Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Disney to reopen amid COVID surge

Posted in amusements, botch, business, disney by commorancy on July 7, 2020

According to reports, Disney intends to reopen its parks despite the current growing COVID-19 surge. Let’s explore.

Irresponsible

Let’s understand that Disney operates its parks to comfortably sport anywhere between 30,000 to 50,000 guests (on average) in the park at any one time. Though, it is stated the park is designed to hold up to 100,000 people. Though, if 100,000 people are in attendance, the lines will be massively long, the park will be intensely crowded and affords a situation that becomes ripe for COVID transmission that no amount of “planned” virus reduction measures can mitigate. In short, overcrowding and COVID-19 cannot work together.

Even at 10,000 people in the park (assuming Disney decides to self-limit), that’s still well enough people milling around that transmission will be exceedingly easy and inevitable. We already know that COVID-19 lingers on some surfaces, like metal, for several days. That means that riding a ride containing metallic surfaces, after someone infected has ridden, greatly increases your chances of getting COVID-19 through touch.

Open Air

Disneyland, Disney World and The Magic Kingdom are mostly open air environments. This means that aerosolized virus droplets can’t linger for too long, but they can land on surfaces. However, when you get inside of closed environments, such as restaurants, merchandise shops and dark rides, virus droplets can linger for quite a long time in the air (without proper ventilation)… and these droplets can also land on and infect merchandise, paper cups, utensils and particularly open condiments. It can also land on your ride’s seat cushion, handles, lap belts and the lapbar restraints.

In short, open air won’t necessarily mean your trip to Disney will be virus free. In fact, because Florida is presently having some of the highest cases in the nation, the chances of catching COVID-19 by visiting Disney World is exceedingly high… if even simply by staying in a hotel.

Trust in Disney

Disney hasn’t been the most trustworthy company in recent years. Of Disney’s reopening plans, Ron DeSantis (Governor of Florida) states:

We have to have society function. You can have society function in a way that keeps people safe. And when you have all of the different procedures that they have in place, people are going to be—it’s a safe environment. Disney, I have no doubt is going to be a safe environment.

No one, not a Governor, not a health official, not anyone can make an assertion that Disney will be a “safe environment”. The nature of amusement parks is taking risks. That’s why people attend amusement parks and ride rides. The thrill of the ride is worth the risk.

Though, there’s a big difference between being able to control the forces of inertia and being able to control an invisible virus you cannot even see. No, DeSantis is towing the line that Disney wants to hear (and that Florida’s economy needs). DeSantis wants the park open, not because it’s truly safe and virus free, but because Florida’s economic future depends on it… and in general, because tourism drives much of Florida’s income. Without tourism, portions of Florida won’t have much of a future.

DeSantis also stated the following of both Universal and Disney’s reopening plans:

I’m really impressed with what Universal’s done, and I’ve looked at Disney’s plan and it is very, very thorough.

Thorough won’t protect everyone all of the time. Disney may disinfect the park nightly, but that won’t help the interim times when perhaps thousands of people have ridden a ride or eaten at a table or sneezed on cups immediately before you arrived.

Amusement and Health

If your personal amusement is more important to you than your health and well being (and the health of those around you), then by all means head to Disney and ride the rides and indulge in the eats. If, however, you value your own health and the health of your loved ones, you should avoid visiting any amusement parks no matter what “plans” Disney or Universal may have made to help combat a virus that no one can see.

Plans have a way of unraveling, particularly when we don’t even know all of the factors which must be managed. Disney’s plans are probably, at best, 25% complete. That means that 75% of things that can happen to infect you haven’t even been addressed.

Judging the health and safety of the public is not something a governor should be doing. That should be the health department.

Pandemic Surge and Reopening

In the midst of a surging pandemic, planning to reopen a business that’s sole intent is to draw large crowds the size of Disney parks is not only reckless, it’s completely irresponsible. Large close crowds are exactly the vector for virus transmission. There is absolutely no way Disney has planned for every contingency or vector of infection… particularly because Disney can’t plan for how large the crowds may get. In fact, it’s entirely counter for Disney to turn away crowds which help drive revenue into the park. They’re not going to do this.

Turning on UVC lights every now and then or limiting attendance can only do so much. This virus is, at best, unpredictable. We already know that COVID-19 has a days-long no-symptom period when the virus makes the person heavily contagious, but the person shows no outward symptoms. It will be these very contagious carriers who will visit Disney World and Disneyland and not only carry in the virus, but they will spread it throughout the park by infecting everything they touch and the people around them. Even a simple sneeze or cough can carry the virus throughout an environment for a lengthy period of time and infect any number of people or land on surfaces which can be touched.

There is nothing Disney can do to plan for keeping their park virus free. The only way Disney can reduce or eliminate Disney parks as a source of COVID-19 infection is to test every visitor on the way into the park and deny entrance to any visitors who test infected. Even then, that’s not feasible because testing is very slow (hours) before results are back. Even then, there’s a high probability of both false positives and false negatives. Disney can’t (and more importantly, won’t) spend the time or money to do this for every visitor.

Ride Disinfection

Let’s understand the basics of how Disney could plan for ride disinfection management.

If Disney were to truly want to reduce exposure to COVID-19 on rides, every ride must close down and disinfect after every single ride. The ride cars would have to be put through a UVC light bath for approximately 5 minutes after each and every ride. This is not feasible for a park like Disney where getting riders through as fast as possible is the goal.

To further this line of reasoning, Disney would need to require reservations for all rides in advance. No lines would be present on any ride. Queue lines and queue houses must remain closed. At ride time, riders will gather and stand in a 6 foot enforced distanced line wearing masks, but of course that line couldn’t be shielded from passers by… a source of infection.

Riders are loaded onto the ride, one by one… distanced by one car between each rider. That means half as many riders per ride. At the end of the ride, the ride will pull into the station and each car must exit, one by one separately ensuring 6 foot distance between each rider.

After the car is empty, the ride is summarily closed. The car is then backed into a UVC light bath and disinfection commences for 5 minutes. Then Disney repeats for the next set of riders. Can you say, “cumbersome” and “time consuming”?

Let’s understand that even with all of these measures in place, you can still catch COVID from a rider in front of you. If the front most rider ahead of you is infected and sneezes, their droplets can carry onto you and infect you. Even if Disney enacts very strict ride disinfection measures, there’s still no guarantee you’ll walk away without COVID-19 after riding. The only way that would work is to fill the car with one party per ride. Yeah, that’s not feasible in a park the size of Disney’s.

Above all of this, operating an amusement park ride this way will ensure that very few people get to enjoy the ride in a day… way fewer than is otherwise normal for Disney. Disney is all about pushing through as many riders as possible. Performing such a thorough disinfection after every ride is entirely counter to this and will result in much lost revenue. A park can’t (and won’t) operate like this.

Restaurant Disinfection

Here’s an infection vector that’s even more difficult to manage than rides. The only way restaurants can work at Disney is to deliver your food to you directly. In fact, you should be required to order your food in the Disney app for delivery to your present phone’s location (using location tracking). All food must be delivered inside of sealed bags and the items inside the bags must only have been handled by Disney employees.

Restaurant seating becomes an issue, though. We all want to eat inside some place comfortable and air conditioned. The problem is that this type of communal seating environment cannot be controlled… not by Disney, not by anyone. If Disney wishes to use sit-down style restaurant seating, then the tables must be completely UVC disinfected after every use.

It is very doubtful that Disney has had the time to build any kind of automated system to blanket a table and UVC disinfect it. In fact, to do this, you would need to build a carousel type system with two seats back-to-back, where the seats attach to a turntable and spin around to a non-visible side. One table seating is disinfected, the other spun around to the non-visible side and is in the process of being disinfected.

Though, UVC light is caustic to humans. Any UVC light leakage would need to be strictly controlled.

It is very doubtful that Disney or Universal have taken disinfection this seriously or to this level. No company is going to invest a million or more dollars into equipping their restaurants for such a sophisticated UVC disinfection system. Instead, they’re going to rely on the use of dirty towels and bus staff to wipe down seating and tables. A towel is simply going to move the virus around, not kill it. It’s almost impossible to perform proper disinfection of tables and seats prior to seating a new party.

A new restaurant party will be lucky if a table is even properly bused after the last party has departed. If it’s a large party, 10-20, good luck with getting anything disinfected.

Merchandise Stores

The final place where Disney will need to address is merchandise. Because people want to touch and feel the things they’re about to buy, this must stop. The touchy-feely time is over. Merchandise stores must only sell like the restaurant example above. You order the merchandise you want through an app and an attendant stops by to deliver your items in a sealed bag that has only been touched by Disney employees. If you wish to return an item, you’ll have to do that through an automated returns system and by dropping the returned item into a slot at the front gate.

Disney Employees, Testing and Infection

Disney park employees, otherwise known as “Cast Members” (a cutesy moniker to be sure), must be properly tested daily prior to entering a shift. If any Disney employee tests positive, they must be sent home for a mandatory quarantine period and will not be allowed to work.

Disney employees are clearly a vector of transmission that Disney can’t control. I seriously doubt that Disney has procured enough tests to test every single “Cast Member” daily, prior to their shift. There will be a number of Disney employees who will actually become the vector of infection and transmission for COVID-19… simply being a ride loader, being a merchandise seller or by selling foods to guests. It’s inevitable. You can’t prevent “Cast Members” from transmitting COVID-19 to guests in the park. You can’t do it without daily testing. Even then, testing is only as accurate as the test type you’re using.

If Disney decides on simplistic symptom tests (i.e., temperature), then that ensures park employees will not only infect guests, they will also infect other employees. Eventually, Disney may have to close its parks again when the number of infected “Cast Members” impacts the ability of Disney to operate its parks.

Health and Safety

Disney’s only choice, particularly during this heavy resurgence, is to postpone opening of the park until later… much, much later. I get why Disney is pushing to reopen. Disney is losing money by not reopening. To them, it’s more about the money than it is about keeping you, the guest, healthy and COVID free.

You must choose to trust Disney or not. You must choose whether to visit the park or not. Only you can look at this situation and decide whether it’s worth the risk. If you believe that your risk of infection is low, then by all means head there and visit.

Having worked at an amusement park for 7 years at one point in my life, I can definitively state that no matter what measures Disney claims to be putting in place, it’s all for show. None of it will last. It’s entirely health theater. They’ll state they’re doing all of these things, but at the end of the day none of it will get done because it’s too costly, too problematic and, most of all, too time consuming for staff. Disney may put up a good show for a week so that reporters can visit and “see” the theater, but after the reporters are gone, so too will all of their theatrical “planned measures”.

If you want to put your health at risk over Disney’s health theater, then be my guest. Book a trip, stay in the hotel and indulge in all of the buffets. Make sure you get a good large dose of COVID all along the way. When you get home and the symptoms hit, you can head to the hospital right away. After that, it’s up to your body to do the work (or not).

Consider this final question. Is it really worth risking your own life AND spending $1-2k per person merely to buy yourself COVID-19? That’s an awfully expensive Disney virus.

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Should Kathleen Kennedy be fired from Disney?

Posted in botch, business, movies by commorancy on July 4, 2020

person using laptop and tablet

I’ve seen many, many YouTubers commenting on this very topic. In fact, this topic has had so many commentary videos, it’s probably consuming at least 10% of YouTube’s traffic. Just take a look for yourself. Anyway, because this topic is so widely being discussed, let me take the time to write an article here that describes most likely why she hasn’t yet been fired.

Contracts and Obligations

The biggest elephant in the room is also the most obvious, contractual obligations. It’s clear that most YouTubers really don’t understand the business of hiring executives. Executive leaders are always hired under contract. Contracts require both parties to fulfill their obligations as listed within the contract. It’s how employment contracts work.

However, there’s a snag here. Disney didn’t hire Kathleen Kennedy directly. Ms. Kennedy was already an employee of LucasFilm when Disney acquired the LucasFilm property… and this is the snag.

LucasFilm hired Kathleen Kennedy before the purchase took place. This meant that Kathleen was brought on board to Disney as an existing executive of LucasFilm. Why is this important?

Two Contracts

There are actually two contracts at play here with regards to Kathleen’s employment under LucasFilm.

  • The 2012 $4 billion George Lucas and Disney buyout contract
  • Kathleen Kennedy’s own employment contract with LucasFilm

In fact, it’s important to understand that George likely put Kathleen in charge of LucasFilm for the expressed intent of keeping the property sane after Disney purchased it. With that goal in mind, it’s very likely that LucasFilm hired Kathleen into a very long (and open ended) employment contract. What that means is that it is likely Kathleen’s choice whether the contract continues. As long as terms are written into the contract that allow this, Kathleen can remain at LucasFilm possibly for as long as she wishes.

The second side of this is the purchase contract. If George was smart enough to hire Kathleen for a very long stay at LucasFilm under Disney, then he likely also included provisions for her to stay employed for a specified period of time within the purchase contract also.

To do this, he likely wrote in a poison pill rider… probably written into both Kathleen’s employment contract and into the purchase agreement.

Putting this all together

With two contracts reinforcing each other, that means that should one or the other be breached, both contracts then fail to meet their obligations… which means that both contracts are breached and then outs for the contracts apply.

For the purchase contract, that could mean that the LucasFilm property (and any new work under it) reverts to ownership by George. This is a pretty big poison pill rider. I wouldn’t put this one past George. Not only would he get to walk away with $4 billion from Disney, he could also walk away with LucasFilm also. I’m pretty sure Disney wouldn’t find that poison pill attractive.

With Ms. Kennedy’s contract breached, Disney would likely have to pay her out a hefty golden parachute. A golden parachute rider requires the employer to pay out a huge sum of money upon failure to live up to contractual obligations. Because it’s very possible that both contracts are legally bound together, this means Disney is being held over a barrel with Kathleen Kennedy.

Not only might LucasFilm return to ownership under George, Kathleen may also get a huge payout (perhaps millions of dollars) if Disney fires her. It’s a very tough poison pill, but one I could easily see George requiring.

In other words, Disney can’t fire her. Should Disney fire her, both contracts dissolve and then penalties from both contracts apply against Disney.

Legal Obligations

Because contracts are very specific, should Kathleen personally breach the terms of her LucasFilm employment contract, then Disney may have cause to fire her.

Unfortunately, George probably wrote extremely loose and favorable terms for Kathleen and extremely unfavorable terms for LucasFilm into her employment contract intentionally. He did this knowing he would soon be selling LucasFilm to Disney. That means that Disney is in a very unfavorable situation with Kathleen. It means that Disney likely can’t fire her without a whole lot of legal things happening all at once.

Kathleen can breach the terms of her contract by doing something illegal. For example, if she’s accused and found guilty of inappropriate sexual misconduct, almost every employment contract allows releasing executives for breaking laws. That means Kathleen would need to violate laws for Disney to release her without Disney breaking any other terms of any other contracts.

Even then, George might still attempt to recover LucasFilm citing a breached purchase agreement.

Disney and Agreements

Disney likely agreed to the terms of both agreements more or less because they didn’t have a choice if they wanted LucasFilm. To get LucasFilm, they not only had to agree to the terms in the purchase agreement, they also had to agree with Kathleen’s employment terms as part of acquiring LucasFilm.

Kathleen’s Tenure

There could be an end in sight to Kathleen’s employment contract. It seems that in 2012, George may have set her employment terms to 6 years with the ability to extend. In 2018 and according to the Hollywood Reporter, she exercised her right to extend her employment contract and extended it by 3 years to 2021.

In 2021, Disney and Kathleen would again renegotiate her LucasFilm contract, which (depending on contract terms) could allow Disney to rewrite her contract to Disney favorable terms, place her directly under Disney and get rid of any poison pill riders in the process. A new employment contract would then allow Disney to fire her with impunity. Extending an existing contract doesn’t get rid of any poison pill riders.

It is entirely possible that Kathleen can extend her employment contract indefinitely with LucasFilm. However, it’s also possible that George did put a hard date limit on the type and number of extensions. Once her ability to extend ends, she will be required to strike up a new contract with Disney directly and those contract terms won’t be as favorable to her situation.

However, Disney could choose not to renew her contract at all and allow it to expire… at which point Disney could dismiss her. However, the unfavorable terms in the purchase contract could prevent that. It depends on what was written into the purchase agreement terms.

If George placed a timer on the purchase terms such that Disney can’t dismiss Kathleen while that timer is in place, then that means Disney must extend her contract until that purchase agreement timer runs out.

A contract timer works like this. The purchaser must remain in good faith under the terms of the agreement for a specified period of time, such as 10 years. The good faith part may include a bunch of agreed upon stipulations, such as keeping certain people employed during that period of time. If any of the stipulations are breached, the good faith terms no longer apply and the contract is considered breached.

What this means for Disney is that George Lucas could reacquire ownership of LucasFilm if Disney breaches these timer’s terms… and that is contingent on Kathleen’s employment contract. Even if Kathleen’s contract expires, Disney may be forced to craft a brand new contract to continue to employ her until the purchase agreement timer expires.

If Disney, again, extends her contract in 2021 for another 3 years, then this timer situation is likely the case. They can’t afford to lose LucasFilm and let it revert back to George Lucas ownership… and on top of this, pay Kathleen a huge sum of money from her Golden Parachute. Not only does that give George Lucas a potful of money, he also gets his former property back with new films in the portfolio to boot and Kathleen gets even more money.

Disney’s Response

Basically, a situation like what I surmise above (while a bit legally convoluted) may very well exist between George, Kathleen and Disney. Contractual terms can sometimes be unwieldy beasts and no side wants to breach those terms, particularly when looking at the downsides.

If any of what I suggest actually legally exists, this is why Kathleen Kennedy is still employed at LucasFilm cum Disney and cannot be fired. That doesn’t mean Disney can’t sideline her or take her off projects because these things may not be specified on the contracts, but those specifics which are in the contracts must be adhered to.

Only Disney, Kathleen, George and all of the lawyers involved understand the minute details of both the purchase contract and Kathleen’s LucasFilm employment contract (and how they both interrelate).

YouTubers

I get why YouTubers rail on Ms. Kennedy. I get why they want her fired. I get why they produce their videos stating all of this. However, these naïve YouTubers really don’t understand business or contractual obligations in the business world, particularly when it comes to executives and acquisitions.

While fans can continually call for Kathleen to be fired over her handling of the Star Wars property, it’s very unlikely to happen while contractual obligations are still in play. Kathleen herself would be stupid not to sit back and let the money roll in while she pretends to do a job for Disney. With such convoluted contracts, Kathleen is sitting pretty no matter what she does… short of breaking the law. She can completely turn LucasFilm and Star Wars inside out and pretty much Disney can do little to stop her, at least until any timers expire.

Once Ms. Kennedy understood the extremely favorable situation (if similar to what’s described above) that George arranged for her, she could pretty much torch Star Wars and Disney couldn’t really do anything about it. What Kathleen has done for Star Wars isn’t at all pretty. But, it’s not illegal and it’s possible there’s very little Disney can do to kick her out of the organization. Granted, she has turned a tidy sum for Disney, at least for the latest trilogy films, even as bad as they are. Disney can’t fault her for not making Disney money. As a result, Kathleen is likely still living up to her end of the employment agreement with LucasFilm.

Should Disney fire Kathleen Kennedy?

As long as unfavorable contractual obligations exist for Disney, no. Disney and Disney’s lawyers fully understand the ramifications of firing her. Until they can fire her without tripping contractual clauses, they’re going to let her sit in her comfy Disney office, using her comfy Disney chair pretending like she knows what the hell she’s doing.

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Did Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver have on-screen chemistry?

Posted in botch, business, movies by commorancy on July 2, 2020

I’ve recently come across this question on social media and I decided to answer this one in a full length blog article as I have much to say on this topic. Let’s explore.

On-Screen Chemistry

Whether two characters have any on-screen chemistry is a riddle that has plagued casting directors for many years. Putting two or three actors together on screen can make or break a film.

What factors go into on-screen chemistry? There are lots of factors including:

  • Looks
  • Acting prowess (when together)
  • Camaraderie
  • Ease of being together
  • Friendship
  • Believeability

There are way more factors than the above, but these are the primary contributing factors that make or break an on-screen relationship. When you see one, two or more characters together, you need to believe that these characters actually know one another and that they have an ease that says they can rely on one another and be friends.

There have been many exceptional on-screen chemistries. From Harry Potter’s Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and, of course, Daniel Radcliffe to the original lineup of Charlie’s Angels with Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson to Moonlighting’s exceptional casting choice of Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd and, of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Star Wars’s “Golden Trio” ensemble of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford.

Not all movie and TV productions get it right, however. There are many that, in fact, don’t even know they’ve gotten it wrong until it’s too far into the production. For TV shows, they can solve this blunder by recasting. For a movie series, that’s a bit more difficult.

The Force Awakens

When Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened, there was no way to easily judge the on-screen chemistry for most of the cast throughout much of this film. The scenes involving the primary characters together were few and far between… with the exception of Rey and Finn. These two had exceptional on-screen chemistry together… which is likely why the first half of the film involved these two actors almost exclusively.

Even the second half of this film heavily involves these two characters, again when romping through Han Solo’s cargo ship, The Eravana, after accidentally releasing Rathtars from the cargo hold.

However, we do get to see glimpses of Rey with Kylo together in TFA, but this scene only lasts a very short time before he leaves her alone. Even then, this is their first encounter, so it’s very hard to judge their chemistry together because of their entirely adversarial relationship, for the moments that they are on screen together. At this juncture, we aren’t really getting a sense that these two belong together… part of the reason I believe this scene with them together was so short. Let’s talk about Kylo, for a moment.

Kylo Ren

This character was introduced in the beginning of the film along with Poe Dameron. These two characters have limited screen time together. The amount of screen time they get is limited to Poe cracking jokes at Kylo’s expense. Even then, Kylo has still not yet unmasked. We’re not even sure who’s in that suit. There’s no way to judge any chemistry between these two characters.

When Poe and Finn meet, these two bond almost instantly. This pair, like Rey and Finn, again have tremendous and instant on-screen chemistry. Again, their scenes are short, but it’s easy to see exactly how Poe and Finn will get along in future scenes. Alas, though, meaningful scenes between these two is not meant to be in this film. Yes, there are a few more exchanges later in the film between Poe and Finn, but their screen time together is exceedingly short in duration.

Rey and Finn obviously get the maximum amount of screen time together.

The Force Awakens Part II

I’m focusing on this film to the exclusion of all others because this is the film that sets the tone for success or failure of future franchise installments. It is also this film that tells us if on-screen chemistry works or doesn’t. The then future films, The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker would continue to show us character dynamic growth, but it is The Force Awakens that tells us if on-screen chemistry works.

Unfortunately, because the scenes between the primary characters were of such short duration, it’s exceedingly hard to gauge the effectiveness of most of the on-screen chemistries in this film. The only character relationships we effectively get to see is that of Rey and Finn. We don’t really get to see the chemistry between Poe and Rey, Poe and Finn (much) or, especially, Rey and Kylo (a key element of The Last Jedi carried into The Rise of Skywalker).

I’m not considering on-screen chemistry with scenes between a primary character and someone dressed in full concealing armor, such as Phasma and Kylo. You can’t judge actor chemistry when one is clad head to toe in concealment. I’m only counting scenes where actors faces are fully visible, when the audience can judge facial expressions and body language… very important to on-screen chemistry.

What it comes down to with The Force Awakens is that there were not enough scenes between the primary cast to actually determine if the primary character chemistry works for all three characters when together. For example, in Star Wars: A New Hope, all three characters are together for an extended amount of time when they need to escape the Death Star. Not only do we get to see these three work together, we get to see it for a long segment of the film. They do split up at times with Luke and Leia doing their swing across scene. With Chewie and Han doing their thing diverting attention away from Luke and Leia. Before that, they all work together in the dumpster scene.

We get to see these three characters many, many times over the course of all three films: A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. It’s also very easy to see the chemistry between these three actors. On screen, their chemistry just works, and boy does it ever.

With Poe, Finn and Rey at the end of The Force Awakens, we’re left wondering if these three truly do have any chemistry. The only two where we get to see any chemistry is, again, Finn and Rey… and they most certainly do have it. Unfortunately, the TFA story didn’t lend itself to a trio situation, leaving the audience wondering if this is truly about a trio or just a bunch of characters thrown together.

By The Last Jedi, we completely understood the answer to that question. It’s just a bunch of characters thrown together. It’s not really a trio. Luke, Leia and Han acted as a team much of the time. Unfortunately, in Disney’s trilogy, Poe, Rey and Finn didn’t act as a trio. Occasionally, these three would pair off and work in twos, but never did they work together as a team of three towards a common goal, like Luke, Leia and Han or even the prequel team of Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Padmé.

This is where the Disney series learns a harsh lesson. This is also why the Disney trilogy just didn’t congeal with the fans of the series. More about this at the end. I digress.

Reylo

A lot of fans were so adamant that Rey and Kylo had some kind of thing going on. Oh sure, they had a thing, but it was forced by the hand of Snoke. When Kylo and Rey were both together, the scenes always felt awkward and uncomfortable, like a brother and sister kissing. This lasts from their first lightsaber duel in the snowbound forest to the red guard scene in The Last Jedi to pretty much any scene in The Rise of Skywalker. With ‘uncomfortable’ being the operative word. When two actors are on screen together, ‘uncomfortable’ denotes bad chemistry, not intentional design.

I can’t recall one scene between Rey and Kylo that didn’t feel ‘icky’. By ‘icky’, I mean disturbing and uncomfortable. It’s like oil and water. The two don’t mix. That’s how every scene I watched between Kylo and Rey felt. It felt like these two didn’t belong together in the same scene. THAT is a primary hallmark of bad (or zero) chemistry. These two effectively have no on-screen chemistry.

Let’s explore this a bit further…

Miscasting

Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, was entirely miscast for the part of this series primary villain. Some observers have claimed that Adam was playing the part conflicted. Let’s understand internal conflict.

Both Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader (Anakin dressed in concealing garb) played this character conflicted. Yet, not once did Hayden Christensen nor did David Prowse resort to exhibiting a temper tantrum to get his “conflicted” point across. Brooding solace is much more effective at displaying conflict than lashing out at consoles in a fit of childish anger. Every actor must choose how to portray certain aspects of their character. Unfortunately, Adam Driver’s choice (or perhaps the script’s choice) was too infantile. This didn’t happen just once in the first film. It happened several times throughout the film and the series.

Infantile screaming outbursts don’t say conflicted, they say spoiled man-child. Let’s not even consider how Ben Solo managed to get this way. Spoiled brat behavior doesn’t convey internal conflict. Darth Vader, for example, learned to hold his anger in check and focus it towards the times when he needed to focus it. Anakin, before he became Darth, wasn’t great at holding in his anger, but didn’t resort to childish outbursts… mostly because Obi-wan was there to guide him.

Did Kylo and Rey have good chemistry?

The simple answer to this question is, no. Daisy Ridley and the miscast Adam Driver simply had zero chemistry when on-screen together. It was always awkward and uncomfortable when these two were acting in a scene together. Their scenes only moderately worked, but always felt unconvincing. The characters didn’t feel conflicted at all. When they were together, the scenes felt empty and contrived… again, both hallmarks of lack of chemistry.

I know a lot of people feel that these two had on-screen chemistry. I urge you to rewatch these films and examine for yourself how you feel when you watch these two together. Do you feel happy and elated or uncomfortable and unconvinced? Examine how you feel when you watch. That’s how you determine if chemistry works or doesn’t.

When chemistry works, you know it right away. You can see it. You can feel it. It’s an intangible, but very real sensation. When chemistry doesn’t work, you can also feel that too. You might be revulsed, indifferent, empty or you might even feel ‘icky’.

Let me give you different examples of exceedingly bad chemistry, weak chemistry and good chemistry so you can understand these differences:

Exceedingly Bad Chemistry

  1. Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman in The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy
  2. Toby McGuire and Bryce Dallas Howard in Raimi’s Spiderman
  3. The entire “cabin” cast of Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods
  4. Farrah Fawcett, Kirk Douglas and Harvey Keitel in Saturn 3
  5. Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley in the Disney Star Wars Trilogy
  6. Jaclyn Smith, Cheryl Ladd and Shelley Hack or Tanya Roberts in Charlie’s Angels
  7. Mariska Hargitay and Adam Beach in Law and Order SVU
  8. John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran in The Last Jedi
  9. Marjoe Gortner and Caroline Munro in 1978’s horrendous Starcrash

Weak Chemistry

  1. Toby McGuire and Kirsten Dunst in Raimi’s Spiderman
  2. Patrick Stewart and Gates McFadden in Star Trek TNG
  3. Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt in Jurassic World
  4. Jeff Goldblum and Julianne Moore in The Lost World
  5. Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds in The Green Lantern
  6. Harrison Ford and Karen Allen in Raiders of the Lost Ark
  7. Kate Jackson, Cheryl Ladd and Jaclyn Smith in Charlie’s Angels
  8. Mariska Hargitay, Ice-T, Kelli Giddish and Peter Scanavino in Law and Order SVU
  9. Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum in Jurrasic Park (all 3 together)
  10. The entire cast of the original Blade Runner
  11. The entire cast of The Abyss

Brilliant Chemistry

  1. Jenny Agutter and Michael York in Logan’s Run
  2. Barbara Bain and Martin Landau in Space 1999
  3. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly in OG Star Trek
  4. William Frakes and Mirina Sirtis in Star Trek TNG
  5. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford in Star Wars
  6. C-3PO and the rest of the Star Wars cast
  7. Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith in Charlie’s Angels
  8. Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd in Moonlighting
  9. John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt and Suzanne Sommers in Three’s Company
  10. Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni in Law and Order SVU
  11. Laura Dern and Sam Neill in Jurassic Park
  12. The entire cast of both Alien and Aliens films
  13. The entire cast of Gilligan’s Island
  14. The entire cast of The Brady Bunch TV series

Charlie’s Angels

Here’s a case study in both casting and chemistry. The late 1970’s TV series is a shining example of how cast changes can see chemistry range from brilliant to piss poor. When Kate Jackson left the series in 1979, the remaining cast chemistry between Cheryl and Jaclyn fizzled out. Because Cheryl Ladd didn’t bring with her the same level of chemistry as Farrah Fawcett, the show relied on Kate and Jaclyn to carry the chemistry. For the most part, this worked… until 1979 when Kate departed.

After that, Kate’s role was recast with a new angel. First, Shelley Hack, then the following season by Tanya Roberts. Neither of these two lovely ladies brought with them any semblance of chemistry or cohesion to the series or the cast. In fact, any remaining chemistry between Jaclyn Smith, Cheryl Ladd and either of these two ladies fizzled out entirely by series end. The series was merely pulled along by its premise, not by the cast chemistry.

The too early departure of Farrah Fawcett left a gaping chemistry hole in the cast with huge shoes to fill. Cheryl stepped in and did a respectable job and she looked great in a bathing suit, but the cast chemistry was much, much weaker with her there. If anything, this cast change is what ultimately did the series in… not because of Cheryl specifically, but simply because her chemistry between the other two leads was much, much weaker.

Another series that also suffered cast changes which weakened its cast…

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit

Dick Wolf’s SVU series began with brilliant casting and the show has since been running for 21 seasons and counting. The best seasons, however, still feature Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson and Christopher Meloni as Elliot Stabler. These two were the perfect team and had perfect chemistry. The series was on point with these two together. Apparently, Christopher’s contract ran out at the end of season 12 and it was not renewed. As a result, Christopher didn’t return for season 13 and Stabler was written off as retired. I won’t get into exactly how poorly Dick handled his departure, but suffice it to say that Christopher’s departure would disrupt the chemistry of the cast (and show) for many seasons to come. In fact, the season when Adam Beach joined is clearly the lowest chemistry point of the entire series.

It wouldn’t be until Dick settled on Mariska Hargitay, Ice-T, Kelli Giddish and Peter Scanavino before SVU got back some semblance of its chemistry, however small. Unfortunately, like Charlie’s Angels before it, this cast’s chemistry is much, much weaker than when Mariska and Christopher were together. Those two just exuded chemistry like Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd before them.

The Magic of Chemistry

You can’t predict chemistry when casting. It happens or it doesn’t. Sometimes, you don’t even know how well it has worked until the production has wrapped and you see the final product. With a TV show like Charlie’s Angels, where episodes are weekly, it’s much faster to see chemistry because time to completion of the final product is only a few weeks. With a film, it could be months before you see the end result, before you know if the chemistry has worked.

For this reason, films like The Force Awakens must take risks and assume cast chemistry works. Unfortunately, sometimes the chemistry between all of the actors just doesn’t congeal, but that was more a problem with the story than the cast. If the story had put these three together sooner, including Kylo, we could have seen that it didn’t work. In the case of Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, it really doesn’t work. These two are like oil and water. They just don’t mix. The same can be said of Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman. Together, Hayden and Natalie were unbelievable as a couple. Trying to believe they were actually in love was about as convincing as watching two WFC wrestlers in the ring. The same can be said for Rey and Kylo.

Miscasting vs Chemistry

Both kind of go hand-in-hand, but both are separate things. Miscasting can lead to bad chemistry, but sometimes it doesn’t. When a character is miscast, it’s difficult to believe that actor is portraying that character. However, that actor might still work okay with other cast members. It may be weak chemistry, but it can still work.

Miscasting is when the wrong actor is cast for a part. It could be that the actor just doesn’t have the acting depth to properly portray the character or it could simply be that the character needs to be way more mature than the actor’s looks allow. For example, casting a 20something who looks 18 into a part designed to be a 35 or 40 year old is usually ripe for miscasting. If the character’s age is 40something, then a 40something (or someone who looks like a 40something) should be hired. Unfortunately, casting the correct age into the role doesn’t necessarily solidify good chemistry.

As I said, these two concepts are separate. To determine chemistry, the actors need to be put together and filmed in test scenes to determine if they have any chemistry at all. Chemistry is the magic of filmmaking. It is the heart of a blockbuster or a bomb. If the cast doesn’t work, then the film won’t work. If the cast works perfectly, then so too does the film… usually. Though, there’s no guarantee in filmmaking. You never know if the story being told is something people will embrace or discard. While chemistry makes the cast work properly, the story makes the film work. Both need to align for a project to succeed.

Even then, it’s still up to the fickle nature of the audience. If the material rubs the audience the wrong way, no amount of cast chemistry can make up for this situation.

As an example, there’s 1969’s Hello Dolly, starring Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau. While at least one of these two might be considered miscast, one cannot deny that these two together had a chemistry that worked. Barbra was definitely miscast as the middle aged meddling matchmaker Dolly Levi, but even still, Barbra’s and Walter’s charm came through boldly on screen… even when together. Unfortunately, another pair’s chemistry in this film wouldn’t fare quite so well… Michael Crawford and Marianne McAndrew, which both sported a very weak chemistry. Though, Danny Locklin and E.J. Peaker’s chemistry was brilliant.

This is a film that I expected to feel badly for this casting pair, but surprisingly their chemistry works… even though apparently Barbra and Walter didn’t get along on set.

Unfortunately, Hello Dolly came at a time when musicals were on the way out. The time of breaking into song randomly in the middle of a park singing about love had passed. Those days ended around the early to mid 60s. We would see a brief resurgence of musicals around 1980 (Grease and Victor/Victoria) which would later turn into single individual musical films that occasionally worked for audiences.

Hello Dolly, however, would become one of the first casualties of the audience’s fickle nature, causing this musical film to ultimately bomb at the box office. It would make up that loss much later in rentals and sales long into the future… but in 1969, it bombed hard… not because it wasn’t a good musical, but because 1969 audiences had grown tired of the genre.

Chemistry and the Problems of Star Wars

Star Wars has had a mixed bag of chemistry when it comes to actors. The original trilogy arguably offered the most brilliant casting choices of any of the films. The prequels probably had some of the worst casting choices, particularly the casting of a child actor. The Disney Trilogy’s casting choices were ultimately better than the Prequels, but still worse than the original trilogy. The “Golden Trio” as the original cast is sometimes called is actually the perfect description. It would have been more difficult to find three better actors than the actors chosen for Star Wars: A New Hope.

This casting set the tone for the future films. The sheer brilliant actor chemistry in the three original films carried these films through to conclusion even as the stories weakened. If George had made even one casting change prior to filming, the original Star Wars might not have done as well in the box office. Everything in the original films congealed perfectly to create a juggernaut that couldn’t be stopped… at least, not until the prequels.

Disney’s Questionable Choices

Disney hasn’t helped this series much by creating flaccid and vacuous stories that really don’t say anything significant and, yet, rehash the same tired tropes of the original series. It’s one of the biggest problems with the films. The cast works okay, with the aforementioned chemistry problems. However, the least of Disney’s worries was the casting and chemistry. It was the poor quality stories. These film’s stories are so derivative as to be pointless rehashed film exercises.

There’s nothing truly original in any of the Disney trilogy films. We’ve seen everything in it before and it’s been done better. As the saying goes, “Let sleeping dogs lie”. Disney should have bought LucasFilm and focused on producing new TV series. Leave the film universe alone. Everything that’s been done has already been done better. Disney forcing films down our throats that simply don’t tell us anything new are not films, they’re clones. We’ve already had enough clones in The Clone Wars, we don’t need yet more film clones of the original films.

Disney needed to have brought something new to the table with the Disney trilogy, but unfortunately they failed and they failed hard. That’s not to say that Disney’s films didn’t make money, because they did. Making money and being good quality films are two disparate things. You can make money from a crappy product. Many companies do this everyday with their As-Seen-On-TV junk. Disney is no different. They figured they could shove random rehashed stories down our throats wrapped in a new coat of paint and that it would go unnoticed and be well-received. Well, we noticed.

The films are done and locked. There’s nothing we can do about that. Disney can decanonize them, but that doesn’t make sense. Why would you invalidate a product you spent perhaps a billion to produce and made billions off of? No. The only way Disney can salvage the disaster that is presently Star Wars is to sell the film rights (and the canon) off to Sony, Warner Brothers, Fox or another large studio. Let them right this ship. Only a new studio can truly right the wrongs of Disney. Only they can rewrite the stories over. Only a new studio can decanonize Disney’s efforts and claim it doesn’t exist and do it with impunity.

Chemistry may have caused small problems in Disney’s films, but it is ultimately the crappy stories, the rehashed tropes and the poor writing that did these films in. That’s all on the writers, directors and producers. If these folks can’t understand what crap is, then perhaps they need a new job in a new industry.

Under Disney, the Star Wars brand is not salvageable. Under another studio, it can be salvaged. Disney must sell off LucasFilm to another studio so Star Wars can start anew. There really is no other way. In answer to the original question that began this article regarding chemistry between Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, no. Just, no.

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Wink to shut down free services, requires subscription

Posted in bankruptcy, botch, business, smart by commorancy on May 8, 2020

wink-hubIf you own a Wink home automation system, including a Wink hub, you’ll want to pay attention to Wink’s upcoming changes on May 13th 20th, 2020 (deadline extended). Let’s explore.

Shutting Down Free Service

Wink is clearly in some kind of financial trouble and they’re trying one last ditch effort to save their (f)ailing company. In that effort, on May 20th, 2020, Wink intends to shut down all free services and move to a $5 a month subscription pay model.

While this reeks of ransom and extortion, it’s also got some other issues that are even more serious.

On May 20th, all Wink hubs without a subscription will be summarily cut off from use. This means no more app access, no more API access, no more controlling your smart lights, smart plugs or anything else you presently own that is operated by Wink. Here’s the seriousness. During the Pandemic, some people may be relying on smartplugs to operate home medical devices. Cutting off these devices could cause serious complications to some people.

Effectively, they’re going to brick your Wink hub unless you fork over their extortionary $5 a month.

Bad Service

Wink’s troubles have been brewing for a while. Over the last 6 months, I have regularly seen my Wink hub go offline for hours at time. The most recent was on May 7th, 2020 from early in the morning until after midday. Yes, the hub was completely non-functional for at least 6 hours. If this were a one time problem, I might forgive Wink its outage. Unfortunately, this has been a regular occurrence about every other day for the last 3 months. Literally, there are times where the lights cannot be used because the Wink hub cannot connect to Wink’s service.

Premium Service

This is where I look at Wink and think, “What the hell?” You’re seriously thinking that anyone will pony up $5 a month to continue to have daily outages? No no no. Think again Wink. Your service attached to the hub is already trash. There’s no way I have an intention of paying you $5 a month to reward you for such bad service.

Too Little, Too Late

Unfortunately, by cutting off millions of smart hubs, this will be Wink’s undoing. Forcing people to pay up won’t lead to anything good. If Wink had attempted to roll out a for-pay subscription service 3-6 months ago by offering something better than what we’re presently getting, like dedicated support services or unique discounts on devices, I might think twice.

But, to pay for a service (a very crappy service at that) that we were getting for free without anything premium about it? Uh, not gonna do it.

I know a lot of people have sunk money into devices for their Wink hubs. Thankfully, I didn’t do that. I only have two lamps controlled by my Wink. After I realized just how crappy Wink’s service and hub actually was, I decided not to invest any further money into devices for the Wink. Instead, when I invest money in a smart home system, I’m doing it with Philips Hue, which so far is still a free service and offering a near rock solid uptime track record. However, Philips may not continue its Hue service for free forever, either.

The Wrong Way

wrong-way

Unfortunately, Wink has chosen the absolutely most wrong way to handle this roll out of a new subscription service. Not only did Wink offer a pittance 7 day notice for this drastic change, they didn’t even bother to attempt to widely notify users of this change. Consider that there are are probably 1.5 million of these devices in service, yet very limited notifications have been sent. Instead, they have relied on a Tweet, a Blog article and for some, an email.

There are correct ways and incorrect ways of handling such a service change, but it is clear that Wink is almost assuredly inches from going out of business. Some users have attempted to call Wink’s support line only to find that the number has been disconnected. Yeah, disconnected numbers are not hallmarks of a successful company. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Do you own a Wink?

If you own a Wink hub, you will need to understand what this means for you. You think, “I’ll still be able to control my lights”. Uh, no you won’t. After the deadline, the ability to use the app, the API (Alexa) or any other means (i.e., automation) will be shut off. In fact, I’d expect Wink to roll out a new app update to all smart phone devices that will force you onto a signup page to subscribe to their new for-pay service.

Don’t roll out of bed on the deadline and expect your lights or smart switches to work as they always have… at least, not unless you fork over that $5 a month.

Still, even if you do pay for that service, they’re likely to raise it to $10 a month, the $15 a month and keep raising up to some incredibly expensive amount in probably 4 months. The $5 a month is simply a ruse… a ruse to rope you in, then once they’ve got you hooked, raise that price to completely gouge you in the near future.

It’s up to you if you want to pay for service. You don’t really need to, though, when you can buy other smart hubs, like Samsung’s SmartThings that doesn’t require a subscription fee. Apparently, Samsung’s SmartThings hub is also fully compatible with most or all of Wink’s devices. So, there’s that. Unfortunately, Philips Hue’s hub isn’t that compatible. Hue will work with some non-Philips devices, but it clearly works best with Philips’s devices.

Critical News

Because this is pretty much timely news that needs to arrive in your inbox today, I’m publishing this without too much proofreading. If there are errors in this article, I will fix them in time. I just want to get this article pushed out quickly because of the clock ticking towards that deadline.

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COVID and Air Travel

Posted in airline, best practices, business, travel by commorancy on May 5, 2020

airline-overhead-panelAir travel is something we sometimes find as necessary. The problem with air travel and viruses is that the airline industry was (and still is) ill prepared to handle a medical crisis like COVID. Sure, they’re sanitizing surfaces on planes, but that’s a limited response. That doesn’t mean the airlines aren’t trying. Let’s explore the pitfalls of air travel in the new post-COVID world.

Airline Sanitizing Efforts and Virus Safety

In an effort to quell fears and get people traveling, airlines have been making more and more concessions towards COVID. For example, they are more frequently wiping down surfaces of panels touched by passengers, they’ve removed communal magazines from seat pockets, they are seating people apart in a small token way, they are sanitizing the airplanes relatively rigorously between flights, but that doesn’t mean these efforts will be fruitful for passengers and crew.

COVID has been proven to linger on surfaces for sometimes days, depending on the surface material. WebMD states:

The coronavirus can live for hours to days on surfaces like countertops and doorknobs. How long it survives depends on the material the surface is made from.

WebMD then gives a list of materials and number of days COVID can live on that surface:

Metal
Examples: doorknobs, jewelry, silverware
5 days

Wood
Examples: furniture, decking
4 days

Plastics
Examples: packaging like milk containers and detergent bottles, subway and bus seats, backpacks, elevator buttons
2 to 3 days

Stainless steel
Examples: refrigerators, pots and pans, sinks, some water bottles
2 to 3 days

Cardboard
Examples: shipping boxes
24 hours

Copper
Examples: pennies, teakettles, cookware
4 hours

While copper isn’t commonly found in our environment, except for coinage, we do regularly encounter plastic, wood and metals. In fact, these three materials primarily comprise what airplane seats, and indeed much of what all airplanes, are made of.

For this reason, sanitization efforts within an airplane are limited. There’s just no way to spend enough time to get into every nook and cranny of a plane’s surfaces to wipe it all down before the next flight. What this means for you is to not touch any portion of the plane that you don’t have to. If you do touch a plane’s surface, make sure to use hand sanitizer immediately afterward or head to the lavatory and wash your hands, making sure to use the towel to open the door and toss the towel on the floor or ask the attendant to take it from you as they are likely wearing gloves.

If you have disposable gloves to use while in the airport and while boarding, keep them on until in your seat and then remove them only when you’re ready to consume any food. The biggest problem in planes isn’t really surfaces, though. So, have a mask ready to use while flying on a plane.

To that end, I’d recommend refraining from consuming any food while on board your flight as that means you’ll have to remove your mask to do so. You should keep your mask on for the duration of the flight. Here’s the primary reason why airline sanitization efforts are most likely to fail…

Recirculated Air

Let’s get directly to the heart of every airline’s biggest in-flight problem. Commercial airliners are designed and built to recirculate air throughout the cabin. It is this closed recirculated air flow system that is at the heart of why no matter what airlines do to distance people or enforce the wearing of masks or even wipe down surfaces, it will never be enough.

Why? Because recirculated air recirculates cough and sneeze particles throughout the entire plane’s cabin. If a cough can travel 6 feet, it can travel far enough to reach the intake vent of the aircraft, which can then spread throughout the rest of the plane. It can even deposit these particles on the ducting of the plane which can come loose later, even while still active. It’s doubtful that airlines are scrubbing or disinfecting the airplane’s internal ducts between flights. There’s just not enough time.

What that means is, distancing, masks and disinfectant won’t matter if even ONE contagious person boards an airliner, but who also shows no obvious symptoms. This means that even one cough from that person could spread the virus throughout the entire plane, causing additional infections regardless of distancing. You could even be sitting an entire fuselage away from that person and still become infected simply due to recirculated air. That’s the danger of recirculated air. It’s also a design problem that needs to be solved.

Design Changes

Since the arrival of COVID-19, there has been no time for aircraft design changes to be implemented to offer safer measures against viral propagation. What this means to would-be travelers is that the airplanes which are presently in service are the same planes that were in service before COVID-19.

This leaves any passenger open for infection regardless of face masks, distancing measures or any other in-plane disinfection. In fact, this recirculated air system leaves the entire plane open for infection. How can this be resolved? By making specific design alterations to every commercial aircraft’s air conditioning system.

Instead of recirculating the in-cabin air, there are two effective choices. One is more complicated than the other, but both are not without risks to the plane.

Here’s the first. Cabin air can be expunged from the plane in the rear. Fresh (cold) air from the outside can intake from the front of the plane. The air is then warmed by passing near the engines and blown into the plane at an appropriate temperature, making sure not to mix the fresh incoming air with any exhaust or other air contaminants. In fact, the air intake should also be run through a series of HEPA filters to ensure any particulate or allergens are removed.

Here’s the fundamental problem with this approach. At high altitudes, the outside air will be thin and hold less oxygen. This means the need to supplement the air system with additional oxygen and other gases to ensure a proper mix of air for the entire cabin while attempting to use outside air. This requires planes to carry oxygen systems to perform this air mixing. Otherwise, you’ll have a lot of hypoxic passengers and attendants. These systems add more weight to the plane.

The second alternative is UVC treatment. This one is probably the more practical of these two ideas. According to this Quora article, it is possible to treat air within seconds and achieve a 99% disinfection rate. That means it would be possible to move the air through a long series of transparent ducts surrounded by UVC light. When it emerges from the far end of the duct, the air would be disinfected for reuse within the cabin. This solution is probably the most optimal solution for commercial airlines to retrofit onto their planes.

While UVC is a great solution for disinfecting air, it doesn’t mean that plane (and you as a passenger) won’t remain at risk from other sources around you. It does mean that air coming out of that tiny round vent above your head is clean of pathogens. It doesn’t mean your seatmate can’t cough in your general direction or that you can’t pick it up from your tray table.

Why recirculated air?

Airlines reuse air strictly because of the high altitude (less oxygen rich) and cold outside air such that recirculating interior air makes the most sense and is least costly to achieve. It’s more problematic and expensive for an aircraft to heat outside air, but also enrich it with oxygen to mimic ground oxygen levels. The design choice was then to recirculate ground air using a closed system for the duration of the flight. That choice, unfortunately, didn’t take into account the ease of pathogen transmission.

On the ground, oxygen levels are about 20%. Above 30,000 feet (5.68 miles), oxygen levels drop below 6.9%. Many jetliners cruise at an altitude above 43,000 feet (8.14 miles above the ground). At these low oxygen levels, humans will become starved for oxygen. It’s called hypoxia. Hypoxia leads to all sorts of problems such as:

  • Confusion
  • Euphoria
  • Nausea
  • Tunnel Vision
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Rapid Heart Rate
  • Disorientation
  • Fainting

This means that attempting to repopulate the air from outside of a plane requires additional design considerations including proper heating and oxygenation. Carrying oxygen mix canisters that can resupply oxygen into the plane’s air for an extended period of time means more weight in the plane. UVC lighting may or may not be the less weighty solution.

I’d suggest one of the two above ideas for reducing an airplane’s ability to transmit pathogens throughout a plane. However, UVC light must be fully blocked from accidental exposure to humans while in operation. Any exposure to UVC light for even just a few seconds can be enough to cause eye or skin problems. Disinfecting air by using a UVC light system would need to be mounted and used in the bowels of the plane where these lights are fully contained and cannot be accidentally happened upon by humans. It also means these lights must remain in operation throughout the duration of the flight.

I have no idea how long these lights last, though some speculate these lamps last as long as 12 months at which time their disinfection power diminishes. That means a regular maintenance schedule must apply to replacing these lamps when they are close to out of date. It also means backup set of lamps in case one set of lights fails to illuminate during the flight. Of course, many airlines may treat such a UVC disinfectant system as non-critical. Meaning, if the system is broken, it won’t prevent the plane from taking off and flying… thus this leaves passengers right back at square one, with no in-plane protection from pathogens.

Whichever choice that airlines choose make to their air conditioning system, it will need to be made before airplanes can be deemed safe from transmitting pathogens within the confines of their closed air systems.

Airlines and COVID

people inside airplane

Airlines face huge problems simply stemming from fewer and fewer people flying during the COVID pandemic. With this post COVID era and fewer seats occupied, airlines will balk at paying for expensive additions to their planes. They can barely afford to keep their airline afloat, much less add a new expensive critical system to stem the tide of COVID aboard their planes.

This means that the government would have to step in and mandate such a system be installed on older planes and that all new planes under construction must contain an air UVC disinfectant system before it goes into service.

Governmental health authorities would also need to deem such an airliner’s internal disinfectant system as critical such that the plane cannot takeoff if the system is non-functional.

Today, commercial jets are a haven for pathogen transmission. Of the last 20 flights I have taken, at least 85% of them have led me to a cold or flu within 10 days of that flight. You can even hear the people on the flight sneezing and coughing all along the way.

Since airlines have no way to restrict sick passengers from boarding, the airline must to consider other options in protecting its passengers from infection while aboard long flights.

The new post-COVID reality within the airline industry is to block seats off and keep passengers apart. However, this only does so much considering the distance between seats is far less than 6 feet. Unless you place only 1 person per every 3 rows in addition to installation of UVC air disinfectant systems on all jetliners, there is no way airlines are doing enough to protect their passengers from COVID. Masks only go so far. Even then, people will take them off mid-flight to drink, eat and go to the bathroom. The effectiveness of a mask won’t work on long-haul flights.

On one hour flights where food and drink is not supplied and people are required to wear their masks the entire time, this may work. For 4, 5 and 6 hour flights across country or 11-13 hour flights across the world, other measures need to be taken to limit exposure, including in-flight air UVC disinfectant systems.

Flying Today

If you choose to fly in a post-COVID world, and someone aboard your flight is COVID infected, but not showing symptoms, you could find that you have incidentally contracted COVID from that flight. Be sure to read your airline ticket stub carefully, though. I’m quite sure that airlines have rewritten and updated their terms and conditions to indemnify themselves from all claims arising out of their use of air recirculating systems on board their airplanes. This leaves you firmly responsible for your health while captive aboard a commercial jetliner. You likely won’t be able to make any claims against that airline, even though it was their jet that was at fault for infecting you.

You may or may not be able to get COVID insurance, though. You should check with your travel insurance carrier to determine their rules. Many travel insurance carriers exclude a pandemic as part of insurance claims… again, leaving you on your own. Basically, you travel at your own risk. Should you become infected even through no fault of your own and even if you can trace it back to negligence of the airline itself, you may have no recourse.

Your best bet, then, is to avoid air travel until such time as the airline industry is willing to accept some measure of responsibility for each passenger’s health while being held captive aboard their planes… by updating their planes to add an in-flight UVC disinfecting system to their closed recirculated air system.

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Is Google running a Racket?

Posted in botch, business, california, corruption, Uncategorized by commorancy on March 16, 2020

monopoly-1920In the 1930s, we had crime syndicates that would shake down small business owners for protection money. This became known as a “Racket”. These mob bosses would use coercion and extortion to ensure that these syndicates got their money. It seems that Google is now performing actions similar with AMP. Let’s explore.

AMP

AMP is an acronym that stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages. To be honest, this technology is only “accelerated” because it strips out much of what makes HTML pages look good and function well. The HTML technology that make a web page function are also what make it usable. When you strip out the majority of that usability, what you are left with is a stripped down protocol named AMP… which should stand for Antiquated Markup Protocol.

This “new” (ahem) technology was birthed by Google in 2016. It claims to be an open source project and also an “open standard”, but the vast majority of the developers creating this (ahem) “standard” are Google employees. Yeah… so what does this say about AMP?

AMP as a technology is fine if it were allowed to stand on its own merit. Unfortunately, Google is playing hardball to get AMP adopted.

Hardball

Google seems to feel that everyone needs to adopt and support AMP. To that end, Google has created a racket. Yes, an old-fashioned mob racket.

To ensure that AMP becomes adopted, Google requires web site owners to create, design and manage “properly formatted” AMP pages or face having their entire web site rankings be lost within Google’s Search.

In effect, Google is coercing web site owners into creating AMP versions of their web sites or effectively face extortion by being delisted from Google Search. Yeah, that’s hardball guys.

It also may be very illegal under RICO laws. While no money is being transferred to Google (at least not explicitly), this action has the same effect. Basically, if as a web site owner, you don’t keep up with your AMP pages, Google will remove your web site from the search engine, thus forcing you to comply with AMP to reinstate the listing.

Google Search as Leverage

If Google Search were say 15% or less of the search market, I might not even make a big deal out of this. However, because Google’s Search holds around 90% of the search market (an effective monopoly), it can make or break a business by reducing site traffic because of low ranking. By Google reducing search rankings, this is much the same as handing Google protection money… and, yes, this is still very much a racket. While rackets have been traditionally about collecting money, Google’s currency isn’t money. Google’s currency is search rankings. Search rankings make or break companies, much the same as paying or not paying mobsters back in the 1930s.

Basically, by Google coercing and extorting web site owners into creating AMP pages, it has effectively joined the ranks of those 1930 mob boss racketeers. Google is now basically racketeering.

Technology for Technology’s Sake

I’m fine when a technology is created, then released and let land where it may. If it’s adopted by people, great. If it isn’t, so be it. However, Google felt the need to force AMP’s adoption by playing the extortion game. Basically, Google is extorting web site owners to force them to support AMP or face consequences. This forces web site owners to adopt creating and maintaining AMP versions of their web pages to not only appease Google, but prevent their entire site from being heavily reduced in search rankings and, by extensions, visitors.

RICO Act

In October of 1970, Richard M. Nixon signs into law the Racketeer and Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act… or RICO for short. This Act makes it illegal for corrupt organizations to coerce and extort people or businesses for personal gains. Yet, here we are in 2020 and that’s exactly what Google is doing with AMP.

It’s not that AMP is a great technology. It may have merit at some point in the future. Unfortunately, we’ll never really know that. Instead of Google following the tried-and-true formula of letting technologies land where they may, someone at Google decided to force web site owners to support AMP … or else. The ‘else’ being the loss of that business’s income stream by being deranked from Google’s Search.

Google Search can make or break a business. By Google extorting businesses into using AMP at the fear of loss of search ranking, that very much runs afoul of RICO. Google gains AMP adoption, yes, but that’s Google’s gain at the site owners loss. “What loss?”, you ask. Site owners are forced to hire staff to learn and understand AMP because the alternative is loss of business. Is Google paying business owners back for this extortion? No.

So, here we are. A business the size of Google wields a lot of power. In fact, it wields around 90% of the Internet’s search power. One might even consider that a monopoly power. Combining a monopoly and extortion together, that very much runs afoul of RICO.

Lawsuit City and Monopolies

Someone needs to bring Google up in front of congress for their actions here. It’s entirely one thing to create a standard and let people adopt it on their own. It’s entirely another matter when you force adoption of that standard on people who have no choice by using your monopoly power against them.

Google has already lost one legal battle with COPPA and YouTube. It certainly seems time that Google needs to lose another legal battle here. Businesses like Google shouldn’t be allowed to use their monopoly power to brute force business owners into complying with Google technology initiatives. In fact, I’d suggest that it may now be time for Google, just like the Bell companies back in the 80s, to be broken up into separate companies so that these monopoly problems can no longer exist at Google.

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Should I allow a team work-from-home day?

Posted in analysis, botch, business, Employment, fail by commorancy on February 13, 2020

mai-tai-beach[Updated: April 26, 2020] In hindsight and knowing all of what’s going on in the world with COVID-19, I wouldn’t have written this article. Seeing as working from home may now become the new “norm” in business, I am leaving this article here as a testament to the fact that no one, not even me, can foresee how world events can change how a society or how businesses function. Realize that the information contained below is now mostly “out of date” and is here solely as a snapshot as to how the world existed prior to social distancing and stay-at-home orders. Ironically (and in spite of this article), working from home now seems to be the new norm. Please continue reading this article from this perspective.

Article Begins

I previously worked at a company which, at the team leader level, endorsed a once-a-week work-from-home day. I can now definitively state, “No, you shouldn’t allow or offer full team work from home days.” Let’s explore why.

Day Off?

The biggest reason not to allow such a work-from-home day is that it is typically treated as a “day off”. This is even true of the managerial staff. At the business where I worked and on this specific day, after we had our “morning teem meeting”, everyone went their separate ways doing whatever they pleased… and it was usually not work related.

This becomes a very difficult situation for those who are consigned to pager duty for that week. When you need to get in touch with someone to resolve a problem, it can become nearly impossible to reach them while during office hours on “work from home” day.

Work from home days should be limited to individuals rather than teams, assuming you wish to allow this perk at all. For example, allow an individual to choose a work from home day and allow that single individual to work from home on that day. That leaves the rest of the team in the office performing their daily routines. This allows for timely problem resolution in almost every case. Even then, if the team member who is at home is needed, they can typically be reached. It also allows other teams to get in touch with your team should the need arise.

Rant

The biggest problem I personally experienced with a “work from home” perk day was that I had no choice in it. If I showed up in the office on the work-from-home day, no one was there. The desks were all empty. Even if I were at the office, I still had the same problem. car-drivingEveryone else was running around in their cars or doing something other than work. This meant that even after spending a long time locating a co-worker, trying to get someone’s mind wrapped around a work problem might take ages longer than normal.

Their thoughts were on driving their car or picking up groceries or ferrying their kids or whatever their assumed “day off” tasks entailed. Their minds were clearly not focused on work. This meant that waiting for people to get back in front of their computers and get into the correct mindset might take an hour or longer. That’s an hour that a problem is not getting resolved. It’s an hour that’s causing delays because they are not doing what they are being paid to do.

This is a big work ethic problem. If I’m handling the pager and I’m expected to resolve problems, some of which I have no first hand knowledge how to resolve, I’ll need someone else’s involvement to help me understand the system that’s broken. Yet, the person with the expertise is out running around instead of working at the their computer at home (where they are supposed to be).

Knowledge Transfer

Some of this might be considered a documentation problem or a knowledge transfer problem. I agree, it is. But, there are many, many companies where selective staff choose to keep their knowledge close to the vest rather than documenting it. This is usually a sign of job security… that this person believes that if they openly document what they are doing, that they will have no value to the company.

This situation is particularly a problem if the person also happens to be the team leader. As a subordinate, I’m not tasked to manage a manager. Though, I can strongly urge them to document. However, that’s not the working relationship. I can ask, but they don’t have to comply. In many cases, they don’t and won’t comply. This leaves me back at square one. I’ll need their help to resolve the problem… every time until I can reverse engineer what they know. What they know about the systems is in their brain and in no one else’s. Until I spend hours reverse engineering that system to understand what they know, I’ll always need their help. That’s job security.

Worse, many times, these folks have PGP locked all of the doors. This means that even were I to try and reverse engineer what they did, I can’t even resolve the problem because I’m led to a PGP locked door. This means that they hold the literal key and they must be the one to open it. For this reason, teams must be in the same office together through the work day… rather than separated across city distances at various dwellings. Businesses rent office spaces for a reason. By having a team “work from home”, it means that the office rental space isn’t being used and the monthly rental money is being, at least on that day, wasted.

Work from Home

I will, however, state that work from home CAN work, if it’s implemented properly. A manager can allow one of their subordinates to work from home IF they are properly monitored. Monitoring means keeping in contact with the person via chat servers, email and pagers. Communication is your friend. That doesn’t mean pestering the person, but it does mean regularly staying in touch when the need arises. Clearly, if there is no need of this person, then let them work in silence. But, pinging them occasionally via email, chat or messaging will give you (as a manager) a sense that the person is at home in front of their computer doing work, not running around in their car taking care of non-work business. At the same time, there’s the “out of sight, out of mind” problem. If a person is out of the office, the optics from other staff might cause issues. Allowing one person to work from home means they’ve gotten a perk no one else may be getting. Offering this to one person means offering it to all staff.

Working from home is, however, a double edged sword. While on the receiving end, I did find the freedom itself is nice enough and not having to spend for the gas and wear and tear on my vehicle is cool. The difficulty is that when the team isn’t together, it kills a work day where things could have gotten done. That forces doubling up on work the following day when we all, again, meet in the office. Doubling up on work is difficult at the best of times, but moreso if that day happens to be Friday.

Teams should work together every day, each week. They should work on projects together, manage the business together and functionally be a team IN the office. You can’t be a team when the team isn’t together.

HR Advice

If a manager or executive approaches you about having a team “work from home” day, you should seriously discuss these downsides with them. The biggest problem is that it kills productivity between team members.

For example, we had our team “work from home” day on Thursday. In fact, it was the worst of all possible days to offer this. It’s the day before Friday… the day when everyone has mostly “checked out”. Friday is one of the worst days for productivity because people are concerned with the bar or a party or the weekend. Their minds are not on the work day at hand. Their minds are on the end of the day and the weekend.

By having the team “work from home” day set to Thursday, this means that it will effectively be a 3 day work week. There is Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday which supports solid team efforts. Then there’s a break on Thursday which means a huge loss of productivity for the final two work days of the week. Some people may even schedule Friday off which effectively offers a 4 day weekend breaking productivity even further.

If a manager or leader is thinking of a setting up “work from home” day, the only two days where it’s feasible is Tuesday or Wednesday. I wouldn’t allow any other days… definitely not Friday or Monday and definitely not Thursday. I also wouldn’t allow a work from home day every week. That’s too frequent.

Working from Home

Don’t get me wrong, being able to work from home is nice on the surface, but it’s horrible for business logistics. You hired your team to be in your rented office space and work together as a team. Having that team work from home can be difficult to keep track of people… particularly when other teams need access to these staff members. Other teams must put requests on hold when a full team is out of the office.

In fact, it’s almost unheard of to allow an entire team out of the office for a single day, let alone every single week. Business must be conducted every day, not just the days when people feel inclined to show up.

The difficulty, however, comes when a VP or executive proposes a “work from home” effort. While I understand there might be a personal issue requiring this VP to be at home on a specific day, he could have simply set up his own personal work from home day solely for himself. Keep the rest of the team in the office. Instead, he endorsed an entire team work from home day… a mistake.

Personally, that (and a number of other problems surrounding this person and another manager) didn’t work for me and I had to leave that job. Jobs are already difficult enough without throwing in these unnecessary wrenches. I felt the team didn’t get enough done throughout the week, partly because of this incorrectly placed “work from home” day, but also because of sheer lack of team bonding. The manager over the team really did nothing to attempt to bond the team together… instead leaving us to our own devices. This is a separate problem, just like the knowledge transfer issue above, but it definitely compounded with the work from home issue to create a large set of problems which made working for this company much more difficult than it should have been.

Team Bonding

athletesLet’s talk about team bonding for a moment. Every work team is effectively “thrown together”. It’s a bunch of people who don’t know one another initially, but must find common ground to get work done as a team. To that end, the team must have the occasional get together to allow some time away from work to talk and mingle, but that time can also be used by managers to discuss how overall work efforts are progressing.

Team outings need to offer, first, a work related meeting that discusses ongoing metrics that affect the team. If the team is in charge of keeping the servers functioning, then the meeting should discuss these efforts. If there are efforts to secure the servers, then it should discuss the security efforts. Whatever projects are currently underway, these should also be discussed so that all team members are aware of who is doing what projects and who might be needed to help these projects succeed.

Then, after the formalities of work related discussions end, the team will be free to mingle, talk and eat dinner or play video games or whatever fun team bonding activities have been scheduled. At the office, there’s limited time to bond with your co-workers other than at lunch. Having out of the office team bonding events is important to make give the team time to talk about things other than work.

When a workplace offers “work from home”, this activity completely disrupts the ability of co-worker bonding in the workplace. Without a monthly or quarterly team bonding event, there’s no way for co-workers to functionally bond… leaving a scattered team.

Team bonding is important to ensure that work efforts proceed efficiently and normally. Otherwise, you get conflict between team members who refuse to work with one another because each person thinks that their project is the most important… when all projects are important, but no more important than the next person’s project. Still, the projects are all for the benefit of the employer, thus it is the manager’s responsibility to make sure the staff manage the priorities of those projects accordingly.

Team Perks

As a team leader, consider the perks you offer your team carefully. Don’t choose perks like “work from home” because eventually (yes, even you) will abuse it. But, that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that a work from home day sacrifices productivity for that and the following day. Be careful when choosing perks that sacrifice two or more days of team productivity. If you plan to allow a work from home perk, choose to allow it for a one-on-one basis so that you can control who is out of the office when.

By making this change, you be in better control over when key people are in and out of the office. Full team “work from home” days should not be permitted or offered. If you currently support such a one-day-a-week perk, you should rethink this stance.

If you are a manager over a team that already has a once-a-week work from home day, you should stop this perk immediately! Be careful to offer a compensating perk once you get rid of this one, such as individual work from home days which are scheduled well in advance. Or, alternatively, allow team members to arrive late, leave early or have flex shifts on specific days as long as their in-office hours offer a minimum of 3-4 hours of overlap with other team members. With such a retooling of this perk, the team will work together in the office every day, offering much more weekly productivity and provide better team bonding.

If this article helped your situation, please leave a comment below letting me know how you managed your work situation.

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How To: Portals in No Man’s Sky

Posted in botch, business, video game design by commorancy on February 9, 2020

NoMansSky3While there have been a number of articles describing the portal travel system within No Man’s Sky, it seems that these articles leave out some very important details and restrictions when traveling by portal. Let’s explore.

Finding a Portal

The difficulty with using a portal is finding one. Portals look like a Stargate from the SG1 TV series. In fact, they “dial” almost identically to the SG1 gates, thus requiring glyphs to complete the “dialing sequence”. Once a sequence is input, the gate will either open or fail to open. Putting in random values may lead to a world, but it can also lead to your own peril.

If you choose to dial a random sequence, you should make sure to have a current saved game position that you can go back to if it ends up some place perilous. I should also mention that for the first portal you find, you’re going to need to repair each portal glyph button with varying resources. Expect to carry a bunch of various resources like Indium, Sodium Nitrate, Oxygen and so on to repair the entire panel.

NoMansSky-PortalFinding a portal, however, can be a real challenge. With that said, there are multiplayer quest lines (you can reach these from the Anomaly space station) that will lead you to a portal as part of the quest line. Once you complete one of these basic quests that lead you by starship to a world with a portal, build a base near that portal before you use it. Place a terminus on your base and you can always return to that base right near the portal for use later. You’ll thank me for this advice later. Once you find a portal on a world, it’s always a good idea to build a small foothold base near it so that you can return and reuse that portal later. Otherwise, you’ll be hunting for a portal again once you leave it. Once you have a base near a portal, you can then find portals on other worlds. It’s a complicated process to get back to remote portals, but suffice it to say that it can be done in defiance of the below documented restrictions.

The second way to locate a portal is that you can accidentally happen upon portals on worlds simply by flying over them. If you happen to find a portal through happenstance, create a base near it so you can return to it and use it later. You can reuse any portal you find. You really only need access to one portal in the game. All others are extraneous. However, if Hello Games decides to add world destruction scenarios into the game (not currently in the game), then you might want to have access to several different portals in your chain of bases.

The third way to locate a portal is to use a structure scanner or an acquired navigational map to find one, but this is a hunt in the dark. The scanners (and maps) only locate a close / random structure and may not locate a portal. Though, every world appears to have a portal somewhere on it… including moons apparently. Airless worlds might be easiest to locate a portal as there are no clouds to get in the way of scouting by air.

Using a Portal

Using a portal is easy. To find the portal address of a world, you simply need to enter photo mode. Once in photo mode, a glyph sequence like the following…NoMansSky-GlyphsLarge (to the current closest planet) will appear on the bottom left corner of the screen. You can then snapshot this screen and use these symbols to get back to that world’s portal.

NoMansSky-GlyphsIn fact, using Photomode is the easiest way to find a portal address for a given world. Using the glyphs on your screen snap will land you at that world’s portal. You can then leave a Save Beacon at the portal location to find your way back there easily while revisiting in your ship.

Unfortunately, here is where the restrictions for portals come into play. Using a Save Beacon only really works if you’re within jumping distance of the world. If you’re hundreds of thousands of light years away, it’s going to take you a long while to get back to that world by ship.

Portal Restrictions

When you use a portal to reach a destination, Hello Games has designed some heavy restrictions on that solar system you are visiting via portal. These restrictions include:

  1. You cannot use the Galactic Map while visiting a system via portal. The open portal apparently creates “interference”.
  2. You cannot create a Base Computer on any world in the system you are visiting via portal. This means you cannot build a base there. However, you can leave a Save Beacon behind which will allow you to return to that specific ground location on that planet after you have returned back through the portal and flown there in your starship.
  3. You cannot shut down a portal at all… either on the visiting side or on the dialing side. On the dialing side, you can dial a new system and that will override the currently open portal.
  4. You cannot dial a portal while still on the visiting side. In fact, the dialing controller will not even raise out of the ground. You can only dial on the side where you began.
  5. You cannot dial out of any other portal on any other planet in the visiting system. In fact, all portals on all worlds, for whatever reason, only allow you to return to your dialing point. This means even if you leave the dialed world and head to another world in that system… and then you manage to find the location of the portal on another planet there, you still can’t dial out. You’ll find that that portal (and every other portal) is currently open back to your dialing world.
  6. The Terminus at the local space station is shut down and locked. You cannot use a terminus to leave that visited system.
  7. You cannot call the Anomaly Station (Nada and Polo’s ship) while visiting a system through a portal.
  8. You cannot call your freighter.

NoMansSky2These restrictions are intended to dead end you in the solar system you’re visiting by portal. You can’t leave that system in any other way than back through the portal. You can’t build on any of the worlds you’ve visited while through the portal, with the exception of certain small tech devices like a Save Beacon or a Message Beacon. As I said above, you can’t build a Base Computer on any planet in a Portal visited system. You also can’t leave that solar system in your ship. You can travel from planet to planet in that system. You can pick up resources and return with them through the portal, but you cannot use the Galactic Map to leave the system. You must head back to the open portal and return to your dialing point to continue playing.

Save Beacon

The only sort-of workaround here (at least to find the world again) is to leave a Save Beacon behind on one or several of the worlds. You can then hop into your ship from your own system (the dialing system), then use the Galactic Map to navigate back to that system. Once there, you can then use your Save Beacon to lead you back to that specific portal point on that world.

If you travel to that same system with your ship using Hyperdrive, there is no problem building Base Computers or any other structures. Basically, if you find a particularly compelling system via portal, you must return back through the portal and then use your ship’s Hyperdrive to get you back there. Of course, it could be many thousands of light years away… so there’s that.

Commentary

I can’t really understand the unnecessary portal restrictions within No Man’s Sky. In Stargate SG1, there were no similar restrictions. The one rule in Stargate SG1, though, is that you couldn’t return back through an already open gate. Gates in SG1 were one way. If someone tried to return through an already open Gate, the person would be fried. This is the reason that after traveling through a Gate in SG1, the gate would shut down. This meant that the person visiting via the portal would need to dial back out to open their own portal back to the originating world. This is how No Man’s Sky should work.

I want to understand the developer’s rationale here. I do. But, I must counter any such argument that this is an exploration game. There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t use a portal to travel to another system as open-ended exploration, then continue our journey from there or build as we see fit.

If the developers are concerned that we’ll shortcut our way to the center of the galaxy, restrict that. If the dialed system is at or near the center or within a small diameter of the center, then restrict how travel is handled. Don’t restrict every solar system simply because you’re trying to keep us from using a portal to get to the center. Even then, this restriction is somewhat stupid.

Portals are Mostly Worthless

Ultimately, the restrictions imposed on visiting portal worlds make them a novelty form of travel, but entirely useless. You can only use them to “see” a specific world. You can’t use a portal for any other travel purposes.

Once you understand the heavy restrictions imposed when using portals, you’ll quickly realize the futility of using them. Basically, Hello Games wasted their time building this portal system feature. Unless Hello Games chooses to lift these unnecessary portal restrictions, the best way to travel is strictly by Hyperdrive. There are no such silly restrictions when traveling by Starship or Freighter… at least none that I know of.

Consider that it’s also a major hassle to portal to a world, drop a beacon, travel back via portal then hop into your starship and make your way back there. Yeah, it’s a real pain in the ass. I don’t get why game developers feel the need to place such silly restrictions all over games when they are entirely unnecessary.

NoMansSky4No Man’s Sky is supposed to be an open exploration game. Why close off avenues of game play when using a built-in travel system? If I choose to build on a world in a portal system, let me. If I want to use the Galactic Map, there should be no problem. If I want to use the Terminus to get back home, that’s my choice. These stupid restrictions should not exist in No Man’s Sky. Hear me, Hello Games!

The only restrictions that should exist are restrictions on traveling to worlds within 10,000 light years of the center. Simply place the restrictions on these worlds and systems. Don’t allow portal travel at all to these worlds. Force the player to fly in by ship. Honestly, though, what difference does it make if the player flies in by ship or arrives by portal? Why does it matter if the player has chosen to use a portal instead of a starship?

Video games should allow players to travel in whatever method they choose, even if it ruins their own game experience. What difference does it really make if the gamer flies to the center by ship or arrives by portal? However, if you must, place restrictions on key worlds… but don’t restrict the entire game of billions of worlds strictly for a very small subset use case. 🧐

If this article helped you better understand No Man’s Sky‘s portals, please let me know in the comments below.

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Fallout 76: Where to find Deathclaw Hide

Posted in botch, business, video game design by commorancy on February 6, 2020

NukaColaPA-fIf you’re trying to complete the Possum challenge for Leatherworker, you’re probably looking for Deathclaw Hide. Let’s explore.

[Update 4/27/2020] It seems that since Wastelanders has been released, Deathclaws are once again dropping Deathclaw Hide. I found it on the Deathclaw on Deathclaw Island. I’ve also seen Deathclaw Hide drops from Radtoads. It seems Bethesda has potentially fixed the problem that caused this article to be written. Still, those drops may be rare. The below is still the easiest way to get it.

Possum Challenges

The one thing about the Possum Challenges is that there’s always this “one thing” you can’t seem to find (or do). With the Leatherworker challenge, this one is no different. I have no idea why Bethesda feels the need to make these challenges drastically more difficult by limiting the ability to find the things you need. For example, the Possum Electrician challenge is entirely broken. There’s no way to actually succeed with this challenge because the ‘Restore power to a Power Plant’ challenge won’t complete no matter how many times you “Light Up” the Poseidon Power Plant  … it seems Bethesda may have finally fixed this challenge to award the point after powering up Poseidon.

Fallout 76_20200206065538

With pretty much every other animal in the game, you can find their hide in the loot pile after you kill them. Perhaps not finding it all of the time, but at least 50% of the time. This would mean you need to kill a minimum two of these animals to find its hide.

With the Deathclaw, unfortunately, Bethesda seems to have taken Deathclaw Hide off of a Deathclaw’s drop list (or at least, after Wastelanders, reduced its drop rate substantially) which you only find out after spending time and ammo killing several Deathclaws. So, no longer does a Deathclaw drop Deathclaw Hide. This makes the Leatherworker Possum challenge nearly impossible… until you know where to look.

Fallout 76_20200206065455

Thanks, Bethesda.

Rant Mode On

At this point, I can’t believe this is an oversight. In fact, I believe that it isn’t. I believe these changes are intentional by people within Bethesda. To consider this unnecessary change as anything more than accidental in among so many other “accidental” changes is naïve. There is absolutely no way Bethesda is this mistake prone. No way! No company makes so many mistakes in writing code. No one does this. One or two mistakes here and there I can accept as accidental. With Fallout 76, it’s been a series of mistakes after a series of mistakes after even more mistakes.

In fact, it’s almost like Fallout 76 came to exist through a series of mistakes. No one (let alone a company as big as Bethesda) makes that many “accidental” mistakes and still produces a semi-functional product. No! These changes are not accidental, incidental or unintentional. No company operates like The Keystone Cops (too young for this reference?   ⃪ click here).

These mistakes are definitely intentional! They have been introduced by Bethesda’s engineers intentionally. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps job security? No company I’ve seen introduces bugs intentionally… except Bethesda and software engineers hoping for …

Job Security

What exactly is “Job Security” in the software and technical professions? I’ll explain.

Many technical staff are not confident in their own skills or abilities. Their job insecurity sees them play games to make themselves appear “more valuable” and, thus, help their prospects with job security. Everyone wants to be considered a valuable team member. Unfortunately, playing this “job security” game in the way described below is highly unethical, but few technical staff see it this way.

By Technical Staff, I’m referring to software engineers, software designers and software coders. I also include systems administrators, systems engineers and systems architects as well. All of these technical roles have the ability to play such games to help increase their perceived “value” to the company.

No one wants to be considered obsolete by their employer. To that end, many software designers, engineers and even systems administrators, choose to keep their jobs secure by engineering their own continued necessity. How do technical employees engineer their own continued necessity? By introducing system breaking bugs. If things are “broken”, the company will continue to need someone to “fix” it.

How this situation manifests is that these folks break small things here and there. They don’t break the whole system, though they could very easily do this if they wanted. No, instead, they engineer breakage in small tertiary components. They engineer situations that are just problematic enough to be annoying, but not problematic enough to keep the product from working entirely. Though, I have worked with some folks who will and have chosen to break the entire system, bringing down the entire product for several hours.

There’s a fine line when considering breaking small things versus large things. Breaking the whole system is a firing offense. If you break the entire system such that no one can use it for hours, that’s something that will get at least one person fired. This doesn’t afford job security. Just the opposite, in fact. Breaking the entire system will get someone fired.

Breaking tiny tertiary pieces isn’t a firing offense (at least as long as the engineer doesn’t go blabbing about what they did). In fact, breaking something small is usually seen as unintentional by most bosses. After all, a boss might think, “Why would they break this tiny thing intentionally?” For this thinking logic, such small things are assumed to be a bug.

Many software engineers (and similar people in similar lower level positions) take advantage of this flawed managerial thinking logic and choose to break underlying, but very small components. Why? As this section states, job security. If small things are continually broken, the company will need someone who “knows that code” to fix it. Hence, continued employment for that person. Yes, it’s a shitty thing to do, but people also want to remain employed. When you hire bright people to write code, you also hire their scheming minds. Expect them to take advantage of such internal managerial flawed rationales to their own benefit.

How does this relate to Deathclaw Hide? It relates because the person who manages this specific portion of Fallout 76 wants to remain employed by Bethesda. If they break something small, Bethesda will eventually turn to them to ask them to fix it once enough people complain. See, job security does sometimes work… as long as they don’t get caught at it. It seems that too many employees at Bethesda are playing the “Job Security” game at the expense of Fallout 76. After all, this video game is already mostly a piece of junk. No one is going to see a few more mistakes as any more than “par for The Whitespring golf course”.

Rant over.

So where can I find Deathclaw Hide?

I’m coming to that. I wanted to rant a little about Bethesda before I got to this point. Since Deathclaw Hide no longer spawns on Deathclaws after you kill them, you must rely on loot containers and via other means.

Unfortunately, it seems that the same engineer who removed Deathclaw Hide from the loot drop list for Deathclaws also seems to have removed it from the drop list for regular containers as well. This means you won’t find it in toolboxes, wooden containers, coolers, safes or any other similar containers. I know. I’ve spent days culling through every container I could find looking for it. Deathclaw Hide doesn’t even spawn in Deathclaw nests!

I even went looking in non-conventional places. I started searching through Scorchbeast nests. Specifically, the nests in Watoga. I rationalized that Scorchbeast nests tend to turn up unusual bones and stuff. There is a nest on top of Watoga’s Municipal Building (where Mayor for a Day is located). There is also a nest on top of Watoga’s Civic Center. While these nests both spawn all sorts of goodies, such as Scorchbeast Hide, Scorchbeast Brain, Scorchbeast Meat and Scorchbeast Heart, it doesn’t spawn anything related to Deathclaws.

However, the Scorchbeast Guano piles will occasionally spawn Deathclaw Hands. Unfortunately, these don’t count towards the Possum Leatherworker challenge, even though Deathclaw Hands provide 3 leather. Go figure.

After spending time making various runs to these Scorchbeast Nests, I then had another thought.

Fissure Sites

I realized that I was going about this all wrong. Around the lip of every fissure is an array of dead animals. I also realized long ago that existing already-dead carcasses in the game spawn the hide of the dead animal.

While a Bethesda engineer decided to remove Deathclaw Hide from the live Deathclaw drop list, he/she forgot to remove it from the already dead carcasses that you can find around Appalachia. For example, there’s an already dead Yao Guai at the Abandoned Waste Dump. This permanently dead carcass spawns Yao Guai hide. If you ever need Yao Guai hide for any challenge, make your way to the Abandoned Waste Dump and pick it up. No need to kill anything. Just loot and be done.

This is why I began thinking, “Where can I find already dead Deathclaw carcasses in this game?” That’s when it dawned on me to visit the fissure sites.

Sure enough, there are already dead Deathclaw (and other) carcasses around the lip of fissures. Deathclaw Hide still spawns on these already dead Deathclaw carcasses. Yay! No need to run around killing Deathclaws if we don’t have to, eh? If you’re looking for Deathclaw Hide, you’ll want to visit the lip of the fissure sites to loot these already dead Deathclaws. The difficulty, of course, is that these fissures tend to spawn a crap ton of Scorched and at least one Scorchbeast, in addition to irradiating you. Be prepared with RadShield, RadX, Radaway or Power Armor and also be prepared to take out the enemies… or, alternatively, use the Sneak card to sneaky sneak your way in and out without being easily detected.

Unfortunately, you will only find one hide per carcass. Even then, it doesn’t always spawn. But, it spawns more often than anywhere else. Fortunately, there are 9 fissure sites around Appalachia that you can visit and check out the dead Deathclaw carcasses. At least one of them will have a hide. If you server hop, you can probably find all 5 of the hides that you’ll need to complete the Possum Leatherworker challenge.

I have found that the fissure sites are the most reliable places to locate Deathclaw Hide in Fallout 76. That is, until another engineer chooses to remove Deathclaw Hide from the loot drop list for these already-dead Deathclaws at the fissure sites, too. 😕

Good Luck.

If this article helped you, please leave a comment below. If you know of the location for other dead Deathclaw carcasses around Fallout 76 (besides fissures), please let me know where you found it in the comments below.

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Fallout 76: Vault 94 to close

Posted in botch, business, video game design by commorancy on January 24, 2020

Fallout 76_20200124171712

Vault 94 was to be one of the first “group dungeons” (i.e., vault raid) to come to Fallout 76’s Wasteland. Vault 94 is scheduled to close when Wastelanders opens. Let’s explore.

Group Raid Areas

With every online game that Bethesda has produced, at some point during the game’s online lifecycle, Bethesda introduces higher level group dungeons. These dungeons usually entail the need to be at least level 50 or higher and you’ll need pretty decent weapons and armor to survive. So, with that, Bethesda introduced Vault 94 as a group raid area within Fallout 76 sometime around August 20th of 2019. No, it hasn’t been open for every long at all. When something is bad, though… *shrug*

Hodge Podge

After having visited Vault 94 myself, I can conclusively say, “It’s a mess.” Oh, and what a mess it is… in more ways than one. Not only is the plant life overgrowth abundant throughout the vault, finding anything in the disaster of a vault is an absolute chore… and that’s even if there weren’t a single enemy down there. What’s worse is the reward, but we’ll come to that topic soon enough.

Throw on top of the fact that the entire interior is an unmitigated disaster of a design, you have a never ending smorgasbord of enemies thrown at you continually. From Ghouls to Mirelirks to Mirelirk Kings to pretty much you name it and it’s in down there. I’m surprised they didn’t throw a Yao Guai, Mothman and a Scorchbeast in, too.

Lag City

It’s not so much that there shouldn’t be enemies there, it’s that the enemies are so densely packed in that space that, when combined with the overly detailed plant overgrowth 3D environment, the game’s engine simply can’t keep up. It gets so laggy, you can barely even run and shoot. I can’t even imagine taking a team of 4 people down there with miniguns. The entire run would come to a crawl. It would become so laggy, it would be pointless to try. It’s bad enough with two people down there.

Bethesda way overcompensated with this vault and pushed the engine way beyond its limits. It’s also quite clear that Bethesda didn’t even bother to run any performance or gamer tests to determine how badly this challenge ultimately failed. Yes, if you’re really diligent and patient (and can wade through the myriad of problems), you can complete the dungeon and get your ending reward. The problem is, that end reward so very much sucks. It’s honestly one of the worst reward drops I’ve seen from Bethesda.

The point is, this raid is ultimately pointless. It’s overly difficult with the number of enemies thrown at you, but it’s made much more difficult by the fact that the interior frame rate lags so badly that you sometimes have to give up and leave. It’s just that bad.

Reward?

The biggest part of the problem with Vault 94 is actually its final reward. A great reward is the only reason to even consider going into Vault 94. Sadly, the weak reward and laggy play actually gives us no reason to go there. Without a reason to go down there, it’s a pointless exercise. Let’s get to it, then. The rewarded power armor skin is absolutely hideous. It’s not even the slightest bit “cool looking”. It’s so ugly, in fact, that that’s the sole reason no one wants to make this vault run. The armor set looks just like the interior of Vault 94, covered with overgrown plants. It’s not something that most people would want to wear, unless you want to look like an armor covered Poison Ivy from various comic books.

Why spend all of that time and effort fighting with the crap ton of enemies in a badly designed vault under HEAVY lag only to receive a hideously ugly PA skin as a result? It is a crappy skin worth less than 500 Atoms. You’ve spent a crap ton of your ammo and stimpaks to make that run and then you get an ugly worthless skin? Really? Clearly, no gamer wants to spend their time and resources doing this, just as Bethesda’s stats support. Bethesda needs to rethink its reward system. If you can’t make the reward worthy of spending the time, effort, ammo and stimpaks, no one will make the run. That’s exactly what’s happening with Vault 94.

It’s not even like power armor is actually very useful in Fallout 76. Bethesda has nerfed the usefulness and strength of power armor so much that you can actually do better out of power armor than you can in it. It also costs way too much to keep power armor repaired and then there’s the fact that you burn through Fusion Cores every few minutes now… when early in 2019 a Fusion Core could last you several days. Yeah, making the Vault 94 run is so not worth it. Locating 100% topped up Fusion Cores is nearly impossible unless you’re willing to take on the challenge of a possible PVP activity by taking over the Poseidon, Thunder Mountain or Monongah power plant workshops. This on top of Vault 94’s crapfest reward? Yeah, no. Even then, Bethesda could cause these workshops to begin dropping Fusion Cores of random lower charged amounts even from a Fusion Core Processor in the future, thus making Power Armor even more worthless than it already is.

In fact, not only is Bethesda continually nerfing every part of Fallout 76, making it worse and worse and requiring longer and longer grinding efforts, they’re also nerfing quest end rewards giving us less and less value at the end of each new quest. Instead, they choose to put those “great looking” things in the Atomic shop where you have to pay for them… instead of placing the items into the game as reward drops. Come on, Bethesda. You can seriously do better. If you can’t give us a reason to want to make a vault run, we’re not going to run it and you will simply have wasted months worth of programming efforts on nothing. You must make the end reward drop worth our time and effort and worthy of draining us of our ammo, thus giving us solid reasons to make that run!

Closure

From Bethesda’s January 16th’s Inside the Vault:

Through community feedback we’ve received and our own monitoring since that time, we’ve decided that Vault 94 and its Missions are not delivering the quality of experience that we had hoped to provide. As a result, we are currently planning to shut down Vault 94 alongside the release of the Wastelanders update.

It’s no wonder then that Bethesda’s recent stats show that Vault 94 barely has any visitors. Vault 94 is a crapfest extraordinaire. Not only is the reward incredibly bad, the dungeon itself is a horrid laggy mess. Bethesda would actually have to try harder to actually make a worse group dungeon than Vault 94.

Sometimes you just have to say, “Good riddance to bad rubbish” and with Vault 94, it’s far too long in coming. This dungeon needed a redesign the day it arrived. Yet, Bethesda entirely ignored gamer complaints. Unfortunately, we don’t know the exact release date of Wastelanders, so we don’t know the exact date of Vault 94’s closure.

Oh, and Bethesda states they will move that sucky power armor skin reward to some other location so we can get it in some other way after Vault 94 closes. Yeah, like we all want that ugly power armor skin? I don’t think so. Here’s what Bethesda states:

When the Vault is disabled, we are planning to make all of its rewards, including the exclusive Power Armor sets and Vault Steel, achievable through other means.

As if we’re going to be anywhere close to excited for that power armor skin or vault steel when it becomes available “through other means”. Don’t think so.

If you really, really personally love this lagfest of a vault, then you’ll want to make sure to run it a few times before it disappears. Personally, the last time I was in that vault is the last time I’ll ever be in that vault. Yes, it really IS that bad.

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