Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Lost with Apple’s iPhones for 2018?

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

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

iPhone X models for 2018

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

iPhone X Compare

Display Res iPhone X 2018

Let’s Talk Models

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

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

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

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

Apple Watch

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

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

MacBook Pro

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

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

iPad 9.7″

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

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

Lateral Innovation

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

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

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Rant Time: Apple Music vs Twitter

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

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

Twitter Cards

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

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

Small Twitter Card

Twitter Card Small 2

Large Twitter Card

Large Twitter Card

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

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

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

Apple Music Playlist Sharing

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

Apple Music Playlist Twitter Card

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

iTunes Playlist Image

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

Apple Playlist Web

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

600x600wp

Scaled. Click to see 600×600 image

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

600x600wp

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

twitter-144x144

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

pioneer-1200x1200

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

TwitterCardFixed

… instead of this absolute shit looking card…

TwitterCardBroken

How the Mighty Have Fallen

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

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

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

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

Apple, Hear Me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rant Time: Netflix’s Stupid Ideas

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

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

Original Content

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

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

Netflix Deletes and Closes Review System

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

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

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

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

Netflix’s Agenda

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

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

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

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

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

Crap on a Stick

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

Movies and Reviews

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

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

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

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TV Review: Wayward Pines

Posted in botch, california, entertainment, TV Shows by commorancy on August 27, 2018

WaywardPinesNote: *** Contains Spoilers ***

Here’s yet another M. Night Shyamalan thriller, this time in the form of a two season TV series.  Let’s explore.

Comparisons

This show has a similar premise to Stephen King’s Under the Dome. However, it is based on novels by Blake Crouch. Basically, it’s a small town that’s been cut off from everything and everyone. As a result, the town must live by its own rules. These two premises pretty much match up.

The way in which the Wayward Pines diverges is how the plot unfolds. With Under the Dome we come to find that the town is encased in a huge dome that, when the dome wishes, allows some exchange of air with the outside. In the case of Wayward Pines, we come to find that it’s supposed to be set in the year 4028, after a great holocaust mutated the human population. Both Under The Dome and Wayward Pines have populations that are cut off from “the outside world”, but for differing reasons.

Both towns, however, fundamentally operate in very similar ways with the exception that Dome runs out of resources a whole lot faster since they were cut off from the world without any resource planning. The dome town’s resources wear thin much, much faster. Wayward Pines, on the other hand, has the benefactor, David Pilcher, who not only had foreseen this event, but seemingly planned for it well in advance by building infrastructure and storing limited food rations to sustain the small town. We’ll come to find that Pilcher didn’t quite think ahead much or have planned for all contingencies.

Characters

The Wayward Pines town is inhabited by a number of adults and children including a sheriff, a nurse, a doctor and several primary families who become part of the series. It’s a similar kind of makeup as there was in Under The Dome. There’s also a faction of disenchanted citizens looking to escape from the city… so they can get “back home”. The characters change over time, particularly in season 2.

Weak Opening Premise

The show starts off entirely on the wrong foot indicating the “making it up as we go” syndrome. Meaning, the show begins by making no sense. Burke wakes up near a creek, beat up, bruised and injured. The question is, why stage this 2000 years in the future? What purpose does it serve?

If he had just awakened from cryosleep, why take him out of his cryosuit, dress him back in business attire and place him in the woods? Is it simply stage his awakening as though he had just crashed from a car? Why not start the episode off with Burke in a hospital bed recovering from his car injuries. That’s just as easily explained and shows us the Wayward Pines hospital right from the start.

If they want Burke to accept his life in Wayward Pines, why spend that time and effort staging his awakening? Did they stage other reawakenings in this way? They didn’t do it for Burke’s wife and kid. Staging reawakenings like this also means that someone at Wayward Pines needed to be 100% up to speed on exactly how Burke (or anyone else) was abducted into cryosleep to know exactly how to restage the reawakening. There are so many better things to worry about in a burgeoning town than dealing with staged awakenings.

Trapped in the Past

As with the isolated town premise in Wayward Pines, I find that there are a lot of stupid ideas, particularly from the supposed creator of the town, David Pilcher. According to his telling, the first time Pilcher tried to set up Wayward Pines, he chose to reveal the 2000 year old truth to the residents. While the children seemed to accept their fate, the adults couldn’t face life in this way and eventually the town self-destructed. This forced Pilcher to commit genocide by using the indigenous mutated humans to clear the population. This idea is stupid from the go. If you’re trying to repopulate humanity from limited pool of people, why kill them? You’re going to need that genetic diversity to repopulate… as much of it as possible.

David Pilcher has his (very large) crew (including his sister Pamela Pilcher) clean up the town, only to reset it all and restart it for a second time with group B. For group B, instead of revealing the truth, this time Pilcher decides to only tell the children the whole truth and withhold that information from the adults. This led the adults to believe they are still in 2014 (or whatever time period they came from). It also meant the adults believed they could leave the town and get back to their families… the idea that would inevitably become the town’s undoing. This keeps the adults in the dark of the reality of the world. This second time up to bat, Pilcher decides to incorporate corporal punishment in the form of town center lynch justice as a means to control order in Wayward Pines. If someone gets out of line or breaks rules, they are summarily brought to town center and executed by slitting their throat in front of the town mob. This is called a reckoning.

Here’s where I dislike this plot idea, where I feel this part was entirely unnecessary and sent the story premise off the rails. Pilcher is indeed correct to be worried that his group B town is degrading into chaos and destruction, just has had group A. It is. There is an underground movement that is growing and sowing the seeds of a second town self-reckoning once again. However, the reason for this is primarily because of Megan’s ideas she fed Pilcher. Megan’s ideas were the poison seeds that fueled Wayward Pines’s destruction, every time. Megan is a cancer on Wayward Pines.

Cryonics and The Past

To give a bit of backstory here, Pilcher foresaw the destruction of the 2014 world due to a DNA mutation he found, a mutation that would lead to humanity’s destruction in the future. He tried to alert the attention of the scientific world, but failed. Instead, Megan Fisher (eventually becomes the teacher at Wayward Pines school), urges David Pilcher to take whatever means necessary to ensure survival. This was the primary piece of bad advice David Pilcher took in securing his vision and the piece of advice that single-handedly ensured Wayward Pines’s demise. Megan would go on to not only continue giving bad advice, but poison the children and jeopardize the entire project.

Anyway, Megan’s continual bad advice leads Pilcher (being all wealthy that he is) to use his great wealth to hire people to nab random folks off of highways and put them into cryosleep. One set of unwilling participants is our protagonist Ethan Burke, his wife Theresa Burke and his school age son Ben Burke (season 1). Ethan Burke was sent to the area by the secret service (?) to investigate the disappearance of two of his colleagues. Ethan becomes the eyes of the audience as the great mystery of Wayward Pines unfolds. Of course, the premise includes everyone else in Wayward Pines, who were all unwillingly abducted and cryofrozen. The only people willingly there are those that who David Pilcher hand picked to operate the mountain complex to keep Wayward Pines functional as a township.

The Philchers (Pam and David) call Wayward Pines the Ark.

Aberrations

In season 2, we find out more about the original awakening of group A via C.J. Mitchum. He was the advanced cryo engineer who was the first to awaken and who awakened group A. He was also the person who found the aberrations and alerted Pilcher to them. This is also where the story takes a bad turn. Instead of staying and killing off a bunch of indigenous humanoids, C.J. suggests heading back into the pods to wait more time for them to die off. In fact, there were so many ways this story could have been handled, Wayward Pines might have worked as a simple utopia. Pilcher decides not to wait… yet another dumb idea from someone who’s supposed to be very smart. Anyway, Pilcher clears the area and erects an electric fence.

Outside the electrified fence, the indigenous humanoids (called Abbys … short for aberrations) inhabit the countryside. They also inhabited the area where Wayward Pines has been built. This means that David Pilcher kicked them off of their land. The aberrations are the remnants of humanity left over after the DNA mutation and the event that David had predicted. The aberrations are vicious carnivores that eat any animal flesh they can find, including any 2014 humans that happen along the way.

However, we come to find in season 2 is that Pilcher cleared out the area where Wayward Pines was to built by killing all off the indigenous folks. This action effectively starts the war between the aberrations and the humans and ensures all of the problems for Wayward Pines going forward. A problem that could have been avoided had Pilcher taken CJ’s advice and waited longer.

Keep It Simple Stupid

The first problem I have with this premise is that Pilcher kidnapped folks without consent. He also didn’t vette them for suitability or compatibility for living in a utopia city project. He yanked them out of their life and put them into cryosleep. After unfreezing them in the year 4028, he has two options. Tell them their reality or make them think it’s still 2014. After all, the town looks like it did in 2014 so it’s not that hard to convince those who are unfrozen.

There are lots of reasons why this town won’t ultimately succeed. The primary reason it is doomed to fail is that these folks didn’t consent to be there, the problem treated by Megan. They still think it’s 2014 and they think they can leave and get back home. Yet, they are being told never to talk about that. That idea won’t work. You simply can’t tell people to suppress their desires to go back home to their families and loved ones. If he had explicitly kidnapped folks who didn’t have loved ones waiting, then perhaps he could have used that. David didn’t think the kidnapping idea through very well.

Another secondary reason why this township won’t work is limited food and medical supplies. While he did stockpile food to get the town started and maintain certain levels of conveniences like ice cream, liquor, fudge, toy shops, hair stylists and various amenities offered by the 2014 standards, that cannot possibly last. There is also simply not enough food resources to maintain a growing community of people. Pilcher also failed to foresee the need for medicines in the future. While he did bring some medicine forward in time, it simply wasn’t enough (season 2). Over time and with enough generations, there would be no way for 2014 humans to survive, particularly without access to modern medicines. It’s not like he also brought along a pharmaceutical company and people to run it.

This lack of foresight sows the seeds of destruction for any forced community at some point in the future. The corporate punishment only serves to double-down on this destruction by, along with microphones and cameras monitoring everything in the town, eventual dissent and violence. If David stays this course with each successive town reset and restart, he’ll eventually run out of people to inhabit the town. Thankfully, Pam puts a stop to that, but too late to really save Wayward Pines.

Survival

Even if there had not been any indigenous population to defend against, the community would still have failed. As I said above, Pilcher didn’t bring along enough medications, vitamins and food to last indefinitely.

If the town had been able to survive without the threat of attack, the population would have eventually overgrown the town. They would have had to either institute population controls or force people to leave and settle elsewhere. There were so many better and more horrifying story avenues than the aberrations, the aberrations simply ended up as a convenient copout distraction from all that was missing when actually trying to build a utopia.

Season 1 versus Season 2

Season 1 started out promising by offering hope that the town might survive and morph into something useful. By season 2, not only had the show jumped 3 years into the future, which robbed us of the internal struggles, we come to find that the first generation is now running the town. While this is a fairly stupid premise to begin with, it effectively turned the show into a Young Adult novel.

On so many levels for a TV series, this change doesn’t work. You can’t start out with adults running the show only to turn it into a teen fest. That, in and of itself, caused too many problems going from season 1 to season 2.

Additionally, season 2 introduces a lot of foreign concepts that take the show in a direction that really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. While I have not yet read Crouch’s novels, I’m assuming that the two seasons follow the novels to some degree. Ultimately, I can see why this show was not renewed after season 2. It just wasn’t strong enough of a premise to survive such jarring changes between season 1 and season 2. By jarring changes, I not only mean the survival concepts, but also the never ending cast changes, particularly the teen fest.

Overall

This was not a great show. It had a lot of promise when it began, but it quickly degraded into a story place that couldn’t work. Additionally, there were so many unaddressed mistakes made by Pilcher, these made the show’s story entirely weak. For example, where was the livestock? If you can cryofreeze humans, why didn’t Pilcher cryofreeze cows, pigs and chickens? They will need protein and vegetables as food sources… particularly if they’re to repopulate the earth.

Also, if Megan’s population birthing initiative was so all fired important, then why didn’t they cryofreeze a bunch of babies or pregnant woman to immediately restart the repopulation process?

Additionally in season 1, it was never addressed where all of the food was coming from or how much food there was. By season 2 and three years later, the town was already running out of food and needed to build farms to sustain the population. However, the valley soil where Wayward Pines is situated is supposedly tainted and cannot grow food with no real explanation of this. If food was an important thing to consider, why didn’t Pilcher cryofreeze some farmers and botanists? Also, why wasn’t this idea addressed in season 1?

Also, if Pilcher wanted his Wayward Pines town to thrive as a small town circa 2014 style, he must have packed enough rations to last for well more than 3 years. I’d suspect he’d brought along enough to last 10 or 20. If you don’t bring along enough rations to last 10 or more years, then why lure people in with all of the ice cream and hot dogs when in 1-2 years they’ll be starving or subsistence farming? Also, ice cream is made from milk. Where was the livestock to keep it all going? What about clothing? What about making cloth? What about growing cotton to make yarn to make cloth? What about sheep to make wool for winter clothing?

Clearly, the show’s writers weren’t thinking ahead. They might be able to blame some of this on Blake Crouch, but the show’s writers should have been able to read the book material, see the problems and fix them in the series. Overall, it’s a generally weak show that appears better than it actually is. It’s easy to see why it was cancelled after 20 episodes. In addition to being only half-assed in concept, the stories were simply not thrilling enough. The story needs a whole lot more thought and work.

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How to fix Touch ID purchasing after Apple ID unlock

Posted in Apple, botch, california by commorancy on August 14, 2018

Touch ID App store purchasing no longer works after your Apple ID is unlocked? How do you get it working again? Let’s explore.

Apple ID Locked

I’ve recently begun having problems with Apple locking my Apple ID account about every 3 weeks with no explanation. After I’ve unlocked my account, I find that the App store app refuses to use Touch ID and forces entry of my password to download an app. Hey Apple, I set up Touch ID so I don’t have to type in a password.

I’ve called Apple twice about this problem and they are of no help. I had to figure this one out on my own. Thanks Apple… not!

Not only does Apple have no logs to determine why the account is locked, they simply don’t care about this problem. Their login system has become shit in the last few months beginning in June of 2018. I have no explanation for this lockout problem except that Apple needs to get their shit together. I’ve never had this problem before this point. Anyway, once an Apple ID is locked, you’ll need to unlock it to proceed cleaning up the mess Apple leaves behind.

Note, I have no problems unlocking my account. In fact, it takes about 5 minutes or less. However, there’s a bunch of crap to do to clean up Apple’s mess.

Unlocking an Apple ID

To unlock your account, go to appleid.apple.com. Note, I have chosen not to linkify in the address in this article for security reasons. This is why it’s not clickable in this paragraph.

Instead, simply select the text => appleid.apple.com . Then copy and paste it into your browser’s address bar. Or better, type it into your browser’s address bar manually. Next, browse to this destination. Because this is Apple’s security site which manages your Apple ID security settings, I urge you to make sure you type it in exactly and carefully. If you mistype this address, it’s possible that you could land on a malicious web site that looks identical to Apple’s site and which could collect your Apple ID and password. Alway be cautious, alert and careful when visiting sites which manage the security of your account(s). Here are the steps to get you started:

  • Once you’re on the Apple ID site, under the ‘Manage your Apple account’ text, enter your Apple ID username and click the arrow pointing right →
  • Now enter your current password and click the arrow →
  • It will tell you your account is locked
  • At this point, follow the prompts to unlock your account

You’ll need to need to know the following info (as of 2018) to unlock your account:

  • Birthdate
  • Answers to the security questions you set up previously

This section assumes you have not set up two-factor authentication. You can choose to unlock by email or by answering security questions. It’s up to you which path to follow. Whichever path you choose, complete the process to unlock your Apple ID. After unlocking, here’s where the fun begins. /sarc

If you can’t remember your security questions or birthdate, you’ll need to contact Apple Support and request for them to help you with unlocking your Apple ID. If you have set up two-factor authentication (2FA), you will need to know your recovery key. If you’ve lost you recovery key and access to your trusted device after setting up 2FA, you’re out of luck. If you have access to your trusted device, Apple can send you a text to finish the unlocking process. You cannot recover your Apple ID when using 2FA if you have lost the recovery key and lost access to your trusted device. For this reason alone, I cannot recommend setting up 2FA on your Apple ID. Stick with a strong password and avoid 2FA.

Note, I strongly recommend unlocking your account via this web browser method only. Even if your iPhone or iPad prompts to unlock your account directly on your device, don’t. Do not rely on the methods built into iOS devices as I have found them to be problematic and unreliable. Using the browser method, you will have no troubles.

Account Unlocked / Touch ID problems

Once your account is unlocked, you’ll find that all devices that were formerly logged into this account will have been force logged out. This force logout method is different than the method you would use to logout on the device. If you log out of the device, you will be prompted for both the account name and the password. With Apple’s force logout due to a lock, you are only required to reenter your password. Your login ID will be remembered and cached.

An account lockout wreaks havoc on certain features in iOS like Touch ID. Because the account was force logged out, then unlocked, Touch ID will fail to work on both the Music and the App store app. As I said above, you’ll find that the App store now prompts you to enter your password rather than using Touch ID.

Worse, you can go to settings and clearly see that Touch ID is still enabled for the App store app, but it is not working. This is demonstrably a bug that Apple simply won’t fix. How do we resolve this? Let’s continue.

Fixing Touch ID in the iTunes and App store app after a lockout

Here are the steps to fix this problem:

  • Kill the Music and App store apps on your iOS device. DON’T SKIP THIS STEP. You do this by double clicking the home button. Then scroll through the apps running, then drag the app up to the top of the screen with your finger until it disappears from the list. This will kill that app. It’s always a good idea to periodically kill all running apps on your phone to improve performance. Be sure to kill the App store app before proceeding. If you have many apps in the list to scroll through, you can bring the app to the front of the list easily by launching the app before trying to kill it.
  • Once the apps are killed, proceed to the Home screen and touch the Settings app
  • Scroll down to Touch ID & Passcode and touch it
  • Enter your pincode (if requested)
  • This is the screen you’ll see next
  • On this screen, you’ll see the iTunes & App store is already enabled (green). This setting is a lie. After a force lock and unlock, Apple automatically disables this feature internally even though the button shows green and enabled. That this button remains enabled is a bug and is the reason Touch ID doesn’t work.
  • Click the green slider button next to iTunes & App Store to disable this setting.
  • Wait for a moment for this to register and turn grey, like so 
  • Now, click it a second time to re-enable it. This time, it will prompt you for your Apple ID password.
  • Enter your current Apple ID password in the password prompt
  • Wait for the button to do a little jig before leaving this screen. The jig is described like so: the button starts off green, then turns grey for a moment, then slides back to green. This jig confirms that Touch ID for the App store is now truly enabled
  • Exit to the home screen and launch the App store app
  • Browse to any free app in the store and click ‘Get’. Touch ID should now prompt you for your fingerprint instead of prompting for your password.

If you skip killing the apps where I asked you to do that, you’ll find that the App store app still prompts for a password. The reason for this is that the App has cached the forced logout. To break that cache, you perform all of the steps described above. Following the order of these steps is important.

If you leave the App store app running when you reset the Touch ID settings, you’ll find that the password prompt problem remains. You may find that killing and relaunching the app even after resetting the Touch ID after-the-fact also won’t work. That’s why the order the steps is important.

Stupid Problems, Debugging and Network Settings

Problems this stupid shouldn’t exist on iOS devices, but here we are. I’ve already discussed this issue with Apple Support, but they simply won’t do anything about it. In fact, because this problem was formerly a rare occurrence, Apple Support isn’t even aware of this workaround.

In fact, while on the phone, Apple Support “recommended” that I reset my network settings. Never reset network settings as a first step. Resetting network settings should be the absolute last step and only when nothing else resolves a problem. The difficulty with resetting network settings is that it wipes all iCloud stored network passwords and access point information, like WiFi passwords. Not only does it wipe all WiFi networks and passwords on iCloud for the device where you wiped network settings, it wipes it for every device also using iCloud. This means if your Apple ID is being used on a MacBook, an iPhone, an iPad, an iPod or any combination of several of these devices, you’ll have to reinter the password on every device manually. It will also have forgotten all of the access points that iCloud formerly knew. Each new device will need to relearn them all.

You can somewhat solve this problem by first signing your device out of iCloud before wiping network settings. However, when you log your device back into iCloud, it might still wipe some settings from iCloud once logged back in and synced with iCloud. Be cautious with doing this.

I’ve been there and done that. This is a pain-in-the-ass. If Apple Support ever requests you to wipe network settings, tell them politely but firmly, “No.” Then state, “I only wipe network settings as a last ditch effort. Let’s exhaust all other workarounds and possibilities first.”

Wiping network settings usually only resolves actual networking problems, such as the phone refusing to connect to a WiFi access point. Touch ID has nothing to do with networking. Be wary of Support Team members requesting you to wipe network settings to help resolve non-network problems. The last thing you want to do is spend hours fixing all of your other devices in addition to not resolving the original problem. The Apple Support team is very good at causing more problems without actually solving the original problem. It is up to you to always exercise your best judgement to prevent Apple Support slip ups.

I really wish that Apple would just fix these stupid bugs. I also wish that they would tell me why my account keeps getting locked out.

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Fan Backlash: What’s wrong with Star Wars?

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

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

The Original Trilogy

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

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

The Prequels

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

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

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

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

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

The Disney Films

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

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

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

Hollywood’s Affirmative Action Plan Initiative

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

Here are are two examples:

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

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

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

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

The Last Jedi

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Final Film

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

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

What does “moving the plot forward” really mean?

Posted in best practices, botch, california, storytelling by commorancy on June 17, 2018

This is a good question and it’s a question that many recent screenwriters and storytellers have lost sight of in their zeal to create blockbuster entertainment. Let’s explore the answer to this question.

Important Details

What is good storytelling? Good storytelling is the ability of the writer to keep the audience’s interest, develop interesting characters, tie story details together and all while keeping the story moving. How does this all work?

It means that if you introduce something into your story that’s important enough to call your audience’s attention to it, then it’s important enough to bring it around later and give it closure. It’s as simple as a character pulling a box of cereal from the cabinet, spilling it into a bowl and putting it away all in the span of a page or two. That’s a quick open and close to that box of cereal. Not only is it an important character detail… “the character likes cereal”, it can be used as metaphor for your character (spilling the beans or in other foreshadowing ways).

If it’s important enough to understand that the character likes cereal, then it’s important enough to bring that plot detail back later. It’s also important to use this plot device. If a character pours a bowl of cereal, have them at least take a bite. You don’t pour out food as a thing to do. You do it because you’re hungry.

It’s can also be as detailed as a character buying a car at the beginning of the story and driving it cross country to their destination. It’s the thing that helped the character get where they needed to go.

There’s lots of story reasons that make both that box of cereal or that car important in the larger story and to carry the story forward. It’s that realization later that, “Oh, now I understand why that [insert thing] was shown to me 30 minutes earlier.”

Character Motivation

Characters need motivation to do the things they do. If the movie is about a missing child, then the parent as a main character has a goal of getting the child back. Their motivation is then doing whatever it takes to make that happen. Motivation is a critical plot point that many fail to understand or use properly. Without proper character motivation that the audience can understand, the story doesn’t work.

Unimportant Plot Details

Recently, many stories are breaking the “moving the plot forward” rule and are writing and presenting details that don’t have any follow up or, indeed, any relevance to the story.

In murder mysteries, these “seemingly unimportant details” are important to throw the audience off and make the audience assume the wrong thing about who did it. Typically, murder mysteries either quash or validate all of those seemingly unimportant details in the end to explain how it was done. In a fantasy story, including these types of details only serves to slow (or stop) the plot and bore the audience. Worse, when the audience looks back over the story as a whole, they realize that they wasted 15 or 20 minutes of their lives on details that didn’t progress the story.

This is important, particularly when telling a story that needs to make sense (specifically if it’s part of a series of books or films). If you’re writing for a film, you need to treat each film is a standalone entity and as a whole, never as a part of a set. The only time a detail should be left open is at the very end to create a cliffhanger. Cliffhangers should only be introduced at the very end of a story, never in the middle of your story. However, foreshadowing is a form of a seemingly unimportant detail, but that can be easily overlooked because of its lack of context for the audience at the time.

A cliffhanger introduced in the middle of the story makes you look like an amateur author. That is, someone who can’t be bothered to close all ends of presented details. If you don’t close details, you better make it appear to be intentional. Otherwise, it’s an amateur move.

Introduction of Scenes

Many movies today introduce scenes into films that have no followup and no explanation. If you’re planning to have your characters do something in a scene, that scene must be important for something in the future.

For example, if your characters need to go to the grocery story to pick up something, then make the grocery store scene count in some way. The characters meet someone there who imparts an important story detail or item (even if hidden). Use the scene as important to the story. If showing the grocery store is important enough to describe in detail, then it should be important enough to advance the plot. Otherwise, cut the scene out. Simply explain the characters have left for the store at the end of one chapter and have the characters arrive back from the store at the beginning of the next chapter and skip the grocery store environment altogether.

The point is, if a scene is important enough to include and describe in detail, then the scene should impart important plot details that move the story forward.

Montage Scenes

There are many ways to show passage of time. On the pages of a novel, you can do it between chapters simply by explaining the date and time when appropriate. On screen, it’s simple enough to show passage of time through a montage of daily activities. Instead of deep diving into every activity, you simply show a quick succession of scenes that show details (shopping, driving, running, tennis, etc). Whatever the scenes are, they should impart character details that lead up to wherever the plot is heading. It isn’t important to show everything the character does, but it may be important to know some of the daily activities a character enjoys doing when developing a character.

Again, if it’s important enough to show the details, it’s important to use this information to advance the plot. When it’s important to show a bunch of details in quick succession, this can be done through montage scenes without character dialog. In fact, tension scenes and montage scenes without character dialog are a whole lot more effective than characters talking or arguing.

Write with Intention

The point to all of this is, as a writer, you need to write with intention. Make every word you write count towards the plot. If you write a scene that doesn’t make sense, doesn’t follow logic, is out of character or doesn’t impart any new or relevant information, cut it. Scenes that stagnate the story make the writer seem distracted and amateur. Write with relevance, write with detail, write with intention.

Sure, go ahead and write and get your story done. But, be prepared to edit and trim those sections and details that don’t affect the plot. If you’re writing an action story, then you want to keep the action going. Having your character stop and spend 30 minutes in a cemetery bereaving a loved one doesn’t move your story forward. Cut it. The only time you could use this is if your action character goes to the cemetery looking for bad guys. Setting this location up for an action scene is fine, but just going there not to do anything, that’s story death.

Always keep your story genre in your mind when writing. If you’re writing a murder mystery, then keep on that track. If you’re writing an action fantasy story, then make sure it stays true to that. If you’re writing a family drama, then stay true to that. Don’t hop around genres hoping to hit gold. The audience will not only end up confused, they won’t know what’s going on. Stick to your genre.

Closing Threads

If you bring up a story detail early, be sure to close it later. What that means is, when writing your story, keep a list of open story items and then find the best places to close them. If you can’t find a place to close a detail, get rid of it from the story as it’s an unimportant detail.

For example, if a character drops their car off at a mechanic at the beginning of the story, then make sure the character picks it up later. It could be at the very end of the story or it could be anywhere along the way. Just make sure it happens. If the audience gets to the end of the story and is still left wondering what happened to the car (or why the car detail was included), you’ve failed as a writer. If you leave two or three of these plot devices open, it makes you look amateur. Close all open threads in meaningful ways and at appropriate times.

Visual Storytelling versus The Written Word

In a novel, it’s important to describe very detailed descriptions of a scene, of the character’s dress, demeanor, looks and so on. When writing for the screen, let the visual elements do the talking. You don’t need to have characters describe what they are seeing or doing. It’s redundant and unimportant and can be seen by the audience. The only time this works is if a character is talking to another character on the phone or over a radio. Here it’s important because not only is the audience finding out what’s going on on the other end of the phone, more importantly, so is the character.

It’s more important to have the characters unfold their stories themselves rather than catering to the audience. In visual mediums like film and TV, let the camera describe the scene. Don’t have the character (or a narrator) do this unless the character is blind or in some other way handicapped and needs this information. It has to make sense for the character in the story. Never cater to the audience by describing in visual medium. In the written word, it’s required to describe all of the details because the audience won’t have any other way to get this information.

In a way, a novel is just the opposite for descriptions than visual medium. You almost have to be too verbose when composing for the written word. When composing for film, you want to be the least verbally descriptive as possible. Let the audiences see the wonder themselves.

Writing for the Characters

The story is always about the characters, never about the audience. Sure, you can have the character break the “fourth wall” if it’s an important story detail (i.e., a running gag). The problem is, breaking the “fourth wall” takes you out of the story and is firmly rooted in writing gags for the audience. If you take your story seriously, then don’t do this. For some stories and characters, it works fine. For anyone writing a story where the characters are the most important thing, then don’t write gags for the audience.

Humor is fine when it’s between the characters, but when it becomes the characters interacting with the audience, this stops the story and makes the audience realize the gag (and loss of suspension of disbelief).

Suspension of Disbelief

To rope an audience into your story, writing solid, believable characters is the key. It doesn’t matter what the characters are doing or where they are placed, it matters that the audience believes the characters can do those things in those places. This is a powerful concept that is also the key to good storytelling. Doing even one thing that ruins this suspension of disbelief ruins your story. It’s the thing that can make or break your writing efforts. This concept is the quintessential key. Having an audience suspend their disbelief and buy into your fanciful world is the magic of a successful story.

For example, using a fourth wall gag can make or break your story. It also requires a certain kind of story to succeed. In other words, adding such a fourth wall gag makes your life as a writer much more difficult. If you’re not accustomed to what goes along with such a gag, you should avoid it. I’d also recommend avoiding it because it really does nothing to progress the story and it does much to discredit your story up to that point.

Cliché Tropes

Let me say right now that nothing today is original. There is always something that can be found as derivative of something else. As a writer, you have to accept that notion going into your story. What makes your story original is not the setup, or the locations or even the plot, but how your characters deal with their situations. Characters are what drive stories. Yet, tropes are what make stories fanciful and, sometimes, fun to watch. Using them isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Overusing them, however, most certainly can be bad. Using a trope here and there can make the story familiar to the audience. Familiarity allows for the audience to latch onto your story faster and ‘get into it’.

There are lesser used and more frequently used tropes. You should avoid the frequently used tropes and focus on those that are lesser used. Having your characters doing something a little bit unexpected or unpredictable can make the story work better. Tropes add predictability to the story. This can be a good thing when you’re trying to lead the audience off the track of what the characters are really doing. This allows you to trick your audience into believing one thing, when the characters are actually doing something else. Some audience members will see right through that, though. You have to expect that.

I’m not saying not to use tropes, just use them sparingly and at appropriate times. Again, write with intention. Make every word and thought count. If you’re including it, make sure that it serves a purpose (even if it’s a cliché trope).

Character Development

This is probably the most important element to establishing suspension of disbelief. Grounding your characters in a reality that your audience can understand goes a long way towards getting your story off of the ground. Basically, you want to properly introduce your main characters at appropriate times. Your main characters should, unless the story warrants it, remain throughout the entire length of your tale. They may face adversity, trials and even risk life and limb, but they should survive the tale.

Killing off your established characters is not only a waste, but usually unnecessary. On the other hand, secondary characters can be treated with all of the careless abandon that you choose. If they live for a page, so be it. If they fall off of a cliff, so be it. If they disappear and reappear in the story, so be it. It’s entirely up to you how you handle secondary characters.

When building your main characters, it’s important to understand their motivations, wants, likes, dislikes, hobbies and desires. You can unfold these along the way, particularly when it’s important to move the story forward. With secondary characters, you don’t go nearly as deep. Secondary characters are, for all intents and purposes, scenery. They’re there to show that other people live in this same universe, but they don’t need to be fleshed out to exacting detail.

Identifying Plot Moving Details

If you intend to flesh out a secondary character with heavy detail, then you should make them a main character or avoid fleshing them out. The home life and kids of a cashier at the above grocery store is an unimportant detail. It slows down the plot and story pacing to learn more of this character when she serves no future purpose in the plot. If the cashier doesn’t swoop in to save the day at the end, then there’s no point in including heavy detail about that character.

This is how you identify useless versus useful plot points. If you introduce a plot point and it comes around later, then the point of introduction did move the story forward. If you introduce a plot point and it never comes around later, then it didn’t move the story forward. Anything that doesn’t serve to move the story forward should be cut from the story.

This is why you need to read and re-read your story several times front to back. Then, let other people read it and offer feedback on your story’s logic. If you’re a one-man team writing a story without getting outside feedback, then your story is likely nowhere near as good as you think it is. It takes other people to help you find the weak spots and fix them. Constructive criticism is always your friend. Use it to improve your stories. The final advice is, never take your first story draft as your final. Nothing is ever written perfectly the first draft. Not even this blog article.

Examples of Bad Storytelling

I didn’t include any real entertainment production examples in this article because I want it to remain as an objective guide to would-be storytellers rather than as a rant against any specific entertainment production, even though those productions well deserve the rants.

With that said, I do intend to write a follow-up article with examples identifying recent entertainment story failures and call out why and how they failed. I will also mention that this problem is not limited to film and novels. It also rears its ugly head in video games and in TV series. I will also mention that some bad storytelling isn’t always the direct fault of the writer. Though, the writer is somewhat culpable. Instead, it can be because of politics within the production (i.e., inclusion riders). Sometimes characters or specific actors are forced into a story, not because they were there, but because the producer wants it in the production. This forces the director to introduce something that shouldn’t be there and throws off the entire story’s logic. Note, I do classify this politically correct shoehorning as a failure in writing.

Basically, when writing your story’s setting, make sure to represent all ethnic groups and genders equally or face the consequences if your story is ever optioned for the big or small screen. Otherwise, expect your period piece’s story logic to fall apart when an ethnic cast is chosen to play a small white mostly male mid-America town set in the 70s.

Note, there is tons more that I could write about this topic. However, this guide is simply intended as an ‘Intro Guide’ on good storytelling. If you would like me to flesh out this article in more detail, please leave a comment below about what you would like to see included.

 

Shadow Profiling: Should I be concerned?

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on April 25, 2018

Recently with Facebook’s fall from grace, another issue has surfaced at Facebook: Shadow Profiling. Yes, you should be concerned. Let’s explore.

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

With Cambridge Analytica, Facebook got caught with its pants down. Facebook allowed Cambridge Analytica, a known data broker, to mine data from Facebook’s network at a time when Facebook was vulnerable to such attacks. Facebook has been, for years, skirting every privacy initiative. In fact, Facebook didn’t want to implement any privacy controls, truth be told. They wanted to keep everything as open and accessible as possible. On the one hand, I can understand this… because it makes it easier for people to find other people. On the other hand, people’s data is their own. These are two parallel lines that will never meet.

I won’t go into every single little problem that Facebook has run into along the way, but suffice it to say that Facebook has taken baby steps to implement privacy. In 2014 when Cambridge Analytica did its mining, Facebook hadn’t implemented many controls to prevent such data mining attacks via their APIs. In fact, one might even call Facebook egregiously wilful in not implementing such data protections. Sure, they had implemented some in their web UI for user-to-user control, but not on the backend where businesses operate.

After Cambridge Analytica performed its mining operation, Facebook claims to have plugged-that-hole the same year to prevent any further Cambridge-Analytica’s from doing the same thing. Likely, they saw what CA had done and realized they were gamed and closed the hole. Of course, too little, too late. And, they didn’t disclose this fact to the public. It wouldn’t be until 2018 (4 years later) when Facebook got caught.

I won’t get into just how close Cambridge Analytica was to Facebook between then and now (hint: they occupied the same office space in 2016), but suffice it to say that Facebook was well aware of Cambridge Analytica and what business line they are in. To feign ignorance about another business using your network is so disingenuous as to be a lie.

This is all the pretext that opened the door to further scrutiny for Facebook.

Government Hearings

As a result of Facebook’s conduct back in 2014, many governments have interviewed (and will continue) to interview Mark Zuckerberg over Facebook’s conduct at that time. In that process, many side things have been uncovered. One of those things coming to light is shadow profiling. What exactly is shadow profiling?

A shadow profile is data collected about you without your knowledge. It might be data from public records, it might be personally identifying information such as email address, phone number, birth date, home address, social security, public information you share on Facebook or Twitter or Amazon. In Facebook’s case, they are collecting data about you via photos of you (facial recognition), through text messaging through WhatsApp and via other messaging means. Even simply visiting a site where you do have a login and where Facebook hosts comments is enough to gather data about you. The list goes on and on.

Facebook and Profiling

Let’s understand that many companies have shadow profiles on you, not just Facebook. Facebook is obviously one in a long list of companies that perform shadow profiling, but don’t kid yourself, Facebook is not alone in this practice. Companies such as LexisNexis, insurance companies and credit bureaus collect this information. In fact, credit bureaus hold a mountain of personal data so important that even the tiniest leak could cause immediate irreparable damage to those affected. Damage such as identity theft. Theft that, in fact, could be so bad you’d need to have a new social security number issued (along with all of your credit card numbers, phone numbers and the list goes on). Equifax found this out the hard way… and, I don’t think we’re done with these credit bureau hacks yet. It’s only going to get worse.

I digress. There are many companies that collect data about you without your knowledge. Facebook just got caught at it after this information was unceremoniously disclosed. But, don’t kid yourself that Facebook is alone in this. Google does this also. In fact, Google probably has more data on you than even Facebook has… even if you’ve never ever had a Google account. Why? Because you’ve inevitably sent email to someone@gmail.com or to a domain hosted by Google.

Google has already said they scour emails for content that helps target advertising to the Google user. If they’re scouring emails, they’ve inevitably found your email address, your phone number, address, first and last name and on and on. Google doesn’t have to do anything with this data, but it is almost certain that they store it for use later. Why? Because if you ever do create an account, they’ll already have data on you and things you like. It will make targeting ads to you much easier.

Don’t kid yourself, Facebook isn’t the only company keeping shadow profile data on people who do and don’t use their networks.

Reviewing Shadow Data

Unfortunately, to review or delete any data that Facebook has collected on you, you must first create an account. As soon as you do that, they’ve roped you in. Once you create an account, you can then download the data and see what they’ve collected. Then, you can go through the request Facebook to delete that data and your newly created account.

However, that means you are firmly in their system. Even when you ask to have your data deleted, Facebook is under absolutely no obligation to delete any data from their systems. The only thing they need do is make it not visible through their APIs and Web UI, but that’s like hiding your iPad under your bed. You can’t see it, but it’s definitely still there.

Request Shadow Data Removal

So, you’ve decided to create an account so you can request deletion. Even if Facebook does delete some data, there’s no guarantee they’ll delete every copy of it. Companies today utilize many technologies to manage, mine, extrapolate and handle user data. These systems include short term storage (hard drives), long term storage systems, multiple copy offsite backup systems, local hard drives, AWS glacier, billing systems, text based log files, marketing and advertising systems and even analytics systems such as Splunk or Kibana.

In fact, companies today have so many systems storing bits and pieces of your personal data, it’s nearly impossible for a company to actually delete ALL of your data. There will be some amount of your data that will continue to exist in at least one system somewhere on their property. That’s a guarantee. Chances are, it will exist in a whole lot more places then one.

Continued Shadow Profiling

Even if you do request your data to be removed by Facebook, it’s an entirely fleeting effort. Why? Because as soon as you’ve logged in and requested deletion and they do so, Facebook will continue their data collections efforts right after. Your request for deletion is a single point-in-time request. That request isn’t perpetual going forward. It’s a one-shot-deal. Facebook will continue collecting data on you going forward from that point. It is then entirely pointless to request deletion because within 1 year, they will have collected it all again.

In fact, there is no way to permanently request Facebook to not shadow profile your data. It is left up to you to recreate your account and request deletion every year. You may not even be able to do this more than once. Once you’ve deleted a Facebook account, that placeholder may be held in a locked state preventing you or anyone else from opening it again. At this point, any data they may have collected after you’ve requested deletion is entirely locked out from you.

For this reason, I’d suggest not requesting data deletion at all. At least, not until some laws come into effect that require Facebook and similar companies to stop shadow profiling and permanently delete data from any shadow profiling efforts.

Note that if you have even one friend who continues to use Facebook and you interact with that friend on any Facebook property (text messages, email, etc), Facebook can continue to pull that data on you and create / add to your shadow profile. Don’t think you’re safe by logging in and requesting deletion. If you’re dissatisfied by this outcome, reach out to your state representatives and request them to introduce legislation to regulate this practice.

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Marketing, Facebook & Data Privacy

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on April 14, 2018

FacebookLockHow is marketing related to Facebook and data privacy? These all fall under the same umbrella. Should you be concerned? Yes, you should be. Let’s explore.

Email Marketing

Let’s start with email marketing first, the precursor to social marketing. I’ve worked in the email marketing industry for the last 17 years at an operational level. I’ve worked on general email systems for over 25+ years. So, I fully understand at all levels how email and email marketing works and what is required to make it continue to work in today’s world.

Email marketing became a “thing” in the mid-late 1990s in earnest. Before that, people dabbled in email marketing to the chagrin of many early internet users. It was around this time that the term ‘spam’ was coined to denote unwanted / unsolicited email.

Over the years, email marketing has evolved into a big business with firms now utilizing marketing automation systems. These systems help you marketers manage their email marketing campaign efforts.

In the beginning, as a marketer, you had a list of emails and you sent content to those addresses. The content was the same to each user. There was no thought to personalization, tailored content or privacy of any of this data. Emails were sent using cron jobs via command line tools using Sendmail. This was initially the most basic form of email marketing. This would have been in 90s.

Evolution of Email Marketing

By the 2005, email marketing had evolved from its simplistic roots into more sophisticated systems using dedicated email marketing software from companies like Port 25 and OmniTI. These email server solutions facilitated the trend of building sophisticated marketing automation UI systems on top of these robust, fast, scalable and customizable email delivery systems.

By 2018, these underlying email softwares now include the ability to send push notifications to apps and also offer sophisticated clustering systems to allow for highly scalable, highly available infrastructure offering incredibly fast delivery times.

On top of these infrastructures sit today’s marketing automation solutions. These systems offer such features as list management, drip marketing, recipient nurturing, automagic feedback reporting and detailed reporting of how each campaign is doing.

List Management

Back in the early days, list management was a chore. You had to deal with adding and removing new entries yourself manually. In reality, few marketers ever practiced real list hygiene. Most would add new entries, but never remove people who didn’t want to see that content. It was just too much of a hassle culling through thousands of email addresses. This is why email marketing got such a bad rap. Marketer didn’t take the time to remove users from their lists.

As of today, it is now legally required to remove recipients timely from lists in most countries. If you don’t remove addresses timely, your company (and possibly even you personally) may be held liable for failure to remove an address.

If you use a legitimate email marketing company today (one that upholds legal compliance), they will automatically handle opt-out requests for every email you send. No need to worry about if you’re compliant as email marketing firms automatically add links to handle all of this for you, as long as you use their database.

Recipient Likes and Preferences

Email marketing has a huge drawback (well, two actually). The first and biggest drawback, the inability to understand the user’s likes and wants. There’s just no real way to get that level of detail out of a particular recipient simply because email interactions are so few and far between. You can’t get what you need out of email marketing to effectively target each individual user in a way that makes sense for their likes, product preferences, location and personal information…. at least, not without using more advanced features like drip marketing and advanced real-time feedback. Email marketing is typically just too hands-off for this type of experience. Enter the second problem…

Evolution of Social Marketing

The second drawback is that while email marketing today is still a very valuable form of communication, it is becoming old and dated technologically. Email clients haven’t been updated in a very long time, technologically and interactively speaking. Basically, the features that were commonplace in email by the late 90s are still the standards that we’re rocking today. In other words, email clients don’t support updated technologies like video and audio content right in the email. You have to click to a web page to see this type of interactive content. The best an email can do is an animated GIF, and that’s of little consolation when you’re wanting to offer much, much more interactive content.

In comes social media. Sites like Twitter and Facebook and Snapchat and, to some degree, even YouTube offer better ways to find like-minded folks and advertise to them. Marketers also have a lot of the same tools at their disposal, like list upload to find their existing users on Facebook. Unlike email which is pretty much a one-way system, social media offers two way interaction. People share their family information, their favorite products, their favorite restaurants, their friend information and so on. All of this sharing means more ways for marketers to mine that information about a specific individual. This information is, in fact, a gold mine for advertisers. It means that instead of the mostly one-way interactions and guessing with email, advertisers can now utilize the two way interactions of social media and find out what a user likes very quickly.

Amazon follows this trend with its own systems by targeting users with product ads that third parties purchase. It’s a way to target users with products and services the user is most likely to be interested in.

Of course, these are not perfect systems. There’s still a certain amount of guessing involved. Social marketing are only offering seemingly relevant best guess suggestions based on other people’s social and purchasing habits. However, social guesses at least based on actual data of purchase history and other shared information, rather than a near completely blind guess that email marketing uses.

Facebook and Privacy

In order for these suggestion systems to work, they must have enough information about your buying habits, what you already own, how many people are in your family, their ages, if you have pets, what car you drive and so on. The more companies know about your personal habits, the more they can target products that make sense to you. It’s a catch-22 though. The more they know, the more dangerous it is for you. Sharing your personal information means someone could learn about you and your habits and then steal your identity.

Enter Facebook. Facebook collects all of this data and more about you. They then mine this data on behalf of their advertisers. Advertisers submit their product(s) to Facebook for advertisement on its platform. The system then finds folks, based on their shared content and interests and displays an ad for a product you might be interested in. If you talked about cancer in a wall post, an ad might pop up for oncology services.

This heavily personalized advertisement system is a far cry from the old cold guess email marketing. However, social marketing was born from the idea of email. Email has now been trying to catch up and compete with this more interactive and interest-based advertising system. Unfortunately, email is firmly entrenched in the past. It’s great for individual communication. For predictive communication, email sorely lacks. Worse, it’s not likely to ever catch up in this area. Though, it’s still a good medium when combined with social marketing. Meaning, if you can mine people’s interests out of social platforms, you can then target them with products and services via email.

Data Privacy

Here’s where Facebook has failed time and time again. When someone uses a social platform to share information, it is expected that that information will remain private and only be shared with those folks whom have been allowed to see it. Or, more specifically, shared with people licensed to see it based on the agreed terms and conditions.

However, Facebook only offers a very basic permissions system. Extensive permissions systems have been available on operating systems for years. Yet, Facebook’s platform didn’t start out that way and still isn’t anywhere close. Facebook started with no privacy at all. Your data was published for everyone to see. As time progressed and people complained, Facebook added more and more user controllable permissions.

For each step that Facebook took, it consisted of tiny baby steps. They’d add incremental protection of that data, just enough to satisfy a single complaint. But, they’d leave plenty of other data exposed. As they would take more baby steps, they would implement one more control, then another, then another and on and on to where we are today. Instead of designing a system that offered robust privacy from the beginning, Facebook opted to build it piece by piece as they went along… sometimes backtracking in certain areas,

While Facebook’s user privacy controls were fairly robust by 2014 (user to user), Facebook still didn’t have much in the way of privacy when using its application programming interface (API). Developers could sign up and extract data via this API with far fewer boundaries. It wouldn’t be until later when Facebook, yet again, took another baby step that they would limit what developers could extract. By then, it was too late for Facebook to do anything about Cambridge Analytica, a company whose data brokerage business model is all about selling collected data.

Abuse

Email marketing has long recognized abuse to be a big factor in the industry. Handling abuse is what distinguishes good actors from bad. Sites such as Spamhaus exist to watchdog and prevent such email abuse and enforce industry best practices. While email marketers have had to grow much more knowledgeable about email marketing best practices, Facebook is entirely new territory for marketers with no such outside policing as Spamhaus. Even new email tools such as DMARC, DKIM and SPF have grown to help protect and legitimize the email marketing industry. Nothing like these exist for social marketing.

While Spamhaus helps to protect and prevent unwanted spam from random third parties, there is no such watchdog to protect your data from unwanted prying eyes within companies like Facebook or Twitter. With email abuse, there are also organizations like MAAWG to also help manage that email abuse. Again, there’s nothing offered on Facebook, except whatever Facebook decides is necessary. You’re at the mercy of Facebook to give you those tools, and currently their solutions are limited and swayed entirely to Facebook’s best monetary interests.

On the one hand, most people are very protective of giving out their email address to random people. Yet, on the other these same folks are completely willing to log into Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Whatsapp and Twitter and give up their every day lives, their pet’s name, their employer, their spouse’s name, their location and sometimes even their phone number, email address or other personally identifying information (PII). Worse, Facebook now requires the use of what appears to be a valid First and Last name, though you can put any data you want into those fields and there’s no way for Facebook to verify this. Other social platforms don’t require this. This Facebook requirement ensures the lack of privacy and that users can be targeted by outside third parties. It also ensures that data can be e-pended by outside parties.

Abuse of email has real tangible penalties behind it. Abuse of social networks only has a single company behind it, like Twitter or Facebook. There are no industry standard watchdog groups out there helping guide marketing organizations towards best practices. In fact, such a watchdog group couldn’t really exist because, unlike email, there are no sanctions that could work to stop bad actors short of asking their ISPs to stop routing traffic for those companies. Such a move would likely be met with a huge legal backlash from the company. After all, the ISP did sign contracts to supply service to Facebook. If they cut off peering to them, Facebook would have them for legal lunch. Nope, there’s no sanction against a company like Facebook that could work. Not even a lawsuit could be all that effective.

Instead, these unstoppable organizations are in it to make money off of your data. For this reason, this is why companies like Cambridge Analytica can come to exist on Facebook and steal 87 million (or more) users’ data. This is why there’s nothing Congress can do to Facebook. No laws means nothing to enforce. The only thing Congress (or each state) can do is enact laws to protect each person’s data and force Facebook to become legally compliant with those laws. Of course, Facebook might face other laws they could have run afoul, but because the US has no real data privacy laws, there’s nothing here to enforce… even with companies like Cambridge Analytica.

Protecting Your Privacy

Only you can protect your privacy and your data. You can’t leave it to companies to do this for you… particularly if you live in the United States. If you want to share everything you do with the world, then you can’t easily protect your privacy. Note that even if you never put a single piece of personally identifying information online, you still may have shared enough other minimally identifying information that when put together, someone can eventually identify you.

For example, if you visit Starbucks every day to take a photo of your coffee cup each morning, someone could find that particular Starbucks and stalk your movement there. They could hear you give the cashier your name or other personal information. They might listen for your name to be called. They might bump into you intentionally to make you drop your stuff. They might watch you get into your car and take down your plate number. They might even follow you home. This is why sharing your everything you do online can be dangerous.

Even if you never give your real first name, last name, address, phone number or other information, you (or your friends) may have shared enough photos, locations and friend information to eventually identify you. This information isn’t considered personally identifying information alone, but when pieced together, it is. With enough data pieced together, someone might find out who you are, where you live, your address and possibly even your phone number… maybe even other data such as SS#, CC# or anything else were they to obtain some of your mail.

This is, of course, all made worse by companies like Facebook that don’t take data privacy seriously and only produce half-baked “security theater” mechanisms designed to look like they protect you, but that in reality they don’t. You’re continually putting your data into the hands of folks like Mark Zuckerberg who has, time and time again, shown that his platform cannot be trusted to store personal data.

Security Theater

While email marketing now has a robust set of industry checks and balances, technological measures, industry watchdogs, laws and best practices… social marketing offers very limited controls. The reason for this 1) it’s so young, 2) it doesn’t interact with third parties like email and 3) Systems like Facebook won’t offer such controls. Email must interact with many unrelated parties along the way to get your email to an inbox. Social marketing has a captive audience inside a single platform operated by a single company, whether inside of Twitter’s network or Facebook’s network or whomever.

This means that while email marketers must comply with laws, technical standards, best practices and other data collection and use controls, sites like Facebook face far fewer data handling laws. This means that your data is effectively open to the highest bidder. Yes, Facebook claims to have taken strides to help protect and safeguard your personal data, but you don’t know if that’s true or not. No one audits Facebook to make sure these claims are, in fact, true.

With email marketing, it’s crystal clear when a customer uses an inappropriately collected list. With Facebook, there is no way to know whether your data has been appropriately or inappropriately used because Facebook gets to make the rules. Rules that can change one day to the next.

I’ve worked for enough high tech companies to know that most companies create lot of security and data privacy theater in place of actual mechanisms. Meaning, they state in their policies that they do something, but the technological measures to back up those policies don’t always exist. This facade, otherwise known as “theater”, is what let’s companies get away with policy breaches unaware. It’s usually driven by a case of “Easier said than done”. Implementing technical measures to enforce a policy isn’t always easy, particularly if said data is terabytes in size. Instead, companies perform it on a case-by-case basis. It also might take them weeks to complete the task. The policy is may be written into the legal terms and conditions. However, when a customer actually wants to know if that policy is enforced, the company will then manually enforces that policy on that person’s data, assuming they even give you an honest response to your question.

You’d be surprised to find that this situation happens a lot more often than you might be aware. Even many legal teams are unaware of this situation in their own companies. They think that what’s in the policy is always carried out every time. In fact, that’s not true much of the time. This is simply because legal teams rarely carry out internal audits to ensure that written, published policies are being followed internally. Even then, some legal teams are both aware and complicit in allowing the technical teams to not follow the policies to the letter.

I would also be remiss by not mentioning that some legal teams write data policies without informing the necessary internal teams of the policy changes or additions. Without buy-in and support from the appropriate technical teams, the written word can’t always be translated into functional technical procedures. This means that the legal team is out of step with what is technically feasible. Legal teams should always propose and write policy in conjunction with the teams that must support those policies. As a lawyer on an in-house legal team, you can’t just write policy because it sounds good and then assume it can be implemented easily. That doesn’t always work. Hence, security theater.

Data Deletion and Right to be Forgotten Laws

Here’s the outcome of security and data privacy theater. If you request a company to delete your data, you won’t know if your data has been irrevocably deleted. Many companies hang onto long term backups for exceedingly long periods of time. This means that while your personal data may no longer exist on a live hard drive and may not longer be visible via a web interface, it could still exist on a long term data backup solution the company uses. It might even exist via an API system. Note that some data backup solutions exist on live disks, such as using the Cassandra or Elastic database system or even such reporting systems like Splunk or Elastic’s ELK. Some of these internal systems may never or rarely get purged. Even basic text log files, which may contain some or all of your personal data, may be retained for years due to Sarbanes Oxley and other data retention requirements.

Early in the life of email marketing, you might not expect to be unsubscribed. Today, laws require email marketers to remove your email address from their list within 10 days. The word remove is subjective. The actual term is unsubscribe. Even after unsubscribing, the company can continue to hold onto your email address in their database so long as they never email you. In fact, an opt-out request is simply to unsubscribe you from their mailings. It doesn’t ensure your email address will be deleted from their list. This is how your email address can accidentally be mailed again in the future despite a previous opt-out request.

Data deletion has no laws in effect in the US. US companies are not obligated to delete your data even if you so request it. They can leave it on systems within their organization. This, unfortunately, leaves your information vulnerable to data breaches by unauthorized persons. This is why you can request a company to delete your data and later find out your data was involved in a data breach years later. Or, you may find identity theft from a data breach where you had asked a company to delete your data. There are no laws that require companies to delete data when requested… at least, not in the United States. In the UK and EU, the right to be forgotten laws have been written and will apply to UK and EU citizens under the GDPR. Whether those laws continue to exist after Brexit in the UK, I’m unsure. Canada appears to be working towards (or has enacted) a similar data purge law for its citizens.

However, no such ‘right to erasure / right to be forgotten’ law has been enacted in the US. Companies in the US are still free to store and keep your personal data for as long as they see fit. Yes, even after your deletion request. This means that your data is still at risk of a data breach, even after you’ve requested Facebook, Snapchat, Whatsapp, Instagram, YouTube, Google or Twitter to delete your data. US companies are just not obligated to irretrievably delete your data. Even in the EU, the laws may not fully protect you from irrevocable deletion of your data. Meaning, it may be enough for a company to actively delete visibility of your data on their web site, but that doesn’t ensure irrevocable erasure from all media in that company’s possession. Worse, as long as that data never surfaces in the future, that company can hold onto it… even if they are considered ‘breaking laws’. The only way to make sure irrevocable deletion occurs is by adding incredibly stiff penalties when the laws are willfully broken.

Social Networks and Marketing

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp and more bank on their ability to collect your data, store it and use it freely. As long as you digitally agree to their terms and conditions regarding their data collection and use, then you have little recourse against them when a situation like Cambridge Analytica occurs.

In email marketing, selling of lists has been taboo for years and has always been considered an email marketing dubious practice. In fact, list purchasing is considered one of the worst email marketing practices. In Social Marketing, no such rules have been laid down. Facebook has been hitting these walls one-by-one since at least 2008. Each time, they put up yet another road block to stop that particular practice (aka, baby steps). Facebook doesn’t want to stop these practices, they’re just forced to by public outcry, the media and the government each and every time.

They knee-jerk by enacting new policies each time, but only because of duress. Policies, I might add that email marketers have been adhering to for years. Policies that now have laws like the CAN-SPAM Act and individual state laws. Yet, here we are again, reliving this same abuse pattern over again in another form.

Marketing Today

Marketers have always wanted to do the least work possible and gain the most money from their efforts. That’s the whole reason email marketing exists. That’s the reason advertising exists. They want to create the most effective campaign and Facebook allows them to do this with their personalized marketing.

Cambridge Analytica took that one step further. They mined Facebook’s data and stored it in their own offsite database. A database that Facebook claims they thought had been deleted. They then combined that data with other data to create an even more comprehensive profile of each person. Yes, even more comprehensive than Facebook alone. If they had first and last name along with at least one piece of identifying information, they could have gone to LexisNexis and gotten even more identifying information. Who knows, they might have?

Marketers today are looking for the easiest way to target ads to the people they need. Hence, the reason Cambridge Analytica can even exist as an organization. There are many, many data brokerage services available to buy list and user data. Data that can be populated into databases and targeted with ads. Most of these outside brokerage services sell with the intent of using email marketing, but there may be more today that are using Facebook to present their ads. Cambridge Analytica is but one in many data brokerage services that exist on the Internet. You can bet many others also exist and may have taken advantage of Facebook’s situation, just the same as Cambridge Analytica.

That Facebook claimed to believed that a data brokerage service, whose sole business is in selling data, would ever delete data they had legitimately collected from Facebook is entirely naïve and disingenuous. Facebook had to have known the business Cambridge Analytica was in at the time they were extracting data from the platform. One only needs to visit Cambridge Analytica’s web site for a few minutes to understand their line of work. Even then, if you weren’t certain, you could certainly pick up the phone, call them and ask what it is they do. Companies are always eager to talk about their line of business, particularly if they think they’re about to make a sale.

Ad targeting is not going away and is only likely to grow as artificial intelligence systems grow. The data privacy issue will continue to be ever more important as time goes on. To protect yourself, you must ask yourself, what should I share and what should I not? For example, publishing a single cute puppy or kitty photo or video is probably fine. However, many cameras today also add EXIF data to store location data and possibly other information about where and when photo or video was created. Data that might be used to link you to that photo. However, taking a photo every day of your cup of coffee might reveal things about the location that you visit (names, people, location identifiers, etc). These are things when you need to be cautious before posting. Even if the photo appears innocuous, you might want to think twice because someone else might see something that you don’t see.

Social platforms, while fun, are big business for their owners. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s all fun and games. Those games and fun have a price to pay. That price is what they get to do with your user data. As has been said, if the service is free, you are the product… or more specifically, your data.

Can Tesla survive?

Posted in business, california by commorancy on March 28, 2018

Investors have been overly exuberant about Telsa. By that I mean, because Tesla set up shop in Silicon Valley rather than Detroit, many investors see Tesla as a ‘tech company’. Folks outside the Bay Area, however, see Tesla as a car company. Let’s explore.

Car Company vs Tech Company

For whatever reason, too many people see Tesla as a tech startup. The fact is, Tesla is in no way a tech startup. It is a car company. Tesla has, so far, provided no new tech to the world. Cars, in fact, are not in any way new technology. Worse, there’s nothing new about Tesla’s cars that have not been done before. The only claim to fame that Tesla has is its partnership with the Lotus design team to design and help produce the Tesla Roadster. If the Roadster looks amazingly like a Lotus Elise, now you know why. But, paying for someone else to design your vehicle’s interior and exterior isn’t innovative, it just means you have money.

Let’s also consider even though Tesla decided to go electric in its vehicles early on, it is by no means the first electric vehicle to market. Tesla’s decision wasn’t without a significant amount of peril or adversity, adversity that continues to this day. For example, gas powered cars have huge infrastructure around the globe to buy fuel. In 5-8 minutes, you’re fueled up and ready to go again for hundreds of miles on a single tank. Unfortunately, charging electric vehicle batteries is a laboriously slow process by comparison. Sure, even with a Tesla Supercharger, you’re still stuck charging your vehicle for at least 30 minutes to get a 65% charge (about 170 miles). If you want a 100% charge, you’ll be there a whole lot longer. If it’s not a Supercharger, then plan to spend a whole lot more time there.

If the 30 or so minutes you must wait is at a time when it’s convenient (i.e., you’re stopping for dinner anyway), then that’s great. If it happens to be when you’re pressed for time, you’re not going to be a happy camper. If you don’t plan your trip properly or if you get tripped up by construction, you may find yourself off course without a charging station handy. Then where are you?

So far, all of the things I’ve mentioned above have nothing to do with tech and everything to do with usability. Specifically, car usability. More specifically, car usability with regards to electric vehicles which charge slowly and offer very little nationwide infrastructure. This is the adversity that Tesla is up against.

Pushing Boulders Uphill

Tesla has a long way to go before the US has electric infrastructure at a saturation where electric cars can even come close to replacing gas powered cars. That’s not to say it can’t happen sometime in the future, but Tesla is pretty much alone in this and has given up several times along the way. Yes, Nissan, Toyota, Mini and Chevy have all introduced electric vehicles, but they are the outliers. They aren’t pushing for nationwide charging coverage. These vehicles have not yet become the bread-and-butter vehicles that keep these brands afloat. Every car manufacturer, other than Tesla, sells gas powered vehicles. With Tesla’s electric-only approach, it is sink or swim… and currently, Tesla is pretty much just treading water. Tesla hasn’t even tried hedging its bets by producing an alternative fuel assist hybrid to augment its slow recharge times and offer a vehicle with much longer distance. In fact, by not embracing such a strategy seems to be terribly remiss on their part.

For Tesla, this should be considered self-imposed adversity. Why not invest in producing a car that accepts natural gas, gasoline, alcohol or even hydrogen? I think we’ve already seen that Tesla has pretty much pushed the limits of its electric vehicle paradigm as far as it can go.

Expensive Bells and Whistles

I can hear the throngs of Tesla owners now… groaning at this article. Wake up! You bought a $100k commuter car. Sure, it has that nice 17″ (now dated) display in the middle of the dash and a few interior niceties, but it’s a car. A car is a car is a car. It takes you from point A to point B. Does it matter what bells and whistles it offers inside? You’re not buying the functionality of the technology, you’re buying the functionality of the car. Worse, it’s not that this technology hasn’t already existed in a car before Tesla and it will definitely exist in many cars in the future. Just look at the Prius. It’s not 17″, but it definitely had an in-dash display from the beginning.

Don’t be fooled by the Silicon Valley hype. Tesla isn’t a tech company, it is a car company. They don’t offer innovative technical solutions or innovative technical products. They offer a car (or rather, many models of cars). A car, I might add, that is from a brand that has yet to prove itself as a long term car brand. Let’s take the Saturn car brand as a prime example. When Saturn came about, its claim to fame was all of the hand-holding and attention they gave new car owners. Where is Saturn now? Dead. The company ceased producing cars in 2009 and closed its doors in 2010. Its sales model wasn’t sustainable. Its cars were mediocre.

Can Tesla Survive?

Is Tesla’s model sustainable? That depends on Elon Musk. Once Elon finally admits to himself, his employees and the rest of the world that Tesla is, in fact, a car company and not a tech company, he will be able to realize what he needs to do to take Tesla to the next level. The problem right now is that many investors in Tesla see them as a tech stock, not a car company. Tesla is not a tech stock. Let me repeat that. Tesla IS NOT a tech stock. Don’t fool yourself that Tesla is anything other than a car company, like any company out of Detroit or Japan or anywhere else in the world where car manufacturing exists.

Fundamentally, Tesla has been battling the infrastructure issue. Elon simply hasn’t been able to gain any substantial traction for Tesla’s electric plan throughout the continental United States. Sure, there are Tesla Supercharges in select areas, areas requiring you to plan your trip well in advance to ensure you can find chargers all along the way. If you find yourself off the Supercharger path, you could literally end up stranded in the middle of nowhere with no way to get a charge. If your car happens to break down, then what? Better have AAA with its longest distance towing option as you might find yourself sitting in the cab of a tow truck being hauled to the next Supercharger station.

Infrastructure has not been a friend at all to Tesla. Let’s understand a little better why. Electric cars, while they are clean vehicles, are not clean on the environment. Instead of pushing the pollution out of the tailpipe, it is now being pushed out of the exhaust stacks at electric generation facilities. Tesla (and other electric car makers) need to understand that the pollution doesn’t stop, it just moves to a different location. If California’s electricity were produced from 100% clean, renewable resources, I’d be writing something different here (at least for California). Instead, that’s a pipe dream. California still receives much of its electric generation from fossil fuels which is used to charge up a Tesla (or any electric plugin vehicle), less than ideal for pollution. This is why the government hasn’t hopped on board with bringing electric infrastructure to the forefront. On top of that, there’s no incentive from gasoline producers to push this agenda. So, where would those incentives come from? The government (and ultimately, all of us via our tax dollars). I don’t want to have to pay to build a huge electric infrastructure raising my taxes.

Tesla’s Failures

Ultimately, Tesla had planned to introduce a battery swap program to help reduce charge times. However, Tesla had to admit that this was a failed pipe dream. They were forced to drop the idea entirely. This is where Tesla made is first and most important mistake. Apple releases products that it feels are good for users. They don’t care if people like or dislike them. That was Jobs’ MO. He decided on behalf if the public what we should like. If you didn’t personally like it, you went someplace else. Tesla should have introduced the battery swap option in spite of the complaints, costs or problems. Push the idea out regardless. Drive the market to adopt the idea instead of caving into market pressures. This is where Elon completely differs from Jobs and Apple. Though, Jobs was arguably a marketing visionary. Elon is, at best, a huckster. There is literally nothing visionary at all about the Tesla cars being produced. Modern yes, visionary no.

Once you understand the difference between the words “modern” and “visionary”, you’ll quickly understand that what makes a Tesla vehicle attractive is its amenities. These same types of amenities are those that drive the sales of Lotus, Lamborghini, Maserati, Bentley, Cadillac, Mercedes Benz and even Lexus… i.e., luxury car brands. Tesla is less about being an electric vehicle and more about becoming a luxury car brand. Luxury is why you buy Tesla. That’s why you buy any type of luxury car. Again, don’t kid yourself. It’s not the technology, it’s the luxury. Luxury, I might add, that comes with a fairly steep price (both monetarily and time wise). Yes, it costs around $60k-$100k, but that’s not the half of it. You also spend a fair amount of time not even being able to use the vehicle because it’s hooked to the charger. With a gas powered vehicle, its downtime is measured in minutes. With Tesla, its downtime is measured in hours. When I say downtime, I’m strictly talking about the time it takes to ‘refuel’ it, not mechanical breakdowns which are a whole different bag.

Since most people don’t have Superchargers available at their homes, they are subject to longer charge cycles. This means you need to plan for this. Don’t come home on low charge and forget to charge it. You’ll be in a world of hurt the following day when you need to get to work. Tesla is a car brand that isn’t completely worry free. You must take the time to plan your day and when to charge. If you forget even once, you’re going to be late for work.

Tesla as a Commuter Car

Considering all of the above and the ~256 mile range on a charge makes Tesla not ideal for long distance travel, at least not without proper trip planning. It’s a great about-town car, but for long distance travel, I’d suggest owning a vehicle with a gas charger. A gas charger vehicle means you can stop at any gas station to refuel the power generator. Our alternative fuel infrastructure may not be optimal today, but it is the infrastructure we are stuck with for the moment. Trying to find alternative fuels like propane, hydrogen or natural gas could leave you just as stranded as electric alone. With a gas car, you can travel anywhere there is a gas station and refuel in minutes. This infrastructure is far and wide and everywhere.

Ultimately, this lack of electric infrastructure relegates Tesla vehicles to commuter cars as their best use case. For me, justifying spending $60-100k for a commuter car is way too much. Consider that for those of us who also live in apartment complexes means leaving our expensive Tesla vehicles sitting idle on dark parking lots to fully charge, then walking away. Not ideal. You pretty much have to own a home and install a Tesla specific charger to get decent charge times and know your car is safe. It’s also fairly inconvenient leaving your car sitting on a parking lot for several hours only to have to go back when it’s done and pick it up.

Many apartment complexes are way behind the times, but they are not the exception. Let’s consider the infrastructure that Tesla has built since the first Roadster was introduced. Let’s just say, it’s not much. It’s better than it was, but it is no where near where it should have been at this point. This is there reason Tesla will fail unless they change their ideas and embrace the fact that they are not only car company, but a luxury car company. This is the reason other car companies will do better than Tesla with their everyday electric vehicles. Tesla is a luxury brand that only families of a certain affluence can afford.  Vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt are the everyday electric cards. These are vehicles that are both affordable and offer better value for the money than Tesla’s short distance expensive luxury vehicle.

Oh, but the Model X has gull wings you say? Really, that’s something you’re going to argue? Ok, let’s argue it. If you have kids, these doors are entirely unsafe for little fingers. Sure, Tesla may claim safety features, but do you really trust your kid’s little fingers against an electric door closing mechanism? Go ahead, I dare you.

Safety Track Record

Tesla is a fairly new car company founded in 2003. It never produced cars before 2006. Its first vehicle is the Tesla Roadster. Tesla has had difficulties keeping up with demand for the Roadster. Its first commercially successful vehicle was the Model S introduced in 2008, Tesla’s second model vehicle. Other models have since followed. And yes, I realize the ~$33,000 Model 3 is on the way… but they’re having production problems with this model. It could be years before you see your preorder.

Basically, what Tesla is making is all new without the benefit of years of manufacturing experience. This means that testing safety features in its vehicles may not be a top priority. Let’s consider the safety of lithium-ion batteries when in a crash. Actually, let’s scale that back a little. Just by poking a hole into your cell phone’s lithium-ion battery will cause noxious fumes, possible fire and/or explosion. Let’s scale that up to electric cars. If the battery in your Tesla is compromised due to an accident, you could easily find your car on fire, electrocuted or in an explosion. While this is not exclusive to Tesla’s electric cars, the size of Tesla’s batteries could make them particularly unsafe. It could also mean that if you’re injured in a Tesla, first responders may need to secure their own personal safety against your vehicle’s battery before using the jaws-of-life to extract you from the vehicle. This precious time lost could mean the difference between life or death.

You’re exposing your family’s safety to Tesla each and every day you drive it. Ford, Chevy, GM and even Toyota are brands that have existed for decades. These companies fully understand the concept of proper safety design and of recalls, lawsuits and defects. Unfortunately, Tesla has only had just a few years to gain this knowledge. Yes, they have hired seasoned industry vets to help get their vehicles to be their safest quickly, but the question isn’t what they added, but what they missed. They’re a new car company with new growing pains. Sure, you can hire expertise, but can you be sure of what you missed? Who really knows? Tesla has been relatively lucky that they have not yet seen an egregious safety failure on all of their vehicles. The question is, have they done it right or have they been lucky or it is just a matter of time?

Worse, could Tesla survive such an huge safety recall in all of their vehicles? Who really knows? Sure, their company is highly valuated, but that doesn’t mean they have the cash to support a massive lawsuit or an expensive recall. Ultimately, when you buy into Tesla, you’re buying into all of this. You should think long and hard about whether this is the car for you. Don’t buy it because it drives nice or because the seats are comfortable or because dashboard looks cool, buy it because it makes the most sense for your budget, the way you intend to use it and your family’s safety.

Can Tesla survive? This depends on whether they can truly get beyond their ‘tech company’ mentality. Tesla is a car company. At some point, they’ll have to admit this. Once they admit this, then they can truly begin to take their cars to the next level. If not, then perhaps Tesla is just a flash in the carburetor.

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