Random Thoughts – Randosity!

Rant Time: Password Bombing

Posted in best practices, business, security by commorancy on June 29, 2017

What is password bombing? This is a malicious activity by trolls on the Internet just to inflict chaos and to annoy legitimate account holders on the Internet. Like DDoS attacks affect Internet providers, password bombing affects individual Internet users. It works like this. You have an account somewhere, let’s say Apple. Apple institutes a policy that after 3 failed password attempts your account is locked. You must then jump through a bunch of hoops to unlock the account… typically answering ‘security questions’ in addition to entering your password. Sometimes these hoops are much more problematic, like bank logins. You might even be required to call in to have someone there verify your identity and unlock your account. You might also be required to reset your password. Some companies, depending on the lockout procedure, might even require that you re-register a brand new account. The hoops you are required to jump through can be minimal to numerous… all in the name of security. A password bomber takes advantage of these security practices and bombs your account to force this account lock inconvenience on you. Let’s explore.

Security and Logins

Yes, we all want our login IDs to remain safe, but not at the expense of being locked out of our account by a random schmoe on the Internet. After all, when they enter your account’s password incorrectly, there’s nothing that affects the malicious troll except a few failed attempts… at which point they can move on and try yet another account. All of the burden and inconvenience is firmly placed on the account holder to resolve the lockout. The malicious user gets to lock you out, you as account holder have to jump through the hoops to get the account reinstated. Depending on the organization’s security practices, you might be online in a few minutes, sometimes it can take days for the lockout to expire.

Overreaching Security Methodologies vs User Preferences

As more and more breaches occur, ever more organizations are making huge security knee-jerk reactions by, in most cases, silently instituting tougher and more problematic security measures for user accounts. After all, it’s my account and, in many cases, I’m paying to have that account (in one way or another).

This is one of those times where organizations think they know better than you. They think they can simply institute security procedures and everyone will just go along with them all happy like. It doesn’t work that way. If you’re an organization instituting security practices that will affect your user accounts, you need to not only inform your user base, you need to also offer ways to set preferences to control these security practices. If you’re planning on instituting a lockout policy, then you should offer ways to prevent lockouts (multi-factor authentication) or in ways to remain informed of lockout attempts. For example, if you’re planning to lock an account due to bad data, send an email WHY your system locked the account and the IP address that caused the lockout.

Locking out accounts may sound like a great security prevention practice, but it’s what’s happens after a lockout that makes this security measure useful or a fail. Making your users jump through a bunch of sometimes impossible hoops to reactivate their account is not cool. Simply because some random schmoe on the Internet decided to type in my account name with a bad password three or more times shouldn’t require me to spend 30 minutes or longer resolving this issue. It’s your system that allowed that schmoe to continue to enter the password multiple times. That had nothing to do with me.

Why not just block that IP address from your site after multiple bad attempts and then inform the actual account holder that someone attempted to gain access from that specific IP? Let the account holder determine how to handle this issue. That’s the better way to handle this. Let us know that people are attempting to access our accounts and tell us where they are from and what device they are using. Let us make the decision. Don’t just lock us out without a word, then assume we’re okay with spending 30 minutes jumping through your silly hoops to gain access again. Do you really want us to use your services?

Password Bombers

As we are forever required to have and own more and more accounts on the Internet, it’s becoming much more common for our usernames to clash with other people. This is especially true when we’re required to use our email addresses as our login IDs. I preferred the time when we could choose our user IDs so they could be unique. Instead, we are now forced to use our email addresses which can be easily confused with other users, particularly when using an email domain like @gmail.com, @yahoo.com, @outlook.com or similar common email services used by perhaps millions of other users.

Worse, though, is when malicious trolls decide to be contrary. When they can simply go out to Yahoo or Apple or Google and just plug in random data into the login screen simply to lock user accounts. Even though this vulnerability has been around for a long time, it’s now becoming more and more common. As we move forward, it will become even more common in retaliation to stupid things like Internet comments.

These password lockout practices need to be refined to not inconvenience legitimate account holders. But, instead, it should inconvenience the password bomber. Yes, inconvenience them. Make them pay for their stupidity of entering incorrect data multiple times. Instead of locking out our accounts, block that IP from your site for 24 hours after entering incorrect login data. Prevent them from locking any further accounts through their contrary actions. Make them contact your team to get the IP unblocked. Leave the accounts alone unless it’s absolutely necessary, like under a real breach. If your organization loses password data, then yes lock our accounts until we change passwords. If some random troll decides to password bomb as an activity, make them pay for this activity by blocking their IP from your login screen.

If you have been password bombed by someone on the Internet, please leave a comment below with your story. If you like what you read here, please subscribe to the Randosity blog so you don’t miss my newest posts.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running a company by remote control

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

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

For any would-be business owner

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

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

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

Why phoning in as CEO doesn’t work

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

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

Being a Billionaire

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

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

Using time (and lighting) wisely

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

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

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

Takeaway

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

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.

How not to run a business (Part 13): Hiring

Posted in business, Employment by commorancy on August 21, 2016

I’ll preface this article by saying that there is no magic bullet to hiring, even though a lot of people want there to be. Any processes put into place to reduce the number of resumes to dig through will weed out potentially good candidates. If you believe that your weed out the methods are effective at helping you find just the right candidate, you are mistaken. Let’s explore.

Don’t believe your weedout methods work

As a hiring manager, when you have a large stack of resumes sitting on your desk, your first thought is likely, “how do I read through these rapidly?” Unfortunately, there is no easy answer or magic bullet for digging through resumes.

Instead, what you need to understand is that to find the best candidate you need to read through and carefully examine every resume and every candidate. Clearly, you will find resume submissions that don’t make sense. If you try to find an easy way to skip reading, you’re going to weed out candidates that could be a good fit for your company. On the other hand, by skipping resumes, you may ultimately be left with bad candidates who are not a good fit for your company.

Don’t skip reading resumes

Many companies try many forms of pre-screening methods to limit reading resumes. Methods that include psychological tests, aptitude tests, technical tests or any combination of those tests. Depending on the position for which you are hiring, it may also include other tests such as  lie detector tests (i.e., in trust or money related positions).

Don’t get caught up in the pre-screening process and forget about finding the best candidate for your job position. If you are simply too busy and your primary goal is to get rid of half or three quarters of the resumes on your desk, you have entirely lost sight of your goal and you might as well just randomly select three quarters of those resumes and throw them in the trash. That’s how effective such early weed out methodologies are in finding the right candidate. If you believe the hype that tests are effective at finding just the right candidate, your test provider is blowing smoke. You’re paying money for nothing. That test provider is only there to sell you into their testing service, not provide you with an effective service to locate quality candidates. This comes to…

Why tests fail you

Tests weed out people who are good or bad at taking tests. If your job role is all about taking tests every day, then weeding out those who can’t take tests makes sense. However, if your job role is something other than taking tests (which most real world jobs are), then testing your candidates may weed out people who may be a good fit for your role. Not every person on the planet is good at taking tests. Tests take a certain mindset, require specific thought processes and requires quickness on your feet. It’s a mode each person gets into solely for taking tests and never a mode you get into for actually doing job-related work.

For example, in technical positions where correctness and completeness is the key to prevent mistakes, test taking is the exact opposite of what you want in your role. You want people who are careful, methodical and have attention to details. You don’t want people to rush through the work and guess at answers because that’s the quickest ways to mistakes. Multiple choice tests are extremely bad at determining if a person offers attention to detail, is a good communicator, has the skills you want or at  predicting effectiveness in a job role.

Tests also fail to screen candidates properly because apptitude, IQ and management tests do not assess a candidate’s job skills at all. Worse, the assessment it seeks might not even be relevant to their job role and may even erroneously assess the wrong skills.

How do you find a good candidate?

If you’re actually looking for the best candidate to fulfill your position, then you will need to spend the time and go through each and every resume from top to bottom and weed them out in the normal way …. by reading.

I understand time constraints. I really do. You want the easiest and fastest way possible to find your candidates without spending a lot of time on this process. This is especially true if you have thousands of resumes to review. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. Tests won’t do it. Random selection won’t do it. Only by reading through the resumes and talking the candidates will you find the right person for your job role.

If you don’t have the time to spend on the hiring process, then you probably shouldn’t be in a hiring position. If you cut corners, then will get what you deserve. Yes, it is very tempting to use third party pre-screening technologies, like testing, to eliminate candidates sight unseen, but be prepared to potentially eliminate some of your best candidates by doing so.

Job Postings and Resume Volume

If you do actually have 10,000 resumes on your desk, then you’re likely posting your job ad too broadly. Posting your job too broadly is your first mistake. Not only will it bring in too many candidates, it will bring with it many recruiter calls (something will you want to avoid if your intent is to hire internally). Use limited job boards and job ads when posting your jobs. If one venue doesn’t work, wait until that job ad expires before posting it somewhere else. Don’t just blanket the internet everywhere to find candidates.

If you need your position filled yesterday, and who doesn’t, that’s just not going to happen if you’re looking for a Rock Star. If you need someone now, then consider hiring a contractor to fill the role to buy you time until you can find the right permanent candidate.

Overall Best Practices

Forcing any kind of pre-screening tests onto candidates is really no more effective than doing it the old fashioned way. In fact, the old fashioned way of reading through resumes and calling them for phone screens is probably the easiest, fastest and most reliable way to determine if the candidate is a good fit. It is also the best way to determine if you should progress the candidate to the next stage of interviews.

Yes, there are many testing services out there willing to take your money for the promise of producing high quality candidates. In the end, you’ll find that you could have found those candidates on your own without spending that money on a testing service.

Part 12 | Chapter Index

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Disney Infinity 3.0 Review: He’s Dead Jim

Posted in botch, business, video game by commorancy on July 18, 2016

[Updated 10/6/2016] I’ve never taken the time to write a review of Disney’s Infinity 3.0 (or any other version) because it wasn’t really worth a review. However that has changed. I feel now is the time to write one considering Disney has recently canned the entire Infinity video game project and it is now officially dead along with Avalanche software’s involvement. Disney Infinity will continue to deliver on the remaining toys and playsets that were in the process of being manufactured in 2016, but anything not already in the manufacturing process won’t see the light of day. Let’s explore.

Focus on Core Business?

That’s what Disney would have us believe. They state that while the 1.0 iteration of Infinity did well, the 2.0 and 3.0 iterations have not done nearly as well. I will explain the reason for that later.

Instead, I believe that getting rid of Infinity is a monetary method to focus on their core business. Well, that is to say they want to focus on their theme park business. Disney is, in fact, financially struggling with their theme parks. Specifically, the Shanghai Disney location is apparently sucking up tons of money and is way over-budget. In an effort for the whole of Disney to get back on track, they are trimming those pieces they feel aren’t doing well. So, away goes Infinity.

Cancel Infinity

I’m not terribly unhappy that Infinity is on its way out even though I bought both 2.0 and 3.0. After all, I can still play it, or at least, I think I will be able to. I can for now. That may not last when Disney cuts off Infinity’s network servers. Though, Infinity had it’s fair share of problems. Let’s start a list, shall we?

  • It’s boring. The characters look good on screen and even better on the figures, but playing around in the Toy Box is just B O R I N G. Seriously, creating that toy box world is about as much fun as watching paint dry.
  • The playsets are very short. So, you go out and spend $35 for a playset and two figures. Yet, the world takes maybe 1 day to get through? I mean, we’re talking about a fair amount of money for such short play value. Even Skylanders play value is longer than this. Worse, again, much of the playset is boring. Not only is it expensive, it just doesn’t hold much play value.
  • The figures are expensive. At $12-15 per figure, that’s a lot of money. Granted, the LightFX Star Wars figures are quite cool. But, still expensive. And, now that the series is dead, there will be no more Star Wars LightFX figures made. Kylo Ren was the last one.
  • The starter kit is way expensive and requires you to buy a new portal each and every iteration. So stupid and wasteful.

It is now certain that Disney will cut off the Infinity servers in this shut down process. Parts of Infinity will shut off in September 2016 and the rest will shutdown between September 2016 and March 2017. March 3rd, 2017 is the date which all servers will be permanently shut down for all Infinity game versions (console, PC, tablets, etc).

It is as yet uncertain exactly what will fail when the servers shutdown completely. It has been stated that games which have a world game piece that you drop onto the base may continue function. However, online play, such as the toy box, creation sharing, multiplayer, multiplayer matches and leader boards will no longer function. If a game requires the availability of any online access to validate any parts of the game’s content or provide extra content, it’s likely that game will no longer work at all. You should be prepared to take it away from your child before March to avoid disappointment.

Gameplay

What I will say about the gameplay is that the separate game worlds using the crystal bases are the best part of the game. They offer a short, if not reasonably well defined gameplay. For example, the Rise Against the Empire playset offers a taste of the original 3 Star Wars movie including A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi game segments. The gameplay is reasonably fun, if not overall short, repetitive and somewhat boring once you’ve completed the story.

Swapping characters only lets you increase your play time if your current character is defeated and needs to “rest”. Though, this whole Toys To Life type gaming concept has fundamental problems. The toys themselves are space hogs and require bulky and cumbersome cases to store. Instead, Nintendo has the right idea with using cards instead of plastic figures. Cards are much more portable and overall a better choice for ease of use, storage and functionality. On the other hand, the carded figures will probably fetch more money from collectors in the future. Though, there’s no promises on that.

The thing is, other than the graphics improving between 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 versions, that’s about it. The  gameplay itself is essentially the same. I was hoping that Avalanche software would have substantially improved the gameplay on each iteration. Instead, the only thing they did was cause you to buy a new starter pack and make the new figures not backwards compatible with the previous games. I would personally say that Disney 2.0 was the best version of Infinity. The Marvel character playsets were decently fun and had some replay value. Unfortunately, the Star Wars playsets don’t really have that replayability. The 3.0 figure lineup has been drastically cut short. So, we may never know what was in store for us.

Overall

I can handle playing Infinity in small doses. The only playsets that I somewhat enjoyed were the Spiderman playset from 2.0 and the Star Wars playsets from 3.0. Everything else is just pointless. Even still, of the playsets that I actually liked, they were very short and more than occasionally boring. The combat is okay, but the stories are just not much fun overall. In fact, I found some of the Marvel playsets frustrating due to the nature of what they want you to do.

Opening up the capsules to release the colored sparks was just not much fun at all. Yes, they did add health or power or whatever, but chasing down the sparks was just annoying. Sometimes, many of them fall out of reach ending in frustration. Why not just pick up all of the sparks as soon as the capsule is opened? Why am I required to go chase them down if they fall off of the edge of a building?

Why am I writing this review now?

I only write this review in remembrance of what was Disney Infinity. Disney should have never entered into the video game business if they had no plans of staying in it. You just don’t jump into producing something like Infinity unless you plan at least a 5 year commitment. Unfortunately, Disney Infinity was only available for ~3 years (1.0, 2.0 and 3.0). This is far too short to know if this series might have had some staying power.

Additionally, I’m writing this review now to state that if you are on the fence and want to play one of the playsets in this game, buy it now! It’s actually too late to buy into Disney Infinity. If you can find the starter pack for less than $5, maybe. Otherwise, you should go pick up another game. If you already have it, play it while Disney’s servers are still online, let you log in and it still offers whatever is left of its online features. Once Disney closes down its Infinity game servers in 2017, the game may literally be over. On the other hand, if you’re thinking of giving this video game to your child for the holidays, know that it has no future and you are investing in a dead video game product with no life left. In other words, don’t give this as a gift to your child. Choose a different gift, such as Skylanders or Amiibo.

If your child already has this game, you might want to prepare them for the time when they attempt to start up the game and Disney has killed their game servers. This may prevent playing the game entirely, or at least the multiplayer parts of it. This may ultimately be disappointing for your child. You might want to find a way to pry Infinity away from your child now to avoid this disappointment in the future. If your child has this game and they are no longer playing it, be thankful and send it to Goodwill quickly.

If you’re thinking of buying a Toys-To-Life game system, the Skylanders franchise is still very much alive and kicking and will be releasing a new set this year (Skylanders Imaginators). It might be worth trying to get your child to switch. I know that that series doesn’t offer playing as Ironman, Spiderman, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker or any other Disney owned character, but it will be of little concession when Disney cuts off their interactive servers for Disney Infinity on March 3rd, 2017.

Have you recently purchased?

If you’ve recently purchased the Disney Infinity 3.0 starter pack and you are still within the return period, I’d strongly suggest returning the set to your retailer. You can only expect about 6 months more of real play value from this system. For a Toys-To-Life purchase, I’d recommend buying into the newest Skylanders Imaginators set which will offer a 8-10 months or more of play value. The only reason to keep the Disney Infinity set is if you really must play the Star Wars playsets. They are reasonably fun, but don’t sit on playing it. Play them (or give them to your child) now while Disney’s servers are still online. If you wait even just a few months to play the system, you might find that Disney has limited what the game can do.

As tempting as it is, I’d also highly suggest not purchasing this even if it goes on sale for 50% off or more. I’d also strongly suggest not purchasing this set to hold as a holiday gift. This video game is tied to Disney’s network servers remaining online for network play (and possibly for any play). If you buy it now to give in December, you may find your child disappointed on the big day. Be wary if you decide to buy into the Disney Infinity 3.0 Starter Pack as there’s not much time left for usable play.

As long as you understand that the clock is ticking on the longevity of Disney Infinity and you can find the game and figures for 90% off, that would be the only reason to buy into this set. Otherwise, steer clear and choose Skylanders.

Amiibo

So as not to be remiss in discussing the other Toys-To-Life system out there besides Skylanders, let’s talk about Nintendo’s Amiibo system. Nintendo’s Amiibos only work with Nintendo systems. This means you’ll need to invest in a Wii U or Nintendo 3DS/2DS game system to use an Amiibo or Amiibo cards. If you already have a Wii U or 3DS, then by all means I’d suggest buying into Nintendo’s Amiibo system over Disney Infinity, to be sure. On the other hand, Nintendo has had a lot of troubles handling its Amiibos. Either Nintendo floods the market with a ton of figures that no one wants (I’m looking at you Animal Crossing) or they make so few you can’t even find them (looking at you King Dedede, Palutena, Samus and Gold Mario). Nintendo’s ability to consistently deliver its Amiibos in sufficient quantities is a problem. Unless you enjoy continually seeing your child’s disappointment, in spending a lot of money for a toy (i.e., $50 or $100 for a single character) or running all over town looking for that elusive Amiibo, the Amiibo system may not be what you want as a parent.

Worse, your child can’t keep the Amiibo toys in the package and still play them, unlike Skylanders which can be played in the package. Nintendo has intentionally placed an RFID blocking card in front of the RFID chip. This requires that you rip the toys out of the packages to play (or at least rip open parts of the package to get this blocking card out). Ripping them out automatically reduces the collectibility. So, expect to buy them in twos. One to rip open, the other to store as a collectible.

Amiibo characters are also firmly limited to Nintendo franchises (Mario, Luigi, Kirby, Smash Bros., Animal Crossing, Metroid, Zelda, Yoshi, Fire Emblem, etc). If your child is not into Nintendo characters and franchises, buying into the Amiibo system might not be wise. With Nintendo’s Toys-To-Life system, don’t expect to see any Marvel, DC or Star Wars characters (or any other non-Nintendo characters).

Suffice it to say that the Amiibo system is cumbersome to use and has massively limited play value. The toys are mere afterthoughts to each game rather than being truly integrated like Infinity or Skylanders. For this reason, I don’t recommend the Amiibo system over Skylanders unless your child has a strong affinity for Nintendo’s characters and games and you already have a Wii U or DS.

Toys-to-Life longevity

While the Toys-to-Life system was a novel concept when Skylanders first hit the shelves, it has now become a dwindling fad. I believe that’s part of the reason Disney is now chucking its Infinity franchise in the bin. For this reason, I might suggest avoiding any Toys-to-Life products as gifts for your child. Yes, they are reasonably fun to play, but it is also costly to invest in each and every one of the figures, the playsets and the add-ons. As a parent, it’s an expensive never-ending trap

Worse, I believe that this game system fad is now ending. Infinity is the first to fall, but I believe that Skylanders may be next. Skylander’s Trap Team was arguably Activision’s best effort to date. Skylanders Superchargers was just not nearly as much fun, primarily because the racing was horrible. Nintendo’s Amiibo lineup may continue onward for a bit longer, but I believe that Nintendo is already feeling the pinch considering they are now starting to release duplicated figures in different poses and outfits. You can only do that for so long. In fact, at a time when the most Amiibos should be released all year, we’ve not had any Amiibos released so far. We’re only 2.75 months from the end of the year now and we’ve still not seen any new Amiibos since mid summer. You can’t sell what you don’t have on the shelves.

Skylanders Imaginators is the next in the Skylanders series, but I believe that this latest set will see lackluster sales, perhaps to the point of Activision rethinking toys-to-life systems as a whole. All things must end and I believe that the toys-to-life systems are now at the end of their run. If we have both Skylanders and Amiibos franchises still active by 2018, I’d be surprised. Though, I do expect to see both Amiibo and Skylanders live through to the end of 2017 (with far fewer figures released).

Once bitten, twice shy.

If Disney decides to jump back into the video game business again soon, I’ll definitely be one of the last people to buy into it. I just don’t trust Disney with video game franchises from a fun perspective or for its longevity. So long Disney Infinity, don’t let the castle door hit you on the way out.

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Pulse Club Shooting and Reopening

Posted in botch, business, entertainment by commorancy on June 18, 2016

As we all know by now (and if you haven’t, you’re probably living under a rock), the Pulse Club was a primarily gay dance night spot located in Orlando, Florida. Unfortunately, as a deadly shooting unfolded, it has now become the unwitting site of the worst mass shooting in the US so far. Should it reopen? Let’s explore.

Shooting Aftermath

After that 3 hour massacre ended in the death of the shooter, this situation now leaves more questions than answers, especially for the victim’s families and those who were injured. In fact, my heart goes out to each and every one of the victim’s families. Those people who had gathered at that club that night arrived to have fun, drink and dance. Many had done so on many previous nights. Nothing wrong in that.

Unfortunately, the shooter had other plans. He entered this night club with the intent of taking lives. After 3 hours of standoff with law enforcement, the situation ended with the death of the shooter, but not before 49 people were dead and 53 others were injured and sent to hospitals. Let’s not forget about those who were not injured, but who were there witnessing this horrific event unfold. These victims may not have physical injuries, but they now have emotional injuries that may take decades and therapy to resolve. Survivor’s guilt is a real thing. A horrible situation for any business owner to contemplate.

Club Reopening?

The manager of the club, Barbara Poma, is trying to salvage this situation with her business and has vowed to reopen this night club. Unfortunately, the Pulse Club has now become a victim in its own right with a massive stigma attached: the massacre and all of those brutal deaths. This situation never spells a good end to any business. Barbara, if you are in fact reading this, I’d strongly suggest not reopening this club at that location. However, before considering reopening, you should most definitely wait (see below). There are a number of reasons why it shouldn’t reopen in its current form:

  1. Macabre thrill seeker tourists. Your club has now (and will for a very long time) become an unwitting tourist destination for those seeking a brush with the macabre. Yes, your club will now have people seeking to stop by and talk about the massacre, the deaths, the victims with anyone who will talk about it including to your customers, your staff and you. This will eventually become distracting and annoying to your customers who are there just to party. It will drive your existing customer base away. This will not be forgotten quickly or easily.
  2. Ghost hunters. Because of the 49 deaths in your club, inevitably someone will claim they have seen or heard the ghost of one of those who died on your premise. I’m not here to argue the merit of that type of claim, but I will state that your club will become a destination for ghost hunters looking for ghosts. Again, this will be to the distraction of your paying visitors simply there to have a good time. It will also become a distraction for your bartenders and other staff. This will also drive your existing customer base away.
  3. Regulars will shy away. For those who were regulars to your club and who were there that night, they won’t be back. Your club is forever tainted as that club that had a mass shooting and now holds that stigma high and wide like a badge of honor, except there’s no honor in that. For anyone who was there that night, the memory is just too painful and few will be back to avoid reliving that memory, especially those who were trapped in there for hours.
  4. Tainted by death. The Pulse Club brand has now become the unwitting poster child for mass shootings. What I’m about to write may seem a little crass, but you might as well re-theme your club to have heart monitors, hospital beds, and nurses running around if you want to move forward with this name. This is what people will forever link to this club’s name. People will not remember it for the fun party spot. It will now be remembered for the deaths and those living victims still in the hospital. If you don’t have any intent on capitalizing on this notoriety, you should change the name and move the club to another location.
  5. Because of at least number 4, you may find that your original customer type no longer visits your club. You may find that types 1-4 make up the vast majority of those who visit your club. They are not there to have a good time, they are there to take pictures, vlog, gawk, talk to your staff and generally be a nuisance to your club. It might even lead to confrontations that you and your staff might not want to deal with. You can never know the intent of a single person requesting access into your club.

What this basically says is if you reopen the club, your clientele will drastically shift from that happy-go-lucky dance place that it once was to that-place-that-had-a-mass-shooting. The above are not necessarily the reasons you want people at your club. The Pulse Club can never live its now-infamous past down. Even if you change the name of the club, paint it, redecorate it and refurnish it from top to bottom, that location won’t ever forget what happened.

Rebuilding the Pulse Club

The only way the Pulse Club can ever live again is by moving it to an entirely new location somewhere else in the city and rebranding it. You must abandon that building and let it become someone else’s problem and stigma to solve. What happened there is something that stays with that building, not with your business. If you want to get your business back the way that it was, you cannot reopen in that location. You must move your business to a new building. This is the only way to free yourself from the thrill seekers, from the macabre, from the ghost hunters and from those just morbidly curious. These people are not the reason why you opened your club and these are not the reasons you should want to continue with your club.

These are distractions that only serve to taint your establishment, chase off would-be new customers and cause your staff daily grief throwing random lookie-loos out. You need to ask yourself the hard question, is this really the reason you opened the Pulse Club?

Before you contemplate reopening the club, you need to let the legal dust settle. And, settle it will, I can guarantee that. Before making plans of spending money to renovate your club, you should reserve those funds for the upcoming legal battles that are about to ensue… and sue they will.

Lawsuits and the Future of Pulse

We haven’t seen the last of what is in store for this club. Just you wait. Some of the victims will file wrongful death suits at someone, anyone, for negligence. Where to start? The club’s owner. It’s as good a place as any.

Was the Pulse Club negligent in what happened? Well clearly, if the club’s staff had been properly enforcing at least metal detection or a pat down at the door, the guns might not have gotten into the building. Unfortunately, it now appears that this club was not enforcing any safety best practices when allowing patrons into the establishment. This could very much appear as negligent actions by the club’s owner. And, there are 53 living injured who can file lawsuits against this club. There are an additional 49 families who can also file lawsuits against this club. There are additional people like employees and those who suffered severe mental anguish at the horrific events that night who can also file lawsuits.

Unless the Pulse Club owner has engaged in specialty insurance in high amounts to cover such occurrences (probably not), she may find the Pulse Club out of business and her personal finances spent covering each and every one of those yet-to-be-filed lawsuits. It’s way too early for this club’s owner to be thinking about reopening the night club when the legal battles have barely even begun.

Clearly Barbara, as the club’s owner, you should wait out the legal battles before making plans to reopen this club. You may find that you can’t actually afford to reopen the club after the legal dust settles.

Victims

If you are a victim of this shooting, you should contemplate all of your legal options and you should do so quickly with your lawyer. If you are intent on filing a lawsuit, you should do it as fast as possible. The first to the table are usually the first to walk away with settlements. If you are one of the last, you might get nothing.

Was this club negligent by allowing a shooter with a Sig Sauer MCX rifle (every bit as deadly as an AK-47, just quieter) into this club? Clearly, the Pulse had very little in the way of security due diligence at the door. Is that considered negligent? Only a court can decide.

For whom does the bell toll? Microsoft’s Xbox.

Posted in botch, business, gaming, microsoft, xbox by commorancy on March 27, 2016

xbox-1-logoIn case you haven’t been reading recent news, here’s an article that might wake you up… especially if you happen to be an Xbox platform fanboy. What is this alleged article? Microsoft has stated it will merge the PC and Xbox platforms into a single unified platform, ending the sale of dedicated console hardware. Let’s explore.

Xbox and Xbox 360

When the original Xbox arrived in 2001, it received lots of fanfare. The console market now had a competitor against the PlayStation 2. The PS2 had released only one year earlier in 2000. Though, the Sega Dreamcast had promise, Sega pulled the plug in 2000 citing lots of reasons including bad sales, competition and poor platform reception. The Xbox’s controller, architecture and speed quickly ended up competing with the PlayStation 2.

A few years later, we went through the second iteration of this console war when both Sony and Microsoft released the PS3 and the Xbox 360, respectively and near simultaneously. Once again, we had our next generation console in our hands and we gamers were happily playing with better graphics and sound quality.

The Xbox 360 took the lead in the console market over Sony’s PS3, but only by slim margins. Though, the XBox 360 managed to stay one step ahead through out the lifespan of both consoles.

Xbox One and Ps4

Unfortunately, Microsoft would not be able to maintain its fleeting lead it had won with the Xbox 360 with its blundering Xbox One E3 announcement in 2013. Here’s what they had wanted to do:

This announcement in 2013 would set the tone for all things to come including the next iteration of the Xbox platform. Within a week of their E3 announcement, after facing Sony’s harsh rebuttal at E3, Microsoft reversed all of its DRM and privacy invasion strategies after the gamers clearly spoke with their wallet, PS4 orders surged and people cancelled their Xbox One orders in droves. It’s clear, this blunder was Xbox’s first death knell and set in motion many future problems to come for the Xbox. Unfortunately, neither Microsoft nor the Xbox has been able to recover from this blunder.

Elite Console and Controller

XboxOneEliteController-smImmediately prior to this Windows platform integration announcement, Microsoft had just released the Elite Console and Elite Controller. This controller being a much more costly update to its existing hardware ($15o vs $60). This console and especially the controller is Microsoft’s nod to a more professional gamer. That is, a nod to those gamers who want to play games using higher quality contollers, button remapping, changeable controller features, more inputs and faster consoles. I’ll tell you what, though. The Elite Controller is actually quite nice, but very very pricey. Yes, some of us do want these advanced features from our systems. However, it’s entirely disingenuous for Xbox to release the Elite controller and system only to see Microsoft announce the death of future hardware systems just a few months later. Really, what does this say to would-be gamers about Microsoft’s commitment to the gaming market?

To me, this says that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing in Redmond. On the one hand, you have the Xbox engineering team trying to drum up new gaming interest by releasing high quality experiences for the gamer. On the other, Microsoft itself is trying to reduce costs by getting rid of costly hardware projects it deems a loss. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean good things for Microsoft as a whole. This ultimately means that the whole company is fractured internally and doesn’t have a proper focus on its products or its markets. Instead, it is making rash decisions without thinking through the long term ramifications of those decisions. A death knell.

Microsoft’s confusion

With this announcement of the integration of Xbox with Windows, Microsoft has likewise announced that it also intends (see article) to stop making future hardware and will instead focus on the Xbox platform as a subcomponent of Windows. Just like Windows Media Center, it will become an add-on to Windows. You might think that this is a great idea, but it isn’t. Let’s understand why.

Windows itself already offers developers a solid gaming development environment to produce native games on Windows. Most AAA game titles are made not only for consoles, but also for Windows and sometimes even Mac. The question is, would that spell the death of the Xbox platform? Yes. The reason the Xbox platform exists is as a gaming hardware platform independent of Windows. It does not exist for Netflix, Amazon or for any other non-gaming entertainment. Sure, you can play movies and music on the Xbox, but that’s not the platform’s intended purpose. Microsoft is seriously confused over the reason the Xbox platform exists and why it continues to exist. This confusion spells yet another death knell. Basically, if Microsoft thinks that the non-gaming aspects of the Xbox will survive once in Windows, it won’t. You can already use native Windows apps to get access to all of the services like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon… and the native apps are usually better.

The Death of the Xbox

Because Windows is already a solid gaming platform in its own right (in addition to being an entertainment platform), integrating a second gaming environment into Windows means that only one of these gaming platforms will survive the transition. Game developers will also only choose one platform to develop. Assuming status quo for the Xbox platform, the Xbox will be the clear loser. It’s simple to understand why: high priced licensing fees. It costs developers substantial amounts of cash to license and sell games branded with the Xbox moniker. It costs far far less to develop games under Windows directly. Unless Microsoft substantially changes their Xbox licensing model, this platform is entirely dead for gaming. Game developers won’t be willing to pay the excessive licensing fees on top of producing the game twice (Xbox and Windows) for the same hardware platform. Why would any game developer produce the same game twice that is destined for the same platform? They wouldn’t. A death knell.

So, what does this mean for gaming? PC gamers win a feather in their cap. Xbox gamers lose a platform entirely. Once games stop being produced for the Xbox platform, and they will stop, the only thing left to use the Xbox platform for is Netflix, other media activities and already purchased digital content. As I said above, you can already crack open Chrome or Firefox and do video streaming and music playing better. So, the answer, there will be nothing left to use the Xbox platform for except for legacy digital content that you may have purchased on an Xbox One/360… assuming that content even remains compatible after the Windows PC migration. Another death knell.

Digital Content

So, what does this mean for already purchased digital content? It means that you better hold onto your working Xbox One and Xbox 360 if you want to continue to use this content. Though, Microsoft may eventually force users to move to the Windows integrated platform and sunset the use of Xbox hardware entirely (and cut it off from the Xbox Live service).

This means that, at some point, you may no longer be able to download your digital content to your Xbox One and you may be forced to buy a PC. Depending on how Xbox One’s content activation system works, it may even prevent you from using the digital content you’ve already downloaded depending entirely upon how far and deep that Microsoft takes it.

Of course, this is still years off yet. But, once that time arrives, your Xbox One and 360 may become paperweights. A death knell.

Why this change?

From Microsoft’s perspective, I can understand the value and cost savings that integration (and lack of hardware) brings. No longer does Microsoft have to design, build and sell hardware platforms, no longer do they have to compete with Sony, no longer do they have to support this finicky hardware (a highly expensive ongoing investment). This means they can reduce their costs for all of the above. Instead, they can push the hardware costs back onto PC manufacturers to support their new Xbox platform.

Unfortunately, expecting PC manufacturers to support the Xbox is a pipe dream fantasy. There are far too many PC manufacturers who don’t follow the rules 100%. Instead, they get about 90% there and call the system done. This means that instead of having a fully 100% reliable Xbox platform, you’ll end up with a crashing behemoth of a system that, once again, barely works. The clear benefit to designing exclusive hardware is to achieve reliability by design. Leaving it to third parties to provide that hardware support means that some PC manufacturers will flat out not support the Xbox platform and those that do will charge a hefty premium. This ultimately means that buying a PC that properly supports the Xbox platform will likely mean a significantly higher cost than older far less expensive dedicated gaming console hardware. Not to mention, the clunky and ugly tower and desktop shapes of PC manufacturers which can no longer be used as a set top box.

This means that not only will the PC-based Xbox experience falter badly, you’re likely looking at 2x, 3x or more the price of today’s Xbox One to invest in a compatible PC-based Xbox platform. This puts this platform so far out of the price range of console gamers, this is yet another death knell for the Xbox. I won’t even get into the peripheral issues. Okay, I will a little. If Microsoft stops the hardware entirely, they’re likely to stop the controllers and leave that also up to third parties.

We all know how well PC controllers work with many games. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. They are usually not wireless and when they are, they are chock full of wireless issues. The whole reason the Xbox One works well is because of the wireless controller and its close integration with the hardware.

Throwing the Baby out with the Bathwater

Ultimately, Microsoft is throwing away all of their hard earned gamer loyalty. They are effectively closing the Xbox and throwing away the key. What this ultimately says is that Microsoft has no long term commitment to the gaming market, the console market or the gamers. What was formerly the green glory will fade into Microsoft’s Windows obscurity.

Overall, this is the worst of all possible fates that could befall the Xbox. A console is not a console without hardware. We all know how well gaming platforms work when they offer dedicated hardware. We also know how well they don’t work when relying on third parties. Think Steam. Perhaps Microsoft is deluded enough to think that Steam is the model of the future? I can tell you that Steam isn’t it. Steam works, but for limited purposes. Effectively, Steam is the app store for gaming. Since most app stores don’t focus on gaming, it was inevitable that someone would put one together. Hence, Steam. But, the Xbox platform, regardless of its current strength in gaming will die a quick death once there is no more console hardware to be had. Gamers aren’t likely to spend their efforts chasing down third party hardware platforms that might or might not work. The whole point of a console is that it “just works”. The Steam model simply won’t work for the Xbox unless you’re talking about $2-5 pricepoint games which could run on Facebook. That’s not the class of gaming that Xbox One is today.

We all need hardware to make our lives better, yes even in gaming. You can’t game without hardware. Relying on PC manufacturers to get you what you need isn’t the answer. Worse, Windows native games and developers will kick the Xbox platform to the curb. No developer in their right mind would consider spending extra money to develop on the Xbox platform when they already have Windows development efforts underway. Why would game developers choose to redundantly build their game twice for the same platform? That’s just stupid.

Sony, Nintendo and, yes, Apple

All of the above is actually very good news for the remaining console developers. Once the Xbox platform dies quietly inside of Windows (and it will), Sony only need worry about Nintendo for the foreseeable future. However, with Apple’s recent foray into gaming with the latest Apple TV, this could mean Apple now has an opening into the console market. What I will say about the current Apple TV for 3D gaming is that it’s still very rudimentary. The textures are low res, the environments look like something out of the Nintendo 64 and there’s not a speck of realism to be found… yet. However, Apple can up the ante a lot in the next Apple TV console iteration. Assuming they wedge in a much higher end GPU and a lot more RAM into the Apple TV, they could easily match the specs of the Nintendo Wii U, but perhaps not yet approach the PS4… it will take quite a bit more effort by Apple to match Sony. For Apple, the door for the console market is quite clearly open. For Microsoft, the door is quickly closing.

Yes folks, the Xbox is officially a dead platform. With this integration announcement, this is the Xbox’s final death knell.

If you are considering the purchase of a new gaming console, you should steer clear of the Xbox One unless you really enjoy buying into dead gaming platforms.

 

Rant Time: Event planning and food

Posted in botch, business, dining healthy by commorancy on November 6, 2015

In recent months, I’ve visited several corporate events. One thing I find that is becoming increasingly common place is the way food is being described at these events. Not only is this a disturbing trend, it’s amazingly discourteous to the attendees. Let’s explore.

Catered Events

If you’re an event planner and you put the word Dinner on your invitation, you need to serve an actual full sit down dinner meal. So, whether that’s catered from a buffet style table or directly from the kitchen of a restaurant using a menu, a full sit down meal is what your guests are expecting when you use the word Dinner. However, DO NOT use the word Dinner on your invitation and solely serve appetizers, finger foods and small plates. Unfortunately, this is becoming an all too disturbing trend in event planning.

Appetizers, Small Plates and Finger Foods

When guests attend your sponsored event at dinner time (6-10PM), you need to feed them some kind of meal… especially if they’re paying you for the event. There is nothing worse than showing up for an event only to find out that the food consists of small fried unhealthy average to low quality food. Your guests attend your event not only for whatever the event represents, they attend for the meal as well.

If you have no intention of supplying a meal and you only intend to supply small appetizer plates, then you need to let every guest know that in advance. Stating this on your event notification is sheer common courtesy. It might dissuade some attendees from attending by making this notification, but that’s better than having your guests walk in the middle of your event. Not only will they walk, they will never attend another one of your events due to your stunt. Tricking people into a Dinner only to serve them appetizers is not only a low thing to do, it’s just not cool. Your guests are like everyone else, they want to eat a healthy meal not a bunch of fried foods. In fact, when you preempt their dinner time with your event, they are expecting to eat dinner there. So, don’t abuse that expectation and serve them a crap meal.

Be Honest

When you send out your invitations, be honest with your guests. If you only intend to serve appetizers and small plates, kindly state that on the invitation. It’s not only courteous to your guests, it lets them know exactly what to expect when they get there. It also allows your guests to make an informed choice whether to attend your event and how to plan their meals. There is no point in letting your guests think they’re about to be served a meal and then serve them tiny hors d’oeuvres all night. Doing this is a sure fire way to make your guests realize just how cheap your event is.

Don’t lead your guests into your event and then pull this kind of stunt. This will completely backfire on you and your organization. In other words, don’t expect those people to ever attend again or indulge in whatever your company has to offer.

Cheapskate Events

I fully understand why it happens. I do. You’re at the run of your event and this is your ‘last thing’ and your budget has run out. So, the best you can afford is appetizers. Fine, let your guests know that this will be an appetizer only event. And specifically, if it’s roaming appetizers (i.e., people carrying them around the venue), you need to let your guests know that too. Roaming appetizers typically mean some of your guests will get an unfair share of food and other guests will get very little.

In fact, if you can at all avoid roaming appetizers, do so. Roaming appetizers do not at all help your party. Sure, it looks cool to have the staff roaming around with plates. Let’s be honest, it’s not the best way to serve your guests their food. Sure, you can start off with a couple of roaming appetizers, but then have the rest brought to tables where guests can serve themselves.

If you do intend to serve appetizers all night, then make damn sure you serve enough for every person at that event at least three times over. You also need to make sure the kitchen has enough to serve the most popular item at least 5 times over. In the end, your appetizer only event might actually cost you more than if you had just served a more satisfying meal.

Event Planning and Courtesy

If you’re in the event business, you need to understand just how discourteous it is not to inform your guests of the venue, the types of foods that will be served and how and when they will be served. If your event is short, is planned after the dinner hour, and you make no mention of food or dinner, then people won’t assume they will be fed a meal. This is a perfectly fine expectation to set. Just make sure to set the right tone regarding food when sending out your invitation. Don’t rope people into an event by making them think they’re going to get a dinner and then serve them a small handful of finger foods.

I don’t know what this trend is all about, but it needs to stop. It’s probably one of the worst trends I’ve seen recently in party planning and it’s definitely one of the worst if you want your guests to actually listen to what you have to say. That even assumes your guests stay along enough to hear your message.

In so many cases today, common courtesy is entirely dead. More and more, I see event planners playing this game. This is not a game that will win anyone over to whatever it is your event is supposed to represent.

Don’t let your event become a victim of this huge event fail.

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