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Rant: Fallout 76 Event — Invaders from Beyond

Posted in botch, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on March 11, 2022

Photo_2022-03-07-220612_On the close of the Fasnacht event, not a week later Bethesda launches Invaders from Beyond, a new limited time “seasonal” Fallout 76 event. Let’s explore.

Invaders from Beyond

Since the inception of Fallout 76 (and indeed, the Fallout franchise), hints at aliens have been littered throughout the lore. However, Bethesda has now taken the leap and created a full fledged event out of aliens. Too bad they released this just a month or so after the alien invasion in Grand Theft Auto. This one feels like Bethesda is ripping off Rockstar.

The event begins with a round typical saucer ship hovering overhead. The aliens are typical and what you might typically expect when you think of an alien, but a bit more menacing looking with jagged teeth. There are some in power armor. There are also robotic floating drones, for whatever reason.

Fallout 76_20220306154924

Fallout 76 has hinted at the presence of aliens with the inclusion of the Alien Blaster weapon since the launch of the game. This weapon could be found in Toxic Valley in a sunken and broken safe, along with a few other items and a key since day one of the game. This weapon, unfortunately, has always been more of a joke than useful. In fact, it still is. Additionally, while a small amount of AB rounds of ammo have been available in the game, it could never be crafted. Thus, you had to get the plan to convert the Alien Blaster to use Fusion Cells, which could be crafted.

Unfortunately, the conversion to using Fusion Cells with the Alien Blaster heavily nerfs the damage output of this pistol, making it effectively worthless for in-game use. Even with the AB rounds, it’s not that powerful.

Fallout 76_20220306154857

With the introduction of the Invaders from Beyond event, the Alien Blaster Pistol and the new Alien Disintegrator Rifle plans now drop as potential loot from this event. In addition, not only can the weapon plans drop, so to do the mod plans that go with them adding cryo or poison damage to the each gun’s energy damage, in addition to some other limited mods.

Additionally, there are a number of CAMP decoration plans which can drop, such as Alien Autopsy Bed, Alien and Human Tubes, an Asteroid and an Alien Stashbox. Because of the new Alien Disintegrator addition, Bethesda has unlocked crafting of AB ammo, which works in both the Alien Blaster and the Alien Disintegrator.

Unfortunately, Bethesda forgot to unlock AB round creation in the CAMP ArmCo Ammo appliance and supplying AB rounds in the Ammo Converter appliance. This is currently Bethesda’s half-assed method of operation. Unlock something new in one place, like the Tinker’s bench, but then forget all about all of the other places where it also needs to be supported.

Bethesda did this same shtick with Fallout 1st members. Sure, Bethesda gives us an infinite Scrapbox with Fallout 1st, but then conveniently forgets to support Fallout 1st members at train stations by adding Scrapboxes there. Fallout 1st members should be considered “premium” players. First members are actively paying monthly for that service. Yet, Bethesda still treats Fallout 1st members as second class players, giving priority to non-1st players. It makes zero sense. I digress.

Locations for the Event

This event, unlike Fasnacht which spawns only in Helvetia, spawns in a number of different locations on the map. The multiple event location is both a good and bad thing.

The good thing is that it prevents players from nuking the area in advance of the event. Though, they could wait and nuke the location immediately after the event starts. It’s possible, though, that the event disallows nuking while active. I haven’t tried nuking the area with the event active to find out.

The bad thing is that one of the locations entirely sucks when playing this event.

The event locations are as follows:

  • Dyer Chemical (The Mire)
  • Charleston (Forest)
  • Sparse Sundew Grove (Cranberry Bog)
  • Garrahan Mining HQ / Garrahan Estate (Ash Heap)
  • Monongah (Savage Divide)
  • Wavy Willard’s (Toxic Valley)

Couldn’t they have chosen some better locations? These locations really do suck overall.

The event claims to be “Easy”, but that is all dependent on the player and the location where it spawns. It also depends on your character’s build. For example, Sparse Sundew Grove is the most difficult location, but only because the plants are like rocks and immovable. What I mean is that, unlike most plants in most games (and in real life) which move out of the way when you intend to shove past, you know like plants actually do, these plants do not move. The game offers no physics on these plants at all, preventing the plant from moving should you run into them. They become like brick walls that block movement. This makes the event much more difficult than it should be.

Additionally, unlike Helvetia where the Scorched are temporarily removed to make way for the event, these event locations are not cleared of enemies, requiring players to clear the entire area of the existing enemies prior to starting the event. Way to go, Bethesda. You had one job.

Grenade Drops

This event is narrated by “Homer Saperstein” and the event has 3 “Brainwave Siphons” which must be destroyed. To do this, you must kill all of the aliens in each wave (30), then kill the bosses that appear for each siphon. The final siphon boss is a 3 star legendary which drops random legendary loot, usually worthless one-star crap.

Photo_2022-03-04-230531_By the second siphon, the overhead alien ship changes tactics and begins dropping grenades, denoted by a red streak. The grenades aren’t randomly dropped. Oh, no no no. The game explicitly targets gamer positions, sometimes multiple times in a row. Sometimes even without warning. Just, boom and if you’re Bloodied, you’re dead. No warning.

Let’s talk about the worst location for these grenade drops. Because Sundew Grove plants don’t move with physics, if you get pinned by one of the plants, unable to move, the grenade will hit you. In open areas like Dyer Chemical or Garrahan, there’s no problem moving away. With these stupid plants, it can make player movement impossible. Even simple movement like jumping or running can see the player blocked by a plant. It’s a pain in the ass. The lack of plant physics makes this event 3 times harder in this grove than it is in other open area locations. Simply even walking through the plants is a pain in the ass.

Why is all of this important? It’s important because Bethesda has changed how (and where) characters respawn. No longer do you spawn near where you fell. No. Now you respawn sometimes so far away you’re outside of the event area. You have to spend at least 30 seconds running at full speed to get back to where you were. By that time you reach that location, it’s too late to participate because other players have already killed everything and the event is over. This respawn mechanic fucking sucks. So too do these fucking grenades.

Crap Event for Bloodied Build

Here’s where things get exceedingly dicey when you’re running a bloodied build. This event explicitly targets bloodied players, both in dropping grenades on them and in heavily nerfing bloodied weapons against the aliens at the same time. Oh, it gets so much worse. Because a bloodied build must rely on ranged weapons, implicitly requiring VATS, to effectively make the bloodied build actually work, Bethesda heavily nerfs VATS against the Aliens. Where you can stand a car length away from any other enemy in the game and see a 95% VATS hit chance, Aliens show 72% or less. Way less if you’re a house distance away or more.

Bethesda has explicitly targeted bloodied builds to make this event much more difficult for no added benefit. I also find that alien grenades target my bloodied character way more frequently than other players.

The “Brainwave Siphons” also aren’t siphons. What they are is big ass grenades. When they go off, they wipe away HP instantly. If you’re running a bloodied build, being anywhere near a siphon will instantly kill you when it pulses. Homer says that the siphons may “sting” a bit. It’s way more than a “sting” if you’re running a bloodied build. However, it is simple enough to stay far away from the siphons. The grenades, on the other hand are frustrating as hell for all the reasons I discuss above (and below).

Sneak Card

This event negates the Sneak perk card entirely specifically against alien grenade drops. The point in the Sneak card is that if you’re [ CAUTION ] or [ HIDDEN ], then nothing should know you’re there. Yet, the grenades ALWAYS target my character directly even when [ HIDDEN ]. The red warning indicator doesn’t land in front of my character or next to my character. It always lands directly ON my character. Sneak should protect you from grenades if you’re seeing [ CAUTION ] or [ HIDDEN ]. Yet, many of these crap Bethesda events entirely disable Sneak from functioning. This Sneak card bullshit started during the first Daily Ops event when Super Mutants had stealth ability. That Daily Ops bullshit sneak card problem is the reason I don’t play Daily Ops at all ever. It seems Bethesda intentionally keeps bypassing Perk cards willy nilly with these new game modes. We spend our time tweaking our character build and combat strategies and Bethesda spends their time building game modes that bypass it all.

What’s the point in buying into this perk card system (or, indeed, this game at all) if you don’t intend to use it as it was built? Why even have a Sneak card if you don’t intend to honor it ALL of the time? Or, do you Bethesda guys sit in a room when designing and say, “Fuck the Sneak card users. Let’s target them anyway.” ??

Invaders from Beyond is a Technical Failure

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This event shows everything wrong with Bethesda in one single event. Not only does the event unfairly target certain players types, it does so with intentional vengeance. Yes, I said intentional. Basically, the event intentionally penalizes bloodied builds for being bloodied. Not just from the player health perspective, but reducing damage output from bloodied weapons to be mere pin pricks on the aliens, reducing VATS to being entirely useless and by negating perks from perk cards. Literally, targeting the torso (the most basic of VATS hits) misses at least 50% of the time even when VATS shows 95% chance). Missing 50% of the time is not a 95% chance.

While other non-bloodied builds can shred aliens almost instantly, bloodied characters must take 6-10 (or more) shots to kill a single alien. It’s ridiculous. Bloodied weapons that shred HP on robots, Liberators, Scorched, animals and even Super Mutants can’t kill one tiny alien in one or two shots? It doesn’t make any sense and it’s entirely fucked up. Because it makes no sense, it means Bethesda has intentionally targeted Bloodied build characters against this event unfairly, though this issue probably also affects other player builds to a lesser degree.

And yes, it even gets worse. The grenade drops are timed perfectly to interfere with the event. Right when the boss arrives, within 5-10 seconds, a barrage of grenades fall, typically targeting my player. This means I have to stop what I’m doing, move far away to avoid grenade damage, which means I can’t even shoot at the boss (or at anything). Typically, that allows other players to shred the HP of the boss with their OP weapons while I’m trying to avoid a stupid grenade.

Once the boss is down, within 5-10 seconds of that and right after Homer suggests we start shooting the siphon to destroy it, another huge barrage of grenades fall from the sky again targeting my character. This means I have to move again to someplace else, preventing me from, you know, actually shooting the siphon.

This event should not be about avoiding damage from fucking grenades! It’s about the combat against the aliens. Why the hell should I invest time in an event when the only thing I’m doing is avoiding fucking grenades? Grenades that I shouldn’t even be avoiding because my Sneak 3 card is active and my screen says [ HIDDEN ]. If I’m hidden, then those grenades can’t find me. Capeesh, Bethesda? That the grenades can and do find me with the Sneak card active is fucking insane.

“Don’t play Bloodied”

I can hear some players exclaim. To that I say, “Fuck Off!” It took me months to get my character tweaked to be a bloodied character. I can’t just turn it off overnight and choose an entirely different play style. That means not just redoing my character’s stats and SPECIAL, that means changing crap tons of things about my character including carry weight, finding entirely different weapons and armor and completely rearranging my perk card stack to accommodate that new build. I don’t tell you how to run your character, don’t tell me how to run mine. So, “Fuck Off”.

To Bethesda and this event I also say, “Fuck Off”. Do you really want us to play this game or not? Why must you keep rewriting the game’s established rules arbitrarily for each of these events? If my gun does a specific and expected level of damage using VATS, then stick with that on ALL enemy types. These aliens aren’t special. In fact, they’re weaker than even a Ghoul. So why the hell are my weapons so fucking nerfed during this event?

Environmental Perks

Here’s something that’s ongoing with the game, but is now exacerbated by this event. When your character picks up any environmental perk, such as Kindred Spirit, Strength, Agility, Luck or Endurance perks via camp items like the exercise bike, the weight bench, the fortune teller or similar, Bethesda has not only reduced damage resistance while these perks are active, but allows enemies to unfairly target your character.

It’s even worse, though. It seems the game has seemingly put a bright red halo around the character alerting every enemy in the game of the character’s presence while carrying these perks. It also seems that the more of these you stack, the brighter that halo becomes. Not only is your damage resistance drastically reduced by carrying these perks, the game allows enemies to find and target your position in an attempt to instantly kill you. Carrying these perks even seems to give the enemies better accuracy. Worse, it seems that this “halo” allows enemies to teleport instantly to your position and silently attack from behind. If you’ve been wondering what the hell is going on with this game, well this is it!

Again, it’s another case of Bethesda intentionally, yet unfairly targeting players who are using standard in-game features, like a bloodied build and bloodied weapons AND environmental perks.

The problem with these environmental perks is that they’re instantly wiped away upon death and respawn. It’s like someone at Bethesda doesn’t want you to actually use or carry these perks. Why the fuck did you include them in the game if you didn’t want us to use them? Worse, why the hell are you penalizing us when we do use them?

Literally, one swipe from a ghoul of any level can kill my character instantly with ANY environmental perk active. Without these perks, a swipe with my character carrying the same exact amount of HP only does half the damage and my character remains alive. I’ve tested this. Why the hell did Bethesda reduce damage resistance while carrying these perks? I don’t know, but it’s entirely facetious.

Bethesda also knows these perks disappear after a character death. Why paint a huge fucking target on me when I carry them? That’s not cool at all and it’s entirely unbalanced and unfair gameplay… which is entirely what Fallout 76 has devolved into.

Why Intentional?

Because of the duping scandal in the game’s early life, Bethesda has been itching to take intentional vengeance against ALL players by specifically and unfairly targeting players choosing to play using officially supported builds and taking advantage of official environmental perks.

Worse, it seems that Bethesda is now targeting not only players carrying environmental perks, but those also playing using a bloodied build. How do I know this? Because whenever I kill legendary enemies, the chances of a bloodied weapon drop have drastically increased. Just like the game knows that I’m predominantly using a .45 ammo weapon and drops this exact kind of ammo with every enemy’s loot, the game knows I’m playing using a bloodied build and using a bloodied weapon. Thus, the chances of receiving a bloodied drop is drastically higher.

The game is now unfairly targeting bloodied build players to not only instantly kill them as often as possible, the devs are also intentionally nerfing damage output and screwing with VATS percentages to reduce the frequency of hits and damage output. Again, I call bullshit on this.

Bethesda, if you don’t want us playing a bloodied build, then remove all of these fucking bloodied weapons and all perk cards enabling this build. Simply remove it. Don’t play internal games to fuck us over in an attempt to deter us from using this build, simply TAKE IT OUT entirely. If you don’t want us playing this build, then take it out! Don’t silently fuck us over because we have chosen to use this build.

Losing Perks after Death

This one chaps me so hard. Oh no, can’t lose that stupid disease after death and respawn, but yes, we’ll wipe away all of those environmental perks and force you to go get them all again. What a fuck job, Bethesda. Even Homer’s Aid remains after death and respawn, which is the same fucking thing as an environmental perk. Oh sure, that one can remain, but not Kindred Spirit. Not the SPECIAL perks. Oh no. Gotta fuck us over, but keep only the things you think we should keep.

This game is completely inconsistent and ridiculous. If one perk can remain, then they all can. If one can’t remain, then they ALL must be wiped away. That’s what consistent means. Having these exceptions is bullshit.

Crashing

The one last important thing I almost forgot to include is crashing. The game client now officially crashes just as often as the Beta in 2018. Probably more often. Bethesda had been working towards some semblance of stability in the game client, but it seems that has all been tossed out of the window. Now the game crashes randomly after having played the event.

I’m playing on a PS4, so I guess Bethesda has given up any thought of trying to keep this game playable on the “last gen” consoles. If you’re going to go so far as to abandon all stability for the game, then just pull it from the platform entirely. Why support a “last gen” platform when the game literally crashes at the drop of a hat?

Crashing was bad during Fasnacht, but is officially twice as bad with Invaders from Beyond. And note, I’m no longer reporting crashes on my PS4. They never fix the bugs anyway. So, why bother reporting them? If they can’t be bothered to fix bugs, I can’t be bothered to report them. Seems only fair.

Rating

Photo_2022-03-03-111407_Overall, I give this event 1 star out of 5. Not only is the event insanely predictable and stupid easy once you know what to do, the fact that Bethesda has chosen to play fuck games with certain types of player builds makes this event (and this game) completely worthless. More than this, the loot drops are effectively junk. The best items are the CAMP decorations. The weapons are worthless.

The reason for the 1 star and not 0 is that the event is playable and it does drop loot. You can also choose to stand at the edge of the event border, do nothing and collect loot from the event and not participate. Though, I expect Bethesda will nerf this too. At some point, events may require participation (i.e. killing at least one enemy) to get dropped loot out of the event. I wouldn’t mind this change as it prevents players from idling while farming events for loot.

The lowered rating is also because the alien grenades are entirely pointless and they intentionally bypass the Sneak card. Bloodied weapons are nerfed all to hell and so is VATS making the event frustrating and pointless for no real benefit. So now, there are other builds that are way overpowered. It used to be Bloodied builds that were, but Bethesda has seen to it that anyone running a bloodied build is now so weak it’s pointless. But, I’ve seen other non-bloodied builds that can shred the HP of the final Legendary enemy in seconds. In fact, this same build can shred the HP of any of the alien enemies in seconds.

So, what was the point in screwing with bloodied builds here, Bethesda? You simply pushed the problem off to other overpowered builds. Now, those overpowered builds are the ones using machine gun weapons or shotguns. Are you going to go and nerf those builds and weapons, too?

If you plan on nerfing every single build in the game, then why even run Fallout 76 as a game? The point in this game is to build out high powered characters. That’s the reward for reaching the endgame. That’s why we as gamers play your games. That’s why we spend time getting our characters to level 400 or 500 or 1000 because we want to have an overpowered build.

By picking these builds out and nerfing the hell out of each and every build (because some random game player complains), you’re simply chasing more and more gamers away. Leave the game the fuck alone. If you don’t want players building overpowered characters, then just shut the game down. Don’t fuck with nerfing every single weapon, armor and build in the game. SHUT IT DOWN. There’s no point in running a Fallout game if players aren’t rewarded for reaching the endgame and reaching a high level.

Instead, it seems we’re expected to live with level 1 underpowered weapons because you want to fuck us over with every single release and every single event type. Stop screwing with us. If you can’t do that, then just shut the whole fucking thing down. There’s no reason to keep the game system alive if all you want is for every player to play with level 1 powered weapons against level 100 enemies.

↩︎

Can the Steam Deck succeed?

Posted in botch, business, gaming, portable by commorancy on February 28, 2022

SteamDeck1I’ve not yet had my hands onto this new Valve bad boy of a handheld, but I still want to give my first impressions of this device with its base $399 price tag. Let’s explore.

Handhelds in Gaming

Before I jump into my opinion of Valve’s new Steam Deck, let’s take step back in time to understand this device’s origins. I’m sure you may already be aware of many of the devices listed, but for those who may be new to some of them, I’ll list them below.

Handheld gaming began with Nintendo going as far back as early 80s with the Nintendo Game & Watch series of handheld gaming devices. These were single game devices that played very simplistic games, such as Fire and Ball. These simplistic games had you doing very simplistic things, such as with Fire, catching people as they tumble out of a burning building or in Ball, juggling balls.

Nintendo realized the magic of these small single-game handhelds and introduced the more flexible cartridge based GameBoy. Using cartridges, this handheld gaming unit offered the ability to switch games out and play many different games, up to as many as cartridges were made. It also offered game play on the go in a compact format.

Since then, we’ve seen a number of portable gaming handhelds in the subsequent years including:

  • Gameboy Color
  • Gameboy Color Clamshell
  • Atari Lynx
  • Sega Gamegear
  • Nintendo DS
  • Nintendo 3DS
  • Neo Geo Pocket
  • Sony PSP
  • Nokia NGage
  • Sony Xperia Play
  • Sony PS Vita
  • NVIDIA Shield
  • Nintendo Switch

and now we have the Steam Deck to add to this list. I didn’t include the Nintendo Wii U because while it had a portable element in the Gamepad, it simply wasn’t possible to play games strictly on the Gamepad on-the-go.

The Reviews

The early reviewers of the Steam Deck call it groundbreaking. Yet, the Steam Deck doesn’t solve any of the fundamental problems of handheld consoles of this variety. So, how exactly is it groundbreaking? It isn’t. It has one huge limitation that makes it fall far short of “ground breaking”. It’s also buggy as all get-out in far too many places that matter. Let’s take a closer look at the Steam Deck. SteamDeck2

From the above image, it looks like a fairly standard kind of handheld with …

  • A large touch screen
  • Two thumbsticks
  • A D-Pad
  • ABXY buttons (using the Xbox Controller layout)
  • A ‘Steam’ button
  • A ‘…’ menu button
  • Two shoulder and two trigger buttons
  • (new) Two trackpad buttons below the thumb sticks
  • (new) Two additional buttons (View and Options) between the thumbsticks and the D-Pad and ABXY buttons.
  • Power, volume up (+) and down (-), headphone jack, USB-C port and reset buttons are on the top edge.

This console runs Linux, or rather SteamOS, apparently. I’m uncertain why Steam chose to go with Linux on this handheld when choosing Windows would have been a much more compatible option. I mean, every single PC game would operate right out of the box on a handheld built on Windows. My only thought is that Gabe Newell didn’t want to fork over a bunch of cash to Microsoft to make this console a reality. Using a Linux based SteamOS meant cheaper outlay and no royalty fees.

Unfortunately, that design choice immediately sacrifices game compatibility right out of the gate. No where is this more apparent than when you attempt to play some games, which simply crash outright. Seeing as this is Linux based, it must use a Windows compatibility stack. The SteamOS apparently uses the open source Proton for its Windows compatibility stack, in similar form to Wine (Wine Is Not an Emulator). In fact, Proton’s Windows compatibility is based on Wine, but is being developed and improved by Valve and CodeWeavers. If you’ve ever used Wine, then you know it’s not ready for everyday use the vast majority of the time. Valve’s Proton layer may be better, but it can’t be that much better than Wine.

One thing I’ll say about compatibility is that it can work great one minute and suck hard the next. It’s entirely dependent on so many tiny little things to line up. Instead of fighting with compatibility layers, the Steam Deck could have run Windows directly and avoided all of these compatibility problems. Assuming the the point is to play Windows games, then why fake Windows when you can use the real thing? If the Steam Deck had at least been given the option of loading Windows as its operating system, then a buggy Windows compatibility layer wouldn’t have been required.

Pricing

The Steam Deck isn’t cheap. Let’s examine the Steam Deck’s pricing levels:

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For $399, that gets you an entry level handheld device and a carrying case. I’m assuming the Steam Deck also ships with a power cord and power brick, but it’s not listed in the above. If you want the top end version of the Steam Deck, you’re going to fork over $650 … more once you’ve bought accessories and games and paid taxes.

Let’s put this into perspective. For $499 ($100 more than the Steam Deck’s base model), you can buy a PS5 or an Xbox Series X. Both are true gaming consoles, but not handhelds.

PlayStation Vita, NVIDIA Shield, Nintendo Switch

All three of these consoles are the most recent iteration of touch screen “tablet” handhelds. These are the handhelds that should have been able to perform the best. In fact, the NVIDIA Shield should have been competitive with this console. Although, the Shield is now several years old at this point.

However, the Shield tried exactly what the Steam Deck is now trying. To bring PC gaming to a handheld. Yet, for whatever reason, it hasn’t ultimately worked.

That’s not to say that the Steam Deck won’t have some success, but ultimately it likely won’t succeed in the way Gabe hopes. It’s not for lack of trying. This format has been tried multiple times each with varying degrees of success, but none so runaway as to call it massively successful. As I said above, though, there’s one huge fail in the Steam Deck’s design. I’ll come to this shortly.

Of all of them, Nintendo’s Switch is probably the closest to a ‘runaway success’, but it’s still not winning the handheld space. What is? The Smartphone. Why? Because of it’s multifunction purpose. You can play games as easily as answer the phone as easily as book your next flight to Aruba. A phone supports always on data and, thus, gaming can take full advantage of that fact… making carrying around a phone the easiest gaming handheld available. On top of this, smartphones are updated about every year, making them 100% compatible with your current software, but allowing them to run that software much more fluidly. Gaming handhelds, like the Steam Deck, are lucky to be updated once every 3 years.

The point is, the handheld market is dominated by smartphones, not gaming handhelds. The reason for this, as I stated above, is clear. Not to mention, the battery life on phones, while not perfect, is about as good as you can expect in that sized device. It lasts all day, at least 8 hours. Many phone batteries can last up to 12 hours.

Handheld Gaming Battery Woes

Handheld gaming devices, at best, offer about 2 hours of play time with the best games. That’s a problem with the Nintendo Switch, the PS Vita, the NVIDIA Shield and, yes, even the Steam Deck. The point is, 2 hours of play time is simply not enough when you’re attempting to become immersed in a brand new game. All immersion is immediately broken when you see that sad red flashing battery icon letting you know your battery is about to die.

Sure, you can then find a wall outlet to plug into to continue your gaming, but that can be a hassle. This is also the fundamental problem why such handheld gaming consoles don’t sell as well as they should. You can’t produce fabulous looking games at a rock stable 60 FPS gaming experience when you’re limited to 2 hours of play time. The OS must then play internal conservation tricks with frame rates, CPU power levels, GPU power levels, shutting hard drives down and so on. These power saving techniques mean better battery life, but poor gaming performance. It also gets worse as the battery runs down. Less amperage and voltage means limiting CPU and GPU computing speeds.

This problem exists even with the Nintendo Switch, but Nintendo has taken a balanced approach by reducing the resolution to 720p when playing on the console’s screen. Moving the Switch to OLED, though, likely means even better battery life. An LCD screen backlight is a huge power drain. When using OLED, each LED in the screen uses much less overall power than a full sized backlight. Unfortunately, OLED also raises the cost of the unit simply due to its inclusion. Basically, to get a small amount of battery savings from an OLED display means the consumer shelling out $50 more ($349) to replace a Switch that you may already paid $300 previously.

Display Technology

Unfortunately, Valve chose not to use OLED to help save battery power for the Steam Deck. Instead, Valve chose to build it with a TFT LCD screen with a backlight. Let’s talk about the screen for a moment. What type of screen does the Steam Deck offer?

  • 7-inch touchscreen
  • 1280 x 800 (16:10)
  • 60 Hz
  • IPS (In-Plane Switching)
  • Anti-glare etched glass

This is a decent screen type for handheld. Consider, though, that the Nintendo Switch offers OLED at 1280×720 (720p) at $349, meaning that the screen on the Steam Deck is only 80 pixels wider. However, even were the Steam Deck to ship with an OLED screen, the CPU and GPU are the power hungry hogs in this unit. Yes, the Backlight does consume power, but not at the same rate as the CPU and GPU. An OLED screen might buy the unit an additional 15-45 minutes of play time depending on many factors for how the screen is used. Meaning, the fewer pixels lit, the less power it takes to drive the screen.

On a handheld, OLED should always be the first consideration when choosing a display, if only because of the backlight power savings. For a TV monitor, OLED’s benefits are inky blackness in dark areas.

I give it to Valve, though. You gotta start your design somewhere and LCD was the easiest place to start the Steam Deck, I suppose. Let’s hope that the next iteration, assuming there is one, that Gabe considers the power savings an OLED screen affords in a handheld design.

Can the Steam Deck succeed?

Unknown, but probably not this version. Did I mention that one huge flaw in this design? It’s still coming. Though, based on its current specifications, I’d give it a relatively low chance for success. Why? Because a gaming-only piece of hardware swimming in among a sea of smartphones doesn’t exactly indicate success. Oh, the unit will sell to various die-hard gamers and those who really want to be out-and-about gaming (ahem). But, those die-hard gamers are not going prop up this market. If that were to happen, the PS Vita would have succeeded. Yet, it hasn’t.

The only reason the Nintendo Switch has done as well as it has isn’t because of the Switch itself. It’s because of the franchises that Nintendo owns: Super Mario, Donkey Kong, Pokémon, Animal Crossing, Super Smash, Zelda, Mario Party, Kirby, Metroid and so on. These franchises drive the sales of the device, not the other way around. Nintendo could put out the worst piece of handheld garbage imaginable and people would still flock to it so long as they can play Pokémon.

Unfortunately, the Steam Deck doesn’t have legitimate access to these Nintendo franchises (other than through emulation after-the-fact). The Steam Deck must rely on games written for SteamOS or that are compatible with SteamOS. Even then, not all of these Steam games work on the Steam Deck properly, because they were designed to work with a mouse and keyboard, not a console controller. In essence, putting these games on a Steam Deck is tantamount to shoving a square peg into a round hole. Sometimes you can get it to work. Sometimes you can’t.

Ultimately, what this all means for the Steam Deck is a mixed bag and a mixed gaming experience.

Games Should Just Work

Consoles have taught us that games should simply “just work”. What that means to the gamer is that the simple act of opening a game on a console means that it launches and plays without problems. Though, recently, many games devs have taken this to a whole new and bad level… I’m looking at you, Bethesda.

With the Nintendo Switch, for example, games simply just work. The Nintendo Switch is, if nothing else, one of the best handheld gaming experiences I’ve had with a handheld. Not from a battery perspective, but from a “just works” perspective. I can’t even recall the last time I ran a Nintendo game that crashed outright back to the dashboard. Nintendo’s games are always rock solid.

Unfortunately, for the Steam Deck, that experience doesn’t exist. Some games may work well. Some may work halfway. Some may crash part way through. Some games won’t launch. The experience is a mixed bag. This poor level of experience is exactly why the Steam Deck may or may not succeed. That and the Steam Deck’s one big flaw… yes, that info is still coming.

When paying $400-700 for a gaming console, you expect games to play. Yet, even though the game is listed on the Steam store doesn’t imply the Steam Deck will run it. That’s a fairly major problem with the Steam Deck.

Instead, the Steam Deck folks need to create a tried and tested list of Steam Deck games and limit only those games to being visible, available and playable on the Steam Deck’s interface. Basically, the unit should prevent you from seeing, downloading and attempting to play any game which has not been thoroughly tested as functional on the Steam Deck. This vetting is important to bring the Steam Deck back into a similar stable play experience to other handhelds, like Nintendo. If a game doesn’t work, you can’t see it or download it on the Steam Deck.

This “games just work” mentality is an important aspect to a gaming handheld like the Steam Deck. It’s a make or break aspect of marketing this handheld. It’s not that difficult to limit which games can be seen and downloaded. There’s absolutely no reason why this handheld shows games that knowingly don’t work or that are knowingly unstable. Yes, such limits will reduce the amount of games available, but will improve the overall play experience of this device for buyers.

When spending $400, we’ve come to expect a specific level of sanity and stability. This goes hand-in-hand for the price tag, even for the Steam Deck.

Yet, reviewers have stated that their review models have experienced a completely mixed bag. Some games that work, work well. Some games that were expected to work, haven’t worked at all. Some games that worked well have crashed the following day of play. This problem all comes back down to the Proton compatibility problems mentioned earlier.

Success or Failure?

At this point, it’s too early to tell, but one big flaw will likely prevent full success. However, let me dive right into my own opinion of this handheld console. My first observation is that the Steam Deck is physically too big. I understand that Steam wanted it to have a big enough screen with the Steam Deck, but its simply too big and bulky. With the added bulk of the controls, it simply becomes oversized.

Instead, how I would handled design of this platform would have been to use a separate remote joystick. Design the screen to be a simple tablet display with a hefty fan, kickstand and no controls on the tablet at all (other than volume, power, reset and headphone jack). Then, have a separate joystick that can be charged and carried separately. This does a couple of things. Joysticks with separate batteries mean no drain on the console battery under use. Additionally, a battery in the joystick could be hefty enough to be used as a supplemental power source, which can be tapped by the console to extend its battery life once the console is out and about. Having a separate battery means longer play time, thus carrying a separate and charged joystick means extra playtime.

Separate joysticks also feel better in the hand than attached joysticks on handhelds like this. The wide spaced joystick always feels somewhat awkward to use. This awkwardness can be overcome after using it for some time, but I’ve never really gotten past the awkwardness of the Nintendo Switch. I always prefer using the Pro controller over the attached JoyCons. The mechanics used to drive the sticks in a small form factor like the Steam Deck are squashed down and usually don’t feel correct. Using a full sized joystick, these awkward sizing and design issues don’t exist.

With the PS Vita, this spacing problem was less of a problem due to the smaller screen. Though, playing games with the smashed-flat thumbsticks on the PS Vita always felt awkward.

I do get having an attached controller, though. For places like on a train or a bus or in a car, it may be difficult to use two separate devices. Thus, having a controller built-in solves that problem in these few situations. Yet, I don’t know if I’d hamper a handheld device’s size simply to cover a few limited places where having a separate controller won’t easily work. The vast majority of out-and-about play locations would allow for using a controller separately from the LCD screen base, which can be propped up or even hung.

However, these are all relatively minor problems not likely cause failure of sales of the device. The major problem with this device is its lack of additional functionality. For example, it’s not a phone. You can’t make calls using the device.

SteamOS also seems to also offer limited productivity apps, such as word processors, video editors and so on. It does have a browser, but even that seems limited because of the limited controls. You’d have to pair a keyboard if you want more functionality.

Because SteamOS is based on Linux, there’s limited commercial software available for Linux. Unlike MacOS X and Windows, where the vast majority of software is being written, Linux doesn’t have many of these commercial software options. To run Windows apps requires a compatibility stack like Proton, to which those problems have been discussed above.

The Steam Deck goes way deeper than not being a phone, though. It has no cell phone data capability at all. I’ve been teasing the Steam Deck’s biggest flaw… so here it is. No on-the-go always on networking. Meaning, there’s no way to play multiplayer games while out and about without carrying additional devices. Which leads to….

Multiplayer Games?

Don’t go into the purchase of a Steam Deck for any purpose other than single player offline gaming. Know that you won’t be making cell phone calls nor have any easy always-on data options available. If you want data while out and about, you’re going to need a WiFi network handy, to carry a MiFi hotspot with you or use your phone as a WiFi hotspot. This means you’ll need to carry a second device for playing any games which require multiplayer. Because too many games these days require multiplayer always-on Internet, the Steam Deck substantially misses the boat here.

Even still, using a phone or MiFi hotspot may limit your speeds enough to prevent the use of multiplayer in some games. If you try to use a Starbucks or Target store WiFi, you may find that gaming is blocked entirely. This is a huge downside to this device for out-and-about multiplayer gaming. Basically, the only games you can play while out and about are single player offline games only, not multiplayer. While some offline games are still being made, many games now require online Internet at all times, regardless of whether you are playing multiplayer. As more and more game devs require always online status, this will limit the usefulness of this model of the Steam Deck over time.

Instead, Valve needs to rethink this design of the Steam Deck. Valve should include a cell phone radio so that this unit can join a 5G network to enable always-on networking. This is a huge miss for the Steam Deck… one that shouldn’t have been missed. Multiplayer gaming is here to stay and pretty much so is always online Internet. As I said, many game devs require always online Internet.

The lack of a cell phone data network on the Steam Deck limits out and about play for far too many games. Ultimately, the novelty of the Steam Deck’s handheld’s remote play basically limits you to playing multiplayer games in and around your home or at places where you know high speed online gaming is allowed, which isn’t very many places. Even Hotels may limit speeds such that some online games won’t function properly. Thus, the lack of always-on Internet actually undermines the portability of the Steam Deck, making it far less portable for gaming than one might expect.

Instead, Valve needs to team up with a large mobile carrier to offer always-on data networking for the Steam Deck that also allows for full speed gaming. Thus, this would mean including a built-in cell phone radio that offers purchasing a data plan offering high-speed 5G always-on network multiplayer gaming. Once this is achieved, only then could this device be considered ‘ground breaking’. Without this always-on networking capability, the Steam Deck handheld is firmly tied to a past where fewer and fewer offline games are being created today.

Success or Failure Part II

Circling back around… the Steam Deck, while novel and while also offering access to the Steam library of games may not yet be all that it can be. This handheld needs a lot more design consideration to become truly useful in today’s gaming circles.

Some gamers may be willing to shell out $399 to play it, but many won’t. The limitations of this unit far outweigh it’s usefulness as a modern handheld console. Back when the PS Vita offered two versions, WiFi only version and a Cell Phone version, that was at a time when multiplayer gaming was still not always online.

Today, because many games require always-on Internet, not having a cell phone network available on this gaming “tablet” (yes, it is a tablet), is highly limiting for multiplayer gaming. Multiplayer gaming isn’t going away. If anything, it’s getting bigger each year. Choosing not to include or offer a cell phone data version of this tablet is a huge miss.

My guess for success of this specific version of the Steam Deck is that its success will be limited. It will sell some, but only to very specific gamers. I seriously doubt that it will be considered “ground breaking” in any substantial way, particularly after missing the general purpose nature of a tablet combined with including an always-on a cell data network feature.

I felt this way both with the Nintendo Switch and with the NVIDIA Shield. Both of those tablets have done okay with their respective markets, particularly Nintendo’s Switch. It’s done exceedingly well, but only because of Nintendo’s major game franchises and because none of those franchises (other than Mario Kart) require heavy networking. The Shield, like this tablet, has only done okay in sales. Not great, not horrible.

If Valve wants to sell this gaming tablet as it is, it needs to strike while the iron is hot and while this tablet is new. Advertise the crap out of it everywhere. Because it’s new, people will be interested to have a look. Many more will buy it because it’s new. Eventually, all of the above limitations will be apparent, but only after people have paid their cash and already purchased it.

Personally, this unit has too many limitations for me to consider it. If this gaming tablet offered both cell phone data options AND full Windows gaming compatibility, I might have considered it. It isn’t enough to offer many from the Steam library of games. It also needs to offer the fundamental basics for multiplayer gaming.

For example, you wouldn’t be able to play Fallout 76 while out and about without access to a high speed MiFi hotspot. Thus, you also won’t be able to play multiplayer games like Fortnite, Overwatch or Destiny using a Steam Deck while riding a train to work. The lack of a multiplayer always-on data network is huge miss that ultimately undermines the usability of the Steam Deck and is also its biggest design flaw; a flaw that shouldn’t have been missed by the Valve team at the Steam Deck’s price tag.

Overall, I can’t personally recommend the purchase of the Steam Deck as a portable modern gaming device strictly because of its lack of thoughtful design around multiplayer gaming while on the go. However, the Steam Deck is probably fine if used as a home console device using a wireless controller while hooked to a widescreen TV and connected to a home high speed WiFi network. It may also be worth it if you intend to use it primarily to play offline single player games or if you intend to use it as a retro emulator for 80s and 90s games. Still, it’s way overpowered for the likes of Joust, Dig Dug or Defender.

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CEO Question: Should I sell my business to a Venture Capital group?

Posted in botch, business, howto, tips by commorancy on February 5, 2022

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This may seem like a question with a simple answer, but there’s lots to consider. The answer also depends on your goals as CEO. If you’re here reading this, then you’re clearly weighing all of your options. Let’s get started.

Selling Anything

A sale is a sale is a sale. Money is money is money. What these cliché statements lack in brilliance is more than made up for in realism. What these statements ultimately mean is, if the entire goal of selling your business is to make you (personally) some quick money, then it honestly doesn’t matter to whom you sell.

Selling your company to your brother, a bank, another corporation or, yes, even a Venture Capitalist group, the end result is the same: a paycheck. If your end goal is that paycheck and little else matters, then you can end your reading here and move forward with your sale. However, if your goal is to keep your hard built business, brand and product alive and allow it to move into the future, I urge you to keep reading to find out the real answer.

Selling your Company

Because you are here reading and you’ve got some level of interest in the answer to the question posed, I assume, then, that you’re here looking for more than the simple “paycheck” answer. With that assumption in place, let’s keep going.

Companies are complex beasts. Not only does a company have its own product parts that makes the company money, companies must also have staffing parts, the people who are hired to support those product parts and maintain those new sales.  Basically, there are always two primary aspects of any business: product and staff. As a CEO, it’s on you to gauge the importance levels of each of these aspects to you. After all, your staff looks to you for guidance and they rely on you for continued employment. There’s also your legacy to consider and how you may want to be remembered by the business (and history): positively, negatively or possibly not at all.

Reputation

Let’s understand that in countries like China, reputation or “face” is the #1 most important aspect of doing business. I don’t mean the business’s reputation. I mean the person’s own reputation is at stake. If the person makes a critical misstep in business, that can prevent future opportunities. In the United States, however, “face” (or personal reputation) is almost insignificant in its importance, especially to CEOs. Short of being found guilty of criminal acts (i.e., Elizabeth Holmes), there’s very little a CEO can honestly do to fail their career.

Indeed, I’ve seen many “disgraced” CEOs find, start, and operate many more businesses even after their “disgrace”. It’s even possible Elizabeth Holmes may be able to do this after serving her sentence. As I said, in the United States, someone’s business reputation means very little when being hired. In fact, a hiring business only performs background checks to determine criminal acts, not determine whether the person has a success or failure track record at their previous business ventures.

Why does any of this matter? It matters because no matter what you do as a CEO, the only person you have to look at every day in the mirror is you. If you don’t like what you see, then that’s on you. The rest of the industry won’t care or even know what you’ve done in the past unless you disclose it.

Venture Capitalist Buyouts

At this point, you’re probably asking, what about those Venture Capital Buyouts? Are they good deals? That really all depends on your point of view. If you’ve put “blood, sweat, tears and sleepless nights” into building your business from literally nothing to something to be proud of and you still hold any measure of pride in that fact, then a Venture Capital group buyout is probably not what you want. Let’s understand the differences in the types of buyouts.

  1. Direct Business Buyouts — These are sales made directly to other businesses like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and the like. These are sales where the buyer sees value in not only maintaining the brand and products under that brand, but building that brand as a sub-product under the bigger buyout company. With these kinds of buyouts, your product will live on under that new company. Additionally, the staff have the option to remain on board and continue to maintain that product for the new company for potentially many years. This kind of buyout helps maintain the product and maintains “face” among staff members. This kind of buyout rarely involves resale and, after the acquisition dust settles, is usually seen as a positive change.
  2. Venture Capital Buyouts — This kind of buyout is an entirely different beast. Venture Capitalists are in the purchase solely to make money off of their “investment” as a whole. The business itself is the commodity, not the products sold by the company being purchased. No. Venture Capital buyouts are a type of investor who buys a “business commodity” to “fix up” then “flip” to make their investment return. Thus, Venture Capitalists don’t honestly care about the internals of the products or solutions the company offers, only that those products / solutions become marketing fodder for their sales cap. Venture Capitalists do weigh the value in the products prior to the purchase, but beyond that and once the purchase completes, the business is treated not as an ongoing concern, but as a commodity to be leaned out, fixed up and made attractive to a buyer. This kind of buyout always involves resale. This fact means that remaining staff must endure acquisition twice in succession, probably within 1-2 years. This kind of buyout is usually viewed by staff (and the industry) as a negative change.

Thus, the difference between these two types of purchases is quite noticeable, particularly to staff who must endure them.

Undervalued

[Update 2/8/2022] Everything up to this point has only implied what this section actually states. I’ve decided to explicitly state this portion because it may not be obvious, even though I thought this information was quite obvious while writing the initial article.

Bottom Line: If a Venture Capital group is considering a purchase of your business, know that what the VC group is offering is only a fraction of what your business is actually worth. They can’t make money if they pay you, the seller, the company’s full value. Keep in mind that the VCs consider the business a “fixer upper”. That means they will invest “some” money into the business to “dress it up”. How that “dress up” manifests isn’t intended to turn your business around, however. What “dress up” means is investing money to make the business look pretty on paper… or, more specifically, so the books look better. That means they’ll pay an accountant to dress up the numbers, not pay to make your business actually better. Though, they will cut staff and then pull out the whips to make sure everyone sells, sells, sells so the business appears to have better year-over-year profits. When a prospective buyer looks at the books, the buyer will notice improved numbers and, hopefully, be willing to fork over double (or more) what the VCs paid to buy the “company” from you, the original seller.

Even the smartest, brightest, most intelligent CEOs can be taken in by the lure of a Venture Capital Group company purchase offer. Know then that what VCs have offered you isn’t what your company is actually worth.

Ultimately, it also means that you as the seller are being taken for a ride by the VCs. You can dress up your own company and do exactly as the VCs. Then, find a direct buyer willing to pay double what the VCs offered, which will make you twice as much money AND remove the VCs entirely from the picture as an unnecessary profiting middleman.

Acquisition Woes

Being the acquired company in an acquisition is hard on staff. Lots of questions, few answers and during the transition there’s practically silence. It’s a difficult process once the deal closes. It only gets worse. Typically, the then CEO becomes a lesser executive in the new firm. However, most times the CEO changes position not because they want to, but because the buyout contract stipulates a 6-9 month transition period and obviously most companies don’t want two CEOs. Though, I have rarely seen transitions that agree to co-CEOs. It’s an odd arrangement, though.

This means that the newly demoted executive is only on board to complete the transition and receive 100% of their contractually agreed buyout payment. In fact, most buyout contracts stipulate that for the CEO to receive their 100% payout, they must not only remain on board in a specific position for a specified period of time, they may also be required to meet certain key performance indicator (KPI) metrics. So long as all goals are met, the contract is considered satisfied and the former CEO receives 100% payment.

However, if some of the goals are only partially met, then reduction of payment is warranted. Such other metrics may include retaining key staff on board for a minimum of 6 months. If any general staff have ever gone through a buyout and have received a special bonus or incentive package, that’s the reason. The incentive package is to ensure the CEO’s KPI is reached so that the contractually defined buyout payment is paid at or as close to 100% as possible. This is also why these acquired executives can get both grumpy and testy when they realize their KPIs are in jeopardy.

Trust

Let me pause for just a moment to discuss a key issue, “trust”. While contracts stipulate very specific criteria, such as payment terms, not everything in a buyout is covered under the contract. For example, the acquiring company’s executives can find anything they wish wrong with the KPIs to reduce payment. Contracts usually do not contain intent clauses that hold the acquiring company execs accountable if they “make up” flaws in the agreement that don’t exist. It is ultimately the acquiring executives who decide whether the KPIs have been met, not the incoming CEO. If you trust these people to be morally and ethically sound, then you have nothing to worry about. However, because Venture Capitalists aren’t always practical in what they do and are driven by the need to see a return on their investment, they could find faults in the KPIs that don’t exist, solely to reduce payments. Basically, you’ll need to be careful when extending trust. Meaning, you must place full trust in those VCs willing to purchase your company. This means, doing your homework on these people to find out where they’ve been, who they’ve worked with and, if possible, get references. Let’s continue…

Buyouts with Strings

Every buyout has strings attached. No buyer will purchase a company outright for straight up cash without such strings. Such strings ensure the company remains intact, that key staff remain on board and that the product remains functional. These are handled via such stipulated “insurance policy” clauses in the form of KPIs applied to acquired CEO and executive team. These KPIs, when reached, allow the business seller to receive payment for reaching those KPIs. Were key staff to leave and the product have no knowledgeable or trained staff left to operate the product, then the purchase would be useless and the product would fail. For a buyer, requesting such insurance policies in the contract is always a key portion of buyout contracts. Expect them.

Saving Face

Circling back around to Venture Capital group buyouts, it’s important to understand that the point of such a buyout is for those “investors” to return their investment sooner rather than later. The sooner, the better. That means that their point in a company purchase by a Venture Capital group is not to take your business into new and bigger directions by dumping loads of money in and growing it. If they dangle that carrot in front of you, know that that’s absolutely not how these deals work. Don’t be deceived by the dangling of this carrot. This carrot is absolutely to get you to sell, but will almost just as definitely not pan out… unless it’s contractually obligated.

On the contrary. They’ve spent loads of money already simply buying the company. They’re not planning on dumping loads more cash into it. Instead, they plan to lean it out, get rid of stuff that wastes money (typically HR, insurance and such first), then move onto erasing what they deem as “useless” staff and wasteful costly third party services (ticketing systems, email systems, marketing systems, etc).

As for staff cuts, this means asking managers to identify key staff and jettisoning those staff who aren’t “key”. This usually comes down in the form of a mandate that only X people can be kept on board out of Y. For example, 10 people may be employed, only 3 may stay. Who will you pick? That then means jettisoning 7 people from the staff roster.

You won’t know this aspect going into the deal because they won’t have made you privy to these “plan” details. It also likely won’t be in the buyout contract either, unless you requested such a buyout stipulation. It’s guaranteed you’ll find out this plan within 10-20 days after the deal closes. As I said, the Venture Capitalists don’t look at it as an ongoing business to help flourish, they look at it as commodity to lean out, pretty up and hope for a high priced buyer to come along.

Venture Capitalists understand that it does cost some money to make money, but they’re not looking for a money pit. The purchase price is typically where the money pit ends. You shouldn’t expect an infusion of cash as soon as the Venture Capital firm closes the sale, unless such investment has been stipulated in writing in the purchase contract. Of course, you are free to take some of your own sale money and invest it into the business, but I don’t know why you’d do that since you no longer own the company.

What this means and why this section is labeled “Saving Face” is that eventually you’re going to have look into the face of not only the 7 people you had to fire, but the 3 people left and explain what’s going on. These situations are extremely hard on morale and makes it exceedingly difficult for those 3 who stayed on to remain positive. Surviving a huge layoff cut is not a win. In fact, it’s just the opposite. It’s also not simply a perception issue, either. Such a huge layoff places an even bigger burden on those who remain.

The 3 who remain feel as though they’ve lost the lottery. Now those 3 must work at least 10 times harder to make up the work for the 7 who are no longer there. Honestly, it’s a lose-lose situation for the acquired company. For the venture capitalists, it doesn’t matter. They’ve leaned out the company and the books now “appear” way better and the business also “appears” far less costly to operate in the short term. “Short Term” is exactly what the VCs are banking on to sell the company. This makes the “business” look great on paper for a buyer. As I said, the quicker the Venture Capitalists can flip their investment and make their money back, the better. The VCs are more than willing to endure hardship within the acquired company to make the company appear better for a buyer. As the saying goes, “It’s no skin off their noses”.

Technologists vs Venture Capitalists

Being a Venture Capitalist and being a Technologist are two entirely separate and nearly diametrically opposed jobs. It’s difficult to be both at the same time. As a technologist-founder-turned-CEO, the point is to build a business from scratch, allow the business revenues to help grow the business further and expand and build a reputation and customer base. Building a business from scratch is a slow road to a return on investment, which typically takes many, many years. That investment takes years to accrue, but can make an executive a lot of ongoing money. Just look at Jeff Bezos and Amazon. It can and does work.

As a Venture Capitalist group buying companies, the point isn’t to build a business. It’s to buy already built businesses as “commodities”, lean them out, make the books look great, then sell them for at least double the money, usually in months, not years. If the VCs dangle a “five year plan” in front of you, claiming to grow the business, please re-read the above again. To spell it out, there’s no “five year plan”, unless it randomly takes the VCs that long to line up a buyer. That’s more of an accident than a plan. The VCs would prefer to line up a buyer far sooner than 5 years. The “five year plan” rhetoric is just that, rhetoric. It was told to you, the seller, to keep you interested in the buyout; not because it is true.

If the “5 year plan” carrot is dangled in front of you, then you need to have the VCs put up or shut up. What this means is, make them write the “5 year plan” investment explicitly into the purchase contract. If they are legitimately interested in growing the acquired company, they should have no problems adding this language into the buyout contract. This will also be your litmus test. I’d be highly surprised to actually see VCs contractually agree to adding such “5 year plan” language into the purchase contract.

As I said above, these two types of jobs are nearly diametrically opposed.

One method slowly builds the company as a long term investment opportunity, the other uses the existing whole company itself as a commodity to sell quickly as a fast return on an investment. As a CEO, this is what you must understand when considering selling your business to a group of Venture Capitalists.

If you want your business and brand to continue into the future and have a legacy listed in Wikipedia, then you want to keep your business going and growing. Once you sell your business to VCs, the brand, product and, eventually, staff will all disappear. Nothing of what you built will remain. Selling to a Venture Capital group likely ensures that this process happens in less than 1 year.

Selling to a direct business, the brand naming may hang around much longer than 1 year. It’s really all about whether you care about your legacy and your resume. You can’t exactly point to producing a successful business when nothing of it remains. Selling the company makes money, yes, but has a high chance of losing everything you’ve spent loads of time building. Unfortunately, Venture Capital group purchases almost ensure the fastest means to dissolution of the brand and of that time spent building your business. Still, a paycheck is a paycheck and you can’t argue with that in the end.

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Politics: What happens if Trump runs again?

Posted in advice, botch, politics by commorancy on February 1, 2022

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While I’ve pretty much avoided political debate and politics on Randocity, I also recognize that this blog is called Randocity. Political discussion is never off of the table. I’ve avoided politics because it’s like playing with Playdough. It’s salty, dries out and becomes no fun after just a few minutes. Because democracy actually hangs in the balance with this former President, I’ll grit and bear my way through this article as this needs to be said. Hopefully, you’re willing to do the same. Let’s explore.

Prophetic

I’m not one to try and be a prophet, but let me don this hat for this next few sections of the article. We all know what Trump did during the 2020 election. Let’s just list his actions leading up to and after the election:

  1. Trump began his lead up to the 2020 election by sowing seeds of mistrust and doubt in the election system by claiming that mail-in ballots are a major source of fraud. Don’t trust me on this? Follow the link. Trump made this claims many times well prior to the election. Trump’s action intended to sow distrust in the United States’s election system. For better or worse, it worked. It also set the stage for what came after. This is the start of Trump’s “Big Lie”.
  2. Election day arrives and Joe Biden wins. Yet, according to Trump (and his followers), Biden and Democrat party somehow managed to “rig” the election (and 50 states worth of voting systems) to see Biden win. See #1 for the beginnings of this “Big Lie”.
  3. Trump refuses to concede the election on election day, the day after or even today as I write this article. Instead, he begins a concerted effort to prove that he won and that Biden lost. This effort includes a number of steps including discrediting election officials, discrediting election workers, discrediting election polling places, discrediting election equipment and basically discrediting anyone involved in the election system. Make no mistake, this discrediting tactic was systematic and entailed making wild claims about the entirety of the election system… which, of course, those claims could not at all be supported or corroborated. Courts all over the country were entangled in many (frivilous) lawsuits set up by Trump and his followers to challenge the election integrity and discredit many people in the process. Trump didn’t stop here. However, Trump lost every single one of those lawsuits, over and over and over. No election fraud was (or is) ever uncovered.
  4. On January 2nd, 2021, in a vain attempt at overturning the election results in the state of Georgia, Trump calls Brad Raffensperger, the Secretary of State over Georgia, requesting that Raffensperger “find” 11,780 votes for Trump. Of course, he made no mention of exactly how Raffensperger might go about “finding” those votes. Clearly, this was an attempt at persuading election officials into performing actual voter fraud on behalf of Trump using veiled words. It’s most definitely not the first time Trump has used veiled words to prompt someone take potentially illegal actions which greatly benefits Trump. However, those words can then be claimed by Trump as “innocent”. It also wouldn’t be the last time Trump uses veiled words to do his bidding.
  5. Trump organizes a rally at the Ellipse near Capitol Hill on January 6th, 2021. January 6th was the day the winning candidate was to be confirmed as the Presidential winner by the Electoral College. This congressional procedure is primarily symbolic in nature, but it also serves a purpose for congress to go through the motions to ensure the candidate is fully recognized as having been duly elected. Trump’s rally brought throngs of Trump supporters to Washington DC on the day of the Electoral College vote in the hopes that he could somehow disrupt the Electoral College process.
  6. On the same day of the Rally, Trump calls Mike Pence, the then Vice President of the United States, to request him to discredit Electoral Vote counts from key states. States that, if discredited, would aid in Trump remaining in office by overturning the election results. Pence refuses and performs his duties as President of the Senate. Pence, as Vice President, is the person who facilitates and presides over Electoral Vote tabulation in front of the House and Senate. In fact, the Vice President doesn’t appear to have such requested power even if he had wanted to do as Trump asked. Again, Trump likely used veiled words with Pence to “get him” to do something untoward that, again, greatly benefits Trump.
  7. Trump, along with a bunch of Trump allies, make veiled, but now inflammatory rhetoric riling up the crowd at the Ellipse, effectively making it appear as if the election was about to be stolen from Trump by the Electoral College. Again, Trump uses flowery veiled rhetoric to incite the crowd into a frenzy. Trump knew exactly what his rhetoric would have the crowd do, particularly knowing a large extremist Trump-supporting fringe element had also shown up. The vote, at that time, was just several hours away. Trump and Co’s inflammatory, but veiled rhetoric lead to the riotous results which immediately followed on Capitol Hill.
  8. After the walk from the Ellipse, the riots begin in earnest. As a result, this riot forces the Electoral Vote count proceedings to halt for a period of time while the House and Senate staff take cover in a safe location until the grounds can be brought back under control with the rioters gone. Until that time, the Electoral Vote count remains suspended. Yes, Trump was instrumental in encouraging this action. Yes, Trump, the then sitting President of the United States, based on his veiled rhetoric speech, intentionally caused suspension of the prescribed formality of counting and tabulating the Electoral College vote counts. Keep in mind that this intentional suspension was all for the purpose of overturning the election results… IN TRUMP’S FAVOR.
  9. Several hours later after the rioters had gone and the DC police had brought the grounds under control did the vote count resume, with Mike Pence presiding. The vote count was uneventful and, as the voting had concluded, Biden was confirmed as the next President by the Electoral College.

These above facts are irrefutable, even though Trump would have you believe it’s all fake. Let’s stop here. I think I’ve included enough pertinent information to predict the outcome should Trump run again. Trump is, if anything, predictable.

Trump hates Losing

It’s clear, Trump hates losing. In fact, he hates it so much that he began planning his road to the “Big Lie” months before the election to ensure he couldn’t lose, at least in his own mind. If he can drag some people into his “world” of lies, then all the better. To date, Trump has still not conceded the election and still insists that the election (and election system) was (and is) rigged.

In fact, Trump is so adamant that he had won the election (both before and after) that he filed many, many lawsuits in an attempt to “prove” the election was somehow rigged, sometimes forcing a vote recount. In some places like Arizona, the votes were recounted a number of separate times all confirming and proving that Biden had won, even by his own requested staffers. Yet, Trump simply won’t take, “No” for an answer. Trump still insists that the election was rigged, is fraudulent and that he is the rightful winner of the 2020 election. No such evidence has ever been shown that this claim is, in fact, true. In fact, all evidence points to the fact that the 2020 election was free, fair and without major fraud. Sure, every election has its irregularities, but no more than any other past election.

Trump simply can’t look at the irregularities and call foul when the statistics indicate no such fraud exists.

Election Lies and Rigging

Let’s understand the preposterousness of Trump’s lie claims and understand better who is actually doing the rigging here. In order for Joe Biden and others in the Democrat party to have truly rigged the election in favor of Joe Biden, this action would have required an extremely enormous coordinated effort from many, many election officials, election workers and modification of election equipment all over the United States, in every single state. Such an enormous coordinated effort would have required many thousands of people’s synchronized participation at the polls and many, many hours of planning.

If our election system is truly that easily compromised, then there’s no way possible we can possibly use it for any future elections… ever.

Let’s examine what’s more probable, plausible or even possible? Trump’s Lie that thousands and thousands election workers all conspired against Trump to make Biden win? Or, the American people voted correctly, accurately and fairly… and that Biden was duly and fairly elected! Let’s even qualify this more. Whom do you trust in the above scenario? One single person who is known to lie (i.e., Trump) or thousands of election workers all over the country who voluntarily devote their time and resources to ensuring we have a free and fair election? Again, I ask, “Which situation is more probable?”

Just to be sure we’re on the same page, I’ll answer that question. Trump has more than proven he is not trustworthy. Thousands of election workers and election staff cannot ALL be at the level of untrustworthy that Trump claims in his “Big Lie”. It is, therefore, Trump who is lying.

Obviously, Trump’s lie is THE ludicrous and unbelievable claim here. It is way more probable that Trump is lying than suggesting an enormous coordinated effort existed to place Biden into the Presidential seat over the will of the voters. Further, if such a coordinated effort truly existed, why stop at such narrow voting margins and not go for an all out landslide victory? If the election machines can be truly compromised and modified, then why bother with slim margins? No, Trump’s claims just don’t hold water.

Biden didn’t win by any sense of a “landslide”. Oh, no no. The votes were so close that some battleground states weren’t able to call the election results for days after the election. By ‘close’, this could be as few as several thousand votes. This meant election workers were forced into counting and recounting to ensure the vote counts are all counted accurately and tabulated properly. With that many recounts all showing Biden won, there is no possible way that Trump’s “Big Lie” is in any way plausible, let alone realistic or even true.

Trump and 2024

Looking ahead, let’s really talk about what’s likely to occur should Trump end up on the ballot again. In fact, Trump is already sowing the seeds of distrust even deeper right at this very moment. As long as Trump maintains his “big election lie”, he WILL continue to both expand and reuse it against the 2024 presidential election should he choose to run again. Believe me, he will most definitely use it again and will up his game based on what he learned during the 2020 process! He’s that predictable. Prediction noted.

Let me say right now that this man should never be able to run for President again. In fact, Congress performed a major disservice to this country for not finding Trump guilty in his final Impeachment hearing. If they had found him guilty, that would have prevented Trump from ever holding office as President again. This would be a blessing come 2024. The man cannot be President again or even be allowed to run or else this country may entirely lose the meaning of the word, “Democracy.” Prediction noted.

Trump Wins?

Assuming Trump were to win in 2024, Trump will not only continue to do everything with his reacquired Presidential power to discredit the election system entirely. It’s nearly guaranteed he will want to ensure that he remains in office indefinitely by attempting to halt everything to do with future elections. That’s just the beginning of his tirade. Trump will see to it that not only can he not be voted out again, that no one else can be voted in. At this point, Democracy and the Constitution’s power ends. Worse, Trump’s “back pocket” GOP will likely follow the leader here and continue to do Trump’s bidding by seeing to it that legislation is passed that allows Trump to remain in power beyond 4 years, possibly even indefinitely. Prediction noted.

Election Lie 2.0

What if Trump loses? The outcome is just as bad simply because he was allowed to run. If we think Trump’s election lie is bad now, just wait. If Trump is allowed to participate and again loses, not only will Trump parade his next version of the Election Lie v2.0, he will see to it that both he and the GOP make sure the elections are so undermined that we can’t even use our election system come 2028. The courts will also be so completely saturated with meritless case after meritless case all for the sole means of attempting to prove that the election was, once again, rigged and stolen from Trump.

Trump will most definitely up his lying game to make sure everyone knows he was, again, cheated out of his win. That somehow the election system was (and is) majorly rigged against him with yet more fabricated evidence. This will then lead to even more voter law changes by Trump supporting states. Prediction noted.

Let’s put this into a bit more perspective with how Trump can leverage the GOP leadership team. The GOP (aka Republican party), is hanging onto Trump’s coattails for all it’s worth. These elected officials continually and constantly push Trump’s lie, but not verbally. They do so by introducing legislation that is tantamount to a modern version Gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is technically redrawing district lines around population centers so as to change the outcome of an election from a Democrat win to a GOP win. It is a form of political scam. When districts are drawn correctly and properly, the vote distributions are fair. When redrawn using Gerrymandering, it unfairly rigs voting in favor of one party over the other. Gerrymandering is an old tactic, but there are many new age tactics that can also be used in addition to redrawing districts in unfair ways.

States have now taken it upon themselves to craft laws that restrict voting in ways that make it easier for Republicans to vote and much more difficult for Democrats to vote. This is a legal form of Gerrymandering. Laws, in combination with actual district Gerrymandering, pretty much ensures a win for the party who set all of these scams up, even if that party is in the minority. This is a form of…

Election Rigging

Who is actually doing the rigging here? The problem I really have with all of Trump’s (and by extension, Trump’s GOP) hoo-ha above is that the reverse is actually true. Everything that Trump has crafted in an attempt to discredit the election results was actually performed with the intent to rig the 2020 election in Trump’s (and, more specifically, the GOP’s) favor. His “Big Lie” wasn’t intended to uncover any truth as there was no “truth” to actually uncover. Instead, his claims of election fraud by Biden were all intended to allow him to rig the elections in Trump’s favor. It’s a reverse ploy. He takes a functional, legitimate, working system and twists it into something that appears broken, corrupt and perverse for the sole means of turning it around and using it to his own benefit. It’s a classic victim ploy.

It’s also diabolical. Rigging is rigging whether by Trump or by someone else. Trump’s attempts to use the justice system, the media, his supporters and veiled words are simply attempts to get people to do his bidding, which meant overturning the 2020 election results by illegitimate means and usurping the 2020 election for himself. Can we say, “Rigged by Trump”? Yet, for whatever reason, people actually fail to see this diabolical scheme that Trump has concocted. It’s a plot that seemingly turns Trump into a victim rather than exposing him as a con man. Trump is, plain and simple, a con man. He intended to deceive his followers into believing fake information and, thus, attempt to take a legitimate free and fair election system and actually twist it by rigging it to Trump’s will.

Let me ask. Who exactly is doing the rigging here? It’s certainly not Biden.

However, few Trump supporters want to believe that they’ve been conned by Trump. It’s way easier to accept Trump as a victim than to view themselves as being duped by Trump. If you accept Trump’s lies, however, you ARE being duped. Accepting a known lie is the very definition of being duped.

Can Trump be Trusted?

A very good question. Let’s examine. At this point, it should be completely clear that this man cannot be trusted, not with Presidential power, not even with participating in the election system as a candidate. Anyone so intent on treating our election system so recklessly, callously, with disdain and with so much malice of intent cannot be trusted. Trust is earned. It’s clear that Trump has failed to earn trust and respect from almost anyone. Yet, followers still flock in his direction. I’m still at a loss as to why. The man has proven that he has no morals, moral compass, ethics or scruples.

It’s one thing for a politician to make boasting claims about doing great deeds while in office, then fail to accomplish those goals. It’s entirely another when the President of the United States holds a rally intended to halt counting the Electoral Votes which undermines the election system and the basic fundamentals that hold Democracy together.

Lies and Fraud

Trump’s deception has not ended and will not end until he is pushed out of politics entirely. That means that the GOP must force Trump out of the party. The GOP cannot continue as a legitimate political party when someone so corrupt and so ill-intentioned remains within. Someone who was (and still is) willing to sacrifice the entirety of the United States Constitution and Democracy’s fabric itself simply so that he can remain in office, that’s someone we absolutely do not need running this country, let alone even being allowed on the ballot.

If Trump is placed on the ballot in 2024, Democracy literally hangs in the balance. If we think we’re in a constitutional crisis after the January 6th Capitol attack, that’s simply the first salvo in what will likely bring down the United States if Trump regains the office of President. Prediction noted.

Trump absolutely in no way cares about the continuance of Democracy and only cares about one thing… Trump and his ability to gain and retain power, particularly Presidential power. He also wants to take that power and bastardize it into something that was never intended by the framers of the Constitution.

Regardless of whether Trump wins or loses in 2024, the United States faces a serious existential threat, one that Trump seems to want to seriously undermine (at best) and dismantle (at worst). No, Trump cannot be allowed to even participate in the 2024 election process at all. His corruption will taint the election system, win or lose. The GOP leadership must eject Trump from the party and shun any further interaction with him. That is, unless the GOP (Republican party) wants to become known as the party that brought down United States Democracy, which also likely means the GOP (and all other parties) will cease to exist once Democracy dies. No need for Democratic processes once the President wields all of the power, forever.

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Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Posted in botch, entertainment, movies, reviews, storytelling by commorancy on December 22, 2021

theriseofskywalkerUsually, I write reviews and analysis immediately after I see a film. Well, I have to be honest, I did just see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker recently. You might be wondering why that is? Well, let’s explore.

Obligatory Note: This review contains major *spoilers*. Stop reading now if you haven’t seen this film.

Rewarding Poor Business Decisions

I’m not one to necessarily boycott businesses, but with Star Wars I’ve made an exception. I boycotted seeing the film in the theater and I, likewise, boycotted paying money to see it at any rental venue. The reason I saw it last weekend is because finally a channel has released an on-demand version that’s included with something I already pay for.

To be honest, Disney will get a small amount of money from me watching it via on-demand. It’s called the pay-for-play royalty system. That means that every time someone plays it, Disney will derive some amount of money from the playback (probably 10-25¢ at most). I’m okay with that because that’s about what it’s worth. Though, I don’t have to pay directly. I refuse to reward companies for producing crap. I simply won’t do it. I know that this paragraph’s sentiment is entirely brutal… but hey, that’s part of the review.

Retroactive Continuity Bonanza

Congratulations! You’ve hit the Retcon Bonanza! One thing about applying retroactive continuity (retcon) to a story line is that it’s fairly obvious. See, the thing is, retcon runs all through Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in very blatant and obvious ways. I already knew going into The Rise of Skywalker that it would be chock full of retroactive continuity.

So what’s wrong with retconning a story? Let me count the ways.

  1. Trite
  2. Cliché
  3. Poor writing
  4. Bad planning
  5. Bad storytelling
  6. Contrived
  7. Unsatisfying

Great storytelling sets up little bits and pieces all along the way. Then brings those bits and pieces together at the end in a cohesive way to explain why those seemingly unrelated bits and pieces were included. It’s a standard storytelling practice that shows the writer had planning of forethought when crafting their story.

It’s also an immensely satisfying storytelling practice. If you’re an astute observer, you can put these foreshadowing pieces together early to conclude what’s about to occur. If storytellers are too obvious with their clues, it makes guessing the ending too easy. For example, many people were able to easily guess the premise of M. Night Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense, when the ending was all but revealed by four words of dialogue spoken very early in the film. However, this situation also depended heavily on whether you believed the visuals of the film or you chose to believe the spoken words. It also means the writers concocted a poorly conceived clue delivery system. It should have been way more subtle than that. In fact, those words shouldn’t have been uttered until much later in the film.

That’s not the case with The Rise of Skywalker, though. With this film, it wasn’t a matter of clumsy clues. It was the fact that no clues were given at all, not in The Force Awakens and not in The Last Jedi where it makes much more sense to leave these clues behind.

Emperor Palpatine

Palpatine was the primary villain in the first 3 Star Wars films. He was dispatched at the end of Return of the Jedi by being dropped down a power shaft. This villain was firmly dead. However, The Rise of Skywalker latches onto this story context for all that its worth. That, and cloning.

The thing is, Attack of the Clones wasn’t really referenced… or more specifically, Kamino. Specifically mentioning this planet somewhere along the way, such as earlier in The Force Awakens would have set up the notion of cloning as a possibility somewhere in the story. For example, if Snoke had been found to be a clone based on DNA testing or something similar after he’d been chopped in half in The Last Jedi, that would have explained what was said by Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker. Yet, no such reference in either of the first two films exists.

As an another example, even the simple act of dropping Palpatine’s name in any small kind of way, such as mentioning the similarity to Snoke’s villainy. Even simple name dropping can open whole doors up later and it’s those kinds of clues that avoid retroactive continuity problems. Simple name dropping Palpatine or Kamino or Cloners in any capacity along the way in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi would have been enough to prove the writers were thinking about closure of the story at the beginning of it.

Instead, the writers and filmmakers were so self-absorbed in their own self-indulgence that they couldn’t even consider such prior setup in the writing of the first two installments.

To be honest, this is really the fault of J.J. Abrams. He had the task of opening the storyline in The Force Awakens, but fails to really give a hint at what’s to come. Hints and clues are what make great stories. It’s called foreshadowing and it’s an incredibly impressive storytelling tactic when it’s done correctly. When it’s not done at all, then it’s called retroactive continuity… or building a new story by making up establishing facts instantly rather than relying on clues laid down earlier.

Sure, the original films and the prequels had information that could be leveraged, but not in a way that would be seen as clues for Disney’s trilogy. You don’t just pull crap out of the air and hope people somehow magically get the reference. Proper build-up is essential to a story. Without it, it makes a story fail.

Palpatine Again!?

When Palpatine is, again, introduced as “the man behind the curtain” in The Rise of Skywalker, it’s groan time… ugh! I’m thinking, “Not again”. Can’t these guys think up anything original? At least there wasn’t yet a third Death Star… at least we’ve made some progress, I guess. Not much, though.

Bringing Palpatine back to life without really so much as an explanation is such a bad storytelling idea that it makes the rest of the story feel like garbage. You either believe Palpatine is back or you don’t. The worst thing about Palpatine is that he stands there like a statue and simply taunts people with words. Granted, in Return of the Jedi, he was also fairly catatonic. Though, he did get up and walk around a little. In this film, he’s a literal statue standing in one spot the entire time spouting platitudes. It’s his same old tired self-assured, over-confident, self-righteous Sith rhetoric about eliminating the Jedi. He died for those same clichéd thoughts in The Return of the Jedi. Has he learned nothing? You’d think that after his first death at the hands of Vader, he’d be a little more cautious and wiser the second time around. Yet, *crickets*.

The storytellers don’t give Palpatine an ounce of credit as intelligent or thoughtful. The man is made out to be as dumb as brick. Seriously, after Palpatine’s trip down the power conduit, you’d think he’d rethink his over-confident, self-assured, self-righteous threatening demeanor and, instead, try something new. Nope.

Snoke

You might also want to point to Snoke as an example of that, but then you’d be wrong because Snoke was summarily chopped in half midway through The Last Jedi. That was that for Snoke. It’s one thing to use Snoke as a puppet, but it’s clear that that puppet failed utterly to its own demise. Stupid Villains!

Just to make it perfectly clear, none of the above was mentioned anywhere in The Last Jedi. Again, no such clues were left behind for bringing it all together in the end. Nope. No where was it mentioned that Snoke was a puppet of Palpatine, though a clue should have been left somewhere in TLJ if not by Snoke himself. For example, a quick scene where we see Snoke nodding to a shadowy figure in a cloak which fades out followed by Snoke going directly into communication with Ben. That would have been something.

Of course, in Star Wars revisionist tendencies, Disney may go back into both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi and retrofit dialog, extra scenes and whatnot to shoehorn these clues…. which is an even worse practice than what they did in the contrived storytelling in The Rise of Skywalker. Revisionism has no place in movies, let alone Star Wars films. To be honest, what George Lucas did with his revisionism was add better FX and reintroduce scenes that he wanted, but those changes didn’t fundamentally alter the storyline and were not introduced to ‘fix’ a story problem for a later film.

No, George’s stories were solid from the beginning, so the stories didn’t need ‘fixing’.

Disney Hires Crap Writers

Part of the problem here is that Disney doesn’t have a clue how to run a live action film business, nor exactly what a good live action script is. Disney comes from an animation background. The stories in Disney’s animated films have been simplistic and intended for children.

For some reason, Disney thought they could insinuate themselves into a live action movie business and have those films turn out great. Well, it’s clear, that’s not true.

No where is that more apparent than in how the stories for the Disney Trilogy were handled. The first mistake was hiring J.J. Abrams to write these films. Instead, Disney should have hired actual film writers with experience in writing. Before that, they should have hired actual story writers to come up with the overall story arc encompassing the three films prior to embarking on filming them. This would have meant that going into each film there was an outline of the necessary elements needed to craft each film’s story which would support the rest.

The director might take some liberties in some areas around portions of the story telling, but the required story elements must be included for the entire story arc to work. This would have also meant that all three films were essentially written up-front. Instead, Disney apparently allowed the writers of each film to craft their own story in pre-production for each film. Basically, the films were made up at the time of each production.

This isn’t a recipe for success. In fact, it’s a recipe for failure. It’s exactly why J.J. Abrams Alias and Lost series failed to ultimately work. The stories were “made up” as they went along rather than attempting to at least write an overarching story outline that encompasses the entire season. Each story doesn’t need to be written, but certain specific points must be included in the season to reach the conclusion properly. Without such inserted clues, the conclusion absolutely cannot be satisfying… and so it goes with Lost. Lost‘s conclusion was such an awful mess that not only did it make no sense, what little pieces did try to make sense were awful. It was like watching a train wreck unfold.

So then, Disney hires this two-bit hack to pen Star Wars? Here’s a guy who can’t even write two TV series properly and yet Disney hires him for Star Wars? Yeah, I could see this wasn’t going to end well… and so it goes.

Endings

Speaking of things not ending well, let’s continue with The Rise of Skywalker and its ending. Disney would have been smarter to leave a thread open that could be followed up with a new trilogy. Instead, Disney, and more specifically, J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy were so focused on damage control that they forgot to add intentional cliffhangers leading into a new series of films. However, I believe at the time the film was being created, damage control was the primary means of closure for the The Rise of Skywalker storyline.

With that said, the ending is simultaneously satisfying and disappointing. On the surface, it’s a satisfying conclusion to this series of films. Diving deeper, the entire story is incredibly unsatisfying, thus leaving the conclusion disenchanting. The whole shoehorn-this-story-into-a-Palpatine-issue is deeply distasteful. Not only does it ruin the thought that Palpatine is, in fact, dead, it does so in a way that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and simultaneously leaves a gaping hole open as wide as the Grand Canyon.

The original Palpatine was shrewd, cunning and incredibly intelligent. Yet, this film treats Palpatine as one of the dumbest villains to have ever graced the Star Wars universe. Granted, the Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker is supposed to be a clone. I suppose one could argue that the cloning process dumbs down its clones unintentionally (or even intentionally). The Kaminoan cloners might have seeded its clones so that they would never become aggressive towards Kamino, thus dumbing them down in other ways. It would make sense for the Kaminoans to protect Kamino from its clones turning on its masters or on the world. This argument could be said of all of the Clone Troopers. Yet, this fact has never been established in canon outright.

Palpatine, the original, would have also known and understood this dumbing down limitation of Kamino Clones and probably would have attempted to mitigate it long before it became a problem. Yet, it seems that didn’t happen based on clone Palpatine’s overall dumb self-righteous behavior. This cloned Palpatine is one of the least intelligent villains I’ve yet seen in a Star Wars film, save that perhaps Snoke was likely also a clone considering that Palpatine claims to have “made Snoke” (implying a clone).

Whether Palpatine used Kamino to produced the clones or if Palpatine bought and established his own cloning technology separately, it’s not really stated. Watching this film, I assumed that all of the cloning occurred on Kamino… or at least, Kamino cloning technology was utilized by Palpatine even if not cloned directly on Kamino.

I know that Palpatine suggested bringing the dead back to life in the prequel Revenge of the Sith (which was lightly referenced in The Rise of Skywalker). Don’t take my word for it. Here’s the conversation from Palpatine himself.

This platitude by Palpatine may have been a veiled reference to cloning or to an unseen force power or both, which by the time of this scene, the world of Kamino and its technology had been established by the prequel, Attack of the Clones. Of course, this information wasn’t definitively stated in The Rise of Skywalker or even in Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith. The information in The Rise of Skywalker was all left to the audience to put 2 and 2 together and theorize Palpatine was talking about cloning and/or the conversation above. If you hadn’t watched the prequels before seeing The Rise of Skywalker, you wouldn’t be able to correlate this information, leaving the means by which Palpatine reappears as a mystery that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and isn’t resolved in the narrative.

What this all means for the ending is a somewhat convoluted, complex, yet simpleminded ending. In fact, the ending was so simpleminded and single tracked, it was easy to predict the outcome.

Is It Over?

This is a lingering question that remains. If there’s one clone, there can be many. Did Rey fight the last and final clone? We don’t know. This is the gaping hole the size of the Grand Canyon. If it took Rey to the point of death to kill one single clone, then fighting any more means she probably won’t succeed in killing any others. After all, she won’t have Ben there to give her his remaining life force and bring her back to life again.

For the reason of clones, the ending is entirely unsatisfying. Once you open this story door to clones (plural), it’s a never ending cycle. You simply can’t win against potentially thousands of Palpatine clones strewn throughout the Star Wars galaxy. This is why the ending is simultaneously satisfying at face value and completely unsatisfying when you dig deeper.

Cheap Cop Out

Ultimately, the two main problems in this story stem from relying on the concept of cloning combined with using a duplicate (cloned) Palpatine to carry this story. Out of thousands of better possible ideas, JJ chose these two weakest and most trite ideas over any others? This simply shows just how inept a writer JJ actually is. Though, the “Mary Sue” idea was almost completely squashed by introducing the “Palpatine’s Granddaughter” idea. My problem with the ending of this story is, why did we miss a generation? In fact, the whole “Palpatine having children” storyline could have been a far better story idea to base this final set of films on over what’s included in this mess of a trilogy. Definitely, the “Palpatine having children” story idea is a far, far superior story in establishing the idea of the carrying forward of the Sith vs Jedi conflict over the mess-of-a-story shown in this bankrupt trilogy. This is particularly true if you truly want to hand off this conflict to a new generation of Sith and Jedi. Unfortunately, JJ has already given away the farm.

Following the “Palpatine had Children” idea, when did Palpatine procreate and with whom? Why wasn’t it THIS story that begins these final 3 films? If, as a storyteller, you’re going to tease us that Palpatine had children, then we need to know more about this situation. Who was his “wife”? How many children did Palpatine have? Was Rey an only child? Have these children chosen to be dark or light? None of these questions are answered. They’re left open. JJ’s story elements weren’t added to tell us that Palpatine had children. They were useless contrivances included simply to carry The Rise of Skywalker to conclusion. These contrivances are the very definition of retroactive continuity, “Let’s add something random about the past that lets the future proceed in a specific way.” That’s entirely retroactive contrivance

If past historical events had been introduced early in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, I’d not be critical of these “convenient” story elements included in The Rise of Skywalker. It would have meant that the writers were thinking ahead to the future film. It also means that the story arc was properly planned. Without these elements in any prior films, it’s included for mere convenient storytelling. It’s also the very definition of a “hack writer“.

Palpatine’s Children

Before we dive deep into the the “hack writer” concept, let’s explore what we could have had in this final trilogy. Oh, and boy is it a doozy! It’s actually hard to believe that JJ chose not to run with this story idea, which would have made the final trilogy not only completely satisfying, but would have opened the door up to so many more films and TV shows. Disney could have made twice the amount of money off of this (and it would still be going) and the Star Wars brand would be stronger than ever instead of petering out after The Last Jedi ended up like dropping a gallon of water on lit candle.

If The Force Awakens had opened, instead, using one of Palpatine’s children as a primary villain with that child obviously dark side leaning, the whole tone and concept of this entire trilogy would have completely changed. Talk about introducing a “new generation”, well this was the way to do it! It would have also changed the entire story concept over these three films. Instead of a Mary Sue story unfolding around Rey, we could have focused on the brashness, harshness and destructiveness of a Palpatine child and in a growing Jedi order to combat that new Palpatine threat.

Except, this time it’s not Palpatine. It’s the child of Palpatine and they have a completely new idea on how to squash the Jedi order, not using Palpatine’s old, tired rhetoric… that didn’t work anyway.

If Palpatine had had more than one child, which of course we knew nothing about those other children, another child could emerge as a conflict mechanism, both against the Jedi and also against the Sith. This would allow the story to pit both Palpatine children against one another, but at the same time against the Jedi. See, so much potential lost!

This could have turned Star Wars a bit darker, more modern, updated, yet still fall within Star Wars ideas and visuals. Instead of the crappy Disney trilogy that we got, which was a bunch of cotton candy fluff, we could have dived deep into a darker, more sinister plot involving Palpatine’s children. Snoke could have still been involved as a puppet of this Palpatine child, but we don’t even have to bring back Palpatine as a clone to accomplish it. We simply need this dark side leaning child to “carry the torch”.

So many ideas and so any concepts swirling, it’s amazing JJ didn’t realize that THIS is where the story should have headed… not with his carnival of cotton candy and candied apples. JJ’s trilogy was, in fact, so candy-bar sweet as to get diabetes. No, that’s not where Star Wars needed to go. Star Wars needed to begin with a darker, more sinister villain to launch the story, then slowly emerge (over 3 films) from that darkness with a huge win at the end… a win that perhaps doesn’t even stem from the Jedi. Such a win could then lead into not only more films, but also spin off into a whole bunch of TV series.

Disney missed the boat here in an immense way. So much potential completely wasted and lost.

Hack Writer

A hack writer is a pejorative term for a writer who is paid to write low-quality, rushed articles or books “to order”, often with a short deadline.

That’s exactly how J.J. Abrams comes to The Rise of Skywalker. He was most definitely paid to write a rushed low-quality script and the film most definitely reveals that. It also reveals that JJ doesn’t have the creative chops to come up with solid, great story ideas and concepts, such as using a Palpatine child to not only bring Star Wars to a brand new generation of children, but also breed a whole new generation of Sith and Jedi alike. Instead, we got…

High Gloss Cotton Candy

One of the things that most disturbs me about this film is its high gloss nature. This gloss defines the term putting “lipstick on a pig“. This phrase means taking a low quality, bad product and dressing it up to disguise its fundamental failings.

The “gloss” here is the film’s far too quick pacing and the overuse of CG effects, right from the opening. Yes, it’s a pretty film. It also includes throwing random and rapid paced information at the viewer, but not giving the person not enough time to react to that information. If the viewer attempts to think anything through, they’ll miss the next scene of the film. This is intentional. You can’t really go into deep thought and stay focused on the film in front of you. You can only go into deep thought after the film is over, at which point you’ll already be initially “satisfied” (or at least sated) by the film’s intended conclusion.

However, thinking the film through, you’ll understand all of the points I’ve made above.

That’s the whole point of the “glossy coating” and, thus, to put “lipstick on a pig”. It’s not that the story is the worst story I’ve ever seen in a film, but it’s definitely not a great story by any stretch. It was cobbled together from elements not established in this trilogy. Instead, the story had to fall back on story elements established from the prequels and the original films, but which hadn’t been discussed in this trilogy until the final film. Yes, that’s the very definition of a “Cop Out”.

Instead, this trilogy should have relied on itself and its own stories to carry its way through to conclusion. It didn’t need a cloned Palpatine to carry this story. That’s perfectly clear. Here’s one of the primary problems I have with this whole cloned Palpatine issue. How and when did Palpatine become cloned? Is someone else pulling the strings? Was that cloned Palpatine merely a test for Rey? Was it merely the first in a series of tests? Was that clone the only one?

So many questions left unanswered. So many questions that needed to be answered for a proper conclusion. Yet, no. These are not “cliffhanger” questions. These are fundamental questions which should have been answered over the course of the Disney trilogy, yet were not. To really underscore the Cop Out problem, we must examine…

The Last Jedi

The closing shot of the kid in the The Last Jedi shows a force capable child. Yet, The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t even attempt to close that narrative. The ring that Finn and Rose bestow onto that kid meant nothing? The whole almost 30 minute romp through the Casino was pointless? Indeed, it means the whole Rose storyline was more-or-less pointless considering they set up an almost blatant new romantic interest in The Rise of Skywalker in Naomi Ackie’s Jannah character. Yet, neither the romantic storyline between either Rose or Jannah materializes in The Rise of Skywalker. Rose has a few scenes in the Leia camp, but it’s all for naught and is a fairly useless means of closure for this character. Set her up in The Last Jedi to be a romantic interest, then ignore Rose as mere wallpaper in The Rise of Skywalker. The interest around Rose was molded into yet another new character of Jannah.

Yes, The Rise of Skywalker trounces all over The Last Jedi in an attempt right-its-wrongs for better or worse. More specifically, The Rise of Skywalker simply chooses to ignore those things it deems as unimportant from the previous film. Examples: the force-capable kid, the Casino romp, Rose and even the ring. Whatever The Rise of Skywalker writers deem as unimportant are left without acknowledgement or conclusion. Indeed, The Rise of Skywalker plays too much fan service and not enough at closing elements already opened in prior films.

It wouldn’t have taken much to include a small scene showing that force-capable kid wearing the ring somewhere in The Rise of Skywalker. It doesn’t need to be a long or even important scene, it simply needs to be in there. Maybe a scene between Rey and that kid moving rocks around briefly, as though she or Leia is training him. We don’t need to know more about the kid other than he’s still around and he may or may not become important later, just not in this film.

Change of Clothing

One of the most obvious and out of place elements is that Rey wears the same outfit and hairstyle throughout much of all three films. At least Leia was given proper costume changes along the way including her film’s iconic opening outfit with buns, her braided pony tail ceremonial outfit at the end of Episode 4, her Hoth ice outfit, her Bespin outfit, her ever important Jabba Bikini and so on. With each new environment, she changes clothing. No, it’s not explained how Leia does this, but she does.

Rey, on the other hand, almost never changes clothes. She effectively has two outfits. Her scavenger outfit which she wore in The Force Awakens and again in The Rise of Skywalker. In The Last Jedi, the costumers gave her a new darker outfit and a new hairstyle while on the Luke Skywalker banishment planet, but that was a short stint with that outfit. However, once she leaves, she’s back into yet another version of her scavenger outfit. For battling, I guess that outfit is fine, but you’d think that Leia could have issued her more appropriate resistance clothing along the way. For scavenging on a hot planet, what she was originally wearing was fine. For a resistance member, she should have changed into something more befitting of her new role. Additionally, being a budding Jedi, she should have at least donned more Jedi befitting clothing. Nope, she was placed right back into her scavenger outfit all throughout The Rise of Skywalker, even at the end of the film.

This is a small point, but it’s a relevant point to the development of a character. The costumes indicate growth of a character as much as her actions and words.

Story

After all of this lead up, let’s finally talk about the film’s story as a whole. The story itself is both simplistic and meh. It concludes in a way that leaves a bad taste for Star Wars and for Disney in general. Because hack writers were chosen to not create a cohesive whole, but a chopped up mess of a hack-job over three films which almost have no relation to one another other than characters, it ends up a truly sad affair. It also concludes in this way.

However, Disney also felt obligated to conclude this problem child. They did so only because they had started down this road and felt the need to finish it. Personally, I think Disney should have shelved the entire project after The Last Jedi and called it done. The whole thing was too irreparably damaged by that point, at least as a creative project. For Disney, the dollar $igns lingered too much in front of someone’s eyes to give it up.

Let’s talk about the film itself. When we begin The Rise of Skywalker, we’re greeted by the familiar text crawl followed by the familiar and obligatory space pan shot. Before we step into the visuals, let’s talk about this text crawl. The text crawl mentions Palpatine by name and that he’s back, never mind those pesky details of exactly how. Basically, the story opens with retroactive continuity before an actor ever graces the silver screen. We already know the lay of the land before one single actual live action shot. From that crawl alone, we now know exactly what we’re in for in The Rise of Skywalker, but we don’t yet know how it will unfold. Though, giving it two minutes of thought, you can understand where the story is heading, we simply need to see it visually.

How it actually ends up playing out is a series of scenes, the Millenium Falcon, a cameo by a now aging Lando Calrissian and a bunch of throwbacks and nods to the original Star Wars, simply to keep the visual interest high. In other words, visually the film relies almost solely on reminiscing over the original three films by attempting to ignore the failings of The Last Jedi specifically, but also glosses over some of The Force Awakens. The Rise of Skywalker attempts to be the one and only one film that matters in this Disney trilogy. In fact, it tries way too hard at this and ultimately feels hollow and disappointing.

It’s a film that feels whole and solid while you watch it, but like a chocolate Easter Bunny once you bite down and realize it’s hollow, the film ultimately lacks any real reason to exist. For this reason, this is why George Lucas decided not to create films 7, 8 and 9 himself. He realized that once the 6 films were complete, there was nothing left to say.

The Rise of Skywalker proves this fact out in amazing abundance. At the end, we’re left not with the question about how great Rey is, but what the hell just happened? More importantly, what was the point? How exactly does Rey’s existence perpetuate the Star Wars narrative in a positive or useful way? Rey is clearly not a Skywalker. She’s a Palpatine. She’ll always be a Palpatine. She’ll always have the potential for falling into the dark side. Yet, she takes the Skywalker name because, plot.

Was it necessary or important for Rey to be a Skywalker? *shrug* I’ve no idea. There’s nothing that comes after to explain the need for this inexplicable naming. Yet, that’s exactly how the story ends. She’s now Rey Skywalker in name only. She’ll always be Rey Palpatine or whatever her father’s family surname was. We don’t even know if it was her father or mother who was the daughter or son of Emperor Palpatine. For all we know, Palpatine didn’t even have a child. Instead, he may have made a clone of himself who ultimately broke away, got married and had a child. We just don’t have enough backstory to know how this whole Rey situation came about.

We came too late in The Force Awakens to get this backstory. It was also never explained throughout the Disney trilogy. We’re simply left in the dark. Even at the very end of The Rise of Skywalker, we’re still left in the dark about how Rey came to be the granddaughter of Palpatine. Bad storytelling. If you’re planning on including retroactive continuity, you could at least fill in these rather important details so we can better understand how and from where Rey came… or, more specifically, how Emperor Palpatine managed to have kids. We don’t even know if Palpatine’s kids were from the “original” Palpatine or if one of Palpatine’s clones had kids. Yes, I said clones… as in the plural form, meaning “more than one”.

Ben and Rey

One thing that The Rise of Skywalker postulates is that Rey and Ben are a force dyad. The only way that’s possible is if Ben and Rey are twins, or at least from the same parent. That implies that Leia may have given birth to twins (like her mother who also had twins Luke and Leia) and somehow Rey was kidnapped by a Palpatine clone and assumed it to be his own child birthed by, well, whomever was on the ship with Rey whenever she was left on Jakku.

Again, this was not explained in the film, but a force dyad doesn’t make much sense unless they’re siblings or, in some way related… which makes that kiss at the end all the more “ewww”. Again, not explained.

Never Ending Ending

Here’s the ultimate problem that exists and persists after closure of The Rise of Skywalker and it’s a big one! An ending that never ends is what we have left over from The Rise of Skywalker. What exactly do I mean? I mean that because Palpatine is a clone, there were likely many Palpatine clones. If Palpatine were to make one clone, he would make several. Why? To ensure the survival of at least one of the clones, there must be many.

The question remains, how many and where are they? We don’t know. Clearly, Rey seems to have fought a particularly weak clone. Perhaps they’re all weak. The fact that they’re clones, they might not have inherited all of the force strength of the original. Because Rey couldn’t defeat this Palpatine clone all by herself implies that she herself was most likely born of a clone and not the original Palpatine. While that may or may not be a problem, the bigger problem is that the ending of The Rise of Skywalker has no end.

As Rey heads off into the galaxy for future travels, she’ll inevitably encounter more Palpatine clones and she’ll be forced to dispatch each and every one. In fact, it’s highly likely she’ll have to dispatch many Palpatine clones, because like the original Palpatine, even the clones will have the drive to survive and those clones will also hire cloners to clone the clone making yet more Palpatines. Like a virus, this situation perpetuates and never ends. Rey will never run out of an army of Palpatines to defeat.

This is the problem you bring into a story when forcing such concepts as clones as a story element for story closure. Like waking up from a dream sequence as an ending, using clones to close the final story element leaves the story’s ending unsatisfying. There’s nothing at all satisfying about the possibility of hundreds or thousands of Palpatines all infesting the universe waiting to attack the next Jedi that happens along.

See, I didn’t even have to resort to holding up the unmitigated pretentious disaster of a story that was J.J.’s Star Trek to illustrate just how much of a hack writer J.J. Abrams really is. Oops, I guess I just did. Yes indeed, J.J. seems to have the uncanny ability to ruin just about any franchise he touches.

Graphics: 5 out of 5
Story: 1 out of 5
Pacing: 2 out of 5
Overall: 2 out of 5 (wait until it’s available to watch without paying)

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Smart Bulb Rant: Avoid Bluetooth + Alexa Bulbs

Posted in Amazon, botch, business by commorancy on November 28, 2021

LED BulbHaving worked with a number of smart Internet of Things devices (IoT), mostly light bulbs and hubs, I’ve come to learn what works and what doesn’t. Let’s explore.

Smart Hubs

Overall, the smartest value for your money is the purchase of a smart hub with light bulbs, such as the Philips Hue system. Why? These smart hubs use a mesh network that is separate from your WiFi network. These systems also have their own custom iOS apps that allow for extreme customization of colors, scenes and grouping. These hub-based devices also don’t require or consume IP addresses, like WiFi bulbs, but there are drawbacks to using a smart hub based system.

The biggest drawback is that smart hubs require an active Internet connection be available 24×7. When the Internet goes down, the smart devices, including light bulbs, don’t work well or at all. This is where WiFi bulbs typically shine, though not always. Controlling WiFi bulbs almost always works even with the Internet down when the mobile app is written properly. However, some mobile apps must check in with the mothership before enabling remote control features. Which means… the lack of Internet connectivity makes it difficult to control your devices other than manually. The good news is that most of these light bulbs work correctly by using the light switch on the lamp. This means you can still turn lamps on and off the “old fashioned way” … assuming you have electric power, of course.

The second drawback is that these systems are subject to interference by certain types of wireless systems such as some Bluetooth devices, wireless routers and cordless phone systems.

However, to be able to utilize voice control, such as with Google Home, Alexa or Apple’s Siri, this requires the Internet. The same for most smart apps. Though, I have found that Hue’s iOS or Android app can sometimes control lighting even with the Internet offline. However, without the Internet, the hub may perform poorly, work intermittently or fail to take commands until the Internet is restored.

While the Internet is online and functional, however, control of lighting and devices is easy and seamless. Not always so with…

Bluetooth and Alexa

Recently, some IoT LED bulb manufacturers have begun designing and using smart LED light bulbs based strictly on Bluetooth combined with Alexa. These Bluetooth based lights also don’t require or consume IP addresses, unlike WiFi bulbs. After all, Echo devices do support Bluetooth to allow for connecting to and controlling remote Bluetooth devices. The problem is, the Echo’s Bluetooth can be spotty, at best. Mostly the reason that Bluetooth is spotty is that it uses the same frequency as many home cordless phone systems (as well as WiFi routers and other Bluetooth devices). Not cell phones, mind you, but those old 2.4Ghz cordless handsets that sit in a charging base. Because these phone systems burst data periodically to keep the remote handsets up-to-date, these bursts can interfere with Bluetooth devices. Note that this can be major a problem if you live in a condo or apartment where adjacent neighbors could have such cordless phone systems or routers. Unfortunately, these bulbs can end up being problematic not only because of cordless phones.

Likewise, if you live in a large house with a number of different Echo devices on multiple floors (and you also have these cordless phone handsets), the bulb randomly chooses an Echo device to connect to as its Bluetooth ‘hub’. Whenever a command is issued from any Echo to control that light bulb, these devices must contact this elected Echo ‘hub’ device to perform the action. This could mean that the light bulb has hubbed itself to the farthest device from the bulb with the worst connection. I’ve seen these bulbs connect to not the closest Echo device to the bulb, but the farthest. As an example, I have a small Echo dot in the basement and this is the unit that tends to be elected by these bulbs when upstairs. This is also likely to have the most spotty connection and the worst Bluetooth reception because of being in the basement. There’s no way to ensure that one of these bulbs chooses the best and closest device without first turning off every Echo device except the one you want it connected to… a major hassle.

In the end, because the bulb chooses randomly and poorly, you’ll end up seeing ‘Device Malfunction’ or ‘Device Not Responding’ frequently inside of the Alexa app. If you click the gear icon with the device selected, you can see which Echo device the bulb has chosen. Unfortunately, while you can see the elected device, you cannot change it. The ‘Device Malfunction’ or ‘Device Not Responding’ messages inside of the Alexa app mean that the Alexa device is having trouble contacting the remote device, which is likely because of interference from something else using that same frequency (i.e., cordless handsets or routers).

This makes the purchase of any Bluetooth only LED light bulbs an exceedingly poor choice for Alexa remote control. Amazon can make this better by letting the user change the hub to a closer unit. As of now, the Alexa app doesn’t allow this.

Hub based Systems

Why don’t hub based systems suffer from this problem? Hub based systems setup and use a mesh network. What means is that the devices can all talk to one another. This means that instead of each device relying on directly connecting to the hub, the devices link to one another to determine which device in the mesh has the best connection to the hub. When the hub issues commands, it goes the other way. The command is sent down the mesh chain to a better connected device to issue the command to the destination bulb. This smart mesh network makes controlling lights via a hub + mesh system much more reliable than it would otherwise be without this mesh. The Philips Hue does use 2.4Ghz also to support the ZigBee protocol, but the smart mesh system prevents many connectivity problems, unlike these Sengled Bluetooth LED bulbs.

This is exactly why purchasing a Bluetooth-based light is a poor choice. Because these BT light bulbs don’t have enough intelligence to discover which Echo device is closest and has best connectivity and because it cannot talk to just any Echo device, this leaves the light bulb prone to problems and failure.

Sure, these BT bulbs may be less costly than a Hue bulb, but you get the quality you pay for. Alexa’s Bluetooth was not designed or intended for this type of remote control purpose. It’s being sledgehammered into this situation by these Chinese bulb manufacturers. Sure, it can work. For the most part, it fails to work frequently and often. It also depends on the bulb itself. Not all bulb electronics are manufactured equally, particularly when made in China.

If you find a specific bulb isn’t working as expected, the bulb is probably cheaply made of garbage parts and crappy electronics. You’ll want to return the bulb for replacement… or better, for a Hue system / bulb.

Color Rendition

These cheap bulb brands include such manufacturers as Sengled (shown in the photo) … a brand commonly found on Amazon. Because these bulbs are made cheaply all around, but separate from the BT issues already mentioned, you’ll also find the color rendition on these LED bulbs to be problematic. For example, asking for a Daylight color might yield something that ends up too blue. Asking for Soft White might end up with something too yellow (or a sorry shade of yellow). These are cheap bulbs made of exceedingly cheap parts through and through, including cheap LEDs that aren’t properly calibrated.

Asking for Yellow, for example, usually yields something more closely resembling orange or green. That would be fine if Alexa would allow you to create custom colors and name them. Unfortunately, the Alexa app doesn’t allow this.

Whatever colors are preset in Alexa are all the colors you can use. There are no such thing as custom colors inside of Alexa. If you don’t like the color rendition that the bulb produces, then you’re stuck. Or, you’ll need to replace the bulb with one that allows for custom color choices.

Bulbs purchased for a hub based system, like the Philips Hue bulbs, typically offer a custom iOS or Android app that allows for building not only custom colors and presets, but also custom scenes that allow for setting individual bulbs separately, but as a group. The Alexa app wasn’t designed for this granular lighting control purpose and is extremely lean of options. Everything that the Alexa app offers is set in stone and extremely rudimentary for lighting control. The Alexa app is designed as a can-opener, not as a specific tool. It does many things somewhat fine, but it doesn’t do any one thing particularly well.

Purchasing these BT Alexa-controlled LED lights is a poor choice overall. If you want the flexibility of color choices and color temperatures, you buy a bulb system like Philips Hue, which also offers a custom app. If you’re looking for something on-the-cheap but which allows quick control, then a Sengled or Cree or GE smart bulb might fit the bill. Don’t be surprised when the bulb fails to control at all or produces a color that is not what you were expecting. Worse, don’t be surprised when the bulb’s LED driver fails and begins to flash uncontrollably after a month’s use.

Updated Dec 7th after Amazon Outage

Today, Amazon Web Services (AWS) had a severe outage that impacted many different services including Ring and, yes, Amazon’s Smart Home features, including Alexa + Sengled bulbs. In fact, the only system that seems to have remain unaffected (at least in my home) was the Philips Hue system. Alexa was able to properly control all of my Philips Hue lights all throughout the day.

However, Alexa failed to control Kasa, Wemo, Wyze and even its own Bluetooth bulbs like Sengled. Indeed, pretty much most of my lights were unable to be controlled by Alexa throughout the duration of the outage, which was pretty much all day.

Amazon was able to isolate the failure root cause, but it still took them hours to recover all of the equipment needed to regain those services. This failure meant that it was impossible to control smart lights or, indeed, even my Ring alarm system.

Smart lights are controllable by switch. Shutting the switch off and back on will illuminate the light. You can then switch it off like normal. However, that also means that if the switch is off, Alexa can’t control the light. You must leave all lamp fixtures in the on position for the lights to turn on, off and dim by Alexa. If you turn the light switch off, then the smart features are no longer available and the lamp will display “Device is Unresponsive” in the Alexa app.

Failures

In fact, this “Device is Unresponsive” error is the exact failure response I saw throughout the day in the Alexa app during the failure. How does this all work? Alexa is powered by Amazon Web Services servers. These servers store data about your lamps, about your routines, about your Alexa usage and, indeed, about how to control your devices. Almost nothing is really stored on any given Echo device itself. Some small amounts of settings and a small amount of cache are utilized, but only to keep track of limited things for short periods of time. For example, if you’re playing music and pause, Alexa will keep track of that pause pointer for maybe 10-20 minutes max. After that time, it purges that resume information so that the stream can no longer resume.

All information about Alexa’s Smart Home devices is stored in the cloud on AWS. It also seems that state information about the lights (on, off, not responding) is also stored in AWS. When the connectivity stopped earlier on the 7th, that prevented connectivity from Alexa to those servers to determine the state of the information. It also prevented Alexa from controlling those specific devices handled strictly by Alexa. Because Alexa skills seemed to be handled by those servers, Alexa skills were unavailable also.

However, some services, like Ring, are also hosted on AWS. These servers seemed to have been impacted not only affecting Alexa’s interface to those services, but also preventing the use of Ring’s very own app to control its own services. Yes, it was a big outage.

This outage also affected many other servers and services unrelated to Alexa’s Smart Home systems. So, yes, it was a wide ranging, long lasting outage. In fact, as I type in this update, the outage may still be affecting some services. However, it seems that the Smart Home services may now be back online as of this writing. If you’re reading this days later, it’s likely all working again.

Smart Home Devices and Local Management

Using a hub Smart Home system like the Philips Hue hub system can allow for local management of equipment without the need for continuous internet. This means that if the Internet is offline for a period of time, you can still control your lighting with the Philips Hue app using local control. While you can control your lights with your switch, it’s just as important to be able to control your lighting even if your Internet goes down temporarily.

What this all means is that investing into a system like a Philips Hue hub and Philips Hue lights allows your smart lighting system to remain functional even if your Internet services goes down. In this case, Philips Hue didn’t go down and neither did my Internet. Instead, what went down was part of Amazon’s infrastructure and systems. This had an impact on much of Alexa and Alexa’s control over Smart Home devices. However, even though this was true of Alexa skills and Alexa controlled devices, Philips Hue remained functional all throughout.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that investing in a Philips Hue system is the best choice, but clearly in this instance it was a better choice than investing in the cheaper Alexa-only bulbs, which remained nonfunctional throughout the outage.

If there’s any caveat here, it’s that Smart Home systems are still subject to outages when services like AWS go belly up for a time. If you’re really wanting to maintain the ability to control your lights during such outages, then investing in a system like Philips Hue, which seems to be able to weather such outage storms, is the best of all worlds. Unfortunately, the Alexa only Sengled Bluetooth bulbs were the absolute worst choice for this type of AWS outage.

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Rant Time: It’s time for Gutenberg to go.

Posted in botch, business, rant by commorancy on October 9, 2021

woman in white shirt showing frustration

As the title may suggest and as a WordPress.com blogger, I’ve given up using the Gutenberg editor for articles. Let’s explore exactly the reasons why.

Gutenberg, Block Editing and Calypso

One of the biggest selling points of Gutenberg (the latest WordPress editor, first released in 2018 and headed up by Matias Ventura) is its ability to have literal text blocks. Each paragraph is literally a square block that is separate from all other blocks. The blocks allow for movement with an arrow up and down. The point to this movement system is to allow for easily rearranging your articles. At least, that was the main selling point.

In reality, the blocks are more of a chore than a help. I’ll explain this more in a bit. When Gutenberg first launched, it replaced the previous editor, Calypso, which was released in 2015. Calypso loaded extremely fast (in under 3 seconds you’re editing). Typing in text was flawless and simply just “worked”. When Calypso first released, there were a number of performance issues, some bugs and it didn’t always work as expected. However, after several updates over the initial months, all of that was solved. The slowness and performance issues were completely gone.

Before Calypso arrived, there was the much older “black colored” editor that was simple text-only editor. Meaning, there was no ability to graphically place or drag-move objects. Instead, you had to use specific HTML tags to manually place images and use inline CSS to get things done. It was a hassle, but it worked for the time. The big update for WordPress was that Calypso would bring modern word processor features and a more WYSIWYG type experience to blogging. Calypso did that exceedingly well, but in an occasionally limited way.

Unfortunately, Calypso had a short lifespan of about 3 years. For whatever reason, the WordPress.org team decided that a new editor was in order and so the Gutenberg project was born.

Gutenberg Performance

The real problem with Gutenberg is its performance. Since its release, Gutenberg’s block-building system has immense overhead. Every time you type something into a block, the entire page and all blocks around it must react and shift to those changes. Performance is particularly bad if you’re typing into a block in the middle of an article with many other blocks. Not only does the editor have to readjust the page on every single keystroke entered, it has to do it both up and down. Because of this continual adjustment of the page, keystrokes can become lagged by up to 12 seconds behind the keyboard typing.

Where Calypso’s typing performance is instant and without lag, Gutenberg suffers incredible lag due to its poorly conceived block design. Gutenberg has only gotten worse over time. Unlike Wine which ages and gets better every day, Gutenberg gets worse every day. There are literally hundreds of bugs in the Gutenberg editor that have never been corrected, let alone the aforementioned severe performance issue.

Classic Editor

You might be asking, “What editor are you using?” Technically, I’m using Calypso inside of Gutenberg because there’s no other option than the antiquated “black editor”. When Gutenberg came about, they had to find a way to make old articles written in Calypso compatible with Gutenberg without having to convert every single article into the new Gutenberg block format. To do this, the Gutenberg team included Calypso in the block called the “Classic Editor” block. It’s effectively a full version of Calypso in a single block.

The Classic Block type is what I’m now using to type this and all new articles. I must also say that every character I type into the Classic Block is spot on in speed. No lags at all. Typing is instantaneous. However, with Gutenberg, typing words into a Gutenberg “paragraph” block can see text show up literally many seconds after I’ve typed it… sometimes more than 10 seconds later. I can literally sit and watch the cursor make each letter appear after I’ve stopped typing. It’s incredibly frustrating.

Few typists are 100% accurate 100% of the time. This means using the backspace key to remove a double tapped letter, add a missing letter or rewrite a portion of text is required. When you’re waiting on the editor to “catch up” with your typing, you can’t even know what errors you made until it finally shows up. It’s like watching paint dry. It’s incredibly frustrating and time wasting.

Editor Performance

Gutenberg’s performance has gotten progressively worse since 2018. By comparison, Calypso’s launch performance suffered when it was first released, taking 10-12 seconds to launch. The Calypso team managed to get that under control within 6 months and reduced the launch time to under 2 seconds. Literally, you could go from a new browser tab to editing an existing or brand new article in under 2 seconds. Gutenberg’s launch performance has remained consistent at ~10 seconds and has never wavered in the many years since it launched in 2018. And… that 10 seconds all for what? An editor with horrible performance?

Gutenberg launched with “okay” block performance years ago, but in the last 6 months, its performance level has significantly degraded. Literally, the Gutenberg paragraph block, the mainstay of the entire Gutenberg editor, is now almost completely unusable in far too many circumstances.

If you’re looking to type a single short paragraph article, you might be able to use Gutenberg. Typing an article like this one with a large number of paragraphs of reasonable length means slower and slower performance the longer the article gets, especially if you need to edit in the middle of the article. That’s not a problem when using the Classic Block as the article has only one block. It’s when there’s an ever growing number of blocks stacking up that Gutenberg gets ever slower and slower. Gutenberg is literally one of the most horrible editing experiences I’ve ever had as a WordPress blogger.

Gutenberg’s Developers

As a user of Gutenberg, I’ve attempted to create bugs for the Gutenberg team in hopes that they would not only be receptive to wanting these bug reports, but that they would be willing to fix them. Instead, what I got was an ever growing level of hostility with every bug reported… culminating in myself and one of the Gutenberg developers basically having words. He accused me of not taking the right path to report bugs… but what other path is there to report bugs if not in the official bug reporting system devoted to Gutenberg’s bugs? This one entirely baffled me. Talk about ungrateful.

Sure, I’m a WordPress.com user, but the WordPress.com team doesn’t accept bug reports for Gutenberg as they have nothing to do with Gutenberg’s development. They’ll help support the WordPress.com product itself, but they don’t take official bug reports for sub-product components. In fact, I’d been told by multiple WordPress.com support staffers to report my bugs directly into the Gutenberg project bug reporting system. That’s what I did. I explained that to the developer who suddenly became somewhat apologetic, but remained terse and condescending.

Let’s understand one thing. WordPress.com is a separate entity from the WordPress.org Gutenberg development team. The two have no direct relationship whatsoever, making this whole situation even more convoluted. It’s a situation that WordPress.com must workout with WordPress.org. As a blogger, it’s not my responsibility to become the “middle man” to communicate between these orgs.

Any development team with this level of hostility towards its end users needs to be reevaluated for its project values. Developers can’t develop in a bubble. They need the feedback from users to improve their product. Developers unwilling to accept this feedback need to be pulled from the project and, if their attitude does not improve, be jettisoned. Bad attitudes need to be culled from any development project. It will only serve to poison the end product… and nowhere is this more abundantly clear than in the Gutenberg editor. This editor is now literally falling apart at the seams.

WordPress.com is at a Crossroads

At this point, WordPress needs to make a choice. It’s clear, the Gutenberg editor can’t last. WordPress.com must make a new editor choice sooner rather than later. Gutenberg is on its last legs and needs to be ushered out of the door.

If that means re-wrappering the entire editor so that the Classic Block becomes the only and default block available, then so be it. I’d be perfectly happy if WordPress.com would make the Classic Block not only the default editor block type when entering a new editor, but the ONLY block type available. After all, everything that can be done with individual blocks in Gutenberg can be done in the Classic Block.

Then, refocus the Gutenberg development team’s efforts to improving ONLY the Classic Block. Have them drop the entirety of development for every other block type from that horrible Gutenberg editor product.

Blocks and Gutenberg

Let’s talk about Gutenberg’s design for a moment. The idea behind Gutenberg is noble, but ultimately its actual design is entirely misguided. Not only has Gutenberg failed to improve the editor in any substantial way, it has made text editing slower, more complex and difficult in an age when an editor should make blogging easier, faster and simpler. All of the things that should have improved over Calypso have actually failed to materialize in Gutenberg.

The multiple block interface doesn’t actually improve the blogging experience at all. Worse, the overhead of more and more blocks stacking to create an article makes the blogging experience progressively slower and less reliable. In fact, there are times when the editor becomes so unresponsive that it requires refreshing the entire editor page in the browser to recover. Simply, Gutenberg easily loses track of its blocks causing the editor to essentially crash internally.

None of this is a problem with the Classic Editor block because editing takes place in one single block. Because the Classic Editor is a single block, Gutenberg must only keep up with one thing, not potentially hundreds. For this reason, the Classic Editor is a much easier solution for WordPress.com. WordPress.com need only force the Classic Block as the primary editor in Gutenberg and hide all of the rest of Gutenberg’s garbage blocks that barely work. Done. The editor is now back to a functional state and bloggers can now move on with producing blog articles rather than fighting Gutenberg to get a single sentence written. Yes, Gutenberg is that bad.

Bad Design

Worse, however, is Gutenberg’s block design idea. I really don’t fully understand what the Gutenberg team was hoping to accomplish with this odd block design. Sure, it allows movement of the blocks easily, but it’s essentially a technical replacement for cut and paste. How hard is it really to select a paragraph of text, cut it and then paste it into a different location? In fact, cut and paste is actually easier, faster and simpler than trying to move a block. Block movement is up or down by one position at a time when clicked. If you need the block moved up by 10 paragraphs, then you’re clicking the up button 10 times. And, you might have to do this for 5 different paragraphs. That’s a lot of clicking. How does that much clicking save time or make blogging easier? Cut and paste is always four actions. Select the text, cut, click cursor to new location, paste. Cut and paste has none of this click-click-click-click-clickity-click BS. Of course, you can cut and paste a whole block, but that sort of defeats the purpose of building the up and down function for movement, doesn’t it?

Instead, I’ve actually found in practice that Gutenberg’s alleged more advanced “design” actually gets in the way of blogging. You’d think that with a brand new editor design, a developer would strive to bring something new and better to the table. Gutenberg fails. The whole cornerstone and supposed “benefit” of Gutenberg’s design is its blocks. The blocks are also its biggest failing. Once you realize the blocks are mostly a gimmick… a pointless and a slow gimmick at that, you then realize Calypso was a much better, more advanced editor overall, particularly after using a Classic Block to blog even just one article.

Change for Change’s Sake

Here’s a problem that’s plagued the software industry for years, but in more recent times has become a big, big problem. With the rush to add new features, no one stops to review the changes for functionality. Product managers are entirely blinded by their job requirement to deliver something new all of the time. However, new isn’t always better and Gutenberg proves this one out in droves. Simply because someone believes a product can be better doesn’t mean that the software architects are smart or creative enough to craft that reality.

We must all accept that creating new things sometimes works and sometimes fails. More than that, we need to recognize a failure BEFORE we proceed down the path of creation. Part of that is in the “Proof of Concept” phase. This is the time when you build a mini-version of a concept to prove out its worth. It is typically at the “Proof of Concept” stage where we can identify success or failure.

Unfortunately, it seems that many companies blow right past the proof-of-concept stage and jump from on-paper design into full-bore development efforts. Without a proper design review by at least some stakeholders, there’s no way to know if the end result will be functional, useful or indeed solve any problems. This is exactly where Gutenberg sits.

While I can’t definitively state that the Gutenberg team blew past the proof-of-concept stage, it certainly seems that they did. Anyone reviewing Gutenberg’s blocks idea could have asked one simple question, “How exactly are blocks better than cut and paste?” The answer here is the key. Unfortunately, the actual answer to this question likely would have been political double-speak which doesn’t answer the question or it might end up being a bunch of statistical developer garbage not proving anything. The real answer is that this block system idea doesn’t actually improve blogging. In fact, it weighs down the blogging experience tremendously.

Instead of spending time writing, which is what we bloggers do (and actually want to do), we now spend more time playing Legos with the editor to determine which block fits where. As a blogger, an editor should work for us, not against us. Spending 1/3 of our time managing editor blocks means the loss of 1/3 of our time we could have been writing. Less time writing means less articles written.

Because blogging is about publishing information, speed is of utmost importance. Instead of fumbling around in clumsy blocks, we should spend our time formulating our thoughts and putting them down onto the page. For this reason, Gutenberg gets in our way, not out of our way.

At a Crossroads — Part II

Circling back around, we can now see exactly WHY WordPress.com is at a crossroads. The managers at WordPress.com need to ask this simple question, “What makes our bloggers happy?” The answer to this question is, “A better and faster editor.”

Are Gutenberg’s failings making bloggers happy? No. Since the answer to this question is “No”, WordPress.com managers need to realize there’s a problem afoot… a problem which can be solved. Nothing requires the WordPress.com platform to use Gutenberg… or at least the block portions of it. Because there exists a solution in the Classic Block, it would be simple to launch Gutenberg directly into a locked-in version of the Classic Block and not allow any further blocks to be created… essentially dumping the vast majority of Gutenberg.

This change reverts the editor back to Calypso and effectively does away with Gutenberg almost entirely. Though, this is a stop-gap measure. Eventually, the WordPress.com managers will need to remove Gutenberg entirely from the WordPress.com platform and replace it with a suitably faster and more streamlined editor, perhaps based on a better, updated version of Calypso. It’s time for this change. Why?

If the Gutenberg team cannot get a handle on crafting an editor that works after 3 years, then Gutenberg needs to be removed and replaced with an editor team actually willing to improve the blogging experience. WordPress.com needs to be able to justify its sales offerings, but it’s exceedingly difficult when you have what should be the cornerstone of the platform, the editor, working against you. This makes it exceedingly difficult for new would-be buyers to literally spend money for WordPress.com platform. Paying for an editor that barely works is insane. WordPress.com managers can’t be so blind as to not see this effect?

The bottom line is, how do you justify replacing an editor with an under 2 second launch time with an editor that now has a 10-20 second launch time? That’s taking steps backwards. How do you justify an editor that lags behind the keyboard typing by up to 12 seconds when the previous editor had no lag at all? Again, steps backwards. Isn’t the point in introducing new features to make a product better, faster and easier? Someone, somewhere must recognize this failure in Gutenberg besides me!! Honestly, it’s in the name of the product “WordPress”. How can we “press words” without an editor that “just works”?

WordPress.com, hear me, it’s time to make a change for the better. Dumping Gutenberg from the WordPress.com platform is your best hope for a brighter future at WordPress.com. As for the WordPress.org team, let them waddle in their own filth. If they want to drag that Gutenberg trash forward, that’s on them.

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Review: Is Fiverr a scam?

Posted in botch, business, scams by commorancy on October 8, 2021

conceptual photo of a money scam

Fiverr is one in a new generation on “Work for Hire” sites (sometimes known as freelancer sites) that have recently sprung up, while they’re also hoping to turn a big profit off of the backs of buyers and sellers. Let’s explore whether Fiverr is a scam or legitimate.

Work For Hire

While Fiverr might think it is something kind of special, it isn’t. There have been plenty of “Work For Hire” kinds of sites throughout the years going back to the early 2000s. There’s nothing really new about this kind of site.

To explain more, Fiverr’s “Work For Hire” marketplace has two distinct type of visitors: Buyers and Sellers. This means that a person visiting the site could be one or both of these roles.

As a buyer, you visit the site looking for a specific kind of service to buy. For example, maybe you would like to have someone write a blog article for you. You can then find an author/seller who is selling such a service, then contract their services at an agreed price, place an order, then wait for delivery of the article… at which time payment is due.

As a seller, you use your talents to place your authoring services up for sale and reap monetary rewards (such that they are) for providing a needed service to the buyer community.

It’s a reasonable idea and a potentially great business model, if such a site is correctly designed. Here’s where Fiverr fails hard.

Buyers

As with any site of this type (or really any site in general that offers logins and passwords), certain expectations are set (and must be met).  Any site with user logins must be willing to maintain and manage these user logins themselves, including appropriate application of Terms and Conditions by taking action against violators, abusers, harassers and scam artists. After all, it is Fiverr’s servers and system, therefore it falls on Fiverr to ensure users of the service act according to the Terms and Conditions while using that platform. This is a very basic expectation that all sites must meet.

For example, when you create a Google account, there’s an expectation that Google will both vet and maintain its new user signups appropriately. For the most part, Google does this well… except when the individual is under 13 years of age. That means that when Google identifies someone violating its rules of conduct (usually laid out in Terms and Conditions and/or Terms of Service documents or possibly other documents also), it will take action against a violating account up to and including termination from the service. However, Google has refrained from either detecting or deleting accounts created by users under the age of 13, for whatever questionable reason. I digress.

Along these same lines, Fiverr’s management is not only exceedingly naïve, they’re extremely inexperienced in running a user signup based platform like Fiverr and it shows. Why? Because the site’s weak signup system and rigid Terms and Conditions forces far too much of Fiverr’s buyer vetting work down upon its sellers. Instead of taking care to properly manage its buyers, it forces sellers to shoulder that responsibility and take this work onto themselves. As someone so rightly said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that”.

Sellers

As a seller, you would think that your primary job and focus is to sell your service to would-be buyers. While that is a portion of what a seller is expected to do on Fiverr, Fiverr’s unreasonable and overreaching Terms and Conditions require the seller to take on a whole lot more burden than they should, such as Buyer vetting, Buyer management and, yes, being “Academic Police”.

One egregious mistake in Fiverr’s Terms and Conditions is its overreaching “Academia” clause. One might think, shouldn’t we protect academic institutions and/or students? Well, no. Academic institutions are responsible for protecting themselves. Students are responsible for protecting their own best interests. It’s no one’s responsibility to protect any specific academic institution or student than that academic institution itself.

How does this impact sellers? Great question. Let’s get started answering this loaded question. There are 3,982 degree-granting institutions of higher learning as of 2020 according to US News. Nearly 4,000 institutions exist…. 4,000! That’s a lot.

This number is important to realize because Fiverr’s Terms and Conditions require sellers to become “academic police” for each and every one of those nearly 4,000 institutions of higher learning. Oh, but it gets so much worse.

Every single one of those institutions has by-laws and rules regarding code of academic conduct. Students attending are required to agree to that code of conduct upon enrolling in any one of those institutions. For example, rules against plagiarism is a typical code of conduct which may be found at many, if not most, of these institutions. It is beholden to the student to read, comprehend and understand this code of conduct for their specific institution upon enrollment.

However, for sellers on Fiverr, Fiverr’s Terms and Conditions effectively deputize sellers to become “academic police” for any or, indeed, all of these nearly 4,000 institutions of higher learning. This means that should a buyer show up at your seller doorstep, you must become responsible to make sure that buyer (who might be a student) isn’t violating a university’s academic code of conduct by buying something from you.

Not only that, Fiverr expects the seller to determine intent of every buyer… such as somehow magically deriving that a buyer is a student at one of those nearly 4,000 universities (or way less likely, even grade school), but also that the magically-derived “student” is buying the service with the INTENT of turning the resulting product in as their own work. Intent is something a seller cannot possibly determine or be expected to determine, let alone if the buyer is a student. Intent is difficult enough to determine and, more importantly, prove by defending and prosecuting attorneys in criminal court trials. How and, more importantly, WHY is a seller expected to determine intent for a site like Fiverr?

That’s like asking a gun dealer to be held responsible for intent of every gun sold. Thankfully, in the United States, there’s the PLCAA federal law that prevents this exact situation for gun dealers. Under the PLCAA, gun dealers cannot be held responsible for how a gun is used after it has been sold… which means, gun dealers cannot be held responsible for a buyer’s intent.

Fiverr’s Naïvety

Oh, it gets worse. Because there are so many institutions of higher learning not including grade schools, the seller would need to visit each and every one of those institutions of learning, THEN be required to read and understand each and every one of those rules of academic conduct for each of those ~4,000 institutions. That could take years. As I said, NAÏVE and insanely impractical.

Again, WHY is the seller responsible for this work? As a seller, I’m there to sell my services, not become police for for-profit higher education institutions.

Education Institutions

If schools have a problem with student conduct, that’s between the institution and the student. Fiverr, nor its sellers under it, has no role in this. That Fiverr has decided to take on the burden of becoming a police force for these mostly for-profit organizations is bewildering. Worse, that Fiverr expects the sellers to become that police is even more bewildering.

Work for Hire

In a discussion with a very naïve set of support representatives for Fiverr, a conversation ensued over this very same “academic police” issue. Essentially, the representative tried to make it seem like the seller is at fault by 1) not knowing the buyer is a student, 2) that a seller should know a student INTENDS to plagiarize and 3) that sellers are somehow responsible for that student’s plagiarism.

Let’s get one thing CRYSTAL clear. There’s no “plagiarism” under Work for Hire. The representative stated copyright infringement was also involved. There’s also no “copyright infringement” under Work for Hire. That’s not how Work for Hire copyrights work. If someone commissions and buys a work, such as writing a book, writing software code or any other software goods, as soon as the deal is closed, the delivered goods are considered as “Works Made For Hire”. The copyright office is very specific about this type of work and how copyrights apply to these works.

Works sold under “Works Made For Hire” see ALL copyrights turned over to the buyer as though the buyer created the work themselves. Meaning, as soon as the deal closes and those soft goods are delivered, the copyrights are fully, completely and legally owned 100% by the buyer. THIS is how “Works Made For Hire” copyright law works. From that link, here’s an excerpt that states that copyright law for  a “work” (when made for hire) applies…

When a certain type of work is created as a result of an express written agreement between the creator and a party specially ordering or commissioning it

That’s exactly what Fiverr does… allow for commissioning a work using express written agreements. Thus, all works delivered from Fiverr are considered as “Work for Hire” and, thus, all copyrights are owned by the buyer upon delivery.

Academia, Works for Hire and Fiverr

Unfortunately, these concepts are like oil and water. They don’t want to mix. Academia wants students to create their own works. However, “Work for Hireallows a student to buy a commissioned work, turn it in as their own work without legal issues and without plagiarism. Legally, under a “Work for Hire”, a student buyer owns the rights just as if they wrote it themselves. Therefore, no such plagiarism or copyright issues exist with “Work for Hire”. It might be an ethically poor choice on the student’s part and it might even deprive the student of much needed learning experience, but there’s nothing legally at fault here; not from the seller and not from the buyer.

Were the student to copy (not buy) a work from someone else and turn it in as their own, that’s plagiarism and copyright infringement. Keep in mind that plagiarism is not a ‘legal’ term. It’s an academic term typically bandied about when a student turns in a work they didn’t author themselves. However, commissioning someone and paying them for their efforts as a “Work for Hire” is not technically considered plagiarism and is most definitely not copyright infringement. While it might be ethically questionable for the student to take a “Work for Hire” route to complete an assignment, it doesn’t violate copyright laws and it isn’t plagiarism so long as the work was crafted by the seller as an “original work”.

Sellers Part II

With Fiverr, they’ve explicitly decided to place the burden of these “academically ethical” misdeeds onto the seller rather than onto the buyer / student. Let’s understand the problem here. Fiverr is not an academic institution. Fiverr, as far as I know, has no ties to academic institutions. Yet, Fiverr has crafted a Terms and Conditions policy that greatly benefits these for-profit academic institutions at the cost of requiring sellers to read and understand THOUSANDS of school policies to know if a potential buyer is violating any specific school policies.

WOW! Can you say, “overreaching?” I knew that you could. This situation is not only a ridiculous ask of sellers, it’s insanely complicated and time consuming and is highly unethical… all to sell a blog article, a work of fiction or a computer program on Fiverr?

None of this should be a seller responsibility. That’s Fiverr’s responsibility. A seller’s responsibility should end at selling their service. Violating school policies is the student’s responsibility to their school. The student agreed to their school’s conditions of attending that academic institution. The Fiverr seller plays no role in a student’s decisions. If a student intends or, indeed, violates a school’s enrollment conditions, that’s on the student to take the consequence. Fiverr should be completely hands-off of this process.

As I said, Fiverr’s management team is extremely naïve, gullible and unethical. That insane naïvety forces sellers to be incredibly overburdened as a long-arm-of-the-law for for-profit academic institutions combined with taking responsibility if a student violates a school’s academic policies. If an academic institution wants to task Fiverr sellers to become “academic police”, they can pay for that service like universities do for any other service.

Institutions of Higher Learning

Most higher education facilities (Universities and Colleges) are typically for-profit organizations. If they weren’t for-profit, they couldn’t keep the lights on, employ hundreds of instructors, janitors, staff AND buy desks, computers, buildings, land and so on. That Fiverr has taken the dubious and questionable step of writing into their Terms and Conditions a clause that favors these for-profit organizations is extremely questionable. Of course, one might ask, “Well, what about grade schools?”

Grade school is a whole separate bag and one where Fiverr shouldn’t actually ever see buyers for a number of reasons. The first and foremost reason is that grade school kids shouldn’t have credit cards to be able purchase items on Fiverr. The vast majority of grade school kids are at an age that prevents owning a credit card. A child might own a “learner” Visa debit card managed by their parents or perhaps a Visa gift card, but if Fiverr is accepting these payment cards without verifying age, Fiverr might be breaking other laws. For example, many grade school children are under the age of 13, which means that if Fiverr is allowing children under the age of 13 onto Fiverr’s platform, Fiverr is almost assuredly in violation of COPPA. Even minors under the age of 18 and who are still in grade school should be disallowed from making Fiverr purchases. In fact, only legal adults should be allowed to purchase services on Fiverr.

No, any application of “academic police” almost 100% both implies colleges and universities almost exclusively… which are most definitely for-profit organizations.

The above “academic police” situation would be tantamount to Fiverr adding a clause to its Terms and Conditions that holds sellers responsible for credit card fraud from buyers. Sellers aren’t “credit card police” any more than they should be “academic police”. Sellers have zero control over the payment system(s) that Fiverr employs and uses. Requiring such a condition for seller usage is not only backwater, it’s insanely stupid and definitely states exactly how inept the management team at Fiverr actually is.

Why would sellers be responsible for credit card fraud of a buyer when the seller has zero to do with that payment, that card or, indeed, the payment system? Sellers don’t get access to any of that card information. Thus, credit card management, just like academic management, is Fiverr’s responsibility.. and rightly it should be. It is on Fiverr to determine if a buyer is a student. It is on Fiverr to restrict and prevent purchases from students, not the seller.

If a seller is not a student at all and is not attending any academic institution, that seller holds exactly ZERO responsibility to any academic institution. Because Fiverr’s Terms and Conditions foists this agreement onto the seller is disingenuous, highly dubious, insanely stupid and, because of the time required to manage it, highly unethical. Everyone can understand the “credit card fraud” issue, so why is “academic fraud” any different here?

Low Wages

As a completely separate issue, but one that’s extremely relevant for sellers at Fiverr is how much money can a seller expect to make?

As a tech worker, the average wage to write code or build software, at least in the United States, is at typically between $30-70 per hour depending on experience, language, the type of code being written and so forth. That’s a lot for an hourly rate, but that’s the going rate in the United States.

Because far too many buyers on Fiverr are from Israel, Pakistan, India and other middle east countries where wages are very depressed, the expectation of costs of providing these services is extremely low. Meaning, instead of the normal going rate of ~$40 per hour, you’re expected to drop your fee down to $5 per project. Ironically, I think that’s why they named the site “Fiverr” because a “fiver” is all you’re going to get (less actually). I think you see the economic problem here. This brings me to my next point.

Commissions and Fees

Fiverr gets its money both coming and going. What that means is that for every “gig” sold (what they call a listing), Fiverr takes a 20% cut from both the buyer AND the seller separately. That’s a total of 40% cut for Fiverr from every single project sold. Let’s put a dollar value on that. For a $5 order, a seller will receive $4 with $1 going to Fiverr. A buyer will spend $6 to cover the $5 seller cost seeing $1 going to Fiverr. That’s a total of $2 that Fiverr made from that $5 sale.

This means for that $5, the seller doesn’t actually get $5, they get $4 (less after income taxes). You might spend 2 or more hours working on a project to receive less than $4? That’s way less than even minimum wage. So then, what’s the incentive to sell on Fiverr if nearly every buyer expects to spend $5 for almost any project? Yeah, that’s the real scam here.

Scam

Let’s get to the heart of the matter. Is Fiverr a scam? Clearly, Fiverr’s team is naïve and doesn’t understand the service they are offering. However, the overly expensive 40% commission that Fiverr takes combined with its overreaching Terms and Conditions, which is clearly designed to favor educational institutions over its sellers, and because the low price expectation from mostly middle east buyers leads the platform into extremely scam-ish territory.

Is it a scam? I don’t think the founders intended for it to be, but at this point it almost certainly is a scam. There are similar sites, like Upwork, that seemingly operate in a somewhat more legitimate way, yet those sites still choose to employ the overly high 40% commission system. However, because Upwork attracts more legitimate clientele over the “middle east crowd”, setting up listings on Upwork is more likely to lead to a better wage than when using Fiverr.

Bottom Line

Don’t go into Fiverr expecting to make a lot of money. Because of the mostly “middle east buyer crowd” who expects rock bottom prices that Fiverr seems to attract, because there’s few controls for sellers to protect themselves, because sellers must become “academic police” for for-profit educational institutions, because of the incredibly high 40% commission and because the actual income is so low, I’d class Fiverr as “mostly a scam”.

I strongly recommend avoiding this site unless Fiverr’s management team can get their act together and clean up all of these issues. Instead, if you’re looking for other “Work for Hire” type sites, try Upwork or CrowdSpring or, better, put your resume on LinkedIn and attempt to get legitimate actual employment with a real livable wage. However, if you enjoy frittering away literal hours of time for less than $5, then by all means head over to Fiverr.

Fallout 76: How to get Sludge Lung?

Posted in botch, video game, video game design by commorancy on October 3, 2021

Fallout 76_20191108124032One of the Atom Survival challenges in the game is to catch all of the diseases in the game, such as Sludge Lung and The Whoopsies. Each of these diseases are had by being exposed to certain things in the game. Let’s explore Sludge Lung and The Whoopsies, two of the most difficult diseases to achieve. Let’s explore.


Sludge Lung

Just above I said it is one of the “most difficult disease to achieve”. Oh, it’s not that hard to actually get Sludge Lung, but it is difficult to get Sludge Lung to count against the challenge objective. This is one of the most frustrating things about the challenge system in Fallout 76. You can do all of the right things and still not see the challenge marked as complete. Sludge Lung is one of these problematic achievements.

The easiest way to get Sludge Lung is to enter Belching Betty mine without a mask on. In fact, without a mask, you’re likely to get it instantly upon entering. That’s not the problem, however. Simply getting Sludge Lung doesn’t make it count toward the Survival challenge like it should. This is plainly a bug in Fallout 76. This bug has existed for going on at least 2 years now. You would think that Bethesda could fix a bug like this in 2 years. Yet, here we are and it’s still not fixed. In fact, there are other long unfixed bugs still present today that were in the game on day one of its release.

Fallout 76_20191114150545

Bethesda really has no desire to fix these long standing bugs. Instead, they prefer building and releasing expensive add-ons, like the now-defunct Survival World type, Vault 94 and even Nuclear Winter only to see these removed from the game months after introduction. These were expensive-to-build add-ons from a development perspective. We’re talking several months of design and coding only to be summarily dumped from the game without even so much as a farewell.

No, Bethesda can’t fix even the most simplest of bugs, like Sludge Lung counting towards a challenge, but they can spend months building an add-on that no one really wanted and which was proven out because it wasn’t played.

How to get Sludge Lung to count?

We now arrive at the heart of this article. Sludge Lung doesn’t count towards the challenge achievement after a player’s character contracts it. We know this. To get this disease to count towards the Survival challenge isn’t hard, but it also isn’t intuitive.

The easiest method is to immediately head over to Flatwoods after contracting Sludge Lung. There are three sleeping bags lying on the ground near or in Flatwoods. You may now even see where I’m going with this, so bear with me. There are two at the ghoul infested tent just across the field of Brahmin (near the Red Rocket) in Flatwoods proper. There is one more at located at the Overseer’s camp right across from The Wayward (just outside Flatwoods).

Lying on any of these sleeping bags on the ground may confer the Swamp Itch disease upon the player’s character. Why is this important? It’s important because the only way to get Sludge Lung to count is to immediately take on a new disease.

However, there’s a catch. As soon as the player character gets a disease, an invisible cooldown timer begins so that you can’t receive another new disease until that cooldown timer expires. However, server hopping immediately causes that timer to expire upon login to a new server.

This means that once you obtain Sludge Lung, you’ll need to server hop and then fast travel to Flatwoods to attempt to get Swamp Itch from a sleeping bag on the ground. However, Swamp Itch isn’t the only way, but it’s the fastest way. You can certainly try to find a diseased animal, creature or similar and get close enough to them to get their disease. However, you’ll need to be able to do this quickly as Sludge Lung heals and disappears quick… hence, the sleeping bag is the key to speed.

Sleeping Bags and Diseases

Once you have Sludge Lung, server hopped and are standing in front of a sleeping bag on the ground, hop into it. Make sure it’s not a sleeping bag in your camp. Camp sleeping bags on the ground in your camp may be considered “safe” by the game. Instead, use a world bag not located in your camp. These non-camp bags are always considered “unsafe”.

You may or may not get Swamp Itch on your first attempt. Sleeping in a ground mattress or sleeping bag doesn’t confer a high chance, just a chance to get a disease. However, if you do get Swamp Itch, it will happen almost instantly after lying down. No need to wait a while. If you don’t get it after lying down, stand back up and try again. Just keep trying over and over until you get it.

Once you get Swamp Itch, it will force the game to iterate through all of the current diseases your character presently has and update the challenge area. At that point, the game will notice you have Sludge Lung and mark that disease complete under the challenge. Why the game doesn’t do this iteration when you obtain Sludge Lung by itself, I’ve no idea. My guess is bad coding. There’s plenty of bad code in Fallout 76 and this area is no exception.

As I said, it doesn’t matter what other disease you obtain, you just need to get it before Sludge Lung wears off. For example, drinking Dirty Water can confer Dysentery upon the player’s character and that will also count. However, I’ve found that the chances of getting Dysentery from water is a whole lot less than getting Swamp Itch from a sleeping bag on the ground. Whatever disease you attempt to get while having Sludge Lung, you’ll need to do it quick before Sludge Lung wears off.

If Sludge Lung wears off before you can get a new disease, you’ll need to enter Belching Betty again, get Sludge Lung and start this process over again.

Once you get Swamp Itch in addition to Sludge Lung, the game will update that you have Sludge Lung and that challenge is marked as complete.

The Whoopsies

I could write a separate article on this disease and how to get it. However, I’ll just do it here. However, let me say that by far, The Whoopsies disease is the absolute most difficult disease to get in the game, but not for the same reason as Sludge Lung. There is only one enemy in the game that confers this disease upon the player and it’s exceedingly difficult to make this occur.

What enemy? Mirelurk Hatchlings. These creatures are only spawned from a Mirelurk Queen, one of the more difficult standard enemies in the game. While you can attempt to get The Whoopsies from any Diseased Mirelurk Hatchlings, the easiest location to do this is at Quarry X3 in the Cranberry Bog. This location has a half-round metal building located near the pond where a Mirelurk Queen spawns. You’ll use this building to help craft the situation needed.

The challenge is not to kill the queen while allowing hatchlings to continue to spawn. However, hatchlings don’t spawn often (about every 3-5 minutes) and when they do, the vast majority are not diseased. Only about one out of 10 spawned are diseased. Even then, a diseased hatchling might not confer the disease upon you even after attacking you repeatedly. Unlike diseased Ghouls, diseased Radstags, diseased Snallygasters and diseased Deathclaws which confer a disease instantly upon even getting close, hatchlings don’t confer a disease even after attacking multiple times.

The problem, even above their slowness in spawning, is that the hatchlings die on their own after attacking about 5-7 times. Corrected. As of January 2022, Bethesda seems to have fixed the hatchling dying problem. I was able to allow a diseased hatchling to repeatedly attack my character for up to 10 minutes or longer. This finally allowed my character to obtain The Whoopsies and close out this challenge. However there is still a need for the ….

Metal Building

The trick is to lure the queen next to the building and wait for the “pop” sound from the queen, indicating new hatchlings have spawned. You might need to venture out and let the hatchlings see you, but I’ve found they enter the building on their own. The queen can’t attack you easily inside the building, but the hatchlings can enter and begin attacking. You’ll want to kill all of the non-diseased hatchlings allowing only the diseased hatchlings to attack. You might get lucky and receive The Whoopsies quickly or you could be waiting for hours in that building standing around letting them attack you. You’ll want to carry a bunch of stimpaks or food to replenish your HP.

Make sure to remove any Perk cards that add disease resistance and also change to armor that doesn’t offer disease resistance. Using Radaway also helps because it reduces disease resistance by 50% for a period of time. However, none of this guarantees that any diseased hatchling will give you The Whoopsies quickly.

Further, if you do manage to get The Whoopsies and you find that it doesn’t count under the challenge, you’ll need to follow the same instructions as above by server hopping, then attempting to get another disease, like Swamp Itch, from a mattress to force the game to count The Whoopsies as part of the challenge. However, when my character got The Whoopsies, it counted instantly. No problems with this challenge, unlike Sludge Lung above.

As I said, The Whoopsies is the absolute most difficult disease to obtain in the game, bar none. It is likely to be the only disease you don’t have… unless you accidentally received it from a hatchling during a random Mirelurk Queen encounter. The likelihood of that happening is extremely low during the course of random play.

Good Luck!

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Is Tesla Innovative?

Posted in botch, business, technologies by commorancy on July 16, 2021

I’ve been confronted with this very question many times on Social Media, specifically Twitter. Many people who own Tesla vehicles vehemently insistent that Elon Musk and Tesla’s products are innovative. But, is Tesla really innovative? In short, no. Let’s explore why.

Innovation

via Oxford Dictionary

As a first step, we need to define the word, innovation. As you can see from its definition from Oxford Dictionary, it is defined as ‘a new method, idea, product, etc’.

The difficulty with this definition is that it doesn’t go deep enough to explain what the word new actually means in this definition’s context. This definition assumes the reader will understand the subtle, but important distinction of using the word ‘new’ in this definition.

Many people will, unfortunately, conclude that ‘new’ means ‘brand new’ as in a ‘just manufactured’ new model car. Simply because something is brand spankin’ new doesn’t make it innovative. However, a ‘brand new’ car model might contain some innovative elements, but the technology behind a car’s functional design may not be innovative or new at all… contrary to Oxford’s complicated use of the word ‘new’. As an example, both random cars in general and specifically electric vehicles are not new. In fact, mass produced cars have been the norm since 1901 and electric cars have been prototyped since the 1830s. While those electric prototypes weren’t truly cars in the mass produced sense, they were functional prototypes which showed that the electric vehicle technology is possible, functional and, most importantly, feasible.

You might then be thinking that Tesla was the first to create mass produced electric cars. Again, you’d be wrong. In fact, the first mass produced electric car was General Motor’s EV1, produced in 1996. The EV1 appeared 12 years before the first electric vehicle rolled off the assembly line at Tesla… and Tesla’s cars appeared 178 years after the first electric car prototype appeared. That’s a long time… definitely not ‘new’.

Electric vehicle technology was not at all new when Tesla decided to roll out its all electric vehicles. The only claim to fame that Tesla can profess is that they were able to sort-of Apple-ize their car in such a way that it warps the minds of buyers into believing it is ‘the best thing since sliced bread’. Ultimately, that defines an excellent sales strategy… what Elon Musk is actually known for.

To Tesla’s credit, they were the first viable luxury class vehicle to also claim the electric vehicle moniker. That claim doesn’t necessarily make the vehicle innovative. It makes Tesla’s sales and marketing team innovative in that they can make electric vehicle technology ‘sexy’ for the well-to-do crowd. Before Tesla, luxury car brands mostly avoided making electric vehicles. Even then, being able to successfully market and sell a product doesn’t make that product innovative. It simply means you’re good at selling things.

For example, Steve Jobs was the master at selling Apple products. To be fair, Steve Jobs didn’t really have to do much in the way of hard sells. When Jobs was at the helm, many of Apple’s early products were indeed innovative. If you need an example of innovation, Steve Jobs’s products mostly epitomize it.

Tesla, on the other hand, absconded with several key things to produce its Tesla electric vehicles: 1) Luxury car designs (which already existed), 2) electric vehicles (which already existed) and 3) standard off-the-shelf battery technology (which already existed). None of these three ideas were new in 2008. That Tesla successfully married these things together isn’t considered true innovation. It’s considered incremental innovation. Taking already existing pieces and putting them together to make a successful ‘new’ product is common in many industries. This is incremental in that these things already existed and it was only a matter of time before someone put them together in a cohesive way. Is that innovation? No. Why? If Tesla hadn’t done it, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Bentley or another luxury brand would have at some point. Though, Tesla’s early claim to fame wasn’t even luxury, it was sports cars. However, Tesla has dropped the sports car idea in lieu of being a luxury brand.

Product Innovation Types

I’ll circle back around to the above, but let’s take a break here to understand the two primary types of innovation.

The first type of innovation is breakthrough innovation. This rare type of innovation offers a concept the world has never seen and usually results in a paradigm shift. Example: The Wright Brother’s first flight which brought about the paradigm shift into commercial aviation… a whole new industry emerged as a result.

The second type of innovation is incremental innovation. This much more common type of innovation takes existing ideas and marries them into a single new product. Example: The iPhone.

Some might consider both the iPad and the iPhone as breakthrough innovation. Instead, the first Apple computer would be considered breakthrough innovation and ultimately what, in part, lead to the iPhone and iPad. However and to be fair, both the iPad and iPhone products are technically incremental innovation. Prior to the iPad, there had been several tablet style computers (e.g., GRiD and even the Apple Newton) that, for whatever reason, never really took off. Handheld PDAs were actually a form of tablet. Cell phones were very popular long before the iPhone arrived. The iPhone, like the Tesla, successfully married three concepts: a computer, the cell phone and PDA into what became the smartphone.

However, even though incremental, both the iPhone and the iPad were responsible for a technological computing paradigm shift. The primary innovation seen in these devices was not from the marriage of existing technology, but from the speed, size, weight, high res screen and functionality that the devices offered… particularly when combined with the app store and a reasonable price tag. It’s much more convenient and fast to grab a tablet to quickly search the web than sitting down at a desk and powering up a desktop computer. It is the internal functions and features and flexibility that set these devices well apart from their earlier computer brethren which offered slower computing experiences at higher prices.

Steve Jobs was a master at miniaturizing computers into much smaller versions with reasonable price tags and which included high end features. This strategy is what set Apple, then NeXT, then Apple again… apart from the rest of their competitors. That was with Steve Jobs at the helm. Since Jobs’s passing, Apple is still attempting to ride Steve Jobs’s coattails, but those coattails are getting raggedy at this point. If Apple doesn’t come up with something truly breakthrough innovative in the next few years, they’re likely to begin losing sales in larger and larger quantities. Even more than this, another upstart company in similar Tesla form will step in front of Apple and usurp the industry. A business cannot keep selling the same devices over and over and expect success to continue. Apple needs another paradigm shift device to keep its success streak going. I digress.

Tesla’s Innovation

Circling back around to Tesla, we should now be able to better understand why what Tesla includes in its vehicles, while luxurious and technologically interesting, is nothing actually very new. It’s new in the sense of being recently manufactured, yes, but the technology itself is old from an innovation sense. In other words, Tesla had no hand in that technology’s development. An example, Tesla’s choice to place a large touch screen panel in the middle of the dashboard, while interesting, is simply considered luxury as touch screen flat panels are not technologically new. What about the all electric car itself? It’s not new either. Remember the 1830s? Remember the EV1? Not new.

What about the battery that powers the car? That battery technology is not new either. Technologically, it’s simply a standard lithium-ion battery built large enough to support operating a motor vehicle. Tesla didn’t design that technology either. Tesla might have had a hand in requesting the battery’s size, weight and power requirements, but that’s not innovation… that’s manufacturing requirements. The lithium-ion battery technology was created and produced much, much earlier in the 1980s. In fact, Akira Yoshino holds the 1983 patent for what is effectively the lithium-ion battery technology still being produced today… yes, even what’s being used in the Tesla.

You may be asking, “So what is innovative about the Tesla?” That’s a good question. Not very much to be honest. The car body’s design is at least proprietary, but functionally utilitarian just as most car bodies produced today are. The pop out door handles might be considered somewhat innovative, but these are born out of luxury, not out of necessity. They look cool, but don’t really serve a truly functional purpose. In this sense, while the handles might be considered innovative, they’re incremental and don’t serve a true purpose other than for aesthetics. The same statement of aesthetics can be said of a lot of both the interior and exterior of the Tesla. Functionally, the Tesla vehicles are cars.

The Tesla cars are designed to give the owner a luxury driving experience both inside and out. The all electric drive train helps reinforce that luxury function due to its torque, performance and acceleration power. Even the charging stations were built out of sales necessity, not out of innovation. You can’t exactly sell many electric vehicles if you can’t charge them easily. The proliferation of the recharge stations was, as I just said, born of necessity. Yes, this infrastructure is important to all future electric vehicles. However, Tesla built them coast to coast to ensure that Tesla owners could at least make a trip cross country without running out of power.

All of what Tesla has built I actually consider ‘smoke and mirrors’ or the ‘Hollywood Effect’. These luxury inclusions are intended to make the buyer feel better about the high purchase price. That the car acts like a highly paid butler, helping do a lot for the driver while on the road is what buyers see and feel. It’s that very luxury experience and those visual seemingly high-tech aesthetics that lure would be buyers into the brand. Buying a car from Tesla is like buying a new iPhone. It gives buyer that same endorphin rush, being able to say you have one. It’s also affords bragging rights because it’s a car brand that is relatively infrequently encountered and, at least according to Tesla buyers, is highly enviable.

People tend to buy Tesla for the same reason they buy and consume Cristal or Dom Perignon. They purchase these expensive brands not because they’re exceptional quality products, but because they afford a certain level of bragging rights because the item can be afforded. As a side note, Cristal and Dom Perignon are decent sparkling wines, but they are not worth the price tag based solely on taste alone. There are much less expensive Champagne and sparkling wines that are equal or better in taste. I’ll let you make of that statement what you will when it comes to Tesla.

Driver Assist

This leads us into the assisted driving feature. This feature is not innovative either. Driving assistance has been available on cars as far back as 2003 with the IPAS feature available on the Toyota Prius and Lexus models. This feature automatically parallel and reverse parks the vehicle. While this is not true assisted driving while on the road, the IPAS would definitely drive the vehicle into the parking space hands-free. IPAS was an important first step in proving that computer assisted driving could work.

Other driving systems which have contributed towards fully assisted driving is lane change detection, collision avoidance, traction control, distance detection, automatic braking and the backup-camera.

Tesla has taken all of these prior computerized driving innovations and, yet again, combined them into a computerized assisted driving. This technology is markedly different from full autonomous self-driving. Assisted driving utilizes all of the above detection systems to allow the driver to remove hands from the wheel, but not remove the driver from the driver’s seat. The driver must still watch the road and make sure the car’s detection systems do not go awry when the driver must be willing to reassert manual control. Because these limited detection systems aren’t fail proof, a driver is still required to take control over the vehicle should the system fail to detect a specific condition that a driver can see and avoid.

Self-Driving Vehicles

Tesla doesn’t presently offer a fully computerized autonomous self-driving vehicle for its consumers. Only driver assist mode is available. Self-driving vehicles do not require a driver. Self-driving autonomous vehicles have an advanced computer system and radar system mounted on the roof. These vehicles are continually scanning for all manner of conditions constantly. The computer is constantly able to correct for any conditions which arise or at least which have been programmed. Self-driving vehicles are substantially less prone to errors than assisted driving, primarily because of Google’s self-driving vehicle efforts. Self-driving types of vehicles do not need a driver sitting the driver’s seat, unlike assisted driving vehicles which still require a driver.

One might think that Google invented this technology. However, one would be wrong. Self-driving vehicles were introduced in 1939 at the New York World’s Fair using a system that required road modification to keep the vehicle situated.

Google was able to, in 2009, adapt this prior concept by using the then computer, current radar technologies and detection systems to allow the car to function autonomously without the need to modify the road itself. However, even though Google was able to create cars that do function properly and autonomously, this technology has yet to be manufactured into consumer grade vehicles…. mostly out of fear that it will fail in unexplained ways. That and that driving laws (and insurance policies) have not yet caught up to the idea of autonomous driver-free vehicles. For example, if there’s no driver and an autonomous car injures or kills someone, who’s at fault? Laws are slowly catching up, but this question still remains.

Tesla and Driver Assist

Let’s circle back around. The reason Google’s autonomous driving technology, now called Waymo, is mentioned in this article is that it began one year after Tesla began operations in 2008, long before Tesla began including assisted driving in their vehicles. Tesla, once again, adopted an already existing technology into their vehicle designs, likely based in part on Google’s successful autonomous vehicles. They didn’t design this mode. They simply adapted an already existing technology design to be useful in a more limited fashion. Again, this isn’t breakthrough innovation, it’s incremental innovation. There is no paradigm shift involved. It’s a utilitarian luxury inclusion in an attempt to allow Tesla to prove how modern and luxurious their vehicles are compared to other luxury brands. Basically, it’s yet another ‘feather in their cap’.

Innovation is Innovation

Unfortunately, no. It’s far, far easier to adapt existing technologies into a design than it is to build a new idea from scratch. For this reason, nothing of what Tesla has built is truly groundbreaking or ‘breakthrough’ in design. More than this, Tesla is a car. A car is a car is a car.

The point in a car is to transport you from point A to point B and back. You can buy a car that’s $5,000 to perform this function or you can buy a car that’s over a $1 million. Both perform this same basic task. The difference in price is the luxury. Do you want to do this task in a thinly walled, loud, tiny bucket of a car or do you want to do it with every creature comfort using top speed? Comfort and performance are the primary differences in price.

With Tesla, there’s nothing truly innovative included in their cars. Luxurious? Check. Performant? Check. Bells and Whistles? Check. Miles per gallon? Whoops.

Distance Driving

One of the great things about gasoline powered vehicles is the ability to travel great distances without stopping too frequently. When you do need to stop, the existing gas station infrastructure is practically every place where you might travel. Granted, there are some dead stretches of roads were you might need to plan your car’s fillups accordingly, else you might be stranded. For the vast majority of roads in the United States, finding a gas station is quick and easy.

With the Tesla, finding recharge stations fare far worse. While the charging infrastructure is improving and growing around the country, it’s still much more limited than gas stations. That means that when distance driving in a Tesla, it’s even more important to plan your travel routes to ensure you can charge your vehicle all along the way.

You have a Model 3 and you say it charges to 100% in about an hour? Sure, but only if you happen to find a V3 Supercharger. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Superchargers available are V2 chargers or older. Even then, the amount of kilowatts of power available to charge your Tesla may be artificially constrainted. The V3 chargers offer up to 250 kW. The V2 chargers offer around 150 kW. Many random chargers you find (not Tesla branded) may only offer between 6 and 20 kW. Considering that 20 is only a fraction of 250, you’ll spend a whole lot of time sitting at that charger waiting on your Model 3 to charge up. It’s great that Tesla has built the faster V3 charger, but you can’t bank on finding these when you need one most. With gas stations, you can at least get some kind of gas and fill up the tank in minutes. With a Tesla, you could be sitting at a charging station for hours waiting to get to 50%.

Around 60 minute charge times sound great for the Model 3, but only when the infrastructure is there to support it. Currently, the V3 chargers are still not the norm.

What does all of the above mean for distance driving? It means that for long distance road trips while in a Tesla, you’ll need to not only plan each charger stop carefully, you’ll need spend time locating the fastest chargers you can find. This allows you to calculate the amount of time it requires to charge your car to 100% at that charger. If you don’t properly plan for where and how long, you could spend way more time at places than you think.

Run out of charge in the middle of nowhere? With services like triple-A, you won’t find them coming to top up your charge. Oh, no. They’ll come grab your prized Tesla, place it on a flatbed and then you’ll be riding in that tow truck to the nearest charge station… which could be hundreds of miles and one very large tow cost away. Once you get there, you’ll be sitting waiting for the charge to complete… and/or attempting to find a motel. Costly. Even with Tesla’s included roadside assistance, don’t expect miracles and you may even be required to pay for that tow.

If you had been driving a hybrid, triple-A could have given you a few gallons to get you to the nearest station to fill up… and then you’d have been on your way quickly.

What are the charge costs?

Honestly, if you have to ask this question, then a Tesla is probably not the right car to buy. However, for the curious, it’s still worth a deeper dive. Unlike gasoline prices which are clearly and conspicuously visible with large price signs towering high above the gas station, neither Superchargers nor standard electric chargers give you this visibility.

In fact, to find out what it will cost to charge your vehicle, you’ll have to visit the recharger and begin poking your way through the touch screen. There are some apps and web sites you can pick a charger location and review its then electric rate, but you might not want to bank on that if you’re planning a trip. Instead, because electric prices can vary dramatically during seasons and demand, you’ll need to check the pricing just before you reach the charger or, better, directly on the charger when you reach it.

Unlike gas stations which allow you to shop around for the best price, chargers don’t really offer that convenience. You pay what you pay.

For a Supercharger, the prices are based on how the energy is doled out to your car. The two methods are kilowatts or kilowatt-hours. Whichever rate system you choose, the energy will work out to the same cost in the end.

If you choose to charge per minute, it is $0.26 per minute above 60 kW. Under 60 kW, it is only $0.13. If you charge by kWh, it is $0.28 per kWh drawn from the charger.

https://www.motorbiscuit.com/how-much-does-it-cost-tesla-supercharger/

In case you’re wondering… No, it is not free to charge up your Tesla. However, Tesla does sometimes offer free limited time charging incentives at Superchargers when attempting to up quarter sales. You’ll need to discuss these kinds of incentives with Tesla before you sign on the dotted line.

Superchargers and Battery Wear

Battery technologies are finicky. It’s well known that the faster you charge a battery, the faster it wears out. Yes, this goes for Tesla car batteries. What that means is that while visiting a V3 Supercharger is convenient for topping up your battery quickly, it’s not so great on the battery itself. The more you visit these fast charge ports, the quicker your car battery may need to be replaced. This means you should temper your exuberance for fast chargers and utilize much slower overnight charging whenever possible.

How much is a replacement battery pack? Well, let’s hope you bought the extended warranty because here’s where things get really pricey. Obviously, under warranty, there will be no cost. If the warranty has expired or if you have bought a used Tesla without a warranty, you’re on your own. The cost to replace a battery pack can range from $3,000 to over $13,000 sans labor. If you’re considering buying a used Tesla, you should confirm if any existing warranty is transferable to the new owner and confirm how much is left. You shouldn’t confirm this with the seller as they can tell you anything. Instead, confirm this information with Tesla directly by calling and asking.

If no warranty is available, you should contact a third party warranty company (i.e., CarShield) and discuss whether the battery is a covered part under that warranty before you buy the car. Being required to spend $16,000 after buying a used Tesla (or any electric car) is not really a pleasant surprise. You’ll want to make sure you can acquire some kind of warranty that covers that battery part as soon as you buy that Tesla.

Commuter Vehicle

Let’s discuss a situation where Tesla does function decently enough. A Tesla is a reasonable, if not somewhat costly commuter vehicle. It’s great to get around town, drive to work, run errands, pick up the kids and take them to soccer practice. For long distance driving, owning a Tesla is unnecessarily more complicated, particularly if you choose to tour remote areas of the country without access to charge stations. All of this complication can be easily avoided by choosing a gas vehicle or a gas hybrid. As a commuter vehicle, a Tesla is an okay choice. However, I’d suggest there are plenty of other vehicles, gas, hybrid and even hybrid / electric, that suffice for commuting. Many of these choices are not nearly as costly as the purchase of a Tesla. But, of course, you won’t get all of the Tesla niceties with those other vehicles.

A Green Company?

With the recent trend toward companies seeking to being green and offering green technologies, it’s funny (odd) that Tesla chose not to be very green. There are a number of problems that prevent Tesla from being a green all around company. By green, let me define that.

I know, you might thinking, “How can an all-electric vehicle not be green?” Bear with me.

A Green company is a company that implements processes to reduce waste, to offer more compostable materials in packaging and implement processes to reduce its own waste and offer designs which help reduce carbon emissions and other environmental pollutants. Apple is a good example of this. Apple moved from using plastic packaging materials to paper materials which compost more fully. Though, even Apple isn’t all that green considering the eWaste afforded by Apple’s insistence at replacing iPhones every single year.

One might further think, “Well, isn’t Tesla green by using batteries instead of gasoline?” You would think that would be true, wouldn’t you? Let’s examine.

What about those Li-On batteries? The secret involving these batteries is that to manufacture that one battery, it produces 74% more emissions than a standard car does. Once the battery is manufactured, the consumption of greenhouse gasses drops to zero for that specific battery, but the manufacturing of each battery is very dirty. I guess Tesla car buyers don’t really care much about how much of a carbon footprint was required to build that luxury Tesla? It gets worse.

Power Grids derive most of their energy from fossil fuel sources. Up to a max 20% of all grid energy generated is from clean renewables such as Solar, Wind and Water. Nuclear energy further makes up another 20%. The remaining ~60% is still generated from fossil fuel sources including coal, natural gas and burning petroleum products. That means that every time you plug your Tesla into a grid charger, at least 60% of that energy consumed is contributing to greenhouse gasses.

Your Tesla doesn’t have a tailpipe, but it grows one while your Tesla is charging from the grid.

Tesla and the Power Grid

With both California and Texas now experiencing regular power problems due to various politically motivated reasons, it is also becoming obvious that the aging United States power grid infrastructure is in need of a major overhaul. For every plug-in electric car sold (not just Tesla), this puts another car onto the grid to suck even more energy. As more and more all electric cars are manufactured and sold, that only means even more added load to that aging power grid. Tesla is a heavy contributor to this problem due to its much faster (denser) powered requirements for fast charging.

At some tipping point, there will be too many cars charging for the grid to handle. The formerly off-peak hours in the wee morning hours will become the peak hours because that’s when all of the cars will be charging. Eventually, all of these charging electric cars will be drawing more current than homes draw in the middle of the day. This will be compounded by Tesla’s ever more ravenous need to speed charging up. Right now, the V3 chargers pull 250 kW. The V4 chargers will likely want to pull 500kW. V5 chargers maybe 1000kW?

When will this need-for-speed end? This is the same problem that Internet Services faced in the early 2000s. The infrastructure wasn’t designed for 10GB to every home. It still isn’t. That’s why broadband services still don’t offer 10GB home speeds. They barely offer 1GB.. and even if you do buy such a link, they don’t guarantee those speeds (read the fine print).

The point is that the more data that can be pulled in an ever shorter amount of time, the more problems it causes for the ISP over that very short time. The same for energy generation. The more energy consumed over an ever shorter amount of time, the more energy that must be generated to keep up with that load. There is a tipping point where energy generators won’t be able to keep up.

Is Tesla working with the energy generation companies? Highly unlikely. Tesla is most likely designing in a bubble of their own making. Tesla’s engineers assume that energy generation is a problem that the electric companies need to solve. Yet, energy generation has finite limits. Limits that, once reached, cannot be exceeded without expensive additional capacity… capacity that the energy companies must pay to build, not Tesla. Capacity that takes time to build and won’t come online quickly (read years). Capacity costs that will be handed down to consumers in the form of even more rate increases. Yes, all of those Tesla vehicles consuming energy will end up being the source of higher energy rate increases. Thanks, Elon!

It’s highly unlikely that Tesla knows exactly where those energy generation limits are and they probably don’t want to know. It’s also the reason many recharge stations limit power consumption draw current to around 6-10 kW max. Those limits are intentional and are likely not to be lifted any time soon. If Tesla can manage to get even a handful of V3 Superchargers set up around the United States, I’d be surprised. Even then, these rechargers may be artificially limited to significantly less than the 250 kW required for that 60 minute rapid charge in a Model 3. Power companies may simply not be able to provide that charge rate for perhaps hundreds or thousands of rechargers.

Hope meets Reality

The difficulty is that Tesla intends to build these ever faster rechargers, but then may not be able to actually get them functional in the wild due to the overly rapid amount of energy they can consume. This is where reality meets design… all for Tesla to attempt to get close to the 5-8 minutes it takes to fill up a tank of gas. Yes, let’s completely stress our aging power grid infrastructure to the breaking point all for the sake of trying to charge a bunch of Teslas in 5 minutes? Smart. /s

Instead of producing ever faster and faster rechargers, Tesla should be researching and innovating better battery technologies to reduce power consumption and improve driving distance through those improved batteries. How about hiring battery engineers to solve this difficult problem rather than taking the easy route by simply sucking down ever more energy faster from an already overloaded power grid?

With better batteries, instead of Tesla contributing to the problem of global warming by forcing ever more energy generation faster, they could be innovating to reduce this dilemma by making more efficient and faster charging batteries using lower power consumption rates. Building better and more efficient batteries? That’s innovation. Faster recharging by overburdening infrastructure? That’s callous and reckless… all in the name of capitalism. I guess as long as Tesla can make its sales numbers and Wall Street remains happy, it doesn’t matter how non-green Tesla really is.

Pollution

One thing I’ve not yet fully discussed is, you guessed it, pollution. This aspect is part of being a green company. Yet, instead of trying to make Teslas charge faster and drive farther by innovating improved battery technologies, Tesla builds the low-hanging fruit of faster 250 kW rechargers to improve the speed of battery charging by consuming ever more grid energy faster.

Let’s understand the ramification of this. The faster the batteries charge, the more power must be generated at that point in time to handle the load. The more power generated, the more concentration of pollutants that go into the air to support that generation. That doesn’t say ‘green company’. It says callous, reckless, careless, dirty company in it for the money, not for helping the planet.

Overtaxing the power grid is a recipe for disaster, if only from a climate change perspective. There are plenty of other ways to look at this, but this one is the biggest problem against what Tesla is doing. It’s also, again not innovative. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Renewables

Energy sources like Wind, Solar and Water are great generation alternatives. But, they’re not always feasible. Texas is a very good example of how these renewables can fail. The mass array of Wind Turbines in North Texas and the panhandle were found to be easily damaged by both freezing temperatures and excessive winds. Clearly, these expensive turbines need to be weather proofed and managed accordingly.

For example, to avoid the freezing conditions, the motors needed heaters to keep them from freezing up. It’s not like some of the energy generated from these turbines couldn’t be used and stored locally to keep heaters operating. Additionally, high wind detectors could move the blades into a neutral position so there’s less of a chance of high wind damage. Because Texas apparently didn’t implement either of these two mitigation strategies, that left a large amount of these wind turbines damaged and out of commission. This fact meant the Texas power grid was unable to serve the entire state enough energy… thus, blackouts.

Solar, on the other hand, requires a large amount of land to “farm.” What that means is that land needs to be allocated to set up large amounts of solar panel arrays. Last time I looked, land wasn’t cheap and neither are those solar panels. This means a high amount of expense to draw in solar energy.

Unlike wind, which can potentially blow 24 by 7, if you can get 5-6 hours of solid sunlight in a day, that’s the best you can hope for. This means that a solar panel can only capture a fraction of the amount of energy that a 24 / 7 wind turbine can continuously capture and provide.

Water energy can also be harnessed, but only using large dam systems. This means, once again, specific land and water requirements. For example, the Hoover dam provides about 458,333 kW continuous, which is enough continuous power to operate around 1,559 V3 Superchargers concurrently, taking into account a 15% power loss due to transmission lines and transformers. This also assumes that dam’s power is dedicated to that purpose alone. Hint: it isn’t. Only a fraction of that power would be allowed to be used for that purpose, which means far fewer Superchargers. That power is also combined with other power generation types, which makes up the full power grid supply.

The point here is that renewables, while great at capturing limited amounts of energy, are not yet ready to take over for fossil fuel energy generation. In fact, the lion’s share of energy generation is still produced by burning coal, natural gas and petroleum… all of which significantly impact and pollute the environment.

Dangerous

One thing I’ve not yet discussed is the dangers of owning an electric vehicle. One danger that might not seem apparent is its battery. These lithium-ion batteries can become severe fire hazards once breached. If that Tesla lands in an accident and the battery ruptures, it’s almost assured to turn into a Car-B-Cue. If you’re pinned in the vehicle during that Car-B-Cue, it could turn out horrific. Lithium-ion fires are incredibly dangerous. Though, while gasoline is also highly flammable, a gas tank is much less likely to rupture and catch fire in an accident.

Innovation Circle

To come full circle, it’s now much easier to understand why Tesla is less an innovative car company and more of a sales and marketing gimmick. After all, you could buy plenty of other luxury car brands offering sometimes better bells and whistles. Luxury car brands have been around for years. Tesla is relatively new car company, having started in 2008. It’s just that Tesla has built its brand based on it having “sexy” technology that other brands didn’t have, but have since acquired.

Both gas and hybrid vehicles offer better distance and more readily accessible infrastructure to get you back onto the road when low on fuel. It is this feature that is still a primary motivator for most car buyers. Trying to finagle where and how to charge an electric vehicle can be a real challenge, particularly if you live in a condo or apartment and not a home. It’s worse if you choose to live in the boonies.

Where does Tesla stand?

The question remains, what does a Tesla vehicle do well? As a short distance commuter car, it’s perfectly fine for that purpose. It’s a bit pricey for that use case, but it functions fine. The convenience of being able to plug it in when you get home is appealing, assuming you have a recharge port installed at home. If you are forced to leave it in a random parking lot to charge overnight, that’s not so convenient. How do you get home from there? Walk? Uber? It kinda defeats the purpose of owning an expensive Tesla.

When purchasing a Tesla, you have to consider these dilemmas. What’s the problem with living in a condo or apartment? Many complexes have no intention of setting up rechargers, thus this forces you to leave your car at a parking lot charger perhaps blocks away. If the complex offers garages with 110v circuits, you can use these to charge, but extremely slowly. This means that to own a Tesla, certain things need to line up perfectly to make owning a Tesla convenient. Otherwise, it’s an expensive hassle.

Innovation isn’t just about the product itself, it’s how the product gets used in a wide array of use cases. If the product’s design fails to account for even basic ownership cases, the design wasn’t innovative enough. That’s where the Tesla sits today. That’s why Tesla is still considered niche car and is not generally useful across-the-board.

Calling Tesla and, by extension, Elon, innovative gives that company and Elon way too much credit. Elon’s claim to fame is that he picked a business that happened to receive a lightning strike. This is mostly because he’s an excellent sales person. Some people can sell pretty much anything they are handed. Elon is one of those people. While he’s an excellent salesman, he’s not so much of an excellent innovator. Slapping together a bunch of existing off-the-shelf technologies shouldn’t be considered innovative, particularly when you forget to take into account too many ownership cases where the final product is inconvenient to own and operate.

Home Use

The kind of buyer who can afford to buy into a Tesla is typically affluent enough to afford a home. For these people, more convenience is afforded owning a Tesla. Not only can you spend the money to install a home charging port that charges at whatever rate you can afford, homeowners can choose to park and charge their vehicles at will. This is important to understand.

Homeowners with acreage, can also choose to set up such renewable energy sources as wind turbines and solar panels. These energy generation systems can offset some of the power consumed while charging up an electric vehicle.

About renewables, one residential based wind turbine may produce a maximum of 10 kW of energy during optimal conditions. That’s about the same amount of energy provided by most third-party non-Tesla recharge ports found on parking lots. While it may take 60 minutes to charge a Model 3 using a V3 250 kW recharge port, at 10 kw or 4% of that 250 kW charge rate, it would take many hours to charge. In fact, at that much slower recharge rate, it might take 8-16 hours to fully charge.

To offset that, you would need to buy and install multiple wind turbines to increase the energy generated. Wind turbines are not at all cheap to buy or erect. Having enough land to line them up may be even more of a problem. In other words, you’d probably spend way more than the cost of your Tesla just to build enough infrastructure to support charging that car in anything close to timely. Is it worth it? Depends on the person.

To even approach the 250 kW level of charge rate, you have to rely on the power grid or install a diesel or natural gas generator. However, installing a fossil fuel generator is no better or cheaper than using the power grid.

As I said above, a Tesla grows a tailpipe the moment it begins recharging from fossil fuel sources.

Is a Tesla vehicle worth it?

As a car for car’s sake, it’s fine. It does its job well. It’ll get you from place to place. It has all of the standard amenities needed, such as heating and air conditioning and it keeps you out of the rain. It has luxury bells and whistles also, such as the touch screen panel and assisted driving.

Everyone must decide for themselves what they consider whether a product is “worth it”. Owning specific cars is mostly a subjective experience. Does it feel right when sitting in the driver’s seat? Is it comfortable? Can you see easily out of the windows? Do the mirrors offer safe views all around the vehicle? As a driver, only you can sit in a car an decide if the car is the correct fit for you and your family.

I’ve personally sat in cars that while they appeared roomy from the outside, caused my knees to bang up against the dash or door frame or other areas upon entry, exit or while driving. It’s no fun exiting a vehicle to scraped knees or banged up shins.

Car buying is an experience that can only be described as trying to find a glove that fits. Once you find the right glove, the deal is done. I would never buy a car based on brand alone. I buy cars that fit all manner of criteria, including comfort, budget, safety, warranty, reviews and cost for maintenance. Nothing’s worse than taking your car to the dealer only to be slapped with a $1000 fee each and every time.

I’m not saying that owning a Tesla isn’t “worth it”. It may well be “worth it” for specific reasons. It’s just that the one reason to own a Tesla should not be innovation. The car truly offers few innovative features. Another reason is its alleged zero carbon footprint. Yes, it has a zero carbon footprint as long as you never charge it. Can’t do that and have a functional car. As soon as it begins charging from the power grid, the car is no greener than a gas powered car. Because a Tesla must charge for hours at slower recharge rates, that’s way longer than most 2-4 hour daily commutes to and from work in a gas powered vehicle.

Simply because you don’t see the pollution going into the air out of your car doesn’t mean it’s not happening while that car sits in your garage charging.

Product Innovation

As I said above, you shouldn’t buy a Tesla because you think it’s innovative. It’s not. However, it goes beyond this. I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a car because it was “innovative.” I choose cars based on other more important criteria, such as gas mileage, comfort, warranty, performance, ease of maintenance and other functional criteria. This typically means I’m also not brand loyal. I find the car that fits what I need in the budget that I can afford. That could be a Ford, Chevy, Toyota or whatever car that works best. Every model year yields new cars that offer different features.

Tesla believes that they can craft a brand like Apple, with brand loyal fans also like Apple. Apple is a unique beast. Their brand loyalty goes very, very deep. These brand loyal folks will buy whatever Apple releases, regardless of whether it’s the best value. Likewise, Tesla hopes to build their company based on this same type of year-over-year brand loyalty. Except there’s one problem: who buys a new car every year?

However, Tesla has not proven itself to be an innovative car company. They can make cars, true enough. But, are those cars truly innovative? Not really. Even Apple’s product innovation has come to a standstill. The latest iPad, for example, removed the TouchID home button in favor of FaceID simply to remove the home button from the bezel. So then, along comes COVID-19 and thwarts FaceID by wearing a simple mask. TouchID is a better COVID alternative because you don’t need to cover your fingertips. FaceID seems like a great idea until it isn’t.

Tesla needs to consider more breakthrough innovation and less incremental innovation. Hire people with the chops to build superior battery technology. Hire people who can design and build more efficient drive motors. Hire people to figure out how to embed solar panels into the paint so you can have both an aesthetically pleasing paint job and charge your car while sitting or driving in the sun.

There are plenty of ways to recapture small amounts of energy, such as wind, solar and regenerative braking to extend the driving distance. These don’t need to fully charge the battery, but instead are used to extend the charge of the battery and add distance. Heck, why not install a simple generator that uses gasoline, propane or even natural gas? This generator doesn’t need to charge the battery to 100%. Again, it is simply used to extend the range to get more miles from the car. These are just a few simple, but profound improvement ideas. There are plenty more ideas that can be explored to make the Tesla cars, not just technologically luxurious, but truly innovative.

These more breakthrough innovative designs are missing from the Tesla. These are ideas that would make a Tesla car much more functional in all areas of driving, not simply commute driving. In fact, I’d like to see Tesla build a gasoline powered vehicle. Stop relying on electric and take the dive into building cars based on all fuel types. Does Cadillac keep its car line artificially limited to one type of motor? No. How about Bentley? How about Porsche or Lamborghini? No. These car companies innovate by not artificially constraining themselves to a single type of technology. This gives those car companies an edge that allows them to install whatever technology is best for a specific model vehicle. That Tesla is artificially constraining itself to electric only is a questionable, self-limiting business decision.

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