Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Stranded by the Airline

Posted in advice, smart, tickets, travel by commorancy on November 5, 2018

Photo of departure board courtesy of BlaneTraveling by air is one of the most common means of travel and it usually goes without a hitch. But, what happens when an airline leaves you stranded due to technical problems? Whose responsibility is it? Let’s explore.

Stranded at the Airport

I’ve seen articles similar to this one discussing a 77 hour delay from Orlando to the UK. The difficulty I have with these situations is that many travelers seem to expect the airline to cover for or provide food, lodging and other accommodations while stranded.

A family stated of the British Airlines delay:

The passengers were treated inhumanely, all we wanted was some food and drink, somewhere to sleep and to be kept informed – and they failed on all counts no matter what they claim.

Other than being kept informed, is the rest the airline’s responsibility?

When you book your tickets for passage aboard a flight, you expect that flight to take place within the defined ticket times. If the flight can’t make those times, you should be notified by the airline of realistic timings when or if the next flight can make. It should also be the airline’s responsibility to find another plane as quickly as possible to make good on the flight. If a plane cannot be found quickly (i.e., within a few hours), then the airline should book you onto another carrier to get you to your destination. One way or another, they should make good on a flight within 24 hours. That’s a reasonable amount of time. I know we all want resolution in an hour or two, but sometimes that’s not possible.

If a flight cannot be located until the following day, then the airline should inform you of that information ASAP so you can find a hotel and make accommodations for a stay over. Who pays for that hotel should be you, the traveler… at least at that moment in time. You can negotiate reimbursement of those accommodations should the airline extend that courtesy, but don’t expect it right then (or at all), like some of the people interviewed for this article.

This BBC article describes a detailed account of what happens when travelers make the wrong assumptions about airline delay responsibility. This article describes that British Airlines left people stranded at the airport made worse by being in NY (which NY is always notoriously short on accommodations, unless you’re willing to drive to Newark or Queens or farther). Apparently, this wait took 77 hours. The flight was supposed to depart on Thursday and ended up departing on Saturday arriving on Sunday. The delay took slightly over 3 days in total.

Who has Responsibility?

For a 3 day delay, whose responsibility is it to make sure that you are fed, have shelter and have the basic necessities for living? It’s certainly not the airline’s responsibility. Travel problems are rare, but they do happen. YOU are the traveler. YOU need to accommodate yourself. It’s YOUR responsibility as the traveler to make sure YOU and your immediate co-travelers are accommodated. For example, if you have a family of four, expect that you will have to go find a hotel and pay for it out of your own pocket. This means having a phone handy or a device capable of using the Internet and WiFi. Use the airport WiFi if you have nothing else available. Just make sure you have an Internet capable device or a working phone with you.

Don’t expect the airline to do anything for you other than provide you with a flight. Unless the airline is holding you hostage on the plane on the tarmac, you can’t expect anything from the airline. When you’re at the airport terminal waiting, you need to assess your own accommodations and take action yourself.

It’s always worth asking the airline for help, but don’t expect the airline to do anything for you. The airlines are not obligated to do anything other than see to your flight. Sitting around at the airport complaining that the airline is not seeing to your personal needs is called over-dependence. You can only depend on yourself to manage your own personal welfare. You can’t throw your person at an airline and expect them to become your personal caregiver. It’s not their responsibility. It seems a lot of people completely misunderstand this aspect of airline travel. Your ticket also doesn’t require them to do this. You take care of you. At some point, you will need to understand taking this personal level of responsibility for yourself while traveling.

The only time that the airline is responsible for your welfare is when you are actually in your seat on the plane. That’s the only time when the airline needs to accommodate you and your needs. When you are sitting in the terminal awaiting a plane, you are firmly on your own. It’s not the airport’s responsibility nor is it the responsibility of the airline.

Stranded for Days

Being stranded by an airline is rare, but it can happen for various reasons. Reasons that may not make you happy as a stressed out traveler, but that are unavoidable by the airline. This is part and parcel of traveling by budget flights these days. Airlines are running their routes very, very lean. Meaning, they don’t have extra planes or personnel should the need arise. This means that you could be waiting hours or even days before a plane might become available should your original flight’s plane end up out of service.

As a traveler, you need to bring along enough money for (or have the means to handle) unexpected delays. If the delay extends beyond a few hours, it then becomes your responsibility to handle your own personal needs up to possibly even forfeiting your old ticket and booking separate travel arrangements yourself. In fact, if time is important to you, then you should already be looking for alternatives within 15 minutes of finding out about the delay. Don’t wait. You can always cancel the arrangements, but it can be difficult to make arrangements if you wait even 3 hours. If you need medical treatments, medicines, food, baby formula or other accommodations, you absolutely cannot expect the airline or the airport to see to those needs.

I realize airlines might string you along by saying “an hour longer” via the terminal attendants. However, by hour 6 or 7 of that stringing, you need to request a straight answer from the airline. If they’re unwilling to give it to you, it means it is time to seek your own alternatives. You can continue to wait if you like, but that’s on you. If waiting gets to the 24 hour mark, then you have waited far too long. At 8 hours, you definitely need to seek your own accommodations for food and lodging and perhaps even alternative transportation to your destination. Even at 3 hours of waiting (unless expressly stated on the ticket as a 3 hour layover), you should have already spent that time seeking alternatives.

You can spend time later fighting with the original airline carrier about refunds or other issues, but it is up to you to take care of yourself and see to your own needs and comfort. Throwing yourself at an airline, then complaining about it won’t make matters better. You’ll also have wasted a lot of time when you could have had hotel accommodations a lot sooner. Sure, you may not have planned for that extra time or that extra hotel, but traveling isn’t always problem free. At 24 hours waiting, the airline can’t expect you to hang around the terminal waiting forever for their plane to arrive. Even 8 hours waiting is expecting too much of travelers.

If you don’t have enough money to cover either alternative flight accommodations or a hotel (until your flight becomes available), I might suggest that you probably shouldn’t have traveled in the first place. You should always have enough money to realistically cover a few extra days including food, lodging and any other basic needs when traveling, just in case.

Airline Courtesy

The problem with many travelers these days is that far too many people think that the airline has 100% responsibility for their welfare the moment they enter the airport. That that ticket you’re holding is some kind of magical device that grants the airline 100% ownership of your person until you step off at your final destination.

This belief is 100% false. That ticket is simply a travel voucher. It lets you onto the plane and offers you passage to the end destination. When a plane is not available for that flight, the airline may be irresponsible in its notifications of when you might be able to travel, but you cannot expect the airline to begin accommodating your personal needs for the duration of that long delay.

That’s not part of the ticket you paid for. Perhaps this issue requires a special line of travel insurance. Perhaps the airlines (or booking agencies) need to offer delay insurance where you pay extra in case of delay. The delay insurance should cover accommodations at a local airport hotel for the duration of delay. It might cover for a single meal voucher for each person up to a specific amount. It might even cover for transportation to and from the hotel.

If you paid for such insurance (were it to exist), then if a delay occurs, you know exactly how it will be handled, exactly what you’ll get, exactly what the airline’s responsibility is to you and that your needs will be taken care of. It also means the airlines will be forced to support and accommodate travelers who buy this delay travel insurance. It means that the airlines must notify and then hold the plane until all insurance travelers are back at the airport, through security and on the plane after the plane is finally available (within reason, of course). Adding delay insurance means that instead of sitting around waiting, you now have definitive rules that must be adhered to by the airline personnel and when those accommodations kick in.

If it costs $50 to check a bag and $30 for each carry-on, what makes you think an airline is going to see to your food and lodging accommodations during a long delay? Are you expecting it out of their own ‘courtesy’ for free? I don’t think so. Those days are over. Adding delay insurance, on the other hand, means that you have paid for and know exactly what you’re going to get if an airline has a delay like British Airlines.

For now, no such separate delay insurance exists. Until such insurance exists, you need to see to your own welfare and make sure you have enough money when traveling to do so, even when stranded at an airport because of an excessively long airline delay.

As a side note, some travel cancellation insurance plans may include trip delay coverage. But, these delay benefits kick in under very specific conditions and may not cover a scenario like British Airline’s 3 day delay. If you’re curious if a plan might cover such a delay, you should contact a travel insurer to find out more.

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Game Review: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate

Posted in video game design, video gaming by commorancy on November 9, 2015

Warning: This review may contain spoilers. If you want to play this game through, you should stop reading now.

acsWhile Ubisoft got some parts of this game right, they got a lot of the parts very very wrong. And, this game cheats, badly. Let’s explore.

The Good

As with most Assassin’s Creed games, Syndicate is filled with lots of very compelling gameplay in its open world environment. The stories are decent, but short and the assassinations make it feel like Assassin’s Creed I (mostly). They’ve done well to bring back a lot of what made Assassin’s Creed I fun. Unfortunately, there’s also a whole lot of bad go with that fun. And, if you’re sneaky enough, you get the chance to use cover assassinations, air assassinations and haystack assassinations with much more regularity. Unfortunately, this game is about equally outweighed by the bad and the ugly.

The Bad

Controls

As with every single Assassin’s Creed game, the controls get harder and harder to work as the game progresses. And by harder and harder, I mean the designers require much more fine grained control over button presses or else you miss the opportunity to do whatever it is they have you doing. This usually means you miss your opportunity do take down an enemy, you fall off of a building, you can’t escape a fight or whatever.

For example, a person steals something and you have to tackle the thief. Unfortunately, as you happen to be running after the thief, if you also happen to straddle along side a carriage, the carriage will usurp the tackle button and you’ll end up stealing a carriage (all the while letting the thief get away). The really bad part is that you cannot break out of the carriage stealing maneuver and attempt to continue on with the thief chase. Oh no, you have to watch the entire motion capture playback from beginning to end all while your thief you were inches away from tackling runs away.

As another example, there are times where you begin a fight and a ton of enemies surround you. Then, one of them takes a swing and practically knocks you out with one blow. You don’t even get enough time to press the medicine button before you’re dead or desynchronized.

On top of this, the game still does not tell you every side mission requirement in advance. You only find them out after you’ve failed them.

Zipline Gun

And this is not the only incident of these types of bad controls. Once you get the zipline gun, it’s handy to use for quick getaways to the top of a building. That is all except, when the designers prevent you from using it. And they do prevent its use intentionally in some areas. Meaning, you can stand in front of some buildings and the zipline control appears. In others, nothing. This is especially true in areas where you have to complete a mission. So, you’ll be down on the ground and spotted, the first thing to do is find a rooftop to zipline to the top. Unfortunately, you can’t in a lot of mission areas. In some you can, in others you can’t.

Ubisoft, if you’re going to give me the zipline gun, let us use it on any building of any size. Not just those you randomly allow. This is so frustrating.

Calling Attention

When you’re sneaking around as an assassin, the pedestrians around you are constantly saying things like, “I hope he knows he can be seen” and other stupid things. While it doesn’t bring attention from enemies, it’s just nonsensical and stupid. Most people would merely ignore someone doing something like skulking around. Worse, it’s not like we have control over day or night in this game. Clearly, for most of the work of an assassin, it should be done at night under the cover of darkness. Instead, you’re out doing this stuff at noon.

Syndicate

Syndicate? What syndicate? Sure, you have a gang that you can find and call together on the street, but you barely ever get to use them alone let alone on missions. You can rope in a few at a time, but it’s almost worthless. When you enter into any place, they only thing they end up doing is drawing attention to you. As an assassin, that’s the last thing you want. You want stealth kills, not big grandiose street kill events. This is not Street Fighter. Other than that, there is no other syndicate. It’s not like you can switch to and play Greenie, which would have been a cool thing. It’s not like there were other assassins roaming the city that join in on the cause. I was hoping the syndicate would have been a huge group of assassins who all band together to get something done. Nope.

Recognition

On some levels, you don’t get recognized quickly. On others, it’s almost instantaneous. It’s really frustrating that there is not one level of recognition that you get with this game. Instead, it’s random and haphazard based on the level designer’s whim.

The Ugly

Glitchy

While it may not be anywhere near as bad as Unity, it’s still bad enough that you have to start (and restart) missions over to complete them. I’ve had glitches which locked my character up in a move that I had to quit out of the game to stop. I’ve had glitches where Jacob falls off of a rooftop merely by standing there. I’ve had glitches where I stand inches from an enemy and don’t get the assassinate action. I can hang below windows with enemies standing in front of me with no assassinate action. I’ve fallen off of the zipline for no reason.

The controls get worse and worse as the game progresses, to the point that if you want to get anything done, you nearly can’t.

Cinematics you can’t abort

Throughout the game, you’ll find that when you click a button to enter a carriage or zipline to the top of the building, you cannot break out of that action until it’s fully complete. If you were trying to do something else and accidentally launched into one of these cinematics, you have to fully complete the action entirely before you get control back.

Character Levels

The introduction of character levels is just plain stupid. I understand why they are in the game, but the reality is, they make no sense. Fighting a level 9 versus a level 2 is not at all realistic. You don’t have levels in real life. You have people who are more skilled than others, but not levels. These enemies are no more skilled than any other. If I walk into an area, my level should not dictate how hard it is to kill an enemy. I should be able to perform moves on a level 2 or level 9 in the same way and take them down at the same rate. In fact, enemies shouldn’t even have levels.

Bosses & Gang Wars

As you complete a section of the city, it unlocks a gang war segment. So, your gang fights their gang. Except, it’s not really a gang war. Instead, it’s half a gang war. The first segment starts out as a gang war where your gang fights theirs and you get to participate. After that first segment is complete, you must fight 5 to 6 of their gang members alone (including the boss). That’s not exactly a gang war. That’s an unfair fight. Where is my 4 to 5 other gang members to help me out. If it’s a gang war, make it a gang war. If it’s to be a 1 on 1 fight then make it so. Ganging up 5 or 6 against 1 is not a gang war and is in no way fair. I know some gamers like beating these odds, but I find it contrived and stupid. If it’s supposed to be a gang war, make it a fight between gangs.

The only consolation is that the game gives you one shot at taking down the section boss right before the gang war. If you can manage to kill them then, you don’t have to do that segment during the gang war. Still, a gang war should be about gangs.

Desynchronization and Load Times

This is one of the most ugly parts of this game. If you fall off a building and die, you have to wait through an excruciatingly long load time. So long, in fact, you could go make yourself a cup of coffee and be back in time for it to finally load. I mean, this is a PS4 and the game is loaded on the hard drive. Yet, it still takes nearly 2-4 minutes just to reload a level? I’m amazed (not in a good way) at how long it takes to reload. Once the game finally does reload, it drops you off some distance away from where you were. This is also frustrating. Why can’t you drop my character exactly in the location or at least close enough that I don’t have to run a ton just to get back there.

Starrick Boss Level

This level is ultimately the most asinine fail level of the entire game. Once you finally find the shroud (which is the whole point to the present day piece of this game), the game should immediately stop and move to present day. No. Instead, you have to attempt to assassinate Starrick in one of THE most asinine levels I’ve ever played in a game.

Evie and Jacob, the two twins, have to be the two most stupid people on Earth. Otherwise, they would simply realize they could cut and drag that shroud off of him with a good cut of their knives and then stab him. No. Instead, you have to attempt to wear-him-down while wearing the shroud. As if that were possible with the supposed healing shroud. If it were truly as healing as it is shown to be, there would be no way to wear his health down ever. I’m not sure what the writers were thinking here, but this level is about as stupid as it gets.

Worse, there are times where Starrick gets these hammer-on-your-character-without-fighting-back segments. Starrick just punches your character and you just stand there taking it. Really? There’s no reason given for these segments. These just wear down your health without any method of fighting back, breaking out of it or countering it. Now that’s just plain out cheating from a game. There is absolutely no need for this part of the fight. When in real life would this ever happen? Like, never. It makes the ending twice as hard without any real payoff.

Either of the twins could cut and pull the shroud off of him. It’s very simple. Then just assassinate him like anyone else. Why is it that you must melee this guy to death? These are assassins who kill from the shadows or by using other stealth methods. Assassins are not street fighters. That the game turns AC into Street Fighter is just plain stupid. This is NOT WHY I BUY Assassin’s Creed games. If I wanted a fighting game, I’d go buy Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. The game devs have lost it. Whomever thought it would be a great idea to end this Assassin’s Creed game by turning it into a stupid fighting game should leave the game development field and specifically be fired from Ubisoft. That person has no business making gaming choices for this (or any) game franchise.

Overall

I give this game 4.0 stars out of 10. It’s a reasonable effort in places, but it’s in no way innovative and the ending plain out sucks from so many perspectives. The zipline is cool, but it doesn’t really help you as much as it needs to. There’s way too much carriage driving. The boss levels are mostly okay up until Sequence 8 as a Street Fighter ending… especially considering that the ‘present day’ part only needed to confirm where the shroud was located. After locating the shroud, the game should have immediately transitioned to present day. There is absolutely no need to kill Starrick, especially in a Street Fighter way. These people are assassins, not fighters. Sure, they can fight, but this tag-team-switching-melee-brawl-that-only-intends-to-wear-down-health is just insanely stupid, especially considering just how quickly that fight would be over by cutting that shroud off of him. I don’t even know how many times either of the two of them had gotten close enough to yank that thing off of him. Yet, the game insists on throwing punches to bring him down.

Ultimately, it has an insanely stupid ending that is majorly out of character for a game franchise that deserves so much better and which offered so much promise. And, of course, where is the Syndicate in all of this melee stuff? Why is it the gang is not there? Instead, Starrick should have been killed by a standard overhead assassination by both of them simultaneously through instant decapitation. I’d have preferred if Greenie had been in on the action and then have all three of them take Starrick out. Even the most healing shroud in the world couldn’t heal a severed head… and it should have been done in one big maneuver by both or all three of the assassins at once. That would have been an ending befitting of the name Assassin’s Creed.

Recommendation: Rent

Rant Time: You gotta hate Lollipop

Posted in Android, botch, business by commorancy on May 27, 2015

You know, I can’t understand the predilection for glaring white background and garish bright colors on a tablet. In comes Lollipop trying to act all like iOS and failing miserably at it. OMG, Lollipop has to be one of the most garish and horrible UI interfaces that has come along in a very long time. Let’s explore.

Garish Colors on Blinding White

Skeumorphism had its place in the computer world. Yes, it was ‘old timey’ and needed to be updated, but to what exactly? One thing can be said, skeumorphism was at least easy on the eyes. But, Lollipop with its white backgrounds and horrible teals, pinks and oranges? Really? This is considered to be ‘better’? Sorry, but no. A thousand times, no. As a graphic designer and artist, this is one of the worst UI choices for handheld devices.

If, for example, the engineers actually used the light sensor on the damned things and then determined that when it’s dark in the room and then changed the UI to something easier in the dark, I’d be all over that. But, nooooooo. You’re stuck with these stupid blinding white screens even when the room is pitch black. So there you have your flashlight lighting up your face all while trying to use your tablet. I mean, how stupid are these UI designers? You put light sensors on it… use them.

Stupid UI Designers?

Seriously, I’ll take skeumorphism over these blazing white screens any day. I mean seriously? Who in their right mind thought that this in any way looked good? Why rip a page from Apple’s horrible design book when you don’t have to. I’ll be glad when Lollipop is a thing of the past and Google has decided to blaze their own UI way. No Google, you don’t need to follow after Apple.

Just because some asinine designer at Apple thinks this looks good doesn’t mean that it actually does. Get rid of the white screens. Let’s go back to themes so we can choose the way we want our systems to look. Blaze your own path and give users the choice of the look of their OS. Choice is the answer, not forced compliance.

Smaller and Smaller

What’s with the smaller and smaller panels and buttons all of a sudden? At first the pull down was large and fit nicely on the screen. The buttons were easy to touch and sliders easy to move. Now it’s half the size with the buttons and sliders nearly impossible to grab and press. Let’s go back to resizing buttons so they are finger friendly on a tablet, mkay? The notification pulldown has now been reduced in size for no apparent reason. Pop up questions are half the size. The buttons and sliders on there are twice has hard to hit with a finger.

Google, blaze your own path

Apple has now become the poster child of how not to design UI interfaces. You don’t want to rip pages from their book. Take your UI designers into a room and let them come up with ideas that are unique to Google and Android. Don’t force them to use a look and feel from an entirely different company using ideas that are outright horrible.

Note, I prefer dark or grey backgrounds. They are much easier on the eyes than blazing white backgrounds. White screens are great for only one thing, lighting up the room. They are extremely hard on the eyes and don’t necessarily make text easier to read.

Google, please go back to blazing your own trail separately from Apple. I’ll be entirely glad when this garish-colors-on-white-fad goes the way of the Pet Rock. And once this stupid trend is finally gone, I’ll be shouting good riddance from the top of the Los Altos hills. It also won’t be soon enough. For now, dayam Google, get it together will ya?

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Adobe Creative Cloud: Adobe’s Stupid Mistake

Posted in botch, business, california, cloud computing by commorancy on April 27, 2014

CreativeNoCloudIn the process of upgrading to Adobe’s Creative Suite 6 (CS6) software package, I spoke with an Adobe representative who then tried to up-sell me into their monthly software plan labeled Adobe Creative Cloud. The representative also told me there would not be a CS7 or CS8 version released ever with the introduction of Adobe Creative Cloud. Let’s explore why offering only Adobe’s Cloud will ultimately become a huge blunder.

Adobe’s software has always been purchased!

The business model for Adobe software has always been to purchase the software and upgrade later by paying an upgrade fee. It’s a model that has fully worked for all of their versions up to CS6. This has been the software purchase model for years and years (not even just from Adobe). Yes, while it is how we have always purchased Adobe software packages, it is also how we have purchased software from every other software developer. In fact, for sellers other than Adobe, it’s still how we buy software. Basically, nearly every other software package out there is a one-time payment to own the version you are buying. So, what’s changed?

Adobe’s Clouded Mind

Adobe has now made the decision that they are no longer ‘selling’ software. They are now ‘renting’ it to you in exchange for a monthly or yearly fee. Clearly, this is an entirely different business model from their original purchasing model. This is not the software purchasing model we have come to know, understand and agree to. But, someone who thinks they are brilliant at Adobe has decided the old model is no longer valid and they are now wanting us to buy this purchase model. Because they have done away with purchased software, they are now forcing YOU to ‘rent’ their software through the cloud. No longer can you just ‘buy’ it.

The pricing model is currently $600 yearly or $50 monthly for their service. But, you have no guarantees that they won’t double or triple these prices in two or three years. Once your plan ends, they can charge you whatever they want and your software is invalidated if you don’t agree. You don’t get to keep your software that you’ve purchased during the plan. The money you’ve spent is entirely lost. However, when you previously bought the software, you own that software to use forever no matter what pricing they use later. When purchased outright, the software is on your system and can be used forever without further involvement of Adobe.  This permanency in ownership is just as it should be with software.

The Mistake

Whomever at Adobe that made this decision must have done so without consulting us, the software buyers, because why would anyone want to rent software forever? Software that you cannot keep or use after you shut the plan off. It’s an entirely different business model and an entirely different way to manage software. I don’t want to use cloud based Adobe software. I want the software installed on my system to use for as long as I want. I want to be able to move around and not be dependent on a 24/7 always-on Internet connection. If I’m offline, I still want to be able to edit and create work.

If you’re already using this service, you know that the software requires checking in every 30 days for monthly subscriptions and every 99 days for yearly subscriptions. This is not what I want. I want software that works infinitely offline. I don’t want anything ‘checking home to mothership’ ever. If I need to get a new version, just notify me of it and, if there’s a fee I’ll pay and download it. This is the tried-and-true model. Why abandon it?

Throwing out the baby with the bathwater?

Seriously, why would any top level executive dump a fully functional business model that has sustained an entire company for years in exchange for an extremely risky new business model that may not be adopted by buyers? Why wouldn’t you want to carry both models? Clearly, there are those of us out here who still want to ‘buy’ software, not ‘rent’.

For example, renting a car for a day is fine, but the market still is a big enough place where you can also ‘buy’ cars. Why would you, as Adobe, decide to close down the entire ‘buy’ market in lieu of a ‘rent’ only market? Think about it, the cloud rental software is fully downloadable but hobbled to check in every 30 days. It’s like paying to use a never ending trial version. To carry both business models, it’s just semantics to set up the software to check in every 30 days, 99 days (as it does right now) or NEVER (to buy it outright.. which doesn’t exist). If I want to pay full price up front for a package, that’s my choice and I should have that choice available to me. If I choose not to rent, then that’s your loss when I choose not to rent. And believe, I won’t rent ANY software from any business.

But, Adobe has decided to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The model that they formerly and successfully used to sell their software they have entirely abandoned for this new ‘rental’ world. A world that is likely to not only backfire badly on Adobe, but likely to force them to completely rethink this idea. Some ideas need to die and rental software like this is one of those ideas that needs to go away as fast as possible. That someone thought it would be a great idea needs to be slapped sane.

Renting is not Acceptable

Rentable software is both a creepy ‘big brother’ privacy invading tactic (no thanks Adobe) and a crappy business model that, as I have already said, needs to die a horrific and fiery death. I understand why it exists (companies want residual income and to collect all sorts of creepy privacy metrics), but it’s not a model that I will ever endorse or use. Therefore, I do not accept this business model and thusly CS6 will be my LAST purchase from Adobe until this company comes to its senses.

If you agree with me on this, please leave a comment below. Adobe, if you’re reading, you need to wake up and realize that there are some of us out here who want to actually buy software, not rent it. We want to be able to use purchased software without having to check home to mothership ever (except for updates when I request it to check).

It always amazes me just how stupid some company executives can be. So long Adobe, it was nice knowing you. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

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Rant Time: Google Wallet Verification

Posted in best practices, botch, business, california, personal security by commorancy on March 22, 2014

So, I know how much everyone love my rants. Well, here’s another one. This falls under personal security and internet security common sense. Today, let’s explore the safety of Google Wallet and it’s so-called verification system.

What is Google Wallet?

Basically, it’s another type of payment system like Paypal or Amazon checkout. Effectively, it’s a way to pay for things or send money on the Internet using Google. That’s about as simple as it gets. Who uses it? I certainly don’t nor will I ever if Google doesn’t change its ways.

Verification of Identity

Like most other payment systems, they want to know who you are. Or, at least, that the person who is wanting to use the payment system owns the card or bank accounts added into their system. However, each one of these payment systems usually does verification in similar ways. For example, Paypal verifies you by requiring you to add a checking account (i.e., routing and account info) and then adding a small amount of money to your checking account. Later, you enter those two tiny amounts of money into their verification panel and you’re all set. That’s pretty much it for Paypal. This is similar to other financial institutions like E-Trade.

Google’s Verification = Stupid

And I thought Paypal’s verification was stupid. Leave it to Google to diverge and make it even more difficult. In the verification form, Google requires you to enter your social security number, your birth date, your home address, your phone number and various other information that could easily lead to identity theft. Then they require that you submit it. Information, I might incidentally add, that is not required for you to use an established credit card or bank account for payment. After all, banks are already required to identify you before opening an account. This is the whole reason why Paypal’s verification system is enough. Paypal merely hangs onto the coattails of the bank that has already previously verified your identity when you opened the account. I digress.

When their entry form doesn’t work, they require you to attach a PDF document of a government issued identification card. Not only is that stupidly manual, who the hell know what Google is going to do with that PDF file once you send it to them? Why would you want to do this anyway? Seriously, you’re not opening a bank account with Google. You’re not getting anything out of it by sending this to Google. And, you’re opening yourself up to huge personal risk by leaving PDF documents of your identification cards floating around on the Internet for hackers to find. Seriously, what is Google thinking here?

For me, that’s a big red flag and a BIG FAT NO to Google. I have no intention of providing any physical paperwork to a private corporation. If you can’t figure out proper method to identify the user electronically, that’s not my problem.

Legal Compliance?

I know that Google claims that this is all in the name of Federal compliance, but I’m quite sure the compliance laws don’t require you to verify a user using any specific implementation techniques. Clearly, Paypal is able to comply with these laws without requiring a PDF version of physical government issued identification. The reality is that Google also does not need a copy of this. That they claim that this is required to fulfill legal obligations is smoke and mirrors.

No, it’s quite clear, Google’s verification system is broken and completely unnecessary. They can certainly comply with all identity verification laws without resorting to asking for a copy of your identification be submitted to them in PDF or any other format.

Merchant Requirements

In fact, while credit card issuers like Visa and Mastercard don’t forbid asking for identification when using a credit card, the merchant must still accept the card for payment as long as it’s properly signed without seeing an ID. Because Google wallet requires actually seeing your identification before using some services with your credit card, this violates card issuer rules regarding the requirement for seeing identification before purchases. On the other hand, unlike a retailer who has the physical card in hand, Google cannot see your card and whether it’s signed. But, the spirit of this rule remains. Using a method of charging a small charge to the card and asking you to check the statement, then supply that dollar amount should be enough to verify that you own that card and that you have access to statements… just like Paypal and E-Trade.

Because a lot of statements have now become e-statements online, the small charge method doesn’t necessarily verify your physical address. Though, if they need to verify your physical address, they can simply send a postcard with a code. Then, have you enter that code into a verification panel once you receive it. In fact, this is really the only method that will verify your physical address is valid.

Google Wallet’s Usefulness?

With all of that said, Google has failed to make any traction towards becoming a defacto wallet. In fact, there are so few merchants that actually use Google Wallet, it’s probably safer not to verify with Google. Being as unused as it is around the Internet and seeing as Paypal is the primary method of paying for things today, it’s too much of a personal risk to submit PDFs of your passport or drivers license to a random corporation. You have no idea where that PDF might end up. Though, it will likely end up on Google drive because Google likely requires its employees to eat Google’s own dogfood (i.e., uses its own services).

And since the risk of using Google drive is as yet unknown with all of the Facebook-like features that Google has added (and continues to add), it wouldn’t surprise me to find Google internal documents accidentally shared through a Google employee’s personal account via Google+. This would obviously be bad for Google, but it wouldn’t surprise me. That’s why you don’t upload PDF files to corporations like Google. In fact, I wouldn’t share PDF files of that type on any network drive unless it’s encrypted and passworded. Better, don’t put it there in the first place.

Companies requiring copy of a personal ID

Personally, I won’t do this type of ‘give me a copy’ verification for any company unless I’m opening a bank account, credit card or need to provide it for some specific financial transaction. Even then, I will only transact that business in person and allow the person long enough time to see the documents to get what they need from it. And no, they are not allowed to photocopy it unless there’s some specific requirement.

I especially won’t do this with companies as big as Google or Microsoft when no transaction is involved. As companies grow larger and larger, employees get more and more careless in document handling. Asking for photocopies of identification cards, social security cards, credit card faces or any other issued card is not cool and I have no intention of ever providing that to a company for any identification purposes unless I’m actually performing a transaction. I won’t do it for ‘just in case’ services that I may never use. Doing so stupidly leaves a financial time bomb out there ready to be exploited.

The most they need is the number off of the face. If a company cannot make do with what’s printed on the face of the card (by being typed in), they get nothing. Just like giving your check routing information to a company such as Paypal is like writing a blank check, giving copies of physical documents to corporations is tantamount to identity theft. I simply don’t trust corporations with access to copies of my physical documents.

Though, were Google to set up a storefront and I could walk in and hand my card to someone to visually inspect and then maybe have them swipe it (although, I’d prefer not), I’d be somewhat okay with that. But, knowing a PDF file is floating around on the internet somewhere with a copy of my physical card, that’s not in any way cool. I will never do that for any corporation sight unseen no matter who they are. Since there’s no way to transact business with Google in person, there’s no way I’ll ever verify my identity for Google Wallet.

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Xbox One is already dead before its launch?

Posted in entertainment, gaming, microsoft, redmond by commorancy on November 6, 2013

Xbox One family-580-90Wow… just wow. Infinity Ward, the developers of Call of Duty, has recently stated in this IGN article and this IGN article that Call of Duty Ghosts can only run in 720p resolution and 60hz refresh rate on the Xbox One. Let’s explore why this is yet another devastating blow to Microsoft.

Xbox One

Clearly, Microsoft is banking on Xbox One to last for another 8 years like the Xbox 360. Unfortunately, not gonna happen. The Xbox One is clearly under powered for full next gen console needs. And, you would think the Microsoft hardware engineers would have thought of this issue long before even breaking ground on new hardware. You know, like actual planning.

With all of the new TVs supporting 120 Hz refresh rates and higher and TVs running 1080p resolutions (and 4k TVs not far off), it would be natural to assume that a next gen console should be capable of producing output in a full 1080p 60hz frame rate (as its base resolution). In other words, Xbox One should start at 1080p 60hz but be able to go up to much faster speeds from here. According to Infinity Ward, this is not possible on the Xbox One. I’ll say that one more time. Infinity Ward has just said that 1080p 60hz is not even possible on the Xbox One.

Next Gen Consoles

Because of this significant and avoidable Xbox One hardware deficiency, Infinity Ward has taken the step to produce Call of Duty: Ghosts in 720p at 60hz refresh rate (upscaled to 1080p) on the Xbox One to keep the ‘experience’ similar on all platforms. Let’s compare. Every big game title produced on the Xbox 360 is already 720p 60hz upscaled to 1080p.  What this ultimately says is that the Xbox One hardware is no better than the Xbox 360.  This hardware is basically dead before it’s even hit the store shelves. A next gen console should not see limitations in hardware until at least 2 years following its release. A new console should never see any limitations being hit by any launch titles.

If one of the very first launch titles is already taxing this console’s hardware, this platform is dead on arrival. This means the Xbox One has no where to go but down. It also means that you might as well stick with the Xbox 360 because that’s what you’re buying in the Xbox One. It also means that the games will never provide a high quality next generation game experience no matter which game it is. Seriously, getting high resolution at full speed is why you buy a next generation console.

Granted, I can’t vouch for Infinity Ward’s programming capabilities as I don’t know any of their developers. But, I know they have been producing this franchise for years. I would also expect their software engineers to have both the knowledge and expertise to properly produce any game for any platform they set their sights on.

In other words, I cannot see that this is some agenda on the part of Infinity Ward to try to discredit the Xbox One hardware.

Xbox One vs Xbox 360

The Xbox 360 hardware is well capable of producing games in 720p at 60hz already. It’s been doing this resolution and frame rate for years. Why buy another console that also has this same exact limitation of the current hardware? You buy into a next generation console to get something new. Namely, higher resolution gaming experiences. If the Xbox One cannot provide this, there is no point to this platform and this platform is dead.  DEAD.

Xbox One: Dead on Arrival?

Based on the above, the Xbox One’s lifespan has been substantially reduced to, at best, 1-2 years on the market before Microsoft must redesign it with a new processor and graphics card. This also means that early adopters will get the shaft with ultimately dead hardware and have to buy new hardware again very quickly to get the newest Xbox One experience.

If you’re considering the purchase of an Xbox One, you should seriously reconsider. I’d suggest cancelling your pre-order and wait for the newest next gen console from Microsoft. Or, alternatively, buy a PS4 if you can’t wait that long. Why spend $499 for a console that gives you the same capabilities as the Xbox 360? It makes no sense, especially considering that there are no compelling launch titles on the Xbox One that aren’t also coming to the Xbox 360. It’s worth giving the extra time to make sure your $499 investment into this console is a sound choice.

Coding to the Weakest Hardware?

For the longest time, the Xbox 360 was the weakest hardware of all of the consoles. Clearly, it is still the weakest of hardware.  For the longest time, developers catered to developing their games to the weakest hardware choice. That means, lesser graphics quality, lesser texture quality, lesser everything quality. I’m hoping this is now a thing of the past.

It now appears that game developers are tired of developing to the weakest hardware. Call of Duty Ghosts hopefully proves that. And, rightly so they should. Instead of producing low-res low quality gaming experiences on all platforms, they should provide the highest quality gaming on the best platforms. Then, take that and scale it back to fit on the weaker hardware platforms.

So, this scenario has now flipped the development practices. I’m glad to see developers embracing the best hardware and delivering the highest quality gaming experience on the best hardware. Then, reducing the quality to fit the weaker hardware. It makes perfect sense. It also explains why Infinity Ward reduced the resolution on the Xbox One. But, being forced to reduce the quality of the game to a lower resolution doesn’t bode for longevity of the Xbox One hardware.

What about the PS4 and 4k gaming?

According to those same articles above, the PS4 apparently doesn’t have this 1080p limitation. Call of Duty: Ghosts will run on the PS4 in full 1080p with 60hz refresh. Whether the PS4 is capable of higher resolutions is as yet unknown. Consider this. One of the very first 4k TVs introduced was produced by Sony. I would expect the PS4 to have been built to possibly support 4k gaming experiences. That doesn’t mean it will right now, but it may in the future. The Xbox One? Not likely to provide 4k anytime soon. If Microsoft’s engineers weren’t even thinking of 1080p resolutions, then they most certainly weren’t thinking about 4k resolutions.

If you’re into future proofing your technology purchases, then the PS4 definitely seems the better choice.

Yahoo: When recycling is not a good idea

Posted in botch, business, california, Yahoo by commorancy on July 17, 2013

Yahoo JailAfter Marissa Mayer’s team recently decimated Flickr with its new gaudy and garish interface and completely alienated professional photographers in the process, her team is now aiming its sights on a new, but unnecessary, problem: recycling of long expired user IDs. Yahoo had been collecting user IDs for years. That is, people sign up and use the account for a while, then let the account lapse without use for longer than 30 days.  Yahoo marks the ID as ‘abandoned’ (or similar) and then locks it out forever, until now. Some employee at Yahoo offered up the incredibly bad idea to recycle IDs. Unfortunately, this decision to recycle IDs may actually become the demise of Yahoo. Let’s explore.

Recyclables

I’m guessing that Yahoo has decided to make it look like it’s doing something good by recycling something, anything. That is, Yahoo is now letting people Wishlist long-closed user IDs that had been previously locked. Hurry, though, you only have until Aug 7, 2013 to wishlist that long forgotten ID. The trouble is, these old abandoned IDs are clearly second-hand goods. Let’s understand what exactly that means and why you really don’t want one (unless, of course, it was previously yours).

1) Obviously… Spam

Clearly, you aren’t asking for this old ID so you can jump onto that horrendous new Flickr interface or because you intend to read Yahoo News or OMG. The most obvious reason to want that ‘primo’ ID is for the email address. Unfortunately, you have no idea how that account was formerly used or what baggage might be associated with it! So, unfortunately, you will have no idea what exactly you’re getting into by re-using someone’s old ID. The person might have signed up for it just to divert tons of spam into it. Yes, this happens. That means, you could open the account and find it filled with spam in only 5-10 minutes, literally. Who’s to say someone wasn’t using it for illegal purposes and it was shut down for that purpose?

Yeah yeah.. Yahoo claims they will ‘unsubscribe’ the old ID from newsletters and so forth and these will have been ‘idle’ for at least 12 months (the first batch), but they’ve outlined no way in which they plan to accomplish this unsubscribe piece. Are they really going to hire a bunch of people to sit around clicking unsubscribe links and filling out unsubscribe forms?  I think not. It’s all song and dance with no substance. Not to mention unsubscribing legitimate email subscriptions only accounts for about half (or less) of the total email volume that ends up in an inbox.  So, don’t expect any miracles from Yahoo. If they can stop email, the best they can stop is about 40-50% at most.  All of the rest will still show up merely by you having signed into your ‘new’ account.

A new email header?

Oh yeah, Yahoo is also trying to rush through the IETF RFC process a new header called require-recipient-valid-since that takes a date as an argument.  This header basically requires marketers to know the exact acquisition date of every email address in their lists. Assuming email marketers know this date, which is a huge and incorrect assumption for Yahoo to make, when the email marketers send email containing this date, the email will supposedly end up in the correct account (or not) depending on the date.  Because of this date header, that could lead real email to go missing or spam to show up. Unfortunately, as I said, this is an incorrect assumption. Most email marketers barely know the source of their leads, let alone when they acquired it. No, this date thing simply won’t work. And even then, this header will only work with email marketers willing to follow the rules. Spammers that don’t care won’t bother.

Worse, Yahoo is planning on handing out these newly freed old accounts in mid-August. Like every email marketing firm will simply drop whatever business plans they currently have to retool their applications to support this rushed and nearly useless header. Is Yahoo really that asleep at the switch?

2) Fraud, Account and/or Identity Theft

If you happened to have owned one of these long abandoned accounts or you otherwise lost your Yahoo account long ago, you’ll want to be very careful here. You can be guaranteed that there are already people scouting for popular long dead accounts to resurrect and phish for accounts, theft and identities. These thieves know that banks and other legacy institutions keep email addresses on file until you explicitly change them. Even then, they can have issues even updating this information in their systems even when you do request the change.  So, someone who obtains a long dead account and then browses to Wells Fargo or Bank of America’s web site to request a password reset, they could abscond with your account credentials and your money assuming you still have (or ever had) any old Yahoo accounts hooked up to any financial accounts.

Yahoo claims to have ‘security’ mechanisms planned, but good luck with relying on that. I can’t even see that working. Granted, if banks fill in ‘require-recipient-valid-since’ with the appropriate acquisition date in every email they send, the banks can help prevent this issue (assuming the header works as expected).  But, that also assumes the bank has an email address acquisition date to fill in this header. That also assumes that the bank can even roll out this header change in the time allotted before Yahoo starts doling these old IDs out. The clock is ticking and Yahoo hasn’t even gotten the RFC completed.

Fraud and identity theft is a very likely outcome of recycling old Yahoo accounts. If you’re reading this article and you have ever used a now-long-closed Yahoo ID for email, I urge you to go through all of your important accounts and make sure you have deleted all references to your old Yahoo email address immediately! Otherwise, some random person could come to own your old ID and can then cycle through sites requesting password resets just to find what sites your old ID may have used.  This is the number one security threat that Yahoo can’t easily get around or easily address. Note, that a hacker who obtains an old ID only needs to get access to one of your accounts that will email your real plaintext password back to them and then they’ll work their way up to your bigger accounts.  This is one of the biggest reasons this is an incredibly bad idea from Yahoo.

I’d also suggest that for any accounts you do have (i.e., Facebook, Gmail, etc), make sure to add alternative email addresses other than your Yahoo address for password resets and other security related emails. If you can, remove all your Yahoo addresses outright even if they are live.  Use Gmail or Windows Live Mail instead (at least until they decide to go down this stupid ID recycling road).

3) Yahoo Mistakes

Ooops.. we didn’t actually intend to give away your live account. Sorry, ’bout that.

And then you’re stuck without an account. Yahoo is not publishing what accounts are under consideration specifically.  They only say that these ‘dead accounts’ have been idle longer than 12 months in the first batch. Thereafter, any account that has been not accessed for 30 days is up for reissue consideration. There is nothing to say that Yahoo won’t make a mistake and re-issue a live and active account to some random person wbo signed up on the Wishlist. I can easily see this becoming one of the biggest blunders that Yahoo makes in this process. Unless the Yahoo staff is incredibly careful with this process, it would be super easy to accidentally give some random schmo access to an active live Yahoo account by mistake.  For this reason alone, I’d consider closing out all of my Yahoo accounts except for one thing. They would recycle my account string name in 12 months (0r 30 days) and I’d be right back here in this situation again worrying about what of my other accounts were tied to this email address.

Basically, I can’t close my Yahoo account because it’s too great of a security risk.  If I leave it open, I risk Yahoo accidentally giving it away in this stupid ‘wishlist’ process.  It’s really a no-win situation. After Flickr, I have less and less trust in Yahoo and this is now leaving every Yahoo user in the lurch.  This basically means you can NEVER EVER close your active Yahoo account if you want to keep your other accounts secure.

4) Missing Email

Even if you do manage to get your hands on one of these ‘prized’ IDs, Yahoo claims to be putting technical measures into place to prevent security issues.  That could very well mean that for recycled accounts your mail delivery will be spotty, if it even works. Meaning, Yahoo may so heavily scrutinize emails heading to these recycled IDs that legitimate mail may simply never show up that’s been marked as ‘a security risk’.  So, for emails like password resets to accounts, you may find that these emails simply never show up at all.  Basically, anything that Yahoo’s email system construes as a security risk could simply just go missing. This is the most likely outcome of this recycling. Note that this problem could end up extending to every Yahoo account which could make Yahoo Mail a very problematic place for any email purposes.

Excess Baggage?

If after reading the above, you are still considering an ‘old used account’, I really can’t understand why. Taking on someone else’s old email and Yahoo baggage isn’t something I’d want to deal with (are they going to be sure to clear off all old comments and Yahoo answers for this old ID?). So, someone pops up from years past not knowing that Yahoo ID has been reissued and then you get some old boyfriend email, or someone who hated the previous owner of that ID.  Then what? So, then you’ll be left with a mess to clean up. Why would you want to deal with this excess baggage when you can get a new account that’s never been issued and not have to deal with this problem at all? However, knowing that any account you create at Yahoo would be recycled later, how could you rely on it for any kind of security?  You can’t.  So, I might suggest Gmail or Windows Live Mail (or any other free email service not recycling IDs) instead of Yahoo.

Alternatives?

Unfortunately, I don’t see any other alternatives with Yahoo at this point.  This is an incredibly stupid decision from Yahoo. I have no idea what the folks at Yahoo are even thinking. It’s not like a telephone number. You give that up and no one thinks twice that someone could use that old phone number nefariously.  Unfortunately, nearly every site now uses email addresses to know if you ‘own’ your accounts. So, password resets, pin codes, and all manner of secure information traverses through email addresses.

One thing that Yahoo may inadvertently cause from this change is for Banks and other financial institutions to rethink how they validate a user’s identity. Clearly with this change, email addresses can no longer be trusted as secure or even know that it’s owned by only one person.  This throws security surrounding email addresses into complete turmoil for any site that uses email addresses as validation.

Based on the previous paragraph, sites may start preventing use of @yahoo.com email addresses for their services. Knowing that you could lose your Yahoo account and then have it turned over to someone else 30 days later could easily lead to site compromises. To simply avoid this situation entirely, sites that rely on security may simply stop letting @yahoo.com email addresses sign up for service. So, one of the biggest benefits of using Yahoo Mail will end. I’d expect a mass exodus to Gmail or Windows Live Mail after the dust settles here. In fact, this decision may kill Yahoo Mail as any kind of a real email service. Does Marissa have any idea what the hell she’s doing?  If I were on the Yahoo board, I’d be seriously considering right about now of ousting this one.

If I were in a position at Yahoo to make this decision, I would have killed this idea before I’d ever left the conference room. That Yahoo is even contemplating making this move at this time is completely questionable. Let’s just hope that when someone’s account is compromised and/or has identity theft as a direct result of this bad Yahoo decision, that someone will sue the pants off of Yahoo.  That will at least teach other ISPs that this is not, in any way, an acceptable practice.

Risky Business

This decision has disaster written all over it. This is also a huge liability risk for Yahoo. Yes, Yahoo may have written in their Terms and Conditions that they have the right to reissue account names.  But, since they hadn’t been doing this from the beginning and they’re now choosing to do this without proper preparations, this is a huge legal risk.  It only takes a handful of users who’s accounts get compromised or who’s identities get stolen as a result of Yahoo’s new policy that this will end in courtroom dates. I can’t even fathom what benefit Yahoo derives from reissuing old IDs, but I can definitely see huge legal liabilities and black clouds looming over this now floundering company. In fact, the liabilities so outweigh the potential benefits to Yahoo, I have to completely question the purpose of this decision.  Let’s hope Yahoo is all lawyered up as I can see the court dates piling up from this very very bad decision.

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Comcast: Or, how not to run a network

Posted in best practices, botch, business by commorancy on June 30, 2013

Comcast is a home cable provider. They provide internet, video cable and home phone service (over the Internet). Yet, they really don’t know the first thing about how to run a network. Let’s explore.

What is World Class Networking?

To provide high quality, high performance networking, it starts with a datacenter, network gear, network interconnections, 24 x 7 staff and monitoring.  It also requires hiring qualified networking staff that actually know what they are doing and a way for front line support to contact that staff in the event of an suspected outage. It’s quite clear that Comcast doesn’t have this in place. What do they have instead?

They have some sort of networking team, although I’ve yet to determine where they exist. The customer facing piece is the front line (i.e., telephone) support who’s sole job is to roll trucks to the cable user’s home. For customer access, that’s it. It’s always the problem of the home user’s equipment. It’s never ever considered to be a problem with Comcast’s network gear, internal network, DNS servers, interconnections, etc. The front line support’s sole job is to blame the home networking setup of the user for ‘the problem’.

In fact, I have clearly shown them on multiple occasions that it is, indeed, their network gear that’s at fault. Yet, the front line support has no way to contact their networking team to have them check or work on the network.

Monitoring

It’s quite clear that they also have little, if any, network monitoring in place. If they did, they would see these problems and fix them timely. Yet, over a weekend and specifically late into the evening, a problem can persist for literally hours until someone wakes up at 8-9AM, logs in and corrects the issue.  Networking isn’t a 9 to 5 problem. It’s a 24 x 7 problem and staff needs to be ready to act at any time of the day or night.  Treating your network as a 9 to 5 activity clearly says you have no concept of what it takes to run a World Class Network.

Maintenance  and Notifications

As a customer of any other business class network, part of the contract states that they will provide you with network maintenance plans and times and duration of the disruption in addition to a service level agreement.  That is, the minimum amount of service you will get during your billing period. If it goes below that amount, they have to credit your account. Why is it that home users do not get this same level of service? We all know system updates are required. Equipment periodically needs to be rebooted. Configurations need to be changed. Most of these activities require equipment restarts. When this happens, it causes a service disruption. Buying a network connection to XO or Global Crossing, they will notify you regarding their maintenance plans, what their plans entail and how long the duration of the outage.

How does Comcast notify their customers regarding maintenance plans?  They don’t.  There is never ever any notification of planned maintenance. Yet, at least once or twice a week at around 2AM my cable modem gets rebooted or my internet connection just stops working.  It’s never during the day. It’s always around 2-3AM which says ‘system maintenance’. Yet, there has never once been an email sent to my account notifying me of any system maintenance plans.  Again, this does not say World Class Network.

Operating a Network is not a Toy

Comcast treats their customers and their network as if it were some type of playground. As if the customer won’t be bothered by them taking down gear (and the network) randomly without any notice.  Why would anyone in their right mind think that it’s okay to run a network this way?  Yet, here we are. This is the way Comcast has operated its network for years.  In fact, this is exactly how AT&T Comcast ran their network before spinning it back off into Comcast again.  But, that doesn’t make it right. It just makes it amateur.

Worse, they keep their front line support staff completely in the dark regarding these maintenance plans. Literally, you can call up and talk to a rep who will adamantly claim nothing is going on with the network. In fact, they don’t know that the network team is busy reconfiguring and rebooting routers across the entire network taking down neighborhood by neighborhood. It’s only after about 15 or 20 minutes do they finally know something is going on. This is a ridiculous and laughable scenario. Any other network provider would simply laugh at Comcast’s method of operating.

Operating Transparency

It’s definitely time for Comcast to step up into the big leagues and treat both their network and their customers with respect and care. In that goal, this wall between the phone support team and the networking team needs to come down. They need to add transparency between the phone team and the network team so that when there are issues, the phone team knows immediately.  There is absolutely no excuse for the phone team not knowing what’s going on at the moment that it’s happening. Worse, rolling a truck is expensive, especially when the problem has nothing to do with the home user’s gear. Rolling a truck is a whole lot more expensive than picking up the phone and contacting their network team to investigate. Or, better, give the phone team access to the monitoring system so they can actually see the live outages.  No phone call necessary. You would think that escalating to the network team would always be the first step before rolling a truck. You would think that, to save on costs, they would want to ensure that the problem is not internal before suggesting the expense of rolling a truck. I have no idea how Comcast’s management hasn’t been called out on this silly and stupid waste of money.

But no, they don’t care about that. Worse, even if you do schedule a truck, by the time it shows up days later, the problem is already corrected showing that it was, in fact, an internal network problem that someone finally fixed. This is definitely not the way to run a network.

The Time Has Come

It’s finally time for Comcast to offer full operational transparency between all of its teams and the customer. It needs to notify customers of each maintenance plan affecting their network and its expected outage duration. With email the way it is today and the fact that every Comcast customer gets a comcast.net email address, Comcast has no excuse not to slip these notifications into the inbox, just as they do for their monthly invoices.  Comcast literally has no excuse for running their network in this slipshod way for so long. It’s just plain and pure laziness that states unequivocally that Comcast can’t provide and isn’t providing a World Class Network to its subscribers. If you’re a Comcast user and you read this article, you should tweet to any Comcast employee and demand that Comcast provide the same level of service you’d get from any other network provider.

Note: I’m actually having to use my Verizon LTE MiFi card to write this article because Comcast took down the network gear or the DNS servers (can’t tell which) without any notification. I also know that it’s completely fruitless to call into the support team because they’ll simply want to roll a truck, which is absolutely ludicrous considering my cable modem is still fully connected to the network. Trying to explain that to them is useless. They would also run a bunch of useless tests and then only find out later that some random network tech was actually rebooting gear for some unannounced reason.

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

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

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

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

How did the first restore go?

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

Disk Mode

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

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

Recovering

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

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

Design

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

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

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

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

Apple’s ever changing product line

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

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

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

Shopping Frustration: When coupon codes don’t work

Posted in shopping by commorancy on September 4, 2012

Nothing is more frustrating during online shopping than when e-tailers send out a coupon code for a one day sale that doesn’t work.  I have to wonder, are these sites just stupid, clueless or technically inept?  Let’x explore.

Holiday Shopping Spree

If you’re like me, I tend to shop for things when people send me coupon codes.  Specifically, I shop when things are wearing out. I try to make sure these purchase times match up when coupon codes are available.  So, I like to wait for sale days like Memorial Day, President’s Day or, like today, Labor Day.  So, I’m happy when companies where I like to shop send me a 20% or 30% off coupon.  I generally like to take advantage of these deals because they don’t appear that frequently and I can shop for clothes that are wearing out.

Clickable Ad Banners in Email

Unfortunately, many of these e-tail sites are so inept or mismanaged that they email out the code but they forget to activate the code.  Sometimes they deactivate it too early.  Worse, they send an email with a big clickable banner ad describing this ‘Sale’ that, when you click, takes you to their home page and not to the sale items that apply to the code.  This action leaves you wondering what the heck is actually on sale?   One word comes to mind: inept.  Retailers, this is a seriously stupid practice.  If you send out an email that you’re having a 20% off sale, a click should immediately take you to the sales item(s).  Don’t make your customers guess what’s on sale.   In the case where I am taken to the front page, I close the browser, delete the email and move on.  Sorry, you’ve just lost a sale and I simply won’t shop there.  I know I’m not alone in this.  A lot of people fill their carts and either abandon the cart or clear it out because of stupid things like coupon codes that don’t work.

Coupon Codes that Don’t Work

I’ve had many times where some company sends me a coupon code that when you type it into the cart and click ‘Apply’, the message says ‘This coupon is not valid’ or ‘This coupon does not apply to the items in your cart’.  This goes back to the above issue.  If you’re planning to issue a coupon code and spend the time and effort to email your email list with this code, you damned well better test that code to make sure it works and you damned well better make sure the customers know to which items the code applies.  Don’t make your customers guess.  Additionally, for 24 hour sales, you should make also sure that code works until midnight.  And by this I mean, make sure it works until midnight of the customer’s timezone, not just your company’s timezone. That coupon should not expire at midnight your company’s timezone time as that could be midday in some locales. The code should expire at midnight wherever your shopper resides or better, expire it the following day sometime during the day to prevent expiration before the day is over for every customer and also lets late customers take advantage.  After all, isn’t the idea behind a coupon code to get people into your site to purchase?

Customers walking away

Making stupid moves like not activating coupons, deactivating them early or making your customers guess as to what merchandise the coupon applies is just a stupid practice.  You probably think I’m talking about small mom-and-pop shops here.  No, these are well known well respected companies that are making these most basic mistakes, like Jockey, Tommy Bahama and Zagg.

Nothing is more frustrating than filling up your cart with merchandise expecting to use a coupon code only to find that it doesn’t work.  Or, worse, not finding the merchandise to which the sale or coupon applies.  In these cases, I empty the cart, close the browser window and delete the email.  If these companies do this more than once,  I remove myself from their email list as it’s quite clear that these companies do not have their act together.  Which, if you think about it, is completely odd.  These are retailers in business to make money.  If you’re planning to offer a sale that uses a coupon code and that code doesn’t work, do you really think people are going to pay full price anyway?  No.  Selling your merchandise is your bread and butter and if you want people to buy your stuff, then you need to make sure your email ads reflect the reality of your site.  If it doesn’t work, then you have even more serious issues on your hands, not the least of which might be considered fraud.

Amazon Better?

I just don’t understand this practice.  This is why Amazon is kicking butt.  With Prime, you get 2 day shipping included and the best price without hassling with coupon codes.  Sure, you might be able to find it slightly cheaper at some mom-and-pop shop.  But, the hassle of setting up a new account and dealing with yet more email that can’t do it right outweighs the few pennies of savings you might get from that mom-and-pop shop.  So, I always find myself back at Amazon buying, at least for hassle-free purchasing.  I don’t want to deal with coupon codes that don’t work, sites that don’t specify what’s on sale or silly stupid problems like this.

For those sites that do this, fix your sites or lose the sale and be trampled by Amazon.  It’s quite simple.

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