Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Can the Steam Deck succeed?

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

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

Handhelds in Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pricing

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

Screen Shot 2022-02-28 at 11.08.47 AM

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

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

PlayStation Vita, NVIDIA Shield, Nintendo Switch

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

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

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

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

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

Handheld Gaming Battery Woes

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

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

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

Display Technology

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

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

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

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

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

Can the Steam Deck succeed?

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

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

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

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

Games Should Just Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Success or Failure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multiplayer Games?

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

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

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

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

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

Success or Failure Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Recipe: Mug Cake

Posted in dessert, food, recipes by commorancy on February 24, 2022

white teacup

Every once in a while, I have a hankering for some cake. Yet, I don’t want to whip out a full complement of kitchen gadgets, bowls and utensils, then spend time mixing it all and then waiting for it to bake in an oven simply to satisfy an immediate craving. This recipe explores the fascinating world of the Microwave Mug Cake, which takes perhaps 10 minutes from start to finish. The most amount of time is spent assembling the ingredients. The image depicted is for illustration purposes only and does not reflect the final cake. Let’s explore.

Mug Cake Batter

This cake batter base below is a great base to begin adding flavor to your Mug Cake, such as vanilla, spices, chocolate, strawberry, sprinkles, apples, etc. This recipe is designed for a 12 ounce sized mug. You may need to reduce the portions if your mug is smaller than 12 ounces. A 12 ounce mug provides an excellent portion size.

This cake recipe comes out light and airy with an excellent cake crumb texture. The cake rises just below the top of the mug, so you’ll have a full mug of cake. Many recipes provide half mug sizes which are okay, but I want my cake to reach the top of the mug to enjoy a full mug of cake.

Self-rising flour is used below because it has baking powder already mixed in. No need to add any baking powder. If you don’t have self-rising flour on hand, substitute regular flour and add 1 teaspoon of baking powder.

All ingredients should be measured level, not heaping.

Cake Batter Base

2 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
4 Tablespoons Sugar
1 Tablespoon Non-fat Dry Milk
2 Tablespoons Water (more if the batter is still too dry)
1 Egg Yolk (separated)
1 Teaspoon Egg White
1 Packet Sweet-N-Low
1 Dash Salt
1 Dash Stevia
6 Tablespoons Self-Rising Flour

Other Items Needed

1 set of Measuring Spoons
1 12 oz sized Mug
1 Fork for mixing (clean or use a different fork to consume the cake)
1 Spatula for mixing
1 Microwave (for cooking)

Substititions

Sweeteners

I add the Stevia and Sweet-N-Low to boost the sweetness without extra calories. You can add more or less sugar as you prefer. The list of ingredients above is in the order in which you add them to the mug. The above is the basic batter in which you can add other ingredients to flavor the cake.

Milk

If you only have fresh milk on hand, replace both the non-fat dry milk AND water in the recipe for 2 tablespoons of fresh milk. I prefer to use milk for baking reasons only, never to drink. Dry milk stores much, much longer on the shelf than fresh milk. Fresh milk lasts for a week or two max in the fridge. Dry milk stores for months. Having dry milk on hand also allows you to make fresh milk any time you need it. You can also mix your milk at whatever flavor concentration you like, something you can’t easily get with fresh milk. For consuming dry milk reconstituted, it is recommended to allow the milk to fully hydrate in the fridge overnight to eliminate the ‘dry milk’ flavor. When baking, you won’t ever taste this.

Ingredient Suggestions

If you want carrot cake, you’ll need to mince up some carrots in two tablespoons. If you want spice cake, you’ll want to add a Cake Spice mixture like Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Coriander, Ginger, Allspice, Mace or Clove.

Dry / semi-dry flavorings should be added at 2 tablespoons per flavoring. Liquid flavorings, such as Vanilla Extract, should be added at 1-2 teaspoons.

Butter

Melt the unsalted butter in the mug prior to beginning and let the butter cool somewhat before adding the remaining ingredients. You don’t want to butter temperature to begin cooking the egg once mixed in. Let the butter (and mug) cool sufficiently to lukewarm. Place it into the fridge or freezer for a few minutes if needed. You can substitute a tablespoon of vegetable oil for butter if needed.

Spice Mug Cake

Base Batter +
2 Tablespoons Cake Spice
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Tablespoon Raisins (optional)

Chocolate Mug Cake

Base Batter +
2 Tablespoons Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Tablespoon Chocolate Sprinkles or Chocolate Morsels (optional)

Add one (1) more Tablespoon Cocoa Powder if you prefer no morsels or sprinkles.

Vanilla Sprinkles Mug Cake

Base Batter +
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Tablespoon Rainbow Sprinkles

Other Flavors

You get the idea of how to flavor the base batter. However, be sure that if you add purees or other liquid flavorings, you may need to reduce the amount of water to compensate. You don’t want the batter to become overly runny.

Batter Consistency

Once you add all of the ingredients, stir with a fork until thoroughly mixed. Stirring may take 2-3 minutes of hand mixing. You may need to spatula down the sides and bottom to ensure all of the dry ingredients have been thoroughly incorporated. Once mixed, the batter should be somewhat stiff, but still liquid looking when you stop stirring. If you pick up, then drop batter onto itself, it should reincorporate slowly. This is the correct thickness. You don’t want the batter runny.

Resist the urge of throwing in the remaining egg white. You don’t want to do this. Egg whites reduce the crumb of the cake, making the texture come out rubbery, like Angel Food cake, rather than having a standard crumbly cake texture. Save the remaining egg whites for other purposes.

Cooking Instructions

To “bake” this cake, you’ll want to use 50% power in a microwave for 2 minutes and 30 seconds. However, you may need to stop the microwave at around 2 minutes to check and make sure it’s not overcooking. If it seems still too wet at 2 minutes, place it back into the microwave for 30 seconds at a time until done.

When done, the top of the cake should have a springy cake texture and appear like a standard cake.

Icing

If you’re really a fan of icing on the top, then you can make your own if you so choose, but I’d suggest store bought varieties. They’re cheap and easy enough to use. However, because this cake will be hot, applying icing to the top can be tricky and difficult. If you can resist the urge of eating it right away, you can wait for the cake to cool and the icing will go on much easier.

If you can’t resist or wish to eat it hot, then spoon a dollop of icing on the hot cake and wait for it to melt and warm up a little. You can then spread it on a bit easier.

Top with sprinkles or whatever toppings you like. In about 10-15 minutes, you have a tasty Mug Cake.

Dig in and Enjoy!

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

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

person with keys for real estate

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

Selling Anything

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

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

Selling your Company

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

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

Reputation

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

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

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

Venture Capitalist Buyouts

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

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

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

Undervalued

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

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

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

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

Acquisition Woes

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

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

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

Trust

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

Buyouts with Strings

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

Saving Face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technologists vs Venture Capitalists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Politics: What happens if Trump runs again?

Posted in advice, botch, politics by commorancy on February 1, 2022

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While I’ve pretty much avoided political debate and politics on Randocity, I also recognize that this blog is called Randocity. Political discussion is never off of the table. I’ve avoided politics because it’s like playing with Playdough. It’s salty, dries out and becomes no fun after just a few minutes. Because democracy actually hangs in the balance with this former President, I’ll grit and bear my way through this article as this needs to be said. Hopefully, you’re willing to do the same. Let’s explore.

Prophetic

I’m not one to try and be a prophet, but let me don this hat for this next few sections of the article. We all know what Trump did during the 2020 election. Let’s just list his actions leading up to and after the election:

  1. Trump began his lead up to the 2020 election by sowing seeds of mistrust and doubt in the election system by claiming that mail-in ballots are a major source of fraud. Don’t trust me on this? Follow the link. Trump made this claims many times well prior to the election. Trump’s action intended to sow distrust in the United States’s election system. For better or worse, it worked. It also set the stage for what came after. This is the start of Trump’s “Big Lie”.
  2. Election day arrives and Joe Biden wins. Yet, according to Trump (and his followers), Biden and Democrat party somehow managed to “rig” the election (and 50 states worth of voting systems) to see Biden win. See #1 for the beginnings of this “Big Lie”.
  3. Trump refuses to concede the election on election day, the day after or even today as I write this article. Instead, he begins a concerted effort to prove that he won and that Biden lost. This effort includes a number of steps including discrediting election officials, discrediting election workers, discrediting election polling places, discrediting election equipment and basically discrediting anyone involved in the election system. Make no mistake, this discrediting tactic was systematic and entailed making wild claims about the entirety of the election system… which, of course, those claims could not at all be supported or corroborated. Courts all over the country were entangled in many (frivilous) lawsuits set up by Trump and his followers to challenge the election integrity and discredit many people in the process. Trump didn’t stop here. However, Trump lost every single one of those lawsuits, over and over and over. No election fraud was (or is) ever uncovered.
  4. On January 2nd, 2021, in a vain attempt at overturning the election results in the state of Georgia, Trump calls Brad Raffensperger, the Secretary of State over Georgia, requesting that Raffensperger “find” 11,780 votes for Trump. Of course, he made no mention of exactly how Raffensperger might go about “finding” those votes. Clearly, this was an attempt at persuading election officials into performing actual voter fraud on behalf of Trump using veiled words. It’s most definitely not the first time Trump has used veiled words to prompt someone take potentially illegal actions which greatly benefits Trump. However, those words can then be claimed by Trump as “innocent”. It also wouldn’t be the last time Trump uses veiled words to do his bidding.
  5. Trump organizes a rally at the Ellipse near Capitol Hill on January 6th, 2021. January 6th was the day the winning candidate was to be confirmed as the Presidential winner by the Electoral College. This congressional procedure is primarily symbolic in nature, but it also serves a purpose for congress to go through the motions to ensure the candidate is fully recognized as having been duly elected. Trump’s rally brought throngs of Trump supporters to Washington DC on the day of the Electoral College vote in the hopes that he could somehow disrupt the Electoral College process.
  6. On the same day of the Rally, Trump calls Mike Pence, the then Vice President of the United States, to request him to discredit Electoral Vote counts from key states. States that, if discredited, would aid in Trump remaining in office by overturning the election results. Pence refuses and performs his duties as President of the Senate. Pence, as Vice President, is the person who facilitates and presides over Electoral Vote tabulation in front of the House and Senate. In fact, the Vice President doesn’t appear to have such requested power even if he had wanted to do as Trump asked. Again, Trump likely used veiled words with Pence to “get him” to do something untoward that, again, greatly benefits Trump.
  7. Trump, along with a bunch of Trump allies, make veiled, but now inflammatory rhetoric riling up the crowd at the Ellipse, effectively making it appear as if the election was about to be stolen from Trump by the Electoral College. Again, Trump uses flowery veiled rhetoric to incite the crowd into a frenzy. Trump knew exactly what his rhetoric would have the crowd do, particularly knowing a large extremist Trump-supporting fringe element had also shown up. The vote, at that time, was just several hours away. Trump and Co’s inflammatory, but veiled rhetoric lead to the riotous results which immediately followed on Capitol Hill.
  8. After the walk from the Ellipse, the riots begin in earnest. As a result, this riot forces the Electoral Vote count proceedings to halt for a period of time while the House and Senate staff take cover in a safe location until the grounds can be brought back under control with the rioters gone. Until that time, the Electoral Vote count remains suspended. Yes, Trump was instrumental in encouraging this action. Yes, Trump, the then sitting President of the United States, based on his veiled rhetoric speech, intentionally caused suspension of the prescribed formality of counting and tabulating the Electoral College vote counts. Keep in mind that this intentional suspension was all for the purpose of overturning the election results… IN TRUMP’S FAVOR.
  9. Several hours later after the rioters had gone and the DC police had brought the grounds under control did the vote count resume, with Mike Pence presiding. The vote count was uneventful and, as the voting had concluded, Biden was confirmed as the next President by the Electoral College.

These above facts are irrefutable, even though Trump would have you believe it’s all fake. Let’s stop here. I think I’ve included enough pertinent information to predict the outcome should Trump run again. Trump is, if anything, predictable.

Trump hates Losing

It’s clear, Trump hates losing. In fact, he hates it so much that he began planning his road to the “Big Lie” months before the election to ensure he couldn’t lose, at least in his own mind. If he can drag some people into his “world” of lies, then all the better. To date, Trump has still not conceded the election and still insists that the election (and election system) was (and is) rigged.

In fact, Trump is so adamant that he had won the election (both before and after) that he filed many, many lawsuits in an attempt to “prove” the election was somehow rigged, sometimes forcing a vote recount. In some places like Arizona, the votes were recounted a number of separate times all confirming and proving that Biden had won, even by his own requested staffers. Yet, Trump simply won’t take, “No” for an answer. Trump still insists that the election was rigged, is fraudulent and that he is the rightful winner of the 2020 election. No such evidence has ever been shown that this claim is, in fact, true. In fact, all evidence points to the fact that the 2020 election was free, fair and without major fraud. Sure, every election has its irregularities, but no more than any other past election.

Trump simply can’t look at the irregularities and call foul when the statistics indicate no such fraud exists.

Election Lies and Rigging

Let’s understand the preposterousness of Trump’s lie claims and understand better who is actually doing the rigging here. In order for Joe Biden and others in the Democrat party to have truly rigged the election in favor of Joe Biden, this action would have required an extremely enormous coordinated effort from many, many election officials, election workers and modification of election equipment all over the United States, in every single state. Such an enormous coordinated effort would have required many thousands of people’s synchronized participation at the polls and many, many hours of planning.

If our election system is truly that easily compromised, then there’s no way possible we can possibly use it for any future elections… ever.

Let’s examine what’s more probable, plausible or even possible? Trump’s Lie that thousands and thousands election workers all conspired against Trump to make Biden win? Or, the American people voted correctly, accurately and fairly… and that Biden was duly and fairly elected! Let’s even qualify this more. Whom do you trust in the above scenario? One single person who is known to lie (i.e., Trump) or thousands of election workers all over the country who voluntarily devote their time and resources to ensuring we have a free and fair election? Again, I ask, “Which situation is more probable?”

Just to be sure we’re on the same page, I’ll answer that question. Trump has more than proven he is not trustworthy. Thousands of election workers and election staff cannot ALL be at the level of untrustworthy that Trump claims in his “Big Lie”. It is, therefore, Trump who is lying.

Obviously, Trump’s lie is THE ludicrous and unbelievable claim here. It is way more probable that Trump is lying than suggesting an enormous coordinated effort existed to place Biden into the Presidential seat over the will of the voters. Further, if such a coordinated effort truly existed, why stop at such narrow voting margins and not go for an all out landslide victory? If the election machines can be truly compromised and modified, then why bother with slim margins? No, Trump’s claims just don’t hold water.

Biden didn’t win by any sense of a “landslide”. Oh, no no. The votes were so close that some battleground states weren’t able to call the election results for days after the election. By ‘close’, this could be as few as several thousand votes. This meant election workers were forced into counting and recounting to ensure the vote counts are all counted accurately and tabulated properly. With that many recounts all showing Biden won, there is no possible way that Trump’s “Big Lie” is in any way plausible, let alone realistic or even true.

Trump and 2024

Looking ahead, let’s really talk about what’s likely to occur should Trump end up on the ballot again. In fact, Trump is already sowing the seeds of distrust even deeper right at this very moment. As long as Trump maintains his “big election lie”, he WILL continue to both expand and reuse it against the 2024 presidential election should he choose to run again. Believe me, he will most definitely use it again and will up his game based on what he learned during the 2020 process! He’s that predictable. Prediction noted.

Let me say right now that this man should never be able to run for President again. In fact, Congress performed a major disservice to this country for not finding Trump guilty in his final Impeachment hearing. If they had found him guilty, that would have prevented Trump from ever holding office as President again. This would be a blessing come 2024. The man cannot be President again or even be allowed to run or else this country may entirely lose the meaning of the word, “Democracy.” Prediction noted.

Trump Wins?

Assuming Trump were to win in 2024, Trump will not only continue to do everything with his reacquired Presidential power to discredit the election system entirely. It’s nearly guaranteed he will want to ensure that he remains in office indefinitely by attempting to halt everything to do with future elections. That’s just the beginning of his tirade. Trump will see to it that not only can he not be voted out again, that no one else can be voted in. At this point, Democracy and the Constitution’s power ends. Worse, Trump’s “back pocket” GOP will likely follow the leader here and continue to do Trump’s bidding by seeing to it that legislation is passed that allows Trump to remain in power beyond 4 years, possibly even indefinitely. Prediction noted.

Election Lie 2.0

What if Trump loses? The outcome is just as bad simply because he was allowed to run. If we think Trump’s election lie is bad now, just wait. If Trump is allowed to participate and again loses, not only will Trump parade his next version of the Election Lie v2.0, he will see to it that both he and the GOP make sure the elections are so undermined that we can’t even use our election system come 2028. The courts will also be so completely saturated with meritless case after meritless case all for the sole means of attempting to prove that the election was, once again, rigged and stolen from Trump.

Trump will most definitely up his lying game to make sure everyone knows he was, again, cheated out of his win. That somehow the election system was (and is) majorly rigged against him with yet more fabricated evidence. This will then lead to even more voter law changes by Trump supporting states. Prediction noted.

Let’s put this into a bit more perspective with how Trump can leverage the GOP leadership team. The GOP (aka Republican party), is hanging onto Trump’s coattails for all it’s worth. These elected officials continually and constantly push Trump’s lie, but not verbally. They do so by introducing legislation that is tantamount to a modern version Gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is technically redrawing district lines around population centers so as to change the outcome of an election from a Democrat win to a GOP win. It is a form of political scam. When districts are drawn correctly and properly, the vote distributions are fair. When redrawn using Gerrymandering, it unfairly rigs voting in favor of one party over the other. Gerrymandering is an old tactic, but there are many new age tactics that can also be used in addition to redrawing districts in unfair ways.

States have now taken it upon themselves to craft laws that restrict voting in ways that make it easier for Republicans to vote and much more difficult for Democrats to vote. This is a legal form of Gerrymandering. Laws, in combination with actual district Gerrymandering, pretty much ensures a win for the party who set all of these scams up, even if that party is in the minority. This is a form of…

Election Rigging

Who is actually doing the rigging here? The problem I really have with all of Trump’s (and by extension, Trump’s GOP) hoo-ha above is that the reverse is actually true. Everything that Trump has crafted in an attempt to discredit the election results was actually performed with the intent to rig the 2020 election in Trump’s (and, more specifically, the GOP’s) favor. His “Big Lie” wasn’t intended to uncover any truth as there was no “truth” to actually uncover. Instead, his claims of election fraud by Biden were all intended to allow him to rig the elections in Trump’s favor. It’s a reverse ploy. He takes a functional, legitimate, working system and twists it into something that appears broken, corrupt and perverse for the sole means of turning it around and using it to his own benefit. It’s a classic victim ploy.

It’s also diabolical. Rigging is rigging whether by Trump or by someone else. Trump’s attempts to use the justice system, the media, his supporters and veiled words are simply attempts to get people to do his bidding, which meant overturning the 2020 election results by illegitimate means and usurping the 2020 election for himself. Can we say, “Rigged by Trump”? Yet, for whatever reason, people actually fail to see this diabolical scheme that Trump has concocted. It’s a plot that seemingly turns Trump into a victim rather than exposing him as a con man. Trump is, plain and simple, a con man. He intended to deceive his followers into believing fake information and, thus, attempt to take a legitimate free and fair election system and actually twist it by rigging it to Trump’s will.

Let me ask. Who exactly is doing the rigging here? It’s certainly not Biden.

However, few Trump supporters want to believe that they’ve been conned by Trump. It’s way easier to accept Trump as a victim than to view themselves as being duped by Trump. If you accept Trump’s lies, however, you ARE being duped. Accepting a known lie is the very definition of being duped.

Can Trump be Trusted?

A very good question. Let’s examine. At this point, it should be completely clear that this man cannot be trusted, not with Presidential power, not even with participating in the election system as a candidate. Anyone so intent on treating our election system so recklessly, callously, with disdain and with so much malice of intent cannot be trusted. Trust is earned. It’s clear that Trump has failed to earn trust and respect from almost anyone. Yet, followers still flock in his direction. I’m still at a loss as to why. The man has proven that he has no morals, moral compass, ethics or scruples.

It’s one thing for a politician to make boasting claims about doing great deeds while in office, then fail to accomplish those goals. It’s entirely another when the President of the United States holds a rally intended to halt counting the Electoral Votes which undermines the election system and the basic fundamentals that hold Democracy together.

Lies and Fraud

Trump’s deception has not ended and will not end until he is pushed out of politics entirely. That means that the GOP must force Trump out of the party. The GOP cannot continue as a legitimate political party when someone so corrupt and so ill-intentioned remains within. Someone who was (and still is) willing to sacrifice the entirety of the United States Constitution and Democracy’s fabric itself simply so that he can remain in office, that’s someone we absolutely do not need running this country, let alone even being allowed on the ballot.

If Trump is placed on the ballot in 2024, Democracy literally hangs in the balance. If we think we’re in a constitutional crisis after the January 6th Capitol attack, that’s simply the first salvo in what will likely bring down the United States if Trump regains the office of President. Prediction noted.

Trump absolutely in no way cares about the continuance of Democracy and only cares about one thing… Trump and his ability to gain and retain power, particularly Presidential power. He also wants to take that power and bastardize it into something that was never intended by the framers of the Constitution.

Regardless of whether Trump wins or loses in 2024, the United States faces a serious existential threat, one that Trump seems to want to seriously undermine (at best) and dismantle (at worst). No, Trump cannot be allowed to even participate in the 2024 election process at all. His corruption will taint the election system, win or lose. The GOP leadership must eject Trump from the party and shun any further interaction with him. That is, unless the GOP (Republican party) wants to become known as the party that brought down United States Democracy, which also likely means the GOP (and all other parties) will cease to exist once Democracy dies. No need for Democratic processes once the President wields all of the power, forever.

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Fallout 76 Event: How To – Radiation Rumble

Posted in advice, tips, video game, video game design by commorancy on January 30, 2022

drumsWhile there’s lots to discuss about this event, here’s a How To article which is short and sweet and offers a quick important tip when playing the Radiation Rumble event. Let’s explore.

Enough People

[Updated 4/4/2022] If you’re one of those “can’t wait” people who joins this event and instantly runs to Marion Copeland to start it. Don’t! Just don’t. If we’re all standing around not starting the event, it’s because there’s a reason. WE NEED ENOUGH PEOPLE to run it. It takes a minimum of 4-5 people to successfully run this event. We need enough people to defend the scavengers, but we also need at least ONE person in a power armor suit to run the tunnels and gather ore.

Without enough people to properly defend the scavengers, this event will FAIL. If there’s no one running the tunnels to gather ore, this event will ALSO FAIL. THIS is why we wait nearly the full 6 minutes before activating the event. We are waiting for enough people to arrive to successfully start and run the event.

Therefore, do not rush to Marion to start the event. Wait until the timer has nearly timed out before starting. If you rush to start the event early, you may find people leaving you by yourself standing there with no way to successfully complete the event. Yes, we’ve learned and so will you… the hard way.

Friendly Fire

Let’s get right to the point. Radiation Rumble is a defend event. It has “Scavenger” NPC friendlies which must be defended against ghouls and various foes inside of a mine in Fallout 76. The friendlies have white HP bars which reduce as they are attacked.

It seems a lot of players don’t understand that you can health up these friendlies! Yes, you can! It’s easy with a fire based weapon and the perk card Friendly Fire. This card applies health back, like a stimpak, to any friendly you strike with a fire based weapon. The card states:

Teammates hit by your flame weapons regenerate health briefly (no molotovs).

Any NPC friendly in an event is considered a “teammate” and therefore this card applies. It also applies to teammates of the human player variety.

What kind of weapons can be used?

  • Heated Baseball Bat
  • Flamer
  • Heated Pitchfork
  • Shishkebab
  • Heated Power Fist
  • Crossbow with Fire Arrows
  • Bow with Fire Arrows
  • Heated Chainsaw
  • (Maybe) Floater Flamer Grenades

Basically, ANY weapon that produces fire damage of ANY kind (except molotovs) will health up your friendlies with the Friendly Fire card equipped. It works fastest and offers the most health up with each strike using a 3 star version of this card, but all versions of the card will work. This can be used during any event where protection of NPC friendlies is required. This includes Radiation Rumble, Project Paradise, Bots on Parade and even during the Fasnacht event with the robots.

However, it only works on “live” friendlies. It doesn’t work on plants, like in Death Blossoms. Any robot, person or creature will gain health from Friendly Fire when struck by fire based weapon. There may be some type of friendlies (like Death Blossoms) where it doesn’t work, so you’ll have to try it and see. Most event NPCs work properly with Friendly Fire.

When Friendly Fire doesn’t work

The Friendly Fire card doesn’t work with any “energy” weapon like the Tesla or Gatling Plasma or Gauss. Don’t think you can equip just any energy weapon and have this work. Electric energy weapons aren’t the same as fire weapons. The weapon must specifically produce fire damage to add health to a friendly. It also doesn’t work with energy grenades. Floater flamer grenades may work, but since these are new to the game, Bethesda may have excluded these grenades from working with Friendly Fire. Stick to legacy fire based weapons which are guaranteed to work with Friendly Fire.

Failure is not an Option

I’ve seen Radiation Rumble fail so many times, I can’t even count. It fails because everyone is running around trying to kill stuff and actually failing to protect the scavengers. Protecting the scavengers means hanging around them and being ready to health them up with fire weapons using Friendly Fire whenever their health drops.

Menu Failure during the Event

One word of caution. Set up your weapon and perk card loadouts BEFORE entering the Radiation Rumble event. There are so many creatures, fire and random junk moving about in the environment, you can’t open the Pip Boy to change your load out. If you intend to switch to a fire weapon during the event, make sure your loadout is set up prior to entering the event OR have the weapons set up on the wheel.

The Pip Boy menu gets so slow and bogged down in the event that you can’t even move the cursor. There’s no way to set up your load out using the Pip Boy once inside the event. However, the wheel mostly works. Meaning, you can mostly rely on using the wheel to change weapons, but you cannot rely on the Pip Boy menu or in setting up your perk cards. Do that activity before entering… which means planning this in advance.

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Should schools remain open amid Omicron surge?

Posted in best practices, COVID-19, school by commorancy on December 23, 2021

teach dice ornament on table

I’ve watched a number of people appearing on large news networks who are proponents for schools to remain open amid the Omicron surge. Their primary reason behind this “remain open” argument is that kids are at low risk for dangers from Omicron. This is an entirely one sided argument and fails to take into account too many other risk factors. Let’s explore this fallacy.

COVID-19 Risks

While I may agree that kids may be at far lower risk from severe effects from Omicron if they acquire it, that argument largely holds no water and here are the relevant points:

  1. School administrators are adults, not children. These adults are those who must teach these children and it is these very adults who are susceptible and at risk from illness.
  2. It’s already proven that schools are germ factories for diseases. Meaning, children are well known for catching and passing around diseases among their school age peers. I can’t even count the number of colds I caught during my time in public schools. Yes, schools are a petri dish both in growing and spreading pathogens easily and, most importantly, rapidly.
  3. Children bring home pathogens to their household and spread it amongst family members and school friends.

While children may be more resilient to the effects of pathogens, they aren’t immune to spreading it amongst school faculty, staff and within their own households and to their friends. This is important to understand.

But, the psychological effects?

True, there may be psychological effects of children being unable to properly bond or have in-person friendships because of school closures. I get it, but we have to look at the importance levels of these factors. Does the child’s psychological effects from being in school trump the practical safety of those adults who may get seriously ill or die because one or more children spread COVID?

Clearly, these proponents are claiming that the psychological effects are far more damaging than people dying from COVID around these children. They’re not outright making this claim, but it’s the logical subtext that’s being unspoken with their arguments.

It’s also entirely wrong thinking. Children aren’t dying because they can’t sit in a classroom with classmates and learn. However, those around them are. What good does it do to open classrooms only to find more and more teachers either dying of COVID or becoming so seriously ill they can no longer work? How does that help the children or the school?

How many teachers must die to make this point? When do the mounting deaths in school become enough to warrant school closure? 1, 10, 50, 100 or more? Children cannot teach themselves. They require adults to impart that knowledge. However, when more and more adults around them continue to get sick and potentially die from COVID, then what?

Worse, children tend to blame themselves for such chaotic and serious situations even if it’s not true. However, with COVID, the child might actually be correct that their actions directly led to the death of their favorite teacher. How does a child psychologically cope with that? The psychological damage from knowing that child might have spread COVID to a teacher who died is way more damaging than a child lacking meaningful social interactions with their friends by learning at home, away from their classmates.

Learning Environments

Remote learning works. It does. Anyone who claims that it doesn’t work is only making excuses. The problem isn’t remote learning, it’s that these proponents typically have school age children themselves. The point, their motivation isn’t protecting the safety of the school system, but the inconvenience of having children at home. When a child is at home remote learning, a parent must remain home to watch that child. Inconvenient.

It’s this simple inconvenience that is motivating these “parent” proponents to pressure schools to remain open. It’s this inconvenience that motivates them to make statements stating psychological problems and ignoring all else. Again, their argument has nothing to do with protecting the safety of the school.

Variants and Safety

If anything, Omicron has pointed out that the variants are coming and they’re likely to get much, much worse than become weaker. What this means for schools is that eventually a variant will impact children negatively. In fact, Delta had already begun to show this. Many more children died due to Delta than any other variant before. With Omicron, these school “stay open” proponents are merely guessing that Omicron will play “nice” to children. We simply don’t know enough yet about Omicron to make this assertion.

Allowing children to spread Omicron might become a harsh lesson to parents… a lesson that shows us that children may no longer be spared from their “youngness”. Even if it’s not Omicron, it could be the next variant down the road.

Do we really want to congregate masses of children in places with little safety protections simply to teach them math and history? What good does it do if children begin succumbing to the variants and dying in masses? Then what? Will these “stay open” proponents take the blame for their callous disregard for safety? No.

Leave the Decision to the Schools

Ultimately, it’s the school district’s responsibility to protect its teachers, staff and, yes, even the students. The school districts should make the decision as to whether they remain open. Not the parents. Not the teachers. Not the children. Each school, in conjunction with the school board, should make the determination of the threat level any variant poses to each school’s safety.

The school is responsible for creating a safe and effective learning environment. You can’t have one without the other. Tossing safety over learning isn’t a road that leads to success. Just the opposite, in fact. It’s a road that leads to failure.

Parental Inconvenience

I’m sorry that parents feel inconvenienced after school closures. However, it’s your child. Your child is your responsibility. If you didn’t want to bear that burden, you shouldn’t have had children. The school system is not a free day care service. It’s a school. It has the responsibility to teach your child, not babysit them.

As a parent, you may view a school as an all-day babysitter. I guarantee you schools absolutely do not see it that way. Schools exist to “school” your child. Sure, schools take children off of your hands for 8 hours to teach them, thus giving you a reprieve from having a child for a portion of the day. However, that doesn’t mean the child is no longer your responsibility during those 8 hours away.

If a school feels that a closure is needed to ensure the safety of every student, teacher and staff member, then that’s an appropriate measure from the school. That also means it’s on you, the parent, to determine the best way to handle your child while the school remains closed, inconvenient or not.

Pandemic

A pandemic is most definitely a reason for schools to close and remain closed. After all, we know children are not responsible when handling and touching dirty items. Thus, it’s easy for a child to become exposed to colds and flu, and, yes, COVID while at school.

A pandemic means that a virus is spreading uncontrollably throughout the world. Children don’t fully grasp the concept of a pandemic. However, they do understand when they can’t visit friends or go to school or play football. These are things children do understand.

Yes, these may have psychological impact on a child’s well being. However, we’re all suffering during this pandemic. Are we trying to somehow “shield” our children from the effects of the pandemic by attempting to keep schools open in defiance of public safety?

Mass Spreading and Ending the Pandemic

Everyone becomes impacted once the spreading of COVID begins, regardless of where it begins, such as in a school or at a movie theater or even at a stadium full of people. Unnecessary spread is unnecessary spread. The more the virus spreads, the more likelihood this pandemic will never end. Worse, the more often the virus spreads, the more chances it has of creating a new variant. Variant creation is never a good thing.

By keeping children in school, regardless of the severity level on a specific child’s health if they contract COVID, the more chances COVID has of spreading both inside and outside of the school and creating a mass spreading event. As I said, we’ll never get out of the pandemic if we continue to do things that cause mass spreading. If we want to stop COVID, we need to halt mass spreading.

Halting the Pandemic

To stop this pandemic means halting large congregations of people coming together in the same location untested. There is no other way around this issue. We must halt untested mass congregations to halt the virus’s spread. The only way viruses spread is by large numbers of untested people congregating together in close proximity, such as in a plane. Because of lack of testing, this spawns mass spreading events.

Clearly, Omicron is now a mass spreading event. Could the spread of Omicron have been stopped? Not easily. Why? Because, at least in the U.S., we seem to have the poorest testing system of any nation. In fact, testing should have been our top priority from day one.

The only definitive way to halt mass spreading is to test everyone immediately prior to entry. However, our testing has been woefully inadequate all throughout this pandemic. Instead of focusing on testing, we have focused on vaccination. Vaccination has really only helped somewhat reduce spread in adults, not in children. It’s only recently that vaccines have been approved for children of certain ages. Even then, there’s some question as to how effective the vaccines are in children. This means that the dosage may not yet be correct to elicit a proper antibody response in children. This could still leave children vulnerable to contracting and spreading COVID, even though they have been vaccinated.

Testing and Tests

Testing is our #1 way out of this pandemic, which the United States has almost entirely ignored since the start of the pandemic. If the United States had focused on producing accurate mass amounts of home test kits in the first few months of the pandemic, we might have been able to halt the pandemic long before now.

Why? Because you can’t spread what you don’t have. If everyone is required to test negative to enter a store, stadium, restaurant, school or board a plane or train, we could have halted the spread within a few months. Mandating the use of instant tests at the entry to every mass public gathering area would have almost instantly halted the spread. A negative test means no one in that venue has COVID-19.

Sure, testing will inconvenience those who test positive, but inconveniencing a few who are carrying and spreading the virus is well worth the pain to halt the spread of this virus in its tracks. Testing is the answer, not vaccines alone. Vaccines help reduce death rates once infected, but they effectively do nothing to halt the spread. Testing combined with quarantine rules halts the spread and this should have been mandated from the very beginning. Testing is the holy grail to stopping this virus.

Instead, we ignored testing as a means to halt the spread and mistakenly put vaccines way out in front as the “Holy Grail”. We can see how well that has worked. Omicron is spreading like wildfire even though 60% of the U.S. population is now vaccinated.

I’ll even venture to guess that once we reach an 85% vaccination rate, we’ll still see COVID spread like wildfire among the vaccinated. The symptoms may be more mild, but spread is still possible among the vaccinated. Right now, the news media is playing the “unvaccinated” card as the reason for the spread. Eventually, they’ll no longer be able to play this card to explain away the latest surge after vaccination rates reach the suggested “herd immunity” minimum level.

Testing in Schools

Testing goes for schools, too. Each morning, a parent should be required to run a test kit on their child. The school nurse should then be required to review each student’s test for negative or positive results. If a child tests positive, they go home and stay home. Any child who has had immediate contact with that positive child also goes home to quarantine. No child will be allowed to attend a school if they test positive for the day or if they have had immediate contact with someone who has tested positive.

The same goes for teachers and staff. Every morning, these employees must also perform a test before they can report to work. If a teacher or staff tests positive, they’re sent home to quarantine.

As I said, the only way to halt the spread is to mandate testing at every single entry point to public spaces and reject those who test positive. If the person cannot or is unwilling to show a negative test result for that day, then they must be required to have a test performed immediately or be barred from entry. Refusing to test is the same to testing positive and the person will be refused entry.

We halt this virus through the use of policies including policies for testing, policies against belligerence and entry refusal policies. The more we do this, the faster we can burn this virus out. If the virus cannot propagate, it cannot survive. With mandated testing and strict entry controls, we can halt this virus in its tracks. There is ultimately no other way.

Schools Staying Open

If parents wish schools to stay open, then the only means by which this can be done is utilizing the testing method described above. That means test providers need to drastically ramp up production of instant test kits so that any school, restaurant, store or stadium can require that every person test negative immediately prior to entry. Testing applies to both the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike. No one is given a ‘pass’. A positive test = no entry… period. No discussion. You go home and stay home until your test shows negative.

This also follows for schools. Students who test positive go home. Students who test negative can remain in class. This is the only method by which schools can also remain open. We cannot rely on supposition that because students have fewer problems when infected that it’s somehow okay to keep the school open. Infection = spreading. Spreading = mass spreading. Mass spreading = pandemic continues and more deaths.

We all want this pandemic to end. We can’t have that if schools remain open without appropriate testing of students prior to entry. If schools wish to remain open, they must adopt a test-before-entry protocol to allow or deny entry based on immediately prior test results. While the vaccines help keep us out of the hospital after infection, testing is the key to ending this pandemic once and for all… not only in schools, but in every large public venue.

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Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Posted in botch, entertainment, movies, reviews, storytelling by commorancy on December 22, 2021

theriseofskywalkerUsually, I write reviews and analysis immediately after I see a film. Well, I have to be honest, I did just see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker recently. You might be wondering why that is? Well, let’s explore.

Obligatory Note: This review contains major *spoilers*. Stop reading now if you haven’t seen this film.

Rewarding Poor Business Decisions

I’m not one to necessarily boycott businesses, but with Star Wars I’ve made an exception. I boycotted seeing the film in the theater and I, likewise, boycotted paying money to see it at any rental venue. The reason I saw it last weekend is because finally a channel has released an on-demand version that’s included with something I already pay for.

To be honest, Disney will get a small amount of money from me watching it via on-demand. It’s called the pay-for-play royalty system. That means that every time someone plays it, Disney will derive some amount of money from the playback (probably 10-25¢ at most). I’m okay with that because that’s about what it’s worth. Though, I don’t have to pay directly. I refuse to reward companies for producing crap. I simply won’t do it. I know that this paragraph’s sentiment is entirely brutal… but hey, that’s part of the review.

Retroactive Continuity Bonanza

Congratulations! You’ve hit the Retcon Bonanza! One thing about applying retroactive continuity (retcon) to a story line is that it’s fairly obvious. See, the thing is, retcon runs all through Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in very blatant and obvious ways. I already knew going into The Rise of Skywalker that it would be chock full of retroactive continuity.

So what’s wrong with retconning a story? Let me count the ways.

  1. Trite
  2. Cliché
  3. Poor writing
  4. Bad planning
  5. Bad storytelling
  6. Contrived
  7. Unsatisfying

Great storytelling sets up little bits and pieces all along the way. Then brings those bits and pieces together at the end in a cohesive way to explain why those seemingly unrelated bits and pieces were included. It’s a standard storytelling practice that shows the writer had planning of forethought when crafting their story.

It’s also an immensely satisfying storytelling practice. If you’re an astute observer, you can put these foreshadowing pieces together early to conclude what’s about to occur. If storytellers are too obvious with their clues, it makes guessing the ending too easy. For example, many people were able to easily guess the premise of M. Night Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense, when the ending was all but revealed by four words of dialogue spoken very early in the film. However, this situation also depended heavily on whether you believed the visuals of the film or you chose to believe the spoken words. It also means the writers concocted a poorly conceived clue delivery system. It should have been way more subtle than that. In fact, those words shouldn’t have been uttered until much later in the film.

That’s not the case with The Rise of Skywalker, though. With this film, it wasn’t a matter of clumsy clues. It was the fact that no clues were given at all, not in The Force Awakens and not in The Last Jedi where it makes much more sense to leave these clues behind.

Emperor Palpatine

Palpatine was the primary villain in the first 3 Star Wars films. He was dispatched at the end of Return of the Jedi by being dropped down a power shaft. This villain was firmly dead. However, The Rise of Skywalker latches onto this story context for all that its worth. That, and cloning.

The thing is, Attack of the Clones wasn’t really referenced… or more specifically, Kamino. Specifically mentioning this planet somewhere along the way, such as earlier in The Force Awakens would have set up the notion of cloning as a possibility somewhere in the story. For example, if Snoke had been found to be a clone based on DNA testing or something similar after he’d been chopped in half in The Last Jedi, that would have explained what was said by Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker. Yet, no such reference in either of the first two films exists.

As an another example, even the simple act of dropping Palpatine’s name in any small kind of way, such as mentioning the similarity to Snoke’s villainy. Even simple name dropping can open whole doors up later and it’s those kinds of clues that avoid retroactive continuity problems. Simple name dropping Palpatine or Kamino or Cloners in any capacity along the way in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi would have been enough to prove the writers were thinking about closure of the story at the beginning of it.

Instead, the writers and filmmakers were so self-absorbed in their own self-indulgence that they couldn’t even consider such prior setup in the writing of the first two installments.

To be honest, this is really the fault of J.J. Abrams. He had the task of opening the storyline in The Force Awakens, but fails to really give a hint at what’s to come. Hints and clues are what make great stories. It’s called foreshadowing and it’s an incredibly impressive storytelling tactic when it’s done correctly. When it’s not done at all, then it’s called retroactive continuity… or building a new story by making up establishing facts instantly rather than relying on clues laid down earlier.

Sure, the original films and the prequels had information that could be leveraged, but not in a way that would be seen as clues for Disney’s trilogy. You don’t just pull crap out of the air and hope people somehow magically get the reference. Proper build-up is essential to a story. Without it, it makes a story fail.

Palpatine Again!?

When Palpatine is, again, introduced as “the man behind the curtain” in The Rise of Skywalker, it’s groan time… ugh! I’m thinking, “Not again”. Can’t these guys think up anything original? At least there wasn’t yet a third Death Star… at least we’ve made some progress, I guess. Not much, though.

Bringing Palpatine back to life without really so much as an explanation is such a bad storytelling idea that it makes the rest of the story feel like garbage. You either believe Palpatine is back or you don’t. The worst thing about Palpatine is that he stands there like a statue and simply taunts people with words. Granted, in Return of the Jedi, he was also fairly catatonic. Though, he did get up and walk around a little. In this film, he’s a literal statue standing in one spot the entire time spouting platitudes. It’s his same old tired self-assured, over-confident, self-righteous Sith rhetoric about eliminating the Jedi. He died for those same clichéd thoughts in The Return of the Jedi. Has he learned nothing? You’d think that after his first death at the hands of Vader, he’d be a little more cautious and wiser the second time around. Yet, *crickets*.

The storytellers don’t give Palpatine an ounce of credit as intelligent or thoughtful. The man is made out to be as dumb as brick. Seriously, after Palpatine’s trip down the power conduit, you’d think he’d rethink his over-confident, self-assured, self-righteous threatening demeanor and, instead, try something new. Nope.

Snoke

You might also want to point to Snoke as an example of that, but then you’d be wrong because Snoke was summarily chopped in half midway through The Last Jedi. That was that for Snoke. It’s one thing to use Snoke as a puppet, but it’s clear that that puppet failed utterly to its own demise. Stupid Villains!

Just to make it perfectly clear, none of the above was mentioned anywhere in The Last Jedi. Again, no such clues were left behind for bringing it all together in the end. Nope. No where was it mentioned that Snoke was a puppet of Palpatine, though a clue should have been left somewhere in TLJ if not by Snoke himself. For example, a quick scene where we see Snoke nodding to a shadowy figure in a cloak which fades out followed by Snoke going directly into communication with Ben. That would have been something.

Of course, in Star Wars revisionist tendencies, Disney may go back into both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi and retrofit dialog, extra scenes and whatnot to shoehorn these clues…. which is an even worse practice than what they did in the contrived storytelling in The Rise of Skywalker. Revisionism has no place in movies, let alone Star Wars films. To be honest, what George Lucas did with his revisionism was add better FX and reintroduce scenes that he wanted, but those changes didn’t fundamentally alter the storyline and were not introduced to ‘fix’ a story problem for a later film.

No, George’s stories were solid from the beginning, so the stories didn’t need ‘fixing’.

Disney Hires Crap Writers

Part of the problem here is that Disney doesn’t have a clue how to run a live action film business, nor exactly what a good live action script is. Disney comes from an animation background. The stories in Disney’s animated films have been simplistic and intended for children.

For some reason, Disney thought they could insinuate themselves into a live action movie business and have those films turn out great. Well, it’s clear, that’s not true.

No where is that more apparent than in how the stories for the Disney Trilogy were handled. The first mistake was hiring J.J. Abrams to write these films. Instead, Disney should have hired actual film writers with experience in writing. Before that, they should have hired actual story writers to come up with the overall story arc encompassing the three films prior to embarking on filming them. This would have meant that going into each film there was an outline of the necessary elements needed to craft each film’s story which would support the rest.

The director might take some liberties in some areas around portions of the story telling, but the required story elements must be included for the entire story arc to work. This would have also meant that all three films were essentially written up-front. Instead, Disney apparently allowed the writers of each film to craft their own story in pre-production for each film. Basically, the films were made up at the time of each production.

This isn’t a recipe for success. In fact, it’s a recipe for failure. It’s exactly why J.J. Abrams Alias and Lost series failed to ultimately work. The stories were “made up” as they went along rather than attempting to at least write an overarching story outline that encompasses the entire season. Each story doesn’t need to be written, but certain specific points must be included in the season to reach the conclusion properly. Without such inserted clues, the conclusion absolutely cannot be satisfying… and so it goes with Lost. Lost‘s conclusion was such an awful mess that not only did it make no sense, what little pieces did try to make sense were awful. It was like watching a train wreck unfold.

So then, Disney hires this two-bit hack to pen Star Wars? Here’s a guy who can’t even write two TV series properly and yet Disney hires him for Star Wars? Yeah, I could see this wasn’t going to end well… and so it goes.

Endings

Speaking of things not ending well, let’s continue with The Rise of Skywalker and its ending. Disney would have been smarter to leave a thread open that could be followed up with a new trilogy. Instead, Disney, and more specifically, J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy were so focused on damage control that they forgot to add intentional cliffhangers leading into a new series of films. However, I believe at the time the film was being created, damage control was the primary means of closure for the The Rise of Skywalker storyline.

With that said, the ending is simultaneously satisfying and disappointing. On the surface, it’s a satisfying conclusion to this series of films. Diving deeper, the entire story is incredibly unsatisfying, thus leaving the conclusion disenchanting. The whole shoehorn-this-story-into-a-Palpatine-issue is deeply distasteful. Not only does it ruin the thought that Palpatine is, in fact, dead, it does so in a way that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and simultaneously leaves a gaping hole open as wide as the Grand Canyon.

The original Palpatine was shrewd, cunning and incredibly intelligent. Yet, this film treats Palpatine as one of the dumbest villains to have ever graced the Star Wars universe. Granted, the Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker is supposed to be a clone. I suppose one could argue that the cloning process dumbs down its clones unintentionally (or even intentionally). The Kaminoan cloners might have seeded its clones so that they would never become aggressive towards Kamino, thus dumbing them down in other ways. It would make sense for the Kaminoans to protect Kamino from its clones turning on its masters or on the world. This argument could be said of all of the Clone Troopers. Yet, this fact has never been established in canon outright.

Palpatine, the original, would have also known and understood this dumbing down limitation of Kamino Clones and probably would have attempted to mitigate it long before it became a problem. Yet, it seems that didn’t happen based on clone Palpatine’s overall dumb self-righteous behavior. This cloned Palpatine is one of the least intelligent villains I’ve yet seen in a Star Wars film, save that perhaps Snoke was likely also a clone considering that Palpatine claims to have “made Snoke” (implying a clone).

Whether Palpatine used Kamino to produced the clones or if Palpatine bought and established his own cloning technology separately, it’s not really stated. Watching this film, I assumed that all of the cloning occurred on Kamino… or at least, Kamino cloning technology was utilized by Palpatine even if not cloned directly on Kamino.

I know that Palpatine suggested bringing the dead back to life in the prequel Revenge of the Sith (which was lightly referenced in The Rise of Skywalker). Don’t take my word for it. Here’s the conversation from Palpatine himself.

This platitude by Palpatine may have been a veiled reference to cloning or to an unseen force power or both, which by the time of this scene, the world of Kamino and its technology had been established by the prequel, Attack of the Clones. Of course, this information wasn’t definitively stated in The Rise of Skywalker or even in Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith. The information in The Rise of Skywalker was all left to the audience to put 2 and 2 together and theorize Palpatine was talking about cloning and/or the conversation above. If you hadn’t watched the prequels before seeing The Rise of Skywalker, you wouldn’t be able to correlate this information, leaving the means by which Palpatine reappears as a mystery that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and isn’t resolved in the narrative.

What this all means for the ending is a somewhat convoluted, complex, yet simpleminded ending. In fact, the ending was so simpleminded and single tracked, it was easy to predict the outcome.

Is It Over?

This is a lingering question that remains. If there’s one clone, there can be many. Did Rey fight the last and final clone? We don’t know. This is the gaping hole the size of the Grand Canyon. If it took Rey to the point of death to kill one single clone, then fighting any more means she probably won’t succeed in killing any others. After all, she won’t have Ben there to give her his remaining life force and bring her back to life again.

For the reason of clones, the ending is entirely unsatisfying. Once you open this story door to clones (plural), it’s a never ending cycle. You simply can’t win against potentially thousands of Palpatine clones strewn throughout the Star Wars galaxy. This is why the ending is simultaneously satisfying at face value and completely unsatisfying when you dig deeper.

Cheap Cop Out

Ultimately, the two main problems in this story stem from relying on the concept of cloning combined with using a duplicate (cloned) Palpatine to carry this story. Out of thousands of better possible ideas, JJ chose these two weakest and most trite ideas over any others? This simply shows just how inept a writer JJ actually is. Though, the “Mary Sue” idea was almost completely squashed by introducing the “Palpatine’s Granddaughter” idea. My problem with the ending of this story is, why did we miss a generation? In fact, the whole “Palpatine having children” storyline could have been a far better story idea to base this final set of films on over what’s included in this mess of a trilogy. Definitely, the “Palpatine having children” story idea is a far, far superior story in establishing the idea of the carrying forward of the Sith vs Jedi conflict over the mess-of-a-story shown in this bankrupt trilogy. This is particularly true if you truly want to hand off this conflict to a new generation of Sith and Jedi. Unfortunately, JJ has already given away the farm.

Following the “Palpatine had Children” idea, when did Palpatine procreate and with whom? Why wasn’t it THIS story that begins these final 3 films? If, as a storyteller, you’re going to tease us that Palpatine had children, then we need to know more about this situation. Who was his “wife”? How many children did Palpatine have? Was Rey an only child? Have these children chosen to be dark or light? None of these questions are answered. They’re left open. JJ’s story elements weren’t added to tell us that Palpatine had children. They were useless contrivances included simply to carry The Rise of Skywalker to conclusion. These contrivances are the very definition of retroactive continuity, “Let’s add something random about the past that lets the future proceed in a specific way.” That’s entirely retroactive contrivance

If past historical events had been introduced early in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, I’d not be critical of these “convenient” story elements included in The Rise of Skywalker. It would have meant that the writers were thinking ahead to the future film. It also means that the story arc was properly planned. Without these elements in any prior films, it’s included for mere convenient storytelling. It’s also the very definition of a “hack writer“.

Palpatine’s Children

Before we dive deep into the the “hack writer” concept, let’s explore what we could have had in this final trilogy. Oh, and boy is it a doozy! It’s actually hard to believe that JJ chose not to run with this story idea, which would have made the final trilogy not only completely satisfying, but would have opened the door up to so many more films and TV shows. Disney could have made twice the amount of money off of this (and it would still be going) and the Star Wars brand would be stronger than ever instead of petering out after The Last Jedi ended up like dropping a gallon of water on lit candle.

If The Force Awakens had opened, instead, using one of Palpatine’s children as a primary villain with that child obviously dark side leaning, the whole tone and concept of this entire trilogy would have completely changed. Talk about introducing a “new generation”, well this was the way to do it! It would have also changed the entire story concept over these three films. Instead of a Mary Sue story unfolding around Rey, we could have focused on the brashness, harshness and destructiveness of a Palpatine child and in a growing Jedi order to combat that new Palpatine threat.

Except, this time it’s not Palpatine. It’s the child of Palpatine and they have a completely new idea on how to squash the Jedi order, not using Palpatine’s old, tired rhetoric… that didn’t work anyway.

If Palpatine had had more than one child, which of course we knew nothing about those other children, another child could emerge as a conflict mechanism, both against the Jedi and also against the Sith. This would allow the story to pit both Palpatine children against one another, but at the same time against the Jedi. See, so much potential lost!

This could have turned Star Wars a bit darker, more modern, updated, yet still fall within Star Wars ideas and visuals. Instead of the crappy Disney trilogy that we got, which was a bunch of cotton candy fluff, we could have dived deep into a darker, more sinister plot involving Palpatine’s children. Snoke could have still been involved as a puppet of this Palpatine child, but we don’t even have to bring back Palpatine as a clone to accomplish it. We simply need this dark side leaning child to “carry the torch”.

So many ideas and so any concepts swirling, it’s amazing JJ didn’t realize that THIS is where the story should have headed… not with his carnival of cotton candy and candied apples. JJ’s trilogy was, in fact, so candy-bar sweet as to get diabetes. No, that’s not where Star Wars needed to go. Star Wars needed to begin with a darker, more sinister villain to launch the story, then slowly emerge (over 3 films) from that darkness with a huge win at the end… a win that perhaps doesn’t even stem from the Jedi. Such a win could then lead into not only more films, but also spin off into a whole bunch of TV series.

Disney missed the boat here in an immense way. So much potential completely wasted and lost.

Hack Writer

A hack writer is a pejorative term for a writer who is paid to write low-quality, rushed articles or books “to order”, often with a short deadline.

That’s exactly how J.J. Abrams comes to The Rise of Skywalker. He was most definitely paid to write a rushed low-quality script and the film most definitely reveals that. It also reveals that JJ doesn’t have the creative chops to come up with solid, great story ideas and concepts, such as using a Palpatine child to not only bring Star Wars to a brand new generation of children, but also breed a whole new generation of Sith and Jedi alike. Instead, we got…

High Gloss Cotton Candy

One of the things that most disturbs me about this film is its high gloss nature. This gloss defines the term putting “lipstick on a pig“. This phrase means taking a low quality, bad product and dressing it up to disguise its fundamental failings.

The “gloss” here is the film’s far too quick pacing and the overuse of CG effects, right from the opening. Yes, it’s a pretty film. It also includes throwing random and rapid paced information at the viewer, but not giving the person not enough time to react to that information. If the viewer attempts to think anything through, they’ll miss the next scene of the film. This is intentional. You can’t really go into deep thought and stay focused on the film in front of you. You can only go into deep thought after the film is over, at which point you’ll already be initially “satisfied” (or at least sated) by the film’s intended conclusion.

However, thinking the film through, you’ll understand all of the points I’ve made above.

That’s the whole point of the “glossy coating” and, thus, to put “lipstick on a pig”. It’s not that the story is the worst story I’ve ever seen in a film, but it’s definitely not a great story by any stretch. It was cobbled together from elements not established in this trilogy. Instead, the story had to fall back on story elements established from the prequels and the original films, but which hadn’t been discussed in this trilogy until the final film. Yes, that’s the very definition of a “Cop Out”.

Instead, this trilogy should have relied on itself and its own stories to carry its way through to conclusion. It didn’t need a cloned Palpatine to carry this story. That’s perfectly clear. Here’s one of the primary problems I have with this whole cloned Palpatine issue. How and when did Palpatine become cloned? Is someone else pulling the strings? Was that cloned Palpatine merely a test for Rey? Was it merely the first in a series of tests? Was that clone the only one?

So many questions left unanswered. So many questions that needed to be answered for a proper conclusion. Yet, no. These are not “cliffhanger” questions. These are fundamental questions which should have been answered over the course of the Disney trilogy, yet were not. To really underscore the Cop Out problem, we must examine…

The Last Jedi

The closing shot of the kid in the The Last Jedi shows a force capable child. Yet, The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t even attempt to close that narrative. The ring that Finn and Rose bestow onto that kid meant nothing? The whole almost 30 minute romp through the Casino was pointless? Indeed, it means the whole Rose storyline was more-or-less pointless considering they set up an almost blatant new romantic interest in The Rise of Skywalker in Naomi Ackie’s Jannah character. Yet, neither the romantic storyline between either Rose or Jannah materializes in The Rise of Skywalker. Rose has a few scenes in the Leia camp, but it’s all for naught and is a fairly useless means of closure for this character. Set her up in The Last Jedi to be a romantic interest, then ignore Rose as mere wallpaper in The Rise of Skywalker. The interest around Rose was molded into yet another new character of Jannah.

Yes, The Rise of Skywalker trounces all over The Last Jedi in an attempt right-its-wrongs for better or worse. More specifically, The Rise of Skywalker simply chooses to ignore those things it deems as unimportant from the previous film. Examples: the force-capable kid, the Casino romp, Rose and even the ring. Whatever The Rise of Skywalker writers deem as unimportant are left without acknowledgement or conclusion. Indeed, The Rise of Skywalker plays too much fan service and not enough at closing elements already opened in prior films.

It wouldn’t have taken much to include a small scene showing that force-capable kid wearing the ring somewhere in The Rise of Skywalker. It doesn’t need to be a long or even important scene, it simply needs to be in there. Maybe a scene between Rey and that kid moving rocks around briefly, as though she or Leia is training him. We don’t need to know more about the kid other than he’s still around and he may or may not become important later, just not in this film.

Change of Clothing

One of the most obvious and out of place elements is that Rey wears the same outfit and hairstyle throughout much of all three films. At least Leia was given proper costume changes along the way including her film’s iconic opening outfit with buns, her braided pony tail ceremonial outfit at the end of Episode 4, her Hoth ice outfit, her Bespin outfit, her ever important Jabba Bikini and so on. With each new environment, she changes clothing. No, it’s not explained how Leia does this, but she does.

Rey, on the other hand, almost never changes clothes. She effectively has two outfits. Her scavenger outfit which she wore in The Force Awakens and again in The Rise of Skywalker. In The Last Jedi, the costumers gave her a new darker outfit and a new hairstyle while on the Luke Skywalker banishment planet, but that was a short stint with that outfit. However, once she leaves, she’s back into yet another version of her scavenger outfit. For battling, I guess that outfit is fine, but you’d think that Leia could have issued her more appropriate resistance clothing along the way. For scavenging on a hot planet, what she was originally wearing was fine. For a resistance member, she should have changed into something more befitting of her new role. Additionally, being a budding Jedi, she should have at least donned more Jedi befitting clothing. Nope, she was placed right back into her scavenger outfit all throughout The Rise of Skywalker, even at the end of the film.

This is a small point, but it’s a relevant point to the development of a character. The costumes indicate growth of a character as much as her actions and words.

Story

After all of this lead up, let’s finally talk about the film’s story as a whole. The story itself is both simplistic and meh. It concludes in a way that leaves a bad taste for Star Wars and for Disney in general. Because hack writers were chosen to not create a cohesive whole, but a chopped up mess of a hack-job over three films which almost have no relation to one another other than characters, it ends up a truly sad affair. It also concludes in this way.

However, Disney also felt obligated to conclude this problem child. They did so only because they had started down this road and felt the need to finish it. Personally, I think Disney should have shelved the entire project after The Last Jedi and called it done. The whole thing was too irreparably damaged by that point, at least as a creative project. For Disney, the dollar $igns lingered too much in front of someone’s eyes to give it up.

Let’s talk about the film itself. When we begin The Rise of Skywalker, we’re greeted by the familiar text crawl followed by the familiar and obligatory space pan shot. Before we step into the visuals, let’s talk about this text crawl. The text crawl mentions Palpatine by name and that he’s back, never mind those pesky details of exactly how. Basically, the story opens with retroactive continuity before an actor ever graces the silver screen. We already know the lay of the land before one single actual live action shot. From that crawl alone, we now know exactly what we’re in for in The Rise of Skywalker, but we don’t yet know how it will unfold. Though, giving it two minutes of thought, you can understand where the story is heading, we simply need to see it visually.

How it actually ends up playing out is a series of scenes, the Millenium Falcon, a cameo by a now aging Lando Calrissian and a bunch of throwbacks and nods to the original Star Wars, simply to keep the visual interest high. In other words, visually the film relies almost solely on reminiscing over the original three films by attempting to ignore the failings of The Last Jedi specifically, but also glosses over some of The Force Awakens. The Rise of Skywalker attempts to be the one and only one film that matters in this Disney trilogy. In fact, it tries way too hard at this and ultimately feels hollow and disappointing.

It’s a film that feels whole and solid while you watch it, but like a chocolate Easter Bunny once you bite down and realize it’s hollow, the film ultimately lacks any real reason to exist. For this reason, this is why George Lucas decided not to create films 7, 8 and 9 himself. He realized that once the 6 films were complete, there was nothing left to say.

The Rise of Skywalker proves this fact out in amazing abundance. At the end, we’re left not with the question about how great Rey is, but what the hell just happened? More importantly, what was the point? How exactly does Rey’s existence perpetuate the Star Wars narrative in a positive or useful way? Rey is clearly not a Skywalker. She’s a Palpatine. She’ll always be a Palpatine. She’ll always have the potential for falling into the dark side. Yet, she takes the Skywalker name because, plot.

Was it necessary or important for Rey to be a Skywalker? *shrug* I’ve no idea. There’s nothing that comes after to explain the need for this inexplicable naming. Yet, that’s exactly how the story ends. She’s now Rey Skywalker in name only. She’ll always be Rey Palpatine or whatever her father’s family surname was. We don’t even know if it was her father or mother who was the daughter or son of Emperor Palpatine. For all we know, Palpatine didn’t even have a child. Instead, he may have made a clone of himself who ultimately broke away, got married and had a child. We just don’t have enough backstory to know how this whole Rey situation came about.

We came too late in The Force Awakens to get this backstory. It was also never explained throughout the Disney trilogy. We’re simply left in the dark. Even at the very end of The Rise of Skywalker, we’re still left in the dark about how Rey came to be the granddaughter of Palpatine. Bad storytelling. If you’re planning on including retroactive continuity, you could at least fill in these rather important details so we can better understand how and from where Rey came… or, more specifically, how Emperor Palpatine managed to have kids. We don’t even know if Palpatine’s kids were from the “original” Palpatine or if one of Palpatine’s clones had kids. Yes, I said clones… as in the plural form, meaning “more than one”.

Ben and Rey

One thing that The Rise of Skywalker postulates is that Rey and Ben are a force dyad. The only way that’s possible is if Ben and Rey are twins, or at least from the same parent. That implies that Leia may have given birth to twins (like her mother who also had twins Luke and Leia) and somehow Rey was kidnapped by a Palpatine clone and assumed it to be his own child birthed by, well, whomever was on the ship with Rey whenever she was left on Jakku.

Again, this was not explained in the film, but a force dyad doesn’t make much sense unless they’re siblings or, in some way related… which makes that kiss at the end all the more “ewww”. Again, not explained.

Never Ending Ending

Here’s the ultimate problem that exists and persists after closure of The Rise of Skywalker and it’s a big one! An ending that never ends is what we have left over from The Rise of Skywalker. What exactly do I mean? I mean that because Palpatine is a clone, there were likely many Palpatine clones. If Palpatine were to make one clone, he would make several. Why? To ensure the survival of at least one of the clones, there must be many.

The question remains, how many and where are they? We don’t know. Clearly, Rey seems to have fought a particularly weak clone. Perhaps they’re all weak. The fact that they’re clones, they might not have inherited all of the force strength of the original. Because Rey couldn’t defeat this Palpatine clone all by herself implies that she herself was most likely born of a clone and not the original Palpatine. While that may or may not be a problem, the bigger problem is that the ending of The Rise of Skywalker has no end.

As Rey heads off into the galaxy for future travels, she’ll inevitably encounter more Palpatine clones and she’ll be forced to dispatch each and every one. In fact, it’s highly likely she’ll have to dispatch many Palpatine clones, because like the original Palpatine, even the clones will have the drive to survive and those clones will also hire cloners to clone the clone making yet more Palpatines. Like a virus, this situation perpetuates and never ends. Rey will never run out of an army of Palpatines to defeat.

This is the problem you bring into a story when forcing such concepts as clones as a story element for story closure. Like waking up from a dream sequence as an ending, using clones to close the final story element leaves the story’s ending unsatisfying. There’s nothing at all satisfying about the possibility of hundreds or thousands of Palpatines all infesting the universe waiting to attack the next Jedi that happens along.

See, I didn’t even have to resort to holding up the unmitigated pretentious disaster of a story that was J.J.’s Star Trek to illustrate just how much of a hack writer J.J. Abrams really is. Oops, I guess I just did. Yes indeed, J.J. seems to have the uncanny ability to ruin just about any franchise he touches.

Graphics: 5 out of 5
Story: 1 out of 5
Pacing: 2 out of 5
Overall: 2 out of 5 (wait until it’s available to watch without paying)

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How to poach an egg in the microwave?

Posted in best practices, cooking, howto, kitchen by commorancy on December 5, 2021

poached egg and salmon

There are a number of YouTube videos claiming to poach an egg in a microwave. Almost every one of them is wrong and, worse, exceedingly dangerous. So, how do you poach an egg in a microwave? Let’s explore.

The Art of Egg Poaching

Poaching an egg is a cooking style which “poaches” an egg in hot water. Let’s understand that like oil and water, microwaves and water don’t always mix well, specifically when the water is heated. Microwaves tend to heat water excessively hot, to the point that the water becomes superheated. Superheated water is water that has reached a temperature beyond the boiling point.

Whoa! Wait a minute! Hold on. “Beyond the boiling point”, you say? You ask, “So why doesn’t it boil?” Good question. Microwaves are exceedingly efficient at heating water molecules rapidly. In fact, this is exactly how microwaves work. Microwaves target water molecules and energize them into moving rapidly. Molecules moving rapidly release heat. However, because the speed at which the microwave can heat water, it can get the molecules moving beyond the boiling point, but the water remains entirely still (i.e., no movement).

This is a dangerous and very deceptive condition. It means that the first thing placed into the water will cause the water to instantly explode into a boiling frenzy and spray boiling hot water everywhere, including potentially all over you causing burns. The point is, you never want to submerge an egg (whole or cracked) into water, then attempt to cook / poach it using a microwave. This is not at all a recommended cooking method. It’s also exceedingly dangerous.

Proper Egg Poacher Cookware

As with anything cooked in the microwave, appropriate cookware is required. Not only is each microwave cookware designed for a specific purpose, it ensures the safety of the person using the cookware for that purpose.

nordic-poacherFor the microwave, there are a number of different egg poachers that you can find. The most common is a clam shell style cooker with two compartments, into which you can crack two eggs. For example, here’s one type of clamshell style egg poacher at Amazon. If you prefer to buy name brands, here’s a Nordic poacher at Amazon (see inset image). You can sometimes find these style poachers at dollar stores and clearance home shops, like Home Goods.

How to Poach an Egg in a Microwave?

This method assumes you have acquired one of the above microwave cookers. DO NOT use an uncovered bowl instead.

Before I get into the how to portion, let me say that eggs, particularly the yolk, cook exceedingly fast in a microwave regardless of wattage. What this means is that even the best microwave poached egg won’t have a texture like an egg poached in a pan of water over open heat. This further means that if you are set on the texture and style of an actual poached egg, you’ll want to prepare it using a pan of heated water on a stove top, not by a microwave… especially if you like your yolk runny. On the flip side, poaching an egg in a microwave is easy and fast. If speed is important, then this method is the preferred choice.

With that said, to poach in a microwave egg poacher, the instructions are as follows:

  1. Crack one or two eggs into the compartment(s)
  2. Place one teaspoon of water on top of each egg
  3. Close and lock the lid over the egg(s)
  4. Place the cooker into the microwave, being careful to keep the unit level to avoid spilling
  5. Cook the eggs in the microwave for 1 minute
  6. Open the lid and check for doneness (careful, as steam may release which will be hot)
  7. If the egg is still not done, close and heat again in 20-30 second increments until done, checking after each 20-30 seconds.

Note that when poaching, the yolk will likely cook completely. It’s almost impossible to prevent this in the microwave. Once done, the egg whites will have a similar texture to poached. Unfortunately, the yolk is likely to be fully cooked and have that crumbly fully cooked texture.

This is a super fast way to cook an egg, but it may not provide the exact “poached” texture you’re looking for in the stove top method. However, this method, when used in the recommended microwave cookware, has very little chance of causing scalding hot water burns.

Also, be cautious when piercing the yolk with a fork immediately after coming out of the microwave. The yolk has a tendency to build up steam pressure inside and explode upon being pierced. You’ll want to wait for the egg(s) to cool for a few minutes before piercing. Alternatively, cover the egg with a paper towel and gently pierce it with a fork underneath, keeping your hands clear or covered with an oven mitt. If it explodes, the paper towel will catch it.

Be Safe and Happy Cooking!

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Smart Bulb Rant: Avoid Bluetooth + Alexa Bulbs

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

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

Smart Hubs

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

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

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

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

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

Bluetooth and Alexa

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

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

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

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

Hub based Systems

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

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

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

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

Color Rendition

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

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

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

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

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

Updated Dec 7th after Amazon Outage

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

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

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

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

Failures

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

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

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

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

Smart Home Devices and Local Management

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

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

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

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

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

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

woman in white shirt showing frustration

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

Gutenberg, Block Editing and Calypso

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

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

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

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

Gutenberg Performance

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

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

Classic Editor

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

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

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

Editor Performance

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

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

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

Gutenberg’s Developers

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

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

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

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

WordPress.com is at a Crossroads

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

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

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

Blocks and Gutenberg

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

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

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

Bad Design

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

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

Change for Change’s Sake

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

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

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

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

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

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

At a Crossroads — Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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