Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

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

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

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

Rewarding Poor Business Decisions

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

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

Retroactive Continuity Bonanza

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emperor Palpatine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palpatine Again!?

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

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

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

Snoke

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

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

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

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

Disney Hires Crap Writers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is It Over?

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

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

Cheap Cop Out

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

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

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

Palpatine’s Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hack Writer

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

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

High Gloss Cotton Candy

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Last Jedi

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

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

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

Change of Clothing

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

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

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

Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ben and Rey

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

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

Never Ending Ending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dumb Commercials Series: Eargo

Posted in analysis, commercials by commorancy on July 1, 2021

With this newest series, I will discuss the stupidity of various commercials and call out exactly why they are so stupid, even though it is the stupidity that also makes them somewhat humorous. I will also call out well written and clever commercials. Let’s explore.

This commercial has been recently playing heavily on some networks. I’ve seen it a LOT. Every time I see it, I also think how stupid it is.

American Pie

The commercial resorts to low-brow college humor to get its point across with oddly embarrassing results. The thing is, these two young people cannot possibly be this stupid!

First, why the hell would any couple begin talking about sex in such a blatant way right under their parent’s noses? The answer is, they wouldn’t. Without this, the commercial wouldn’t be nearly as funny. Unfortunately, the writers of this commercial thought that they needed to use this low-brow embarrassment as the basis for humor. There are many ways of crafting humor without resorting to such low-brow schadenfreude means to do it.

Second, who is the person with hearing problems in this commercial? Clearly, it isn’t the father.

To Whom Does This Apply?

The question regarding this commercial’s setup underscores yet another problem. Clearly, the father is wearing Eargo buds. However, her boyfriend/fiance/husband isn’t. If her boyfriend/fiance/husband at that age can’t hear her whispering the word ‘condom’, but her father can mere feet away, then her boyfriend desperately needs an ear exam. She would already know this. Also, if he can’t hear in a relatively quiet environment like that, he really does need a hearing exam. She would also compensate by knowing this fact about him.

In compensation for knowing her boyfriend/fiance/husband can’t hear well, why is she standing feet away trying to whisper-yell at him? It’s like she wants her parents to overhear how well her sex life is going. You’d think she’d walk around that counter, walk directly up to her boyfriend/fiance/husband and whisper it in his ear…. specifically knowing he can’t hear her. Better, wait until they are in the bedroom with the door closed. What’s the all fire hurry to know if he brought condoms right at that very moment? Was she planning on asking Dad for a few if boyfriend/fiance/husband didn’t have them? Ewww…

Unfortunately, this commercial doesn’t end properly by cutting back to the scene with her boyfriend/fiance/husband now wearing a set of Eargo with her whispering again, thus allowing him to hear every word. You know, to prove that Eargo’s technology actually solves that embarrassing problem.

The writers of this commercial lost their way even though it is professionally filmed. The only reason it gets more one more star than it should is solely because it is professionally filmed.

Rating: 3 out 5 (could have been a whole lot more funny and effective)

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Review: Pokémon Let’s Go! Pikachu

Posted in botch, business, video game, video game design by commorancy on November 16, 2018

img_0072[Updated: 11/19/2018 for Pokéball Plus Controller] I’ll make this one short and sweet. This is the first Pokémon for the Nintendo Switch and in some ways it’s fun, but in many ways it’s a sheer disappointment. Let’s Go!

Pikachu

In this review, I’m playing the Pikachu edition. I’m sure that the Eevee edition will likely be very similar in play value, with the exception of certain Pokémon you can only collect in each separate edition.

Controller Problems

Here’s the first disappointment with this game. I want to get this one out of the way right up front. The Nintendo Pro Controller doesn’t work at all in this game. When you press the connect button, the light Cylons back and forth, but never connects.

img_0065Unfortunately, you are forced to use the JoyCons with this game. This is an extreme disappointment. But wait, it gets worse. If you pull the JoyCons off of the console and hold them in your hand and use the JoyCons wirelessly, you can’t use both of them together like you can when they are connected to the console. When they are separated from the console, the game mistakenly assumes that two people will be using one each. An entirely stupid decision. If there’s only one player, then let the player use both. If a second player wants to join, then remap the keys so each player is separate. Don’t just make bad assumptions about this.

Even if you place the two controllers into a JoyCon Grip to make the JoyCons feel like a Pro controller, the game still assumes one controller per person. Bad, bad design. It gets worse, again. If you want to hold the JoyCon horizontally so that the buttons are on the right and so you can hold the single JoyCon with both hands… not possible. The only possible orientation for holding the JoyCon is vertical.

I’m very disappointed in Nintendo and Game Freak here. It keeps getting worse. Because the JoyCons are not capable of the same distance away from the Switch as the Pro Controller, the connectivity to the console is entirely spotty using the JoyCons when it is docked several feet from you. Unless you intend to game with the console just a few inches in front of you (in which case you might as well attach them), using the JoyCons at a distance is entirely problematic and frustrating.

So, the only way to use both controllers to play the game as a single player is when they are connected to the console and that means holding the Switch in your hand playing it using the built-in screen. You CANNOT play Pokémon Let’s Go using the Pro controller at all or by using both JoyCons together when they are not attached. You are forced to play this game using a single JoyCon per player when detached. A stupid and unnecessary requirement and decision. And people wonder why Nintendo is in third place for its consoles.

Pokéball Plus Controller

pokeball-plus.jpgNow that I’ve found, purchased and have had a chance to use a Pokéball Plus controller, I understand Nintendo’s reasoning not to support the Pro controller. It’s all in the name of making yet more money off of a new gadget. Considering that the Pokéball Plus controller costs $50 (just $20 shy of a Pro controller), this Pokémon game is simply a scam means to get you to buy into this new Pokéball controller.

With that said, the Pokéball Plus controller plays the game substantially better than using the JoyCons wirelessly and it has a longer wireless range. Though, with this controller, it’s still nowhere near perfect. However, I do see the attraction in using it.

The Pokéball Plus controller has two main functions:

1) To toss at your screen (cables hopefully keep it in check) and capture Pokémon with Pokéballs. When you toss, it simulates the action of throwing a Pokéball. The throwing action is heavily reminiscent of using a Wiimote.

2) The center knob acts as a joystick and the A button. On the red half, there’s another button that acts as the B button. I’m concerned with the longevity of this controller as you push through a rubberized surface to depress the button. I’m not sure how well that rubberized material will last.

Like the Wiimote, there’s a speaker in the ball. So, you’ll occasionally hear noises coming from the Pokémon when you trap them in the Pokéball. It’s a cute feature, but it’s really just a gimmick and the volume is no where near loud enough.

The downside is that the Y button is used throughout the game, but there’s no Y button on the Pokéball Plus controller. This means you’ll miss all of the areas where Y is used. Worse, there’s no way to take a screen snap or begin a video. You’ll still need to have your JoyCons sitting out for these functions. There’s also no button to get back to the Switch’s main desktop (to easily share videos and snapshots). Because you can only have two controllers active at any one time in this game, you can either have the left JoyCon active (sharing button) or the right JoyCon active (desktop button) in addition to the Pokéball Plus controller. This means you need to choose either to have the sharing button active with the Pokéball Plus or to have the desktop button active with the Pokéball Plus.

Basically, sharing anything from Pokémon Let’s Go is a pain in the rear. It’s just not easy, and it should be. If the single active controller could be the Pro controller, having both the sharing and desktop buttons available would be simple. Nooooo…. they can’t do that. This is only a problem if you have your Switch in the dock. If you’re carrying the Switch around with you and the JoyCons are attached, this isn’t a problem.

For the price of the Pokéball Plus, it’s a hard sell. Thankfully, I got it for about $36, but if you have to pay $50 for it, I’d certainly think twice. There is the game bundle where you get the game and the controller in one package. I don’t think it saves you any money, but it’s one way to give both as a gift. I bought the controller separately.

The round shape, unfortunately, leaves some to be desired. I’ve had problems with spherical shaped input devices in the past and these same problems arise here. If you don’t put the strap on correctly, you’ll always end up holding the ball backwards. You’ll have to take it off and flip it around. This makes it tedious to use this controller. Even if you are holding the ball in the correct orientation, if the controller position in your hand is slightly off, moving the character can be difficult. I find myself constantly readjusting my grip on the ball so that the joystick moves the character correctly.

The accuracy of “throwing” the Pokéball controller is hit or miss. Sometimes I think I’m throwing it correctly, but the ball goes off to the left or the right and misses. It’s a cool idea, but the accuracy and execution of this controller just doesn’t work all of the time. However, I will say that it is more accurate than trying to use a JoyCon. So, there’s at least that.

If I’ve somehow managed to sell you on getting a Pokéball Plus controller, I’d recommend looking for it at your local Best Buy store. Amazon appears to be out of stock and third parties on Amazon are selling it for $75 or higher. It’s also likely to be a hot seller over the holidays. If you’re considering it as a gift, I’d suggest going and getting it now. Don’t wait for Black Friday sales. It’s not likely to go on sale anyway. Just find it at Best Buy for $50 and pay for it at that price. If you have a Best Buy rewards card, I’d suggest using that with your purchase. You can eventually get some money back on it.

Dock

This game almost completely ignores the fact that there’s a dock and, as a result, doesn’t properly support it. Instead of allowing use of the Pro controller when docked, it forces you to pull the JoyCons off of the Switch or use the Pokéball Plus controller instead. I found the JoyCons to be cumbersome, problematic and unwieldy. We spend $70 for the Pro controller and we can’t even use it. To not be able to use the Pro controller on Pokémon (one of Nintendo’s flagship properties) is just an extremely bad design choice. It also ignores the the idea of using the dock to play your game on your large screen TV. It almost seems the developers want to force you to play this game out of the dock by holding the Switch in your hand. In fact, I’d consider Pokémon Let’s Go to be Nintendo’s first real misstep on the Switch platform. Let’s hope this is not a sign of things to come as missteps like this could doom the Switch to failure.

Game Play

img_0064Not completely ignoring the stupidism that is the controller system (which is stupid), the gameplay is underwhelming. Sure, Nintendo finally added the ability to see the Pokémon running around in the weeds before you collect it, but that’s of little concession when the game is basically the same game as every other DS version.

Let’s go back to the controller again, but for a different reason than above. When you are attempting to capture Pokémon with the JoyCons attached to the Switch, it’s much, much easier and simpler to throw Pokéballs. The ball throwing motion needed when using a detached JoyCon is much, much more difficult for no apparent reason. Worse, when using a loose JoyCon, the hand on the screen when trying to interact with your Pokémon is entirely difficult, where using the touch screen is easy peasy. Here’s another place where forcing the use of a JoyCon a tremendously bad idea. The motion to throw a Pokéball with the Pro controller would mimic the same motion used when holding the console… where using the a detached JoyCon for throwing a Pokéball is … well … strange.

Game Design

img_0068I was actually expecting a whole lot more use of the player camera than what is being offered. It’s effectively a 3DS version ported to the Switch. Nintendo completely missed the opportunity to give this game a much needed facelift for the Switch, like they did for Breath of the Wild. It is effectively the same game as every other Pokémon game. This is quite disappointing, but it’s also a double edged sword.

For some players, it is like a comfortable glove. If you’ve played Pokémon in the past, then you can fall right into this game without any problems at all. It’s old hat and feels old hat. The graphics are improved, but it needed a more open world RPG style update rather than this constrained old-school Pokémon conversion.

I’m sure a lot of people will absolutely adore this game. Because Nintendo has chosen to play games with how the controllers work, it really constrains this game to feeling rushed and unfinished or a really bad port.

Graphics

To be honest, the graphics are very low res, flat and cartoony. I sort of expected this, but not at this low of a level. It’s at such a low level, that it looks like a Nintendo DS. Though, as I said above, it is somewhat better than the DS only from the fact that the resolution is higher… but that’s not really saying much.

Overall, I was expecting a whole lot more from this game.

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Score

Graphics: 4.5 out of 10 (Underwhelming)
Sound: 2 out of 10 (Music is way too loud and unnecessary)
Controls: 2 out of 10 (Controller system is strange, no Pro controller support)

Overall: 4 out of 10 (Antiquated, strange controller design, seems unfinished or bad port)

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Is the iPhone X Innovative?

Posted in Apple, botch, california by commorancy on September 17, 2017

Clearly, Apple thinks so. I’m also quite sure some avid Apple fanboys think so. Let’s explore what innovation is and what it isn’t and compare that to the iPhone X. Let’s explore.

What is innovation?

Innovation effectively means offering something that hasn’t been seen before, either on other devices or, in fact, at all. I’ll give an example of this. If I create a transporter that can rearrange matter into energy and safely transmit it from point A to B and reassemble it into a whole, that’s innovation. Why? Because even though the concept has existed in the Star Trek universe, it has never existed in the real world. This is true innovation and would ultimately change transportation fundamentally as we know it. Though I won’t get into the exact ramifications of such an invention, suffice it to say this technology would be a world game changer. This example is just to show the difference between true innovation and pseudo innovation. Innovation should be a world game changer to be true innovation.

So then, what is pseudo innovation? This type of innovation, also known as incremental innovation, is to take an existing device and extend it with a natural progression that people expect or, perhaps, have even asked for or because other devices on the market have already added it. As an example, this would be taking a traditional blender and exchanging the blender bowl with a small single service container that can double as a cup. This is a natural progression from an existing blender to a more useful and functional device. This is the kind of change that doesn’t change the world, but solves a small problem for much smaller subset of people.

iPhone X Design

Let’s dissect this design from top to bottom to better understand it better and understand why the iPhone X is not in any way truly innovative and only presents pseudo or iterative innovation.

OLED display — While this is new to the iPhone, it is in no way new to mobile devices. Samsung has been shipping tablets and phones with AMOLED displays for years now. In fact, I’ve personally owned the Samsung Galaxy Tab S for at least 4 years that has a Super AMOLED display. This display has been amazing and remains that way to this day. Apple is substantially late to this party for the iPhone. While it’s new to Apple’s devices, OLED is not in any way a new technology created by Apple. Worse, Apple hobbled their OLED display with the unusual design of that large black brow at the top. I still have no explanation for covering 10% of the display with an unsightly black bar. Worse, when videos play or other active content is viewed, 1/10 of that content is now being obscured by that black bar unless you change the settings. Such a questionable addition to an expensive phone.
Removal of Touch ID — This is actually negative innovation. Removal of useful features from a device serves only to leave more questions than answers. Touch ID is a relatively new addition to the iPhone. That Apple shipped the iPhone X without it is entirely unexpected. Apple should have postponed the release until they got this right. Touch ID is an intrinsic, non-intrusive technology that works in all conditions, secures the device using biometrics and offers a much safer alternative to login IDs and typing passwords (something entirely cumbersome on small phone devices).
Addition of Face ID — Face recognition on a phone, while new to the iPhone isn’t a new technology, nor was it created by Apple. Cameras have been capable of recognizing faces when taking photos, but it does not necessarily take the step to identify the person. Apple takes it to the identification level with Face ID. In fact, it takes it to the next step to use it to identify the owner of the phone. However, this is an untested new technology when used on a phone. While computers with hefty internet connections have been capable of performing this type of fast facial recognition, a phone will require a cloud service to provide such an identification. This means that your facial information will need to transmit to a cloud service and attempt to determine that you are you. It also means that this picture information may be stored on Apple’s servers for this purpose. It also means there’s a huge privacy concern here if Face ID captures something it shouldn’t have. Touch ID is never susceptible to this privacy intrusion problem.
Wireless Charging — Again, Samsung devices have had wireless inductive charging for years. This addition, while new to Apple’s phones, is not in any way innovation. Wireless charging has previously existed on other non-Apple devices and, again, has not been created by Apple. Apple has embraced the Qi wireless charging standard up to a point. However, Apple has denied iPhone devices from using Qi fast charging, instead choosing to offer up Apple’s own standard sometime in 2018. Unfortunately, Apple has now officially cancelled the AirPower because, for whatever reason, they couldn’t get it to work.
Fast Charging — This allows the phone to charge the battery perhaps 5x faster than the iPhone currently charges today. This is separate from Wireless Charging, but Wireless Charging can take advantage of it.
Edge to Edge Display — While Apple’s implementation of this screen seems edge to edge, it really isn’t. There is a small bezel around the display due to the way the case is designed. While it is probably the most edge to edge display we’ve seen in a phone to date, it isn’t the first. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 offered at least side to side edge to edge display and a reasonably small top and bottom bezel. Suffice it to say that what Apple has done is merely semantics. Now, if Apple hadn’t added that questionable brow covering 10% of the display, it might have been a small achievement.
Faster CPU, more RAM, faster overall performance — To be expected in any new release, though it will be outdated quickly

In fact, none of what has been included on the iPhone X is in any way newly created ideas by Apple. Apple is firmly playing catchup with the Joneses (or in this case, Samsung). Samsung has already produced phones with every single one of the technological advances that Apple has put into the iPhone X.

Fanboys might claim that the iPhone X is all new. No, it’s all nuances. Apple is simply catching up with existing technologies and ideas to improve their new phones (and I use the word improve loosely). There is nothing actually innovative about the iPhone X. In fact, from a design perspective, it’s probably one of the ugliest phones Apple has yet produced. The brow seals that fate. If there were such Razzie awards for design, Apple would win it for 2017.

iPhone 8

This is one of those things that always irks me about Apple. That they’re releasing the iPhone 8 at all is a bit of a mystery. If you’re introducing a new phone, why keep this line of phones at all? Bet the bank on the new model or don’t do it. This is what Apple has always done in the past. That Apple is now hedging its bets on two different models seems a bit out of ordinary for a company that has typically bet the bank on new ideas. I guess Apple is getting conservative in its old age.

Other than wireless and fast charging introduced into the iPhone X, nothing else has trickled its way into the iPhone 8. Effectively, the iPhone 8 is simply a faster iPhone 7 with Qi wireless and fast charging support.

Let’s talk about wireless and fast charging a little here. While the iPhone 8 is capable of both wireless and fast charging, it won’t come with it out of the box. In fact, Apple’s fast wireless charging pads won’t be released until sometime (probably late spring) 2018. While there are other Qi Wireless chargers you can buy now, these chargers won’t fast charge. Worse, the iPhone 8 still ships with the standard Lightning USB cable and standard speed charger. If you want fast charging, you’re going to need to invest in the extra accessories (cables and chargers) to get that faster charging performance. Until Apple releases its wireless charging pad, you can’t even get wireless and fast charging together. In addition to your phone’s cost, expect to dump an extra $100-200 on these accessories (several times if you want something now and then again when Apple releases its accessories).

Mac Computers

Just to reiterate the point of lack of innovation, I’ll bring up one more point. The MacBook and Mac line of computers has been so stagnant and so far behind the times, I’m not even sure Apple can catch up at this point. While every other non-Apple notebook on the market (even the cheapest, smallest model) now includes a touch display, Apple continues to ship its Mac computers without touch surfaces in defiance of that trend. There’s a point where you have to realize that touch surfaces actually are a necessity to computing. The ironic thing is, we have Apple to blame for this dependency by Apple introducing the original iPad.

Yet, Apple’s stubborn stance on introducing touch displays on the Mac has actually become a sore point with these devices. Apple, lose your stubbornness and finally release touch friendly MacBook computers at the very least. Though, I’d like to see touch screens on every Mac computer. You’ve had Spotlight on the MacOS X for years now (the first step towards touch displays), yet here we are with one computer that has a Touch Bar. The Touch Bar is such a non-innovation as to be a step backwards.

Let’s just get rid of the worthless Touch Bar and finally introduce Macs with touch displays, which is what we want anyway. Since we’re playing catchup, let’s finally catch the Mac line up to every other non-Apple notebook.

Apple’s Worms

It’s clear, Apple has lost its innovative ways. Apple is now relying entirely upon existing technologies and ideas, firmly throwing together half-assed ideas and calling them complete. The iPhone X idea should have been tossed before it ever saw the light of day. Had Jobs been alive to see it, the iPhone X idea would have been tossed out the window in lieu of a new idea.

The iPhone and Mac are only half-assed integrated with one another. The best we get is USB connections and Airdrop. The Universal clipboard only works about half the time and even then it’s not always useful depending on copied content. The single app that works quite well is iMessage. In fact, the entire reason this integration works at all is because of iCloud.

Additionally, Apple’s technology ideas across its product lines are entirely fractured:

The iPhone ships with Lightning connectors, but no other non-mobile computing device in Apple’s line up supports Lightning
The iPhone has removed the 3.5mm headphone jack for no other reason than, “just because”
New Macs now ship with USB-C, yet none of Apple’s mobile devices support this standard
USB-C Macs require dongles because none of Apple’s accessories support USB-C (other than the converter dongles)
The Apple Watch has no direct integration with the Mac. It only integrates with a single iPhone.
Apple ships Lightning headphones and those can only be used with the iPhone line, not Macs
Macs still fail to support touch displays
Macs still ship with 3.5mm headphone jacks
Apple’s magsafe adapters were amazingly innovative to supply power to the system, yet have been tossed out in lieu of the inferior USB-C connector
The iPhone and Mac are only half-assed integrated with one another. The best we get is USB connections and Airdrop. The Universal clipboard only works about half the time and even then it’s not always useful depending on copied content. The single app that works quite well is iMessage. In fact, the entire reason this integration works at all is because of iCloud.

Innovation is about putting together ideas that we’ve never before seen and that take risks. It’s about offering risky ideas in creating devices that offer the potential of changing the game entirely. There’s absolutely nothing about the iPhone X that’s a game changer. Yes, I do want an iPhone with an OLED display because I want the super high contrast ratio and vibrant colors. If that had been available on the iPhone 8, I’d probably have upgraded. For now, there’s no reason to upgrade from any of Apple’s most recent products. Wireless charging just isn’t enough. A hobbled OLED display is just not worth it.

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Done with Duracell

Posted in botch, business by commorancy on February 22, 2015

Rant Time Again.. I’ve tried. I really have. But, Duracell batteries are not what they used to be. Gone are the days when Duracell used to outlast the competition. Now, they don’t even outlast the cheapie batteries you get from the dollar store. Let’s explore.

Duracell Quantum Copper Tops

71sTO-1qNKL._SL1500_Sometime early last year, I bought the red bottom ‘Quantum’ copper top batteries that were supposed to hold more power and last longer. Well, that’s a total fallacy. These batteries lasted no longer than the no-name brand batteries. In fact, these batteries died far sooner than these generic batteries. I put these Quantum batteries into an Apple Magic Mouse. Typically, this mouse will get at least 6 months on and off use with Energizer batteries. These Quantum batteries died within 2 weeks. Literally, they died to the day at the end of two weeks. I chalked this up to a new battery technology (they’re red colored after all). I vowed never to buy these again.

Duracell Black Bottom Copper Tops

DuracellAATarget was recently having a sale on the standard alkaline copper tops. I hadn’t bought them in a while and thought they would be okay as they aren’t the same as the Quantum batteries. Was I ever wrong. These are not the copper tops of the days of yore. Far from it. I placed 3 of the copper tops into a clock. Yes, a clock. This specific clock, I might add, typically requires a battery change once a year or sometimes longer when using normal alkaline Energizer batteries. So, into this clock these 3 Duracells went. I can tell when the batteries are about to expire in this clock because the temperature gauge on the clock stops working. I had these ‘copper top’ batteries installed for approximately 1 month. Yes, 1 month! Seriously, 1 single month and the batteries began dying… the temperature gauge had stopped functioning.

I went and found my last 3 new Energizer batteries and replaced these Duracell batteries immediately. The temperature gauge begin working promptly. I should point out that the copper tops had recent dates and had a long expiration period. They were not old by any stretch.

Battery Technology Improvements?

Whatever Duracell is doing, it isn’t great. In fact, it’s horrible. Whatever design change they have made within their batteries has cut their lifetimes by over 90%. At first, I thought this problem was limited to the Quantum batteries. Nope, it extends to all of their batteries. Whatever they’ve done to try to ‘improve’ their batteries has seriously degraded their longevity.

One has to wonder, is this a ploy to sell more batteries? Is Duracell intentionally hobbling the lifespan of the batteries to force consumers to buy more batteries? Are they silently slipping in this change as a money making ploy? Is it intended to get people used to changing their batteries more frequently and then people won’t know any different? Clearly, they think this change will make more money for Duracell, at least that’s what they hope. Instead, all this is likely to do is chase consumers over to Energizer. This is exactly where I’ll be going. Duracell no more!

It’s been nice knowin’ ya, don’t let the door hit ya on the way out

As the subject of this article says, I’m officially done with Duracell. I will no longer invest money in or entrust my devices to any batteries produced by this company. I don’t know what happened over there and I don’t want to know. All I want to know is that when I put 3 AA batteries into my clock that I don’t have to change it for at least 9 months, just as I always have. I have absolutely no intention of changing batteries in this clock every month or in my magic mouse every week. That’s entirely ridiculous ask on the part of battery manufacturers.

Energizer_AA_E92I’ll turn to using Sanyo Eneloop rechargeables before I’ll stoop to that. There is absolutely no reason why a commercially produced alkaline battery should ever have a reduced life of over 90%. So, there you have it. No more Duracell batteries in my house, ever. Unless Energizer makes the same big change to their batteries also, I’ll officially stick with Energizer for all of my battery needs. I might consider generics or Rayovacs if that happens. But, I’ve had bad experiences with leaking batteries when using generics. This is especially true in clocks and other low power rarely changed devices (i.e., remotes). I’ve rarely ever had this issue with Energizer or Duracell. I simply can no longer trust Duracell to provide the longevity that they formerly have.

Anyway, I’m off to Target to get more Energizers. These Duracell batteries are officially in the circular file.

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Lady Gaga: Pop culture turns sour

Posted in art, business, music by commorancy on August 24, 2013

When Lady Gaga hit the scene, like most other early Shock Artists, she pinned herself to the genre of pop music. With songs like Just Dance and Poker Face, she set the tone (or at least we thought) of what she would continue to bring to the table. Let’s explore.

Early Gaga

In the early days of Lady Gaga, we saw an artist who, not unlike many past pop artists, turned to shock art antics on the stage. Artists who fit into this same mold include David Bowie, The Tubes, Alice Cooper, Madonna, Prince (for his sexcapades on stage), Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson and Tool. All of these bands had at least one pop hit.

Gaga has taken this same approach with The Fame. She cleverly uses straightforward pop music to rope in her fans. She then treats them to outrageous shock art antics both on stage and off, such as a raw meat dress and matching purse and hat. Or, her bubble outfit. She’s very good at both revealing parts of her body and covering them at the same time in a shocking way.

Her label hired a top-notch pop producer to produce The Fame as a classic pop album. In fact, the songs were very danceable with straightforward lyrics that most anyone can understand. Songs like Just Dance, Poker Face, Paparazzi and Love Game. She followed this album almost immediately with The Fame Monster and continued along these same lines changing the pop formula and song tone slightly, but retaining the straightforward pop lyrics with Telephone, Bad Romance and Monster. Although, by The Fame Monster, you could see hints of things to come, but it was still fun mostly pop music.

Later Gaga

With Born This Way, Lady Gaga took a decidedly different turn. This album saw a drastic change in compositions and lyrics. The music is less straightforward pop delving off into less pop formula at times. She’s now trying to push the envelope of the pop genre both musically and lyrically. Unfortunately, pop music has a very narrow range of formula and the boundaries cannot be pushed, not even by Lady Gaga. If you diverge from this narrow range in the pop genre, you are firmly outside of the genre. Meaning, Born This Way really wasn’t straightforward pop music. At best, it would be considered experimental pop. Born This Way (the album) just didn’t work as pop music as well as The Fame and The Fame Monster (and her charting of tracks from this release proved that).

By this time, though, Gaga had gained a large fanbase because of her two prior releases. Releases that were exceptionally produced and that had mass appeal. With Born This Way, she had to hope her existing fans would accept it. Thankfully, for her, they did. Unfortunately, Born This Way did little to rope in new fans as the appeal of the tracks on Born This Way would be limited.

Tracks such as Judas, Fashion of His Love and Marry The Night took a much more serious and darker tone, something which pop is generally not known for. The lyrics could be interpreted in ways that could be considered problematic by many. Unfortunately, this also means that Gaga has unpinned her roots to pop music with this release. Of course, Born This Way is her ‘second’ official album because The Fame Monster was an extension to The Fame. The fact that this album wasn’t as good follows with most artist’s sophomore releases.

Shock Art

For musical artists to utilize Shock Art properly, it requires grounding one piece of the persona to accepted social norms. For musicians, this means pinning the music and lyrics firmly to a common and popular music genre. Not only does this appear to ground the artist to some semblance of sanity, the shock art can be forgiven because of the quality music behind the shock. The pop genre also, when the music gets airplay, guarantees enough fans to continue to drive the artist forward.

Unfortunately, once Lady Gaga unpinned her music from the straightforward pop genre, she now risks losing everything she’s worked so hard to build. If people don’t listen to the music, the shock art has no place. People don’t go to the shows to see what’s on stage or watch the shock, they go to hear the music. The visuals simply come along as the frame around the music.

When you buy a painting, for example, you find a frame that suits the painting. You don’t buy some random gaudy frame that detracts from the art. You buy a frame that complements it. You buy a frame that guides your eyes into the picture and not to the frame itself. Without good music to back the shows, the only thing left to watch are the meat dresses and gooey concoctions she drapes herself in.

ARTPOP

Lady Gaga is releasing her new album ARTPOP on November 11th, 2013. One track has been ‘leaked’ called Burqa. Listening to this track, it’s clear that Gaga is pushing herself even farther away from the pop genre now more than ever. Some claim that it’s ‘club music’, but I don’t hear it. Club music is danceable. Club music has a beat that continues throughout the song. It is a 120-140 beats per minute track that gets people out of their seats and onto the dance floor. With Burqa, much of the song is devoid of beats. The sections that have beats still aren’t danceable.

The songwriting on the track is not pop formula. Most pop formula has a driving beat throughout with occasional breaks to heighten the track. Pop formula is usually ABAB or AABAABB or ABABBB similar. Where A is the straight sung parts of the song and B is the chorus or hook. Listening to Burqa, it’s difficult to find the formula because there’s not a driving beat and the chorus that’s there is not enough to get it stuck in your head. It’s structured, but not in the way that most pop songs are.

The point is that Gaga is now further pulling her music away from the pop genre and placing it into some kind of no-man’s land where it doesn’t fit rock, pop, dance or club. These types of tracks fit in the experimental category. Believe me, there are not many people out there who listen to experimental music. This genre is reserved for eclectic listeners. This is also not the demographic that tends to pay to attend concerts regularly. This is Lady Gaga’s primary mistake.

Gaga is washing herself out at a time when she could be firmly on top. Her label and her producers are not helping her either. They should be guiding her and keeping her on the pop track, but someone is giving her wrong advice (or no advice).

Ms. Germanotta, if you’re reading this, you need to head back to the studio and make sure your music remains firmly as ‘girl dumps guy’, ‘bad girl attitude’ lyrics wrapped in catchy pop tunes. This is the only way to ensure you can continue your rule at the top of pop no matter what you do on stage. The shock art may keep you in the tabloids, but the pop music keeps you on the charts and fans attending your concerts. Without The Pop, you won’t continue to have The Fame.

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Bioshock Infinite: Or, why circular time paradoxes suck!

Posted in movies, storytelling, video game, video game design by commorancy on June 3, 2013

Note: If you haven’t yet played Bioshock Infinite yet, this article contains spoilers.  You should stop reading now! You have been warned.

Many people are awed and dumbfounded (even Wikipedia) by the story within Bioshock Infinite. Wikipedia is supposed to remain neutral, yet the article for Bioshock Infinite is extremely biased towards Infinite containing a ‘great’ story. It most definitely isn’t ‘great’ by any stretch. For some odd reason, gamers (and critics) think what’s in Infinite is a good thing and somehow even like and see it as some sort of thought provoking experience. Well, perhaps it is in some small way thought provoking, but not thought provoking in the right (or even a good) way. Let’s explore why Bioshock Infinite’s type of thought provoking experience is not a good thing and not something to be wanted or desired in storytelling.

Breaking the Rules

There’s something to be said for people who break the rules. Sometimes breaking the rules can lead to good consequences. Most times, it ends up in failure. Story and narrative creation rules have been in existence since the earliest fiction book was written. Yet, these rules have minimally changed throughout the years to keep stories satisfying and fresh. The rules for well written storytelling are already firmly established. Granted, the storyteller can take liberties if the diversion leads you back to something profound within the story. Basically, the idea behind storytelling is to keep the pace and momentum going and to flesh out characters who the reader can feel good about. Plot devices are used to keep the story on track, to know where that story is heading and what the end goal is for the characters. With the ultimate goal being to produce characters whose situations seem real and profound.  The characters are the crux that ground the story even if the rest of the world is fanciful. Without this grounding, the story falls apart. With that said, every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. All three of these should be clearly defined so that what transpires along the way leads to a satisfying conclusion of the characters lives where the readers have invested their time.

Video Game Storytelling

With video games, the way to tell a story hasn’t substantially changed and not every video game company ‘gets’ it. Every entertainment experience today should become a cohesive character driven story to be successful. Within video games, there are two pieces to the story puzzle. The gameplay and the storytelling. Both are symbiotic relationships. One feeds off of the other. Neither should really become dominant in this mix. If the game falls too much into a storytelling role, it loses the interactivity needed to be a great video game. If the gameplay is all there is and the story only happens at the beginning and end, the story becomes an afterthought. Both have to work together to create the whole and to keep the player engaged in the game and the story. However, should one become more dominant than the other, the gameplay should win. It is a game after all.

Time Travel and Storytelling

Unfortunately, too many novice storytellers decide to use the extremely overused, trite and cliché device known as time travel via time anomalies to create and tell their (ahem) story. Worse, without clearly reasoned ideas, time travel can easily make a story become a Deus Ex Machina blunder. As it’s far too easily done wrong, time travel should be avoided in most stories as it really has no place in any quality storytelling experience. And, it’s usually not needed. For example, J.J. Abrams uses this device within the newest Star Trek film reboot. He, unfortunately, uses it to create an alternative universe where the original Star Trek crew don’t actually live. Instead, he creates a rebooted universe of his own choosing and design. His storytelling approach is to toss out the baby with the bathwater and start over on his own terms. Not only does this completely dismiss and insult Gene Roddenberry’s vision of Star Trek, it completely smacks of pretentiousness. J.J. Abrams apparently thinks he’s better than Gene Roddenberry and can somehow improve upon what Roddenberry has created. In fact, there is no need for this in the Star Trek universe. The original Star Trek universe works perfectly fine as it is for setting J.J. Abrams’ story.

In J.J. Abrams’ Trek, the only true Star Trek original crew was the aging Spock who somehow accidentally stumbled through a time hole into J.J. Abrams’ fabricated new time paradoxical Star Trek universe. After you realize this, you’ll understand just how horrible the new Star Trek film really is. The events that took place in J.J. Abrams’ Trek movie don’t exist in the universe that Gene Roddenberry created. This also means that you’ve wasted 2 hours of your life watching a contrived useless film.

Bioshock Infinite is a video game who’s designers decided to use time travel and alternative dimensions (string theory) to explain the story. The only thing the writers successfully accomplish is to produce an incomprehensible mess of a story with characters we ultimately don’t really care about. Some players saw the story as thought provoking. The only thing that Infinite accomplishes, if you begin to think on the story, is unravel its own story and you’re left with questions like, “Did it really even happen?” or “Is he alive or dead?” or “Is the story really over?”. Questions that, if you really want satisfying closure to a story as a writer, you don’t want people asking. These are not the kinds of questions that should be left over at the end of your story. These are the kinds of questions that lead people to critique the story as being trite, cliché and poorly written. You want people to value and cherish and like the story. You want them liking and asking questions about the characters, what happened to them after, where the story might go from here. You don’t want to leave your story open to ‘Infinite’ possibilities where the story leads effectively nowhere and there are so many of the same characters that you can’t even wrap your head around it. In storytelling, infinite choice is the same as no choice. Meaning, if there is no way to tell what happened, that’s the same as saying that it didn’t happen. Which then means that playing the game is pointless.

Time Travel and Time Paradoxes

Time travel is a concept that we do not know if it’s possible. It’s all theory and conjecture at this point. It could become a reality in the future, but we’re not there yet. Telling fanciful stories about time travel and multiple universes may seem like something good, but most times isn’t. The single biggest problem with using time travel and string theory in storytelling is the circular time paradox. That is, a situation that would lead the viewer to logically conclude just how the story came to exist if changing a small piece caused the creation (or unraveling) of the situation in the first place. As a concrete example, in the film Terminator 2, Skynet effectively creates itself. That is, a Skynet robot from the future is sent back in time to kill the then kid, John Connor. Yet, it fails and is destroyed. Its robotic brain technology chip is recovered by Cyberdyne Systems. Cyberdyne Systems employees then reverse engineers the chip which, through technology breakthroughs as a result of that chip, then causes the conception of the technology that leads to the birth of those exact robots and the Skynet computer. Effectively, the technology creates itself. Because of this circular time paradox, this makes stories like Terminator 2 unwieldy, unsatisfying and poorly written. Technology simply cannot create itself and stories should never be written that even hint at that. Humans should always have a hand in that creation of something or the logic of the whole story falls apart.

Likewise, Bioshock Infinite creates a time paradox where the death of Booker unravels the game’s entire reason to exist. Why would you, as a writer, intentionally negate the reason for your story’s existence? Basically, you’ve just told your readers, this story sucked and it didn’t really happen. Or in the case of a video game, the designers are saying, “Yes, we understand you’ve invested hours and hours playing this video game, but really, the story and game just didn’t happen.”

Bioshock Infinite

Oh, this game seems like it tries to keep itself on track in the beginning, but fails because its writers and the story simply get more and more lost with every new time hole (tear) that Elizabeth creates. The writers eventually can’t keep up with the time paradoxes and begin ignoring them entirely in hopes that the player will too. Unfortunately, I can’t overlook this issue. It’s one of my pet peeves within stories. While I don’t plan on keeping score of exactly how many time paradoxes take place over the course of the game, the one that matters is at the very end of the game.

If Booker and Comstock are one and the same person, and Booker kills himself as a child, Columbia can’t come to exist and neither can Elizabeth. Of course, what happens is that multiple Elizabeths drown Booker in a mock baptism which also negates the entire Comstock Columbia story. Which means, Booker would never come to visit Columbia and Elizabeth would never have been stuck in the tower. Who’s to say Anna/Elizabeth would have even been born? Yet, self-preservation and survival is the strongest human instinct that humans have. Why would Elizabeth knowingly do away with her own existence by killing her own father or even allow that to happen? That’s just not logical or rational from a character self-preservation perspective. Worse, because Irrational’s designers postulate the possibility of ‘Infinite’ realities with infinite Elizabeths, Comstocks, and Bookers, there never could be complete destruction of any one of those characters or of every infinite possible version of that story. Even worse, thinking thorough the possibility of infinite stories, how do we even know that the story we played is even the one that matters in the Grand Scheme? Likely there is a universe where Booker doesn’t become Comstock and Elizabeth and Booker have a normal happy family relationship and live happily ever after along with her mother.

Ultimately, what does any of the Infinite story have to do with Rapture? Yes, we got to see Rapture through one of Elizabeth’s doors, but the only relationship between Bioshock Infinite and the other Bioshock games is strictly in that short visit to Rapture. Nothing in this multiverse story has anything whatever to do with explaining the existence of Rapture (other than being just another alternative reality). It doesn’t explain splicers, big daddies, little sisters, big sisters or anything else that transpires on Rapture. In other words, the writers of Infinite fail in two ways:

  • They fail to give us a story in Infinite that ultimately makes any sense in the end
  • They fail to explain the creation of Rapture or of those people who end up on Rapture

They even fail at explaining how Columbia comes to exist. If the multiple Elizabeths are successful at drowning Booker, Comstock can’t come to exist and neither can Columbia. That means that the entire story in Bioshock Infinite doesn’t even happen. Which, unfortunately, leads to a circular time paradox. Such circular time paradoxes should always be avoided when writing time travel and string theory stories. Why? Because they leave the viewer with the question, “What was the point in that?” and provide a less than satisfying ending. It’s also not the question you want your viewers left asking after it’s all over. You want them to be thinking about the story and how they like the characters along the way. If the characters are all completely toss-worthy, as in Infinite, then it’s all pointless. You don’t want the viewer fixated on how the story even came to exist because that then turns the viewers to realize just how bad the story is and how worthless the characters are. Further, as an author, why would you ever intentionally write your entire story and characters out of existence via a time paradox? Is your story really that unimportant to you and your readers?

It’s the same reason you never write a story that ends up with the main character waking up from a dream at the end. Stories that end up as one big dream sequence are completely unsatisfying.  Viewers think, “Why did I waste my time watching that?” It’s definitely the wrong thing to pull from a story. Time travel stories with circular time paradoxes are just as equally unsatisfying for the same reason as waking up from a dream sequence. In fact, these two plot devices are born from the same mold and should never be used unless there is a very good reason to break that rule. This is especially true if primary storyline’s time paradox negates the whole reason to even tell the story because the characters never existed. So far, I’ve not read one recent book, seen a recent movie or played a recent game that had a story that could successfully navigate time travel or multiverses as plot device.

The closest any recent filmmakers have ever come to making time travel actually work without producing circular time paradoxes is Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future series and Alfonso Cuaron’s adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with its Time Turner sequences. Both stories are carefully crafted to avoid circular time paradoxes. In Prisoner of Azkaban, the Time Turner sequence isn’t used as the main story driving device. Instead, it is used in a noble way to save Buckbeak from death, which allows the film to have a very satisfying closure despite the inclusion of time travel. Zemeckis’ Back to the Future films do use time travel as the main plot device. However, these films’ stories are also very carefully crafted to avoid time paradoxes and leave each film with very satisfying conclusions. So, you ultimately care about the characters and ignore the silly time travel plot device. I would also include that the original H.G. Wells’ Time Machine movie is probably the most successful story at navigating time travel as a device within the story without creating a circular time paradox, while still providing engaging likeable characters along the way and a satisfying conclusion.

Overused plot devices

Time travel use as a plot device, while extremely popular, is mostly carelessly used. It has been used in such popular franchises as Lost, Stargate, Star Trek (series and movies), Terminator and is now being used in video games like Bioshock Infinite. Writers need to be extremely judicious with their use of this plot device. Time travel should only be used in a way that advances the story forward, but never in a way that becomes the story itself (as in Bioshock Infinite). Unfortunately, Irrational’s writers just don’t understand how to properly use this plot device within the story context and they use it incorrectly. It should never be used in the way it is used in Infinite. Instead, Columbia could have been shown to exist for other reasons than because of infinite realities.

At the end of Bioshock Infinite, it’s quite clear that the time travel piece is poorly conceived. It ends up making the main character appear as if he is having a psychotic episode rather than actively part of multiple dimensions and realities. I full well expected to see Booker wake up in a mental facility (on Rapture) with nurse Elizabeth administering sedatives to him. At least that storyline would have dismissed the time paradoxes as unreal events and showed us that Booker is just a mental patient among many. This is what is needed to ground the story and tie in the Bioshock Rapture story experience to the Bioshock Infinite story experience full-circle. Yes, that ending would have invalidated Columbia as a non-event, but the writers already did a good job of that in Infinite. Yes, I realize I’m advocating explaining off Infinite as a dream sequence (which is generally to be avoided). Because the Infinite writers already negated their own story, that mental hospital ending would at least start to explain how Rapture came to exist in the state it is in when we played the original Bioshock which is still a far better ending than negating your entire story. At this point, the Infinite story is just a jumbled disarray of ideas that didn’t congeal and that basically made the entire Columbia story a complete time wasting experience.  We don’t care about Comstock and now we don’t know what to think about Booker. Anna/Elizabeth ends up simply being a facilitating plot device, but we really don’t feel for her plight at all during or after the story.  At the end, she ends up a pawn (as is everyone else including Booker and Comstock). In fact, because of the time paradox story negation, we really don’t care about any of the characters.

As an FYI to future writers, ending your story with infinite universe possibilities and infinite versions of your story’s main characters is the worst possible ending for a story if you want your characters to be remembered. Because you as an author should value your story’s existence above all else, negating your characters and story with a time paradox simply sucks. If you don’t value your story, why should we?

Flickr’s new interface review: Is it time to leave Flickr?

Posted in botch, cloud computing, computers, social media by commorancy on May 21, 2013

New Flickr InterfaceYahoo’s Flickr has just introduced their new ’tile’ interface (not unlike Windows Metro tiles) as the new user interface experience. Unfortunately, it appears that Yahoo introduced this site without any kind of preview, beta test or user feedback. Let’s explore.

Tile User Experience

The tiles interface at first may appear enticing. But, you quickly realize just how busy, cluttered, cumbersome and ugly this new interface is when you actually try to navigate and use it. The interface is very distracting and, again, overly busy. Note, it’s not just the tiles that are the problem. When you click an image from the tile sheet, it takes you to this huge black background with the image on top. Then you have to scroll and scroll to get to the comments.  No, not exactly how I want my images showcased. Anyway, let me start by saying that I’m not a fan of these odd shaped square tile interfaces (that look like a bad copycat of a Mondrian painting). The interface has been common on the Xbox 360 for quite some time and is now standard for Windows Metro interface. While I’ll tolerate it on the Xbox as a UI, it’s not an enticing user experience. It’s frustrating and, more than that, it’s ugly. So, why exactly Yahoo decided on this user interface as their core experience, I am completely at a loss…. unless this is some bid to bring back the Microsoft deal they tossed out several years back. I digress.

Visitor experience

While I’m okay with the tiles being the primary visitor experience, I don’t want this interface as my primary account owner experience. Instead, there should be two separate and distinct interfaces. An experience for visitors and an experience for the account owner.  The tile experience is fine for visitors, but keep in mind that this is a photo and art sharing site.  So, I should be able to display my images in the way I want my users to see them.  If I want them framed in black, let me do that. If I want them framed in white, let me do that. Don’t force me into a one-size-fits-all mold with no customization. That’s where we are right now.

Account owner experience

As a Flickr account owner, I want an experience that helps me manage my images, my sets, my collections and most of all, the comments and statistics about my images. The tile experience gives me none of this. It may seem ‘pretty’ (ahem, pretty ugly), but it’s not at all conducive to managing the images. Yes, I can hear the argument that there is the ‘organizr’ that you can use. Yes, but that’s of limited functionality. I preferred the view where I can see view numbers at a glance, if someone’s favorited a photo, if there are any comments, etc.  I don’t want to have to dig down into each photo to go find this information, I want this part at a glance.  Hence, the need for an account owner interface experience that’s separate from what visitors see.

Customization

This is a photo sharing site. These are my photos. Let me design my user interface experience to match the way I want my photos to be viewed. It is a gallery after all. If I were to show my work at a gallery, I would be able to choose the frames, the wall placement, the lighting and all other aspects about how my work is shown. Why not Flickr? This is what Flickr needs to provide. Don’t force us into a one-size-fits-all mold of something that is not only hideous to view, it’s slow to load and impossible to easily navigate.  No, give me a site where I can frame my work on the site. Give me a site where I can design a virtual lighting concept.  Give me a site where I can add virtual frames. Let me customize each and every image’s experience that best shows off my work.

Don’t corner me into a single user experience where I have no control over look and feel. If I don’t like the tile experience, let me choose from other options. This is what Flickr should have been designing.

No Beta Test?

Any site that rolls out a change as substantial as what Flickr has just pushed usually offers a preview window.  A period of time where users can preview the new interface and give feedback. This does two things:

  1. Gives users a way to see what’s coming.
  2. Gives the site owner a way to tweak the experience based on feedback before rolling it out.

Flickr didn’t do this. It is huge mistake to think that users will just silently accept any interface some random designer throws out there. The site is as much the users as it is Yahoo’s. It’s a community effort. Yahoo provides us with the tools to present our photos, we provide the photos to enhance their site. Yahoo doesn’t get this concept. Instead, they have become jaded to this and feel that they can do whatever they want and users will ‘have’ to accept it. This is a grave mistake for any web sharing site, least of all Flickr. Flickr, stop, look and listen. Now is the time.

Photo Sharing Sites

In among Flickr, there are many many photo sharing sites on the Internet. Flickr is not the only one. As content providers, we can simply take our photos and move them elsewhere. Yahoo doesn’t get this concept. They think they have some kind of captive audience. Unfortunately, this thinking is why Yahoo’s stock is now at $28 a share and not $280 a share. We can move our photos to a place where there’s a better experience (i.e., Picasa, DeviantArt, Photobucket, 500px, etc). Yahoo needs to wake up and realize they are not the only photo sharing site on the planet.

Old Site Back?

No, I’m not advocating to move back to the old site. I do want a new user experience with Flickr. Just not this one. I want an experience that works for my needs. I want an interface that let’s me showcase my images in the way I want. I want a virtual gallery that lets me customize how my images are viewed and not by using those hideous and slow tiles.  Why not take a page from the WordPress handbook and support gallery themes. Let me choose a theme (or design my own) that lets me choose how to best represent my imagery. This is the user experience that I want. This is the user experience I want my visitors to have. These are my images, let me show them in their best light.

Suggestions for @Yahoo/@Flickr

Reimagine. Rethink. Redesign. I’m glad to see that Yahoo is trying new things. But, the designers need to be willing to admit when a new idea is a failure and redesign it until it does work. Don’t stop coming up with new ideas. Don’t think that this is the way it is and there is nothing more. If Yahoo stops at this point with the interface as it is now, the site is dead and very likely with it Yahoo. Yahoo is very nearly on its last legs anyway. Making such a huge blunder with such a well respected (albeit antiquated site) could well be the last thing Yahoo ever does.

Marissa, have your engineers take this back to the drawing board and give us a site that we can actually use and that we actually want to use.

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Amazon Kindle: Buyer’s Security Warning

Posted in best practices, computers, family, security, shopping by commorancy on May 4, 2012

If you’re thinking of purchasing a Kindle or Kindle Fire, beware. Amazon ships the Kindle pre-registered to your account in advance while the item being shipped. What does that mean? It means that the device is ready to make purchases right from your account without being in your possession. Amazon does this to make it ‘easy’. Unfortunately, this is a huge security risk. You need to take some precautions before the Kindle arrives.

Why is this a risk?

If the package gets stolen, it becomes not only a hassle to get the device replaced, it means the thief can rack up purchases for that device from your Amazon account on your registered credit card without you being immediately aware. The bigger security problem, however, is that the Kindle does not require a login and password to purchase content. Once registered to your account, it means the device is already given consent to purchase without any further security. Because the Kindle does not require a password to purchase content, unlike the iPad which asks for a password to purchase, the Kindle can easily purchase content right on your credit card without any further prompts. You will only find out about the purchases after they have been made through email receipts. At this point, you will have to dispute the charges with Amazon and, likely, with your bank.

This is bad on many levels, but it’s especially bad while the item is in transit until you receive the device in the mail. If the device is stolen in transit, your account could end up being charged for content by the thief, as described above. Also, if you have a child that you would like to use the device, they can also make easy purchases because it’s registered and requires no additional passwords. They just click and you’ve bought.

What to do?

When you order a Kindle, you will want to find and de-register that Kindle (may take 24 hours before it appears) until it safely arrives into your possession and is working as you expect. You can find the Kindles registered to your account by clicking (from the front page while logged in) ‘Your Account->Manage Your Kindle‘  menu then click ‘Manage Your Devices‘ in the left side panel. From here, look for any Kindles you may have recently purchased and click ‘Deregister’. Follow through any prompts until they are unregistered. This will unregister that device. You can re-register the device when it arrives.

If you’re concerned that your child may make unauthorized purchases, either don’t let them use your Kindle or de-register the Kindle each time you give the device to your child. They can use the content that’s on the device, but they cannot make any further purchases unless you re-register the device.

Kindle as a Gift

Still a problem. Amazon doesn’t recognize gift purchases any differently. If you are buying a Kindle for a friend, co-worker or even as a giveaway for your company’s party, you will want to explicitly find the purchased Kindle in your account and de-register it. Otherwise, the person who receives the device could potentially rack up purchases on your account without you knowing.

Shame on Amazon

Amazon should stop this practice of pre-registering Kindles pronto. All Kindles should only register to the account after the device has arrived in the possession of the rightful owner. Then, and only then, should the device be registered to the consumer’s Amazon account as part of the setup process using an authorized Amazon login and password (or by doing it in the Manage devices section of the Amazon account). The consumer should be the sole responsible party to authorize all devices to their account. Amazon needs to stop pre-registering of devices before the item ships. This is a bad practice and a huge security risk to the holder of the Amazon account who purchased the Kindle. It also makes gifting Kindles extremely problematic. Amazon, it’s time to stop this bad security practice or place more security mechanisms on the Kindle before a purchase can be made.

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Stupid Security Measures: autocomplete=off – How To Turn Off or Disable

Posted in banking, security, technologies by commorancy on April 16, 2012

While I’m all for some browser related security, this one feature is completely asinine because it’s so unpredictable, uncontrollable and stupidly implemented. This is the complete opposite anyone should expect from a quality user experience. Let’s explore.

What is auto-completion?

Most browsers today will automatically fill forms and password fields from locally saved browser login and password information (usually the field is yellow when automatically filled). This is called autofill or autocompletion. While I admit that storing passwords inside a browser is not the smartest of ideas, specifically if it happens to be connected to your bank account. With that said, it is my choice. Let me emphasize this again loudly. Saving passwords IS MY CHOICE! Sorry for yelling, but some people just don’t listen or get this… hello Chrome, Firefox and IE, you guys (especially Chrome) need to take notes here.

So what’s this autocomplete=off business?

As a result of autocompletion, the browser creators have decided to give web site creators the ability to disable this mechanism from within their own web pages. So, when they create forms, they can add the tag “autocomplete=off” to the form which prevents the browser from storing (or offering to store) passwords or other sensitive information. This is fine if the browser would give the user the choice still. It doesn’t.

I’m fine with browsers trying to prevent stupid behavior from users, but always provide an override. Never implement features like this, however, at the expense of a frustrating and inconsistent browser experience. This is exactly what autocomplete=off does. Why? The browser doesn’t give the user control over this web page mechanism nor does it even warn of it. If the site sets this flag on their form, the browser won’t offer to store anything dealing with this form. That’s fine IF I can disable this behavior in the browser. I can’t. As I so loudly said above, this is MY choice. Make this a preference. If I want to store logins and passwords for any site on the Internet, it’s my choice. This is not Chrome’s choice or Wells Fargo’s choice or any other site’s choice. If you offer to store and save passwords, you need to let me do it under all conditions or don’t offer to do it at all. Don’t selectively do it based on some random flag that’s set without any warning to the user.

Inconsistent Browser Experience

When autocomplete=off is set on a form, there is no warning to the user that this value is set. The browser just doesn’t save the password. You have no idea why, you don’t know what’s going on. You expect the browser to offer to save and it doesn’t. This just makes the browser look broken. And, frankly, it is. If the browser can’t warn that autocomplete=off is set by the site through changing the color of the bar, flashing, an icon or some other warning mechanism (like the lock when https is in use) the user experience has been compromised and the browser is broken. This affects not only Chrome, but IE, Safari and Firefox. Yes, and this is extremely bad browser behavior. It’s also taking a step back in time before web 2.0 when the browser experience became more positive than negative. We’re heading back into negative territory here.

Browser Developers Hear Me

Not warning the user that the experience is about to change substantially is not wanted behavior. For auto-completion, we already have mechanisms to shut it off entirely. We have mechanisms to exclude sites from saving credentials. Why do we need to change the browser experience just to satisfy Wells Fargo or some other site? I’m all for letting these sites set this flag, but just like overriding bad certificates at https sites, users should be able to override autocomplete=off. There is no need to break the browser experience because you want to allow sites stop saving of passwords. No, again, hear me, it’s MY CHOICE. It’s not your choice as a developer. It’s not Wells Fargo’s choice. It’s not PayPal’s choice. It’s MY CHOICE. If I want to save passwords into my browser, allow me t0 always override this setting.

Hacks Galore

Yes, there are browser hacks available as browser extensions (Chrome or Firefox) to disable autocomplete=off on forms on sites. While these hacks work, they require updating, can break on browser updates and can be generally problematic under some conditions. No, this is an issue that firmly needs to be addressed in the core browser, not through clever browser add-on hacks. Let the sites set autocomplete=off, that’s fine. But, warn me that it’s turned on and let me override it. I shouldn’t need a hack to fix a bug in the browser.

Always Warn of Browser Experience Changes

Why am I going down on this issue so hard? Because this is a completely crappy implementation of this feature. Why? Because it breaks the user’s browsing experience without any warning. If this the page is attempting to prevent me from saving credentials, then this information should be marked clearly in the browser somewhere. Perhaps by adding a special icon to the address bar indicating that credential saving is not allowed on this site. Then, when I click that small icon, I should be able to override this behavior immediately. Again, this is my choice to store or not store passwords to the browser. There should never be any defacto security mechanisms which cannot be overridden by a user control. Never!

If the user chooses to do something stupid, that’s the user’s choice. No, it’s not a bank’s, chrome’s or any other company’s responsibility to ensure the safety of user data. It’s entirely the user’s responsibility and those choices should be completely left up to the user to decide, for better or worse.

[Update] Safari is now warning when autocomplete=off is set on a page. Safari now tells you that the site you are visiting doesn’t allow saving of passwords. Bravo to at least Apple for getting this one right.

I have also found that Firefox with the Greasemonkey plugin and this Greasemonkey script works best for completely disabling all pieces of autocomplete=off.  While the above plugins do at least allow saving passwords, the plugins don’t always allow autocomplete to work.  This means that if you want to see your credentials autopopulate into the fields on page load, you may have to use Greasemonkey instead. I have found that the Greasemonkey solution is the most complete at disabling autocomplete=off.  The reason this works is that Greasemonkey actually removes this autocomplete=off pieces from the page before Firefox renders it. The other plugins just tweak the browser to ignore the setting for password saving, but it still exists in the page source and, thus, the pieces that manage the autocomplete parts are left unhandled.  So, these pieces still don’t populate the fields.

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