Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Will there be a second COVID wave?

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

big waves under cloudy sky

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

CDC and WHO Guidelines

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

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

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

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

Second Wave Deaths and Reopening

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

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

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

Double Whammy

yellow dead end sign during day time

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

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

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

Is COVID-19 subsiding?

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

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

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

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

Brutal

grey skulls piled on ground

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

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

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

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

Hard Lessons and Death Statistics

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

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

Protecting Yourself

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

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

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

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

Sick Leave Policies

woman lying on bed while blowing her nose

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

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

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

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

COVID and Corporations

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

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

COVID won’t be different

architecture barge bay beach

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

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

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

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

Economic Impact and Employer’s Market

red and white signage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Wave Part II

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

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

Grim Statistics

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

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

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

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

Steps to Reopening

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

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

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

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

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

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Health: How to prevent COVID-19

Posted in family, Health by commorancy on March 18, 2020

virus-1280COVID-19, otherwise known as the Coronavirus, is spreading. The difficulty with this situation is that there is too much conflicting information. Let’s learn how best to protect ourselves from this virus. Let’s explore.

Method of Spreading

There has been a lot of debating and guessing at how this virus is being spread. We simply need to use common sense here. It’s a virus. As a virus, it will spread in all of the same ways as the flu or cold viruses. COVID-19 is not some type of “magic” virus that has the ability to do anything different than any other virus. As I said, it spreads like all other virus types.

How do other viruses spread? There are three primary ways to spread a virus:

  1. Via direct contact with an individual by touching them
  2. Via airborne infection from droplets from an infected person (sneezing or coughing)
  3. Via latent contact of a virus sitting on a surface that you happen to touch

Let’s better understand vectors impact you and the likelihood of infection.

With direct contact with someone who is infected, this has the highest probability of infection. This type of contact is a double-whammy. It has both the latent type of contact, like #3 and can have airborne infection like #2. If they talk to you, cough, sneeze or in any way send spittle in your direction, you could become infected. Direct contact with random individuals should be avoided.

The second highest probability for infection comes from incidental airborne contact. For example, you are flying on a closed ventilation system plane, these droplets could easily spread throughout the plane and infect a number of passengers in the vicinity of someone infected. It could, in fact, infect people throughout the plane. When you’re sitting in a waiting room and someone across the room sneezes or coughs. When you’re standing in line and someone around you coughs. They aren’t near enough to you to latent infect you, but they can aerosolize their body fluids which can land on surfaces or in your nose.

The third highest probability for infection is via latent virus left on a surface after an infected has gone. For example, touching a banister, railing, seat cushion, door handle or even touching buttons on point of sale systems at supermarkets.

These are the same types and methods of infections of cold and flu viruses.

Symptoms or Not?

To be honest, this part doesn’t much matter. Yes, to researchers, people showing symptoms might matter. In reality, there are simply some people are carriers who will never present symptoms, yet they can spread the virus. Others will have symptoms including fever, coughing, sneezing and other visible symptoms.

Some researchers theorize that those who have been labeled as asymptomatic do, in fact, have symptoms. They theorize that some symptoms are so mild as to be shrugged off as a basic cold. I have long believed that there are carriers who never actually become symptomatic. Their systems thwart off the virus quickly and efficiently without ever having a single symptom… with exception of maybe a day headache or something equally easy to be ignored.

This means that these carriers go about their regular daily lives breathing on, coughing on and touching surfaces without ever knowing they have been a super spreader. Yes, there might also be some people who have such mild symptoms that they chalk it up to a cold or the flu. Again, they go about their daily lives spreading it.

Virus Spreading

I’ve always held that people who are visibly sick with fever, coughing and sneezing should firmly stay home. Don’t go out. Don’t go to the store. Don’t go shopping. Don’t do things you normally do. Too many of these people don’t understand that these viruses are highly contagious. Yet, there are many people who simply don’t care or are uninformed. For them it’s, “all about me.” They could care less about whether others become infected so long as they can continue to eat out and shop and do “normal” everyday things.

Having worked at an large theme park a long while back, I saw just how many people showed up sick. I never really understood that. Why would you spend (at the time) $50 (or more) to get into the park while you’re sick? It doesn’t make sense.

Types of Sick People

What I’ve come to learn is that, psychologically, there are several different types of virus infected sick people and the way they handle their sickness (in no particular order):

  1. Don’t Give A Damn — These people are the types of people who really don’t care about others. They hop in their cars, eat a restaurants, go to amusement parks and do whatever they please while in the throws of a virus. Instead of staying home in bed and nursing themselves back to health, they are out running around spreading their viruses to others. These people aren’t intentionally infecting others, but they are incidentally infecting others due to their reckless nature. These people aren’t sociopaths, but they are ignorant of what they are doing.
  2. Stay At Home — These sick people are the cautious types who stay home and stay in. They don’t go out unless it’s absolutely necessary, such as to get medicine or something similar needed to combat their symptoms. They limit their interactions to necessary trips only. These people are cognizant of spreading their illness to others. They aren’t necessarily overly cautious about it, but they don’t run around with wild abandon.
  3. Plan Ahead — These people are sick folks who, like #2, stay home. However, these folks do not go out at all until they are much better. These are also the types who plan ahead by stocking up on necessary medicines, tissue and foods during times when they are sick.
  4. Sociopaths — These are the most dangerous type of sick people. These people are similar to #1, but with the added twist that they actively and intentionally seek to infect others. They intentionally interact with random people and readily leave body fluids behind so as to infect others. These people are intentional super spreaders. These people know that they are sick and they actively seek to infect others. They really have no remorse and honestly don’t care how many people they infect. They may even believe, “I’m sick, so I need to make others sick.” For example, they might go to a grocery store and intentionally sneeze and cough all over products in the store. It’s gross, I know… but these folks are sociopaths. They actually derive joy from knowing that they’re doing this. The danger with these folks is that they are masters at hiding symptoms. These sociopaths can appear normal and healthy and happy, yet be massively sick.

I know it can be difficult to avoid going out when you’re sick, but prudence is always warranted when ill. Staying at home helps you get well faster and prevents making others ill. Nothing is worse than going to work only to find the person sitting next to you has a raging cold or flu… coughing every few minutes.

Prevention

Now we arrive at the section that you have been patiently awaiting. Let’s get started.

With COVID-19, panic has more-or-less ensued. This means that stores may be running low on food, drinks and other essentials. What that means for you is the possibility of heading to multiple stores to find the things you need. You may need to resort to purchasing some foods from Amazon for 1 or 2 day delivery.

While this section isn’t really prevention per say, it does contribute to it. If you have to run out to go get foods and whatnot, you’re putting yourself at risk of infection. Each time you leave the house, you could run into an infected person, but it’s more likely you’ll pick up an item that has a latent virus on it. Let’s get started with those things you can do to help prevent you from getting COVID-19.

1. Social Distancing

This is the act of staying at least 6 feet away from others when out and about. This may be easier said than done depending on the situation. Let’s understand what it means for store owners to fully understand what I mean here.

For store owners, the act of Social Distancing means reducing crowds within their stores so that people can remain 6 feet away from others. The difficulty is that if stores begin limiting how many people can enter and shop in the store at one time, that forces people to remain outside of the store in a crowd. Sure, you can sit in your car, but the store likely doesn’t have any way to accommodate those waiting in their cars. If you want a place in line, you must stand in that line. Standing in crowded line doesn’t afford social distancing.

Worse, some stores have reduced their open hours. For example, Safeway and Walmart formerly offered 24 hour locations. During the height of COVID-19, these stores have drastically reduced their open hours. What that means is, again, damage to social distancing. When you could formerly shop at 2am when there were but a handful of people in stores, you must now shop during these much more limited hours when everyone and their dog must also shop. This doesn’t afford social distancing. In fact, reducing hours has the exact opposite effect.

This means that you have to carefully consider all trips to stores now. You also need to understand their open hours. The best time to shop is usually immediately when they open or within 15 minutes of closing. The problem is, when these hours are firmly within “prime time” hours, you will be unable to perform proper social distancing.

Stores are, in fact, contributing to the spread of the virus by not keeping their regular store hours. For you, as a consumer, you will need to consider these aspects when you head out to the store. If you normally shop during 6am to 9pm hours, it might not affect you. But, if you were hoping to perform proper social distancing, this may no longer be possible due to stores reducing their hours of operation.

2. Wash Hands Frequently, Wear Gloves and Use Hand Sanitizer

With all of the stores selling out of hand sanitizer, gloves and other protective gear, you may find it hard to take advantage of these extra steps. But, you can wash your hands frequently. When you get home after a day of shopping, take your cloths off and wash throw them into the washer using hot water wash. Then, dry them in a hot drier if at all possible. Don’t leave clothes you’ve worn out sitting around unwashed for you to touch again. Then, after starting laundry, wash your hands before you finish dressing and sanitize the washer knobs.

3. Tanning Beds

The UV produced in tanning beds (UVA and UVB) will kill viruses on the surface of your skin and clothing. If you visit a tanning salon and hop into a tanning bed for 3-5 minutes (not enough to burn you or fade your clothing), you can kill any viruses on your skin and clothing. If you use a standup tanning bed, you don’t have to touch many surfaces. Just be sure to wear protective eye gear. After done, wash your hands. This can help you prevent viruses from entering your home. You’ll want to do this just before heading home for the day.

4. Avoid Bars with Restaurants

Bars sanitize their glasses rapidly through a three water bath. These baths are soap water, bleach water and rinse water. They are then allowed to dry. Depending on the bleach concentration of the bleach water, it may or may not be enough to fully kill COVID-19. If you visit a bar, the bartenders follow this glass washing practice because it is the “norm” at bars and recovers dirty glassware quickly. Unfortunately, using a glass washed like this could leave you infected with COVID-19. You’ll want to avoid heading to a bar, if not only for the social interaction reasons, but also for how bars wash their glasses during busy times.

If you’re unsure exactly how a bar washes their glassware, you should ask the bartender. Only drink beverages from glasses which have been properly washed via a commercial dishwasher and not through the quick three bath solution utilized at most bars. Better, perform social distancing and avoid bars entirely. If you must drink, buy your liquor at the store and mix your own drinks at home using your own properly washed glasses.

If a bar is also a restaurant, the server may order your drinks from the bartender (even if they don’t contain alcohol). This may mean the bartender can potentially use glasses sent through the three bath solution instead of through a proper hot washed sanitizing dishwasher. For this reason, it is best to avoid the restaurant + bar combo establishments. Instead, visit places that either serve paper cups or that serve you on glassware that has been properly sanitized in a dishwasher.

5. Avoid Buffets and Restaurants

This one goes without saying. Buffet bars are some of the most unsanitary restaurants in existence. With serving spoons that may have had hundreds of hands touching it, this can easily infect you. During the height of the flu season, let alone COVID-19, you should always avoid buffet bars. Flu season begins around September and doesn’t end until around May. You should avoid buffet serve-yourself restaurants during these months. Until COVID-19 is under control and subsiding, you should continue to avoid buffet style restaurants.

In fact, it’s probably wise to avoid all restaurants. If you must have restaurant food, use the drive-thru or have it delivered. Both of these options avoid the use of glassware and, instead, provide disposable containers which are less likely to hold latent viruses. It also avoids the need to enter the interior of the restaurant and interact with the staff or other customers. It can be difficult to practice social distancing once inside of a restaurant.

6. Close All Windows

While this one might not seem obvious, it will make sense once you understand. If you live in an apartment complex or in a house that’s close to your neighbor, someone coughing or sneezing could have their virus carried into your house. If you want to open your windows, do so during off-peak hours (after midnight, but before 6am). Close your windows during the day to keep the viruses out.

The same goes for driving in a car. If you’re out and about, keep your windows closed and your car’s A/C system on recirculated air. Don’t allow external air to blow inside. Even HEPA filters can’t filter out viruses. The best bet is to keep your car closed up tight.

7. Work from Home

If your company allows, work from home. Don’t head into the office unless you absolutely need to be there. If you have a client meeting, attempt to schedule these through video conferencing. Avoid face to face meetings unless absolutely necessary.

8. Don’t eat or drink after someone else

This should be common sense. Don’t drink from anyone else’s glass or eat food from their plate. It doesn’t matter if it’s your brother, sister, wife or mother. Don’t do it.

9. Take a shower

When you get home after work or after having been out and about, throw your clothes in the washer and then take a shower. Cleaning your clothing and taking a shower will remove any possible latent viruses you have picked up, not only from your hands, but any other portion of your skin or clothing.

10. Cover All Sores

If you have a cut, scrape or scab anywhere on the surface of your skin, cover it with a bandage. If it’s a fresh cut or scrape, be sure to use an antibiotic ointment on the bandage. This gives you two layers of protection. While the antibiotic ointment won’t kill a virus, it does help put up a barrier between the skin and the bandage that a virus will find hard enter. Simply, make sure to cover all cuts and scrapes. Don’t leave them open to the air.

If you have a liquid bandage that you use, I’d recommend covering the liquid bandage (after it’s dry) with a cloth bandage to, again, afford two layers of protection.

11. Wash All Packaging and Cook All Foods

After buying any prepackaged foods from a grocery store and because of the sociopaths of the world, wash everything in hot soapy water, if possible. Toss any outer packaging immediately, then wash hands. For example, many items are packaged in plastic. These are easily washable in the sink. Wash them thoroughly.

For produce (such as lettuce, celery, tomatoes and so on), these may be more difficult to wash. Instead, don’t eat these raw. Cook all produce until such time as COVID-19 subsides. Cooking produce with sufficient heat will ensure that any latent viruses are dead, including COVID-19. Cook all foods.

12. Microwave Takeout

When you get home with your bag of takeout, carefully remove the food from its packaging (preferably without touching the food itself with your hands) and place it onto your own dishware. Use chopsticks or tongs and avoiding touching the grabbing end with your fingers. Throw away all packaging immediately. Place the food into the microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute to increase the temperature to ensure that the food will be disinfected. Wash your hands while the microwave is running.

If you’re buying raw food like Sushi, Poké or salad, avoid this type of food until COVID-19 subsides. It is recommended not to eat raw cold foods unless you’ve purchased the ingredients yourself from a grocery store and you’ve properly washed them. Still, I’d recommend cooking all foods until COVID-19 subsides.

13. Dishwasher and Dinner Parties

If you have a dishwasher, wash your dishware in a dishwasher to properly sanitize. This is particularly important if you choose to have people over for dinner. Better, avoid having people over at all. If you must, then be sure to wash all dishware in a dishwasher with a heated dry cycle.

14. Avoid Parties and Social Events

This one should really go without saying. Social events should be taken off of the table. Don’t go to parties or visit any large social gatherings. This includes gatherings like conventions and expos, movies, sporting events (whether for your kids or professional), concerts, parades, caucuses and primaries or any other event designed to lure in many people in close proximity. Stay away from these events until such time as COVID-19 has subsided.

15. Don’t borrow someone else’s phone

This section is not exclusively about borrowing phones, but this one is a common request. Your phone’s battery is dead, but you need to make a call. What do you do? You ask your friend to use theirs. Don’t do this. If your phone is dead, find a place to charge it (like in your car) or head home. Better, bring an extra battery with you to refill your battery on the go. Don’t rely on borrowing stuff from others. Not only does using someone else’s stuff break social distancing, it also means you’re touching something which could have latent COVID-19 on the surface and then putting it near your face. If it all possible, avoid touching something owned by someone else. This means, yes, avoiding picking up stuff for someone who drops a bag. Let them pick up their own stuff. Courtesy is all well and good, but you don’t want to risk your life over helping someone pick up a bag of spilled groceries.

16. Public Transportation

If you must travel on public transport, stand up. Don’t sit down. Hold onto the hand rail with only one hand if possible. Make sure your hand doesn’t have any cuts or scrapes and if it does make sure they are properly covered. Wear a glove if necessary. Sitting down means you will touch more surfaces that could be covered in COVID-19. Standing means touching far fewer surfaces.

17. Avoid Touching Anything

This can be very difficult. When purchasing, if you carry exact cash with you, you can drop that cash down and not touch anything in the process (put it onto the counter, not in the cashier’s hand). Giving exact cash means no change in return and nothing to touch. Note that I talk about ATMs including paper and coin money infection just below. The only thing you’ll touch is the receipt, but you can request that the cashier drop that into the bag without even touching it. The fewer things you touch, the less likely you are to get infected. If you use a credit card, you’ll have to touch the screen or press buttons to complete the transaction. If you can avoid this process, you have less chances of contracting COVID-19. If you need to touch a screen, buy and bring with you a touch sensitive pen.

Avoid touching your face including your eyes, nose and mouth. If you must scratch an itch, then wait until after you’ve washed your hands with soap and water or after using hand sanitizer. If you are wearing dispoable gloves while out, toss the glove before you scratch. Then, don another glove.

ATM machines are also ripe for COVID-19. If you must touch the screen or press buttons, carry with you a touch sensitive pen and touch the screen with that pen. Use that same pen to press buttons. Try not to touch any of the ATM with your fingers. If you have gloves, you can use them, but be sure to toss the gloves immediately after or wash cloth gloves when you get home. Note that paper or coin money itself can carry COVID-19.

There’s no easy way to solve this money dilemma other than through UV disinfection. If you have a UV lamp at home, you an place the paper and coin money under UV for a few minutes and kill any viruses on the surface of that money. If only banks would invest in a UV lamp system in their ATM machines to properly disinfect the paper money before it’s dispensed. Perhaps with COVID-19, this will send a wake-up call to ATM manufacturers and banks will follow suit with money disinfection.

18. Receipts and Photos

When you do receive a receipt from a purchase, the best option is to use your phone’s camera to take a picture of the receipt immediately and have the cashier toss the receipt. Though, you can choose keep the receipt if you wish. As long as you retain the photo of the receipt, it should be enough for the store to accept an item’s return. Carrying a photo of the receipt avoids having to touch that paper again in the future.

With stores like Target and when using the RedCard, you don’t even need the receipt. All of your purchases are stored with your RedCard which can be viewed within the Target app. The receipt may not show up until the next day, but you can toss the paper receipt and go with an electronic receipt when shopping at Target using a RedCard. Hopefully, more stores will move in this paperless direction, doing away with the paper wasting receipt.

19. Grocery Delivery

The best way to handle not going out is to order groceries for delivery. The fewer people you have to see, the better. That doesn’t negate the need to wash the items you receive from the grocery store as described in #11 above, but it does mean you don’t need to leave your home to have groceries delivered. For those in the highest risk group, grocery delivery is the best answer. There’s a caveat and risk here, based on the economy. I’ll discuss this aspect last.

20. Face Mask Deception

Loose fitting face masks can’t protect you against viruses. Many people think a mask can, but it can’t. The only masks that are less likely to see you get infected by an airborne pathogen is the one that fits tightly against your skin, not allowing any air to seep through the seal. This forces all air through the mask’s filters. Even these filters, however, may not filter at small enough sizes to keep certain particulate matter from entering your respiratory system.

The only thing the loose fitting masks do is protect others from YOUR coughs and sneezes. If you are sick and you wear a mask, the mask can prevent aerosolizing your sickness onto others. These masks don’t protect you from others who are sick and not wearing masks. The only thing that protects you from others who are sick is staying as far away from them as possible.

Economy

Because much of the US is now shutting down as a result of the fear of COVID-19, it appears that the US may be going into a recession. Because so much of the world culture thrives on large gatherings, cutting down on large social gatherings means less business for those businesses.

It also means that people are now more likely to cook and eat at home rather than dining out. Dining out keeps restaurants afloat. When that stops, restaurants lose. For now, COVID-19 means the economy will need to transition back to less restaurants and more home cooking. This transition was inevitable at some point. This means that grocery stores will need to stock more foods to handle this drastic increase in home cooking. As people transition to cooking for themselves, it means the need for stocking up mostly empty fridges and cabinets.

Stores like Target are bearing this transition out. Just visiting Target, you’ll find bare grocery shelves. Target was never one to stock large quantities of grocery items. For a store like Target, it doesn’t take much for these items to disappear from the shelves. Visiting my local Target, the fresh meat area is bare, the fresh produce area was nearly bare, the fresh fruit area, save for some apples and grapefruits was bare. In effect, this transition is being born right now.

Of course, it didn’t help matters that Target also decided to go ahead with their 2 for $10 weekly sales on specific foods like frozen pizza. Target should have suspended all of their two-for sales amid area lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders. They can resume their planned sales after this situation is resolved. In fact, they should have limited quantities and stopped the sales. Having these two-for sales in place incites people to buy large quantities… something that caused Target’s shelves to become bare faster.

Shelter In Place

With some areas of the country on full lockdown and other areas enforcing shelter-in-place (an action just short of a full lockdown), this will force people to stay at home and make and eat homemade meals. Restaurants for delivery may still be open, but even those businesses may tank… forcing them to send their workers home and possibly to even shut down.

For shelter-in-place and lockdown orders, it’s difficult to move about. It also means absolutely no social gatherings at all or face jail time or fines. This means staying inside.

If you live in an area of the country which is not yet under lockdown or shelter-in-place orders, you should still practice the above preventions. Even after COVID-19 has subsided, you should still practice the above. In fact, even during regular cold and flu season you should practice the above precautions. Some of these are definitely a bit over-the-top for a standard cold. If you wish to stay healthy, then the above suggestions offer your best protection.

Caveats — Can the US transition back to what it once was?

This is a great question, but one that doesn’t yet have an answer. We simply don’t know. Once people understand that they can make and eat foods at home, they may be willing to stick with this regimen going forward while still remaining a little bit cautious. What this means to grocers is the need to increase their orders to their suppliers and then increase stock on shelves to fulfill this newly increased cook-at-home demand.

Stores like Target must take this into account. Currently Target’s ordering of grocery items was perfectly acceptable for the shopping amounts before COVID-19. However, Target’s buyers will need to reconsider the amounts of grocery items they are now ordering and shipping to stores amid the COVID-19. They need to do this quickly. Other grocery stores will also need to consider their ordering process.

The difficulty is that stores may not be willing to place bigger orders for fear that much will go to waste, especially with some areas of the country under lockdown and shelter-in-place orders.

Grocery delivery may only last as long as they have business. However, I fully expect home grocery delivery to surge during this crisis. This means that Safeway, Whole Foods and Instacart will likely see a huge boom in deliveries. They may also take advantage of this by increasing surcharges and delivery charges. For this reason, be cautious of delivery services. Make sure you fully understand the surcharges and delivery charges being applied to your grocery delivery order. You may find that it could be 10% or more of the total bill. Also note that some companies like Instacart mark up the grocery items themselves. This can also add to the overall cost of your grocery delivery order. Personally, I call it price gouging, but so far no government organization has taken issue with these delivery markup scams.

Will the economy revive? Sure it will. It will take time for this virus to run its course and subside. It happens with cold viruses. It happens with the flu. It will happen with COVID-19. The question is, how long will it take?

With lockdowns and sheltering in place, it may take less time for COVID-19 to disappear than anticipated. If left unchecked, it will definitely continue to spread. Locking down social gatherings will prevent the spread via latent and active spreaders. The worse case is probably until the hot weather arrives. Hot weather has a way of killing off viruses. Unfortunately, cold and rainy days leaves latent viruses sitting around on surfaces to be picked up by someone’s finger. Once the heat arrives, it will bake these viruses and they will eventually disappear.

Normally, the heat arrives sometime around May or June for much of the US. Hopefully, these lockdowns will slow the spread and give time enough for the economy to recover once they are lifted. I’m not sure that April will be appropriate enough time to make that happen. If April is still rainy and cold, the virus could still flare back up after the lockdowns end. We may have to wait until the summer heat begins before we see COVID-19 begin to fade.

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Are contact thermometers spreading the coronavirus?

Posted in advice, Health, medical, personal security by commorancy on February 14, 2020

contact-thermometer2This seems a fairly straightforward question and seems like it should have a fairly straightforward answer. With all sorts of makeshift fever checkpoints being set up to screen for the coronavirus by so many cheapskate companies, it’s definitely a risk. Let’s explore.

Contact Thermometers

What is a contact thermometer? It is an electronic thermometer that looks something like so:

contact-thermometer

These contact thermometers must come into skin contact with the forehead or ear to perform its job. Why is this important to your health? It’s important because many makeshift fever screening zones for the Coronaviris (COVID-19 aka nCoV-19) utilize such low cost contact thermometers to check for fever, but at a severe risk of transmitting it.

Sweat and Transmission

Many people believe that sweat can’t transmit a virus. However, if you’ve got a fever, you’re likely perspiring a little. Even still, that doesn’t make using a contact thermometer an unsafe choice by default. But, it can still spread a virus for other reasons.

When people are asymptomatic (or even symptomatic), they can rub their noses or eyes, then rub or scratch other parts of their faces. This can then rub the virus on other portions of skin. This means that using such a contact thermometer could pick up a latent Coronavirus on a forehead or ear and transmit it to at least the next person that thermometer touches.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to protect yourself from such a screening point unless you turn around and leave or refuse to use their contact thermometer. While in the US, such refusals might be met with some consternation until explained, in a country like China, it might lead to much more drastic action by the authorities.

Amateur Hour

However, those in charge over the setup of these impromptu screening zones and which are forcing the use of contact thermometers (without any sanitary protection) are clearly medically untrained amateurs. A virus is a virus. It transmits like all other cold viruses, through contact. If that contact is through the surface of a thermometer or by rubbing your hand across a railing someone has just touched, you can pick up a virus. This type of spreading is called contact spreading. It’s one of the primary reasons that cold viruses spread so easily and rapidly.

You will still need to put your hands in your eyes, nose or mouth to fully infect you, but that’s not at all difficult considering how frequently we touch our eyes and noses and scratch itches. We also must eat, so touching our food with an infected hand is very common. It’s not a matter of if, but when after exposure.

Washing Hands

Hand washing is important, particularly before consuming any food or drink, after having been out and about in public. If someone touches an unsanitary thermometer to your forehead at a screening zone, visit the restroom and wash your face and hands immediately. Don’t wait. Use soap and hot water, if available. Better, don’t allow a fever screening area to touch anything to you.

Non-contact Thermometers

non-contact-thermometerThere are non-contact thermometers available on the market. Unfortunately, they are much more costly than the contact variety. Cheapskate companies may not be willing to shell out the $$$ to buy these more sanitary thermometers. There are also other sanitary versions of thermometers which utilize disposable tips. Either of these two methods of screening thermometers would be fine for use at a public screening check point. However, all skin-to-skin contact thermometers need to stop being used  at public screening checkpoints.

In fact, I might even attribute some of the spread of the coronavirus to such well-meaning, but entirely amateur fever screening points… points which have unwisely chosen contact thermometers for public screening.

If someone intends to place a thermometer against your forehead, say, “No.” If they seem dismayed by your statement, explain, “That contact thermometer is likely already infected, if not even by the coronavirus.” No one wants to get the regular cold or flu, let alone the coronavirus. Nothing should touch your skin when being checked for fever at a public screening point. If that screening point can’t determine if you have a fever without touching something to your skin, that’s a sanitary issue on their part… and not your problem.

Screening Points

Anyone in charge of setting up impromptu screening points to test for fever needs to use a device that either has disposable sanitary coverings between each check or is of the non-contact variety. Preferably, nothing should be touched to the surface of anyone’s skin, then touched to another person. Anything that performs skin to skin contact has a high probability of transmitting viruses from one person to another. This makes these fever screening checkpoints exceedingly risky ventures with a potential for legal liability should death or injury occur.

I’m guessing that these check points were not designed by someone in the medical profession, that or these operators simply don’t understand how viruses are transmitted. Either way, it comes down to amateur hour.

If you happen upon an impromptu fever screening check point, do not allow anything to touch your skin. If they can’t check your fever without touching you, simply leave and go somewhere else. There’s too much risk of infection by allowing someone at a checkpoint to touch you.

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Rant Time: Google doesn’t understand COPPA

Posted in botch, business, california, rant by commorancy on November 24, 2019

kid-tablet.jpgWe all know what Google is, but what is COPPA? COPPA stands for the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and is legislation designed to incidentally protect children by protecting their personal data given to web site operators. YouTube has recently made a platform change allegedly around COPPA, but it is entirely misguided. It also shows that Google doesn’t fundamentally understand the COPPA legislation. Let’s explore.

COPPA — What it isn’t

The COPPA body of legislation is intended to protect how and when a child’s personal data may be collected, stored, used and processed by web site operators. It has very specific verbiage describing how and when such data can be collected and used. It is, by its very nature, a data protection and privacy act. It protects the data itself… and, by extension, the protection of that data hopes to protect the child. This Act isn’t intended to protect the child directly and it is misguided to assume that it does. COPPA protects personal private data of children.

By the above, that means that the child is incidentally protected by how their collected data can (or cannot) be used. For the purposes of COPPA, a “child” is defined to be any person under the age of 13. Let’s look at a small portion of the body of this text.

General requirements. It shall be unlawful for any operator of a Web site or online service directed to children, or any operator that has actual knowledge that it is collecting or maintaining personal information from a child, to collect personal information from a child in a manner that violates the regulations prescribed under this part. Generally, under this part, an operator must:

(a) Provide notice on the Web site or online service of what information it collects from children, how it uses such information, and its disclosure practices for such information (§312.4(b));

(b) Obtain verifiable parental consent prior to any collection, use, and/or disclosure of personal information from children (§312.5);

(c) Provide a reasonable means for a parent to review the personal information collected from a child and to refuse to permit its further use or maintenance (§312.6);

(d) Not condition a child’s participation in a game, the offering of a prize, or another activity on the child disclosing more personal information than is reasonably necessary to participate in such activity (§312.7); and

(e) Establish and maintain reasonable procedures to protect the confidentiality, security, and integrity of personal information collected from children (§312.8).

This pretty much sums up the tone for what follows in the body text of this legislation. What it essentially states is all about “data collection” and what you (as a web site operator) must do specifically if you intend to collect specific data from someone under the age of 13… and, more specifically, what data you can and cannot collect.

YouTube and Google’s Misunderstanding of COPPA

YouTube’s parent company is Google. That means that I may essentially interchange “Google” for “YouTube” because both are one-in-the-same company. With that said, let’s understand how Google / YouTube fundamentally does not understand the COPPA body of legislation.

Google has recently rolled out a new feature to its YouTube content creators. It is a checkbox both as a channel wide setting and as an individual video setting. This setting sets a flag whether the video is targeted towards children or not (see image below for this setting’s details). Let’s understand Google’s misunderstanding of COPPA.

COPPA is a data protection act. It is not a child protection act. Sure, it incidentally protects children because of what is allowed to be collected, stored and processed, but make no mistake, it protects collected data directly, not children. With that said, checking a box on a video whether it is appropriate for children has nothing whatever to do with data collection. Let’s understand why.

Google has, many years ago in fact, already implemented a system to prevent “children” (as defined by COPPA) to sign up for and use Google’s platforms. What that means is when someone signs up for a Google account, that person is asked questions to ascertain the person’s age. If that age is identified as under 13, that account is classified by Google as in use by a “child”. Once Google identifies a child, it is then obligated to uphold ALL laws governed by COPPA (and other applicable child privacy laws) … that includes all data collection practices required by COPPA and other applicable laws. It can also then further apply Google related children protections against that account (i.e. to prevent the child from viewing inappropriate content on YouTube). Google would have needed to uphold these data privacy laws since the year 2000, when COPPA was enacted. If Google has failed to protect a child’s collected data or failed to uphold COPPA’s other provisions, then that’s on Google. It is also a situation firmly between Google and the FTC … the governmental body tasked with enforcing the COPPA legislation. Google solely collects the data. Therefore, it is exclusively on Google if that data is used or collected in inappropriate ways, counter to COPPA’s requirements.

YouTube’s newest “not appropriate for children” flag

As of November 2019, YouTube has implemented a new flag for YouTube content creators. The channel-wide setting looks like so:

Screen Shot 2019-11-24 at 2.33.32 AM

This setting, for all intents and purposes, isn’t related to COPPA. COPPA doesn’t care whether video content is targeted towards children. COPPA cares about how data is collected from children and how that data is then used by web sites. COPPA is, as I said above, all about data collection practices, not about whether content is targeted towards children.

Let’s understand that in the visual entertainment area, there are already ratings systems which apply. Systems such as the ESRB ratings system founded in 1994. This system specifically sets ratings for video games depending on the types of content contained within. For TV shows, there is the TV Parental Guidelines which began in 1996 and was proposed between the US Congress, the TV industry and FCC. These guidelines rate TV shows such as TV-Y, TV-14 or TV-MA depending, again, on the content within. This was mandated in 1997 by the US Government due to its stranglehold on TV broadcast licenses. For theatrical films, there’s the MPAA’s movie ratings system which began in 1968. So, it’s not as if there aren’t already effective content ratings systems available. These voluntary systems have been in place for many years already.

For YouTube, marking your channel or video content as “made for kids” has nothing whatever to do with COPPA legislated data collection practices.

YouTube Creators

Here is exactly where we see Google and YouTube’s fundamental misunderstanding of COPPA. COPPA is about the protection and collection of data from children. Google collects, stores and uses this and all data it collects. YouTube creators have very, very limited access to any of this Google-collected data. YouTube creators have no hand in its collection or its use. Google controls all of the data collection on YouTube. With the exception of comments and the list of subscribers of a channel, the majority of the data collected and supplied by Google to the creators is almost exclusively limited to aggregate unpersonalized statistical data. Even then, this data can be inaccurate depending on what the Google account ID stated when they signed up. Still, the limited personal subscriber data it does supply to content creators is limited to the subscriber’s ID only. Google offers its content creators no access to deeper personal data, not even the age of its subscribers.

Further, Google (and pretty much every other web site) relies on truthfulness when people sign up for services. Google does not in any way verify the information given to Google during the signup process or that this information is in any way accurate or truthful. Indeed, Google doesn’t even verify the identity of the person using the account or even require the use of real names. The only time Google does ANY level of identity verification is when using Google Wallet. Even then, it’s only as a result of needing identity verification due to possible credit card fraud issues. Google Wallet is a pointless service that many other payment systems do better, such as Apple Pay, Amazon Checkout and, yes, PayPal. I digress.

With that said, Google is solely responsible for all data collection practices associated with YouTube (and its other properties) including storing, processing and managing of that data. YouTube creators have no control over what YouTube (or Google) chooses to collect, store or disseminate. Indeed, YouTube creators have no control over YouTube’s data collection or storage practices whatsoever.

This new alleged “COPPA mechanism” that YouTube has implemented has nothing whatever to do with data collection practices and everything to do with content which might be targeted towards “children”. Right now, this limited mechanism is pretty much a binary system (a very limited system). The channel either does or it doesn’t target content towards children (either channel as a whole or video by video). It’s entirely unclear what happens when you do or don’t via YouTube, though some creators have had seeming bad luck with their content, which has been manually reviewed by YouTube staff and misclassified as “for children” when the content clearly is not. These manual overrides have even run counter to the global channel settings, which have been set to “No, set this channel as not made for kids.”

Clearly, this new mechanism has nothing to do with data collection and everything to do with classifying which content is suitable for children and which isn’t. This defines a …

Ratings System

Ratings systems in entertainment content are nothing new. TV has had a content rating systems since the mid 90s. Movies have had ratings systems since the late 60s. Video games have had them since the mid 90s. COPPA, on the other hand, has entirely nothing to do with ratings or content. It is legislation that protects children by protecting their data. It’s pretty straightforward what COPPA covers, but one thing it does not cover is whether video content is appropriate to be viewed by children. Indeed, COPPA isn’t a ratings system. It is child data protection legislation.

How YouTube got this law’s interpretation so entirely wrong is anyone’s guess. I can’t even fathom how Google could have been led this astray. Perhaps Google’s very own lawyers are simply inept and not at all versed in COPPA? I have no idea… but whatever led YouTube’s developers to thinking the above mechanism in any way relates to COPPA is entirely wrong thinking. No where does COPPA legislate YouTube video content appropriateness. Categorizing content is entirely up to a ratings system to handle.

Indeed, YouTube is trudging on very thin ice with the FTC. Not only did they interpret the COPPA legislation completely wrong, they have implemented “a fix” even more wrongly. What Google and YouTube has done is shoot themselves in the foot… not once, but twice. The second time is that Google has fully admitted that they don’t even have a functional working ratings system. Indeed, it doesn’t… and now everyone knows it.

Google has now additionally admitted that children under the age of 13 use YouTube by the addition of this “new” mechanism. With this one mechanism, Google has admitted to many things about children using its platform… which means YouTube and Google are both now in the hot seat with regards to COPPA. They must now completely ensure that YouTube (and Google by extension) is fully and solely complying with the letter of COPPA’s verbiage by collecting children’s data.

YouTube Creators Part II

YouTube creators have no control over what Google collects from its users, that’s crystal clear. YouTube creators also don’t have access to view most of this data or access to modify anything related to this data collection system. Only Google has that level of access. Because Google controls its own data collection practices, it is on Google to protect any personal information it may have received by children using its platform.

That also means that content creators should be entirely immune from prosecution over such data collection practices… after all, the creators don’t own or control Google’s data collection systems.

This new YouTube mechanism seems to imply that creators have some level of liability and/or culpability for Google’s collection practices, when creators simply and clearly do not. Even the FTC made a striking statement that they may try to “go after” content creators. I’m not even sure how that’s possible under COPPA. Content creators don’t collect, store or manage data about children, regardless of the content that they create. The only thing content creators control is appropriateness of the content towards children… and that has nothing to do with COPPA and everything to do with a ratings system… a system that Google does not even have in place within YouTube.

Content creators, however, can voluntarily label their content as TV-MA or whatever they deem is appropriate based on the TV Parental Guidelines. After all, YouTube is more like TV than it is like a video game. Therefore, YouTube should offer and have in place the same ratings system as is listed in the TV Parental Guidelines. This recent COPPA-attributed change is actually YouTube’s efforts at enacting a content ratings system, albeit an extremely poor attempt at one. As I said, creators can only specify the age appropriateness of the content that they create. YouTube is simply the platform where it is shown.

FTC going after YouTube Creators?

Google controls its data collections systems, not its content creators (though YouTube does hold leverage over whether content is or remains monetized). What that means is that it makes absolutely no sense for the FTC to legally go after content creators based on violations of COPPA. There may be other legislation they can lean on, but COPPA isn’t it. COPPA also isn’t intended to be a “catch all” piece of legislation to protect children’s behaviors on the Internet. It is intended to protect how data is collected and used by children under 13 years of age… that’s it. COPPA isn’t intended to be used as a “ratings system” for appropriateness by video sharing platforms like YouTube.

I can’t see even one judge accepting, let alone prosecuting such a clear cut case of legal abuse of the justice system. Going after Google for COPPA violations? Sure. They stored and collected that data. Going after the YouTube content creators? No, I don’t think so. They created a video and uploaded it, but that had nothing whatever to do with how Google controls, manages or collects data from children.

If the US Federal Government wants to create law to manage appropriateness of Internet content, then they need to draft it up and pass it. COPPA isn’t intended for that purpose. Voluntary ratings systems have been in place for years including within motion pictures, TV and now video games. So then why is YouTube immune from such rating systems? Indeed, it’s time YouTube was forced to implement a proper ratings system instead of this haphazard binary system under the false guise of COPPA.

Content Creator Advice

If you are a YouTube content creator (or create on any other online platform), you should take advantage of the thumbnail and describe the audience your content targets. The easiest way to do this is to use the same ratings system implemented by the TV Parental Guidance system… such as TV-Y, TV-14 and TV-MA. Placing this information firmly on the thumbnail and also placing it onto the video at the beginning of your video explicitly states towards which age group and audience your content is targeted. By voluntarily rating not only the thumbnail, but also the content itself in the first 5 minutes of the video opening, your video cannot be misconstrued for any other group or audience. This means that even though your video is not intended for children, placing the TV Parental Guidance rating literally onto the video intentionally states that fact in plain sight.

If a YouTube employee manually reclassifies your video as being “for children” even when it isn’t, labeling your content in the video’s opening as TV-MA explicitly states that the program is not suitable for children. You might even create an additional disclaimer as some TV programs do stating:

This content is not suitable for all audiences. Some content may be considered disturbing or controversial. Viewer or parental discretion is advised.

Labeling your video means that even the FTC can’t argue that your video somehow inappropriately targeted children… even though this new YouTube system has nothing to do with COPPA. Be cautious, use common sense and use best practices when creating and uploading videos to YouTube. YouTube isn’t there to protect you, the creator. The site is there to protect YouTube and Google. In this case, this new creator feature is entirely misguided as a COPPA helper, when it is clearly intended to be a ratings system.

Before you go…

One last thing… Google controls everything about the YouTube platform including the “recommended” lists of videos. If, for whatever reason, Google chooses to promote a specific video towards an unintended audience, the YouTube creator has no control over this fact. In point of fact, the content creator has almost no control over any promotion or placement of their video within YouTube. The only exception is if YouTube allows for paid promotion of video content (and they probably do). After all, YouTube is in it for the $$$. If you’re willing to throw some of your money at Google, I’m quite sure they’d be willing to help you out. Short of paying Google for video placement, however, all non-paid placement is entirely at the sole discretion of Google. The YouTube creator has no control over their video’s placement within “recommended” lists or anywhere else on YouTube.

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Rant Time: What is a Public Safety Power Shutoff?

Posted in bankruptcy, botch, business, california by commorancy on October 10, 2019

candlelightHere’s where jurisprudence meets our every day lives (and safety) and here is also where PG&E is severely deluded and fast becoming a menace. There is actually no hope for this company. Let’s explore.

California Fire Danger Forecasting

“Officials” in California (not sure exactly to which specific organization is referred here) predicted the possibility of high winds, which could spark wildfires. This happened earlier the week of October 7 (or possibly earlier). As I said, these are “predictions”. Yet, as far as I can see, no strong winds have come to pass… a completely separate issue, but it is heavily tied to this story.

Yet, PG&E has taken it upon themselves to begin powering off areas of Northern California in “preparation” for these “predictions”… not because of an actual wind event. If the high winds had begun to materialize, then yes, perhaps mobilize and begin the power shut offs. Did PG&E wait for this? No, they did it anyway.

What exactly is Public Safety?

In the context of modern society, pretty much everything today relies on electric power generation to operate our public safety infrastructure. This infrastructure includes the likes of traffic lights to street lights to hospitals to medical equipment to refrigeration. All of these need power to function and keep the public safe. To date, we have come to rely on monopoly services like PG&E to provide these energy delivery services. Yet, what happens when the one and only one thing that PG&E is supposed to do and they can’t even do it?

Granted, what PG&E has done is intentional, but the argument is, “Are the PG&E power outages in the best interest of public safety?” Let’s explore this even further.

PG&E claims that these power outages will reduce the possibility of a wildfire. Well, that might be true from a self-centered perspective of PG&E as a corporation. After all, they’ve been tapped several times for legal liability over recent wildfire events. They’ve even had to declare bankruptcy to cover those costs incurred as a result. We’ll come to the reason behind this issue a little bit later. However, let’s stay focused on the Public Safety aspect for the moment.

PG&E claims it is in the best public safety interest to shut down its power grid. Yet, let’s explore that thought rationale. Sure, this outage action might reduce the possibility of sparking from a power line, but what it doesn’t take into account is the reduction in and lack of public safety from all of the other normal-everyday-public-safety mechanisms which have also had their power cut. As I said, street lights, traffic lights, hospitals, medical equipment, 911 services, airports and refrigeration.

The short term effect of shutting the power off might save some lives (based on a fire prediction that might not even come true), but then there are other lives which might be lost as a result of the power being shut off for days. Keep in mind that PG&E claims it might take up to 5 days to restore power after this scheduled power off event. That’s a long time to be without standard regular public safety mechanisms (simply ignoring the high wind advisory).

If PG&E has been found responsible for wildfires, then why aren’t they responsible for these incidental deaths that wouldn’t have occurred if the power had remained on. Worse, what about medical equipment and refrigeration? For people who rely on medical equipment to sustain their lives, what about these folks? How many of these could die from this outage? If it truly takes 5 days to get the power back on, what about the foods being sold at restaurants and grocery stores? If you do trust it, you might get sick… very, very sick… as in food poisoning sick. Who is responsible for that? The retailer or the restaurant?

Sure, I guess to some degree it is the retailer / restaurant. They should have thrown the food out and replaced it with fresh foods. Even then, perhaps the distributors were also affected by the outage. We can’t really know how far the food spoilage chain might go. At the root of all of this, though, it is PG&E who chose to cut the power. How many people might die as a result of PG&E force shutting off the power grid versus how many might potentially die if a wildfire ignites?

I’ve already heard there have been a number of traffic accidents because the power has been cut to traffic lights. It’s not a common occurrence to have the power out on intersections. When it does happen, many motorists don’t know the rules… and worse, they simply don’t pay attention to follow them. They just blast on through the intersection. Again, who is responsible for this? The city? No. In this case, it is truly PG&E’s responsibility. The same for food poisoning as a result of the lack of refrigeration. What about the death of someone because their medicine spoiled without refrigeration?

Trading One Evil For Another

Truly, PG&E is playing with fire. They are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The reality is, either way, shutting off electricity or leaving it on, PG&E risks the public’s safety. They are simply trading one set of public safety for another. Basically, they are “Robbing Peter to pay Paul.” By trying to thwart the possibility of setting an accidental wildfire, the outage can cause traffic accidents, deaths in hospitals, create food poisoning circumstances and this list goes on and on. When there is no power, this is real danger. Sometimes immediate danger, sometimes latent danger (food poisoning) which may present weeks later.

The reality is, it is PG&E who is responsible for this. PG&E “thinks” (and this is the key word here) that they are being proactive to prevent forest fires. In reality, they’re creating even more public safety issues by cutting the power off indiscriminately.

Cutting Power Off Sanely?

The first problem was in warning the public. PG&E came up with this plan with too short of a notice. The public was not properly notified in advance. If this outage scenario were on the table of options for PG&E to pursue during the wildfire season, this information should have been disseminated early in the summer. People could have had several months to prepare for this eventuality. Instead of notifying months ahead, they chose to notify at a moment’s notice forcing a cram situation when everyone floods the stores and gas stations trying to keep their homes in power and prepare. At the bare minimum, PG&E should be held responsible for inciting public frenzy. Instead, with proper planning and notification, people could have had several months notice to buy generators, stock up on water, buy a propane fridge, buy a propane stove, prep their fridges and freezers, and so on.

With a propane fridge, many people can still have refrigeration in their home during an extended (up to 7 day) power outage. This prevents both spoilage of foods and of medicines. Unfortunately, when it comes to crunch time notices, supplies and products run out quick. Manufacturers don’t build products for crunch time. They build for limited people to buy over a short period of time. Over several months, these manufacturers could have ramped up production for such a situation, but that can’t happen overnight. PG&E was entirely remiss with this notification. For such drastic knee-jerk actions to public safety, it needs to notify the public months in advance of this possibility. This is public menace situation #1.

Indiscriminate Power Outages

Here’s a second big problem with PG&E’s outage strategy. PG&E can’t pick and choose its outages. Instead, its substations cover whole swatches of areas which may include such major public safety issues as traffic lights and hospitals, let alone restaurants and grocery stores whose food is likely to spoil.

If PG&E could sanely turn off power to only specific businesses and residences without risking the power to hospitals, cell phone infrastructure, 911 and traffic infrastructure, then perhaps PG&E’s plan might be in a better shape. Unfortunately, PG&E’s outage strategy is a sledgehammer approach. “Let’s just shut it all down.”, I can almost hear them say. Dangerous! Perhaps even more long term dangerous than the possibility of not setting a wildfire. Who’s to say? This creates public menace situation #2.

Sad Infrastructure

Unfortunately, this whole situation seems less about public safety and more about CYA. PG&E has been burned (literally) several times over the last few wildfire seasons. In fact, they were both literally and monetarily burned so hard that this is less about actual public safety and more about covering PG&E’s legal butt. Even then, as I said above, PG&E isn’t without legal liability simply because they decided to cut the power to thwart a wildfire. In fact, while the legal liability might not be for causing a wildfire, instead it might be for incidental deaths created by outages at intersections, by deaths created in hospitals and in homes due to medical equipment failure, by deaths created via food spoilage in restaurants and grocery stores… and even food spoilage or lack of medical care in the home.

The reality behind PG&E’s woes is not tied to its supposedly proactive power outage measures, it is actually tied to its aging infrastructure. Instead of being proactive and replacing its wires to be less prone to sparking (what it should have been doing for the last 10 years or more), it has done almost nothing in this area. Instead of cutting back brush around its equipment, it has resorted to turning the power off. Its liability in wildfires is almost directly attributable to relying on infrastructure created and installed decades ago by the likes of Hetch Hetchy (and other early electric infrastructure builders) back in the early 1900s. I’m not saying that every piece of this infrastructure is nearly 100 years old, but some of it is. That’s something to think about right there.

PG&E does carry power from Hetch Hetchy to its end users via Hetch Hetchy generation facilities, but more importantly, through PG&E’s monopoly electric lines to its end users. PG&E also generates its own electricity from its own facilities. It also carries power from other generation providers like SVCE. The difficulty with PG&E is its monopoly in end user delivery. No other company is able to deliver power to PG&E’s end user territory, leaving consumers with only ONE commercial choice to power their home. End users can opt to install their own in-home energy generation systems such as solar, wind or even diesel generators (when the city allows), but that’s not a “commercial” provider like PG&E.

Because PG&E has the market sewn up, everyone who uses PG&E is at their mercy to provide solid continuous power… that is, until they don’t. This is public menace situation #3.

Legal Troubles

I’m surprised that PG&E has even decided to use this strategy considering its risky nature. To me, this forced power outage strategy seems as big a liability in and of itself as it does against wildfires.

PG&E is assigned one task: Deliver Power. If it can’t do this, then PG&E needs to step aside and let another company more experienced in to replace PG&E’s dominance in power delivery. If PG&E can’t even be bothered to update its aging equipment, which is at the heart of this entire problem, then it definitely needs to step aside and let a new company start over. Sure, a new company will take time to set it all up, but once it’s going, PG&E can quietly wind down and go away… which may happen anyway considering both its current legal troubles and its bankruptcy.

The state should, likewise, allow parties significantly impacted by this forced power outage (i.e., death or injury) to bring lawsuits against PG&E for its improperly planned and indiscriminately executed power outage. Except, because PG&E is still in bankruptcy court, consumers who are wronged by this outage must stand in line behind all of those who are already in line at PG&E’s bankruptcy court. I’m not even sure why the bankruptcy judge would have even allowed this action by PG&E while still in bankruptcy. Considering the possibility of significant additional legal liabilities incurred by this forced outage, the bankruptcy judge should have foreseen this and denied its action. It’s almost like PG&E execs are all, “F-it, we’ll just turn it all off and if they want to sue us, they’ll have to get in line.” This malicious level of callous disregard for public safety needs much more state and legal scrutiny. The bankruptcy judge should have had a say over this action by PG&E. That they didn’t, this makes public menace situation number 4, thus truly making PG&E an official public safety menace and a nuisance.

Updated 10/11/2019 — Clarification

I’ve realized that while one point was made in the article, it wasn’t explicitly called out.  To clarify this point, let’s explore. Because PG&E acted solely on a predicted forecast and didn’t wait for the wind event to actually begin, PG&E’s actions egregiously disregarded public safety. As I said in the main body of the article above, PG&E traded one “predicted” public safety event for actual real incurred public safety events. By proceeding to shut down the power WITHOUT the predicted wind event manifesting, PG&E acted recklessly towards public safety. As a power company, their sole reason to exist is to provide power and maintain that public safety. By summarily shutting down power, not only did they fail to provide the one thing they are in business to do, they shut the power down for reasons other than for fire safety. As I stated above, this point is the entire reason that PG&E is now an official menace to the public.

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Consumer Tips: How to navigate the Toys R Us liquidation

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

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

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

Giving Gifts

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

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

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

No Returns, Refunds or Exchanges

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

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

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

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

Extended Warranties

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

Video Games and Video Game Consoles

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

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

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

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

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

Dolls, Action Figures and Non-Battery Toys

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

Consumer Safety and Toy Recalls

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

Safe or Unsafe Investment?

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

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

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

Use Your Best Judgement

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

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

Toys R Us Exclusives

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

Toys R Us Geoffrey toys

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

Happy Deals and good luck!

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Can Tesla survive?

Posted in business, california by commorancy on March 28, 2018

Investors have been overly exuberant about Telsa. By that I mean, because Tesla set up shop in Silicon Valley rather than Detroit, many investors see Tesla as a ‘tech company’. Folks outside the Bay Area, however, see Tesla as a car company. Let’s explore.

Car Company vs Tech Company

For whatever reason, too many people see Tesla as a tech startup. The fact is, Tesla is in no way a tech startup. It is a car company. Tesla has, so far, provided no new tech to the world. Cars, in fact, are not in any way new technology. Worse, there’s nothing new about Tesla’s cars that have not been done before. The only claim to fame that Tesla has is its partnership with the Lotus design team to design and help produce the Tesla Roadster. If the Roadster looks amazingly like a Lotus Elise, now you know why. But, paying for someone else to design your vehicle’s interior and exterior isn’t innovative, it just means you have money.

Let’s also consider even though Tesla decided to go electric in its vehicles early on, it is by no means the first electric vehicle to market. Tesla’s decision wasn’t without a significant amount of peril or adversity, adversity that continues to this day. For example, gas powered cars have huge infrastructure around the globe to buy fuel. In 5-8 minutes, you’re fueled up and ready to go again for hundreds of miles on a single tank. Unfortunately, charging electric vehicle batteries is a laboriously slow process by comparison. Sure, even with a Tesla Supercharger, you’re still stuck charging your vehicle for at least 30 minutes to get a 65% charge (about 170 miles). If you want a 100% charge, you’ll be there a whole lot longer. If it’s not a Supercharger, then plan to spend a whole lot more time there.

If the 30 or so minutes you must wait is at a time when it’s convenient (i.e., you’re stopping for dinner anyway), then that’s great. If it happens to be when you’re pressed for time, you’re not going to be a happy camper. If you don’t plan your trip properly or if you get tripped up by construction, you may find yourself off course without a charging station handy. Then where are you?

So far, all of the things I’ve mentioned above have nothing to do with tech and everything to do with usability. Specifically, car usability. More specifically, car usability with regards to electric vehicles which charge slowly and offer very little nationwide infrastructure. This is the adversity that Tesla is up against.

Pushing Boulders Uphill

Tesla has a long way to go before the US has electric infrastructure at a saturation where electric cars can even come close to replacing gas powered cars. That’s not to say it can’t happen sometime in the future, but Tesla is pretty much alone in this and has given up several times along the way. Yes, Nissan, Toyota, Mini and Chevy have all introduced electric vehicles, but they are the outliers. They aren’t pushing for nationwide charging coverage. These vehicles have not yet become the bread-and-butter vehicles that keep these brands afloat. Every car manufacturer, other than Tesla, sells gas powered vehicles. With Tesla’s electric-only approach, it is sink or swim… and currently, Tesla is pretty much just treading water. Tesla hasn’t even tried hedging its bets by producing an alternative fuel assist hybrid to augment its slow recharge times and offer a vehicle with much longer distance. In fact, by not embracing such a strategy seems to be terribly remiss on their part.

For Tesla, this should be considered self-imposed adversity. Why not invest in producing a car that accepts natural gas, gasoline, alcohol or even hydrogen? I think we’ve already seen that Tesla has pretty much pushed the limits of its electric vehicle paradigm as far as it can go.

Expensive Bells and Whistles

I can hear the throngs of Tesla owners now… groaning at this article. Wake up! You bought a $100k commuter car. Sure, it has that nice 17″ (now dated) display in the middle of the dash and a few interior niceties, but it’s a car. A car is a car is a car. It takes you from point A to point B. Does it matter what bells and whistles it offers inside? You’re not buying the functionality of the technology, you’re buying the functionality of the car. Worse, it’s not that this technology hasn’t already existed in a car before Tesla and it will definitely exist in many cars in the future. Just look at the Prius. It’s not 17″, but it definitely had an in-dash display from the beginning.

Don’t be fooled by the Silicon Valley hype. Tesla isn’t a tech company, it is a car company. They don’t offer innovative technical solutions or innovative technical products. They offer a car (or rather, many models of cars). A car, I might add, that is from a brand that has yet to prove itself as a long term car brand. Let’s take the Saturn car brand as a prime example. When Saturn came about, its claim to fame was all of the hand-holding and attention they gave new car owners. Where is Saturn now? Dead. The company ceased producing cars in 2009 and closed its doors in 2010. Its sales model wasn’t sustainable. Its cars were mediocre.

Can Tesla Survive?

Is Tesla’s model sustainable? That depends on Elon Musk. Once Elon finally admits to himself, his employees and the rest of the world that Tesla is, in fact, a car company and not a tech company, he will be able to realize what he needs to do to take Tesla to the next level. The problem right now is that many investors in Tesla see them as a tech stock, not a car company. Tesla is not a tech stock. Let me repeat that. Tesla IS NOT a tech stock. Don’t fool yourself that Tesla is anything other than a car company, like any company out of Detroit or Japan or anywhere else in the world where car manufacturing exists.

Fundamentally, Tesla has been battling the infrastructure issue. Elon simply hasn’t been able to gain any substantial traction for Tesla’s electric plan throughout the continental United States. Sure, there are Tesla Supercharges in select areas, areas requiring you to plan your trip well in advance to ensure you can find chargers all along the way. If you find yourself off the Supercharger path, you could literally end up stranded in the middle of nowhere with no way to get a charge. If your car happens to break down, then what? Better have AAA with its longest distance towing option as you might find yourself sitting in the cab of a tow truck being hauled to the next Supercharger station.

Infrastructure has not been a friend at all to Tesla. Let’s understand a little better why. Electric cars, while they are clean vehicles, are not clean on the environment. Instead of pushing the pollution out of the tailpipe, it is now being pushed out of the exhaust stacks at electric generation facilities. Tesla (and other electric car makers) need to understand that the pollution doesn’t stop, it just moves to a different location. If California’s electricity were produced from 100% clean, renewable resources, I’d be writing something different here (at least for California). Instead, that’s a pipe dream. California still receives much of its electric generation from fossil fuels which is used to charge up a Tesla (or any electric plugin vehicle), less than ideal for pollution. This is why the government hasn’t hopped on board with bringing electric infrastructure to the forefront. On top of that, there’s no incentive from gasoline producers to push this agenda. So, where would those incentives come from? The government (and ultimately, all of us via our tax dollars). I don’t want to have to pay to build a huge electric infrastructure raising my taxes.

Tesla’s Failures

Ultimately, Tesla had planned to introduce a battery swap program to help reduce charge times. However, Tesla had to admit that this was a failed pipe dream. They were forced to drop the idea entirely. This is where Tesla made its first and most important mistake. Apple releases products that it feels are good for users. They don’t care if people like or dislike them. That was Jobs’s MO. He decided on behalf of the public what we should like. If you didn’t personally like it, you went someplace else. Tesla should have introduced the battery swap option in spite of the complaints, costs or problems. Push the idea out regardless. Drive the market to adopt the idea instead of caving into market pressures. This is where Elon completely differs from Jobs and Apple. Though, Jobs was arguably a marketing visionary. Elon is, at best, a huckster. There is literally nothing visionary at all about the Tesla cars being produced. Modern yes, visionary no.

Once you understand the difference between the words “modern” and “visionary”, you’ll quickly understand that what makes a Tesla vehicle attractive is its amenities. These same types of amenities are those that drive the sales of Lotus, Lamborghini, Maserati, Bentley, Cadillac, Mercedes Benz and even Lexus… i.e., luxury car brands. Tesla is less about being an electric vehicle and more about becoming a luxury car brand. Luxury is why you buy Tesla. That’s why you buy any type of luxury car. Again, don’t kid yourself. It’s not the technology, it’s the luxury. Luxury, I might add, that comes with a fairly steep price (both monetarily and time wise). Yes, it costs around $60k-$100k, but that’s not the half of it. You also spend a fair amount of time not even being able to use the vehicle because it’s hooked to the charger. With a gas powered vehicle, its downtime is measured in minutes. With Tesla, its downtime is measured in hours. When I say downtime, I’m strictly talking about the time it takes to ‘refuel’ it, not mechanical breakdowns which are a whole different bag.

Since most people don’t have Superchargers available at their homes, they are subject to longer charge cycles. This means you need to plan for this. Don’t come home on low charge and forget to charge it. You’ll be in a world of hurt the following day when you need to get to work. Tesla is a car brand that isn’t completely worry free. You must take the time to plan your day and when to charge. If you forget even once, you’re going to be late for work.

Tesla as a Commuter Car

Considering all of the above and the ~256 mile range on a charge makes Tesla not ideal for long distance travel, at least not without proper trip planning. It’s a great about-town car, but for long distance travel, I’d suggest owning a vehicle with a gas charger. A gas charger vehicle means you can stop at any gas station to refuel the power generator. Our alternative fuel infrastructure may not be optimal today, but it is the infrastructure we are stuck with for the moment. Trying to find alternative fuels like propane, hydrogen or natural gas could leave you just as stranded as electric alone. With a gas car, you can travel anywhere there is a gas station and refuel in minutes. This infrastructure is far and wide and everywhere.

Ultimately, this lack of electric infrastructure relegates Tesla vehicles to commuter cars as their best use case. For me, justifying spending $60-100k for a commuter car is way too much. Consider that for those of us who also live in apartment complexes means leaving our expensive Tesla vehicles sitting idle on dark parking lots to fully charge, then walking away. Not ideal. You pretty much have to own a home and install a Tesla specific charger to get decent charge times and know your car is safe. It’s also fairly inconvenient leaving your car sitting on a parking lot for several hours only to have to go back when it’s done and pick it up.

Many apartment complexes are way behind the times, but they are not the exception. Let’s consider the infrastructure that Tesla has built since the first Roadster was introduced. Let’s just say, it’s not much. It’s better than it was, but it is no where near where it should have been at this point. This is the primary reason Tesla will fail, unless they change their ideas and embrace the fact that they are not only car company, but a luxury car brand. This is the reason other car companies will do better than Tesla with their everyday electric vehicles. Tesla is a luxury brand that only families of a certain affluence can afford. Vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt are the everyday electric cars. These are vehicles that are both affordable and offer better value for the money than Tesla’s short distance expensive luxury vehicle.

Oh, but the Model X has gull wings you say? Really, that’s something you’re going to argue? Ok, let’s argue it. If you have kids, these doors are entirely unsafe for little fingers. Sure, Tesla may claim safety features, but do you really trust your kid’s little fingers against an electric door closing mechanism? Go ahead, I dare you.

Safety Track Record

Tesla is a fairly new car company founded in 2003. It never produced cars before 2006. Its first vehicle is the Tesla Roadster. Tesla has had difficulties keeping up with demand for the Roadster. Its first commercially successful vehicle was the Model S introduced in 2008, Tesla’s second model vehicle. Other models have since followed. And yes, I realize the ~$33,000 Model 3 is on the way… but they’re having production problems with this model. It could be years before you see your preorder.

Basically, what Tesla is making is all new without the benefit of years of manufacturing experience. This means that testing safety features in its vehicles may not be a top priority. Let’s consider the safety of lithium-ion batteries when in a crash. Actually, let’s scale that back a little. Just by poking a hole into your cell phone’s lithium-ion battery will cause noxious fumes, possible fire and/or explosion. Let’s scale that up to electric cars. If the battery in your Tesla is compromised due to an accident, you could easily find your car on fire, electrocuted or in an explosion. While this is not exclusive to Tesla’s electric cars, the size of Tesla’s batteries could make them particularly unsafe. It could also mean that if you’re injured in a Tesla, first responders may need to secure their own personal safety against your vehicle’s battery before using the jaws-of-life to extract you from the vehicle. This precious time lost could mean the difference between life or death.

You’re exposing your family’s safety to Tesla each and every day you drive it. Ford, Chevy, GM and even Toyota are brands that have existed for decades. These companies fully understand the concept of proper safety design and of recalls, lawsuits and defects. Unfortunately, Tesla has only had just a few years to gain this knowledge. Yes, they have hired seasoned industry vets to help get their vehicles to be their safest quickly, but the question isn’t what they added, but what they missed. They’re a new car company with new growing pains. Sure, you can hire expertise, but can you be sure of what you missed? Who really knows? Tesla has been relatively lucky that they have not yet seen an egregious safety failure on all of their vehicles. The question is, have they done it right or have they been lucky or it is just a matter of time?

Worse, could Tesla survive such an huge safety recall in all of their vehicles? Who really knows? Sure, their company is highly valuated, but that doesn’t mean they have the cash to support a massive lawsuit or an expensive recall. Ultimately, when you buy into Tesla, you’re buying into all of this. You should think long and hard about whether this is the car for you. Don’t buy it because it drives nice or because the seats are comfortable or because dashboard looks cool, buy it because it makes the most sense for your budget, the way you intend to use it and your family’s safety.

Can Tesla survive? This depends on whether they can truly get beyond their ‘tech company’ mentality. Tesla is a car company. At some point, they’ll have to admit this. Once they admit this, then they can truly begin to take their cars to the next level. If not, then perhaps Tesla is just a flash in the carburetor.

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