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Game Review: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Posted in reviews, video game, video game design by commorancy on October 6, 2018

a2b4debe8beb1ac5dee92d4a3774b014Truly, there’s nothing wrong with this game. Nothing, except for the fact that it’s an almost identical functional clone of Assassin’s Creed Origins, chock full of all the same bugs in Origins. I’ll make this one somewhat short and sweet. Let’s Explore.

Assassin’s Creed Origins

Earlier in the year, I wrote a rather lengthy game review of Assassin’s Creed Origins. I had a lot of gripes about Origins. Well, I’m sorry to say that few of my suggestions in that review made it into Odyssey. Most of those design flaws were pulled straight into Odyssey, something I should have expected.

I’m not going to write much on this game because I already had my long-winded say with Origins. Writing it here again would simply be redundant. I’ll suggest heading on over to read Randocity’s Assassin’s Creed Origins game review if you’re curious to find out what things I truly disliked.

Clone

If we thought Origins was a simple money grab, Odyssey most definitely is. Ubisoft basically copied the entire Origins game, created a new character or two, added a few new quests and called it a day. Odyssey is literally just a rethemed Origins with a slightly different locale and storyline. There’s also a bit more sailing involved, but the ship battles still offer a mostly horrible game mechanic. Senu is replaced by Ikaros. It also adds recruiting lieutenants for the ship which is akin to Brotherhood and already been done. You can recruit them all day, but you can’t do anything with them. Though, it’s a good mechanism to use to prevent bodies from being littered all over a fort when you’re trying clear it out in a stealthy way.

Overall, Odyssey feels like a clone designed to make Ubisoft yet more money without doing a lot of work. I was actually afraid of this possibility when I heard that Odyssey was announced so quickly after Origins.

Combat

I take some of what I said back. Odyssey is actually worse than Origins in combat. Now not only do enemies STILL use the stupid backing up tactic, now they climb away from you. I don’t know who thought THAT was a good idea? Enemies who are engaged in combat should STAY engaged in combat WHERE THEY ARE. Finish the battle right there. I don’t want to have to keep chasing them down to fight them somewhere else. Stay put!

Worse, the enemies are even MORE sensitive than in Origins. As soon as even one sees you, the whole camp knows you’re there. That’s just ass. There is no way one single enemy can alert the whole camp without a warning. And since he’s been engaged in combat the whole time, there is no way for him to alert. Sure, you might argue the clanking of swords might alert someone, but in reality, these guys fight test fights anyway. So, that’s not enough alone to alert the whole camp.

Desynchronization Game Loading

This part is just a total clusterf***. When I save a manual game save, if it is the most current save, I expect that game to be loaded after a desync. No, it doesn’t. It loads some random previous autosave instead. This forces me to wait through that autosave to load, then I have to go and load my manual save again. Stupid and time wasting. Ubisoft, get with the program here.

After a battlefield battle, it’s even worse. This is just some shit. If you run off the battlefield, the battle restarts immediately. If you desync, the game forces you to endure the entire restart of the battle including talking to Stentar and going through all of the game choices. OMG. NO effing NO. If you can restart the battle simply by abandoning it, you can let us rejoin without having to go through that long ass restart process.

Battlefield Simulators

Okay, no. This piece is just suck, all the way through. This is Assassin’s Creed. Got it, Ubisoft? It’s about Assassins. It’s not Warrior’s Creed, it’s Assassin’s Creed. Right? Say it with me Ubisoft, “Assassin’s Creed.” If I wanted to play WAR battles, I’d play Battlefield or Call of Duty or any other war simulator. Ubisoft has plainly gone off the deep end. No more battlefield simulators in Assassin’s Creed games, particularly when they are entirely useless (more about that later).

If you want to add this crap in, then at least let the hero act as an assassin and use the assassin moves. At least let my character get away from the battle and work on stealth or long range tactics. No, you can’t. As soon as the battle starts, at least two guards earmark you and there’s no way to get rid of them short of killing them. Even then, that triggers even more guards to come after you. You can’t shake them to hide and perform stealth maneuvers. Again, this is Assassin’s Creed!

Worse, there’s absolutely no warning of this play mechanic until it’s on top of you. Then, it’s too late to go back and bone up on the warrior skills. You have to fail out and then “come back later”. I hate that shit in a game. If you’re going to lead me into a battle simulator, at least give me a warning that shit is coming long before I get there so I can plan my skill-ups and armor accordingly.

Worse, these battlefield simulators are entirely pointless. You can win the war and claim victory for Sparta, then about a day later in the game be required to go do it again. What’s the point in claiming victory over a territory if you have to keep doing it over and over and over? At least warn me the territory is about to fall to the hands of the Athenians and let me go take care of it before it does.

Such absolute crap!

Bosses

I can’t speak for all bosses, but this particular boss is annoying as all hell. This is the Kalydonian Boar. This thing has two attack phases and the second phase is as frustrating as it is unnecessary. Thanks Ubisoft for making such crap bosses. The boar claims to be a level 13, the same as me. Yet, it takes massive numbers of hits to even whittle its health down. It’s not a 13, it’s like a 26. I hate this fake numbering of bosses when they are many, many levels of above you. Truth in labeling, Ubisoft. Tell us what the actual boss’s level is. Don’t sugarcoat it making us think it’s a 13 when it’s actually 26.

As soon as you enter the ring, it runs at you full speed. If you’re lucky, you can miss this attack and start hammering on it. That’s not the issue. As soon as you whittle its health down by about 1/8th, 4 baby boars show up and start goring you, in addition to big boar boss. Swarming is not something I go in for in any game of any type. When swarming is the tactic, I’m out. I also call bullshit on that tactic. It’s just a way to whittle your health down for big daddy boss. To me, this is a bullshit tactic. I’m here to fight the boss boar, not a bunch of annoying baby boar. And, where the hell did they come from anyway? They’re not in the cave and don’t emerge from the cave. They just miraculously spawn onto to the field. Again, I call bullshit. If you’re going to have enemies show up on the field, make the idea at least appear real. Put cages and open them up so we can at least know what’s coming. Just magically making them appear out of thin air is total BS.

The problem I have with the baby boar is that they gored at me so much, they pushed me off the playing field which… stupidly… resets big boss boar’s health, but not mine. I’m still being gored with red health, yet big boss boar has miraculously healed and the whole thing has reset. Yet, baby boar hang around to be a nuisance? Get with the program Ubisoft.

Even though big boss boar won’t leave the playing field, baby boar will and they’ll chase you down even if you leave the ring. Again, I call bullshit on this design.

In fact, there are so many design problems with this boss level I don’t even know where to begin:

  • If you’re going to have a border that resets the whole thing, then mark it clearly with some kind of translucent effect. I need to know when I’m about to leave it and can move back into the field.
  • I also need to be warned with a “return to the battle” timer to avoid resetting the boss.
  • I should be able to kill this thing from the top of a cliff with an arrow. Nope, you are forced to enter the playing field and battle the boss boar strictly with melee weapons. Total bullshit.
  • No baby boar necessary. The level is well hard enough without that extra crap.
  • If you’re going to spawn baby boar, when I leave the area, they need to despawn immediately.
  • Set up the baby boar in the cave and have them come out of there so at least it makes sense where they came from.
  • Truth in labeling. If the boss is level 26, then put that number above its head.

More crap design from Ubisoft. This is kinda becoming a trend, Ubisoft. Might want to work on that.

Wood, Wood Everywhere, But None To Cut

As you wander around this forested landscape in Greece, you’ll notice a lot of wooded areas with so much wood, you might be wondering why you’re limited to “Olive Wood”? This part about games like this one makes me terribly frustrated. Just give me an axe and let me chop trees down. Don’t make me hunt all over the land for tiny “special” spriglets that are difficult to find and even more difficult to see.

Wood can only be obtained through the small mentioned spriglets like so:

Assassin's Creed® Odyssey_20181019111022

Instead of being able to use the ready amount of wood you find everywhere as far as the eye can see, you’re limited to locating these tiny little shrublets and harvesting them. It’s stupid.

The resources needed to upgrade your weapons and armor are wood, leather, metal and various crystals. You find these only in specially marked items on the ground and in war chests. In fact, it takes a ton of wood to make arrows, so you’re almost constantly running out just to keep your arrows stocked. On top of this, upgrading your weapons and armor requires tons of all of the listed resources… particularly Legendary Armor that requires a literal shit ton of it.

Assassin's Creed® Odyssey_20181019105956

I can understand the leather problem to an extent. The wood problem has no explanation at all. With piles of wood sitting around like this, what the hell?

The problem I have with leather in this game is that a steer that should yield the maximum amount of leather for any animal, but instead yields about 3 pieces. A bear which is probably smaller than most steer yields 10-15 pieces. An elk yields about 3 pieces. An elk is easily the size of the steer. These numbers are so artificially low, it’s just frustrating to go out and search for this. Oddly enough, wolves tend to yield the most amount of leather even though they’re dog sized. Go figure.

Ultimately, the resources are so scarce it’s not really even much fun to go chase after them. I easily spend hours running around collecting this stuff when I should be concentrating on making progress in the game’s story. Yet, to progress I need to upgrade my armor which requires these resources. So here I am, spending hours running around the game trying to find stupid little trees.

Then there’s Orichalcum. How many currencies do we need in a game and why? I’m getting a little frustrated with having 10 or more different currencies to buy from various vendors. Can we standardize on a single in-game currency, please?

Chickens

This story is as humorous as it is frustrating. It also sums up all of the things wrong with Odyssey in a nutshell. I had just gotten my behind kicked by some animal or NPC. I was running away to recoup my health. Anyway, my health was on the verge of being out (like one tiny little tick). I made my way into a city and a chicken attacked me. I’d never been attacked by a chicken EVER in Assassin’s Creed of any version. That chicken’s attack desynced my character. I know this was an intentional addition. The game made the chicken attack me because my health was that low.

This game is wrongly opportunistic in this way. I’m sure some developer thought this is extremely funny to add this in, but it isn’t. I wasn’t attacking this chicken nor had I made any motions to attack it. However, I do now. Every time I cross paths with a chicken, it dies. This is something that should be removed from the game as it is entirely unnecessary.

Perfect Vision

NPC characters in the game have perfect vision. I’m not even visible around a corner and NPCs see me and come after me. Again, this is so wrong. NPC vision shouldn’t be that acute. Yet another game design flaw. This is one of those pet peeves about games that truly drives me crazy. Game AI characters should have the ability to “see” about as far as 10 feet in the dark, maximum.

Overall

If you like Origins, you’ll probably like Odyssey. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer anything substantially different over Origins in combat, exploration or play value. In fact, I haven’t found much that’s majorly different from Origins. The one substantial change I’ve found is that you can play as either Alexios (male) or Kassandra (female). Everything else is pretty much Origins all over again. You can easily fall right into Odyssey as an extension of Origins without batting an eye. The controls are the same, the play value is the same, heck even the lands seem the same.

The graphics are still very pretty and the landscape is amazing to behold, but I got jaded by that with Origins. What I see in Odyssey seems just the same as Origins. In fact, I thought that in some ways, the Bayek character and his armor looked better than Alexios and his armor. It’s almost like the Alexios character was rushed or something.

It’s also nice not to hear the same NPC banter constantly being spoken over and over and over. So, that’s a nice change in Odyssey. It makes the play experience quite a bit less annoying, but you can avoid that in Origins simply by turning the voices off.

Because all of the same things about Origins that I disliked went directly into Odyssey (sans the NPC sayings), I’m giving this game the same review I gave to Origins. You’ll want to read Randocity’s Origins review to find out all of those nitty-gritty details. So, head on over to the Origins review right after this one.

Photo Mode Broken

I’m not sure what Ubisoft is doing over there, but they love breaking photo mode. It was broken in Origins and it is again broken in Odyssey. Half of the time the filter selection doesn’t work (up and down d-pad is locked out). The other half of the time, the HUD doesn’t disappear after 10 seconds preventing using the console’s snapshot feature. Seriously Ubisoft, if you can’t get photo mode working 100%, then why include it at all?

Slideshow

Here’s a slideshow of various images I’ve captured in Odyssey. Oh yes, it’s pretty… very, very pretty. Too bad it doesn’t play as nicely as it is pretty.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Score for Odyssey

Graphics: 9 out of 10
Sound: 7 out of 10
Game Saves: 4 out of 10
Gameplay: 4 out of 10
Controls: 4 out of 10
Combat: 3 out of 10
Stories: 5 out of 10
Multiplayer: 0 out of 10 (there is no multiplayer or co-op).
Stability: 2 out of 10 (unstable, laggy, infused with same bugs as Origins, at times unplayable)

Final Rating: 4 stars out of 10
Recommendation: Buy this game at $20 or less from the bargain bin or rent it.

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Rant Time: Bloomberg and Hacked Servers

Posted in best practices, botch, data security, reporting by commorancy on October 5, 2018

Bloomberg has just released a story claiming SuperMicro motherboards destined for large corporations may have been hacked with a tiny “spy” chip. Let’s explore.

Bloomberg’s Claims

Supposedly the reporters for Bloomberg have been working on this story for months. Here’s a situation where Bloomberg’s reporters have just enough information in hand to be dangerous. Let’s understand how this tiny chip might or might not be able to do what Bloomberg’s alarmist view claims. Thanks Bloomberg for killing the stock market today with your alarmist reporting.

Data Compromise

If all of these alleged servers have been compromised by a Chinese hardware hack, someone would have noticed data streaming out of their server to Chinese IP addresses, or at least some consistent address. Security scans of network equipment require looking through inbound and outbound data logs for data patterns. If these motherboards had been compromised, the only way for the Chinese to have gotten that data back is through the network. This means data passing through network cards, switches and routers before ever hitting the Internet.

Even if such a tiny chip were embedded in the system, many internal only servers have no direct Internet access. This means that if these servers are used solely for internal purposes, they couldn’t have transmitted their data back to China. The firewalls would prevent that.

For servers that may have had direct access to the Internet, these servers could have sent payloads, but eventually these patterns would have been detected by systems administrators, network administrators and security administrators in performing standard security checks. It might take a while to find the hacks, but they would be found just strictly because of odd outbound data being sent to locations that don’t make sense.

Bloomberg’s Fantasy

While it is definitely not out of the realm of possibility that China could tamper with and deliver compromised PCB goods to the US, it’s doubtful that this took place in the numbers that Bloomberg has reported.

Worse, Bloomberg makes the claim that this so-called hacked hardware was earmarked for specific large companies. I don’t even see how that’s possible. How would a Chinese factory know the end destination of any specific SuperMicro motherboard? As far as I know, most cloud providers like AWS and Google buy fully assembled equipment, not loose motherboards. How could SuperMicro board builders possibly know it’s going to end up in a server at AWS or Google or Apple? If SuperMicro’s motherboard products have been hacked, they would be hacked randomly and everywhere, not just at AWS or Google or whatever fantasy Bloomberg dreams up.

The Dangers of Outsourcing

As China’s technical design skills grow, so will the plausibility of receiving hacked goods from that region. Everyone takes a risk ordering any electronics from China. China has no scruples about any other country than China. China protects China, but couldn’t give a crap about any other country outside of China. This is a dangerous situation for China. Building electronics for the world requires a level of trust that must exist or China won’t get the business.

Assuming this alleged “spy chip” is genuinely found on SuperMicro motherboards, then that throws a huge damper on buying motherboards and other PCBs made in China. China’s trust level is gone. If Chinese companies are truly willing to compromise equipment at that level, they’re willing to compromise any hardware built in China including cell phones, laptops and tablets.

This means that any company considering manufacturing their main logic boards in China might want to think twice. The consequences here are as serious as it can get for China. China has seen a huge resurgence of inbound money flow into China. If Bloomberg’s notion is true, this situation severely undermines China’s ability to continue at this prosperity level.

What this means ultimately is that these tiny chips could easily be attached to the main board of an iPhone or Android phone or any mobile device. These mobile devices can easily phone home with data from mobile devices. While the SuperMicro motherboard problem might or might not be real, adding such a circuit to a phone is much more undetectable and likely to provide a wealth more data than placing it onto servers behind corporate firewalls.

Rebuttal to Bloomberg

Statements like from this next reporter is why no one should take these media outlets seriously. Let’s listen. Bloomberg’s Jordan Robertson states, “Hardware hacking is the most effective type of hacking an organization can engineer… There are no security systems that can detect that kind of manipulation.” Wrong. There are several security systems that look for unusual data patterns including most intrusion detection systems. Let’s step back for a moment.

If the point in the hardware hacking is to corrupt data, then yes, it would be hard to detect that. You’d just assume the hardware is defective and replace it. However, if the point to the hardware hack is to phone data home, then that is easily detected via various security systems and is easily blocked by firewalls.

The assumption that Jordon is making is that we’re still in the 90s with minimal security. We are no longer in the 90s. Most large organizations today have very tight security around servers. Depending on the role of the server, it might or might not have direct trusted access to secured data. That server might have to ask an internal trusted server to get the data it needs.

For detection purposes, if the server is to be used as a web server, then the majority of the data should have a 1:1 relationship. Basically, one request inbound, some amount of data sent outbound from that request. Data originating from the server without an inbound request would be suspect and could be detected. For legitimate requests, you can see these 1:1 relationships in the logs and when watching the server traffic on a intrusion detection system. For one-sided transactions sending data outbound from the server, the IDS would easily see it and could block it. If you don’t think that most large organizations don’t have an IDS even simply in watch mode, you are mistaken.

If packets of data originate from the server without any prompting, that would eventually be noticed by a dedicated security team performing regular log monitoring and regular server security scans. The security team might not be able to pinpoint the reason (i.e. a hardware hack) for unprompted outbound data, but they will be able to see it.

I have no idea how smart such tiny chip could actually be. Such a tiny chip likely would not have enough memory to store any gathered payload data. Instead, it would have to store that payload either on the operating systems disks or in RAM. If the server was cut off from the Internet as most internal servers are, that disk or RAM would eventually fill its data stores up without transfer of that data to wherever it needed to go. Again, systems administrators would notice the spike in usage of /tmp or RAM due to the chip’s inability to send its payload.

If the hacking chip simply gives remote control access to the server without delivering data at all, then that would also be detected by an IDS system. Anyone attempting to access a port that is not open will be blocked. If the chip makes an outbound connection to a server in China and leaves it open would eventually be detected. Again, a dedicated security team would see the unusual data traffic from/to the server and investigate.

If the hacking chip wants to run code, it would need to compiled it first. That implies having a compiler in that tiny chip. Doubtful. If the system builder installs a compiler, the spy chip might be able to leverage it, assuming it has any level of knowledge about the current operating system installed. That means that chip would have to know about many different versions of Linux, BSD, MacOS X, Windows and so on, then have code ready to deploy for each of these systems. Unlikely.

Standards and Protocols

Bloomberg seems to think there’s some mystery box here that allows China to have access to these servers without bounds. The point to having multi-layer security is to prevent such access. Even if the motherboards were compromised, most of these servers would end up behind multiple firewalls in combination with continuous monitoring for security. Even more than this, many companies segregate servers by type. Servers performing services that need a high degree of security have very limited ability to do anything but their one task. Even getting into these servers can be challenge even for administrators.

For web servers in a DMZ which are open to the world, capturing data here might be easier. However, even if the hacker at SuperMicro did know which company placed an order for motherboards, they wouldn’t know how those servers would ultimately be deployed and used. This means that these chips could be placed into server roles behind enough security to render their ability to spy as worthless.

It’s clear, these reporters are journalists through and through. They really have no skill at being a systems administrator, network engineer or security administrator. Perhaps it’s now time to hire technical consultants at Bloomberg who can help you guide your articles when they involve technical matters? It’s clear, there was no guidance by any technical person who could steer Jordan away from some of the ludicrous statements he’s made.

Bloomberg, hire a technical consultant the next time you chase one of these “security” stories or give it up. At this point, I’m considering Bloomberg to be nothing more a troll looking for views.


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Theme Park Music Series: AstroWorld

Posted in astroworld, music by commorancy on October 5, 2018

If you have ever visited the now defunct Six Flags AstroWorld theme park which was located in Houston, Texas until 2005, here is the music that set the ambiance of the park. If you came here by accident seeking Travis Scott’s ASTROWORLD, click here to listen to his music on Apple Music. Now, a little history…

A Short Park History

AstroWorld was a theme park that began its existence in the late 60s and was the brainchild of a former mayor of Houston, Judge Roy Hofheinz. It was located across the 610 freeway from the Astrodome. AstroWorld opened its doors on June 1, 1968 and operated seasonally each year until October 30, 2005 when it ceased operations.

When the park opened in 1968, it featured a unique sled ride called the Alpine Sleighs that wound its way through a constructed mountain. The Alpine Sleighs were located in the Alpine Valley section of the park and had the same thrill value of a roller coaster. A “sleigh” consisted of an electric powered 4 person cars with rubber tires. A steel roller coaster, called The Serpent, located in the Oriental Village section of the park opened in 1969. Even though The Serpent started out as an adult coaster, because of its relative size and tameness, it would eventually be classified as a children’s ride once Dexter Frebish’s Electric Roller Ride opened in 1972.

In 1975, the park was sold to Six Flags corporation. From 1975 to 2005, the park was owned and operated by Six Flags. In that time, Six Flags grew the park with more and more thrill rides including many large and wild roller coasters.

In 1976, The Texas Cyclone opened. This wooden roller coaster was located in the Coney Island section and was designed to mimic the feel of the original Cyclone located Coney Island in New York, but it did not mimic the track layout. It would be the only wooden coaster in the park. All other coasters built would be steel coasters.

A number of rides cycled in and out of the park from 1968 through to its closure in 2005, but the sections pretty much remained intact with only the occasional rename. Not many were renamed or rethemed. In fact, only one section would actually be rethemed in all of that time, Country Fair became Nottingham Village going from a midway carnival atmosphere to a renaissance fair look and feel including a Biergarten sporting Octoberfest style food all year round. In fact, with the introduction of Nottingham Village, they also introduced alcohol into the park through that same Biergarten.

The park was host to a number of themed sections including:

  • Americana Square (front gate)
  • Modville => International Plaza => USA
  • Coney Island
  • Alpine Valley
  • European Village
  • Western Junction
  • Plaza de Fiesta => Mexicana
  • Fun Island
  • Children’s World => Enchanted Kingdom => Looney Toons Town
  • Pioneer
  • Oriental Village
  • Country Fair => Nottingham Village

Unfortunately, Fun Island would be the only section that wouldn’t last beyond the 80s. In fact, that land would eventually become home to a roller coaster. Also, the Children’s World section would be moved from its original location to a new location near the Alpine mountain after the Alpine Sleighs ride was retired. Children’s World was renamed Enchanted Kingdom, then later renamed again to Looney Toons Town. The Pioneer section housed only one ride, Thunder River. For this reason, it never got separate section marker on the map.

As with any park, every year brought new changes, new additions and new removals. The park also underwent several logo changes. The first logo included 4 globe icons using two different typefaces. The next logo included the word AstroWorld stylized with stars above it (see below). This was my personal favorite logo. A modified version of the stars logo with the stars removed was used for a short period on maps. The final logo included a blocky italicized typeface and six small flags to obviously signify the park was owned by Six Flags. A special logo was used on only on the 1976 map to commemorate the Bicentennial.

Park Maps

Here are various park maps from 1968 to 2004 for you to see how the park changed up until 2004. The 2004 image is actually an aerial view of the park from Google Earth.

1968 1971 1972 1976
1977 1980 1981 1982
1983 1984 1987 1988
1990 1991 1992 2004

Demise

The park ultimately succumbed to a contract dispute between the Astrodome / Reliant Stadium parking lot owners and Six Flags. AstroWorld did not have its own parking lot. Instead, it leased parking from the Reliant land owners. Because AstroWorld was dependent on that parking lot for its attendees, when the contract dispute erupted and ultimately broke down, Six Flags evaluated the situation and the current land values of the ~72 acres of AstroWorld property. Instead of renewing the parking lease, Six Flags decided to cease AstroWorld’s operations, dismantle the park and sell the land.

After all of the dust settled, Six Flags had actually lost money on the deal because they couldn’t get the land prices they expected and demolishing the park cost a lot more than predicted. 120 full time employees lost their jobs and the 1200 seasonal workers hired each year would be lost. It was a sad demise to one of Six Flags’s better theme park properties. Today, that land still sits vacant and is only used as overflow parking for Reliant Stadium.

The then Six Flags CEO, Kieran Burke, was ousted just two months after AstroWorld closed because of his cluster of an idea to close AstroWorld had backfired on Six Flags and failed.

Anyway, let’s get into what you’ve really been waiting for …

The Music

To set the tone of each of the sections above, the park had loud speakers throughout the park playing music. Some were hidden in shrubs or under fake rocks, others were horn speakers affixed to buildings. Over the years, the music changed and updated as the audio systems improved, but many tracks remained the same.

During the 80s, the system used tapes. In the 90s and 00s, I’m sure the system was switched to first CDs, then computer based systems. In the updated systems, some new music was introduced into various sections.

Apple Music Playlists

You might remember hearing a few of these tracks while wandering through the park. Note, you will need an Apple Music account to play the music, but you can see the track names and artists and play short samples even if you don’t have a subscription.

The below playlists include music in use during the 80s, 90s and 00s. Note that I don’t have the playlists for the Country Fair, Modville or Fun Island sections. There was also Looney Toons Town section, but this music is not available on Apple Music that I have been able to find. There was also some incidental music used on rides such as the Dentzel Carousel and The River of No Return / River Adventure Ride that also don’t have playlists. There are also some additional Mexicana tracks which are not on Apple Music, but can be found in this playlist on SoundCloud.

Without further adieu, let’s have a listen to the music that played every operating day at AstroWorld.

Enjoy!


Apple Music Playlists for AstrowWorld
AstroWorld Western Junction
AstroWorld Pioneer
AstroWorld Americana
AstroWorld Coney Island
AstroWorld Mexicana
AstroWorld Alpine Valley
AstroWorld Nottingham Village
AstroWorld USA
AstroWorld European Village
AstroWorld Oriental Village

As always, if you enjoy what you’ve just read on Randocity or heard on Apple Music, please like, subscribe and comment. If you would like to read more about AstroWorld, please leave a comment below and I will consider writing a longer segment about this theme park.

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The “Accusation War”

Posted in equality, gender by commorancy on October 4, 2018

The gender fight is now firmly underway. The lines have been drawn. With near constant accusations from women against men in power, this is the new Women’s Movement. A movement that has gained so much traction and power, many women now wield it callously and with reckless abandon. Let’s Explore.

Women’s Movements and Accusation Power

From the Suffragettes to Women’s Liberation to today’s “Accusation War” paradigm, we are firmly entrenched in a yet another gender war. A war in which the casualties are now primarily aimed at men in power. From Harvey Weinstein to Bill Cosby to Al Franken to Brett Kavanaugh.

The #metoo movement has now realized exactly how much power an accusation holds and how much power an accuser wields with that accusation. Accusations now have the power of, at best, causing death threats, family disruption, slander and malice towards those impacted. At worst, an accusation can cause loss of employment, loss of family, loss of money to legal fees and court costs up to including prison time if convicted.

I’m not in any way saying that some of these accused men are entirely innocent. I am also not saying that all of these accusing women are innocent, either. It’s very easy to take something out of context and blow it way out of proportion, particularly if said event happened decades earlier at a frat party.

Mind over Matter

The difficulty with decades old encounters is that there is no way to get any proof of said event. That proof is long gone. The only possibly corroboration of said event is if a third party was there to witness it. Otherwise, it is firmly “He Said, She Said”. The question is, when only two parties have any knowledge of the event, who are we supposed to trust?

Do we side with the woman who claims sexual abuse? Do we side with the man who states nothing occurred? This is the fundamental dilemma in “He Said, She Said”.

Unfortunately, in the court of social media opinion on sites like Twitter, these folks believe themselves to be judge, jury and executioner. The United States legal system is based on “Innocent until proven guilty”. Yet, social media and to some degree the commercial news media have always taken the stance, “Guilty until proven innocent”. This means holding one of these two parties out to dry. People say and do the most callous things towards others when they have a vehement belief. Take it down a notch, people.

In “He Said, She Said” situations, I simply can’t side with either. There’s no way to know who’s right and who’s wrong. It simply cannot be determined. Unfortunately, with the #metoo movement, social media seems to primarily side with accuser and against the accused. It just takes one female to step out and claim anything she wishes, even making it up as she goes along to exact revenge on the accused. It doesn’t matter whether the allegations are fact or fiction, it matters that the accusation was levied. That’s the point that women have come to understand. This is the power the accuser wields so very callously.

Manipulation

The act of manipulating a situation is an act of power. If you can manipulate a situation for your own benefit, then you hold that power. Many women have now come to understand the level of power that can be levied by mere words.

I’m not saying that some of those words are untrue. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know what is true and what is false when only two people are involved in a situation. This is especially true when the event was decades ago. I’m certainly empathetic to their plight that they claim, but there is no way to determine the validity of those words without some measure of proof or witnesses.

Manipulation of situations by making false accusations shouldn’t be without peril. Right now, women can levy statements and ruin people’s lives and walk away unscathed. This is the problem that needs to be addressed.

Penalities for False Allegations

If a woman makes a claim against a man regarding sexual misconduct and those allegations are found to be false, this needs a heavy penalty. It needs to incur a penalty that makes any false accusers think more than twice about accusing someone simply because they can. The penalty of falsely accusing anyone should be as harsh as it is for the accused. Employers need to see the false accuser in the same light as the accused as far as job credibility. A false accuser should lose their job, their family and anything else near and dear. Additionally, falsely accusing someone of sexual misconduct needs additional legal support. It should become at least a misdemeanor if not a felony to falsely accuse someone.

In court, making false statement is governed by perjury. Without seeing the inside of a courtroom, perjury doesn’t apply. However, slander and defamation does, but these aren’t punishable nearly enough when someone falsely accuses.

As I said, the penalty against a false accuser must be as severe as the penalties against a person found guilty of sexual misconduct. I might even class false accusations of sexual misconduct with the same legal penalties as those being accused of sexual misconduct including being put onto the sexual offender registry. After all, falsely calling someone a sexual offender means that you have become a sexual offender by abusing sexual offender laws to legally implicate someone else. It’s only fair you become what you claim someone else is. Eye for an eye and all that.

Someone reading may think, “That’s a little harsh”, but think about it. If someone is willing to lie to falsely convict a sex offender, then the laws need to reverse when the lie is uncovered. If you falsely accuse someone of a thing, you become that thing. It’s only fair to make the false accuser endure the same laws they were attempting to force on someone else. This includes putting the false accuser onto the sexual offender registry.

Again, false accusation penalties must be severely handled to make people think twice about falsely accusing another of something as severe as sexual misconduct.

False, Genuine, Time and Clouded Thinking

The mind becomes a grey area when time (and substance abuse) gets involved. Some of us may sport eidetic memory, but most of us don’t. Recalling exact details many years ago can be difficult and tricky. These memories can easily become clouded and conflated by later events, introduced by a friend’s faulty memories, distorted images and overall limited recall.

The problem I have with accusing people of sexual misconduct under these cloudy circumstances is that it has immediate and severe consequences, particularly if the person holds any measure of celebrity. Consequences that can cause death threats, divorce, ostracization, loss of career, loss of friends and family with possible mental health issues that result.

Yet, we have so many callous accusers jumping on the #metoo bandwagon who may not properly recall the events of the night in question. Perhaps they were sexually molested in college during a drunken frat party, but conflated that event to a more traumatic interaction much earlier in life. Perhaps they have a memory planted in their head. Perhaps it’s simply revenge. It’s far too easy to conflate similar events in the mind and misremember something that didn’t actually happen.

Being Absolutely Certain

This is why it’s important to be absolutely certain when making accusations of sexual misconduct. If you have any doubts exactly when, where, who or how it happened, don’t accuse. If you need to discuss an event that you think may have happened, discuss it with a therapist or a priest in confessional. Talk about it. Get it out and discuss it. But, don’t accuse someone unless you are absolutely certain of that it occurred and by the accused. Simply because you have a 20 year old memory of something in your head doesn’t mean it’s real 20 or 30 years later. If you had friends there with you, talk to them about it. Make sure they saw what you saw. If they can’t corroborate your recollection of events, perhaps you need to stop trying to act on it and definitely don’t accuse. The #metoo movement is not the place incorrect memories and cloudy recall.

In a cloudy memory situation, I’m not saying someone didn’t get molested. But, time and substance abuse have ways of screwing with your head. Make absolutely certain that what you remember is actually what happened. If you were bombed out of your head that night, how do you know what you did or how you acted? If you were drugged by someone at a party and you can’t recall anything from the night before, this is a situation first for a therapist (unless you have absolute proof, such as a rape kit having been performed the day after).

If have no knowledge of the event, but simply feelings and what you remember after waking up from your drunken stupor, accusing anyone of someone could turn into accusing the wrong person.

Alcohol and Drugs

One common theme with many accusations is drugs and/or alcohol. This means that many accusations happened at parties under the influence. If you’re at a party and you suspect something happened between you and someone else, you should try to confirm what happened with the other party and any other witnesses. Alcohol and drugs have a way of making people say and do things under the influence they may not otherwise say or do.

When you come out of that drug or alcohol induced stupor, you may then try to piece together what happened in your mind. The mind wants to make reason from chaos. This means potentially fabricating ideas about who, what, when, where and why. For this reason, accusing someone over a substance induced stupor means you could easily falsely accuse someone based on incomplete or even fabricated memories.

For the reason of substance abuse, I find it much, much harder to take someone seriously who makes accusations after having been under the influence. That doesn’t make it fair and it doesn’t make what happened false, but it does make accusations, particularly years later, hold far less weight. This is why having physical evidence such as a rape kit is so important.

Children and Abuse

This article is intended to primarily discuss adults accusing other adults of sexual misconduct. That is, to discuss adults who should already know the rules of the game. I would be remiss not discussing child abuse situations, but the underlying agenda of the #metoo movement seems less about child abuse and more about screwing with celebrities and those in power by levying sexual misconduct allegations against youthful indescretions.

Let’s talk about children for a moment. For children who were abused during childhood, I definitely feel for their situation. It’s an impossible situation when an authority figure abuses their authority position to perform sexual acts on a child. Children are not capable of processing that information properly at a young age.

Of course, over time and with life experience into adulthood, we come to understand what happened and are able to grasp the situation more completely. But, the wounds don’t heal. However, by the time we understand what happened, it’s usually too late to bring charges. If it’s a family member, it’s even harder to bring charges as a child (or even as an adult). How can you reconcile jailing your brother, mother, father, sister, grandfather or grandmother? As I said, it’s an impossible situation, particularly if they are the person is a primary caregiver.

If the abuse occurred at school, it can still be just as traumatic. A coach, teacher or student may cause intimidation preventing telling anyone about the situation. Jailing one of these people is less stigmatic, but can be difficult depending on the person.

If the abuse happened by a priest, it is even worse in some cases. Yes, some people who want to abuse others do tend to gravitate towards employment situations let’s them act out their personal fantasies and proclivities. These people fully grasp their position of a trusted authority figure such as coach, priest, principal, teacher, doctor, etc. It makes it especially difficult to out these people for their sexual misconduct. That’s why they have those chosen those specific positions of authority.

However, the times are changing. No longer do priests, cops, coaches, doctors and teachers hold the blanket authority power they once held when accused. Since all of the accusations over the years, these positions of implicit trusted power have lost their veneer. There is no person you should trust implicitly simply by their job title. Everyone must learn to trust an individual by their actions, not by the job title they hold. Never implicitly trust someone simply because they are titled as a caregiver.

For children who suffer this level of abuse, I wish I had an answer. Opening up on the situation and discussing it much later in life may be the only answer.

Seek Therapy

If you’ve been sexually abused by anyone and you can’t cope, seek a therapist. As they say, there are some things you can’t unsee (or in this case, undo). Therapists are there to help you come to terms with what happened. They won’t make it right, but they can help you grasp the situation better, gain better understanding of it and hopefully come to terms with it.

If you want to publicly accuse someone of having done something, consult with a therapist first. They may be able to help you determine if what you remember is valid or conflated memories. You don’t want to accuse someone accidentally. Falsely accusing, if even accidental, is something you’ll have to live with for the rest of your life. Just like whatever sexual abuse encounter you remember having, falsely accusing someone, even if accidental, is not something you can easily take back. You don’t want to require even more therapy because you falsely remembered an event and accused someone of something they didn’t do.

Accusing Someone

If you’ve been sexually molested by someone, it’s fine to join the #metoo movement so long as you don’t call them out by name. If you want to out someone by name, you should do so only after talking with an attorney and only do so to the authorities. If you choose to levy a public accusation at someone on social media, I’d suggest you do so with concrete proof. Meaning, have a rape kit handy, have witnesses handy, have doctor’s who’ve examined you handy, etc. If you’re really intent on outing someone for an act they performed on you 20 years ago, make sure that you are calling them out for it properly. Even then, doing it through the authorities and a police report is better than doing it on Facebook and Twitter.

If you plan on calling out someone for sexual misconduct, call them out with proof. Make sure the person who you claim abused you can be convicted of their actions legally. Simply calling them out publicly with no intent on legal action tells me that there’s something fishy at work, that the accuser cannot be trusted. If the accuser is unwilling to make the accusation stick legally, then it simply comes down to, “He Said, She Said”, which by its very nature is an untrustworthy situation.

If the intent of the “Accusation War” is to create a rift between the genders, then this current gender war is the perfect way to go about it. Can we survive it?

If you have been sexually molested or have been accused of sexual molestation, I’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.

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Is DealDash a Scam?

Posted in scam, scams by commorancy on October 1, 2018

I’ve always been fond of online auctions, until I found DealDash several years ago. I’ve also seen a number of people who have complained about DealDash and how it operates. Let’s explore if it’s a scam.

Auctions and Bidding

In a traditional auction, you’re actually buying from a seller who has put an item up for consignment to the auction house. This is how eBay works it. The seller uses the eBay platform to pay for their auction. If the item sells, eBay gets a cut of the profit. This is a typical auction from a typical auction house.

Bidders pay nothing to bid at eBay. You simply join the platform and off you go on your merry bidding way. You will pay for any auctions you win or any Buy-It-Nows you buy, but if you bid and don’t win, you pay nothing. This is important when understanding the difference between a site like eBay and DealDash.

At eBay, auctions have a finite end. If the auction closes at 6PM today, then it’s over at 6PM. Whomever was the highest bidder at 6PM is the winner of that auction.

DealDash Auctions

With DealDash, the auctions here work a bit differently. Instead of joining and bidding for free, you must pay for your bids. The bid cost can range between 12¢ and 60¢ per bid. In order to get started on DealDash, you’ll be required to pay for some initial bids. Sometimes DealDash offers bid sales for as low as 12¢ per bid.

As for the auctions themselves, they work quite a bit differently from eBay. Unlike eBay’s fixed close time, DealDash has no fixed auction close. Their auctions infinitely run and continue to extend until the 10 second countdown timer runs out without any further bids. As long as even one bid happens within that 10 second countdown, the auction extends with another 10 second countdown timer. Basically, an auction can run infinitely or until no one else places a bid. Bids also increment the item cost at 1¢ per bid. You spend 12-60 cents to raise the bid on an item by 1¢. Admittedly, that means the item cost goes up very slowly, but it also means that the bidding can go on for days with enough bidders.

Bid Extensions

You’re probably wondering about how people can manage to bid within 10 seconds. To answer your question, they don’t. Bidders use a feature that DealDash offers known as Bid Buddy. See below for more details. Suffice it to say that DealDash’s automated system continues punching in those bids in an automated way so users don’t have to. You’ll also notice that many of those bids are made right at the last moment of second 9. There’s no way a human could time a bid that precisely.

However, there has been some speculation that some of the bidding is rigged by DealDash. That speculation alleges that DealDash itself has its own set of automated bidders driving up auction prices and bringing attention to those auctions. I can’t tell one way or another if this is true. I’ll leave that speculation alone because of Bid Buddy and how it works.

Buy-It-Now

Both eBay and DealDash offer a Buy-It-Now option. However, these work entirely differently between DealDash and eBay. The eBay Buy-It-Now feature can be standalone or attached to an auction. If it’s standalone, you can only buy that product through Buy-It-Now. If it’s attached to an auction, you can only use Buy-It-Now before the auction begins. Once an auction has a first bid, the Buy-It-Now option disappears for that item.

With DealDash, if you bid on an auction, you are eligible to Buy-It-Now when the auction finally closes. You’ll buy the item at whatever price that DealDash offers, which they claim is usually at a substantial discount. In addition to buying the item, you’ll also get all of your bids back for free. This means you can reuse those bids again on future auctions. It’s not a bad deal if you really want that item. However, if you decline the Buy-It-Now purchase, you lose all of your bids. There’s a big incentive to bid on items where you are likely to buy it when the auction closes no matter the price.

Bid Buddy

DealDash offers an automated bidding service called Bid Buddy. It continues to bid on your behalf even when you’re not around to do so. eBay also has a similar feature, but it’s tied to the actual bidding process and doesn’t have a name. If you put in your maximum bid on an eBay auction, eBay will continue to bid on your behalf at the current bid increment until your maximum bid is reached. After that, you’d be responsible for upping your maximum bid or bidding manually.

Bid Buddy works in a similar way. It continues to bid on your behalf until you’ve run out of bids or reached the maximum number of bids set on that auction. The reason to use Bid Buddy is clear. Those who are using Bid Buddy get priority over those who are manually bidding. It is in your best interest to set up and use Bid Buddy rather than manually bidding. Otherwise, your manual bid will always be last in line.

So far, So good

So far, there’s nothing here extraordinarily bad about how DealDash works. Other than the infinitely open auction which I don’t personally like, it’s pretty straightforward in how it all works.

Products and Quality

Here’s where this site falls down hard. Do you go to DealDash to buy merchandise for a great deal or to spend time gambling to win? If it’s the former reason, then you might run into problems considering all of the below. If it’s for the latter reason, you might want to seek gambling help.

DealDash claims to offer overstocked products at “discount” prices. The difficulty with this business model is that DealDash is in this business to make money off of bidding with the side effect of an eventual sale of a product. They are not a retailer, not a discounter and definitely not in any way a reputable store. They are an auction house and that’s how they run it.

As a buyer, you’ll notice there’s nothing mentioned about a Return Policy or what to do if you receive damaged or unacceptable goods. Indeed, there’s nothing on any of DealDash’s auction listings that even mention the quality or authenticity of the merchandise that you will receive if you buy or win the bid.

The products purport to be genuine, but are they? Also, unlike eBay where there’s a seller behind each and every product, with DealDash, DealDash is the seller. This means that if you have a question about the sale of a product, you have to go to DealDash to get it answered. Worse, buyers have tried doing this with no response from DealDash.

If you’re actually wanting the product you’re bidding on, you might want to consider that what you’ll receive may entirely differ from the listing. In other words, the trust level with DealDash’s merchandise is very, very low. If you really want that merchandise, you can probably find it cheaper from a more reliable seller on eBay or Amazon without the bidding fees. On eBay, both the sellers and the products themselves have a reputation score. You can see what buyers are saying about both the product in the listing and of the seller’s reputation. You’ll notice that on DealDash, there is no reputation information about the seller nor reviews from buyers about the product or what they received. DealDash is a black box.

Being the black box that it is, unfortunately, DealDash is about as scammy as it can get from a site like this. If you can’t readily see what other buyers have received from a listing, then how do you know that you’ll receive anything of value? You don’t.

Additionally, because DealDash is not a traditional store, returning any merchandise may be next to impossible, particularly when you can’t get in touch with anyone at DealDash. If the item you receive is damaged, misrepresented or outright garbage, you’re stuck with it. Otherwise, you’ll have to dispute the credit card charge. The only other thing you can do is complain about DealDash… and many people have done exactly that on RipOff Report. However, other than venting your frustrations to the world or forcing a chargeback, you may not be able to get your money back.

Jumpers and No Jumper Auctions

Here’s where DealDash also gets just a little bit more scammy with their auction site piece. A jumper is a person who jumps in at the last minute and begins bidding on an auction when they think the auction time is about to run out. Unfortunately, jumpers on DealDash effectively mean nothing. A “No Jumper Auction” is simply a way to allow early bidders not to be outbid by someone who wants to jump in at the last minute. With DealDash, there is no such thing as a ‘last minute’. On eBay, there is a ‘last minute’ because auctions have a hard close time. On DealDash, the auction is infinitely extended so long as even one person continues bidding.

A “No Jumper Auction” sets a minimum bid point that after that no new bidders are allowed to enter the auction. If the no jumper point is set to $5, that means new bidders attempting to bid after $5 will be unable to do so. Only bidders who placed at least one bid below $5 will be able to continue bidding on that auction.

This then excludes users from auctions after the no jumper bid price has been met. On eBay, this is called ‘sniping’ or ‘snipers’. A sniper is a little different from a jumper in that because the auction close time is finite, snipers join in during the last 30 second countdown to try and outbid the current high bidder. With DealDash, a “No Jumper” feature is entirely pointless and just gives DealDash a way to manipulate auctions and who can bid. This feature only serves to force people into auctions early or wait for another one to start. This feature is simply a way to lower competition and allow early birds to win the auction more quickly without extra folks jumping in and keeping the auction open much longer. That seems to go against the idea of DealDash making more money. It’s kind of a weird feature for DealDash to add a limit auctions and prevent even more bidding, losing DealDash even more money in this process.

The scammy part of this is that apparently these “No Jumper” auctions don’t work properly, or DealDash is able to manipulate the “No Jumper” price randomly against would-be bidders. Some bidders have claimed to join in on standard “No Jumper” auctions with the default threshold set to $5. Yet, the auction price never reached $5 and they were unable to bid with DealDash claiming they were a jumper. Fishy. It seems this feature is being manipulated by DealDash in a way that prevents certain bidders (new or not) from bidding on that “No Jumper” auction.

Is DealDash worth it?

DealDash is ultimately an addictive form of legalized gambling, but it actually feels much like playing slot machines in Vegas. Mostly you lose, rarely you win and you spend a lot of money doing it…. which is how DealDash likes it. It’s what keeps them in business. If you’re willing to Buy-It-Now, you can buy back some of your bids at the cost of the product stated in the listing. But, don’t expect the price of the Buy-It-Now merchandise to be any less expensive than what you’ll find in a retail store, according to many who’d done this.

Some complainants who’ve used the Buy-It-Now option have been quite disappointed in the process. One user claimed that instead of getting their bids back as was promised, the “total value” of the bids was deducted from the price of the Buy-It-Now item. However, the “total value” of the bids applied to the reduction in the item’s cost were substantially lower than what the user paid for the actual bids. They might deduct at 12¢ per bid when the user paid 60¢ for the bids. Assuming you can actually get your bids back instead of this deduction thing, that’ll buy you a little more time to bid on new items and addict you further to this form of legalized gambling. This getting-bids-back idea is a little like losing $500 at BlackJack and then winning back $100. You’ve still lost $400. It’s simply a way to make you feel a little better about having lost $400.

If you get a high off of gambling, DealDash may be worth it… particularly if you don’t care about whatever it is you might win.

If you do happen to win the bid on item, then you’ll lose all of your bids plus whatever the winning cost of the item. If you happen to win a bundle of bids, then you’ll lose your bids only to gain some back. If you win the bid on a pair of earrings, you’ve lost however many bids it took to win that bid plus the cost of those earrings.

Consider if you don’t do Buy-It-Now often and you continually keep losing bids, you need to keep track of how much money you’ve spent there. You need to keep track because all of your lost bid money adds up when you finally do win a bid. For example, if you’ve spent $500 buying and losing bids for a while, then win a $50 coffeemaker, technically you’ve spent $550 for that coffeemaker. That’s not such a great deal. You could have bought 11 coffeemakers for the amount of money you spent to win that bid at DealDash. You simply can’t ignore all of the money you’ve spent on bids as non-existent. Those bid costs add into the cost of any items you bid and win. This means you can’t claim you got a toaster for $5. It was $5 plus the cost of however many bids it took you to get there.

Scam or Not?

The idea behind the site is fine, the execution of it is poor. If DealDash had partnered with legitimate sellers to back each of the auction products and if DealDash had allowed buyers to review the product listings for quality and authenticity and if DealDash offered a buyer’s protection plan and an actual Return Policy like a legitimate store, I might be more inclined to say it’s not a scam.

As it is, because DealDash doesn’t act like a legitimate store and also doesn’t offer feedback from buyers nor is there a buyer and seller relationship to ask questions, I cannot recommend the use of this site for any purpose… not for buying products and definitely not to get your gambling fix.

There’s too much of a chance to lose far too much bid money and very slim chances you’ll actually win a bid. Of course, you’ll be given the option to Buy-It-Now and get your bids back on auctions where you lost the bids, but that’s of little consolation if the merchandise you receive is trash, assuming you receive anything at all. Between the bids you pay for and the Buy-It-Now, this is how DealDash makes money. The rest is all an addictive game.

Testimonials

Don’t be fooled by people holding up a piece of merchandise that they claim to have received from winning an auction. There’s no guarantee those are legitimate photos. You have no idea if the merchandise you will receive is legitimate, counterfeit, refurbished, used, hot or in any other condition.

Even if the “winner” photos are legitimate, what you don’t know is how much those people have spent in bids to DealDash to “win” the privilege to buy the item at that price. They could have been bidding for years and have already spent a ton on bids before they finally won an iPad. In fact, they could very well have spent more than simply going to the Apple store and paying full price for one.

It’s just like being in a Casino. When you hear the bells ring and see the lights flash on a machine because someone has hit the jackpot, you really don’t know if that’s a win or if someone is simply making back a little money towards what they’ve already lost.

Recommendation

Site Recommendation: 👎 Avoid!
Reasons:

  • Highly Addictive
  • Form of gambling
  • Not a store
  • No Return Policy listed
  • No Product Reviews
  • No User Reviews
  • No Seller Reviews
  • Auction items don’t describe authenticity or condition
  • Pay to bid
  • Pay to win (separate from item cost)
  • Costly
  • Difficult to Communicate with DealDash
  • Mostly a scam to separate you from your money
  • Doesn’t operate like a legitimate store
  • May be less costly to shop elsewhere
  • Questionable business practices

As always, if you find Randocity a fascinating read, please leave a comment below and please click the Follow button in the upper right under the Search bar to be notified of any new Randocity articles.

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Rant Time: PlayStation Store Return Policy

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on September 29, 2018

Looking for that elusive PlayStation Store return policy? A lot of people have been asking, “Where and what is the PlayStation store’s return policy?” Let’s explore.

PlayStation Store Digital Goods vs Retailers

When you buy digital goods from an online store, you expect a similar return policy to what you find in a standard retail store. Retailers today mostly offer 15-30 days to return your purchase for a full refund. However, there are rules to boxed content such as video games and Blu-ray or DVD movies. If you crack open the shrink wrap, you own it. Once you crack that shrink wrap, you can only exchange the item for another like item. If the entertainment item remains wrapped (i.e., movie or video game), you can return it for a full refund so long as it’s still within the stated return window. Other physical items have usual refund windows of usually no less than 14 days and usually no more than 90 days. Still, these are reasonable return windows.

For digital goods, there is no such concept as a shrink wrap or even a plastic box. For these sales, you’re limited to whatever return policies the store offers. For Apple and Amazon, if you mistakenly make a digital purchase, they’ll happily refund you so long as you do so right away. For Sony’s PlayStation store, the waters here are much more murky.

Where is the PlayStation store refund policy?

That’s a really good question and, unfortunately, there’s not a good answer that covers the entire world. Sony has intentionally fractured the PlayStation store rules into world territories. This means that there is not a single return policy that covers the globe. Instead, return policies are by region.

In the US, Sony doesn’t actually publish an actual Return Policy. Instead, they rely on their “Terms of Service” agreement to cover their for their returns on digital good purchases.

Return Policy

I’m going to rant just a little bit on this topic before getting to the meat where to find the information you’re looking for. A Return Policy is just that. It’s a clear, concise, non-technical, non-legal statement that explains exactly what a store provides for after a sale. For example, Target’s return policy states:

Most unopened items sold by Target in new condition and returned within 90 days will receive a refund or exchange. Some items sold by Target have a modified return policy noted on the receipt, packing slip, Target policy board (refund exceptions), Target.com or in the item department. Items that are opened or damaged or do not have a receipt may be denied a refund or exchange.

Then, Target breaks this statement down into types of items and their specific return policy details such as…

Returns and exchanges without a receipt may be limited. Other restrictions may apply.

  • If you’re not satisfied with any Target Owned Brand item, return it within one year with a receipt for an exchange or a refund.
  • Target REDcard℠ debit and credit card holders will receive an extra 30 days to return nearly all items purchased with their REDcard at Target and Target.com. See Target.com/REDcard for full details and exclusions.
  • All electronics and entertainment items must be returned within 30 days for a refund or exchange. For these items purchased between 11/1 – 12/25, the 30-day refund period will start on 12/26.
  • All mobile phones must be returned or exchanged within 14 days. All items purchased with a carrier contract at a Target store must be returned or exchanged within 14 days and may be subject to early termination fees per carrier contract. Contract items and carrier plans must be sold and returned by a Target Tech Rep.
  • All Apple® products, excluding mobile phones, must be returned within 15 days.  For these items purchased between 11/1-12/25, the 15-day refund period will start on 12/26.
  • more

And so on… This is a short example of a Return Policy, this is not Target’s complete return policy. Please click the link if you’re really interested in reading that.

Anyway, this is to show exactly how a Return Policy should be written. It is written in clear, concise, everyday language. It is not written in legalese jargon that requires interpretation. Let’s compare this to what Sony considers a return policy for its digital goods.

Sony’s Return Policy which isn’t

The difficulty with Sony is that Sony US chooses not to create an actual store return policy and instead chooses to rely on its “Terms of Service” to cover for the lack of an actual return policy. When you ask someone on the chat service to give you a link to the PlayStation store’s U.S. return policy, they give you the following link.

Here’s the link to Sony’s “Terms of Service” agreement:

As you can see from this link, it is a legal document labeled “Terms of Service”. This is a legal agreement, not a Return Policy. Buried within this Terms of Service legal agreement, there is a section labeled Wallet. Here is where the return options are listed, but in fact, they aren’t really listed at all. Under the section Wallet, begins the information about purchases, which is about as clear a mud. But, let’s examine this mess they call a policy.

WALLET

Your Account has an associated wallet, and all purchases made on PSN Services, including purchases funded from an outside payment source (e.g., a credit card or PayPal account) at the time of the purchase, are made through the wallet. Your children’s Accounts that are associated with your Account do not have a separate wallet, and all purchases made by them will be made through your wallet. Wallet funds have no value outside PSN and can only be used to make purchases through PSN Services and certain Third Party Services. You can only hold a certain maximum amount of funds in your wallet as determined by us (“Limit”), using either (i) a credit or debit card; (ii) a prepaid card or promotional code with a specified value where available; or (iii) other payment methods approved by us and made available from time to time in each specific country. FUNDS ADDED TO THE WALLET ARE NON-REFUNDABLE AND NON-TRANSFERABLE EXCEPT WHERE THE LAW REQUIRES THAT WE TAKE THOSE ACTIONS. WE HAVE NO OBLIGATION TO REVERSE OR REFUND UNAUTHORIZED CHARGES MADE USING ANY PAYMENT METHOD TO FUND THE WALLET. WALLET FUNDS THAT ARE DEEMED ABANDONED OR UNUSED BY LAW WILL NOT BE RETURNED OR RESTORED.

blah blah blah… a bunch of legalese jargon that no one wants to read. But wait, there’s more to read….

TRANSACTIONS All transactions made through your Account or an associated Account of your child are solely between you and SIE LLC. By completing a transaction through your Account or allowing a transaction to take place through an associated Account of your child, you are (i) agreeing to pay for all transactions made by you or your children, , including recurring charges for subscriptions that are not cancelled; (ii) authorizing SIE LLC to deduct from the wallet and charge your credit card or other applicable payment instrument or payment mechanism all fees due and payable for all your transactions; and (iii) agreeing to any applicable Usage Terms and terms associated with use of the particular PSN Service. All transactions are final upon their completion and may be deemed to be governed by law and regulatory requirements applicable at the time the transaction was completed. PAYMENTS FOR ACCESS TO CONTENT OR SERVICES ARE NOT REFUNDABLE EXCEPT WHERE THE LAW REQUIRES THAT THEY ARE REFUNDABLE.

Pre-orders and Bundles. You may have the option to order a license for certain content in the form of bundles (such as seasons of television series) or a pre-order. We reserve the right to deduct funds from your wallet for any pre-order or bundle order at the time you order the content, but some or all of the content may not be available until it is released for license via the PSN Services.UNLESS OTHERWISE REQUIRED BY LAW, YOU MAY NOT CANCEL OR OBTAIN A REFUND FOR A PRE-ORDER OR AN ORDER FOR A CONTENT BUNDLE ONCE YOU PLACE YOUR ORDER, AND PRE-ORDERED CONTENT OR CONTENT INCLUDED IN A BUNDLE MAY BE CHANGED WITHOUT NOTICE.

Aha… here’s the meat of it!

Notice the ‘UNLESS OTHERWISE REQUIRED BY LAW’ provision. This is Sony’s legalese for telling you that they are leaving their return policy requirements in the hands of U.S. federal, state and local laws (if applicable). This means, it is your responsibility to understand and determine exactly what the laws govern returns in your jurisdiction. This is convoluted statement because most people aren’t knowledgeable or familiar with the laws that govern such returns in their jurisdiction. I have to assume Sony’s lawyers naively thought that no local jurisdictions legally covered this part of their “Terms of Service”.

Before I jump into what this statement means to you if you live in the U.S., let’s rant about why this is NOT a return policy. This document is a “Terms of Service” agreement. It is a legal document that governs your use of services. While it might cover some of what a return policy does, it in no way considered a comprehensive return policy. Compare this document to Target’s clearly written, concise, plain language readable policy above which clearly lays out classes of items and their respective return periods in explicit detail. A return policy is supposed to be written in plain language that anyone can understand. Sony’s “Terms of Service” document is anything but clear, concise and plainly readable. Sony’s document is designed to be read and interpreted by a lawyer, not a layman. Meaning, it is on you, the buyer, to understand all laws where you live.

Federal and State Laws

Before I begin here, I will state that I am not a lawyer and nothing in this article is intended to be construed as legal advice. If you have questions about laws in your jurisdiction, you should contact a lawyer where you live.

With that out of the way, because Sony has chosen to leave returns up to the laws in the buyer’s jurisdiction, thankfully it appears the US federal government has such a law that governs returns in these cases.

This federal rule that at first glance may be applicable to PlayStation store purchases seems to be the 3 day Cool-Down law. This is a contract law that states that you have the right to return anything within 3 days and receive your money back as long as you cancel the contract before midnight on the third day. However, it seems that this FTC rule doesn’t cover online sales, although in my opinion it should cover it. Regardless, it doesn’t mean you can’t make a complaint to the FTC regarding Sony’s refund policies.

State laws are a different matter. Because there are effectively 51 states (I’m including Puerto Rico as a state even though they haven’t yet gone through the statehood process), there are too many states to list each one’s return laws in this article. I will point you to this Findlaw article which has very concise information on the state by state laws regarding refunds and returns.

FTC Complaints and Consumer Protection

The primary methods that you have as a consumer for refund redress is 1) asking the company for a refund, 2) using the 3 day Cool-Down rule when applicable and 3) disputing the charge with your credit card company. Sony has control over all 3 of these. Because Sony has complete control over refunds, they can always deny them. Because the PlayStation’s stores sales are online, the 3 Day rule doesn’t apply. And finally, because a chargeback will lead Sony to terminate your PSN account in retaliation, you can’t perform chargebacks without losing all of your purchased content.

This is an unfair situation for the consumer. All of the possible consumer avenues to get a refund cannot be used against Sony. Sure, you can dispute with your credit card company if you’re willing to lose your PSN account. Most gamers are not willing to lose all of their digital content they’ve purchased over a single refund. This is really a scam that Sony has going here. Thankfully, state laws may apply.

California

I will cover California here simply because I have enough knowledge after reading California’s specific law regarding this issue. Keep in mind that all laws are open to interpretation such that a judge can interpret the subtleties and applicability of those laws to any circumstances and in any way that he or she deems appropriate. That means my interpretation isn’t necessarily the interpretation a court of law might rule for a given case. However, Sony does have a presence in California which strengthens California’s laws against Sony.

It seems that while physical presence retailers are bound by California law to post and maintain a comprehensive Return Policy within their place of business, this law appears to have not been updated to explicitly cover businesses performing online sales and which also have a presence in California. This means that online retailers may or may not have a loophole with regards to posting and maintaining a Return Policy. Though, if the law requires physical businesses to post a Return Policy, I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t apply to online storefronts who also have a presence in California.

According to Findlaw, California law states that:

Retailers are required to clearly post their refund policy unless they offer a full cash refund, exchange, or store credit within seven days of the purchase date. Retailers failing this requirement are required to accept full refunds within 30 days of purchase.

Assuming that the word “Retailers” applies to online sellers who have a presence in California, this law may extend your refund rights to 30 days as Sony clearly doesn’t post an actual refund policy anywhere visible on either their storefront or on their main web site. If “Retailers” only applies to stores with a physical presence and this law does not apply to online retailers, then this provision wouldn’t apply. California seems a little behind on explicitly stating its laws also apply to online sellers doing business in California. This means that assuming California’s law applies to PlayStation store sales, it does so implicitly through interpretation of the law.

For this reason, you would have to talk to a lawyer and ask them to interpret California’s law and whether or not it applies to Sony’s online storefront. Personally, I’d interpret that this provision applies, but I am not a lawyer. I’d certainly argue that the law does apply when arguing for a refund with Sony when you also live in California. I also happen to know that Sony has a business presence within California in San Mateo which makes a difference when dealing with legal matters of business in California. If your state doesn’t have a Sony business presence, any laws governing “retailers” might not apply to Sony.

Not all states have consumer refund policy laws such as those in California. You’ll need to review that Findlaw article and look for your state to determine if such a law applies that might extend your refund rights.

Sony’s Cancellation Policy

You might be saying, “I just Googled and found this Cancellation Policy on Sony’s web site”. Remember when I said the return policies for Sony are fractured around the world? Well, here’s the example of this. While this web published Cancellation Policy is visible to the world (including U.S. residents), apparently it only applies the UK (even though it makes no mention of this in the article body itself).

Simply reviewing Sony’s Cancellation Policy, it states a refund policy of 14 days so long as the digital item has not been downloaded or streamed. It’s a reasonable policy if they enforced it in the U.S. However, they apparently do not offer this policy to U.S. buyers. Instead, if you talk to someone on Sony’s U.S. PlayStation Store chat service, they will point you to the above “Terms of Service” document for their return provisions. The U.S. PlayStation store reps claim the Cancellation Policy does not apply to U.S. store purchases.

By making this claim, it does two things, 1) it says Sony does not publish a comprehensive return policy anywhere on its web sites for U.S. buyers and 2) it states definitively that the published Cancellation Policy does not apply to U.S. buyers. This means that the “Terms of Service” provisions rule. This also means that if you live in a state with a law that states that failing to establish a visible return policy in a store front results in a 15-30 day return period. That also means Sony is obligated to uphold the legal requirements of that state. This is why the “UNLESS OTHERWISE REQUIRED BY LAW” statement is important to understand your return period for Sony PlayStation store digital goods.

This “Terms of Service” document squarely puts the burden on you the buyer to understand the laws in your jurisdiction governing Return Policies. Assuming your state extends your rights, you might have 15-30 days to return the item unopened.

Unopened Digital Items?

It’s best to follow the “Unopened” rule when asking for a refund of a digital item. What does “Unopened” mean on digital goods? It means you haven’t downloaded or streamed the product. Effectively, it is the same definition that’s in Sony’s UK-only Cancellation Policy. If you have downloaded or streamed the item, then the federal and state laws likely may not apply to the refund. To be safe and avoid arguments with Sony, stick to the unopened rule when attempting refunds. Pre-orders would automatically be considered unopened while still a pre-order.

Disputing Charges with your Card Issuer

Assuming you’ve bought your purchase directly with a credit card and not with wallet credit you bought via a gift card, you can always dispute this transaction with your card issuer. However, Sony has a provision in their “Terms of Service” for this:

Fees and Other Charges. We reserve the right to deduct from the wallet all bank fees related to any transactions or failed transactions (e.g, chargebacks from your bank or credit card provider) initiated by you or your children, including domestic and international transaction fees. We reserve the right to terminate your Account and any associated Accounts of your children for failure to complete transaction payments. In lieu of termination of your Account, we may elect to provide a mechanism by which you fund the wallet associated with your Account to prevent your Account (and any associated Accounts of your children) from being terminated.

What this says is Sony reserves the right to terminate your account over service fees or chargebacks. If you dispute a charge with your card issuer and your bank accepts your dispute, they will force a chargeback to Sony. This means Sony will likely retaliate against that chargeback and close your PlayStation Network account. If Sony does this, you will lose any wallet credit and any purchases that were linked to your account. If you had any significant amount of digital goods purchased, they’ll be gone. Weigh carefully the decision to dispute a charge through your bank. If you buy through PayPal, you do have PayPal’s buyer’s protection, but Sony may still retaliate against your PSN account if you dispute a charge via PayPal.

If you do choose to try a dispute, I’d suggest unlinking the card from your PSN account before you begin the dispute process with your bank. This may prevent Sony from easily tying the card back to your PSN account.

Buying Digital Goods

When you buy digital goods from stores like Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Sony, you need to carefully read and understand their rules. You’ll also need to understand the laws that govern where you live. Most digital sellers are reasonable for mistake purchases. However, Sony appears to be ruthless in not wanting to issue refunds at this point. In addition, they have the power to hold your PSN account hostage against your only means of consumer protection via credit card dispute. I’d complain to the FTC on this one alone. This is an entirely unethical business practice.

My point here is that you shouldn’t ever buy any digital goods from Sony. At least, not until they come to their senses and offer a reasonable return policy and publicly publish it on their PlayStation Store web site in a visible location.

If you get caught in a situation where you bought something you didn’t intend, try your best to get a refund. There are no guarantees Sony will honor any federal or state laws. If they choose to ignore these laws, report them to the FTC and to your state Attorney General’s office. If you don’t care if they close your PSN account, then by all means contact your credit card issuer and request a dispute against that charge. Good Luck.

Sony’s Corporate Legal Compliance and Responsibility

The “UNLESS OTHERWISE REQUIRED BY LAW” provision should be Sony’s legal responsibility. Legal compliance and maintaining compliance with all laws has always been and should remain a corporate burden. Since Sony has taken it upon themselves to state “UNLESS OTHERWISE REQUIRED BY LAW”, Sony should be required to keep a list of all laws in all jurisdictions and uphold those laws with regards to digital returns on PlayStation store purchases.

This means that when you call or chat into a Sony representative asking for a return, it should be the representative’s responsibility to ask you the city and state where you live, then pull up a reference document containing the laws for that jurisdiction. Then, determine if those local return window laws apply to your return before outright denying the return.

It should not be the buyer’s burden to inform the representative of local laws that apply in that jurisdiction. By forcing the buyer to inform the representative of applicable laws, it then forces the representative to make a decision regarding that return. If Sony has told their representatives to reject all such arguments as invalid, then Sony is in willful in violation of some state and federal laws. It also means that the burden of upholding laws has been left in the hands of phone or chat reps.

Sony, do you really want some of your lowest paid staff making corporate legal decisions for Sony and potentially putting Sony at legal risk?

As most corporations today are trying their best to mitigate legal risk, Sony seems to be willfully instigating legal risk at their own peril. Get with the program Sony and write a real Return Policy and post it on the checkout screen. It’s not hard! Otherwise, you need to take on the legal responsibility of informing your reps of which jurisdictions have laws that apply to digital returns.

To PlayStation Store Employees

If you work for the PlayStation Store as a chat or phone rep, you need to understand your own personal legal risks. Because you are being made to decide the fate of a return based on “UNLESS OTHERWISE REQUIRED BY LAW”, you could face personal legal penalties because Sony has placed you into this legally risky position. I’m pretty sure you didn’t sign any legal indemnity clauses when you hired onto the PlayStation Store. As an employee, it is not your responsibility to decide legal matters over the phone or via chat. If you make the wrong decision and that decision is illegal, you can be held personally liable for breaking that law in addition to Sony. Do you really need legal fines and jail time?

As a representative for Sony, you need to take this article to your management team and explain to them that you no longer wish to be legally responsible for Sony’s actions. Explain that you don’t want to be fined or jailed for making the wrong decision on the phone. That’s not part of your job. Your job is to answer the phone and perform returns. But, it is not your job to take on personal legal responsibility for Sony.

As a representative, you need to insist on corporate legal compliance. This means that you need to insist that it is Sony’s responsibility to provide you with all necessary legal information to ensure you always comply with federal, state and local laws for each and every return. Sony hires lawyers. Sony can get their lawyers to provide you with this legal compliance information. After all, those lawyers are getting paid a whole lot more than you as a representative. Let’s make those lawyers do some real work for a change. Better, ask your management team to publish an actual Return Policy on the checkout page of the PlayStation store, which fully describes return windows and avoids this entire legal problem.

I welcome comments regarding your personal experiences with Sony’s PlayStation U.S. store return policies. I’m also always interested in hearing any tricks you may have used that helped you get a refund.

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Whole Foods: Everything wrong with Amazon in a store.

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

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

Drastic Changes on the Aisles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Checkout Lanes

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

Not All Changes Are Good

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

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

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

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

Workers Seem Disenchanted

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

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

Hot Food Bar Changes

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

Shopping at Whole Foods

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

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

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

Feedback and Thank You

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

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

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

Lost with Apple’s iPhones for 2018?

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

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

iPhone X models for 2018

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

iPhone X Compare

Display Res iPhone X 2018

Let’s Talk Models

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

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

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

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

Apple Watch

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

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

MacBook Pro

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

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

iPad 9.7″

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

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

Lateral Innovation

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

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

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Rant Time: Apple Music vs Twitter

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

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

Twitter Cards

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

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

Small Twitter Card

Twitter Card Small 2

Large Twitter Card

Large Twitter Card

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

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

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

Apple Music Playlist Sharing

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

Apple Music Playlist Twitter Card

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

iTunes Playlist Image

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

Apple Playlist Web

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

600x600wp

Scaled. Click to see 600×600 image

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

600x600wp

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

twitter-144x144

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

pioneer-1200x1200

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

TwitterCardFixed

… instead of this absolute shit looking card…

TwitterCardBroken

How the Mighty Have Fallen

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

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

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

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

Apple, Hear Me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rant Time: MagicJack – Scam or Legit?

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

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

Internet Phone Service Choices

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

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

911 Service

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

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

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

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

MagicJack Services

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

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

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

MagicJack Headquarters

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

PO BOX 6785
West Palm Beach, FL 33405

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

Yelp claims that magicJack’s US address is here:

5700 Georgia Ave
West Palm Beach, FL 33405

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

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

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

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

Class Action Lawsuit

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

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

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