Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Can you make potato chips in the microwave?

Posted in baking, Health, howto, smart, snacking by commorancy on September 17, 2019

Why yes. Yes, you can. In fact, it’s pretty fast to make homemade potato chips. But, the speed does depend on your microwave. Let’s explore.

Slicer

The critical piece of the potato chip puzzle is slicing them the correct thickness. To do this, you need to get a potato chip mandoline. This is the critical first step to making potato chips. They can’t be too thick, but they also can’t be too thin. There’s a perfect thickness to make proper potato chips.

The slicer I recommend is the Akebono Potato Slicer set. Though, you may be able to get the potato chips the proper thickness with this Ronco mandoline or this Mastrad mandoline. The reviews show that these do work.

Baker

All of these sets offer a round plastic baker which holds the chips vertical. I’m not a fan of baking them this way. I prefer my chips flat. If you use the vertical version, the chips will fold and flop over, sometimes on themselves. This can make for odd shaped chips. If you like that about the vertical baker, then by all means go for it. As I said, I prefer my chips flat.

To get absolutely flat chips, you’ll want to microwave them flat on a plate. I use glass plates because the chips stick less and seem to bake faster. There’s also no chance of burning a glass plate, unlike paper which can smoulder and catch fire in the microwave.

It’s up to you to choose which baking method you prefer.

Preparation

  • Scrub the potato thoroughly with a vegetable brush under running water.
  • Peel potato if you prefer. I prefer them unpeeled.
  • Slice the potato on the mandoline and place the slices into water to soak.
  • When finished slicing, rinse all of the slices on both sides until the water runs clear (i.e., no starch remains).
  • Dry the chips on both sides and lay them on a flat surface.
  • Jump to baking instructions immediately below.

Cooking Times

This is the critical part. If you have a 1200-1500 watt microwave, your baking time will be about 5 minutes. You’ll need to add more time if your microwave has less wattage. For example, a 600 watt microwave might take up to 20 minutes. To bake, follow these instructions:

  1. On a glass plate, lay the chips out flat so that they are not touching one another.
  2. Place into the microwave and microwave on high for 5 minutes.
  3. Halfway through the cooking cycle (and while the chips are still just a bit damp), lift them from the plate so they are loose. The plate may be hot, so use an oven mitt.
  4. Continue microwaving the chips until they are slightly brown in places.
  5. Remove the chips and let them stand for about 5 minutes to finish crisping.
  6. Enjoy.

I don’t put salt on my chips and I prefer them unsalted. However, if you like salt, salt them before you begin baking them. You only need to salt one side.

A single potato might yield 5 or 6 small batches. This can be a bit time consuming to cook using the plate microwave method. This means running about 5-6 separate batches through your microwave. At 5 minutes per batch, that’s about 25-30 minutes of baking time to make a single potato’s worth of chips. If you want to do several potatoes, it could take several hours. The flat method may not be optimal for large batches. For large batches, you might want to consider the ring baker which holds more chips.

You might also consider baking them in the oven as you can use multiple cookie sheets to lay them all out flat. Baking them in the oven will likely take 20-30 minutes at 350ºF (or until they are slightly brown).

For making small batches, the microwave is the fastest method and produces chips in as little as 5 minutes.

Doneness

The chips are done when they are both lightly browned uniformly and when they’re fully crispy. If they’re chewy or wet in the center, you’ll need to add more baking time. The chip should be completely dry and crispy when done. The chips will also shrink by about half. If you like monstrous sized chips, you’ll need to buy even bigger potatoes. Average sized potatoes produce smaller sized chips. Be cognizant of this when picking your potatoes at the store. I also suggest russet potatoes because they’re the easiest to slice, wash and bake… and they produce tasty potato chips.

Storage

Store any uneaten (wait.. there are some actually left over?) in a zipper bag and keep in a cool dry place. Moisture may seep back into the chips and make them less crispy. You can crisp them up again by placing them onto a plate and baking them in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes.

Kettle Chips?

If you’re looking for crispier potato chips, like Kettle type chips, then you’ll need them to be sliced a bit thicker. For this, you’ll need to find a mandoline that provides you with this thickness. However, I’m not certain that the microwave will actually produce kettle style crunchy chips. You might need a fryer for this.

If you’re interested in Kettle style chips, then you’ll have to try it and report back in the comments below for how that went and what you did to make it work.

Healthy Chips

Since these are not fried in any oils, they do not have any of the negative oil benefits of fried foods. However, these are still starchy potatoes and still possess all of the glycemic responses as any other potato products. You’ll want to keep this in mind if you are diabetic or need to restrict your carbohydrate intake.

Happy Snacking!

↩︎

Advertisements

How do I make my book a bestseller?

Posted in Amazon, author, best practices, novels by commorancy on September 12, 2019

teddy-bear-book-readAh, that age old question. How do you get anything to sell like wildfire? The answer is, it’s a complicated answer. This article assumes a first time published author. Let’s explore.

Going Viral

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. Much of the reason anything becomes a hot seller is ultimately out of the control of the seller. If it’s a book, as suggested by the title, then there are a lot of situations at play.

Sure, the content within the book can make or break a book, but even if the book is the best written, best conceived story and offers entirely fresh ideas, that doesn’t guarantee success. In fact, nothing guarantees success of a book. What makes a book successful is luck (and lots of it) and being in the right place at the right time. You can control your words in the book. You can control where the book is sold. You can control lots of aspects of distribution, paper types (if printed) and so on. But, what you can’t control is how people will receive the book and, ultimately, how many will buy into it. That is a matter of luck.

There are some books that simply become ubiquitous in pop culture. There are others that simply fade into obscurity. There’s no way to know if your book will light the proverbial fire or be eclipsed by someone else’s book. You simply can’t know.

Planning and Control

When considering authoring a novel, there are formulas involved. Such formulas include how many words should be in the book, what genre the book belongs in, how many copies that you can print, how big the font should be in the book and so on. These physical book attributes are within your control. However, it’s doubtful that these physical attributes will play a part in whether book becomes wildfire. Oh, they play a part to be sure, but the biggest factor is still luck. Luck, for example, is entirely out of your control. You can’t force luck, you can only hope that lady luck looks down upon you and smiles.

Your book’s content does play a role in being a bestseller. Meaning, a poorly written, badly conceived novel has no chance of becoming a bestseller. The book content, as I said above, is within your control. What that means is that you need to write your book to the best of your ability and get help whenever your story goes beyond your means of control.

In other words, you need to write your book so that it at least matches the quality of most other bestsellers. No better, no worse. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it needs to be of a quality that at least gives it a fighting chance at becoming a bestseller. However, with that said, the pieces within your control do not at all guarantee (even if your novel is excellently crafted and written) success. Success of your novel is predicated on whether readers find pleasure in reading your novel and, more importantly, it resonates with enough people to start the viral wildfire.

Viral Wildfires

These types of wildfires can start anywhere. It could be as simple as Oprah Winfrey reading your novel and inexplicably plugging it on her show. It could be helped by having a 10 million viewer YouTube channel mention and review your novel on their channel. It could be a Twitter account with a huge following who incidentally reads and plugs your book on their channel. It could be all of the above.

With that said, you can’t force any of these viral situations. You can only hope they come to pass. They might, they might not. It all depends on your content choice, the situations and if your content resonates with the right set of people at the right moment in time.

However, you can’t write your content with that audience or set of circumstances in mind. There’s no way to know if your novel will be read by someone famous and plugged. Yes, it can happen, but you can’t be guaranteed this outcome.

Book Topics

If you’ve not yet written a book and you’re looking to do so, you should solidify a list of topics that you think you can spend many hours writing about. You have to like your characters for you to remain interested in spending many hours involved in crafting a tale around them.

Write what you know

In addition to writing about likeable characters, you should write about the things where you have knowledge. Sure, if your novel is about space travel, you might need to research such topics as the vacuum of space, exactly how cold space is and how fast it freezes objects solid, but you might also need to research the latest theories on space travel ideas. Of course, you can craft fanciful new propulsion systems that have never before been dreamed, but you might want to ground those systems in at least some measure of Earth physics. Bringing fanciful ideas back to the real is the way to make them seem genuine to the reader.

You’ll also want to determine your books genre, such as romance, fiction, non-fiction, historical, drama, comedy, etc. You can even write a memoir if you think it has some social significance to other people.

Audience

When crafting your manuscript, you’ll want to always keep your audience in mind. Don’t switch audiences in the middle of your book. If you begin the book assuming a general level of adult intelligence, stick with that. For example, if you’re using “big” words and phrases to describe your situations, don’t change halfway through the novel and start using smaller words and phrases. Your readers will notice. Stick to the formula in which the novel began. If you assume a certain level of adult reader intelligence at the open of the novel, stick through this all the way through to the end. Be consistent.

If your character is from the south with a southern drawl, maintain that character’s drawl throughout the novel. Don’t drop the drawl partway through and assume your readers won’t notice. Consistency in writing is the key to keeping the novel thoroughly readable throughout. It’s all about consistency. If you break consistency, it can break the suspension of disbelief and have readers walk away leaving half of the book unread.

How many words?

This is a question many new authors ask. How many words required for a novel is really all dependent on the chosen genre and how much it takes to tell a story.

If you’re writing a novel with 4 short stories, then your short story lengths will be far shorter than a full novel. A short story might contain as few as 7,500 words up to 40,000 words (on the very high side).

A Young Adult fiction genre novel can get away with as few as 45,000 to 55,000 words. However, a fiction novel targeted at an adult audience should contain at least 80,000 words up to 110,000 words. These are, of course, guidelines. Your novel could be much longer than this if you so choose. However, longer novels may turn off some readers (and publishers). Instead, you might want to break it into a multipart series and cap the words per novel. Then, begin writing a new novel in your series with any remaining story ideas that you have.

For children’s books (aged 7 to 12), the maximum number of words is 15,000 to 30,000. These books should be shorter.

For non-fiction adult genre novels, the number of words start with at least 60,000 words and go up from there.

To be considered by a publisher, your novel should have these numbers of words, depending on genre. If you’re unsure and you have an open dialog going with one or more publishers, simply ask them if the length is sufficient to consider publishing. If you get a rejection letter, you should read that carefully to understand what, if any, reasons for rejection are included. However, the publisher may not include any solid reasons.

Planning your Novel

It’s probably not a good idea to go into the act of actually writing a novel before you have story ideas and story progressions fleshed out. This means writing down your ideas, character names, situations and story arcs. You’ll also want to flesh out how you want your characters to grow, learn and what the ultimate goal is for your character. Are they on a path of self-enlightenment? Do they need to be taught a lesson? Do they need emotional guidance? How is their story going to progress?

Stories that are character driven are the most likeable and the most likely to go viral. Use your characters to drive the story forward. They are the ones who hold your story’s keys and who can unlock the story progression. Use characters to drive your story forward.

Imagination is part of this process, but part of it is using characters in ways to logically progress a story. For example, if your main character is a cop who upholds the law, it wouldn’t make sense for them to continually break the law at every turn and not feel remorse or guilt about doing so. Of course, rules are made to be broken, so perhaps that’s your twist?

Speaking of twists. Does every story need to have a twist? No. Stories can be told with or without a twist. A twist is great if it makes sense during a particularly revealing section, but it’s not required. The problem with twists is foreshadowing… which is a very subtle art. If you foreshadow too hard about events to come, people will see your twist(s) coming way in advance, which ruins the setup. If you fail to foreshadow at all, the twist may not have enough impact and may even seem confusing. Planning your novel for a revealing twist can be difficult. Planning is important here. But, so is….

Feedback

It is important to get feedback on your novel. Let someone read your novel and give honest criticism and feedback. If you include a twist, understand your advanced reader’s comments about that twist. You’ll want to know if they guessed it way in advance and, if they did, what you might do to tone down what led them to that conclusion early.

You want to remain in control of your reader’s thoughts about the characters and story all along the way. You don’t want them jumping to conclusions about your story in advance. Have the reader unfold the story as it’s written and don’t give them too much information that could lead their thinking astray or draw early conclusions. If you’re writing a mystery novel, you always want to keep your reader guessing throughout. In fact, you might want to squash any conclusions they might reach too quickly. That way, if your reader jumped to an incorrect conclusion, you can unfold the story and immediately tell them that their conclusion is wrong. Basically, keep the reader on their toes. Don’t let them second guess your novel’s conclusion halfway through the book.

Feedback is your answer. Let people read your novel in advance and be prepared to edit your novel in ways that reduce such conclusion jumping and improve the overall storytelling.

Wildfires and Bestsellers

Let’s return to original question that began this article. Luck is ultimately your answer. While you can write your best novel with your best situations, the novel may still fall flat with readers. Publishers understand this. Authors, likewise, need to understand this. You can’t know how the public (or critics) will respond to your novel.

Some of the best series didn’t start out as bestsellers. It took time for the wildfire to grow. The Harry Potter series is a good example. The first two novels did respectable sales, but it wasn’t really until the third novel released that the viral wildfire started. At that point, her books flew out of the stores with each successive release. It might take two or three entries into a novel series before such wildfires begin. Even still, there are plenty of novel series that do not get that level of attention. They do respectable novel sales, but they don’t get anywhere close to the magic of Harry Potter.

Don’t go into a writing a novel expecting a wildfire. Go into writing a novel to tell your story… to let other people read about your characters and situations. If it grows into a wildfire and becomes a bestseller, then all the better. But, don’t go in expecting this outcome. Instead, focus on the novel and in low expectations of sales. If it does better than you expect, great. If it doesn’t, you aren’t disappointed. You can’t force luck. It either strikes your novel series or it doesn’t. Because such luck is extremely rare and fickle, you can’t expect it. You can hope for it, a little… but with tempered prudence. Again, don’t go into your novel’s release expecting viral things to happen.

Amazon

A discussion about writing and selling books wouldn’t be complete without discussing Amazon. Sure, Barnes and Noble still exists as a brick-and-mortar book retailer. And, there are other physical book sellers to consider. But, Amazon can ultimately make or break your book single-handedly. It is such a large seller of books today that if you don’t leverage Amazon to sell your book, you can’t really make your book a success. Amazon is, in fact, critical to your book’s success. And, so is Amazon’s review system. Amazon’s review system drives its recommendation engine. You’ll want to encourage your readers to review your book on Amazon. Many avid readers need little prompting, but by getting more and more reviews, Amazon is more likely to recommend your book to its customers.

Apple is also a digital book seller, so you may want to leverage them, but to a much lesser degree. They aren’t nearly as big as Amazon, but your publisher should ensure all such digital book sellers like Google Books, Apple, Kobo (the remnants of Borders) and several other smaller digital sellers are supplied with digital copies to sell.

Having a publisher on your side is critical to ensure that your book is distributed as widely as possible. Only a publisher can ensure your novel gets the wide treatment that’s required for it to become a bestseller. Trying to self-publish, you simply don’t have the level of resources needed to make this a reality. A publisher does. This is why a publisher is important to your success.

A publisher will ensure your book is distributed not only through Amazon, but through all other necessary book outlets to ensure your book has the widest exposure and distribution possible to help your book achieve that coveted bestseller ranking.

Publisher?

Publishers are both a blessing and a curse. They are a necessary presence in the book industry. They help authors get their words into the hands of avid readers… readers who can then turn the book into a bestseller. Publishers help you refine your book’s content into the best that it can be, but they also ensure that your book will hit the shelves in all of the necessary places… both physical and digital.

The difficulty with publishers is not to get burned. Publishers will take a cut of your book’s profits to cover their expenses. Those expenses include their salaries, their office rents, printing of the book itself, advertising and so on. Getting a “book deal” means signing away some of your book’s profits to the publisher to help them stay in business. This means you’ll get far less profits from selling the book than you might realize. Oh, you’ll get some money for each copy sold, but don’t expect much. Most of that money goes back to the publisher to keep their lights on, offices open and staff employed. That’s the bane of using a publisher.

On the other hand, self-publishing means you get to keep 100% of the profits. But, good luck in getting your novel printed and into the physical stores like Target, Walmart and Barnes and Noble yourself. Getting that far would be difficult, if not impossible. That’s not to say you can’t self-publish, but don’t expect to get much industry consideration. Using a publisher, your novel may be considered for prestigious industry awards. Using self-publishing, those awards are almost always off of the table. Getting an industry award can help the viral wildfires burn hotter, thus getting even more copies sold. Using a publisher opens a lot of doors. Self-publishing means more profits, but less doors are opened in the industry.

Publishers are a known quantity in the industry and will do almost everything to see that your novel succeeds. For this investment reason, publishers are extremely picky on which novels and authors they are willing to represent. When they accept an author and their novel into their publishing house, they are taking a risk. That risk could mean an expensive failure. Because publishers want to reduce that risk as much as possible, they only accept limited book types and authors. What this all means is…

Expect Rejection

Publishers are rightly skittish. It’s expensive to publish, advertise and widely distribute a book throughout the country or, indeed, the world. Because of that risk, they only want the best books and the best possible prospects. This means that publisher representatives are extremely picky about what they will accept and when and how they will accept it. Randomly sending your manuscript to a publisher without advance notice, you’re sure to be rejected. In fact, they likely won’t even open the manuscript. Many times they won’t even send it back, even if you include a self-addressed stamped envelope. Instead, they’ll trash it without even opening it. They might or might not send you a rejection letter. If the manuscript was unsolicited, you may not even get a response.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to (once your novel is complete) reach out to publisher editors and determine if they’re interested in your manuscript’s content. You do this in the form of a submission letter. If a publisher’s editor shows interest, then you have an opening. This means you may be invited to send your novel in for review. It doesn’t mean they’ll accept or even read it all, but they might. Reading a full 65,000 word manuscript is not an insignificant amount of time. So, respect the editor’s time they are willing to give you. After all, they’re giving you the length of time it takes to read your book. More than likely, the publisher will reject your manuscript. Expect that you will be writing many submission letters and getting rejections. You’ll need to keep trying until you reach a publisher’s editor who takes interest.

Instead of reading your entire manuscript, an editor might request a detailed synopsis from you. A short description of your novel’s story to determine if it’s something they might have time to read and be able to add to their collection of currently published books. Do whatever the publisher’s editor requests, but don’t be willing to give away the farm. Sure, let them read your novel and give feedback, but know that they are human and as humans, they have opinions. That editor is only one opinion in among many, even if their opinion is that they don’t like your novel.

The Acceptance Rejection

If you get a bite from a publisher, take that as a small win. It doesn’t mean they’ll publish your book, yet. But, it is a hopeful sign. At least they’re talking to you.

Don’t be offended by the opinions an editor might offer you. Simply accept their advice for what it is. You may not agree with their assessment, but at least consider it. If you feel adamant that your book is already in its best possible place and changing it would ruin its current story, yet a publisher’s editor is asking you to make substantial changes in tone and story in your book, you might want to think twice. If you have conviction that your book is already the best it can be, then thank them for their time and move on to someone else. Choose a different publisher. However, you owe it to yourself to at least consider that editor’s advice.

For example, if they offer a suggestion to rework large segments to make the book have a larger emotional impact and potentially appeal to a broader audience, at least consider it. Don’t outright discard their advice. They’ve been in the business for a long amount of time, hopefully, and their advice may have some merit. But, as I said above, don’t fall into spending a large amount of time completely reworking your novel solely on the advice of a single editor… particularly if your rework of the novel doesn’t offer some level of commitment from that publisher. For example, if they’re asking you to rewrite a large section of your novel, you should ensure that the publisher will commit to publishing the book if these changes are made to their satisfaction. It’s a give and take situation. Asking for a time commitment from the author to rewrite should come with at least some strings attached to the publisher. Make sure you get those strings attached firmly.

If they give you advice and then offer no strings and expect you simply to make large changes without even the remote possibility of acceptance, you should view that request with a large amount of skepticism. This is ultimately the acceptance rejection. Instead, you should thank them for their time and suggest that if you do have time to rework the novel, you will resubmit it for review at a later date. Then, go find another publisher accepting manuscripts and submit your original manuscript there. Don’t make the changes to your novel unless you personally think that the suggestion(s) actually will improve the novel in substantial ways or that the publisher is on-the-hook to publish the novel contingent on making those changes. If you commit to making changes for them, they should commit to publishing your updated novel. Get that commitment in writing.

First Time Publishing and Contracts

As a first time published author, however, you are at a disadvantage. In addition to being a new author, a publisher may want to see how business shrewd you are. Sure, you can put words to a page, but can you negotiate? Publishers can take advantage of first time authors simply because the author is “green”. This means because you “don’t know any better” they could ask you to jump through hoops and still not publish your book. Or, they could give you such a small pittance percentage that it doesn’t make sense. Don’t fall into traps like this. If a publisher’s editor seems to be toying with you, but not actually providing any commitments for your novel, again, thank them for their time and move on. Don’t allow them to take advantage of your supposed greenness in the publishing industry.

Instead, use Google and try to learn as much about the protocols of getting your novel published as you possibly can. If they offer you a contract, read it thoroughly and understand your commitments to it (and the publisher). You don’t want to get trapped into a contract that has exclusivity clauses, pays you a pittance or requires you write 3 books over the next 3 years. If it took you 5 years to write your original book, being able to write a book a year may not be possible for you. This is why you will need to understand contract negotiation. You would then need to either strike that verbiage from the contract or modify it to allow you more time to write any further required novels.

Don’t let your lack of knowledge in publishing and contracts blind you to what the publisher is requiring. Maybe you aren’t even seeking to write further novels? Such a contract means you would be legally bound to produce those novels. Read contracts carefully and understand what they are asking you to do. If you can’t read contracts for  yourself, hire a contract lawyer who can decipher the terms of the contract to you and use that contract lawyer to draft alternative terms that work for you. The publisher may not accept the updated terms, but you can then move on without being bound to that publisher.

Payments

Make sure that any contracts you sign stipulate payment terms. More specifically, how often they will pay you your share of the profits from the sale of your book. Is it monthly? Is it whenever the balance reaches $100? Is it yearly? Is it quarterly? Make sure your payment terms are upheld in the contract. You don’t want to be left in the dark as to when the publisher may cut you a check for your share of the profits. You also need to make sure that the contract terms stipulate the ability to audit sales records from the vendors. Make sure you can call, write or log into a site that will give you updated numbers of your book’s sales wherever it’s being sold. You don’t want to be beholden to the publisher to provide you with accurate statistics. I’m not saying publishers are deceitful, but it’s not out of the realm of possibilities. Make sure you can account for your exact sales from the stores directly and correlate those sales numbers to the amount you have been paid during that period.

Accounting errors happen and you don’t want to be on the receiving end of an accounting error in the publisher’s favor. Nor do you want to have to turn around and sue the publisher for profits they have kept as a result of an “accounting error”. If you have direct access to each store’s sales data, this transparency keeps the publisher honest. They have to provide you with what you are owed. It’s on you to periodically audit and make sure you are getting what you are owed, but the data is there for you to review if you need it.

If you can swing a deal where the stores are paying you directly without going through the publisher, all the better. Middlemen can get in the way and can dilute your payments. However, it’s more likely the publisher will end up paying you the residuals (after they take their cut). You’ll have to negotiate your payments with the publisher and this should be done contractually, not through verbal agreements.

Luck

Coming back around to the original question once again, luck is the biggest factor in whether a book becomes a bestseller. Sure, the content is important. A publisher’s editor, yes, has read many novels and they usually know what story features are most likely to resonate with readers. However, that doesn’t mean that an editor is always correct. They could think that your novel is going to be the next Pulitzer novel, but in fact it barely makes a splash in sales. No one can know what luck has in store. This means that, yes, an editor’s suggestions might be spot on, but it doesn’t guarantee success. It can put the novel on a path towards success, but it can’t guarantee success. Nothing, in fact, can guarantee success of a novel. Luck is one of those fickle things that factors into pretty much any form of entertainment. Whether it’s a movie or a music CD, a video game or a novel. These are all subject to the whims, ebbs and flows of the general population.

If a topic hits at a very salient point in time, it can take the world by storm. Such lightning strikes are rare, but they do happen. For example, Star Wars, Harry Potter and, to some degree, the Marvel universe movies. These became popular by mostly sheer luck and by landing in the marketplace at the right place and the right time. Being in the right place at the right time isn’t something you can guess. It’s a matter of luck. A publisher can help shape your novel into a something that may resemble a bestseller, but it cannot guarantee that luck or, indeed, success. That still requires a certain amount of plain old dice-rolling luck.

↩︎

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon How-To: The ASIN

Posted in advice, Amazon, shopping, tips by commorancy on May 24, 2019

Amazon-LogoMany thousands of people shop Amazon daily. Did you know that every product at Amazon has a unique identifier? In most stores it’s called an SKU or stock-keeping unit. Amazon’s stock code is called the Amazon Standard Identification Number or ASIN. Let’s explore.

Product Identifiers

Every product stocked at any retailer uses a product identifier to locate that product in its database. In fact, many retailers have their own unique identifiers which are separate from such other identifiers as the Universal Product Code (UPC) or the Industry Standard Book Number (ISBN). In Amazon’s case, its unique identifier is the ASIN, not the UPC. The ASIN is visible on the URL of every product you view on Amazon. It’s a 10 digit code containing both letters and numbers. For example, a pair of cut resistant gloves has the ASIN of B012AFX9VY.

Many store products might have as many as two, three or even four unique identifiers. Books, for example, use the ISBN as an identifier in addition to the UPC code and Amazon’s ASIN. However, stores and online retailers typically use their own product identifier to identify stock in their system. For example, Target’s stock identifier is the DPCI code which goes back to Target’s original days of price stickering or tagging its merchandise with a Department, Class and Item… hence DPCI.

Even the UPC code, which is typically used at the register to ring up items, is simply translated to Target’s, Best Buy’s, Walmart’s or Amazon’s unique product identifier to locate the item and its price in its database.

How is the ASIN helpful?

Knowing the ASIN is useful because this quick identifier allows you to locate to a product on Amazon easily. If you’re on Amazon’s web site, you simply need enter the product ASIN into Amazon’s search panel and it will immediately bring up that item’s listing.

If you’re off of Amazon’s web site and you have the ASIN, you can easily craft a URL that will lead you to Amazon’s product listing in your browser. To craft a functional URL, is simple…

Append the ASIN number to the following URL: https ://amzn.com/ASIN … or in the case of these gloves: https://amzn.com/B012AFX9VY.

While that domain may seem strange, Amazon does own the amzn.com domain. This domain is actually intended to be used as a URL shortener for locating Amazon products in combination with an ASIN. Simply by post-appending the ASIN to this much shorter URL, you can feed this into your browser’s URL field and get right to the product’s details, pricing and all of that information. You can also use it on social media sites as a much shorter URL to aid with character limit restrictions.

Product Reviews

Many of us rely on Amazon’s product reviews to know whether the product is worth considering. Many of us also contribute to Amazon’s product review area for the products we purchase, particularly when we feel strongly about the item’s quality (good or bad).

Amazon has recently taken its website backwards in time (before Web 2.0). Amazon’s older editor was much more feature rich than its newest editor.

When writing product reviews, you could immediately search for items right in the ‘Insert Product Link’ area and then insert those product links and place them into your product review. Unfortunately, with Amazon’s recent interface change, Amazon web developers have inexplicably removed the insertion of product links via this former feature. Now, you have to know the product’s ASIN and craft a product link yourself.

Worse, you can only get access to this ‘Insert Product Link’ feature when you’re crafting a new comment on a product reviews, not when creating or editing a new product review. Odd. You don’t even get it when you edit a comment.

Here’s the latest search panel when attempting to insert a product link:

AmazonProductLink

As you can see, it’s odd. I mean, why even change it to this non-intuitive interface? Now you are required to open a new browser tab, go chase down the product using that separate browser tab, copy the URL then come back to this panel and paste it in and hit enter. That’s a lot of extra work which could be done (and was previously offered directly) in this panel. After that, it will either find the product and offer a SELECT button or fail to provide you with anything. And that “http ://…” nonsense is entirely misleading.

You can enter ASIN numbers right in this field and it will locate Amazon’s products from this panel strictly using the ASIN only, even though it does not indicate this in any way. No need to type in that silly http:// stuff. I’m not even sure why they want you to spend the time to go find and insert URLs here. Why can’t this panel search in Amazon’s product database directly with key words? Ugh.. Oh Amazon, sometimes I just don’t get you and your want to be obtuse.

Creating / Editing Product Reviews

Let’s move on. The new product review editor no longer offers a facility for inserting product links via a search helper tool. It’s simply gone. Poof. Nada. However, you can insert them if you happen to know the format, but you’ll have to manually craft them using the ASIN or ISBN.

If you’re wanting to add product links to your review, you have to now do it ALL manually. I’m entirely unsure why Amazon’s web development team decided to take this odd backwards step in its user interface, but here we are. You would think Amazon would be pleased to have people hawking additional products in their product reviews, but based on this step backwards, I’m guessing not. Either that, or someone at Amazon is clueless… maybe it’s a bit of both? *shrug*

Crafting Product Links in your Product Reviews

When you’re writing a product review and you realize you’d like to insert one or more product links into your review using the completely idiotic ‘new’ (and I use the term ‘new’ very loosely) and far less intuitive editor, you’ll need to craft them yourself.

The format of an Amazon product link is as follows:

[[ASIN:B012AFX9VY The Product’s Description Here]]

Example:

[[ASIN:B0792KTHKJ Echo Dot (3rd Gen) – Smart speaker with Alexa – Charcoal]]

The format of the product link is:

[[ID_TYPE:ID_NUMBER PRODUCT_DESCRIPTION]]

where

ID_TYPE = ASIN, ISBN or any other product identifier which Amazon supports
ID_NUMBER = The product’s unique identifier, like B012AFX9VY
PRODUCT_DESCRIPTION = The description of the product with spaces

Once you create a product link, you can use it in place of words and it will show a clickable link. Take note that there’s no space after [[ or before ]]. For example:

This product offers you two pairs of [[ASIN:B012AFX9VY Black Stainless Steel Cut Resistant Gloves]] for use in the kitchen.

once published, the sentence should translate to…

This product offers you two pairs of Black Stainless Steel Cut Resistant Gloves for use in the kitchen.

Questionable Changes

Because Amazon seems intent on sabotaging and gutting its own web user interface at the expense of important and useful features for shoppers, it’s possible that such product links may no longer function at some point in the future. You’ll want to try this out and see if this tip works for you. If it doesn’t work, it’s very possible that Amazon no longer allows product links inside its reviews. However, they are still available as of this writing. If you find that product links no longer work, please let me know in the comments below.

However, the https ://amzn.com/ASIN should continue to work unless Amazon loses or dumps this domain. Note that this feature doesn’t work when using https ://amazon.com/ASIN. Amazon’s primary domain of amazon.com is not set up to handle short ASIN link syntax. You’ll need to use the amzn.com domain instead.

If this information helps you, please leave a comment below. If not, then please leave a comment below and let me know that, too. Happy shopping and reviewing!

↩︎

Crafting Medicines in Fallout 76

Posted in howto, tips, video gaming by commorancy on March 27, 2019

CraftingStationIf you’re interested in crafting medicines within Fallout 76, this guide should hopefully help get the most out of your crafting. Let’s explore.

Crafting Perks

If you’re interested in crafting anything in Fallout 76, it’s worthwhile to consider all of the perks you’re going to need to get the most out of your ingredients. For crafting medicines and chems, you’ll want to invest in the following perks:

  • Green Thumb — Doubles what you pick from plants. (Perception)
  • Super Duper — A chance to double what you craft. (Luck)
  • Chemist — Doubles all items crafted on a chemistry table. (Intelligence)
  • Aquaboy/Aquagirl — Lets you walk in water without taking radiation damage (Endurance)
  • Butcher’s Bounty — When crafting items that require meat, you’ll also want to invest in this card to get more meat from your kills. (Perception)
  • Good With Salt — While this one is not strictly that necessary, it’s a great option for carting around ingredients for longer periods without spoiling. (Luck)
  • Sunkissed — Removes radiation damage from 6AM to 6PM in-game time. (Endurance)

Green Thumb, Aquaboy/Aquagirl and Chemist are 1 star cards. However, Super Duper and Butcher’s Bounty are 3 star cards and increases your chances with each star.  Super Duper offers a chance to double your creations with all crafting station types with the exception of the Brewing Station (at the moment) and when bulking items. You’ll want to max out Super Duper to get the most out of your crafting.

Good With Salt is also a 3 star card and it is well worth ranking this card up to the max if you intend to carry around foods and drinks that spoil. This card is great for keeping ingredients from spoiling before you get back to a chemistry station to craft.

Crafting Medicines

The two most important items in the game to keeping your character alive and healthy are Radaway and Stimpaks. The Recipe for Stimpaks can be found at the Enclave bunker MODUS medical wing seller. You’ll need to join and get access to the Enclave bunker to obtain this recipe. Unfortunately, the recipe for Radaway isn’t quite so easy to obtain. You’ll need to play various events and you may eventually be awarded this recipe at concluding the event. The Radaway recipe will most probably require a wee bit of grinding.

Another recipe that you find early on in the game is Healing Salve. This recipe is about half of the strength of a Stimpak and is a great option if you can’t get the Stimpak recipe. This is also easy to craft from readily available ingredients.

Because Bethesda’s Fallout 76 is a dynamic changing online game experience, patches and server updates can change the amounts and types of ingredients required for recipes. This means the recipes listed below are correct at the time of this article. However, Bethesda could change the requirements at any time. Always check at the crafting table to be sure you are collecting the correct ingredients for any specific recipe.

Recipes

For Stimpaks, you’ll need the following:

  • 2 Antiseptic
  • 1 Bloodpack
  • 1 Steel

To make a Bloodpack, you’ll need:

  • 1 Antiseptic
  • 2 Tick Blood (use Butcher’s Bounty)

For Radaway, you’ll need:

  • 2 Antiseptic
  • 3 Glowing Fungus (use Green Thumb)
  • 1 Plastic
  • 1 Purified Water

For Healing Salve (Forest), you’ll need:

  • 1 Bloodleaf (Green Thumb)
  • 1 Boiled Water
  • 1 Soot Flower (Green Thumb)

For Disease Cure (Forest), you’ll need:

  • 1 Bloodleaf
  • 1 Boiled Water
  • 1 Firecap (Green Thumb)
  • 1 Snaptail Reed (Green Thumb)

To make Sugar, you’ll need

  • 2 Snaptail Reed
  • 1 Wood

While Sugar isn’t used in healing recipes, it’s great for foods, particularly Sweet Rolls and Lemonade. You’ll probably have some Snaptail Reed left over after crafting, which is why the Sugar recipe is listed.

Locations for Ingredients

To make all of these ingredients using forest recipes, you can find what you need starting at slightly north on the hill of Gauley Mine down to the red railroad bridge, then walking the creek all the way down the just past Vault-Tec Agricultural center in Flatwood. Near Gauley Mine, you’ll find Firecaps on logs. At the bridge across the creek across from the Overseer’s camp, the Firecaps stop and this begins the area with Bloodleaf, Snaptail Reed and Glowing Fungus. Between Gauley Mine and the Bridge, you’ll find Firecaps (not far from the water) and Snaptail Reed.

The forested regions will also contain Starlight Creeper, Firecracker Berry, Soot Flower and Wood.

There are other recipes you can find for other regions like Toxic Valley, The Mire, The Cranberry Bog and so on. However, because of the relative closeness to the Vault 76 fast travel point, it’s easiest to focus on the Forest recipes as these are the ones you are likely to come across first… and they also have the easiest locations to reach and easiest ingredients to obtain.

Sources for Antiseptic

In some of these recipes, you may need antiseptic. This can be had easily by killing ticks and picking up their Blood Sacs. Unfortunately, you can only use Butcher’s Bounty on ticks for Tick Blood, not their Blood Sacs. If they don’t drop a sac, you’ll need to locate and kill a different tick.

Two good spots for killing about 6-8 ticks is Moonshiner’s Shack just below Vault 76 and Gilman Lumber Mill immediately south of Moonshiner’s Shack. These are great for harvesting when you’ll need to produce Stimpaks. You can sometimes find ticks in the wooded area of Camden Park near the Railroad.

Abraxo Cleaner is also another source of Antiseptic. You can usually find boxes of this sitting around kitchens and other facilities. Toothpaste and Turpentine are other sources.

Why Perk Cards?

With Green Thumb, Chemist and Super Duper, you can effectively double what you get at each step. Green Thumb doubles what you pick. Chemist Doubles what you make. Super Duper doubles that. You can easily end up with half to double more than what you expect. It’s well worth using these cards if you need larger quantities of Stimpaks or Radaway. With these cards, you can make hundreds easily… instead of relying on finding 1, 2 or 3 in a container.

Tips Before Crafting

    • Always remember to place your perk cards on before crafting.
    • You don’t need these cards to be on all of the time, only when crafting.
    • Don’t waste card slots with these cards if you are not crafting.
    • Remember your Green Thumb card when picking flora. This will always double what you pick.

Remember your Aquaboy/girl card when wading through water looking for ingredients. Collect considering multiple recipes at a time. For example, when collecting for Disease Cure, you only need to pick Soot Flower to make Healing Salve after you’ve run out of Firecaps for Disease Cures. Don’t take off Good With Salt (if you need the card space) until just right before you begin to craft. After you’re done crafting, immediately put Good With Salt back on. You can make teas, sugar and other foodstuffs from the remaining unused ingredients.

It’s easy to forget your perk card setup when crafting… so, always check before picking flowers or flora or before crafting. It would be great if we had some kind of quick view reminder of our perk cards through a hot key, but no such luck in this game. You’ll just have to stop whatever it is you’re doing and go look and rearrange before you pick or craft.

Happy Crafting!

↩︎

How to revive old Wasabi powder

Posted in food, food connoisseur, howto by commorancy on October 30, 2018

You bought some powdered Wasabi 3 years ago in a can and forgot all about it. You’ve let it sit in your pantry all that time. You need wasabi and you remember that you have some powder. When you try to mix it up, it tastes bitter and not at all like Wasabi. There is a fix. Let’s explore.

Genuine Wasabi Japonica vs Horseradish

I’d be remiss by not leading with this. Genuine Wasabi comes from the Wasabi Japonica plant. This plant is notoriously difficult to grow and is extremely persnickety when it comes to where in the world it wants to grow. Obviously, it grows well in parts of Japan. It also grows in parts of New Zealand. It looks like this when growing:

Wasabia_japonica_2

Photo courtesy of Qwert1234

Wasabi Japonica also has a long tapered cylindrical root that when grated or ground becomes the signature garnish we’ve come to know and love. The roots look like this:wasabi-root

Photo courtesy of hfordsa via Flickr

This is Wasabi Japonica.

The difficulty with this green garnish is that it can be readily mimicked by horseradish, hot mustard and green food coloring when dried into a powder. Some people call this “fake” Wasabi. I simply call it “wasabi” with a lower case ‘W’.

This ‘wasabi’ version is most often the powdered form that you’ll find in supermarkets and is what is most often served at Sushi restaurants in the U.S. (read the label or ask your sushi chef). If you live in North America,  “wasabi” (horseradish) is typically what you’ll find 99% of the time. The 1% of the time where you find genuine Wasabi Japonica is a rarity and it means the Sushi restaurant understands the subtle, important difference in flavor between the genuine article and the horseradish version. I’ve even found fresh cut Wasabi Japonica at one sushi restaurant. That was a treat!

The most often cited reason for using horseradish over genuine Wasabi Japonica is cost. While that may be mostly true, the truth is that it’s actually much more difficult to get genuine Wasabi in the US simply because it’s notoriously difficult to grow. This, of course, raises the price because you have to import it.

This means importing Wasabi Japonica from places like Japan or New Zealand and there is a monetary cost to importing produce. However, the flavor profile between the horseradish version and genuine Wasabi Japonica is markedly different. Even though they both produce the signature nose heat we know and love, Wasabi Japonica simply tastes different.

Powdered Wasabi

Dried and powdered wasabi, whether genuine or horseradish must be rehydrated to be useful in all of its green pasty glory. The difficulty with its powdered form is that, depending on the powder’s age, it takes longer and longer to hydrate fully to bring back its signature heat. This is called blooming.

For example, if you hydrate wasabi powder and immediately taste it, you’ll notice no heat at all. It’ll only taste bitter. This means that the wasabi has not yet bloomed. You must wait a period of time before the wasabi has fully bloomed back into its signature hot flavor and lost that bitterness.

How long that bloom takes depends entirely on the ….

Age of Powdered Wasabi

Let’s get back to that old powder you have sitting in your cupboard. The longer the wasabi sits in a zippered bag, can or jar, the slower it takes to rehydrate. As I said above, it will take time to bloom back into its signature flavor. How long it takes depends on how old your wasabi powder is. So, don’t throw your powder away if you rehydrate the powder and it still tastes bitter 10 minutes later. You might be thinking that because it’s bitter it’s bad. It isn’t bad. It’s just super dry.

Sure, fresh powder hydrates to full strength in about 8-10 minutes. If you need some wasabi quick, getting fresh powder from the store may be your best answer. If you can plan ahead a little, your aged wasabi powder may take up to 24 hours to reach full flavor.

For several year old powder, simply mix it up, place it into a closed container and let it finish blooming in the fridge. I personally have some aged wasabi powder that now takes up to 24 hours to bloom. This is a horseradish + hot mustard version. I keep a small amount ready in the fridge as a condiment. When it gets low, I hydrate more and let it bloom overnight. I do have some genuine Wasabi Japonica powder which blooms fully in about 8 minutes. But, I only use that for special occasions or if I need some quick. I use the horseradish version when I’m mixing it into ketchup, mayonnaise or mustard or for any other recipe purposes.

Don’t throw out your older powder thinking it’s bad because it appears to remain bitter. You just need to wait longer to let the flavor work its way back out. The fix to old powder is that might take up to 24 hours in the fridge to fully bloom! However, it also means you need to plan ahead when using older wasabi powder.

Heating Wasabi Powder

You might be thinking you can heat the hydrating bitter wasabi and make it hydrate faster. Never do this. It doesn’t work. It will make the wasabi gluey and useless. It will become bad and you will have to toss it. Do not heat wasabi powder when hydrating it. Instead, mix it up with water and let it rehydrate in the fridge overnight.

Rehydrating wasabi Powder

If you’re new to wasabi and you’re wondering how to rehydrate it, it’s simple. Grab a small container and put a teaspoon of powder in the container. Now, fill your teaspoon with water and pour about half in and begin mixing. If the powder is still too dry and thick, add a little more water to bring it to a paste consistency you like. If you like being able to shape it into a ball with your fingers, then you’ll want it a little dryer. If you like it a little more runny, then add more water.

The consistency of the paste doesn’t play a part in blooming speed. The water does need to be mixed in thoroughly, though. The paste simply needs to sit to fully bloom and that takes time. Speaking of hot mustard, this problem also applies to cans of hot mustard powder as well.

Itadakimasu!


As always, if you have found this Randocity article useful and it helped you revive some old wasabi powder, please leave a comment below.

↩︎

How to iCloud unlock an iPad or iPhone?

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on October 21, 2018

apple-cracked-3.0-noderivsA lot of people seem to be asking this question. So, let’s explore if there are any solutions to the iCloud unlock problem.

Apple’s iCloud Lock: What is it?

Let’s examine what exactly is an iCloud lock. When you use an iPhone or iPad, a big part of that experience is using iCloud. You may not even know it. You may not know how much iCloud you are actually using (which is how Apple likes it) as it is heavily integrated into every Apple device. The iCloud service uses your Apple ID to gain access. Your Apple ID consists of your username (an email address) and a password. You can enable extended security features like two factor authentication, but for simplicity, I will discuss devices using only a standard login ID and password… nothing fancy.

iCloud is Apple’s cloud network services layer that support service synchronization between devices like calendaring, email contacts, phone data, iMessage, iCloud Drive, Apple Music, iTunes Playlists, etc. As long as your Apple ID remains logged into these services, you will have access to the same data across all of your devices. Note, your devices don’t have to use iCloud at all. You can disable it and not use any of it. However, Apple makes it terribly convenient to use iCloud’s services including such features as Find my iPhone, which allows you to lock or erase your iPhone if it’s ever lost or stolen.

One feature that automatically comes along for the ride when using iCloud services is an iCloud lock. If you have ever logged your iPhone or iPad into iCloud, your device is now locked to your Apple ID. This means that if it’s ever lost or stolen, no one can use your device because it is locked to your iCloud Apple ID and locked to Find my iPhone for that user (which I believe is now enabled by default upon logging into iCloud).

This also means that any recipient of such an iCloud locked device cannot use that device as their own without first disassociating that device from the previous Apple ID. This lock type is known as an iCloud lock. This type of Apple lock is separate from a phone carrier lock which limits with which carriers a phone can be used. Don’t confuse or conflate the two.

I should further qualify what “use your device” actually means after an iCloud lock is in place. A thief cannot clean off your device and then log it into their own Apple ID and use the phone for themselves. Because the phone is iCloud locked to your account, it’s locked to your account forever (or until you manually disassociate it). This means that unless you explicitly remove the association between your Apple ID and that specific device, no one can use that device again on Apple’s network. The best a would-be thief can do with your stolen phone is open it up and break it down for limited parts. Or, they can sell the iCloud locked device to an unsuspecting buyer before the buyer has a chance to notice that it’s iCloud locked.

Buying Used Devices

If you’re thinking of buying a used iPhone from an individual or any online business who is not Apple and because the iCloud lock is an implicit and automatic feature enabled simply by using iCloud services, you will always need to ask any seller if the device is iCloud unlocked before you pay. Or, more specifically, you will need to ask if the previous owner of the device has logged out and removed the device from Find my iPhone services and all other iCloud and Apple ID services. If this action has not been performed, then the device will remain iCloud locked to that specific Apple ID. You should also avoid the purchase and look for a reputable seller.

What this means to you as a would-be buyer of used Apple product is that you need to check for this problem immediately before you walk away from the seller. If the battery on the device is dead, walk away from the sale. If you’re buying a device sight unseen over the Internet, you should be extremely wary before clicking ‘Submit’. In fact, I’d recommend not buying used Apple equipment from eBay or Craigslist because of how easy it is to buy bricked equipment and lose your money. Anything you buy from Apple shouldn’t be a problem. Anything you buy from a random third party, particularly if they’re in China, might be a scam.

Can iCloud Lock be Removed?

Technically yes, but none of the solutions are terribly easy or in some cases practical. Here is a possible list of solutions:

1) This one requires technical skills, equipment and repair of the device. With this solution, you must take the device apart, unsolder a flash RAM chip, reflash it with a new serial number, then reassemble the unit.

Pros: This will fix the iPad or iPhone and allow it to work
Cons: May not work forever if Apple notices the faked and changed serial number. If the soldering job was performed poorly, the device hardware could fail.

Let’s watch a video of this one in action:

2) Ask the original owner of the device, if you know who they are, to disassociate the iDevice from their account. This will unlock it.

Pros: Makes the device 100% functional. No soldering.
Cons: Requires knowing the original owner and asking them to disassociate the device.

3) Contact Apple with your original purchase receipt and give Apple all of the necessary information from the device. Ask them to remove the iCloud lock. They can iCloud unlock the device if they so choose and if they deem your device purchase as valid.

Pros: Makes the device 100% functional.
Cons: Unlocking Apple devices through Apple Support can be difficult, if not impossible. Your mileage may vary.

4) Replace the logic board in the iPad / iPhone with one from another. Again, this one requires repair knowledge, tools, experience and necessary parts.

Pros: May restore most functionality to the device.
Cons: Certain features, like the touch ID button and other internal systems may not work 100% after a logic board replacement.

As you can see, none of these are particularly easy, but none are all that impossible either. If you’re not comfortable cracking open your gear, you might need to ask a repair center if they can do any of this for you. However, reflashing a new serial number might raise eyebrows at some repair centers with the assumption that your device is stolen. Be careful when asking a repair center to perform #1 above for you.

iCloud Locking

It seems that the reason the iCloud Lock came into existence is to thwart thieves. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually solve that problem. Instead, it creates a whole new set of consumer problems. Now, not only are would-be thieves stealing iPads still, they’re selling these devices iCloud locked to unsuspecting buyers and scamming them out of their money. The thieves don’t care. The only thing this feature does is screw used device consumers out of their money.

Thieves

That Apple thought they could stop thievery by implementing the iCloud lock shows just how idealistically naïve Apple’s technical team really is. Instead, they created a whole new scamming market for iCloud locked Apple devices. In fact, the whole reason this article exists is to explain this problem.

For the former owner of an iPad which was stolen, there’s likely no hope of ever getting it back. The iCloud lock feature does nothing to identify the thief or return stolen property to its rightful owner. The iCloud lock simply makes it a tiny nuisance to the thief and would-be scammer. As long as they can get $100 or $200 for selling an iCloud locked iPad, they don’t care if it’s iCloud locked. In fact, the fact that this feature exists makes no difference at all to a thief.

It may reduce the “value” of the stolen property some, but not enough to worry about. If it was five finger discounted, then any money had is money gained, even if it’s a smaller amount than anticipated. For thieves, the iCloud lock does absolutely nothing to stop thievery.

Buyers

Here’s the place where the iCloud lock technology hurts the most. Instead of thwarting would-be thieves, it ends up placing the burden of the iCloud lock squarely on the consumer. If you are considering buying a used device, which should be a simple straightforward transaction, you now have to worry about whether the device is iCloud locked.

It also means that buying an iPhone or iPad used could scam you out of your money if you’re not careful. It’s very easy to buy these used devices sight unseen from online sellers. Yet, when you get the box open, you may find the device is iCloud locked to an existing Apple ID. At that point, unless you’re willing to jump through one of the four hoops listed above, you may have just been scammed.

If you can’t return the device, then you’re out money. The only organization that stands to benefit from the iCloud lock is Apple and that’s only because they’ll claim you should have bought your device new from them. If this is Apple’s attempt at thwarting or reducing used hardware sales, it doesn’t seem to be working. For the consumer, the iCloud lock seems intent on harming consumer satisfaction for device purchases of used Apple equipment… a market that Apple should want to exist because it helps them sell more software product (their highest grossing product).

Sellers

For actually honest sellers, an iCloud lock makes selling used iPad and iPhone devices a small problem. For unscrupulous sellers, then there is no problem here at all. An honest seller must make sure that the device has been disassociated from its former Apple ID before putting the item up for sale. If an honest seller doesn’t know the original owner and the device is locked, it should not be sold. For the unscrupulous sellers, the situation then becomes the scammer selling locked gear and potentially trafficking stolen goods.

It should be said that it is naturally assumed that an iCloud locked device is stolen. It makes sense. If the owner had really wanted the item sold as used, they would have removed the device from iCloud services… except that Apple doesn’t make this process at all easy to understand.

Here’s where Apple fails would-be sellers. Apple doesn’t make it perfectly clear that selling the device requires removing the Apple ID information fully and completely from the device. Even wiping the device doesn’t always do this as there are many silent errors in the reset process. Many owners think that doing a wipe and reset of the device is enough to iCloud unlock the device. It isn’t.

As a would-be seller and before wiping it, you must go into your iPad or iPhone and manually remove the device from Find my iPhone and log the phone out of all Apple ID services. This includes not only logging it out of iCloud, but also logging out out of iTunes and Email and every other place where Apple requires you to enter your Apple ID credentials. Because iOS requires logging in multiple times separately to each of these services, you must log out of these services separately on the device. Then, wipe the device. Even after all of that, you should double check Find my iPhone from another device to make sure the old device no longer shows up there. In fact, you should walk through the setup process once to the point where it asks you for your Apple ID to confirm the device is not locked to your Apple ID.

This is where it’s easy to sell a device thinking you’ve cleared it all out, but you actually haven’t. It also means that this device was legitimately sold as used, but wasn’t properly removed from iCloud implying that it’s now stolen. Instead, Apple needs to offer a ‘Prep for Resell’ setting in Settings. This means this setting will not only wipe the device in the end, but it will also 100% ensure an iCloud unlock of the device and log it out of all logged Apple ID services. This setting will truly wipe the device clean as though it were an unregistered, brand new device. If it’s phone device, it should also carrier unlock the phone so that it can accept a SIM card from any carrier.

Apple makes it very easy to set up brand new devices, but Apple makes it equally difficult to properly clear off a device for resale. Apple should make this part a whole lot easier for would-be sellers. If need be, maybe Apple needs to sell a reseller toolkit to scan and ensure devices are not only iCloud unlocked, but run diagnostic checks to ensure they are worthy of being sold.


 

If you like what you’ve read, please leave a comment below and give me your feedback.

↩︎

How much data does it take to update my PS4 or Xbox One or Switch?

Posted in computers, updates, video game console by commorancy on May 10, 2018

It seems this is a common question regarding the most recent gaming consoles. Let’s explore.

Reasons?

  • If the reason you are asking this question is because you’re concerned with data usage on your Internet connection or if your connection is very slow, you’ll find that this answer will likely not satisfy you. However, please keep reading.
  • If the reason you are asking this question is because you want to predict the amount of data more precisely, then skip down to the ‘Offline Updates’ section below.
  • If the reason you are asking this question is because you’re simply curious, then please keep reading.

Xbox One, PS4 and Switch Update sizes

The PS4, Xbox One and Switch periodically patch and update their console operating systems for maximum performance, to squash bugs and to improve features. However, this process is unpredictable and can cause folks who are on metered Internet connections no end of frustration.

How much data will it need to update?

There is no way to know … let’s pause to soak this in …

How much data is needed is entirely dependent on how recently you’ve upgraded your console. For example, if you’ve kept your console up to date all along the way, the next update will only be sized whatever the newest update is. With that said, there’s no way to gauge even that size in advance. Not Microsoft, not Sony and not Nintendo publish their update sizes in advance. They are the size they are. If it fixes only a small set of things, it could be 50-100 megabytes. If it’s a full blown point release (5.0 to 5.1), it could be several gigabytes in size. If it’s a smaller release, it could be 1GB.

If your console is way out of date (i.e., if you last turned it on 6 months ago), your console will have some catching up to do. This means that your update may be larger than someone who updates their console every new update. This means that if the base update is 1GB, you might have another 1GB of catch up before the newest update can be applied. This catch-up update system applies primarily to the Xbox One and not to the PS4 or Switch.

Xbox One vs PS4 vs Switch Update Conventions

Sony and Nintendo both choose a bit more of an one-size-fits-all update process when compared to Microsoft. Because of this, we’ll discuss the Xbox One first. Since the Xbox One is based, in part, on Windows 10, it follows the same update conventions as Windows 10. However, because the Xbox One also uses other embedded OSes to drive other parts of the console, those pieces may also require separate updates of varying sizes. This means that for the Xbox One to update, it has a process that scans the system for currently installed software versions, then proceeds to download everything needed to bring all of those components up to date.

Sony and Nintendo, on the other hand, don’t seem to follow this same convention. Instead, the Switch and PS4 typically offer only point-release updates. This means that everyone gets the same update at the same time in one big package. In this way, it’s more like an iPhone update.

For full point-release updates, the Xbox One also works this same way. For interim updates, it all depends on what Microsoft chooses to send out compared to what’s already on your Xbox One. This means that the Xbox One can update more frequently than the PS4 by keeping underlying individual components updated more frequently if they so choose. This is why the Xbox One can offer weekly updates where the PS4 and the Switch typically offer only quarterly or, at least, much less frequent updates.

Size of Updates

If you want to know the size of a specific update, you have to begin the update process. This works the same on the PS4, the Xbox One or the Switch. This means you have to kick off the update. Once you do this, the download progress bar will show you the size of the download. This is the only way to know how big the update is directly on the console.

However, both the PS4 and the Xbox One allow you to download your updates manually via a web browser (PC or Mac). You can then format a memory stick, copy the files to USB and restart the console in a specific way to apply the updates. This manual process still requires you to download the updates in full and, thus, uses the same bandwidth as performing this action on the console. This process requires you to also have a sufficiently sized and properly formatted USB memory stick. For updating the PS4, the memory stick must be formatted exFAT or FAT32. For updating the Xbox One, it must be formatted NTFS. The Nintendo Switch doesn’t provide offline updates.

Cancelling Updates in Progress

The Xbox One allows you to cancel the current system update in progress by unplugging the lan and/or disconnecting WiFi. Then turning off the console. When the console starts up without networking, you can continue to play games on your console, but you will not be able to use Xbox Live because of the lack of networking.

Once you plug the network back in, the system will again attempt to update. Or, you can perform an offline update with the Xbox One console offline. See Offline Updates just below.

You can also stop the PS4 download process by going to Notifications, selecting the download, press the X button and select ‘Cancel and Delete’ or ‘Pause’. Note, this feature is available on 5.x or newer PS4 version. If your PS4 version is super old, you may not have this option in the Notifications area. You will also need to go into settings (Xbox One or PS4) and disable automatic updates otherwise it could download these without you seeing it.

How to disable automatic updates:

With that said, you cannot stop system updates on the Nintendo Switch once they have begun. Nintendo’s downloads are usually relatively small anyway. Trying to catch them in progress and stop them may be near impossible. It’s easier to follow the guides above and prevent them from auto-downloading.

Also note, any of the consoles may still warn you that an update is available and prompt you to update your console even if you have disabled automatic software downloads.

*This setting on the Nintendo Switch may exclude firmware updates, your mileage may vary.

Offline Updates

Xbox One

The Xbox One allows you to update your system offline using a Windows PC. This type of update is not easily possible with a Mac. Mac computers don’t natively support formatting or reading NTFS properly, but there are tools you can use (Tuxera NTFS for Mac).

To use the Offline System Update, you’ll need:

  • A Windows-based PC with an Internet connection and a USB port.
  • A USB flash drive with a minimum 4 GB of space formatted as NTFS.

Most USB flash drives come formatted as FAT32 and will have to be reformatted to NTFS. Note that formatting a USB flash drive for this procedure will erase all files on it. Back up or transfer any files on your flash drive before you format the drive. For information about how to format a USB flash drive to NTFS using a PC, see How to format a flash drive to NTFS on Windows.

  1. Plug your USB flash drive into a USB port on your computer.
  2. Open the Offline System Update file OSU1.
  3. Click Save to save the console update .zip file to your computer.
  4. Unzip the file by right-clicking on the file and selecting Extract all from the pop-up menu.
  5. Copy the $SystemUpdate file from the .zip file to your flash drive.
    Note The files should be copied to the root directory, and there shouldn’t be any other files on the flash drive.
  6. Unplug the USB flash drive from your computer.

PlayStation 4

You can also update your PS4 console offline using Sony’s system updates. Here’s the procedure for PS4 offline updates. Note, the USB memory stick must be formatted either exFAT or FAT32. The PS4 doesn’t support any other types of stick formats. This means, if you buy a USB stick intended to be used on Windows, you will need to reformat it properly before you can use it on the PS4.

Update using a computer

For the standard update procedure, follow the steps below.

The following things are needed to perform the update:

  • PlayStation®4 system
  • Computer connected to the Internet
  • USB storage device, such as a USB* flash drive
  • There must be approximately 460 MB of free space.
    • On the USB storage device, create folders for saving the update file. Using a computer, create a folder named “PS4”. Inside that folder, create another folder named “UPDATE”.
      PC Update
    • Download the update file, and save it in the “UPDATE” folder you created in step 1. Save the file with the file name “PS4UPDATE.PUP”.
      Download Now Click to start the download.
    • Connect the USB storage device to your PS4™ system, and then from the function screen, select Settings (Settings) > [System Software Update].
      Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the update.
  • If your PS4™ system does not recognize the update file, check that the folder names and file name are correct. Enter the folder names and file name in single-byte characters using uppercase letters.

Nintendo Switch Updates

Nintendo doesn’t offer offline updates at all. The Nintendo Switch only supports Internet updates. There is currently no way to download or update your Switch via USB stick or SD card. The Nintendo Switch is the newest of the consoles, so it’s possible that Nintendo could offer an offline update mechanism some time in the future. However, knowing Nintendo, don’t hold you breath for this feature.

Offline Updates are Point Release Only

These offline update processes apply point-release updates only and not interim updates. Interim updates must still be applied directly from the console. Interim updates scan your system, find what’s needed, then download the patches. This can only be performed on the console. This means you could find that after installing a point release, the Xbox One may still require an additional update or two.

Updates and Internet Connectivity

Game consoles require updates to keep them current. The primary reason for most updates is to keep yours and your friend’s games in sync when playing multiplayer games. This prevents you from having a network edge over another player. When all game consoles are running the same version, all multiplayer activities are on the same playing field.

For this reason, Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network (PSN) require all users to update to use networking features. If you declined or postpone any updates, both the Xbox One and the PS4 will deny you access to networking features. You must update both the console and the games to continue using networking.

If you don’t intend to use the network features such as multiplayer or leader boards, then you don’t need to worry about this. However, if you’re not using the networking features, then there’s no reason to buy Xbox Live or PSN. So far, Nintendo doesn’t yet offer a network capable of multiplayer gaming like Xbox Live or PSN, but as soon as they do I’m quite sure they will enforce the same requirements.

Pushing off Updates

While you can postpone updates to your console, it’s not always the best idea. I get that some people are on metered networking connections and can’t afford to download 20GB sized updates. But, at the same time, this is how consoles work. If you’re looking for a console that supports offline updates, then you’ll want to look at the PS4 or the Xbox One. You might want to skip the Switch if this is a show stopper for you.

As we move into the future, these consoles will continue to assume more and more connectivity is always available. Don’t be surprised to find that both the Xbox One and PS4 discontinue their offline update feature at some point in the future.

Though, Sony will still need to provide a way to install the operating system when a hard drive is replaced. However, that won’t help you with updating your console offline.

If you have a reason to want to know your download sizes more precisely, other than what I mention above, please leave a comment below and let me know.

↩︎

Consumer Tips: How to navigate the Toys R Us liquidation

Posted in best practices, business by commorancy on April 1, 2018

[UPDATED: 12/17/2018] TRU officially closed all remaining US stores as of mid-summer. This article is here simply for legacy reasons. Buh-Bye TRU and thanks for all the fun. We’ll miss you this holiday season.

If you’re thinking of visiting Toys R Us to take advantage of the store closing liquidation sales, this is your safety guide. Don’t throw your money away at Toys R Us, make every dollar count. Let’s explore.

Giving Gifts

Toys R Us’s liquidation is All Sales Final. The first tip is pretty straightforward. If you’re looking to buy a gift for a child, you are trying to stock up for the holidays or for any other rainy day reason, keep in mind that you cannot return, exchange or refund anything you purchase at this time. For gifts, this can be critical, particularly with children. You should always make sure that the person who receives that gift can return or exchange it if they don’t like it. Purchasing from Toys R Us on liquidation, you forfeit the return option.

Even if the gift is to be given while Toys R Us is still open, there are no refunds or exchanges. So, be aware that whatever gift item you choose is theirs to keep forever. You might want to be prepared to perform an exchange with your own money. Note that this can become an uncomfortable situation.

If you know there’s a possibility that your gift might be returned, you should buy from Amazon, Target or Walmart instead which leaves that option open for the recipient.

No Returns, Refunds or Exchanges

This goes hand-in-hand with All Sales Final. If you purchase items from Toys R Us during liquidation, you may get a great deal, but at the cost of no refunds, returns or exchanges. Make absolutely certain that what you buy is absolutely something you intend to keep.

Whether or not you intend to give the item as a gift, you should open the item and check it thoroughly. Do it in the store if at all possible. If it has batteries, make sure to test the item for functionality. You may not be able to test a battery powered item in the store, however. They may not allow you to remove the item from its packaging in the store to perform this test. You may have to take it home and check it there. By that time, you’ve already purchased and it’s too late if it’s defective. If you’re in doubt, leave it at the store.

If you do find a dead or defective item, you will need to contact the toy manufacturer directly and work your exchange through the manufacturer. Keep your receipt. This exchange process could take a whole lot more time than if you bought at a store still accepting exchanges.

Consider your purchases during a liquidation carefully. Do not purchase Toys R Us gift cards… but this should go without saying.

Extended Warranties

If you decide to buy an expensive item that could break easily, you should ask of Toys R Us to offer you a SquareTrade warranty plan. This will ensure you can get a replacement after Toys R Us closes. In preparation for this article, I spoke with a representative at SquareTrade who confirmed that they will continue to honor all SquareTrade warranties purchased at Toys R Us. If you do decide to invest in an expensive item that is prone to defects or breakage, you should also consider purchasing a SquareTrade warranty during liquidation.

Video Games and Video Game Consoles

Purchased video game content is a reasonably safe investment during the Toys R Us liquidation. It’s rare that a disc or a cartridge is defective.

On the other hand, purchasing a video game console or other video game hardware is a bad idea. If you must purchase one, purchase a SquareTrade warranty at Toys R Us to go with it (assuming they are still selling these warranty plans). If it’s not SquareTrade, then you should call the plan service provider before you check out at the store to ensure that insurance plan will continue to cover your purchase after Toys R Us closes for good.

Without an extended service plan, you have no replacement policy if it’s defective or gets broken. Be very cautious of buying video game hardware from Toys R Us during liquidation without a warranty. Though, you can try to work through the manufacturer warranty, it’s sometimes only 90s days. During liquidation, this is the one time where you should consider the purchase of a third party warranty, at least for purchases like video game consoles… particularly the Nintendo Switch which is portable and prone to being dropped.

However, certain types of lesser expensive video game hardware, like controllers, wires, Amiibo, cases, pens and other similar $30-$50 items are safer to buy, particularly when they are marked down 50% or more. However, consoles themselves, like the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 are not considered good investments from a liquidation sale.

I’d also suggest to avoid buying these devices from eBay as well because many will flood eBay listings from sellers who went to Toys R Us just to cash in on these low prices. If you’re thinking of buying a console from eBay, ask where it was purchased. Be wary if it’s from Toys R Us.

Dolls, Action Figures and Non-Battery Toys

Toys that don’t require batteries and don’t have complex moving pieces are some of the safer items to buy. They offer less defects and are more likely to last the test of time than RC vehicles, video game consoles, battery powered electric child cars, electric skate boards and other custom battery items.

Consumer Safety and Toy Recalls

Toys R Us was very good at keeping up with safety recalls. Unfortunately, they are going out of business. This also means that any toys you purchase during the liquidation that later fall under a recall, you can no longer return to Toys R Us. Like the All Sales Final discussion above, consider that items like cribs, baby items and other possible dangerous infant and toddler toys won’t have any place to go if they are recalled, especially if your baby gets hurt. Though, the manufacturer might honor a return or exchange, you will not be able to do so at Toys R Us. You will also not be able to make any legal claims of injury to Toys R Us once they have closed.

Safe or Unsafe Investment?

Here is a list (not exhaustive) of items that I consider safe, somewhat safe and not safe for a liquidation purchase so long as you fully understand that you cannot return or exchange them at TRU.

Note, safe, somewhat safe and not safe represent what I consider as a “safe purchase” (i.e., getting value for your money vs. throwing your money away), these labels do not describe whether the toy or item itself is safe for use by a child. You will have to determine toy safety yourself.

Toy Type Liquidation Safe Purchase? Contains Battery? Reason
Dolls Safe No
Motorized Dolls Not Safe Yes Prone to defects and can be unsafe
No store warranty
Bicycles Somewhat Unsafe Depends If you’re buying for a gift, unsafe.
If you’re buying to use now, perhaps.
If it has a battery, unsafe.
TRU may or may not offer assembly.
Use your best judgement.
Motorized Electric Kid Cars Not Safe Yes Batteries can be defective
May not be able to find replacement battery
No store warranty
Action Figures Safe No
Plush Animals Somewhat Safe No Depending on what it’s made from,
it may be safe or unsafe. Choose carefully.
Vinyl Figures Safe No
Hot Wheels Safe No So long as the Hot Wheels contain no batteries
Lego Safe No So long as the Legos contain no batteries
Motorized Toys Not Safe Yes Avoid motorized or electronic toys
Video Games Safe No Games themselves are rarely defective
Video Game Consoles Not Safe Maybe Could be defective
No way to exchange
No store warranty
Choose 3rd party insurance plan if you must buy
Video Game Controllers Somewhat Safe Yes Typically okay along with certain accessories.
Barbie Safe Depends If the Barbie doesn’t contain a battery,
this should be safe. If it contains a battery,
make sure the doll is working before
leaving the store.
Baby Toys Depends Depends For safety reasons, I do not recommend buying
baby toys and items via liquidation sales.
Diapers Safe No
Cribs Not Safe No Cribs can be dangerous for infants.
Purchase at a store where you can return.
Car Seats Not Safe No Car Seats can be dangerous for infants.
Purchase at a store where you can return.
Skateboards Safe No
Electric Skateboards Not Safe Yes  Avoid because of custom battery (replacement)
RC Vehicles Not Safe Yes  Avoid because of custom battery (replacement)
Tablets Somewhat Safe Yes  If Apple, you can rely on Apple. If another brand, avoid.
Wrapping Paper / Party Safe No
DVDs and Blu-ray Safe No
Toys To Life (Amiibo) Safe No
Headphones Not Safe Depends  High chances for problems
Toys R Us Exclusives Somewhat Safe Depends Avoid with custom batteries
Wooden Toys Somewhat Safe Depends

Use Your Best Judgement

The above is not an exhaustive list, so always use your best judgement if it’s not listed here. If the toy contains no battery at all, it should be fine. If the toy contains or uses standard AA, AAA, C, D or button cell batteries, you’re fine. If the toy contains a lithium ion and/or custom battery, you should avoid purchase. Any toy that contains a custom battery may have been custom made for Toys R Us. This means you may find it difficult or impossible to find batteries later. House brand or Toys R Us exclusive toys requiring refill packs should be avoided. Toys and products for infants should be avoided for safety reasons. The only product I would suggest is safe for an infant is diapers and possibly formula as long as it’s a name brand, not a house brand.

Tablets and electronics should be avoided if not from Apple or another recognized brand. If it’s a house branded electronic item, avoid.

Toys R Us Exclusives

Toys R Us Exclusives are now considered rare. However, that doesn’t mean they’re a good investment. Pop figures are fine, exclusive Barbies are fine and exclusive Hot Wheels are fine (see the list above). However, any exclusives that require something that you can only get at Toys R Us (like batteries or refills), you should avoid purchase.

Toys R Us Geoffrey toys

These are likely to be some of the rarest toys available. If you want a piece of memorabilia to commemorate Toys R Us, you should head over fast and pickup whatever Geoffrey items you can find. If you’re looking for plush, you might have to ask at the service desk.

Happy Deals and good luck!

↩︎

How to pair your PS4 controller wirelessly

Posted in Sony, video gaming by commorancy on July 31, 2015

DUALSHOCK 4We all know the drill. You’ve just run out and spent $65 for that new and oh-so-cool 500 Million Limited Edition DUALSHOCK 4 controller for your PS4. Well, now you’ve got to go through that hassle of pairing it with your console. But, why can’t I pair it wirelessly? You can. Let’s explore.

USB Pairing

The Sony recommended procedure of pairing your new controller to your PS4 is by plugging it into the console with the Sony USB cable and powering the PS4 with the power button. While that’s all well and good (or at least so Sony thinks), it’s a complete and utter hassle… especially when you have other controllers already working. If this is your only DS4 controller (i.e., no others working), you have two choices:

  • Pair your new controller with a cable
  • Pair it using flat screen’s remote control using HDMI-CEC (jump to CEC)

If you don’t have a flat screen with CEC or CEC is not enabled, you better go find that USB cable.

However, if you have more than one working controller, you can skip this hassle and go to …

… wait for it …

Wireless Pairing

PS4 DUALSHOCK 4 controllers are bluetooth devices and like all bluetooth devices you can pair them wirelessly. Of course, you can’t pair the device if it is the only device (see above), but if you happen to have other working devices to control your PS4 (like another controller or a media remote), you’re good to go to with wireless pairing.

Before you start this process, go to the PS4’s Settings => Devices => Bluetooth Devices area and leave it on this screen. On this screen you’ll see all your paired devices and this is also where all new unpaired devices will appear. Unpaired devices will have no grey or green dot next to them.

DS4PairingGuideHow to begin? Press and hold the PS button and the sharing button simultaneously. The sharing button is the small black oval button to the upper left of the touch pad labeled creatively enough SHARE. Press and hold the PS and sharing buttons until the lightbar begins to strobe quickly (approximately 3-5 seconds). While it’s quickly double strobing, it’s in the pairing state like any other bluetooth device. If the strobe is a slow on and off, then the controller is trying to connect to your PS4 or PC. This isn’t what you want. If it’s slow strobing, then you’ll need to wait until it stops to try again. Pressing the PS button before the share button could lead you into slow strobing. So, I would suggest pressing and holding the share button slightly before you press and hold the PS button to avoid triggering the slow strobe.

Once it’s double strobing, look at your screen under Bluetooth Devices and look for the DUALSHOCK 4 that has no dot (probably at the bottom of the PS4 screen). Using a working controller or remote, select the new controller and complete the pairing on the next screen.

If you don’t see your DUALSHOCK 4 device in the list, check to make sure the device is still in pairing mode. If not, put it in pairing mode. If it’s still in pairing mode, back out of that screen and then go back into it. This will force a search refresh for new devices. Hopefully it will appear now. If not, move closer to the PS4 with the new controller. If this all fails, use the USB pairing method above… again, time to go dig out that cable.

Once paired, you can now use the controller normally.

Don’t have access to your PS4?

I’ve had a number of comments on this article regarding corruption or rebuilding of a PS4 after a new hard drive insertion. Before you lose access to your PS4 entirely either because you failed to power off the unit properly, because the hard drive failed or because you replaced the hard drive, you should make sure you have some alternative form of PS4 XMB menu control. You have to remember to set this up while you still have a working PS4. You won’t be able to easily do some of these steps after you lose access and cannot find or do not have a proper microUSB pairing cable.

Note, if you are replacing the PS4’s hard drive, setting anything up in advance probably won’t work as the new hard drive will need to be reinstalled with a new operating system. So, any settings will be lost on hard drive replacement… skip down to Wired Controller below or be prepared with a PS4 compatible micro USB cable.

HDMI-CEC (control your PS4 with TV remote control)

Many flat screens today support control of the PS4 through the HDMI cable using your TV’s remote control. This is called HDMI-CEC or simply CEC. You must enable this on both your TV and on the PS4 while you have a controller that works. To enable this on your PS4, go to Settings=>General=>HDMI link and check this box. Now, go to your TV and enable CEC / HDMI Link to control the connected PS4 with your TV’s remote. Not all TV manufacturers call it CEC, some call it something with the word ‘Link’ in the name, but the protocol is standard. Once enabled, reboot your PS4 and then turn your TV off and then on.

Technomancer Screen Shot 7:20:16, 4.52 AM 2CEC control has changed in a recent PS4 system update. When you have CEC enabled, the remote is now considered a controller. Once you flip over to the PS4’s HDMI port on your TV, the PS4 should turn on. Once booted up, the remote control should present as a controller (see screenshot to the right). The screen should show your login ID. Press your ENTER or OK key on the remote to enter into the XMB menu. Apparently, Sony realized this intrinsic problem with CEC and updated the PS4 to now allow the remote control to be recognized as an XMB controller on the bootup screen. What this all means is that you can now fully control your PS4 with your TV’s remote control without needing a DS4 controller at all. With CEC, you can now pair your controller using your TV’s remote through settings. Though, I wouldn’t recommend trying to play games using your TV’s controller.

If the PS4’s screen does not show the login ID panel and simply has the words “Press the PS button to use the controller” in the middle of the screen, the PS4 has not recognized a controller. This can be for several reasons. If you powered the PS4 on before flipping to it via HDMI, the PS4 doesn’t see the TV as the controller. The device that powers the PS4 on is the device presented on the boot up screen. When you use a DS4 to power it on, the DS4 will show as the controller on the boot screen. When you use the the TV to switch to and power on the PS4, the TV’s controller becomes the default on this screen. If you can’t get the TV’s controller to show up at all, then you will need to skip down to the next section for pairing with a USB cable.

As mentioned above, you will need to set CEC up on your TV and the PS4 in advance to use this feature. If you have no functional gamepad controllers, your TV doesn’t support CEC or you haven’t set CEC up in advance, skip to USB pairing.

MicroUSB pairing cable

If you’re looking for something right away, you can stop by a store (or order online) and purchase a microUSB pairing cable. Sony offers an official cable that costs around $10. You can get a cable from the following places:

Wired Controller

If you’ve completely lost control to your PS4 through your Dual Shock 4 and you don’t have any other way to activate a PS button and you can’t seem to get your DS4 controllers paired with a cable, you will need to use a wired controller. There are only a few PS4 wired controllers on the market, but Hori makes a couple of gamepad versions.

While these gamepads are not as full featured as a Sony Dual Shock 4 (i.e., no light bar, no rumble, no speaker, no headset jack, etc), they will at least let you control your PS4 when nothing else will. Amazon also offers a few PS4 wired arcade-style stick controllers that may work. Make sure they have a PS button to launch the PS4’s XMB menu. Also, you will need to double-check that they are, in fact, wired controllers. While most third party controllers are wired, you’ll definitely want to read through the product description in the listings carefully to make sure it doesn’t use a wireless dongle. Though, a wireless dongle may work for controlling the PS4 for a short period of time, they may not work for long gaming sessions as they have tendencies to time out forcing the controller to be reconnected often.

Hori Pad FPS Pro Gamepad

I recently picked up a Hori Pad FPS Plus. This is a very nice controller with the exception of two things. First, the shoulder buttons take getting used to because they are pressure sensitive in a different way from the DS4’s trigger shoulder buttons. Because it takes a different amount of pressure to activate them, it feels different from the trigger controllers on the DS4. Once you get used to the pressure needed for these shoulder buttons, everything else is pretty much spot on including the touch pad. And, I like the reversed placement of the D-Pad and the left joystick (like the Xbox controller). This game pad is also well made and quite light in weight because it doesn’t have the lightbar, rumble or battery. I also like that I can continue to play without worry of running out of battery. The second issue, it won’t turn on the PS4 with the press of the PS button when the PS4 is off. For me, this is only a small problem because I have CEC enabled. Simply switching to the PS4’s HDMI port turns the PS4 on. Otherwise, you’ll need to get up and touch the power button or use a DS4 to turn it on and then use PS button on the Hori to get into the menu (the DS4 controller will automatically turn off when the Hori Pad logs in).

Note that there are other things the Hori Pad doesn’t have, like a headphone jack or a speaker. While I do like the speaker on the DS4, for me it doesn’t ruin the game without it. Yes, it is kind of cool when GTA5’s phone comes out of the DS4’s speaker, but it’s mostly a gimmick.

Dualshock 4 and Computers

Note, you can use this same pairing approach to pair this controller to other operating systems. For example, a Mac or Windows. The trouble, while the DS4 does pair, you still need a driver to map the buttons to make the controller useful. For this reason, it’s not that useful on a Mac yet, but you might try Joystick Mapper. I know the Joystick Mapper devs were working on an update to drive the DS4 controller on a Mac. For Windows, there’s InputMapper that does work.

As for pairing and using it on iOS or Android, it might pair but won’t be useful. Yes, some have managed to pair it, but it doesn’t seem to have any kind of drivers or support. I’d like to see Sony create a PS Vita gaming tablet that fully supports the DS4. That would be the best of all worlds. Skip iOS and Android and go right for a full out Sony gaming tablet. But, Sony definitely needs to get more gaming devs on board to bring the blockbuster titles. But, that’s another topic entirely.

Documentation

While I understand Sony’s reluctance to document a wireless pairing guide like this due to the need for an already working controller, I really don’t like having to locate that special Sony microUSB cable for this process. Not all microUSB cables are equal. If you don’t have the correct Sony PS4 (or compatible) cable, the pairing process above won’t work. Because this cable looks like all other black microUSB cables, you can easily mix them up or lose them. For that $65, I don’t understand why Sony can’t include a 3′ compatible cable in the box with the controller since the PS4 is so finicky about which cable will work.

I also don’t typically leave dangling cables hanging from my console for a variety of reasons including safety. So, locating this special pairing cable is not always quick in my house. I mean, one black cable looks like any other. Sony doesn’t specifically mark the cable well, so digging through a ton of microUSB cables trying to find that special Sony cable isn’t something I want to spend my time doing… especially when I already have a working controller.

When you have at least some kind of a functional controller, wireless pairing is a perfectly acceptable (and more efficient) alternative. Yet, Sony’s site mentions nothing of this process. That’s the reason I document it here.

[UPDATED: 6/11/2019] Controller Giveaway

Unfortunately, the controller giveaway didn’t reach the required 25 qualified subscriber entries to award the controller. However, I will randomly select one qualified subscriber to receive a $10 Amazon gift card. If you are a subscriber who entered, please check your email in the next 10 days as you may be the winner of this gift card. I will attempt to give the controller away again soon, so stay please tuned.

If this article helped you, please leave a comment below. If you had difficulties pairing your device, please let me know that too.

How not to run a business (part 10): Undermining Your Business

Posted in botch, business by commorancy on May 31, 2015

There are lots of very subtle actions that can be taken where you can unknowingly undermine your business success. Let’s explore.

Don’t fire a position multiple times in a row

While this somewhat depends on the position, it’s still never a good sign when you must fire staff from the same position over and over. Even if you’re disenchanted with the people you’ve hired doing the specific work and after firing a position more than three times, this says more about your needs than the position. It’s clear, what you need in the position and the type of people you are hiring is mismatched. You need to rethink the job requirements for the position and hire the correct talent to fit that role. When you fire leaders in this way (i.e., VPs, SVPs or C-Level execs), this situation is even more detrimental to your business.

How will this undermine your business? Firing a position more than three times says several things. First, it says you don’t know what you’re looking for. Second, for all of those people whom you’ve hired and fired, the word will get around that anyone who’s a competent candidate won’t even consider the position. Once you realize that the most talented pools are relatively small and that they do talk to one another, firing a position multiple times means the word will get around to not hire on at that company. Once the word gets around about this situation, it is never a good thing for your business. The higher the profile of the position, the stronger the word gets around and this will severely undermine your ability to acquire top-end talent.

Additionally, the word will also get around in the recruiter community and they also choose not to place talent at your company.

Don’t choose an industry without researching its requirements

When you’re setting up your business plan, you need to thoroughly research the industry your business will be in. For example, selling a product or service to the medical industry is profoundly different than selling it to marketing teams, which is also profoundly different than selling your wares to the government or doctors or lawyers or farmers.

How will this undermine your business? If you fail to properly research the types of clients you are working to obtain, you won’t understand their demands and requirements. Every industry is bound by laws and regulation (some industries more than others). If you fail to realize that the industry you are targeting requires strict compliance to laws, you may also fail to understand how those laws apply to your business and that your company’s compliance may be unattainable and far too costly.  If you can’t comply with the laws, you may never be able to land the deals on which your business depends. Yes, for many companies, vendors must comply with certain laws, security requirements and industry standards before a company will agree to close your deal. Failing to research these requirements may undermine your ability to remain in business. Or, it may relegate your business to smaller companies needing much smaller deals.

Don’t fail to underestimate the power of word of mouth

Sites like Glassdoor exist for a reason. Before Glassdoor, there was no transparency except by word of mouth. Now, there is.

How will this undermine your business? Before Glassdoor, recruiters would make the determination of where to place candidates. Recruiters also won’t choose to place prospective employees in toxic environments. That is, environments where firings are common, where turnover is high and where employee morale is extremely low. They won’t place anyone for a very good reason… they know the new employee won’t stay long enough to allow the recruiter to collect their commission. Recruiters only get paid their commission if the placed employee stays for the specified duration of time (3-6 months depending on the placement contract). Recruiters, therefore, will not place would-be candidates into an environment they know will be a short lived role. It also likely means that when you do find recruiters who will work with your hiring needs, they likely are unaware of the problem. Though, once they place and realize they are making no money, don’t expect to hear from them again.

Additionally, with sites like Glassdoor, employees can remain anonymous and be brutally honest about their experiences at the business. This can also undermine your ability to hire. Sites like Twitter and Facebook just compound the problem. As work gets around and your business’s reputation becomes tainted, you’ll find that it can be nearly impossible to not only attract good talent, but also retain it. Word of mouth in an industry is as good as gold to a job candidate, but can be poison for a business. You need to make sure your word of mouth is always high quality praise. Never negative backlash. If you choose to ignore the word of mouth, it will be to the detriment of your company.

Don’t skimp on employee perks

Employees spend 8 or more hours of their day working for you (not to mention commute time). Morale is a big part of that work day. If morale sinks low, your employees will exodus. Perks help keep employee morale up. Choosing the right morale boosters is critically important to employee retention.

How will this undermine your business? The Shining said it best, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. I’m not recommending that you allow your employees to play. But, offering employees a place to relax when they are having a break is important. You also need to understand what other companies in your same vicinity are offering to their employees. While I understand that every company can’t offer all of the same perks, you need to offer at least some of them. Not offering perks to your employees is tantamount to telling would-be employees and recruiters, “Don’t place people here”. Word of mouth spreads, once again, and you’ll find it hard to hire strong candidates because the perks are better somewhere else.

Secondarily, this goes back to several of the previous Don’ts. Lack of perks in combination with more problematic industry and poor morale, leading to negative word of mouth, could lead your business into a tough hiring spot. You could find that it’s nearly impossible to hire staff across the board. What you’re left with hiring are people who are not the top end of the hiring pool and instead end up the middle to low end staff. Once your business is forced to hire lesser qualified staff, your business will tank.

Perks like free food, subsidized or free daycare, subsidized or free transportation to and from work. Other perks can include tuition reimbursement, travel discounts and store discounts. When you skimp on perks when other companies are not, you will find it difficult to hire and keep any talent, especially top end talent.

Don’t assume you can live without top end talent

Without top end talent, your business is doomed to mediocrity.

How will this undermine your business? Once you hit the mediocrity stage, your customers will, one by one, leave you. They will realize you aren’t providing the quality service that you promised. Oh, you’ll still get some new signups, until they also realize the mediocrity of your business. Competition is fierce and it’s guaranteed that your business will have competition. If your competitors are doing it better than you, then your product/service offering will end up behind all others. It’s important to understand that top end talent drives your business forward. Low to mid level talent, keeps status quo. Top end talent provides innovation, low to mid level talent doesn’t.

Once you understand this fundamental distinction between the levels of talent, you will understand why you pay top dollar to have top end talent. And note, I’m not necessarily talking about top-end talent in Director, VP, SVP or C-Level positions. While it helps to have top-end talent there, those positions do not typically get the work done day to day. It’s those doing the hands-on day-to-day work that are driving your business forward. You want motivated self-starters who are willing to own the work that they do. Low to mid-level talent won’t actually own their work. Ownership of work is critically important when looking for talented staff to hire.

Note that some industries are harder to hire for than others. If you choose, for example, to open a business that does email marketing, you’ll find it very difficult to hire into this industry no matter what the position. Most technical people understand spam and realize they don’t want their resume to contain anything to do with a ‘spam related’ business.

Don’t ignore the value of social media

Social media offers a brand new marketing approach. Social media now offers grass roots marketing team that you have at your disposal. For example, if you can get your business placed onto certain people’s Facebook or Twitter feeds, this can drive lots of people to your business.

How will this undermine your business? If you fail to understand the power of social media either by ignoring it or by assuming that it is pointless, you have deluded yourself and this immediately undermines your business. Every marketing technique is appropriate and should be exploited to its fullest. Interactive marketing is even better. If you hire people to actively scout Twitter and Facebook, they can write comments that counter any negative feedback. By hiring a team of people to manage all social media outlets, they can head off problems before they even start. By having an active team countering Twitter or Facebook posts, it shows your business is proactive and willing to counteract any negative postings by disgruntled customers.

Don’t ignore the power of mobile marketing

Smartphones are now ubiquitous. Yet, this technology as a marketing platform is still in its infancy. While in this infancy, you can latch onto this technology early and get an edge over your competition. Companies that choose to embrace mobile marketing now will have the upper hand when marketing on these devices becomes commonplace in the future (and when email is ultimately dead).

How will this undermine your business? If you fail to understand that mobile marketing is the future, you will also fail to understand how quickly you can reach out to your customers with the immediacy of a phone call. Email, for example, is a slow mechanism by nature. It can take anywhere between 5 minutes and several days for people to read your email. With push notifications, your marketing is given to the user instantaneously. They can then go find out what the hubbub is all about within seconds. Nearly every push notification is read immediately. Emails take far far longer and are prone to spam blockers, image blockers and link blockers. Mobile marketing, at least today, is under no such blocking constraints. If you take advantage early, you can add a significant advantage to marketing for your business.

To take maximum advantage, however, it must be with a solid and useful app. An app you can direct the push notification to and give critical information. If you’re a retail business, for example, offering coupon discounts for purchases can be the difference between a purchase and not, such as 20% off of a product. Discounts are always a good idea when done regularly, but infrequently.

Mobile marketing needs to be relevant, targeted and location based. You need to know exactly what this customer’s interests are and provide them with spot on marketing that gives them exactly what they need when they need it. For location based marketing, if they are close to one of your stores, you should immediately send a push notification to notify them of any special offers located with that store.

Don’t change upper management every year

Or.. even every other year. This is can be a hard one to actually accomplish depending on lots of factors and it can cause severe morale problems.

How will this undermine your business? Whether it’s through a firing, through so-called ‘voluntary’ severance (aka The Velvet Hammer), people quitting, demotions, promotions or lateral moves, frequent or regular departures in the upper management team creates more questions than answers for employees and, if a public company, stockholders. Stability in the upper management team (at least for 4-5 years at a time) says volumes about loyalty, stability and allows employees to recognize the upper management. Changing this team frequently says something is wrong internally. Not only do employees begin questioning what’s going on, these changes plant seeds that “maybe I need to seek employment elsewhere”. Operating a musical chair management team will undermine your ability to operate your business. It takes at least 6 months for any new hire to get his feet in a position. Changing critical management positions often means the person in the position never has time to get an understanding of what they need to get done. Worse, just about the time they are about to get something done, they’re being seen to the door.

You can’t operate your business with a constant stream of new people in critical management positions. If you aren’t absolutely sure the person is the right person, don’t hire them. It’s far better to leave the position vacant for just the right person than it is to fill it with a person you know won’t work out. Additionally, if you can’t ever find someone to fill the role to your satisfaction, perhaps you’re looking for answers in the wrong place. You might want to start by looking at yourself and your expectations of the role. If you can’t clearly define the expectations of that management role, don’t expect anyone you hire to magically gain this understanding and define it for you. That will never happen.

Part 9 | ↓ Parts 10.1, 10.2, 10.3 10.4 | Chapter Index | Part 11

Tagged with: , ,
%d bloggers like this: