Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Elizabeth Holmes: Why aren’t more CEOs in prison?

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on August 23, 2022

close up shot of scrabble tiles on a white surface

On the heels of Elizabeth Holmes’s conviction for four counts of fraud, the question begs… Why aren’t more startup CEOs in prison for fraud? Before we get into the answer, let’s explore a little about Elizabeth Holmes.

Theranos

Theranos was a technological biomedical startup, not unlike so many tech startup companies before it. Like many startups, Theranos began based out of Palo Alto, California… what some might consider the heart of Silicon Valley. Most startups that begin their life in or around Palo Alto seem able to rope in a lot of tech investors and tech money. Theranos was no different.

Let’s step back to understand who was at the helm of Theranos before we get into what technology this startup purported to offer the world. Theranos was helmed by none other than Elizabeth Holmes. Holmes founded Theranos in 2003 at the age of 19, after she had dropped out of Stanford University. In 2002 prior to founding Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes was an engineering student studying chemical engineering. No, she was not a medical student nor did she have any medical training.

Clearly, by 2003, she had envisioned grandiose ideas about how to make her way in the world… and it didn’t seem to involve actually completing her degree at Stanford. Thus, Theranos was born after having she had gotten her dean, but not medical experts at the school, to sign off on her blood testing idea.

Medical Technology

What was her medical idea? Holmes’s idea involved gathering vast amounts of data from a few drops of blood. Unfortunately, not everyone agreed that her idea had merit, particularly medical professors at Stanford. However, she was able to get some people to buy into her idea and, thus, Theranos was born.

From the drawing board to creating a device that actually does what Holmes claimed would pose the ultimate challenge, one that would see her convicted of fraud.

Software Technology

Most startup products in Silicon Valley involve software innovation with that occasional product which also requires a specialty hardware device to support the software. Such hardware and software examples include the Apple iPhone, the Fitbit and even the now defunct Pebble.

Software only solutions include such notables as Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Office and even operating systems like Microsoft Windows. Even video games fall under such possible startups, like Pokémon Go. Yes, these standalone softwares do require separate hardware, but using already existing products that consumers either own or can easily purchase. These software startups don’t need to build any specialty hardware.

Software solutions can solve problems for many differing industries including the financial industry, the medical industry, the fast food industry and the law enforcement industry and even solve problems for home consumers.

There are so many differing ideas that can make life much simpler, some ideas are well worth exploring. However, like Theranos, some aren’t.

Theranos vs Silicon Valley

Elizabeth Holmes’s idea that a few drops of blood could reveal a lot of information was a radical idea that didn’t, at her young age of 19, have a solution. This is what Elizabeth Holmes sought to create with Theranos.

Many Silicon Valley startups must craft a way to solve the problem they envision. Whether that be accessing data faster or more reliably to creating a queuing system for restaurants using an iPhone app.

It’s not so much the idea, but the execution of it. That’s where the CEO comes into play. The CEO must assemble a team capable of realizing and executing the idea they have in their head. For example, is it possible to create a device to extract mountains of data from a few drops of blood? That’s what Elizabeth Holmes was hoping she could create. It was the entire basis for the creation of Theranos.

Investors

To create that software and device, it takes money and time. Time to develop and money to design and build necessary devices using R&D. A startup must also hire experts in various fields who can step into the role and determine what is and isn’t possible.

In other words, a CEO’s plan is “fake it until you make it”. That saying goes for every single startup CEO who’s ever attempted to build a company. Investors see to it that there’s sufficient capital to make sure a company can succeed, or at least give it a very good shot. Early investors include seed and angel investors, where the money may have few if any strings and later stage investors such as Venture Capitalists, where there are heavy strings tied to the money in the form of exchanging company ownership in exchange for money.

Later stage investors are usually much more hands-on than many angel or seed investors. In fact, sometimes late stage investors can be so hands-on as to cause the company to pivot a company in unwanted directions and away from the original vision. This article isn’t intended to become a lesson for how VC’s work, but suffice it to say that they can become quite important in directing a company’s vision.

In Theranos case, however, Elizabeth Holmes locked out investors by creating a …

Black Box

One thing that Silicon Valley investors don’t like are black boxes. What is a black box? It’s a metaphor for a wall that’s erected between a company’s product and any investors involved. A black box company is one that refuses to share how a startup company’s technology actually works. Many investors won’t invest in such “black box” companies. Investors want to know how their money is being spent and how a company’s technology is progressing. Black boxes don’t allow for that information flow.

Theranos employed such a black box approach to its blood analyzer device. It’s actually a wonder Theranos got as much investor support as it did, particularly for a CEO that young and, obviously, inexperienced when insisting on a black box approach. That situation is ripe for abuse. At 19, how effective could Elizabeth Holmes be as a CEO? How trustworthy and responsible could a 19 year old be with millions of dollars of funding? How many 19 year olds would you entrust with millions of dollars, after they had dropped out of college? For investors, this should have been a huge red flag.

There’s something to be said for the possibility of a wunderkind in Elizabeth Holmes, except she hadn’t proven herself to be a prodigy while attending Stanford. Even the medical experts she had consulted about her idea clearly didn’t think she had the necessary skills to make her far-fetched idea a reality. A chemical engineering student hopping into the biotech field with the creation of small, almost portable blood analysis machine at a time when commercial blood analysis machines where orders of magnitudes bigger and required much more blood volume? Holmes’s idea was fantastical, yet clearly unrealistic.

However, Theranos’s black box, dubbed the Edison or miniLab, was a small piece of equipment about half the size of a standard tower computer case and included a touch screen display and blood insertion port. How $9 Billion Startup Theranos Blew Up And Laid Off 41%

Unfortunately, this black box was truly a black box in all senses of the word, including its actual case coloring. Not only was the Edison’s innards kept a strict company secret, its testing methodologies were also kept secret, even from employees. In other words, no one knew exactly how the Edison truly worked. No, not even the engineers that Theranos hired to try to actually make Holmes’s vision a reality.

Theranos and Walgreens

By 2016, Theranos had secured a contract with Walgreens for Walgreens to use Theranos’s Edison machine to test blood samples by medical patients. Unfortunately, what came to pass from those tests was less than stellar. It’s also what led to the downfall of Theranos and ultimately Elizabeth Holmes and her business partner, Sunny Balwani.

The engineers that Theranos hired knew that the Edison didn’t work, even though they hadn’t been privy to all of its inner workings. Instead, what they saw was those tiny vials of blood trying to run samples on larger blood testing machines like the Siemens Advia 1800.

When the engineers, Erika Cheung and Tyler Shultz, confronted Holmes and Balwani about the Edison machine’s lack of functionality and about being asked to falsify test results, they were given the cold shoulder. Both Cheung and Tyler decided to blow the whistle on Theranos’s fraud. Cheung and Schultz both left Theranos after whistleblowing to start their own companies.

Ultimately, Theranos had been using alternative medical diagnostic technology in lieu of its own Edison machine, which the Edison clearly didn’t function properly and neither did the third party systems with the amount of blood that Holmes stated that it required.

This left patients at Walgreens with false test results, requiring many patients to retest with another lab to confirm the validity of Theranos’s results.

Elizabeth Holmes Fate?

In January of 2022, Elizabeth Holmes was found guilty of 4 counts of fraud. However, the jury acquitted her of all counts involving patient fraud… the patients were, in fact, hurt the most by Theranos’s fraud. The jury awarded monetary rewards to the investors, not to the patients who may have been irreparably harmed by her machine’s failure to function.

Why aren’t more CEOs in prison for fraud?

While the Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes case is somewhat unique among Silicon Valley startups, it is not completely unique. Defrauding investors is a slippery slope for Silicon Valley. Once one company is found perpetrating fraud on investors, it actually opens the door up to many more such cases.

Taking money from investors to attempt to bring a dream to life is exactly what CEOs do. However, Theranos (and Elizabeth Holmes) between 2003 and 2016 couldn’t produce a functional machine.

Most CEOs, given enough time and, of course money, can likely produce a functional product in some form. Whether that product resembles the original idea that founded the company remains to be seen. Some CEOs pivot a year or two in and change directions. They either realize their initial idea wasn’t unique enough or that there would be significant problems bringing it to market. They then change direction and come up with a new idea that may be more easily marketable.

Startups that Bankrupt

In the case of Theranos, other startups that go bankrupt could signal the possibility that CEOs may now be held accountable to fraud charges, just like Ms. Holmes. The Elizabeth Holmes case has now set that precedent. Taking investor money may no longer be without legal peril directly to company executives. If you agree to bring a product to market and are given investor capital to do it… and then you fail and the company folds, you may find yourself in court up on fraud charges.

Silicon Valley investors do understand that the odds of a successful startup is relatively low… which is why they typically invest in many at once. The one that succeeds typically more than makes up for the others that fail. If more than one succeeds, even better. It’s called, “playing the odds”. The more you bet, the better chances you have of winning. However, playing the odds won’t stop investors from wanting to recoup losses for money given to failed startups.

The Elizabeth Holmes case may very well be chilling for startups. It’s ultimately chilling to would-be CEOs who see dollar signs in their eyes, but then months later that startup is out of cash and closing down in failure.

CEOs and Prison Time

Elizabeth Holmes should be considered a cautionary tale for all would-be CEOs looking for some quick cash to get their idea off the ground. If you do manage to secure funding, you should be cautious with how you use that cash. Also always and I mean ALWAYS make sure the progress in building your idea is shown to your investors regularly. Let them know how their investor money is being used. When software is available for demonstrations, show it off. Don’t hide it inside of a black box.

Black boxes have no place in startup investing. As with Elizabeth Holmes, she’s facing up to 20 years in prison. However, her sentence has yet to be handed down, but is expected to be no less than 20 years. Though, it’s possible she may be given the possibility of parole and the possibility of a reduced sentence for good behavior… all of which is up to the sentencing judge.

Elizabeth Holmes opened this door for startup CEOs. It’s only a matter of time before investors begin using this precedent to hold CEO founders to account should an investment in a startup fail.

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Can the Steam Deck succeed?

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

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

Handhelds in Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pricing

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

Screen Shot 2022-02-28 at 11.08.47 AM

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

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

PlayStation Vita, NVIDIA Shield, Nintendo Switch

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

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

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

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

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

Handheld Gaming Battery Woes

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

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

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

Display Technology

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

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

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

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

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

Can the Steam Deck succeed?

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

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

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

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

Games Should Just Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Success or Failure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multiplayer Games?

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

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

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

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

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

Success or Failure Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

person with keys for real estate

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

Selling Anything

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

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

Selling your Company

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

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

Reputation

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

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

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

Venture Capitalist Buyouts

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

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

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

Undervalued

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

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

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

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

Acquisition Woes

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

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

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

Trust

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

Buyouts with Strings

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

Saving Face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technologists vs Venture Capitalists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Smart Bulb Rant: Avoid Bluetooth + Alexa Bulbs

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

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

Smart Hubs

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

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

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

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

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

Bluetooth and Alexa

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

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

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

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

Hub based Systems

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

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

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

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

Color Rendition

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

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

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

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

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

Updated Dec 7th after Amazon Outage

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

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

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

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

Failures

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

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

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

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

Smart Home Devices and Local Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

woman in white shirt showing frustration

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

Gutenberg, Block Editing and Calypso

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

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

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

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

Gutenberg Performance

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

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

Classic Editor

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

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

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

Editor Performance

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

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

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

Gutenberg’s Developers

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

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

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

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

WordPress.com is at a Crossroads

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

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

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

Blocks and Gutenberg

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

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

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

Bad Design

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

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

Change for Change’s Sake

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

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

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

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

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

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

At a Crossroads — Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Is Fiverr a scam?

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

conceptual photo of a money scam

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

Work For Hire

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

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

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

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

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

Buyers

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

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

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

Sellers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiverr’s Naïvety

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

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

Education Institutions

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

Work for Hire

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

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

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

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

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

Academia, Works for Hire and Fiverr

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

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

Sellers Part II

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

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

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

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

Institutions of Higher Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Low Wages

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

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

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

Commissions and Fees

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

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

Scam

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

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

Bottom Line

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

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

Is Tesla Innovative?

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

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

Innovation

via Oxford Dictionary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Product Innovation Types

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tesla’s Innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Driver Assist

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

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

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

Self-Driving Vehicles

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

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

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

Tesla and Driver Assist

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

Innovation is Innovation

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

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

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

Distance Driving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the charge costs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superchargers and Battery Wear

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

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

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

Commuter Vehicle

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

A Green Company?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tesla and the Power Grid

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope meets Reality

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

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

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

Pollution

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

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

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

Renewables

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dangerous

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

Innovation Circle

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

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

Where does Tesla stand?

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

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

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

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

Home Use

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is a Tesla vehicle worth it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Product Innovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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COVID-19: Fact vs Fiction

Posted in botch, business by commorancy on February 24, 2021

Detective work is an art, not a science. However, Dr. Sanjay Gupta attempts to be all things to all people, yet fails at being a journalist or a detective. He definitely shouldn’t quit his medical day job, that’s for sure. Let’s explore.

Fact vs Fiction

Sanjay Gupta hosts a CNN podcast that purports to separate fact from fiction when it comes to matters all things medical. However, in his CNN podcast on February 24th, 2021, this podcast does everything except separate fact from fiction.

On this episode, Sanjay Gupta speaks to random person Peter Daszak, a rando with a British accent (which Sanjay seems think lends his words some credibility) who purports to be some level of official on a mission for the World Health Organization. We’ll circle back around to Peter Daszak’s involvement in this shortly. This person claims to have visited Wuhan and then spouts all sorts of rhetoric as to the origins of COVID-19. As this podcast progresses, this guest digs an ever deeper and deeper hole about the wet market origins with Sanjay capping it with question similar to, “Does this rule out COVID-19 having begun in a lab” (paraphrased).

I’m getting ahead of myself a little. Daszak makes a bunch of statements about the wet market as having been the possible origin, but then always qualifying his statements as “coulda”, “woulda” and “shoulda”. For example, he claims that the markets had a lot of frozen meat. I’m sure it did. Yet, none of that meat tested positive. In fact, in every case where he mentions a type of meat, none of it tested positive for COVID-19. Then he later mentions other additional wet markets where some people might have visited as a possible origin. Yet, no mention of testing or of any positive outcomes from those wet markets. Deflection at its finest. Let’s continue, shall we?

“See only what you want to see”

This is where fiction trumps fact. In fact, it seems as this podcast progresses, Sanjay and Daszak both heavily wish to see the wet market as the origin, yet even having over 900 samples from the original Wuhan wet market with none testing positive for COVID-19, that logically and clearly says that the wet market wasn’t the origin. If you want to believe science here, the science of zero COVID-19 samples in any of the food tells us that the wet market was definitively not the origin… at least, not by food.

Because people tend to congregate in markets en-masse to buy their groceries, it may have been an origin only because of a human-to-human transmission super-spreader event.

Of course, both Sanjay and Daszak espouse “follow the science”, yet there is no science at all involved in direct detective work. Science may be utilized as a tool in detective work, but using science as a detective tool has failed to uncover the wet market as a food origin. If any wet market in China had been an origin for COVID-19, at least some food samples should show positive somewhere. Yet, they don’t.

Sanjay and Daszak seem to be in this podcast to sway minds through disinformation, not actual information. Actual information shows proof. Daszak clearly has none, but then there’s subtext for his motives (more on that below). That lack of proof means that this podcast is attempting to spread disinformation by pointing fingers towards the wet market and away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

China’s Agenda

China wants to be let off of the hook for the spread of COVID-19. They want this so badly that they’re willing to do or say anything to make that a reality. China doesn’t care about lying or disinformation. In fact, they’re more than happy and willing to see credible “western” medical scientists put their reputations on the line to tow China’s “we’re innocent” line. China is not innocent in the spread of COVID-19, but then neither are other countries.

It’s unmistakable. COVID-19 began in Wuhan, China. It didn’t begin in Singapore or Italy or South America or anywhere else in the world. It began in Wuhan, China. It’s also clear that we have no proof that it began in wet market food… which means that it likely began via human-to-human transmission… which means there is a patient zero.

Patient Zero

Where is patient zero? As a professional medical scientist, THIS is the question Dr. Gupta should be asking. Instead, he’s asking questions about the wet market in an attempt to pin this firmly on animal to human transmission via food. Yet, when all of the samples from that wet market are scientifically tested, nothing confirms that the virus began at the market… or at least it didn’t begin via consumption of a tainted animal purchased at the market. If COVID-19 began in a wet market, it began because of a human super-spreader event.

We already know exactly how transmissible this virus is. We also know that it can live on surfaces, sometimes for days. This means that COVID-19 could easily have begun by patient zero visiting a wet market… which is a common practice for buying food in China.

Again, where is patient zero? We already know the Wuhan Institute of Virology had both been studying and housing animals infected with a variant of SARS-CoV-2 (aka COVID-19). The lab workers had been tending to the animals, including cleanup of their feces and urine. There is some question as to whether the WIV’s safety procedures had been properly followed prior to the release of COVID-19 in early December 2019.

On the one hand, you have a wet market of animals, none of which have tested positive for COVID-19. On the other, you have the Wuhan Institute of Virology which houses animals known to test positive for COVID-19. I’ll let you do the math here.

While Sanjay and Daszak are adamant that it “must” have started in the wet market, Ocham’s Razor disagrees. The simplest answer is that COVID-19 got out of the lab. Let’s understand how.

Lab Release?

Around the time that COVID-19 (or at least an unknown illness) began to show in China in early December, a lab assistant went missing from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Her name was Huang Yanling. The lab director, Shi Zhengli, has continually disavowed that the virus escaped from her lab. Yet, this missing lab assistant has never been accounted for. It has been assumed that Ms. Yanling was actually patient zero. Through that supposition, she may have been the person who first became infected, spread it around Wuhan in a super-spreader event and then may have died from it… with her body having been burned.

Ocham’s Razor asks, “Why?” Because she (along with others in the lab) worked at the Wuhan Institute of Virology tending to the infected animals. But then, she vanishes without a trace? Is she alive or dead? No one seems to know and Shi Zhengli shrugs this disappearance off as normal.

When you’re dealing with an outbreak like COVID-19, you can’t discount missing lab assistants from the equation. Yet, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. Anthony Fauci seem to ignore this logic and conclusion jump right over to the diversion of the wet market… which, again, has effectively been proven not to have been the cause of the outbreak.

Again, on the one hand, we have no proof that any wet market animal has tested positive (science). On the other hand, we have a missing lab assistant from the Wuhan Institute of Virology with no explanation of their whereabouts (detective work). Sure, it seems circumstantial, but no one has done an official investigation. Not the WHO, not the CDC, not China and not the United States.

Like a magician who wants your eyes staring at his right hand while his left does the switcharoo so you don’t see how the trick is done, the WHO, China, the U.S. and the worldwide medical community want you looking at the wet market while a young lab assistant, Huang Yanling, disappears from a lab housing COVID-19 infected bats. Yeah, if that’s not misdirection at its finest, I don’t know what is.

Bats and COVID-19

It’s widely agreed that COVID-19 began in bats. Which animals were housed at the Wuhan Institute of Virology? SARS-CoV-2 infected bats, of course. Captive animals don’t just clean up their feces and urine on their own. People must clean it for them. To do this, lab assistants must wear the proper hazard protection gear to avoid accidental exposure while cleaning up the animal waste. Without proper protections, transmission from animal to human can become a reality. Did the WIV fail to properly set up hazard protection? Did this lab assistant fail to wear said protective gear at all times? This lab had already been warned of improper safety procedures years before the incident.

Two State Department cables show that American embassy officials in Beijing made several visits to the research facility and sent two official warnings back to Washington in early 2018 about the lab’s inadequate safety measures. This was at a time when researchers were conducting risky studies on coronaviruses from bats, The Washington Post reported, citing intelligence sources.

https://www.voanews.com/covid-19-pandemic/chinese-lab-checkered-safety-record-draws-scrutiny-over-covid-19

Let me put it this way… which is more likely?

  1. Someone ate an infected bat from a wet market? or..
  2. A lab assistant not following established procedures released COVID-19 from the lab via themselves?

Considering that this lab had been warned of improper safety procedures in the past, I’ll let you do the math. It’s not hard math either. Again:

  1. Are we looking at infection from a wet market, which hasn’t found a food sample with COVID-19?
  2. Are we looking at infection from a lab with known unsatisfactory safety procedures and a missing lab assistant?

Occam’s Razor is fairly clear here. So is K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid). Logic dictates that it’s #2 as the source, not #1. Regardless of what people have stated, it’s fairly clear that the Wuhan Institute of Virology is the most likely candidate. The question, why aren’t more news outlets, the government and other officials like Dr. Fauci and Sanjay Gupta looking in this direction?

Conflict of Interest

Most doctors look up to Dr. Fauci as their guide for all things COVID-19. Unfortunately, Dr. Fauci isn’t as innocent in all of this as he appears. Dr. Fauci headed up the NIH at a time when that organization helped fund the Wuhan Institute of Virology to the tune of over $700,000, perhaps more. This funding was for Gain of Function research.

It gets worse.

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave.”

Who exactly is Peter Daszak? I’m happy you asked that. He runs EcoHealth Alliance, a British non-profit that, in 2018, identified the possibility of SARS-CoV-2 variants, over a year before the pandemic. Why were they able to do this? Because this British non-profit funded research through the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Where did EcoHealth Alliance get its money? From the United States government, of course. Remember that over $700,000 above? Yeah, that’s where some or all of it went.

That money was funneled from the United States NIH to EcoHealth Alliance and then apparently that money landed at the Wuhan Institute of Virology for virus research. It’s not like EcoHealth Alliance is a direct research firm. Nevermind that the Obama administration had banned the use of funds to further Gain of Function research related to viruses in 2014 to prevent this situation from unfolding. Unfortunately, that ban was lifted in 2017 by the NIH (headed by Fauci), leading to further research and perhaps directly to this pandemic. Without that money funneling through outfits like EcoHealth Alliance to such subcontractors as the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the world might not be in this situation.

It takes money to operate expensive research facilities. Without that money, no facilities. Of course, the U.S. Government doesn’t want to get involved in such risky research directly or have that research on U.S. soil, which could backfire on the United States. Instead, it’s fine to funnel money through intermediates so that the United States can absolve itself of involvement through plausible deniability… even though it’s as plainly obvious as it is here. The U.S. indirectly funded research that lead directly to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Is China still at fault? Most certainly. That facility is located in China. China operates it. It is completely on China to operate such facilities responsibly and safely. However, the United States NIH cannot disavow involvement when a very large sum of money landed at that lab, helping them fund SARS-CoV-2 research and possibly leading to the virus’s release. It’s particularly worrying when considering that this research lab indirectly received funding from the NIH, headed up by Dr. Fauci at the time. Dr. Fauci had to know where that money could or would end up. Even still, the NIH could have asked how that money was to be spent by its recipients.

Plausible Deniability and Gupta’s Podcast

I have no idea how culpable or complicit Sanjay Gupta may be in this situation, but it is entirely irresponsible to host a person like Daszak by allowing them to push the wet market disinformation as the source when there has been no actual science proving the wet market’s direct food involvement.

Instead, Daszak’s culpability and possible complicity is evident by his non-profit’s funneling of money into the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which firmly places him, EcoHealth Alliance and its reputation at risk. No. He can’t risk that. So, going on a show like Dr. Sanjay Gupta lends credibility to his assertions that the wet market was the location where it began, never mind that science shows there’s no food evidence. However, a super-spreader event is definitely not out of the question. But then, the question arises, who was patient zero and where began their super-spreader event? I think we already have the answer to that question above.

For this reason, it’s important to read articles and understand the situation for yourself. Don’t take statements from people even who appear well intentioned at face value. You must dig deeper for answers to your questions.

We definitely haven’t gotten the whole answer from China or from the United States. Instead, the media, medical professionals like Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. Anthony Fauci have danced around the issue. With this article, it’s clear to see why they are doing so. To put forth any other narrative about where and how the virus began puts their own careers in jeopardy.

Unfortunately, mainstream media would never pick up such an article like this because it damns not only such people like Dr. Fauci, it damns their own journalistic credibility because the United States government won’t play nice with them after such an article, citing them as “wild conspiracy theorists”.

Being labeled a “conspiracy theorist” is much the same as being accused of sexual misconduct these days. It’s enough to get you fired and labeled as a “nut job”. When, in fact, there’s nothing at all nutty about the statements. In fact, it’s just the opposite. However, even if Dr. Fauci is a “nut job”, he’ll never be openly called that because of his position within the United States government.

For this reason, it’s why we are now facing a political rift across party lines. It’s why Republicans can storm Capitol Hill and most will likely be let off for “good behavior”. Can’t have “well meaning” Republicans being held to justice for damaging property and killing people. Since when is a playing a party affiliation card now a “get out of jail free” card? It seems this, along with the above, is the state of affairs these days.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta needs to rename his podcast. It’s not about Fact or Fiction, it’s about perpetuating disinformation and lies. With Trump, we’ve already had enough lies to last a lifetime. We don’t need yet more lies being spouted from supposed medical professionals. This is why you must question everything.

Update for June 2, 2021

As of June 1, 2021, many of Dr. Fauci’s early pandemic emails from 2020 have been released based on a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. From these emails, there’s much to read. Too much to really discuss here. With the release of these emails, suffice it to say that Fauci’s world is beginning to unravel. FOIA is one of those bane freedoms that people who work in the government would like to see abolished. Thankfully it exists and eventually allows unclassified government documents to be released to the public. I’d suggest reading the emails for yourself. However, as of this update, I’m at a loss to find a site that archives only the text of these emails. For now, you’ll need to visit news sites.

Searching Google for only the emails leads to what I deem ‘spearch‘, a combination of the two words spam and search. It’s when a site like Google chooses to bring garbage listings to the top of the search results rather than the search results you’re actually wanting. Google’s search panel’s AI understands exactly what you want, but instead, it intentionally usurps those results by planting garbage results, which attempts to direct you to those garbage sites with useless information for the sake of more ad revenue.

If I can find a site that simply allows reading only the email test without all of the unnecessary and extraneous garbage content, I will update this article.

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Should the Senate conclude Trump’s Impeachment Trial?

Posted in business, government by commorancy on January 21, 2021

Now that Donald Trump has left office, some Trump fans believe the completion of the impeachment process is now “unconstitutional” and “null and void”, since Trump is no longer President. Let’s explore if this is true.

In or Out of Office?

Let’s understand the laws of our land to understand better the constitutionality of the impeachment process. While the constitution is mostly clear on impeachment, it’s not 100% clear on when and how impeachment may occur under ALL possible circumstances and conditions. This is why interpretation must occur in these special cases. However, interpretation doesn’t mean pulling conclusions out of the air. Instead, it means looking for existing precedents of law in which to guide that interpretation to logical and legal conclusion.

Constitution Excerpts

Let’s look to the United States Constitution (link to a PDF version) to read its language regarding impeachment:

Note that any italics, bold, highlights or <sic> have been added by this author for clarification purposes.

The House of Representatives shall chuse <sic> their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

U. S. Constitutution => Article I => Section 2

The above section defines which arm of the government handles Impeachment… The House of Representatives. So let’s learn about the Senate’s role in the impeachment process.

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

U.S. Constitution => Article I => Section 3

The above section defines the Senate, its powers and how the Senate handles cases of Impeachment. Clearly, the Senate is defined to ‘try‘ (or perform a Trial) for all Impeachments. It also explains how the affected Party will be handled by law upon conviction. This section also defines the requirement of a two-thirds agreement in the Senate for the Senate to convict an Impeachment. Less than two thirds agreement and the trial concludes in acquittal. The two-thirds is strictly for agreement on removal of the President. A simple majority is required to agree on whether the person can hold office again. Both votes are separate. This does mean, then, that it is possible to acquit for removal, but convict for preventing the person from ever holding office again.

To recap so far, the House of Representatives is given the power of Impeachment solely. The Senate is given the power to preside over the Trial of that Impeachment solely. To clarify further, the House performs the impeachment and the Senate performs the Impeachment trial AFTER the House adopts the Articles of Impeachment and hands those approved articles to the Senate. The Senate puts forth and votes on the remedies should conviction occur.

These excerpts above describe the overview of Congress’s responsibilities and role for impeachment, but not the exacting details of how the process operates. We’ll dive into the details shortly below.

Just below, these excerpts describe Presidential responsibilities, powers and, yes, impeachment.

The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States; he may require the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each of the executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices, and he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.

United States Constitution => Article II => Section 2

The above section and article is intended to describe the President’s extent of powers… “except in cases of impeachment“. This means that the President’s powers do have constitutional limits “, specifically in cases of impeachment.

Because this is both the United States Constitution and a legal body of law combined, it must be interpreted not only by constitutional standards, it must also be interpreted by legal standards. Unfortunately, the above isn’t the only mention of the term impeachment within the United States Constitution. Thus, we must press on to better understand how all of the sections together both combine and define what impeachment is, but also the extent to which it functions. With that in mind, I’ll come back to describe more about the constitutional language after all articles and sections have been quoted both above and below.

The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

U.S. Constitution => Article II => Section 4

This section describes to whom impeachment applies and under which specific circumstances.

The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment; shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed

U.S. Constitution => Article III => Section 2

The above section describes to which Trials a jury applies and where those Trials should be conducted. Clearly, impeachment is excluded from trial by jury and also excludes holding it in a state venue, choosing to hold Impeachment Trials in the Senate chambers. Note that this language incidentally also defines powers of the Judicial branch of government by describing the Executive and Legislative branches. Because all three sections of government are so interlinked in each other’s processes, it would be impossible not to describe portions of the Judicial branch when discussing the powers and responsibilities of those in the Executive and Legislative branches, which is why this Judicial language is included in these sections.

This clear intent here is that the framers did not hold any branch of government above the laws of the land, but instead chose to institute a separate trial process when the President has willfully broken laws. One can argue the ultimate intent of the framer’s wishes here as “special treatment”, but the constitution is specific on these matters.

Before I continue quoting sections from the Constitution, let me stop here and discuss this “special treatment”. The framers clearly missed here. I understand that they felt that the best Trial by the President’s peers was via Congress, but “special treatment” does, in fact, tend to hold the President above the laws of the land. Where an ordinary citizen is granted no such special treatment, the President is given this “special treatment” after having broken laws of the land. Not only can’t the President be held to the laws of the land, the only power with which to uphold the laws of the land on the President is solely through the House’s Impeachment and Senate’s Impeachment Trial powers. Barring these specific actions and remedies, the President’s actions cannot be held to the general laws of the land, thus the President is essentially given prosecutorial immunity while he holds office, “except in cases of impeachment“. Impeachment is, then, the only legal action and remedies afforded the Legislative branch to remove a willfully criminal President.

Let’s keep in mind that the House’s successful Impeachment and the conclusion of the Senate’s Impeachment Trial are both separate, but part of the same process. The Senate’s Trial portion is simply an extension of the House’s Impeachment resolution. The Senate’s Impeachment Trial cannot exist without the House’s Impeachment. Likewise, the Impeachment process is incomplete without the Senate voting to convict or acquit. In other words, it is a misnomer to call successful Impeachment of a President when the Senate’s conviction has not yet occurred… only half of the process has been completed. Impeachment means both the House’s portion of Impeachment AND the Senate’s Trial to convict or acquit. Only after completion of both houses together is this considered successful Impeachment (regardless of outcome).

However, many believe that completing the successful adoption of the House’s Articles of Impeachment alone is enough to call the President Impeached. No. You can’t call the President Impeached when only half of the process has been completed. The term, Impeached should only be used to describe a President after both portions of the impeachment process (the House and Senate) have successfully fulfilled their duties and obligations to the constitution and both the House and Senate have agreed and Convicted (or Acquitted) the President, thus removing him from office and voting to rescind that person’s ability to ever hold office again or, alternatively, allowing him to continue to serve acquitted. That is what both Impeachment and Impeached should mean. Anything less degrades the Constitution and dilutes its power as a Constitutional body of law. Unfortunately, even the framers have chosen to ambiguously use the term “impeachment” within its text, such as the ever-vague “except in cases of impeachment” phrase.

Dictionaries, however, believe that it is enough to “charge” (accuse) someone of wrongdoing to use the word Impeach. I disagree with this Dictionary viewpoint. The United States was founded on “Innocent until proven Guilty”. Accusing someone of something is tantamount to “Guilty until proven Innocent”. Without successful completion of the Senate’s portion of an Impeachment Trial, the person is being stated as guilty without having been given a fair trial.

Let’s also understand that for a trial to be fair, it must also be expedient. Our constitution requires not only Trial by Jury (“except in cases of impeachment“), there is no specific definition in the Constitution of how fast the Trial must be conducted, just that it is “speedy”. However, we already know that without verbiage stating exceptions in the Constitution, everyone has the right to an expedient trial, which is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence. <sic>

United States Constitution => Amendment VI

As we know from far above, Impeachment is given certain legal exemptions. However, barring specific exemptions, the rest of the Sixth Amendment’s provisions still apply to the Impeachment trial. This is a basic tenant of law. Thus, this Amendment specifically includes the right to a “speedy” and “public” trial. These provisions are not explicitly excluded in any of the Articles above. As we know from Articles above with regards to Impeachment, a “Trial by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed” IS excluded by Article III, Section 2, which empowers only the Senate to perform this Trial. All else remains in full force and effect.

As for “speedy”, as I’ve said above, there is no specific amount of time set by the framers. This is left up to interpretation. Speedy might be a month or two tops. After six months, that would be considered by most as no longer speedy. No one wouldn’t consider ‘years’ as speedy. Common sense here must prevail. Speedy should be defined as whatever it takes to conduct the trial in a fair manner so long as the process is not interrupted by unnecessary and foreseen procedural or logistical delays. It is then on the Court, or in the case of Impeachment, to perform and conduct a Senate Impeachment Trial expediently once all conditions have been satisfied to begin the trial.

Constitution Verbiage

Here we end all the constitution’s language regarding Impeachment. From here, we must consult the House’s and the Senate’s rules to learn more. Here are the House’s rules. Specifically, here’s the preamble of the House’s rules on impeachment…

Impeachment is a constitutional remedy to address serious offenses against the system of government. It is the first step in a remedial process–that of removal from public office and possible disqualification from holding further office. The purpose of impeachment is not punishment; rather, its function is primarily to maintain constitutional government.

Deschler Ch 14 App. pp 726-728; 105-2, Dec. 19, 1998, pp 28107-9.

Lewis Deschler admits that the House’s portion of Impeachment is the “first step” in the Impeachment process. Because there are multiple steps, that means that until all steps are completed, the process is and should be considered incomplete. It also states that Impeachment is not intended to be punishment, but to uphold (and protect) the constitution.

I’d additionally argue that no one is above the law. Impeachment firmly placed within the Articles upholds that viewpoint. The bar for Presidential crime is obviously much higher than those of ordinary citizens, but Impeachment is a power given by the framers to Congress to remove someone who is willfully criminal while holding the office of President.

Some might consider this a naïve point of view. To some extent it is. Assuming that a person elected President won’t and can’t willfully damage to the Constitution is naïve. To diverge a little, the framers are overly trusting. They believe that people placed into these higher levels of power won’t do damage to the very voters who voted them into office. As I said, naïve. The constitution isn’t, by any stretch, a perfect document. The framers were also well aware of this fact, thus the reason it can be amended. The point wasn’t to make the initial document perfect, but to make it passable by those in power at the time. Viewpoints, even then, made it difficult to achieve consensus. Thus, the Constitution is the very definition of a set of compromises which all of those compromises achieved the signing of the Constitution. That’s why it’s not a perfect document. That’s why there are holes. That’s why some aspects are left ambiguous and left open to interpretation.

Lewis Deschler

So, you’re probably asking, “Who exactly is Lewis Deschler?”. Wikipedia describes him best:

Lewis Deschler (May 3, 1903 – July 12, 1976) was the first, and longest-serving, Parliamentarian of the United States House of Representatives. He started his term on February 1, 1927,[1] during the 70th United States Congress following the retirement of Lehr Fess. Prior to Deschler becoming Parliamentarian, the position was referred to as the Clerk at the Speaker’s Table.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Deschler

Wikipedia goes on to say:

Deschler served as the Parliamentarian from 1927 until his retirement on June 27, 1974, during the 93rd United States Congress.[2] He was an important advisor to many congressmen during his employment, including advising House Speaker Carl Albert on the tax fraud investigation of Vice President Spiro Agnew[3] and the impeachment of President Richard Nixon.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_Deschler

While in office, Lewis Deschler authored and modified many of the House’s rules on impeachment and how the House conducts the Impeachment process… which has significantly influenced this process and how our present House today manages and conducts Impeachment proceedings. I’ll leave you to search for and find out more about both Lewis Deschler and his contributions to see how the U.S. House manages not only Impeachment proceedings, but other House proceedings.

Senate Rules

Now that we’ve reviewed the House Rules (you have haven’t you?), we need to review the Senate Impeachment Trial rules. More specifically, this section from the document, RULES OF PROCEDURE AND PRACTICE IN THE SENATE WHEN SITTING ON IMPEACHMENT TRIALS:

Upon such articles being presented to the Senate, the Senate shall, at 1 o’clock afternoon of the day (Sunday
excepted) following such presentation, or sooner if ordered by the Senate, proceed to the consideration of such articles and shall continue in session from day to day (Sundays excepted) after the trial shall commence (unless otherwise ordered by the Senate) until final judgment shall be rendered, and so much longer as may, in its judgment, be needful.

https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/SMAN-104/html/SMAN-104-pg177.htm

This is the section that discusses a speedy trial… or, at least, how quickly the Senate must act after receiving the Articles of Impeachment from the House of Representatives. It doesn’t state how fast the trial must progress, but it at least states when the Article of Impeachment must be acted on by the Senate.

Double Jeopardy

Someone asked me, “Why isn’t there double jeopardy on impeachment?” Let’s understand double jeopardy. Double jeopardy excludes a person from being tried twice for, and here’s the important point, the same or a very similar crime.

Trump’s first and second impeachments are not for the same crime nor are they similar. So, even were double jeopardy applicable to the impeachment process, double jeopardy wouldn’t apply in this case. Both impeachments are for entirely separate crimes.

Though, I’m not sure why Congress would ever vote to impeach a president twice for the same crime in two separate impeachments. It doesn’t make sense why this would ever happen. I’m not even sure that congress would ever attempt to do this simply because of double jeopardy.

Congressional Failure

With the above said about double jeopardy, part of the problem that leads to this thinking is the failure of congressional leaders to do their own jobs. For example, if the Speaker of the House fails to submit the Article(s) of Impeachment to the Senate, the process cannot conclude.

This leaves the impeachment process incomplete. Such a failure doesn’t allow the accused to prove their innocence on the charges. Not only may this violate the right to a speedy trial, it leaves the accused effectively marked as guilty. That’s not how our system is supposed to work.

If Congress is serious enough to bring Article(s) of Impeachment against the President, then they should be serious and professional enough to see the process through to conclusion. By not completing the process, those responsible should be held liable and penalized for their failure. Specifically, if the Speaker of the House fails to submit the successfully passed impeachment documents, that should jeopardize their Speaker of the House standing. Meaning, they should be deposed and see another representative appointed. If the Speaker of the House fails to do their job, then it’s important to replace that person with someone who will do the job. It is every representative’s responsibility (and oath of office) to uphold the constitution. Failure to uphold the oath of office means the representative needs to be held accountable for that failure including censure or removal from office or position.

Unfortunately, because congress tends to vote on their own matters to affect how they perform their own jobs, checks and balances tends not to apply in these types of votes. This means we usually see Congress fail to apply such penalties that would ensure people do their jobs while in office. Yet another constitutional failure by the framers to prevent conflict of interest problems like this. I digress.

Exceptions, Pardons and Interpretation

Here’s one big last thought before I end this article. Above, there is an excerpt that defines Presidential powers. Specifically:

… [The President] shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment

United States Constitution => Article II => Section 2

This portion is mostly self-explanatory. Again, the President is given the power to grant reprieves and pardons… except in cases of impeachment. Again, unfortunately, the framers left this statement mostly ambiguous. There are several possible interpretations of this verbiage:

The first interpretation suggests that a successful House impeachment alone rescinds the President’s power to “grant reprieves and pardons”. This means that ANY pardons or reprieves that the President attempts to grant AFTER a successful House impeachment is no longer legal. In other words, the President forfeits his power of pardons and reprieves after a successful House impeachment. I believe this interpretation is only partially correct, so let’s continue.

The second interpretation suggests that the text “except in cases of impeachment” suggests the word impeachment to mean that it requires both the full House and Senate processes to conclude in both impeachment and a conviction. The constitution is unclear on this usage and definition of the word ‘impeachment’, but this is also where logic fails.

The second interpretation then suggests the following conditions must be met:

  • A house impeachment must occur
  • A senate conviction must occur
  • Once a conviction occurs, the sitting President will be removed from office
  • A conviction might also prevent the then former President from running for office again

Once a President is convicted and removed from office, there’s no need to request surrender of the pardon power.

This third even more narrow interpretation of “except in cases of impeachment” applies only to offenses covered by the impeachment itself. That’s not specified in this clause. That’s an interpretation and that interpretation seems incorrect. Applying the second interpretation to the third, a President who is fully impeached and convicted can no longer issue pardons and reprieves anyway because they will have been removed from office. Therefore, there is no logic to this interpretation. Again, the framers would have realized this glaring logic error. So…

A fourth interpretation strongly suggests that the framers did realize the above logic error in the second and third interpretations AND they further understood that there is a delay between the time the House passes the impeachment article(s) to the Senate. The framers understood this two house setup can cause delays in the process. This delay leaves the President in power to continue office duties until the Senate Trial begins and concludes. A trial is a trial and can last weeks mulling over evidence. Thus, forfeiture of the power of pardons and reprieves is intended not narrowly for offenses related to the impeachment itself, but for all pardons and reprieves of any kind until the Senate trial concludes. This logic makes the most sense from the framers perspective to prevent the President from passing a flurry of pardons of any kind, which may conceal pardons and reprieves related to the Impeachment. This surrender of power also renders self-pardons for any reason impossible. It the trial acquits, there’s no need for self-pardon. If the trial convicts, the President is removed from power.

This clause’s verbiage then fully implies that the power to grant pardons and reprieves is entirely surrendered after a successful House impeachment. I believe that this is truly what that the framers had intended. Why? Because without this clause, an impeached President can pardon not only themselves for their impeachable offense(s), they can pardon anyone else involved in the action that caused the impeachment. The point here is to stop the President from using pardons and reprieves to avoid Senate prosecution for themselves and their accomplices, regardless of whether the pardon or reprieve appears related or not. This clause additionally prevents “out of sight, out of mind” and “flurry” pardons and reprieves after the House successfully impeaches, but before the Senate trial concludes. The House and Senate should be focused on the Impeachment process, not on reviewing every pardon and reprieve for relationships to the Impeachment. Halting all pardons and reprieves until the Senate’s trial concludes makes the most logical sense and keeps Congress’s focus on the Impeachment, not on Presidential diversions.

Clearly, if the Senate trial concludes in acquittal, then the impeachment is nullified and all powers are restored to the President. If the Senate trial concludes in conviction, then the President is removed from office thus preventing any further pardons and reprieves by that action.

Currently, I believe that the “except in cases of impeachment” verbiage is being taken too literally to cover only and narrowly such pardons and reprieves that appear directly related to the specific “case” of the impeachment itself. I don’t believe that this extremely narrow interpretation was the framer’s intention. Instead, as in the fourth interpretation, I believe the framers intended this phrase to see the President fully surrender the power pardons and reprieves until both the House and Senate conclude both portions of the impeachment and conviction process. This does two things:

  1. It forces congress to abide by a “speedy trial” to…
  2. Quickly give the President back all powers afforded the position or remove an offending President from power

One last word for this verbiage. This verbiage appears intended as a forward looking statement. Meaning, it halts future pardons and reprieves from the date the impeachment is passed by the House. It isn’t intended to touch past pardons or reprieves issued prior to the date of successful impeachment. This makes logical sense because it is assumes that the President’s actions prior to successful impeachment are sincere and trustworthy. That means all past pardons and reprieves should be left standing. Nullifying past pardons and reprieves prior to impeachment could be exceedingly difficult to “undo”. I don’t believe the framers intended for this exception to encompass past actions and/or retroactively apply to all past pardons and reprieves.

Putting it all Together

What does all of the above really mean for Donald Trump’s second impeachment? Some have theorized that because Donald Trump is no longer president that the Impeachment proceedings should be dropped and/or isn’t constitutional. That’s not how legal agreements work. They don’t just disappear because one small piece is unenforceable. Typically, if a condition presents that nullifies a portion of an agreement, the remaining portions of the agreement remain in full force and effect. To extrapolate that to the constitution, stating that because Donald Trump is no longer President means that the impeachment section is no longer valid. Let’s understand why this argument might or might not apply.

That argument would be true if the impeachment proceedings were to begin AFTER his exit from office. However, even though Donald Trump’s presidency has ended, this fact doesn’t nullify the impeachment proceedings that constitutionally began while he was still in office. Because the two constitutional remedies for impeachment include 1) removal from office and 2) prevention of holding future office, only one of these two remedies is nullified by Donald Trump’s exit from office.

What that means is because the process began while Donald Trump was still President, the process is still valid after his exit from office. To say otherwise is like saying that because you ran a red light and because that condition no longer exists, you aren’t in violation. No, you’re not presently in violation, but you WERE in violation at the time you ran the red light. Not being in violation now doesn’t absolve you from having been in violation at the time that you ran that red light. If law allowed for a “now” concept only, no one could ever be held accountable for past deeds. This is why this legal precedent, usually defined by a statute of limitations, is applicable in nearly every legal circumstance. Not all crimes have statute of limitations, however. Those that don’t usually mean you can be tried for that crime at any point in time. Thus, this legal concept is applicable to Donald Trump’s impeachment.

Additionally, law doesn’t allow for the “now” argument. This argument doesn’t apply to running a red light (unless the statute of limitations has expired) and it doesn’t apply to Donald Trump’s change in President status. He WAS President at the time when his “high crimes and misdemeanors” occurred. That’s what matters. His change in status does NOT matter. Further, because “step one” of the Impeachment began while Trump was in office as President, Congress must now do their duty and complete this process regardless of Donald Trump’s change in status. This process is now (and was then ) already underway .

Sure, Trump can no longer be removed from office as one of the two remedies, but the remedy to prevent him from ever holding office again must still be decided by the Senate. For the Senate to not to do their duty to uphold the remaining “in force” portions of the Constitution means those Senators are not upholding their constitutional oath and duties of office. Regardless of the Senate’s outcome of the Impeachment trial, it must be urged to complete this process. Without completion of this process, the constitution is weakened. The point to the constitution is to empower those who are tasked to do the will of the people to uphold the will of the people and simultaneously uphold the statutes defined by the United States Constitution.

To do otherwise, such as not completing the impeachment, only diminishes the power of and serves to dilute the function of the Constitution as the heart and soul of our democracy.

Flurry of Pardons on the Way Out

As for Donald Trump’s over 100+ pardons on his way out of office, these pardons and commutations should be considered invalid based on the fourth interpretation (above) of Article II, Section 2’s “except in cases of impeachment” clause. Since he had been impeached by the House prior to his final flurry of pardons and reprieves, all of those pardons and reprieves should be invalid because this clause sees to his surrender of that Presidential power for the duration of the Senate’s impeachment trial. Further, since Trump is no longer in office, he won’t be able to redo those 100+ pardons and reprieves, even should the Senate trial conclude in acquittal. I won’t get into what this interpretation means for his first impeachment as that only serves to heavily muddy these already extremely muddy waters.

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What Microsoft’s purchase of ZeniMax means?

Posted in business, microsoft, Sony, video gaming by commorancy on October 28, 2020
Can the PS5 succeed?

I’ve had this question recently posed to me on a Twitch stream. Yes, I stream games on Twitch in addition to penning this blog. I haven’t cross promoted my Twitch stream on this blog because blogging and gaming are mostly unrelated. However, if you’re interested in watching me game, please leave a comment below and I’ll post my Twitch channel. Let’s explore the answer to the above question.

Bethesda and Microsoft

Microsoft isn’t really a gaming company. They are a software company who produces gaming products in among all of their other hardware and software product lines. Sony is, likewise, not really a gaming company for a similar reason. Sony is mostly a content producing company who also produces gaming hardware.

Anyway, Microsoft’s purchase of Bethesda’s parent company ZeniMax likely means eventual changes to all of Bethesda’s game franchises. In fact, I’m actually surprised that the FTC has allowed such a purchase considering the negative impact it will likely have on consumer choice.

Sony and Microsoft

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Sony and Microsoft are rivals when it comes to gaming systems. Sony has the PlayStation and Microsoft has the Xbox. Because Microsoft owns the Xbox console, purchasing large gaming companies firmly pushes this situation into conflict of interest and consumer choice reduction territory. Additionally, Microsoft’s purchase of ZeniMax before the PS5 has really launched can become an easy way to keep the PS5 from succeeding.

Why? Microsoft has designs on making the Xbox Series X console succeed and be more successful than the PS5. To do this, they want to lock Sony’s platform out of as much content as they can. How will this manifest with Bethesda’s games?

While the final outcome is entirely uncertain, the handwriting is on the wall. What I mean is that Microsoft may eventually make all of Bethesda’s newest released games exclusive to the Xbox. That means that Bethesda’s game franchises (plural) may ultimately end up playable only on the PC and on the Xbox console. Yes, that could mean that both the Nintendo Switch and Sony’s PS5 are equally negatively impacted by this purchase.

Both Sony and Nintendo could find themselves without future Bethesda titles on their gaming platforms. That could mean no more Fallout, no more Elder Scrolls, no more Doom and no more Wolfenstein will make their way onto Sony or Nintendo’s platforms. It doesn’t stop there. Titles like Bethesda’s upcoming Starfield, which has yet to be released, could be pulled from release on both Sony and Nintendo’s platforms… leaving this game only available on PC and Xbox.

Sure, it may lose Microsoft money by not releasing these games on these non-Microsoft platforms, but Microsoft will more than make up for those game sales losses by pushing more Xboxes and PCs into the home. Eventually, these games will be sold to newly purchased Xboxes and PCs more than making up for the losses in sales on those other platforms. Basically, Microsoft has an easy way to do the dirty to both Sony and Nintendo as far as Bethesda games are concerned.

Microsoft is also well aware of the leverage they hold over the gaming industry by purchasing Bethesda. More than this, Microsoft can steer new consumers onto their Xbox line of consoles and away from Sony and Nintendo consoles strictly by enforcing Xbox Exclusives.

Exclusives

Bethesda isn’t the only studio on the planet. However, Bethesda is a large studio with many very cherished video game franchises… franchises that bring in a lot of cash and drive console purchases.

While Microsoft can enforce making upcoming Bethesda games exclusive, Microsoft doesn’t necessarily have to take this step. However, knowing that Sony pretty much kicked Microsoft’s butt with the PS4’s sales, Microsoft isn’t eager to repeat that trend with the Xbox Series X. Purchasing ZeniMax gives Microsoft a definite edge. It also means Microsoft might also be eyeing the purchase of Activision, EA, Rockstar and even Ubisoft. Don’t be surprised if Microsoft snaps up some of these additional game developers as well.

By Microsoft purchasing large game studios like Bethesda, they can control which console becomes the dominant console this time around (i.e., theirs). This means even more exclusive Xbox games.

Exclusive games force consumers to buy specific hardware platforms to play these exclusive titles.

PS5

What does this news mean for a console like the PS5? It puts the PS5 at a severe sales disadvantage. Microsoft could request Bethesda to not produce PS5 games. Without Bethesda’s support on the PS5, that leaves the PS5 at a major disadvantage in the upcoming next gen gaming market.

This is part of the reason I am not purchasing a PS5 at this time. I’m waiting on how this plays out. Bethesda’s ownership by Microsoft means a very real possibility of future exclusive Xbox titles from Bethesda, with no releases on the PS5 or the Nintendo Switch.

This change would put Sony and Nintendo with a clear sales disadvantage. Sony would have to rely not on Bethesda games to drive the PS5’s sales, but instead rely on Sony Studio game releases… games they have developed themselves or by studios they own (i.e., Sucker Punch).

That doesn’t mean the PS5 will be worthless, but it means that the future of Bethesda’s games being released on the PS5 has become very unclear. In fact, I’d use the word “muddy” to describe these waters.

Here are some questions that come out of the above:

  1. Should I buy and Xbox Series X or a PS5? The answer to this question entirely depends on what Microsoft has planned for Bethesda. If they intend to turn all future Bethesda releases into Xbox exclusives, then the answer to this question is… buy an Xbox Series X. Even then, I’d still recommend buying an Xbox Series X because there’s a zero chance of losing Bethesda games on the Xbox. However, there’s a high probability the PS5 will lose Bethesda’s future games. The even larger answer to this question also depends on whether Microsoft plans to buy more large game studios.
  2. Will Bethesda lose money? The answer to this question is, no. Microsoft has deep, deep pockets. They can withstand any short term monetary losses from making Bethesda’s games exclusive to the Xbox and they can also withstand the long term needs to recoup those losses by selling new Xbox consoles and any exclusive Bethesda games. The more consoles Microsoft sells, the more games they can sell.
  3. Will Microsoft force Bethesda to make exclusives? Yes, they will. This is guaranteed. The question is, which games will be forced into this category? That’s still unclear. Will it only be some of Bethesda’s games, all of them, new games only or some combination of this? We don’t know. However, I can guarantee at least one of Bethesda’s games will be released as an Xbox exclusive. My guess is that most of Bethesda’s games will become exclusives.
  4. What about existing Bethesda games? What happens to these? Microsoft isn’t stupid. They will allow existing games to continue to be sold and operate on the PS4 and any other older non-Microsoft consoles. They won’t rock this boat. Instead, Microsoft will look at upcoming unreleased games and use the games that have never been released to become exclusive.

As a result of these questions and answers, it’s clear that if you love Bethesda’s games and you wish to play future upcoming Bethesda game franchises, you may want to wait before investing in one of these new consoles. It would suck to spend a wad-o-cash to walk home with a PS5 only to find that the one Bethesda game you thought you could play is now an Xbox Series X exclusive. That means, you’ll never see that game released on the PS5. Microsoft is very likely to make this situation a reality.

If Microsoft buys even more of these large developers, they could lock Sony’s PS5 out of the mainstream gaming market. That would push Sony’s PS5 into a situation like Nintendo (and the PS Vita), where the console maker is entirely responsible for creating compelling game franchises for their respective console on their own. Unfortunately, that’s just not enough to keep a platform like the PS5 alive.

In other words, with the purchase of Bethesda, there’s a very real possibility that this time around that Sony’s PS5 will be the underdog.

Ramifications

The bigger ramifications of this purchase is the lack of and reduction of consumer choice. This purchase can easily push Microsoft into an even more monopoly status than they already are. Locking down the biggest game developers to exclusivity for the Xbox means causing the PS5 to ultimately fail and for the same reason the PS Vita failed.

Personally, I believe this is Microsoft’s true agenda. The Xbox One’s sales paled in comparison to the PS4. Microsoft is not eager to repeat this situation with the Xbox Series X. By buying large developers like ZeniMax / Bethesda, Microsoft can all but assure the success of the Xbox Series X… and, at the same time, assure Sony’s failure of the PS5.

This purchase is honestly a one-two punch to Sony…. and for Sony, it’s gotta hurt.

Sony and Gaming

If Sony is smart, they’ll run out and buy Rockstar or Ubisoft right now. They shouldn’t wait. They should purchase one of these companies as fast as they possibly can. Rockstar would be the best choice for Sony.

Sony could then have this same bargaining chip in their back pocket just like Microsoft has with Bethesda. Should Microsoft dictate Xbox exclusivity for Bethesda’s upcoming games, Sony can do the same thing for Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption (once they own Rockstar). Ultimately, it will be a “tit for tat” situation.

In fact, Sony should buy both Ubisoft and Rockstar and have two bargaining chips. Even still, such a game exclusivity war would lead to fracturing the gaming market in half. Basically, the consumer would be forced to buy multiple consoles to play games that formerly landed on both consoles. It’s a loss for consumer choice… which is why I’m surprised the FTC hasn’t stepped in and blocked this one.

I’m guessing that because the final outcome has not yet manifested, the FTC can’t see the forest for the trees. However, once hindsight forces 20/20 vision, it will be too late for the FTC to block this purchase.

What does this mean for Fallout?

I know this is a very specific question about a very specific game. However, I was asked this very question on a Twitch stream. Let me answer it here.

If you’re a fan of the Fallout series and you’re unsure which of the upcoming console to buy, I’d recommend waiting to see what Microsoft has in store for upcoming Bethesda games.

With that said and to reiterate what I’ve said above, there is now zero chance that Microsoft will withhold Fallout for the Xbox Series X and newer Xbox consoles. However, Microsoft can easily block the release of future Fallout games from the PS5 and the Switch. This means that a consumer’s investment of cash into a PS5 could see the console without any future Fallout or Elder Scrolls or Doom games.

What that means is that should Bethesda take on the challenge of remastering Fallout 1, Fallout 2 and Fallout New Vegas for the newer consoles, these games may only find their way onto the Xbox Series X as exclusives and may not be found on the PS5.

Basically, proceed with caution if you really, really want a PS5. You may find that like the PS Vita, without titles released from Bethesda, the PS5 may end up a dying console before it really gets the chance to take off, particularly if Microsoft buys even more of these large game studios. If the PS5 does fail due to Microsoft exclusives, it will be mostly thanks to Microsoft.

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