Random Thoughts – Randosity!

Beware of Silicon Valley Clean Energy and energy slamming

Posted in botch, business, california by commorancy on September 19, 2017

If you live in California, you need to read this. This situation has scam written ALL OVER IT. Let’s explore.

State / City Mandated ‘Clean Energy’

Apparently, as a result of city voting, some cities (such as Cupertino) have decided to force residents in that city to change their power generation provider to a third party instead of PG&E. In my case, it ends up being the scam outfit Silicon Valley Clean Energy. Why are they a scam? Here’s what happened.

First, they enrolled my electrical generation service under SVCE’s generation service without my permission. Then, SVCE waited over 60 days to notify me of my enrollment into their power generation service. Because they offered opting out at less than 60 days for free, this means I am not only being assessed a $5 exit fee from SVCE and I am now being put under PG&E’s transitional rates (which are likely to be higher than normal PG&E for at least 6 months). Oh, it gets even better.

Second, because I was force exited from PG&E’s generation services, PG&E gets to assess a Power charge indifference adjustment (PCIA) charge (effectively it is an exit charge for leaving PG&E’s power generation services). This charge on my last bill was $25.60. If you add this charge together with SVCE’s power generation charges, the total generation fee becomes identical to PG&E’s generation charges. If you spread this fee out over 12 months, SVCE’s charges aren’t as low as they seem. Also, this PCIA seems to be assessed once a year (or as frequently as the CPUC allows PG&E to assess it). Basically, this is a charge that PG&E gets to assess to cover generation fees they lost because you moved to a competitor. And, they get to do it each year.

Third, SVCE’s crap web site would not accept my opt-out request. Their opt-out form is entirely broken. I ended up calling their phone and opt-ing out there. Unfortunately, I have no idea if they really got my opt-out request because this fly-by-night outfit only has 9-5 call-center business hours. So, I have to wait until the following day and contact them.

Fourth, I was only notified of my ‘enrollment’ in this service because of a cheap card sent to me in the mail over 60 days after my enrollment.

Fifth, they make a lot of bold claims about using wind and solar energy for generation, but do not back up those claims anywhere. They could simply be buying PG&E generated power and reselling it.

Charges and electric slamming

Not only does PG&E get to assess random charges as a result of the customer is now using a third party power generation company, the power generation company gets to assess random exit charges for leaving their service when I never voluntarily joined it in the first place.

This entire situation smells of CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT. So far, I will have been assessed around $35 in fees plus an unknown amount for rates (up to 6 months) simply because SVCE grabbed my service without notifying me timely. This is the exact thing that long distance phone companies were doing in the 90’s. It is called slamming. This scam type is just another form of state / city endorsed slamming, now with the electric service.

The Feds need to jump on board and stop this slamming activity quick and force the same payback charges on the company who slammed the customer. Here’s what long distance providers were forced to do if they slammed someone onto their service and the end user paid the bill:

If you have been slammed, but discover it after you HAVE paid the bill of the slamming company, the slamming company must pay your authorized company 150 percent of the charges you paid the slamming company. Out of this amount, your authorized company will reimburse you 50 percent of the charges you paid the slamming company. Or, you can ask your authorized company to recalculate and resend your bill using its rates instead of the slamming company’s rates.

Electric generation companies need to be held accountable for slamming in the same way as long distance providers. Companies like SVCE riding on the coattails of city votes shouldn’t get a pass to switch services without permission. Slamming is slamming whether it’s for telephone service or power generation. No matter what it is, it’s a rip off unless the change is by consumer permission. If there are fees involved, the customer MUST authorize the change in advance. Otherwise, it is slamming.

Is the iPhone X Innovative?

Posted in Apple, botch, california by commorancy on September 17, 2017

Clearly, Apple thinks so. I’m also quite sure some avid Apple fanboys think so. Let’s explore what innovation is and what it isn’t and compare that to the iPhone X. Let’s explore.

What is innovation?

Innovation effectively means offering something that hasn’t been seen before, either on other devices or, in fact, at all. I’ll give an example of this. If I create a transporter that can rearrange matter into energy and safely transmit it from point A to B and reassmble it into a whole, that’s innovation. Why? Because even though the concept has existed in the Star Trek universe, it has never existed in the real world. This is true innovation and would ultimately change transportation fundamentally as we know it. Though I won’t get into the exact ramifications of such an invention, suffice it to say this technology would be a world game changer. This example is just to show the difference between true innovation and pseudo innovation. Innovation should be a world game changer to be true innovation.

So then, what is pseudo innovation? This type of innovation, also known as incremental innovation, is to take an existing device and extend it with a natural progression that people expect or, perhaps, have even asked for or because other devices on the market have already added it. As an example, this would be taking a traditional blender and exchanging the blender bowl with a small single service container that can double as a cup. This is a natural progression from an existing blender to a more useful and functional device. This is the kind of change that doesn’t change the world, but solves a small problem for much smaller subset of people.

iPhone X Design

Let’s dissect this design from top to bottom to better understand it better and understand why the iPhone X is not in any way truly innovative and only presents pseudo innovation.

  • OLED display While this is new to the iPhone, it is in no way new to mobile devices. Samsung has been shipping tablets and phones with AMOLED displays for years now. In fact, I’ve personally owned the Samsung Galaxy Tab S for at least 4 years that has a Super AMOLED display. This display has been amazing and remains that way to this day. Apple is substantially late to this party for the iPhone. While it’s new to Apple’s devices, OLED is not in any way a new technology created by Apple. Worse, Apple hobbled their OLED display with the unusual design of that large black brow at the top. I still have no explanation for covering 10% of the display with an unsightly black bar. Worse, when videos play or other active content is viewed, 1/10 of that content is now being obscured by that black bar unless you change the settings. Such a questionable addition to an expensive phone.
  • Removal of Touch ID This is actually negative innovation. Removal of useful features from a device serves only to leave more questions than answers. Touch ID is a relatively new addition to the iPhone. That Apple shipped the iPhone X without it is entirely unexpected. Apple should have postponed the release until they got this right. Touch ID is an intrinsic, non-intrusive technology that works in all conditions, secures the device using biometrics and offers a much safer alternative to login IDs and typing passwords (something entirely cumbersome on small phone devices).
  • Addition of Face ID — Face recognition on a phone, while new to the iPhone isn’t a new technology, nor was it created by Apple. Cameras have been capable of recognizing faces when taking photos, but it does not necessarily take the step to identify the person. Apple takes it to the identification level with Face ID. In fact, it takes it to the next step to use it to identify the owner of the phone. However, this is an untested new technology when used on a phone. While computers with hefty internet connections have been capable of performing this type of fast facial recognition, a phone will require a cloud service to provide such an identification. This means that your facial information will need to transmit to a cloud service and attempt to determine that you are you. It also means that this picture information may be stored on Apple’s servers for this purpose. It also means there’s a huge privacy concern here if Face ID captures something it shouldn’t have. Touch ID is never susceptible to this privacy intrusion problem.
  • Wireless ChargingAgain, Samsung devices have had wireless inductive charging for years. This addition, while new to Apple’s phones, is not in any way innovation. Wireless charging has previously existed on other non-Apple devices and, again, has not been created by Apple. Apple has embraced the Qi wireless charging standard up to a point. However, Apple has denied iPhone devices from using Qi fast charging, instead choosing to offer up Apple’s own standard sometime in 2018.
  • Fast Charging — This allows the phone to charge the battery perhaps 5x faster than the iPhone currently charges today. This is separate from Wireless Charging, but Wireless Charging can take advantage of it.
  • Edge to Edge DisplayWhile Apple’s implementation of this screen seems edge to edge, it really isn’t. There is a small bezel around the display due to the way the case is designed. While it is probably the most edge to edge display we’ve seen in a phone to date, it isn’t the first. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8 offered at least side to side edge to edge display and a reasonably small top and bottom bezel. Suffice it to say that what Apple has done is merely semantics. Now, if Apple hadn’t added that questionable brow covering 10% of the display, it might have been a small achievement.
  • Faster CPU, more RAM, faster overall performance — To be expected in any new release, though it will be outdated quickly

In fact, none of what has been included on the iPhone X is in any way newly created ideas by Apple. Apple is firmly playing catchup with the Joneses (or in this case, Samsung). Samsung has already produced phones with every single one of the technological advances that Apple has put into the iPhone X.

Fanboys might claim that the iPhone X is all new. No, it’s all nuances. Apple is simply catching up with existing technologies and ideas to improve their new phones (and I use the word improve loosely). There is nothing actually innovative about the iPhone X. In fact, from a design perspective, it’s probably one of the ugliest phones Apple has yet produced. The brow seals that fate. If there were such Razzie awards for design, Apple would win it for 2017.

iPhone 8

This is one of those things that always irks me about Apple. That they’re releasing the iPhone 8 at all is a bit of a mystery. If you’re introducing a new phone, why keep this line of phones at all? Bet the bank on the new model or don’t do it. This is what Apple has always done in the past. That Apple is now hedging its bets on two different models seems a bit out of ordinary for a company that has typically bet the bank on new ideas. I guess Apple is getting conservative in its old age.

Other than wireless and fast charging introduced into the iPhone X, nothing else has trickled its way into the iPhone 8. Effectively, the iPhone 8 is simply a faster iPhone 7 with Qi wireless and fast charging support.

Let’s talk about wireless and fast charging a little here. While the iPhone 8 is capable of both wireless and fast charging, it won’t come with it out of the box. In fact, Apple’s fast wireless charging pads won’t be released until sometime (probably late spring) 2018. While there are other Qi Wireless chargers you can buy now, these chargers won’t fast charge. Worse, the iPhone 8 still ships with the standard Lightning USB cable and standard speed charger. If you want fast charging, you’re going to need to invest in the extra accessories (cables and chargers) to get that faster charging performance. Until Apple releases its wireless charging pad, you can’t even get wireless and fast charging together. In addition to your phone’s cost, expect to dump an extra $100-200 on these accessories (several times if you want something now and then again when Apple releases its accessories).

Mac Computers

Just to reiterate the point of lack of innovation, I’ll bring up one more point. The MacBook and Mac line of computers has been so stagnant and so far behind the times, I’m not even sure Apple can catch up at this point. While every other non-Apple notebook on the market (even the cheapest, smallest model) now includes a touch display, Apple continues to ship its Mac computers without touch surfaces in defiance of that trend. There’s a point where you have to realize that touch surfaces actually are a necessity to computing. The ironic thing is, we have Apple to blame for this dependency by Apple introducing the original iPad.

Yet, Apple’s stubborn stance on introducing touch displays on the Mac has actually become a sore point with these devices. Apple, lose your stubbornness and finally release touch friendly MacBook computers at the very least. Though, I’d like to see touch screens on every Mac computer. You’ve had Spotlight on the MacOS X for years now (the first step towards touch displays), yet here we are with one computer that has a Touch Bar. The Touch Bar is such a non-innovation as to be a step backwards.

Let’s just get rid of the worthless Touch Bar and finally introduce Macs with touch displays, which is what we want anyway. Since we’re playing catchup, let’s finally catch the Mac line up to every other non-Apple notebook.

Apple’s Worms

It’s clear, Apple has lost its innovative ways. Apple is now relying entirely upon existing technologies and ideas, firmly throwing together half-assed ideas and calling them complete. The iPhone X idea should have been tossed before it ever saw the light of day. Had Jobs been alive to see it, the iPhone X idea would have been tossed out the window in lieu of a new idea.

Additionally, Apple’s technology ideas across its product lines are entirely fractured:

  • The iPhone ships with Lightning connectors, but no other non-mobile computing device in Apple’s line up supports Lightning
  • The iPhone has removed the 3.5mm headphone jack for no other reason than, “just because”
  • New Macs now ship with USB-C, yet none of Apple’s mobile devices support this standard
  • USB-C Macs require dongles because none of Apple’s accessories support USB-C (other than the converter dongles)
  • The Apple Watch has no direct integration with the Mac. It only integrates with a single iPhone.
  • Apple ships Lightning headphones and those can only be used with the iPhone line, not Macs
  • Macs still fail to support touch displays
  • Macs still ship with 3.5mm headphone jacks
  • Apple’s magsafe adapters were amazingly innovative to supply power to the system, yet have been tossed out in lieu of the inferior USB-C connector
  • The iPhone and Mac are only half-assed integrated with each another. The best we get is USB connections and Airdrop. The Universal clipboard only works about half the time and even then it’s not always useful depending on copied content. The single app that works quite well is iMessage. In fact, the entire reason this integration works at all is because of iCloud.

Innovation is about putting together ideas that we’ve never before seen and that take risks. It’s about offering risky ideas in creating devices that offer the potential of changing the game entirely. There’s absolutely nothing about the iPhone X that’s a game changer. Yes, I do want an iPhone with an OLED display because I want the super high contrast ratio and vibrant colors. If that had been available on the iPhone 8, I’d probably have upgraded. For now, there’s no reason to upgrade from any of Apple’s most recent products. Wireless charging just isn’t enough. A hobbled OLED display is just not worth it.

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How to protect yourself from the Equifax breach

Posted in botch, business, security by commorancy on September 11, 2017

Every once in a while, I decide to venture into the personal financial security territory. This time, it’s for good reason. Unfortunately, here’s a topic that is fraught with peril all along the way. It also doesn’t help when financial linchpins in the industry lose incredibly sensitive data, and by extension, credibility. Let’s explore.

Target, Home Depot and Retailer Breaches

In the last few years, we’ve seen a number of data breaches including the likes of Target and Home Depot. While these breaches are severe problems for the companies, they’re less problematic for the consumer in terms of what to do. As a consumer, you have built-in protections against credit card fraud. If a thief absconds with your number, your liability is usually limited to around $50, but that also depends on the card… so read your fine print.

With the $50 you might have to pay, the inconvenience to you is asking your credit card company to issue you a new card number. This request will immediately invalidate your current card number and then you have to play the snail mail waiting game for a new card to arrive. That’s pretty much the extent of the damage with retailer like Target or Home Depot.

No one wants to go through this, but it’s at least manageable in time… and you can get back on with your life. For breaches like Equifax, this is a whole different ball game, let’s even say, a game changer. Breaching Equifax is so much more than a simple credit card inconvenience.

Credit Reporting Agencies and Breaches

With Equifax breached, this is really where the government needs to step in with some oversight and regulations. What your social security number is the the government, your credit reporting file is to your personal financial health. This breach is a dangerous game… and worse, Equifax is basically taking it lightly, like it’s no big deal. This is such a big deal, you will absolutely need to take steps to make sure your data is secure (and even then, that only goes so far).

First, I’ll discuss what this breach means to you and how it might affect you. Second, I’ll discuss what you can do to protect yourself. Let’s start with some basic information.

There are 3 primary credit reporting agencies (aka credit bureaus):

  1. TransUnion
  2. Experian
  3. Equifax

Unless you’ve never had a credit card, you probably understand what these businesses do. I’ll explain for the uninitiated. These agencies collect and report on any outstanding credit card or revolving lines of credit you currently have. If you have a mortgage, these entities know about it. If you have a credit card (or many), they know. They also know lots of other data (i.e., previous and current address), what loans you’ve had in the past, what bank accounts you have, what balances are on your outstanding lines of credit, any collections activities and the list goes on and on. It also lists your birth date, social security number and full credit card numbers and account numbers.

Based on all of your credit lines, how well you pay and so on, these companies create a FICO credit score. This score determines how low of interest rates you’ll receive on new loans. These companies are not only a bane to actually exist, but they are your lifeline if you need new credit. Even just one blemish on your record can prevent you from getting that loan you need to buy your new house or new car. Without these linchpin companies, lenders wouldn’t be able to determine if you are a good or bad credit risk. Unfortunately, with these companies, consumers are at the mercy of these companies to produce accurate data to lenders (and to protect that data from theft)… a task that Equifax failed to do.

What did Equifax lose?

Equifax lost data for 143 million record holders. While that number may seem small, the damage done to each of those 143 million record holders will eclipse the damage produced by Target and Home Depot combined. Why? Because of how these credit reporting agencies actually work.

Equifax (and pretty much all of these credit reporting agencies) have flown under the radar in what they do. If you go to a car dealer, find a car you want and fill out loan paperwork, that dealership will pull a credit report from one or more of these agencies. Your credit report will contain a score and all loans currently outstanding. It also shows how well you pay your loans, any delinquencies in the past and other financial standing metrics. This credit report will be the basis of whether you get a loan from the car dealership and what what interest rate.

Hackers had access to this data between May and July of 2017. The hack was found on July 29th, but not reported to the public until September 8th. That’s over a month that Equifax sat on this news. It’s possible that they were requested by law enforcement to hold the announcement, we just don’t really know.

What was lost?

According to the Washington Post:

Hackers had access to Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver’s license numbers, credit card numbers and other information.

According to the New York Times:

In addition to the other material, hackers were also able to retrieve names, birth dates and addresses. Credit card numbers for 209,000 consumers were stolen, while documents with personal information used in disputes for 182,000 people were also taken.

Those dispute documents being PDFs of bills, receipts and other personally identifying information. I’ve also read, but have been unable to find the corresponding article, that the hackers may not have had access directly to the credit report database itself, but only to loose documents in a specific location. However, even with that said, do you really trust Equifax at this point? I certainly don’t.

Why is this such a big deal?

Because the credit reporting agencies have played it fast and loose for far too long. They make boat loads of money off of each credit report that’s pulled. If you pay $50 as part of the loan process to pull your credit report, the dealership will keep part of that money and the rest goes to Equifax. Because many loans applications are processed every day, some credit reporting agency is making money. Making money isn’t the problem, though.

These agencies will pull a report for anyone willing to spend money. This includes people with stolen credit cards. However, that only gets thieves so far before being caught. Instead, breaking into computers at the agency allows them to not only pull credit reports for anyone who has a record, they can get access to lots of sensitive information like:

  • Social Security Numbers
  • Birth Dates
  • Addresses
  • Places of employment
  • Home Addresses
  • Credit card numbers
  • Dispute Documents
  • Etc..

Basically, the thieves may now have access to everything that makes up your identity and could steal your identity and then attempt to divert bills away from your house, create new cards, and do other things that you may not be able to see. If they managed to get access to your credit report, they can open cards out the wazoo. They can charge crap up on those cards. And, they can perform all of this without your knowledge.

Credit Monitoring

You might be thinking, I’ll set up a credit monitoring service and have the credit reporting service report when activity happens. Even that, while only somewhat effective is still subject to being breached. If the thieves have access to all of your identity information, they can request the credit reporting service to do things like, reissue passwords to a new email address and send sensitive reports to a bogus address. These thieves can even undo security setups like a credit freeze and reassign all of that information to their own address. You won’t see or even know about this unless you regularly check your credit reports.

This problem just barely peeks into the can of worms and doesn’t even open it fully. There are so many things the thieves can do with your identity, that by the time you figure it out, it could be far, far too late. So, don’t think that signing up for credit monitoring is enough.

Sloppy Security Seconds

In fact, it wasn’t seconds, it was almost 2 months before the breach was known to the public. A move that not only shows complete disregard for 143 million people’s financial security from a company who should be known for it, Equifax doubled down by creating a lead generation tool in their (ahem) free TrustID tool. Keep in mind that that TrustID tool is only (ahem) free for one year, after that you pay. Though, protecting against new account creation is only half the problem. The other half to which TrustID can’t help is protecting your existing accounts. Because credit reports contain every account and every account number you own, if your data was compromised (and with 143 million accounts worth of data lost, it’s very possible), you need to do so much more.

Even the Security Checking Tool (which was questionably put up on a brand new created domain???) seems to have been a sham and had its own share of SSL certificate problems leading to some browsers showing the site as a scam. Some Twitter users have entered bogus data… and, this checking tool seems to have stated this bogus data was included in the breach. The question is, does that tool even work or is it merely security theater? Yet another black eye in among many for Equifax’s handling of this data breach. To wit…

and then this tweet…

To sign up for Equifax’s TrustID premium service, you have to enter even more personally identifying data into a form of a company that has clearly demonstrated they cannot be trusted with your data. Why would anyone do this? Seriously, signing up for a service with a company who just lost a bunch of information? No, I think not. Instead, Equifax should be required to pay victims for a monitoring service with either TransUnion or Experian (where breaches have not occurred.. yet).

On top of entering even more personal information, the service requires you waive your right to lawsuits against Equifax and, instead, requires binding arbitration. Yet another reason not to sign up.

It’s not as if their credit monitoring service is really going to do you a whole lot of good here. If you really do want a credit monitoring service, I’d suggest setting it up with Experian or TransUnion instead. Then, figure out a way to get Equifax to pay you back for that service.

Can’t I reissue credit card numbers?

While you can do this, it won’t protect you fully. The level of what the thieves can potentially do with your data from Equifax goes much deeper than that. Yes, changing the numbers will help protect your existing cards from access. However, it won’t stop thieves from opening up new accounts in your name (and this is one of the biggest problems). This is why you also need to set up a credit freeze.

Because the thieves can now officially pretend to be you, they can do such things as:

  • Pretend to be you on the phone
  • Call in and request new pin codes based on key identifying information (address, SS#, phone number, etc)
  • With your old address, they can then transfer your bills to a new address
  • They can reissue credit card numbers to that new address

You’re probably thinking, “What about the security measure my bank uses? Won’t that protect me?” That depends entirely upon how convincing the thief can be over the phone. If they can answer all of your identity information and find a representative who can bypass some of the banks security steps, they can get a foot into the door. That’s all it takes for them to basically take over your credit accounts… which is one step away from potentially hijacking your bank accounts. A foot in the door is enough in many institutions to get the ball rolling towards full hijacking.

How do I protect myself?

If your data was involved in the breach (unfortunately, the tool that Equifax provides is sketchy at best), the three bare minimum things you should do are

  1. Contact one of the three credit bureaus and ask for a free 90 day fraud watch
  2. Contact all three and ask for a credit freeze on your records at each credit reporting agency
  3. Set up credit monitoring at TransUnion or Experian

The 90 day fraud watch means they will need to let you know when someone tries to do anything with your credit report. However, this watch is only good for 90 days and then expires. The good thing about requesting this watch is that you only have to do it at one bureau. All three will receive this watch request from your contact with one of them. The bad thing is, 90 days is not nearly long enough to monitor your credit. In fact, the thieves will expect the 90 day fraud watches, wait them out, then go after it hard and heavy after these begin expiring.

A freeze, on the other hand, lasts until you unfreeze. A freeze puts a pin code on your credit record and that pin is require each time a company needs to pull a copy of your credit report. This will last far, far longer than a 90 day watch and serves to stop the thieves in their tracks. To freeze your records, you will need to contact all three separately and perhaps pay a fee of $5-10 depending on where you live.

Setting up credit monitoring means you can be alerted to whenever anything changes on your credit report. But, credit monitoring won’t stop the changes from occurring. Meaning, you’ll be alerted if a new card is opened, but the monitoring service isn’t a preventative measure.

You can contact each bureau as follows to set up any of the above services, including a credit freeze (links below):

  1. Equifax or call 1-800-349-9960
  2. TransUnion or call 1-888-909-8872
  3. Experian or call 1‑888‑397‑3742

Neither a fraud watch nor a credit freeze will impact your credit score. A freeze simply prevents any business from pulling your credit report without having your pin code. Companies for which you already do financial business or have loans established can still pull reports as needed. However, any new loans will be required to have your security pin code.  You can learn all about the details of a credit freeze at this FTC.gov web site.

Unfortunately, because the breach may have been more extensive than it appears, a thief can now contact the credit bureaus over the phone, pretend to be you and have any pin codes removed and/or reissued. Then, gain control over your credit records. This is why this breach is so treacherous for consumers. You need to be on your guard, vigilant and manually monitor your credit report for at least the next 12 months regularly. This is the part no big box media site is reporting. Yes, this is a very treacherous landslide indeed that is at work. Even if you do all of the protections I mention above, thieves can still subvert your financial records for personal gain by knowing your key personally identifying information.

How do I stop the thieves?

This is the fundamental problem. You can’t, at least not easily. To truly protect yourself, the scope of changes would include all of the following:

  1. Get a new social security number
  2. Reissue all of your credit card and debit card numbers
  3. Open new bank accounts, transfer your money into the new accounts
  4. Close the old bank accounts
  5. Reissue new checks
  6. Change your telephone number
  7. Move into a new address (or obtain a P.O. Box and send your bills there)
  8. Legally change your name
  9. Change all of your passwords
  10. Change all of your email addresses
  11. Set up multifactor authentication to every financial app / site you log into that supports this feature.

Unfortunately, even doing all of the above would still mean the credit bureaus will update your credit report with all of this new data, but your prior history would remain on the report… possibly up to and including all of the old account, name and address information. It is very, very difficult to expunge anything from a credit report.

In addition to the above, I’d also suggest closing any credit lines you don’t regularly use. If it’s not there, it can’t be exploited. None of this is a magic bullet. You just have to wait it and shut the thieves down as things materialize. Being diligent in watching your credit report is the only way to ensure you nip things in the bud early.

Tidal Waves and Repercussions

It is yet unknown the extent of their breach or the extent to which each consumer may have to go to protect themselves from this deep gash in the financial industry. Not only does this gash now undermine each account holder’s personal financial well being, it undermines the credibility of the very industry holding up the world’s economy. This is some serious shit here.

If half of the US’s residents are now available to identity thieves, those organizations who help protect the small amounts of identity theft throughout a normal year cannot possibly withstand a financial tidal wave of identity theft paybacks which could seriously bankrupt many credit organizations. In fact, if this tidal wave is as big as I suspect it could become, we’re in for some seriously rough financial waters over the next 6-12 months. By the time the holidays roll around, it could be so bad, consumers cannot even buy the goods needed to support the holiday season. Meaning, this could become such a disruptive event in the US’s financial history, many businesses could tank as a side outcome of consumers not being able to properly spend money during the most critical season of the year.

This has the potential to become one of the most catastrophic financial events in US history. It could potentially become even more disruptive than the 1939 stock market crash. Yes, it has that much potential.

Since I have no reason to believe that Equifax has been totally honest about how much data has actually been lost, this is the reason for this level of alarm. I’d be totally happy if the amount of data lost was limited to what they have stated, but the reality is, nothing is ever as it seems. There’s always something deeper going on and we won’t find that out for months… possibly at the point where the economy is hit hard.

Equifax Aftermath

Because the US is so pro-business, Equifax will likely get a slap on the wrist and a warning. Instead, this company should be required to close its doors. If it is not providing adequate data security measures to protect its systems, then it needs to shut its doors and let other more capable folks handle this business. This sector is far too critical of a service and that data too risky if lost to allow flippant companies like Equifax to continue to exist in that market.

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Rant Time: Apple iPhone, MS Exchange and Security Policies

Posted in Apple, best practices, botch by commorancy on August 7, 2017

If you’re like me, you like to use your phone device as your catch all email reader, including for your company email. Many corporate email solutions choose MS Exchange and/or Office 365 for their mail services. This article is here to inform you exactly what can happen to your iPhone when connecting to Exchange to access your corporate email. Apple has slipped this feature set in under the radar and, worse, doesn’t inform the users or request consent. Let’s explore.

Overreaching Policies and Exchange

I’ve never been one to think that Apple isn’t transparent about its technologies, but in this case, I think I have to make an exception. Apple slipped this technology change in without so much as an eye-blink. What is this change, you’re now wondering? Well, I’ll tell you.

If you connect your iOS device (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, etc) to an Active Sync Exchange mail server, the systems administrator operating that Exchange server can muck about with settings on your entire device. What mucking about can they do? We’ll, here’s a short list:

  • They can wipe your entire device through a single exchange server request
  • They can change system settings on your device to prevent using certain functions on iOS, such as disabling the ability to turn off passcodes or modifying other settings on your operating system, possibly even up to disabling iCloud entirely.
  • They can deny connection to the service if your device is set with an insecure setup or jailbroken
  • There are many other security policies they can apply to your device without your knowledge or consent.

Now, I can hear the Exchange Admins all over the world groaning right now. Well, the jig is up. You’ve had your fun for far too long. Unless the company is paying not only for the device, but for the service on the device, these changes are WAY WAY overreaching for the simple act of reading email. The only thing Exchange should be able to do is wipe the mail data left over from that Exchange server. You should not be able to set or change security settings on the entire device. Additionally, users should be able to grant or deny such overreaching settings coming from Exchange. Operating systems have had this feature for years… requesting the root password to make such sweeping changes. This same should be available on the iPhone (or any mobile device).

Mail Service Connectors modifying OS settings?

This was my question… why is this possible?

That the Exchange Service can make these global operating system changes to an iPhone is a way overreaching and abusive use of mail services. Mail applications (or any app for that matter) should NEVER be able to muck about with operating system settings at that level any more than a browser can. This is not only a security risk in itself, it leaves iOS devices open to security vulnerabilities because the mail app could become compromised and used to nefariously mess up iOS. Worse, if there are two or more Exchange Server connections to the mail app, which one rules when policies are applied? They both can’t apply differing security settings and expect them both to work properly.

Of course, the biggest problem is wiping your device. There should be no possible way a mail application should be capable of instantiating a wipe command ever. This is an amazing intentionally introduced vulnerability that I’m surprised to find exists in this day and age. Mail applications should never have this level of access to any device. In fact, the only allowed wiping should be done by the user of the device through a service such as Find My iPhone behind the user’s iCloud login and password and in no other place. I’m sorry… if corporate admins want to be able to wipe lost devices, they should do it through another method… not through the Exchange mail service protocol. Mail services should be for mail services, not for pushing extraneous other functions. This was never the purpose of a mail server and this should never be possible through a mail server connection. It should also not be possible without the user’s prior knowledge or consent.

Devices and Settings

Apple needs to quickly obsolete and remove this capability from the mail app. This was an unnecessarily overreaching decision that has no place on iOS. If corporate admins wish to apply corporate policy to devices, then whatever protocol makes this change needs to inform the user of each and every policy change that will be applied to the device and let the iPhone user make the choice of whether or not to accept those policies changes. If the corporate admins want to make global policy changes to iOS, it should be through an entirely different application and system.

Perhaps Apple needs to roll out a separate application and service that allows corporate admins to make these sweeping changes to iOS. Changes that will inform the user, that the user can track through this new app and that the user can opt out of if they wish. Right now, the only way to remove the applied global settings is to remove the Exchange connector from iOS. Even then, some of the applied settings may remain set and may require a wipe and restore to clear.

Unfortunately today, Exchange can silently push policies to your device up to and including wiping your device. When I say, “wipe the device”, I mean wipe it entirely. Yes, that means data and settings lost in an unrecoverable way. The data lost does include your photos, notes and any other personal information. This means that by connecting Exchange to the built-in Mail app, you’ve given your corporate admins control over your device simply for the convenience of reading email.

How can I protect my iPhone?

Don’t use any Exchange servers with the built-in Mail app on iOS. Instead, if you need access to Exchange email, install the Outlook app which is available on the app store. The Outlook app does not have access to modify any system settings and cannot wipe your entire phone, just as it should be. However, the Exchange server can wipe email data from inside Outlook. I’m perfectly fine with that. As long as Exchange’s modifications remain contained inside the Outlook app alone, that’s perfectly acceptable.

No mail server connection should ever be able to modify an iPhone’s global system settings in such a blatant and sweeping way. Apple, you need to fix this issue pronto. If you want to allow policy changes over the entire phone, then design and build a policy application with an API. Then, like Facebook apps, request the user to approve access to this API for any application that needs to use it and require connection to the iCloud login and password to activate it. Also, allow the user to revoke access to the API and undo all policy changes at any time. Once connected, offer an app with a UI to allow the iPhone user to see what settings are being altered on the phone. Also through this app, allow the iPhone owner to make changes (when possible) to these policy grants on the device. If those changes are incompatible with a specific service’s policies, then notify the user that that service will be removed from the device if changes are made.

Few companies pay for phones today and instead leech off of employees who pay for their own phones and services. If the company is paying for the phone and service, then they can do whatever they want with it. If I’m paying for the phone and monthly service, then it’s my decision over what happens on the device. Granting access to email should never let any mail service take control over my device in such a vulnerable way, especially when I never consented to that give that level of access.

Rant Time: Don’t ever wipe your network settings in iOS

Posted in Apple, best practices, botch by commorancy on July 15, 2017

I’ve been recently trying to solve a problem with T-Mobile which ended up a bust because of the absolute sheer uselessness of T-Mobile staff about the iPhone and Apple Watch features. I will write a separate rant about that entire disaster, but let me lead with this rant that’s a little more critical. Let’s explore.

Apple’s iCloud

What is this thing? It’s a way to store settings and various data in Apple’s network cloud storage. This seems like a great idea until you realize what Apple keeps ganging up into this storage area. Then, you might actually think twice about using this feature.

While you might realize that Apple iCloud service will backup your photos and other data stored on your iPhone, it also stores other things you might not realize, like your WiFi network passwords, your Safari logins and passwords and various other sensitive data. What that means is that if Apple’s iCloud is ever compromised, your passwords could be completely captured by a hacker. Depending on whether Apple has stored this data encrypted strongly or not (probably not), you may end up having to change every password you have ever typed and stored on your iPhone.

Now, while that is a security problem, that’s not the problem that this article is intended to address. Let’s continue.

Apple Geniuses Are Anything But

I was recently talking to an AppleCare staffer who, when trying to solve my T-Mobile problem, requested that I wipe my network settings on my iPhone. I explicitly asked this staffer if it would also wipe my iCloud passwords. She, of anyone on this planet, should have known the answer to this question working for Apple. Unfortunately, I have very quickly learned that Apple is now hiring the lowest grunts of the grunts who simply don’t give a shit nor do they even understand the technology they are hawking. Apple, train your staff. Which leads to …

Never, Ever EVER wipe your network settings on any iOS iCloud device

No matter how much anyone begs or pleads you to do this, tell them, “NO”. And, if anyone ever tries to do this to one of your devices sharing a single iCloud login, you need to grab the device back from them PRONTO and stop them.

The answer to my question I asked Apple is that wiping network settings on your phone does, in fact, indeed wipe all of your network settings in iCloud! Why is this important? If you have multiple devices sharing your iCloud ID and settings, after wiping a single device, all of your WiFi passwords are also wiped for ALL other iCloud devices. This means that every single iCloud device suddenly and explicitly drops its WiFi connection.

This also means you will need to go back to each device and manually re-type your WiFi password into each and every device. This is the only way for the device to log back into iCloud and relearn all of its knowledge of all newly recreated settings.

This is an absolute PAIN IN THE ASS, Apple! So, if anyone ever asks you to wipe your network settings on your iPhone or iPad participating in iCloud, don’t do it! Note that even signing out of iCloud and wiping may cause the same problem once you log it back in. So, I wouldn’t even try this knowing Apple’s crappy network designs. Simply tell the person asking, “Not only no, but hell no” and have them figure out another way to resolve whatever the problem is.

So, there you have it.

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.

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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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.

A Review of No Man’s Sky

Posted in botch, video gaming by commorancy on August 30, 2016

No Man's Sky ShipThis game is getting a lot of flack, particularly for being boring. Let’s explore.

Sold To The Wrong Audience

In this day and age of Call Of Duty, Destiny, Titanfall, Grand Theft Auto and Skyrim, gamers have become jaded. We, as game players, are used to these huge story driven games. Games that talk (ahem, preach) about some topic near and dear to the developer’s heart.

Unfortunately, Hello Games made a critical error in its bid to woo a lot of gamers on-board. Before that, let’s get one thing perfectly clear, No Man’s Sky is an eclectic open world exploration game made on an indie budget. It is not a story driven blockbuster. Trying to woo in the gamers who are used to playing contrived and mostly rail-based story games was the wrong audience to bring. This is an audience that will take one look at this game and call it a “nothing game with no story” and boring.  Yes, it’s very slow paced and very VERY open world.

Hello Games shouldn’t have tried to shove a round peg into a square hole, though with enough work it can be achieved. Unfortunately, these types of gamers are now posting one star reviews all over Amazon. This was mistake number one.

Over-promised and under-delivered

For those gamers who were watching this game’s development very closely since 2014, when those same gamers got their hands onto this game, they were sorely disappointed. What they saw on the demo was an unrealistic contrived world crafted by artists solely for demonstration. It wasn’t the actual in-world gameplay. It was a prototype of what the game might be. Was that a promise to deliver? Did they actually fail to deliver? That’s for you to decide.

Personally, I don’t think they under-delivered. I personally think that what they achieved as a small indie developer team is pretty frickin’ awesome. Not only did they manage to get the release out the door (mostly functional), they did achieve most of their objectives with the game. This is a far cry more than I can say for some Kickstarter campaigns. Don’t get me started there.

However, there were promises made around space combat that haven’t panned out. All of the space combat I have found has been random encounters, usually based on the fact that I’m carrying too much valuable loot. It’s pretty contrived and the space battles have nothing whatever to do with the overall story, such that it is. Failing to deliver even one promised feature is mistake number two.

Story Based Games

caveWhile No Man’s Sky does offer a get-to-the-center-of-the-universe story arc, that’s really pretty inconsequential compared to how many star systems there are and what you can do and see there. While I will say that the worlds can be somewhat repetitive, the animals are diverse, the flora is diverse (sometimes abundant, sometimes devoid) and the planets can even be hostile, contain water or contain huge cave structures. Unfortunately, far too many of the resources are duplicated throughout each world. For example, the hexagonal iron and the crystalline plutonium structures which are the same on every planet. In other words, some things aren’t procedurally generated.

What Hello Games failed in was the open worldness of the entire universe they created. Instead of promoting and touting exactly how much the universe is diverse, they instead focused on the story arc leading to the center. And, they expected gamers would follow suit and also fall in love with that. Unfortunately, how can we?

A story starts with characters and in No Man’s Sky, we have none (other than a few sparsely populated aliens sitting or standing in structures). Aliens, I might add, that do not walk, talk (other than in gibberish language), fight or do anything else other than stand there and look pretty. The worlds themselves are devoid of humanoids entirely. The only thing you’ll find on the worlds are animals… and some are a might strange at that. Without a cohesive set of characters, it’s hard to wrap your head around that there is a story. This is mistake number three.

Procedurally Generated Environments

This is a catch phrase that makes up for a large amount of the banter around this game. Instead of focusing on the fact that the worlds are crafted in a bunch of code, we need to focus on the lack of story. So many people came to this game thinking that there would be a story. Instead, the story is a loose thread of getting to the center of the galaxy. That’s not a story, that’s a quest. Unfortunately, it is among about 3-4 actually defined quests in this game. For example, learning words of the Aliens seems to be another type of quest. What happens when you finally learn all the words, I don’t know. Is it related to the center-of-the-galaxy story arc? Again, I don’t know. When I get there I might, but I’m not there yet.

It’s great that the worlds are crafted entirely in code. But, what I find is that the random hilly landscape of most worlds is tedious to traverse. Worlds should be made up not only of rolling hills, but they should be made up of mesas, deep ravines and all manner of flat plains. It should also be made of of volcanoes, ice and snow and water. Though, I have found a mostly water world that is highly radioactive.

Suffice it to say that of all the things that Hello Games got right was the procedurally generated landscapes, even though they can be tough to navigate on foot.

Starts Very Slow

Yes. Yes, it does. As with most games of this genre (I’m looking at you Elite II: Frontier), the game starts you out with a small everything: ship, suit, money, inventory, inventory slots, resource, etc. You name it, the game starts you out small… very, very small. To progress, you must have a lot of patience. Some might say, the patience of Job. That is, the patience to wade through the constant recharging of your suit, recharging your power ups, recharging your equipment, recharging your ship, recharging your gun and keeping up all of the things that help keep you alive. On top of that, the game requires you go out and find the resources to keep those recharges going. And, in the beginning, it’s a constant battle for survival. It can take several real hours to level your gear up enough to even dent making No Man’s Sky somewhat bearable.

Again, this was a mistake. Most games today offer Easy, Novice, Intermediate and Hard levels. Hello Games should have worked this in. For those who end up on Easy, you can skip all of the constant recharging and jump right into space battles and other types of combat. Better, the game should have offered character classes. Classes that would have allowed for more diverse suits, access to specific types of ships, to let people choose whether to explore, smuggle, trade or what ever profession they chose in this universe. It’s a diverse universe with almost infinite planets. Constraining the player to a single type of personality goes against the diversity of the universe.

Adding classes allows for more weapon choices. Instead of just the multi-tool, you could get a real gun, a saber or even add other character enhancements (powers). This would take No Man’s Sky to a whole new level. Unfortunately, Hello Games focused way too much of its effort on the procedural generation and not enough on the game mechanics of what you would actually do on these worlds once there. This is mistake number four.

Mercantile System

While there is a commerce system in the game, it is naively designed, arbitrary in its creation and what I would call bare-bones-basic. So, while you can sell found resources (gold, plutonium, carbon, emeril, pearls, etc), you cannot sell your ship, sell your weapon or sell certain crafted items. In fact, when you go to the store (which consists of what looks like an ATM), what you can sell is strictly controlled by the store, not by what’s in your inventory. For example, Dynamic Resonators (a key item in crafting pieces of your hyperdrive) are not purchasable or saleable in the store and do not show up when you attempt to sell or buy stuff.

Worse off are the ships. While you can buy star ships from various aliens that show up on landing pads, you cannot sell your ship. In fact, if you do buy a ship from an alien, your old ship now becomes abandoned where you left it. You can reclaim it if you want, but then you’ll abandon the other one. This means you cannot own more than one star ship at a time. You also can’t sell your star ship to get money back towards a new sale. This is all the more frustrating because these ships cost a mint (like 4 million units for the smallest decent ship and up to 50 million for a 39 slot job).

So, while it’s perfectly fine to go mine for resources (and sell them), you can’t sell your ship or weapons? I don’t think so. This is huge mistake number five.

What did they get right?

The worlds and the way they look. The stylized futuristic worlds are amazing to behold and stand on (when you’re in the sunlight). When it’s dark, not so much. When you’re in caves, the suit doesn’t have a flashlight. In fact, there is a flashlight, but unfortunately the flashlight is disabled when the sun is up (even if you’re in a cave). Yet another faux pas. So, there’s no easy way to illuminate dark places at times. Thankfully, Hello Games got the bio-luminescence of the plants right to at least illuminate enough of the underground world so that not having a flashlight isn’t so much of a problem. But, having a flashlight available all of the time would definitely help.

The multi-t0ol. For being both a weapon and a mining tool, it works quite well against sentinels and animals alike. The tool itself is rather generic, though. Calling it a multi-tool makes me think of a Swiss Army Knife. It doesn’t make me think of a gun. Still, it works well once you have the right power up mods on it.

Mining. Looking for and locating resources works very well. Unfortunately, the resources are always too abundant on every world. You can always find plutonium to power your suit and other things. If you end up in a cave, you can usually find lots of plutonium (and other resources). It’s not exactly hard to find the stuff you need, it can sometimes just be time consuming if you find yourself walking around the planets a lot.

Exploring. It’s easy to get around the worlds and find new stuff.

Selling stuff. It’s easy to find and sell stuff to make credits. It’s practically impossible not to find stuff to sell. Though, you can’t sell animal skins. You can sell resources, but not animals.

What they didn’t get right?

Space battles. The battles in space are random encounters with random ships. Ships that come in large squads and that usually outstrip your ship’s armament and shields. I’ve learned to simply avoid these battles by landing on a nearby world. Just make sure you stay close enough to a world that you can dive-bomb the world and land. Otherwise, you may be forced to find your grave in space.

Graves. When you die, your ship drops all of its cargo, or your suit drops all of its inventory. This is highly frustrating because you’re forced to work your way back to where you died and pick it all up. If it’s in space, you’re likely to run into those ships that began your space battle while trying to pick it up.

In-game Commerce. While it’s relatively easy to sell resources, the fact that you can’t sell your star ship or weapon or, indeed, own more than one weapon or star ship leaves a lot to be desired. If anything, the commerce system is so rudimentary that I’m surprised it works at all.

Lack of Story. Since there are no characters, it makes it hard to offer a story arc that makes sense and is even worth hearing. Writing stories is hard, I get that. But, there are plenty of story writers you could hire.

Lack of Humanoids. Since there is really no story, there’s likewise no characters. So, the game doesn’t need humanoids walking and talking on the worlds. But, not having them there does make for a rather solitary and, dare I say, boring environment. Meeting up and talking to humanoids would at least offer something to do besides scouring for resources… even if the humanoids have nothing to do with the story.

Repetition. You end up doing the same things over and over far too many times. While I agree that it’s important to drive the point home about recharging everything, at some point you need to find a suit and ship enhancement that auto-refills everything. Finding this enhancement makes you fully appreciate having done it manually.

Hyperspace Star Map. It’s hard to navigate. For those of us who need to invert the Y axis, navigating the hyperspace star map is extremely cumbersome because there is no setting to inverse the camera. Worse, because the stars are not labeled at all, you have no idea which star is which. Instead, you are forced to touch and look at each star to know if you’ve already been there or not. There is no indication (color, shape or any other distinguishing visual characteristic) to know which you’ve already visited (in case you want to go back there or avoid it). Instead, you have to click on it to find out.

Overall

I give this game a solid 5 out of 10 stars. They got about half correct. The other half is cumbersome, repetitive and annoying. I wanted a solid space adventure and received a lesson in tedium. It’s definitely not game of the year, yet. It needs a whole lot more work for that. But, considering the sheer number of worlds to explore, see and land on, it’s still an amazing achievement for an indie game developer. Is it worth playing? That depends on if you require a story or if you can be satisfied by making up your own as you go.

If you work at Hello Games, please read this. Lose the center-of-the-galaxy idea and focus on exploration and making space battles actually fun… and fix that blasted Hyperspace star map to respect an inverted Y axis and add names next to stars already visited. Let’s get to work. Chop Chop.

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