Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Is Tesla Innovative?

Posted in botch, business, technologies by commorancy on July 16, 2021

I’ve been confronted with this very question many times on Social Media, specifically Twitter. Many people who own Tesla vehicles vehemently insistent that Elon Musk and Tesla’s products are innovative. But, is Tesla really innovative? In short, no. Let’s explore why.

Innovation

via Oxford Dictionary

As a first step, we need to define the word, innovation. As you can see from its definition from Oxford Dictionary, it is defined as ‘a new method, idea, product, etc’.

The difficulty with this definition is that it doesn’t go deep enough to explain what the word new actually means in this definition’s context. This definition assumes the reader will understand the subtle, but important distinction of using the word ‘new’ in this definition.

Many people will, unfortunately, conclude that ‘new’ means ‘brand new’ as in a ‘just manufactured’ new model car. Simply because something is brand spankin’ new doesn’t make it innovative. However, a ‘brand new’ car model might contain some innovative elements, but the technology behind a car’s functional design may not be innovative or new at all… contrary to Oxford’s complicated use of the word ‘new’. As an example, both random cars in general and specifically electric vehicles are not new. In fact, mass produced cars have been the norm since 1901 and electric cars have been prototyped since the 1830s. While those electric prototypes weren’t truly cars in the mass produced sense, they were functional prototypes which showed that the electric vehicle technology is possible, functional and, most importantly, feasible.

You might then be thinking that Tesla was the first to create mass produced electric cars. Again, you’d be wrong. In fact, the first mass produced electric car was General Motor’s EV1, produced in 1996. The EV1 appeared 12 years before the first electric vehicle rolled off the assembly line at Tesla… and Tesla’s cars appeared 178 years after the first electric car prototype appeared. That’s a long time… definitely not ‘new’.

Electric vehicle technology was not at all new when Tesla decided to roll out its all electric vehicles. The only claim to fame that Tesla can profess is that they were able to sort-of Apple-ize their car in such a way that it warps the minds of buyers into believing it is ‘the best thing since sliced bread’. Ultimately, that defines an excellent sales strategy… what Elon Musk is actually known for.

To Tesla’s credit, they were the first viable luxury class vehicle to also claim the electric vehicle moniker. That claim doesn’t necessarily make the vehicle innovative. It makes Tesla’s sales and marketing team innovative in that they can make electric vehicle technology ‘sexy’ for the well-to-do crowd. Before Tesla, luxury car brands mostly avoided making electric vehicles. Even then, being able to successfully market and sell a product doesn’t make that product innovative. It simply means you’re good at selling things.

For example, Steve Jobs was the master at selling Apple products. To be fair, Steve Jobs didn’t really have to do much in the way of hard sells. When Jobs was at the helm, many of Apple’s early products were indeed innovative. If you need an example of innovation, Steve Jobs’s products mostly epitomize it.

Tesla, on the other hand, absconded with several key things to produce its Tesla electric vehicles: 1) Luxury car designs (which already existed), 2) electric vehicles (which already existed) and 3) standard off-the-shelf battery technology (which already existed). None of these three ideas were new in 2008. That Tesla successfully married these things together isn’t considered true innovation. It’s considered incremental innovation. Taking already existing pieces and putting them together to make a successful ‘new’ product is common in many industries. This is incremental in that these things already existed and it was only a matter of time before someone put them together in a cohesive way. Is that innovation? No. Why? If Tesla hadn’t done it, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Bentley or another luxury brand would have at some point. Though, Tesla’s early claim to fame wasn’t even luxury, it was sports cars. However, Tesla has dropped the sports car idea in lieu of being a luxury brand.

Product Innovation Types

I’ll circle back around to the above, but let’s take a break here to understand the two primary types of innovation.

The first type of innovation is breakthrough innovation. This rare type of innovation offers a concept the world has never seen and usually results in a paradigm shift. Example: The Wright Brother’s first flight which brought about the paradigm shift into commercial aviation… a whole new industry emerged as a result.

The second type of innovation is incremental innovation. This much more common type of innovation takes existing ideas and marries them into a single new product. Example: The iPhone.

Some might consider both the iPad and the iPhone as breakthrough innovation. Instead, the first Apple computer would be considered breakthrough innovation and ultimately what, in part, lead to the iPhone and iPad. However and to be fair, both the iPad and iPhone products are technically incremental innovation. Prior to the iPad, there had been several tablet style computers (e.g., GRiD and even the Apple Newton) that, for whatever reason, never really took off. Handheld PDAs were actually a form of tablet. Cell phones were very popular long before the iPhone arrived. The iPhone, like the Tesla, successfully married three concepts: a computer, the cell phone and PDA into what became the smartphone.

However, even though incremental, both the iPhone and the iPad were responsible for a technological computing paradigm shift. The primary innovation seen in these devices was not from the marriage of existing technology, but from the speed, size, weight, high res screen and functionality that the devices offered… particularly when combined with the app store and a reasonable price tag. It’s much more convenient and fast to grab a tablet to quickly search the web than sitting down at a desk and powering up a desktop computer. It is the internal functions and features and flexibility that set these devices well apart from their earlier computer brethren which offered slower computing experiences at higher prices.

Steve Jobs was a master at miniaturizing computers into much smaller versions with reasonable price tags and which included high end features. This strategy is what set Apple, then NeXT, then Apple again… apart from the rest of their competitors. That was with Steve Jobs at the helm. Since Job’s passing, Apple is still attempting to ride Steve Jobs’s coattails, but those coattails are getting raggedy at this point. If Apple doesn’t come up with something truly breakthrough innovative in the next few years, they’re likely to begin losing sales in larger and larger quantities. Even more than this, another upstart company in similar Tesla form will step in front of Apple and usurp the industry. A business cannot keep selling the same devices over and over and expect success to continue. Apple needs another paradigm shift device to keep its success streak going. I digress.

Tesla’s Innovation

Circling back around to Tesla, we should now be able to better understand why what Tesla includes in its vehicles, while luxurious and technologically interesting, is nothing actually very new. It’s new in the sense of being recently manufactured, yes, but the technology itself is old from an innovation sense. In other words, Tesla had no hand in that technology’s development. An example, Tesla’s choice to place a large touch screen panel in the middle of the dashboard, while interesting, is simply considered luxury as touch screen flat panels are not technologically new. What about the all electric car itself? It’s not new either. Remember the 1830s? Remember the EV1? Not new.

What about the battery that powers the car? That battery technology is not new either. Technologically, it’s simply a standard lithium-ion battery built large enough to support operating a motor vehicle. Tesla didn’t design that technology either. Tesla might have had a hand in requesting the battery’s size, weight and power requirements, but that’s not innovation… that’s manufacturing requirements. The lithium-ion battery technology was created and produced much, much earlier in the 1980s. In fact, Akira Yoshino holds the 1983 patent for what is effectively the lithium-ion battery technology still being produced today… yes, even what’s being used in the Tesla.

You may be asking, “So what is innovative about the Tesla?” That’s a good question. Not very much to be honest. The car body’s design is at least proprietary, but functionally utilitarian just as most car bodies produced today are. The pop out door handles might be considered somewhat innovative, but these are born out of luxury, not out of necessity. They look cool, but don’t really serve a truly functional purpose. In this sense, while the handles might be considered innovative, they’re incremental and don’t serve a true purpose other than for aesthetics. The same statement of aesthetics can be said of a lot of both the interior and exterior of the Tesla. Functionally, the Tesla vehicles are cars.

The Tesla cars are designed to give the owner a luxury driving experience both inside and out. The all electric drive train helps reinforce that luxury function due to its torque, performance and acceleration power. Even the charging stations were built out of sales necessity, not out of innovation. You can’t exactly sell many electric vehicles if you can’t charge them easily. The proliferation of the recharge stations was, as I just said, born of necessity. Yes, this infrastructure is important to all future electric vehicles. However, Tesla built them coast to coast to ensure that Tesla owners could at least make a trip cross country without running out of power.

All of what Tesla has built I actually consider ‘smoke and mirrors’ or the ‘Hollywood Effect’. These luxury inclusions are intended to make the buyer feel better about the high purchase price. That the car acts like a highly paid butler, helping do a lot for the driver while on the road is what buyers see and feel. It’s that very luxury experience and those visual seemingly high-tech aesthetics that lure would be buyers into the brand. Buying a car from Tesla is like buying a new iPhone. It gives buyer that same endorphin rush, being able to say you have one. It’s also affords bragging rights because it’s a car brand that is relatively infrequently encountered and, at least according to Tesla buyers, is highly enviable.

People tend to buy Tesla for the same reason they buy and consume Cristal or Dom Perignon. They purchase these expensive brands not because they’re exceptional quality products, but because they afford a certain level of bragging rights because the item can be afforded. As a side note, Cristal and Dom Perignon are decent sparkling wines, but they are not worth the price tag based solely on taste alone. There are much less expensive Champagne and sparkling wines that are equal or better in taste. I’ll let you make of that statement what you will when it comes to Tesla.

Driver Assist

This leads us into the assisted driving feature. This feature is not innovative either. Driving assistance has been available on cars as far back as 2003 with the IPAS feature available on the Toyota Prius and Lexus models. This feature automatically parallel and reverse parks the vehicle. While this is not true assisted driving while on the road, the IPAS would definitely drive the vehicle into the parking space hands-free. IPAS was an important first step in proving that computer assisted driving could work.

Other driving systems which have contributed towards fully assisted driving is lane change detection, collision avoidance, traction control, distance detection, automatic braking and the backup-camera.

Tesla has taken all of these prior computerized driving innovations and, yet again, combined them into a computerized assisted driving. This technology is markedly different from full autonomous self-driving. Assisted driving utilizes all of the above detection systems to allow the driver to remove hands from the wheel, but not remove the driver from the driver’s seat. The driver must still watch the road and make sure the car’s detection systems do not go awry when the driver must be willing to reassert manual control. Because these limited detection systems aren’t fail proof, a driver is still required to take control over the vehicle should the system fail to detect a specific condition that a driver can see and avoid.

Self-Driving Vehicles

Tesla doesn’t presently offer a fully computerized autonomous self-driving vehicle for its consumers. Only driver assist mode is available. Self-driving vehicles do not require a driver. Self-driving autonomous vehicles have an advanced computer system and radar system mounted on the roof. These vehicles are continually scanning for all manner of conditions constantly. The computer is constantly able to correct for any conditions which arise or at least which have been programmed. Self-driving vehicles are substantially less prone to errors than assisted driving, primarily because of Google’s self-driving vehicle efforts. Self-driving types of vehicles do not need a driver sitting the driver’s seat, unlike assisted driving vehicles which still require a driver.

One might think that Google invented this technology. However, one would be wrong. Self-driving vehicles were introduced in 1939 at the New York World’s Fair using a system that required road modification to keep the vehicle situated.

Google was able to, in 2009, adapt this prior concept by using the then computer, current radar technologies and detection systems to allow the car to function autonomously without the need to modify the road itself. However, even though Google was able to create cars that do function properly and autonomously, this technology has yet to be manufactured into consumer grade vehicles…. mostly out of fear that it will fail in unexplained ways. That and that driving laws (and insurance policies) have not yet caught up to the idea of autonomous driver-free vehicles. For example, if there’s no driver and an autonomous car injures or kills someone, who’s at fault? Laws are slowly catching up, but this question still remains.

Tesla and Driver Assist

Let’s circle back around. The reason Google’s autonomous driving technology, now called Waymo, is mentioned in this article is that it began one year after Tesla began operations in 2008, long before Tesla began including assisted driving in their vehicles. Tesla, once again, adopted an already existing technology into their vehicle designs, likely based in part on Google’s successful autonomous vehicles. They didn’t design this mode. They simply adapted an already existing technology design to be useful in a more limited fashion. Again, this isn’t breakthrough innovation, it’s incremental innovation. There is no paradigm shift involved. It’s a utilitarian luxury inclusion in an attempt to allow Tesla to prove how modern and luxurious their vehicles are compared to other luxury brands. Basically, it’s yet another ‘feather in their cap’.

Innovation is Innovation

Unfortunately, no. It’s far, far easier to adapt existing technologies into a design than it is to build a new idea from scratch. For this reason, nothing of what Tesla has built is truly groundbreaking or ‘breakthrough’ in design. More than this, Tesla is a car. A car is a car is a car.

The point in a car is to transport you from point A to point B and back. You can buy a car that’s $5,000 to perform this function or you can buy a car that’s over a $1 million. Both perform this same basic task. The difference in price is the luxury. Do you want to do this task in a thinly walled, loud, tiny bucket of a car or do you want to do it with every creature comfort using top speed? Comfort and performance are the primary differences in price.

With Tesla, there’s nothing truly innovative included in their cars. Luxurious? Check. Performant? Check. Bells and Whistles? Check. Miles per gallon? Whoops.

Distance Driving

One of the great things about gasoline powered vehicles is the ability to travel great distances without stopping too frequently. When you do need to stop, the existing gas station infrastructure is practically every place where you might travel. Granted, there are some dead stretches of roads were you might need to plan your car’s fillups accordingly, else you might be stranded. For the vast majority of roads in the United States, finding a gas station is quick and easy.

With the Tesla, finding recharge stations fare far worse. While the charging infrastructure is improving and growing around the country, it’s still much more limited than gas stations. That means that when distance driving in a Tesla, it’s even more important to plan your travel routes to ensure you can charge your vehicle all along the way.

You have a Model 3 and you say it charges to 100% in about an hour? Sure, but only if you happen to find a V3 Supercharger. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Superchargers available are V2 chargers or older. Even then, the amount of kilowatts of power available to charge your Tesla may be artificially constrainted. The V3 chargers offer up to 250 kW. The V2 chargers offer around 150 kW. Many random chargers you find (not Tesla branded) may only offer between 6 and 20 kW. Considering that 20 is only a fraction of 250, you’ll spend a whole lot of time sitting at that charger waiting on your Model 3 to charge up. It’s great that Tesla has built the faster V3 charger, but you can’t bank on finding these when you need one most. With gas stations, you can at least get some kind of gas and fill up the tank in minutes. With a Tesla, you could be sitting at a charging station for hours waiting to get to 50%.

Around 60 minute charge times sound great for the Model 3, but only when the infrastructure is there to support it. Currently, the V3 chargers are still not the norm.

What does all of the above mean for distance driving? It means that for long distance road trips while in a Tesla, you’ll need to not only plan each charger stop carefully, you’ll need spend time locating the fastest chargers you can find. This allows you to calculate the amount of time it requires to charge your car to 100% at that charger. If you don’t properly plan for where and how long, you could spend way more time at places than you think.

Run out of charge in the middle of nowhere? With services like triple-A, you won’t find them coming to top up your charge. Oh, no. They’ll come grab your prized Tesla, place it on a flatbed and then you’ll be riding in that tow truck to the nearest charge station… which could be hundreds of miles and one very large tow cost away. Once you get there, you’ll be sitting waiting for the charge to complete… and/or attempting to find a motel. Costly. Even with Tesla’s included roadside assistance, don’t expect miracles and you may even be required to pay for that tow.

If you had been driving a hybrid, triple-A could have given you a few gallons to get you to the nearest station to fill up… and then you’d have been on your way quickly.

What are the charge costs?

Honestly, if you have to ask this question, then a Tesla is probably not the right car to buy. However, for the curious, it’s still worth a deeper dive. Unlike gasoline prices which are clearly and conspicuously visible with large price signs towering high above the gas station, neither Superchargers nor standard electric chargers give you this visibility.

In fact, to find out what it will cost to charge your vehicle, you’ll have to visit the recharger and begin poking your way through the touch screen. There are some apps and web sites you can pick a charger location and review its then electric rate, but you might not want to bank on that if you’re planning a trip. Instead, because electric prices can vary dramatically during seasons and demand, you’ll need to check the pricing just before you reach the charger or, better, directly on the charger when you reach it.

Unlike gas stations which allow you to shop around for the best price, chargers don’t really offer that convenience. You pay what you pay.

For a Supercharger, the prices are based on how the energy is doled out to your car. The two methods are kilowatts or kilowatt-hours. Whichever rate system you choose, the energy will work out to the same cost in the end.

If you choose to charge per minute, it is $0.26 per minute above 60 kW. Under 60 kW, it is only $0.13. If you charge by kWh, it is $0.28 per kWh drawn from the charger.

https://www.motorbiscuit.com/how-much-does-it-cost-tesla-supercharger/

In case you’re wondering… No, it is not free to charge up your Tesla. However, Tesla does sometimes offer free limited time charging incentives at Superchargers when attempting to up quarter sales. You’ll need to discuss these kinds of incentives with Tesla before you sign on the dotted line.

Superchargers and Battery Wear

Battery technologies are finicky. It’s well known that the faster you charge a battery, the faster it wears out. Yes, this goes for Tesla car batteries. What that means is that while visiting a V3 Supercharger is convenient for topping up your battery quickly, it’s not so great on the battery itself. The more you visit these fast charge ports, the quicker your car battery may need to be replaced. This means you should temper your exuberance for fast chargers and utilize much slower overnight charging whenever possible.

How much is a replacement battery pack? Well, let’s hope you bought the extended warranty because here’s where things get really pricey. Obviously, under warranty, there will be no cost. If the warranty has expired or if you have bought a used Tesla without a warranty, you’re on your own. The cost to replace a battery pack can range from $3,000 to over $13,000 sans labor. If you’re considering buying a used Tesla, you should confirm if any existing warranty is transferable to the new owner and confirm how much is left. You shouldn’t confirm this with the seller as they can tell you anything. Instead, confirm this information with Tesla directly by calling and asking.

If no warranty is available, you should contact a third party warranty company (i.e., CarShield) and discuss whether the battery is a covered part under that warranty before you buy the car. Being required to spend $16,000 after buying a used Tesla (or any electric car) is not really a pleasant surprise. You’ll want to make sure you can acquire some kind of warranty that covers that battery part as soon as you buy that Tesla.

Commuter Vehicle

Let’s discuss a situation where Tesla does function decently enough. A Tesla is a reasonable, if not somewhat costly commuter vehicle. It’s great to get around town, drive to work, run errands, pick up the kids and take them to soccer practice. For long distance driving, owning a Tesla is unnecessarily more complicated, particularly if you choose to tour remote areas of the country without access to charge stations. All of this complication can be easily avoided by choosing a gas vehicle or a gas hybrid. As a commuter vehicle, a Tesla is an okay choice. However, I’d suggest there are plenty of other vehicles, gas, hybrid and even hybrid / electric, that suffice for commuting. Many of these choices are not nearly as costly as the purchase of a Tesla. But, of course, you won’t get all of the Tesla niceties with those other vehicles.

A Green Company?

With the recent trend toward companies seeking to being green and offering green technologies, it’s funny (odd) that Tesla chose not to be very green. There are a number of problems that prevent Tesla from being a green all around company. By green, let me define that.

I know, you might thinking, “How can an all-electric vehicle not be green?” Bear with me.

A Green company is a company that implements processes to reduce waste, to offer more compostable materials in packaging and implement processes to reduce its own waste and offer designs which help reduce carbon emissions and other environmental pollutants. Apple is a good example of this. Apple moved from using plastic packaging materials to paper materials which compost more fully. Though, even Apple isn’t all that green considering the eWaste afforded by Apple’s insistence at replacing iPhones every single year.

One might further think, “Well, isn’t Tesla green by using batteries instead of gasoline?” You would think that would be true, wouldn’t you? Let’s examine.

What about those Li-On batteries? The secret involving these batteries is that to manufacture that one battery, it produces 74% more emissions than a standard car does. Once the battery is manufactured, the consumption of greenhouse gasses drops to zero for that specific battery, but the manufacturing of each battery is very dirty. I guess Tesla car buyers don’t really care much about how much of a carbon footprint was required to build that luxury Tesla? It gets worse.

Power Grids derive most of their energy from fossil fuel sources. Up to a max 20% of all grid energy generated is from clean renewables such as Solar, Wind and Water. Nuclear energy further makes up another 20%. The remaining ~60% is still generated from fossil fuel sources including coal, natural gas and burning petroleum products. That means that every time you plug your Tesla into a grid charger, at least 60% of that energy consumed is contributing to greenhouse gasses.

Your Tesla doesn’t have a tailpipe, but it grows one while your Tesla is charging from the grid.

Tesla and the Power Grid

With both California and Texas now experiencing regular power problems due to various politically motivated reasons, it is also becoming obvious that the aging United States power grid infrastructure is in need of a major overhaul. For every plug-in electric car sold (not just Tesla), this puts another car onto the grid to suck even more energy. As more and more all electric cars are manufactured and sold, that only means even more added load to that aging power grid. Tesla is a heavy contributor to this problem due to its much faster (denser) powered requirements for fast charging.

At some tipping point, there will be too many cars charging for the grid to handle. The formerly off-peak hours in the wee morning hours will become the peak hours because that’s when all of the cars will be charging. Eventually, all of these charging electric cars will be drawing more current than homes draw in the middle of the day. This will be compounded by Tesla’s ever more ravenous need to speed charging up. Right now, the V3 chargers pull 250 kW. The V4 chargers will likely want to pull 500kW. V5 chargers maybe 1000kW?

When will this need-for-speed end? This is the same problem that Internet Services faced in the early 2000s. The infrastructure wasn’t designed for 10GB to every home. It still isn’t. That’s why broadband services still don’t offer 10GB home speeds. They barely offer 1GB.. and even if you do buy such a link, they don’t guarantee those speeds (read the fine print).

The point is that the more data that can be pulled in an ever shorter amount of time, the more problems it causes for the ISP over that very short time. The same for energy generation. The more energy consumed over an ever shorter amount of time, the more energy that must be generated to keep up with that load. There is a tipping point where energy generators won’t be able to keep up.

Is Tesla working with the energy generation companies? Highly unlikely. Tesla is most likely designing in a bubble of their own making. Tesla’s engineers assume that energy generation is a problem that the electric companies need to solve. Yet, energy generation has finite limits. Limits that, once reached, cannot be exceeded without expensive additional capacity… capacity that the energy companies must pay to build, not Tesla. Capacity that takes time to build and won’t come online quickly (read years). Capacity costs that will be handed down to consumers in the form of even more rate increases. Yes, all of those Tesla vehicles consuming energy will end up being the source of higher energy rate increases. Thanks, Elon!

It’s highly unlikely that Tesla knows exactly where those energy generation limits are and they probably don’t want to know. It’s also the reason many recharge stations limit power consumption draw current to around 6-10 kW max. Those limits are intentional and are likely not to be lifted any time soon. If Tesla can manage to get even a handful of V3 Superchargers set up around the United States, I’d be surprised. Even then, these rechargers may be artificially limited to significantly less than the 250 kW required for that 60 minute rapid charge in a Model 3. Power companies may simply not be able to provide that charge rate for perhaps hundreds or thousands of rechargers.

Hope meets Reality

The difficulty is that Tesla intends to build these ever faster rechargers, but then may not be able to actually get them functional in the wild due to the overly rapid amount of energy they can consume. This is where reality meets design… all for Tesla to attempt to get close to the 5-8 minutes it takes to fill up a tank of gas. Yes, let’s completely stress our aging power grid infrastructure to the breaking point all for the sake of trying to charge a bunch of Teslas in 5 minutes? Smart. /s

Instead of producing ever faster and faster rechargers, Tesla should be researching and innovating better battery technologies to reduce power consumption and improve driving distance through those improved batteries. How about hiring battery engineers to solve this difficult problem rather than taking the easy route by simply sucking down ever more energy faster from an already overloaded power grid?

With better batteries, instead of Tesla contributing to the problem of global warming by forcing ever more energy generation faster, they could be innovating to reduce this dilemma by making more efficient and faster charging batteries using lower power consumption rates. Building better and more efficient batteries? That’s innovation. Faster recharging by overburdening infrastructure? That’s callous and reckless… all in the name of capitalism. I guess as long as Tesla can make its sales numbers and Wall Street remains happy, it doesn’t matter how non-green Tesla really is.

Pollution

One thing I’ve not yet fully discussed is, you guessed it, pollution. This aspect is part of being a green company. Yet, instead of trying to make Teslas charge faster and drive farther by innovating improved battery technologies, Tesla builds the low-hanging fruit of faster 250 kW rechargers to improve the speed of battery charging by consuming ever more grid energy faster.

Let’s understand the ramification of this. The faster the batteries charge, the more power must be generated at that point in time to handle the load. The more power generated, the more concentration of pollutants that go into the air to support that generation. That doesn’t say ‘green company’. It says callous, reckless, careless, dirty company in it for the money, not for helping the planet.

Overtaxing the power grid is a recipe for disaster, if only from a climate change perspective. There are plenty of other ways to look at this, but this one is the biggest problem against what Tesla is doing. It’s also, again not innovative. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Renewables

Energy sources like Wind, Solar and Water are great generation alternatives. But, they’re not always feasible. Texas is a very good example of how these renewables can fail. The mass array of Wind Turbines in North Texas and the panhandle were found to be easily damaged by both freezing temperatures and excessive winds. Clearly, these expensive turbines need to be weather proofed and managed accordingly.

For example, to avoid the freezing conditions, the motors needed heaters to keep them from freezing up. It’s not like some of the energy generated from these turbines couldn’t be used and stored locally to keep heaters operating. Additionally, high wind detectors could move the blades into a neutral position so there’s less of a chance of high wind damage. Because Texas apparently didn’t implement either of these two mitigation strategies, that left a large amount of these wind turbines damaged and out of commission. This fact meant the Texas power grid was unable to serve the entire state enough energy… thus, blackouts.

Solar, on the other hand, requires a large amount of land to “farm.” What that means is that land needs to be allocated to set up large amounts of solar panel arrays. Last time I looked, land wasn’t cheap and neither are those solar panels. This means a high amount of expense to draw in solar energy.

Unlike wind, which can potentially blow 24 by 7, if you can get 5-6 hours of solid sunlight in a day, that’s the best you can hope for. This means that a solar panel can only capture a fraction of the amount of energy that a 24 / 7 wind turbine can continuously capture and provide.

Water energy can also be harnessed, but only using large dam systems. This means, once again, specific land and water requirements. For example, the Hoover dam provides about 458,333 kW continuous, which is enough continuous power to operate around 1,559 V3 Superchargers concurrently, taking into account a 15% power loss due to transmission lines and transformers. This also assumes that dam’s power is dedicated to that purpose alone. Hint: it isn’t. Only a fraction of that power would be allowed to be used for that purpose, which means far fewer Superchargers. That power is also combined with other power generation types, which makes up the full power grid supply.

The point here is that renewables, while great at capturing limited amounts of energy, are not yet ready to take over for fossil fuel energy generation. In fact, the lion’s share of energy generation is still produced by burning coal, natural gas and petroleum… all of which significantly impact and pollute the environment.

Dangerous

One thing I’ve not yet discussed is the dangers of owning an electric vehicle. One danger that might not seem apparent is its battery. These lithium-ion batteries can become severe fire hazards once breached. If that Tesla lands in an accident and the battery ruptures, it’s almost assured to turn into a Car-B-Cue. If you’re pinned in the vehicle during that Car-B-Cue, it could turn out horrific. Lithium-ion fires are incredibly dangerous. Though, while gasoline is also highly flammable, a gas tank is much less likely to rupture and catch fire in an accident.

Innovation Circle

To come full circle, it’s now much easier to understand why Tesla is less an innovative car company and more of a sales and marketing gimmick. After all, you could buy plenty of other luxury car brands offering sometimes better bells and whistles. Luxury car brands have been around for years. Tesla is relatively new car company, having started in 2008. It’s just that Tesla has built its brand based on it having “sexy” technology that other brands didn’t have, but have since acquired.

Both gas and hybrid vehicles offer better distance and more readily accessible infrastructure to get you back onto the road when low on fuel. It is this feature that is still a primary motivator for most car buyers. Trying to finagle where and how to charge an electric vehicle can be a real challenge, particularly if you live in a condo or apartment and not a home. It’s worse if you choose to live in the boonies.

Where does Tesla stand?

The question remains, what does a Tesla vehicle do well? As a short distance commuter car, it’s perfectly fine for that purpose. It’s a bit pricey for that use case, but it functions fine. The convenience of being able to plug it in when you get home is appealing, assuming you have a recharge port installed at home. If you are forced to leave it in a random parking lot to charge overnight, that’s not so convenient. How do you get home from there? Walk? Uber? It kinda defeats the purpose of owning an expensive Tesla.

When purchasing a Tesla, you have to consider these dilemmas. What’s the problem with living in a condo or apartment? Many complexes have no intention of setting up rechargers, thus this forces you to leave your car at a parking lot charger perhaps blocks away. If the complex offers garages with 110v circuits, you can use these to charge, but extremely slowly. This means that to own a Tesla, certain things need to line up perfectly to make owning a Tesla convenient. Otherwise, it’s an expensive hassle.

Innovation isn’t just about the product itself, it’s how the product gets used in a wide array of use cases. If the product’s design fails to account for even basic ownership cases, the design wasn’t innovative enough. That’s where the Tesla sits today. That’s why Tesla is still considered niche car and is not generally useful across-the-board.

Calling Tesla and, by extension, Elon, innovative gives that company and Elon way too much credit. Elon’s claim to fame is that he picked a business that happened to receive a lightning strike. This is mostly because he’s an excellent sales person. Some people can sell pretty much anything they are handed. Elon is one of those people. While he’s an excellent salesman, he’s not so much of an excellent innovator. Slapping together a bunch of existing off-the-shelf technologies shouldn’t be considered innovative, particularly when you forget to take into account too many ownership cases where the final product is inconvenient to own and operate.

Home Use

The kind of buyer who can afford to buy into a Tesla is typically affluent enough to afford a home. For these people, more convenience is afforded owning a Tesla. Not only can you spend the money to install a home charging port that charges at whatever rate you can afford, homeowners can choose to park and charge their vehicles at will. This is important to understand.

Homeowners with acreage, can also choose to set up such renewable energy sources as wind turbines and solar panels. These energy generation systems can offset some of the power consumed while charging up an electric vehicle.

About renewables, one residential based wind turbine may produce a maximum of 10 kW of energy during optimal conditions. That’s about the same amount of energy provided by most third-party non-Tesla recharge ports found on parking lots. While it may take 60 minutes to charge a Model 3 using a V3 250 kW recharge port, at 10 kw or 4% of that 250 kW charge rate, it would take many hours to charge. In fact, at that much slower recharge rate, it might take 8-16 hours to fully charge.

To offset that, you would need to buy and install multiple wind turbines to increase the energy generated. Wind turbines are not at all cheap to buy or erect. Having enough land to line them up may be even more of a problem. In other words, you’d probably spend way more than the cost of your Tesla just to build enough infrastructure to support charging that car in anything close to timely. Is it worth it? Depends on the person.

To even approach the 250 kW level of charge rate, you have to rely on the power grid or install a diesel or natural gas generator. However, installing a fossil fuel generator is no better or cheaper than using the power grid.

As I said above, a Tesla grows a tailpipe the moment it begins recharging from fossil fuel sources.

Is a Tesla vehicle worth it?

As a car for car’s sake, it’s fine. It does its job well. It’ll get you from place to place. It has all of the standard amenities needed, such as heating and air conditioning and it keeps you out of the rain. It has luxury bells and whistles also, such as the touch screen panel and assisted driving.

Everyone must decide for themselves what they consider whether a product is “worth it”. Owning specific cars is mostly a subjective experience. Does it feel right when sitting in the driver’s seat? Is it comfortable? Can you see easily out of the windows? Do the mirrors offer safe views all around the vehicle? As a driver, only you can sit in a car an decide if the car is the correct fit for you and your family.

I’ve personally sat in cars that while they appeared roomy from the outside, caused my knees to bang up against the dash or door frame or other areas upon entry, exit or while driving. It’s no fun exiting a vehicle to scraped knees or banged up shins.

Car buying is an experience that can only be described as trying to find a glove that fits. Once you find the right glove, the deal is done. I would never buy a car based on brand alone. I buy cars that fit all manner of criteria, including comfort, budget, safety, warranty, reviews and cost for maintenance. Nothing’s worse than taking your car to the dealer only to be slapped with a $1000 fee each and every time.

I’m not saying that owning a Tesla isn’t “worth it”. It may well be “worth it” for specific reasons. It’s just that the one reason to own a Tesla should not be innovation. The car truly offers few innovative features. Another reason is its alleged zero carbon footprint. Yes, it has a zero carbon footprint as long as you never charge it. Can’t do that and have a functional car. As soon as it begins charging from the power grid, the car is no greener than a gas powered car. Because a Tesla must charge for hours at slower recharge rates, that’s way longer than most 2-4 hour daily commutes to and from work in a gas powered vehicle.

Simply because you don’t see the pollution going into the air out of your car doesn’t mean it’s not happening while that car sits in your garage charging.

Product Innovation

As I said above, you shouldn’t buy a Tesla because you think it’s innovative. It’s not. However, it goes beyond this. I don’t think I’ve ever purchased a car because it was “innovative.” I choose cars based on other more important criteria, such as gas mileage, comfort, warranty, performance, ease of maintenance and other functional criteria. This typically means I’m also not brand loyal. I find the car that fits what I need in the budget that I can afford. That could be a Ford, Chevy, Toyota or whatever car that works best. Every model year yields new cars that offer different features.

Tesla believes that they can craft a brand like Apple, with brand loyal fans also like Apple. Apple is a unique beast. Their brand loyalty goes very, very deep. These brand loyal folks will buy whatever Apple releases, regardless of whether it’s the best value. Likewise, Tesla hopes to build their company based on this same type of year-over-year brand loyalty. Except there’s one problem: who buys a new car every year?

However, Tesla has not proven itself to be an innovative car company. They can make cars, true enough. But, are those cars truly innovative? Not really. Even Apple’s product innovation has come to a standstill. The latest iPad, for example, removed the TouchID home button in favor of FaceID simply to remove the home button from the bezel. So then, along comes COVID-19 and thwarts FaceID by wearing a simple mask. TouchID is a better COVID alternative because you don’t need to cover your fingertips. FaceID seems like a great idea until it isn’t.

Tesla needs to consider more breakthrough innovation and less incremental innovation. Hire people with the chops to build superior battery technology. Hire people who can design and build more efficient drive motors. Hire people to figure out how to embed solar panels into the paint so you can have both an aesthetically pleasing paint job and charge your car while sitting or driving in the sun.

There are plenty of ways to recapture small amounts of energy, such as wind, solar and regenerative braking to extend the driving distance. These don’t need to fully charge the battery, but instead are used to extend the charge of the battery and add distance. Heck, why not install a simple generator that uses gasoline, propane or even natural gas? This generator doesn’t need to charge the battery to 100%. Again, it is simply used to extend the range to get more miles from the car. These are just a few simple, but profound improvement ideas. There are plenty more ideas that can be explored to make the Tesla cars, not just technologically luxurious, but truly innovative.

These more breakthrough innovative designs are missing from the Tesla. These are ideas that would make a Tesla car much more functional in all areas of driving, not simply commute driving. In fact, I’d like to see Tesla build a gasoline powered vehicle. Stop relying on electric and take the dive into building cars based on all fuel types. Does Cadillac keep its car line artificially limited to one type of motor? No. How about Bentley? How about Porsche or Lamborghini? No. These car companies innovate by not artificially constraining themselves to a single type of technology. This gives those car companies an edge that allows them to install whatever technology is best for a specific model vehicle. That Tesla is artificially constraining itself to electric only is a questionable, self-limiting business decision.

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Is Google running a Racket?

Posted in botch, business, california, corruption, Uncategorized by commorancy on March 16, 2020

monopoly-1920In the 1930s, we had crime syndicates that would shake down small business owners for protection money. This became known as a “Racket”. These mob bosses would use coercion and extortion to ensure that these syndicates got their money. It seems that Google is now performing actions similar with AMP. Let’s explore.

AMP

AMP is an acronym that stands for Accelerated Mobile Pages. To be honest, this technology is only “accelerated” because it strips out much of what makes HTML pages look good and function well. The HTML technology that make a web page function are also what make it usable. When you strip out the majority of that usability, what you are left with is a stripped down protocol named AMP… which should stand for Antiquated Markup Protocol.

This “new” (ahem) technology was birthed by Google in 2016. It claims to be an open source project and also an “open standard”, but the vast majority of the developers creating this (ahem) “standard” are Google employees. Yeah… so what does this say about AMP?

AMP as a technology is fine if it were allowed to stand on its own merit. Unfortunately, Google is playing hardball to get AMP adopted.

Hardball

Google seems to feel that everyone needs to adopt and support AMP. To that end, Google has created a racket. Yes, an old-fashioned mob racket.

To ensure that AMP becomes adopted, Google requires web site owners to create, design and manage “properly formatted” AMP pages or face having their entire web site rankings be lost within Google’s Search.

In effect, Google is coercing web site owners into creating AMP versions of their web sites or effectively face extortion by being delisted from Google Search. Yeah, that’s hardball guys.

It also may be very illegal under RICO laws. While no money is being transferred to Google (at least not explicitly), this action has the same effect. Basically, if as a web site owner, you don’t keep up with your AMP pages, Google will remove your web site from the search engine, thus forcing you to comply with AMP to reinstate the listing.

Google Search as Leverage

If Google Search were say 15% or less of the search market, I might not even make a big deal out of this. However, because Google’s Search holds around 90% of the search market (an effective monopoly), it can make or break a business by reducing site traffic because of low ranking. By Google reducing search rankings, this is much the same as handing Google protection money… and, yes, this is still very much a racket. While rackets have been traditionally about collecting money, Google’s currency isn’t money. Google’s currency is search rankings. Search rankings make or break companies, much the same as paying or not paying mobsters back in the 1930s.

Basically, by Google coercing and extorting web site owners into creating AMP pages, it has effectively joined the ranks of those 1930 mob boss racketeers. Google is now basically racketeering.

Technology for Technology’s Sake

I’m fine when a technology is created, then released and let land where it may. If it’s adopted by people, great. If it isn’t, so be it. However, Google felt the need to force AMP’s adoption by playing the extortion game. Basically, Google is extorting web site owners to force them to support AMP or face consequences. This forces web site owners to adopt creating and maintaining AMP versions of their web pages to not only appease Google, but prevent their entire site from being heavily reduced in search rankings and, by extensions, visitors.

RICO Act

In October of 1970, Richard M. Nixon signs into law the Racketeer and Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act… or RICO for short. This Act makes it illegal for corrupt organizations to coerce and extort people or businesses for personal gains. Yet, here we are in 2020 and that’s exactly what Google is doing with AMP.

It’s not that AMP is a great technology. It may have merit at some point in the future. Unfortunately, we’ll never really know that. Instead of Google following the tried-and-true formula of letting technologies land where they may, someone at Google decided to force web site owners to support AMP … or else. The ‘else’ being the loss of that business’s income stream by being deranked from Google’s Search.

Google Search can make or break a business. By Google extorting businesses into using AMP at the fear of loss of search ranking, that very much runs afoul of RICO. Google gains AMP adoption, yes, but that’s Google’s gain at the site owners loss. “What loss?”, you ask. Site owners are forced to hire staff to learn and understand AMP because the alternative is loss of business. Is Google paying business owners back for this extortion? No.

So, here we are. A business the size of Google wields a lot of power. In fact, it wields around 90% of the Internet’s search power. One might even consider that a monopoly power. Combining a monopoly and extortion together, that very much runs afoul of RICO.

Lawsuit City and Monopolies

Someone needs to bring Google up in front of congress for their actions here. It’s entirely one thing to create a standard and let people adopt it on their own. It’s entirely another matter when you force adoption of that standard on people who have no choice by using your monopoly power against them.

Google has already lost one legal battle with COPPA and YouTube. It certainly seems time that Google needs to lose another legal battle here. Businesses like Google shouldn’t be allowed to use their monopoly power to brute force business owners into complying with Google technology initiatives. In fact, I’d suggest that it may now be time for Google, just like the Bell companies back in the 80s, to be broken up into separate companies so that these monopoly problems can no longer exist at Google.

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What is 35mm film resolution?

Posted in entertainment, film, movies, technologies by commorancy on December 26, 2018

filmstrip-fI’ve seen a number of questions on Quora asking about this topic, likely related to 4K TV resolution. Let’s explore.

Film vs Digital

What is the amount of pixels in a 35mm frame of film? There’s not an exact number of pixels in a single frame of 35mm film stock. You know, that old plasticky stuff you had to develop with chemicals? Yeah, that stuff. However, the number of pixels can be estimated based on the ISO used.

Based on an ISO of 100-200, it is estimated that just shy of 20,000,000 (20 million) pixels make up a single 35mm frame after conversion to digital pixels. When the ISO is increased to allow more light into the aperture, this increases film noise or grain. As grain increases, resolution decreases. At an ISO of 6400, for example, the effective resolution in pixels might drop to less than 10,000,000 (10 million) due to more film grain. It can be even lower than that depending on the type of scene, the brightness of the scene and the various other film factors… including how the film was developed.

If we’re talking about 70mm film stock, then we’re talking about double the effective resolution. This means that a single frame of 70mm film stock would contain (again at ISO 100-200) about 40,000,000 (40 million) digital pixels.

Digital Cinematography

Panavision Millenium DXL2With the advent of digital cinematography, filmmakers can choose from the older Panavision film cameras or they can choose between Panavision‘s or RED‘s digital cameras (and, of course, others). For a filmmaker choosing a digital camera over a film camera, you should understand the important differences in your final film product.

As of this article, RED and Panavision digital cinematography cameras produce a resolution up to 8k (7,680 Γ— 4,320 = 33,177,600 total pixels). While 33 million pixels is greater than the 20 million pixels in 35mm film, it is still less resolution than can be had in 70mm film at 40 million pixels. Red DragonThis means that while digital photography might offer a smoother look than film, it doesn’t necessarily offer better ‘quality’ than film.

Though, using digital cameras to create content is somewhat cheaper because there’s no need to send the footage to a lab to be developed… only to find that the film was defective, scratched or in some way problematic. This means that digital photography is a bit more foolproof as you can immediately preview the filmed product and determine if it needs to be reshot in only a few minutes. With film, you don’t know what you have until it’s developed, which could be a day or two later.

With that said, film’s resolution is based on its inherent film structure. Film resolution can also be higher than that of digital cameras. Film also looks different due to the way the film operates with sprockets and “flipping” in both the camera and projector. Film playback simply has a different look and feel than digital playback.

RED expects to increase its camera resolution to 10k (or higher) in the future. I’m unsure what exact resolution that will entail, but the current UW10k resolution features 10,240 Γ— 4,320 = 44,236,800 pixels. This number of pixels is similar to 70mm film stock in total resolution, but the aspect ratio is not that of a film screen, which typically uses 2.35:1 (Cinemascope widescreen) or 16:9 (TV widescreen) formats. I’d expect that whatever resolution / aspect that RED chooses will still provide a 2.35:1 format and other formats, though it might even support that oddball UW10k aspect with its 10,240 pixels wide view. These new even wider screens are becoming popular, particularly with computers and gaming.

Film Distribution

Even though films created on RED cameras may offer an up to 8k resolution, these films are always down-sampled for both theatrical performance and for home purchasing. For example, the highest resolution you can buy at home is the UltraHD 4K version which offers 3,840 x 2,160 = 8,294,400 pixels. Converting an 8k film into 4k, you lose around 24 million pixels of resolution information from the original film source. This is the same when converting film stock to digital formats.

Digital films projected in theaters typically use theatrical 4K copies, much the same as you can buy on UltraHD 4K discs, just tied to a different licensing system that only theaters use.

Future TV formats

TV resolutions have been going up and up. From 480p to 1080p to 4K and next to 8K. Once we get to 8K in the home, this is the resolution you’ll find natively with most digitally captured films. Though, some early digital films were filmed in 4K. Eventually, we will be able to see digital films in its native resolution. 8K TVs will finally allow home consumers to watch films in their filmed resolution, including both 35mm film and 70mm film stock both as well as many digital only films.

For this reason, I’m anxious to finally see 8K TVs drop in price to what 4K TVs are today (sub $1000). By that time, of course, 4K TVs will be sub $200.

8K Film Distribution

To distribute 8K films to home consumers, we’re likely going to need a new format. UltraHD Blu-ray is likely not big enough to handle the size of the files of 8K films. We’ll either need digital download distribution or we’ll need a brand new, much larger Blu-ray disc. Or, the movie will need to be shipped on two discs in two parts… I always hated switching discs in the middle of a movie. Of course, streaming from services like Netflix is always an option, but even 4K isn’t widely adopted on these streaming platforms as yet.

Seeing in 8K?

Some people claim you can’t see the difference between 1080p and 4K. This is actually an untrue statement. 1080p resolution, particularly on a 55″ or larger TV, is easy to spot the pixels from a distance… well, not exactly the pixels themselves, but the rows and columns of pixels (pixel grid) that make up the screen. With 4K resolution, the pixels are so much smaller, it’s almost impossible to see this grid unless you are within inches of the screen. This makes viewing films in 4K much more enjoyable.

With 8K films, the filmed actors and environments will be so stunningly detailed as to be astounding. We’ll finally get to see all of that detail that gets lost when films are down-converted to 4K from 8K. We’ll also get to see pretty much what came out of the camera rather than being re-encoded.

Can humans see 8K? Sure, just like you can see the difference between 1080p and 4K, you will be able to see a difference in quality and detail between 4K and 8K. It might be a subtle difference, but it will be there and people will be able to see it. Perhaps not everyone will notice it or care enough to notice, but it will be there.

Film vs Digital Differences

The difference between film and digital photography is in how the light is captured and stored. For film, the camera exposes the film to light which is then developed to show what was captured. With digital photography, CMOS (Complimentary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) or possibly CCDs (Charge Coupled Devices) are used to capture imagery. Most cameras today opt for CMOS sensors because they’re less expensive to buy and provide equivalent quality to the CCD sensors. For this reason, this is why RED has chosen CMOS as the sensor technology of choice for their cameras. Though, RED cameras are in no way inexpensive, starting at around $20k and going up from there.

Overall

In concluding this article, I will say that 4K is definitely sufficient for most movie watching needs today. However, Internet speeds will need to improve substantially to offer the best 8K viewing experience when streaming. Even Netflix and Amazon don’t currently provide even an amazing 4K experience as yet. In fact, Netflix’s 4K offerings are few and far between. When you do find a film in 4K, it takes forever for Netflix to begin streaming this 4K content to the TV. Netflix first starts out streaming at 480p (or less), then gradually increases the stream rate until the movie is finally running at 4K. It can take between 5-10 minutes before you actually get a 2160p picture. Even then, the resolution can drop back down in the middle and take minutes before it resumes 4K.

Today, 4K streaming is still more or less haphazard and doesn’t work that well. That’s partly due to Netflix and partly due to the Internet. The streaming rate at which 4K content requires to achieve a consistent quality picture can really only be had from Blu-ray players or by downloading the content to your computer in advance and playing it from your hard drive. Streaming services offering 4K content still have many hurdles to overcome to produce high quality consistent 4K viewing experiences.

For this reason, 8K streaming content is still many, many years away. Considering that 4K barely works today, 8K isn’t likely to work at all without much faster Internet speeds to the home.

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Randocity Tech Holiday Shopping Guide

Posted in giving, holiday, video game by commorancy on November 23, 2018

GiftBoxIn the spirit of the upcoming holidays, I offer the Randocity Tech Holiday Shopping Guide otherwise known as the How-to-avoid-technology-pitfalls Guide. Let’s explore.

Purpose

The purpose of this guide is two-fold. First, it’s designed to help you choose various electronics and video game gifts. Second, it’s design to keep you from falling into pitfalls with said gift purchases, to help minimize returns / exchanges by selecting an incompatible item and to help avoid making you look like you don’t know what you’re buying.

Let’s get started…

Xbox One Wired Microphone + Headset

Here’s one gift where you might think it would be easy to locate a functional item. Thanks to Microsoft, you would be incorrect.

πŸ›‘ Pitfall: Even though the Xbox One does have a 3.5mm jack on the controller, it only accepts certain compatible chat headphone accessories. If you’re planning on buying a chat headset for someone with an Xbox One, you should check the box for the words Universal, Xbox One and/or Samsung / Android compatibility. The problem… The Xbox One is only compatible with headsets wired for use on Samsung / Android devices or devices specifically labeled compatible with the Xbox one.

πŸ‘Ž This means you cannot buy any Apple compatible headphones with a 3.5mm jack and have the microphone work. The stereo output will work, but the microphone will not. If you’re unsure of the compatibility of the headset, ask the store, search the manufacturer’s web site or find another brand.

βœ… Instead, look for and purchase wired headsets that list Samsung, Android, Xbox One or Universal on the box only.

πŸ”₯ Note that it is getting more difficult to find boxes labeled for Android or Samsung as most Android devices understand this incompatibility and have built their latest devices to support either headphone type. This has caused more confusion rather than helping solve the problem.

πŸ‘ Gaming headsets change yearly and offering a specific recommendation means this advice will be out of date by this time next year. I will say, Turtle Beach quality isn’t great so steer clear of this brand. If you stick with Sony branded headsets for the PS4, you should be good there. Microsoft doesn’t make high quality headsets, so you’ll have to buy from third parties for the Xbox One. I personally have a Plantronics RIG 500 Pro HC and can recommend this as a good basic quality headset. The fidelity is decent, but not perfect. Some reviewers of this headset have complained of the microphone breaking quickly.

PS4 or Xbox One Wireless Chat Headsets

Here’s another gift idea like the above, but it too has a big pitfall. I’ll break it out by console version.

πŸ›‘PS4 Pitfall: While the PS4 does have Bluetooth capabilities, it doesn’t support the AVRCP or A2DP profiles. Instead, the PS4 only supports the HSP (HeadSet Profile). This profile is a lesser used profile throughout the industry and it doesn’t support the same quality stereo output as AVRCP and A2DP. For this reason, you can’t go and buy just any Bluetooth chat headset and assume it will work. For example, the Apple Airpods do not work on the PS4. Randocity recommends not even looking at Bluetooth headphones for the PS4 as greater than 97% of them won’t work.

βœ… Instead, you’ll need to buy headphones specifically designed for the PS4, and these typically come with a dongle for Wireless. For example, Sony’s Gold Wireless headphones. There are other brands from which to choose, but be sure that the box is labeled with either PS4 or Universal console compatibility.

πŸ›‘Xbox One Pitfall: The Xbox One doesn’t support Bluetooth at all. This makes it a little bit easier when gift shopping in that you can entirely avoid looking at Bluetooth headphones at all.

βœ… Instead, you’ll want to look for wireless chat headphone boxes that have either Universal and/or Xbox One printed on it. As long as you make sure to look for this printing on the box, then this headphone will work.

πŸ”₯ Many places don’t allow you to listen to a gaming headset’s sound quality. You’ll have to buy the headset untried. Whether any specific headphone sounds good, that’s a personal preference. You can’t take into account your gift recipient’s personal tastes in how they like their headphones to sound. However, if you avoid buying headphones priced below $40, the headphones should provide fair to good sound quality. Below the $100 price point, don’t expect those deep rich bass drivers, though. Though, headphone drivers have drastically improved in recent years and the sub $100 price point tends to be much better quality than what you would have found in the early 00s and 90s.

πŸ‘ Randocity recommends a visit your local Best Buy or Gamestop or even Amazon and see which wireless gaming headphones are on sale. I might suggest a gift card which avoids the situation and lets the gamer pick their own brand.

Video Game Controller for iPad or iPhone

Here’s another area that would seem easy, but it isn’t. Apple requires a specific hardware certification for all game controllers called MFi. This makes it a little more tricky to find a controller that works.

πŸ›‘ Pitfall: There are many game controllers on the market including Microsoft’s Xbox One controller, PlayStation 4’s DualShock controller and even Nintendo’s Pro controller. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can get these to work. Even though all of the aforementioned controllers are Bluetooth, that doesn’t mean they’ll work on the iPad. None of them have the MFi certification. Avoid buying one of these “other” controllers as you cannot get it to work.

βœ… Instead, look for and buy only MFi certified controllers, such as the SteelSeries Nimbus controller. Not only does this controller charge using a Lightning cable, it is fully compatible with all Apple devices including the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and even MacOS.

πŸ‘ Randocity recommends the SteelSeries Nimbus controller for Apple devices as it feels the most like a PS4 or Xbox Controller.

Newest iPad and Headphones

With the introduction of the latest iPad using USB-C, this throws yet another dilemma into the works for gift purchasing. This problem also underscores why Apple should never have removed the headphone jack from its devices.

πŸ›‘ Pitfall: With the introduction of the current home-buttonless iPad, you’ll also find the unwelcome surprise of a USB-C charging port. This means that any Apple headphones (other than the Airpods) won’t work on this newest iPad. To use either a pair of Lightning or 3.5mm jack headphones, you’ll need an adapter.

βœ… Instead, pick up a pair of Bluetooth headphones which will remain compatible with all Apple devices going forward.

πŸ”₯ Apple insists on changing its port standards regularly. As a result, you should not buy into any specialty jack wired Apple headphones. If you want to buy any wired headphones, buy the 3.5mm jack version and eventually Apple will create an adapter to its newest port. Since every other device on the planet still supports a 3.5mm jack, you can use these headphones on every other device. Buying Lightning or USB-C headphones means you’ll be extremely limited on where those can be used… and when Apple decides to change its port again, those USB-C or Lightning headphones will be useless.

πŸ‘ Randocity recommends gifting Apple Airpods for Apple devices. Not only do they sound great, they’re easy to use (mostly) and they’ll remain compatible with future Apple devices… unless, of course, Bluetooth is replaced with a wireless protocol of Apple’s design. The Bluetooth Airpods are also fully compatible with many other Bluetooth devices, including the Amazon Echo. Skip the wires, the hassle and the expensive dongles and go wireless with Apple devices.

DVD, Blu-ray and UltraHD 4K Blu-ray

I find it funny that we still have so many optical disc entertainment formats. DVD as a format was introduced in the late 90s and has survived for so many years. Yet, we also now have Blu-ray and UltraHD Blu-ray.

πŸ›‘ Pitfall: Be sure to read the disk case carefully. Even though DVD is typically sold in a different sized case, packaging standards in movie entertainment are loose at best. Be sure to read the package carefully so you are getting the disc you think you are getting. For example, both UltraHD 4K Blu-ray case packages and DVD use black plastic cases. If you’re eyeing the case strictly by color, you could accidentally pick up an UltraHD version of the movie when you wanted the DVD version.

βœ… Choose the best format that can be played by your gift receiver’s equipment.

πŸ”₯ During the Holiday season, particularly on Black Friday weekend, you’ll find all sorts of content on Doorbusters. Take advantage, but be careful to read the packaging. You don’t want your gift receiver to be surprised that you bough them a Blu-ray when they only have DVD or that you bought them an UltraHD 4K Blu-ray when they only have Blu-ray. Be a careful shopper and read the box and also know what your gift receiver has.

It’s likewise just as bad if you buy a DVD for someone who has an UltraHD 4K TV and Blu-ray player. They won’t want to watch your DVD and will return it for credit towards something else.

Additionally, if you give a DVD or Blu-ray, you may find that they have access to Amazon Prime, Hulu or Netflix. They might already have access to the film or have already watched. So, be cautious.

πŸ‘ I’d recommend a gift card intended towards the purchase of a movie. This allows the recipient to buy whatever film they want in whatever format they have. Though, you’ll want to go look up the film and determine its price, then give a gift card that covers that purchase price.

Video Games

Here’s another one you might think can be an easy gift. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

πŸ›‘ Pitfall: Video games are very much personal to the gamer. Because there are so many genres and types of games, it can be impossible to choose a game that not only does the gamer not already have, but impossible to choose a game they might actually like.

βœ… Instead, because most games are $60, you’ll be safe to give a gift card in the amount of $60 to cover the purchase of the game.

πŸ”₯ If your recipient is an adult, the purchase of any game shouldn’t be a problem. However, if your recipient is a minor, then you’ll want to give a gift card to avoid any ESRB rating or content issues that a parent might not want within the game. Avoid becoming “that aunt” or “that uncle” by buying an inappropriate game for a minor. Because video games are a personal taste situation, buying any game blind could end up with a return. I do realize that gift cards are an impersonal gift, but in some situations like video games, it is well worth it to play it safe.

πŸ‘ Randocity recommends buying gift cards over buying physical game copies, particularly for minors. If you happen to have a specific game request by the receiver and the parent has approved the game, then by all means buy it. If you’re simply shopping blind, then a gift card is Randocity’s recommendation to avoid this pitfall.

Giving the Gift of Music

Here’s another one that should be easy, but it isn’t. If you’re thinking of buying CDs for your tech savvy friend, you might want to ask some questions first.

πŸ›‘ Pitfall: Because of music services like Apple Music and Amazon Unlimited where you get access to nearly Amazon and Apple’s full music catalog, subscribers no longer need to buy CDs. As long as they remain subscribers of these music services, they now have instant access to the most recent music the day of its release.

βœ… Instead, it might be wise to avoid this type of content purchase, particularly if you know the person is affluent and a music buff.

πŸ”₯ Be careful and ask questions if you’re thinking of gifting a CD. If they have access to Apple Music, Spotify or Amazon Unlimited, buying them a CD may result in a return.

πŸ‘ Randocity recommends giving gift cards to iTunes or Amazon instead of buying a specific CD. If you give a gift card, they can apply the amount towards their membership or whatever other merchandise or music they wish. This avoids the awkward look you might get once you find out they already subscribe to Apple Music.

Giving the Gift of an Apple Watch

Thinking of giving someone an Apple Watch for the the holidays? You need to understand the pitfall here.

πŸ›‘ Pitfall: An Apple Watch is entirely dependent on an iPhone to function. In order to even get the Apple Watch setup and working as a watch, it must be configured using an iPhone. Further, because the Apple watch only pairs with an iPhone, don’t give it to someone who only has an iPad, iPod touch or iPhone 4 or below. It won’t work. It also won’t work for someone who owns an Android phone.

βœ… Instead, if you’re not sure if your gift recipient has an iPhone that will work, I’d suggest getting them a different watch. If the person owns an Android, you’ll want to choose one of the Android watches instead. The Apple Watch doesn’t work at all with Android.

πŸ”₯ If you do decide to chance that they own an iPhone, be sure to give them a gift receipt as they may need to return it if they don’t have one.

πŸ‘Ž Randocity recommends avoiding the purchase of an Apple Watch as a gift, particularly if you know the person doesn’t have an iPhone or has an Android phone. This is a particularly tricky gift item and is likely to end up returned if the person doesn’t have an iPhone. If you know the person doesn’t have an iPhone, then you’ll need to gift them both an iPhone and an Apple Watch… which is a whole lot more expensive of a gift than you might have expected to give. For this reason, I thumbs down πŸ‘Ž giving the Apple Watch as a blind gift. If you are absolutely 100% certain the person you are giving the Apple Watch to has an iPhone, then go for it.

Gift Receipts

πŸ‘ Randocity always recommends asking the store for a gift receipt. Then, include it with any gift you give. This allows the recipient to trade it in should they happen to get two copies of the same item.

Happy Holidays!

β†©οΈŽ

Rant Time: SmugMug and Flickr

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on November 12, 2018

Flickr2While you may or may not be aware, if you’re a Flickr user, you should be. SmugMug bought Flickr and they’re increasing the yearly price by more than double. They’re also changing the free tier. Let’s explore.

Flickr Out

When Flickr came about under Yahoo, it was really the only photo sharing site out there. It had a vibrant community that cared about its users and it offered very good tools. It also offered a Pro service that was reasonably priced.

After Marissa Mayer took over Yahoo, she had the Flickr team redesign the interface, and not for the better. It took on a look and feel that was not only counter-intuitive, it displayed the photos in a jumbled mass that made not only the photos look bad, it made their interface look even worse.

The last time I paid for Pro service, it was for 2 years at $44.95, that’s $22.48 a year. Not a horrible price for what was being offered… a lackluster interface and a crappy display of my photos.

After SmugMug took over, it has done little to improve the interface. In fact, it is still very much the same as it was when it was redesigned and offers little in the way of improvements. We’re talking about a design of a product that started in 2004. In many ways, Flickr still feels like 2004 even with its current offerings.

Status Quo

While Flickr kept their pricing reasonable at about $23 a year, I was okay with that.. particularly with the 2 year billing cycle. I had no incentive to do anything different with the photos I already had in Flickr. I’d let them sit and do whatever they want. In recent months, I hadn’t been adding photos to that site simply because the viewership has gone way, way down. At one point, Flickr was THE goto photo service on the Internet. Today, it’s just a shell of what it once was. With Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest, there’s no real need to use Flickr any longer.

A true Pro photographer can take their work and make money off of it at sites like iStockPhoto, Getty, Alamy and similar stock photo sites. You simply can’t sell your work on Flickr. They just never offered that feature for Pro users. Shit, for the money, Flickr was heavily remiss in not giving way more tools to the Pro users to help them at least make some money off of their work.

Price Increase

SmugMug now owns the Flickr property and has decided to more than double the yearly price. Instead of the once $44.95 every 2 years, now they want us to pay $50 a year for Pro service.

SmugMugFlickr

[RANT ON] So, what the hell SmugMug? What is it that you think you’re offering now that is worth more than double what Yahoo was charging Pro members before you took over Flickr? You’ve bought a 14 year old property. That’s no spring chicken. And you now expect us to shell out an extra $28 a year for an antiquated site? For what? Seriously, FOR WHAT?

We’re just graciously going to give you an extra $28 a year to pay for a 14 year old product? How stupid do you think we are? If you’re going to charge us $28 extra a year, you damned well better give us much better Pro tools and reasons to pay that premium. For example, offer tools that let us charge for and sell our photos as stock photos right through the Flickr interface. You need to provide Pro users with a hell of a lot more service for that extra $28 per year than what you currently offer.

Unlimited GB? Seriously? It already was unlimited. Photos are, in general, small enough not to even worry about size.

Advanced stats? They were already there. It’s not like the stats are useful or anything.

Ad-free browsing? What the hell? How is this even a selling point? It’s definitely not worth an extra $28 per year.

10 minutes worth of video? Who the hell uses Flickr for video? We can’t sell them as stock video! You can’t monetize the videos, so you can’t even make money that way! What other reason is there to use Flickr for video? YouTube still offers nearly unlimited length video sizes AND monetization (if applicable). Where is Flickr in this process? Nowhere.

Flickr is still firmly stuck in 2004 with 2004 ideals and 2004 mentality. There is no way Flickr is worth $50 a year. It’s barely worth $20 a year. [RANT MOSTLY OFF]

New Subscribers and Pro Features

Granted, this is pricing grandfathered from Yahoo. If you have recently joined Flickr as a Pro user, you’re likely paying $50 a year. 50 US dollars per year, I might add that’s entirely not worth it.

Let’s understand what you (don’t) get from Flickr. As a Pro user, you’re likely purchasing into this tier level to get more space and storage. But, what does that do for you other than allowing you to add more photos? Nothing. In fact, you’re paying Flickr for the privilege of letting them advertise on the back of your photo content.

Yes, you read that right. Most people searching Flickr are free tier users. Free tier viewers get ads placed onto their screens, including on your pages of content. You can’t control the ads they see or that your page might appear to endorse a specific product, particularly if the ad is placed near one of your photos. Ads that you might actually be offended by. Ads that make Flickr money, but that Flickr doesn’t trickle back into its paying Pro users. Yes, they’re USING your content to make them money. Money that they wouldn’t have had without your content being there. Think about that for a moment!

Advertising on your Content

Yes, that’s right, you’re actually paying Flickr $50 for the privilege of allowing them to place ads onto your page of content. What do they give you in return? Well, not money to be sure. Yes, they do give you a larger storage limit, but that’s effectively useless. Even the biggest photos don’t take much space… not nearly as much space as a YouTube video. Flickr knows that. SmugMug now hopes the Pro users don’t see the wool being pulled over their eyes. Yet, do you see YouTube charging its channels for the privilege of uploading or storing content? No! In fact, if your channel is big enough, YouTube will even share ad revenue with you. Yahoo, now SmugMug, has never shared any of its ad revenue with its users, let alone Pro users. Bilking… that’s what it is.

On the heels of that problem, Flickr has never offered any method of selling or licensing your photos within Flickr. If ever there wasΒ  ‘Pro’ feature that needed to exist, it would be selling / licensing photos.. like Getty, like iStockPhotos, like Alamy… or even like Deviant Art (where you can sell your photos on canvas or mousepads or even coffee mugs). Instead, what has Flickr done in this area? NOTHING.. other than the highly unpopular and horrible redesign released in 2013 which was entirely cosmetic (and ugly at that)… and which affected all users, not just Pro. Even further, what as SmugMug done for Flickr? Less than nothing… zip, zero, zilch, nada. Other than spending money to acquire Flickr, SmugMug has done nothing with Flickr… and it shows.

Free Tier Accounts

For free tier users, SmugMug has decided to limit the maximum number of uploaded photos to 1000. This is simply a money making ploy. They assume that free tier users will upgrade to Pro simply to keep their more than 1000 photos in the account. Well, I can’t tell you what to do with your account, but I’ve already deleted many photos to reduce my photo count below 1000. I have no intention of paying $50 a year to SmugMug for the “privilege” of monetizing my photos. No, thanks.

If you are a free tier user, know that very soon they will be instituting the 1000 photo limit. This means that you’ll either have to upgrade or delete some of your photos below 1000.

Because the Flickr platform is now far too old to be considered modern, I might even say that it’s on the verge of being obsolete… and because the last upgrade that Marissa had Yahoo perform on Flickr made it look like a giant turd, I’m not willing to pay Flickr / SmugMug $50 a year for that turd any longer. I’ve decided to get off my butt and remove photos, clean up my account and move on. If SmugMug decides to change their free tier further, I’ll simply move many of my photos over to DeviantArt where there are no such silly limits and then delete my Flickr account entirely.

If enough people do this, it will hurt SmugMug bad enough to turn that once vibrant Flickr community into a useless wasteland, which honestly it already is. I believe that outcome will actually become a reality anyway in about 2 years.

SmugMug

This company is aptly named, particularly after this Flickr stunt. They’re definitely smug about their ability bilk users out of their money without delivering any kind of useful new product. It would be entirely one thing if SmugMug had spent 6-12 months and delivered a full features ad revenue system, a stock photo licensing tool and a store-front to sell the photos on shirts, mugs and canvas. With all of these additions, $50 a year might be worth it, particularly if SmugMug helped Flickr users promote and sell their photos.

Without these kinds of useful changes, $50 is just cash without delivering something useful. If all you want to do is park your images, you can do that at Google, at Tumblr, at Pinterest, at Instagram and several other photo sharing sites just like Flickr. You can even park them at Alamy and other sites and make money from your photographic efforts.

Why would you want to park them at Flickr / SmugMug when they only want to use your photos to make money from advertising on a page with your content? It just doesn’t make sense. DeviantArt is actually a better platform and lets you sell your photos on various types of media and in various sizes.

Email Sent to Support

Here’s an email I sent to Flickr’s support team. This email is in response to Margaret who claims they gave us “3 years grace period” for lower grandfathered pricing:

Hi Margaret,

Yes, and that means you’ve had more than ample time to make that $50 a year worth it for Pro subscribers. You haven’t and you’ve failed. It’s still the same Flickr it was when I was paying $22.48 a year. Why should I now pay over double the price for no added benefits? Now that SmugMug has bought it, here we are now being forced to pay the $50 a year toll when there’s nothing new that’s worth paying $50 for. Pro users have been given ZERO tools to sell our photos on the platform as stock photos. Being given these tools is what ‘Pro’ means, Margaret. We additionally can’t in any way monetize our content to recoup the cost of our Pro membership fees. Worse, you’re displaying ads over the top our photos and we’re not seeing a dime from that revenue.

Again, what have you given that makes $50 a year worth it? You’re really expecting us to PAY you $50 a year to show ads to free users over the top of our content? No! I was barely willing to do that with $22.48 a year. Of course, this will all fall on deaf ears because these words mean nothing to you. It’s your management team pushing stupid efforts that don’t make sense in a world where Flickr is practically obsolete. Well, I’m done with using a 14 year old decrepit platform that has degraded rather than improved. Sorry Margaret, I’ve removed over 2500 photos, cancelled my Pro membership and will move back to the free tier. If SmugMug ever comes to its senses and actually produces a Pro platform worth using (i.e., actually offers monetization tools or even a storefront), I might consider paying. As it is now, Flickr is an antiquated 14 year old platform firmly rooted in a 2004 world. Wake up, it’s 2018! The iStockphotos of the world are overtaking you and offering better Pro tools.

Bye.

Reasons to Leave

With this latest stupid pricing effort and the lack of effort from SmugMug, I now firmly have a reason to leave Flickr Pro. As I said in my letter above, I have deleted over 2500 photos from Flickr which is now below 1000 photos (the free tier level). After that, it will remain on free tier unless SmugMug decides to get rid of that too. If that happens, I’ll simply delete the rest of the photos and the account and move on.

I have no intention of paying a premium for a 14 year old site that feels 14 years old. It’s 2004 technology given a spit and polish shine using shoelaces and chewing gum. There’s also no community at Flickr, not anymore. There’s really no reason to even host your photos at Flickr. It’s antiquated by today’s technology standards. I also know that I can’t be alone in this. Seriously, paying a huge premium to use a site that was effectively designed in 2004? No, I don’t think so.

Oh, well, it was sort of fun while it lasted. My advice to SmugMug…

“Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!” Buh Bye. Oh and SmugMug… STOP SENDING ME EMAILS ABOUT THIS ‘CHANGE’.


If you’re a Flickr Pro subscriber, I think I’ve made my thoughts clear. Are you willing to pay this price for a 14 year old aging photo sharing site? Please leave a comment below.

β†©οΈŽ

How to iCloud unlock an iPad or iPhone?

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

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

Apple’s iCloud Lock: What is it?

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

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

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

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

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

Buying Used Devices

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

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

Can iCloud Lock be Removed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

iCloud Locking

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

Thieves

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

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

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

Buyers

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

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

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

Sellers

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

β†©οΈŽ

Software Engineering and Architecture

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

ExcellenceHere’s a subject of which I’m all too familiar and is in need of commentary. Since my profession is technical in nature, I’ve definitely run into various issues regarding software engineering, systems architecture and operations. Let’s Explore.

Software Engineering as a Profession

One thing that software engineers like is to be able to develop their code on their local laptops and computers. That’s great for rapid development, but it causes many problems later, particularly when it comes to security, deployment, systems architecture and operations.

For a systems engineer / devops engineer, the problem arises when that code needs to be productionalized. This is fundamentally a problem with pretty much any newly designed software system.

Having come from from a background of systems administration, systems engineering and devops, there are lots to be considered when wanting to deploy freshly designed code.

Designing in a Bubble

I’ve worked in many companies where development occurs offline on a notebook or desktop computer. The software engineer has built out a workable environment on their local system. The problem is, this local eneironment doesn’t take into account certain constraints which may be in place in a production environment such as internal firewalls, ACLs, web caching systems, software version differences, lack of compilers and other such security or software constraints.

What this means is that far too many times, deploying the code for the first time is fraught with problems. Specifically, problems that were not encountered on the engineer’s notebook… and problems that sometimes fail extremely bad. In fact, many of these failures are sometimes silent (the worst kind), where everything looks like it’s functioning normally, but the code is sending its data into a black hole and nothing is actually working.

This is the fundamental problem with designing in a bubble without any constraints.

I understand that building something new is fun and challenging, but not taking into account the constraints the software will be under when finally deployed is naive at best and reckless at the very worse. It also makes life as a systems engineer / devops engineer a living hell for several months until all of these little failures are sewn shut.

It’s like receiving a garment that looks complete, but on inspection, you find a bunch of holes all over that all need to be fixed before it can be worn.

Engineering as a Team

To me, this is situation means that software engineer is not a team player. They might be playing on the engineering team, but they’re not playing on the company team. Part of software design is designing for the full use case of the software, including not only code authoring, but systems deployment.

If systems deployment isn’t your specialty as a software engineer, then bring in a systems engineer and/or devops engineer to help guide your code during the development phase. Designing without taking the full scope of that software release into consideration means you didn’t earn your salary and you’re not a very good software engineer.

Yet, Silicon Valley is willing to pay “Principal Engineers” top dollar for these folks failing to do their jobs.

Building and Rebuilding

It’s an entirely a waste of time to get to the end of a software development cycle and claim “code complete” when that code is nowhere near complete. I’ve had so many situations where software engineers toss their code to us as complete and expect the systems engineer to magically make it all work.

It doesn’t work that way. Code works when it’s written in combination with understanding of the architecture where it will be deployed. Only then can the code be 100% complete because only then will it deploy and function without problems. Until that point is reached, it cannot be considered “code complete”.

Docker and Containers

More and more, systems engineers want to get out of the long drawn out business of integrating square code into a round production hole, eventually after much time has passed, molding the code into that round hole is possible. This usually takes months. Months that could have been avoided if the software engineer had designed the code in an environment where the production constraints exist.

That’s part of the reason for containers like Docker. When a container like Docker is used, the whole container can then be deployed without thought to square pegs in round holes. Instead, whatever flaws are in the Docker container are there for all to see because the developer put it there.

In other words, the middle folks who take code from engineering and mold it onto production gear don’t relish the thought of ironing out hundreds of glitchy problems until it seamlessly all works. Sure, it’s a job, but at some level it’s also a bit janitorial, wasteful and a unnecessary.

Planning

Part of the reason for these problems is the delineation between the engineering teams and the production operations teams. Because many organizations separate these two functional teams, it forces the above problem. Instead, these two teams should be merged into one and work together from project and code inception.

When a new project needs code to be built that will eventually be deployed, the production team should be there to move the software architecture onto the right path and be able to choose the correct path for that code all throughout its design and building phases. In fact, every company should mandate that its software engineers be a client of operations team. Meaning, they’re writing code for operations, not the customer (even though the features eventually benefit the customer).

The point here is that the code’s functionality is designed for the customer, but the deploying and running that code is entirely for the operations team. Yet, so many software engineers don’t even give a single thought to how much the operations team will be required support that code going forward.

Operational Support

For every component needed to support a specific piece of software, there needs to be a likewise knowledgeable person on the operations team to support that component. Not only do they need to understand that it exists in the environment, the need to understand its failure states, its recovery strategies, its backup strategies, its monitoring strategies and everything else in between.

This is also yet another problem that software engineers typically fail to address in their code design. Ultimately, your code isn’t just to run on your notebook for you. It must run on a set of equipment and systems that will serve perhaps millions of users. It must be written in ways that are fail safe, recoverable, redundant, scalable, monitorable, deployable and stable. These are the things that the operations team folks are concerned with and that’s what they are paid to do.

For each new code deployment, that makes the environment just that much more complex.

The Stacked Approach

This is an issue that happens over time. No software engineer wants to work on someone else’s code. Instead, it’s much easier to write something new and from scratch. It’s easy for software engineer, but it’s difficult for the operations team. As these new pieces of code get written and deployed, it drastically increases the technical debt and burden on the operations staff. Meaning, it pushes the problems off onto the operations team to continue supporting more and more and more components if none ever get rewritten or retired.

In one organization where I worked, we had such an approach to new code deployment. It made for a spider’s web mess of an environment. We had so many environments and so few operations staff to support it, the on-call staff were overwhelmed with the amount of incessant pages from so many of these components.

That’s partly because the environment was unstable, but that’s partly because it was a house of cards. You shift one card and the whole thing tumbles.

Software stacking might seem like a good strategy from an engineering perspective, but then the software engineers don’t have to first line support it. Sometimes they don’t have to support it at all. Yes, stacking makes code writing and deployment much simpler.

How many times can engineering team do this before the house of cards tumbles? Software stacking is not an ideal any software engineering team should endorse. In fact, it’s simply comes down to laziness. You’re a software engineer because writing code is hard, not because it is easy. You should always do the right thing even if it takes more time.

Burden Shifting

While this is related to software stacking, it is separate and must be discussed separately. We called this problem, “Throwing shit over the fence”. It happens a whole lot more often that one might like to realize. When designing in a bubble, it’s really easy to call “code complete” and “throw it all over the fence” as someone else’s problem.

While I understand this behavior, it has no place in any professionally run organization. Yet, I’ve seen so many engineering team managers endorse this practice. They simply want their team off of that project because “their job is done”, so they can move them onto the next project.

You can’t just throw shit over the fence and expect it all to just magically work on the production side. Worse, I’ve had software engineers actually ask my input into the use of specific software components in their software design. Then, when their project failed because that component didn’t work properly, they threw me under the bus for that choice. Nope, that not my issue. If your code doesn’t work, that’s a coding and architecture problem, not a component problem. If that open source component didn’t work in real life for other organizations, it wouldn’t be distributed around the world. If a software engineer can’t make that component work properly, that’s a coding and software design problem, not an integration or operational problem. Choosing software components should be the software engineer’s choice to use whatever is necessary to make their software system work correctly.

Operations Team

The operations team is the lifeblood of any organization. If the operations team isn’t given the tools to get their job done properly, that’s a problem with the organization as a whole. The operations team is the third hand recipient of someone else’s work. We step in and fix problems many times without any knowledge of the component or the software. We do this sometimes by deductive logic, trial and error, sometimes by documentation (if it exists) and sometimes with the help of a software engineer on the phone.

We use all available avenues at our disposal to get that software functioning. In the middle of the night the flow of information can be limited. This means longer troubleshooting times, depending on the skill level of the person triaging the situation.

Many organizations treat its operations team as a bane, as a burden, as something that shouldn’t exist, but does out of necessity. Instead of treating the operations team as second class citizens, treat this team with all of the importance that it deserves. This degrading view typically comes top down from the management team. The operations team is not a burden nor is it simply there out of necessity. It exists to keep your organization operational and functioning. It keeps customer data accessible, reliable, redundant and available. It is responsible for long term backups, storage and retrieval. It’s responsible for the security of that data and making sure spying eyes can’t get to it. It is ultimately responsible to make sure the customer experience remains at a high excellence standard.

If you recognize this problem in your organization, it’s on you to try and make change here. Operations exists because the company needs that job role. Computers don’t run themselves. They run because of dedicated personnel who make it their job and passion to make sure those computers stay online, accessible and remain 100% available.

Your company’s uptime metrics are directly impacted by the quality of your operations team staff members. These are the folks using the digital equivalent of chewing gum and shoelaces to keep the system operating. They spend many a sleepless night keeping these systems online. And, they do so without much, if any thanks. It’s all simply part of the job.

Software Engineer and Care

It’s on each and every software engineer to care about their fellow co-workers. Tossing code over the fence assuming there’s someone on the other side to catch it is insane. It’s an insanity that has run for far too long in many organizations. It’s an insanity that needs to be stopped and the trend needs to reverse.

In fact, by merging the software engineering and operations teams into one, it will stop. It will stop by merit of having the same bosses operating both teams. I’m not talking about at a VP level only. I’m talking about software engineering managers need to take on the operational burden of the components they design and build. They need to understand and handle day-to-day operations of these components. They need to wear pagers and understand just how much operational work their component is.

Only then can engineering organizations change for the positive.


As always, if you can identify with what you’ve read, I encourage you to like and leave a comment below. Please share with your friends as well.

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Rant Time: MagicJack – Scam or Legit?

Posted in botch, business, scam, scams by commorancy on September 11, 2018

magicJackThe magicJack company offers a voice over IP phone service. You can use it with an app on your phone or by a device plugged into an actual landline-type phone. It does require Internet to function. Either way you go, it’s VoIP and they have very questionable and deceptive billing practices. Let’s explore.

Internet Phone Service Choices

If you’re in need of phone services on a device that only has access to WiFi, then a voice over IP service (VoIP) is what you need. There are many different VoIP services available on the Internet. You can even make audio and video calls via Facetime on iOS, via Skype on pretty much any mobile or desktop computer or even via Google Hangouts. For this reason, magicJack is yet another VoIP phone service in a sea of choices.

Why would you want to choose magicJack? Initially, they were one of the lowest priced VoIP phone services. They also offered a tiny computer dongle that made it easy to plug in a standard home phone. That was then. Today, mobile devices make this a different story. Lately, this company has raised their prices dramatically and they’re performing some quite deceptive and questionable billing practices.

911 Service

As with any phone service that offers the ability to use 911, the service must tack on charges to the bill by the municipality. You’d think that part of the invoice that magicJack is already collecting in payment of services would also cover for those 911 services. I certainly did. Instead, magicJack isn’t willing to part with any of their service revenue to actually cover services that, you know, they provide as part of your phone service… like any other phone company does.

MagicJack seems to think they can simply pass on said charges right to you in an email invoice and have you pay them separately. Here’s where magicJack gets firmly into scam and deceptive billing territory.

I’m sorry magicJack, but you’re forcing the 911 service when we don’t really need it or want it on that magicJack VoIP phone line. If you’re going to force this service as part of the overall service, then damned well you need to suck it up and pay the expenses from what we pay you. There is no way in hell I’m going to pay an ‘extra’ bill simply because you are unwilling to use the collected service fees to pay for those bills, like any other carrier on the planet. It’s not my problem that you choose not to do this.

You, magicJack, need to pay those bills to the 911 service. It’s your service, you forced 911 onto my line and now you must pay the piper. If you can’t do this, then you need to go out of business. This means, you need to collect the 911 service fees at the time you collect the payment for your services. And you know what, you already collected well enough money from me to cover those 911 service fees many times over. So, hop to it and pay that bill. This is not my bill to pay, it’s yours.

MagicJack Services

Should I consider magicJack services as an option when choosing a VoIP phone service? Not only no, but hell no. This service doesn’t deserve any business from anyone! This is especially true considering how many alternatives exist for making phone calls in apps today. Skip the stupidly deceptive billing hassles and choose a service that will bill you properly for ALL services rendered at the time of payment.

MagicJack is entirely misinformed if they think they can randomly send extra bills for whatever things that they deem are appropriate. Worse, magicJack is collecting payments for that 911 service, but you have no idea if that money will actually make it to the 911 municipal services in your area. That money might not even make it there and you may still receive a bill. In fact, if the municipality does send you a bill, you need to contact them and tell them to resend their bill to magicJack and collect their fees owed from magicJack, which has already been collected in the funds to cover any and all phone services. If magicJack claims otherwise, they are lying. If you are currently using magicJack’s services, you should cancel now (even if you have credit remaining).

Is magicJack a scam? Yes, considering these types of unethical and dubious billing practices. Even though their VoIP service works, it’s not without many perils dealing with this company. As with any service you buy into, Caveat Emptor.

MagicJack Headquarters

Here is the absolute biggest red flag of this scam company. MagicJack claims their corporate headquarters address is located here:

PO BOX 6785
West Palm Beach, FL 33405

Uh, no. Your headquarters cannot be inside of a PO Box.

Yelp claims that magicJack’s US address is here:

5700 Georgia Ave
West Palm Beach, FL 33405

Better, but still not accurate. This is not their corporate headquarters. This is simply a US office address. Who knows how many people actually work there? We all should know by 2018 just how many scams originate from Florida.

When you visit magicJack’s web site, no where on any of the pages does it show their actual physical headquarters address. This is a HUGE red flag. Where is magicJack’s actual headquarters?

magicJack Vocaltev Ltd (opens Google Maps)
Ha-Omanut Street 12
Netanya, Israel

As a point of consumer caution, you should always be extra careful when purchasing utility and fundamental services from any Israeli (or other middle east) companies. Worse, when companies cannot even be honest about where their corporate headquarters are on their own web site, that says SCAM in big red letters.

Class Action Lawsuit

Here’s another situation where this company needs to be in a class action lawsuit. I’m quite certain there are a number of folks who have been tricked into this scammy outfit and are now paying the price for their unethical and scammy business practices. However, because they are located in Israel, setting up a class action lawsuit against this company may be practically impossible. Better, just avoid the company and buy your phone services from U.S. based (or other local) companies where they are required to follow all local laws.

Rating: 1 star out of 10
Phone Service: 5 out of 10 (too many restrictions, limits call length)
Customer Service: 1 star out of 10
Billing: 0 stars out of 10
Overall: Scam outfit, cannot recommend.

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Unlimited Vacation: Blessing or Curse?

Posted in best practices, business, vacation by commorancy on July 23, 2018

I don’t usually get into discussing workplace stuff because it’s relatively boring. However, Unlimited Vacation is one perk that is really, really needs discussion. Let’s explore.

Perks and Jobs

I get it. I understand why companies offer perks. They have to offer perks for talent acquisition reasons such as:

  1. Companies must keep up with competition — If a company doesn’t keep up with what other companies are offering, they lose talent during recruiting
  2. Companies must offer perks that seem inviting — Again, this is a talent acquisition feather-in-the-cap sort of thing. It’s something the HR team can cross off the checklist of things to entice candidates
  3. Companies must offer perks that are inexpensive — Companies don’t want to give away the farm to offer a specific perk

What kinds of perks can you typically find in tech companies? You find perks like the following:

  1. A stocked kitchen — This includes soda, coffee, tea, milk / cream and then for food, this can include fruit, nuts, chips and cereal
  2. Bagel Friday — This perk includes donuts and bagels on Friday
  3. Lunches — Some companies offer subsidized and/or free lunches one or several days of the week

Those are all food related, however, other perks include:

  1. Day Care or reimbursement
  2. Commute expenses
  3. Free parking
  4. Tuition Reimbursement (job related)
  5. Training / certifications (job related)
  6. Paid sick days
  7. Paid vacation
  8. 401k
  9. ESPP (if public company)
  10. Company holidays

These are the HR type of benefits that many companies offer. Many of these have a real dollar based cost to the business. However, there’s a new perk that seems great, but really isn’t for several reasons. That perk is ….

Unlimited Vacation

This ‘perk’ (and I use this term loosely) is now becoming popular in businesses. Why? Because it doesn’t cost the business anything to implement and may actually save the company some money (or so companies think). On paper, the idea seems enticing, in reality it’s a pointless benefit to employees and actually encourages more employees to take vacation which may hinder productivity and deadlines.

Why is this benefit so bad? This benefit is pointless because there is no way any employee can actually use it in its unlimited capacity. If you were to try, you’d be fired and walked from the building. I don’t know of any business that doesn’t require approval for vacation from a manager. Even if you could request excessive amounts of vacation, it’s unlikely your manager would approve it. But, within reason, you can request time off and here’s where it begins to break down for employers.

The only people who can even use this benefit as unlimited are those who are in management positions, who don’t have to report their own vacation usage. In other words, subordinates won’t be able to use it, but managers will (and they will use it frequently).

This is one of those perks that will be abused by those in charge. Those not in charge will be penalized whenever they attempt to use it in any unlimited way.

Vacation Time

In general, asking for vacation time off is tricky. It must always be coordinated with ongoing projects, team commitments (i.e., on-call), other team member time off and holidays and requires manager approval. Even people who end up out sick can interrupt or force rescheduling of vacation time off.

Don’t be tricked by this perk, it doesn’t make vacation time off any more accessible and, in fact it is entirely designed entirely for …

Ripping off Employees

There are two fundamental problems with Unlimited Vacation. The first problem is that the benefit (ahem) is being implemented as a cost saving measure to rip off employees when they leave a company (and is designed to appear to save the company many thousands of dollars). This issue really only affects long term employees. You know, the ones who have devoted several years to your business. But now, you’re going to give them the finger on the way out the door? Smart.

With standard paid time off (PTO), you are allotted a certain amount of hours that accrue over time. Let’s say for every year of service that you complete, you will accrue up to 1 week off (with a maximum of 2 weeks that can be held in total). After 2 years of service, you’ll have those 2 weeks accrued, assuming you never take time off. If you leave the company after 2 years without taking any vacation, you’ll be paid out your accrued PTO balance for the 2 weeks that you didn’t take. That’s two weeks worth of salary you’ll receive upon exit, in addition to any other salary owed.

With Unlimited Vacation, that vacation payday goes away. Since it’s now unlimited, there’s no more time accrued and no more PTO to pay out for any employee. The only thing that payroll needs to keep track of is how much time you’ve used solely for timekeeping purposes. When you exit a company offering Unlimited Vacation, you won’t receive any vacation pay because they are no longer accruing any. This means that when you were formerly paid 2 weeks of PTO, with Unlimited Vacation you now get $0.

Unlimited Vacation is then an HR cost-cutting measure entirely designed to screw exiting long term employees over so companies no longer need to make any vacation payouts.

Here’s where the second problem begins. As employees realize this screw-over job and to make up for the lack of accrued time, this means employees will need to take as much vacation as is allowed without getting fired in the process. Since you can’t accrue, you now need to use.

Accrued PTO vs Unlimited Vacation

Businesses don’t seem to understand the ramifications of this perk on its workforce. The first ramification is that employees with accrued PTO no longer get the exit vacation payday. This is significant when exiting your employer and moving on. But, this only occurs on a termination event. Employees should remain cognizant of this event, but even more employers should remain cognizant of how this will change how vacation is used. As an employer, it means you need to understand how to retain your workforce better.

Here’s the second problem in a nutshell. PTO encourages employees to stockpile their vacation and rarely take it. Up to 50% of the workforce does this. However, Unlimited Vacation encourages employees to take as much vacation as they can legitimately get away with.

With PTO, employees might work and work and work with little time off. With UV, more employees will take more time off, thus working less. This is something that HR and management will need to understand about this benefit. If the point is to get people to take more time off, then UV is the answer. If you’re trying to encourage people to stay at their desks and work, PTO is the answer… but has the end payout.

It really all depends on how you want your staff to work. If you want people at their desks not taking time off, then PTO is your answer. If you want people constantly taking time off, then UV is your answer. Sure, UV saves you on the exit payments, but at the cost of people taking more time off throughout the year. It does one more thing.

The up to 50% of employees who rarely take time off will change their work ethic to include significantly more time off. Since they know can no longer stockpile and get that payday when leaving, they will now be encouraged to take time off to make up for that loss of money. This means that a workforce that you relied on to work excessive hours to make ends meet will no longer continue that trend in your business.

If you think that people will continue the same type of vacation behaviors they used with PTO when on UV, you’re mistaken. People will use what they are owed. If they are encouraged to take time off, they will whenever possible. This means that for the folks who rarely (if ever) took PTO days will now begin scheduling more time off throughout the year. That’s not because it’s unlimited, but because they understand that they no longer get the payout at the end. This compromise ensures they get the equivalent benefit and that means scheduling and taking time off. There’s entirely nothing the HR team can do about this change in vacation usage behavior when on the Unlimited Vacation plan.

It’s a use-it-or-lose it situation. If you never take vacation with PTO, you can justify it with the payout at the end. If you never take vacation with UV, not only do you get no time off, you get no payout at the end. It’s simple math. No payout at the end means using more vacation time to get the equivalent benefit. Employees aren’t stupid and they will realize this paradigm shift and compensate accordingly.

This outcome will happen. You can even watch your employees behaviors after you convert from a PTO to UV system. I guarantee, your employees will notice, understand and modify their vacation schedule accordingly. This may impact your business, so caveat emptor.

Good or Bad?

That’s for each company to decide. More employees taking more vacation is good for the employee and their morale. But, it may negatively impact the productivity of your business. With PTO, people not taking vacation means more productivity. With UV and more vacation time off, this likely means less productivity. It might mean a happier and less stressed workforce, but it likely also means less work getting done.

I’m not saying any individual will take excessive time off. No, I’m not saying that at all. That’s simply not possible. What I am saying is that if 40-50% of your workforce never takes time off under a PTO plan, you will likely find that number reduces to less than 10% of your workforce not taking time off with a UV system. That’s a significant amount more people taking time off throughout the year than on a PTO system.

If you delude yourself into thinking employees who don’t take vacation time off will continue a PTO trend on a UV plan, your HR team is very much mistaken. I can also guarantee that if managers deny vacation requests to keep employees at their desks, this too will backfire and your talent will leave. This will become a catch-22 problem in your business.

As an employer, you spend a lot of money hiring talent. You also spend a lot of money holding onto that talent. Why jeopardize all of that with a policy like UV that won’t really do what what you hoped it would? On paper, it seems like a great cost saving policy. In practicality, it will likely backfire on your company’s productivity efforts and cost you more money in the end, but not for the reasons you think.

Conversion Process

You may find that if you are converting from some other vacation system to unlimited that people do continue their traditional habits. However, that will change over time both as turnover happens and as people realize their loss of PTO payout. Once employees wake up to the realities of the new system, the amount of employees requesting and taking vacation will increase.

A UV policy will make it more difficult on the managers to juggle vacation timing, fairness and who can take what when. This will increase manager load by taking them away from managing projects and deadlines to managing the minutiae of juggling even more staff vacations.

Hourly Employees versus Salary Employees

This type of perk works best in salaried environments. With hourly employees, trying to offer a perk like Unlimited Vacation won’t really work well. This is particularly true of employees working in a call center or similar type environments. With salaried tech workers, this kind of benefit may work for you with the caveats that have been thus far described.

Startup or Established Company

If you run a startup, you should stay away from the Unlimited Vacation policy entirely. It won’t do your business any favors. Sure, it’s more cost effective, but only when long term employees leave. If you’re a startup, you won’t have long term employees to worry about for a while. Your duty is to entice your talent to stay, not leave. If you have a problem with a revolving door of staff, then you have a much bigger problem than a benefit like Unlimited Vacation. The problem for a startup is that a UV plan encourages more people to take vacation more often rather than stockpiling it for use later. Again, more workload for a manager to juggle vacation schedules rather than handling projects and deadlines.

In a startup, a UV policy means more people taking time off. This isn’t what you want when you need all hands on deck to keep the business afloat. You want most people at their desks and readily available at all times. When people take vacation, they expect to be cut off from their job including no email, no pager and no contact. And, rightly it should be. If you’re on vacation, you’re on vacation. PTO plans encourage staff to accrue now and take time off much, much later, perhaps years later. With a UV plan, thisΒ  encourages more people to take vacation regularly. Not exactly what you need in a startup. PTO works for a startup because employees stockpile and then once the business is off the ground years later, they will then take their vacations. This is why PTOs are actually better for a startup than a perk like UV.

If your business is established with 500 or more employees, then implementing an Unlimited Vacation policy might be worthwhile depending. With larger numbers of staff, there’s more opportunity for someone to cover an employee who’s out. This means if your 40%-50% staff who are stockpiling decide to start taking vacation in increasing numbers, you can withstand this change in your workforce behavior.

It’s up to you to decide how to operate your business, but PTO vs UV is one perk you should thoroughly investigate and then weigh all pros and cons before implementing it. Don’t do it simply because it might (or might not) save you some cash when employees exit. Do it because it’s the right plan for your business’s current operating goals.

 

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