Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Disney to reopen amid COVID surge

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

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

Irresponsible

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

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

Open Air

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

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

Trust in Disney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amusement and Health

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

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

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

Pandemic Surge and Reopening

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

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

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

Ride Disinfection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restaurant Disinfection

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merchandise Stores

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

Disney Employees, Testing and Infection

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

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

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

Health and Safety

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

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

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

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

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

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Should Kathleen Kennedy be fired from Disney?

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

person using laptop and tablet

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

Contracts and Obligations

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

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

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

Two Contracts

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

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

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

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

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

Putting this all together

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

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

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

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

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

Legal Obligations

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

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

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

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

Disney and Agreements

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

Kathleen’s Tenure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disney’s Response

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

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

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

YouTubers

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

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

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

Should Disney fire Kathleen Kennedy?

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

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What is a ‘Karen’?

Posted in definition, lexicon, term, tips by commorancy on July 3, 2020

There are a lot of people using the ‘Karen’ term incorrectly on social media to describe all sorts of women. However, there is really only one true definition of the ‘Karen’ archetype. Let’s explore it now.

Karen: What she is and What she isn’t

The simplest definition of the ‘Karen’ archetype is a white female who is also a sports mom. She lives in a typical suburban neighborhood. Drives a typical suburban minivan. Shops at typical suburban stores, like Target and Walmart.

When a ‘Karen’ perceives an injustice has been wronged upon her while shopping at one of said stores, she will walk to the front and request a manager. In a semi-irate tone, she voices her displeasure at the manager.

Usually, a Karen’s perceived injustice is actually too small to quantify or is a mistaken rant, such as her believing that her favorite food is no longer carried by the retailer, when it has simply been moved one aisle over. In the end, the manager carefully listens to the ‘Karen’ rant and then politely corrects the ‘Karen’ for her mistake and shows her were to find the thing she ranted about. Sometimes the ‘Karen’ won’t listen and storms out. Sometimes she sheepishly accepts what the manager is saying and leaves to go find the item.

Ironic Comedy

Both the irony and the comedy of this situation are the hallmarks of the ‘Karen’ archetype. She’s funny, but in a sad ironic way. We laugh at her stupidity and make fun of it, but we do not laugh not at all with her. We understand her being irate, but we don’t understand the stupidity that goes along with it.

A ‘Karen’ is ironic comedy, but she is not dangerous nor does she wield knives, guns or any other weapons. Her voice (and her stupidity) is her weapon.

Gun Toting Women

If a woman brandishes a weapon in any way, she is not a ‘Karen’. The Karen archetype doesn’t brandish weapons. She’s a peaceful, if not a horribly misguided irate soccer mom. A ‘Karen’ becomes easily irate over the smallest thing, then goes off half-cocked before she has realized the error of her tirade. But, a ‘Karen’ will not pull a gun on someone.

Anyone who calls a murderous, gun brandishing female a ‘Karen’ doesn’t fundamentally understand what a ‘Karen’ actually is. Please refer to the above definition to better understand the ‘Karen’ archetype.

Any female who is violent and resorts to the use of a weapon might be an ‘Annie’ or simply a violent psychopath, but she is not, I repeat, is not a Karen.

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

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

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

On-Screen Chemistry

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Force Awakens

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

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

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

Kylo Ren

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

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

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

The Force Awakens Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reylo

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

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

Let’s explore this a bit further…

Miscasting

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

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

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

Did Kylo and Rey have good chemistry?

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

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

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

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

Exceedingly Bad Chemistry

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

Weak Chemistry

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

Brilliant Chemistry

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

Charlie’s Angels

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

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

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

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

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit

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

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

The Magic of Chemistry

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

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

Miscasting vs Chemistry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chemistry and the Problems of Star Wars

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

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

Disney’s Questionable Choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Game Review: GTA Online

Posted in botch, gaming, video game design by commorancy on June 25, 2020

gta-coverThe GTA Online multiplayer world uses the same Los Santos map (mostly) as GTA 5 and is basically GTA 5 with multiplayer support. However, there have been some alterations to the map for certain expansions, such as the Diamond Casino add-on. The Diamond Casino, for example, is a mostly fully working casino with table games, slots and a once-a-day spin-to-win wheel. Unfortunately, all is not perfect in GTA’s online world. Welcome to Randocity’s GTA Online review for 2020. Let’s explore.

Where GTA Online diverges from GTA 5 is how it uses GTA$. While it costs GTA$ to buy stuff in GTA 5 single player campaign, the prices were much more reasonable. When you enter the GTAO world, the prices become astronomically high by comparison. An outfit that costs $500 in GTA 5 might cost you $50,000 or a $1 million in GTAO money.

Cars that might cost you $50-100k in GTA 5 might cost you well over $2 million in GTAO. There are plenty of other examples of exceedingly inflated prices in the online version of the GTA world. They’re inflated for a reason, though. This is where the fun meets tedium. There is actually a name for this in the gaming world. It’s called “grinding”.

GTA Online Missions

Almost every mission in GTAO will give you some amount RP (reputation points) and GTA$ in some amount. Unfortunately, the amount of GTA$ awarded is usually very small, like $10k up to $100k. Some are even lower like $5k and sometimes even less. You rarely ever get more than $100k in one mission. If you are awarded more than $100k, you usually have to split that money (i.e., heist) amongst other characters and players involved. Though, there are a few gun challenges that will award $200-250k for completion.

As another lame example, Lester’s Diamond Casino heist typically awards $2.1 million, but that money must be spread out between all of the participants… leaving you again with maybe $300-500k at most. You don’t get all of that $2.1 million. Most of that money disappears into the ether of the game. The money is claimed by AI NPCs, which is disgustingly pointless. That money isn’t even really there. The award number is all for show since you’re only going to get a very minimal (preset) amount of it.

When you do missions for your nightclub, Tony takes a nearly 10% cut of the money from it… money that again simple disappears into the game’s ether. Tony is a fictional character who appears mostly by phone and doesn’t “need” that money. Instead, it’s a cheat-you-out-of-money mechanic that simply skims that money off of the top and leaves you with far less money than you thought you were getting. This intentionally designed (and poorly thought out) system is not only disheartening for the gamer, it makes gaining money in GTA Online much, much more difficult than it needs to be.

In fact, it’s the way MOST of GTAO missions work. You have $100k worth of products to move, yet you’ll only get $90k (or less) out of the deal in the end.

Consider that your player character is the one doing ALL of the work, then the game turns around and stiffs you for 10%, 20% or even 50% of those earnings? It’s Rockstar ripping the gamer off for no reason. It’s a way to make the game tedious and time consuming without actually rewarding the gamer for a job well done. Plainly, it’s a slap in the face and it’s entirely unnecessary.

Even Fallout 76 plays this game with the vending machines. You lose 10% off of the top by selling items in a vending machine. Granted, though, you can mark up your item by 10% and recoup that cost in Fallout 76. In GTAO, you’re stuck with these lame mechanics. Oh, but these missions get even worse.

Mission Vehicles

Here we have a game called Grand Theft Auto. It’s a game about stealing, modifying and owning vehicles. Yet, when a mission starts, are we given the choice to use the vehicles we have formerly stolen? No. Rockstar decides to give us the most unwieldy, poorest performing, least customized, most horrible handling vehicle in the entire game and then expects us to deliver goods using this thing.

What the hell is with that? We spend $2 million to buy delivery trucks, Terrorbytes and semi-trucks the size of Texas and we’re forced into using a crappy vehicle that can barely drive? I don’t even have any idea what Rockstar was thinking here. It’s called Grand Theft Auto!

The online gaming experience with GTAO is, at best, mediocre. It was designed with one goal, to make money for Rockstar. To that end, they make the missions so lengthy and complex, the payouts so low, the end result so unsatisfying and then they expect us to come back for more? Are we expected to be sadists or something?

I don’t even get why people tolerate this level of garbage in a game. Anyone playing this game can clearly see that its a cash grab by Rockstar. It’s no wonder why players resort to bugs, duping and glitching to make bank in these online games. Would you want to spend 5 real hours making less than $100k in this fictional game world? It would be okay if the prices reflected that income level, but they don’t.

Bunkers, Motorcycle Clubs, Offices, Nightclubs, Garages and Arcades

GTA Online is chock full of properties to buy. So many properties exist, in fact, there is really no way to buy them all… unless you buy into Rockstar’s way overpriced Shark Card system. This is where Rockstar makes their bank. This is why tedium abounds in the game as described above.

Rockstar sells “Shark Cards” that start at $20 real dollars and go up to $85 real dollars. For that $20, that will buy you $1.25 million GTA$. For between $85 (when on sale) and $99 real dollars (off sale), that buys you about $8 million in-game dollars. $8 million in GTA Online will only buy you perhaps 1.5 properties or approximately 2 very expensive cars (Deluxo and Stromberg). You can see that even when plopping down real cash money, you’re not really getting very much for what you’re buying.

This is where Rockstar has pretty much failed this game.

Glitching and Loopholes

At this point, this is where players choose to make their own fun. Instead of playing GTA Online on Rockstar’s terms, they take the fun into their own hands and glitch, glitch, glitch their way until they have a billion or 10. This is why griefing is common in these games. This is why players take advantage of bugs, lagging, mods and other outside game mechanics to make bank in this game. I also don’t blame these gamers for playing this game out-of-bounds. Who wants to subject themselves to becoming a sadist?

If game developers would choose to give us satisfying amounts of reward at the end of a mission completed, we might be more willing to work within the bounds of their system. Unfortunately, they want to make things so costly and drop so little cash at the end of a each mission, you would have to spend literally months grinding, grinding and even more grinding and still never afford most things in the game. Things that they want you to afford to have fun within the game world.

Yeah, it’s that bad.

Multiplayer

One of the biggest problems with Grand Theft Auto is its requirement to force multiplayer activities onto other gamers. Literally less than 1% of the GTAO missions can be played solo. Almost every mission requires more than one person. Sometimes it requires 2 people, sometimes it requires more than that.

Even without a multiplayer system, the missions are challenging. Throwing multiple players and griefers alike into the mix makes some of them impossible to complete. Some of the missions for your businesses force involvement from other players. For example, you will have to transport weapons from one place to another. Yet, the game insists on alerting every other player on the server to that fact. In a real-life scenario, that wouldn’t happen. Yes, in the real world, trucks move stuff around, but they don’t announce what they’re moving to the world. Yet, GTAO does so with careless abandon, “Hey you, this player is moving $500k in goods. Go over there and harass them!”

Why GTA Online insists on announcing this to the game world is a questionable multiplayer system. Players can already see other players on the map, where they are and their marker. That’s already well enough information. If a player is moving cargo, force other players to physically drive over there manually and check it out. If they want to initiate combat to take out the truck, then so be it. There’s no reason for Rockstar to announce every single player movement to the rest of the server.

Missions are mostly okay when dealing with NPC AIs. However, when you throw another player into the mix (who could care less about your mission) and who is there solely to blow you up multiple times… that’s not challenging, that’s ridiculous.

Sure, you can change servers, but that doesn’t resolve the fundamental game problem. You’ll end up in another server with another griefer doing the same exact thing. Again, players end up resorting to glitching to avoid these situations.

Actions and Consequences

Building an online world with an in-game economy is a challenge. To date, I don’t think any game developer has done it right. If you’re planning to charge $6 million for something in the game world and that thing is needed to progress missions, then you need to provide missions that can see the player obtain that amount of money in a reasonable timeframe (a day or two). If it takes longer than this, as a game designer, you have failed.

In GTAO, simply go to YouTube and look for all of the GTA money making videos and you’ll see one common thread. You need to do a crap ton of missions to make that cash flow a reality…. requiring missions that have a high probability of failure due to multiplayer griefing. More about this below.

Glitching Part 2

While Rockstar has offered us single player sessions like ‘Invite Only’ or ‘Solo Session’, Rockstar has restricted many of the missions to being run only in ‘Public’ sessions. This means that Rockstar forces you to endure griefing simply to get your missions completed.

That leaves the gamer looking for alternative ways to avoid this situation and consequence. Hence, more glitching.

For example, on the PC and Xbox One, there are ways to force the game to kick everyone off of the public session you are using. With the PS4, it’s a bit more complicated to achieve. Once every other player has left, this leaves you in a solo public session. As a result, missions that require being in a public session can be performed without the possibility of other online gamers interfering with your mission objectives. That doesn’t mean NPC AIs won’t cause problems, but it does eliminate the problems from other multiplayer gamers. Rockstar should have given us this gameplay choice rather than forcing us to resort to glitching.

Unfortunately, the downside is that some missions require multiple players to complete because of stupid mission requirements. For these missions, you are forced to endure public griefing on servers by requiring multiple players.

Online Missions

Unlike GTA 5, a single player campaign game, the online missions almost always require matchmaking. This means being forced to work with random players who join that specific gaming session. As a result, some missions can be impossible to complete because some of the gamers are simply inept. They can’t perform the combat needed, they play contrary to the mission objectives or they simply end up dying. Because many missions only offer up 1 team life, that means that a single careless or intentionally sabotaging gamer can sink the mission for the entire team.

In fact, I believe some players join missions with the intent to tank the rest of the mission and keep it from being completed. They get some kind of jolly out of doing this.

Because these are the primary kinds of missions available in GTAO, it makes GTAO a far less than enjoyable experience.

Relaxed Restrictions

At some point, Rockstar needs to reconsider the way GTAO is designed. Instead of forcing multiple players on nearly every mission and forcing the use of Public servers, they need to rethink this. It’s probably too late for GTAO on the PS4, but it isn’t for the PS5 version or GTA 6’s online system.

I’m not saying that Rockstar needs to make GTAO fully single player friendly, but it would greatly help if there were many, many more 1 player only missions and missions that don’t announce to the rest of the server.

Mission Types: A History

The primary mission types in GTA Online include deathmatch, race, capture the flag, last team standing, king of the hill (last man standing) and survival.

Keep in mind that other than ‘race’, every other mode is a modified version of ‘deathmatch’. This basically means that you’re joining other players solely for you to kill their characters or them to kill your character. I don’t know about you, but deathmatch is so old it’s not even a fun game mode anymore… at least not for me. I’ve done deathmatch so many times in so many games, I’m bored with it. Why have online games not innovated in multiplayer gameplay space since the 90s? Why must these games rely on antiquated multiplayer features that were designed in 1992 or earlier? Why can’t we move beyond these modes and, like our graphics and sound systems, into next gen multiplayer modes?

It shouldn’t all be about deathmatch or racing. Even worse, King of the Hill and Last Man Standing modes almost never work out like they start. Players join these modes and devolve the entire mode into deathmatch. They don’t even try to become King of the Hill or actually Capture the Flag or be the Last Man Standing. It’s simply about how many kills they can get. Unfortunately, Last Man Standing is really just deathmatch wrapped with a weak shrinking world concept. Ultimately, deathmatch is less about who is left standing and more about continuing the match until a timer expires. Whomever gets the most kills wins. In Last Man Standing, it’s one life, no respawns and whomever is the last one is the winner. It’s all still deathmatch, but as I said, wrapped in a weak concept.

History Lesson

None of these multiplayer concepts are original to GTA Online, nor are they new. They are simply pulled from much older multiplayer games that started the whole thing, like Doom (1993), Age of Empires (2000) and Battlezone II (1999).

I played Doom in 1993 when it first released. We would sit in a computer lab in college eating pizza and playing deathmatch. That is, until, we found out that Doom’s networking system was basically bandwidth hogging the entire network. The software wasn’t designed well from a networking standpoint. The iD software company would eventually fix this network hogging problem, but not before it brought many networks to their knees.

Today, networking systems in multiplayer games are much smarter about the amount of traffic they generate. This is not a problem with GTA Online, but that doesn’t absolve Rockstar for using antiquated multiplayer features within GTA Online. I literally groan every time I log into yet another multiplayer game that has, once again, failed to innovate and relies on deathmatch as its primary objective of online play.

Even Fortnite is guilty of this. Fortnite is a Battle Royale system which is just a fancy way of saying Last Man Standing. I already explained the LMS system above. Deathmatch was first introduced in Doom (iD software) in 1993. Deathmatch was expanded to add network matchmaking in iD’s 1996 game Quake. Today, Last Man Standing is not in any way a new or innovative feature. In fact, the LMS system was first introduced in 1983 in Bomberman. Yes, 1983’s Bomberman was the first game to introduce a deathmatch type game since LMS is technically a type of deathmatch.

The first so-named mode of King of the Hill was introduced a bit more recently in 2006’s Gears of War and appeared again in 2007’s Halo 3. However, this mode actually originated under a different name in a game called Age of Empires II: The Conquerers, released in 2000.

You might think that Capture the Flag is also somehow newer, but you’d be wrong again. The Capture the Flag game mode was introduced in the game Battlezone II, released in 1999.

As you can see, all of these multiplayer game modes began as extensions of deathmatch and expanded into more formalized concepts that were built during the 90s.

Why Rockstar can’t spend a little of that effort designing new game modes that befit the Grand Theft Auto theme is beyond me. You spend all of that time building out a rich, vibrant world and then you throw in antiquated multiplayer features that are about as much fun to play as watching paint dry.

Instead, Rockstar lost their way with GTA Online in so many different ways. That’s not to say that GTA Online’s multiplayer missions don’t offer somewhat newer multiplayer game objectives, but they are effectively deathmatch type missions using matchmaking. I despise matchmaking. I’ve always despised it from the first time I played Halo 3 using it.

The difficulty with matchmaking is that these systems are never smart enough and don’t take into account enough factors. The matchmaking is still very rudimentary. Most times, I find myself paired with a teammate that either is so clueless as to be pointless or that person really only has one thing on his/her mind: deathmatch. They’re not there to complete the mission, they’re there to screw with both YOU and the other players and is there solely to try to kill everyone.

These matchmaking sessions don’t have ‘leaders’ or offer ways of kicking people off of the team if they aren’t carrying their weight. If you don’t like how the team works, you are forced to leave it. That’s not an optimal way of handling multiplayer. In any matchmaking session, there should be a designated team leader. That team leader should have some power to kick players from the team who are not performing or who are performing contrary to the mission.

Unfortunately, Rockstar offers us no such mission management system. You’re stuck with the team you get, for better or, in most cases, worse.

Heists

To round out this article, let’s now talk about the biggest problem with Rockstar’s GTA Online world. Money. I don’t mean that it’s hard to get, but well, it is. But, it’s way more than that.

When the Diamond Casino arrived, they added with it a new Lester casino heist that grosses $2.1 million in GTA$… and therein lies the problem. Well, several actually. $2.1 million in the GTA online world is peanuts. It’s chump change. It’s small potatoes. Grossing $2.1 billion in GTA online might be more worth it. Let’s understand how badly this system gets this heist wrong.

To setup and manage a heist, you’re required to BUY lots of very expensive stuff. From arcades, to vehicles, to clothing, to safe doors, to alarm systems, to personnel… and that GTA$ ALL adds up very quickly. All told, you’re expected to shell out around $5-8 million (maybe more) in GTA$ simply to even begin the heist, let alone finish it.

If you were required to follow Rockstar’s rules, you end up shelling out massive GTA$ simply to even play the f*cking game. Worse, other activities require just as much GTA$ cash simply to even get started. For example, want to start moving loads of cars? You’re gonna need to buy an Executive Suite to the tune of a cool $1.5 million GTA$. Then, you’re expected to shell out between $1.5 and $3 million to add on a vehicle warehouse and another $1.5-3 million to buy a crate warehouse.

Wanna sell guns in GTA online? You’re gonna need to shell out $1.5 million to buy a bunker, then add-on at least $3 million in doodads to make the f*cking thing work. Need to transport that crap? Expect to spend $2-3 million on a Mobile Operations center. Then there’s the $2-4 million Terrorbyte, a separate mobile operations center (?) you need to purchase for yet another setup.

This crap never ends in GTA Online. There’s always this thing they’re expecting you to spend up to $5 million in GTA$ to buy.

Let’s get back to the Casino heist for a moment. After you’ve shelled out all of that cash to even get started with the heist, what do you get out of the deal? A lame arcade that nets about $5k a day. Seriously, you outlay millions of GTA$ for a return of $5k per in-game day? It takes about 5 real hours of playing to even reach $20k in the safe. It’s ridiculous.

Then, after you do the heist, the whole heist grosses $2.1 million. You think, great, I’ll get at least some of my money back… except you’d be wrong. That $2.1 million must be shared amongst ALL of the players including Lester and every person you were required to hire to help with the heist. If you have your live friends join in, they’ll get a cut too. That means you’ll net at most $200k to $300k from that heist.

You’ve spent all of that time, effort and, most of all, massive amounts of GTA$ to buy all of the crap that Lester required for the heist, yet you net $300k (probably less) for all of that effort? Where’s the incentive here, Rockstar?

I don’t even get what Rockstar is thinking. Well, I do, actually. For gamers, GTA online is crap on a stick. The only thing that GTA online is, is a cash cow for Rockstar. You’re lining their pockets with cash every time you buy another Shark Card because you’ve run out of GTA$. You’re just sinking cash into the game with no hopes of recovering that in-game cash back because there’s a never ending smorgasbord of crap that Rockstar makes you buy simply to even begin basic missions. When you do complete the missions, they never give you enough GTA$ back to recover the money they required you spend simply to get started.

As I said, crap on a stick. GTA online has its fun moments. Unfortunately, most of those moments are too few and far between. Like most online games, the only thing I find myself doing is logging on to get their freebies. Speaking of that…

Freebies

The one and only one concession here is Rockstar’s weekly and monthly freebies and discounts. This is the only way you can actually afford to buy most crap in the game… that and spinning the wheel in the Casino in hopes of winning the pedestal car. Rockstar regularly puts property types on discount, sometimes up to 50% off. At 50% off, this means that a $2 million property is now $1 million. The problem is, you never know when Rockstar plans to do this.

You simply have to wait it out and hope the discount comes soon. If you need it now but only have part of the cash, you can do one of two things:

  1. Buy a Shark Card
  2. Wait for Rockstar to launch a promotion

It’s really the only two ways. Sometimes Rockstar gives away GTA$ for doing certain things. For example, recently they had a “perform 10 daily objectives and get $1 million” promotion. Others are log in this month and receive $250,000. There are plenty of weekly and monthly freebies that can fill your wallet and help you along with the game.

The problem is that you can’t bank on these. They come when they come, or they don’t. You simply have to play the waiting game and hope Rockstar decides to throw a bone in our direction. Otherwise, you’re limited to whatever in-game money making missions you can play… and believe me, these missions offer up a pittance. Go find a car for Simeon? Sure, but you’ll only receive $5-9k for it when you turn it in. Even then, Simeon’s text is cryptic. He only gives you the names of the cars, not a way to identify them. It’s up to you to go search the bowels of the city to find the car that he wants. Even then, you have no idea of value for any of Simeon’s list of cars. It’s all best guess as to what Simeon will pay you in the end, until you turn it in.

The money does add up some if you do a lot of activities in a short time… such as racing and various multiplayer missions. Even still, if you’re truly lucky, you might be able to net $2-3 million in a gaming session. It’s enough to buy one expensive car, perhaps. That amount won’t buy you the full $6 million Diamond Casino suite, however. That’s why I’ve stated that Lester’s $2.1 million haul is pointless. You’ll need to grind a whole lot more to afford that Casino thing. For this reason, that explains exactly why there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of YouTube videos explaining how to make GTA$ in GTA Online. Yet, most of these videos are actual scams designed to steal from you, so be careful. Some of the videos may see your account banned. Again, be careful.

Banning

Many of the money making schemes involve playing games at the Casino and doing certain things with the actual game in the process. That also means that most of these schemes may see your money wiped out or you might find your account outright banned. Be cautious with following any advice of a YouTuber. YouTubers are only in it for the YouTube views. They don’t care if your account gets wiped or banned from GTAO. Take their advice with a grain of salt. If it looks too good to be true, it’ll probably get your account banned.

I saved this section for last because it’s the one thing that many gamers try thinking they’ll make a lot of money fast in GTAO. Yes, you can make money pretty fast on the high stakes tables, but you can also lose it just as fast if Rockstar catches you playing games with the Casino. They can even lock you out of using the casino entirely. Thinking that you can scam the tables by playing games with the game itself is only likely to get your account banned. Don’t think that Rockstar isn’t watching your account. They watch all accounts.

If your account turns up with an exceedingly large unexplained balance of GTA$ from one day to the next, they’re gonna take a close look at what you’ve been doing. Once they realize you’re using an exploit, they’re going take action against your account. Many gamers don’t realize this and attempt to play games within the game. Don’t do this.

Rockstar knows what it takes to earn cash in the game world by using legitimate means. If an account goes from a $500k balance to $500 million overnight, yeah that’s gonna send up some red flags all over the place at Rockstar.

Thinking you can scam the game out of a lot of GTA$ isn’t the brightest of ideas, either. Rockstar knows the scams because they’re published publicly on YouTube for all to see. If you’ve watched a YouTube video to see how it’s done, you can bet someone at Rockstar also watched that same video. If you choose to ignore this advice and go ahead with attempting to scam the casino out of cash, you’re not likely to have that money very long.

Overall

Grand Theft Auto V single player campaign was an overall fun experience and it also offered player rewards that met with expectations at the end. On the other hand, GTA Online offers no satisfying rewards that are worth the effort. Being handed $5k at the end of a mission in a world where you’re expect to shell out $4 million to simply play missions or buy a decent vehicle, yeah there’s no incentive to play GTAO.

If Rockstar had followed the same money formula in GTAV within GTAO, I wouldn’t be so harsh on Rockstar. Unfortunately, Rockstar fell into the greed trap trying to get people to buy into real USD Shark Cards. Doing so, they jacked up all of the GTAO prices, sometimes 100x the cost of the same thing in GTAV. Even the prices at Los Santos Customs are at least 10x (or more) the price in GTAO.

I really wanted to love GTAO, but Rockstar failed the economy in this game badly. Money on GTAO should be easier to obtain or the prices of properties and goods should be much lower… particularly properties and vehicles required to run missions. Overall, I give the online version of this GTA 3.5 stars out of 10.

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Gaming: PS5 vs XB SX Case Design Review

Posted in game controller, gaming, video game console, video game design by commorancy on June 14, 2020

Since the Xbox Series X and the PS5’s case designs have now been unveiled by both Microsoft and Sony, respectively, let’s explore these case designs.

Sony’s PS5

Let’s start with the recent elephant in the room, the Sony PS5. Here are some images:

Xbox Series X

Note, I will henceforth be calling the Xbox Series X the Xbox SX. Here are images of this console:

Design Goals

Sony claims they wanted something “bold, daring and future facing” according to Sony’s CEO. Microsoft’s Xbox Phil Spencer claims they wanted the, “fastest, most powerful console ever”.

Regardless of the claims, let’s dive into the designs of these consoles. The first word that comes to mind is “dated”. Both the Xbox SX and the PS5 offer odd choices in case designs.

Let’s discuss the Xbox SX’s case design. This design has already been done and been done better… thrice, in fact. Once by NeXT and twice by Apple. Let’s look at designs past, shall we?

The above computers consist of the following:

  • Apple G4 Cube (circa 2000)
  • NeXT Cube (circa 1990)
  • Apple Mac Pro Cylinder (circa 2012)

All three of these computers are of a very similar design to the Xbox Series X. Microsoft never can seem to come up with original designs, instead choosing to abscond with older manufacturer designs. I’m not sure what it is about Microsoft’s inability to come up with innovative case designs, but this is what we get with Microsoft: clunky, outdated designs.

That’s not to say that Sony’s case design is much better. It’s unique, but in a word, “ugly”. If you like the look of consumer routers, then I guess the PS5’s case design is what you might like.

The main problem I have with both of these designs is that neither of them are stackable. It seems with Sony, it’s all about having an oddly round shaped surface. This means when you place it horizontally, you can’t stack anything on top of it. With the PS4 Pro, it offered us a fully flat top. Unfortunately, the PS3 had that, again, oddly rounded design. It seems that Sony vacillates between flat topped systems and oddly shaped systems. If Sony’s were the only device in the home, it might be okay. Since some of us have several pieces of gear, including multiple older and newer generation consoles, we want to stack them so we have them together.

Additionally, stacking a console vertically, at least in my cabinet, is out of the question. There is no way for me to locate the Xbox SX or the PS5 vertically. In fact, I have yet to place any console vertically in the last 10 years (no space) and it’s not going to happen now. Note, I talk about alternative placement of the Xbox SX below.

Waiting… and airflow

As a result, I’m likely to wait until the second case iteration of the PS5. I’ve invested in too many first gen consoles and gotten burned. The only time where having the first edition console was a boon was with the PS3… before Sony yanked out the PS2 compatibility and several other useful features for later iterations. That was the one and only one time when it was a benefit. That didn’t excuse the horrible rounded PS3 case design, nor does it excuse the rounded case design of the PS5.

With the Xbox SX, it can at least be placed horizontally. In fact, this console design might actually fare better horizontally than vertically. Why? When standing vertical, there will be limited airspace under the bottom of the unit with which to pull air up and through. The airspace distance is probably designed well enough, but sitting close to a surface will still limit the amount of air flow.

Placing the Xbox SX case horizontally completely unobstructs the bottom intake vent and allows full and complete airflow through the unit. Placing the Xbox Series X horizontally might actually be the better way to place this unit for the best airflow possible. Sony’s case design probably won’t have an airflow problem. They usually don’t.

Sony’s choice of white case, black inner section using blue case lighting is also a throwback design problem. It has the same aesthetic as the Nintendo Wii. It’s not the same case shape, of course, but it has a similar lighting and visual aesthetic.

Form vs Function

One thing that video game console designers need to understand is that it really doesn’t matter how aesthetically pleasing a case design is. What matters is how well the console functions. That isn’t to say that we don’t enjoy seeing a pretty case, but we don’t spend time staring at it either. We want to use the unit, not stare at the case.

Therefore, the most important aspect of a video game console isn’t its case, it’s what’s under the hood and how well all of that works. Spend time making the innards work well. Make them solid and functional and with proper air flow. Put your effort and money into designing the innards and make that innovative. We don’t really care what it looks like.

In fact, as a gamer, I’d prefer the case be flat on top with airflow front-to-back or side-to-side so I can stack my other gear on top of it. A boxy looking case? Not a problem. Failing to understand this functional stacking issue is a design failure in my book. Clearly, Sony’s industrial designers weren’t considering ergonomics or functionality of its case design. For that matter, neither was Microsoft with the Xbox SX.

Case design isn’t really that important to a video game console unless it gets in the way of being installed into a cabinet… which both of these case designs do.

Vertical Design

More and more, game console creators want to produce vertical case designs. I’m not a fan. I don’t want my console sitting vertically. Not only do I have no cabinet space for this, I simply don’t like this design aesthetic. I prefer my computers to sit horizontally. This is partially to do with the cabinet I’ve chosen, but it’s partially due to the wasted space needed to place a console upright.

Case designers need to reconsider this unnecessary trend of designing for vertical installation. Any design that can be installed vertically should also be designed to install horizontally. Design for both use cases!

Blue LEDs

I’m also not a fan of blue colored LEDs. They are 1) too bright and 2) annoying as hell. At night, you simply can’t sleep with blue LED lights staring you in the face. They’re like little lasers piercing your retinas. I hate ’em with a passion. The faster we can get away from this blue LED trend, the better.

PS5 Reveal

Here’s the part where some of you may have been patiently waiting for me to chime in. Well, here it is. The PS5’s reveal was, meh. The gameplay was actually not any better looking than the PS4 Pro. The CPU and GPU might be somewhat faster, but Sony is reaching the law of diminishing returns. The PS5’s play was, well, not at all impressive. In fact, I was so unimpressed by the PS5’s gameplay so as to be disappointed.

I was expecting so much more from the PS5 and we’re basically getting another PS4 renamed PS5. It’s really unimpressive. Going back to the CEO’s remark, there’s really nothing “bold, daring or future facing” about this PS5 console. From the uninspired and knock-off case design to the PS4 graphics shoved into a new case. It’s really very unimpressive.

I’m not sure what Sony has been spending the last 2 years doing, but it’s clear they were not spending the time designing an innovative new product. The PS5 is a rehash of the PS4 in an oddly shaped case.

Innovation

Nintendo Switch

What is innovation? Innovation means to come up with something which hasn’t been seen or done exactly like that before. I’d consider the Nintendo Switch innovative. I’d also consider the Apple G4 Cube innovative. Why is the Switch innovative? Because not only is the Switch a dockable home console, you can take it with you and play on the go. It’s a powerhouse well big enough to work in both situations.

I was fully expecting this same level of innovation with the PS5. Unfortunately, what we got was exceedingly underwhelming. Even the “new” PS5 controller is bland and uninspired. This controller looks pretty much like the old controller with, again, horrible blue LED lights piercing your retinas and lighting up your face. Let’s hope that this time you can actually turn these silly lights off.

The touch pad remains, but is an unnecessary and almost never used feature of the PS4’s controller. The touch pad was simply a battery suck and a gimmick. I wouldn’t mind seeing Sony get rid of that touch pad garbage. As I said, battery suck, gimmick and completely unnecessary.

Yet, here the touch pad is again, making yet another unnecessary appearance. That’s most definitely not innovative. It simply means Sony is way out of touch with how most game developers use the PlayStation’s controller. Short of a handful of early game titles on the PS4, the touch pad was almost never used, other than as a button. Simply get rid of the battery hogging touch pad and replace it with a button, like the new Xbox SX controller has. If you need a touch pad for PS4 compatibility, allow connecting a PS4 controller via Bluetooth.

See, I innovated for you there, Sony. Microsoft’s Xbox SX controller, on the other hand, is about as simplistic and utilitarian as you can get. That doesn’t make it a problem. In fact, it looks so much like an Xbox One controller, you might not even notice that there’s a new button in the middle of the controller surface. It’s a button that basically does the same thing as the touch pad button on the PS4’s controller.

I was actually hoping to see a few more buttons added to both the Xbox SX and the PS5 controller. Buttons that can be programmed for lesser used functions so that game developers don’t have to keep overloading functions onto the same buttons depending on context. It’s frustrating, for example, to play Fallout 76 and expect the square button to do something, but does something entirely different because you’re too close to an in-game object. You have to move away before the original function resumes. Frustrating.

By having more buttons on the controller, you can map these lesser used functions to these other (smaller buttons) so that button overlapping in games becomes much less common.

PC’s don’t have this problem because you have a keyboard with usually 101 keys. On a controller, you have basically 13 buttons on the face plus 4 on the shoulders. I want more buttons on my controller’s face so game developers don’t have to overload button functions anymore. Yet, no such luck on the PS5 or Xbox SX. They are still basically the same ole controllers with the same limited buttons. Yeah, basically no innovation here.

Overall

I’m planning on waiting to purchase these consoles until the second iteration of the console. Possibly even until they release a case redesigned version. You know that both Sony and Microsoft will introduce subsequent case styles in the future. I tire of buying a the first day console and then having them redesign it six months later.

My plan is not to buy the console for at least six months to 1 year after release. I’ll stick with my PS4 and Xbox One until then. Even then, it doesn’t seem that many game developers will be taking advantage of the new console hardware fully for at least that time. Anything in development today on those consoles will have been using the gaming company’s older non-optimized engine. It will take at least six months for most developers to retool their engines to be optimized for the new platform.

For this reason and for the typical dearth of features that Sony is likely to offer us come release day, I’m waiting. There’s nothing like spending $700 to play one game, then let the console sit for 6 months without using it at all. Such a waste of $700.

No, I’m not doing that again Sony. I’ll lay out money towards a console once it actually has some gaming momentum behind it and usable features to boot. Once Netflix and Hulu and all of the staples arrive to the consoles, then there will be some reasons to consider. Until that day arrives, it’s a $700 paperweight.

Pricing

Don’t kid yourself about this next part. Even though pricing hasn’t been announced for the PS5 or the Xbox SX, you can bet that after buying games, accessories, cables, chargers and the console itself, you’ll easily have spent at least $700. The price will probably be closer to $1,000. Even the PS4 exceeded the $1,000 price point if you included a PSVR unit. If there’s a VR unit on the way for the PS5, then expect the PS5’s price point to hit $1,000 to $1,500, possibly more.

We’ll have to wait on the pricing, but Sony and Microsoft have to announce it soon. Few people will place a pre-order on these units without knowing what they’ll end up paying. I won’t. It’s a fundamental aspect of gaming. You have to know the cost of the unit to know if it’s worth the price.

If both Sony and Microsoft price at or close to $1,000 for a base unit, they are probably making huge mistakes. Since the gaming price point has always been $500 or so, doubling that price approaches PC pricing territory. If you can get a PC for cheaper than a console, what’s the point in buying a console?

Microsoft and Sony must be very careful when considering their price point for these consoles. For me, I’d value these consoles at being worth no more than $600-700 (regardless of the actual costs to assemble it). If they’re priced higher than this, the console industry is going to have a real problem on its hands. Even Nintendo may feel the pinch from it. Considering that the Switch costs $299, that’s an excellent price point for such a universally useful unit. Unfortunately, Nintendo has been lax on wooing developers to the platform. So far, Nintendo has only been able to woo Bethesda. Even then, Bethesda’s involvement on the Switch has been limited.

Sony and Microsoft must be very careful with their pricing. I’m actually hoping Microsoft announces their pricing first. This will start a price war between Sony and Microsoft. Sony will have to price the PS5 at or below the same price as the Xbox SX. Sony and Microsoft can ignore Nintendo’s pricing as Nintendo has never offered a similarly competitive console entry. It’s very unlikely Sony or Microsoft will ever price their consoles at $299. At least, not the day one console.

In the future, though, the pricing will be fluid and may approach the $299 price tag… yet another reason to wait.

Let’s hope that Sony and Microsoft can choose to do the right thing with these units and price them accordingly. At least, they shouldn’t be priced any higher than the Xbox One X or the PS4 Pro. As for the design, yeah, it could have been WAY better on both consoles.

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WordPress Review: Gutenberg Editor

Posted in blogging, fail, writing by commorancy on June 11, 2020

This will be a no hold’s barred review of using the “new” Gutenberg editor in WordPress.com (and WordPress of any install). Let’s explore.

Calypso

Several years ago, WordPress introduced the then “new” Calypso editor. It had a blue-ish color style and was a straight up type of no-frills editor. It had some flaws, to be sure, but it worked well.

About 2 years ago, along comes the newest new editor named Gutenberg. This editor was thought to be intended as a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) editing experience. Well, let me just say straight up and flat out, it isn’t. Yes, this review will be very critical of this editor. I generally refrain from reviewing my blogging platform, but in this instance I felt compelled and justified to review this editor and its massive set of usability and ergonomic flaws.

Gutenberg

Several years ago, the Gutenberg project started. This editor was intended to be the eventual replacement for Calypso. ‘Eventually’ has arrived and the hour for replacement is at hand. Yet, Gutenberg is still not yet prime time ready. It is so far from being prime time ready, I can’t even adequately justify how badly it isn’t ready. Where Calypso had some flaws, these were easily overcome with a small amount of fiddling.

With Gutenberg, fiddling takes minutes at a time (and many times way longer) and sometimes there aren’t even ways to address the problems inherent in this new editor.

Let me start by addressing Gutenberg’s positive features before I get down into the nitty gritty problems with it.

Gutenberg’s Benefits

I want to make sure to cover both the positive and negative sides of the Gutenberg editor so that I’m not called out for unfairly representing this editor. With that said, let’s get going. Gutenberg’s positives include:

  • Block editing capabilities
  • Some additional text styling options (superscript, subscript, etc)
  • Not much else of note.

Block editing is pretty much where Gutenberg’s positives end. Block editing doesn’t greatly enhance the blog editing experience and, at the same time, Gutenberg adds an unnecessary layer of complexity to Calypso’s formerly simple editing design.

What does block editing do for the blogger exactly? It allows you to more easily move blocks around within an article. That’s pretty much its claim to fame. Though, I don’t see how that really buys much when most computers today offer copy and paste capabilities that allow this same functionality through drag, highlight, cut and paste. The fact that they spent gobs of time designing a new editor solely to solve a perceived copy-paste problem (that doesn’t really exist) speaks volumes of this editor’s design goals.

Gutenberg’s Drawbacks

There are many. First, the width of the editor is too narrow. Calypso had an editor width far greater than Gutenberg. This means that Gutenberg is not in any way a WYSIWIG design. Second, you must still preview your document… which in and of itself says that Gutenberg is NOT a WYSIWIG design.

Basically, Gutenberg’s team redesigned an editor for no reason at all. It was simply a new design to be a new design, but not to solve any actual editing problems. In fact, they’ve introduced new problems where in Calypso’s editor they didn’t exist.

For example, the bottom status bar in Calypso showed us the word count and other pertinent document information front and center. We didn’t have to click into or move our mouse to get to this information. Yet, in Gutenberg, this information is now hidden behind an icon that 1) makes no sense and 2) now requires active effort on the part of the blogger.

The block editing system also fairs just about as well (or not, depending on your point of view). There are a number of block types like paragraph, heading and image with an additional array of way lesser used block types like Star Rating, Highlighter, Quote and Pullquote.

As I said, the team has made this editor unnecessarily more complicated without the need to be this complicated. A text editor, in fact, should be much more simple, friendly, fast and easy. Many of these functions were handled in Calypso more elegantly, by highlighting text, then clicking to apply an attribute to that text. Basically, 1-2-3. In Gutenberg, you have to create a new block type by clicking many times, then placing that specific text into that block type.

Whoops! You chose the wrong block type? There’s almost never a way to convert from one to another. You must copy the content out, create a new block, and paste it in. Even then, sometimes copy and paste won’t work.

So, here’s where the block difficulties begin. Because blocks are now discrete elements within the body of the article… think of them as <div></div> sections, it’s difficult to get exact placement. In fact, trying to style any of these blocks using inline CSS is almost impossible. With Calypso, the text was straightforward and could be easily styled within the body of the article. In Gutenberg, if you want complex style options, you’re forced to use the Classic Block, which is effectively most of Calypso in a block. By being forced to use the Classic Block, you’ve pretty much negated the reason to even use Gutenberg in the first place.

That’s not to say you can’t style within Gutenberg, but it’s more about what happens after you do it. When you go into the HTML and muck about with styling of the paragraphs, Gutenberg’s parser typically fails to understand this HTML CSS addition and forces conversion of the entire block into HTML with no more instant preview available. Now you’re stuck viewing this individual block as ugly HTML forever. If you want to see what it will look like in the actual article, you must click ‘Preview’. Calypso happily and fully rendered in-line CSS and still allowed a preview. It never once balked at adding in-line CSS, though it might strip it out if it didn’t like what you did. This is one of Gutenberg’s biggest failures. Blogging is driven by HTML. Styling HTML with CSS is probably one of the simplest things you can do… yet Gutenberg can’t even understand simple CSS styling? Yeah, that’s a #fail.

For styling images and placing them in very specific locations within Gutenberg block articles, here’s where Gutenberg again fails. While you can create an image block and it auto-wraps text, there is no exact placement or altering margins of white space around the image block within Gutenberg. If you want exact placement or specific spacing for the text wrapping around your image, you must again revert to using the Classic Block. Again, another of Gutenberg’s failures.

If you’re going to spend time creating a complex block editing system, you’d think that exact placement of blocks in space within the document (i.e., drag and drop) would have been part of the design. Unfortunately, you’d have thought wrong because this aspect of Gutenberg simply doesn’t exist. There is no drag and drop or exact placement here.

What exactly is Gutenberg then?

That’s what I keep asking myself. Reinventing the wheel without actually offering us something new, improved and innovative is a questionable design choice. In fact, because of the overreaching complexity introduced by Gutenberg into a platform that should be all about simplicity is, again, questionable. WordPress has always been about making it easy and simple to blog. This convoluted, complex and difficult to manage editor only serves to make the blogging experience more difficult, not easier.

I’m not saying Calypso is a perfect editor by any stretch. Hardly. Calypso has a fair number of problems that also need to be addressed. Unfortunately, that editor’s updates had been abandoned about to the time the Gutenberg team started up. This left Calypso mostly unfinished, yet still reasonably simple to use and definitely easier to manage an article’s overall content.

Complexity

I keep talking about unnecessary complexity. Let me expound on that. Part of the complexity of Gutenberg stems from the block system itself. The fact that we now have to select a specific block type, not really knowing what each do in advance, means we now have to understand the block’s features and their usefulness. That means trial and error. That means a learning curve. That also means needing to understand the limitations of this new unfriendlier editing system.

Yes, it goes deeper than this. The blocks themselves, as I said, are discrete separate entities. You can’t embed one block within another. For example, you can’t make a block quote show up word wrapped next to basic text within your article. An example of a block quote block type is immediately below:

This is a block quote

forces a citation

Unfortunately, a block quote must sit in that position where it is. It can’t be moved into a wrapped position within another block (like an image). You’d think that this kind of innovation would be possible in a new editor. Unfortunately, no. Worse, as you’ll notice, this paragraph is too closely abutted next to the block quote. With Gutenberg, you can’t fix this horrible spacing issue. There’s no way without using inline CSS styling. If you attempt to use inline CSS styling, the entire block may be forced into HTML mode leaving no way to preview the block in the editor.

Now begins a Classic Block.

This is a block quote

The block quote in the classic block doesn’t force a citation footer, leaving much more white space without leaving this paragraph feeling so cramped. Remember, white space is your friend.

Let’s talk about images and placement

To place an image using Gutenberg, this is what you get. You can align left, center or right.

Here is a paragraph next to an image using blocks. You can word wrap next to an image, but you can’t change the spacing of the text around the image.

In a Classic Block, I can style the image to add margin-left and margin-right to change the spacing next to the words. I can’t do this in Gutenberg’s blocks.

Unfortunately, using Gutenberg to perform image wrapping has some unnecessary complexities. There’s no way to ensure that the block just below it is separate. Instead, it wants to pull up and wrap that block too. There’s no way to make sure that the block just below the image doesn’t wrap. Gutenberg attempts to wrap everything. With Calypso, this editor has more fine grained control over this problem because you can add HTML pieces that enforce this.

mask-businessHere begins a Classic Block with some text and an image. I’m writing just enough text here so that I can insert an image and do word wrapping around the image. Keep in mind that a classic block is basically Calypso in a block.

As you can see, this image has more space to the right of it. I styled this image with a margin-right CSS tag which is impossible to achieve using a Gutenberg image block.

Importing Older Articles

If you’ve used Calypso to write articles in the past in WordPress, you may find that Gutenberg’s importing system to be questionable, if not downright problematic. If you attempt to convert a Calypso written article into Gutenberg blocks, expect failure and LOTS of re-editing. Yeah, it can be that bad. Though, it can import without problems too. It all depends on the article’s content. Importing a Calypso document into a Classic Block has much more likelihood of succeeding… after all, the Classic Block is pretty much compatible to Calypso.

There may be instances where importing an older article may not work in either the Classic Block or as Gutenberg blocks. Basically, you take your chances when attempting to edit older articles within Gutenberg. Most times it works, but it may mangle portions of your article’s spacing and other attributes that may see you spending time re-editing. You’ll want to be sure to scrub your article from top to bottom if you attempt to import an older article into Gutenberg. You may find your formatting has been stripped or other features become unavailable.

Gutenberg not Prime Time Ready

The problem with Gutenberg is that there are so many small nuances that are ergonomically incorrect, flat out wrong or of bad design that using it to blog can easily turn into a lengthy chore. While I did use Gutenberg to craft this article, it wasn’t by any means easy to achieve. I did run into quite a number of problems. For example, there’s a Gutenberg open bug report that prevents editing any block’s HTML without crashing the editor entirely. This means that once you edit HTML, the menu that allows you to convert back to visual editing disappears entirely.

You are then forced to quit entirely out of the editor back to the WordPress posts area, then re-edit the article again by relaunching the editor. The Gutenberg team is aware, but it is as yet unfixed.

The small floating menu that appears above the block when selected is problematic. Not only is it the same color as the editor itself (white) the imagery used on the icons is questionable, with none of the images looking professionally designed. In fact, it looks like someone hired their teen art student kid to design the images. They’re not only too simplistic and basic, many don’t read as to the function they perform. This whole area needs an overhaul… from the questionable floating menu to the coloring to the icon imagery. It’s awful and amateur.

If you blog with WordPress, please let me know your thoughts on this new Gutenberg editor. Yes, it does work to a degree, but that all ends fairly quickly if you decide you want to go deeper into the HTML to style things.

Otherwise, too many times you get the below (note, Classic Block used for the below image as the spacing needed to be styled):

Screen Shot 2020-06-11 at 10.04.18 AM

Out of 5 stars, I give Gutenberg a solid 2.2 star rating. I give Calypso a 3.8 star rating. Calypso is simpler, easier to use and overall gets the job done faster. The lower rating for Gutenberg isn’t necessarily because of its failures, but mostly because its design goals didn’t seek to improve the overall WordPress blogging experience or help us making blogging faster. Complexity is a double edged sword and doesn’t always make things “better”. If anything, that’s the primary takeaway from this updated editor’s design.

There are even more usability and ergonomic problems that I simply can’t get into here. You’ll simply have to try it and compare. Though, I’m never a fan of designers who feel the need to place stuff behind increasing layers of menus. If it’s a function that can be front and center, it should be front and center. Placing that thing behind layers and more layers of menus only serves to waste my time.

Launch Speed Benchmarking

Here’s where Gutenberg fails again. The amount of time it takes to launch Gutenberg is excessive. Calypso takes slightly under 2 seconds to completely launch and be ready to edit your article. Unfortunately, it takes almost 10 seconds for Gutenberg to launch before you’re ready to edit. Yeah, that’s a big step backwards in performance. Time is important. Waiting almost 10 seconds for an editor to launch just to make a simple change is a severe waste of time. If you have to do this multiple times in a day, that wasted time adds up.

Gutenberg needs a MAJOR overhaul in the launch performance area.

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Lyrics: Only Solutions by Journey

Posted in lyrics, music by commorancy on May 12, 2020

TronPosterEvery once in a while, I come across a song that I decide to listen to the lyrics a bit more closely to deduce what’s going on. Journey was also one of my all-time favorite bands during the 80s. Let’s explore.

Diving into the lyrical end, some bands occasionally release a song with odd lyrics and odd phrasing by the singer. As an example, Only Solutions specifically comes to mind. Within this song’s primary verse + chorus, many believe this section of lyrics to be, ‘Don’t pull me down, I just want to hear’. Steve clearly pronounces a ‘j’ sound at the beginning of this specific verse every time. I believe he’s attempting to contract the words Just and Don’t together and then attempts to shorten the whole thing into a single word which comes out as ‘Jo’, short for just don’t or j’ont (as the contraction). He clearly is not singing Don’t. For confirmation of this, listen to how Steve pronounces the word Don’t in the line ‘You don’t fool me with cynical eyes’. That Don’t is completely different from the ‘Jo pull me down, I just want to hear’ line. With that said, let’s dive right into the rest of the lyrical oddities in this song.

The lyrics are just below and this article describes why I believe they are accurate to this song. This song is one of only but a few songs written by Journey for films. This one is called Only Solutions. This song was written for the 1982 Disney movie Tron, a computer animated and live action film about a computer simulation. Clearly, Journey was given this plot information when they were asked to pen this song.

The lines I transcribe in the below lyrics make much more logical sense with the lines that have come before. Let’s start with the first verse (which is already somewhat confusing), the first verse opens with ‘In the Jungle, I run tonight’. It opens stating someone running through a jungle of sorts. The second line is stated to be (on other lyric sites) ‘Find the peace to logical life’. I believe Steve is actually singing ‘Find the beast to logical life’. A ‘beast’ makes more sense in a jungle context and in which a runner might encounter said beast in that jungle. In fact, ‘Find the beast to logical life’ actually seems to be a statement of fact. While running in the jungle, the runner has just now encountered this ‘beast of logical life’ immediately to his left to which he then ‘runs right’. Of course, the beast to logical life in Tron refers to either the MCP or Sark (the MCP’s right hand).

Let’s try to understand the ‘peace’ idea. Why would someone find peace in a jungle? They wouldn’t. In a jungle you would find beasts, not peace.

The third line of this first verse further describes his jungle running escapade and is sometimes written as “No confusion, just wrong or right”. That doesn’t make any sense either. He’s in a jungle running, what does ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ have to do with jungle running and confusion? It doesn’t. However, by running TO the right, if a beast is on your left, this runner can, through no confusion, avoid the aforementioned ‘beast to logical life’. This line also confirms that the second line is a statement of fact at encountering a “beast”. Alternatively, the “just run right” could be a kind of question, like “just run, right?” to which he answers, “Oh yeah”. It’s like he’s saying to himself, “I’ve run into a beast. I should run, right?” (right meaning correct). Instead of running to his right, he’s telling himself to run away. Either meaning works for this line.

This is just the first verse in this song and we’re already confused by the lyrics and, more specifically, Steve’s pronunciation. However, we should no longer be confused about this first verse and we can move on with the rest of the song.

Now we stumble into the second verse which also has more confusion. Some lyric sites believe the lyric of the second line of the second verse to be ‘You don’t fool me with cynical lies’. There’s no other lyrics that discuss having conversations with anyone. However, the line immediately before it states ‘Faces, numbers I recognize’. Since he’s talking about faces, he would then be looking into the face (and the eyes) of that person. Seeing their eyes, he might be able to deduce cynicism. Thus, ‘You don’t fool me with cynical eyes’ seems more appropriate and logical to the line just before. Considering Steve’s pronunciation, it could go either way. I’m going with ‘eyes’.

The next pronunciation problem in this song is a little past halfway through in verse seven. There’s a line that many lyric sites claim to be ‘Now that the sun is shining’. Steve sings no phrase even similar to that. If you listen closely to what Steve is singing, the lyric sounds much more like ‘Now that the sun that shines’. But, that line doesn’t make any sense either. There’s nothing before or after talking about light or sunshine or anything similar. In fact, the line which Steve sings is actually ‘Logical Solutions’ or more specifically, he pronounces it ‘Logical Sol-U-Tions’ with small pauses where the dashes are. It’s odd phrasing and inflection at best. It’s the ‘tions’ portion that sounds like ‘shines’. It’s just that Steve so oddly pronounces the word Solutions, it’s easily misheard as something other than Solutions. Anything with the word ‘shines’ makes no sense, but ‘Logical Solutions’ makes perfect sense in the context of a song about solutions, since we’re also talking about logical life, mysteries and considering the song is titled Only Solutions, containing the word ‘Solutions’ in its title.

The final biggest pronunciation problem is in the final verse. Many lyric sites believe the first two phrases to be ‘People Reason’. I’ve even seen other people interpret it as ‘We fall even’. It’s neither of these two. Those two don’t even make sense in context of the song. The words he sings is ‘Need for reason’. When trying to create an ‘Only Solution’ with ‘Clear Visions’, you would have ‘Need for reason’. Reason and logic go hand in hand and makes much more sense in the context of the lyrics of this song.

With that said, here are the corrected lyrics for Journey’s Only Solutions. If I could get in touch with Steve Perry, I’d love to discuss the idea behind the lyrics of this song with him and determine if these lyrical deductions are actually correct. Only Steve can truly give us the actual lyrics to this song.

Enjoy!


Only Solutions

by Journey

In the jungle, I run tonight
Find the beast to logical life
No confusion, just run right, oh yeah

Faces, numbers I recognize
You don’t fool me with cynical eyes
No problems, no compromise, oh yeah

(Only Solutions) Jo pull me down, I just want to hear
(Only Solutions) Oh, it won’t be long, it won’t take too long

Modern times drivin’ me insane
Explanations I can’t explain
Leave me standin’ in the rain, oh yeah

Solvin’ mysteries with nothin’ to lose
Magic leaves you without any clues
There’s only so much one man can do, oh yeah

(Only Solutions) Jo pull me down, I just want to hear
(Only Solutions) Oh, it won’t be long, it won’t take too long
(Only Solutions) Jo pull me down, I just want to hear

Logical Solutions
Clear Visions
Clear Visions

In the jungle, I run tonight
Find the beast to logical life
No confusion, just run right, oh yeah

Faces, numbers I recognize
You don’t fool me with cynical eyes
No problems, no compromise, oh yeah

(Only Solutions) It’s my point of view
(Only Solutions) Oh, clear visions
(Only Solutions) No second thoughts
(Only Solutions) Now, now no contradictions

Need for reason
Need for reason
No escape

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Will there be a second COVID wave?

Posted in advice, economy, Health by commorancy on May 11, 2020

big waves under cloudy sky

This seems to be a burning question on everyone’s mind. Unfortunately, the information on this front will not be good news. Let’s explore.

CDC and WHO Guidelines

Both the Center’s for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have fairly stringent guidance as to how the world should reopen during this pandemic. Even the White House has come up with its own 3 step plan. Unfortunately, the world’s leaders are far too anxious for their own good. I fully understand why. The economy is tanking, unemployment is now at an all-time high, and many business are on the verge of collapse.

With that level of pressure, any political leader would be anxious to want to reopen. The problem with reopening is not the reopening itself. It’s the second wave that’s looming. We’ve already seen, numerous times (here, here, here and here) that people can’t be trusted nor do they have any discipline to stay home, when given an inch. The only way this can happen is strictly by forced closure. It’s unfortunate that people feel the need to defy closure orders and safety advice, but here we are.

When restaurants open, when bars open, when stores open fully, when beaches and parks open, throngs will (emphasis WILL) head out in droves. It’s not a matter of IF it’s a matter of WHEN. There are many reasons for this defiance, but many who turn out believe that the whole COVID-19 problem is either a hoax or isn’t serious… or they are self-centered and simply believe it does not apply to them.

Whatever their deluded mentally deranged reasons, they head out in droves… and they will again. This is why reopening will lead to a second wave.

Second Wave Deaths and Reopening

Because many people are fed up with staying indoors at home, tired of being around their kids day in and out and eating the same home cooked meals, this sows the seeds for wave 2. After all, many people erroneously and foolishly believe, “It doesn’t apply to me. I’m healthy. I won’t get it.” Additionally, many also justify their actions by, “I’m healthy, why should I stay home?”

It is for all of these irrational thoughts that people flock to flea markets, beaches and other large gatherings… New York City Blue Angels flyover anyone? The point is, people cannot be trusted to stay home. If a crowd gathering event opens, people will come. It’s inevitable.

The point is, reopening of ANY sort will automatically trigger, in many people’s deranged minds, that it’s now okay to go hang out with the masses ignoring social distancing, ignoring face masks and ignoring any guidelines whatsoever. It’s clear, as I’ve shown above, there’s no way any early reopening ends well for the public. The public is not at all well disciplined enough for that.

Double Whammy

yellow dead end sign during day time

The bigger problem is the double whammy effect. People are fed up at staying home. Any chance they have to get their kids back into school or head back into the office, they’re going to take it like a kid grabbing candy from a stranger. That anxiousness will be on overdrive. It will override many sensibilities of health. People will be grasping at ANY straws that lead them into a feeling of comfort and safety when none actually exists.

At this level of desperation, people will begin congregating together in masses simply because the government leaders have relaxed the requirements even just a little. For many, “A little ain’t enough.” In fact, the other adage that applies is, “Give an inch and they’ll take a mile.” And yes, people WILL most definitely take that mile, and then some. Many people have no self-control at all. They’re social creatures and must live in the moment with other people around, regardless of their own safety or the safety of others (if they are infected).

It’s not a matter of IF, it’s a matter of WHEN. When is coming and very, very soon. With both the White House and the state governors feeling the pinch, not only are they feeling that pinch with their own state economies, they are getting the pinch from businesses too. It’s just a matter of time before the states, counties and cities succumb to these pressures and reopen out of desperation to placate businesses, but not to satisfy public safety.

Is COVID-19 subsiding?

In short, no. It is not subsiding. Distancing measures and stay-at-home orders have slowed its progress, but all of that will be entirely undone by reopening. Once people can travel, shop, stay at hotels, visit beaches and generally bunch up together like lemmings, COVID-19 will not only break out again, it will do so with a vengeance the second time around.

It won’t be a sparse set of cases in specific locales, it will be all over the country. Lifting stay-at-home orders is tantamount to ordering a second wave on a platter. In fact, COVID-19 may very well arrive on a literal platter for some.

Let’s consider the infection rate in the US. There are around 330 million people in the US. If 3.3 million people have been infected, so far, that means the United States has only seen a 1% infection rate. That means that 99% of the population of the United States remains susceptible to infection.

While some of those 1% who’ve already been infected may be out and about feeling confident about their ability to withstand another COVID infection, 99% have no immunity at all (assuming a past survivor has any immunity). That means that the vast majority of those who are out and about will be people who’ve never had COVID-19. It will be these people who will strike up the second wave.

Brutal

grey skulls piled on ground

While the first wave was somewhat brutal with potentially up to 3.3 million infected and around 80,000 deaths (and counting), this death rate will skyrocket come reopening day.

Just like 1918’s pandemic, people are now being lulled into a false sense of security because the numbers are dropping. Many justify that the lower numbers are because the virus is not intense, but that simply isn’t true. The virus is not only highly contagious, it’s extremely virulent and, to many, deadly. This is why the second wave will be brutal.

Because of the callous disregard for safety, people will chance their own lives in an effort to get back to some semblance of normal social interactions with their friends, co-workers, clubs, gyms and faith. It’s a chance that will end up in death.

For this reason, the second wave will be even less forgiving than the first. Partly, this will be because of the carelessness of individuals, but partly it’s because this virus has mutated 12 times in 3 months. The virus strain that has been going around Europe has made it onto US soil and believe to be what’s causing most of NY’s cases. It is this strain that may even see even those who have even survived an earlier strain back in bed again, let alone the remaining 99% who’ve never been infected who now get sick.

Hard Lessons and Death Statistics

Death is never a lesson that people should have to learn. Unfortunately, it is a lesson that many are learning, at least via their surviving loved ones. Even seeing the White House is not immune to close colleagues becoming infected, it proves just how easily transmissible this virus really is. If the White House can’t keep it out of their doors, then no one can.

Unfortunately, I believe we are now firmly following down the same path as the 1918 Pandemic which struck and killed somewhere between 20-50 million people worldwide. Yes, you read that correctly: 20-50 million people. The first wave of COVID-19 will seem like small potatoes next to the next wave that’s coming… and coming, it is.

Protecting Yourself

Unfortunately, many of us need to work. At the same, we need to protect ourselves. Many business owners / executives are not amenable to people working from home. For this reason, they may mandate people back into the office earlier than is safe. This is likely to be the first salvo for the virus. Workplaces are communal environments. There’s no way you can avoid becoming infected in such a communal environment. Worse, many rented office spaces utilize recirculated air. These systems can pose a risk to everyone in the building. It only takes one COVID infected individual to cough, sneeze or otherwise expel their bodily fluids and some portion of the building can become infected. This is the reason that people in one part of the building can become infected by others in that same building, but without having any personal contact.

Closed recirculated ventilation systems and other communal office spaces can see to the transmission of COVID-19 across individuals in buildings. You might even get infected by performing something as simple as using the copy machine or drinking from the water fountain or water cooler or touching the faucet handle. Though, transmission through the ventilation system is still a big problem in many, many commercial building structures.

As a personal example, I worked in a 6 story building for 5 years. In that time, I’d had maybe 2 colds the entire time I worked there. These illnesses were within the first year. The remaining years I got sick maybe once. I moved on from that business and hired into another company that rented office space in a 16 story building. I worked on the 11th floor. In the first year that I worked there, I’d had several colds, the flu and an extremely long bout of bronchitis. That building’s A/C system was incredibly bad and seemed to circulate air not only from our floor, but apparently it also circulated air between multiple floors through a common shaft.

This ventilation system left everyone in the building vulnerable to sickness. I’ve never been sick that often in any other business where I’d ever worked. This building was so poorly engineered and because the company encouraged sickness in the office via its exceedingly poor sick leave policy, I had considered leaving the company just from this alone. Even when I attempted such things as social distancing, avoiding the kitchen, bringing my own food, washing hands often and staying at my desk as much as possible, none of it helped. I still got sick too often. There was truly “something in the air”. I finally left that company and I’ve not been sick since. That building was just one big petri dish.

Sick Leave Policies

woman lying on bed while blowing her nose

The whole building situation was made worse by, you guessed it, HR’s sick leave policies. Many corporate sick leave policies are less than ideal. For example, some businesses choose to gang up sick time onto paid time off (PTO). This is a bad, bad idea.

This means that your allotment of PTO must cover for all out of the office situations, including when you’re sick. This means you have to use up precious PTO to be at home nursing a cold or the flu. Not many people are willing to give up their PTO (i.e., their vacations) to be at home sick. Hence, people arrived into the office sick and worked sick at their desks. This crappy sick leave policy actually encouraged people to come to the office while contagious, thus infecting everyone around them. This company also took no steps to send people home if they appeared to be sick.

Companies which choose to separate PTO from sick days off tend to have less problems with people working sick at the office. The company where I worked prior to this poorly ventilated building company had an “unlimited” sick time policy. Keep in mind that “unlimited” isn’t truly unlimited. What that means is that if you’re sick, stay home and get well and take however many days is needed to get better. However, if you’re at home sick often, your job is in jeopardy. This meant that as long as you were truly sick and your boss can see it (or hear it), staying home is an option. Although, even though you’re at home, that doesn’t mean you’re not working. While you have claimed a sick day, you could still be called to work on projects or issues while in the throes of the flu. While an “unlimited” sick time policy is novel, it still has limits and requires manager approval every time you’re sick. Getting this time off can be tricky with many managers.

I’d prefer companies give realistic hard set amounts of sick time off per year. Just define an amount (5 days per year) and hold us to it. Because it’s hard sick time, you don’t need approvals. Just use it when you need it. You will need to inform your boss that you’re at home sick to avoid “no show” problems, but you can use that sick time when you need it. If you run out of the allotted amount of sick days, you may need to consider disability leave or PTO instead. That’s a separate issue from ganging up sick time onto PTO up front, which is not a good idea and encourages the wrong behavior.

COVID and Corporations

Corporations are difficult slow boats. What I mean is that trying to get stick-in-the-mud executives to change corporate standards to help reduce or eliminate sickness in the office can be a real challenge. Human Resource staff might have a better time at steering that slow barge than those of us not in HR. The difficulty is, many executives don’t really care. They want butts in the office. They don’t care about people being sick. In fact, many executives don’t care about the welfare of their employees specifically. That’s left up to the HR team to handle. Many times, the HR team operates benefits from the cost perspective. If it costs too much, it won’t get implemented. This can leave situations like the above, where sick time is ganged up on PTO time. Yes, the HR team came up with that idea and implemented it.

Unfortunately, the costs outweigh the fact that such a policy encourages people to horde their PTO time at all costs. That means seeing people at their desks wheezing, sneezing, coughing, with runny noses and contagious with the flu. Staff simply won’t give up their vacation days to stay at home sick. They value that summer Hawaii trip way more. In fact, many of these people may even show up to work sick facetiously in an attempt to “get back” at the rest of the office for its asinine sick time policy. They are willing to let their co-workers, boss and other office staff become sick just to fulfill a vendetta against a perceived corporate injustice. Yes, this does happen.

COVID won’t be different

architecture barge bay beach

With many corporations, they can be exceedingly slow barges that simply can’t or won’t course correct their corporate culture and policies for something like COVID. Some might, but many won’t. If it’s going to cost the corporation even more money in benefits, then you can bet it won’t get implemented. This means that such antiquated sick time policies, such as the one stated above, will continue to be enforced in a post-COVID world.

Some corporations do legitimately care for their staff. Other companies really don’t give a damn. Only you can review your corporate policies to see if your company is trying to make positive changes with COVID or not.

Unfortunately, many corporate policy changes are simply for show. What I mean is that corporations appear to make policy changes simply to get free press from the industry. However, internally, these corporate changes are mere window dressing. This means that the policies remain exactly identical as before. What’s stated to the outside is not what’s being practiced on the inside. It’s more about making the company look good than it is about that company actually being sincere. There are plenty of companies that follow this asinine example. Yours may even be one of them.

Ultimately, what this means for COVID is more and faster infection rates. Corporations are itching to get their offices open with employees back at their desks so they can continue to sell and make money. It’s all about the money. Unfortunately, the money motivation can remove motivation from keeping employees healthy. In fact, many corporations see employees as disposable commodities. If a position becomes vacant, they believe they can fill it almost instantly. In an employer’s market, that might be true. In an employee’s market, that’s absolutely false.

Economic Impact and Employer’s Market

red and white signage

Here’s where we are. Because employers have furloughed or laid off millions of workers due to temporary closure, it is now back to an employer’s market. That means that any employer who is now hiring has an unfair advantage. This means the employer can demand less wages, poorer working conditions, longer hours, less benefits, more dedication with less rewards and on and on. Because people are now firmly out of work, this means employers who have positions to hire hold the upper hand.

While once we had days where employers were bending over backwards to get new talent in the door, we now have the reverse situation where there’s too much talent looking for work. This means that employers can write bad sick time policies forcing employees to use their PTO as sick time… or even worse, reduce PTO days.

As a result of the poor economy, we have now firmly moved back to an employer’s market where they can treat their staff with all of the careless disregard they so rightfully wish. That can only last for so long, but it’s here for now. The problem is, COVID can easily infect not only staff in the office, but the executives. Unfortunately, we’re likely to see most executives board themselves into their offices and never come out to see anyone. That assumes that many executives choose to even come into the office at all. Many executives may not even show up and, instead, choose to work from home. While those executives practice stay-at-home, they firmly will not allow their staff to do so. It’s a, “Do as I say, not as I do” situation. Unfortunately, these truly one-sided executive privilege situations occur with much more frequency in high unemployment markets, just as we face in 2020.

Worse, these callous self-centered greedy executives will treat their bottom end employees as entirely disposable. Because of the high unemployment rate, this gives them the opportunity to treat employees poorly while tossing them aside with frequency and impunity. If a few of their employees die to COVID, they don’t really care. This also means that COVID will spread with all of the careless abandon it needs to usher in wave 2. These poor corporate decisions will also be one of the primary reasons why wave 2 starts, though it won’t be the only reason why it continues to propagate.

That will be thanks to public transportation, beach gatherings, public gatherings, shopping in stores, restaurants and so on. All of the standard social fare that everyone has become accustomed to every day and on weekends, these will be the method of propagation of COVID-19. It may start in the office, but it will transmit through “open channels”. Though, as I said, it will also transmit due to poorly conceived office spaces combined with executives treating staff as dispensable in a high unemployment market. If someone in a corporation gets COVID, executives won’t necessarily take swift action. They might disinfect the workplace, they might not. It all depends on the corporation. Many corporations, as I said, don’t really give a damn about their employees’ health.

mask-businessWorse, far too many executives are sociopaths. They really don’t care one wit about anyone other than themselves. They put on a good face, but behind that is someone who doesn’t actually care. If someone gets COVID, they don’t really care as long as it doesn’t impact them directly. As long as they continue to practice stay-at-home, they won’t be affected. If half of their office staff gets COVID, they’ll simply fire them and get more staff. However, that might only work for so long until they have a huge lawsuit pending against them for improper staff treatment (and a number of COVID deaths). OSHA won’t take too kindly to sociopath executives playing games with their office staff in this callous and reckless way.

By the time any kind of litigation is forthcoming, the damage will already have been done. This means that COVID-19 will be firmly partway through its second much larger and deadlier wave. Those executives might be fired or the company might have to shut down, but not before the damage to the population has been done.

Second Wave Part II

Don’t kid yourself. The second wave is coming. As soon as the politicians decide that we need to reopen the US (and, indeed, the world) is the day the seeds for the second wave are planted. It only takes 14-28 days to incubate COVID-19. Within that period of time, we’ll see a ramping up, again, of the number of cases. Within 30 days, assuming the politicians keep the economy open, the cases will skyrocket. Unfortunately, we’re presently in the lull just before the storm. That 14-28 days will seem like everything is status-quo. That we’ve gone back to our older days. People will be out and about, happy, content and oblivious. All the while, COVID-19 is transmitting between many people. You can’t see it transmitted. You can’t feel it. It’s there, but it’s invisible. The only way to know is 1) getting tested or 2) getting sick.

Because we, as a nation, seem to have opted to go with #2 as a primary means of detection, this means that we have to wait until its far too late before understanding just how badly the whole situation is screwed up. The numbers of dead in wave 2 will far exceed the numbers of dead we’ve seen so far.

Grim Statistics

Here we come to how this may all pay out. It’s also the place where we need to review numbers. If numbers aren’t your thing, then it’s a good thing I saved the best for last. Let’s get going.

My guestimate is somewhere between 2% – 5% of the nation dead assuming an infection rate totalling at least 50% of the population (165 million).

At a 2% death rate at a 50% infection rate, that’s 3.3 million dead… and that’s just for starters. If the death rate reaches a whopping 5% (likely once hospitals reach capacity), that’s 8.25 million people dead. Those numbers are still less than the total number of dead from the 1918 pandemic at 20-50 million dead worldwide, though it’s much higher than the ~700,000 dead from the 1918 pandemic in the US. Keep in mind that in 1918, the population of the US was around 103.2 million people or roughly 1/3 of the population in 2020. Extrapolating the death rate from 1918 using 2020’s population of 330 million, the 1918 pandemic would have claimed 2.1 million people in the US alone. With COVID, we’re no where near that death rate yet. We’ve got a long way to go, which is why reopening now WILL only lead to a much more severe wave 2 death rate.

The sheer fact that we may not yet have even reached a 1% US population infection rate should be wildly concerning. We’ll need to reach an 85-95% infection rate across the entire US population before COVID-19 is considered “done”. We’re no where near those numbers. Opening the economy at this moment invites many, many more infections. You don’t even want to consider about the numbers of dead once we reach an 85% US population infection rate. Though, we’re quickly heading down this road.

Steps to Reopening

Unfortunately, we can’t stop the tide that is now turning. Politicians are going to do what they’re in the process of doing. If that’s reopen the economy, then that’s it. Come hell or high water, we’re reopening. That means that any published steps for how to safely achieve that reopening are mere suggestions. There’s no way that any leader will follow every step to the letter. Indeed, we’re likely to see some state governors open their entire state back up simply out of fear of political reprisal. Some deluded people have even called for recall of some governors. Governors are doing what they are doing to protect that state’s citizens, not because, as some people have put it, that those governors are “drunk with power”. It’s not a Kool-Aid issue. It’s an issue of public safety.

Though, some people don’t seem to get this. I get it. They’re out of work. They have no income. It’s difficult to make ends meet. I get that wholeheartedly. The problem is, what are we opening back up to if we do it now?

If “you” want to go to back to work face-to-face with the throngs of the COVID-bearing public, go for it. If you get COVID-19 and perish, that’s your choice. That’s a Darwinian Award level choice. While it’s fine to make such decisions for yourself, don’t drag other people into your quagmire along with you. If you have a death wish, that’s yours alone. Leave other people’s lives, health, safety and livelihoods out of it. If we choose to stay out of the public, that’s our choices. Don’t attempt make choices for or force choices on others. We all can make choices for ourselves. If the rest of the country chooses not to have a death wish, you must respect that choice.

If your employer chooses not to have that death wish, you must also respect their choice. If your company wants you back to work tomorrow and you’re willing, that’s also your choice. If your company wants you back at work and you’d prefer to stay-at-home as ordered, that’s a choice companies also need to respect without ramifications. If you can safely and effectively work from home, then a company needs to allow that choice. So long as stay-at-home orders remain, companies should be required to abide by those orders regardless of whether their business is now allowed to reopen.

Corporations and small businesses alike will do whatever is most cost effective to operate their business, rather than operate in the public’s best interest. The difficulty, with both business and government alike, is having a death toll approaching 3 million is catastrophic to any economy. If it gets to has high as 8 million (this is entirely possible), the economy will be way beyond problematic. It is, unfortunately, where we are presently heading with the early reopening that both the President and the governors are pushing hard, regardless of their documented steps.

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Wink to shut down free services, requires subscription

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

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

Shutting Down Free Service

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

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

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

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

Bad Service

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

Premium Service

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

Too Little, Too Late

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

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

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

The Wrong Way

wrong-way

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

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

Do you own a Wink?

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

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

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

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

Critical News

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

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