Random Thoughts – Randocity!

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 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 ChargingAgain, 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.
  • 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 DisplayWhile 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.

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 each 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 than ever. Some claim that it’s a ‘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 by the story within Bioshock Infinite. For some odd reason, people think this 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 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 liked 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 cliche device known as time travel and time anomalies to create and tell their story. Worse, without clearly reasoned ideas, time travel can easily make a story become an  Ex Deus 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, cliche and poorly written. You want people to value the story 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 creation 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. 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.

Worse, 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 Rapture (other than being just another alternative reality). It doesn’t explain splicers, big daddys, little sisters, big sisters or anything else to do with what transpires on Rapture. In other words, the writers of Infinite fail in two ways:

  • They fail to give us a story from 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 allowes the film to have a very satisfying closure. 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 at navigating time travel as a device within a story without creating a circular time paradox while still providing engaging likeable characters along the way.

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.

Analyzing the bad Mass Effect 3 ending

Posted in science fiction by commorancy on April 12, 2012

So, when you next head over to Amazon, but not right now, you will find a bunch of very negative reviews of Mass Effect 3.  Apparently, there’s somewhat of a backlash going based the last 10 minutes of Mass Effect 3.  It seems, though, that most gamers including myself have found the lead up to the ending reasonably enjoyable if not overly short. As I said in my previous article on this subject, it wasn’t until the very end where it all fell apart.  So, I’m going to analyze why this ending sucked so much.  Again, spoilers ahead so stop reading now if you want to play..

My Analysis of the Backlash

When you create a multi-part game, you have to keep in mind the goal and outcome for the final character.  Players have invested substantial time into not only the story, but in building out their own character in that universe.  At the same time, the story being built needs to slowly introduce new concepts along the way so we’re not surprised at the end by something unexpected. Unexpected is what we got from Mass Effect 3.  Unfortunately too, it was the result of an Ex Deus Machina late addition to the story at the final few minutes of the game.  In fact, the character that was introduced seemed added as afterthought, but at the same time didn’t fit at all within the concept of the game.

The Citadel Entity

This character was introduced in the final 10 minutes of the game.  I’m actually fine with introducing characters, but not immortal, unkillable, omnipotent characters.  Unfortunately, this is what we got from the entity on the Citadel.  Why is this a problem?  Omnipotent characters (characters with unlimited and extraordinary powers) can almost certainly not be defeated by an ordinary human.  However, assuming that Shepard was rebuilt from both machine and man, he might have been able to overcome his human side and fulfill that destiny.  Unfortunately, though, the game designers also decided to make this character as a spirit and immortal.  How do we know he’s immortal?  He clearly explains that he has gone through this cycle multiple times in the galaxy.  That is, wiping organics out and letting them flourish back.  How do we know he’s omnipotent?  He also admitted that he’s the one who builds the reapers… from humans! Basically, he subjugates the humans into becoming reapers to do his bidding. So, unless there’s a reaper factory out there turning humans into reapers, he’s got some severely fantastical powers.

The entity also states he’s living ‘in’ the Citadel, for whatever that means.  There’s nothing that says he can’t live somewhere else, though.  So, even if the Citadel structure may be destroyed, that doesn’t mean the entity will be destroyed also.

The Real Enemy

Actually, this wasn’t even discussed and should have been.  Once Shepard reaches the Citadel and begins getting the full story from the entity, it should have been clear as glass.  The reaper threat paled next to the threat that this entity poses.  If this entity is truly at the bottom of the whole reaper invasion and if he can make them at will and do it time and time again throughout eons, then nothing that Shepard can do with the Crucible will have any effect on that entity. Basically, killing the reapers was completely and utterly futile.  The entity can wait an infinite amount of time to start his task over again.  He simply needs to wait past everyone who remembers the Shepard era, rebuild the reapers (perhaps even ironically out of Shepard, Chakwas and other crew members) and have these new reapers start the cycle over.

That the writers completely failed to see the danger that this entity poses and, worse that they failed to let Shepard recognize it is a serious lack of judgement.  Any person who is military trained would have clearly spotted the danger that this entity poses, specifically after hearing this entity’s explanation.  Of course, if this entity is truly omnipotent, he could have been playing with Shepard’s mind and making him believe and do as he wished.  So, Shepard may not have been able to control his own actions against this entity.  And that’s the number one problem with using an immortal omnipotent being in any story.

This is a total cop-out method for story closure.  It means that the writers did not have enough confidence in their own abilities to write a satisfying conclusion and instead had to rely on a ‘trick’ to pull off the end.  That ‘trick’ cost them their review status on Amazon and severely damaged this franchise’s reputation, probably permanently.  EA/Bioware will be lucky if they can salvage this franchise for any use after this.

Can this be fixed?

That’s debatable.  Possibly.  However, it will take the writers to venture again into Ex Deus Machina territory to explain off the previous ending as nothing more than a mirage, illusion, dream sequence or other type of fantasy.  The one way I can even hope to see it work at all is by using the time when Shepard goes unconscious just after the ground reaper attack, but before he crawls to the portal.  That’s the time right before meeting the omnipotent immortal entity.  This could be explained off as simply as Shepard was fished from the surface of the planet in a coma and allowed to wake up.  Basically, the entire ending was simply a coma dream.  He simply fantasized it all because he wanted it to be over.

This would allow three things.  One, it will completely get rid of the immortal omnipotent entity from the story line (a totally unnecessary Ex Deus Machina character introduced way too late and without any previous setup).  Two, it allows the writers to completely regroup and come up with an actual ending that works.  It also allows EA/Bioware to continue this entire story into Mass Effect 4.  Three, even though using a ‘dream sequence’ is about as Ex Deus Machina as you can get, it does fit with ME3’s setup just enough that it could work.  The entire game kept revolving around Shepard’s dreams of chasing a boy.  So, the boy omnipotent entity could have simply been an extension of those dreams during his coma.

The trouble is, you can’t do this setup in ME3 at all.  It has to be done in ME4.  So, this will leave the fans hanging on this bad ending quite for some time before ME4 comes into existence. So, the problem is solved and Mass Effect 4 can continue.  But, how to undo the reputation issues quickly?  EA/Bioware will need to leak details of ME4 very very soon. Specifically, a video trailer to YouTube that shows Shepard waking up from his Coma, then some short dialog about what happened and an even shorter explanation that he never made it into the Citadel that gets immediately cut off by an explosion rocking the Normandy and off to work they go.

Of course, the reapers still need to be stopped as the relays are still active.  This could also lead into a very active opening for Mass Effect 4 and would allow Shepard to jump immediately into action to stop the heavy reaper invasion already in play.  So, he can’t remain in a coma very long or the Galaxy would be consumed by the huge reaper attack. They’ll need Chakwas to find a way to snap him out of it really fast. Note that this also means that the Elusive Man is still alive.

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Bad Operating System Design Ideas Part 1

Posted in Apple, Mac OS X, windows by commorancy on November 6, 2011

Here is a new series I am putting together.  While we all need to use operating systems every day, there are lots of stupid ideas that abound on these devices that some developer thought would be ‘cool’.  Let’s explore these design ideas and why they’re stupid.  Let’s start with one company that people seem to think can do no wrong.. Apple.  Yeah, I could start with the easiest target, Windows, but I’ll save the best (er.. easiest) for last. :)

Apple isn’t immune

Spring Loaded Folders

Apple’s OS X most definitely has some quirky and, frankly, stupid design ideas that simply need to go away.  For very good reason, the first on this list is spring loaded folders. This is one design idea that breaks EVERY UI rulebook.  This functionality moves windows around under the cursor to unexpected places during, of all times, when you’re about to drop a file or folder on it.  It’s almost like some kind of bizarre practical joke. I mean, if this isn’t the absolute worst idea, I don’t know what is.  I’m not even sure what they were thinking at the time of conception, but windowing operating systems should never ever move windows or cursors automatically.  Let the user move things if they want them moved.  Worse, the idea of spring loaded folders has nothing at all to do with moving the windows around.  The spring loaded folder is supposed to open a folder when you are dragging and hovering over to the top of a folder name.  While opening a new window in the middle of holding drag-and-drop operation may seem like a great idea, it’s really obvious why this UI concept doesn’t work:  it will lead to dropping folders into the wrong place.  I don’t even want to say how many times I’ve inadvertently lost folders and files as a result of spring loaded folders. Yes, at least you can turn it off and it should be off by default.

Android isn’t immune

There is no easy way to manage running applications (at least not in 2.2) or really any other settings.  You have to dig through the ‘Settings’ area to get to Applications and then manage them from there after a few drill downs.  Same with most settings.  This is a mobile device.  These things need EASY and FAST access.  Digging through 5 menus to get to the Bluetooth area is both wasteful and dangerous while driving.  Let’s get these things front and center with one click.

IOS isn’t immune

Dragging icons from screen to screen to move them is near impossible.  Most times it drops onto the current screen at the edge.  You then have to pick it up and drag it again.  It would be far simpler to show a representation of all of the screens at once and then drop it onto the screen you want it on.  You can then put it in the exact location later.

Windows isn’t immune (but who said it was?)

When you’re hovering over a scrollable area of an Explorer window, you have to click to activate before you can scroll.  The trouble is, there is no empty place to click that doesn’t activate something.  If you’re hovering over the folder area, whatever you click on will activate.  If you’re in the files area, the same thing.  This is magnified when the Explorer window also happens to be a file requester.  So, you’re trying to scroll to the bottom of the files area.  If you click anywhere in the files area, it will fill in the filename with the file you have just clicked.  Annoying.  I don’t know why Windows can’t just realize the mouse pointer is over that area and activate at least the scrolling part.  There really should be no click necessary.

Why Windows can’t remember my folder settings in Windows 7, I have no idea.  Getting rid of the Quick Launch bar, bad idea.  Turning the ‘Start’ button into the ‘Windows’ button, stupid (at least from a support perspective).  Can we at least keep some consistency from one OS to the next?

These are my initial pet peeves.  There are tons more that have yet to be documented.  I will highlight these in part two of this series.

Enjoy (and comment if you have peeves of your own).

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