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Whole Foods: Everything wrong with Amazon in a store.

Posted in botch, business, shopping by commorancy on September 20, 2018

When Amazon bought Whole Foods in 2017, I wondered exactly what that meant for Whole Foods as a brand and as a store. In 2018, I have found out, and so have the store employees. It’s not exactly what you might have predicted. Let’s explore.

Drastic Changes on the Aisles

One thing is clear, Amazon isn’t keeping Whole Foods stagnant. No, sir. However… are the changes being made inside the stores great? In many cases, no.

At one time, Whole Foods had a huge aisle of bulk tea ingredients. Today, they have maybe 10-15 jars total. Most of the jars are of the caffeinated varieties. Other than loose Rooibos, there was very little in the way of herbal tea ingredients. Whole Foods was the only real place where you could go get bulk tea ingredients. I was sadly disappointed at the state of affairs in visiting Whole Foods this weekend. The sad handful of jars seemed off, but I guess that’s what Bezos wants. In fact, the whole store seemed a little off.

Another department that has undergone drastic remodeling is the health and beauty area. Where they once carried clothing, scarfs, plush toys, mounds of loose organic soaps and various other eclectic HBA goods, today the area is nearly barren with only tiny amounts of certain items. They’ve also decided to do away with the HBA counter and rebuild a new kiosk for Customer Service there, so they can put in more cash registers. As if they need more registers… they barely man the ones they already have.

One other area of HBA (and other products) is product reformulations. I had been using the Whole Foods house brand of 365 glycerin bar soaps. Recently, I purchased new bars only to find a new label. After opening one of the soap bars I noticed a change in the fragrance. Clearly, Amazon is trying to cut costs by changing manufacturing of some of their house brands to new manufacturers.

I’ve also found other brands of products which have now changed. Where once Whole Foods had carried specific brands for years, these are now gone, no where to be found.  Whole Foods was really the only place that stocked these brands. I can’t imagine what this has done to those brand sellers. Whole Foods was likely their lifeblood. Without Whole Foods, they’re dead in the water. Safeway has never considered ordering those brands and likely never will. Good luck trying to find those brands ever again as those manufacturers are likely out of business.

Also, Amazon has started adding in small lockup rollabouts stocking Echos, Fire Tablets and Kindles, among other electronic and gadgety things. This is a grocery store, not Best Buy.

Checkout Lanes

Another change is that the Express lanes were always open with at least 1 or 2 people manning them. In the last 2-4 months, this no longer is true. I’ve walked in in the morning or in the evening and the Express lanes are always closed. Now they are keeping a few regular registers open. Not sure what’s going on with this change, but it seems odd considering the majority of people unloading their carts had less than 10 items to buy. Express lanes make more sense.

Not All Changes Are Good

I never performed my whole house grocery shopping at Whole Foods. It was always too expensive for full cart shopping. I only visit Whole Foods for very specific items that I cannot find at Safeway or other supermarkets. Today, I do most of my grocery shopping at Target, to be honest. Since Target has fully built out a respectable grocery section, when combined with Cartwheel discounts and the extra 5% RedCard discount, it’s usually worth my while to grocery shop at Target. They may not be the cheapest at everything, but considering the amount of discounts I get there, it’s more than worth it in the end.

Why this diversion about Target? Because Amazon and Whole Foods are trying something similar, except they’re mostly failing at it. Certain sale items and items with blue cards give extra discounts if you’re an Amazon Prime member. Considering how few items actually end up on actually discounted with Prime, it’s really not worth it. If Amazon could see fit to offer something like Target’s 5% off the entire basket + extra discounts like with Cartwheel, it might be worth it. Even then, I still find Whole Foods prices to be well above where they should be and nowhere near competitive with Target.

Worse, while Amazon seems to have cut some quality products down in an attempt to make even more money, nearly all of the dry goods still suffer from what I call, “highender syndrome”. What that means is that these items are sold at prices that are intended to entice buyers of a certain affluence level or above and feel make them “special”. However, what I’ve personally found after trying these products is while the price is well above where it should be, these packaged foods when prepared are lackluster and mostly taste of cardboard. Anyone willing to shell out that kind of dough for cardboard food, I got a bridge to sell ya.

As this section began, not all changes are for the best. The changes that Amazon has been making to Whole Foods have been questionable and seemingly geared toward selling Amazon products in a retail store environment. Amazon, if you really want to open an Amazon store, then just open one. Don’t ruin Whole Foods to make it a platform for Amazon products.

Workers Seem Disenchanted

I spoke with one worker at Whole Foods recently who is just as disenchanted with Amazon’s changes as I am. One thing he mentioned was that before Amazon’s purchase, the store could restock individual items as necessary. This meant that items were almost never out of stock and aisles were always full. I certainly noticed this change recently. When I visited to buy my glycerin bars, I noticed the unscented bars were out of stock. I purchased a couple of the other bars to hold me over for a bit. I then visited a day later and they were still out of stock. I’d say all told, I visited the store about 3-4 times before I finally found them in stock.

This employee told me that after Amazon took over, Amazon’s changes stopped allowing individual item reorders. This leaves shelves bare of products until the next whole shipment arrives. This is one of the things I always liked about Whole Foods before Amazon. I could walk into the store and nearly be 100% certain that the item would be in stock. In fact, I can’t even remember a single time when I visited Whole Foods and those soap bars (or pretty much anything else.. especially house brand items) were out of stock before Amazon’s involvement.

Hot Food Bar Changes

At the hot food area, I spoke with another worker who was disenchanted to see the home cooked prepared meals area has disappeared. No longer can you find the hot foods like mashed potatoes, cooked lamb shanks, meat loaf, grilled veggies and other staple foods they carried there every day. Now they’re gone and have been replaced by a Pizza display area. If the food isn’t on the hot food buffet area, too bad, so sad. I always liked buying those mashed potatoes there. They were the best in the store. The mashed potatoes on the buffet bar were plain and flavorless, as is most of that hot food bar food. The home cooked food they made at the food counter was much, much tastier.

Shopping at Whole Foods

Amazon has made no efforts to reduce Whole Food’s overall prices. But, Amazon has done much to remove, change, reduce and limit availability of items. I’m uncertain of this chain’s longevity. One of the things about operating a higher end gourmet grocery store like Whole Foods is attention to customer service and attention to product detail. Amazon doesn’t get it. Draeger’s gets it. Piazza’s gets it. Bianchini’s gets it. I realize these are SF Bay Area high end gourmet markets, but I’m sure you have some like these in your area, too. Whole Foods used to get what it meant to be classed as a gourmet grocery store, but since Amazon, they don’t.

As for the store proper, the reduction in products, the change in brand formulations and removal of mainstay brands doesn’t say Amazon knows what Whole Foods is really about. You can’t just begin gutting the fundamentals that made this gourmet grocery store and expect it to survive. Amazon is playing with fire making these changes to Whole Foods this fast. So far, I still see a fair amount of people shopping here. With each and every product removal or switch, the store will lose more and more customers.  Those customers who once frequented looking for that specific item only available at Whole Foods will end up over at Draeger’s, Bianchini’s or Piazza’s (or any of a number of smaller high end markets).

I know I’m not the only person who stops shopping at places when they kill my favorite brands and products that I relied on. Amazon hasn’t yet fully killed my last remaining reasons to visit Whole Foods, but changing soap manufacturers doesn’t bode well for at least one of those products.  Let’s hope I can use the new formulation without skin problems. We’ll see. They’ve also changed their brand of unsweetened ketchup. Yes, they still carry it, but the new brand jar seems quite a bit smaller for the same price. So far, they still carry the Stevia liquid brand that I use and at a “reasonable” price.

Feedback and Thank You

If you’ve gotten this far into this article, I’d like to thank you for spending your time here reading Randocity articles. In this YouTube age with people putting their faces out there as hosts, I have also contemplated setting up a channel for Randocity. Each time I have considered this, I realize that writing this blog is what I enjoy about blogging. Vlogging has its own set of constraints, time sucks and technical problems that to me don’t seem very enjoyable, particularly buying all of the necessary equipment and spending hours editing videos together.

If your shopping experiences have changed as a result of Amazon’s purchase of and changes to Whole Foods stores, please leave a comment below explaining what problems you have encountered in your shopping experiences. I will consider extending this article to include quotes from various reader’s recent shopping experiences. I’m always interested in hearing reader feedback. If you work at Whole Foods and are willing to speak up, please leave a comment below.

If you would like to be notified whenever new Randocity articles are published, please click the Follow button in the upper right corner of the screen.

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Lost with Apple’s iPhones for 2018?

Posted in Apple, botch, business, california by commorancy on September 12, 2018

iPhone X 2018You might be asking, “What is an iPhone Xr? Why would I want that model?” Well, let’s dive right in to discuss what these phone models are and how they stack up. Let’s explore.

iPhone X models for 2018

What new models iPhones are there for 2018? Well, there are several new models this year. Here’s the rundown of these models. The new models include the iPhone Xs, iPhone Xs Max and the iPhone Xr. Yep, that’s it. No new iPhone 8. No iPhone 9. Nothing else for phones.

iPhone X Compare

Display Res iPhone X 2018

Let’s Talk Models

  • iPhone Xs Max — This is by far the biggest iPhone X model so far. It sports a 6.5″ OLED display. It is about the same physical size as an iPhone 8 Plus.
    • Pricing:
      • 64GB = $1099
      • 256GB = $1249
      • 512GB = $1449 (really, Apple?)
  • iPhone Xs — This is the same size as the former iPhone X, its earlier sibling. This phone sports a 5.8 inch display, the same as earlier iPhone X.
    • Pricing:
      • 64GB = $999
      • 256GB = $1149
      • 512GB = $1349
  • iPhone Xr — This is a “brand new” model in the iPhone X lineup. It sports a 6.1″ sized display. It’s slightly smaller than an iPhone 8 plus. With the iPhone Xr, instead of using the more costly OLED tech, Apple has redesigned this model with a LCD screen. Unfortunately, as with most cost cutting measures, Apple has reduced the resolution by a LOT.
    • Instead of resolution in the thousands, now it’s back in the hundreds at 1792 x 828.  These are resolutions we’ve not seen since the iPhone 8 at 1334 x 750. Somewhat higher than the iPhone 8, yes, but this phone is a huge step backward for Apple.
    • OLED has a contrast ratio of 1 million to 1 where LCD has a contrast ratio of 1400:1. This means that when viewing the iPhone Xr screen, you’re going to see that dull grey background whenever the screen is black.
    • This model is also missing the following features:
      • No 3D Touch
      • 2 meter water resistance reduced to 1 meter
      • No 512GB model.. tops out at 256GB
      • No HDR display (not that this matters much as Apple has dumbed down the OLED display intentionally)
      • No Dual Cameras — Single camera only
    • Pricing:
      • 64GB = $749
      • 128GB = $799
      • 256GB = $899

What it comes down to is that if you’re looking for a less expensive version of the iPhone X and you’re willing to forgo the above features, the iPhone Xr is probably what you want. Personally, I still want TouchID, which is still missing from these newest X models.

iPhoneXSizingThere’s nothing really new here for me to jump for joy over. These models are entirely expected as next versions, though the prices are excessively high. Seriously, $1449 for a 512GB iPhone Xs Max? That’s the price of a notebook computer which has twice the features, twice the power and twice the number of applications. I shake my head at this pricing. Apple has completely lost it.

I still have my iPhone 7 Plus and it’s working like a champ. I’ve no need to jump into the X with that stupid black brow. I was hoping Apple would have gotten rid of that by the second generation. Nope. Apple, what the hell is going on over at 1 Infinite Loop? Are you guys too busy building circular buildings instead of focusing on actually building new innovative products?

Apple Watch

Apple WatchProbably the most innovative thing that has come out of Apple  for 2018 is the newest Apple Watch, with its somewhat larger display and a back that’s supposed to improve LTE service quality. That’s not saying much. Unfortunately, the larger size has the downside of actually making the watch even bigger. Do they think we really want to wear BIGGER watches? Though, a bigger watch may mean a slightly bigger battery and perhaps slightly longer run times. This is important for those of you who actually use the LTE feature. I don’t.

I was hoping for an actual round watch this time around. After all, Android has had these for years now. Where is Apple with a round watch? No idea, they keep focusing on these silly rectangular watches and adding stupid battery hungry technologies like LTE. You can’t really use a watch as a phone, so why bother with that? I guess someone finds the LTE part useful, but I don’t.

MacBook Pro

I’ll make this next 2018 intro short and sweet. It’s about friggin’ time Apple introduced the 32GB version of the MacBook Pro. Of course, the 2018 MacBook Pro also offers 6 core processors. That’s nice, but the 32GB of RAM is much more interesting. Though, by now these computers should be sporting 128GB of RAM, not a piddly 32.

Apple, where’s the touch screen on the MacBook Pro? Why the hell doesn’t this computer have a touch screen in 2018?

iPad 9.7″

New iPadApple reintroduces this size yet again. This size existed several years ago in the Pro format (supported Apple Pencil) and was discontinued. Now they’re introducing it again as though it’s some new thing. The only thing that makes this ‘new’ iPad special is that it now supports the Apple Pencil. Every iPhad… er iPad should have had Apple Pencil support the year after the Pencil was launched. In fact, every touch surface that Apple now produces should support the Apple Pencil including the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Watch and the MacBook Pro. By limiting which products support the Pencil is entirely stupid. Apple, don’t you want to sell your products?

What Apple chooses to do with its product lineup is always questionable, but in reality nothing truly innovative has come out of Apple since the first gen Apple Watch and the Airpods. Everything else has been limited extensions of existing products including “The new 9.7-inch iPad”, which is effectively a reintroduction of the 9.7″ iPad Pro sans the edge connector for the Smart Keyboard.

Lateral Innovation

I don’t consider extending an existing product as true innovation. I consider it lateral innovation. Lateral innovation is defined as copying the design of an existing product and then adding small features that don’t significantly improve the design. True innovation means new products that have never before existed. Apple hasn’t launched a truly new product since the Apple Watch and that was in April 24, 2015. That was over 3 years ago. Apple hasn’t launched a truly new product in over 3 years!

Man, get with the program Apple. Your relevance is waning. If you, the reader, want to find pricing of any of the other (ahem) “new” products, mosey on over to Apple.com and take a look for yourselves. You might be surprised… and not for the better.

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Rant Time: Apple Music vs Twitter

Posted in Apple, botch, business, california by commorancy on September 12, 2018

apple-cracked-3.0-noderivsI know I’ve been on a tirade with the number of rants recently, but here we are. I rant when there’s something to rant about. This time it’s about sharing Apple Music playlists on Twitter… and just how badly this feature is broken. Worse, just how Apple itself is broken. Let’s explore.

Twitter Cards

Twitter has a feature they call Twitter cards. It’s well documented and requires a number of meta tags to be present in an HTML page. When the page is shared via Twitter, Twitter goes looking at the HTML for its respective Twitter meta tags to generate a Twitter card.

A Twitter card comes in two sizes and looks something like this:

Small Twitter Card

Twitter Card Small 2

Large Twitter Card

Large Twitter Card

What determines the size of the Twitter card seems to be the size and ratio of the image. If the image is square in size (144×144 or larger), Twitter creates a small card as shown at the top. If the image ratio is not square and larger than 144×144, Twitter produces a large Twitter card. The difference between the cards is obvious:

  • Small card has an image to the left and text to the right
  • Large card has image above and text below

It’s up to the person sharing on Twitter to decide which size is most appropriate. Personally, I prefer the larger size because it allows for a much larger image.

Apple Music Playlist Sharing

Here’s where the RANT begins… hang onto your hat’s folks. Apple’s engineering team doesn’t get Twitter cards…. AT. ALL! Let me give an example of this. Here’s a playlist I shared on Twitter:

Apple Music Playlist Twitter Card

What’s wrong with this Twitter card? If you guessed the image is way too tiny, you’d win. Apple doesn’t understand the concept of producing a 144×144 image properly. Here’s the fundamental problem. In iTunes, my playlist image is uploaded with a 1200×1200 size image. This image is well large enough for any use on the net. Here’s how it looks in iTunes, albeit scaled somewhat small:

iTunes Playlist Image

Note, iTunes retains the full image size, but scales the image as needed. If you look at the playlist on the web, it looks like this with a much larger scaled image:

Apple Playlist Web

As you can see, the image scales properly and still looks good even larger. Yes, even large enough to produce a 144×144 image on a Twitter card.

Here’s the Twitter card metadata on that Apple Music Preview page:

meta id="1" name="twitter:title" content="‎AstroWorld Pioneer by Klearnote" class="ember-view"

meta id="2" name="twitter:description" content="‎Playlist · 22 Songs" class="ember-view"

meta id="3" name="twitter:site" content="@appleMusic" class="ember-view">

meta id="4" name="twitter:domain" content="Apple Music" class="ember-view">

meta id="5" name="twitter:image" 
content="https://is5-ssl.mzstatic.com/image/thumb/SG-S3-US-Std-Image-000001/v4/a2/c6/6f/a2c66fc6-a63b-f590-c6db-e41aebfc327c/image/600x600wp.png" 
class="ember-view"

meta id="6" name="twitter:card" content="summary" class="ember-view"

You’ll notice that the text in red above is the piece that is relevant. Let’s look at that image now…

600x600wp

Scaled. Click to see 600×600 image

You’ll notice that the playlist image content is centered at 213×213 pixels in size centered in a light grey box that’s 600×600. Yes, that thick light grey border is part of the image. This is actually how the image is being produced by Apple on their servers. That would be okay if the image were scaled to the full 600×600 pixels. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Twitter will scale any image to its preferred size of 144×144 pixels for small Twitter cards. Here’s what a 144×144 image looks like when scaled by WordPress:

600x600wp

Small, but reasonably clear. Here’s Twitter’s crap scaled and unreadable version:

twitter-144x144

I have no idea what Twitter is using to scale its images, but it looks like absolute trash. The bigger problem isn’t that Twitter has scaled this image down, it’s that Apple has provided Twitter with such an already small and crap looking playlist image. Why have a 144×144 image if you’re only going to use 1/9th of the entire space? Apple, why wouldn’t you not want to use the entire 144×144 image space to make the image look like this:

pioneer-1200x1200

That sized image would make the Twitter card look like this…

TwitterCardFixed

… instead of this absolute shit looking card…

TwitterCardBroken

How the Mighty Have Fallen

Apple used to be a well respected company who always prided itself on doing things correctly and producing high quality products. Today, they’re a shadow of their former selves. Producing products as crap as this only serves as a detriment to all of the other products they now offer. It’s clear, Apple Music is an afterthought and Apple seems to have only one engineer assigned to this software product… maybe none.

It’s also clear, Apple doesn’t respect the standards of anyone, not even themselves. I consider this absolute crap attention to detail. Seriously, who wants their images to be scaled to the point of unreadability? No one!

Yet, when I called Apple Support to report this issue, I was told, “This is expected behavior”. Expected by whom? Who would ever expect an image to be scaled the point of nonrecognition? No one. If this is the level of software development effort we’re now seeing from Apple, then I don’t even want to think what corners are being cut on their hardware products.

What’s next? Apple watches catching on fire and exploding on people’s wrists? Phones taking out people’s ears? If I can no longer trust Apple to uphold the standards of high quality, then the mighty have truly fallen. There is no hope for Apple no matter how much crap they try to peddle.

Apple, Hear Me!

If you are serious about your business, then you need to be serious about all aspects including offering high quality products, services and features. This goes all the way to playlist sharing on Twitter. My experience with dealing with Apple in this matter was so amateur including the way Apple Music itself is being handled, why should I continue to use this product? Give me a reason to pay you $99 for such shit! Seriously, in addition to the above, I’m also finding what appear to be bootlegged music products on Apple Music and yet you’re pawning it off as official releases?

And as suggested by your representative, why should I contact Twitter for this issue? Twitter’s features work properly when provided with the correct information. As has been stated for years in software engineering, “Garbage In, Garbage Out”. It is you, Apple, who are providing Twitter with garbage information. It’s not a Twitter problem, it’s an Apple problem. Also, because this is an Apple engineering problem to solve, why should I contact Twitter on Apple’s behalf? I don’t work for you. You need to have YOUR engineering team contact Twitter and have them explain to you the errors of your ways.

This is just the tip of the iceberg here. There’s so much wrong at Apple, if you continue to entrust your family’s safety into Apple’s products, you may find one of your family members injured or dead. Apple, wake up and learn to take quality seriously.

Then next time you are shopping for a computer or a watch devices, you need to ask yourself, “Do I really trust Apple to provide safe choices?”

Apple has now officially and truly reached the level of shit!

Broken Apple Image credit: The King of The Vikings via DeviantArt

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Rant Time: MagicJack – Scam or Legit?

Posted in botch, business, scam, scams by commorancy on September 11, 2018

magicJackThe magicJack company offers a voice over IP phone service. You can use it with an app on your phone or by a device plugged into an actual landline-type phone. It does require Internet to function. Either way you go, it’s VoIP and they have very questionable and deceptive billing practices. Let’s explore.

Internet Phone Service Choices

If you’re in need of phone services on a device that only has access to WiFi, then a voice over IP service (VoIP) is what you need. There are many different VoIP services available on the Internet. You can even make audio and video calls via Facetime on iOS, via Skype on pretty much any mobile or desktop computer or even via Google Hangouts. For this reason, magicJack is yet another VoIP phone service in a sea of choices.

Why would you want to choose magicJack? Initially, they were one of the lowest priced VoIP phone services. They also offered a tiny computer dongle that made it easy to plug in a standard home phone. That was then. Today, mobile devices make this a different story. Lately, this company has raised their prices dramatically and they’re performing some quite deceptive and questionable billing practices.

911 Service

As with any phone service that offers the ability to use 911, the service must tack on charges to the bill by the municipality. You’d think that part of the invoice that magicJack is already collecting in payment of services would also cover for those 911 services. I certainly did. Instead, magicJack isn’t willing to part with any of their service revenue to actually cover services that, you know, they provide as part of your phone service… like any other phone company does.

MagicJack seems to think they can simply pass on said charges right to you in an email invoice and have you pay them separately. Here’s where magicJack gets firmly into scam and deceptive billing territory.

I’m sorry magicJack, but you’re forcing the 911 service when we don’t really need it or want it on that magicJack VoIP phone line. If you’re going to force this service as part of the overall service, then damned well you need to suck it up and pay the expenses from what we pay you. There is no way in hell I’m going to pay an ‘extra’ bill simply because you are unwilling to use the collected service fees to pay for those bills, like any other carrier on the planet. It’s not my problem that you choose not to do this.

You, magicJack, need to pay those bills to the 911 service. It’s your service, you forced 911 onto my line and now you must pay the piper. If you can’t do this, then you need to go out of business. This means, you need to collect the 911 service fees at the time you collect the payment for your services. And you know what, you already collected well enough money from me to cover those 911 service fees many times over. So, hop to it and pay that bill. This is not my bill to pay, it’s yours.

MagicJack Services

Should I consider magicJack services as an option when choosing a VoIP phone service? Not only no, but hell no. This service doesn’t deserve any business from anyone! This is especially true considering how many alternatives exist for making phone calls in apps today. Skip the stupidly deceptive billing hassles and choose a service that will bill you properly for ALL services rendered at the time of payment.

MagicJack is entirely misinformed if they think they can randomly send extra bills for whatever things that they deem are appropriate. Worse, magicJack is collecting payments for that 911 service, but you have no idea if that money will actually make it to the 911 municipal services in your area. That money might not even make it there and you may still receive a bill. In fact, if the municipality does send you a bill, you need to contact them and tell them to resend their bill to magicJack and collect their fees owed from magicJack, which has already been collected in the funds to cover any and all phone services. If magicJack claims otherwise, they are lying. If you are currently using magicJack’s services, you should cancel now (even if you have credit remaining).

Is magicJack a scam? Yes, considering these types of unethical and dubious billing practices. Even though their VoIP service works, it’s not without many perils dealing with this company. As with any service you buy into, Caveat Emptor.

MagicJack Headquarters

Here is the absolute biggest red flag of this scam company. MagicJack claims their corporate headquarters address is located here:

PO BOX 6785
West Palm Beach, FL 33405

Uh, no. Your headquarters cannot be inside of a PO Box.

Yelp claims that magicJack’s US address is here:

5700 Georgia Ave
West Palm Beach, FL 33405

Better, but still not accurate. This is not their corporate headquarters. This is simply a US office address. Who knows how many people actually work there? We all should know by 2018 just how many scams originate from Florida.

When you visit magicJack’s web site, no where on any of the pages does it show their actual physical headquarters address. This is a HUGE red flag. Where is magicJack’s actual headquarters?

magicJack Vocaltev Ltd (opens Google Maps)
Ha-Omanut Street 12
Netanya, Israel

As a point of consumer caution, you should always be extra careful when purchasing utility and fundamental services from any Israeli (or other middle east) companies. Worse, when companies cannot even be honest about where their corporate headquarters are on their own web site, that says SCAM in big red letters.

Class Action Lawsuit

Here’s another situation where this company needs to be in a class action lawsuit. I’m quite certain there are a number of folks who have been tricked into this scammy outfit and are now paying the price for their unethical and scammy business practices. However, because they are located in Israel, setting up a class action lawsuit against this company may be practically impossible. Better, just avoid the company and buy your phone services from U.S. based (or other local) companies where they are required to follow all local laws.

Rating: 1 star out of 10
Phone Service: 5 out of 10 (too many restrictions, limits call length)
Customer Service: 1 star out of 10
Billing: 0 stars out of 10
Overall: Scam outfit, cannot recommend.

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Rant Time: Netflix’s Stupid Ideas

Posted in botch, business, california, entertainment by commorancy on August 29, 2018

NetflixApp-smNetflix has had made some questionable product decisions recently. That is, since it has begun buying its own original content. At the same time, it has made some platform changes that don’t make any sense whatsoever. Seriously Netflix, WTH? Let’s explore.

Original Content

Netflix has been having a hard time as of late. It has been heavily dipping its collective toes into original programming. However, much of the movie programming content has turned out to be bombs. Not just everyday bombs, but you know the movie kind that make you cringe so hard, you want to throw something at the TV. Programs like the oh-so-forgettable The Cloverfield Paradox, Bright, Extinction, The Beyond and Tau. With these questionable movies, Netflix seems to be missing its mark so much of the time. So much, in fact, that I’m contemplating cancelling my membership with this service. I’m beginning to think that Redbox streaming might be a better alternative.

Until recently, the only way to find out exactly how crap the movies actually were was to read the Netflix movie reviews. This is not possible any longer.

Netflix Deletes and Closes Review System

In its infinitely stupid wisdom, Netflix has decided to close down its review system (deleting over 10 years worth of reviews in a day), citing that it is not being used by its subscribers. I call bullshit on that excuse, Netflix management team. I, and clearly many others, regularly used the review system all of the time to steer clear of these recent Netflix bombs.

Unfortunately, we can no longer do this thanks to Netflix flipping us subscribers the collective bird after not only closing the review system down, but dumping all of that user review content. If Netflix’s management team is trying to tear the company apart, they’re doing a bang up job at it.

A review system says that service cares about its users’ opinions and it values its users. It allows users to make their views known to the larger community. Unfortunately, Netflix has now deprived its user base of that valuable resource by dumping all of the reviews and no longer supporting a review system at all. In fact, removing the movie review system says Netflix no longer cares about its users.

Worse, Netflix has dumped its 5 star rating system in lieu of a stupidly simple thumbs up and thumbs down approach. This overly simplistic system which, in reality, does nothing at all to influence anything. What this change says to us members is that Netflix solely wants to be the entire wielder of content power. No longer can any content be influenced by external user opinion… or so Netflix management mistakenly thinks. Nope, that is absolutely not important to Netflix. Netflix wants to be able to target its crap content to us with impunity and without those pesky user reviews getting in the way… even if the Netflix original content is the dreckiest dreck ever to have been conceived, which most of it is.

Netflix’s Agenda

I’m really tired of businesses like Netflix always feeling that they need to get the upper hand in every situation. In fact, even with the review system, they already had an upper hand. Netflix’s ultimate agenda to remove the review system isn’t what they stated on the surface. They claimed that people weren’t using the system. False. New reviews were being written every day. People were reading them every single day.

If people weren’t using the system, they wouldn’t write reviews… and yes, people were actively writing reviews. In fact, if the the review system was being used less, it’s because of Netflix’s design choices. It’s not because users weren’t interested in using the review feature. It’s because Netflix kept burying the review system deeper and deeper under menus, making it difficult to find. If reviews were on the decline, it wasn’t that people didn’t want to use it, it was because your UI team made it hard to find. Even with that said, people were STILL finding it and using it. That’s tenacity. That means your valuable subscribers actually WANTED to use it and did.

This means that Netflix intentionally caused the decline of the system. They set the review system up to fail and then blamed it on lack of use by the users. No, it wasn’t for lack of use, it was that it was too hard to find and too hard to navigate. That’s not failure to use by the users, that’s failure of your UX design team. People will use features when they are easily available and front and center. Bury it under layers of menus and it’s certain that usage will decline.

The real agenda is that Netflix no longer wants users to influence content such its The Cloverfield Paradox and the rest of its poor quality original content. Netflix mistakenly believes that if people can’t see the reviews or write them that more people will watch its crap. False. Netflix was likely also reeling over the horrible user reviews being left on its own site. Netflix wanted to stop that problem and the only way they could do that is step 1) bury the feature so it’s hard to find forcing many users to stop using it and then step 2) remove the feature claiming no one used it. Not only is that a lie, Netflix’s UX team is actually responsible for its lack of use.

Review systems work when they’re well designed and placed in conspicuous, well trafficked locations. They don’t work well when they’re buried under layers of unnecessary UI clicking. That’s proven. In fact, if Netflix’s user experience team doesn’t understand this fundamental UX 101 concept, they should all be fired!

Crap on a Stick

Netflix needs to get their crap together. They need to fix their horrible UI system and provide a much more streamlined system. They also need to bring back the user review system and place it into a much more prominent front and center position. A place where people can find it right up front, not buried under many UI layers.

Movies and Reviews

Movies and reviews go together like a pea in a pod, coke and hot dogs and hamburgers and fries. They simply belong together. You don’t get one without the other. Netflix thinking that they can change this fundamentally ingrained concept is a huge misstep. This misstep is as huge as when Netflix renamed its DVD service to Qwickster. That naming and concept failed miserably. This one will too… and it will backfire on Netflix.

I don’t even understand how a movie site like Netflix can even think they get away with not having a review system. By their very nature, movies require reviews. A movie is not 3 minutes long like a pop song. No one will spend 2 hours of their life watching trite, predictable, boring, poorly written garbage. Storytelling is an art form that when done right can take us to places we cannot even imagine. Yet, when storytelling is done wrong (i.e., too many of Netflix’s crap originals), it wastes hours of valuable time. The review system is there to prevent that loss of time.

Sorry Netflix, if reviews actually give you that much butthurt, you either need to grow a pair and get over it, or you need to shut down Netflix. Perhaps Netflix should stop its purchase of its crap original programming and this will no longer be a problem.

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Rant Time: The problem with Twitter

Posted in botch, business, social media by commorancy on August 27, 2018

Twitter-smTwitter began as a lofty idea for small text social conversation. For many of its early years, it managed to keep some semblance of order and decency. As of 2018, the platform has devolved into something far less useful and more problematic. Let’s explore.

Primary Twitter Topics

Today, Twitter is primarily dominated by breaking news, gun control and political rhetoric, sometimes all three at the same time. While these topics do have a place, reading these dominant conversations every moment of every day is tiring. It also goes against the diversity of what the platform is intended to offer. While these topics have a place, they don’t really have a place as the dominant force on Twitter. They exist simply to clog up each Twitter user’s feed.

Twitter’s Failings and Slow Development

When Twitter began back in 2006, it offered a fairly limited social conversation platform with its 140 character limit. In fact, that limit wasn’t raised until early 2018, 12 years later… when the limit went up to 280 characters. Talk about slow development! This 140 character limit was a holdover from SMS days which still to this day hold this limit. I do not know why Twitter chose this arbitrarily small amount of text for a social conversation platform. It had no relation to SMS and couldn’t send SMS messages, so it never made sense.

Twitter has also firmly embraced the “no edit” mantra to the chagrin of many. To modify a tweet, you must delete it, then recreate it. This is a cumbersome hassle. It also means that any feedback you had on that tweet must be forfeit. There’s a real incentive to get the tweet right the first time. For a conversation platform in 2018, this limitation on a text discussion platform is completely ludicrous. Clarification of thought is extremely important in all text mediums. The only way to ensure clarify of thought is via editing. We all make mistakes when typing, such as their for there or they’re. These are extremely common typing mistakes. Sometimes it’s the accidental misuse of homonyms. There are plenty of other types of common mistakes. There is also rewording. Yet, here we are… 12 years after Twitter’s inception and we STILL can’t edit a tweet. What the hell is going on over there at Twitter, Jack Dorsey?

While Twitter has grown little since 2006, only offering better privacy, limited feed customization, an ad platform and some UI improvements, it really has done next to nothing to improve the user functionality since 2006. I’ve worked at companies where the product has almost completely performed a 180º turn in product features in only 1-2 years. Twitter has remained nearly stagnant, feature wise and has implemented clamored features at an absolute snail’s pace (read, it hasn’t implemented them) in its 12 years of existence.

Censorship

As we all should understand, the first amendment free speech protections do not apply to private corporations. This ultimately means that there can be no speech submitted on the Twitter platform that is protected. As much as people want to complain that some left or right winger has been suspended, banned or otherwise dismissed from Twitter, that is Twitter’s right. Twitter is not a government owned or operated corporation. Therefore, they can censor, delete, suspend or otherwise prevent a user or entity from putting any content onto their platform for any reason.

What this means is that Twitter can do whatever they wish and claim violations of ‘terms of service’. After all, Twitter writes the terms of service and can modify them at any time without notification to anyone. In fact, Twitter isn’t even required to have explicit terms listed and they can still delete or suspend anyone they wish, for any reason. As I said, free speech protections on Twitter do not apply.

Leadership Team

Jack Dorsey heads up the leadership team at Twitter as CEO. In the last 1-2 years, he’s spouted rhetoric about reduction of hate speech on Twitter. What that ultimately translates to, within Twitter’s current moderation tool limits, is deletion of selected speech or accounts, regardless whether it contains hate speech or not. If Twitter doesn’t like what you have to say, out you go.

Twitter SuspendedNo more evident is that in those users who have amassed 15k followers or more. One foible on one of these accounts and Twitter closes it. No no, can’t have a 15k or more followers seeing something that Twitter management doesn’t like. Even celebs aren’t immune to this. If you are reading the article and you have amassed more than 6000 followers, your account is a risk with each tweet you post, particularly if your speech primarily consists of political messages, controversial topics or divisive ideas (NRA vs Gun Control, Abortion vs Pro Life, Trump bashing, etc).

The current technical means at Twitter’s disposal to reduce this kind of speech consists of tweet deletion, account suspensions or bans. Twitter has no other means at its disposal. In reality, Twitter has dug the hole it is now in. Twitter has failed to foresee problems of user scale. Whenever the total user base grows, so are the problems amplified that go with that. Twitter should have initially implemented some level of moderation and anointed users to help moderate its platform in a similar fashion to both Wikipedia and Reddit. It didn’t.

Twitter is to Blame

Twitter has only itself to blame for not taking proactive action sooner and in failing to build more complete moderation tools sooner. Additionally, social platforms that have implemented self-moderation automated systems have done exceptionally well. When the community downvotes certain content at a certain level, then Twitter should not promote it into user’s feeds. In fact, Twitter’s continual promotion of tweets into people’s primary feeds has actually propagated hate and problematic speech. Instead, Twitter should have been building a self-policing platform from day one or at least within the first couple of years. They chose not to.

Even today, Twitter still hasn’t built a self-policing platform. I regularly find hate speech in my feed. Worse, while I can mark the stuff I like with a heart, I have no such action to force items out of my feed that I choose not to see. The best I can do is mute the user or mute the account. Why is that Twitter? Why can’t I mark individual types of tweets that I no longer want to see and have that content removed from my feed? Why do I have to trudge all the way into preferences and put in mute words or, even more sledgehammery, mute or block the user? Even then, that only affects my account. It doesn’t have any impact on the global Twitter.

Employing Social Moderation and Tweet Grading

Using social moderation is both effective and necessary when you’re working with millions of users sending millions of messages per day. Twitter is a social platform. Let’s use that social interaction of those millions of people to bubble worthy messages to the top and sink crap messages so they never get seen. This is the ONLY way to effectively moderate at scale on a social platform. The value of each tweet is in its worth to viewers. Many viewers all marking tweets downward means less people see it. Many viewers marking tweets up means more people will see it. I can’t imagine that any sane person would choose to vote up hate speech, death threats or similar unacceptable or violent content.

I’m not saying that any one user should have undue influence over a tweet’s popularity. In fact, users will need to build their trust and reputation levels on the platform. For example, newly created accounts might not even be able to influence up or downward momentum of tweets right out of the gate. It might take 2-4 months of interactions on the platform before the user’s interactions begin to count. This way, users can’t go out and create 100 or more accounts in an attempt to get their tweet to the top of popularity. In fact, any tweet that ends up getting upvotes from too many newly created accounts without other upvotes should be marked as suspect and have their own trust levels locked or reduced.

Additionally, it should take interactions from many trusted accounts simultaneously to raise a tweet’s popularity substantially, particularly if those accounts have no relationship to one another (not following each other). This says that independent users have found a tweet’s content to be worthy of interaction by others.

This isn’t to say this is the only algorithm that could be built to handle social moderation, but it would definitely be a good start and a way to take this platform to the next level. Conversely, I will state that building an algorithm to scan and rate a tweet based solely on its textual content is next to impossible. Using the power of social interaction to grade a tweet and raise or lower its value is the best way to force those who want to game the system out of the platform.

Also, there should be no exemptions from the system. Not for CNN, not for Proctor and Gamble, not for any account. Social moderation needs to apply to all accounts or it’s worthless.

I’m not saying that social moderation is in any way a perfect solution. It isn’t. But, at least it can be fair when implemented properly. Can this kind of system be gamed? Probably. But, the engineers would need to watch for this eventuality and be ready to make change to prevent further gaming of the system. Eventually, the holes will be patched.

Multiple feeds and Topics

Here’s another area where Twitter has failed. As with any social platform, users have likes and dislikes and topic preferences they want to see. For example, I really don’t want to see political bashing. That’s not my thing. I’d prefer a feed that is politic free. My only interest in politics and political candidates is when there’s an imminent election. Otherwise, I want it out of my feed. Same for NRA / Gun control arguments. Same for Trump tweet bashing. Same for Pro Life vs Abortion. I don’t want to waste time with these types of divisive controversial topics in my feed. I have better uses for my time. If I want to see that content, I will explicitly go searching for it. I don’t want it to automatically appear in my feed.

Yet, Twitter has not implemented any customized feeds based on likes, hobbies or preferences of information (i.e., new technology). Instead, Twitter has based this part on following Twitter accounts that offer such information. The problem is, chasing down these accounts to follow. Even then, because those accounts might only post new on-topic information 20% of the time, the other 80% of the time I would see stuff I don’t want to see in my feed. Herein lies the problem with Twitter. It shouldn’t be based on following a user, it should be based on following conversation topics.

I’d prefer to customize my feeds (and have several feeds hooked to different topics) and subscribe to those feeds. I don’t need to follow any given account that’s talks about stuff I’m not interested in. Instead, by following topics, my feed gets interesting tweets. I can then discover new accounts to follow and also discover topics I’m interested in. This is the single important piece that Jack and team have sorely failed to address within the Twitter platform. To reiterate, I want to see stuff in my feeds that I am interested in, even if I don’t follow that account. I don’t want to see stuff I’m not interested in at all even if following an account that tweets about it. Following by topic is more important than following by user.

This is the power of social media. This is the power of Twitter. This is what is missing to make Twitter a complete platform… this, in addition to social moderation.

Twitter’s Hand Moderation

Instead of implementing a social moderation system or an interests based feed system, Twitter has spent its time hand moderating by suspending and banning accounts all in its stated goal of “reducing hate speech”. While deleting accounts may reduce that account’s ability to post hate speech, it doesn’t stop the user from creating a brand new account and starting it all over again. This is Twitter’s flaw in the user follow model.

Only the above two designs: 1) topic based multiple feeds and 2) social moderation will lead to lasting change within the Twitter platform. Nothing else will. Twitter’s hand moderation technique is merely a small bandaid with limited scope. It will never make a dent in reducing hate speech on Twitter. Lasting change only comes from innovating the platform in new and better ways to improve the end user experience and, at the same time, reducing the signal to noise ratio.

It’s time for Twitter to step up and actually begin innovating its platform in substantial new and meaningful ways… or it will perish.

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Workplace Crime: Should I talk to HR?

Posted in best practices, business, Employment by commorancy on August 10, 2018

This is a common question and doesn’t have a fast answer. Let’s explore.

Sexual Assault in the Workplace

I’ll talk about this one right up front as it’s front and center news. While this tends to be more common for females than males, both genders can experience this issue. What should you do if you’re groped at the workplace in an inappropriate way? The first question you’re probably asking is, “Should I contact HR?”

The answer is a resounding, NO. Do not contact HR and try to complain there first. In fact, unless you’re a manager, you should entirely avoid complaining to HR. Why? Let’s explore deeper.

Human Resources works for Management

This is an important concept to understand about corporate business. The HR team works for management, not the employees. Many people have a misconception that the HR team is an advocate for the employee. This is entirely false. The HR team members, no matter how friendly they appear, are not and will never be an employee advocate. Only you can be your own advocate (and any attorney you hire). Your employer’s HR team looks out for #1, which is the business and management team.

If the activity you experienced is sexual misconduct and resulted in bruises, marks or injury, then visit a hospital and take photos of the injuries first. Call 911 if necessary. If situation involves rape, then you’ll need to have the hospital perform a rape kit. When you are able and out of immediate danger, you should call the police and file a police report against the person by describing what happened to you in the police report. Always ensure you are out of immediate danger before contacting anyone.

Next, find a lawyer who can represent you in this matter. If the lawyer finds merit in a lawsuit against the accused (or your company), it’s up to you to decide or not to proceed with the case. Of course, you’ll want to make sure you understand the consequences and the monetary costs of pressing such legal action, particularly against high paid executives and your employer.

Once you have filed both a police report and you have a lawyer, only then should you involve the HR team and give them notice of the event. Even then, you should only contact your HR team after discussing this strategy with your lawyer.

The HR team’s responsibility is always to find reasons to discredit you and sweep the event under the rug. Once a police report is filed and you have a lawyer, the HR team can no longer play the protect-the-company game easily because the police are now aware. The HR team is not law enforcement, but they always want to avoid lawsuits at all costs. They exist to make sure the company’s image remains clean and friendly. If it gets publicized that staff are being sexually assaulted in their workplace, their hiring efforts will cease. No one will want to work at a company that wilfully puts employees into harm’s way while on the job. No, it is in HR’s best interest to ensure the employee making the accusation is terminated and discredited. HR may or may not terminate the accused depending on the position held within the company.

For example, if the person being accused of sexual misconduct is a manager, director, VP or C-level exec, it’s almost certain the accusing employee will be targeted for termination. The accused will likely remain at the company. As I said, it’s important to understand that the HR team’s obligation to the company is to protect the management team and the company against lawsuits.

Targeted for Termination

While whistleblowers have protection when working in government jobs, no such protections exist for private corporations. If you whistleblow as an employee of a private corporation, the company is well within their rights to terminate your employment with or without cause. This is particularly true if your employment is considered AT-WILL. Of course, you can also sue the company for wrongful termination. The HR team is well aware of this position as well.

To avoid a wrongful termination lawsuit, the management team will sideline you into a position where you cannot succeed. This will then force you to perform badly and force management to put you onto a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). Because you have no way to succeed on this PIP, you’ll fail at all of the success goals while on the PIP and, at the end of the improvement period, you will be ushered to the door. This is a common practice to get rid of troublemakers and avoid wrongful termination lawsuits.

If you whistleblow and end up on a PIP, you’re being groomed for termination. You should take this as a huge hint to move on.

Termination and Lawsuits

When you’re terminated, you may be asked to sign legal documents stating you won’t sue the company or that you’ll agree to arbitration. Simply ignore the documents and don’t sign them. The company cannot withhold your pay as extortion for signing those documents. If they try this, this is illegal and you can sue them for withholding your earned pay. A CEO can even be personally jailed for willfully withholding your pay even if it was someone else in the organization who made that decision. Your company must pay you the hours you worked regardless of what you sign going out the door.

Also, being terminated doesn’t absolve the company from any legal wrongdoing. If you have a pending lawsuit against the company, being terminated doesn’t change the status of that pending lawsuit. You are still free to pursue any lawsuits you have open. In fact, being able to document termination in a retaliatory way may even strengthen your lawsuit.

Guilt, Lawsuits and your Career

If you witness or you become a part of an illegal activity in the workplace (i.e., sexual misconduct), it is on you to determine how you want to handle it. You can do nothing and let it drop or you can take it to the police. It’s your choice. Too many companies get away with far too much. If you witness or experience anything illegal while on the job, you should report it to the police and consider a lawsuit.

As I said above, if you attempt to go to HR first and ask them to address your concern, instead you will likely find you are being accused, sidelined and treated as the criminal, not the person who performed the misconduct. Why?

The HR team and its management is hired by the CEO and executive team. The HR manager likely reports directly to the CEO or the CFO. As a result, they take marching orders from the CEO. If an employee makes an allegation against a manager or above, the CEO will want to quash this as quickly and as quietly as possible without investigation. To do this, the HR team will state they are investigating, but instead they will begin watching the employee who made the report closely. Even the tiniest slip or mistake will be blown way out of proportion and the accuser be reprimanded. This may lead to a PIP as described above or possible immediate termination.

Basically, if you reach out to the HR team for help, you may find that it is you who are now the target against the ire of the company. Unfortunately, once the executive team paints a target on the back of an employee, it’s only a matter of time before the accuser is gone.

Throw Away Employees

Unfortunately, corporate business is cutthroat about making money and ensuring that that outcome continues. CEOs and the executive team will stop at nothing to make sure business continues as usual. The executive team is not your friend at any company. They are your boss. As a boss, they will do whatever it takes to make sure their business succeeds, regardless of what that means to you.

The only employee in any organization considered important enough to keep on the payroll is the CEO. All else are expendable… and this is especially true of troublemakers. By making an accusation of sexual misconduct against anyone, you may be labeled a troublemaker in your personnel file. If your position is easily replaced, you’ll soon be gone and they’ll fill it with someone else.

For this reason, if you’re alleging sexual assault, you have to make sure to legally document everything including physical evidence of it. The only way to do that is contact the police. Then, hire a lawyer. Only a person whom you are paying can help you to bring justice. The HR team has no incentive to bring justice on your behalf as they are not paid by you. The HR team has every incentive to ignore you and maintain status-quo because they are paid by management.

Illegal Activities

Illegal activities are not limited to sexual misconduct. It also includes embezzlement, money laundering, insider trading, cooking the books, theft, vandalism and any other willful act by an officer of the company. If you witness any of these, you should still file a police report and then talk to a lawyer.

Skip talking to the HR team as they will only cast suspicion on you, try to turn it around on you and/or target you for termination. It is their job to kill these problems as quickly and as quietly as possible using any means necessary. Being able to get rid of problems quietly is the difference between a good and a great HR team. Don’t ever think the HR team is on your side.

HR Perks and Employee Happiness

This goes hand in hand with all of the above. Unless you’re on the management team, the HR team is not your advocate. Yes, HR is there to keep the employees happy, but only on their terms. When a non-management employee brings a problem to the attention of HR, watch your back. This means, never disclose your internal company problems to an HR team member. Sure, you can be friendly and sociable, but always keep the HR team at arm’s length when discussing personal or job related matters. This also means you need to know whom is married to whom in your organization. You don’t want to vent a bunch of personal issues to a co-worker only to find out they are married to the an HR manager or HR employee at your company. Word gets around fast in HR.

As an example, if your company offers company paid counseling as a perk, you should avoid using it. Instead, you should find your own personal counselor and pay them for services yourself. If you disclose anything to a company paid counselor which could be misconstrued as a problem for the company, the HR team may be able to obtain this information outside of any doctor-patient privilege. Because of this, this could give the HR team ammo to terminate your employment. Always be very, very cautious when using such company sponsored counseling services. When the company is paying the bill, they may have made legal arrangements to obtain information that an employee might disclose.

This information can be kept in your employment file and potentially used against you should the need arise. Careful what you say, particularly to company paid counseling services.

Managers and HR versus Employee

Yes, the management team and HR will gang up on you. As an employee, the HR team always takes the word of a manager over the word of an employee. This is fact. There is no such thing as justice or equality in corporate business. The HR team represents the management team without question. If, for example, you accuse a manager of sexual misconduct and that manager tells HR that the accuser made it all up, that’s where the accusation ends. Worse, the manager can then retaliate against you through the HR team’s blessing. There will be no further investigation nor will your accusation receive any further review. However, your work efforts might find undue scrutiny, micromanagement and manager meddling. If you press the point, the HR team will likely begin the sidelining and termination process at the manager’s request.

Even if the HR team requests such complaints come forward, never assume that submitting your complaint to the HR team will result in any satisfactory outcome for you. It won’t. Instead, you will need to rely on the legal system to work for you. This is the reason you should make a police report as soon after the incident as possible, preferably the same day. Visit a hospital if you are injured so they can medically help you and document your injuries. Then, find a lawyer who specializes in whatever you witnessed or experienced and talk to them about your case. If you have been assaulted or raped in the workplace, you should visit the RAINN web site or call RAINN at 1-800.656.HOPE to find out what to do next.

If you choose to try to reach out to the HR team and find that it all backfires on you, you can’t say you haven’t been warned.

Disclaimer: None of this article is intended to be construed as legal advice. If you have legal questions, you should contact an attorney near you who specializes in the crimes you have witnessed or experienced. If you are a victim of sexual assault and/or rape in the workplace, visit RAINN to find out what to do.

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Carrie Fisher to appear in Star Wars: Episode 9

Posted in business, movies by commorancy on July 27, 2018

star-wars-e9It was announced today by LucasFilm that J.J. Abrams has come up with a way to include Carrie Fisher in the upcoming Star Wars Episode 9 installment. Let’s explore.

The Force Awakens

Every film has outtakes and footage that doesn’t make the final cut. So, where does that film end up? It seems that the outtake footage of Carrie Fisher from The Force Awakens will end up in Episode 9.

What does this mean for Episode 9? It means that J.J. Abrams will need extraordinary writing and editing efforts to shoehorn this existing footage into a cohesive narrative for Episode 9.

Will It Work?

This is, unfortunately, a constraint that the saga doesn’t need. I realize that Carrie Fisher’s untimely death left the Star Wars franchise with a dilemma. I also realize that the filmmakers wanted a way to properly close Leia out from this Saga. I further realize that the story needs to be cohesive and round out the ending of this already perilous trilogy after the divisive The Last Jedi.

On the one hand, I’m like any other fan. I want to see Leia complete her role in the final installment. On the other hand, I realize this isn’t possible because Carrie Fisher is no longer with us. I also realize that the series needs to honor Carrie’s and Leia’s legacy in these films.

At the same time, The Last Jedi arguably one of the worst Star Wars films ever made and it needs to be forgotten as we try to ignore (as best we can) the crap that Rian Johnson introduced. With that said, J.J. Abrams needs to try and salvage and close out this trilogy in some befitting way.

By grabbing random film stock of Carrie Fisher from The Force Awakens, it is intended to do one thing, honor Carrie’s memory… something this franchise does need to do. However, there are many ways of honoring a person’s memory without resorting to fitting …

Square Pegs in Round Holes

This is where I believe J.J. Abrams has just tied his own hands. J.J.’s abilities to write solid functional stories for film is difficult enough at the best of times. When trying to honor Carrie’s and Leia’s memory at the same time using this old stock footage, I’m highly skeptical that J.J. is actually proficient enough at screenwriting to pull this final installment off with these constraints. I’m not saying that J.J. can’t pull it off, but his ability to pull it off successfully has just dropped dramatically.

Final Trilogy Installment

We all know that this trilogy (and the Star Wars franchise in general) is already in serious trouble. I’d personally consider using Carrie’s The Force Awakens footage as a highly risky move for this film. Yes, we do need to close out Leia’s involvement, but I’m uncertain that this existing footage will even make sense in the context of a new story.

Considering the performance of the Solo movie, I wouldn’t have suggested making an announcement that this possibility exists at all. Just let it happen organically. If it works, so be it. We’ll see it when the movie is complete. Since the principal photography is to begin in August 2018, it’s way too premature to know if what Carrie filmed in 2015 will even work. And, if it doesn’t work when a rough cut is viewed, it could end up on the cutting room floor again. After all, it was already on the cutting room floor. Having announced it in the press means fans will expect it to be in the film. If it’s yanked because it doesn’t work, that choice will be reflected in the movie’s box office receipts. This announcement seems way too premature.

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Unlimited Vacation: Blessing or Curse?

Posted in best practices, business, vacation by commorancy on July 23, 2018

I don’t usually get into discussing workplace stuff because it’s relatively boring. However, Unlimited Vacation is one perk that is really, really needs discussion. Let’s explore.

Perks and Jobs

I get it. I understand why companies offer perks. They have to offer perks for talent acquisition reasons such as:

  1. Companies must keep up with competition — If a company doesn’t keep up with what other companies are offering, they lose talent during recruiting
  2. Companies must offer perks that seem inviting — Again, this is a talent acquisition feather-in-the-cap sort of thing. It’s something the HR team can cross off the checklist of things to entice candidates
  3. Companies must offer perks that are inexpensive — Companies don’t want to give away the farm to offer a specific perk

What kinds of perks can you typically find in tech companies? You find perks like the following:

  1. A stocked kitchen — This includes soda, coffee, tea, milk / cream and then for food, this can include fruit, nuts, chips and cereal
  2. Bagel Friday — This perk includes donuts and bagels on Friday
  3. Lunches — Some companies offer subsidized and/or free lunches one or several days of the week

Those are all food related, however, other perks include:

  1. Day Care or reimbursement
  2. Commute expenses
  3. Free parking
  4. Tuition Reimbursement (job related)
  5. Training / certifications (job related)
  6. Paid sick days
  7. Paid vacation
  8. 401k
  9. ESPP (if public company)
  10. Company holidays

These are the HR type of benefits that many companies offer. Many of these have a real dollar based cost to the business. However, there’s a new perk that seems great, but really isn’t for several reasons. That perk is ….

Unlimited Vacation

This ‘perk’ (and I use this term loosely) is now becoming popular in businesses. Why? Because it doesn’t cost the business anything to implement and may actually save the company some money (or so companies think). On paper, the idea seems enticing, in reality it’s a pointless benefit to employees and actually encourages more employees to take vacation which may hinder productivity and deadlines.

Why is this benefit so bad? This benefit is pointless because there is no way any employee can actually use it in its unlimited capacity. If you were to try, you’d be fired and walked from the building. I don’t know of any business that doesn’t require approval for vacation from a manager. Even if you could request excessive amounts of vacation, it’s unlikely your manager would approve it. But, within reason, you can request time off and here’s where it begins to break down for employers.

The only people who can even use this benefit as unlimited are those who are in management positions, who don’t have to report their own vacation usage. In other words, subordinates won’t be able to use it, but managers will (and they will use it frequently).

This is one of those perks that will be abused by those in charge. Those not in charge will be penalized whenever they attempt to use it in any unlimited way.

Vacation Time

In general, asking for vacation time off is tricky. It must always be coordinated with ongoing projects, team commitments (i.e., on-call), other team member time off and holidays and requires manager approval. Even people who end up out sick can interrupt or force rescheduling of vacation time off.

Don’t be tricked by this perk, it doesn’t make vacation time off any more accessible and, in fact it is entirely designed entirely for …

Ripping off Employees

There are two fundamental problems with Unlimited Vacation. The first problem is that the benefit (ahem) is being implemented as a cost saving measure to rip off employees when they leave a company (and is designed to appear to save the company many thousands of dollars). This issue really only affects long term employees. You know, the ones who have devoted several years to your business. But now, you’re going to give them the finger on the way out the door? Smart.

With standard paid time off (PTO), you are allotted a certain amount of hours that accrue over time. Let’s say for every year of service that you complete, you will accrue up to 1 week off (with a maximum of 2 weeks that can be held in total). After 2 years of service, you’ll have those 2 weeks accrued, assuming you never take time off. If you leave the company after 2 years without taking any vacation, you’ll be paid out your accrued PTO balance for the 2 weeks that you didn’t take. That’s two weeks worth of salary you’ll receive upon exit, in addition to any other salary owed.

With Unlimited Vacation, that vacation payday goes away. Since it’s now unlimited, there’s no more time accrued and no more PTO to pay out for any employee. The only thing that payroll needs to keep track of is how much time you’ve used solely for timekeeping purposes. When you exit a company offering Unlimited Vacation, you won’t receive any vacation pay because they are no longer accruing any. This means that when you were formerly paid 2 weeks of PTO, with Unlimited Vacation you now get $0.

Unlimited Vacation is then an HR cost-cutting measure entirely designed to screw exiting long term employees over so companies no longer need to make any vacation payouts.

Here’s where the second problem begins. As employees realize this screw-over job and to make up for the lack of accrued time, this means employees will need to take as much vacation as is allowed without getting fired in the process. Since you can’t accrue, you now need to use.

Accrued PTO vs Unlimited Vacation

Businesses don’t seem to understand the ramifications of this perk on its workforce. The first ramification is that employees with accrued PTO no longer get the exit vacation payday. This is significant when exiting your employer and moving on. But, this only occurs on a termination event. Employees should remain cognizant of this event, but even more employers should remain cognizant of how this will change how vacation is used. As an employer, it means you need to understand how to retain your workforce better.

Here’s the second problem in a nutshell. PTO encourages employees to stockpile their vacation and rarely take it. Up to 50% of the workforce does this. However, Unlimited Vacation encourages employees to take as much vacation as they can legitimately get away with.

With PTO, employees might work and work and work with little time off. With UV, more employees will take more time off, thus working less. This is something that HR and management will need to understand about this benefit. If the point is to get people to take more time off, then UV is the answer. If you’re trying to encourage people to stay at their desks and work, PTO is the answer… but has the end payout.

It really all depends on how you want your staff to work. If you want people at their desks not taking time off, then PTO is your answer. If you want people constantly taking time off, then UV is your answer. Sure, UV saves you on the exit payments, but at the cost of people taking more time off throughout the year. It does one more thing.

The up to 50% of employees who rarely take time off will change their work ethic to include significantly more time off. Since they know can no longer stockpile and get that payday when leaving, they will now be encouraged to take time off to make up for that loss of money. This means that a workforce that you relied on to work excessive hours to make ends meet will no longer continue that trend in your business.

If you think that people will continue the same type of vacation behaviors they used with PTO when on UV, you’re mistaken. People will use what they are owed. If they are encouraged to take time off, they will whenever possible. This means that for the folks who rarely (if ever) took PTO days will now begin scheduling more time off throughout the year. That’s not because it’s unlimited, but because they understand that they no longer get the payout at the end. This compromise ensures they get the equivalent benefit and that means scheduling and taking time off. There’s entirely nothing the HR team can do about this change in vacation usage behavior when on the Unlimited Vacation plan.

It’s a use-it-or-lose it situation. If you never take vacation with PTO, you can justify it with the payout at the end. If you never take vacation with UV, not only do you get no time off, you get no payout at the end. It’s simple math. No payout at the end means using more vacation time to get the equivalent benefit. Employees aren’t stupid and they will realize this paradigm shift and compensate accordingly.

This outcome will happen. You can even watch your employees behaviors after you convert from a PTO to UV system. I guarantee, your employees will notice, understand and modify their vacation schedule accordingly. This may impact your business, so caveat emptor.

Good or Bad?

That’s for each company to decide. More employees taking more vacation is good for the employee and their morale. But, it may negatively impact the productivity of your business. With PTO, people not taking vacation means more productivity. With UV and more vacation time off, this likely means less productivity. It might mean a happier and less stressed workforce, but it likely also means less work getting done.

I’m not saying any individual will take excessive time off. No, I’m not saying that at all. That’s simply not possible. What I am saying is that if 40-50% of your workforce never takes time off under a PTO plan, you will likely find that number reduces to less than 10% of your workforce not taking time off with a UV system. That’s a significant amount more people taking time off throughout the year than on a PTO system.

If you delude yourself into thinking employees who don’t take vacation time off will continue a PTO trend on a UV plan, your HR team is very much mistaken. I can also guarantee that if managers deny vacation requests to keep employees at their desks, this too will backfire and your talent will leave. This will become a catch-22 problem in your business.

As an employer, you spend a lot of money hiring talent. You also spend a lot of money holding onto that talent. Why jeopardize all of that with a policy like UV that won’t really do what what you hoped it would? On paper, it seems like a great cost saving policy. In practicality, it will likely backfire on your company’s productivity efforts and cost you more money in the end, but not for the reasons you think.

Conversion Process

You may find that if you are converting from some other vacation system to unlimited that people do continue their traditional habits. However, that will change over time both as turnover happens and as people realize their loss of PTO payout. Once employees wake up to the realities of the new system, the amount of employees requesting and taking vacation will increase.

A UV policy will make it more difficult on the managers to juggle vacation timing, fairness and who can take what when. This will increase manager load by taking them away from managing projects and deadlines to managing the minutiae of juggling even more staff vacations.

Hourly Employees versus Salary Employees

This type of perk works best in salaried environments. With hourly employees, trying to offer a perk like Unlimited Vacation won’t really work well. This is particularly true of employees working in a call center or similar type environments. With salaried tech workers, this kind of benefit may work for you with the caveats that have been thus far described.

Startup or Established Company

If you run a startup, you should stay away from the Unlimited Vacation policy entirely. It won’t do your business any favors. Sure, it’s more cost effective, but only when long term employees leave. If you’re a startup, you won’t have long term employees to worry about for a while. Your duty is to entice your talent to stay, not leave. If you have a problem with a revolving door of staff, then you have a much bigger problem than a benefit like Unlimited Vacation. The problem for a startup is that a UV plan encourages more people to take vacation more often rather than stockpiling it for use later. Again, more workload for a manager to juggle vacation schedules rather than handling projects and deadlines.

In a startup, a UV policy means more people taking time off. This isn’t what you want when you need all hands on deck to keep the business afloat. You want most people at their desks and readily available at all times. When people take vacation, they expect to be cut off from their job including no email, no pager and no contact. And, rightly it should be. If you’re on vacation, you’re on vacation. PTO plans encourage staff to accrue now and take time off much, much later, perhaps years later. With a UV plan, this  encourages more people to take vacation regularly. Not exactly what you need in a startup. PTO works for a startup because employees stockpile and then once the business is off the ground years later, they will then take their vacations. This is why PTOs are actually better for a startup than a perk like UV.

If your business is established with 500 or more employees, then implementing an Unlimited Vacation policy might be worthwhile depending. With larger numbers of staff, there’s more opportunity for someone to cover an employee who’s out. This means if your 40%-50% staff who are stockpiling decide to start taking vacation in increasing numbers, you can withstand this change in your workforce behavior.

It’s up to you to decide how to operate your business, but PTO vs UV is one perk you should thoroughly investigate and then weigh all pros and cons before implementing it. Don’t do it simply because it might (or might not) save you some cash when employees exit. Do it because it’s the right plan for your business’s current operating goals.

 

Fan Backlash: What’s wrong with Star Wars?

Posted in botch, business, california, movies by commorancy on July 6, 2018

the-last-jedi-theatricalI’ve been watching several YouTube channels recently… yes, I do watch YouTube. And yes, there has been a huge fan backlash against the latest Star Wars installment, The Last Jedi. Some of these channels outright blame the social justice warriors for the fundamental problem. I don’t agree. The SJWs aren’t to blame, Disney and Kathleen Kennedy are. Let’s explore.

The Original Trilogy

Episodes 4, 5 and 6 are arguably the best of Star Wars. These films were created and conceived by George Lucas. We got a tiny taste of the cutesy characters the Jawas and R2D2 in A New Hope and again with Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, but these characters were tempered to avoid becoming cartoons. As fans, we were able to mostly ignore these cutesy characters because they were limited in scope and/or served a genuine purpose (more than being cute). George then pushed the bounds again in Return of the Jedi with the Ewoks. These little cutesy bundles of fur were almost entirely “for the kids” and very much cartoons. Thankfully, the introduction of these cuddly characters didn’t entirely ruin the plot of the film. Yes, they were cute, but most of us were able to get over the cute-cuddly teddy bear nature of them. However, George was skating on thin ice with these characters. Many fans weren’t impressed. Still, Return of the Jedi worked as a sufficient ending to the original trilogy.

Thankfully, at the time, social media was non-existent. The only people who could effectively and loudly complain about it were the newspaper critics. The fans had no outlet for their own outrage. The Internet was just budding, email didn’t exist and neither did Twitter, Facebook or any other social site. Fan complaints traveled almost entirely by word of mouth (or via the convention circuit).

The Prequels

By 1999, when Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace premiered, email, text messaging, blogging and even early versions of social media began their rise to becoming ubiquitous. This is the time when fans finally had not only an outlet for their words, but people to read them. Not long after this period of time is when the term ‘social justice warriors’ would be coined. At this time, they were simply called, ‘keyboard warriors’.

When George introduced Jar Jar Binks, he took the cutesy cartoon idea to extremes producing one of the biggest pop icons of the era and simultaneously one of the most derided characters ever to grace the silver screen, let alone a Star Wars film. Many people have a love-hate relationship with Jar Jar.

Not only is Jar Jar very much a cartoon character, he’s also a politically incorrect figure in so many different ways. Not only in his voice, but in his manner of speech and in simply what he says. This is through no fault of the voice actor who portrayed Jar Jar. This is the fault of George Lucas. This is also where Star Wars effectively “jumped the shark”, but not solely because of Jar Jar. Oh certainly, Jar Jar heavily contributed to this, but writing a trilogy long story about the origin of Darth Vader is, well, pretentious. It really doesn’t take 3 films to show the entire Anakin Skywalker story.  That could have been condensed into one film leaving two others to show Darth Vader doing nasty things and birthing the rebellion. Instead of boring senate scenes about trade blockades (*yawn*), we could have been watching Darth Vader and the Emperor fighting the beginnings of the rebellion (much more interesting).

This is where George has not only fallen on that thin ice, he fell through it. This is where George finally got a taste of fan backlash. Backlash that he would have gotten a whole lot faster had social media existed when the Ewoks showed their cute little faces on screen the first time. No, he had to wait until the prequels were released to finally get a taste of what would become Social Justice.

It also didn’t help that George’s revisionist tendencies led him to re-release the original trilogy with updated CGI visuals and modified scenes. In combination with the prequels, this led fans to begin their disenchantment with the direction of the Star Wars film universe. Did it really need to be revised who shot first in the cantina scene?

The Disney Films

Because of George’s less than stellar trilogy story in the prequels (Episodes 1, 2 and 3), George felt downtrodden and unable to produce more Star Wars films. Ultimately, he sold the franchise to Disney.

By 2015, with the release of The Force Awakens, fans were more excited than skeptical. By this time, not only had social media well matured, we now have instant access to it anywhere. Yes, even in the theater while watching it. It was inevitable that people would post their reviews within minutes of exiting the theater, possibly writing it while they were watching. Initially, fan reviews of The Force Awakens were positive. However, as fans mulled over the film on social media and via other means, it became clear just out vacuous this first new installment really was.

Yes, The Force Awakens feels like a Star Wars film, but it isn’t a Star Wars film in structure. It’s a J.J. film. After a few months of mulling over what The Force Awakens meant, it was quickly clear that it simply wasn’t what fans wanted.

Hollywood’s Affirmative Action Plan Initiative

Since at least 2014, the gender and ethnic equality war began in Hollywood in earnest. Since then, Hollywood has been sacrificing its screenplays and film profits (and projects) to the Hollywood Affirmative Action Plan Initiative (HAAPi — pronounced “happy”). Instead of telling stories as written with characters as created, directors and producers now feel the need to rewrite and cast politically correct ethnic and/or gender bending casts at the expense of producing a high quality entertaining film that will become a box office success.

Here are are two examples:

  • 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot was recast entirely with women in the lead roles
  • 2015’s Johnny Storm was recast as a black male against his white female sister in the latest failed Fantastic Four… not how the comic was written.

Both of these films I’d classify as box office bombs sacrificed to HAAPi. Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein have additionally been sacrificed to this movement. I’m not sure if the women of Hollywood intend to bring down the entire film industry or what exactly is their agenda, but trying these silly shenanigans in an effort to force a cast of women and ethnic minorities at the expense of a logical story is insane.

I am 100% for gender and ethnic diversity in casting … When. It. Makes. Sense. Don’t do it because you can, do it because the story requires it.

Do you want to make money or do you want to make a point? Let’s hope this trend ends before all of the studios in Hollywood end up bankrupt. On the other hand, perhaps it is time for Hollywood’s day to end.

The Last Jedi

To some extent, The Force Awakens’s sacrifice to HAAPi was both inevitable and thwarted. Because this was the first installment and these were brand new characters, we ignored HAAPi (for the most part). As excited fans, we were able to look past HAAPi and ignore any specific casting defects in starring roles.

However with The Last Jedi (helmed not by J.J. Abrams like The Force Awakens, but by Rian Johnson), this film not only succumbed to HAAPi, but slapped us fans in the face with it like a dead fish. Instead of casting smart, Johnson (and Kennedy) cast HAAPi. With Rose Tico, we ended up with an Asian female. There’s nothing specifically wrong with this casting choice if it had happened in The Force Awakens. Instead, because of HAAPi, this character was shoehorned into a main character role at a time when the character was not needed. This character was also shoehorned into a plot device that just didn’t work. In fact, the entire romp between Finn and Rose was entirely pointless for this film and wasted about 15-20 minutes of screen time. Perhaps the resistance ring Rose handed to the boy may have some level of significance in the final film… or it may not. That ring could have been given to the boy in so many other better ways by already established characters.

Also, why introduce Rose at all? She’s a wrench jockey who fixes things. She doesn’t appear to have force powers. What is she likely to bring to the story of any real importance? You can introduce a Rose-like character in a series like Clone Wars or Rebels because it’s a multipart series. There are so many episodes, characters need to come and go. In a trilogy, every character introduction counts. And, such an introduction takes away character development time from other characters. We already don’t know enough about Finn, Poe and Rey, we don’t need yet fourth character to have to get to know.

The reason Star Wars the original trilogy worked is primarily because of the triangle lead roles of Luke, Leia and Han. We had that triangle going with Finn, Poe and Rey. Yet, now we have Finn, Poe, Rey and Rose (?). This character has upset that triangle. If you’re going to do that, then the story should have introduced this character in the opening film to this trilogy.

The Rose problem exists entirely because, like 2016’s Ghostbusters and 2015’s Fantastic Four, The Last Jedi has been sacrificed to HAAPi to solve a perceived film deficiency, not because the story needs it. This time, however, fans were able to lift the HAAPi veil and see through it for what it is… sad. And so, the fan backlash ensues.

Star Wars is a fantasy series. Bringing Hollywood casting agendas into a film’s story isn’t what fans want to see. This not only insults the fans’ intelligence, it insults the fans. What else would Disney expect to happen? Using a franchise like Star Wars to further a Hollywood agenda is entirely insane. Disney and Kathleen Kennedy, you need to get your shit together and wake up. HAAPi is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist and it doesn’t belong in Star Wars.

The Final Film

This film has not yet released as of this article. However, it’s almost certain that not only will this film bomb at the box office, it may end the franchise entirely. Disney would be wise to shelve this last film and any future Star Wars film projects until this whole thing blows over… and Disney, you need dump the current team working on it including Kathleen Kennedy.

Let the final film stew for a few years. Make the fans wait until they clamor for it. Make the fans want it. Putting it out right now is a recipe for box office failure. This franchise is already skating on thin ice because of HAAPi. It’s almost certain that the final film will also be sacrificed to HAAPi. Abusing HAAPi makes me (and many other Star Wars fans) very, very sad.

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