Random Thoughts – Randocity!

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 mean that it was impossible to control smart lights or, indeed, the Ring alarm system.

Most smart lights are controllable by the 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 power 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. 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 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 and about your Alexa usage. 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 things for short periods of time. For example, if you’re playing music and pause, Alexa will keep track of that pause situation 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 the Smart Home devices are 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 unrelated servers and services to the 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.

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. 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 connected 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 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 Sengled Alexa only bulbs were the worst choice for this 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 Job’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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Rant Time: Fallout 76

Posted in botch, business, video game, video game design by commorancy on October 19, 2020

This is my final review of and rant for Fallout 76. As of the recent Fall update for Fallout 76 (Wastelanders Season 2), Bethesda has taken it upon themselves to make some very questionable and disingenuous changes to the “balance” of the game. Let’s explore just how cringeworthy this game has become.

Level above 200

If you have a character with a level above 200, you’ll probably have noticed a number of “balance” changes to the game. Formerly, the game spawned a maximum of around level 68 for most humanoid enemy characters in Fallout 76. After the most recent update, the enemy level cap has been raised to 100. Not only has this update to the enemy level changed the balance of the game for the worse, it has reduced the effectiveness of the biggest guns in Fallout 76.

In effect, Bethesda has heavily nerfed every weapon in the game so that they are incredibly ineffective against these newly updated enemies whose levels have been majorly increased for no reason.

This is not just an inconvenience, it’s sloppy and makes the game unnecessarily harder to play without a way to disable this increase in hardness. Effectively, Bethesda has broken the game. There’s no other way to say it.

Level 50 weapons

The maximum level of any weapon in Fallout 76 is 50. You simply can’t find a weapon with a higher level than 50. Some top out at level 45. Yet, Bethesda has increased most enemy levels to well over 100 in many cases (assuming the player is over level 100), thus making these level 50 weapons even more ineffective than they already were. Yes, this applies to Legendary weapons as well.

What I mean is that before this update, I could one shot most level 68 enemies in the game with a level 50 Legendary rifle. The maximum level you’d find on most enemies would be level 68. After this update, most humanoid enemies spawn at 100 which takes two, three or more shots to kill on a level 100 enemy.

By changing the max levels of spawned enemies, Bethesda has inadvertently (or maybe intentionally) nerfed every weapon in the game. These weapons are, in fact, nerfed so hard as to be almost as useful as a level 1 rifle of the same class. Many weapons can take 5-6 shots for a kill which formerly took one or two shots. This allows enemies to swarm you, thus making the game even harder for characters above level 100.

Level 200+ characters revisited

With all of the above said, let’s circle back around to a player character that’s level 200 or above. Rant on. Player character levels in Fallout 76 are effectively useless. In any other RPG, levels add strength, power and perks. In Fallout 76, it’s just a number.

The player character is actually only as powerful as the weapon level they wield. If the weapon is level 50, then the player character’s power to play the game is entirely tied to that weak ass weapon. The player’s level 250 or 300 number means nothing. It’s just a number and doesn’t at all play into the strength and power of the character. It’s a pointless number. The only number that matters is the weapon’s level.

Since the max weapon level in Fallout 76 is level 50, that means that any increase in enemy strength, enemy level and enemy HP means making the already weak level 50 weapons even weaker.

In Fallout 76, it’s the weapon’s level that matters. Because Bethesda has raised the spawn level of enemies for high level characters, it has effectively made having high level characters useless and pointless. The level 250 player character is entirely limited by those weak ass level 50 weapons, now even more than ever.

Penalizing High Level Players

Some of us have spent months (or years) leveling our characters to 200, then 250 and higher. Yet, the best that Bethesda can reward our time and effort is to weaken our weapons and turn our 250 character into a level 20 character again? Stupid.

Bethesda’s handling of the Fallout 76 franchise is not only stupid, it’s probably one of the absolute worst installments in the Fallout franchise bar none. Not only is Bethesda penalizing those of us who have spent months grinding our characters to higher levels, but it goes way beyond this.

Fallout 76 is supposed to be a prequel to Fallout 1, 2, 3, 4, New Vegas and likely 5 and the rest. Yet, so much swag has been introduced into Fallout 76 that has never appeared in the sequels, it doesn’t make any sense to be in Fallout 76. How can we have Nuka-Cola Scorched that has never appeared in Fallout 3 or 4 or any other installment?

It gets even worse. Fallout 76 ultimately doesn’t make any sense as to why it even exists in the Fallout franchise. It doesn’t add anything to the series. The Scorched don’t make any sense as they have never appeared in any sequel games. The only carryovers are the Ghouls, Super Mutants and the factions. Even the Blood Eagles don’t make sense as they have never been in any of the sequels.

Cartoonish

With every step Bethesda takes, they seem to fumble the ball every single time. Fallout 76 is a weak installment. Not only does it make no sense to even exist in the Fallout universe, its reason to exist is so shallow and laughable, this entire game is a cartoon.

It’s what someone might think a Fallout game is if they didn’t know anything and asked someone to explain it in one sentence. The premise in Fallout 76 is so weak, it’s a caricature of Fallout.

The premise of Fallout 4 was tied to a serious tone and kept the idea behind the nuclear apocalypse somber and in-check. Yet, in Fallout 76, it’s all happy-go-lucky as if the bombs dropping were a mere inconvenience.

The 24

The premise of Fallout 76 was to insert 24 real live players into a multiplayer Fallout world. Unfortunately, Bethesda’s shortsightedness got in the way of making this into a great game.

The multiplayer point to Fallout 76 is that each of the 24 people will exit the vault and begin rebuilding Appalachia. Unfortunately, there isn’t any rebuilding that is actually allowed. Sure, each of those 24 people could build a super tiny little cabin on a super tiny piece of land. As a result of this overly tiny constrained land, you can’t actually rebuild anything in Appalachia.

All other buildings remain busted, broken and dilapidated. There’s no way to fix them. Instead, the best each of those 24 players can do is build a me-camp. The only thing these me-camps do is clutter up the landscape. Worse, you can’t even build your camp near most structures as the game prevents that. This means that while the point is to rebuild, you can’t actually do it.

Worse, even if you manage to follow the main quest line through to completion and “get rid of” the Scorched virus, nothing in the landscape changes. All of the burnt, destroyed buildings and structures remain. Building a me-camp doesn’t fix or solve anything. Even then, these camps are only visible and useful so long as the user remains actively online playing. When the player logs out, so too do any structures disappear from the game.

Pointless

Ultimately, Fallout 76 is a pointless, vapid, hollow game with absolutely no reason to exist in the franchise and also has no redeeming merit, especially after this latest update. It doesn’t further the franchise in any useful, or more importantly, functional way. Any lore built is inserted in such a way as to be pointless in the end. None of the lore solves anything. In fact, we don’t learn anything in Fallout 76 that we didn’t already learn in Fallout 4.

The entire Fallout 76 game is money-grubbing exercise in futility.

Standalone Game

Bethesda needs to package up a standalone version of Fallout 76 that doesn’t require the Internet. Then, let us download our characters onto this standalone version so we can at least save all of the progress we have made with our characters. Otherwise, when Bethesda shuts down the Fallout 76 servers (and they will), any characters we have built will be lost.

Done with Fallout 76

Because Bethesda’s continually keeps screwing us players with every release, I’ve given up playing Fallout 76. This latest update is actually the last straw. I’ve tried to be patient with Bethesda. I’ve really tried… but my patience has completely worn down. Not only is the game exceedingly old (coming up on 2 years), Bethesda has honestly done nothing of note to make the game actually better or more playable. Even Fallout 1st, Bethesda’s expensive monthly for-pay subscription service, has done almost nothing to further the playablity of the game.

In fact, the only thing they’ve done is make the game worse with each and every release. Case in point, Wastelanders. The name itself tells you that it’s a waste… and it is.

Wastelanders added nothing new to the story of the game. The only thing that was added were a bunch of pointless NPCs that serve entirely as newbie tutorials… as if Fallout 76 was complex enough to even need newbie tutorials. The game is so simplistic and easy to learn that adding NPC tutorials to the engine is about as useful as teaching a driving teacher how to drive. Yeah, pointless.

The rest of the NPCs that weren’t tutorials ended up being daily quest givers asking us to do the same thing every single day over and over and over and over…. the very definition of grinding. Yet, there’s a hard-set and overly long cooldown timer that forces us to wait many, many hours to grind again.

War Never Changes, and Bethesda Doesn’t Either

Bethesda just doesn’t get its gamers or its franchise fans. Bethesda also doesn’t get why this game should exist. It also certainly doesn’t reward its long standing players for playing. Oh, no no no. Instead, it chooses to slap us in the face with each and every new release. I’m tired of dealing with those shenanigans. Gamers who’ve been playing the game for months then log in only to find that their best weapons are now only mediocre trash and have been rendered entirely pointless. Have I mentioned just how pointless this game is?

Worse, Bethesda couldn’t be bothered to actually add a compensating control by adding newer, more powerful weapons into the game. No, they couldn’t be bothered to do that. Instead, they screw our level 250 characters over and then expect us to be happy about it? Well, I’m not… hence this article.

If Fallout 76 was a great game once, it is no longer a great game today. Arguably, it never was a good game. In fact, it is probably one of the worst games to consider getting anyone as a gift. It’s not a particularly great multiplayer game, but even more than that, it’s a piss poor entry into the Fallout universe.

If anything, Fallout 76 shows us just how disconnected from the original Fallout franchise source material as a Bethesda can get. The creators of Fallout 76 really have no idea what a Fallout game is. Fallout 76 is now officially and literally the worst Fallout game in the Fallout franchise bar none. Bethesda would do well to sack Todd Howard and find someone who can actually come up with game ideas that people actually want to play and that are befitting of Fallout’s original apocalyptic premise. Perhaps with Microsoft’s 2020 acquisition of Zenimax, Todd may finally find himself on the outs. As for what Microsoft’s acquisition means to the Fallout franchise or the Elder Scrolls, look for an upcoming Randocity article.

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How to complete the Fallout 76 Legendary Run

Posted in botch, business, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on August 29, 2020

While this is intended to be a how-to guide, it also offers my take on whether or not this new rewards system is worth it. This article also serves as a review. Let’s explore.

[Updated for 9/29/2020]

The new ‘Legendary Run’ has started with a new game board. This game board is completely different from the images shown in this first Legendary Run. The rewards are similarly spaced and similar in style. However, as of the update needed to install this new ‘Legendary Run’ game board, Bethesda also made some very big (and unnecessary) changes to the game, shattering the already faltering game balance. As of this update and second legendary run, Fallout 76 is officially an unmitigated disaster. There is officially no game balance in Fallout 76.

Effectively, no matter what level you are, Bethesda has excessively nerfed ALL weapons and over-powered ALL enemies. A level 50 (max level) Bloodied Lever Action Rifle, which could pretty much one-hit and kill any enemy in the game and 3 hit and kill some of the hardest enemies (other than a Scorchbeast Queen), is now no better than a level 10 weapon of any kind. Any remaining balance that had been in Fallout 76 has been utterly destroyed by this latest update. To be honest, Bethesda has destroyed any remaining reason to play Fallout 76 in one update. There is absolutely nothing at all fun about Fallout 76 at this point… no, not even to play this updated second Legendary Run game board.

If I had even the tiniest of cravings to play this newest game board in Fallout 76, that craving has been totally and completely squashed by Bethesda’s ruining of the game balance.

The Legendary Run

What is it? As stated above, it’s a new rewards system for Fallout 76. It somewhat replaces the daily Atom rewards with a new type of currency called S.C.O.R.E. (another insipid acronym). For this article, I’m simply going to call it Score. Score points are given when you complete daily or weekly challenges.

By ‘somewhat’, I mean that the older Atom challenge system was designed as a loose, non-competitive system. You did these challenges at your leisure with no ramifications. This new system, on the other hand, sees a competition between you and a foe, forcing you to complete the game board ahead of the foe. Okay, so maybe ‘force’ is a strong word. However, it has the same effect as force because of the urgency required in keeping up with Zorbo’s game piece. Skipping a day of challenges can see you lose. Zorbo’s ship is the little teal ship where the gamer’s is a bright orange ship. See full game board image below:

TheLegendaryRun-GameBoard.-3084

What does ‘lose’ mean, exactly?

By ‘lose’, this is not yet clearly defined by Bethesda. It is currently believed that Bethesda will reset the board to start over with a new ‘season’ of The Legendary Run including all new rewards… after Doctor Zorbo (foe) reaches the final position on the game board. It has been confirmed as of September 1st that The Legendary Run ends September 8th (see image at right) at 12 noon Eastern / 9am Pacific. Additionally, not only is Bethesda offering double Score points until that time, they have added extra challenges to the board to help those who wish to get to the finish line and need a bit more effort. Still, it doesn’t absolve Bethesda from the OCD and anxiety issues that this challenge system brings.

If you haven’t completed the board, the clock is ticking on whether you will be able to complete it and get all of the remaining rewards. Remember when I said ‘force’ was too strong of a word above? Well, here is exactly where Bethesda applies the pressure. The assumption is that if you don’t complete the board by the time the foe reaches the end, you will not be able to finish the game board at all or receive any remaining rewards. You may even lose any unclaimed rewards (see CAUTION below).

For anyone not very far along, this means that to complete the board before the timer ticks down to zero, you’ll need to pay your way through the board using Atom (see the Pay to Win section below for more details) before Zorbo reaches the end and the board closes. In other words, if you’re still in Chapter 1 when reading this article, you’re going to be required to pay a LOT of Atom to fully open up the game board to the end.

CAUTION: As a warning, I strongly recommend that you claim every reward you are given. Don’t be lazy about this. Don’t leave any rewards unclaimed. Once the game board closes for the next season, you will likely not be able to go back and claim any unclaimed rewards. In fact, the board may be entirely wiped and reset losing any unclaimed rewards. Be extremely cautious as Bethesda is not likely to be forgiving about this at all.

Score Points

Score points are accumulated into a progress bar that’s either at the bottom or top of the screen depending on which screen you are in.

The Legendary Run also has a game board (see above) with individual rewards in each spot. As you progress and gain Score, your game marker moves to the next spot after you accumulate enough Score points for that specific place on the board. Each new game place increases the amount of accumulated Score it requires to move to the next game board section.

Under each game board section, you will find a specific reward. The rewards sometimes include currency like Atom, Legendary Scrip or Gold Bouillon. Other rewards include digital cosmetic items like Ghillie Suit paint jobs or Atomic Onslaught paint. You can even get consumables like Scrap Kits, Repair Kits and Perk Card packs. It also includes CAMP cosmetic items like a tree, a door or wallpaper.

Each spot on the board is already pre-marked with its reward. You only simply need to hover over the game board spot to view its reward. You can even click on it to get more details. There is no mystery involved. You know exactly what you’re getting all throughout the game board.

What I’ve LearnedThe OCD Run WARNING

Playing through and completing this game board, I’ve come to learn a few highly negative things about this system. As a result, I’m not a fan of this new system at all.

The first thing I noticed about this new system is that it is not at all forgiving. If you miss a day of challenges, you’re probably okay and can make it up. If you miss a week of challenges, you’re likely to be so far behind you can’t complete the board. Because of this primary problem, this system can easily trigger anxiety and obsessive compulsion to complete this challenge system in gamers. Gaming is supposed to be recreational, not something to become OCD over.

If you’re easily triggered by OCD, then you should completely avoid participating in this reward system. In fact, this game mechanism is so heavily tied to reinforcing obsessive compulsive behaviors, it should be outlawed in games. To me, a system like this is just as bad as for-pay mystery boxes. Hear me, Bethesda.

Obsessive compulsive disorder is not something we need to be indoctrinating into children using video games. Something like this is bad enough for adults, but training kids for obsessive compulsion early is a recipe for problems later in life. In fact, I’d suggest that a game board system like this is just as bad for children as are for-pay mystery loot systems which train those portions of the brain about gambling. Both gambling and OCD are equally damaging to growing and developing children.

I have a lot to say on this topic, but I’ll forgo that for now and focus on how to complete this game board. Suffice it to say, if your OCD is easily triggered, stay far away from this challenge system and focus entirely on just Fallout 76’s main activities.

How To Complete The Legendary Run

The bottom line in completing this run is not missing a day or week of challenges. You can skip one or two daily challenges per day, but you will need to complete every weekly challenge.

For example, I skipped every daily Nuclear Winter challenge (I despise that game mode and refuse to play it) and I was still able to complete the run. However, it did require hitting every weekly and as many daily challenges as I could complete. Yes, you will need to play through every daily challenge that you can. This means playing every single day’s challenges, seven days a week.

Yeah, that’s why I wrote the above warning. If you can’t commit to playing this game every single day, then you likely cannot complete the run through challenges alone.

Pay to Win

There is a way to get to the end without playing at all. You can rank up fully by paying 150 atoms for each board space. In fact, you can pay your way through the entire game board if you want. If you’re willing to run to the PlayStation, Xbox or Bethesda’s store and buy Atom, you can use that Atom to pay your way through each game board spot.

This can help you if you need to catch up. But, you can also simply avoid the daily grind and pay your way to the end.

The choices you have then are as follows:

  1. Grind your way through the daily and weekly challenges every day
  2. Pay your way through the board entirely with Atom
  3. Combine some grinding and paying some Atom to get you through to the end.

In fact, I believe most players will end up falling into category 3… which is exactly what Bethesda hopes. That means you’ll have to pay for Atom (or get it through other Atom challenges which are still available) to make your way through The Legendary Run. Though, Bethesda is also enamored with gamers who fall into category 2.

The one thing to realize about The Legendary Run is that you must forgo playing the game to solely focus on completing the challenges. This means spending most of your time working through the challenges and, you know, not playing the actual game itself. In other words, these challenges waste a LOT of time doing inconsequential things instead of completing the main quest line. This is such an unnecessary diversion, it actually undermines the game.

Design Failure

In fact, this entire challenge system runs 180º counter to what the design goals for this board were stated to be. It was claimed that this new challenge system would work in concert with gamer’s actual game play. In reality, it’s just the opposite of that. To complete this board, you have to focus on the challenge tasks 100% at the expense of all else. Many of the challenges are esoteric. You don’t naturally go looking to kill 3 Deathclaws unless it’s part of a quest line. Even then, I don’t know of a single quest line in Fallout 76 that requires you to kill 3 Deathclaws as part of the quest.

You might find yourself near Deathclaws as a result of a quest line leading you there, but you don’t need to kill them to progress the quest. The most famous of these main quests is the Enclave quest which leads you to the Abandoned Waste Dump to begin this quest line in a bunker inside of a cave, with the cave infested by Deathclaws. Naturally, Bethesda assumed you might kill those Deathclaws being in close proximity. However, you can sneaky sneak your way through that cave and avoid killing those Deathclaws entirely. You can even flat out run through the cave to the elevator and be on your way. In other words, killing these Deathclaws is not naturally part of your game play activities.

That’s just one example. There are many other such useless challenge examples, such as taking over workshops. You don’t do this as a natural part of any quest line or as a natural part of game play. If you take a workshop, it’s entirely your choice and you must go out of your way to do it. To take a workshop comes with its own game baggage, the least of which is paying for the workshop in caps, the immediate Defend Event and any PVP activities assuming you do it in a public world.

As a final example, if you never play Nuclear Winter, you are now forced to enter that game mode to do whatever is required to pick up the NW challenges. That’s the very definition of unnatural game play.

While there may be a handful of activities that are considered ‘natural gameplay’ such as chewing bubblegum or collecting water, there are just as many that require you to spend time doing things you don’t normally do.

The Legendary Run forces unnatural game play onto the gamer (in addition to the anxiety and obsessive compulsion to complete the board). You must first find out what the challenges are for that day and then explicitly spend time completeing them. I ended up spending most of my play time grinding the challenges and not progressing quest lines. The Legendary Run is not a natural game play system and diverts attention away from playing the actual game.

Atom and Rewards

Another negative about this new system is that we have lost our most basic way to gain Atom. Yes, there are spots on the board that occasionally award 150 Atom, but that’s ultimately way less than the amount of Atom we were getting before this system launched.

Before The Legendary Run, we were getting around 50 Atom for daily challenges and up to 1000 Atom for weekly challenges. At 7 days, that would be 350 + 1000 = 1350 Atom per week. With this new game board, that dropped to around 150 Atom per week. That’s way, way less Atom than we were formerly getting by completing daily and weekly challenges.

Yes, in somewhat of an exchange, we are now getting some exclusive board rewards, but at the expense of not being able to buy much stuff in the Atomic Shop.

Bethesda’s Greed

I get it. I really do. Bethesda wasn’t making enough money off of selling Atom in the digital stores. I guess they thought they were giving too much Atom away. They felt they had to cut down on the amount of Atom being given out by challenges to force more sales of Atom. As I said, I get it. Greed rules.

Unfortunately, because of Bethesda’s greed, they have now saddled everyone with a system that so highly triggers OCD in gamers and wastes so much in-game time that it’s actually a huge loss for the game.

I mean, Bethesda’s systems get worse every single time they release and The Legendary Run is no exception. This is truly one of the worst ideas that Bethesda could have implemented in Fallout 76. Not only is The Legendary Run unforgiving, not only does it completely trigger OCD, not only does it force gamers to pay real money for Atom, not only does divert the gamer away from questing and towards spending time question for Score, the rewards offered are mostly inconsequential and the run itself is completely unfulfilling.

Worse, everyone gets the SAME rewards, so they are not at all unique. I preferred shopping at the Atomic shop directly. Everyone can pick and choose the things they want, so not every gamer has the same things. When it’s all cookie cutter, there’s nothing unique about what’s being given away. Everyone who reaches a specific game board spot gets a Ghillie suit paint, big whoop. So now, everyone who completes that spot has it?

What happens when you complete the board?

Good question and one Bethesda should have solved before rolling this system out. Yet, they didn’t. When you complete the game board and there’s nothing else to be had, the daily challenges still issue Score. Score that has no place to go and nothing to win. Once you complete the game board, there’s no reason to complete the daily or weekly challenges as it’s simply a waste of time and effort.

Instead, Bethesda should have planned for this eventuality and converted the system back to the older Atom system after the board is completed. This would allow gamers to still continue to get SOMETHING after completing the game board. We did just complete the game board. Shouldn’t we get some kind of continued reward for completion? Where’s the incentive to continue? There isn’t any. Crap design in my book.

Repeat?

Will I do it again? No. It’s a waste of time and effort. It diverts away from completing game world quests. Seriously, these daily challenges can sometimes take over 2 hours to complete. That’s 2 hours I could have spent finishing up quests. That’s 2 hours I could have been having fun taking over and building workshops. That’s 2 hours I could have spent hanging out with a few friends. That’s 2 hours I could have spent building out my camp. That’s 2 hours lost to challenges that get me what, yet another Ghillie or Onslaught paint? Heck, that’s 2 hours I could have spent writing a blog article.

Yet, if you really want that Fireplace secret door, you’re going to spend a massive amount of time enduring challenges and fighting OCD compulsions.

Triggering OCD behaviors in video games is not something we should be encouraging in video games. Bethesda shouldn’t be rewarded for creating this system. They should be scolded. Better, these kinds of OCD compulsion inducing systems should be outlawed in video games for the same reason that mystery loot boxes have been outlawed by triggering gambling compulsions.

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Rant Time: Is Apple protecting our devices better than Google?

Posted in Apple, botch, business, Google, mobile devices, security by commorancy on August 20, 2020

While many people believe that Google’s App store is a far inferior store to Apple’s app store, there is also a misplaced belief that Apple’s store offers more propriety than Google’s Play store. We need to understand more about both ecosystems to better understand the answer to this article’s question. Let’s explore.

App Protection

Certainly, iOS appears to be more resilient to malware on the surface, but is it? Google’s Android also appears way more prone to malware on its surface, but is it? We need to understand more about both of these operating systems and each OS’s overall ecosystems.

Let’s understand better how and why Apple has garnered its appearance of propriety, with “appearance” being the operative word. The first reason that Apple appears to have a better system in place is primarily because iOS doesn’t allow side loading of apps. What is side loading? Side loading is the ability for the user to load apps outside of the Android app store, for example using a USB cable or, more importantly, by downloading an ‘APK‘ file directly to your device from any web site.

While there are means and methods of side loading apps on iOS, it can only be done through Apple’s developer toolkit. You cannot perform this process directly on a phone in the wild. You can’t even do it with iTunes. If you had even wanted to side load an app, you’d have to jump through some fairly complicated hoops to make that happen on iOS. Because of this one thing, this forces you to download ALL apps from the App store.

On Android, you can not only use the App store to download apps, but more importantly, you can side load them. Side loading an app on Android does require some security setting changes, but this change is easily done in about 3 simple steps.

Does side-loading account for all of Google’s malware?

No, it doesn’t. After all, there are many who likely haven’t changed the necessary side-loading parameters and have still been hit by malware. So then, how did the malware get onto their phone? Likely, through the App store directly.

One App Store

Here we come to the second reason why propriety seems to prevail at Apple. With Apple, there is one and only one app store. With Google, there are many, too many. Google not only runs Google Play, but there are many other App stores including:

  • Amazon
  • Samsung Galaxy Apps
  • Aptoid
  • Sony Apps
  • Huawei App Store
  • F-Droid
  • GetJar
  • AppBrain
  • SlideMe
  • 1Mobile
  • Opera Mobile Store
  • Appolicious
  • NexVa
  • Kongregate
  • Appland
  • Itch.io

These stores are all independently owned and operated. This is not a complete Android app store list, but it gives you an example of how many different app stores are available for Android. This is significantly different from Apple’s iOS, which only supports one app store and that store is operated by Apple and Apple alone.

There is no such thing as a third party app store for iOS. It simply doesn’t exist.

Multiple App Stores

Because of Google’s insane choice to allow many app stores to operate simultaneously by different companies, Android users are at the mercy of each of those app store’s propriety. The difficulty is, there’s no rhyme or reason or protection afforded by many of these app stores, let alone Google Play. The secondary problem is that some of these app stores come preloaded as the primary download store on some Android devices.

Clearly, Google branded devices come shipped with Google Play set up. Amazon devices some shipped to use the Amazon app store. However, no-named brand Android devices likely come shipped with one of the above non-Google stores installed. In fact, it could even be set up to a store not in the above list… a store operated by the manufacturer of the device.

Careful with that App

The difficulty with multiple app stores is one of, you guessed it, propriety. What I mean by using this specific word ‘propriety’ is the app store’s ability to police its content for completeness, functionality and, yes, malware. In short, propriety is a company’s ability to protect its download users from malware or dangerous software.

The difficulty is that while Google might have enough money to throw at App vetting to ensure higher quality apps reach its stores, not every store in that list has the money to afford that level of commitment.

What this means for consumers is, when you use a random app store, you take your chances with malware. Multiple stores combined with side loading is nearly the sole reason why Android gets a bad rap for malware. These two things are something Apple doesn’t do in its ecosystem. For Android, it’s worse still. As a consumer of a device, you don’t really know which app store is the default on your device. Most app store manufacturers properly label their apps, but cheaper devices made by random Chinese manufacturers tend to play games with naming and might name their app store app Goggle Play or Gooogle Play or even simply Play Store. There are many ways that manufacturers of cheap phone devices can trick you into thinking that you’re getting your apps from Google’s store… when, in fact, you’re not.

Not only are there too many app stores that can provide questionable apps, Android has been licensed by so many random Chinese manufacturers (okay, so perhaps licensed isn’t necessarily the correct word here… it’s more like, ripped off). Anyway, if you buy into any of these super cheap Chinese phone brands, you have no idea where your apps are really coming from. Although, because it’s Android, you should be able to load Google’s Play store (the real thing) and use those apps instead… with should being the operative word. The device manufacturer could have instituted a block to prevent the use of the Google Play store.

However, replacing a crap store with Google Play typically takes effort on the part of the consumer… that and knowledge that they must take this step. Most consumers are oblivious to this aspect of their phone’s use and naturally assume the included app store is looking out for their phone’s well-being and their own best interest. You should never assume this, not even with Apple devices.

Apple’s App Store

Here we circle back around to Apple. We are beginning to see why Android is in the state that it’s in, but how much better is Apple’s ecosystem of devices?

A lot of people believe that because there’s only one iOS app store and because Apple is the sole operator of that store that this somehow makes Apple devices safer to use.

Security through Obscurity

This is a phrase tossed around in the security communities. What it means is that because a platform is more obscure (more exclusive and closed), that that somehow makes the platform safer to use. Security through obscurity works maybe 10% of the time. Maybe. The other 90% of the time it’s less about obscurity and more about best practices.

For example, you should never load random apps from any store. It doesn’t matter if it’s Android or Apple. If you don’t know anything about the developer, you shouldn’t trust them. Why?

App Store Approval Process

Apple’s app store approves apps for release into the store based on specific usability criteria. For example, that the developer is not including terms-of-service restricted content or features. Restricted content being whatever Apple or Google or that specific app store deems off limits within an application.

The developer must verbally or on a written form affirm that their app does not contain such restricted content when submitting it for approval. Even then, Apple may or may not be able to verify such an affirmation. Basically, developers can lie and say their app doesn’t do something that it does, in fact, do. Apple and/or Google may not be able to see the app doing it until that specific set of code in the app is triggered. In other words, the app may appear totally genuine enough to pass Apple’s and Google’s store submission criteria.

We have seen some apps which have been released into the app store as a result of such affirmations only to be pulled from the store when it is found that the developer lied about what was affirmed and stated to have not been included in the app. Apple doesn’t take kindly to lying about app features, particularly when you can see the app doing things it shouldn’t be doing.

Apple is relatively quick on removals of offending content from its app store. Google Play and other Android stores may not be quite so nimble in this process. In fact, many of the third party stores may not even police their apps at all. Once it’s in the their store, it may be there more-or-less permanently. Apple is much more active and selective with maintaining that their apps are upholding developer agreements. However, there is a limit to even Apple’s propriety.

Epic Games

This is a recent fight between Apple and Epic Games. Epic Games apparently decided to change the way it utilized in-game purchases, which has since culminated in Apple rescinding Epic Games’s license to use Apple’s developer tools. Both Apple and Google have since removed Fortnite from their respective app stores citing violation of the store’s terms.

In-app payments require that developers hand over a portion of their profits to Apple and Google. However, there are ways of circumventing that by including outside payment systems in apps. I don’t know exactly what was included by Fortnite that triggered this specific problem, but apparently Epic wasn’t satisfied by Apple’s greedy in-app payment system and decided to take a stand.

Some may think this is about consumer protection. It’s not. It’s about Apple profiteering protection. Apple cites its terms that apply equally to all developers, but in fact, this specific condition is intended to maintain Apple’s profits. Yes, it does apply to all developers (well, almost all developers… see Amazon below), but it is also a condition that is unfavorable to developers and extremely favorable to Apple’s bottom line.

Ramifications

Apple picked a fight with the wrong company in this “epic” (ahem) fight. Epic Games also happens to be the developer of the Unreal game engine. This is a very widely used game engine throughout the gaming industry. It’s probably one of THE most commonly used engines, particularly on gaming consoles.

Without access to Apple’s iOS developer tools, this engine is effectively dead on iOS (and MacOS) devices. Worse, developers who rely on Unreal to drive their own iOS games may soon find that they have to find another game engine. These Unreal engine users may wake up to find their Unreal-based game removed from Apple’s app store as a side effect of Epic Games’s removal.

If Unreal can’t be supported, then neither can the games that utilize this engine. This Epic Games fight has deep reaching ramifications for not only Apple, but also impacts every iOS device owner and every developer that uses Unreal to drive their game. If that game you love was built around Unreal, you may find that app no longer available in just a few weeks.

If you have the app downloaded onto your device, you can still use it. Bought a new Apple device? Well, don’t expect to cloud download that app again if it’s been removed. You’ll need to rely on iTunes backup and restore instead of Apple’s cloud storage… which relies on downloading the app again from the app store. If it’s been removed, the app will be unavailable. Only backing up and restoring through iTunes will recover apps you presently have on your phone device and which are no longer in Apple’s app store. Didn’t do this? Oh, well. That app is gone.

Apple’s Ramifications

Apple’s once burgeoning gaming section may soon become a ghost town. Maybe this is an exaggeration, but maybe not? Let me explain. The loss of the Unreal engine from the iOS platform is a huge blow to iOS game developers worldwide. It means game developers must either now build their own engine instead (to avoid such engine removals in the future) or rely on another gaming engine that supports iOS (at the peril of it being removed in the future).

Apple is effectively “Cutting off its nose to spite its face”. In other words, Apple has most likely done more long term damage to its own brand and products than it has done in short term damage to Epic Games. Sure, Epic’s loss of Fortnite on iOS is a big loss to Epic, but Apple’s loss of the Unreal engine is a much, much bigger problem for Apple.

If developers can no longer turn to the Unreal engine for use on iOS, then that means fewer games will be developed for iOS… at a time when iOS doesn’t need this gaming speed bump. Fewer games developed means fewer game apps in the app store. Fewer game apps means less revenue for Apple. Basically, Apple’s loss of revenue from cutting off developer access to the Unreal engine will come back to bite Apple hard in the ass.

Apple relies on that in-app revenue for its continued operation of the App store. If that revenue dries up, well so too will iOS devices while also undercutting MacOS notebook sales. It’s not just about Fortnite here. It’s about every iOS game using Unreal that also uses in-app payments legitimately. People won’t buy into a mobile platform when they can no longer find and play their favorite games, particularly if those games are on other platforms. The loss of the Unreal game engine is a big deal to Apple. Considering Apple’s paltry 10-13% mobile device market share as of 2019 (and shrinking), killing off development tools that bring revenue to the platform should be a big deal to Apple, one would think.

However, there are still other game engines that developers can use, such as Unity, BuildBox and AppGameKit. With the loss of the Unreal engine, of which many, many games are built on consoles, that means straight ports of well recognized and popular console games to iOS will become almost impossible. Very few console developers choose Unity and none use BuildBox or AppGameKit.

If Apple was hoping to pull over the bigger console titles onto iOS, they’ve just lost that opportunity by kicking Epic Games off of their platform. No console developer will spend several years porting their Unreal based game to Unity or one of the other game development kits. Without Unreal on iOS, the much larger money making console games will forever be locked out of iOS, simply because of Apple’s stupidity.

Instead of trying to work through a compromise with Epic Games over this issue, they simply pulled the plug. They’ve “thrown the baby out with the bathwater”. They’ve as I said above, “Cut off their nose to spite their face.”

Apple’s Stupidity

This is a huge blow to iOS devices and to consumers alike. Within the next year or so without Epic Games support on iOS, Apple’s gaming community is likely to dry up. Games like Fortnite can no longer come to exist on Apple’s platform because of the loss of the Unreal engine.

There is a bigger danger to using a third party game engines for iOS games. If you, as a developer, settle on a third party game engine and that engine developer has a fight with Apple thus causing their developer licenses to be rescinded, just like Epic Games, you could see your game pulled from the store or, more importantly, obsolete by the next yearly iOS release. This whole Epic fight has some serious ramifications to the gaming industry.

I guarantee that with Epic Games being pulled from the Apple platform and if this is allowed to stand going forward, Apple’s usefulness as a gaming platform will greatly diminish. Not instantly, but definitely over time. It will definitely erode confidence in iOS and MacOS as a gaming platform.

Lest you think I’m being overly dramatic, I suggest you look at this very long Wikipedia page and see the list of games produced using Unreal for consoles, specifically Unreal Engine 4. Every single one of these games had the potential of making their way to iOS or even MacOS. This hope is now lost. The loss of the Unreal engine on Apple’s ecosystem is a loss to the entirety of Apple’s devices.

If Apple had designs of getting into gaming, they summarily lost that hope in one fell swoop. What’s worse is that other game developers may follow suit and voluntarily pull their engines from Apple’s devices as well, leaving only the smallest and crappiest of game development engines available for iOS devices… firmly dragging Apple’s devices back into the stone age for gaming. The best you can hope are the silly finger swipe games that leave you bored in less than 15 minutes.

Sure, Bethesda, Ubisoft and Activision may continue to maintain their proprietary engines on iOS and MacOS for their specific games, but up-and-coming and existing Unreal console developers alike have lost any iOS portability inroads they might have seen on the horizon.

Though, I suppose this situation is a win for Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox consoles… and consoles in general.

Epic Games Ramifications

I would be remiss without discussing the ramifications to Epic Games, also. Certainly, Epic Games has lost a huge platform for both Fortnite and the Unreal engine … well, two with the additional loss of Google’s Play store. Though, I don’t think that Google has yet rescinded Epic’s developer license for Android. As a result, would-be game developers considering which engine to choose will not choose Unreal if they have eyes on iOS, MacOS or possibly Android (depending on how far Google takes this). For game developers who’ve already chosen Unreal, it’s probably too late to undo that choice. Game developers in the planning stages can reconsider which engine to choose.

Epic Games Unreal engine may not fall out of favor with the game development community. It was formerly an engine developers could rely on, more specifically for a wide range of platform support. With the loss of iOS and Android, that leaves a big hole for the Unreal engine, and Epic Games. That’s basically the loss of every mobile platform! Epic Games chose this battle by not wanting to follow Apple’s greedy rules.

Honestly, I don’t blame Epic. Amazon fought with Apple over these very same rules a long while back. Amazon chose to remove all ability to buy anything via their apps. Though, the Amazon app seems to have regained its ability to purchase junk, but I’ve no idea how they’ve worked this with Apple. Epic should cite Amazon app’s ability to purchase products using a third party payment processor. If Amazon can do this, Epic should be able to as well. It seems that even Apple isn’t following its own “all developers are equal” rules.

Tim Sweeney, Epic Games CEO, should call out this incongruity in Apple’s “equal” application its app store terms and conditions. If Epic Games is violating Apple’s purchasing rules, then so is Amazon… and so is any other company who is able to offer purchases using their own third party payment processor.

However, that doesn’t leave Epic Games without problems. Without iOS and Android for not only Fortnite, that leaves a huge revenue stream hole for Epic Games. That’s the downside for Epic. That and the loss of being able to license the Unreal engine to would-be iOS and potentially, depending on how far Google takes this, Android developers.

TikTok and WeChat

Beyond Epic, there are other problems brewing at Apple. The problem with Apple’s app store is that it will accept and publish apps from any developer from any part of the world. Yes, even communist bloc countries like China and Russia.

What does this mean for you as a consumer? It could mean spying, malware and theft of your data. Apps like WeChat and TikTok originated in China. These are apps that were intentionally designed and released by Chinese people who live in China and who have no ties to the U.S. and who don’t care about data privacy, your data or anything else about you. They don’t even have to follow United States laws. They want your money and they’ll do whatever they can to get it. They don’t care if they have to step on your toes (or turn on your camera and microphone at inappropriate times) to do it.

Apple has been entirely remiss in this area of vetting apps. Can we trust apps developed and produced entirely in China or Russia? Yet, Apple has published these apps to the App store and still allows them to remain in the store. But… Epic Games, a U.S. based game developer, can’t keep their app in the store because of silly in-app purchases? It’s perfectly okay to allow apps to spy and steal data for communist bloc countries, but it’s not okay for a U.S. developer to want to use a third-party payment processor. Yeah, Apple’s priorities are entirely effed up.

Apple’s values at this point are entirely suspect. What Apple has done to Epic is retaliation. It has nothing to do with propriety or consumer safety. It has to do with ensuring Apple’s revenue remains intact. If it were about consumer safety, Apple would have not only re-reviewed WeChat and TikTok for appropriateness the moment the President called them out, they would have been removed from the store.

This is where we learn Apple is not about propriety, it’s about making money. Losing the ability to make money from Fortnite (and by extension the Unreal engine) is way bigger of a deal than allowing Tencent and ByteDance to use their respective apps to potentially spy on U.S. consumers.

Here’s where consumers get lost in the mire and murk of it all. Apple’s silly hide-everything-from-everyone ideals allow this sort of behavior from developers to fester. Developers get to hide behind Apple’s veil of secrecy and “wall of friendliness” so that apps like WeChat and TikTok can flourish without consumers being the wiser.

Yet, here we are. Chinese and Russian apps are infiltrating Apple’s store with careless abandon, some of these are taking the Internet by storm, like TikTok. ByteDance rolled the big one with TikTok and now they can roll out spying measures if they wish, assuming they haven’t already.

I look on anything coming out of China as suspect. Most products coming out of China are third rate products that fall apart as soon as you sneeze on them. Many are counterfeit or are a stolen designs from an original product created outside of China. Clearly, China’s ability to innovate is limited. Instead, Chinese engineers must reverse engineer an existing design that originated outside of China only then to build their thing based on that existing design. Copying is said to be the highest form of flattery, but in this case it’s intellectual property theft.

With products that don’t need the Internet, such as a toaster oven or a microwave or a fridge, other than their possibility of falling apart or harming you physically, they can’t steal personal data or spy on you. Like physically harming you with junk appliances from China, downloading apps from an app store can be equally harming to you. They can steal keyboard input, turn on microphones and cameras at inappropriate times, grab your photos… they can even monitor which apps you use and watch your movement around the city via GPS on your phone. There’s so much data they can collect about you, including the contacts in your phone book.

By installing one of these communist bloc apps, there’s literally a mountain of data they can learn about you from your device. Spying? That’s literally an understatement.

Apple has given the communist bloc countries carte blanche access to U.S. owned devices through iOS. Google has done the same with Android. Worse, both Apple and Google are doing absolutely NOTHING about this. Treason by U.S. companies? That’s an understatement. They not only allow these apps to be published, they’re endorsing them… and some of Apple’s and Google’s own developers may even be using these apps personally. Talk about inception.

Spying

Spying was formerly thought to be about covert operatives running around gathering intel with crude and rudimentary devices in black garb. Today, it can be done in broad daylight using every person’s very own cell phone right in their hand.

Need access to listen in on a conversation at a specific GPS point… I can just hear someone say, “Let’s see which of our apps are on devices close to that location.” Yeah, this is a real thing. Simply enable the microphone and possibly even the outward camera and BOOM, you’ve got access to immediate intel relayed instantly back to you in real-time.

Yeah, that’s the danger of social apps like TikTok and WeChat. They can be used to eavesdrop on anyone anywhere. You only need to give access to the camera and microphone and boom, they’ve got access anywhere the app owners wish.

Apple can thwart this possibility potentially, but only if they add some heavy restrictions for when and how these devices may be used. Like, for example, these devices can only be enabled when the app is the front most active app and the screen is on (i.e., the user is accessing the screen). Even then, access to these devices should always require positive confirmation to use them every single time. Without positive confirmation, these devices cannot be enabled remotely.

Otherwise, spying is already here. Nefarious apps can listen in on what you are doing without your knowledge. They may even be able to switch on the camera and stream video data back to whomever. Yeah, bad news here.

Malware

Many people think malware means software that intends to cause malicious harm to your device. It doesn’t only mean that. Malware covers a lot of territory including spyware, malicious software, ransomware and many, many other types.

Any type of software designed to subvert your device for someone else’s use is considered malware. Don’t limit your thoughts to only software that intends to erase or destroy data. It doesn’t end there. It begins there. It ends with any software of malicious intent, including any software that is designed to spy on you, steal your data, copy data from your device or attempt to get you to do things that might compromise not only your phone, but also your personal finances.

However, the days of overt malware are firmly over. Now we’re seeing a new wave of software that makes itself appear legitimate by offering seeming legitimate services, but which have malware belying that happy-go-lucky façade. It’s the software version of social engineering. They trick you in believing you’re getting a real legitimate app, but underneath, these apps are doing things they shouldn’t be doing.

This is a new wave of bad news rolled into one app. No one can know the ultimate intentions of an app producer. Hopefully and trustingly, we put our faith into the developers hands to “do the right thing”, to be upstanding and give us an app that does only what it claims.

Unfortunately, we’ve moved into an era that’s now firmly gone beyond this. If you’re getting an app from a U.S. developer, you can pretty much be assured that what the app says that it does, it actually does do… and nothing beyond that. That’s a given because U.S. companies must follow U.S. laws. With apps coming from China or Russia or Cuba or Vietnam or even North Korea (don’t kid yourselves here), you have no idea what their ultimate motives for producing that app are. Worse, they are not required to follow United States laws. Yeah, and that’s the problem in a nutshell.

Apple and Google’s trusting nature

These communist countries not only see the dollar potential wrapped up in these apps, but they also see the spying potential above the dollars. Not only can they divert U.S. dollars outside of the country to fund who-knows-what, they can steal your data and spy on you, too.

Why? Because Apple and Google are far too trusting and let them do it. They believe that developers will be good neighbors and not do untrustworthy things. Apple and Google are both trapped into believing that everyone will follow United States laws. Naïve! Unfortunately, that trusting nature is now being used against both Apple and Google… though, Google more than Apple by these communist countries. Google devices way outpace Apple’s devices in market share. In 2019, Apple’s devices made up just ~13% of the market, where Google’s Android devices made up a whopping 87%! Together, Apple and Google make up close to 100% of the market, with the small remaining percent running other mobile operating systems (yes, there are a few).

For Google’s saturation reason, it’s no wonder why malware authors are targeting Google over Apple. It’s a simple matter of low-hanging fruit. Google’s fractured stores and litany of device problems has led to where we are. Malware authors can have a field day with Google’s devices because they can take advantage of these tinier stores with much reduced release restrictions. It’s easy, then, for small indie developers to release malware onto Android… far too easy. It’s much more difficult to do this same thing on Apple devices. That is, until you realize exactly how developers are outwitting Apple’s far-too-trusting nature.

Once not-so-upstanding developers understand they can disguise malware underneath a legitimate service, they can then push that service out to app stores (with Apple’s blessing) and get people to use it, in similar form to TikTok. In fact, perhaps the app was even released without the malware to have the appearance of propriety (and to pass Apple’s initial scrutiny). Then, after enough momentum has been reached, the app developer can then slowly release updates containing bits of malware at a time. As far as I know, Apple doesn’t put the same level of scrutiny into app updates as it puts into new app listings. Apple’s hands off approach to updates means the author can slip bad features into updates under Apple’s and our noses and none will be the wiser.

Security Considerations

You always have to really think 🤔 about what apps you have installed and why you’ve installed them. More than that, you need to find out who specifically is developing your apps and where they are in the world. You might be surprised to find that the author doesn’t live in the country where you reside. If the author isn’t in your country of residence, they don’t have to follow your country’s laws for, well, anything.

Of course, you never know what an app author intends by writing and releasing an app. Even the money making aspect on the surface may not be the actual agenda. Hopefully, the app’s purported use case (making money) is the only reason the app exists. Unfortunately, subversion seems to be becoming more and more common in apps, particularly those that may not be developed in the same country where you reside.

For example, someone who develops an app in China doesn’t have to follow the laws of any other country than China. Meaning, if the app developer decides to include spyware, no laws will apply to that developer other than Chinese law. Even then, since they weren’t spying on Chinese citizens, they likely won’t be seen as having violated any Chinese laws… even when spying on citizens in other countries. Because the U.S. can’t apply laws to Chinese citizens, any spying that may have taken place is damage already done. The only action that can be taken is banning the app entirely from the U.S., just as Trump had wanted to do with TikTok.

Every mobile device user must remain on their toes. You can’t assume that Apple’s closed store nature will protect you from spying or data theft (all forms of malware). Apple is way too naïve for that. Instead, you must do the research yourself. Determine who develops an app you intend to install. Find out where they live in the world. If they live in a country where you do not, your local laws will not apply if the developer includes illegal activities in your place of residence. This means they can do a lot of nefarious things and never be caught at it, particularly if they live in a country like China.

If you want to safeguard your own data, don’t install apps without knowing where the author lives. No, not Android and not even on iOS devices. No, not even on… and especially not on company owned devices.

In this day and age of anyone and everyone who can design and build an app basdd anywhere in the world, we’ve firmly come to a time where our devices can be used to spy on us and those around us simply because we’ve installed a random app.

It’s now only a matter of time before government policies catch up with this technology trend and new laws begin emerging which intend to hold device owners responsible for treason when an app spies on and funnels data outside of your country of residence.

In answer to the article’s primary question. No, neither Google nor Apple is better at protecting our devices from malware. However, while the overt malware may be less common on Apple devices, Apple’s and Google’s trusting nature is now firmly subverting our devices for foreign spying activities… particularly when these apps are designed to intentionally use the camera and microphone.

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