiesta => Mexicana
  • Fun Island
  • Children’s World => Enchanted Kingdom => Looney Toons Town
  • Pioneer
  • Oriental Village
  • Country Fair => Nottingham Village

Unfortunately, Fun Island would be the only section that wouldn’t last beyond the 80s. In fact, that land would eventually become home to a roller coaster. Also, the Children’s World section would be moved from its original location to a new location near the Alpine mountain after the Alpine Sleighs ride was retired. Children’s World was renamed Enchanted Kingdom, then later renamed again to Looney Toons Town. The Pioneer section housed only one ride, Thunder River. For this reason, it never got separate section marker on the map.

As with any park, every year brought new changes, new additions and new removals. The park also underwent several logo changes. The first logo included 4 globe icons using two different typefaces. The next logo included the word AstroWorld stylized with stars above it (see below). This was my personal favorite logo. A modified version of the stars logo with the stars removed was used for a short period on maps. The final logo included a blocky italicized typeface and six small flags to obviously signify the park was owned by Six Flags. A special logo was used on only on the 1976 map to commemorate the Bicentennial.

Park Maps

Here are various park maps from 1968 to 2004 for you to see how the park changed up until 2004. The 2004 image is actually an aerial view of the park from Google Earth.

1968 1971 1972 1976
1977 1980 1981 1982
1983 1984 1987 1988
1990 1991 1992 2004

Demise

The park ultimately succumbed to a contract dispute between the Astrodome / Reliant Stadium parking lot owners and Six Flags. AstroWorld did not have its own parking lot. Instead, it leased parking from the Reliant land owners. Because AstroWorld was dependent on that parking lot for its attendees, when the contract dispute erupted and ultimately broke down, Six Flags evaluated the situation and the current land values of the ~72 acres of AstroWorld property. Instead of renewing the parking lease, Six Flags decided to cease AstroWorld’s operations, dismantle the park and sell the land.

After all of the dust settled, Six Flags had actually lost money on the deal because they couldn’t get the land prices they expected and demolishing the park cost a lot more than predicted. 120 full time employees lost their jobs and the 1200 seasonal workers hired each year would be lost. It was a sad demise to one of Six Flags’s better theme park properties. Today, that land still sits vacant and is only used as overflow parking for Reliant Stadium.

The then Six Flags CEO, Kieran Burke, was ousted just two months after AstroWorld closed because of his cluster of an idea to close AstroWorld had backfired on Six Flags and failed.

Anyway, let’s get into what you’ve really been waiting for …

The Music

To set the tone of each of the sections above, the park had loud speakers throughout the park playing music. Some were hidden in shrubs or under fake rocks, others were horn speakers affixed to buildings. Over the years, the music changed and updated as the audio systems improved, but many tracks remained the same.

During the 80s, the system used tapes. In the 90s and 00s, I’m sure the system was switched to first CDs, then computer based systems. In the updated systems, some new music was introduced into various sections.

Apple Music Playlists

You might remember hearing a few of these tracks while wandering through the park. Note, you will need an Apple Music account to play the music, but you can see the track names and artists and play short samples even if you don’t have a subscription.

The below playlists include music in use during the 80s, 90s and 00s. Note that I don’t have the playlists for the Country Fair, Modville or Fun Island sections. There was also Looney Toons Town section, but this music is not available on Apple Music that I have been able to find. There was also some incidental music used on rides such as the Dentzel Carousel and The River of No Return / River Adventure Ride that also don’t have playlists. There are also some additional Mexicana tracks which are not on Apple Music, but can be found in this playlist on SoundCloud.

Without further adieu, let’s have a listen to the music that played every operating day at AstroWorld.

Enjoy!


Apple Music Playlists for AstrowWorld
AstroWorld Western Junction
AstroWorld Pioneer
AstroWorld Americana
AstroWorld Coney Island
AstroWorld Mexicana
AstroWorld Alpine Valley
AstroWorld Nottingham Village
AstroWorld USA
AstroWorld European Village
AstroWorld Oriental Village

As always, if you enjoy what you’ve just read on Randocity or heard on Apple Music, please like, subscribe and comment. If you would like to read more about AstroWorld, please leave a comment below and I will consider writing a longer segment about this theme park.

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The “Accusation War”

Posted in equality, gender by commorancy on October 4, 2018

The gender fight is now firmly underway. The lines have been drawn. With near constant accusations from women against men in power, this is the new Women’s Movement. A movement that has gained so much traction and power, many women now wield it callously and with reckless abandon. Let’s Explore.

Women’s Movements and Accusation Power

From the Suffragettes to Women’s Liberation to today’s “Accusation War” paradigm, we are firmly entrenched in a yet another gender war. A war in which the casualties are now primarily aimed at men in power. From Harvey Weinstein to Bill Cosby to Al Franken to Brett Kavanaugh.

The #metoo movement has now realized exactly how much power an accusation holds and how much power an accuser wields with that accusation. Accusations now have the power of, at best, causing death threats, family disruption, slander and malice towards those impacted. At worst, an accusation can cause loss of employment, loss of family, loss of money to legal fees and court costs up to including prison time if convicted.

I’m not in any way saying that some of these accused men are entirely innocent. I am also not saying that all of these accusing women are innocent, either. It’s very easy to take something out of context and blow it way out of proportion, particularly if said event happened decades earlier at a frat party.

Mind over Matter

The difficulty with decades old encounters is that there is no way to get any proof of said event. That proof is long gone. The only possibly corroboration of said event is if a third party was there to witness it. Otherwise, it is firmly “He Said, She Said”. The question is, when only two parties have any knowledge of the event, who are we supposed to trust?

Do we side with the woman who claims sexual abuse? Do we side with the man who states nothing occurred? This is the fundamental dilemma in “He Said, She Said”.

Unfortunately, in the court of social media opinion on sites like Twitter, these folks believe themselves to be judge, jury and executioner. The United States legal system is based on “Innocent until proven guilty”. Yet, social media and to some degree the commercial news media have always taken the stance, “Guilty until proven innocent”. This means holding one of these two parties out to dry. People say and do the most callous things towards others when they have a vehement belief. Take it down a notch, people.

In “He Said, She Said” situations, I simply can’t side with either. There’s no way to know who’s right and who’s wrong. It simply cannot be determined. Unfortunately, with the #metoo movement, social media seems to primarily side with accuser and against the accused. It just takes one female to step out and claim anything she wishes, even making it up as she goes along to exact revenge on the accused. It doesn’t matter whether the allegations are fact or fiction, it matters that the accusation was levied. That’s the point that women have come to understand. This is the power the accuser wields so very callously.

Manipulation

The act of manipulating a situation is an act of power. If you can manipulate a situation for your own benefit, then you hold that power. Many women have now come to understand the level of power that can be levied by mere words.

I’m not saying that some of those words are untrue. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know what is true and what is false when only two people are involved in a situation. This is especially true when the event was decades ago. I’m certainly empathetic to their plight that they claim, but there is no way to determine the validity of those words without some measure of proof or witnesses.

Manipulation of situations by making false accusations shouldn’t be without peril. Right now, women can levy statements and ruin people’s lives and walk away unscathed. This is the problem that needs to be addressed.

Penalities for False Allegations

If a woman makes a claim against a man regarding sexual misconduct and those allegations are found to be false, this needs a heavy penalty. It needs to incur a penalty that makes any false accusers think more than twice about accusing someone simply because they can. The penalty of falsely accusing anyone should be as harsh as it is for the accused. Employers need to see the false accuser in the same light as the accused as far as job credibility. A false accuser should lose their job, their family and anything else near and dear. Additionally, falsely accusing someone of sexual misconduct needs additional legal support. It should become at least a misdemeanor if not a felony to falsely accuse someone.

In court, making false statement is governed by perjury. Without seeing the inside of a courtroom, perjury doesn’t apply. However, slander and defamation does, but these aren’t punishable nearly enough when someone falsely accuses.

As I said, the penalty against a false accuser must be as severe as the penalties against a person found guilty of sexual misconduct. I might even class false accusations of sexual misconduct with the same legal penalties as those being accused of sexual misconduct including being put onto the sexual offender registry. After all, falsely calling someone a sexual offender means that you have become a sexual offender by abusing sexual offender laws to legally implicate someone else. It’s only fair you become what you claim someone else is. Eye for an eye and all that.

Someone reading may think, “That’s a little harsh”, but think about it. If someone is willing to lie to falsely convict a sex offender, then the laws need to reverse when the lie is uncovered. If you falsely accuse someone of a thing, you become that thing. It’s only fair to make the false accuser endure the same laws they were attempting to force on someone else. This includes putting the false accuser onto the sexual offender registry.

Again, false accusation penalties must be severely handled to make people think twice about falsely accusing another of something as severe as sexual misconduct.

False, Genuine, Time and Clouded Thinking

The mind becomes a grey area when time (and substance abuse) gets involved. Some of us may sport eidetic memory, but most of us don’t. Recalling exact details many years ago can be difficult and tricky. These memories can easily become clouded and conflated by later events, introduced by a friend’s faulty memories, distorted images and overall limited recall.

The problem I have with accusing people of sexual misconduct under these cloudy circumstances is that it has immediate and severe consequences, particularly if the person holds any measure of celebrity. Consequences that can cause death threats, divorce, ostracization, loss of career, loss of friends and family with possible mental health issues that result.

Yet, we have so many callous accusers jumping on the #metoo bandwagon who may not properly recall the events of the night in question. Perhaps they were sexually molested in college during a drunken frat party, but conflated that event to a more traumatic interaction much earlier in life. Perhaps they have a memory planted in their head. Perhaps it’s simply revenge. It’s far too easy to conflate similar events in the mind and misremember something that didn’t actually happen.

Being Absolutely Certain

This is why it’s important to be absolutely certain when making accusations of sexual misconduct. If you have any doubts exactly when, where, who or how it happened, don’t accuse. If you need to discuss an event that you think may have happened, discuss it with a therapist or a priest in confessional. Talk about it. Get it out and discuss it. But, don’t accuse someone unless you are absolutely certain of that it occurred and by the accused. Simply because you have a 20 year old memory of something in your head doesn’t mean it’s real 20 or 30 years later. If you had friends there with you, talk to them about it. Make sure they saw what you saw. If they can’t corroborate your recollection of events, perhaps you need to stop trying to act on it and definitely don’t accuse. The #metoo movement is not the place incorrect memories and cloudy recall.

In a cloudy memory situation, I’m not saying someone didn’t get molested. But, time and substance abuse have ways of screwing with your head. Make absolutely certain that what you remember is actually what happened. If you were bombed out of your head that night, how do you know what you did or how you acted? If you were drugged by someone at a party and you can’t recall anything from the night before, this is a situation first for a therapist (unless you have absolute proof, such as a rape kit having been performed the day after).

If have no knowledge of the event, but simply feelings and what you remember after waking up from your drunken stupor, accusing anyone of someone could turn into accusing the wrong person.

Alcohol and Drugs

One common theme with many accusations is drugs and/or alcohol. This means that many accusations happened at parties under the influence. If you’re at a party and you suspect something happened between you and someone else, you should try to confirm what happened with the other party and any other witnesses. Alcohol and drugs have a way of making people say and do things under the influence they may not otherwise say or do.

When you come out of that drug or alcohol induced stupor, you may then try to piece together what happened in your mind. The mind wants to make reason from chaos. This means potentially fabricating ideas about who, what, when, where and why. For this reason, accusing someone over a substance induced stupor means you could easily falsely accuse someone based on incomplete or even fabricated memories.

For the reason of substance abuse, I find it much, much harder to take someone seriously who makes accusations after having been under the influence. That doesn’t make it fair and it doesn’t make what happened false, but it does make accusations, particularly years later, hold far less weight. This is why having physical evidence such as a rape kit is so important.

Children and Abuse

This article is intended to primarily discuss adults accusing other adults of sexual misconduct. That is, to discuss adults who should already know the rules of the game. I would be remiss not discussing child abuse situations, but the underlying agenda of the #metoo movement seems less about child abuse and more about screwing with celebrities and those in power by levying sexual misconduct allegations against youthful indescretions.

Let’s talk about children for a moment. For children who were abused during childhood, I definitely feel for their situation. It’s an impossible situation when an authority figure abuses their authority position to perform sexual acts on a child. Children are not capable of processing that information properly at a young age.

Of course, over time and with life experience into adulthood, we come to understand what happened and are able to grasp the situation more completely. But, the wounds don’t heal. However, by the time we understand what happened, it’s usually too late to bring charges. If it’s a family member, it’s even harder to bring charges as a child (or even as an adult). How can you reconcile jailing your brother, mother, father, sister, grandfather or grandmother? As I said, it’s an impossible situation, particularly if they are the person is a primary caregiver.

If the abuse occurred at school, it can still be just as traumatic. A coach, teacher or student may cause intimidation preventing telling anyone about the situation. Jailing one of these people is less stigmatic, but can be difficult depending on the person.

If the abuse happened by a priest, it is even worse in some cases. Yes, some people who want to abuse others do tend to gravitate towards employment situations let’s them act out their personal fantasies and proclivities. These people fully grasp their position of a trusted authority figure such as coach, priest, principal, teacher, doctor, etc. It makes it especially difficult to out these people for their sexual misconduct. That’s why they have those chosen those specific positions of authority.

However, the times are changing. No longer do priests, cops, coaches, doctors and teachers hold the blanket authority power they once held when accused. Since all of the accusations over the years, these positions of implicit trusted power have lost their veneer. There is no person you should trust implicitly simply by their job title. Everyone must learn to trust an individual by their actions, not by the job title they hold. Never implicitly trust someone simply because they are titled as a caregiver.

For children who suffer this level of abuse, I wish I had an answer. Opening up on the situation and discussing it much later in life may be the only answer.

Seek Therapy

If you’ve been sexually abused by anyone and you can’t cope, seek a therapist. As they say, there are some things you can’t unsee (or in this case, undo). Therapists are there to help you come to terms with what happened. They won’t make it right, but they can help you grasp the situation better, gain better understanding of it and hopefully come to terms with it.

If you want to publicly accuse someone of having done something, consult with a therapist first. They may be able to help you determine if what you remember is valid or conflated memories. You don’t want to accuse someone accidentally. Falsely accusing, if even accidental, is something you’ll have to live with for the rest of your life. Just like whatever sexual abuse encounter you remember having, falsely accusing someone, even if accidental, is not something you can easily take back. You don’t want to require even more therapy because you falsely remembered an event and accused someone of something they didn’t do.

Accusing Someone

If you’ve been sexually molested by someone, it’s fine to join the #metoo movement so long as you don’t call them out by name. If you want to out someone by name, you should do so only after talking with an attorney and only do so to the authorities. If you choose to levy a public accusation at someone on social media, I’d suggest you do so with concrete proof. Meaning, have a rape kit handy, have witnesses handy, have doctor’s who’ve examined you handy, etc. If you’re really intent on outing someone for an act they performed on you 20 years ago, make sure that you are calling them out for it properly. Even then, doing it through the authorities and a police report is better than doing it on Facebook and Twitter.

If you plan on calling out someone for sexual misconduct, call them out with proof. Make sure the person who you claim abused you can be convicted of their actions legally. Simply calling them out publicly with no intent on legal action tells me that there’s something fishy at work, that the accuser cannot be trusted. If the accuser is unwilling to make the accusation stick legally, then it simply comes down to, “He Said, She Said”, which by its very nature is an untrustworthy situation.

If the intent of the “Accusation War” is to create a rift between the genders, then this current gender war is the perfect way to go about it. Can we survive it?

If you have been sexually molested or have been accused of sexual molestation, I’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.

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