Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Are folding smartphones practical?

Posted in computers, ipad, mobile devices by commorancy on April 30, 2019

Today, let’s explore folding smartphones. Are they practical? Do they have a place in the market? Will they last? Are they innovative? Let’s explore.

Tablets vs. Folding Smartphone

Looking at the Huawei Mate X and the Samsung Galaxy Fold folding devices, two things become abundantly clear, First, they fold open into the form factor of a tablet. Second, they command a price that’s way, way higher than an actual tablet.

There are also additional problems with these phones. When the phone is folded open, you can’t hold it to your ear and use it as you would a phone. You must fold it closed to regain the phone form factor. Because the larger screen is the primary reason to buy this device, this makes the folding aspect of this device less about being a phone and more about being a tablet. Or, let me put that another way, it’s a gimmick. Why is it a gimmick? Because in addition to the tablet size, you also add creases and marks to the plastic surface each time you fold and unfold the phone. Ultimately, it becomes less about being a tablet and more about the novelty of the folding screen.

For a product that’s supposed to be a premium, top-tier device, I don’t know about you, but I want my surface to be (and remain) pristine. I don’t want to feel surface bumps or lines running down the center of the fold area. I certainly don’t want this stretching and bending plastic to get worse over time. Yet, that’s where these phones clash with…

Materials Science

In other words, this is where these phones meet reality (or physics). To fold any type of material, that material will become marred and marked by the folding action. As the folding continues, the problems will increase with the surface becoming more and more marred. It’s simply the nature of folding something. It’s a limitation of the way physical objects operate when folded. It’s nature.

When applied to a phone’s case design, you will continue to see see the fold area gain marks, bumps and imperfections due to the folding action. To me, this doesn’t say “premium”. It says “cheap”. Plastics see to that “cheapness”. After all, plastics are some of the cheapest materials around today… and plastics are the only substances capable of holding up to any level of folding with a minimum of problems. However, a minimum of problems doesn’t mean zero problems.

The only way this could change is if materials could be made out of a polymer that can heal itself under these folding stresses and stretch and relax appropriately during the fold. To date, no one has been able to produce such a material. This means that folding screen surfaces will inevitably become marked and marred with each fold and unfold action. Over time, it will eventually become a sheer mess of marks… which also assumes the folding action of the OLED screen itself will survive that many folds. Just consider how a paperback book’s spine looks after you’re done reading it. That same effect happens to plastic, even the most resilient of plastics.

OLED Screens and Electronics

I’m not a materials scientist. With that said, I’m also unaware of any specific clear plastic sheet materials that can survive being folded and unfolded many times. Silicone might work, but even then silicone might degrade or break over time. Considering how many times people might utilize a folding screen per day, it could be folded and unfolded perhaps hundreds of times in a single day. If you unfolded the screen just once per day, in 1 year you’d have unfolded the screen 365 times. If you multiply that times 100, that’s likely over 36,500 folds per year… probably more.

While notebook manufacturers have more or less worked out the folding problem with LCD screens (they use flexible ribbon cables), notebooks hinges and components do eventually wear out from regular opening and closing.

In a phone, the problem will be ten times greater. Not only will the phone wear out faster than a non-folding model, the phone will be worth far, far less at the end of your use. No one is going to want to buy a used folding phone that looks like a used paper back book.

Since the hinges on these devices have to be uniquely designed for a smaller phone form factor and to avoid getting in the way of the screen surface, these designs are likely ripe for defects… particularly the first generation phones. And all for what?

A Tablet?

The single unique benefit of the folding phone is to turn the screen into the size of a tablet. While single body phablets worked great when they arrived, this idea of making the screen even bigger in a phone doesn’t make much sense. Yes, it’s unique. Yes, it’s probably a way to make more sales. But, is it really a good idea? Not really.

Tablets already do what they need to do and they do it well. Arguably, the best tablet I’ve seen created by Samsung is the Galaxy Tab S. It had the perfect form factor for watching movies. It fit in the hand nicely. It had a perfect weight. It also had that amazing OLED screen. It had everything you could want in a tablet.

Now, with folding screens comes a whole new paradigm of software to drive the folding action. When unfolded, it’s basically a tablet. When folded, it becomes a phone form factor. To move between the small folded screen and the larger unfolded screen seamlessly between apps, app support must be built. This requires whole new set of OS libraries and software to support that action.

Unfortunately, neither Android nor IOS supports this folding screen usability. Instead, Samsung has cobbled together some early drivers and software for its Galaxy Fold. With the Huawei’s Mate X, it’s not even that far along. If you buy into one of these convertibles, you’re going to be sorely disappointed when moving between the small and large screens within the same app. Some apps might update properly, many more will not.

That doesn’t mean the OSes won’t catch up, but it will take some time. It also means growing pains until the OS technology catches up.

Phone and Tablet Together

Tablets and phones should be married. I’ve said that for quite some time. There’s no reason to carry around two devices when you can carry around one. However, it doesn’t need to fold. Carrying around a tablet as both a tablet and a phone is perfectly fine. Simply marry the innards of a phone into a Tablet and voila, a new device. I’d be perfectly fine carrying around a tablet the size of the iPad Mini as my primary phone. It’s small enough to be portable and large enough to do what I need to do on a tablet. There’s no need to fold it in half.

Gimmicks

Unfortunately, technology has moved away from producing useful new features and has moved firmly into adding gimmicks to sell new devices. From FaceID to the ever growing number of unnecessary cameras to now this folding action. For cameras, one camera is fine. Two borders on a gimmick. Adding three or more cameras is most definitely a gimmick to part you from your money. You don’t need multiple cameras on a phone. One is enough.

Folding is also a gimmick. The idea of folding isn’t new. We’ve had folding books, folding paper and folding binders… heck, there are even “folders” so named to hold paper in filing cabinets.

Folding a phone? Not necessary. Gimmick? Definitely. It’s particularly a gimmick because of the problem with materials science. If you know your phone is going to end up looking like trash at the end of one year’s use, then why bother? I know phones are designed to last one year before buying another, but that purchase cycle is insane. I’ve never fallen into that manufacturing and purchasing trap. I expect my phones to last at least 3 years, sometimes before even needing a battery change.

I’ve always held onto my phone for at least 1-2 new phone release cycles before buying a new one. Lately, it’s been 2-3 cycles because I’m currently invested in the Apple universe and I vehemently dislike the iPhone X’s design. I have an iPhone 7 Plus. I abhor the notched screen. I dislike that Apple invested in a costly OLED screen not only include that notch, but also reduce the color rendition to mimic an LCD screen. If you’re planning on degrading an OLED screen’s rendition, then use the cheaper LCD screen technology. An OLED screen offers a very intense saturated look. Some people don’t like it, but many do. The point to offering a screen capable of that level of color saturation is to make use of it, not hide it.

With the iPhone X, I dislike that there’s no TouchID button. I also dislike that the screen isn’t flush to the full edge of the case. There’s still a small black bezel around the entire screen except near that ugly, ugly notch. I also don’t like the introduction of the rounded display corners. It worked on the Mac back in the day, but not on a phone. Keep the corners firmly square.

Worse, at the time the iPhone X arrived, my iPhone 7 Plus’s screen was still larger than the iPhone X. It wasn’t until the iPhone X Max arrived that we got a comparable screen size to the 7 Plus. I digress.

Gimmicks are now firmly driving the phone industry rather than outstanding design and usability features. The last outstanding iPhone design that Apple produced was arguably the iPhone 7. It solved all of the glass design problems around the iPhone 4, the small screen of the iPhone 5 and the bendgate problems of the iPhone 6. It is arguably, indeed, the best phone Apple has yet designed. Then, they introduced the abomination known as the iPhone X.

At the same time as the iPhone X, Apple introduced the iPhone 8. The iPhone 8 seems much like an extension of the iPhone 7, but with wireless charging. Yes, wireless charging would have been great IF Apple hadn’t cancelled the AirPower charger base they had promised. Now that that product is non-existent, the point to wireless charging an iPhone has more or less evaporated. Sure, you can wireless charge an iPhone with a Qi charger, but at such a slow rate it’s not worth considering.

The AirPower’s whole reason to exist was to charged the phone (and other devices) supposedly faster than a Lightning cable. Perhaps Apple will finally release their fast charging specs to the industry so that Qi chargers can finally build in this faster charging feature and offer similar charging times as the aforementioned, but now defunct AirPower base. But, we know Apple, they’ve just shot themselves in the foot and they won’t do anything about it. Now that the AirPower is dead, so likely too is the hope of super fast wireless charging.

AirPods 2

This whole situation with the AirPower (and really this is more about Apple’s failure to deliver a workable product) is made far, far worse with the release of the the AirPods 2. It’s like Apple has some big sadistic streak towards its customers by cancelling a completely necessary product in one breath, then announce the AirPods 2 “with wireless charging case” in the next.

One of the primary reasons the AirPods 2 exist is for the wireless charging case. Unfortunately, even with Lightning, the charging speed of the AirPods is still incredibly slow. Considering how much slower Qi chargers operate, it will take infinitely more time to charge the case of the AirPods 2. You don’t want this if you’re trying to get out the door to your destination. This means that those who had banked on the wireless charging capability for purchase of the AirPods 2 with the wireless charging (a case that costs $80 separately or adds $40 to the price of standard AirPods) because of the AirPower’s faster performance has now been misled by Apple. Thus, this makes the primary selling point of the AirPods 2 now worthless.

If anything, the cancellation of the AirPower wireless charging pad clearly shows Apple’s failure as a company. Not only did the engineers fail to design and deliver a seemingly simplistic device, Apple as a company failed the consumer by not carrying through with their ecosystem continuity plans. Plans that, if they had come to fruition, could have seen to the existence of a much wider array of wireless devices aided by the AirPower.

The AirPods are pretty much a case of “you-can’t-have-one-without-the-other”. Failing the delivery of the AirPower means you’ve failed the delivery of the AirPods 2 by extension. It’s this double whammy failure that will hit Apple hard.

In fact, it’s even worse than a double-whammy for the future of Apple. It impacts future iPhone sales, future iPad sales, future Apple Watch sales and, in general, any other wireless charging device Apple might have had in its design queue. The failure to deliver the AirPower base is a major blow to Apple’s innovation and the Apple ecosystem as a whole.

Apple’s Apathy

The management team at Apple appears to be apathetic to this wider problem. I can hear them now, “Let’s just cancel AirPower”. Another person says, “But, it’s going to be needed for many future devices”. Another person says, “Don’t worry about that. Just cancel it.”

Apathy is the antithesis of Innovation. These two concepts have no symbiotic relationship. There was a time when Apple (or more specifically, Steve Jobs) would push his teams to deliver amazing designed products with features 5-10 years ahead of their time. Now Apple can’t even deliver a similar product that already exists in the marketplace by other manufacturers.

You can’t run a business on apathy. You can only run a business on doing. If Apple is smart, they’ll announce the cancellation of AirPower, but quickly announce an even better wireless charging alternative that’s even faster than the AirPower. Without a solid, reliable and performant wireless charging system, devices like the now-wireless charging AirPods 2 are left hanging. The Apple Watch is left hanging. And… Apple’s flagship product, the iPhone X is also being left hanging without a net.

Innovation and Gimmicks

While I know I got off on an Apple tangent, it was to prove a point. That point being that gimmicks like wireless charging cases, must have functional sister products to bring that product to life. Without such symbiotic sister products, a half-product is very much simply an on-paper gimmick to sell more product.

Clearly, Apple is now firmly in gimmick territory in its attempts to make money. So is Samsung, Huawei and even LG. It’s more about innovating and making truly new and exciting products we’ve never seen, than it is about adding more cameras, or bigger batteries or making it thinner or adding a pencil or even, yes, folding. These featires are the “accessories” that add value to an innovative product, but these are not primary driving factors.

If you want to wow the industry, you make a product no one has ever seen before. We’ve seen both the Huawei Mate X and the Galaxy Fold before, in tablets and in phones. Marrying the two together doesn’t make innovation, it makes iteration. There’s a substantial difference between iteration and innovation. Iteration is taking two existing concepts and marrying them together. Innovation is producing a product that has never before existed like that ever. Tablets already exist even if they don’t fold.

The iPad as Innovation

The iPad is a game changing, innovative device. The only even close product would have been in the early 90’s with Grid’s GRiDPad. The only similarity between the iPad and the GRiDPad is the fact that they were both tablets by function. Both have completely different philosophies on what a tablet is, how it works and how it looks. The GRiDPad failed because it didn’t know what to be at a time when it needed a clear reason to exist. This is particularly true when such a form factor had never before existed. People need to be able to wrap their head around why a tablet needs to exist. With Grid, they couldn’t.

The reason Apple’s iPad succeeded was not only because of the form factor, but because Apple also put an amazing amount of time and thought into how a tablet form factor works, feels in the hand and how the touch interface works. They gave people the understanding of how and why a tablet is useful… something Grid failed to do with the GRiDPad. It also didn’t hurt that Apple had a solid, robust operating system in MacOS X that they could tweak and use as a base to drive the user interface. Grid, on the other hand, didn’t. They didn’t build an ecosystem, they didn’t have an app store, they didn’t have a proper operating system, they didn’t really even have apps. There was the tablet, but on the other side of the equals sign there was nothing.

Apple’s design thought of nearly everything from top to bottom and from form to function to ecosystem. Apple offered the consumer the total package. Grid got the form down, but not the function. Apple nailed nearly everything about the iPad from the start.

In fact, Apple nailed so much about the iPad from the beginning, Apple has not actually been able to improve upon that design substantially. Everything that Apple has added to iOS has been created not to improve upon the touch UI, but to add missing features, like cut and paste and Siri. In fact, Siri is as equally important innovation to the iPad, but it’s not truly needed for the iPad. It’s much more important innovation for the iPhone, because of the hands free nature that a phone needs while driving. Siri is, in fact, the single most important achievement to create a safer driving experience… something you won’t be doing on an iPad, but you will be doing on an iPhone or Apple Watch.

Steve Jobs

The Apple achievements I mention wouldn’t have been possible without Steve Jobs. Steve was not only a truly masterful marketer, he was also a visionary. He may not have personally designed the product, but he knew exactly what he wanted in the device. He was definitely visionary when it came to simplicity of design, when combined with everyday life.

You definitely want simplicity. You want easy to access software systems. You want intuitive touch interfaces. You want to be able to get in and out of interfaces in one or two touches. You don’t want to dig ever deeper in menu after menu after menu simply to get to a single function. Steve Jobs very much endorsed Keep-It-Simple-Stupid (or the KISS) philosophy. For example, the creation of single button mice. The placing of a single button on the front of the iPad. These are all very much the KISS design philosophy. It’s what makes people’s lives easier rather than more complicated.

Unfortunately, after Steve Jobs’s death in 2011, that left a huge KISS gap at Apple, which as only widened since. Even iOS and MacOS X have succumbed to this change in design philosophy. Instead of adopting KISS, Apple has abandoned that design goal and, instead, replaced it with deeper and deeper menus, with more complicated UI interfaces, with less simplistic user experiences and with buggier releases. The bugs being simply an outcome of dropping the KISS design idea. More complicated software means more bugs. Less complicated software means less bugs.

Some might argue FaceID makes your life simpler. Yes, it might… when it works, at the added cost of privacy problems. Problems that were solved just as simply with TouchID, adding none of those nasty privacy issues.

Samsung and Apple

While Samsung played catch-up with Apple for quite a while, Samsung got ahead by buying into component manufacturing, including the manufacture of OLED screens. In fact, Samsung became one of the leaders in OLED screen fabrication. If there’s an OLED screen in a product, there’s a high likelihood it was made by Samsung.

This meant that most OLED Android smart phones contain a Samsung part even if the phone was designed and produce by LG or Huawei or Google. This component level aspect of Samsung’s technology strategy has helped Samsung produce some of the best looking and functioning Android smart phones. For this same reason and because of the Apple and Samsung rivalry, Apple shunned using OLED for far too long. Because of the ever continual Samsung vs. Apple argument, Apple refused to add OLED screens into their devices… thus stunting Apple’s ability to innovate in the iPhone space for many years.

The OLED screen also allowed Samsung to produce the first “phablet” (combination phone and tablet). Bigger than most smart phones, smaller than a tablet. It offered users a larger phone screen to better surf Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It was an iterative improvement to be sure, definitely not innovative in the truest sense. However, it definitely leapfrogged Samsung way ahead of Apple in screen quality and size. This is where Samsung leaped over Apple and made a serious niche for themselves… and it is also what propelled Android phones front and center. The “phablet” is what firmly propelled Samsung ahead of Apple and it is what has firmly kept them there.

In fact, Apple is now so far behind Samsung that it is now playing continual catch-up with it screen technologies, with wireless charging, with smart watches and with pretty much every other “innovation” Samsung has offered in since 2015.

One might argue that the AirPods were something new an innovative. Sure, but they were simply an iterative improvement over the EarPods (the wired version). The part of the AirPods that are, in fact, innovative is not the ear buds themselves, but the magnetic charging case. This case design is, in fact, the thing that sets these earbuds apart from every other set of wireless earbuds. This case, in fact, is one of the last few KISS design bastions I’ve seen come out of Apple. Unfortunately, as sleek as the case design is, the software behind it is equally as clumsy and not at all KISS in design.

The AirPods pair fast and easy using an instant recognizing system, but actually using the AirPods can be a chore. Sometimes the AirPods fail to connect at all. Sometimes one of them fails to connect. When a phone call comes in and you place an earbud in your ear, the phone still answers on the internal speaker even though the earbud is connected. When you try to move the audio to the earbud, the option is not even available. Sometimes you hear dropouts and stuttering while listening to music just inches away from the phone. Yes, the software is entirely clumsy. It’s so clumsy, in fact, it’s really something I would have expected to see from Android instead of iOS.

Commitment to Excellence

When Jobs was operating the innovation arm at Apple, the commitment to excellence was palpable. Since Jobs’s has left us, Apple’s commitment to excellence has entirely vanished. Not only are their products no longer being produced with the Jobs level of expected excellence, it’s not even up to a standard level of industry excellence. It’s now what one might expect to get from McDonald’s, not a three star Michelin rated restaurant. Apple, at one point, was effectively a three star Michelin-rated restaurant. Today, Apple is the Wendy’s of the computer world. Wendy’s is better than most and they make a good hamburger, but it is in no way gourmet. This is what Apple has become.

Samsung fares even worse. Samsung has never been known for its commitment to excellence. In fact, for a long time, I’ve been aware that Samsung’s products, while pretty and have great screens, are not at all built to last. They have small parts that wear out quickly and eventually break. Sometimes the units just outright fall apart. For the longest time I steered clear of Samsung products simply because their commitment to excellence was so far below Apple (even at where Apple is today), I simply couldn’t trust Samsung to produce a lasting product.

Recently, Samsung has mostly proven me wrong, at least for the Galaxy S5 and the Galaxy Tab S. This smart phone and tablet have held up amazingly well. The OLED screens still look tantalizingly sharp and crisp. The processors are still fast enough to handle most of what’s being pushed out today… which is still much better than the speed of an iPhone 4S or iPhone 5 released around the same time. Apple’s products simply don’t stand up to the test of time. However, Samsung’s older products have. That’s a testament to the improved build quality of Samsung devices.

However, commitment to excellence is not a commitment to innovation. The two, while related, are not the same. I’d really like to see Apple and Samsung both commit to excellence in innovation instead of creating devices based on gimmicks.

Full Circle

We’ve explored a lot of different aspects of technology within this article. Let’s bring it all home. The point is that innovation, true innovation, is what drives technology forward. Iterative innovation does not. It improves a device slightly, but it waters down the device in the process. You don’t want to water down devices, you want to build new, innovative devices that improve our lives, make our homes better, faster, safer, easier… and make access to information quicker and, overall, help improve our daily lives.

We don’t want to fight with devices to hear our voices over a fan. We don’t want to have to guess the phrase to use with Siri through iterative trial-and-error to make it give us specific information. We don’t want to have to flash the phone in front of our faces several times before FaceID recognizes us. We don’t want to dig through menu, after menu, after menu simply to enable or disable a function. That’s not easy access, that’s complication. Complications belong on smart watches, not on phones.

In short, we need to get back to the KISS design philosophy. We need to declutter, simplify, make devices less obtuse and more straightforward. Lose the menus and give us back quick access to device functions. We need to make buttons bigger, rather than smaller on touch screens. Teeny-tiny buttons have no place on a touch screen. We’ve gone backwards rather than forwards with touch interfaces on tablets and phones… yes, even on iOS devices.

Folding phones are not simple. In fact, they are the opposite of simple. Simple is making phone usability easier, not more tricky. Adding a folding screen adds more complication to the phone, not less. Lose the folding. We need to shorten, simplify and reduce. We need to make mobile devices, once again, Steve Jobs simple.

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Can I sell my video game?

Posted in nintendo, Playstation, video game, xbox by commorancy on April 27, 2019

The answer to this question depends on how the game was originally sold to you. Let’s explore.

United States and First-Sale Doctrine

The United States has a lesser understood, but very powerful doctrine known as the “First-sale Doctrine”. This doctrine defines important limitations and exclusions afforded to purchasers of copyrighted (and trademarked) materials. This doctrine is so important that without it, copyrighted and trademarked works couldn’t easily be sold and definitely couldn’t be resold. Basically, this doctrine allows (and is designed) to allow resale of copyrighted works without having to notify or turn over resale profits to the original creator. Via the ‘exhaustion rule’, the original creator ‘exhausts’ specific resale rights once he or she sells a copy of that work to someone else.

Originally, the First-sale Doctrine covered such physical media as books and records. At the time of the the creation of this doctrine, digital media wasn’t in existence. However, this doctrine has also come to apply to software delivered on physical media (such as CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, Hard Drive and even Flash ROMs). Software includes music, movies and, yes, even video games.

In short, this doctrine says that once a creator who holds all rights to a specific work sells a copy of that work, the creator relinquishes all further sales rights (among other rights) of that specific copy. For example, if an author writes a book and a copy of that book is printed and sold, the creator no longer holds any further sales rights to that physical copy of that physical book. If the new owner (purchaser) of that book chooses to sell it, burn it, chop it up into pieces or hold onto it, that’s entirely the purchaser’s right. The one right that is not given to the purchaser is the right to make new copies of it.

However, the new owner can sell their original copy of that book for any amount of money they wish and the original creator no longer has any claim over that sale as that was exhausted after the “First Sale”… hence, this doctrine’s name.

Physical Media Video Games

With video games delivered on physical media, like a CD, DVD or similar, in the US the First-sale Doctrine applies. The copyrighted work exists within a legitimate “First Sale” purchased media. This means that as the “First Sale” purchaser, you now enjoy resale rights given to you over that media. This means you can take that video game DVD back to Gamestop or any other used game seller and sell it back to them for any amount of money they choose to give you. You can also sell it to a friend or put it on eBay and sell it to anyone who wishes to buys it.

Owning a physical original “First Sale” copy of a video game gives you the right of resale.

Buying Used Games

Buying a used video game also affords you “First Sale” rights over that original media. Even though the used physical copy wasn’t sold to you by the content creator (does that ever happen anyway?), the “First-sale Doctrine” still applies to all purchases of original media. However, if the game is counterfeit or has violated copyrights to come to exist, these are unauthorized copies not protected by the “First-sale Doctrine”. Only authorized copies of works are protected by the First-sale Doctrine.

Digital Video Game Sales?

With digital video game sales, this is where things get tricky and where the waters get murky with regards to the First-sale Doctrine. Why? Because it’s a bit more tricky to determine the “original media”. With a DVD that was produced by a manufacturer authorized by the creator, the chain of change in ownership is clear.

When you download a copy of a video game to a hard drive, the chain of ownership remains unclear. In order to sell a single digital copy of a game, you’d have to make a copy to sell it. This new copy would infringe on the copyright holder’s “copy” rights. That means you would have to make an illegal and unauthorized copy to sell it. For this reason, you can’t sell a digitally downloaded copy easily. However, that doesn’t mean the game can’t be sold. It just can’t be sold in the way that you think.

With that said, you can sell your digital video game copies under a very specific circumstance. It will also not violate copyright laws and the sale will adhere to the First-sale Doctrine. Once you click the download button to download that digital copy, the game will be stored on your hard drive on your console or computer. So long as you do not move, copy or transfer that data to another media, that “First Sale” video game is stored on its original media. That means that the copy stored on your hard drive is the “First Sale” copy.

Why is the “First Sale” copy important? It’s important because this copy is the original (and only) copy you received from the purchase.

How Can I Sell a Digital Game?

How can you sell it? Well, that’s the tricky part. You can’t sell only that game. You can only sell the media it lives on. This means you’d need to sell the hard drive that that game lives on. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to authorize play of the game. That hard drive also resides in computer or console.

For PlayStation and Xbox and likely the Switch, there’s also a “license to play” which is part of, but separate from the game download. This “license” lives in a separate location and must be present for the game to play on that console. That “license” is also tied to your “Store” account with Xbox, PlayStation and Switch.

This means that to sell your digitally downloaded games (plural), you’d need to sell not only the hard drive, but the entire console AND your Xbox Live, PSN or Nintendo ID account to have the First-sale Doctrine apply. Basically, you’ll have sold everything needed to ensure the game will play. Of course, you’ll have sold your whole console and all other games along with it. Yeah, it’s kind of overkill, but it’s the only way to sell digital games and stay within the First-sale Doctrine.

With physical media, the license is the media itself. With digital media, the licenses are stored separately and become part of your network account. This means you have to sell the console, hard drive (and all games and content) and your network account. Selling a physical copy of a game is, then, much easier.

Copying Games

The Xbox and the PlayStation allow for copying games from one media to another. The difficulty with this process is that it likely invalidates the First-sale Doctrine. In order to copy a game from your internal media to an external drive, the system has to make a full and complete copy before deleting the original.

Once the system deletes the original, only the second copy remains. This second copy may violate (and invalidate) the First-sale Doctrine. No longer are you playing the original “First Sale” copy. Now, you are playing a copy of a copy that the PlayStation or the Xbox created. However, content creators using the Xbox or PlayStation stores may have to agree to authorize this copying process in advance. If the developer legal agreements require this, then any copied games may still be protected by the First-sale Doctrine.

What this all means, though, is if you sell your console with any games which have been moved from one drive to another, you may not be protected by the First-sale Doctrine.

This situation also exists if you delete your “First Sale” copy from the hard drive, then re-download the game from the store later. No longer are you technically playing the “First Sale” copy. This makes the “First-sale Doctrine” more difficult to apply to video game and harder to know if “First Sale” still applies. It gets even more complicated with…

Game Updates

Because video games require periodic updates to fix bugs and improve the game, this may also invalidate the “First Sale”. Even though the updated copy comes from the original creator, what you bought isn’t what you’re playing after an update. Unfortunately, these nuances to video games, copyrights and “First Sale” have not been challenged in a court. Only a court of law could rule on what applies and what doesn’t under such circumstances as game updates and when copying from one media to another using built-in system tools.

Selling your Console

To sell a specific digitally purchased video game, you’d have to sell not only your entire console unit, you’d have to sell your network ID account that authorizes play of those games. If you did this, you can legally sell these digital copies of your games under “First Sale”.

However, you’re not technically selling a game itself. You’re selling the console and everything that it contains, including all digital copies. To allow for those games to be played by the new buyer and to ensure the seller relinquishes all access to those “First Sale” copies to the buyer, you’d have to sell them your network ID. This means that you have transferred all “First Sale” rights of any games on the console to the buyer and you have entirely relinquished access to those games for yourself.

For you to play a game that was on that console again, you’d have to purchase it anew on a new console using a new network ID.

Game Saves

Saved games are not part of the original “First Sale” game download. These are created separately by the game as User Generated Content after playing the game. In theory, you should be able to make external copies of your saved games (as long as the console allows for this) and import these into any new console you purchase later. This way you could continue playing a game should you buy that game again in the future.

With that said, if a saved game contains any copyrighted content used within the game, copying your saved games might cause copyright issues for you. Though, it would be a separate copyright concern from the game itself. Your game saves are separate content from the game and were created as part of playing the game. With game saves, the player might even be able to argue some copyrights over saved games depending on exactly what is stored in the game save.

For example, if you’re using a music program and you create digital music, when you create a save from that application, you own that game save and you own any original music content you created as part of creating that digital music. The same concept applies to a video game. Because you were playing the game, a game save may contain unique things to your specific game play through. This means that that content is unique to you for that game. As a result, you may own portions of that created content… the portions that were unique to your game play.

However, if the game save contains copyrighted music files, image files or similar, you won’t be able to claim ownership over that content. You can only claim ownership over the content that’s unique to your play through (i.e., your character’s appearance, your character’s wielded weapons, your character’s clothing combination, your character’s stats). All of these character stats combine to create something unique to you… and you may be able to own the copyrights over that uniquely created content.

One thing is certain, save games are not considered as part of the “First Sale” of the game itself. Game saves are items created by the game after the game has been sold to you.

Overall

Can you sell your video game? Yes, under specific circumstances described above. Purchasing physical media of a game is by far the easiest way to resell your game without any problems. Physical copies of video games are completely protected by the First-sale Doctrine.

Unfortunately, selling an individual digital download copy of a video game you purchased through an online game store and downloaded directly to your console (or PC) isn’t possible. While you can’t sell an individual game, you can sell the entire console (or PC), its hard drive(s) and all account(s) associated with the games and that sale will fall under the First-sale Doctrine. Unfortunately, that means you lose access to your entire video game system and any game library you had amassed while you owned the system. No, it’s not in any way optimal, but this is the only one afforded to digital goods consumers under the current U.S. copyright laws.

If you wish to be able to sell individual video games easily after you’re done playing, you’ll need to stick with purchasing physical media boxed copies from a store.

Disclaimer: This answer is written for United States residents. If you’re reading this in another country, you should consult with your country’s own copyright laws for details regarding video game resale rights.

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Apple Cancels AirPower charge mat

Posted in Apple, california, iphone by commorancy on April 26, 2019

airpower-charge-baseWhile I realize that this “news” is a little old at this point (announced March 29th), the intention of this article is not to report on this announcement, but to write an analysis of this announcement’s ramifications to Apple. Let’s explore.

Think Different

Apple used this slogan for a time when it was touting its innovative approach to the creation of its devices and systems. However, Apple has pretty much abandoned this slogan after Steve Jobs’s passing.

Since the loss of Jobs, Apple’s innovation has waned, which has left industry pundits with a conundrum. Do these Apple expert journalists continue to be fanboys for this brand and “love everything Apple” or do they finally drop that pretext and begin reporting the realities of the brand.

I’ve never been an Apple “fanboy” in the sense that I “automatically love everything Apple”. There are too many legitimate journalists and social media influencers who already follow that trend. However, I won’t name any names, iJustine. Whoops. If you’re another of these people, you know who you are.

Think The Same

In recent years, Apple has been trailing its competition with its phone and other tech ideas. Ideas that have already been done, sometimes better than Apple. For example, the iPhone X is an iPhone version of the Galaxy Note 8. The Note 8 released months earlier than the iPhone X. The wired EarPods were simply Apple’s version of a similar Bose earbud. And… the AirPower would simply have been an Apple version of a Qi Wireless charging mat.

As you can see, Apple’s most recent innovations aren’t innovations at all. Even the AirPods, while wireless, are not new. While they do sound pretty good, they leave some to be desired for long wear-ability and comfort. They also take way too long to connect, when they decide to connect at all (at least the gen 1 AirPods). These are iterations of products that have already existed on the market.

The iPhone 1 demonstrates actual innovation. No one had created a smart phone like the iPhone when it came to exist. Sure, some handsets had limited apps and a few had a touch screen, but Apple took the handheld phone to a whole new level. The first iPad was also quite innovative. No other tablet was on the market at the time and offered something never before seen. Just look at the tablet market today!

Unfortunately, the innovation that was once so prevalent at Apple has evaporated after Jobs’s untimely death.

Qi

Inductive wireless charging is nothing new. It’s been a staple technology in Braun’s wireless toothbrushes since the early 90s. It was simply the next logical step to bring inductive charging to mobile devices. Samsung did that with its own Qi wireless charging mats (and by backing the Qi standard). These mats and phones were introduced in 2008.

With the introduction of the iPhone X model in November of 2017 (and other Apple phone models released that same year), Apple finally added induction charging to its handsets. That’s 9 years after Qi became a thing. That’s 9 years after Samsung had it on their handsets. There’s nothing at all innovative about wireless charging on an Apple device. Yes, it may have been a “most requested” feature, but it certainly was not innovative or even new. If anything, Apple decided it was time to fill a technology gap on their mobile devices… while with earlier phones they had refused to fill that gap. We won’t get into the whys of it all (ahem… Samsung).

With its iPhone X announcement, Apple also announced a new product called AirPower. This product would be a rival inductive charging mat to already existing Qi charging mats. The primary iterative difference between AirPower and the existing Qi charger bases is that the AirPower would output more power to wireless charge the iPhone much faster… perhaps even faster than a Lightning cable. We’ll never know now. The AirPower announcement also showed 3 devices charging simultaneous, including an AirPods case.

Unfortunately, Apple wasn’t able to release this product at the same time as the iPhone X. Apple announced they would release this charging mat sometime in mid-late 2018. This release date came and went without an announcement or release. By the end of March 2019 (nearly a year and a half after Phil Schiller announced it to the public), Apple officially pulled the plug on the AirPower product.

Everyone reading this announcement should take it as a sign of problems within Apple. And… here we are at the crux and analysis portions of this article.

The Apple Bites

With the cancellation of the AirPower, this signifies a substantial problem brewing within Apple’s infinite circle. If the engineers of what seems to be a relatively simple device cannot even manage to design and build a functional wireless charging base, a technology that’s been in use since the 1990s and in use in the mobile phone market for over 10 years now, how can we trust Apple to provide innovative, functional products going into the future?

This cancellation is a big, big deal to Apple’s reputation. If Apple cannot build a reasonably simplistic device after nearly a year and a half, what does this say about Apple’s current engineers on the whole?

Assuming Apple’s internal engineers were actually incapable of producing this product in-house, Apple could have farmed the product design out to a third party company (i.e., Samsung or Belkin) and had that third party design and build the product to Apple’s specs. It doesn’t seem that this product should have died on the vine, let alone be abandoned.

Instead of outright abandoning the product, Apple should have brought it to market in a different way. As I said, outright cancelling the product signifies much deeper problems within Apple. This is actually one of the first times I’ve actually seen Apple publicly announce a vapor product and then cancel said vapor product (albeit, over a year later). It’s a completely surprising, disappointing, unusual and highly unprecedented move by Apple… especially considering Apple’s new devices that desperately rely on this unreleased device. I guess this is why Apple has always been so secretive about product announcements in the past. If you cancel an unannounced product, no one knows. When you cancel a publicly announced product, it tarnishes your reputation… particularly when a functional product already exists on the market from other manufacturers (and competitors) and when the product is rather simplistic in nature. That’s a huge blow to Apple’s “innovative” reputation.

AirPods 2

The AirPower cancellation is also particularly disappointing and disheartening on the heels of the announcement of the AirPods 2 wireless charging case. The lack of the AirPower mat is a significant blow to one of the biggest features of the newest generation of AirPods. Effectively, without AirPower, the AirPods 2 are basically the same as the AirPods gen 1 except that the AirPods 2 offer a better “Hey Siri” support (and a better placed LED charge light).

The one feature that many people really looked forward to on the AirPods is basically unavailable. Sure, you can charge the AirPods 2 on a standard Qi wireless charger, but at a much slower rate than via the Lightning port. You don’t want to be sitting around waiting on a slow Qi charger to get the AirPods case fully charged. No, you’re going to plug it in to make sure you can walk out the door with a fully charged AirPods case. The case already charges slowly enough on a Lightning cable. There’s no reason to make it charge even slower by using a Qi charger. That’s the sole reason for the AirPower to exist.. to charge at much faster rates. Without AirPower, the reason to charge wirelessly has more-or-less evaporated.

Of course, you can also buy a wireless case for the AirPods gen 1, but what’s the point in that? With the AirPower cancelled, you have to invest in a Qi charger and live with its very slow charge speed for Apple’s brutal $80 price tag. No thanks. Even then, you don’t get any other benefit out of placing your AirPods gen 1 earbuds into a gen 2 wireless charging case for that $80. You might as well invest that $80 into a new set of AirPods gen 2, even though the Airpods 2 cost $199 (with wireless charging case) versus $159 for the gen 1 AirPods (without charging case).

Of course, in Apple’s typical form, they also offers the AirPods 2 without a wireless charging case for $159, the same price as the AirPods gen 1. But this is all diversionary minutiae.

Analysis

Apple’s level of innovations have been both flagging and lagging for several years. With the AirPower cancellation, it should now be crystal clear to not only journalists and analysts alike, but also to Apple’s fanboys that Apple’s luster has officially worn off. Apple’s once strong “reality distortion field” is now a distant memory.

Even the iPhone X isn’t fairing well in terms of durability of design just slightly over a year after its introduction. I’ve seen several people report FaceID failing over time, as well as other hardware problems on this phone model. A premium model phone at a premium price tag should hold up longer than this. Arguably, the iPhone X is one of Apple’s ugliest phones ever made, with that stupid unsightly “notch” covering up a portion of that expensive OLED screen.

It seems the iPhone 8 design (based on the iPhone 7 case design) is fairing much better than the iPhone X. Even the iPhone 7, which Apple still sells, holds up better. That should also be an indication of Apple’s current practical level of design. Of course, the problems showing in the iPhone X could be because there are more iPhone Xs in circulation than iPhone 8s. Still, the iPhone X is appearing more often in repair shops than the iPhone 8. That says something about the build quality and durability (or lack thereof) of the iPhone X’s design for that premium price tag.

Apple now needs to pull a rabbit out of a hat very soon to prove they still have the chops to not only innovate AND provide high quality goods, but be the first to the table with a new product idea or forever hold their peace and become an underdog in the tech industry. That doesn’t mean Apple won’t continue to sell product. It doesn’t mean Apple won’t design product. However, it does mean that the “fanboy” mentality that so many had previously adopted towards Apple’s products should finally evaporate, just as has Apple’s innovation. Before the AirPower cancellation announcement, we only had a hunch that Apple’s design wasn’t up to par. With the cancellation of the AirPower, we finally have confirmation.

Eventually, everyone must take off their rose colored glasses and see things as they really are at Apple. And with this article, I hope we’re finally to that point.

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Security Tip: Spam, Bitcoin and Wallets

Posted in advice, banking, cryptocurrency by commorancy on April 22, 2019

BitcoinIn writing this blog, I encounter a lot of different spam comments every single day. None of this spam reaches the comment area of any blog article because of moderation and spam filtering. However, every once in a while I see a spam message that catches my eye and I feel the need to write about such traps. Let’s explore.

Today’s Spam

Today, I found this spam message and it spurred me to write this blog article:

Invest $ 5,000 in Bitcoin mining once and get $ 7,000 passive income per month

This sounds like a great deal, doesn’t it? Of course, this spam message arrived complete with a link to a website. I’ve redacted that part of this spam. The text is the most important part (or rather, the sleaziest part) and what I intend to discuss in this article.

Let’s dispel this one right away. You cannot invest $5,000 into a Bitcoin mining rig and get $7,000 a month in passive income. This is not possible. First off, Bitcoin is entirely volatile so values vary every minute. Second, you have to place your mined Bitcoin into a wallet somewhere. Third, a compute rig requires electric power, air conditioning and internet services requiring you to pay bills every month. Fourth, the maximum you could mine per month is a fraction of a Bitcoin.

Most mining rigs are lucky to make any money at all considering the electric bill cost alone. You must also pay your Internet service as Bitcoin mining requires regular check-ins with its sites to transfer the data processed during mining and download new data. Both the electric and internet bills are not at all inexpensive to own and will substantially reduce the value of any Bitcoin you might mine. There are also exchange fees to convert your Bitcoin into US Dollars (or vice versa), which will eat into the profits of your mined Bitcoin.

Mining

Bitcoin mining seems like a great thing. In reality, it is far from it. As I mentioned above, you need to not only invest in a specialty computer rig designed for Bitcoin mining, you also need to supply it with electrical power, heat dissipation (A/C or a fan) and internet service. In exchange for “mining”, you will occasionally receive tiny fractions of Bitcoin (when the bits align just right). When Bitcoin first began, the amount and frequency of Bitcoin given during mining was much higher than it is today. Worse, mining of Bitcoin will see less and less Bitcoin issued as time progresses. Why?

Bitcoin is a finite currency with a limit on the maximum number of coins ever. Once the coins are gone, the only way to get a coin is by getting it from someone who already has one. Even then, there’s a problem with that. That problem is called ‘end of life’ and, yes, even Bitcoin has an expiration date.

But… what exactly is “mining” and why is it a problem for Bitcoin? Mining is not what you think it is. This word imparts an image of men in hardhats with pickaxes. In reality, mining isn’t mining at all. It is a collective of computers designed to compute the general ledger of transactions for Bitcoin. Basically, each “mining” computer takes a small amount of potential ledger data given to it by an “authority” and then solves for the equations given. This information is handed back to the “authority”. The “authority” then compares that against all other results from other computers given the same data. If a consensus is reached, then the transaction is considered “valid” and it goes into the ledger as legitimate. This is the way the currency ferrets out legitimate transactions from someone trying to inject fake transactions.

There’s a lot more to it, but this is gist of how “mining” works. In effect, when you set up a mining computer (or rig), your computer is actually performing transaction validation for Bitcoin’s general ledger. In return for this calculation work, your computer is “paid” a very tiny fraction of Bitcoin… but not nearly enough to cover the real world money needed for the 24/7 constant computing. A Bitcoin payment is only issued during mining IF the calculation solves to a very specific (and rare) answer. And so begins Bitcoin’s dilemma…

Basically, if you take all of the fractions of Bitcoin you receive over a year’s worth of 24/7 general ledger computing, you might be lucky to break even once you take your electric and internet bills into account. However, you are more likely to lose money due to the rare incidence of solving the equation for payment.

Additionally, to store those fractions of Bitcoin from your mining activities, you’re going to need a wallet. If your wallet is stolen, well that’s a whole separate problem.

Bitcoin Logistics

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, many crypto wallets and companies that store wallets are entirely insecure. They “think” they are secure, but they’re not. They’re simply living on borrowed time. Too many wallet companies (and wallet technologies) have been hacked and have lost Bitcoin for many people. Because of the almost trivial vulnerability nature of a crypto wallet, owning Bitcoin is almost not even worth the risk. We’re not talking small amounts of Bitcoin lost. We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars “worth” of Bitcoin gone *poof* because the companies / wallets were hacked and Bitcoin emptied.

While there might be some reputable and secure wallet storage companies, you have no idea how secure they really are. Because it’s cryptocurrency, once the Bitcoin has left the wallet, there’s no way to get it back. It’s the same as if someone stole your wallet out of your pocket or purse. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Further, because Bitcoin’s wallet technologies are so hackable and because it holds real world value into convertible fiat currencies, like the US Dollar (and other currencies), there’s a real and solid motivation for hackers to find ways to get into and pilfer Bitcoin wallets from unsuspecting owners.

The Downsides of Bitcoin

As a miner, you’re paid in Bitcoin. Bitcoin has limited uses in the real world. There are some places that accept Bitcoin, but they’re few and far apart. Most places still only accept the local currency, such as the US Dollar in the United States. For Bitcoin to become a functional currency, it would need to be heavily adopted by stores and businesses. Instead, today most places require you to convert Bitcoin into the local currency. This is called exchanging currency and usually incurs fees for the exchange. You can’t put Bitcoin into a traditional bank. You can’t use it to pay most bills. Any business wanting to remain in business would need to convert any Bitcoin received into USD or similar. The conversion fee could be 1%, 2% or up to 10% of the transaction. There might even be a separate fixed transaction fee. These fees begin to add up.

All of this reduces the value of Bitcoin. If one Bitcoin is worth $1000 (simply used as illustration), you could lose up to $100 of converting that single Bitcoin to $1000… making it worth $900. Because Bitcoin is entirely volatile, a Bitcoin worth $1000 today could be worth $100 tomorrow. For this volatility reason and because of electric and internet bills, the idea of making $7000 in passive income in a month is not even a reality. If you could receive one Bitcoin per month via mining (hint: you can’t), you might clear $7000 (assuming one Bitcoin is worth $7000 when you go to convert). Chances are, you’re likely to get far, far less than one Bitcoin per month. More likely, you’ll get maybe 1/10th (or less) of a Bitcoin in a month’s worth of computing … barely enough to cover the cost of your electric bill… assuming you immediately cash out of your Bitcoin and use that money to pay your bills.

Insurance and Fraud

The US government insures bank and savings accounts from loss via the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation). No such governmental insurance programs cover Bitcoin (or any other cryptocurrency). Until or unless the US government issues its own digital currency and extends similar protections of the FDIC to banks storing those digital currencies, today’s decentralized cryptocurrencies are simply the “Wild West” of currency.

What “Wild West” means is that anyone who owns cryptocurrency is at risk of loss no matter what means is used to store your Bitcoin. Your coins are as secure as the weakest link… and the weakest link (among many) appears to be the wallet.

Cryptography and Security

Many crypto “banks” (though I hesitate to even call them a bank) claim high levels of security over your Bitcoin wallet. Unfortunately, your wallet is always at risk no matter where you store it. If it’s on a self-contained card on your person, that can be hacked. If it’s at a currency exchange service, like Coinbase, it can still be hacked (in a number of ways).

The problem with crypto “anything” is that (and this is the key bit of information that everyone needs to take away from cryptography) is that cryptography was designed and intended to offer transient “short term” security.

What I mean by “short term” is that it was designed to secure data for only as long as a transaction requires (usually a few seconds). An example is using an app on your phone to perform a transaction with your bank. Your logged-in session might last 5-10 minutes at most. Even then, a single communication might last only a few seconds. Cryptography is designed to protect your short burst transmissions. It would take a hacker well longer than that short transmission period to hack the security of your connection. By the time a hacker had gained access, your transaction is long over and you’re gone. There’s no way they could change or alter what you’re asking your bank to do (unless, of course, your device is compromised… a completely separate problem).

Bitcoin, on the other hand, is required to be secured in a wallet for months, years or potentially even decades. Cryptography is not designed for that duration of storage and protection. In fact, cryptographic algorithms become weaker every single day. As computers and phones and devices get faster and can compute more data, these algorithms lose their protections slowly. It’s like when rains erode soil on a mountain. Inevitably, with enough soil eroded, you’ll have a landslide.

With crypto, eventually the computers will become fast enough so as to be able to decrypt Bitcoin’s security in a matter of weeks, then days, then hours, then minutes and finally in real-time. Once computers are fast enough to hack through a wallet’s security in real-time, nothing can protect Bitcoin.

This is the vulnerability of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Once computers hit the threshold to instantly decrypt Bitcoin’s security (or, more likely, Bitcoin’s wallet security), then Bitcoin is all over. You can’t store something when computers can gain unauthorized access in a few minutes. This law of diminishing cryptography returns is the security fallacy of Bitcoin.

Of course, Bitcoin developers will say, “Well, we’ll upgrade the Bitcoin cryptography to last longer than the then-current processing power”. It is possible for developers to say and potentially do this. But, that could still leave YOUR wallet vulnerable. If your wallet happens to be stored in an older cryptographic format that is vulnerable, then what? You may not even know your wallet is being stored in this vulnerable way if it’s stored at an exchange like Coinbase. That could leave yours and many other’s wallets hanging out to dry. Unless the currency exchange shows you exactly the format your wallet is being stored in and exactly the strength of cryptography being used, your wallet could very well be vulnerable.

Note that even the strongest encryption available today could still contain vulnerabilities that allow it to be decrypted unintentionally.

Bitcoin Uses

Probably the only single use of Bitcoin is as part of a balanced portfolio of assets. Diversifying your portfolio among different investment strategies is the only real way to ensure your portfolio will continue to grow at a reasonable rate. This is probably one of the only reasons to legitimately invest in Bitcoin. However, you don’t need to outlay for a mining rig to do it. Some investment firms today now allow for investment into cryptocurrencies as part of its investment portfolio offerings.

Still, you’ll have to be careful with investing in cryptocurrencies because there can be hidden transaction fees and conversion fees involved. These are called “loads” in the investing world. This means that you might invest $50, but only receive $40 in Bitcoin. That $10 lost represents the “load”. If you sell out of Bitcoin, you may also receive yet another “load” and again lose some of your money in the exchange. You have to take into account these “loads” when you choose to invest in certain funds. “Load” funds are not limited to Bitcoin. These exist when investing in all sorts of funds including mutual funds and ETFs.

However, Bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies) can be valuable as part of a balanced portfolio. Of course, Bitcoin would be considered a Risky type of investment because of its volatility. Depending on how your portfolio is balanced, you may not want to invest in something as risky as Bitcoin. Not all portfolio management companies (i.e., Schwab, E*Trade, Ameritrade, etc) may offer cryptocurrency as an investment strategy. You’ll need to check with your specific company to determine if Bitcoin is available.

End of Bitcoin

Because Bitcoin is finite in total numbers of coins, eventually computing the general ledger will no longer pay dividends. What I mean is, once the Bitcoins run out, there will be no way to pay the miners. Bitcoin currently pays miners from the remaining ever diminishing pool of Bitcoin. Once there’s no more Bitcoins in the pool, there’s no more payments to the miners. This means that Bitcoin is dead. No one is going to continue to spend their expensive electric and internet bills on computing a general ledger that offers no dividends. No general ledger computations, no transactions.

This means that eventually, miners will stop mining. Once a critical mass of general ledger computation stops, computing Bitcoin transactions may become impossible. This will be the death of Bitcoin (and any other cryptocurrencies that adopt the same mining payment model). You can’t spend a Bitcoin as liquid currency if there’s no way to validate a transaction.

Some people think that it might require Bitcoin to completely hit zero, but it doesn’t. Once the remaining pool gets small enough, the algorithm gives out ever smaller amounts of payment in return for computing. At some point, spending thousands of dollars on a rig to gain a few pennies worth of Bitcoin every month won’t be worth it. Miners will shut off their mining activities. As more and more miners realize the futility of their mining efforts, fewer and fewer will mine.

When a compute (or lack thereof) critical mass is reached, Bitcoin will be in a crisis. This is the point at which the value of Bitcoin will plummet, taking with it many “paper Bitcoin millionaires”.

If you own Bitcoin, you need to watch and listen carefully to this part of the Bitcoin world. In fact, we are likely already on the downward slope of the bell curve for Bitcoin computing. How far down the bell curve is unknown. Unfortunately, as with most investment products, many people hold on far too long and get wiped out. It’s best to sell out while you know the currency holds value. Don’t wait and hold thinking it will infinitely go up. It won’t.

Eventually, Bitcoin will die because of its finite number of coins and its heavy reliance on “mining”… which “mining” relies on offering dividends. When the dividends stop being of value, so will end the mining and, by extension, so Bitcoin will end.

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The Curious Case of Fallout 76: What went wrong?

Posted in botch, ethics, fail, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on April 16, 2019

NukaColaPA-f[Updated: May 17, 2019 for Battle Royale Mode]

I’ve already written plenty about Fallout 76. So, this one is likely to be my last about this disaster of a video game. In this article, I intend to detail all of what went wrong (and is still going wrong) with this game and why it’s such a critical failure. Let’s explore.

Fallout History

Fallout is a series about a post-apocalyptic landscape that has been ravaged by nuclear war. Because the Vault-Tec corporation (a company within this universe) saw the coming of the nuclear war, they built vaults to house the best and the brightest to bring about a new future after the devastation had cleared. We won’t get into just how Vault-Tec’s foreseeing (and building the vaults prior to the) the nuclear war makes Vault-Tec appear complicit in the nuclear war itself.

Anyway, the vaults became a safe haven for limited residents (who paid dearly to Vault-Tec, I might add) for entry into a vault. Because there were so few vaults and so few spots in a vault itself, many people did not get a coveted spot in a vault even though they had enough money to pay their way into one. There were many who were left out. I digress at this backstory and Vault-Tec’s possible collusion in the war.

Suffice it to say, the vault is the place where pretty much every Fallout game begins including Fallout 3, Fallout 4 and Fallout 76.

Once each of these games opens, you are forced to make your way out of the vault into a hostile, treacherous, dangerous, nuclear fallout-laced landscape (without a weapon, food or protection). You are forced to forage and eat irradiated foods. You must live in disease ridden conditions, at least until you can create your own clean space. You must find or build your own weapons. There’s always something or someone after you. Many creatures have even mutated into giant versions of their former tiny selves.

Once outside, you find that survivors have grouped themselves into factions for safety including such old favorite factions as the Brotherhood of Steel, the Raiders, the Enclave, the Railroad and so on. In Fallout 76, there are seven (7) factions including the Enclave, the Brotherhood of Steel, the Responders, the Raiders, the Free States, the Whitespring, and the Independents.

Unfortunately, because the factions in Fallout 76 consist entirely of stationary Protectron or MODUS robot vendors, there’s no “joining” a faction in this game. Though, you can follow in the footsteps of the former now-dead faction members and gain access to faction facilities by finishing up uncompleted quests for left-behind robot computers.

So, exactly how did Bethesda get Fallout 76 so wrong? Here we go…

Game Design

Video games are about having fun in a fantasy landscape. It’s about taking off your IRL hat and putting on a fantasy world hat to relax, play with friends and generally do things in a game you can’t do in real life. Let’s begin to understand what led to this disaster.

=> Lack of NPCs

Going into a Fallout game, you sort of expect certain things to exist. Certain things that have come to exist in every prior game in the Fallout franchise. You know, those pesky things called non-player characters or NPCs for short.

NPCs have been a staple in every Bethesda RPG up until the release of Fallout 76. Let’s add a bullet point (and this one is a major point), that one of the biggest reasons that Fallout 76 fails is due to the lack of NPCs.

NPCs are one of the primary reasons people go into the purchase of a Bethesda role playing game (RPG). Without NPCs, the game is entirely barren and lifeless. Fallout 76 proves this out. One might even say, the entire game is soulless. Part of what makes a Bethesda RPG interesting to play is that you feel something for the folks who have been put into this untimely and hazardous situation. Without people there to feel for, there’s no emotional tie to the game. Fallout 76 is as soulless of a game as has ever been made. The only other game to have this same problem is No Man’s Sky… except we knew going into the purchase of No Man’s Sky that there would be no NPCs.

With Bethesda’s past track record, we simply had no idea that Fallout 76 wouldn’t have NPCs until we cracked open the shrink wrap.

=> Short and Few Main Quests

One other thing Bethesda is known for is making lengthy games. Games that, if you work through them as intended, might take you 3-4 months to complete. Granted, that may include participating in a few side quests, but even the main quests will take you at least month or better to get through.

With Fallout 76, you can blaze through the main quests (all 22 of them) in less than a month and be stuck at endgame content.

In fact, there are more side quests in Fallout 76 than there are main quests. Even then, the main quests are far too short.

=> Multiplayer vs Solitary Quest Completion

Bethesda had hoped that its idea of having 24 players in one of its “World Servers” would be a great way to get players to interact with one another (and create story). Gamers don’t “create” story, they “consume” it. Todd Howard got this idea entirely wrong. In reality, what that ends up is just the opposite. Few players actually want to co-op with other players and instead you end up with a bunch of loners all running around the world doing their own thing (or griefing one another). After all, each player can only complete their own quests, anyway.

Because each person must complete their quests on their own, having a teammate doesn’t really do you much good. It can help in combat situations where you’re ganged up by lots of creatures, but that’s about it.

The solitary nature of quest completion runs entirely counter to the notion of getting 24 players together on a server as a whole. It just doesn’t work.

As a follow on to this problem, the lack of NPCs makes completing quests boring, repetitive and tedious. Reading computer terminals, listening to holotape recordings and reading notes is not what players want to be doing in an RPG. These are non-interactive media. It’s just lore being told to us by a long dead character. A character that we have no reason to even trust is telling us the truth. We’ve never met them and never interacted with them. We have no idea if what they want us to do is in any way necessary. Are they leading us into a trap or is what they’re directing us to do useful?

The secondary problem is that all of these holotapes and notes and so on are optimally placed so as to be found. It’s as though these dead folks were expecting us to come along and read and listen and do. It’s all too convenient and handy. It’s as though it was all planned out by something or someone in that world. Yet no “world designer” has ever come forth. It only ends up making this lore more trite and contrived.

If this is supposed to be a treacherous, dangerous environment, finding these people and their situations would be much harder than it is. Ultimately, the setups are as convenient as they are boring and repetitive.

=> No Effect on the World

At the end of completing the quest for lore, you find that nothing in the world actually changes. All of the running around. All of the collecting. All of the fetch quests. All of it is for naught. You do get lore around the Scorched, but in the end the world remains unaffected. The Scorched do not disappear. The Scorchbeasts still appear from their fissure sites. Even the Scorchbeast Queen still spawns if someone conveniently launches a nuke over Fissure Prime.

If you’re going to spend hours traipsing through the wasteland, fetching and fighting and doing and consuming, you would think that the world would be a better place in the end. In Fallout 76, the world doesn’t change. It doesn’t become a better place. It doesn’t get built.

The 24 vault dwellers released from Vault 76 were destined to rebuild Appalachia. Instead, these 24 “players” simply become loners who build their own camps, don’t bring about change and don’t in any way make Appalachia a better place. The game worlds remain entirely status quo at the end of the quests. So, what’s the point then?

=> 24 Random Players

As mentioned just above, gathering 24 random video gamers together on a server isn’t going to lead to anything useful. Real video game players don’t (and can’t) make a game. Players can only interact with the environment. The fun must be had by what the designers design, not by interacting with 23 other live players.

This was a total miscalculation by Todd Howard. Any video game designer thinking you can rely on other video gamers to help make your game work, think again. Fallout 76 is the prime example of how this thinking entirely fails you.

As a designer, you must take the time to build fun and interactive activities for each and every person who joins your game world. Again, you can’t rely on other players for this “fun”. Player versus player (PVP) activities only go so far and even then many folks don’t want to participate in PVP. You can’t rely solely on PVP to carry an RPG game.

If you’re trying to carry a game using PVP activities, then you need to design a Brawlhalla, Apex Legends or Fortnite kind of game and skip the RPG portions. Just keep it simple and straightforward for PVP and leave out the RPG elements that simply get in the way of that design. If your game is PVP, then make it PVP. If your game is an RPG, make it an RPG. Don’t try to try to marry an RPG into some PVP thing or you’ll end up with something like Fallout 76 which just doesn’t quite work.

=> Bugs and Code Management

Bethesda has unofficially become known as Bugthesda. After Fallout 76, this moniker is given for good reason. Fallout 76 is exactly the poster child of everything wrong with Bethesda’s ability to code games. For Fallout 76, each update has taken one step forward and made at least two steps back, many times reintroducing old bugs.

There’s a serious problem at Bugthesda with their ability to code this game. I’ve personally witnessed bugs that were squashed two releases ago reintroduced to a later release. In the coding profession, this is called a ‘regression’. Regressions are typically frowned upon heavily. No one wants to see old bugs reintroduced into new versions. If you squash a bug once, it should stay squashed and gone.

Good code management practices should see to that. This means that using industry standard code management practices should prevent regressions. If you check in code to a repository which fixes a bug, that code fix should eventually make its way back into the “main” branch. Once in the “main” branch, that bug should never see the light of day again. This clearly means that Bethesda is likely not using standard code management practices.

For teams not using standard team code management and storage practices, like Git, then it’s easy to grab old code and reintroduce bugs because there’s not a single place to store that code. That’s the worst of all disasters. Not having a standard code management system in place is nearly always the death of a project (and product). Your product can’t sustain heavy regressions and expect people to come back for second helpings. Eventually, people walk away because they know they can’t trust your code to work.

When bugs appear, disappear and reappear over and over, trust in your ability to code a functional product disappears. Trust is the most important thing you have as a software engineer. Once you blow that trust, it’s all over.

=> Limited World Events

With a game so heavily entrenched in a 24 multiplayer world, you would have thought Bethesda would have given us many intriguing world events for multiple players to gather around, combat and defeat. You might think that, but you’d be wrong.

Out of the gate, Bethesda offers exactly one big world event in Fallout 76. That event being the Scorchbeast Queen event.

The problem with this event is that it entirely relies on other players to spend a significant portion of time traversing through a silo site fighting tons of robots and dealing with broken computers to launch a nuke into the world. Even worse, it requires the player to have not only fought their way through a silo site, but they must have also caught and fought a Cargobot to get a missile launch keycard. They also must have gone through the Enclave quest line to become a General in the Enclave, which requires killing at least 10 Scorchbeasts. It’s an involved and grindy quest line just to get to point where you can even launch a nuke.

Instead of these largest world events simply spawning on a timer, you have to wait until a player decides to launch a nuke on their own. Lately, this has been few and far between because with each release, Bethesda makes it more and more difficult to launch a nuke. This ultimately means that the biggest world event in Fallout 76 almost never happens.

That’s not to say there aren’t other world events. There are, but they are no where as big as the Scorchbeast Queen event. Events like “Path to Enlightenment”, “The Messenger” and “Feed the People”. However, these events are small potatoes by comparison. The Scorchbeast Queen event requires multiple people all doing as much damage as possible to bring down the queen in 20 minutes. With “Feed the People”, one person can easily do this quest and, subsequently, the loot drop at the end is piddly and low-level garbage. The queen’s loot drops are nearly always worth the time and are typically high level drops.

If you’re promising an engaging multiplayer world, you need to deliver on that promise. Relying on other players to trigger the biggest world events, now that’s a huge mistake. Instead, the biggest world events should trigger randomly without player involvement. Let the small events be triggered by players. Let the biggest world events be triggered by timer. It’s fine if a player can trigger a big world event, but don’t rely on that method for the largest events to be triggered. If no player triggers the event within a specified period of time, then trigger it on a timer. But, don’t leave the game barren of these large world events simply because players aren’t interested in spending the time to launch a nuke at that exact location.

=> Even more Grindy

One of the the things that Bethesda doesn’t seem to get is grinding. No one wants to spend the majority of their time online fighting the same creatures over and over simply to level up. Worse, when you do level up in Fallout 76, it’s all for naught. The creatures cap out at about level 68. Yet, even if you get to level 180, that level 68 creature can still kick your level 180 butt.

This is is not how level systems are supposed to work. The game arbitrarily caps your SPECIAL stats at level 50. Effectively after level 50, you’re still level 50 even if your level indicator says your level is 142. This means that you can’t even level up past the highest leveled creatures in the game.

At level 142, I should be able to one shot nearly any creature in the game that’s level 68 or below. Unfortunately, creatures have two levels in this game. There’s the level number (i.e., 68) and then there’s the HP bar. The HP bar is actually the creature’s real level. Some creatures might have 200 HP, where a Scorchbeast Queen might have between 3000 and 50000 HP (even though its level is labeled 50 or 63 or 68). Worse, when you approach this creature, you won’t know how much HP it has until you begin firing on it. Even then, it’s only a guess based on how fast its health is dropping.

This means to beat some creatures in the game, you can easily spend hours grinding and grinding and more grinding. Fallout 76 is, in fact, one big ugly grinding mess. With all of the fiddling and nerfing (aka “balancing”) that Bethesda has been recently performing, grinding is getting even worse, forcing you to spend even more time at it. Bethesda is going to nerf themselves out of a game.

=> Collision Detection, Guns and Bullets

The weapons in Fallout 76 are probably some of the worst in a Fallout game I’ve experienced. Worst yes, but not in the way you might be thinking. It’s worst in a way that makes you cringe. The guns regularly miss enemies even when aiming directly at them using a scope. This is strictly bad collision detection. The game simply can’t seem to recognize when a shot has connected with an enemy.

Bad collision detection is ultimately the death of a shooter. If your game is intended to be a shooter, the one thing it better be able to do is shoot and connect. If it can’t even do this most basic thing, the game is lost. Games with guns need to “just work”. Failing to accomplish this most basic thing should have left this game in development. You can’t release a shooter and not actually have the gun mechanisms work.

But, here we are. The game barely even functions as a workable shooter. There are even times where guns fail to fire even when the trigger is pulled and released. Indeed, there are times when button presses aren’t even registered in the game… requiring the gamer to press twice and three times consecutively to get the game to recognize the press… and wasting precious time. If you had the perfect shot, but the game ignored your press, you’ve lost that opportunity and you have to wait for it to come around again.

This is one of, if not THE, most frustrating thing(s) about Fallout 76. When guns don’t work,  your shooter is broken. This means you should focus on fixing the fundamentals in the game before branching out to downloadable content (DLC).

=> DLC too early

Instead of fixing the never ending array of existing bugs from when the game was launched, Bethesda has mistakenly pushed their teams to create new DLC and add-on quests.

While I won’t get into these half-baked, half-designed DLC add-ons, suffice it to say that the developer team’s time would have been better spent fixing the existing fundamental flaws than releasing under-designed unfun DLC.

I ask you, if the game can’t even get the basics down as a shooter, how can it possibly be good with new DLC? The answer is, it can’t. And, this is why Fallout 76 continues to fail.

=> Players Find the Fun

Because Fallout 76’s quests ended up more grindy than fun, many gamers had to resort to finding their fun using alternative means. What ended up happening was that players went looking for (and found) loopholes in the software. When code is poorly written and released untested, it’s going to be chock full of bugs… and that’s Fallout 76 in a nutshell.

Gamers found ways to dupe and sell their duped items. This was one of the primary ways gamers found their own fun. Not in the quests. Not in the combat. Not in the nukes. They found their fun working around the bugs and making, selling and trading loot. Another way was breaking into closed off dungeons like Vault 94, Vault 96 and even the now-legendary “Dev Room”. Players found their fun outside of Bethesda’s design. Fun that couldn’t be had through the mediocre quests, the crappy storytelling system, the horrible combat system and the problematic collision detection.

This whole activity seems to have come to the surprise of Bethesda. It was as if they couldn’t have foreseen this problem. It happened early on in The Elder Scrolls Online, too. Why wouldn’t it happen to a half-baked game like Fallout 76? It did.

=> Half-Baked Patching

Because every Fallout 76 release Bethesda has sent out has only marginally improved tiny parts of the overall game, the game is still very much of the hot mess that it was when it was released at the tail end of November 2018. It’s now the middle of April 2019 when this article is being written and very little has actually changed.

Sure, they added a distillery as a DLC that produces some of the most useless liquor in the game. The Pre-War liquor is still the best free liquor in the game (and offers the best benefits) and you don’t even need to use a distillery or waste precious crops to get it. The new liquors not only are not covered by the existing perk card system, each of those liquors have heavy downsides. The distiller also doesn’t support the Super Duper perk card to create extra dupes when crafting liquor, unlike every other crafting table. As an example of how bad the new liquors are, Hard Lemonade gives a huge boost to AP regeneration, but at the cost of 1 minute of negative AP regeneration as the “Hangover”. Rad Ant Lager gives +50 carry weight (yay) at the cost of -50 carry weight during the 1 minute hangover (boo). Extremely sub-optimal when in combat situations.

Nukashine fares even worse. Not only is the effect of this liquor pointless (increases unarmed damage), during the “Hangover” you black out and end up in some random place on the map. Making a Nukashine is simply a waste of a Nuka-Cola nuka quantumQuantum (which these drinks can be difficult to find in the world even at the best of times). On top of the pointlessness of this liquor, selling Nukashine to a vendor yields basically no caps (the currency in Fallout). In fact, making a Nuka-Cola grenade is a much better use of a Nuka-Cola Quantum than Nukashine will ever be. I wasn’t really going to talk about the added DLC much, but I felt the sheer crappiness of this one need to be discussed to show how pointless it all really is. The rest of the DLC doesn’t fare much better than the distiller.

If you’re going to give us a distiller, then at least set it up so that the stuff we make has some value to vendors, gives us much better perks than what’s already in the game and is covered by our existing perk cards. If you’re not going to do this, then why bother creating it? That’s why I consider this DLC half-baked. No perk card coverage. No outstanding new liquors. No value to the new liquors. So tell us, exactly why we should find this fun?

=> Player Bans

While Bethesda calls them a “suspension”, it’s actually a ban. A suspension lasts 1-7 days at most. A ban last months. So far, because gamers ended up using the bugs in the game to find their own fun, Bethesda has penalized many of these gamers by suspending them for sometimes unproveable reasons. What that means is that Bethesda did some digging and found that some gamers had accrued “too many” items in their inventory.

Let’s understand that the original release of the game allowed infinite carrying capacity. You simply became overencumbered when you went over your natural carry limit. This meant that you had to use AP to walk around. When AP ran out, you had to stop and wait for the AP to regenerate or you walked even more slowly. This was the original design BY Bethesda.

After the whole duping scandal erupted, Bethesda blamed the gamers and not themselves for the problems in Fallout 76. The bugs are entirely there by Bethesda. That gamers exploited the bugs, bad on you Bethesda. You should have better tested the quality of your game. Testing is on you, Bethesda… not the gamers. If you failed to test your product, then it’s on you when bad things happen.

If you didn’t want gamers to carry infinite items, then you should have released the game with a carry limit cap. That you didn’t do this initially was a miss on your part. Anyone could see that was a vector for abuse. Waiting for it to be abused, then blaming the abuse on the gamer is entirely disingenuous and insincere. Blame yourself for the bugs, not the gamers.

=> Most Recent Update

As of the latest “Wild Appalachia” update, the game is still very much of a mess. It still crashes regularly, sometimes the entire client crashes back to the dashboard. Sometimes the game won’t load in. Sometimes the character load-in is extremely laggy, stuttery and problematic. If you do manage to get your character loaded in, the shooter basics still don’t work. You can manually aim dead onto enemies and the gun will entirely miss (several times in a row). So, you resort to VATS. VATS sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. You can be literally inches from an enemy and VATS will show a 0% chance of hitting. Yes, it’s STILL that bad.

Nuking on servers can make them highly unstable, particularly in the nuked region. If you enter a nuked region, you can expect the game’s frame rate to drop to about 10-15 frames per second… and I’m not joking. There are other places in the game where this frame rate issue is a problem. For example, when you’re in camp and trying to construct in the workshop menu.

There are many spots in the game where the frame rate can drop to practically nothing. These problems should have been worked out months ago. Yet, instead of fixing these absolute game engine basics, Bethesda has its devs off creating half-baked DLC to try to rake in new revenue.

Unfortunately, with every patch, Bethesda’s devs add back in regressions removed two or three patches ago. It’s been a never ending cycle of one step forward and two (sometimes three) steps backward. The world never gets better.

=> End Game

Every game has a problem with end game fun. Unfortunately, Fallout 76’s end game starts the moment you first login. The whole game is end game. There’s not a beginning to this game, so how can there be an end? Even once you do complete all of the main and side quests, there’s even less to continue doing in this world.

I do understand the reason for the DLC… to try and bring back old players. But, that’s going to be difficult considering you banned a very large number of them from the game. The few that weren’t banned aren’t going to come back simply because you put a crappy distiller in the game or that you created a 7 day long festival and forgot to actually give out the most desirable masks. They’re certainly not going to come back to grind for Atom to buy the useless (and expensive) Atom Shop items.

Ongoing Disaster (Battle Royale)

Here’s the part where I talk about DLC. As Bethesda continues to add questionable new game modes to Fallout 76, I have to wonder what’s going on over there. First, Bethesda adds the ‘Survival Mode’ server to its list of game play engines. This server basically enables PVP right from your character’s load-in. When you join ‘Survival Mode’, if you encounter another player, your character is pretty much dead. I’m uncertain the impetus behind adding this game mode other than to segregate PVP from the ‘Adventure Mode’ servers and put it into a different server. Yet, this segregation is not yet over.

Because Bethesda has been feeling the pinch from Battle Royale games like Fortnite and Apex Legends, Bethesda seems to feel left out. After introducing ‘Survival Mode’, Bethesda next introduces a new ‘Battle Royale’ game mode. Instead of trying to design a new Battle Royale game using an engine actually designed for that kind of game play, which would actually make the most sense, they instead grab the source code for Fallout 76‘s server and they wedge a Battle Royale mode into Fallout’s less than stellar game and combat engine.

Both of these game modes are questionable in and of themselves. For example, how do either of these game modes progress the Fallout story in any way? They don’t. The ‘Survival Mode’ server is designed to simply make the game more difficult. Instead, what it makes the game is pointless. You can’t quest, you can’t follow quest lines, you can’t even play normally…. for fear of losing not only all of your junk, but part of your aid.

With Battle Royale, there’s no point for its existence in the Fallout franchise. There’s not even a story basis for it to exist. Worse, it’s not even close to competing with games like Apex Legends or Fortnite. In fact, a battle royale mode would make a whole lot more sense to exist in The Elder Scrolls than in Fallout. Sure, Fallout is about gun fights, but it’s not about this silly and unnecessary concept being forced into the Fallout universe… a universe where battle royale actually makes no sense at all. The Elder Scrolls at least had an ‘Arena’ where a battle royale could feasibly take place within the story’s narrative… and make sense in the context of the larger Elder Scrolls story arc. Fallout has never had such a “battle” concept in its franchise. Adding this in now simply makes zero Fallout story sense, but makes sense only if Bethesda is trying to “cash in”.

Sure, Fallout survivors might need to do things to amuse themselves in a toxic nuclear wasteland… but, would they actually play in a Battle Royale themselves? No, I don’t think so. Bethesda is now adding stuff that’s so out entirely of character for the Fallout universe, they’re just adding stuff to “keep up with the Jones’s” instead of because it makes sense for Fallout. If you want to trash your franchise, this is a good way to go about it.

Let me also say that the implementation of Fallout 76’s Battle Royale mode is entirely trash and illogical to boot. You’re trapped in an ever condensing ring of fire. A ring of fire that actually makes no sense when you’re supposed to be tasked with rebuilding Appalachia. As contestants continue to kill one another (and the ring condenses to a tiny circle around them), the last man standing is the person who “wins”. In fact, the “winner” actually loses, because the condensing ring of fire would actually end up killing everybody. This is how logically stupid this concept really is. Effectively, it’s not really even Battle Royale, it’s a “Last Man Standing” game. I’ve also seen much better “Last Man Standing” multiplayer games.

If Bethesda wants to create DLC that’s in keeping within the Fallout universe, then they should tie these new game modes in with the existing lore that they spent all of that time creating. For example, how about implementing multiplayer dog fights? Or, how about actually using the ‘Animal Friend’ and/or ‘Wasteland Whisperer’ perk cards to tame beasts that can be used in a multiplayer arena? This would require the player to spend the time to locate and tame a beast (and level it up and equip it) for use in the arena. That kind of mode makes a lot of story sense… and makes sense to wrap new lore around all of this.

Since the world is dangerous and treacherous, use the existing lore as the basis for creating unique new multiplayer challenges. Don’t just grab the first unoriginal idea to come along (e.g., Fortnite) and slap it into a world server. You know, spend time actually putting some amount of thought and effort into tying the existing lore into the new multiplayer game modes. Give them a basis to exist in the universe. Don’t add game modes because you CAN… do it because it both makes actual sense, is logical and is entirely in keeping with the Fallout universe lore.

Overall

The game is STILL a very hot beta mess offering a poorly written, badly conceived and boring storytelling system utilizing no NPCs. The combat system is the worst system I’ve encountered in a top tier game developer’s title. No joke. It is the absolute worst. Even the patching hasn’t improved it. If anything, it’s actually gotten worse.

There are times where button presses are entirely unresponsive. You might have to press the button two or three times rapidly to get the game to register even one press. You might be trying to pick up something, trying to fire your weapon, trying to search a container or it might manifest in any other number of ways. Unreliable button presses are the death of a game that so heavily relies on real time play value.

No amount of patching or DLC will solve these basic fundamental engine problems. To solve the storytelling problem, you need to add NPCs to the game.. which would require redesigning the game from scratch. To solve the combat problem, you need to redesign the combat system from the ground up using a practical engine actually designed for real-time online use.

You can’t take a 20 year old offline game engine and attempt to patch it for an online use. Doing so will produce exactly the problems found in Fallout 76. Fallout 76 needed a game engine designed entirely for online play. Designed for real-time combat. Designed for real-time activities. Designed for responsive button presses.

Unfortunately, what we got was a crapfest of epic proportions that Bethesda will neither acknowledge nor comment on. If this is Bethesda’s new game development norm, I won’t be investing in any more Bethesda games. It’s just not worth paying $60 (or more) to be an alpha tester for a game written on old technology that isn’t up to the task.

In short, Fallout 76 is STILL an immense hot mess that has not at all improved since its November launch.

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Amazon’s “Not Helpful” Button Missing?

Posted in Amazon, business, politics, reviews, shopping by commorancy on April 13, 2019

A Reddit user posts that the “Not Helpful” button is missing from Amazon’s reviews. Several other commenters had stated that the button was still there for them. Let’s explore.

Not Helpful is actually not helpful

Amazon has been undergoing changes to their older review system. The first was to remove their discussion boards. Because Reddit really does discussion boards better, there was really no need for Amazon to keep their own. As a result, Amazon Discussions disappeared.

In addition to the removal of Amazon Discussions, Amazon decided to revamp their review system to be more useful. I’d personally complained several times about the “Not Helpful” button.

Why is the “Not Helpful” button not helpful? Because the only thing that button ever did is “downvote” a review in Amazon’s relevance sort. This means that those reviews that received the most helpful votes with the least not helpful bubbled to the top of their relevance sort. Effectively, the “Not Helpful” button was only used as a way for users to move reviews down in the relevance sort.

What ultimately came out of that was…

Abuse

With every system built, someone (or many someones) will find a way to abuse and game the system. The “Not Helpful” button became a target for abuse on Amazon. Instead of being used for the intended purpose of marking a review as not helpful, it became a target to screw with Amazon’s relevance sort and its “recommended” reviews for the product. For example, Amazon has two reviews it places into the top of its review area:

  1. Most Helpful
  2. Most Critical

These two reviews are at the very top above all other reviews. These are coveted positions. People want their review in that spot. To get another reviewer’s review out of either spot, a person (or many persons) would need to mark the review as “Not Helpful” (thus asking their friends to do this too). Over time, salty reviewers learned they could knock these reviews not only out of these two coveted spots, they could also lower their relevance scores and raise their own reviews up, potentially into these coveted positions.

As I said above, if there’s a way to game a system, people will find it and abuse it… and abuse the “Not Helpful” button they did. It took Amazon years to realize this problem, but it seems that Amazon finally understands this problem and has now removed “Not Helpful” from its interface.

Complaints

I’ve complained to Amazon several times over the years regarding the “Not Helpful” button. Not only did it not provide any actual helpful information to those reading reviews, the only thing it did is send high quality reviews to the bottom of the relevance list because of salty Amazon reviewers… people who just couldn’t stand to see a high quality review shown above their lower quality review. People figured out they could game the review system by getting their friends and coworkers to mark certain reviews “Not Helpful” and knock them down in the relevance list.

There was only one situation where “Not Helpful” didn’t have much of an effect. That was on Amazon Vine reviews. For whatever reason, if you’re part of Amazon Vine, pressing “Not Helpful” on Amazon Vine reviews didn’t do very much. I believe that Amazon intentionally weights Amazon Vine reviews much, much higher than a standard review. These reviews don’t get as much of a “ding” against them if someone presses “Not Helpful”. The Vine reviews always seem to get top placement in the relevance sort no matter what other people mark or say against them.

With regular reviews, the “Not Helpful” button just didn’t achieve what it was intended to achieve. It also didn’t give a review reader any useful information about that review. This button was only intended to help sort reviews with, supposedly, the most helpful at the top of the relevance sort. In fact, because users ended up gaming the “Not Helpful” button, the relevance sort actually ended up pointless as many of the best reviews actually ended up way down the relevance list.

I also complained about this problem to Amazon, but that complaint was also summarily ignored.

Amazon has Awoken

It’s taken years, but Amazon has finally realized the error of the “Not Helpful” button. Not only does Amazon no longer show “301 people out of 455 found this helpful”. Now Amazon simply shows “301 people found this helpful”. There was no reason to show the “Not Helpful” clickers… especially now that the “Not Helpful” button is gone.

If Amazon had forced the “Not Helpful” clickers to justify their click by requiring a comment on the review, that that would have actually been much more helpful. As review readers, we need to understand valid reasons why someone clicked “Not Helpful”. The only way to do that is by writing a comment. If a “Not Helpful” clicker chooses not to write a comment, then they don’t get their “Not Helpful” click counted. It’s only fair.

Unfortunately, that opens a whole new can of worms. Even if Amazon forced the “Not Helpful” clickers to write a comment, they could have written a garbage response and then deleted it just to get past that requirement. That’s also “Not Helpful”. It’s also a can of worms that Amazon couldn’t easily solve. They’re a retailer, not a technology company. Some efforts like this simply go over Amazon dev’s heads.

Instead, Amazon awoke and realized that it was simpler to remove the “Not Helpful” button and avoid the entire relevance engine gaming problem. It’s a very late fix in coming, but it’s still a much welcomed change. Gaming a review system is not the reason for that button’s existence. Reviews exist to inform potential buyers of problems they might encounter by purchasing that “thing” (whatever it is).

Review Snobs & Trolls

In any system that you create, there will be those “snobs” (and trolls) who believe that they know better about that system than anyone else. In reality, Amazon’s reviews are fair game in any way that they’re written. This includes pricing problems, listing problems, seller problems, shipping problems, customer service problems, packaging problems, purchasing problems and, yes, it also includes actual product problems.

A review should be about ANYTHING product related including Amazon’s handling of that product to you. Amazon doesn’t like reviewers (and it is now against Amazon’s terms and conditions) to write disparaging remarks against how Amazon handled the shipping, packaging and so forth of the items you purchase. Instead, if there’s a problem in the Amazon area, they don’t want that information in the review. Amazon wants you to contact their customer support team and lodge that complaint there, not write it in the review.

If you do place such a remark in the product review, your review is not likely to be published. Even Amazon is getting its own snobbery into its own review system. However, so long as you follow Amazon’s own snobbery rules regarding its review system, you’ll be fine.

That doesn’t mean you’ll be fine against the Amazon review trolls…er, snobs. These are the folks who feel the need to either report the review or leave a nasty comment regarding the content of the review. I’ve read many reviews that are not only articulate, but also have quite valid comments regarding the product. The reviews are quite apropos and definitely relevant. Yet, there’s inevitably some review snob who believes the review didn’t live up to their own snobby ideas about what a review should contain. To those folks I ask, “Didn’t your mother ever teach you that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all?”

Too many of these review snobs still exist on Amazon. As a blog writer, I typically write long, but concise reviews of products I purchase from Amazon. Many people don’t seem to like my longish reviews. Instead of refuting any of what I’m saying, they pick out one tiny little thing (a thing that makes no sense when taken out of context) and then write a complaint comment (and when the “Not Helpful” button existed, they would also press it). I could even swear that there were the same people trolling my reviews and intentionally marking them as “Not Helpful” so they can keep their reviews high in the relevance area.

Considering the length of my reviews, the depth and detail at which I discuss the product(s), how it works and my dissatisfaction with whatever parts didn’t work, they ignored all of that and focused on their own out-of-context remark. These are the very definition of “Review Snobs”. These are the folks who do not belong on Amazon and definitely need to have their review comment ability revoked. If Amazon offered a user blocking system, I’d have blocked these folks ages ago. If I could delete their comments from my review, I’d have done so. In fact, I have intentionally deleted my review and reposted it to get rid of some awkward and stupid comments.

It’s entirely a waste of my time to justify what I wrote in my review to some random “review snob” just because they feel the need to intentionally take something out of context. The review is there. Read it, understand it, learn from it. Don’t argue with me about some perceived injustice in my review that simply isn’t there.

Fan Boys & Girls

Unfortunately, far too many people are fans.. well, “fanatic” is more the correct word. And with fanatics comes fanatical behavior. That’s exactly what you get on Amazon. If I review the latest Britney Spears album and give it two stars and a rather scathing review, I guarantee some of these fanatical fans will come out of the woodwork to justify how “great” that album is… and how could I give it two stars?

Don’t question someone else’s opinion. With music and movie reviews, it’s all subjective opinion. You either like it or you don’t. Don’t come to someone else’s review and try to sway them to your belief system. That’s not how Amazon’s reviews work. Amazon’s reviews are always intended to be a mix of both high rated and low rated reviews. The intent is to allow people to state the things they liked and didn’t like about that “thing”. Trying to sway everyone to raise their rating isn’t the point of the review system. In fact, I’d like it if Amazon would let reviewers disable comments on reviews.

I should also mention that, in the case of Britney, instead of just talking about the beats or her singing abilities, I also discuss the production quality, the recording quality and even how the music was mastered. These fall under what I consider objective criteria. An album is professionally produced or it isn’t. An album is professionally mixed and mastered or it isn’t. An album is cohesive track to track or it isn’t. There’s lots of objective criteria about an album that can be heard in the tracks. Sure, the songs themselves are subjective, but the production of the album is most definitely chock full of objective criteria which is easily described.

With other products, like foods or kitchen gadgets or even toys, you can judge these by objective standards, also. For a gadget like a can opener, you have to ask, “Does it open a can?” Then you ask, “Was it easy to open the can?” Some can openers just work, others are a hassle. If the can opener breaks after the second use, then objectively the product was poorly constructed. These are all bits of information that should make its way into a product review. With a kitchen gadget, you have fewer fanboys and fangirls waiting out there for your review. For the latest Britney Spears album or the latest EA video game, you have lots of fanboys and fangirls waiting with baited-breath for those reviews to appear so they can be torn down.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a one star or five star review, these fanboys and fangirls will tear down anything. If it’s a one star review, it’ll be torn down because “nothing they like is ever one star”. If it’s a five star review, it’ll be torn down as “Fake”. Even something as simple as not having the “Verified Purchase” next to it is enough to mark a review as fake.

Verified Purchase

Amazon marks purchases made directly with Amazon as “Verified Purchase”. This signifies that the purchase was made through Amazon. Yet, Amazon allows you to review any product without having purchased it from Amazon.

For example, you can purchase the Amazon Dot, Amazon Kindle and other Amazon electronics from Best Buy, Target and other retailers. Yet, if you leave a review on Amazon having purchased these from a brick-and-mortar store (other than Amazon), you won’t get the “Verified Purchase” label. However, the review snobs come out of the woodwork without this label making it one of the first comments on a review. They claim you didn’t actually purchase the item at all. So then you’re reviewing without having purchased? I call BS on that. Are these people so stupid to think that Amazon is the only place where you can buy an Echo Dot or Kindle?

I’ve purchased many items from retail stores, including Echo Dots without purchasing it through Amazon. That doesn’t make my purchase or review any less valid. Sure, I should leave a comment on Best Buy’s site if I buy it there, but I also have an obligation to leave a comment on Amazon’s site for any Amazon-made product I purchase. Even if it’s not an Amazon product, Amazon purchasers need to know what they might be in for if they purchase the product through Amazon and it’s particularly bad.

Amazon Reviews

To come full circle, I’m happy to see that Amazon has finally done away with the useless, unnecessary and abuse-worthy “Not Helpful” button. It had no place in Amazon’s review system and served no purpose other than to allow review snobs to game the review system. That’s not a user’s call. Amazon should be the call of which reviews get moved to the top of the pile and which don’t. The “Helpful” button should only be one in many metrics used to move a review to the top of the relevance list.

If you don’t like a review, leave a comment and leave it at that. Not marking a review as “Helpful” is the same as formerly marking a review as “Not Helpful”. Simply avoid the review entirely if you don’t like what was written or leave a constructive comment on why you think the review is misguided.

Review systems, including the one at Amazon, are there to let you read a user’s experience and make a determination whether that product fits with your needs. It’s not there for you to argue with the review author over some perceived injustice. If you don’t like what was said, write your own review… or write a blog article.. or report the review to Amazon. Amazon doesn’t need review snobs running around trying to sway review authors into someone else’s way of thinking. Simply give that idea up. You can’t sway a review author’s mind with a few sentences in a comment.

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Gaslighting in the Workplace

Posted in advice, Employment, workplace by commorancy on April 10, 2019

Gaslighting is nothing new, but is a term that may be new to some. However, when it appears in the workplace, particularly from a boss, it can lead to exceedingly difficult workplace situations. Let’s explore.

Gaslighting and How To Recognize It!

Gaslighting is when a co-worker or boss says something on Monday and then says, “I never said that” on Tuesday. Effectively, it’s lying. Its saying one thing (or even making a promise), then claiming that thing was never said.

What’s the purpose of this behavior? To attempt to make you, the receiver, believe what they want you to believe and to avoid the ramifications of whatever it is they said earlier. Some claim it’s a form of manipulation or that it is used as control tactic to confuse. I personally believe it’s a way for that person to get out of trouble or avoid being held to a promise. It’s a self-centered way of thinking. While it might be used for manipulation purposes, I believe it’s more self-serving than it is to control another person. However, this behavior can be either intentional or inadvertent due to a medical condition. Either way, it’s a problem for you, the receiver.

Co-workers and Gaslighting

If you’re working with a gaslighting co-worker (non-management peer), the situation can be a bit more simple to handle. Simply request that you don’t work with that person. Most companies are willing to separate folks with personality conflicts to avoid HR issues, so request it. However, be sure to explain to your Human Resources team member that the person is gaslighting you regularly. Make sure they understand the severity of gaslighting (a form of lying) in the workplace and that it has no business in a professional working relationship. Lying in any form is an unacceptable practice, particularly when it comes from folks in positions of trust. It also brings in the issues of business ethics against this person.

Lying and trust are exact opposites. If the person is willing to lie to colleagues, what are they willing to do with clients? Point this out. However, if you do point this out to HR, be aware that they can confront that person about this behavior which might lead them back to you. This person, if charming and charismatic enough, may be able to lie their way out of it. So, you should be cautious and exercise your best judgement when considering reporting a person, particularly if the person is pathological.

Bosses and Gaslighting

Unfortunately, if the gaslighting is coming from your boss or your boss’s boss, it’s a whole lot more difficult to manage. You can’t exactly ask to be moved away from your boss without a whole lot of other difficulties. In fact, many times, there is only one boss who handles your type of position within the company. If you find it is your boss who pathologically gaslights you, you may need to consider moving on from that company as there may be no other choice if you wish to continue working in your chosen career.

Gaslighting and Toxicity

Any form of unethical behavior against another employee should immediately be a huge red flag for you. If you can spot this early, you can make your employment decision quickly. If, for example, you can spot a toxic situation within the first 1-3 months, you can justify to a new prospective employer that the job role wasn’t what was promised and you left of your own accord during the probation period. That’s true. Toxicity in the workplace never makes for a positive working environment. Part of the job is not only what you do for the company, but how others interact with you within that environment. If one doesn’t meet the other and it’s found to be a toxic workplace, then the job role did not meet an acceptable criteria for employment. This means that the job role wasn’t what was promised. It’s not just about what you do, it’s about the interactions with others within the environment.

Any workplace with toxic co-workers is never a positive place of employment and, thus, not what was promised in the interview and on the job description. The problem with toxicity in the workplace is that it’s not easy to spot quickly. It can take several months for it to manifest. Sometimes, it will only manifest after staff change roles. If you walk into a company with high turnover, you might find the first couple of months to be perfectly fine until a new manager is hired.

Interview Flags

You should also take cues from your on-site interview. Many interviews offer telltale signs of toxicity. It may not even be from the people in the room. It may be from the receptionist that you meet when you arrive. Listen carefully to conversations when you’re sitting in a lobby or interview room waiting for the next interviewer. If the environment is chaotic or the interviewers are disenchanted with their job role, walk away. You can even ask pointed, but subtle questions in the interview to the interviewer. For example:

  • “How long have you been with the company?” — Short stint? They can’t tell you enough about the company.
  • “Do you like your job?” — This should open the door for venting.
  • “Is there anything you might change about what you are doing?” — This will further open the door for venting.
  • “How long has this position been open?” — Jobs that have been open a long time may signal problems.

These are examples of pointed questions trying to draw out disenchantment from the employee. Employees who always remain positive about their work conditions and the workplace likely means the company is worth considering. Employees who vent and turn negative quickly likely indicates disenchantment with their position. You might want to reconsider. However, even questions like this aren’t definitive. If the employer directs their interviewers to remain positive no matter what, you won’t know about this policy until much later. Always be cautious in the interview room… but definitely use your question time to draw out possible disenchantment as discretely as possible. If an employee wants to vent about the conditions, let them. It’s a sure fire sign you probably don’t want to work there.

Once employed, your next stop might be…

HR Complaints

You may think that taking your complaint to the HR team is the best idea, particularly if it’s your boss who is gaslighting you. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. The HR team works for the management team and this includes working for your boss. This means that your boss actually has more power with the HR team than you do as a non-management employee. Complaining to the HR team could also bring your boss’s wrath down upon you. In fact, the HR team may become complicit in your boss’s gaslighting (and unsavory) tactics, which may seem like both your boss and the HR team are ganging up against you. That view wouldn’t exactly be wrong.

If your boss is willing to lie to you, he or she is willing to lie to others, including the HR team. There’s ultimately no end to this person’s deceptive ways. This means that reporting your boss to HR could actually backfire on you. It could get you written up, placed on probation, have disciplinary action levied against you up to and including termination. There’s no end to what your boss could do to you if you report their behavior to HR. The HR team will backup your boss, not you.

If your boss or any management team member is gaslighting you, you should avoid complaining to HR. The only time you should make your way to HR is if it’s coming from a co-worker peer who is not in management. Non-management coworkers are the only people where HR doesn’t have a conflict of interest. For these folks, report away.

For management gaslighters, you’ll need to consider other options… such as employment elsewhere or a change in position (move to a different boss, preferably not under the same chain of command) or possibly legal action if the behavior is illegal.

Evaluating Management Power

If you do decide to complain to HR over a management team member, you need to consider that person’s power and support within the organization. Many of these gaslighters are not only gaslighting their own staff, they’re two-faced with their bosses. The problem is getting these people caught in their own web of lies and deceit. That can be a tall order as two-faced individuals attempt to establish strong trust with their bosses. Many times they succeed which can make it extremely difficult to break down that trust.

Unfortunately, many managers who are willing to gaslight you are also willing to do whatever it takes to point the blame elsewhere, perhaps even towards you. For example, I’ve had bosses who made dire mistakes and cost the company downtime and money regularly (at least once a week). Yet, when they end up in their weekly management meetings, the blame runs downhill. Their trust runs deep, so their bosses continue to believe their lies. Meaning, lies and deception keeps this manager employed with his underlings getting the blame (getting a few of them fired). That, or he lied and claimed it was a system error or blamed the crash on the developers or software.

This manager should have been fired at least 6-8 times over, yet each time he managed to worm his way out of the situation by either pointing blame at others or claiming system problems. I know full well it was his fat fingers that pulled the trigger and caused the outage (I saw the logs), yet this information never got to his manager in a way that required him to terminate this employee. He was considered “too valuable”. In fact, he wasn’t valuable at all. He was a severe liability to the company. Not only did he cause regular system outages, he was an HR nightmare making not only inappropriate comments in the workplace, he was completely tactless and had no people skills at all. He was definitely one of those folks who should have been considered dangerous, yet he was in a management position. He was even promoted several times!

What can you do about gaslighting?

This is a difficult question to answer. Depending on the situation, you have several options:

  1. If it’s coming from a non-management co-worker, report them to HR and your manager and ask to avoid contact with this person.
  2. If it’s coming from a management team member to whom you report, you have few options other than to quit and move on.
  3. If it’s coming from a lower management team member to whom you DO NOT report, report them to your immediate manager. Depending on your manager, this may go nowhere. Management typically supports other management regardless of how egregious another management member’s behavior.
  4. If it’s coming from an upper management or a company executive to whom you DO NOT report, again, you have few options. Reporting upper management or executive behavior is almost impossible to see action done. Though, you might be able to report the behavior to the Board of Directors if it’s egregious enough. Like the HR team, the Board of Directors is there to support the management team.. no matter their behaviors. If you choose to report, you’re likely to get no response from the Board of Directors as they’re likely not willing to confront that executive.

There may be other scenarios not listed here, so you’ll need to use your own best judgement whether or not to report the situation.

Company Therapists

You might be thinking you should use one of the company counselors to vent your frustrations. The trouble is, it’s possible that the counselor is obligated to report all findings to the HR team. If you wish to vent to a licensed therapist or psychiatric professional, do so you on your own dime. Choose your own therapist. Don’t use the company’s counselor hotline that’s part of the company perk system. You might find that your conversations have ended up in your personnel file.

Toxic / Hostile Workplace

If the corporate culture is such that it endorses gaslighting (and other inappropriate behaviors) and the company chooses to do nothing about it, then this is probably an ingrained corporate culture. You should consider this a severely toxic and unhealthy workplace. Depending on how you’re treated, it might even be considered hostile. The only choice you have is to exit this job and find another. Toxic corporate culture is becoming more and more common. Unfortunately, there is no one you can turn to in an organization when the corporate culture is this level of toxic, particularly at the upper management level. When the CEO, CFO, CTO and such executives know, don’t care and do nothing to rectify a toxic workplace, this is definitely the signal that you need to move on. You can’t change a toxic corporate culture, you can only get away from it.

Toxic workplaces may be difficult to recognize until you’ve been in the position for at least six months. This is one of those situations where you don’t want to leave the position at the 5 month mark because it will hurt your resume. It also means you’ll need to stick with your employment at this toxic company for at least 7 more months to reach the 1 year mark. Hopping to a new job at the 1 year mark is at least better (and more explainable) on a resume than hopping at 5 months.

This situation can be difficult, particularly if the job environment is highly toxic. Just try to make the best of the situation until you can reach your 1 year anniversary. If the situation is far too problematic to bare and the behavior is not only egregious, but illegal, you should contact a lawyer and consider…

Legal Action

The HR team’s number 1 job is to avoid employment related legal actions at all costs. This means that should you file a lawsuit against your company as a hostile workplace, you’ll be up against your HR team, the company’s legal team and the company’s executives. If you’re still employed when you file such an action, you might want to consider moving on quickly. The HR team (and your boss) will make your life a living hell during and after a lawsuit.

In other words, you shouldn’t consider legal action against a current employer for employment violations. Instead, you should plan to leave the company immediately before you file your lawsuit.

Filing a lawsuit against a former employer will counter HR issues you might encounter while still employed, but be very careful here as well. Any lawsuits against employers can become known by your current employer and mark you as a legal risk. If you’re willing to file a lawsuit against one employer, your current employer’s HR team could then see you as a lawsuit risk. Make sure you fully understand these risks before going up against a former employer for employment violations.

Gaslighting itself isn’t necessarily something that can justify a lawsuit on its own. If it’s part of a pervasive corporate culture endorsed at all levels of management, it could be considered a hostile workplace. In this case, you may have legal recourse against your employer, depending on what they may have done and how pervasive the behavior while employed. You’ll want to educate yourself regarding what is and isn’t a hostile workplace before considering such a lawsuit against an employer. You should also consult with a lawyer for your specific situation. Even then, if you do find that it is considered hostile, you’ll still want to consider such a lawsuit carefully. If your litigation finds its way back to your current employer, you may find yourself in an untenable situation with your current job.

Basically, if you do file a lawsuit against a previous employer, you should keep that information as private as humanly possible. Do not discuss the lawsuit with anyone at your current company no matter how much you may want to. If you have mutual friends between both companies, this may not be possible. Consider this situation carefully before filing such a lawsuit. Note that you may not even know that mutual friends exist until your litigation information is disclosed to your current employer’s HR team.

As with most industries, HR staff members comprise a reasonably small circle of individuals even in large metroplexes. There’s a high probability that at least one person knows another person between two large corporations, particularly if they’re in the same line of business. Always be cautious and never discuss any pending litigation except with your lawyer.

Corporate Culture

Unfortunately, corporate cultures are laid in stone by the founders and the current management team. Sometimes corporate cultures, while seeming to be positive and well meaning, can easily turn sour by corporate corruption. Again, you won’t know the exact extent of your company’s corporate culture until you’ve been working at a company for at least 5 months. Sometimes it takes much longer. Sometimes it requires listening carefully to your CEO’s comments at internal company meetings.

Gaslighting is one of those things that shouldn’t ever be endorsed as part of corporate culture, but it is a behavior that can be misconstrued by pathological individuals based on corporate ideals and is also shaped by management team meetings. These are management meetings where the upper management meets with key individuals to evaluate their weekly contributions to and assess performance for the company. Many times, the face the CEO puts on shows a cheery and charismatic attitude when in public. When behind closed doors, this same CEO becomes a vulture, picking and cutting at each manager’s weaknesses systematically and ruthlessly… many times using rude, crude, crass, yet flowery, condescending language. They might make inappropriate sexual comments. They might even gaslight.

As a result, these bosses who are regularly subjected to these kinds of hostile C-Team interactions can learn that this is the way they also should manage their own teams, particularly managers who don’t have good people skills and who must lead by example. Yet, they know that such flowery, condescending language would get them in hot water with HR and employment law, so they adopt other compensating mechanisms such as gaslighting and outright lying… behaviors that aren’t easily caught or reported, behaviors that can be easily dismissed as innocuous.

As a result, rough and rugged CEOs who lead using a whip-and-chain approach teach their underlings the value of whips and chains instead of managing by positive examples. This can lead borderline personalities to interpret this whip-and-chain approach as the corporate culture to adopt when managing their own staff.

While this explains the root cause behind some manager’s reasons to gaslight, it can never excuse this behavior. In fact, nothing excuses unprofessional behavior. Unfortunately, far too many bosses are promoted beyond their capacity to lead. These managers may be knowledgeable in their own job skills, but many managers have no training in management and have no people skills at all. Instead of learning by training (because many companies don’t offer such people training), they must learn by example. They turn to the CEO to show them the “example”, even if that example is entirely misguided.

Unfortunately, far too many companies do not value people skills as part of their management team’s qualifications. Instead, they look for people who can kiss butts appropriately and deliver results, regardless of what that takes. Meaning, if gaslighting is the means by which that manager delivers results, then the upper management is perfectly happy to look the other way using “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies. I agree, it’s a horrible practice… but there it is.

Overall

As a non-management team member, your options are limited if you find your manager is gaslighting you. On other other hand, if you find a peer regularly gaslighting you to get ahead, you should report this pathological behavior to both your manager and your HR team. If you perform peer evaluations of those individuals, then you should report this behavior on those peer evaluations.

If the behavior goes beyond a single person and extends pervasively to the organization as a whole, then this is a corporate culture toxicity. It may also signal a hostile workplace situation. At that point, you may want to consider a new job and, if the behavior is particularly egregious (and illegal) across the company, file a hostile workplace lawsuit against that employer. Personally, if a company is toxic, I leave and let them wallow in their own filth. I then write a scathing review on Glassdoor and leave it at that. Filing lawsuits are costly and even if successful, don’t always fix the root cause of corporate toxicity, let alone gaslighting… which isn’t even considered a problem needing resolution by most companies. Even if you win a lawsuit, you won’t necessarily make that company a better place. Consider lawsuits as a strategy only if you’re trying to get money out of that company you feel has wronged you.

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Rant Time: Pizza Hut “Service Fee”?

Posted in botch, business, california, food by commorancy on April 3, 2019

If you’re wondering what Pizza Hut’s “Service Fee” is, you’re not alone. I was wondering this myself on my last visit to Pizza Hut. Let’s Explore.

Service Fee

Apparently, some restaurants have found it hard to continue to do business in California. To that end, some of these restaurants have tried various tactics to raise their prices without raising their prices. I know, it doesn’t make sense to me either. But, there it is.

In that goal, some restaurants have instituted add-on fees to the bill in the form of new line items. For example, The Counter (a hamburger chain) has opted to add an “optional” service fee to the bill. This fee is to counter the higher wage costs they must pay and allow their prices to remain competitive with other chains. Except, it doesn’t keep the food costs competitive.

Pizza Hut appears to have grasped onto this slippery-slope approach with its “Service Fee” on the bill.

Confused

Even the staff taking orders don’t really know what this fee is, who is collecting it or even how to properly describe it. However, they do call it out when they are reading back the total cost of the bill.

When I placed my order, the waitperson misrepresented that it was a state of California fee… meaning, that the state of California was collecting this fee through this restaurant. As far as I know, the only mandated California fee is state sales tax. Yet, I’ve ordered from other restaurants and have paid no such “Service Fees” in addition to state mandated taxes.

No, this cashier was not only confused, she had no idea what it was even for and was clearly not trained to answer the question.

Money Collected versus what?

While I can’t speak specifically to the legality of this “fee”, it doesn’t seem all that legal to me, particularly if the cashier misrepresents the fee. As far as I know, businesses adding line items and collecting fees must provide some kind of product or service for that fee. Otherwise, it’s fraud. I can clearly tell you that my takeout order arrived bagged without plates, utensils or condiments. If that fee was to cover the takeout portion, they clearly didn’t offer any setup for my food. I also ordered pasta, which requires the use of a utensil.

It’s clear, this “Service Fee” is a price gouge attempt by Pizza Hut to rake in more money, but provide nothing in return.

High Percentage

Here’s the kicker on my bill. The “Service Fee” was actually higher than state sales tax. State tax on my order was $2.08 and Pizza Hut’s “Service Fee” was $2.10 (exactly 10% of the $20.98 subtotal).

Then, she presented me with a credit card receipt that prompted for a tip. I gave $1. That $2.10 mandated service fee covered for the rest of that tip. I usually give up to 10% on takeout, but that was already given via their “Service Fee”. In fact, Pizza Hut really swindled me out of a nearly 15% tip on a takeout order.

Last Visit

Ultimately, this will be the last time I do business with Pizza Hut in California. Not only are they now swindling customers out of fees they don’t deserve, the Pizza sauce just wasn’t tasty. I simply won’t go back to this restaurant only to get swindled for low quality Pizza.

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