Author Archive

Did Always On Displays Get Good?

Elizabeth Technology November 24, 2022

‘Always On’ for phone displays is a relatively new development. Of course some apps and programs have tried it before, but the cons are numerous: it consumes battery. It can make it hard to tell if the phone screen is off-on or on-on and ready to be unlocked. It used to cause pixel burn-in, where the design on-screen becomes ‘stuck’ there. (In fact, depending on how long you’ve had your phone, you may be able to spot burn-in from your battery and WiFi indicators when you go full-screen on a video on your current device.)

It seems things have changed, and both the iPhone and Pixel are coming out with phones that have optional Always On Display built in. How do they tackle the issues this style of display used to cause?

1) Battery Life

Outside of the brick and suitcase phones, handheld consumer cell phones are as big as they’ve ever been. The screens are huge, many topping 6 inches, and while the devices haven’t gotten much thicker (sometimes even slimming down) the actual components needed for computing keep getting smaller and smaller, freeing up space for the battery.

Ultimately, ‘Always On’ didn’t get much cheaper to use energy-wise, but phone batteries have gotten truly massive in the time between the first notions of it and now. Many new generation phones boast multiple days of battery life given you’re not running Minecraft, location services, and Youtube on said phone at the same time.

Battery life is no longer the limiting factor in Always On settings!

Additionally, the iPhone has announced that Always On will not activate when the phone is face down, when it senses it’s in a pocket, and when a bedtime routine is set. Users can also turn it off in settings if they so choose. This limits how much power that function actually takes.

2) Is This Thing On?

The Pixel turns off the pixels surrounding the phone’s clock display, and keeps the clock itself at a very low light. Essentially, only the clock zone and any notifications are actually ‘on’ onscreen, and in most lighting conditions it’s not hard to tell whether your device is off-on (which won’t accept touch to activate it) or on-on (which will). The new iPhone still turns on the entire screen if Always On is active, but it shouldn’t be hard to differentiate as long as your brightness preference when you’re actually in your phone’s menu isn’t set to the lowest setting.

That said, this is a new feature, and it’s going to take consumers a bit of time to adjust. Notifications on screen are generally interactable, but while the screen is “off-on” (in a state where it would be off under the old display rules), they won’t be.

3) Burn-In

While many screens on all sorts of devices, consumer or not, have improved, it’s tough to say whether or not they’ll be able to hold up to the demands of Always On without getting some burn-in. The thing causing burn-in is not the screen staying on and displaying pictures – it’s that those pictures don’t change. It’s why the TV displays showing movies in Best Buy and restaurants don’t get burn-in despite being on for far longer than any ordinary consumer would leave them on. Meanwhile, restaurant menu boards aren’t doing that annoying thing where the menu disappears for an animatic to play because they think you want that, they’re doing it so that if the menu ever changes, there’s not the ghostly image of “Double Cheeseburger – 6.49$” over top whatever they’ve swapped it out with. If they just left it as it was, it’d burn in. If the screen is brighter, the effect is usually worse.

It will likely come down to how the consumer stores their phone. Some people do leave their phone facing up on a coffee table, and those people are going to be subjecting their phone to Always On for much longer than the people who store their phone in their pocket or face down. Again, it’s too early to tell how susceptible the phones will ultimately be to burn-in, but the odds are better than they’ve been in the past.

Has The Internet Made Mediocre Content Unfindable?

Elizabeth Technology November 22, 2022

The Recent Drama

The new movie “Don’t Worry Darling” had a number of issues leading up to release. All of the online critics want to talk about those issues. Harry Styles’ interview faux pa where he says the movie really feels like a movie (it’s not a misquote, he keeps doubling down on what he said) and the clip where he allegedly spit on Chris Pine (which, if he did, was clearly accidental) are cited in the same sentence describing him as an amateurish actor given a role too big to be anyone’s first, although giving the guy a couple more takes of any one scene could have only helped.

That said, the movie isn’t horrible. I hear that the ‘twist’ is very abrupt and the movie doesn’t give you time to enjoy it, but other than that, the movie is a perfectly okay piece of media. It’s probably a six out of ten or so. Without all of the news of those early production issues, it’s unlikely the movie would have been received any better, but the breath-holding ‘is this going to be horrible’ anticipation caused a lot of people to look for flaws as they were watching the movie. It skewed audience perception, at least the ones most likely to have seen the drama, which are coincidentally the people most likely to go online after the movie and talk about it. And people love a trainwreck, so skewing a review down a point or two gets more clicks. There is no vacuum in which to review the movie. Most reviews even now feature talk about issues with the crew that don’t directly relate to problems within production itself. Some of it does, yes – Shia LeBeouf leaving and being replaced with Harry Styles absolutely does – but the press circuit blunders and social media drama don’t. It’s either ‘not good’ or it’s ‘surprisingly good for the issues it faced’ as a result.

Have we gone past the point where critics, both professional and amateur, can assign a movie a rating of ‘mid’? Instead of a scale, we have two boxes. Does every mediocre or bad movie have to be ‘a disaster’, and every good movie at least an eight out of ten?

Good and Above All Criticism

Rogue One was a fantastic addition to a story franchise with a number of duds in it. I’ve watched it, and I’ve watched the prequels, the sequels, spinoffs, and the Mandalorian. Rogue One is a rare standout that’s so well-written you barely need any background knowledge on the rest of the series to watch it (meaning that this is an okay first place to see the Death Star or the AT-ATs. It is literally a prequel, after all).

The problem is that it’s so good that some people liked it better than one or two of the original trilogy, which is blasphemy as far as the hardcore Star Wars fans are concerned. On a scale of one to ten, the first trilogy is arbitrarily, dogmatically set at ten. If you’re a ‘real’ Star Wars fan in the most intense forums online, you like one of the first three the best, and then anything else after it. Anyone else is either a ‘casual’ or not a real fan.

Environments like this make it impossible to critique additions to cult-classic series. You have to hedge what you say. You can’t judge many of the movies in a vacuum because of the precursor knowledge you have to have (Rogue One is a rare exception) and so that auto-ranking will come into play, if not by the critic themselves then by the responses in the comment section. Things are either great, and an excellent addition to Star Wars canon, or they’re the worst, and unofficially de-canonized. A brilliant work by someone who ‘gets it’, or a soulless cash grab by a corporation trying to cash in on nostalgia. This is such a phenomenon that an entire subsection of people have built a community around the prequels, not even necessarily because they like them, but because they want to have conversations outside of that scale.  

Good But Torn To Shreds For Reasons Beyond Its Control

Steven Universe’s fanbase is famously poisonous. That said, a lot of the worst fans are not in the age group that the show was aimed at, but the representation in the show was truly one of a kind. It was groundbreaking. It was the only way some of those older fans ever saw themselves on screen in any capacity, much less positively. The writing wasn’t bad, either, although it was a kid’s show and featured kid’s show-level wit. The show itself set out with a good message and good intentions and was met with the worst of the internet in the 2010s. A fanbase willing to suicide-bait over mis-drawing the proportions of a character combined with an online population of trolls who realized this could be used to lump all of the people they didn’t like together made it difficult to truly form a positive community.

Steven Universe is not remembered fondly because of the fanbase, and being a Steven Universe fan was an entirely different thing from just liking Steven Universe. It came with a set of expectations that were impossible for anyone to meet, and gatekeepers threw people out of good graces in fan spaces on the regular.

The show itself was totally fine, but the internet of the 2010s was an as-of-yet unknown entity in and of itself. The show, despite its many breakthroughs for broadcast TV, is now often regarded poorly by mainstream sources.

Genuinely Bad But Not Criticized Fairly

Is it possible to judge reboots fairly? Does the nostalgia factor cloud the glass too much? How about shows where the authors and producers themselves are the point of contention? Can anything achieve a score of 5/10 when everyone only wants to dunk on bad shows and love good ones unconditionally?

Reboots

While a good handful of critics go out of their way to judge a reboot fairly, a huge chunk of them don’t. It gets more clicks to be inflammatory, and if a company is rebooting a series, there’s a case to be made that they don’t want you to judge it fairly, they want your nostalgia to artificially boost their ratings. It only seems fair to deduct points for not playing fair. And besides, many of these reboot projects are shooting themselves in the foot before they even get to the starting line. Look at the PowerPuff Girls reboot, or the Teen Titans reboot, or the Star Wars reboot, or the Disney reboots, etc. etc. Many relied on nostalgia to get people to watch.

I’d argue for some of them that, if forced to come up with their own original characters, they would have been much better received. Nostalgia can backfire when characters become one-dimensional ripoffs of their originals to better suit younger audiences (in the case of Teen Titans Go, the first GhostBusters reboot, and Powerpuff Girls), or when the reboot is a soulless live-action reboot instead of a fair retelling, like Beauty and the Beast being a reboot vs. Maleficent being a retelling. Rebooting a franchise, even with a new story, is also a path to disaster. Origin stories for well-liked mysterious characters have plagued Disney and its properties for years now. Another such movie, this time about the ship captain in Rogue One, is about to come out even though the Solo movie is a pretty good indicator of how that’s going to go unless they really learned a lot from it. Nostalgia clouds the way something actually was, so reboot movies that aren’t better and/or at the same time familiar often suffer for it. Every once in a while, though, a studio gets it right – those brief flashes of nostalgia-based success are worth cranking out dozens of mid-tier reboots. It keeps the copyright from expiring, yes, but it’s also an easy way to make and sell the same movie twice.

Is It Really This Impossible to Separate the Art From The Artist?:

Modern ‘anti-wokeness’ critique seeks to dogpile movies and shows before they get out of the gate, even if the people rabble-rousing about it aren’t the target audience and don’t know anyone who’s part of said audience. In a general, alarmist sense, anti-woke personas are worried that a black Ariel or a female Luke Skywalker is going to irrevocably taint the originals, that the casting was done for ‘the wrong reasons’, that the movie is bad but they’ll be forced to say it was good or risk being ‘cancelled’. It’s not really like that, of course, but they have something to gain from spinning the tale. No movie can be fairly judged in this hell pocket dimension the internet has created.

Reboots are their own separate issue, though – what about original content that doesn’t fit the tradition? High Guardian Spice, an anime-inspired cartoon show, now has critic channels that have spent more time criticizing the show than its total runtime. It has, somehow, created channels that only critique High Guardian Spice and nothing else. The show is bad, a solid 3/10, but it’s not that bad. Crunchyroll, its hosting platform, has funded worse shows!

The problem is that Crunchyroll and High Guardian Spice knew the show was bad. It knew it was riddled with errors because it pushed its animation schedule to the absolute brink. The writers were rushed, the animators were rushed, there are actual PNGs mixed in with the animation because shortcuts were taken at every opportunity. It didn’t know what age range it was aiming for, and so all of the swearing and blood were designed to be removable if it was decided the show would aim younger, and it’s extremely noticeable. There are times when characters clip through things or pass under reality. The microphone quality is inconsistent across voice actors.

It was unfixably, irrevocably, bad. You can’t just fix or reshoot an animated show once it’s left production. They were stuck with it. What can you even do?

Bear with me, this is going to sound a little conspiratorial. I think Crunchyroll knew it was bad in a way they couldn’t fix, and so – in an effort to either garner sympathy or generate hate-watching – it began releasing trailers showcasing the diversity of the team creating it as a sort of lightning rod away from the other issues happening with the company at the time. It would be saying “this show is bad, but it’s not our fault”. And it worked! Anti-woke rabble-rousers were quick to point out the lack of good male characters (never mind the lack of good characters across the entire spectrum) the wooden writing around social issues (all of the writing is wooden) and it’s general slapped-together nature as evidence the staff writing it was incompetent because they were who they were.

If CrunchyRoll had not made a point of telling everyone that the staff was mostly women and the head producer was part of two minority groups, I sincerely believe this show would have flown right under the radar like it deserved as a 3/10 show. Instead, as mentioned before, there are channels who have individually produced more video of critique than the show had total because it fits nicely into a ‘culture wars’ narrative that only some people can produce good art. And critic videos are still being released to this day despite a lack of new content. That’s insanity. I’m not sure that’s ever happened to another full-length show.

No In Between

It is okay for a movie to be ‘mid’. It’s okay to not like the same things everyone else does as much as they do, and a show’s worth goes beyond its popularity or whether or not you ‘should’ be watching it. But maybe give some of those bad movies a shot – the internet encourages negativity, and even ‘bad’ media might still be worth watching even if it’s not Citizen Kane.

Too Sleek To Use

Elizabeth Technology November 17, 2022

Breaking rank with other companies to make things smoother can certainly set your product apart, but is there a point where something becomes too sleek to use?  

Tesla Handles

Most models of the Tesla car have handles that physically retract into the doors when not in use. Inside the car, the handles operate by a button press, not by a pull. You are not mechanically opening the car door, you are instructing the car door to open, and that’s an important difference. Both sets of handles require that the car has power. Otherwise, they won’t function. Famously, one man struggled to get out of his car after it caught fire because the handles inside don’t operate like the handles of any other car, and a special ‘release latch’ that’s hidden behind the doorgrab is necessary to open the car when it doesn’t have power. He couldn’t find that latch because it’s hidden (for added sleekness), and as a result, he had to crawl through the window. Of course, Twitter commenters pointed out the latch, but if you can’t visually identify the thing that’s going to open your flaming car in a few seconds, is it really a ‘good’ design? Sure, that’s great if the car dies and the button doesn’t work and you have time to figure it out – it doesn’t work so well in an emergency.

The handles are also more prone to freezing over in cold climates, which is very annoying. Plenty of car doors freeze shut, and this is far from a Tesla-only problem, but it turns an already annoying problem into an even more annoying one because the handle has to be freed from its pocket in the door before you can even begin to try opening it.

 Apple and It’s Missing Jack

Apple recently removed the aux jack from its devices. Did it need to? Maybe – the jack takes up quite a bit of space inside the phone thanks to it’s placement, and removing it would enable Apple to put some more cool stuff inside the phone. But then the phones got bigger, and the storage chips got smaller even as they held more digital storage space. Does this mean Apple will put the jack back in, seeing as it no longer needs to conserve space as much as it did when it was trying to make phones that broke technological walls? The phones are flipping huge now, there is space for the jack.

Haha, no!

Removing the aux jack also made it so that any non-Bluetooth headphones the consumers had wouldn’t work without an adaptor. An adaptor that Apple just so happens to sell. An adaptor that has the same problems that all of the cords made by Apple do. This means that a number of accessories are now effectively Bluetooth-only, which is annoying at best and kind of malicious at worst. When carriers pushed the new phone, users had to upgrade everything if they wanted to go to the next model. Apple happens to sell a lot of those accessories, and while Apple may be pricey, the name does still carry weight – it means a defective product could be returned to a physical store or exchanged immediately without waiting for Amazon to retrieve it.

The phone is sleeker. It has less ports. It’s closer to being truly waterproof than it ever has been before. It looks cooler than ever. But the minimalist principles in the design of the phone are directly costing consumers both real money and ease of use. Apple knows this – Apple likes it that way. Eventually, there may come a time when Apple removes the C-USB port and expects you to use cordless charging, with its proprietary charging pad.

Windows 10

Windows wants you to use Bing. Windows wants to add functionality to your taskbar. Windows has combined the built-in taskbar search feature with the open web in an effort to do both of these things. Unfortunately, it turns out this configuration combines the worst of both. Have you ever had a relative who doesn’t use computers much? For a long time, you could rest assured that a search on the Windows taskbar wouldn’t somehow end with that relative downloading a browser extension they didn’t need or clicking on an ad they mistook for a file on their computer.

When Windows made it possible to search for both ‘on-web’ and ‘on-computer’ pages in the same search bar, they also created a massive headache and added additional clicks to the search. Trying to search for a file named something like ‘car report’ could bring up search results for sites like Carfax. Suddenly, you’re not in your files digging around for a report that was already made, you’re on the web. That’s annoying, but you can just go back and try again. If you’re really desperate, you can open up the file picker and search there. It doesn’t work for everything on the computer (it doesn’t want you to be able to find and delete functions like Sys32 or Task Manager, so it won’t show you their file locations, and file picker isn’t equipped to open it for you like the taskbar search is even if you do find them) but it’s better than the mess you just got into with the search bar.

But wait – go back to that relative from before. For that relative, this was a linear path that makes sense, and the website must have what they were looking for because it popped up in their search. Every iteration of Windows before this one has worked by only showing the relevant files on the device, so they don’t know that they aren’t meant to be on the Carfax website. If they don’t stop to call in help, they may end up filling out a form on that site they didn’t need to, or giving up information they might not have wanted to. Imagine how much that could suck if it wasn’t the car report – taxes, Social Security, health insurance, any number of things that might be saved on a computer, could simply be confused with an ad on their accidental Bing search.

It should say something about how poorly this worked out that there are dozens of pages on forums and blogs detailing how to disable it so this exact thing won’t happen – or happen again. Windows 11 at least gives you the opportunity to turn it off, and you have to go out of your way to get to web results in regular taskbar search once it is. A search function where everything can show up in the same place is not always better.

Always On: More Than Just A Game Thing

Elizabeth Technology November 15, 2022

Some designers have gotten into a bad habit of assuming a device will always have power and/or internet. No design is so flawless that it never fails, because even a functionally ‘perfect’ creation is going to have encounters with other objects that aren’t perfect. Self-driving cars have to account for children and animals running into the street without looking, for instance – just because the car technically has right-of-way doesn’t mean it can keep going forward at speed in that scenario.

But that’s not as cool as pretending the device is never going to have problems, and so we’re watching some companies design as though their product is the first to never have defects.

Backup Eyes Are For Wimps

Tesla’s famous choice to go for visuals-only assisted driving in place of a combination system like many auto-braking cars use has led to some hilarious results as the AI tries to figure out what it’s seeing ahead of it (for example – if the moon’s low in the sky, it can look like an upcoming yellow light, as some Californians discovered) but it also leads to a bigger problem in that the eyes it has have to work. That system has to work. If the cameras can’t see, or if the system glitches, or if an update takes out the car’s vision accidentally, then what? You just don’t get to use the feature you paid money for. If it’s discovered that a visual-only system actually can’t compensate for stuff like the moon in the sky and LIDAR actually is necessary, well. What do you even do? Recall the cars? Demand more software? The vision that comes naturally to people, who are usually born with at least some sight, is not so natural to machines, which mostly ‘think’ in terms of text, not vision or sound. And, where humans can immediately parse ‘surprising’ visuals where they don’t belong, even interpreting those visuals at all has to be taught to a machine. Why does a car need to know what a clown is? Because it might be a pedestrian, or painted on the side of an ice cream van. Not knowing what a clown is (and not knowing what an illustration is) can break the AI’s vision and confuse it. LIDAR doesn’t need to know what a clown is, it just needs to know whether or not there’s a three-dimensional object in front of the car.

For that matter, most of the new tech in cars doesn’t have a plan for the TV in the dash failing, which is starting to contain more and more of the functions that physical knobs and buttons used to. Radios can die, yeah, but they don’t usually take out your ability to see behind your car when they do, which those center console screens threaten. The rear-view backup cameras got popular because the average car’s rear windshield is getting smaller for aerodynamics’ sake. Without it, backing up is dangerous again.

No Backup?

If you’re invested in vlogging, sharing photos, et cetera, and you really care about the stuff you’ve made, back the videos and photos up somewhere. A YouTube vlogger by the name of Meghan Rienks discovered that not only does YouTube not back up videos for more than 30 days, it also has a total maze of a support chain – meaning that by the time she got someone to actually listen to her issue and address it (at first, they didn’t understand that the videos on the channel weren’t hers and that her original videos had been deleted and replaced, and then they didn’t have an answer for what to do about it, and then she got conflicting answers about how she could get them back, etc.), all of the videos she’d uploaded were irrevocably gone. She was understandably upset – while it was internet content, it was also a sort of diary for her, and Youtube had been a place to share and store those videos for free. Internet archives are great, but YouTube consumes a famously huge amount of storage space, so there’s not really an archive up to the task of memorializing all of YouTube. The same goes for Vine: videos that didn’t get meme-d and recorded elsewhere were effectively lost to the void, and if the original creators didn’t download their own videos, they’re gone forever.

Just because a service has your stuff available now doesn’t mean it always will, so if you’ve made something for Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Napster, Soundcloud, etc. and you’re proud of it, invest in a backup somewhere! You never know when the terms of service will update and remove stuff for you (cough cough, Tumblr) or when a service will just blink out of existence. Some stuff stays on the internet forever – other things do not.

Don’t Buy Devices That Need An App

Don’t buy devices that only work when used with an app. As an example, say a toy car asks that you download an app to your phone in order to use it. It might not even come with a controller separate from the app, forcing you to download the program if you want to play with the toy.

You can probably see a couple of issues already: if the toy doesn’t sell well, they’ll stop making it. If they stop making the toy, they may either stop supporting the app after a couple years or update it for new app-controlled toys, leaving the one you have in the dust. Or, if Apple determines that the app doesn’t serve its function well enough, they may remove it from the store. Or, by the natural progression of technology, the app may be functional even after the company stops supporting it until an iOS update breaks it. But if the company isn’t interested in fixing it, you end up having to either delay updating your phone or not play with the car. A plastic controller can break or corrode, but if it doesn’t connect to the WiFi, access to something you already paid for can’t be revoked because of updates. The app is likely collecting data on you as well, not only in how you’re using the toy but in other apps on your device. It’s very easy to give too much access to an app without meaning to – TikTok, for example, probably has access to your contacts unless you told it specifically that it wasn’t allowed to look at those when you downloaded it.

That’s not a huge deal when it’s a toy car. You’ll probably be sick of playing with it before any of the issues with the app become apparent, although that means if you find it on the top shelf of your closet, you can’t just dust it off, replace the batteries, and go. Now, extrapolate that to devices that want you to use apps to control them. Thermostats, washing machines, security systems, and more. It’s a nightmare.

The company can effectively break your machines whenever it wants. It extends beyond simple household machines, too: a startup that had given some partially blind folks their vision back went defunct, and then those people lost their sight again because the software used in the process wasn’t made to set-it and forget-it, it was made with updates in mind in case the tech got better. Well, it did, but nobody is there to put it in.

Back to household items, it’s much easier to avoid problems before they start than to plan on replacing app-based machines if they start sucking. Some of these things are expensive to install, and many have only a fraction of their original functionality if you don’t download the app that goes with them. The company making the washing machine or coffeemaker is unlikely to ditch their app after a year or two like the toymaker might be, but recurring subscription fees are always just a bad CEO away. Look at what happened to Adobe and Photoshop – things that were one-time purchases became recurring subscriptions. Adobe is hinting that Pantone Colors might start costing money. Some of the app-based smart devices already are recurring subscriptions. They stop working when you stop paying, so you’re left with items you spent money on but can’t use to their fullest because you didn’t want to pay extra for what used to be included (which is totally reasonable).

Don’t buy items that use apps instead of providing functionality inside the device itself. Apps can provide extras, like storing your dryer preferences on a WiFi-based dryer (although there’s still a pretty good shot they’re using that app to harvest data on your dryer use) but if the device literally doesn’t work without the app, buyer beware – they’ve got a heck of a grip on whatever you bought.

Corrupted Blood: Art Imitates Life

Elizabeth Technology November 10, 2022

The heydays of online role-playing games came with a number of new social and digital interactions that would have never had an opportunity to occur before the internet. For example, the Falador Massacre in RuneScape (named for the in-game town the chaos first started in) ended up permanently changing the way the developers handled banning users as well as ‘checks’ for stat effects. How?

Things that game developers could never anticipate or fully test in a Beta environment only surface after real human gamers get their hands into the game. The Falador Massacre, for example, only happened because a server that was packed completely full of people lagged at a critical moment – and a couple of players had been fighting in the only place you could fight in a house (or in a town), the dungeon. The game failed to wipe their status (which was PvP enabled, or ‘Player vs. Player’ meaning the player is allowed to cause damage to other players in-game) and so they were able to fight people in an otherwise PvP disabled zone, leading to one of the most infamous video game moments of all time.

Corrupted Blood is another such incident – without real people pushing the game to it’s limit, these things can’t be found ahead of time.

WoW, Corrupted Blood for Free?

World of Warcraft is an online role-playing game where you can fight both game-generated and real players. Make friends! Make enemies! It’s up to you! You have the ability to ‘raid’ a boss with a group of other people if you so choose, but you don’t actually have to stay and fight the boss if you realize it’s above your skill level. You won’t get loot if you leave, but you won’t get loot if you die, either. World of Warcraft introduced a new expansion to their map as well as a new boss to go with it in the fall of 2005. Part of the boss’s gimmick was a debuff known as Corrupted Blood – debuffs are in-game effects that lower a character’s stats, whether that be health, speed, attack strength, etc. and Corrupted Blood would only expire/deactivate if the player defeated the boss or if they left the region. It was meant to spread to party members in close proximity, as it was designed after a disease, and it was actually intended to kill the boss later in the fight (he’d infect himself with it after trying to drink the player’s blood, and the debuff would make him much easier to kill).

However, there were a couple of issues that playtesters couldn’t have possibly discovered on their own. Corrupted Blood could infect in-game pets, firstly, but instead of just letting the pets exist in their debuffed state, players would put them into pet storage so they didn’t die during the fight. This put them into stasis, and basically saved them exactly as they were when they went into storage. Much like in the Falador Massacre, this created a loophole where the stat effect wasn’t erased, and so even if the boss died while the pet was in storage, or the pet itself was no longer in the new area, the pet still had Corrupted Blood as far as the game was concerned.

Secondly, players had fast-travel, which works like teleportation. They’d beat the boss (or quit the fight) and fast travel to another zone or town. Without physically crossing the in-game border, the game didn’t seem to realize the player had left the new region, and so they’d still be infected with Corrupted Blood in that case as well. This led to Corrupted Blood spreading to everyone in the vicinity of the fast traveller, including NPCs (non-playable characters, like shopkeepers and such) and other people’s pets. Maybe traveling to the new area and then back without fast traveling could have fixed it, but the NPCs can’t do that, players who don’t have the equipment to enter PvP zones and survive couldn’t do that, etc. and so Corrupted Blood spread like wildfire.

Fixing It

How did they fix it? The problem got so bad so quickly that WoW ended up rolling back the servers to before Corrupted Blood was released. They couldn’t get it under control, and even if they were able to fix the glitch that caused the wild spread right away, they’d still have to deal with all of the people, pets, and NPCs already infected. It was much easier to go back in time than fix it in the timeline the bug had created.

This actually caught the attention of more than one infectious disease expert in the process. Many infectious diseases and pandemics are studied using real data or mathematical models, but they don’t take into account the unpredictability of human behavior. By studying the Corrupted Blood incident, where real people did things like fast-travel again to try and fix the bug, or spread the debuff deliberately by going into areas with a lot of players, they had a slightly better idea of how a real pandemic might play out if it hit without warning.  

AI Isn’t The Thing Killing Artist Jobs, And It’s Not A Replacement For Them Either

Elizabeth Technology November 8, 2022

Picture that you’re a carpenter. You’re designing a long desk for a client. They want it made out of mahogany, and they want it to be solid. Preferably, they’d like it to be 70’s style. They don’t want the edge to still have the bark on it. You quote them for the time and materials going into the project, and they start backpedaling. Your expertise costs too much for them, and there’s a machine making tables out there for 50$ a pop. Sure, it’s not the right wood, it’s not solid wood, it wiggles, and if you want to order another one it’s going to be different from the first one because the results are very inconsistent, it also snatches designs (with questionable legality) from other carpenters to mash into this mess, including designs that leave knots in strange places in the veneer – but it’s only 50$. If you look closer, it’s not even sanded – it doesn’t know what sanding is, it just knows “tables are smooth” so the sanding is someone else’s job once the machine understands the table to be ‘smooth’ by its own metrics, some of which the end requestor can’t see. It’s using veneer to make this table, though. It’s difficult to sand without punching through. The customer doesn’t know how hard fixing it is going to be.

None of this makes the machine’s table as good as the table you could make, but because the machine is there and it looks functional, upper management (that doesn’t understand the problems with it) are using it to justify haggling for an insultingly low fee from you, the skilled tradesperson, because “a machine is going to take your job if you charge too much”… even though this same thing happened with cheap, overseas sweatshop labor that promised mediocre products at an incredibly cheap price, and it didn’t poof your job out of existence then. They aren’t convinced of your worth, so you guess the machine won. You can’t make the table at that rate without losing money. Their strange table arrives, upper management pretends to be happy because there’s a bit of pride involved, and everyone is slightly unhappier than they would have been if a machine had never been lumped in with human carpenters or posited as a replacement. This machine has screwed up the calculus that goes into ordering tables, because it does in fact make tables, but it takes a human touch to make them really good and exactly like you wanted. Heck, even those poor folks machining IKEA furniture could make something better, albeit at 80$. No, the machine is dirt cheap, and so it won.

Some companies may take note and go with a human carpenter, some may not – either way, this machine is not the death of carpentry. It’s changed the environment, and human carpenters will once again have to prove their worth in the face of industrialization, but it’s far from the end.

This is what’s happening with AI art.

It’s not as communicative as real artists, it’s not capable of building an unusual or interesting scene the same way people are (it is essentially creating an average out of everything it’s been fed in order to meet your prompt). If you like what you got but you want something tweaked, good luck; you’re not going to get the same picture twice with just the stuff you wanted fixed out of an AI. It’s inconsistent to a fault. It also can’t produce a new style that isn’t composed of other styles. ‘Every style is made of other styles’ you may say – yes, but not like this. Rothko, Monet, and Klimt may all be pulling from old masters, but you’d be really stretching it to say they’re all alike. AI, as it stands right now, can’t make a new style the way artists can. Is it possible for a machine to produce something new off of terabytes of harvested data? Maybe – but not today. Not tomorrow, either.

And yet, some are heralding it as the end of the traditional artist because it sometimes spits out stuff that looks good, just don’t look at the hands or teeth. AI art is not what’s killing art jobs, it’s the companies that mistake the AI for a cheap ticket out of paying for labor that are killing art jobs. When they realize what they’re getting, they’ll have a choice to make – go back to paying the artists, or settle for slightly uncanny, difficult-to-standardize art made by AI.

Some will go for the worse product, and some will not. The future is unpredictable, and maybe the wobbly table machine gets much better, maybe it doesn’t, maybe it starts charging a fee to use, etc. Humans may not be able to do it as cheaply, but they’re at least promising some sort of quality and consistency, and they can respond to minor and major tweak requests without redoing the entire piece.  

The AI art does not win by default just for existing.

Qwerty Board – Why?

Elizabeth Technology November 3, 2022

The Typewriter

A typewriter works (roughly) like this: you press a key. On the other side of the keyboard, a key hammer, via a series of internal springs and levers, lifts to the paper. Right before it does, a ribbon with ink on it is pushed up by mechanisms inside of the machine, tied to the ones you’re activating when you hit the keys, and the end of the key hammer smacks the ink, imprinting it into the paper in the same shape as the hammer’s head, which is the same as the key you pressed.

Does this sound complicated? It is! And all of it is purely mechanical.

Initially, the typewriter’s keys were laid out in two rows, alphabetically. The design had some small updates, but it had one very consistent, very annoying issue – striking two keys next to each other with too small of a gap between the key presses meant those keys would hit each other and get stuck, which was annoying to stop and fix. The Qwerty board not only separated the most commonly used letters to avoid the keys getting stuck, it also did so in order to slow down the typist. The first iteration of the keyboard was too efficient to use efficiently!

The New Keyboard

There’s a term for using old designs for new items, or why we kept the qwerty keyboard even as computer keyboards removed the mechanical issue at the heart of qwerty design – it’s known as a skeuomorph! Skeuomorphs are items that take design features from older versions of themselves to make the newer version less confusing, scary, or difficult to learn. For example, the first phones with buttons arranged the buttons in a circle to make the transition easier from the old rotary phones.

Typists of the time were used to qwerty, and so qwerty is what ended up on the electronic keyboards in front of the first consumer computers. Specialist keyboards like stenography machines and split kinesis boards are entirely different beasts and developed on different evolutionary pathways.

Alternate Layouts

Dvorak is interesting, and the most common letters are in the home row, so the hands travel less while typing. Despite this, it’s not significantly faster – it forces the typist to use both hands on almost every word, and takes practice just like Qwerty.

Colemak keyboards are much the same, in a different orientation. Even more of the typing takes place on the home row on a Colemak keyboard, so much so that it might be a disadvantage!

This leads to the Workman keyboard, which is designed not to be mostly on the home row and instead, the keys are clustered together according to commonality – this results in less movement than the Colemak keyboard. While less space between keys sounds like it would lead to less movement, it doesn’t! Not with home-row centered typing. The H + E combo on the Colemak in particular was awkward to hit. The ‘E’ key is in about the same location as the ‘K’ key is on a Qwerty board. With a bit more space between the most commonly-typed-together letters, the Workman keyboard is quickly picking up a fandom.

For now, though, Qwerty is the default!

Algorithm Hook-Mush

Elizabeth Technology November 1, 2022

An inability to see the words for what they are instead of ‘hooks’ has led to a bizarre scattering of videos asking questions to nobody in particular. Algorithms encourage it.

“Why is Nobody Talking About….?”

This, as an opening line for a video, is fine in a vacuum. But it’s not applicable to every situation: “Why is Nobody Talking About [This Thing]?” implies that knowledge of the mystical “Thing” is common and there’s just not a lot of discussion around it. If this is how you introduce the concept, that’s why nobody is talking about it.

For example – a video is circulating around TikTok about ‘mini loaf pan lasagna’. It’s a mishmash of different ideas that have been around a minute, sure (using zucchini instead of noodles, using a smaller pan to make the lasagna, using a bread pan specifically) but this exact mix of ideas hasn’t spawned before. Cool, the video serves as a proof of concept that you can really alter a lasagna to the point of being nearly unrecognizable and it will still be, in spirit, a lasagna. However. The video starts off by asking why ‘nobody is talking about mini loaf pan lasagna.’ They’re not talking about it because A) the person making the video may as well have just invented it, and B) despite being a constellation of ‘alternative lasagnas’ crammed into one being, the final product does not introduce new ideas. While I’m sure it was a fine meal, it’s not virally stylish. It’s just food. In a real sense, it doesn’t do anything worth talking about, and that’s fine! It’s easy, attainable food, and it doesn’t need to be a discussion topic for a bunch of random strangers online.

Good places to use this hook are places where there’s either serious revelations, ideas or themes that get overlooked in discussion of the thing, or places where it makes sense that you ‘should’ have heard about it but nobody in the media at large is discussing it. For example – Puerto Rico has had a brutal monsoon season and the entire island is without power as of September, 2022. Why is nobody talking about it? Or, if you’re sick of disaster news and want industry gossip for TV shows instead, the Amazon LOTR reboot is absolutely riddled with flaws, because they rely on non-union labor to produce the costumes, to work the camera equipment, to write the script, to style the hair and create the incorrectly lit CGI monsters, etc. and it all looks horrible! All of it looks rushed beyond belief because there’s no unions to set reasonable timeframes! Why is nobody talking about that?  Why does the GoT prequel suck up all the fantasy discussion?

You can’t just use this hook willy-nilly. Hooks have to make sense in context! Similar hooks are “Y’all don’t want to talk about…” or “…but we won’t talk about that,” which are usually set ups for debates in the comments (which is good for content interaction metrics). This, like the “nobody is talking about…” hook, relies on A) the discussion item being common knowledge and B) the discussion item being debatable in a way that’s not going to go nuclear in the comments. Or blow up in the poster’s face.

A Simple Sentence. And a Statement Regarding a Quality of the First One.

Notice that some sites have developed a formula for their headlines? Usually, it’s two simple sentences. If I were to apply it here, the title of this article would be something like: “TikTok Posters Are Using The Same Hooks. Online Magazines are Starting to do the Same.”  

This headline is great at conveying news about things like studies, where the second sentence can build off the first. “A Study Found Cats Love Catnip. That’s Great News for Catnip Companies”. Or, it can notice a trend in a market place: “We’ve Reached Peak Wellness. Most of it Is Nonsense.” (https://getpocket.com/explore/item/we-ve-reached-peak-wellness-most-of-it-is-nonsense?utm_source=pocket-newtab) for example. It’s punchy, simple, and most importantly, distinct.

 It is not good for everything. Firstly, the second sentence in this format is almost always the same length as the first – it becomes completely impossible to convey any nuance that may exist in the article, and while regular headlines have that issue too, this headline has compressed itself to pug-like levels in order to keep your attention. As a result, the headline can imply things it doesn’t mean, or sink into black-and-white distinctions that color the reading of the actual article. It’s punchy, and it’s better than a lot of clickbait styles commonly used for headlines, but it’s far from being a universally useful option.

Other, similar structures include “Do(n’t) X during Z. Here’s Why.” Which runs into a similar problem of painting a picture that’s much too simple for the article. CNN says “Don’t Shower During a Thunderstorm. Here’s Why.” The New York Times says “The Fed Appears More Optimistic Than Some Investors. Here’s Why.” But if you just read the headline, you’ve gleaned all the information (you think) they want to tell you, and they’re relying on your burning sense of curiosity to entice you to click, log in or sign up, and scroll through a wasteland of ads to learn why you shouldn’t shower during a thunderstorm or why the feds are optimistic. But that’s a lot of work, and most people won’t.

Special Mention: Algorithmic Internal Monologue

The first comments on funny, viral TikToks are often just a meme that’s hot that week. It may apply, or it may not, but either way it ends up near the top. The second comments are the hot meme from last week. A channel has to actively curate a community that can make funny, unique jokes, because if it doesn’t, those end up at the bottom in favor of the comments the commentor saw somewhere else, peeled up like a sticker, and applied at random. The funny thing about this is that it’s not actually all that effective: the commentors doing this make the same comment on a whole selection of their FYP (for you page, the ‘front page’ of TikTok) videos, and eventually, like a broken clock, sometimes they get it right and end up with a ton of hearts.

A similar phenomenon is the habit of asking the video creator for permission to do something that seems obvious. “Can I leave out the sesame seeds if I’m allergic to sesame?” on a recipe video, or the flipside, “I don’t have hot glue. Can I use Elmer’s glue?” instead. The youngest age TikTok allows on their platform is 13, and these are the sort of questions that should be resolved with a moment of thought or googling. Instead, because TikTok rewards these comments just like it rewards those hooks, they post the thought the second they have it. The content machine demands content, getting likes on a comment triggers the part of the brain that likes to gamble, and as such they keep posting until they accidentally ask something insightful.

Other honorable mentions include asking why people handling food aren’t wearing gloves (which is a Googleable question, but the short answer is that clean hands washed according to SafeServ recommendations don’t taint food, and gloves can provide a false sense of cleanliness), comments from laymen that question the knowledge of an expert in a craft in a way meant to start a slapfight in the comments for interaction points, or comments that ask where to get a nondescript item such as a plain white T-shirt or blue mug.

Write hooks and comments that make sense, not hooks and comments that ‘create engagement’. You can’t ‘create engagement’ with algorithms alone, the audience has to be able to engage!

Why are Youtuber Sponsored Products all so… Weird?

Elizabeth Technology October 27, 2022

The Process of a Sponsorship

In the past, sponsorships relied on the star power of famous people to advertise their brand. Sometimes this came with money – Nascar sponsorships pay for equipment and some of the driver’s salary so they can put their sticker on the car. Sometimes it came with publicity – getting put on the Wheaties box was a reward all it’s own. Sponsorships were generally mutually beneficial, and combined with an ordinary ad campaign, could do good things for the brand perception. The star has to align with the brand, of course, and it works better if the brand is not significantly bigger than the sponsor is, but it’s an alright way to spend advertising money.

YouTube Stars

The definition of ‘famous’ has changed over the years, and with it, sponsorships have too. At some point, accepting a sponsorship (especially in the music scene, and especially for certain products) was seen as being a sell-out. If you had a sponsor, that sponsor had some control over your behavior. As such, traditional old-media stars started to put some distance between them and their products. It was a point of shame to be taking spokesperson deals from cat litter brands or OTC pharmaceutical products as a well-known actor or actress unless you owned the company. Tabloids and the early internet at large would take it as a sign that they were slipping, losing ‘real’ filming deals, needing money. Of course many still took sponsorships, and some went overseas to do it to avoid alienating their main audience while still getting that sweet sponsor money, but over time, sponsorships retreated and more ordinary commercials came back in vogue. Sponsors spent money making sure a can or box of their product was on screen during a scene in a show, but that money was going to the people producing it, not to any of the actors or actresses on the stage (except filtered through a paycheck).

New media, aware of the idea and also many of its problems, stepped in to offer new ad slots in new places. Instagram influencers gladly promote skincare products and herbal teas from brands that may not be well-known (or FDA approved) but had the money to pay for a social media post. Getting sponsored became a point of pride, because it meant that an influencer’s audience was large enough to warrant paying them to use it. In fact, it became such a point of pride that some even fake sponsorships (and no, they don’t get paid for doing this free advertising) to indicate status and popularity, but that’s a different article.

Youtube post-adpocalypse was a very different place, as well – even the most popular content creators were not making the money they used to, due to a mass boycott by many advertisers who realized all at once that Youtube didn’t really care which videos their ads played in front of. A niche formed. Youtubers and sponsors suddenly had need of each other.

A Different Kind of Ad

However. A Youtube sponsorship caters to a unique niche, one where the viewers are usually on the younger side, unwilling to hang around for the post-roll ads, and may or may not be seeking a more parasocial form of entertainment where the star of the show seems to be addressing them directly, instead of the old-fashioned, impersonal kind where stars don’t break the fourth wall.

How to explain which products flooded into this gap and which pointedly avoided it is tough – Coke doesn’t do Youtube sponsorships, but it did run an ad campaign where it bought gifted subscriptions on Twitch for middle-sized streamers (if only to play the clips of the streamer realizing how many subs they just got in a more traditional commercial). Charmin will run pre-roll ads, but it won’t sponsor the Youtuber to pitch them as a product. It seems as though a company founded before some critical date simply doesn’t trust the Youtuber to deliver the pitch, and a company founded after, does.

Even that’s not the entire picture, or else every young company would be pitching sponsorships.

The Common Thread

Most of these products aren’t doing sponsorships because they want to, they’re doing it because it’s the last avenue they have that still works. Many of the products are weird, or nearly the same as other, already-existing products, or subscription services, or products that can’t be explained in a simple panel ad. Some are totally unsellable by normal channels, and the Youtube sponsorship route is all they have left. If they can’t, for whatever reason, buy a 10 second pre-video commercial, they go for a sponsor instead.

Look at the same-y products:

VPNs distinguish themselves by advertising, not by the quality of the product – the cheap ones are all pretty much the same. NordVPN and ExpressVPN are both just buying access to servers in other countries and then selling that access to you, neither is doing something particularly special.

Mobile games are much the same. Raid: Shadow Legends is just like any other mobile free-to-play mmorpg out there, just with a better advertising budget – it’s willingness to let Youtubers say whatever they want about the game, so long as it’s positive, has turned it into a meme, creating fond impressions of a game that would normally be overlooked in a traditional ad.

The Raycon earbuds? Nearly the same as other generic brands that do the same thing – the generic brands, however, do not cost 30$, and they can’t afford a YouTube sponsorship as a result.

Manscaped products, which promise a revolutionary experience, are ultimately just beard clippers and trimmers in a brown color scheme instead of a black or red one.

The controversial choices that only have YouTube left, like Betterhelp, cannot sell their product elsewhere because elsewhere, people still remember. Almost none of the original controversies surrounding Betterhelp have actually been ‘fixed’, they just took a break from sponsorships to let the heat die down.

And the ones that need a minute of your undivided attention to fully explain their pitch, like Hello Fresh and Blue Apron? These brands are both big enough to sponsor articles and ask for reviews from legitimate publications, and the product itself seems to work fine, but it’s just not the sort of thing you can pitch without establishing brand recognition first – Youtubers explain the product better in their own words than a more professional-sounding ad copy can, and if they’re vegan, or have food allergies, and can still use the product, all the better.

The Weirdness

None of these products (except Betterhelp) are necessarily bad, but they’re not exceptionally good – they just spend a lot of money on sponsorships and sometimes Youtube pre-roll ads over more traditional commercials or internet ads elsewhere. Given the parasocial nature of a Youtuber and their fans, it creates this weird feeling that the Youtubers are overhyping the product, when realistically they’re just… sponsoring it. A friend would tell you if a product they tried was mediocre, and Youtubers kind-of-sort-of want you to think of them as an entertaining friend. The sponsorship relies on them selling this product to you, something a friend is not going to do if they weren’t pleased with it.

Perhaps the larger, older companies realize this – Youtube sponsorships haven’t been a thing for very long, after all, so while the short term has great yield, all of it is untested in the long term. The younger companies are the guinea pigs. All of these products are being filtered not only through the Youtuber themselves, but through the relationship the Youtuber has with their audience, and Youtube as a whole. The results, so far, are mixed.

How to Clean Your Electronics

Elizabeth Technology October 25, 2022

Water is obviously out. You can’t use water on your electronics without the risk of them shorting.

1) A VERY Soft Cloth

Quality microfiber cloths are about as good as it gets for hard and plastic screens. Make sure you get the kind specifically rated for glass lenses or electronics (car microfiber cloths have a little more leeway in softness as car paint is not as soft as screen plastic, and as such we don’t recommend them) and voila, you’ve got a solid option for cleaning your screen that’s reusable, washable, and easy to store. One big note to make is that you do need to wash it – if you’re not careful, and you pick up a lot of grit or dust, you can end up sanding your screen or electronics with said grit or dust.

Swiffer products, like their dust mop, can be useful for keyboards and harder plastics, but as they can sometimes be scented (which can leave residue), are often not washable, and are usually meant for floors and hard knickknacks, the microfiber cloth is a much better choice.

2) Lens Wipes

If you spilled something a bit viscous on your screen or keyboard, and you don’t want to risk soaking your device, look to lens wipes! Few things are better solvents than water, so simply wetting a microfiber cloth can often do the trick, but if you’re worried about it dripping or otherwise ruining your device, pre-dampened lens wipes may save the day. The only downside is that they tend to be small!

A bit of 70% isopropyl alcohol (also known as rubbing alcohol) applied to a microfiber or other soft cloth can also be used to clean a screen, generally – just keep the cloth damp, not soaking.

3) Compressed Air

Compressed air is great for many things! It can often get crumbs out of crevices that cloths and dusters can’t reach, which keyboards are full of. However, it also comes with some tips – you can blow off keys with it if you’re holding it too close to said keyboard, so keep to the distance listed on the bottle. You also shouldn’t hold it upside down. If you do, the pressurized liquid at the bottom of the container will come out, and not only can it sometimes leave residue, but it’s also going to freeze whatever it touches, which is hazardous to you. And possibly the machinery, depending on what you’re hitting.

What NOT To Use

1) Non-lens Cleaning Wipes

If a wipe is wood based, or otherwise meant for something besides lenses, there’s a chance it could scratch your screen. Doubly so if it’s advertised as having ‘scrubbing power’! It’s not a guarantee – some screens are softer than others – but with how cheap microfiber cloths are, and how expensive your computer screen probably was, it’s just not worth it to use a Clorox wipe over a microfiber cloth. Over time, it might haze the screen, or scratch it immediately.

2) Windex and Other Household Cleaners

Not every solvent gets along with every plastic, but Windex especially is not great for screens. Windex works best on glass and polished metal – anywhere else, and it may slowly dissolve what it’s been sprayed on. You’re not supposed to use it on wood because it can sometimes eat varnish! If you spill something viscous on a screen and need a solvent to get it off, use something designed for cameras, water (but not so much your microfiber cloth is soaking or dripping!!), or the lens wipes mentioned above. Isopropyl alcohol is generally safe for devices, but be sure to use a soft, non-wood based cloth or wipe to use it.