Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Should I allow a team work-from-home day?

Posted in analysis, botch, business, Employment, fail by commorancy on February 13, 2020

mai-tai-beachI worked at a company which, at the team leader level, endorsed a once-a-week work-from-home day. I can now definitively state, “No, you shouldn’t allow or offer full team work from home days.” Let’s explore why.

Day Off?

The biggest reason not to allow such a work-from-home day is that it is typically treated as a “day off”. This is even true of the managerial staff. At the business where I worked and on this specific day, after we had our “morning teem meeting”, everyone went their separate ways doing whatever they pleased… and it was usually not work related.

This becomes a very difficult situation for those who are consigned to pager duty for that week. When you need to get in touch with someone to resolve a problem, it can become nearly impossible to reach them while during office hours on “work from home” day.

Work from home days should be limited to individuals rather than teams, assuming you wish to allow this perk at all. For example, allow an individual to choose a work from home day and allow that single individual to work from home on that day. That leaves the rest of the team in the office performing their daily routines. This allows for timely problem resolution in almost every case. Even then, if the team member who is at home is needed, they can typically be reached. It also allows other teams to get in touch with your team should the need arise.

Rant

The biggest problem I personally experienced with a “work from home” perk day was that I had no choice in it. If I showed up in the office on the work-from-home day, no one was there. The desks were all empty. Even if I were at the office, I still had the same problem. car-drivingEveryone else was running around in their cars or doing something other than work. This meant that even after spending a long time locating a co-worker, trying to get someone’s mind wrapped around a work problem might take ages longer than normal.

Their thoughts were on driving their car or picking up groceries or ferrying their kids or whatever their assumed “day off” tasks entailed. Their minds were clearly not focused on work. This meant that waiting for people to get back in front of their computers and get into the correct mindset might take an hour or longer. That’s an hour that a problem is not getting resolved. It’s an hour that’s causing delays because they are not doing what they are being paid to do.

This is a big work ethic problem. If I’m handling the pager and I’m expected to resolve problems, some of which I have no first hand knowledge how to resolve, I’ll need someone else’s involvement to help me understand the system that’s broken. Yet, the person with the expertise is out running around instead of working at the their computer at home (where they are supposed to be).

Knowledge Transfer

Some of this might be considered a documentation problem or a knowledge transfer problem. I agree, it is. But, there are many, many companies where selective staff choose to keep their knowledge close to the vest rather than documenting it. This is usually a sign of job security… that this person believes that if they openly document what they are doing, that they will have no value to the company.

This situation is particularly a problem if the person also happens to be the team leader. As a subordinate, I’m not tasked to manage a manager. Though, I can strongly urge them to document. However, that’s not the working relationship. I can ask, but they don’t have to comply. In many cases, they don’t and won’t comply. This leaves me back at square one. I’ll need their help to resolve the problem… every time until I can reverse engineer what they know. What they know about the systems is in their brain and in no one else’s. Until I spend hours reverse engineering that system to understand what they know, I’ll always need their help. That’s job security.

Worse, many times, these folks have PGP locked all of the doors. This means that even were I to try and reverse engineer what they did, I can’t even resolve the problem because I’m led to a PGP locked door. This means that they hold the literal key and they must be the one to open it. For this reason, teams must be in the same office together through the work day… rather than separated across city distances at various dwellings. Businesses rent office spaces for a reason. By having a team “work from home”, it means that the office rental space isn’t being used and the monthly rental money is being, at least on that day, wasted.

Work from Home

I will, however, state that work from home CAN work, if it’s implemented properly. A manager can allow one of their subordinates to work from home IF they are properly monitored. Monitoring means keeping in contact with the person via chat servers, email and pagers. Communication is your friend. That doesn’t mean pestering the person, but it does mean regularly staying in touch when the need arises. Clearly, if there is no need of this person, then let them work in silence. But, pinging them occasionally via email, chat or messaging will give you (as a manager) a sense that the person is at home in front of their computer doing work, not running around in their car taking care of non-work business. At the same time, there’s the “out of sight, out of mind” problem. If a person is out of the office, the optics from other staff might cause issues. Allowing one person to work from home means they’ve gotten a perk no one else may be getting. Offering this to one person means offering it to all staff.

Working from home is, however, a double edged sword. While on the receiving end, I did find the freedom itself is nice enough and not having to spend for the gas and wear and tear on my vehicle is cool. The difficulty is that when the team isn’t together, it kills a work day where things could have gotten done. That forces doubling up on work the following day when we all, again, meet in the office. Doubling up on work is difficult at the best of times, but moreso if that day happens to be Friday.

Teams should work together every day, each week. They should work on projects together, manage the business together and functionally be a team IN the office. You can’t be a team when the team isn’t together.

HR Advice

If a manager or executive approaches you about having a team “work from home” day, you should seriously discuss these downsides with them. The biggest problem is that it kills productivity between team members.

For example, we had our team “work from home” day on Thursday. In fact, it was the worst of all possible days to offer this. It’s the day before Friday… the day when everyone has mostly “checked out”. Friday is one of the worst days for productivity because people are concerned with the bar or a party or the weekend. Their minds are not on the work day at hand. Their minds are on the end of the day and the weekend.

By having the team “work from home” day set to Thursday, this means that it will effectively be a 3 day work week. There is Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday which supports solid team efforts. Then there’s a break on Thursday which means a huge loss of productivity for the final two work days of the week. Some people may even schedule Friday off which effectively offers a 4 day weekend breaking productivity even further.

If a manager or leader is thinking of a setting up “work from home” day, the only two days where it’s feasible is Tuesday or Wednesday. I wouldn’t allow any other days… definitely not Friday or Monday and definitely not Thursday. I also wouldn’t allow a work from home day every week. That’s too frequent.

Working from Home

Don’t get me wrong, being able to work from home is nice on the surface, but it’s horrible for business logistics. You hired your team to be in your rented office space and work together as a team. Having that team work from home can be difficult to keep track of people… particularly when other teams need access to these staff members. Other teams must put requests on hold when a full team is out of the office.

In fact, it’s almost unheard of to allow an entire team out of the office for a single day, let alone every single week. Business must be conducted every day, not just the days when people feel inclined to show up.

The difficulty, however, comes when a VP or executive proposes a “work from home” effort. While I understand there might be a personal issue requiring this VP to be at home on a specific day, he could have simply set up his own personal work from home day solely for himself. Keep the rest of the team in the office. Instead, he endorsed an entire team work from home day… a mistake.

Personally, that (and a number of other problems surrounding this person and another manager) didn’t work for me and I had to leave that job. Jobs are already difficult enough without throwing in these unnecessary wrenches. I felt the team didn’t get enough done throughout the week, partly because of this incorrectly placed “work from home” day, but also because of sheer lack of team bonding. The manager over the team really did nothing to attempt to bond the team together… instead leaving us to our own devices. This is a separate problem, just like the knowledge transfer issue above, but it definitely compounded with the work from home issue to create a large set of problems which made working for this company much more difficult than it should have been.

Team Bonding

athletesLet’s talk about team bonding for a moment. Every work team is effectively “thrown together”. It’s a bunch of people who don’t know one another initially, but must find common ground to get work done as a team. To that end, the team must have the occasional get together to allow some time away from work to talk and mingle, but that time can also be used by managers to discuss how overall work efforts are progressing.

Team outings need to offer, first, a work related meeting that discusses ongoing metrics that affect the team. If the team is in charge of keeping the servers functioning, then the meeting should discuss these efforts. If there are efforts to secure the servers, then it should discuss the security efforts. Whatever projects are currently underway, these should also be discussed so that all team members are aware of who is doing what projects and who might be needed to help these projects succeed.

Then, after the formalities of work related discussions end, the team will be free to mingle, talk and eat dinner or play video games or whatever fun team bonding activities have been scheduled. At the office, there’s limited time to bond with your co-workers other than at lunch. Having out of the office team bonding events is important to make give the team time to talk about things other than work.

When a workplace offers “work from home”, this activity completely disrupts the ability of co-worker bonding in the workplace. Without a monthly or quarterly team bonding event, there’s no way for co-workers to functionally bond… leaving a scattered team.

Team bonding is important to ensure that work efforts proceed efficiently and normally. Otherwise, you get conflict between team members who refuse to work with one another because each person thinks that their project is the most important… when all projects are important, but no more important than the next person’s project. Still, the projects are all for the benefit of the employer, thus it is the manager’s responsibility to make sure the staff manage the priorities of those projects accordingly.

Team Perks

As a team leader, consider the perks you offer your team carefully. Don’t choose perks like “work from home” because eventually (yes, even you) will abuse it. But, that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that a work from home day sacrifices productivity for that and the following day. Be careful when choosing perks that sacrifice two or more days of team productivity. If you plan to allow a work from home perk, choose to allow it for a one-on-one basis so that you can control who is out of the office when.

By making this change, you be in better control over when key people are in and out of the office. Full team “work from home” days should not be permitted or offered. If you currently support such a one-day-a-week perk, you should rethink this stance.

If you are a manager over a team that already has a once-a-week work from home day, you should stop this perk immediately! Be careful to offer a compensating perk once you get rid of this one, such as individual work from home days which are scheduled well in advance. Or, alternatively, allow team members to arrive late, leave early or have flex shifts on specific days as long as their in-office hours offer a minimum of 3-4 hours of overlap with other team members. With such a retooling of this perk, the team will work together in the office every day, offering much more weekly productivity and provide better team bonding.

If this article helped your situation, please leave a comment below letting me know how you managed your work situation.

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What went wrong with Disney’s Star Wars

Posted in botch, business, entertainment by commorancy on December 22, 2019

StarWarsLogoRoundedThis article is not intended to review The Rise of Skywalker, even though it is in the theaters as I write this. I will write a lengthy review of this final film later. No, this article is intended to explain what went wrong at Disney with Disney’s not-so-recently acquired Star Wars property. Let’s explore.


Star Wars as a Serial

When George Lucas envisioned Star Wars, he envisioned it as a new take on the Saturday morning “Damsel in Distress” story. In fact, he held true to that vision throughout the Star Wars Original Trilogy (Episodes 4, 5 and 6) and even into the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy (Episodes 1, 2 and 3). I’ll deep dive into how these two separate trilogies manifested this “Damsel in Distress” Saturday morning serial ideal.

Prequels

While George’s Prequel trilogy story idea was, for the most part, a snoozefest, George maintained and held true to his Saturday morning serial idea of the female heroine coming under constant distress. If you review Padmé Amadala’s role in films 1, 2 and 3, this idea is readily apparent. In the first film, Padmé’s planet of Naboo comes under fire requiring help… and she, with the help of two Jedi, makes her way to Coruscant to plead her case. Along the way, she runs into all sorts of treacherous situations where her new found Jedi colleagues have to bail her out. These situations are not necessarily of her own making, but they are situations that require rescuing her. In The Phantom Menace, however, there weren’t a lot of occasions where Padmé needed rescuing personally, but there were global situations that warranted her protection by the Jedi.

However, this constant motif of peril and rescue is an important story element in George’s Star Wars universe no matter the form it takes. This situation happens with more and more regularity as the prequels progress, putting Padmé in ever more and more perilous situations requiring rescue by someone… someone like Obi-Wan on Geonosis and again someone like Anakin. Further we see Anakin rescue her again and again once he becomes her lover. This peril and rescue story element sets up incredible tensions and keeps the story narrative flowing properly. It also breeds another story motif which I’ll describe shortly.

Even as much as the acting was stilted and wooden, this “Damsel in Distress” motif comes through clear as day.

Midquels

During Episodes 4, 5 and 6, Princess Leia is the damsel. In these films, once again, Leia is set into ever more and more perilous and precarious situations requiring rescue by Luke, Han, Chewy and on occasion, even Lando. It’s a never ending motif that lends credence to the story and helps the audience keep its eye on the ball.

I’ll point out a few of these. Leia’s rescue by Luke during the swing across in A New Hope. Leia’s rescue by Han from Hoth Base in The Empire Strikes Back. Leia’s rescue by Han at the end of Return of the Jedi after being injured. Leia’s rescue from being Jabba’s slave. There’s nothing more motivating to another character and satisfying from the audience than getting the damsel out of harm’s way. Such a situation allows a character to overcome insurmountable odds to achieve success to save the damsel. This one is yet another motif that is common in Star Wars… “Overcoming Insurmountable Odds”. This motif is in all of the films, even Disney’s versions. But, the two concepts of “Damsel in Distress” and “Overcoming Insurmountable Odds” go hand-in-hand. The characters need motivation to put themselves in very dangerous situations (and for the audience to believe it — eye on the ball). Thus, rescuing the a lead character, male or female, is just the motivation the character needs.

After all, Luke’s motivation for defeating the Death Star in Star Wars was predicated on saving Princess Leia (and the rest of the rebellion, of course). Luke, however, had personal stakes in this fight. Even Han’s last minute rescue of Luke was born out of both vying for Leia’s attentions. Both Luke and Han knew what they stood to lose (or gain). Luke then was able to overcome insurmountable odds by leveraging the force.

Disney’s Sequels

Here’s were things begin to go awry, but not right from the start. The Force Awakens manages to keep both the “Damsel in Distress” and the “Overcoming Insurmountable Odds” motifs mostly in-check throughout most of the film. In fact, The Force Awakens uses Finn as the agent to carry this motif along throughout most of this first Sequel film. Unfortunately, this motif remained relatively paper thin and Finn is unable to “save” Rey most of the time simply because Rey is not in danger. However, JJ is very good at copying ideas, but not at implementing them properly. For this first film in the final trilogy, these two important story motifs manage to maintain their place mostly within The Force Awakens, but only weakly. Although, by the end of The Force Awakens, these motifs begin to fail by seeing Rey become far too powerful and far too independent way before she should have. In fact, by the end of the film, Rey was so capable of managing to save herself, no other characters really needed to be there to help her.

By the second film, The Last Jedi, the “Damsel in Distress” motif was entirely tossed aside. No more saving Rey. It just wouldn’t be a motif in the film at all. Rey was such an independent and powerful “Mary Sue” that she could handle any situation with ease. No need to have Finn, Poe or any other character feel the need to “save Rey”. For as far as they were concerned, she didn’t need saving. The removal of the “Damsel in Distress” motif yanked out one of the core themes of this “Saturday Morning Serial”. It also left many fans disenchanted by this change in direction of Star Wars.

By The Rise of Skywalker, not only does the series entirely abandon the idea of “Damsel in Distress”, it throws the idea in the face of audience as entirely unnecessary. It states definitively that Rey is a “Mary Sue” of the highest order and is fully capable of rescuing herself without need of anyone else. No longer is Star Wars about being a team effort, it’s about a single person’s rise to power… something which the Jedi order actually forbid.

…. And here is where Disney’s Star Wars falters ….

By The Last Jedi, Rey is so capable of saving herself that there’s no need for anyone to “come save her”, not even when strapped into an interrogation chair when Kylo is laying the figurative thumbscrews to her.

When Leia is trapped in a cell on the Death Star in A New Hope, Luke and Han hatch a plan to save her against impossible odds… and they succeed, even if not for the garbage shoot. When Rey is trapped in a cell on Kylo’s carrier, no one hatches any plans to save Rey. She has to save herself. In The Rise of Skywalker, it goes way beyond that. Rey has become so powerful and self-sufficient, anyone trying to “save” her would look like an idiot. This is the reason why Disney’s Star Wars has more in common with fan fiction than it does actual canon. Disney has effectively turned Star Wars into a series about wish fulfillment.

Star Wars was not and has never been about empowering the female lead to become entirely self-sufficient and “save the galaxy” by herself (like Holdo). Star Wars was also not about wish fulfillment. Star Wars is about having a team of people save each other, but specifically still managing to afford the “Damsel in Distress” motif at times. Even still, it wasn’t always the damsel who always needs saving in Episodes 1 through 6, but Leia did need help relatively frequently. After all, Leia did have to rescue Han after being frozen in Carbonite and sent to Tattoine… an alternate form of “Damsel in Distress”. This motif is not always about rescuing a female. It’s about a team effort of rescuing each other against great odds.

While the “Damsel in Distress” motif may be considered a bit antiquated in these more female empowering times, it still has a place in storytelling… and in particular, it is a key element of Star Wars that simply can’t be discarded. Star Wars is, for better or worse, stories about the female ending up in situations needing assistance by her male cohorts. Though, setting up the reverse in today’s times might be perfectly acceptable.

Unfortunately, Disney has lost its way in this franchise. It sacrificed the core “Damsel in Distress” motif to its own sociopolitical ideals of “female independence and empowerment”. Female independence is not a central theme in the Star Wars cinematic universe and never has been. Star Wars is a story about working together as a “team” (male or female) to create a positive end result.

Listening to Leia’s speech on Hoth to her pilots right before battle sums up what Star Wars is about. I can hear some people saying, “Well it should be about female independence”. I counter with, look at how that turned out for both The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker… hint: not well. Even trying such shtick as “Role Reversal” (aka 2016’s Ghostbusters) is so obvious as to what it is, it’s almost impossible to avoid the backlash. The Star Wars universe has already overcome such petty squabbles such as “female” versus “male”. In Star Wars, the characters live in a universe where the most important thing is SURVIVAL, not which gender is most important.

While a Star Wars TV series may be able to expand on many different motifs, including delving into female empowerment, due its lengthy episodic nature, theatrical releases have only a few precious minutes to unfold a story that makes sense using the existing Star Wars motifs. Holding true to the Star Wars original story methodologies and ideals would have fared far better for Disney than what we were handed in Disney’s trilogy.

I liken this problem to the idea of “tossing out the baby with the bathwater”. It may solve a certain problem, but it creates more problems than it solves (aka JJ’s 2009’s Star Trek reboot). With Disney, that’s where we are… and that’s why Disney’s Star Wars films consistently draw fan ire, contempt and criticism.

This article is not intended to describe everything wrong with Disney’s Star Wars. Instead, it is intended to draw attention where Disney first went astray from what Star Wars is fundamentally designed to be. Clearly, there are many, many more story and situational problems within Episodes 7, 8 and 9. However, all of these other problems stemmed directly or indirectly from the primary problem described above.

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Top 10 gripes for Fallout 76

Posted in advice, botch, business, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on December 8, 2019

Fallout 76_20191108124032

You’re thinking of buying Fallout 76? You’ve rationalized, “It’s only a game, how bad can it be?” Let’s explore the top 10 gripes for why Fallout 76 may not be the best game purchase in 2019.

Number 10 — It’s not a new game

This game was released over a year ago in October of 2018. It’s over a year old already. Games typically have a 1 year lifespan of relevance before losing steam. The useful lifetime of this game is already waning and the clock is now ticking down on this game. Bethesda knows it, the industry knows it and gamers know this. You could invest your money into this game and find in 5 months that Bethesda has decided to pull the plug. For this reason alone, I’d be cautious in investing time in building a character.

Bethesda RPG-like games usually take months to fully play through. You might not even see all of the endgame content before Bethesda pulls the plug. Though, you can most certainly get through the main quest line before then, as short as the main quest is. Keep in mind, however, that because it’s an online game, there’s no local save file on your computer. If Bethesda pulls the plug, all of your characters and the work you’ve spent building them will disappear.

Number 9 — Multiplayer Game Modes

If you’re solely looking at the purchase of Fallout 76 for its multiplayer player-vs-player (PVP) game modes, you might want to think again. There are only three multiplayer modes in Fallout 76:

  1. Native (Workshop and Adventure)
  2. Hunter / Hunted Radio
  3. Battle Royale

Native PVP

None of the 3 PVP modes are particularly well designed and none of them fit into the Fallout universe and actually make sense. This first mode, “Native”, requires two people to initiate this mode through a handshaking process. One person fires on another. The second person must fire back to complete the PVP handshaking and launch into PVP mode. The problem is, there’s no fun to be had in this PVP mode and it’s rarely, if ever, used. Most players in adventure mode are there to explore and play PVE, not to get into PVP battles. So, be cautious when trying to elicit a PVP action from another player.

The second half of the PVP mode is at Workshops. If you claim a workshop, the handshaking mode is disabled and the entirety of the workshop area becomes an active PVP zone. Once you own a workshop, anyone can come into the workshop and begin PVP with you or your team. It’s the same PVP as the version that requires handshaking, except there is no handshaking.

Speaking of teams, be cautious when teaming up with other players. It only takes one player in a team to begin PVP with another player. Once that happens, the entire team becomes vulnerable to PVP with that player (and anyone on a team with that player). No warnings are issued by the game to other team players when one team member begins PVP activities with another player.

Hunter / Hunted Radio

The second game mode, “Hunter / Hunted Radio” requires you open a radio station on the in-game Pip boy (heads up display giving access to your inventory, weapons, armor, etc). This “radio station” links you into a matchmaking mode that allows up to 4-5 players in a given radius to begin PVP activities. As the name suggest, it’s about hunting for other players all while being hunted yourself. It’s also a sort of ‘Last Man Standing’ mode in that whichever player ends up with the most kills gets the most rewards.

Both of the above listed game modes are effectively “death match” style PVP. That means that it’s solely about player characters killing one another… which then comes down to which player has the best and strongest armor and weapons. Both of these styles rapidly elicit boredom because “death match” is the oldest and weakest type of PVP mode there is and is simply about killing other player characters.

This PVP also makes no sense within Fallout 76 where all of the people who lived in Vault 76 were supposed to remain civil and friendly towards one another. Not even the game setup or later found holotapes reveal any story aspect of people in Vault 76 turning on one another before “Reclamation Day”. If that had been a story element, then perhaps the PVP might have made some sense. But, no. The holotapes found almost ALL tie into the Scorched threat or other similar environmental survival threats (bad water, radiation, etc). None of the holotapes discuss bad blood between the residents within Vault 76. If that had been true, the “Reclamation Day Party” the night before would have ended in bloodshed before the vault even opened.

Nuclear Winter — Battle Royale

The third PVP activity is separated from the above because it arrived much later in 2019. At the same time it is a merely a weak copy of other better implemented Battle Royale games, which are currently “trending” in the game industry. Bethesda added this game mode, not because it made sense to Fallout 76 (or the Fallout universe), but because it is so popular in other popular game franchises, such as Fortnite and Apex Legends. It’s simply Bethesda’s attempt at a cash grab in an industry being inundated by other better Battle Royale based games.

Battle Royale is nothing new. It is a game mode that has been around since the early days of PVP. However, games like Fortnite and Apex Legends have turned this mode into hugely successful franchises. This mode is another “Last Man Standing” mode which is simply an alternative version of “Death Match.” In this death match style game, instead of people picking off one another and continually respawning until the clock runs out, you only get one try to win. This means that once your character has been killed, you can only watch the action unfold for the remaining active players. The point of any Battle Royale mode is to survive as long as you can and possibly become the “last man standing”.

With Fortnite and Apex Legends, it’s not so much about being Battle Royale, it’s more about the game makers crafting the game using interesting characters using gimmicks (building forts) with interesting attack modes. It’s about finding a character who has the “best” attack in the game. This means you can bring in experience earned and weapons owned back into the game to use over and over.

Why is all of this important to Bethesda’s “Battle Royal”? Because Bethesda chooses to allow nothing into its Battle Royale mode. All experience earned is earned explicitly within this game mode. But, even that experience doesn’t matter. Any weapons you may have used or armor you may have found cannot be used in subsequent plays. You must ALWAYS find weapons and armor in the game once it begins. Even then, it’s all random what you find. The chests generate random weapons, armor and loot. It could be good loot or it could be bad. Since you have no idea what you might or might not find, you’re at the mercy of the game to outfit you while you’re in the game. All the while, the clock is ticking.

You’re never given enough time to really outfit your character in a useful fashion. You end up spending inordinate amounts of time hiding from other players and, hopefully, finding decent armor and weapons in the loot chests. Some Battle Royale games offer this “loot chest” idea, like Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG). Unfortunately this game concept fails to work in a game like Fallout 76 where the entire point of playing Fallout 76 is to gain experience, weapons and armor over time. Having to “start over fresh” every time you play is, unfortunately, tedious.

Ignoring the nonsensical nature of this game mode even being IN Fallout 76, Nuclear Winter is boring. Even after one playthrough, it’s the same every time. Hide, search, outfit, stay alive. In fact, in this game mode, if you actively attempt to go looking for other players to kill, your character is more likely to be killed. To survive in this game mode, you need to remain hidden until the ever enclosing “ring of fire” gets too small to ignore any other players.

Additionally, any earned experience in “Nuclear Winter” is not carried into the “Adventure Mode” of Fallout 76. Everything in Nuclear Winter is for Nuclear Winter and vice versa. These modes are mutually exclusive.

Considering that Apex Legends and Fortnite are free-to-play, buying Fallout 76 solely to play Bethesda’s Nuclear Winter game mode is a waste of money. Go get the free Fortnite or Apex Legends or buy into Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds which do Battle Royale mode much, MUCH better. Bethesda would have done better to separate Nuclear Winter into a separate, standalone, free-to-play game… not tied to Fallout 76. I might even suggest retheming it either as its own franchise or theme it under a franchise more known for multiplayer games, such as Doom or Wolfenstein.

But… don’t run out and buy Fallout 76 strictly for Nuclear Winter. It’s too expensive for as weak as this game mode’s design is. If you already own the game, then it’s worth trying.

Number 8 — Holotape Hunt

This game has categorically been chastised for its lack of NPCs. And… that criticism is rightly justified. All previous Fallout games have been HEAVILY centered around NPCs and their dilemmas. To yank a mainstay out of a Fallout game means to yank out its very heart-and-soul and its reason to exist. The reason players play Fallout and Skyrim is because of the sometimes heart wrenching stories of its human NPC inhabitants.

In Fallout 76, because there are no human NPCs, save Super Mutants and a bunch of robots, the game is devoid of ANY interactivity with other NPCs. Instead, the game’s primary story sees you hunt down a trail of pre-recorded holotapes to “listen” to a bunch of canned messages and read random text on computer terminals. Worse, many of these holotapes open up quests that you are required to complete, yet the holotapes are way too short to really give the player any sense of urgency. Indeed, the holotape has likely been sitting by a dead body for months, if not years already. How can there be any sense of urgency around listening to something that’s been sitting there that long? In fact, whatever that dead person may have been doing to prompt that tape is likely long over and done.

Worse, sitting around listening to holotapes as a matter of story course, then reading text on a bunch of terminals is entirely boring. Storytelling, particularly in video games, should be done by interactive characters, not by text on a screen or pre-recorded audio tapes. In fact, such a storytelling tactic thwarts the point of even using a video game to tell a story. This isn’t the early 80s when Zork was the best that computers could achieve, it’s the days of Call of Duty when it’s all about realistic cinematic 3D character storytelling. Yet, the best Bethesda can come up with is effectively what we got in a game from the 80s?

Number 7 — Shorter Than Expected

While there are a wide number of side quests, events and tertiary activities, the main quests total 22. Considering that previous Fallout installments had way more than this number for its main quests, this is a sad number for Fallout 76. In fact, if you solely focus on just these 22 quests, you can probably get through all of them within a week or two at most. Note, most of this time is spent grinding up levels and gaining resources to ensure you can complete some of the quests properly and, of course, survive.

Number 6 — Eating, Drinking, Diseases & Weapon and Armor Breakage

To extend the amount of time you play Fallout 76, Bethesda has implemented some, at least they think, clever time extending mechanisms. Mechanisms such as eating, drinking, diseases and then there’s weapon and armor breaking frequently. The point to adding these mechanisms is less about realism and more about making you grind, grind, grind to keep your character from dying. Sure, in real life we do have to eat and drink. We’ll also have to repair armor.

These mechanisms in Fallout 76 are implemented poorly. For example, water consumption is entirely too frequent. You will find you have to consume water and food at least once per hour of play. No one eats food that frequently. You might sip water over the course of the day, but you don’t drink the amount of water they force your character to drink at every interval.

Worse, if water consumption drops too low, the penalty is reduced action points. Action points aren’t even a concept in real life. This is where the realism ultimately ends. It is also where it becomes apparent that the point to why Bethesda added these unnecessary additions comes into play. It’s not about realism, it’s about extending the time it takes you to play the game. Indeed, it can and does slow you down. Instead of actual, you know, questing, you’re not forced to forage for food, water and resources to keep your weapons and armor repaired and keep your character from dying. That’s not survival, that’s stupidity.

Worse, it’s all manual. To eat and drink, you are forced to stop and perform a manual task. There is no perk card that automatically consumes marked favorite foods whenever it gets too low. No, it’s all manual. In the middle of a fight? Too bad, now you have to open a menu and consume some food. Forgot to mark it as a favorite? Now you have deep dive into a bunch of slow menus in the middle of a battle. Yeah, not fun.

Number 5 — Menu System / Lack of Pause

As was discussed immediately above, the menu system is clumsy, cumbersome and dated. As I was talking about Zork from the 80s, that’s how this game feels. Like it was designed in the 80s for an 80s audience. Fallout 76 doesn’t in any way feel modern.

When you’re in the heat of battle (and because this is a multiplayer game that doesn’t allow for pausing), if you want to change weapons or swap armor, it’s a laborious process involving a convoluted set of menus.

Sure, there’s a wheel you can plant your favorites, but that’s limited and must be used for ALL items in the game. This means this small menu wheel is overloaded with food, clothing, aid, armor and weapons. You don’t have separate wheels for weapons, armor and food… which this game desperately needs.

While the PipBoy seems like a great idea, in practice and for a game UI, it really sucks for quick access when in a multiplayer non-pausable environment. For Fallout 4 where pause was a mainstay, thus allowing you time to think and swap, in Fallout 76 the PipBoy’s UI system entirely fails the player and Fallout 76.

Number 4 — Scorched and Broken Canon

With Fallout 76, Bethesda introduces a new enemy into the Fallout universe. The Scorched. However, this enemy addition doesn’t really make any sense at all. Fallout 76 is a prequel to Fallout 4. If the Scorched existed in Fallout 76, they very likely made their way to from Virginia to Boston in Fallout 4. After all, Scorchbeasts fly. This is where Bethesda breaks its own canon and lore simply to create new games.

There are a number of places where Bethesda has broken canon in the Fallout universe, the biggest faux pas being the Scorched. So, let’s focus on the Scorched. Even after you complete the game’s main quest (which is supposed rid Appalachia of the Scorched), the game remains status quo and unchanged with regards to Scorchbeast Queens, Scorchbeasts and even Scorched… which continue to reappear. The player following the Scorched quest line does nothing to resolve the Scorched plague… which doubly means that the Scorched should have made their way to Boston to appear in Fallout 4. Yet, they inexplicably don’t. And, it’s not like Bethesda couldn’t have rolled a Fallout 4 update to apply retroactively continuity to add the Scorched information into Fallout 4 and make the universe consistent. Nope, Bethesda didn’t do this.

So, now we have Fallout 76 which remains with story incongruities by introducing enemies, clothing, items and concepts which have not appeared in games that have chronologically come after Fallout 76.

Number 3 — Grind Grind Grind

While some people might think this is the number 1 problem in the game, it is not. In fact, we will come to the biggest problem in just a few, but let’s grind on with number 3.

While this one is somewhat tied to the number 1 problem, it is separate and unique. But, it is not at all unique to this genre of game. Developers seem to think that grind, grind, grinding your way through the game is somehow fun. It’s a mistaken thought rationale. While grinding does extend the length of time it takes to play the game, we gamers can see right through that charade. We know when game developers have added grinding for the sake of grinding and not for the purposes of general game exploration.

There’s a fine line between grinding to complete a quest and grinding because you have to play the subgame of surprise grab bag to locate the best weapons, armor and loot in the game.

Purveyor Murmrgh is the poster child of everything wrong with not only grinding within Fallout 76, it also bookends and highlights this major industry problem across the RPG genre, but also of video gaming in general.

fallout-76_20191207153431.jpgSlogging through the same pointless battles over and over just to gain “currency” to play the Loot Bag Lottery is not in any way fun. That’s exactly what Purveyor Murmrgh is to Fallout 76. It is the icing on the grinding cake… but it’s more like Salmonella.

Oh, and believe me, most of the junk given out by Murmrgh is just that, junk. It’s a Junkie’s Meathook dealing 25 damage. It’s a Vampire’s Knuckles dealng 20 damage. It’s an Instigating Shovel dealing 5 damage. It’s a Vanguard’s Pipe Pistol dealing 10 damage. It’s literal junk. The only thing you can do when you’re issued this junk is turn it back in and get at least some Scrip back. Yes, you might get super lucky and get a Two Shot Gauss or a Instigating or Furious Pump Action Shotgun, but it might also take you hundreds of tries (100 Scrip per try) to get it.

Let’s understand exactly how much grinding is needed to gain the 100 Scrip required to “buy” a 3-star randomly generated legendary weapon from Murmrgh. Each 3-star legendary traded in offers 40 scrip. That means it takes three 3-star legendary weapons to gain 120 scrip and top the 100 Scrip mark. That means that it takes at least 3 Scorchbeast Queen kills to gain three 3-star legendary weapons… and that assumes she will even drop a 3-star legendary weapon every time. Hint, she doesn’t. Many 3-star legendary enemies rarely drop 3-star weapons. In fact, most drop 1 or 2 star weapons most commonly.. which you can trade in at a lesser Scrip value (see chart below). Ultimately, this means even more and more grinding just to find those ever elusive 3-star legendary weapons to turn in and gain Scrip.

You also can’t get Scrip in any other way than grinding for and “selling” Legendary loot. You can’t buy Scrip with Caps. You can’t buy Scrip with actual money (although that would be an even bigger problem for Bethesda). You can’t buy Scrip with Atom (because you can buy Atom with real money). You must grind, grind, grind your way into getting Scrip.

Here’s a table of how it all breaks down for Legendary Scrip:

Legendary Type Scrip Trade-In Value
One Star Legendary Weapon 5
Two Star Legendary Weapon 15
Three Star Legendary Weapon 40
One Star Legendary Armor 3
Two Star Legendary Armor 9
Three Star Legendary Armor 24

What this table means to a gamer is that you should expect to grind, grind, grind to find 3-star legendary weapons (which you can trade toward Scrip), versus any other type when you’re looking to get a 3 star legendary weapon out of Murmrgh any time soon. That doesn’t mean you won’t happen upon a great 1, 2 or 3-Star legendary weapon or armor along the way while grinding. But, it also means that if you want to play the Scrip Loot Box Lottery game at Murmrgh, you’re going to need to grind your way through a lot of legendary weapon drops before you get enough to visit Murmrgh. Even then, because it’s a Surprise Loot Box, you’re at the mercy of whatever crap it decides to roll the dice and give you.

Ultimately, Fallout 76 is about grinding and Bethesda’s understanding and design of its game constructs are intended for gamers to spend inordinate more amounts of time grinding than questing. Bethesda’s rationale around this is having people grinding on the game is better than not playing it at all. To some degree this may be valid, but only because there are some gamers that actually LIKE grinding. I’m not one of them. Doing forever repetitive tasks over and over is not something I want to do in an RPG, let alone in Fallout. Let’s grind on.

Number 2 — Bugs, bugs and More Bugs

This one goes without saying for Bethesda. The game industry has been in a tailspin in this area for the last 3-5 years. When the N64 was a mainstay in the home gaming, game developers did their level best to provide solid, reliable, robust, well crafted gaming experiences. Literally, these games were incredibly stable. I can’t recall a single N64 game that would randomly crash in the middle of the game. While there were logic problems that might have made games unintentionally unbeatable, the games were still rock stable.

Since then when the N64 console was popular, games have moved more and more towards hardware being driven by Microsoft’s operating systems (and also adopting Microsoft’s idea of stability), the former push towards gaming excellence has severely waned. No longer are developers interested in providing a high quality stable gaming experiences. Today, game developers are more interested in getting product out the door as fast as possible than in making sure the product is actually stable (or even finished). What this has meant to the gaming industry is that gamers have now become unwitting pawns by paying retail prices to become “Beta Testers”. Yes, you now must pay $60 to actually beta test game developer software today. Let’s bring it back to Fallout 76.

Bethesda has never been known for providing particularly stable software products in its past gaming products. Even Fallout 3 had fairly substantial bugs in its questing engine. Obsidian muddied the already murky waters of Fallout with its Fallout New Vegas installment. Obsidian is much more attuned to producing high quality stable products. This meant that many gamers probably conflate the stability imparted by Obsidian’s Fallout New Vegas with Bethesda’s much buggier Fallout 3 as both games were released during a similar time frame. Fallout 4, however, can’t rely on this conflation. Fallout 4 stands on its own, for better or worse, and its bugs were (and are) readily apparent. Fallout 4 even regularly crashes back to the dashboard hard. By extension, so does Fallout 76. Fallout 76 was also born out of Fallout 4 and many bugs in Fallout 4 made their way unfixed into Fallout 76. Some of those Fallout 4 bugs are even still there!

Fallout 76 has, yet again, become an unwitting poster child for this newest trend towards cutting corners. Even though Bethesda has always provided buggy experiences, Fallout 76 is by far Bethesda’s worst. Even The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) at its worst never fared this bad, even though it was not completely bug free when it first arrived and was still considered fairly beta. Fallout 76, however, was released entirely unfinished and chock full of serious bugs.

Worse, the whole lack of NPCs feels more like cutting corners than it does an active design decision. It’s like they simply couldn’t get the NPCs working day one. So, they cut them out of the mix and quickly threw together a bunch of voiceovers for holotapes and wrote a bunch of terminal entries. The bugginess and being unfinished for Fallout 76 is readily apparent, but what may not be apparent is this lack of design forethought for the (lack of) NPCs. There are even areas of the game that seem as though they were designed to have functional quests on day one, but never had anything attached. For example, Vaults 94, 51, 63 and 96.

Recently, however, Bethesda released add-ons that fill in Vault 94 and Vault 51 (sort of). Vault 51 is still unfinished in the Adventure server portion of Fallout 76, but it exists as Battle Royale (a completely separate game mode). Vault 94 is a raiding vault intended for multiplayer group play. Unfortunately, Vault 94 is entirely a disaster. Not only is the interior one of the worst designed vault interiors I’ve seen, the actual gameplay is so overloaded with unnecessary amounts enemies, it’s a chore to go in there. By ‘chore’, I mean literally. There’s so much stuff being thrown at you, the game engine can’t even properly handle it. It ends up a completely stuttery, herky-jerky gaming mess. If you can even fire your weapon timely, you’re lucky. Most times, you’re so inundated by swarms of enemies, you can’t even properly aim or fire. VATs barely even works in this “dungeon” simply due to the enemy overload.

As for vaults, 63 and 96, there’s still nothing associated with them in Adventure. It is assumed that, like Vault 94, both will become part of later group raids.

Still, there are many, many unfinished quest lines throughout Fallout 76. Not only are there many presidential ballot systems all over the wasteland, including in Harper’s Ferry and Watoga, there is also a locked presidential suite in the Whitespring Enclave bunker. Also, while there are several hand scan locked rooms in the Whitespring villas, there are also many more hand scan locked rooms in the Whitespring Hotel proper. This almost entirely indicates that being General in the Enclave may not have been the end of the road for the Enclave quest line. Instead, it seems the quest may have led the player to becoming President over the Wasteland. With all of the random ballot systems, it seems that you may have had to repair enough of these systems to allow vault residents to vote for you to become President using those ballot systems, thus giving you access to the Enclave’s Presidential suite. It seems Bethesda abandoned this quest idea somewhere along the way. This, in fact, may have been dependent on NPCs which were summarily stripped from the game. Without NPCs to help vote you in as President, there’s no way to actually play this quest… probably the reason it was left out of the game.

In addition to this abandoned quest line, there are the upper floors in the Whitespring hotel. The front desk Assaultron specifically says the hotel is still under refurbishment. This is, yet another, unfinished quest. You don’t build a hotel like Whitespring and then lock off half of the building as “unfinished”. These are self-autonomous robots. They can easily finish this refurbishment process… and should have finished it by now. This Whitespring Hotel part is simply more on top of the vaults that still remain locked. There are likely even more than this in the Wasteland (crashed Space Station with no explanation), but these are the ones that stand out.

And now…

Number 1 — Revisionism of Fallout 76

Here we come to the biggest foible of Fallout 76. Instead of fixing bugs, Bethesda has focused solely on revising Fallout 76. Instead of releasing a complete and functional game, the developers got to about a 45% finished state and Bethesda pushed it out the door. Unfortunately, when something is pushed out unfinished, it never does get finished.

What that means is that like what’s described in #2, too many long standing bugs remain. Instead of Bethesda focusing on knocking out the remaining bugs, they have instead diverted to “value added content”. More specifically, designing shit they can sell in the Atom shop… that and the addition of mostly pointless short term events that haven’t even dropped loot that they should have dropped. Because of all of this, this game hit the game market hard, garnered intensely negative criticism (and still does) and ended up as a huge miss with many Fallout fans. Bethesda, however, has been riding this storm of negativity in hopes they can somehow succeed.

Unfortunately, all of what Bethesda believes to be “better” for Fallout 76 has been merely temporary bandaids, without actually fixing much of the basic underlying problems. There are so many bugs in Fallout 76 from day one that remain unfixed, it’s a surprise the game actually even functions (and in many cases, it doesn’t).

Bethesda has even spent time towards targeting “fixes” for things which haven’t even been problems. For example, Bethesda has reduced the damage output of weapons that in previous Fallout installments have been some of the most powerful weapons in the game. What that means to Fallout 76 is that the game is so heavily nerfed (reduced) that it’s almost no fun to play. You go into Fallout to spend time looking for the best weapons and armor in the game. Since all of these “best” have been so heavily reduced in damage, they are no longer the best. They are, in fact, now some of the worst weapons in the game. For example, they have reduced the Two Shot Gauss rifle’s output damage to no better than a non-legendary shotgun.

This has forced the remaining gamers to perform even more rounds of grind, grind, grinding. Because now you blow through even more armor and ammo… meaning you now have to go repair everything every few plays (yes, even when you have the perk cards equipped).

And here’s even more unnecessary meddling… Bethesda has mucked with how well the perk cards work. Many cards claim up 60%-90% reduction of “whatever”. Yet, if you really do the math, it’s way, way less than that percentage. Sometimes, it’s more likely 10-15%. The cards lie on their face. Many perk cards don’t even function.. AT ALL. You can buy into a perk card stack, but some cards literally do nothing. When the cards do function, they function at much less than what the face value of the card says. The perk cards nearly all lie in some way. They are merely there as “feel good” helpers. Many of them don’t function as intended, if they function at all.

Much of this reduced functionality is because of Bethesda’s revisionism. Instead of leaving well enough alone with the cards, Bethesda has continually felt the need to tweak these cards silently without informing gamers of the changes they are making. The cards are not the only place where they have done this. Silently screwing with VATs seems to be yet another pastime of the Bethesda devs. Yes, Bethesda is sneaking in changes without letting anyone know. But, you don’t have to take my word for it. Simply equip your Perk cards and see if they actually perform at the level they state. This all assumes that you really want to invest in this way less than mediocre game title. It’s these unnecessary changes that make this game less than stellar. It is also why this is the #1 gripe for this game.

The only thing that Bethesda’s revisionism has done for Fallout 76 is turn it into even more of a disaster than it already was. Yes, Fallout 76 is actually worse now than it was when it launched (when most of the game actually functioned as intended). Only after Bethesda began its revisionism has the game turned into junk heap. And, junk heap it is.

Bethesda continues with its revisionism in Fallout 1st (pronounced “first”), Bethesda’s monthly / yearly subscription service. You should be careful investing into this service. Considering the state of Fallout 76 today, it may not have a year of life left before Bethesda cans this game. If you’re considering purchasing a year of 1st, you may find that in 6 months, the game is shut down. How you get half of your $99 back is as yet unknown. If Fallout 76 remains in service for one more year, I’d be surprised.

Bethesda also doesn’t want to listen to what the gamers want. Instead of adding things gamers have actually requested, Bethesda has had its own agenda of questionable add-ons. Add-ons that no one has actually requested or even wanted (Distillery?). Add-ons that have added limited value back to the gamers. For example, Purveyor Murmrgh. No one wants surprise loot-crates. We want to BUY our legendary rifles already outfitted and ready to go. We want to buy legendary module add-ons so we can add legendary effects to our existing weapons and armor. We also want to be able to level our weapons up along with our player. None of this has been provided by Bethesda. All of these requests have gone unfulfilled and unanswered.

As another example of incompleteness in the game, there are 5 star slots on legendary armor and weapons. Yet, the highest amount of stars is still 3? So what gives with that? If you’re only planning to ever have 3 star weapons and armor, then remove the extra 2 unused stars as we’ll never see any 5 star weapons or armor. So many misses in this game, yet Bethesda keeps going without addressing or fixing all of these simple little problems… instead Bethesda has focused on breaking, breaking and more breaking.

The big takeaway here is be cautious with purchasing this game and be doubly cautious if you decide to purchase a 1st subscription. This game is already skating on thin ice as it is. If it lasts another year, call me surprised.

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Apple Cancels AirPower charge mat

Posted in Apple, california, iphone by commorancy on April 26, 2019

airpower-charge-baseWhile I realize that this “news” is a little old at this point (announced March 29th), the intention of this article is not to report on this announcement, but to write an analysis of this announcement’s ramifications to Apple. Let’s explore.

Think Different

Apple used this slogan for a time when it was touting its innovative approach to the creation of its devices and systems. However, Apple has pretty much abandoned this slogan after Steve Jobs’s passing.

Since the loss of Jobs, Apple’s innovation has waned, which has left industry pundits with a conundrum. Do these Apple expert journalists continue to be fanboys for this brand and “love everything Apple” or do they finally drop that pretext and begin reporting the realities of the brand.

I’ve never been an Apple “fanboy” in the sense that I “automatically love everything Apple”. There are too many legitimate journalists and social media influencers who already follow that trend. However, I won’t name any names, iJustine. Whoops. If you’re another of these people, you know who you are.

Think The Same

In recent years, Apple has been trailing its competition with its phone and other tech ideas. Ideas that have already been done, sometimes better than Apple. For example, the iPhone X is an iPhone version of the Galaxy Note 8. The Note 8 released months earlier than the iPhone X. The wired EarPods were simply Apple’s version of a similar Bose earbud. And… the AirPower would simply have been an Apple version of a Qi Wireless charging mat.

As you can see, Apple’s most recent innovations aren’t innovations at all. Even the AirPods, while wireless, are not new. While they do sound pretty good, they leave some to be desired for long wear-ability and comfort. They also take way too long to connect, when they decide to connect at all (at least the gen 1 AirPods). These are iterations of products that have already existed on the market.

The iPhone 1 demonstrates actual innovation. No one had created a smart phone like the iPhone when it came to exist. Sure, some handsets had limited apps and a few had a touch screen, but Apple took the handheld phone to a whole new level. The first iPad was also quite innovative. No other tablet was on the market at the time and offered something never before seen. Just look at the tablet market today!

Unfortunately, the innovation that was once so prevalent at Apple has evaporated after Jobs’s untimely death.

Qi

Inductive wireless charging is nothing new. It’s been a staple technology in Braun’s wireless toothbrushes since the early 90s. It was simply the next logical step to bring inductive charging to mobile devices. Samsung did that with its own Qi wireless charging mats (and by backing the Qi standard). These mats and phones were introduced in 2008.

With the introduction of the iPhone X model in November of 2017 (and other Apple phone models released that same year), Apple finally added induction charging to its handsets. That’s 9 years after Qi became a thing. That’s 9 years after Samsung had it on their handsets. There’s nothing at all innovative about wireless charging on an Apple device. Yes, it may have been a “most requested” feature, but it certainly was not innovative or even new. If anything, Apple decided it was time to fill a technology gap on their mobile devices… while with earlier phones they had refused to fill that gap. We won’t get into the whys of it all (ahem… Samsung).

With its iPhone X announcement, Apple also announced a new product called AirPower. This product would be a rival inductive charging mat to already existing Qi charging mats. The primary iterative difference between AirPower and the existing Qi charger bases is that the AirPower would output more power to wireless charge the iPhone much faster… perhaps even faster than a Lightning cable. We’ll never know now. The AirPower announcement also showed 3 devices charging simultaneous, including an AirPods case.

Unfortunately, Apple wasn’t able to release this product at the same time as the iPhone X. Apple announced they would release this charging mat sometime in mid-late 2018. This release date came and went without an announcement or release. By the end of March 2019 (nearly a year and a half after Phil Schiller announced it to the public), Apple officially pulled the plug on the AirPower product.

Everyone reading this announcement should take it as a sign of problems within Apple. And… here we are at the crux and analysis portions of this article.

The Apple Bites

With the cancellation of the AirPower, this signifies a substantial problem brewing within Apple’s infinite circle. If the engineers of what seems to be a relatively simple device cannot even manage to design and build a functional wireless charging base, a technology that’s been in use since the 1990s and in use in the mobile phone market for over 10 years now, how can we trust Apple to provide innovative, functional products going into the future?

This cancellation is a big, big deal to Apple’s reputation. If Apple cannot build a reasonably simplistic device after nearly a year and a half, what does this say about Apple’s current engineers on the whole?

Assuming Apple’s internal engineers were actually incapable of producing this product in-house, Apple could have farmed the product design out to a third party company (i.e., Samsung or Belkin) and had that third party design and build the product to Apple’s specs. It doesn’t seem that this product should have died on the vine, let alone be abandoned.

Instead of outright abandoning the product, Apple should have brought it to market in a different way. As I said, outright cancelling the product signifies much deeper problems within Apple. This is actually one of the first times I’ve actually seen Apple publicly announce a vapor product and then cancel said vapor product (albeit, over a year later). It’s a completely surprising, disappointing, unusual and highly unprecedented move by Apple… especially considering Apple’s new devices that desperately rely on this unreleased device. I guess this is why Apple has always been so secretive about product announcements in the past. If you cancel an unannounced product, no one knows. When you cancel a publicly announced product, it tarnishes your reputation… particularly when a functional product already exists on the market from other manufacturers (and competitors) and when the product is rather simplistic in nature. That’s a huge blow to Apple’s “innovative” reputation.

AirPods 2

The AirPower cancellation is also particularly disappointing and disheartening on the heels of the announcement of the AirPods 2 wireless charging case. The lack of the AirPower mat is a significant blow to one of the biggest features of the newest generation of AirPods. Effectively, without AirPower, the AirPods 2 are basically the same as the AirPods gen 1 except that the AirPods 2 offer a better “Hey Siri” support (and a better placed LED charge light).

The one feature that many people really looked forward to on the AirPods is basically unavailable. Sure, you can charge the AirPods 2 on a standard Qi wireless charger, but at a much slower rate than via the Lightning port. You don’t want to be sitting around waiting on a slow Qi charger to get the AirPods case fully charged. No, you’re going to plug it in to make sure you can walk out the door with a fully charged AirPods case. The case already charges slowly enough on a Lightning cable. There’s no reason to make it charge even slower by using a Qi charger. That’s the sole reason for the AirPower to exist.. to charge at much faster rates. Without AirPower, the reason to charge wirelessly has more-or-less evaporated.

Of course, you can also buy a wireless case for the AirPods gen 1, but what’s the point in that? With the AirPower cancelled, you have to invest in a Qi charger and live with its very slow charge speed for Apple’s brutal $80 price tag. No thanks. Even then, you don’t get any other benefit out of placing your AirPods gen 1 earbuds into a gen 2 wireless charging case for that $80. You might as well invest that $80 into a new set of AirPods gen 2, even though the Airpods 2 cost $199 (with wireless charging case) versus $159 for the gen 1 AirPods (without charging case).

Of course, in Apple’s typical form, they also offers the AirPods 2 without a wireless charging case for $159, the same price as the AirPods gen 1. But this is all diversionary minutiae.

Analysis

Apple’s level of innovations have been both flagging and lagging for several years. With the AirPower cancellation, it should now be crystal clear to not only journalists and analysts alike, but also to Apple’s fanboys that Apple’s luster has officially worn off. Apple’s once strong “reality distortion field” is now a distant memory.

Even the iPhone X isn’t fairing well in terms of durability of design just slightly over a year after its introduction. I’ve seen several people report FaceID failing over time, as well as other hardware problems on this phone model. A premium model phone at a premium price tag should hold up longer than this. Arguably, the iPhone X is one of Apple’s ugliest phones ever made, with that stupid unsightly “notch” covering up a portion of that expensive OLED screen.

It seems the iPhone 8 design (based on the iPhone 7 case design) is fairing much better than the iPhone X. Even the iPhone 7, which Apple still sells, holds up better. That should also be an indication of Apple’s current practical level of design. Of course, the problems showing in the iPhone X could be because there are more iPhone Xs in circulation than iPhone 8s. Still, the iPhone X is appearing more often in repair shops than the iPhone 8. That says something about the build quality and durability (or lack thereof) of the iPhone X’s design for that premium price tag.

Apple now needs to pull a rabbit out of a hat very soon to prove they still have the chops to not only innovate AND provide high quality goods, but be the first to the table with a new product idea or forever hold their peace and become an underdog in the tech industry. That doesn’t mean Apple won’t continue to sell product. It doesn’t mean Apple won’t design product. However, it does mean that the “fanboy” mentality that so many had previously adopted towards Apple’s products should finally evaporate, just as has Apple’s innovation. Before the AirPower cancellation announcement, we only had a hunch that Apple’s design wasn’t up to par. With the cancellation of the AirPower, we finally have confirmation.

Eventually, everyone must take off their rose colored glasses and see things as they really are at Apple. And with this article, I hope we’re finally to that point.

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Whole Foods: Everything wrong with Amazon in a store.

Posted in botch, business, shopping by commorancy on September 20, 2018

When Amazon bought Whole Foods in 2017, I wondered exactly what that meant for Whole Foods as a brand and as a store. In 2018, I have found out, and so have the store employees. It’s not exactly what you might have predicted. Let’s explore.

Drastic Changes on the Aisles

One thing is clear, Amazon isn’t keeping Whole Foods stagnant. No, sir. However… are the changes being made inside the stores great? In many cases, no.

At one time, Whole Foods had a huge aisle of bulk tea ingredients. Today, they have maybe 10-15 jars total. Most of the jars are of the caffeinated varieties. Other than loose Rooibos, there was very little in the way of herbal tea ingredients. Whole Foods was the only real place where you could go get bulk tea ingredients. I was sadly disappointed at the state of affairs in visiting Whole Foods this weekend. The sad handful of jars seemed off, but I guess that’s what Bezos wants. In fact, the whole store seemed a little off.

Another department that has undergone drastic remodeling is the health and beauty area. Where they once carried clothing, scarfs, plush toys, mounds of loose organic soaps and various other eclectic HBA goods, today the area is nearly barren with only tiny amounts of certain items. They’ve also decided to do away with the HBA counter and rebuild a new kiosk for Customer Service there, so they can put in more cash registers. As if they need more registers… they barely man the ones they already have.

One other area of HBA (and other products) is product reformulations. I had been using the Whole Foods house brand of 365 glycerin bar soaps. Recently, I purchased new bars only to find a new label. After opening one of the soap bars I noticed a change in the fragrance. Clearly, Amazon is trying to cut costs by changing manufacturing of some of their house brands to new manufacturers.

I’ve also found other brands of products which have now changed. Where once Whole Foods had carried specific brands for years, these are now gone, no where to be found.  Whole Foods was really the only place that stocked these brands. I can’t imagine what this has done to those brand sellers. Whole Foods was likely their lifeblood. Without Whole Foods, they’re dead in the water. Safeway has never considered ordering those brands and likely never will. Good luck trying to find those brands ever again as those manufacturers are likely out of business.

Also, Amazon has started adding in small lockup rollabouts stocking Echos, Fire Tablets and Kindles, among other electronic and gadgety things. This is a grocery store, not Best Buy.

Checkout Lanes

Another change is that the Express lanes were always open with at least 1 or 2 people manning them. In the last 2-4 months, this no longer is true. I’ve walked in in the morning or in the evening and the Express lanes are always closed. Now they are keeping a few regular registers open. Not sure what’s going on with this change, but it seems odd considering the majority of people unloading their carts had less than 10 items to buy. Express lanes make more sense.

Not All Changes Are Good

I never performed my whole house grocery shopping at Whole Foods. It was always too expensive for full cart shopping. I only visit Whole Foods for very specific items that I cannot find at Safeway or other supermarkets. Today, I do most of my grocery shopping at Target, to be honest. Since Target has fully built out a respectable grocery section, when combined with Cartwheel discounts and the extra 5% RedCard discount, it’s usually worth my while to grocery shop at Target. They may not be the cheapest at everything, but considering the amount of discounts I get there, it’s more than worth it in the end.

Why this diversion about Target? Because Amazon and Whole Foods are trying something similar, except they’re mostly failing at it. Certain sale items and items with blue cards give extra discounts if you’re an Amazon Prime member. Considering how few items actually end up on actually discounted with Prime, it’s really not worth it. If Amazon could see fit to offer something like Target’s 5% off the entire basket + extra discounts like with Cartwheel, it might be worth it. Even then, I still find Whole Foods prices to be well above where they should be and nowhere near competitive with Target.

Worse, while Amazon seems to have cut some quality products down in an attempt to make even more money, nearly all of the dry goods still suffer from what I call, “highender syndrome”. What that means is that these items are sold at prices that are intended to entice buyers of a certain affluence level or above and feel make them “special”. However, what I’ve personally found after trying these products is while the price is well above where it should be, these packaged foods when prepared are lackluster and mostly taste of cardboard. Anyone willing to shell out that kind of dough for cardboard food, I got a bridge to sell ya.

As this section began, not all changes are for the best. The changes that Amazon has been making to Whole Foods have been questionable and seemingly geared toward selling Amazon products in a retail store environment. Amazon, if you really want to open an Amazon store, then just open one. Don’t ruin Whole Foods to make it a platform for Amazon products.

Workers Seem Disenchanted

I spoke with one worker at Whole Foods recently who is just as disenchanted with Amazon’s changes as I am. One thing he mentioned was that before Amazon’s purchase, the store could restock individual items as necessary. This meant that items were almost never out of stock and aisles were always full. I certainly noticed this change recently. When I visited to buy my glycerin bars, I noticed the unscented bars were out of stock. I purchased a couple of the other bars to hold me over for a bit. I then visited a day later and they were still out of stock. I’d say all told, I visited the store about 3-4 times before I finally found them in stock.

This employee told me that after Amazon took over, Amazon’s changes stopped allowing individual item reorders. This leaves shelves bare of products until the next whole shipment arrives. This is one of the things I always liked about Whole Foods before Amazon. I could walk into the store and nearly be 100% certain that the item would be in stock. In fact, I can’t even remember a single time when I visited Whole Foods and those soap bars (or pretty much anything else.. especially house brand items) were out of stock before Amazon’s involvement.

Hot Food Bar Changes

At the hot food area, I spoke with another worker who was disenchanted to see the home cooked prepared meals area has disappeared. No longer can you find the hot foods like mashed potatoes, cooked lamb shanks, meat loaf, grilled veggies and other staple foods they carried there every day. Now they’re gone and have been replaced by a Pizza display area. If the food isn’t on the hot food buffet area, too bad, so sad. I always liked buying those mashed potatoes there. They were the best in the store. The mashed potatoes on the buffet bar were plain and flavorless, as is most of that hot food bar food. The home cooked food they made at the food counter was much, much tastier.

Shopping at Whole Foods

Amazon has made no efforts to reduce Whole Food’s overall prices. But, Amazon has done much to remove, change, reduce and limit availability of items. I’m uncertain of this chain’s longevity. One of the things about operating a higher end gourmet grocery store like Whole Foods is attention to customer service and attention to product detail. Amazon doesn’t get it. Draeger’s gets it. Piazza’s gets it. Bianchini’s gets it. I realize these are SF Bay Area high end gourmet markets, but I’m sure you have some like these in your area, too. Whole Foods used to get what it meant to be classed as a gourmet grocery store, but since Amazon, they don’t.

As for the store proper, the reduction in products, the change in brand formulations and removal of mainstay brands doesn’t say Amazon knows what Whole Foods is really about. You can’t just begin gutting the fundamentals that made this gourmet grocery store and expect it to survive. Amazon is playing with fire making these changes to Whole Foods this fast. So far, I still see a fair amount of people shopping here. With each and every product removal or switch, the store will lose more and more customers.  Those customers who once frequented looking for that specific item only available at Whole Foods will end up over at Draeger’s, Bianchini’s or Piazza’s (or any of a number of smaller high end markets).

I know I’m not the only person who stops shopping at places when they kill my favorite brands and products that I relied on. Amazon hasn’t yet fully killed my last remaining reasons to visit Whole Foods, but changing soap manufacturers doesn’t bode well for at least one of those products.  Let’s hope I can use the new formulation without skin problems. We’ll see. They’ve also changed their brand of unsweetened ketchup. Yes, they still carry it, but the new brand jar seems quite a bit smaller for the same price. So far, they still carry the Stevia liquid brand that I use and at a “reasonable” price.

Feedback and Thank You

If you’ve gotten this far into this article, I’d like to thank you for spending your time here reading Randocity articles. In this YouTube age with people putting their faces out there as hosts, I have also contemplated setting up a channel for Randocity. Each time I have considered this, I realize that writing this blog is what I enjoy about blogging. Vlogging has its own set of constraints, time sucks and technical problems that to me don’t seem very enjoyable, particularly buying all of the necessary equipment and spending hours editing videos together.

If your shopping experiences have changed as a result of Amazon’s purchase of and changes to Whole Foods stores, please leave a comment below explaining what problems you have encountered in your shopping experiences. I will consider extending this article to include quotes from various reader’s recent shopping experiences. I’m always interested in hearing reader feedback. If you work at Whole Foods and are willing to speak up, please leave a comment below.

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Rant Time: Xbox One and PS4 automatic downloads

Posted in botch, business, microsoft, Sony by commorancy on June 17, 2017

So, I have reasonably fast internet service. It’s not the top speed I can get, but it’s fast enough for most general purposes. I’ve clocked it on wireless at about 18-20 Mbps down and 6 Mbps up. If I connect a device wired, it will be somewhat faster. With wireless, it’s not the fastest, but it’s definitely sufficient. The wireless is obviously for convenience, but it works well the majority of the time. However, when the PS4 or Xbox One get going with their automatic downloads, it absolutely kills my network connectivity. And so starts my somewhat shorter than usual rant. Let’s explore.

Automatic Downloads

I always turn off automatic downloads whenever possible, no exception. When there is no ability to shut off automatic updates, then I unplug the device. There’s no need to have devices automatically downloading at the most inopportune times. In fact, several months back I explicitly disabled automatic update downloads on my Xbox One. Yet, just yesterday I find my Xbox One automatically downloading again. I’ve finally had enough of rogue network devices and out of sheer frustration, I’ve finally just unplugged it. I also unplugged my PS4 for the same reason. No more rogue network devices. If these systems cannot respect my wishes when I explicitly turn off automatic downloading, then they’re going to remain unplugged until I decide to use them. Worse, these devices would also decide to randomly begin downloading updates at random times (usually in the middle of the night, but it could be any time).

The primary problem is, neither the Xbox One nor does the PS4 limit its download speeds. In fact, both try to download as much as possible, as fast as possible. If both of them get going at the same time, it’s a disaster on my network. Even just one of them downloading is enough to cause problems. If I try to ask Siri or Alexa a question, I get no response or I get the Echo’s dreaded Red Ring (no connectivity).

Rant

At least Apple respects disabling automatic downloads on its devices. These devices dutifully wait until you click update before beginning any downloads. Unfortunately, Microsoft does not honor its no auto updates setting. Instead, it just overrides that setting and dutifully starts downloading whatever it wants whenever it wants. I just can’t have rogue devices like that on my network. Rogue devices need to go away and Microsoft needs to understand that making rogue devices needs to stop. If your software can’t respect the owner’s wish not to download automatic updates, then you really don’t deserve a place in the home.

I haven’t yet determined if the PS4 overrides my no download wishes, but I recall that it, at times, the PS4 will also do this for system updates. Updates which, again, should not automatically update unless I explicitly ask it to update.

Just say no to rogue network devices like the Xbox One. For now, the Xbox One and the PS4 will remain unplugged until I decide I need to use them. Though, in the last few months, there really has been a substantial lack of game titles on both platforms. I’m really finding that the spring and summer to be a dead season with new game titles. Instead of overloading us with too many fall titles which we can’t play that fast, why not spread them out throughout the year and let us have adequate time to play each? This, however, is a whole separate rant topic in itself.

Restore a Mac formatted 6th Gen iPod nano in Windows 7

Posted in Apple, botch, Mac OS X by commorancy on September 22, 2012

I recently picked up a sixth generation iPod nano refurbished from Gamestop.  When I got home and plugged it into iTunes for Windows 7, iTunes recognized it as a Macintosh formatted iPod and said that it needed to be restored.  Here’s where the fun begins.. not.  Several things happened after I plugged it in.  First, Windows recognized it as drive O: and opened a requester wanting to format the iPod.  This format panel stays open until cancelled. Second, when I tried to restore the iPod, iTunes kept showing me error 1436, which is a rather non-descript error that takes you to a mostly generic Apple help page that is only moderately helpful.  I take that back, this help page wasn’t helpful at all.

Note, Macintosh formatted iPods cannot be used with Windows.  However, Windows formatted iPods can be used on both Windows and Macs.  So, this is simply a problem that exists because this iPod was originally formatted on a Mac.  Such stupid issues that cause such time wasting problems.

How did the first restore go?

It didn’t.  I realized the above mentioned Windows disk format panel had the iPod open and the 1436 error was due to this.  However, that was just the beginning of the problems. When I cancelled that panel and I tried the restore again, I got a different issue.  Basically, iTunes opens a progress bar that keeps moving without any progress.  I wasn’t sure if this progress panel was normal or abnormal.  Although, I suspected abnormal after 3 minutes without any changes.  So, I began searching for how long an iPod restore should take.  I found that restore should complete in only a few minutes (less actually).  So, I knew something was wrong when it wasn’t making any progress.

Disk Mode

It was clear that iTunes wasn’t going to restore this iPod through its normal means.  I began searching on the net for how to recover this iPod and ran into a site that led me to Apple’s How to put an iPod in Disk Mode help page.  This page is actually very useful and where the 1436 error page should have led me but didn’t.

What is Disk Mode? Disk Mode puts the iPod into a state that allows it to be formatted as a disk.  Well, you don’t really want to format it.  Instead, in Disk Mode, it gets rid of all that pesky Macintosh formatting garbage and actually lets you restore it properly.  For the sixth gen iPod nano, to put it in Disk Mode, press and hold the power and volume down buttons until the screen turns black and the Apple logo appears.  When you see the Apple logo, press and hold both volume up and down buttons until the iPod shows a white screen.  This is the Disk Mode screen.

Recovering

At this point, I plugged the iPod back in with iTunes running and iTunes saw that the iPod was ‘corrupted’ and asked to restore it.  Well, the restoration this time went like a champ.  No issues at all.  However, after I restored it, I did have to close out of iTunes and restart iTunes.  Until I did that, iTunes kept telling me that the iPod was in ‘Recovery Mode’ even though I knew that it wasn’t based on the screen of the iPod.  After restarting iTunes, that stopped and it finally recognized the iPod as new and let me put music on it.  Yay!

So, there you have it.  Although, it should have been as simple as plug-in and restore.  But, Apple had to make this a chore because of the PC vs Mac formatting thing.  Seriously, is that even necessary?

Design

Let me take a moment to commend Apple on this design of this iPod nano.  When the first long skinny nano was first released, I thought it was kind of cool, but not worth it.  Then the smaller squatty nano arrived and I liked that design so much that I bought one.  I got my use out of that and eventually bought an iPod touch.  However, the iPod touch isn’t useful in all circumstances and I wanted something smaller and lighter.  When this nano was released, I always thought it was a great idea and well executed save for the fact that it has no application support.  So, here’s where Apple dropped the ball on this one.

The size and weight is awesome.  The look is great, especially if you get a watch band.  It just needed a refresh to add a few more features like Bluetooth, video (although, not really necessary in my book) and apps support.  I loved the square display because this is the exact image ratio of CD covers.  So, it was the perfect marriage between a music player and a user interface.  Some people complained that the touch display was overkill.  Perhaps, but I always liked it, but I have never needed one of these.  I still don’t really need one.  The reason I bought one is because Apple has discontinued this model in lieu of it’s bigger screen cousin.

The new nano, however is neither nano in size nor is it really that small.  This nano was the perfect size and perfect shape.  It truly deserved the name nano.  However, the new nano is really not deserving of that name.  The screen is too big and it’s really just a dumbed down iPod touch.  Yes, the new nano has video capabilities, but so what?  I don’t plan on ever loading video on it.  Without WiFi or streaming mechanisms, there’s no point.  I realize Apple wants to enrich their ecosystem (read, sell more videos to people), but this isn’t the device to do it.  In fact. this latest nano design to ship late 2012 is really not that great looking.  I feel that it’s stepping too far into the same territory as the iPod touch.  So, why do this?  It’s also bigger, bulkier and likely heavier.   The battery life is probably shorter even.  It’s no longer a small portable player.

The 6th generation iPod nano (this one I just bought) is truly small and light.  It can go just about anywhere and has a built-in clip even! It lacks some features, yes, but for a music player I certainly don’t miss them.  If you’re thinking of buying a 6th generation iPod nano, you should do it now while the Apple outlet still has them in stock.  Yes, they are refurbished, but they’re still quite spectacular little music players.  However, don’t go into the purchase expecting the feature-set of an iPhone or an iPod touch.  It’s not here.  If you go into the purchase thinking it’s an iPod shuffle with a display, then you won’t be disappointed with the purchase.

Apple’s ever changing product line

What I don’t get about Apple is removing a product from its product lineup that clearly has no competition in the marketplace at all, let alone having no competition even within its own product lineup.  Yet, here we are.  Apple is dropping the 6th generation design in lieu of the 7th generation design that’s bigger and bulkier (and likely heavier).  In fact, it looks a lot like a smaller dumbed-down iPod touch.

In reality, the 7th gen nano is so close to becoming a tiny iPod touch clone that it clearly competes with the Touch.  This is bad.  The 6th generation nano (pictured above) in no way competes with the iPod touch, other than it has a tiny touch screen. The 6th generation nano design clearly still has a place in Apple’s lineup.  I just don’t get why they dump products from their lineup and replace them with designs that aren’t likely to sell better (0ther than to those people who complained you couldn’t play video on the 6th gen nano). The 6th gen nano is great for the gym or while running.  However, after this newest nano is introduced, if you want a square sized small music player, you have to get a shuffle with no display.  The bigger bulkier 7th gen design just won’t work for most activity use cases.  Apple, your design team needs to better understand how these devices are actually being used before you put pen to paper on new designs, let alone release them for public consumption.  Why is it always just one device?  Why can’t you have both in the product lineup?

Of course, if they had retained an updated 6th gen model along with adding the 7th gen model, then that would make a lot more sense.  Removing the older model in lieu of this one, this is not a replacement design.  You can’t wear this one like a watch.  So, that whole functionality is gone.  What I would like to have seen is two models.  A 6th gen revamped to add more features like bluetooth and perhaps a camera and, at the same time, introducing this new video capable model.  The updated 6th gen doesn’t need to playback movies, the screen is too tiny for that.  In fact, the screen on this new 7th gen model is too tiny for that.  Even the iPod touch is too tiny for watching movies, in practicality.  It’s not until you get to the iPad does watching a movie even become practical.  In a pinch, yes you could watch a video or movie, but you’d be seriously straining your eyes.  I’d rather do that (or rather, not strain my eyes) with a much bigger screen.  No, an updated square-format touch screen iPod is still very much necessary in the lineup.  I understand Apple’s need for change here, but not for the use case that’s now lost with this 7th generation iPod. Sometimes, Apple just doesn’t seem to get it.  This is just one of a new series of cracks in the armor that is the new Jobs-less era Apple.  Welcome to the new Apple folks.

Update: iTunes 9 and Windows 7

Posted in Apple, itunes by commorancy on October 29, 2009

As an update to an earlier Randosity article, I have upgraded my system to Windows 7 and then installed iTunes 9. Since making this change, I am no longer having the registry issue documented in this previous Randosity article. So, it may be worthwhile to upgrade your system to Windows 7 to alleviate this issue. Of course, it could be a fluke, but iTunes installed and started up without any issues on Windows 7. Before you upgrade, though, you’ll want to remove iTunes from your system, then run the upgrade to Windows 7, then reinstall iTunes 9. If you still experience registry issues with Windows 7 and iTunes 9, refer to this previous article for tips on what to do.

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