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Getting the most out of Black Friday

Posted in black friday, howto, shopping, smart by commorancy on November 29, 2019

black-friday-tagBlack Friday is a quagmire of sales prices across many stores both online and brick and mortar. It can be difficult, if not impossible to navigate your way to the best deal on any specific item. Let’s explore how to find your best deals during Black Friday.

Focus on Specific Products

While you can run to Target or Walmart or Kohl’s looking for random deals, and sometimes this can be great fun just to “see what’s out there”, if you’re looking for the best deal on a specific item, make a list of items you want. Let’s start with the elephant in the room, Electronics.

Electronics Deals

Clearly, electronics or technology items are the biggest sellers in any store during Black Friday. These include the immense flatscreen TVs, earbuds, cell phones, game consoles and even video games themselves. In fact, so many of these deals are really about splitting hairs… and here is where your best deals come.

So, what is it that’s important to you? Do you want instant savings today, this very moment or can you be satisfied with savings on a future order? Here’s where the nuances come into play.

Black Friday deals are no longer about the door buster 50% off deals. Now, many stores throw in store gift cards and additional store coupons to sweeten the deal. Ultimately, it’s not simply just getting a great percentage off, it’s about getting the most savings you can get… so take advantage. Let’s start with Target as an example.

Target’s Deals and Reward Cards

Target is a company that is out to offer savings in many different and subtle ways. If you have a Red Card (credit or debit) store loyalty card with Target, Target will automatically give you 5% off of your total purchase 365 days a year. That’s an amazing savings every single day. Better, this savings stacks with all sales deals which offers you even more savings. This is particularly useful during Black Friday. So, whip out that Red Card and take advantage. Granted, if you’re using a Cash Back or Rewards card, here’s where these savings can get murky.

Unfortunately, you can’t double dip between the Target Red Card and using a Cash Back credit card, so you’ll have to take your pick: 5% discount using Target’s Red Card or ~%1 Cash Back using your credit card. For me, it’s a no brainer, 5% is a better deal. If you really want that cash, go for it. And then there are reward credit cards…

Reward credit cards offer rewards instead of cash back. Here’s where things get a bit more murky. If you’re using a Delta credit card to get miles and you fly a lot, those miles might make a huge difference. This is where you need to decide what’s important to YOU. In the case of flying frequently, miles may be way more important to you than a 5% instant discount using the Red Card. So, choose your rewards carefully when shopping. Of course, when you’re shopping at many stores, you can pick and choose which payment method to use, so you can spread the rewards across many cards if that’s your best option. You will want to examine all rewards systems you have and what’s most important to you during your Black Friday shopping.

When visiting a store that doesn’t offer a discount or reward program (such as Walmart), you’ll want to use any reward cards you have in your wallet. For example, Walmart, while they do offer a wallet pay system, does not offer any rewards for using their wallet. Walmart assumes that their in-store savings should be enough and so they do not offer a loyalty program. Walmart, however, assumes wrong as their prices are typically no better than other discounters who do offer discount systems and loyalty programs, such as Target.

Read Coupon Terms Carefully

Some stores offer in-store savings, coupons and instant rebates. But, read those terms carefully. Many items are not included in the savings even though it appears they should be discounted. Retailers have obligations to their suppliers, such as Apple, Samsung, Haggar and Hanes. Always read the terms of discount coupons carefully as it might not apply to that thing you’re looking to buy.

For example, many discount coupons given almost never apply towards gift cards. They may not even apply towards Apple, LG or Samsung products. You might find that the only things you can buy in the store with added discount coupons is the in-store brand. Be cautious when a store offers you a 20% off coupon good on your next order. It may not be as great a deal as you think… unless you’re willing to make concessions.

Even instant savings coupons found by scanning an item’s barcode in the store can have important limitations. For example, Target’s Circle program (formerly Cartwheel) typically limits the discount to 4 of the item. However, you’ll want to read the Circle small print terms. In those terms it will tell you exactly how many items you can buy discounted… sometimes it may even be just one. You can buy more discounted, but you’ll have to separate the items out across several separate orders at the check-out lane. It might be easier to do multiple orders at self-checkout than when using a staffed register… particularly if you have 3, 4 or more different orders. Target doesn’t limit how many times you can apply a Circle coupon on separate orders… but they do limit how many discounts it will apply on a single order. Don’t bother trying to argue this issue with the Customer Service desk. They’ll look at you like you’re crazy. If you want to buy a large number of items discounted via Circle, be prepared to separate them out into multiple orders at the checkout lane.

Membership Discounts / Loyalty Programs

Target is a store that not only offers sales and instant in-store discounts, it also has a discount program / loyalty program called Target Circle (formerly known as Cartwheel). Circle offers additional savings on in-store items, though items chosen for discounts are almost always Target’s House Brands, such as Up & Up and Market Pantry. It’s rare that Target Circle discounts apply to major brands, but it can happen occasionally. However, they will occasionally apply to soft goods major brands, such as Hanes or Jockey, but more often than not it will apply Target’s house brand, Merona.

If you’re happy using Target’s house brand items, you can rack up fairly substantial savings towards these items. Savings such as 5% Red Card + 20% Circle + 20% Promotional savings coupons. That’s a whopping 45% savings off of whatever price is listed. If it’s also on sale, then that’s likely an additional up to 50% savings. You won’t get the item for free, obviously, but you can reduce the price by up to 80% just by stacking. This stacking almost never applies to major name brands. The best you can do here is typically 5% Red Card + any in-store applicable discounts (perhaps up to 15% off). Don’t expect to run over to Electronics to get that 80% discount, but sometimes it can happen.

I picked up a Vizio 55″ 4K TV for $768 at a time when the full price was around $1200 in-store. That was a mid-summer price, too. It was not during the holidays. This stacked Red Card savings, an in-store electronics coupon and a sale price. All three stacked to give me a whopping $432 instant discount or a 36% discount. Today, a similar TV might sell for $500-600 which is still not far off the discounted price I paid several years ago. With Target, you don’t necessarily have to get your best deals during Black Friday, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Free Gift Cards and their Benefits

Another promotional system is offering free gift cards of a certain amount for specific purchases. Here’s where you can get a great deal, if you’re cautious and you are willing to invest in the cost of whatever items are needed to get that card.

For example, Target offers a Black Friday deal that will give you a $400 gift card for the purchase and activation of a modern Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ smart phone. If you’re in the market to buy this specific item, then you can certainly take advantage of this deal. However, be cautious. There are a lot of terms and expenses in buying a smart phone and in being under contract with a carrier. Those terms have fees attached. Fees that you may need to pay for up to 2 years. Even though Target may be willing to hand you a $400 gift card to spend at Target, you may end up spending $5000 over the term of that 2 years. $400 isn’t that great of a deal considering you can only use it at Target and not towards paying down that expensive phone you just purchased.

However, a $400 gift card could be useful towards accessories such as a case, extra charging cables, better earbuds and so on. This is where value to you becomes important. If you’re willing to live with the terms of a new phone contract, then that $400 could come in extra handy during your next shopping trip at Target. And yes, you can use that gift card towards anything in Target (yes, even Apple products).

Gift cards are ways for stores to allow for discounts without restrictions. Looking for deals that offer you gift cards is better than looking for percent off coupons… so long as you’re okay shopping at that specific store. However, I have found that by and large, there are very few deals in Target that offer gift cards for purchase. When they do exist, it’s usually tied to a large purchase, such as a tablet, smart phone, expensive large screens or bulk sized household cleaning supplies (mega size toilet paper rolls, bulk paper towels, monstrous jugs of detergent, etc). Usually, you’ll need to spend at least $30-45 to get a $10 Gift Card.

The downside, however, of buying these items is that if you need to return an item for refund. The store will deduct a portion of the gift card amount from your refund. In fact, some stores may require you to return the gift card in full along with any items in the bundle before they will allow a refund. You’ll need to talk to the customer service desk for details. While the free gift cards are great for purchases you intend to keep, returns can become a problem. Be cautious with these if you have a tendency to frequently return items.

Importance of the Above on Black Friday

Why is all of the above important during Black Friday? It’s important because these are the nuances of the savings you’ll run into. When you go download a cost savings app, these apps are likely not taking into account these above nuances, such as in-store loyalty programs, membership discount programs and so on.

Apps that compare prices between stores are likely comparing discounts without any added loyalty programs. This means that the price comparisons won’t show you any additional discounts which may apply to you.

This means you could be lulled into thinking that Walmart has the best deal on that TV when Target is actually offering you a 5% Red Card discount, a 10% Circle discount and a $40 Gift Card (assuming you buy something else with it). These are the kinds of added savings that you can get by shopping at Target.

If you don’t or can’t shop at Target regularly, then these added discounts may not apply to you or may not be convenient. However, if Target is a store you frequent regularly, then this deal is likely much better than Walmart’s deal.

Price for Price, however, Walmart’s deal may look better on paper. Now, let’s talk about Black Friday products.

Electronics Brands

To pull off Black Friday, Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s and even Amazon, swing deals months in advance for specific products to sell on Black Friday. These deals were likely swung early in the year to give the manufacturer plenty of time to manufacture the quantities needed for as many stores as these chains have.

What does that mean for the product itself? It means that these products can be exclusive to Black Friday only. How is that a bad thing? Well, many of these TV brands are lesser known or off-brands (i.e., Westinghouse) trying to their name back into the good graces of the public. This means they’re willing to swing deals with Target and Walmart for Black Friday. They’re willing to sell a 65″ LCD TV for $350 (plus discounts and promotions). It also means these specific product models are likely only made and sold during Black Friday. They are not sold throughout the year. You should ask the store if a Black Friday electronic deal is specific to Black Friday. You don’t want to get saddled with a lemon.

It doesn’t necessarily mean the quality is bad, but it could mean that because it’s not a normally stocked brand / model throughout the year, the quality of the product is unknown. Thus, buying these Black Friday deals could lead you into a product purchase that might break 1, 2 or 3 months down the road. When buying Black Friday electronics, be sure to ask lots of questions and if you purchase, buy an extended return policy / service plan to go with it (when applicable). You just don’t know what kind of quality you are buying when you buy an “exclusive” Black Friday deal. Always be cautious.

This also brings up another point that is related…

Apple, Last Gen Models and Black Friday

Apple is a brand that heavily relies on last gen sales to continue its business forward. However, this situation muddies the water when it comes to Black Friday. Because Apple’s products (and packaging) mostly look alike, it’s difficult to tell an old product apart from its current generation brethren. Be cautious when buying Apple products on Black Friday for this very reason.

The current generation may be the sixth generation, but Target or Walmart are actually ‘clearancing’ out the third generation under the guise of Black Friday. Here’s where the deal is too good to be true.

This situation isn’t exactly deceptive or fraudulent by the retailer, but it definitely skirts that thin grey line towards shady. While an ad might say “Third Generation”, it might not. Even then, the ad DOESN’T tell you which model is the current model. You have no idea if “Third Generation” is the latest unless you keep up on Apple products. The use of this ad nomenclature is shady at best. They tell you its a third gen model, but what they don’t tell you is how many models old it is. If it’s a third gen model and the current is the sixth gen, then that product was manufactured at least 4-5 years ago. It also means that Apple will likely stop supporting it in about 1 or 2 years. You don’t want to buy into a product that has about 1 year left before it becomes obsolete.

Don’t kid yourself, once a product becomes obsolete in the Apple universe, it turns to crap. Apps stop working, apps stop being updated, memory problems begin and the overall device degrades into a potentially useless mess. Don’t buy products that are about to be obsolete, particularly not Apple products.

No matter how great that deal appears to be, no matter how pristine that Apple box appears, no matter what other discounts the retailer throws at you, don’t buy 4-5 year old (or older) Apple, Samsung or any other computer product. Anything that’s about 1 year from being obsolete is worth, at most about $50-100 no matter what it is. If Target or Walmart is selling it on Black Friday for $350, it’s a rip-off! Do your homework and find out 1) what generation is current and 2) what generation is being sold and 3) when that generation was made. Don’t buy old generations of computer products. Just don’t do it. The manufacturer won’t continue to support those products forever.

Smart TVs

If you rely on your Smart TV’s apps to feed you with content, be careful of these also. App developers have already begun dumping apps on lesser brand smart TVs. For example, Netflix and Amazon has stopped producing its app on some brands of smart TVs, particularly older TVs. If you want to watch content on your smart TV, don’t rely on the TV’s built-in apps. Instead, pick an HDMI smart device to plug in. Treat your Smart TV as dumb by ignoring the built-in apps and simply plug in content devices to your TV. Some popular devices are Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku and Amazon’s Fire Stick. You can easily replace these low cost devices and get updated apps via these dongles simply by upgrading to the latest.

The Smart TV, on the other hand, is a fad that seems to be fading. Name brand TVs such as Samsung and Sony may be in the App game for the long haul, but lesser brands like Vizio apparently are not. Even then, there is no guarantee that any developer will continue to develop for bigger TV brands like Sony, LG or Samsung. Instead, relay on small plug-in HDMI devices to give you access to your favorite “channels”. You can even find these devices on Black Friday deals for super cheap prices.

Movies and Music Content

The one place where you can get some of your BEST savings deals is on disc based movies and video games. Here’s where $59 priced games can be as low as $20. Here’s also where some of the latest Blu-Ray and UltraHD 4K movies can be had for as low as $6-15. Picking up UltraHD 4K movies for $15? That’s a great deal you’re not going to find at any other time of the year. These deals are great no matter where you find them… whether at Target, Walmart or on Amazon. This kind of content is a winner no matter when or where. I always recommend shopping through movie and music content because Black Friday is a time that offers the steepest discounts of any other time of the year. This is the best time to pick up some of the top blockbuster films for low, low prices. For example, Spiderman, Shazam and Aquaman UltraHD Blu-rays are all priced at $15 at Target in 2019. Normally, these cost around $29-35 per disc. Still, that’s costly for a film at $15 when you can rent them for $2 at RedBox or see them on Netflix at some point, but UltraHD Blu-ray 4K discs at $15 are practically a steal of a deal. Take advantage if you have the disposable income.

Gift Cards and iTunes

Don’t just focus on physical items when you’re shopping. Some retailers will discount gift cards, like iTunes cards, XBox Live or PS4 PlayStation Plus subscriptions. You can then get a decent discount when purchasing one or more cards. For example, Target usually puts iTunes gift cards on a discount every year on Black Friday. For the last two years, they have offered a buy-one-get-one-30%-off deal. This means that $100 in iTunes credit (two $50 cards) will cost you $85. If you’re subscribing to Apple Music at $99 a year, for example, this means you’re only paying $85 for that $100 in credit which you can apply to your Apple Music subscription. Yet more savings simply to use a well established music service. You’ll never get a discount like this from Apple directly. But, when buying iTunes gift cards, that $100 credit spends like all $100 credit… and can be used towards your subscriptions. In fact, Apple has no idea that you bought the cards for $85 versus $100.

Black Friday Savings

Ultimately, to get your best deals, you need to look at ALL of the offers a store is giving. You’ll need a sale paper for that. Don’t just look at the price at its face value. You may find stores are willing to give you much steeper discounts by using loyalty programs, gift cards and coupons for later use. Stores can sometimes even couple items together as a bundle and get deeper savings for both items than you can get by buying them separately.

For this reason, you can’t simply take Black Friday comparison apps at face value. You need to visit the store to find all of the deals they are offering you. This is why it is a bit more complicated than simply visiting an app store and downloading a Black Friday comparison app. Many of these comparison apps don’t consider loyalty program discounts as part of the Black Friday deal. If you’re an active Red Card holder and use Target Circle, you can get even steeper discounts on top of the Black Friday deals. Don’t forget about these extra discounts if you are a member in loyalty programs.

To get your best deals, you’re going to need to get your hands onto a copy of the sale paper from each store, then comparison shop between the sale papers. Even then, some stores offer in-store only deals that you can only find once you are in the store… which means you’ll need to spend time physically heading over to the store to 1) find out what special deals they offer and 2) whether the item is in stock.

On the other hand, be careful of buying older generation computer products which, at face value, may seem to be a great Black Friday deal. Unfortunately, that great deal may turn sour within a year because the manufacturer as stopped supporting the device. It also seems that discount retailers rarely put the latest generation of computer devices on Black Friday deals. If you want any kind of a discount on the latest greatest device, you’ll need to visit a manufacturer’s store, like the Apple store. And yes, the Apple store itself does offer Black Friday deals. They’re not always the best deals, but for Apple they’re some of the best deals available on new Apple products that you can find from Apple throughout the year.

Finally, focus on specific items that you really need. Don’t just go and browse. If you want to find the best deals on those things you need, you’ll need to stay focused on finding the deals on those items. If you spend your time browsing stores and randomly looking, you’ll never get to other stores to see if they have a better deal. I also don’t recommend calling the stores to ask for pricing. More often than not, Black Friday is way too busy for them to talk on the phone. You’re more likely to sit on hold only to hang up. Just head over to the store for yourself. Additionally, many stores do allow you to download digital versions of their Black Friday sale papers. Just be sure to download the one for your specific store so you can see what that store is offering.

Happy Black Friday Shopping!

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How to screenshot on a Mac

Posted in Apple, Household Tips, howto, tips by commorancy on November 26, 2019

office-macEver wondered how to create screenshots on a mac? Creating a screenshot on a Mac should be a simple process, and it is once you know the hotkeys. Let’s explore.

Hot Keys

I could run off into a diatribe about how Apple has screwed with its OSes to make them less intuitive than they once were, but I’ll skip this rant and jump right into what you’re looking for and make this one short.

There are several built-in screenshot options on a Mac running MacOS X. You’ll want to choose an option that makes the most sense for your current needs.

Option 1 — Snapshot to the clipboard (does NOT create an image file)

Whole Screen: ⌘ (command) + ⌃ (control) + ⇧ (shift) + 3  or simply ⌘⌃⇧3
Drag Select: ⌘ (command) + ⌃ (control) + ⇧ (shift) + 4 or simply ⌘⌃⇧4

Option 2 — Snapshot file saved to your Desktop (does NOT land in clipboard)

Whole Screen: ⌘ (command) + ⇧ (shift) + 3 or simply ⌘⇧3
Drag Select: ⌘ (command) + ⇧ (shift) + 4 or simply ⌘⇧4

Simple (sorta)… and now we’re done. That wasn’t so hard now was it?

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Rant Time: Google doesn’t understand COPPA

Posted in botch, business, california, rant by commorancy on November 24, 2019

kid-tablet.jpgWe all know what Google is, but what is COPPA? COPPA stands for the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and is legislation designed to incidentally protect children by protecting their personal data given to web site operators. YouTube has recently made a platform change allegedly around COPPA, but it is entirely misguided. It also shows that Google doesn’t fundamentally understand the COPPA legislation. Let’s explore.

COPPA — What it isn’t

The COPPA body of legislation is intended to protect how and when a child’s personal data may be collected, stored, used and processed by web site operators. It has very specific verbiage describing how and when such data can be collected and used. It is, by its very nature, a data protection and privacy act. It protects the data itself… and, by extension, the protection of that data hopes to protect the child. This Act isn’t intended to protect the child directly and it is misguided to assume that it does. COPPA protects personal private data of children.

By the above, that means that the child is incidentally protected by how their collected data can (or cannot) be used. For the purposes of COPPA, a “child” is defined to be any person under the age of 13. Let’s look at a small portion of the body of this text.

General requirements. It shall be unlawful for any operator of a Web site or online service directed to children, or any operator that has actual knowledge that it is collecting or maintaining personal information from a child, to collect personal information from a child in a manner that violates the regulations prescribed under this part. Generally, under this part, an operator must:

(a) Provide notice on the Web site or online service of what information it collects from children, how it uses such information, and its disclosure practices for such information (§312.4(b));

(b) Obtain verifiable parental consent prior to any collection, use, and/or disclosure of personal information from children (§312.5);

(c) Provide a reasonable means for a parent to review the personal information collected from a child and to refuse to permit its further use or maintenance (§312.6);

(d) Not condition a child’s participation in a game, the offering of a prize, or another activity on the child disclosing more personal information than is reasonably necessary to participate in such activity (§312.7); and

(e) Establish and maintain reasonable procedures to protect the confidentiality, security, and integrity of personal information collected from children (§312.8).

This pretty much sums up the tone for what follows in the body text of this legislation. What it essentially states is all about “data collection” and what you (as a web site operator) must do specifically if you intend to collect specific data from someone under the age of 13… and, more specifically, what data you can and cannot collect.

YouTube and Google’s Misunderstanding of COPPA

YouTube’s parent company is Google. That means that I may essentially interchange “Google” for “YouTube” because both are one-in-the-same company. With that said, let’s understand how Google / YouTube fundamentally does not understand the COPPA body of legislation.

Google has recently rolled out a new feature to its YouTube content creators. It is a checkbox both as a channel wide setting and as an individual video setting. This setting sets a flag whether the video is targeted towards children or not (see image below for this setting’s details). Let’s understand Google’s misunderstanding of COPPA.

COPPA is a data protection act. It is not a child protection act. Sure, it incidentally protects children because of what is allowed to be collected, stored and processed, but make no mistake, it protects collected data directly, not children. With that said, checking a box on a video whether it is appropriate for children has nothing whatever to do with data collection. Let’s understand why.

Google has, many years ago in fact, already implemented a system to prevent “children” (as defined by COPPA) to sign up for and use Google’s platforms. What that means is when someone signs up for a Google account, that person is asked questions to ascertain the person’s age. If that age is identified as under 13, that account is classified by Google as in use by a “child”. Once Google identifies a child, it is then obligated to uphold ALL laws governed by COPPA (and other applicable child privacy laws) … that includes all data collection practices required by COPPA and other applicable laws. It can also then further apply Google related children protections against that account (i.e. to prevent the child from viewing inappropriate content on YouTube). Google would have needed to uphold these data privacy laws since the year 2000, when COPPA was enacted. If Google has failed to protect a child’s collected data or failed to uphold COPPA’s other provisions, then that’s on Google. It is also a situation firmly between Google and the FTC … the governmental body tasked with enforcing the COPPA legislation. Google solely collects the data. Therefore, it is exclusively on Google if that data is used or collected in inappropriate ways, counter to COPPA’s requirements.

YouTube’s newest “not appropriate for children” flag

As of November 2019, YouTube has implemented a new flag for YouTube content creators. The channel-wide setting looks like so:

Screen Shot 2019-11-24 at 2.33.32 AM

This setting, for all intents and purposes, isn’t related to COPPA. COPPA doesn’t care whether video content is targeted towards children. COPPA cares about how data is collected from children and how that data is then used by web sites. COPPA is, as I said above, all about data collection practices, not about whether content is targeted towards children.

Let’s understand that in the visual entertainment area, there are already ratings systems which apply. Systems such as the ESRB ratings system founded in 1994. This system specifically sets ratings for video games depending on the types of content contained within. For TV shows, there is the TV Parental Guidelines which began in 1996 and was proposed between the US Congress, the TV industry and FCC. These guidelines rate TV shows such as TV-Y, TV-14 or TV-MA depending, again, on the content within. This was mandated in 1997 by the US Government due to its stranglehold on TV broadcast licenses. For theatrical films, there’s the MPAA’s movie ratings system which began in 1968. So, it’s not as if there aren’t already effective content ratings systems available. These voluntary systems have been in place for many years already.

For YouTube, marking your channel or video content as “made for kids” has nothing whatever to do with COPPA legislated data collection practices.

YouTube Creators

Here is exactly where we see Google and YouTube’s fundamental misunderstanding of COPPA. COPPA is about the protection and collection of data from children. Google collects, stores and uses this and all data it collects. YouTube creators have very, very limited access to any of this Google-collected data. YouTube creators have no hand in its collection or its use. Google controls all of the data collection on YouTube. With the exception of comments and the list of subscribers of a channel, the majority of the data collected and supplied by Google to the creators is almost exclusively limited to aggregate unpersonalized statistical data. Even then, this data can be inaccurate depending on what the Google account ID stated when they signed up. Still, the limited personal subscriber data it does supply to content creators is limited to the subscriber’s ID only. Google offers its content creators no access to deeper personal data, not even the age of its subscribers.

Further, Google (and pretty much every other web site) relies on truthfulness when people sign up for services. Google does not in any way verify the information given to Google during the signup process or that this information is in any way accurate or truthful. Indeed, Google doesn’t even verify the identity of the person using the account or even require the use of real names. The only time Google does ANY level of identity verification is when using Google Wallet. Even then, it’s only as a result of needing identity verification due to possible credit card fraud issues. Google Wallet is a pointless service that many other payment systems do better, such as Apple Pay, Amazon Checkout and, yes, PayPal. I digress.

With that said, Google is solely responsible for all data collection practices associated with YouTube (and its other properties) including storing, processing and managing of that data. YouTube creators have no control over what YouTube (or Google) chooses to collect, store or disseminate. Indeed, YouTube creators have no control over YouTube’s data collection or storage practices whatsoever.

This new alleged “COPPA mechanism” that YouTube has implemented has nothing whatever to do with data collection practices and everything to do with content which might be targeted towards “children”. Right now, this limited mechanism is pretty much a binary system (a very limited system). The channel either does or it doesn’t target content towards children (either channel as a whole or video by video). It’s entirely unclear what happens when you do or don’t via YouTube, though some creators have had seeming bad luck with their content, which has been manually reviewed by YouTube staff and misclassified as “for children” when the content clearly is not. These manual overrides have even run counter to the global channel settings, which have been set to “No, set this channel as not made for kids.”

Clearly, this new mechanism has nothing to do with data collection and everything to do with classifying which content is suitable for children and which isn’t. This defines a …

Ratings System

Ratings systems in entertainment content are nothing new. TV has had a content rating systems since the mid 90s. Movies have had ratings systems since the late 60s. Video games have had them since the mid 90s. COPPA, on the other hand, has entirely nothing to do with ratings or content. It is legislation that protects children by protecting their data. It’s pretty straightforward what COPPA covers, but one thing it does not cover is whether video content is appropriate to be viewed by children. Indeed, COPPA isn’t a ratings system. It is child data protection legislation.

How YouTube got this law’s interpretation so entirely wrong is anyone’s guess. I can’t even fathom how Google could have been led this astray. Perhaps Google’s very own lawyers are simply inept and not at all versed in COPPA? I have no idea… but whatever led YouTube’s developers to thinking the above mechanism in any way relates to COPPA is entirely wrong thinking. No where does COPPA legislate YouTube video content appropriateness. Categorizing content is entirely up to a ratings system to handle.

Indeed, YouTube is trudging on very thin ice with the FTC. Not only did they interpret the COPPA legislation completely wrong, they have implemented “a fix” even more wrongly. What Google and YouTube has done is shoot themselves in the foot… not once, but twice. The second time is that Google has fully admitted that they don’t even have a functional working ratings system. Indeed, it doesn’t… and now everyone knows it.

Google has now additionally admitted that children under the age of 13 use YouTube by the addition of this “new” mechanism. With this one mechanism, Google has admitted to many things about children using its platform… which means YouTube and Google are both now in the hot seat with regards to COPPA. They must now completely ensure that YouTube (and Google by extension) is fully and solely complying with the letter of COPPA’s verbiage by collecting children’s data.

YouTube Creators Part II

YouTube creators have no control over what Google collects from its users, that’s crystal clear. YouTube creators also don’t have access to view most of this data or access to modify anything related to this data collection system. Only Google has that level of access. Because Google controls its own data collection practices, it is on Google to protect any personal information it may have received by children using its platform.

That also means that content creators should be entirely immune from prosecution over such data collection practices… after all, the creators don’t own or control Google’s data collection systems.

This new YouTube mechanism seems to imply that creators have some level of liability and/or culpability for Google’s collection practices, when creators simply and clearly do not. Even the FTC made a striking statement that they may try to “go after” content creators. I’m not even sure how that’s possible under COPPA. Content creators don’t collect, store or manage data about children, regardless of the content that they create. The only thing content creators control is appropriateness of the content towards children… and that has nothing to do with COPPA and everything to do with a ratings system… a system that Google does not even have in place within YouTube.

Content creators, however, can voluntarily label their content as TV-MA or whatever they deem is appropriate based on the TV Parental Guidelines. After all, YouTube is more like TV than it is like a video game. Therefore, YouTube should offer and have in place the same ratings system as is listed in the TV Parental Guidelines. This recent COPPA-attributed change is actually YouTube’s efforts at enacting a content ratings system, albeit an extremely poor attempt at one. As I said, creators can only specify the age appropriateness of the content that they create. YouTube is simply the platform where it is shown.

FTC going after YouTube Creators?

Google controls its data collections systems, not its content creators (though YouTube does hold leverage over whether content is or remains monetized). What that means is that it makes absolutely no sense for the FTC to legally go after content creators based on violations of COPPA. There may be other legislation they can lean on, but COPPA isn’t it. COPPA also isn’t intended to be a “catch all” piece of legislation to protect children’s behaviors on the Internet. It is intended to protect how data is collected and used by children under 13 years of age… that’s it. COPPA isn’t intended to be used as a “ratings system” for appropriateness by video sharing platforms like YouTube.

I can’t see even one judge accepting, let alone prosecuting such a clear cut case of legal abuse of the justice system. Going after Google for COPPA violations? Sure. They stored and collected that data. Going after the YouTube content creators? No, I don’t think so. They created a video and uploaded it, but that had nothing whatever to do with how Google controls, manages or collects data from children.

If the US Federal Government wants to create law to manage appropriateness of Internet content, then they need to draft it up and pass it. COPPA isn’t intended for that purpose. Voluntary ratings systems have been in place for years including within motion pictures, TV and now video games. So then why is YouTube immune from such rating systems? Indeed, it’s time YouTube was forced to implement a proper ratings system instead of this haphazard binary system under the false guise of COPPA.

Content Creator Advice

If you are a YouTube content creator (or create on any other online platform), you should take advantage of the thumbnail and describe the audience your content targets. The easiest way to do this is to use the same ratings system implemented by the TV Parental Guidance system… such as TV-Y, TV-14 and TV-MA. Placing this information firmly on the thumbnail and also placing it onto the video at the beginning of your video explicitly states towards which age group and audience your content is targeted. By voluntarily rating not only the thumbnail, but also the content itself in the first 5 minutes of the video opening, your video cannot be misconstrued for any other group or audience. This means that even though your video is not intended for children, placing the TV Parental Guidance rating literally onto the video intentionally states that fact in plain sight.

If a YouTube employee manually reclassifies your video as being “for children” even when it isn’t, labeling your content in the video’s opening as TV-MA explicitly states that the program is not suitable for children. You might even create an additional disclaimer as some TV programs do stating:

This content is not suitable for all audiences. Some content may be considered disturbing or controversial. Viewer or parental discretion is advised.

Labeling your video means that even the FTC can’t argue that your video somehow inappropriately targeted children… even though this new YouTube system has nothing to do with COPPA. Be cautious, use common sense and use best practices when creating and uploading videos to YouTube. YouTube isn’t there to protect you, the creator. The site is there to protect YouTube and Google. In this case, this new creator feature is entirely misguided as a COPPA helper, when it is clearly intended to be a ratings system.

Before you go…

One last thing… Google controls everything about the YouTube platform including the “recommended” lists of videos. If, for whatever reason, Google chooses to promote a specific video towards an unintended audience, the YouTube creator has no control over this fact. In point of fact, the content creator has almost no control over any promotion or placement of their video within YouTube. The only exception is if YouTube allows for paid promotion of video content (and they probably do). After all, YouTube is in it for the $$$. If you’re willing to throw some of your money at Google, I’m quite sure they’d be willing to help you out. Short of paying Google for video placement, however, all non-paid placement is entirely at the sole discretion of Google. The YouTube creator has no control over their video’s placement within “recommended” lists or anywhere else on YouTube.

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Where are the Vault-Tec Cross Promotional Bobbleheads in Fallout 4?

Posted in howto, tips, video game, video gaming by commorancy on November 20, 2019

If you own the Nuka-Cola Collector Creation Club item, you may or may not know that 5 new Bobbleheads were introduced into the game by this add-on. Let’s explore where they are.

Vault-Tec Cross Promotional Bobbleheads

In the vanilla Fallout 4, there are 20 Bobbleheads. These offer various perks when you pick them up, such as Luck or Small Guns. However, if you have visited the Creation Club store and purchased the Nuka-Cola Collector add-on, 5 new Bobbleheads were introduced into Fallout 4. They don’t have names specifically or special qualities, other than being named the very creative “Vault-Tec Cross Promotional Item #1”. There are 5 of them spread throughout the world.

As I had been looking for where these Bobbleheads are, there is no good resource on the Internet for this. Even Google is of no help. I finally did manage to find the Bobbleheads, though. I thought I’d write this article to describe exactly where each Bobblehead is located within Fallout 4. Thankfully, these Bobbleheads respawn. If you pick them up, you can go back to each location later and get another set.

So what good are they if they don’t offer any perks? They are simply introduced into the world as an Easter egg for the owners of this Creation Club item (and for decoration purposes). They can be used to decorate your settlement. I believe you can also create a version of them via the Workshop menu. But, these created ones are static and can’t be picked up or dropped. The ones you locate in the world can be used for decoration in the Bobblehead displays just as any other bobblehead. So, there’s that.

Let’s jump right into this one, shall we?

Locations

  1. “Vault-Tec Cross Promotional Item #1” is located at DB Technical High School. As you enter the main building doors, head down to the basement. This one is located on table across from a long ramp leading to the back. You will have to clear the Raiders and the boss before you can get to the table where it sits.
  2. “Vault-Tec Cross Promotional Item #2” is located at Fallon’s Department Store on the top floor in an office on a desk. You’ll have to walk up two different disconnected sets of escalators to get to the top floor. Watch out for the Super Mutants.
  3. “Vault-Tec Cross Promotional Item #3” is located in Prost Bar. To get to Prost Bar, you’ll need to travel to Swan’s Pond and cross the park straight back and to the left. Across the street there is a staircase leading down to a cellar with a blue door. This is Prost Bar. Note, if you have any Prost Bar cleanup mods enabled, you will need to disable them to ensure that the Bobblehead is there. As you walk into the door, walk straight by the bar and and look for the manager’s office on the left. The Bobblehead will be sitting on top of a filing cabinet.
  4. “Vault-Tec Cross Promotional Item #4” is located at Greenetech Genetics. Enter the main door, then find the stairs upward. This building is kind of confusing inside, so work your way up until you find the elevator. Take this elevator to the top of this tall building. At the top, you’ll need to work your way up again until you find a small table sitting on a balcony overlook. This bobblehead will be sitting next to a broken terminal.
  5. “Vault-Tec Cross Promotional Item #5” is located at Vault-Tec Regional Headquarters. In this building, it’s about two floors up. Find the stairs that lead you up to a pool table breaking through the floor. Go around the right side of this pool table to the back wall, then turn right into an office. It will be sitting next to a Mr. Davidson’s Terminal.

That’s all 5 bobbleheads. These Bobbleheads all wear a red Nuka-Cola shirt and have either a Nuka-Cola, a Nuka Cherry or a Nuka-Cola Quantum bottle as part of the Bobblehead.

These bobbleheads are for decoration purposes only. They offer no function or perks. Though, I will say they are fun addition and look pretty cool.

Happy Hunting!

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What is the Fallout 76 1st subscription?

Posted in video game design, video gaming by commorancy on November 15, 2019

Fallout 76_20191108124032.jpgBethesda has released Fallout 76’s first paid product named 1st. This uninspired and unfortunate naming doesn’t mean much, but it does come with some welcomed and important improvements to Fallout 76. Let’s explore.

 


Fallout 1st

Obviously the 1st branding is intended to be pronounced “first”. Let’s get that one out of the way right off. The naming itself doesn’t mean much and in the context of the game itself means very little. But, this add-on subscription does add some welcomed, important and substantial improvements. Whether those improvements are worth the price, I’ll have to leave that up to you. The costs for this service are USD $12.99 a month or USD $99 per year (USD $8.25 per month — a fairly substantial savings over paying monthly). The additional fee does offer some worthwhile improvements. Let’s investigate these next.

“Infinite” Storage Scrapbox

fallout-76_20191114152424.jpgFor those of us tapped out on Stash space, the new Scrapbox is an invaluable asset. You can take all of that weighty scrap out of your 800 weight limited Stash, release up to 300 weight or more from your Stashbox and put all of that weight all into the “infinite” space Scrapbox. This means substantially more Stash to use for storing weapons, armor and other collectibles. This is an important and welcomed change. Not to mention, being able to store “infinite” amounts of lead, steel, copper, cloth, crystal, leather, etc. This feature offers way more crafting, workshop and camp building options. Though, I highly doubt the Scrapbox offers actual infinite storage, the storage cap is probably so high as to be almost infinite.

On the other hand, you can’t store anything in there but scrap. It won’t store weapons, armor, aid or any other category of items. It also won’t store ALL types of scrap. For example, bulked items cannot be stored in the Scrapbox. If you wish to store already bulked items, you’ll need to unbulk them to store them in the Scrapbox. However, the Scrapbox does offer a scrapping feature. No longer do you need to have a workbench handy. If you have a bunch of junk that you simply want to break down into scrap, the box will automatically do this before depositing it into the box. This makes the Survival Tent much more functional without any workbenches.

Survival Tent

Fallout 76_20191112002656

This freely deployable tent offers a second free fast travel point that can be easily moved and costs no caps to move about. It is definitely welcomed to have a second free moveable fast travel point… and which offers access the new Scrapbox easily and quickly, offers a cooking pot, a Stashbox, a sleeping bag for the “Rested” perk, and a banjo for the “Well Tuned” perk. Unfortunately, the sleeping bag only offers the “Rested” perk (lasts 1 hour) instead of “Well Rested” perk (which lasts 2 hours). Having a second fast travel point will drastically save on spending caps to travel around the map. This means you can leave the tent in a convenient location and avoid paying caps to get to that location and pay much reduced caps to get to locations near it.

Private Servers

Fallout 76_20191114150545Private Servers that had been promised for a year are finally here! These are great for many reasons. For example, locating items that you can’t otherwise find because other players are actively farming them. Additionally, trying to locate legendary enemies to finish up the Enclave commendations can be tricky. With a private server, it’s easier to find such events which spawn legendary enemies (i.e. Wolf Pack) and finish the event (and receive commendations), without interference from other players. It also makes questing alone easier and it makes group questing more fun when you invite only your friends while no one else can join that world’s server.

Alone questing is much easier because the game server spawns enemies at the level of the most recent person who happens by. If a level 150 player hits up a location minutes before your level 30 character arrives, the enemies will likely be level 68. This can make situations impossible to win. It may also mean hopping servers until you find a world where your level 30 character is the one who has spawned lower level enemies. A private server avoids this problem entirely. Since the server is brand new the moment you launch it, only your character influences the world around you when playing alone. However, if you invite high level players into your private world, then the same problem of high level spawns will occur even in the private server. You’ll want to be cautious when you invite friends into your server.

One additional benefit of the private server is it durability. What I mean is that once you start a private server, this same server is available to you for up to 20 minutes while no one is online. What that means is you can swap characters and load into the same private world over and over. While 1st doesn’t offer any means to directly share stuff between characters, this world durability means you can drop a bag of items in the world in an easy location (like Vault 76) and then pick up the bag using a different character. This allows you to swap items between characters without using an intermediate third person to hold your stuff or watch your bag. Simply drop a bag from one character, log out, change characters, log back into the private world, go to the spot where you dropped it and pick up the items. Simple. It works well and it is predictable. Because it’s a private server, there’s no danger of another player grabbing your stuff while you’re working on this activity.

It would be preferable if Bethesda could give us an official way to share stuff between characters, but in the interim, the private server is a great option to share weapons, armor and items between characters. I’ve always intensely disliked using random third parties for this transfer process. Using a private server to share items is an excellent alternative. And yes, it does work. I’ve done this several times between characters.

Of course, there’s no easy way to share caps between characters using a private server. If you want to do this, you’ll still need to use a third party.

Another benefit of the private servers is, while playing alone, you can hold any workshop in the game without fear of PVP reprisal. You will have to occasionally manage defend events, but that’s as far as it goes. If you choose not to do the defend events, you can come back later and just fix everything that got broken. Also, if your game accidentally crashes, the private server remains tied to your ID for at least 30 minutes. This means that in private servers you continue to own your workshops even after disconnects or crashes, unlike the public servers. However, you do have to rejoin the server with the same character to remain the owner of the workshop. If you wait too long, the private server will be unassigned to you and you will lose your workshops, but that takes about 20-30 minutes. If you change your character, you will likely have to take ownership again with your other character.

Atom Shop Exclusives and Inclusions

Fallout 76_20191114153148This isn’t really so much a benefit as it is a nicety. After all, the Atomic shop is mostly just for cosmetics. However, it’s great to see Bethesda include Atom shop exclusives for 1st subscribers. Additionally, the 1st subscription offers 1650 atoms each month included with the ~$13 monthly fee (or the yearly fee if you go that way). That’s $16.50 worth of Atom in addition to all of the above add-ons. The included $16.50 worth of Atom makes all of the rest almost seem free. To previously buy that much Atom, you’d have to spend at least $13 and you wouldn’t even get all of the above access. Receiving the Atom alone almost makes the entire subscription worth it, assuming you regularly buy Atom instead of earning it in the game.

Pay to Win?

There’s something to be said for each of these 1st add-ons. A lot of people may dislike paying the money per month or somehow think this part is “pay to win”, but in reality none of it helps you “win”, but it does substantially improve the game by adding the above features. I guess many could argue that the Scrapbox and the Survival Tent should have been added to the base game for free… but then, that would reduce the reasons to subscribe to 1st. Eventually, it may come down to pay-to-win, but for now there’s no way to actually pay to win.

In fact, I’d argue that most of what 1st offers to gamers now is end-game content. After you’ve done the quests and completed the entire main story, what’s left over is farming items, looking for cosmetics and, in general, locating rare weapons, armor and potentially selling them. It’s less about winning and more about extending the play value of this game. That’s exactly what 1st is intended for… extending the play value of the game.

Improvements to Fallout 76 and 1st

Even with all of the above, there still needs to be improvements in the base game to better support 1st subscribers. Scrapboxes need to become widely available at all train stations and in Whitesprings. Without scrapboxes there, you are forced to travel to your tent or to your camp to drop scrap into the scrapbox. Inconvenient. Else, you have to temporarily drop it into your stashbox and move it around later (even more inconvenient).

Fallout 76_20191114152342.jpg1st is an important step for Fallout 76 as a game, but the subscription support needs to be improved throughout the game. As mentioned above, the Scrapbox doesn’t support bulked scrap. It only supports loose scrap. This is another design flaw in this storage system. This means you still need to continue to store all of your bulk scrap in your Stashbox or you must unbulk it to shove it into the Scrapbox.

1st isn’t in any way perfect, but the game is much better with these improvements than it is without them. 1st is one of the actual first tangible improvements to the base game which hasn’t really been offered by Bethesda in past updates. Most past updates have involved bug fixes or simplistic add-ons (backpack or distiller or limited time events). 1st is one of the first set of improvements that implies Bethesda might actually be trying to improve the game. Unfortunately, too many of us are at the endgame and 1st may be too late to really bring in enough new players. Perhaps the upcoming NPC additions may help the game revitalize, but we’ll have to wait on that.

The current 1st addition won’t revitalize Fallout 76 by itself, but it is a vast improvement in solving basic problems that still plague this mostly beta game (e.g., small sized stash boxes, small inventory sizes, small camp budgets). Seeing Bethesda release actual improvements to the game shows that Bethesda is finally willing to offer better features to those willing to pay. Now if only we can get Bethesda to buff our weapons for subscribing to 1st… that would be a much welcomed improvement. Bethesda should also consider giving us some 1st perk cards to improve our SPECIAL stats… such as additional and exclusive 1st damage multipliers. I know this may sound like pay-to-win additions, but these are the kinds of things that help improve the game, give incentives to subscribe and offer much welcomed improvements.

Sure, Bethesda could have released all of this for free to the current game players… but, the Private Servers alone would have been overwhelmed almost instantly and essentially become public servers. By putting it behind a paywall, it ensures fewer people utilize it and fewer people will abuse it.

I was initially skeptical when I paid for the 1st feature, but I quickly realized the benefit of the Scrapbox. Forget the Private Servers, the Scrapbox is the single thing that almost completely sells me on 1st. The Private Servers are great, don’t get me wrong, but the Scrapbox is the single thing that I have absolutely needed in this game. If only Bethesda would also increase our C.A.M.P. build limit by subscribing to 1st.

Downsides?

There are a few downsides to 1st. Let’s talk about these. I believe non-1st subscribers can be invited to a private server, but I’m uncertain about this entirely. This may also change over time and it may not work correctly. If the owner of the private server leaves the private server, you’ll have about 20 minutes before the server shuts down and kicks you off… regardless whether you are a 1st subscriber or not.

You can’t join a friend who is visiting or has started their own private server from the social menu. There’s no option for this. You must be explicitly invited by the friend into the server. Additionally, only 8 people can join a private server. The 24 people on a server won’t work on a private server. You have to use a public server for that. This could make some events more difficult to complete in a private server environment.

A downside for PS4 users is that the 1 month subscription expires in one month. It is left up to you to renew the subscription manually at the end of each month of service. It does not auto-renew. Bethesda may fix this issue by updating its digital store item to support renewing subscriptions, but for now the subscription does not auto-renew. Be sure not to forget to pay for your monthly membership or all of the scrap in your Scrapbox may disappear. Be cautious with this. Also, if you’re thinking of not renewing, then you should plan to move whatever valuable scrap you have in your Scrapbox back to your Stash to avoid losing your most important scrap in your Scrapbox.

I’d also recommend keeping flux and other valuable scrap items that you simply can’t afford to lose in your Stash. The Scrapbox is a new storage vehicle in the game and may have significant bugs. Be sure that whatever you put into the Scrapbox is something you are willing to lose and collect again.

It is also unknown what happens to the 1st exclusive items you own from the Atom shop if you cancel. They might hang around or they might disappear from your inventory unless you renew. Don’t get too invested in these exclusives if you don’t plan to retain the subscription.

One last downside is the private servers themselves. Sometimes you are lucky and you will get a private server that has been freshly spun up. What this means is that all of the spawn places are already spawned. However, it seems Bethesda’s spin-down processes don’t adequately wait long enough before reassigning a private server world to a 1st user. What this means, unluckily for you, is that if a previous 1st user has already farmed the world for its “treasure”, you could find that what you’re looking for is not in its respective spawn locations. In fact, you could find the spawn locations empty all over the place. Bethesda needs to get better at either resetting the worlds after a private server use or ensure that when a private server is spun up, all spawn points have properly reset. Getting a “previously used” private server world just sucks all around. Worse, you are stuck with that same world for at least 30 minutes even if you aren’t using it. It takes that long for the server to be released and unassigned from your 1st subscription.

If you have any questions about Fallout 1st, please leave a comment below.

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Remembering the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas

Posted in amusements, entertainment by commorancy on November 9, 2019

las-vegas-sign.jpgBack in the late 90s and into the early 00s, the Las Vegas Hilton had a Star Trek attraction called The Star Trek Experience. This attraction morphed some over the years and added new features, but its first attraction remained its most impressive. It closed in 2008. Let’s explore and remember this amazing attraction.

Star Trek at the Las Vegas Hilton

The Las Vegas Hilton was a casino and hotel not far off the strip at the south end. Down at this end of the strip and at the time you’d find hotels like the Stratosphere, the Sahara and Circus Circus. Though the Las Vegas Hilton wasn’t on the strip directly, it was not far off of it across from the Las Vegas Convention center.

To combat its off-the-strip location, it employed various marketing practices to entice would-be gamblers to head to this hotel and casino. In that effort, in 1997, it enticed Paramount to build its Star Trek Experience attraction at the hotel where it remained in operation until 2008. I actually liked this casino, not strictly because of its Star Trek area. Today, this hotel is no longer named the Las Vegas Hilton and the Star Trek Experience no longer operates there having lost its lease. The hotel was later briefly renamed the LVH and is today known as the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino and received this rename in 2014. It no longer bears the Hilton name.

However, back in the early 2000s, The Star Trek Experience was something to behold.

Star Trek Experience

This experience was like none other that I’ve visited. When you first entered the hotel where the attraction lived, the Star Trek Experience was to the left. The hotel was to the right. There was also a bar to the immediate right. In fact, the entire casino portion of the hotel around the entry way was entirely space and futuristic themed. This included everything from the carpeting, to the beams to the lighting and even the slot machines had a futuristic theme. The Hilton did up this area right and it entirely looked appropriate with its space theme.

As you entered the Star Trek Experience, the entry way consisted of basically a museum of Star Trek props, video screens running, large starships were suspended from the ceiling, including the Enterprise. As you made your way into the area, you came upon a desk. This is where you bought tickets to enter the show. When it was just the Star Trek Experience alone, you had two ticket choices: the museum alone or the museum and the experience together.

Whichever ticket you bought gave you admission to mill around the museum and look at the props and use the interactive exhibits. The museum encompassed mostly the entry way and ran up into the upper level. The Star Trek Experience had two levels. The upper level, which the museum had ramps and/or stairs to lead you to the queue line. The downstairs included various gift shops and Quark’s restaurant and bar. We’ll talk about the downstairs a bit later.

In the museum, one of the interactive exhibits was a pseudo functional replicator. Of course, it didn’t replicate anything, but the screen in the well area simulated the replication of food and drink items. It was interesting, but it was also a little bit cheesy in quality… as were many of the interactive exhibits. They really weren’t cutting edge when this museum was in operation. The museum portion of the Star Trek Experience wasn’t really the reason to go there. In fact, I found the museum portion to be of such average quality that it kind of set off warning bells that the actual experience itself might not fare much better (at least when you’re a first timer). In this case, it is very much a don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover situation. The Star Trek Experience show part was well worth every cent of that ticket price… at least to me. The museum, on the other hand, was a rip-off that I wish that I could have skipped. Unfortunately, you were locked into buying both with one ticket if you wanted admission to the “show”. To me, it was just a way to boost the ticket admission price.

The Experience Itself

After you made your way to the back of the museum, there was a queue line where you would queue up for the next show. The shows ran about every 15 minutes or so. This meant you could stand in line for up to 15 minutes for the next show, assuming you were in line at less than the number they admit per show. The show itself could only house maybe 15-20 people. I don’t recall the exact number, but once they counted enough heads into the show, the line closed off to wait for the next show.

I visited the show maybe 3 or 4 times while it was open over the years and I think I had to wait one time for the next show because of the head count situation. If you had intended to visit the show at certain times of the day or on certain days, you could encounter larger crowds. If you went on some weekdays, you could breeze through the line into the next show.

All the while you’re standing in line, there are TV displays talking about various Star Trek stuff, sometimes showing excerpts from the TV show or the movies. As you move to the head of the line, there’s a monitor that talks about the safety requirements of the show itself. The museum extended down the queue line hallway which housed props and costumes from characters such as Lursa and B’ator and various Spock outfits from the then recent movies. While the museum portion was interesting enough for the first time visitor, it was simply wallpaper on subsequent visits. It wasn’t even very impressive. I can’t recall the museum updating its contents or remodeling during the entire run of The Star Trek Experience. I could be wrong about that, but that was entirely my impression of the museum area. I personally would have been just as happy to skip the museum cost entirely and jump right into line.

Once you were let into the Experience, you were led down the hall into a small blue room with an interesting lighting concept. You were asked to stand on a line. I believe there were 5 yellow stripes down the center of this rectangular blue room. This meant there would be 5 groups of people each standing on a line. Everyone was situated so that you were standing in the center of the room not touching any of the walls. If you inadvertently leaned on a wall or were touching it, one of the staff would loudly request not to do this.

Once everyone was situated on their line, we were directed to look up and forward to a screen which ran a video that began the entire Experience. Mostly, it discussed safety protocols and not leaning against walls and blah, blah, blah. It was a mostly cheesy video that really was nothing more than what the staff had already told us about standing on the lines. In the middle of the video, the lights begin to flash and there’s a bunch of audio noise as if the power is going out and the whole room plunges into darkness. And… pitch black it was. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. There was no light anywhere.

Suddenly, there’s a huge whoosh of air flow all around. It wasn’t gale force or anything, but it was a startling cold breeze that didn’t seem to come from any specific direction. Then, the floor and ceiling lights come on and… we’re now standing in the center of a transporter room. A literal round, brownish transporter room. The circular room with a circular ceiling, light in the center and all of the paint job of a Next Generation transporter room. It was uncanny. Gone was that small blue room with its yellow lines and in its place was an honest-to-goodness transporter room.

The effect was uncanny and astounding. It was the single thing that made the entire Star Trek Experience worth its price tag. I could have walked out of the Star Trek Experience right at that point and I would have felt satisfied.

But no, the show had only just begun. Two people dressed in Next Generation jumpsuits walk in and one explains that we were transported and intercepted on the Enterprise. The show proceeds on the premise that one in the crowd is related to someone on the Enterprise and that gave the whole show its “story”. As we are led from the transporter room, we are led onto the bridge. This is where the whole story derails a bit. Randoms transporting onto the Enterprise are not likely to be lead to the bridge due to the possibility of takeovers. That’s a breach of protocol. Instead, we likely would have been led to a cargo bay large enough for a crowd of our size or perhaps some place like Ten Forward. I digress.

Anyway, we are led to the bridge… and, a marvel that bridge was. This TNG Enterprise bridge set reconstruction was amazing and entirely spot on. From the wooden arch in the back to the seating just below to the helm control seats in front of the screen. The lighting was spot on, the paneling, the paint job, the leather on the seats… everything was as spot on as I could have ever imagined. It was simply an amazing bridge replica.

Because the story needs to progress, we are again lined up either around the back of the bridge or around areas where the ‘actors’ could do their thing without obstructions. The view screen begins showing a ‘transmission’ about the “heir” being transported aboard for safety and a bunch of blathering ensues between the screen and the actors. The hired actors ranged from decent to downright bad. It all depended on the show. Most of the ‘actors’ were hired due to their height and weight proportions… not so much for their acting abilities. I can guarantee you every single person wearing those TNG jumpsuits looked immaculate in them. They could have easily been an extra in any TNG episode. Everything about this part of the show was high quality. From the costumes to the communicator on their outfits to the pips. Everything was nailed perfectly. In fact, it was so perfectly designed, the show could have used one of these bridges in a pinch had they needed to film there.

The concept of the show itself was really its weak point. The story was designed to enthrall the audience, having them become active (sort of) and unwitting participants. It worked to rope the audience in, but the story was just not that great… and the next part bears this out.

As the whole bridge scene ends, we are led out of the bridge into a oversized turbolift. Once we’re suitably situated into the “turbolift”, the whole thing rocks a bit, the lights flash, there’s some sound and an announcement during the commotion and then it all subsides and the door opens. Not a terribly convincing effect here, admittedly. We’re told while all of the commotion ensues that something is firing upon the Enterprise. At this point, this is where the magic kind of dwindles a bit. As we’re led out of the turbolift, we walk down a hallway that looks more like a hallway on DS9 than the Enterprise and then into an open area, presumably a Shuttle Bay where there’s a shuttle craft parked waiting with the door open. There are also visible EXIT signs along the walk which completely break the magic and which were presumably required by law. As I said, the magic kind of ends here. The shuttle bay area wasn’t that well designed and the shuttle interior looks like a cheesy motion simulator, which it in fact is.

At this point and once we’re in the motion simulator, the “experience” concludes with a ride in a movie based motion simulator that sways, rocks and jerks in time to a movie. The difficulty with the “movie” is that I always found it to be blurry and not a great experience. It was filmed and I believe it actually used many from the TNG cast, but the overall story just wasn’t that great. Additionally, the simulator’s movements were overly herky jerky. If you were one with back or neck problems, you’d want to skip this last part of the ‘ride’ entirely. This part was extremely hard on even people with healthy backs. Again, Shuttle Crafts would have been designed with inertial dampeners and, in fact, you probably wouldn’t have felt much movement at all with the inertial dampeners operating, even when diving and banking and whatever other screen movements were going on. In reality, the entire rocking, swaying and jerking motions were entirely unnecessary and pointless. As I said, the magic dies pretty quickly once you get into this cheesy motion simulator ride.

If the show had ended on being transported back out at the end, that would have been something I could have found to be a befitting ending. At the end, when we exit the shuttle craft, we’re back on Earth and the room looks like a standard building interior. We are led to an elevator and are deposited to the gift shop and restaurant area below the attraction.

The entire show experience lasted perhaps 15 minutes all told, most of it being the movie at the end. The sets built and costumes used were all spot on. The actors were of average quality, many of them you could tell had been doing it for far too long. Though, the actors all being height and weight proportionate certainly made the costumes look all the better. There was certainly not a single overweight actor there.

Gift Shop and Restaurants

After the final elevator deposited us into the gift shop area, we were left to shop from various stores. I believe there may have been 3 or 4 different gift shops with Quark’s bar and restaurant being the primary food place there.

While I did eat at Quark’s once and the food was typical for a mid-high-priced American Bistro like TGI Friday’s or Chili’s, the reason to go there was simply for the ambiance. The bar itself did resemble Quark’s bar on DS9. Though, I think it would have been more appropriate to build Ten Forward than Quark’s. While the area downstairs was themed DS9, the shops themselves looked more like a mall shop than it resembled being on a futuristic ship. The wares being peddled ranged from cheap crap to middle of the road to high end props. It depended on the shop.

I didn’t buy much from these stores because everything was way overpriced. Even Quark’s was overpriced for the type of food quality you get. As I said, the only reason to eat there was its atmosphere and its unique bar drinks. I always liked to look at everything in the shops, but look only, don’t buy.

Costumed Actors

In the shop area, you’d also find additional actors in various dress. Some were dressed like Klingons, some dressed like Ferengi and some dressed like TNG officers, male and female.

As I understood it, the people working these “roles” were actually hired as actors by Paramount. In the Experience itself, these people actually had speaking roles. Downstairs it was all free form. You asked questions and they would ad-lib answers. Mostly it was for photo purposes. I believe you could only take pictures in the shop area, but I could be wrong about photography.

Photographs were entirely off limits throughout the attraction and the museum, from what I recall. Though, many did sneak pictures here and there.

Behind the Scenes

Later during the run of the Star Trek Experience (toward the end of its life), the show began offering a Behind the Scenes ticket purchase. This was separate from and unique to the original show. Instead of going through the show like normal, in between the shows, you would take a tour of the set behind the scenes. You would get photo opportunities on the Bridge itself that you don’t get during the Experience show.

The behind the scenes showed how the gimbal setup worked for the transporter. Basically, the entire blue room was on a gimbal / fulcrum of sorts along with creative lighting, sound and set movement. In about 10 to 15 seconds, the entire room sans floor moved swiftly upwards. The round ceiling and walls quickly moved into place just below the now raised room. When the lights are brought up, it’s as though you’re now standing in the transporter room. The effect is uncanny and astounding. It’s even more astounding when you realize the engineering involved in getting this to work so seamlessly, quickly and noiselessly. The behind the scenes showed a much slowed down version of it to show how the effect was achieved.

The breeze was an unintended side effect of the room being raised up so rapidly. It wasn’t designed as part of the effect. When something that large moves that rapidly, air is displaced. Because the air movement heightened the transporter effect, no effort was employed to get rid of it. Even after knowing how the effect was achieved, subsequent visits, at least for me, were just as mesmerizing. In fact, the entire transporter effect was the entire reason to visit the Star Trek Experience. The rest of it was all gravy. The transporter effect was worth the price of admission alone… which is why I wished they had utilized it twice. Once to start. Once to end it. The cheesy motion simulator was a big letdown after all that had come before.

The Borg Invasion

Around the time the Behind The Scenes began (maybe a little before), the Star Trek Experience introduced a new show called the Borg Invasion. This show was even more of a letdown than the final motion simulator. In this one, you enter a room and you sit in a standard movie theater type seat. A 3D movie begins playing and the only thing that happens with this is a light motion to the seat itself. The seat cushion piece also goes up and down.

The experience was, in fact, so bad compared to the original Experience that I find it hard anyone could have greenlit the idea. It was an average experience that was more akin to seeing a movie than having an experience. Even when the Borg Invasion began, the original Star Trek Experience continued to operate. You could still experience the transporter effect and visit the bridge.

The Overall Experience

The best part of the Star Trek Experience was definitely its transporter effect. It was so well done and so convincing that everything else around it pales in comparison. I do wish that they had given more thought to the story line around the show. The “being an heir to Picard” (or whomever) idea was such a stretch that it felt clumsy. Though, the sets, costumes and the primary effect were top notch. Even the downstairs shop area was convincing as being set inside of DS9.

I do wish the original Star Trek Experience was still in operation somewhere. The show would need to be retooled a bit and perhaps updated for Discovery, but that transporter effect boggles the mind as to how impressive it is (or was).

If you have visited the Star Trek Experience in the past, please recall your experience below in the comments. If you formerly worked at the Star Trek Experience, I’d like to hear from you as well. Please comment below. To avoid any copyright complications with Paramount or CBS, I am avoiding the use of any Star Trek imagery in this post. Please enjoy this post without Star Trek images.

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Where can I find Delbert’s Traditional Chitlins in Fallout 76?

Posted in howto, tips, video game by commorancy on November 8, 2019

12-7-2018_5-54-58_AM-ma4zjmynThis is a question with few answers on the Internet. Let’s me answer it here.

Fallout 76 and Bugs

There’s much to be said for bugs and glitches in Fallout 76. In fact, there are many bugs and glitches in this game. This recipe is no exception. In fact, this recipe has been broken since the game launched over a year ago.

With that said, let’s talk about where it is.

Delbert’s Traditional Chitlins

This recipe sorta does and doesn’t exist in the game. In fact, it doesn’t exist. What I mean is that it does have a placeholder where it is supposed to exist.

This recipe is supposed to spawn at Spruce Knob Campgrounds. If you have played through “The Order of the Tadpole” quest line, then you have probably attempted the Swimmer’s badge. If you have, then you know the lake in Spruce Knob Campgrounds.

The recipe paper is located on a picnic table right next to a blue cooler near the lake. The picnic table is just to the right of the shore of Spruce Knob Lake. In fact, there is a map marker specifically for Spruce Knob Lake that likely lands you very close to this very table.

The difficulty is that this Recipe is bugged. When Bethesda released this recipe into the game, this piece of paper has no interaction. This means you cannot pick it up. You can see the paper on the table, but you can’t do anything with it. This paper is Delbert’s Traditional Chitlins recipe, but it cannot be had.

Bug Fixes

Bethesda has been regularly fixing bugs, but not some of these long standing, lesser important bugs. What that means is that it is anyone’s guess if Bethesda will ever fix this bug. So yes, the recipe does exist, but it cannot be had in the game. It’s anyone’s guess exactly what this recipe offers in terms of perks.

All of the other Delbert’s recipes are available in the game. All of these recipes look like a piece of 3 hole school paper. They do not have the same appearance as standard recipes. In fact, let me tell you where each of Delbert’s Recipes is:

  • Delbert’s Sunshine Oil, Mountain Hocks and Appalachili are all in Flatwoods.
    • Delbert’s Sunshine Oil recipe is located in Delbert’s trailer on the nightstand next to the bed. It can additionally be found inside of a house in Welch on the kitchen counter… one of two houses ajoining with some planks on the second floor and with mostly intact interiors.
    • Delbert’s Appalachili recipe is located next to the armor bench just across from the Flatwoods Tavern.
    • Delbert’s Mountain Hocks recipe is located next to a skeleton in the Red Rocket just outside of Flatwoods.
  • Delbert’s Corn Pone recipe is located in a small kitchen stand at Tyler County Fairgrounds. This kitchen spawns a Scorched inside.
  • Delbert’s Mud Cookie recipe is located in the kitchen of the blue house at Aaronholt Homestead.
  • Delbert’s Delicious Deerskins recipe is located behind a Level 2 locked door to a candy shop at Wavy Willard’s.
  • Delbert’s Tato Salad Surprise recipe is located on the kitchen counter at Silva Homestead
  • Delbert’s Sweet Labrador Tea recipe is located inside of Raleigh Clay’s Bunker in the mire. It is on the dining room table in the kitchen. You will need to begin the quest at Abbie’s Bunker to get the password to gain access to Raleigh Clay’s bunker.
  • Delbert’s Pothole Potpie recipe is located in the center of Treehouse Village in the Mire. It is on a shelving unit across from Lorne’s terminal.
  • Delbert’s Bunless Cramburger recipe is located at The General’s Steakhouse in the Cranberry Bog. It is located downstairs in the basement kitchen at the end of the counter to the right just as you come down the stairs. This is NOT the same recipe as “Cramburger”.
  • Delbert’s Granny’s Sweet Tea recipe is located at Mac’s Farm on a small table to the right of the front door entrance. Watch out for the Mirelurk Queen here.
  • Delbert’s Company Tea recipe is located at Superior Sunset Farm in a half-open basement of this farmhouse in the Cranberry Bog. It is pinned to a cork bulletin board.
  • Delbert’s Traditional Chitlins recipe is located at Spruce Knob Campgrounds (Savage Divide) near Spruce Knob Lake on a picnic table next to a blue cooler. This recipe is bugged and cannot currently be retrieved from the table. You can see it, but you can’t take it.

Additionally, Delbert’s Company Tea requires using a serving of Delbert’s Sweet Labrador Tea to make. This means you’ll need to have both recipes to make Delbert’s Company Tea. To make Sweet Labrador Tea, you’ll need honeycomb… a very hard ingredient to find in the game. As for where to find honeycomb, I’ll have to leave you to locate that in Fallout 76 for yourself.

Good Luck!

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