Random Thoughts – Randosity!

Rant Time: Xbox One and PS4 automatic downloads

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

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

Automatic Downloads

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

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

Rant

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

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

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

Movie Review: Alien Covenant

Posted in film, movies, reviews by commorancy on May 31, 2017

*SPOILER ALERT* stop reading now if you want to watch this film.

If you haven’t seen Prometheus, then you should probably skip this review. Also, if you want to see Alien Covenant, then I’d suggest you stop reading now as this will be chock full of spoilers. With that said, let’s explore.

Alien Covenant Story

This film begins as a sequel to Prometheus, basically where that film left off. However, it effectively tosses the Elizabeth Shaw character out before the film even begins. While we have seen this happen with the Newt character between Aliens and Alien 3, we’ve never seen it done to a main character. No, Newt wasn’t a main character. She was a supporting character and her loss was no big deal. However, I find it a huge problem to open this film and toss out the one redeeming character from Prometheus. A character that could have been as strong as Ripley. Instead, we’re left with a malfunctioning synth named David. I jump ahead a little bit here.

After a longish and unnecessary expository scene involving a very young Weyland and David, we proceed into the main film.

Colony Ship Covenant

The film starts out following a colonization vessel named Covenant with both crew, colonists in stasis and embryos. The mission is to land on an already vetted planet with a forgettable name to begin colonization. It will take about 7 years to get to that destination planet. However, the ship is rocked by a space anomaly and damaged along with the death of the captain. This ship damage premise actually starts out much like Passengers. This requires the newly assigned captain and crew to go out and fix the damage. While fixing the damage, one of the crew stumbles across a message in a bottle… or more specifically, a space transmission.

So now, the crew has decide whether to follow the transmission or continue on with the mission. Here is the first of many stupid plot devices. If your mission is to land safely on an already existing planet that’s been vetted for the purposes of colonization, why would you make a diversion to some unknown and potentially hostile planet? It doesn’t make any sense. In Alien, the reason the Nostromo landed was in part due to Mother and Ash. They had orders from Weyland to find this alien and capture it. However, the colony ship had no such orders from Mother or Walter (the resident synthetic — artificial person).

Plus, that colony ship wasn’t equipped for that sort of reconnaissance type mission in the first place. Yet, here we go traipsing into the unknown because the naive new captain deems it so even though his second actively protests. Wouldn’t they have at least trained all seconds in command for these sorts of contingencies?

We also find that there is a synthetic on board this colony ship who is named Walter and looks surprisingly like David from Prometheus, except he doesn’t have the British accent.

Planetary Diversion / Alien Backstory

So the colony ship, which was clearly not built for exploration, decides to spend time gallivanting off to this unknown world to find this message in a bottle. What do they find? Spores that turn people into xenomorphs, the Engineer ship (with Shaw’s message), a bunch of dead engineers on the planet surface and, eventually, David. We also come to find that Elizabeth Shaw is dead. We also find that David apparently chest bursted her in one of his experiments.

As the story progresses, we find there are spore plants that can infect people and back burst aliens out of them. We also find that David has unnecessarily re-engineered the species to require an egg and a face hugger. The same egg and face hugger we find in Alien. So, we’ve come full circle. Now we know who created the egg and face hugger, but what was the point?

The spores which seemed quite abundant on the engineer home planet were actually a much more sophisticated and deadly delivery system. No need for alien queens or eggs or even face huggers. Instead, just drop the spores and let them do the work. What we find is that David’s work was actually superfluous. The original design by the engineers was sufficiently deadly enough and easily delivered without the need to complicate it with eggs and queens and hives and stuff.

I’m not exactly sure why Ridley felt the need to degrade the original Alien story by setting up this crude prequel that degrades the idea. Worse, it really doesn’t even get into the head of David sufficiently to understand his motivations. All we know is that this synthetic is somehow damaged, yet still able to function. I guess that’s the point. Since the original Alien didn’t get to take Ash to a more disturbing conclusion, Ridley seems to be doing it with David instead.

Body Count

After the bodies start piling up, first from the spore aliens and then later from David’s face hugged variety, the crew gets fewer and fewer. Of course, this is to be expected and is entirely predictable in an alien film. Because the colony ship used its one and only one landing vehicle to land on the planet (why are they only ever equipped with one?), effectively the crew is stranded because a spore alien makes its way onto the ship through an infected crew member and one of the crew lights the entire ship up with gunfire into explosive canisters.

Being stranded means David comes to the rescue and this is where things turn mostly sour. After a bunch of David vs Walter stuff and some other spore alien death romps, David reveals his big surprise on the naive captain, his prized face hugger alien. Seriously, David hasn’t given himself to be that trustworthy yet, yet this naive captain calmly puts his face right over the top of an open egg. Ah, the stupidity of movie characters.

Anyway, David shows himself to be mentally unstable and Walter and David have a fight. Yet, we don’t really know how it all ends because Ridley cleverly cuts away before the end. So then, the colony ship makes a daring rescue with some kind of ship not designed to land on a planet, an adult alien gets on board and lots of yelling, gunfire and stupidity ensues. Walter and several other crew make it back aboard the colony ship in space, yet we have one more alien to take care of. Now that that’s done, we settle into our cozy 7 year nap. Just as the last crew member is in her cryotube, she realizes Walter isn’t Walter at all. David has somehow taken over Walter.

David in Walter’s body

Here’s where the film jumps the shark. So, Walter is a much more sophisticated and newer synth model. I’m reasonably sure that Weyland did not give David schematics of himself. Yes, David knew what he was, but didn’t have any idea how he was made. So, how is it possible that David could have, in the all of about 5 minutes he had after fighting Walter, transfer himself into Walter? Seriously, there was no equipment on that planet to perform such a data transfer. There had been nothing set up in the film at all to show that David had been working on anything like that. David’s experimentation was entirely with the aliens, not with his own physiology.

Expecting us viewers to suspend our disbelief that far is just insane. There is no way possible that David could have transferred his own programming into Walter that quickly. In fact, as sophisticated as those synthetics were, to believe Weyland didn’t put a fail safe to prevent such synth to synth transfers is also insane. Weyland was extremely paranoid and that idea certainly wouldn’t have slipped past him. Based on what I know about Weyland, it wouldn’t have been possible for David to transfer his programming into Walter. In fact, it’s likely that David’s programming wouldn’t have even worked in Walter considering how much newer the Walter model was.

At the end we see Walter/David burping up alien face hugger embryos. Wait… what? Since when do face huggers exist in small embryo formats like that? I thought they required eggs? I shake my head yet again. Between the embryo aliens and the David into Walter transfer, this whole movie ends up as one big unnecessary Deus Ex Machina.

Third Film

I don’t really even know if I want to see the third film. I already know what’s going to happen. Clearly, they’re going to land on their colony planet and become infested with Aliens with the help of David… unless Walter can somehow reemerge and stop it.

Alien Covenant is a below average film that tries too hard to fill in the details, but fails at pretty much everything it tries to offer. Worse, what it does offer only degrades the idea of Alien rather than enhancing it and it adds entirely nothing new to the franchise.

Stars: 4/10
Recommendation: Skip or rent if you must

Rant Time: YouTube, Copyrights and Content ID

Posted in botch, business, Google, youtube by commorancy on May 16, 2017

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you probably know what YouTube is. It is a video sharing platform that allows anyone to post video content onto the Internet. YouTube offers the likes of travel videos, personal vlogs, how to guides, DIY projects, music to all types of random content. However, Hollywood has forced Google to employ more and more heavy handed techniques to video uploads to (ahem) protect big Hollywood copyright content. This system is severely flawed. Let’s explore.

YouTube Channel ownership

While it’s fun to run around on YouTube looking for all kinds of weird content, let’s look at what it’s like to be a channel owner and all the fun we’re not having. While I do like writing blog articles, I also have a gaming channel on YouTube. So, I have personal experience with this issue. I like to play games on my consoles and upload recorded game content to YouTube for others to share in my fun.

As a channel owner, you really don’t get many tools other than a content uploader and metadata tools to tweak a video’s description, tags, monetization settings, language, etc. As a channel owner, YouTube offers no tools to the owner to validate that your content is, in fact, your content. Meaning, for example, you might have taken a video of a day at the beach with wave sounds in the background. Then, you’ve uploaded it. Or, you’re playing Grand Theft Auto and you record your session (minus any copyrighted audio to not trigger YouTube’s audio content detection system) and upload. Here’s where things start to fall apart.

YouTube Content ID and content ownership

Besides being a channel owner or a viewer, there is also a third lesser known management meta user. This interface is intended to be used by Hollywood and the music industry. It was designed for the likes of EMI, Sony and other large music and movie conglomerate content creators (mostly by legal threats to Google). This system allows those content creators to submit their content to YouTube into the Content ID system. What is Content ID?

Content ID is a way for YouTube’s automated system to match a channel owner’s content against a copyright owner’s uploaded reference content. Seems like a legitimate thing. I mean, it allows artist’s representatives to make sure their content isn’t being placed onto YouTube unauthorized. Where’s the problem then?

YouTube is the problem

Here’s the rant. The problem is that ANYONE can create a meta content management account and begin uploading any content they wish against YouTube’s content ID matching system. YouTube requires no verification by any alleged content creator. They create a content meta account, get approved (which is apparently relatively easy), upload random content and begin matching against videos on people’s channels. In fact, I’ve even seen content management accounts grab original videos from other people’s channels, download them from YouTube, upload them into the content ID matching system and claim ownership over material that they stole from the original owner. Yes, you can even upload content you downloaded from another YouTube channel and claim ownership of that content in your channel… though, that’s called copyright infringement.

YouTube has taken its somewhat usable platform and turned it into a joke. YouTube is a disaster if you actually expect YouTube to help you protect your own original copyrighted content. Yes, it does allow someone to download a video you own, upload it and then claim ownership of it.

Let’s keep going. What happens when content ID matches a video uploaded through the meta content management account against a channel? YouTube does several things:

  1. It flags the video on the first channel owner as copyrighted content matched against another channel. Basically, the system tells one channel that another channel has claimed ownership over that content even if the claim is false (we’ll come back to false claims).
  2. It allows the alleged ownership claimant to monetize the video (even if they do not own the content).
  3. It allows the first channel owner to dispute the copyright claim, remove the video or leave it up (depending on how the content ID matcher is used).
  4. If the content owner claims exclusive content claims on the content, the content on the first channel can be taken down or deleted.

Disputes

Here’s where the entire system falls apart. While YouTube can match content fairly rapidly, filing a dispute can take days, weeks or sometimes months to resolve. All the while the content is in dispute, YouTube allows the claimant access to monetization over the content in question. Here’s the bigger rub (as if monetizing content you don’t own isn’t big enough).

False claimants are never at all verified by Google. YouTube’s content ID matching system assumes fair play by those approved to use it. That is, people who create meta content accounts are on their honor to upload content that they actually own. In fact, this isn’t happening. While legitimate usage of this system is happening by big content providers, many lesser channels have learned to game the system to claim ownership over content they don’t rightfully own and don’t have the rights to monetize. This is especially true for channels outside the US (i.e. Russia and Vietnam) where copyright rules don’t apply in the same way as in the US. This ridiculous YouTube help article which discusses setting up a meta content account states:

“Content ID acceptance is based on an evaluation of each applicant’s actual need for the tools. Applicants must be able to provide evidence of the copyrighted content for which they control exclusive rights.”

Yeah riiiiiight. Content evidence of what exactly? Copyrights, especially on YouTube are nebulous at best. What are you expected to show, the camera it was created on? How does that prove anything? There’s no way to know that any particular video was produced on any particular camera. YouTube doesn’t show camera EXIF information in the video’s metadata.

Copyright Basics

US Copyright law states that as soon as a work is created, you are automatically the owner of it and possess all worldwide copyright ownership to this work in perpetuity. This is considered an implicit copyright. You don’t have to do anything other than create the work to own it. This assumes some basics like, it must produced entirely by you on your own equipment and on your own time. However, some countries, like China, don’t recognize implicit copyrights at all. Instead, to protect your copyrights in the countries that don’t recognize implicit copyrights, you are required to fill out forms, possibly pay a fee and likely submit your work as evidence. Only then will your work be explicitly acknowledged by the government to exist and that you own that work.

For example, when you’re using your own personal phone to take video of you playing games at an arcade, this work is now considered fully owned by you under US Copyright Law. The moment the video (and audio) is created, it’s yours. On the other hand, if you are hired as an employee of a production company, and that company owns the equipment and they have hired a camera crew to follow you around watching you play games, you won’t own that video content because the production company paid to create it. Of course, there are pesky things like contracts that can explicitly authorize or deny ownership of copyrights to any party involved in a production. So, if your content is created under a contract, you should read your ownership rights carefully. Just because you were involved in a production, doesn’t necessarily mean you have any copyrights to that material.

Evidence of Copyright Ownership?

In this day and age of immediate gratification, YouTube content owners rely on implicit copyright ownership protections to allow their channels to exist. That is, as soon as the content is created and edited (implicit copyright ownership), it’s uploaded to YouTube.

In the case of copyrights, how can anyone sufficiently provide ‘evidence’  over any content? What kind of evidence does YouTube expect to see? The camera it was shot on? The recording studio that it was recorded at? A bill of sale? Seriously, how can you possibly provide ‘evidence’ of ownership for copyrights?

The only way to provide even the smallest amount of evidence is to submit your work to the U.S. Copyright Office for registry. Let’s understand why this is not exactly feasible for most YouTube content. At the moment of this article…

  • It costs $35 to register a single work (one poem, one video, one work of art).
  • It costs $55 to submit multiple works together (a collection of poems, videos or songs).
  • Who knows how long it will take the copyright office to actually register them so that you have ‘proof’.

Sure, while you could do this to, ahem, protect your works, it’s expensive and what exactly does it do for you? The Government won’t stand up on your behalf. The copyright office is merely a registry, not a legal team. They won’t help you protect your content, that’s your responsibility to find a lawyer. It’s also not like Google will get involved in copyright disputes either. For the prices listed above, that would cost $35 for every single video you upload to YouTube and that only registers your work in the US, not necessarily in other countries. It doesn’t give you any specific legal protections other than someone can go look it up, like Google. You may be required to register your content in many different countries to protect your rights in those locales. You’re also responsible for hiring a lawyer to protect your content (regardless of whether it’s registered).

Google and Copyright Disputes

Google outright states they do not get involved in copyright disputes. Yet, by providing a content ID system, content matching and marking videos in YouTube as being claimed by another channel, this absolutely, most definitely is the very definition of getting involved.

If you don’t get involved in copyright disputes, you don’t create controls to help manage disputes. Meaning, it’s entirely disingenuous to create a copyright dispute system and then when someone disputes a claim (that your system sent us notification) state that you don’t get involved. You can’t claim that. You already ARE involved by providing the notification system.

Worse, once you begin the dispute process, Google’s YouTube team doesn’t care. They don’t actually attempt to review the content, the owners or anything related to the dispute at all. They just let the two parties fight it out even if the content isn’t owned by either of them.

Content ID System is Half-Assed Designed + False Claims

Google’s YouTube team got this content system just far enough to make Hollywood and the music industry happy because they can kill content on channels matching their own content catalog. Yet, Google never brought it far enough to actually prevent scammers from abusing it. Instead, Google lets random scammer channel owners run roughshod all over YouTube’s other channels without any consequences. I’ve seen scammer channels claim false copyrights over multiple legitimate channels (even my own) using content that they clearly do not hold copyrights over and yet those channels STILL exist on YouTube. Google does nothing about this. Why was this channel not closed? Clearly, these scammer channels have willfully violated copyright laws using YouTube’s woefully under designed crap of a content detection system to facilitate these false claim(s).

Claiming false copyright ownership over content is, in fact, copyright infringement and very much against copyright law. However, because most of these scammers are outside of the US, Google won’t do anything… not even close the scammer’s channel. Though, sometimes Google will close the legitimate channel and leave the scammer operating. That false claimant had to copy and upload that content to YouTube’s matching system which, in itself, is a violation of copyright laws. This means that Google’s content ID system facilitates false copyright claims and makes Google an accessory to copyright infringement. Google allowed the copyright infringement to take place and allowed the fraudulent claimant’s channel(s) to profit off of that infringement. This is a legal situation just waiting to happen.

Google, fix your shit. YouTube is quickly becoming an unusable mess of a video sharing platform and is now just one big lawsuit waiting to happen against Google. A lawsuit against Google for not only being an accessory to copyright infringement, but providing a service that actually enables copyright infringement in a system that’s supposed to prevent it. Ironic. Such a lawsuit, if won, might ultimately be the end of YouTube.

If you’re an IP lawyer reading this and you would to have a discussion about this situation, please leave me a note on the Randosity About Page.

Why I’ve not yet bought a Nintendo Switch

Posted in botch, gaming, nintendo by commorancy on April 13, 2017

I’m usually all over every new Nintendo system by making sure to pre-order it the first moment it’s available. This time was different. Let’s Explore.

Tablet Gaming

Let’s start with the obvious. The primary reason I didn’t purchase a Nintendo Switch is, let’s face it, it’s a tablet. Thanks to Apple’s very aggressive obsolescence of iPads, I now have at least 4 iPad tablets in my house. One that I’m currently using and 3 others that are older models. I also have a Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and an NVIDIA Shield for gaming … along with an Amazon Fire of some sort that I almost never use. I also have a PS Vita which is tablet-like.

So, let’s just say, I already have enough tablets floating in my house, most of which never get turned on. Buying yet another tablet, even if from Nintendo, that tablet must offer something so compelling it’s a no-brainer. So far, the Nintendo Switch tablet doesn’t have anything compelling to offer. When I buy a computer of any variety, I need to know that it will provide a useful benefit. For example, Android and iOS tablets are at least useful for browsing, email and various other apps (including games) in addition to gaming. For being a general purpose device, Apple and Samsung have the tablet market sewn up.

Nintendo, on the other hand, is a newcomer in this area. Since Nintendo is first-and-foremost a gaming company, the Switch will almost assuredly be a dedicated gaming tablet with limited general purpose apps, if any. For example, I’m fairly certain we’ll see Netflix and a handful of other streaming apps, but that doesn’t necessarily make the Switch a compelling buy. All of my other tablets and devices support these same apps… more, in fact. Because of the lack of real general purpose apps (or indeed a general purpose operating system), it’s almost impossible to justify purchasing a Switch for non-gaming reasons.

Dedicated Gaming

This leaves dedicated gaming the sole means to justify a Nintendo Switch. Unfortunately, this side also leaves a lot to be desired. Just like the NVIDIA Shield, the battery life of the Nintendo Switch is atrocious (2-3 hours). Worse, like the Shield, you cannot play and charge at the same time. The battery of the Switch still runs down even when playing while plugged into the wall. You’ll get a better gaming experience buying an Xbox or PS4.

On top of the tablet’s design problems, there’s the game round up so far. The only really compelling title is Zelda: Breath of the Wild and even that game is available on the Wii U. This means that if you already have a Wii U, there’s no reason to buy a Switch. This was Nintendo’s primary mistake. The most exclusive and compelling title to force you buy into the Switch… and they make it available on the Wii U.

Wii U, 3DS and Gimmicks

At this point, the Wii U is arguably a dead platform. Nintendo’s newest platform, the Switch, is what I dub a tabsole. It’s not a console, it’s not a tablet. So, tabsole fits. Unfortunately, what should have been the exclusive game was inexplicably made available on the Wii U preventing a compelling reason to buy a Switch. The one and only one compelling reason to buy the Switch is if you truly want a portable faux-HD Zelda gaming experience. Today, 720p is at the very bottom end of an HD gaming experience. In fact, I’d really reclassify 720p as not even HD. HD really starts at 1080p and goes up from there. It’s just a matter of time before 4k gaming becomes the norm and people look back at 480p and 720p as archaic reminders of formats past.

For Nintendo to introduce a 720p gaming experience today shows just how far behind Nintendo is technologically. Nintendo has never been known to push gaming boundaries by including high res display technologies, like on Apple’s tablets. Instead, Nintendo’s boundary pushing has been by adding more-or-less gimmicks to their consoles… like the addition of dual screens to the Nintendo DS, adding no-glasses 3D technology into the Nintendo 3DS, creating the Wiimotes for the Wii or adding the two screens to the Wii U through the combination bulky controller + tablet. Nintendo’s gaming claim-to-fame has never been about pushing technical boundaries, it’s always been pushing gimmicks and fads. While these gimmicks may have worked for some games, most of these gimmicks have limited useful value and end up rarely used.

I find that I rarely ever use the 3D technology built into the 3DS. The added head tracking made the 3D even worse, rather than better. Sadly, most 3DS games being created today rarely ever enable 3D even if the slider has 3D enabled. Even the game developers don’t see the 3D as something useful on the 3DS. Same goes for the gamepad on the Wii U. Few developers ever properly used the two screens on the Wii U. Most times, the screen on the gamepad was relegated to being a map. That’s a perfectly good use for that screen as it’s rarely needed, but when it is needed, it’s right there without having to open up a new screen. On the Wii, the Wiimotes were cumbersome to use and twitchy. Because of their twitchy nature, it made using the Wiimotes for any type of precision almost impossible. For example, Red Steel required using the Wiimote as a sniper and moving the Wiimote in and out as if to zoom. Because of the twitchy and unpredictable nature of the Wiimote technology, it was almost impossible to aim and zoom properly. This forced the game to become a challenge, but not in an intended way.

For each of these technologies that Nintendo has employed, they are not there to advance gaming, but to add a new gimmicky fad that quickly wears off. This gimmicky nature extends yet again into the Switch with its Joy-Cons and the dock.

Tablet Computers and Gaming

A tablet is old-hat at this point and isn’t really a gimmick. I mean, it is kind of a gimmick, but it has at least found a place in societal norms. A tablet offers easy and fast access to search Google or read an email. That’s what’s great about a tablet. It’s good for quick access to information using apps on-the-go. The downside to a tablet is its screen size. It’s bigger than a phone, but still just small enough to cause eye strain. For this reason, a tablet is not really the best for trying to read large amounts of text.

However, for gaming where it’s a visual medium, a tablet sized screen is probably a great size. In fact, I know that it’s a great size for certain types of games. Though, I’d still rather game on a 55″ TV rather than on an 8″ tablet screen. I mean, certain puzzle style games work great on an 8″ tablet when all of the icons and buttons are large and easily readable. It’s only when a game developer is trying to jam a bunch of small indicators and info onto a tablet sized screen does the gaming start to break down. Tablets are good for large touchable buttons with large readable icons. Tablets are not good for 8 point fonts and tiny pixel-sized health bars… design those for 55″ TV displays.

Additionally, games are designed for long duration usage. Tablets are intended for quick bursts of use, limited by small batteries and Eye Strain City. By their very different natures, tablets and games really aren’t a good pairing. That Nintendo thought it would be a good idea to pair the two shows just how out of touch Nintendo is with current technology concepts.

Launch Titles

Unfortunately, the few launch titles released with the Switch is yet another problem. While Zelda: BotW is the most compelling title, it’s not exclusive to the Switch. Meaning, I can play this game on the Wii U without even buying a Switch. That means I need to look to the other Switch games to see if those can justify a Switch purchase. Here’s the list:

  • 1-2-Switch
  • Just Dance 2017
  • Skylanders: Imaginators
  • I am Setsuna
  • Snipperclips
  • Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove
  • Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment
  • Fast RMX

Should I buy a Switch for any of the other launch titles?

  • Both Shovel Knights will be released on multiple platforms… No
  • Just Dance 2017 … on a tablet? Really? … No
  • Skylanders: Imaginators is already on multiple platforms … No
  • I am Setsuna is a JRPG available on other platforms … No
  • Snipperclips … ugh, definitely a NO!
  • Fast RMX is yet another vehicle racing game … No
  • 1-2-Switch is a throw-away party game … definitely No

Out of all of the above titles, there is not one single game that is compelling enough to invest in the Switch. In fact, far too many of the games are already available on other platforms. In other words, most of them are has-been ports. Ports are typically games that avid gamers are likely to have already played. You would definitely not buy new hardware just to play a game that you’ve already played.

Problematic Joy-Con Controllers

The general consensus is the Joy-Con controllers are a problem. Apparently, when used wirelessly, they frequently lose connectivity to the Switch making gaming a chore. There’s nothing worse than losing connectivity while playing a game. I would frequently encounter this same problem when using the PS3’s early controllers. I’d been in the middle of a heated battle only for the controller to drop its connection. I eventually had to invest in a Logitech controller with a dongle to solve that problem. I’m pretty sure the Switch has no other options other than attaching the Joy-Cons to the tablet and using them ‘wired’. This design problem is pretty much a show stopper for using the Switch when docked.

Multiplayer Gaming and Nintendo Transfers

Today, multiplayer gaming is a must have option for any new console. Unfortunately, Nintendo has been so far behind the times with this feature, I really have no idea if they can even rectify multiplayer gaming on the Switch. It seems that Nintendo is likely to require a monthly fee to join a ‘new network’ that may or may not offer proper multiplayer options, but we know how well Nintendo typically executes on these features. It will end up has some half-baked thing that barely works, just like Miiverse.

Plus, Nintendo has some really archaic ideas about how to manage portable devices. For example, the 3DS still requires transferring your data from one handheld to another upon replacement. If you happen to lose your device or if it breaks irreparably, you have to make a call to Nintendo support to have them authorize transfer of that data to your new device… an incredibly manual and time consuming step.

I really don’t relish the thought of spending an hour or two transferring data from my Wii U to my Switch. That’s just a ridiculous ask in this day and age. I understand why this may have existed in the past, but with Nintendo’s store, they can simply store your info there and let you download all your stuff to your new device. Having to backup and restore your data from one console to another manually is just insane. As the saying goes, “Ain’t nobody got time for that”.

Roping in Developers

Nintendo has had a severe problem enticing big game developers into their most recent platforms. The Wii U is a prime example. When the Wii U was released, a bunch of large developers like Ubisoft and Activision were on board with producing games. However, due to the lackluster launch of the Wii U and the less than stellar numbers sold, this led to these large developers jumping ship. This meant that Nintendo had to rely on using its own franchises to sell (or not sell) the Wii U. While Nintendo does have a few relatively strong franchises like Zelda, Mario, Wario, Luigi, Kirby, Yoshi, Super Smash Bros and Fire Emblem, it’s really hard for a single company to produce enough games in a year to keep people coming back, let alone sell even more consoles.

So, the full capabilities of the Wii U were never fully realized. Nintendo tried, but were unable to fully utilize the potential of the Wii U. On top of all of this, Nintendo really never did raise the bar of the Wii U beyond its introductory operating system. The carousel was a complete waste of screen space. On the 3DS, at least the upper screen was used to show what item you were working on. On the Wii U, it was always that stupid carousel with talk bubbles popping up from random Mii. It’s not like Mii’s were that compelling anyway. In fact, that whole carousel idea was Nintendo’s idea of multiplayer social interaction. I digress.

The point is, with as gun shy as most developers are with Nintendo these days, it’s almost assured that third party support for the Switch will be non-existent for the foreseeable future. This means that we’re not likely to see much in the way of big new titles. Though, some developer has promised to release Skyrim on the Switch by year end. I’m not entirely certain that that conversion is coming from Bethesda / Zenimax. It’s more likely that conversion project has been handed over to smaller studio for release on the Switch. This probably means bug-city, but more than that this game is already 6 years old. To bank on a 6 year old game ported to a console with lesser capabilities than a PS4 is almost insane to consider. If Nintendo thinks that Skyrim is likely to spur a whole lot of new Switch purchases, they might want to think again. Bethesda would have to ensure some brand new and exclusive Switch DLC before gamers would buy not only a brand new console, but also buy into a 6 year old game they’ve likely already played.

Overall

There isn’t one single compelling game (or reason) that justifies purchase of the Switch. In combination with Nintendo’s lack of general functionality that a tablet needs to offer to remain competitive in an already saturated tablet market, the Switch doesn’t even stand up to its competition. When docked, the Joy-Cons do not reliably work wirelessly. How multiplayer games will work is still up in the air. In effect, Nintendo has yet to give us a solid reason to buy into the Nintendo Switch.

Perhaps with a few more exclusive games titles and a solidly built and robust multiplayer gaming network, Nintendo can turn that tide and bring the must-buy factor up. For now, there’s just not enough compelling reasons to bring yet-another-tablet into my house… considering how many tablets I already own. I know I’m not alone in this situation. For all of the above reasons, the Switch is not on my list of must have gaming consoles.

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How to add ‘E’ explicit tag to music in iTunes

Posted in Apple, itunes, music by commorancy on March 5, 2017

I’ve been wondering for a while now how those little Explicit or E tags that show up in iTunes. It turns out it’s a relatively simple ID3 tag added to the song, but it does require some setup.

Before getting started

You’re going to need the following software packages installed:

Also, you’ll want to be aware that this tag only works if applied to AAC formatted music. iTunes does not show the icon in iTunes with MP3 formatted music even if the tag is there.

Converting to AAC

If you want to add these tags to your music so that the music shows up as E for explicit or C for clean, you will need to convert your music to the AAC format which produces an .m4a container. How do you convert your MP3s to AAC in iTunes? Here’s how you do it…

Setup

  1. In iTunes go to iTunes menu => Preferences
  2. Under General, click the Import Settings button
  3. Change the Import Using drop down to read AAC Encoder.
  4. Click OK, then click OK again to close preferences.

The above sets your import and conversion settings to AAC.

To convert a song, use these steps:

  1. Find a song you would like to convert in iTunes
  2. Click on the song so it is highlighted
  3. File menu => Convert => AAC Version
  4. Conversion will start immediately. You will see up and down arrows appear in the status bar at the top.
  5. When conversion is complete, it will be in the same folder where the original song is located.
  6. iTunes will also automatically import the song into your library (but not into the any playlists).
  7. If you wish to find the song, search in the upper right search panel and you will find two of the same songs in your library. One of them is the AAC version, probably the bottom one.

Adding the ID3 Tag

Kid3

Open up kid3 from your Applications folder (or wherever you put it). Here are the steps…

  1. In the left panel, navigate to the newly converted AAC song and click highlight it.
  2. Make sure the Tag 2 is open and you’re seeing the metadata for the track (i.e., Artist, Title, etc)
  3. Under Tag 2, click the Add button.
  4. In the Add Frame window and in the Select the Frame ID field, type in Rating (or drop down and select). Click OK
  5. When the Text panel opens next, add what rating you want from this list:
    • 1 = Explicit (E)
    • 2 = Clean (C)
      • (Meaning… from the above list type in the number ‘1’ or the number ‘2’ only)
  6. Click OK to finish adding your tag with the rating.

Note that you will need to save your tags and completely quit out of Kid3 before iTunes will play the song. Kid3 leaves the file open after editing preventing iTunes from getting access to it until kid3 is closed.

Subler

Open up the Subler app. Perform the following steps:

  1. File menu => Open…
  2. Navigate to and select the *.m4a music file, then click Open
  3. When the metadata area shows up below in the Subler window, click the + at the bottom of the window
  4. Choose Content Rating from the drop down
  5. On the highlighted Content Rating line
  6. Click on None and change it to Explicit or Clean
  7. Save the file with File menu => Save

Subler does not leave the file open after editing like kid3.

Once finished adding the tag to the file, double click the AAC version of the file in iTunes to begin playing it. iTunes automatically re-reads ID3 tags on play and the ‘E’ or ‘C’ should now appear on the song’s listing.

MP3 versus AAC

I convert all of my music to MP3 for one very good reason… compatibility. If I choose to move out of the Apple camp for another music player, I don’t have to worry about converting all of my music back or in any having any weird AAC incompatibility issues. While I like having these flags on the songs, I prefer compatibility over tying myself to Apple. I started with mp3’s in my library and I’m continuing that trend. It’s not that AAC is a bad format, it just started out badly because Apple had to create their own.

It irks me just a little that iTunes doesn’t respect this tag on MP3 files even though they could. I also don’t relish the thought of having to convert all of my music from mp3 back to AAC. That process is like copying a copy. It will degrade the music even more simply by converting an mp3 to AAC. I also don’t want to dig out all of my CDs and re-import them as AAC. That’s also not an option. It took me several months just to import my collection to mp3. So, I’m not anxious to revisit that process a second time.

For me, I will convert or use this tagging for limited one-off purposes. That is, if the song is truly explicit, I may convert it to AAC just for that song just so I can add that tag. For songs which are not explicit, it’s way too much effort just to add that little C when I already know the song is clean without it.

Please leave a comment below if you found this tutorial helpful.

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How to setup a black / blank screensaver on a Mac or Windows computer

Posted in Apple, Mac OS X by commorancy on February 18, 2017

Note, this technique should work on any desktop operating system and this technique quite easy to set up. I also realize that Windows offers a Blank screen saver that kind of negates this technique, but here it is anyway. Let’s explore.

Mac Computers

I’m starting with the Mac because it seems so much less obvious considering how ‘easy’ it should be for a Mac. One of the things you’ll notice in the screensaver area is that there is no blank or black screen saver. What people have suggested instead of a black screensaver is to enable energy saver. While this works to turn off the backlight and save it, power savings does other unfortunate things to the computer at the same time.

Energy Saver Problems

What problems do you ask? Well, Apple has taken it upon themselves to also shut down a number of other critical components when the power saver is activated. Windows may be doing this as well. Yes, it does turn off the backlight. Unfortunately, with that it also turns the WiFi and networking off.  This means that if you have a VPN running, your VPN will disconnect. If your company invests in VPN software which does not self-connect on WiFi reactivation, you’re stuck reentering your passwords and setting up your terminals all over again. Unfortunately, I have no control over the software that’s used by my company and I have to live with it. So, I avoid the energy saver system like the plague to avoid random VPN disconnection.

A Screen Saver?

A little history, a screen saver was used primarily to prevent burn-in on CRT tubes. It’s also distinctly different from power saver mode. Since the days of CRT tubes have long since passed, we are now using LCD screens with LED back or side lights. Some screens are made of OLED technology, which means that each pixel is a self-illuminated RGB LED light. With either of the LCD or OLED technologies, the chance for burn-in is almost non-existent. However, some LCD screens can show latent imagery under certain specific conditions if left sitting with the same image for too long. So, a screen saver is still useful. However, a screen saver is most useful as a screen lock indicator.

Black Screen Saver on Mac

The problem is, the Mac doesn’t offer a black screensaver. It expects to to use images to cycle through or other screen savers like a bouncing clock or a bouncing apple or similar.

However, I just want a simple black screen with no movement at all. You’re not going to burn-in your screen with a simple black surface, even though LCDs don’t really do that. To wit, you’ll notice no settings for that ..

screensaver-l

There is no screen saver above that provides a blank or black only screen. So, how do you do it?

Here are the steps:

  1. Find your current Mac’s screen resolution in Finder using applelogoascii => About This Mac. Then click on Display and look for your resolution. In the below example, you see 1440 x 900. It’ll be whatever your Mac offers.display
  2. Make note of the resolution above and jump to Creating a blank image using The Gimp section.

Blank Screensaver on other operating systems

If you find that your Windows system doesn’t offer a blank screen saver, you can follow these instructions:

Windows 7

  1. Windows Button => Control Panel => Display
  2. In Display, click Adjust Resolution
  3. Make note of screen resolution

Windows 10

  1. Windows Button => Control Panel => Appearance and Personalization => Display
  2. In Display, click Change display settings
  3. When the Settings window opens, make sure it’s still on Display. Then, scroll to the bottom of the right side panel and click Advanced display settings
  4. Make note of the screen resolution

Linux

  • Refer to your Preferences and Display settings to find the current screen resolution

Create a blank image using The Gimp

From here, what you’re going to do next is create a blank image in the resolution of your screen. It’s best to cover the entire screen’s pixels with black rather than, say some lower res image like 1024 x 768. This is the reason for discovering the resolution above. Using the full screen resolution prevents unexpected issues with the screen saver’s stretching (or not stretching) the pixels properly. This process can be used on all operating systems that have The Gimp installed.

To create a blank image in The Gimp, use the following:

  1. Open the Gimp (download it here — it’s free)
  2. Make sure your foreground and background colors look like so, with black on left top and white on right bottom:gimpcolors
  3. In the Gimp, File => New…
  4. Then, type in the resolution you found from from your operating system into the Width and Height fields (making sure to put the correct values in each field).
  5. Click Advanced Options and change Fill with: to Background Color
  6. Click, OK
  7. You should now see an image filled with black.
  8. Save the image using File => Export As… and type in a filename and change the file type from .png to .jpg to make the image smaller. Be sure to remember the folder where you are about to save your file.
  9. Click the Export button
  10. In the Export image as JPEG window, click the Export button
  11. You now have a new black image in the resolution of your screen.
  12. From the GIMP menu => Quit GIMP

Now that you have a saved blank image, you need to add it to a list of images where your screen saver looks.

Adding this image to the Mac screen saver

This is a fairly simple concept. You will now use this newly created black image as your only screen saver image. So, no matter what the cycle rate is, it will always cycle back to this same blank image all of the time.

Here’s what I did on the Mac. I created a folder called black-image under my Pictures directory. I’ve placed my newly created image into /Users/myuser/Pictures/black-image/black-image.jpg. I’ve put it in a separate folder because that’s how Mac finds images… by folder. Now, select the folder in the screen saver settings like so:

choosefolder

Where the arrow points, click that selection area, it will open a file requester and then choose the folder where your new black-image.jpg file is. Once you set it here, your screen will turn black when the screen saver activates (as in my case, in 30 minutes).

Windows or Linux

While I know that Windows has a Blank screen saver built-in, you can also use this technique by choosing the screen saver as Photos, then choose the folder where your blank-image is located. For Linux, simply perform the same setup using your preferences to select the photo folder where your save black-image.jpg exists. Once you do this, the screen saver will only show that single black image once the screen saver has activated.

This is actually the safest technique rather than relying on plugins or programs to provide a black screen. It will also continue to work should Microsoft decide, in their infinite wisdom, to be like Mac and remove the Blank screen saver in the next version of Windows.

I prefer this technique to using the power saver because of the issues mentioned above. This allows me to set up a black screen with the backlight still on which also keeps my VPN active. Of course, if you don’t deal with VPNs, then by all means use the power saver.

If this tutorial was helpful to you, please leave a comment below and let me know.

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How not to run a business — Case Study: Sears Holdings

Posted in bailout, bankruptcy, best practices, business by commorancy on February 10, 2017

Back in late 2004 when Kmart and Sears merged to create Sears Holdings, I had to wonder what one failing retail chain could do to help another failing chain. However since 2004, the one thing this new company has proven is that these brands die hard. In 2017, however, I think the answer has come back to conclusively nothing has been gained. Let’s explore.

Back in 2004, I didn’t really dig deep into the $11B dollar merger deal to get the nitty gritty details mostly because I had no interest in two failing retail chains (where I personally never shopped). Though, I already knew the handwriting was on the wall for both of these chains. It was just a matter of time before both chains closed their doors. That they’ve managed to hang on another nearly 17 years is a testament to the cash infusions from a billionaire. I digress.

After deciding to finally dig into this merger deal, however, I have come to find that this deal was instrumented by a former Wall Street darling Eddie Lampert. A wiz bang former Goldman Sachs employee who started his own hedge fund and apparently made mad cash. Though, I’d have questioned why a Wall Street darling would have any interest in the failing retail space. It’s clear, though, Lampert still has no knowledge of retail even after 17 years of floundering with Sears Holdings. Lampert pretends he wants to be the next Jeff Bezos with this investment, but is failing at this for two really big reasons: 1) Lack of innovation and 2) Lack of involvement.

According to his executive staff, Eddie spends most of his time at his home on a private island community in Florida. A community of apparently 86 residents and a staff of private police to ‘protect’ the island. Based on his executive meetings, he literally phones in his CEO job day in and out. He rarely, if ever, makes an appearance in the office.

Running a company by remote control

It’s one thing to be an individual contributor who works remote. Typically, these are task oriented jobs which can be easily monitored for task completion. However, as CEO, there is no possible way you can run a company from behind Skype. However, if Lampert had had substantial previous retail management experience, he might be able to get away with this. Because Lampert has no knowledge of retail after merging Kmart and Sears, he’s effectively flying blind. Even nearly 17 years later doesn’t automatically impart knowledge of retail. It’s clear, Lampert has no business operating this company. Unfortunately, whatever is left of the Sears Holding company is entirely dependent on Lampert for his continual cash infusions (up to $1B) which have kept this listing barge from sinking. However, some boats are best left to sink.

It’s crystal clear, when you buy into a business you know nothing about, you have two choices. One, sit on your arse and assume you’ll figure it out eventually (which usually doesn’t work). Two, dive in head first and learn everything you can about running a retail business. I think it’s a relatively safe bet that Lampert is in the former camp rather than the latter. Instead of being available and actively engaging in the day to day affairs of the business, he sits comfortably at his private island home and dictates policy from a Skype conference call. It’s no wonder this business is being slowly driven into the ground.

For any would-be business owner

As an owner / CEO, you need to be actively engaged in and have passion to drive your business forward, whatever that business is. You can’t sit behind a computer screen at home literally phoning in your CEO day job. That may work for a short period of time, but it won’t work forever. It’s clear, Kmart and Sears are both on the brink of collapse. Why? Because the merger of two ailing turned failing companies was a foregone conclusion without an engaged leader. A CEO / owner is there to drive and guide the business forward. To make the tough choices and ensure the business remains viable and becomes / remains profitable. Your underlings won’t do this on your behalf. They’ll do whatever it is to take their paycheck home, but they won’t go out of their way to run your business. That’s your job.

The takeaway from this case study is that you cannot sit on your arse and expect others to do your work for you. You need to be available in the office often to drive your business. If you don’t take your business seriously, no one around you will either. You need to understand your sales numbers, what’s selling and what isn’t. You need to make strategic partnerships to bring exclusive merchandise (as in the case of a retailer) onto your shelves at a low price as a way to drive customers into your store. You also need to be shrewd to get costs down and profits up. You need to hire a kick-ass marketing team who can bring the demographics into your store. In short, learn your business, understand it, live it, breath it and make it your passion. Own your business’s problems and own its solutions. Also, you need to think outside the box to continue driving all demographics into your establishment(s).

Yes, it would be nice to sit on the beach sipping margaritas all day or behind a gated community in a big mansion and also be a successful CEO of a profitable corporation. That’s a pipe dream that doesn’t happen. You only get that beach time after you’ve done your in-office time and made your money. Retail doesn’t just automatically make money for you. It requires active involvement. You need to actively drive new business into your business. It’s not like your hedge fund where you crunch numbers at a desk and move out bad performers. You need to be in the office driving your staff. You will need to reinvent your business, brand and ideas every so often to remain ‘the place to go for cool new stuff’. Once your retail business is thought of as a mom and dad store, your store is considered antiquated. The mom and dad demographic does make some money, but it isn’t the only demographic spending money and that single demographic will not convert your company from a million dollar company into a multi-billion dollar company.

Why phoning in as CEO doesn’t work

If you aren’t showing up to the office day in and out, you are missing critical verbal queues, having meaningful conversation with your staff and learning the problems that face your business. Keep in mind that some problems are outside problems. Like, for example, the threat to Kmart and Sears has been the internet retailers like Amazon. This means you need to spend quality in office time hammering through new plans to counter growing trends, like Amazon’s quick ship, quick deliver model… like Amazon’s Kindle services. If you don’t keep-up-with-the-joneses, your business is lost. Sometimes the problems are internal problems, like horribly outdated decor and fixtures. Sometimes they are supply chain related.

Since the merger in 2004, Kmart and Sears have both failed to change anything substantial with their store merchandising or, indeed, updating their store look and feel to accommodate new growing trends. Instead, they left their stores looking like something out of the 80s. Who wants to shop in a place with horribly dirty floors, drab coffee stain colored walls and fixtures with chipped paint and rust? Not to mention, that horrid glaring 80s fluorescent lighting job. You want to make your stores inviting and modern, not be a turn off. This is where it takes regularly entering and visiting stores to see how they look, how they feel to a shopper and how the merchandise is being faced. Then draw up plans to remodel your stores.

Being a Billionaire

Not everyone has this luxury. As with Lampert, he’s apparently got lots of money to spend. But, that doesn’t make it spending money smart. The saying, “throwing good money after bad” actually applies here. Why would you want to continue to invest more and more money into a chain not producing returns on your investment? That’s not a good investment strategy. For a Wall Street darling, it really makes no sense at all. Use your gift of understanding good investments and then apply that knowledge to Sears and Kmart. You’ll quickly see your error. It just takes an outside party looking in from the outside to see what someone so close to the matter can’t.

Can Kmart and Sears be turned around? While anything is possible, I’d personally say, “not at this point”. If Lampert had started the turn around back in 2004, he might have been able to pull this listing ship up right. However, because he has become a complacent mostly home bound recluse for many of the last 17 years, a turnaround for this venture is likely impossible with this leadership team. It’s too bad, too. Sometimes we just need to say goodbye to some beloved old brands to let newer brands take us to the next level.

Using time (and lighting) wisely

As a business owner, don’t let your business become a victim of complacency. Expect to reinvent your business every few years to not only keep your business fresh, but also to keep people coming in to see what’s new. Customers value companies that invest in making their stores better. Having a refreshed store means you care about your business. It also means you care about how your merchandise looks on the shelves. If your stores look old and trashy, so will your merchandise. If your store looks new, fresh and well lit, so will the merchandise. It’s literally all about creating the proper mood and perspective in your stores. Lighting has a huge amount to do with this. So, expect to replace old outdated fluorescent lighting with updated LED lighting concepts.

It just comes down to investing money in the right things for your business. It’s clear, Eddie has no clue where to have Sears and Kmart use the money he’s investing. Instead of just throwing good money after bad, ensure that that money is being used to remodel stores, being used to draw consumers in and being used to buy merchandise that fits with the store’s branding.

Unfortunately, both Kmart and Sears haven’t been ‘goto’ places in a very long time. That’s primarily because these chains have not focused on any one area to be proficient at any. For example, Target has revamped its 80s retail-only stance into becoming a neighborhood grocery as well. So, not only can you go to Target to get the latest blu-ray movie, you can also pick up some hamburger and fixings to go with it. It’s a well rounded shopping experience. However, heading into Kmart, for example, yields many deficiencies. For example, the electronics area doesn’t even carry video games any longer. How can you possibly operate a general merchandise store and not carry any video games?

Takeaway

Drive your business smart. Invest money into your business wisely. Remain focused on your goals. Most of all, remain engaged and passionate in everything you do. If you don’t do all of the things that continue to make your business a success, you may end up with a failure. Unlike Eddie Lampert with seemingly endless funds, you may find your doors shut. Though, I believe at some point soon, even Eddie’s pet project of Sears Holding will close. However, if you find yourself as wealthy as Eddie, spend your money however you feel. It’s your money. For the rest of us, driving your business smart is the obvious answer to eventual success. Though, I will say that even as passionate as you may be about your business and as much work as you may put in, there’s still the possibility that your business may fail. Predicting success or failure in any new business venture is tricky as there are so many unpredictable market forces outside of your control. For the things that you can control, you most can certainly guide your business success in the right direction and reduce your chances for failure.

Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Posted in movies by commorancy on December 23, 2016

I’m so glad J.K. Rowling decided to bring us to the U.S. with the next installment of the Harry Potter universe (I say with some sarcasm). Unfortunately, Fantastic Beasts is also kind of a mess. Let’s explore.

NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD. Stop reading now if you want to watch the film.

Timid Characters

One thing I’m never a fan of in storytelling is setting up your main character as both timid and intimidated by nearly everyone around them. However, if there had been just one timid character in Fantastic Beasts, I might have given this trope a pass. Unfortunately, the timid characters extend to practically every role in the film. The timid characters include Newt Scamander (the timid oddball hero from Britain who randomly shows up in New York), Porpetina Goldstein (the demoted Auror who’s as timid as the day is long), Credence (a timid teen with a surprise), Queenie Goldstein (outgoing yes, but timid) and Credence’s witch-hating adopted sister (didn’t even catch her character’s name, but still timid).

I’m fine with a story using a timid trope if the character eventually emerges from their timid cocoon to take on the world. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen in Fantastic Beasts.

Unlike Hogwart’s, where you plainly expect the students to be timid and intimidated by the teachers (who are clearly years ahead in magical learning), this trope fails to work in Fantastic Beasts where these magical folk should all be pretty much on even footing. Because these are adults and not children (with the exception of Credence and his adoptive sister), this trope fails so badly as to drag down the entire first half of the film.

No. When I see a movie, I expect the leading characters to eventually emerge as take charge individuals. Not only do they need to express conviction in what they are doing, they need to stand up for it and take charge of their actions and of those around them. This is especially true of the hero. In Fantastic Beasts, that never really happens. Which leads to…

Character Development

Because this story is so light on character development, we are lost with character names, what most of them do and why they are even there. While the place has been established pretty much up front (i.e., New York City), the film can’t help but break one of the cardinal wizarding rules, made so abundantly clear in the Harry Potter films, within the first 10 minutes of Fantastic Beasts… exposing the wizarding world to muggles and letting them go without ‘fixing’ it.

Worse, they start off by discussing nomenclature (“muggle” versus “non-mag”) as though we should run into all sorts of these Americanisms. Yet, later in the film, Percival Graves (the on-again, off-again villain) clearly uses the word ‘squib’ without thought. One could argue it wasn’t Percival Graves during any part of the film. However, if the US folk are calling muggles “non-mag”, then clearly they should be calling “squibs” some other word.

Story

Let’s just say that the first half of the film was a mess. It was all over the place. First, it was about Grindelwald terrorizing London. Then it transitions to be about finding and catching Fantastic Beasts that Newt accidentally lets loose in New York… after he bumps into a non-mag named Jacob who he exposes to magic, first by wand, then by disapparating. And, that’s not even the half of it. Because one of his beasts bites Jacob, he befriends Jacob and takes him ‘home’ (to heal him) and then into his suitcase (which is one of those spaces that’s larger inside than out).

Again later, it transitions to be about an Obscurial (a witch or wizard who doesn’t know it, usually a child). The repressed magic becomes a dark force that can damage or kill.

We’re exposed to many different concepts all at once, but that keep being thrown at us without any full understanding of why any of it’s happening. On top of that, we have all of the timid characters who refuse to take charge of their own situation. They just sit back and watch from the sidelines only occasionally becoming a participant in the action around them when it’s absolutely necessary. Otherwise, they stand there with head hung low like they’re waiting for a scolding.

Halfway Point

At about the halfway point, the pace starts to pick up as some of the pieces finally start falling into place, not just for the characters, but also for the audience. Yet, even though we have a rousing pace that’s pretty much relentless until the end, you still feel more like you’re watching something from the Marvel universe than something in the Harry Potter universe. It just felt too disconnected and too distant from what we came to know of Hogwarts. Is the American wizarding world that much different?

Overall

I liked the second half of the film, but the neat and tidy ending combined with the timid characters left me flat on the characters, the character development and ultimately the hodge-podge story. If it was all just a setup to expose Grindelwald, then that could have been accomplished in so many better ways. For this franchise, I’ll reserve my judgement and hope that a second film might turn out better. For a franchise opener, I guess it’s alright. I was just hoping for a lot more. I certainly got a lot more out of the first Harry Potter film than I got out of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Your mileage may vary.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

App-casting vs Screen Casting vs Streaming

Posted in Android, Apple, computers by commorancy on October 8, 2016

A lot of people seem to be confused by these three types of broadcasting software, including using AppleTV and Chromecast for this. I’m here to help clear that up. Let’s explore.

Streaming and Buffering

What exactly is streaming? Streaming is when software takes content (music file, movie file, etc) and sends it out in small chunks from the beginning to the end of the file over a network. While streaming, there is a placeholder point in time entry point to begin watching. In other words, when you join a streaming feed, you’re watching that feed live. If you join 20 minutes in, you’ll miss the first 20 minutes that has already played. The placeholder point is the point in time that’s currently being played from the media.

What about broadcasting? Is it the same? Yes, it is a form of streaming that is used during app-casting and screen casting. So, if you join a live screen casting feed, you won’t get to see what has been in the past, you only get to see the point forward from when you joined the stream already in progress.

Streaming also uses buffering to support its actions. That means that during the streaming process, the application buffers up a bunch of content into memory (the fastest type of storage possible) so that it can grab the next chunk rapidly and send it to the streaming service for smooth continuous playback. Buffering is used to avoid access to slow devices like hard drives and other storage devices which may impair smooth playback. Because of buffering, there may be a delay in what your screen shows versus what the person watching sees.

Streaming encodes the content to a streaming format at broadcast time. It is also decoded by the client at the during streaming. Therefore, the endpoint client viewer may choose to reduce the resolution of the content to improve streaming performance. For this reason, this is why if you’re watching Netflix or Amazon, the resolution may drop to less than HD. However, if you’re watching content across a local network at home, this should never be a problem (unless your network or WiFi is just really crappy).

Note, I will use the word stream and cast interchangeably to mean the same thing within this article.

Screen Casting (i.e., Screen Mirroring)

Screen casting is broadcasting the screen of your device itself. For example, if you want to broadcast the screen of your MacBook or your Android tablet, it will broadcast at whatever resolution your screen is currently running. If your resolution is 1920×1080, then it will stream your screen at HD resolution. If your screen’s resolution is less than this, it will stream the content at less than HD. If your screen resolution is more than this, it will stream at that resolution. Though, with some streaming software, you can set a top end resolution and encoder to prevent sending out too much data.

Because screen casting or mirroring only casts in the resolution of your screen, this is not optimal for streaming movies (unless your movie is 1080p and matches your screen’s resolution). If your screen runs at a lower resolution than the content, it is not optimal for watching moves. If you want to watch UltraHD movies, this is also not possible in most cases (unless your PC has an extremely advanced graphics card).

For many mobile devices and because screen resolutions vary, it’s likely your screen resolution is far less than the content you want to watch. For this reason, app developers have created App-casting.

App-casting

What exactly is app-casting? App-casting distances itself from the screen resolution by streaming the content at the content’s resolution. App-casting is when you use AppleTV or Chromecast to stream content from an app-cast enabled application on your computer or mobile device. Because the content dictates the resolution, there are no pesky screen resolution problems to get in the way. This means content streamed through applications can present their content at full native resolutions.

For Netflix, ABC TV, NBC TV, Hulu and Amazon, this means you’ll be watching those movies and TV shows in glorious full 1080p resolution (or whatever the app-casting receiver supports and also based on the content). For example today, AppleTV and Chromecast only support up to HD resolution (i.e., 1080p). In the future, we may see UltraHD versions of AppleTV and Chromecast become available. However, for now, we’re limited to HD with these devices.

Though, once an UltraHD version of AppleTV and Chromecast arrive, it also means that streaming to these devices means heftier bandwidth requirements. So, your home network might be fine for 1080p content casting, UltraHD content streaming may not run quite as well without better bandwidth. To stream UltraHD 4k content, you may have to upgrade your wireless network.

Note that Google has recently announced an UltraHD 4k Chromecast will be available in November 2016.

Chromecast and AppleTV

These are the two leading app-streaming devices on the market. AppleTV supports iOS app streaming and Chromecast supports Android OS streaming. While these are commonly used and sold for this purpose, they are by no means the only software or hardware solutions on the market.

For example, DLNA / UPnP is common for streaming to TVs, Xbox One and PS4. This type of streaming can be found in apps available on both iOS and Android (as well as MacOS, Linux and Windows). When streaming content from a DLNA compatible app, you don’t need to have a special receiver like AppleTV or Chromecast. Many smart TVs today support DLNA streaming right out of the box. To use DLNA, your media device needs to present a list of items available. After selection, DLNA will begin streaming to your TV or other device that supports DLNA. For example, Vizio TVs offer a Multimedia app from the Via menu to start DLNA search for media servers.

Note that you do not have to buy an AppleTV or Chromecast to stream your tablet, desktop or other device. There are free and paid DLNA, Twitch and YouTube streaming apps. You can stream both your display and possibly even your apps using third party apps. You’ll need to search for DLNA streaming app in whichever app store is associated with your device.

DLNA stands for Digital Living Network Alliance. It is an organization that advocates for content streaming around the home.

App-casting compatibility

To cast from an application on any specific operating system to devices like Chromecast or AppleTV, the app must support this remote display protocol. Not all apps support it, though Apple and Google built apps do. Third party applications must build their software to support these external displays. If the app doesn’t support it, you won’t see the necessary icon to begin streaming.

For example, to stream on iOS, a specific icon appears to let you know that an Apple TV is available. For Android, a similar icon also appears if a Chromecast is available. If you don’t see the streaming icon on your application, it means that your application does not support streaming to a remote display. You will need to ask the developer of that software to support it.

There are also third party casting apps that support streaming video data to remote displays or remote services like Twitch or YouTube. You don’t necessarily need to buy an AppleTV or Chromecast to stream your display.

Third Party Streaming Apps

For computers or mobile devices, there are a number of streaming apps available. Some require special setups, some support Twitch or YouTube and others support DLNA / UPnP. If you’re looking to stream content to the Internet, then you’ll want to pick one up that supports Twitch or YouTube. If you’re wanting to stream your data just to your local network, you’ll want to find one that supports DLNA.

You’ll just need to search through the appropriate app store to find the software you need. Just search for DLNA streaming and you’ll find a number apps that support this protocol. Note that apps that don’t require the use of Chromecast or AppleTV may tend to be less robust at streaming. This means they may crash or otherwise not work as expected. Using AppleTV or Chromecast may be your best alternative if you need to rely on having perfect streaming for a project or presentation.

Basically, for stability and usability, I recommend using an AppleTV or Chromecast. But, there are other software products that may work.

Everything wrong with Corporate America: Wells Fargo

Posted in banking, botch, business by commorancy on September 14, 2016

corporateUnless you’ve been out of touch, you’ve probably read the recent articles regarding Wells Fargo’s recent activity of illegally and silently creating over 2 million credit card and deposit accounts against unwitting Wells Fargo customers! If that’s not enough, Wells Fargo then rewards its executive for this illegal behavior with a $125 million golden parachute on departure. If not, let’s explore.

Wait.. What happened?

To catch you up… Wells Fargo’s Community Banking division, the division which currently is (until the end of 2016) headed up by Carrie Tolstedt, had instituted sales quotas on credit card and bank accounts. This mean that the sales teams had to sell and open a specific number of accounts each day, week or month. These quotas lead to 2 million accounts being illegally and silently opened against people who had no knowledge of the card’s or account’s existence. Effectively, this is identity theft, right within the bank where you do business (assuming you bank at Wells Fargo).

This fraud was uncovered recently by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the city and county of Los Angeles. Unfortunately, this illegal activity by this well known and respected bank is now putting that bank under fire, scrutiny and loss of trust. While that scrutiny is now a problem for Wells Fargo reputationally, the bigger problem is that these execs (who are clearly not executive material) end up walking away with millions of dollars in their pockets as rewards for wrongdoing.

This is the #1 problem with executives and executive compensation in America. Executives can now create and engage in illegal schemes, see them through to execution, then walk away as if nothing happened with huge piles of ill-gotten money. Though, I’m quite sure this problem extends to all parts of the world in all executive roles. It’s just that in America, white collar crime like this gets away with a slap on the wrist, millions of dollars in compensation and a shiny new executive job at another corporation. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Carrie Tolstedt named CEO at a new company.

What happened to real law enforcement?

It seems that law enforcement is only needed if, as a person, you rip off $500-1000, run a stop sign, have a rear tail light out or speed. As a corporate executive, you get a pass. Unfortunately too, Wells Fargo is a huge bank which underpins a huge portion of the economy. While I fully agree that this bank and all of its executives should be brought up on major and serious charges of fraud with each and every executive held accountable, it likely won’t happen. If this bank is “taken down” by the feds in rightful retaliation over this level of fraud, the economy will tank.

It’s a catch-22 situation. The government knows that if they even begin to touch Wells Fargo in any legal action, the economy will take a huge nosedive. Seriously, taking down a bank as big as Wells Fargo will have such far reaching ramifications across the globe. It could probably even spark a global financial meltdown. This is the reason AIG wasn’t taken down (or allowed to die) for its role in the housing bust and, instead, was actually bailed out by the government.

For this reason, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has instead only lightly fined Wells Fargo $185 million (only slightly more than the $125 million payday that Carrie Tolstedt walks away with) and is mostly chump change to a company like Wells Fargo. Though, the CFPB claims Wells Fargo’s $185 million is the largest fine it has ever levied. That may be the case, but it really is chump change to this bank. The “largest fine” statement is also just posturing for public approval. If you want to impose a truly large fine, impose a fine that makes a bank like Wells Fargo think twice about doing something like this again, like $1 billion. Worse, Wells Fargo likely won’t even have to pay the whole $185 million. Wells Fargo’s lawyers are likely to appeal and get it reduced (in a closed door agreement) to like $25 million (or less).

Let’s consider that the government bailed out Wells Fargo not that long ago with $25-36 billion in cash that Wells Fargo didn’t really need. So, it’s not like $185 million will even make a dent in the books at Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo likely made more than $185 million in interest alone holding onto those billions in federal aid, so this is basically the government slapping Wells Fargo on the wrist and taking back only the tiniest bit of money that Wells Fargo made off of holding onto that bailout money. Not to mention how that bailout money was even used… let’s just say, it was used less for bailing anything out than for advancing Wells Fargo’s business plan.

This is the reason the feds won’t touch banks when they run afoul with illegal and fraudulent activities. If Carrie Tolstedt and John G. Stumpf (CEO) see the inside of a courtroom over this issue either personally or as part of a Wells Fargo lawsuit, I’d be totally surprised.

Disavowing Knowledge and Placing Blame

John G. Stumpf has now firmly placed the blame on his staff for this activity. He is now attempting to disavow any knowledge of this scam. I call bullshit on that. You’re the CEO, if you don’t know what your direct reporting staff are doing with their teams, then you shouldn’t be a CEO. Sales goals are not set by the sales staff. Sales goals are set by the management team full well knowing what those sales goals might lead staff to do to make those sales numbers. When sales goals are too aggressive or too unreasonable or outright stupid, then corners are cut to make the numbers. And, that’s exactly what happened… corners were cut.

If a handful of accounts were created by one or two people, then you might be able to disavow this activity as rogue sales staff. But, since 2 million of these accounts were created by apparently 5,300 now-fired staff (more than a handful of people), there is no way that either Carrie or John can claim no knowledge of this activity or claim rogue staff. They may have even condoned the activities.

This is not only an illegal use of the bank itself, but it’s also an accounting scandal in and of itself. It means that Wells Fargo illegally reported earnings on accounts that shouldn’t have existed knowing that they shouldn’t have existed (hello KPMG). So, not only is the creation of the accounts a problem, it also means that Wells Fargo’s books now need to be 100% audited for any other illicit reporting activities. If this was knowingly going on directly under Wells Fargo’s executives’ noses (and KPMG’s noses), what else did they condone? This means restated earnings. Someone needs to crack those books open and now.

Eliminating Quotas by the end of 2016?

Seriously, Wells Fargo you were just called on the carpet for illegal activity, yet you are not stopping these sales quotas immediately? I mean, as in today? Wells Fargo has stated they will stop them at the end of 2016 coincidentally when Carrie Tolstedt walks away with her $125 million golden parachute.

Why wait an extra 3 months to cancel that sales quota activity? Why keep Tolstedt on board and reward her all the while keeping these quotas in effect? It’s what got you into trouble in the first place. If the sales team members were told to create fake accounts under real people’s names, what else might they be doing under these sales quotas? No, these quotas need to stop today, not in 3 months.

What are we teaching our children?

Here we have a well respected organization (or so we thought) … a bank … that is supposed to handle our money efficiently and we find a scam under the hood. That the money they have made off of that scam is diverted by the millions into executive salaries and compensation. This teaches our children that so long as we attend an Ivy League school, complete with a graduate degree in business and get a C-level executive job, we can line our pockets with cash no matter what illegal activities we perform against the public. And, we get away scott-free and never see the inside of a courtroom.

This is the whole reason executive compensation must be revisited and must also become regulated by the government, not by the corporation. If you make it to C-Level executive, then your position should be accountable exclusively to the government. Unfortunately, this goes against the tenets of private enterprise. But hey, I think it’s abundantly clear that there is no such thing as corporate governance. We’ve had so many of these issues year over year (Enron, Volkswagen, FIFA, Toshiba, etc). And now, we add Wells Fargo to that list and it’s time to put a stop to it. It’s quite clear that corporations cannot and will not govern themselves in an appropriate manner. When money is involved, stupidity reigns supreme. Working at a bank like Wells Fargo is a dream job for any would-be crook. You can basically set up any sort of ponzi scheme and completely get away with it. This is what we are teaching our children.

It must also become that each corporate executive is now held personally and legally liable and accountable for any wrongdoing performed under their watch as an executive for any company they govern (going all of the way to the CEO). The business itself should be held legally liable separately from any actions brought against each individual executive. No longer should ‘incorporation’ or ‘LLC’ shield executives from liability. No insurance policies should be issued or allowed to cover for such illegal activities. And… any ill-gotten gains received during their reign over illegal activities must be immediately forfeited to the government as a fine. Let these crooked C-level executives lose everything they own and end up in federal prison. These people do not deserve future jobs as executives.

There is no way Carrie nor John can deny knowing what went on in their organization. Only executives can require mandates which enact sales quotas over these types of sales activities. This meant that they were fully and completely aware of the activities of their sales staff. There is just no excuse for these types of behaviors from executives. However, it’s even worse that these corporations reward their executives with huge cash payouts when they allowed illegal activities to occur.

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