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Preventing Piracy Is Hard

Elizabeth Technology March 21, 2023

It’s frustrating to have someone else steal your work. That’s why piracy is one of the biggest scourges of entertainment today. Yet bootlegs and copyright infringement still happen, and sometimes undetectably. So, if the person pirating is outside your legal reach, how do you keep them from enjoying your work for free?

Create anti-piracy measures, of course.

Tainting the Well

Cher briefly released songs on LimeWire that played very quietly, in an effort to get the listener to jack up their volume. After a little bit, she’d shout at you to stop stealing at the normal volume band – which was now at max volume. This didn’t last very long, because downloads had names on the site, but there was no limit to what artists would do to keep their intellectual property in their own hands. Ironically, the worst LimeWire users themselves were more likely to protect property than the artists! Trolls would put some strange things on otherwise normal tracks, and some people would rather go to iTunes than play download lottery. They tainted the well themselves.


People tend to be more embarrassed that they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar than they are about the pirating itself. Asking about the bizarre version of the song you downloaded would out you as a pirate. And music wasn’t the only industry to do this.

A whole bunch of games would give strange errors or messages to get pirates to ask about it online. Of course, the pirates are the only ones who got these messages, so creators and other fans alike knew they’d pirated the software.  That was the punishment: everybody on the game’s Steam page knew you were a pirate! They then either self-exile or double down on the pirating by removing themselves from the forum to avoid the shaming.

Anti-Piracy software

Games have great examples of anti-piracy in action. Piracy detection used to be pretty hard – all it took was a blank disc and a PC that already had the game on it in the early days to make copies. Games would use physical wheels or artifacts on the inside of the game’s packaging to be sure you had a legit copy – if you couldn’t answer a question pre-programmed into the game, you didn’t have the original package, and you couldn’t play. Then, as computers got better and games could take up more space, programmed anti-piracy kicked into a higher gear. Anything and everything went – it was the pirate’s problem if they didn’t like it. Earthbound, a game that was already difficult, would crash at the final screen and then delete all your save data. So would Spyro, although Spyro would warn you that it thought you were playing a bootleg copy before you got to the end.

The goal was to frustrate the pirate, which would eventually prevent piracy in its own way. Some developers went to guilt, instead: Alan Wake just slaps an eyepatch with the Jolly Roger on your character to remind you that you’re playing a pirated copy and you should feel bad. So does Quantum Break.

Business Software License Checks

There are many obvious downsides to pirating something like Excel. Namely, if something goes wrong, what are you going to do? Contact the vendor? With your illegitimate copy? Good luck with that. It doesn’t help that Microsoft runs audits, too – if they detect a license or a product key not in line with what they’re expecting, they’ll know you’re pirating. If another copy of Word tries to interact with an illegitimate copy, they’ll know you’re pirating. Basically, if you’re ever connected to the internet with a cracked copy of Office software, they’ll know. There are so many free alternatives that pirating Word seems foolish.

Microsoft is doing it for more than the money, too. There’s a growing host of people online who would just love to scam some businesses into downloading malicious software, alongside illegitimate copies of Word. Assuming the business owner genuinely believes they’re getting real copies of Office, Microsoft’s good name is tainted!

CAP Software

Pirating early-release discs destroys faith in reviewers. However, early reviewers are also giving you a lot of free advertisement, so it wouldn’t be very smart financially to just cut them all off. Instead, what they use is CAP software, which stores a code in the file. If the file is leaked or copied, the code is present, and the studio knows exactly which reviewer to cut off. Versions of this using tones mixed into the audio of the movie and visual watermarks are also common! Everyone benefits: the studio still gets it’s promotion, the reviewer gets to review the movie, and the viewer gets some early information about what they want to watch, legitimately. The pirate is slapped with a fine and everyone moves on.


Why Does it Feel Like CGI is Getting Worse?

Elizabeth Technology March 9, 2023

CGI, or Computer-Generated Imagery, is exactly what it says on the tin. A lot more qualifies as CGI than you might think – even phone filters could be considered CGI. So why, when there’s so much of it, does so much of it look bad? Especially by theoretically multi-million-dollar movie studios? Have we passed its peak?

More of It

Firstly, there’s just more of it than there used to be. CGI was a sparing supplement, and usually pretty expensive, so painted mats, painting the film itself, and practical effects used to be the way to go. This wasn’t always ideal: practical effects are often expensive, and can be very frustrating for actors on-set! Dave Bautista’s Drax makeup (from Guardians of the Galaxy) could take two hours or more to put on. Jim Carrey’s Grinch was much the same. The process is so agonizing that it often takes special expertise to coach the actors through it until filming is done so they don’t literally go insane. To minimize the human suffering of the actors, CGI can be used in scenes where they’re not especially prominent, or where a scene may damage the makeup and they’re unwilling or unable to put in a double.

Even better, CGI allows for insane visuals that couldn’t be made with practical effects. The Mummy series features things that can’t be done with practical effects – scarab beetles, for example, don’t move as fast as the movie portrays, nor do they run in floods together. Huge sandstorms don’t exactly have human faces in them all the time either. 

Not to mention backgrounds! Where previous generations of moviemakers were forced to use painted mats and real sets, greenscreen technology has gotten so good that it’s almost difficult to tell when a movie is using a greenscreen as a background, given the background could be a real place and not outer space.

 CGI also opens the door for newer, more dangerous-looking stunts. Before, clever editing of the film would be necessary to make a larger-than-life stunt possible. Now there’s CGI! The end of John Wick 3 featured a sequence too dangerous for Keanu Reeves or a stunt double to perform, and so CGI was used to make it look like John Wick flopping around. CGI may win actors where stunt doubles don’t. While some admire Tom Cruise’s willingness to do his own stunts, others call it too risky. During the shooting for one of the more recent Mission Impossible movies, Cruise broke his ankle after landing a jump wrong. This delayed production, even though the release date wasn’t changed, and he revealed that his ankle still wasn’t quite right after the movie was completed. By saying the studio doesn’t want anyone doing a particular stunt, they may have convinced him to stop trying. Similarly, when animals are featured in movies, it’s unethical to put them in situations where they feel like they’re in danger because they don’t have the cognizance to know a stunt is just a stunt. A Dog’s Purpose rightfully got a lot of flack when it actually used the real dog actor in a simulated white-water river (simulated as in a fake river with real water) to get the shot. CGI animals may not always look the best, but it’s better than potentially traumatizing a real, living creature.

Overusing It

All of this has become faster and cheaper than doing it the ‘real’ way. Obviously filming in space would be prohibitively expensive, and a number of movies are downright impossible to make with an actor in makeup or a puppet instead of a CGI rig. The technology has improved quite a bit! However, that doesn’t make CGI a fix-all, even though studios are often treating it as such. For example, Dr. Strange: Multiverse of Madness received criticism online for it’s cheesy-looking CGI in places a quality prosthetic would have sufficed. Screenshots of the movie vary between Marvel-worthy and something out of Spy Kids. A staff member of one of the CGI teams working on Endgame reported that the studio filmed an actor in the wrong suit, and instead of refilming the scene, they were asked to CGI the right suit over it. In fact, a huge number of scenes with suits in them have the suits CGI’d over to make them look more polished! The entire movie is shot knowing there’s going to be CGI assisting difficult tricks of lighting and iffy props the actor isn’t allowed to see to prevent spoiler leakage. The final filming of Infinity War is known for how hard the studio worked to keep actors in the dark – green screens with limited direction, actors standing on their own to recite lines, key plot components shot out of order to keep said actors from piecing the story together – a common conspiracy is that by doing this, Marvel is making it impossible to tell who has a bit part and who’s carrying the movie, thus making it harder to negotiate for better pay when the contract can still be negotiated. Speaking of pay…

More of It, For Cost Savings

CGI studios are not often unionized. They make less money, so they cost less money, and because they don’t have to be physically on-set, they can be physically located anywhere, including countries with significantly lower cost of living. Hiring a CGI studio located outside of the U.S. can free up additional funding to spend on the actors themselves, or on the things the studio positively cannot outsource.

The problem with this is that it’s shorting every party and forcing them all to work for less money than they’d be paid in a fair environment. Stunt workers require insurance. Fun fireworks for explosions require insurance and a lot of specialized expertise so nobody goes deaf or dies. Do you know what costs less? CGI! CGI explosions often don’t look as good as the real thing, but they cost less. If the story is good, fans are often willing to overlook an over-reliance on CGI where it’s unnecessary, which encourages the studio to do it more. They’ll put fake dogs into spots where real dogs could have gone, safely, because it saves them money on animal handling in the long term! To protect animals from accidents and cruelty, the animal has an agent that’s meant to vouch for it. That agent makes the real animal cost more. The studio sees this as a cost to be cut, not part of doing business. When every corner is cut, it starts to affect the way the movie feels for the worse. Actors talking to empty air don’t have the same presence as actors talking to other actors, or handling real props, or wearing something real that’s going to be digitized in post.

Again – you cannot film in actual outer space, and Rocket Raccoon could not be recreated with a real raccoon, but Sebastian the Rat is so endearing in the re-make of Suicide Squad because he’s a real rat. He’s not CGI. The same goes for Marley, in Marley and Me. Even if it makes the animal’s appearance cost more, their onscreen charisma is often worth it, if only the studio can be convinced.

More of it, Faster

The studios have become so accustomed to cheap, quick CGI that they consistently give the studio less time than they really need to render something to perfection. The CGI in that new Dr. Strange movie could have looked better if the CGI professionals were given more time to polish it, but releasing in the right season for the right price kept them from doing their best work. The CGI is meant to shortcut the practical effects specialists and assorted animal or explosives handlers out of the equation, and once it’s out of slack, it starts cutting into itself. It starts looking worse!

CGI looks worse not because it’s somehow gotten worse, it looks worse because big movie studios are using it to take shortcuts where no more shortcuts can realistically be had.

Twitter: A Case Study of how Modern Websites Break Down

Elizabeth Technology March 7, 2023

Gutting is Not Always the Solution

Twitter’s meltdown should serve as a warning – while it’s possible to coast off of minimal support for a little bit, it’s not actually all that easy to keep things running on a skeleton crew. And even if Twitter still had all of its staff, would it still be standing after all those changes?

For those of you who don’t use Twitter, Musk’s purchase of the company has been a pretty huge mess for the people working under him. He fired a large percentage of the staff (more than half of the company was laid off) and encouraged those not laid off to leave by insisting Twitter was going to go ‘hardcore’ and they’d have to return to their physical offices for long hours if they valued their job. Many simply sent a salute emoji in the company’s big Slack town square and jumped ship. The people left behind are a mixed bag – engineers that like Musk a lot, people trapped under Twitter’s employment due to work visas, and everybody in between. They’re not the company’s second choice team, by any means, but there are less of them. A lot less. Some might even say it’s too few for the site to function with.

Broken New Features

The blue checkmark fiasco, where Twitter’s CEO promised that being able to simply buy verification would definitely not result in fraud, is one of a number of bad rollouts. A common mantra for startups is to ‘move fast and break things’, a strategy formulated when delaying choices or rollouts to make them not-broken could be the difference between receiving investor money (and customers count as investors here) or not. The iPhone, for example, famously did not work when Steve Jobs first demoed it. It crashed a lot, and it didn’t have great reception. But by demonstrating that everyone was super into the idea, he was able to rally and put out a better, more complete version of the device for customers to buy! Importantly, the iPhone wouldn’t crush the rest of Apple if it didn’t work, so they could afford to play fast with it.

However. Twitter is not a startup, is it? Nor is it releasing a fenced-in product totally unseen before – paid content tiers are new to Twitter, but pretty common everywhere else. (Had Twitter not downsized, it might have even still had the necessary expertise onboard to roll this feature out gracefully.) When a startup moves fast and breaks things, it’s forgivable, because the team might be creating something so groundbreaking that they can’t even keep up with the scope of their idea. When a big company does it, it looks… embarrassing. A team working out of a garage may not have multiple test environments for their app or product. What kind of billion-dollar company doesn’t have test environments?

What kind of billion-dollar company couldn’t see the potential for abuse, especially on a platform dedicated to discussion, either? People were tweeting about misusing this verification shortcut as soon as the announcement was made, and they still went through with it! This new, fast, broken feature shut down a valuable communication channel between big companies and their clients until moderation was put into place. The lack of moderation was supposed to be a feature, you see – Twitter’s previous verification system meant that verified accounts were actually verified by Twitter, not by money, and if they moderated it, it would be like Twitter was doing the verifying again. Again, this is an almost understandable mistake on a smaller platform with less people chomping at the bit to abuse it, but not for multi-billion dollar Twitter. It looked like official pharmaceutical companies were finally breaking good, and like the official channel for Nintendo USA had posted a picture of Mario flipping the bird. Customer support lines on Twitter were strangled by fakes. The response from some of those big companies was understandably angry. Musk attempted to smooth this over by bringing back the individually assigned verification checkmarks, but in gray, and then finally just dropped the idea.

Breaking Old Features

Twitter disabled the service that sent out the 2-Factor Authentication texts in an attempt to prune down microservices. Later, it broke the service that allowed users to tweet directly to their page, meaning only scheduled tweets would go through, when restricting API access. In theory, both actions were unfortunate side effects of trying to streamline user experience: by shutting down what Musk felt was bloatware, Twitter would run faster upon startup. That makes sense. However, Twitter runs on miles and miles of code. And they only have a quarter or so (maybe even less) of the team they had at the start of Musk’s takeover. The resultant ‘breaking’ of microservices like 2FA, and the over-restricting of Tweet permissions, is a direct result of losing the engineers who handled those features before deciding to tinker with them.

Musk’s choice to prune Twitter’s team down to the roots means that every update, every security hole patch, every choice affecting the infrastructure of the site, is now ten times more likely to result in bugs, and those bugs are going to take much longer to fix now.

But hey – at least there’s less overhead. That’s going to be important, because advertisers are not exactly pleased.

Making Simply Existing in the Space A Total Nightmare

The CEO’s promise to ‘stop stifling free speech’ on a platform that’s honestly pretty permissive (a side-effect of being an official channel of communication for a U.S. president, a role that comes with a huge number of responsibilities) certainly earned him brownie points with people who were decidedly not going to use this new, even looser set of rules kindly. People who’d been, say, banned over the use of certain words, in certain targeted circumstances. At the rate Musk was suggesting they loosen moderation, Twitter could have easily turned into 2 Kiwi 2 Farms, where the targets are actually on the same platform the harassment campaigns are planned.

Ultimately, what changes he actually made didn’t matter, because the mere promise of maybe loosening the rules a bit brought a ton of vitriol to the surface anyway, and the remaining moderators at Twitter after Musk’s big ultimatum were not equipped to handle it. Discourse on Twitter was already a horrible, rotten place where nuance goes to die, but people just existing on the site, promoting their wares or keeping up with their favorite singers and actors, were now experiencing a worse version of the site where slurs were now part of the discourse.

Every step of this is an absolute nightmare for advertisers who don’t want an ad for Sunny-D appearing next to a tweet telling someone to off themselves. Musk’s total reign over Twitter combined with his unpredictable behavior means that he can’t even promise he’ll change, because yeah, he might – and what if he makes it even more of a nightmare?

Musk Himself is Part of The Problem

Stephen King declaring that he wasn’t going to pay 20$ to hang around on Twitter as a verified user led to Musk very publicly changing the price point to 8$ – the price that stuck for rollout. How absolutely insane of a business choice! A single celebrity says ‘this costs too much’ (and because he’s a celebrity, you know it’s not because he’s incapable of paying it, the tech-sphere says) and then the price is actually changed. Can you imagine almost any other service just… going for it, like that? This is a perfect example of behavior that would have been funny if Musk had not burned away all his goodwill on stupid stuff, like getting the California high-speed rail canceled in favor of his hyperloop, or calling an account that uses publicly available info on jets a ‘stalker’, calling that cave diver who saved those kids a very mean name with no evidence, or subjecting his staff to inhumane work hours, or that thing with the horse, or the cybertruck delay, or threatening to shut off Ukraine’s new Starlink internet even though the US Government paid for it, the list goes on.

When Musk made a flamethrower available for sale, it was funny! He talks directly to the people! Look, he’s reinventing cars from the ground up! He named his son a bunch of letters and numbers!  When Musk said “both sides are making good points”, it was scary. He has so much money that if he decided to fund an ad campaign for a candidate, that candidate could win. When he appeared behind Dave Chapelle to shout “I’m rich, bitch!” at a show, it was… bizarre. The CEO of Twitter has such an investment in looking cool that he appeared on Rick and Morty as a version of himself with tusks. To his remaining fans, he’s a maverick! To advertisers who’d normally buy Twitter adspace, he’s a nightmare. To car owners, his investment in linking his reputation to Tesla makes Teslas unattractive – a nice electric Ford doesn’t come with all the baggage, and the quality control is more consistent. He could appear anywhere, any time, and nobody can stop him from embarrassing himself and all of the people invested in his brands.

Musk himself is a huge problem for Twitter. A bad CEO can destroy a company as readily as any disaster. People within his other companies report that allegedly, orders from him get filtered a couple of times so they actually make sense when they get where they’re going. While that might be hearsay, comparing Twitter’s past few months to Musk’s more successful companies suggests it’s got some truth to it somewhere. Twitter is not filtering his requests – it wasn’t an organization built with impulsive leaders, so orders generally made sense as they left the head office. Tesla was built around Musk, so the buffers were there the whole time.

For Twitter to survive Musk, it has to essentially remove him from himself.

Moderator Bots: Do They Work?

Elizabeth Technology February 28, 2023

In a world of ever-growing conversations and large forums, moderating manpower is in high demand. Websites turn to bots. Is that really the best idea?

Children’s MMOs And Overzealous Bots

Poorly configured bots will spot curse words in other words, so bot configuration is especially important to prevent kids from reverse-discovering a curse word. Kid’s games with open chat are notorious for this issue, even though they should have more attention and care put into their bot moderation than anywhere else. That’s the problem: they’ll go to extreme lengths to protect these children! The people programming auto-moderator bots get overaggressive and say ‘no exceptions. None.’ to their bots. Context doesn’t matter, if it sees a combination of letters that add up to a curse word, then it has to be removed before other children see it. This, however, causes problems.

If someone tries to type ‘assess the situation’ they may end up with a message that says ‘***ess the situation’. They can confirm or deny words their friends told them were actually curse words by bouncing it off the chat filter. Children may be naïve, but they aren’t stupid!

Moderator bots were also trained to spot curse words separated by spaces ‘l i k e t h i s’ later on. This isn’t a bad idea – it just has to be more delicately configured. People will do their best to worm around content filters, and if spaces work, then they’ll use spaces to curse out other players. The problem is that such machines frequently doesn’t understand the context of the letters surrounding it, and you get “Ay* **mells weird” instead of “Aya Ssmells weird” from some little kid’s typo.

The irony of all of this is that it creates a reverse censor effect – clean words seem dirty because the bot’s censored them, words like ‘Assassinate’, or “Scattered”, things kids might use in a game. Typos under this system turn into a fount of forbidden knowledge. People will worm around bot moderators, but – especially on children’s forums – it’s important that the bot understands context, at least a little. If it can’t do that, a human teammate is necessary to whitelist weird word combinations as they appear.

Paleontology and Oversized Profanity Libraries

There are many bones. And if you were going to single out a specific bone (in the context of paleontology) just to cause problems, which bone would you pick? The censor library picked the pubic bone, alongside a host of other totally normal words like ‘stream’ and ‘crack’. There were curse words in the library too, but, of course, like most normal, professional conferences, the curse words did not appear nearly as much as the other words used in completely scientific contexts.

As in the children’s MMO example, it wasn’t an innuendo to say ‘the bone was found in a stream’ until the censor library did the equivalent of adding the flirty wink emoji to the end of the statement. Since tone can’t be conveyed over text except by word choice, the computer choosing to single out a definition for ‘stream’ and apply it to all uses is what made it a dirty word. Besides the words with no connection to actual profanity, pubic bones do come up quite a lot when talking about fossils, because it provides information about how fossilized animals would walk. The pubic bone is the ‘front’ bone in the pelvis: two-legged animals have a differently shaped one than four-legged ones, and animals that walk totally upright like humans have differently shaped ones than animals that ‘lean forwards’, like birds.

Why make a moderation bot too strict to have conversations around? They didn’t make the bot! The conference organizers were using a pre-made program that included its own profanity library. Buying a software that includes censorship already baked-in sounds like a great idea! If applied correctly, it can save everyone time and prevent profanity from appearing where it shouldn’t, even anonymously. However, ask two people what profanity is, and you’ll get two different answers. Everyone has a different threshold for professional language, so it’s better to build a library of the ‘obvious’ ones and go from there based on the event. The best censoring software is the kind you don’t have to use. Professional events are better off stating their expectations, before frustrating their attendees with a software that causes more harm than good.

Weaponizing Profanity Filters

Twitter had a bit of a kerfuffle involving the city of Memphis. People using the word Memphis in a tweet got a temporary ban. Then, a rash of baiting other Twitter users into using Memphis hit once word got around. Memphis getting users banned was the result of a bug, but the incident itself highlights issues with profanity filters. It’s possible to bait people into using banned words, especially if they aren’t inherently a profane word when used out of context.

For example, some online games will filter out the very real countries of Niger and Nigeria, to prevent misspellings of a racial slur from evading a deserved ban. Why would North Americans ever be discussing African countries over a game set in Russia, after all? But, by including them, they’ve created a way to troll other players without saying anything profane (in context). Baiting another user into answering questions about the countries will result in them getting banned, not the question-asker. The person who answered now has to contact the human support line to get unbanned, or wait for their timeout to end, which is annoying and inconvenient for them. The anti-profanity filter has been weaponized!

Building a positive culture around a game takes a lot of effort, and profanity filters are an integral part of keeping arsonists and trolls out. Nobody should feel targeted in game chat for reasons outside the game. However, just like with every example mentioned here, humans should be on call to un-ban and un-block users who were genuinely attempting to answer a question. Err on the side of caution, both with the software and customer support.

Are Bots a Cure?

Short answer: no. Most good moderation teams have at least one human on them in case the bot screws up. Preferably, they’ll be able to respond to ‘deleted comment’ or ‘banned user’ complaints right away. Even better, if the bots are configured well enough, they’re not going to be jumping the gun often enough to take a team!

It’s just very difficult to make a bot that understands people well enough to understand every instance of bad language.

If you’re running a forum and you don’t want people using profanity, you will censor the profane words. A bot could do that. But then there’s things like LeetSpeek, where users will spell the colloquial name for a donkey with two fives in place of the ‘s’s. Do you ban that too? Sure, you could add that to the bot’s library. But then they change the A to a 4. Do you censor that too? If you do, people will push to figure out what is and isn’t acceptable to your bots, and they will. Not. Stop.

And then there’s things like homophones! TikTok, a popular video app, has a fairly robust profanity filter for text. Videos with curse words and sensitive topics in them are noticeably less popular than ones without those words, due to TikTok’s algorithm.  However, people making videos on sensitive topics use phrases like ‘Sewer Slide’ and ‘Home of Phobia’ to evade the bots. The bots, then, have not stopped anything. These conversations will happen no matter what TikTok’s moderators want, and banning the word ‘sewer’ is only displacing the problem. If you don’t want users discussing these things on your site, you’ll have to have human moderators at some point.

Language is dynamic, and bots simply can’t keep up. It takes real people to study languages – why wouldn’t it take real people to moderate it online?


Curb-Cutting Effect In Software

Elizabeth Technology February 23, 2023

Certain design choices make software easier to use – and there’s no reason not to use them.

What is the curb-cutting effect?

Most sidewalks have a dip in the curb, where the concrete comes down to meet the street. This is designed for accessibility: people in wheelchairs would struggle to cross the street if the curb didn’t do this. They could even be injured trying to get up and down over the curb, or rolling along in the street til the next loading ramp for a business intersected with the road. However, the dip also makes life easier for everyone on wheels – baby carriages, skateboarders, bicyclists, roller-skaters, etc. don’t have to dismount and carry their transportation over the curb. Elderly folks, able-bodied people, and people suffering from conditions like drop-foot can now aim for the dipped curb as well to make tripping less likely. The curb being carved out has benefited everyone, even though it was only put in place for the people in wheelchairs.

Accessibility features, when done right, can benefit everyone, not just the people they were made for. This is the curb-cutting effect in action!

Menu Design

Good, clean, accessible menus benefit everyone, not just sight- or mobility- impaired people. The faster and easier it is for someone to find information, the less likely they are to leave the site. How many times have you tried to find something specific on a website, only to give up and Google it again to find it, on the same website? For example, say you’re looking for a local museum’s hours. They have a drop-down menu along the top, but the options are only there when you hover.

You see information about the exhibits, you see information about the team, about the funding, about the history of the museum itself, you see where to buy tickets or make donations – but the hours are nowhere to be found. You give up, turn around, and instead of engaging with the website, you engage with Google to find the hours. This is obviously annoying for the end-user, especially since that info may be outdated! For people with dyslexia, people with cognitive delays, and sight-impaired people, it’s nearly impossible to navigate, and they end up calling instead.

If your website is really, really big, it’s better to include a table of contents menu instead of a dropdown. You can get more specific about what exactly is in each section, so users can navigate the site faster. If your website’s pretty small, a menu that just brings the user to the right point on the page may work – the user can get there either through scrolling or the menu, so they can Ctrl + F to find the museum’s hours. This also helps users in a hurry to find info!  If your website’s pretty medium, a solid, non-retreating, clickable menu is more helpful than ‘hover’ menus. All of these options also have the benefit of making the website easier to use on mobile devices!

Readable Text

Screen readers are a popular choice for blind and seeing-impaired folks, but a critical problem they face is images of text rather than plain text the reader can read. Unfortunately, a lot of information is lost when the image also contains text, like screenshots of tweets or memes with the caption built in, and text captions can give at least some of that information back. Captions help screen-readers out tremendously, and make websites like Reddit, Facebook, and Tumblr, which all use a lot of pictures, more accessible to the blind. However…

Readable text is also easier to copy-paste, easier to cite or quote, and easier to search for. If you remember part of a quote from someone on LinkedIn and want to share it elsewhere, for example, you’ll probably search for it on Google and see if the website crawlers can find it. If that quote was shared in a photo, the website crawlers won’t be able to find it – there’s no text for them to read. You’ll be forced to either plagiarize (don’t do that), drop the quote, or scroll through your feed til you find it. All of that could be avoided if the person had captioned their photo.

Closed-Captions and Transcript Options

Text captions aren’t just for the blind with screenreaders. Many deaf and hard-of-hearing people can lipread, but many more can’t, and some would just rather not if other options, like captions, are available. Besides, lipreading isn’t perfect anyway. Think about shows where someone’s saying something off-screen, or mouths are covered, like Cops, or Grey’s Anatomy. Captions make these shows watchable for people who don’t want to spend half a show guessing what the person with the surgical mask is saying.

Captions also help hearing people. If you’ve learned a language in a classroom setting, including captions, even if they’re also in that language, helps comprehension. Captions make it possible to mute a training video in the office and still gain the information, without disturbing coworkers.

Transcription options are another great example. Most adults read faster than they can speak – a transcript that takes five minutes to read may take ten or fifteen to speak out loud. When a website has no textual information about a video they’re hosting, it suddenly takes 20 minutes of video to gain information that could be read in seven minutes, without the annoying stop-start of rewinding to critical information, watching it forwards again, rewinding when you can’t figure it out, rewatching, watching further to see if they mention it again, etc. etc. It’s so much more efficient to have a transcript. Transcripts also allow readers to use Ctrl + F if the transcript is digital, so singling out specific lines of information are easy as pie.

Besides video-tutorials and learning material, choosing poorly while audio-mixing will make captions mandatory. Tenet was an entirely different movie when there were captions. I’m not joking, important information was completely incomprehensible the first time I watched it, and I’m not hard-of-hearing. Captions were only way to get all the information out of the movie!

Better Mouse-Input Technology

Part of the reason so many things behave themselves with gaming mice is because of accessible software. Not everyone has the strength or dexterity to use a mouse and keyboard, so software designers comply with the ADA by making the software take any generic input as a mouse click, if previously set by the operating system. Things like on-screen keyboards further help people with limited movement, and voice-to-text or voice-commands enable folks like Stephen Hawking to communicate and control their surroundings better.

Game designers took the idea a step further and allowed users to key-bind to any set of keys they like. Players that only have enough mobility to reach half a keyboard, or use a thirteen-button gaming mouse, alongside people going for speed records and people on small desks, can now set the buttons to be on a half-board if they so desire!

Those onscreen keyboards also help if you’re using your laptop as your media center and have it semi-permanently hooked up to a bigger screen. Are you going to get up off the couch to look up a video on Youtube? With the onscreen keyboard, all you need is a Bluetooth mouse, and you don’t have to get up anymore!

These software choices are not only good for ADA compliance – they also make your website more pleasant to use!


Could AR ever be used in an office setting?

Elizabeth Technology February 16, 2023

Home Offices

A home office is often a place of respite. Quiet. Calm. Personalized organization. Companies looking to save money on renting a space may go for work-from-home solutions, no matter their size, and even people who work in an office may still choose to make an office space in their home, whether that’s just a desk in the corner of the living room or a whole spare bedroom, because it makes paperwork and keeping important documents organized easier. In essence, the idea of a home office is incredibly customizable and flexible. If you call it your home office, and it’s not superseded by being a dining room table, it’s a home office.

So, when Zuckerburg announced plans to make ‘virtual offices’, many people were put off, but many more were intrigued. A home office is obviously not a perfect substitute for the kind a business rents out to use, for better or worse. Could Meta Company somehow improve it?

Fun and Games

What Zuckerberg presented combined the worst aspects of VR Chat, the worst aspects of Slack, and the worst aspects of the headset itself. The headset is designed to make you feel like you’re actually seeing a different environment when you move your head, and it does it so well that a percentage of people with VR headsets report headaches – the brain is receiving conflicting information that it can’t sort out, and it doesn’t like that.

The virtual office concept allowed you to look across a virtual desk with a virtual keyboard to see your virtual colleagues, who could perform gestures and small expressions to indicate some sort of feeling. The thing about this system is that it’s annoying – the benefits of being work-from-home include not being in the work office, and being in your home office physically but not in spirit pretty much cancels that out. Under this system, other users could theoretically tell when you’d stepped away – the feeling of being watched in the work office was fine, but it wasn’t in the home office, where workers expected to feel like they were in their home and not in the panopticon.

Walmart Too…?

So many of these ideas seem to think that adding a need to traverse a 3D virtual space somehow improves the idea of a virtual experience. Walmart thought that you might miss actually walking up and down the aisles when they premiered their virtual solution to online shopping, which is by far the worst part of going to a Walmart Supercenter. They added physics to items so your avatar could grab them and put them in the cart instead of just clicking buttons, which makes shopping take longer and also increases the risk of the application bugging out on you. They offered to link up to your smart fridge, so they could remind you that you already have milk in there while you’re grabbing it in the app, allowing you to confirm that you did in fact mean to grab more milk, adding a prompt to do so. The entire idea from top to bottom seemed to hope that you’d spend more money if their app made you work more.

This is not the way VR was meant to re-invent the office, or the remote shopping-experience, or any experience that’s annoying or difficult to do. When customers are shopping in person, the other people are part of the experience (especially in small towns). When they’re shopping over an app, the customer has to be able to find what they want as easily as possible, with as little friction as possible, and it doesn’t get much simpler than searching for an item in a search bar and hitting ‘add to cart’. It’s the worst of both worlds.

It’s almost as if they’re trying to retroactively come up with stuff for the headset to do that they already have easy access to, vs. actually researching and developing programs specifically for VR. VRs shine brightest in games because of the way they function, but if Facebook’s CEO doesn’t believe in the future of games as a product, then there’s going to be a lot of running around trying to make other products more game-like so they’ll fit better. Walmart’s VR demonstration felt like dozens of games, across all genres, simulating everything from stocking shelves to driving trucks. It’s bizarre to try and use it as a virtual world that’s just as boring and simple as the real one – if you’re going to have a virtual Walmart or a virtual office, surely you can do something more entertaining with the surrounding environment than one that the user can already go visit at almost any time? That’s completely the wrong feeling, but it’s the one VR sinks into most naturally, because it’s the only real justification for the product being sold.

There’s room for AR, but not like this!

Interactions Scams: If You Don’t Like it, Then Don’t Click the ‘Like’ Button!

Elizabeth Technology February 7, 2023

Interaction scams have been around for as long as interactions have been measureable. From early Facebook’s insistence that clicking ‘like’ will somehow magically make a picture change when you refresh the page to early chain letters demanding you forward the text to ten other people, somebody always wants your attention.

We should know this – how does it keep happening?

I Promise I’ll Hurt You If You Don’t Like This Image

The early digital chain letters were usually texts or emails that were threatening in some way. “If you don’t send this letter to 10 other people, Sawako will come get YOU!”, or things to that effect. Occasionally, one would promise something positive or lucky, but people are far more likely to spend their energy avoiding something bad than moving towards something good, so the ominous ones spread further and lasted longer.

Then it became possible to block them both on email and phones. That didn’t kill them – plenty of adults and elderly folks are still shuffling around more modern versions of the positive ones in the hopes of spreading some joy to their grandkids and friends, and meme compilations are plenty popular among the Facebook crowd – but it wasn’t the straight ticket to virality that it used to be.

Around this time in the early 2000’s, things began to change on the internet. Websites began experimenting with voting systems alongside their chronological ones, and places like MySpace and Digg sprung up among the forums and chatrooms that comprised a lot of the early ‘social networks’.

This is where those chain letters evolved – posts began insisting that if you didn’t share, like, or upvote the post, something bad would happen to you. Some posts (such as the infamous ‘my child will like this post’ Jesus vs. ‘My child will keep scrolling!’ Satan meme) would call into question the character of the person who didn’t interact, calling them all matter of ugly things to insult them into upvoting the post – thus spreading it further and insulting more people with it.

The positive engagement scammer posts became less and less common, and the good ones that did still circulate were usually something like ‘This is the immunity duck. You are now immune to posts requiring you to share them’, meant mostly for the kids who didn’t know better and the adults with anxiety or OCD who knew intellectually that the post couldn’t hurt them, but couldn’t shake the compulsion to avoid the ‘risk’. Eventually, website users stopped giving these posts the attention they wanted so badly, but accounts still produce them on Twitter and Facebook to rope in the new users who don’t know better and the people who feel compelled to share them. Thanks to websites like Facebook and Twitter using algorithms to sort posts instead of time, these posts still occasionally show up in front of ordinary accounts that don’t reward them in an effort to get traction. They’ll always be there, hovering at the edges, waiting to be let in.

New Forms

Once the negative and overly threatening ones had run their course, the format changed – there was still a demand for interaction, after all. They started suggesting that something interesting would happen if you ‘liked’ or ‘upvoted’ or otherwise interacted with the image or post. Maybe the icon would turn blue! Maybe you’d get some confetti! Maybe the image would do something weird or scary! What do you have to lose by engaging with the photo, if only to see whether or not the like icon turns blue?

 Of course, on websites run by algorithms, ‘liking’ the image means that the website knows you interacted with it even if you ‘unliked’ the image immediately after. The image is convincing you to interact with it to artificially boost its perceived popularity to a series of AIs that can’t tell what it’s doing to get that popularity. A similar phenomenon led to the most controversial, annoying, or incorrect videos getting pushed to the front of Youtube’s recommended page because of their system’s belief that any engagement is good engagement – including dozens and dozens of people correcting the contents of the video or arguing below it in the comments.

Similarly, hack channels have gotten to a point where they’re beginning to bait ‘debunking’ videos into using their videos because they’ve completely run out of new or interesting content to make. This shift towards making things ridiculous on purpose has not curtailed their views, not only because the content is still bizarre enough to entertain kids, but also because savvy viewers will run to the comments trying to keep those kids from hurting themselves. That’s what’s especially cruel about many of these hack channels: their bright colors, snappy transitions, and goofy actors appeal to children and keep them engaged… while they also showcase hacks that have injured and killed kids who didn’t recognize the danger in, say, heating oil in a soda can to make popcorn, or modifying electronics so they’ll do something funny or strange, or cooking eggs in the microwave (even outside of their shell, eggs can explode if you do that because the yolk and white cook at different speeds!).

The people engaging with the video are doing their best to stop other people from getting hurt, but because the algorithmic machine rewards engagement, their frantic screaming trying to save other people from wasting their time or money (as well as trying to save them from burns or electrocution) is only heard as cheering by the AI.

Onto the New Platforms

This version of the engagement scamming continues on in video-sharing apps like TikTok, which should be beyond it – the problem is that Gen Z did not get the same education into online matters that millennials or even Gen-Xers did. Gen Z children grew up in the world of the iPad and Windows Defender – they are not as naturally skeptical of downloads and scams as they would be if they’d grown up in the era of malicious LimeWire.EXE downloads disguised as MP3s. In general, Gen-Z is less cautious because their devices have safety rails built in, and they never have to lean on them anyway because the world has consolidated into a few streaming services and social media apps, none of which are going to download malware onto their phones. The kids younger than them may not even learn how to type in school – they’ll be given Chromebooks and be expected to figure it out themselves with experience off of whatever device they have at home, which is taken as a given.

All of this is to say that just because they grew up with the tech doesn’t mean they’ll be able to spot obvious engagement bait, and the early proliferation of videos on TikTok asking people to hit the three dots (which is where the information needed to share the video is) without giving a reason, and then later by telling the viewer that something wacky would happen, is evidence of that. In its early days, that could be taken as a result of the app itself being new and not a sign of the new generation having to re-learn these lessons: one party clearly understands how to game the system, and the other party is not certain yet that TikTok doesn’t do that. What if TikTok does shoot confetti when you like a video? What if it does turn the heart blue sometimes? What if it’s a glitch? Etc. But as time went on, and it became clear to users that TikTok was not some dinky little app that happened to make it overseas, they should have stopped. They didn’t. The userbase falling for those tricks en masse were too young to like Facebook or Reddit before those scams became obsolete.

And that’s not the only trend that carried over – videos stating that “If you see this video on (The Date They Posted It or a Day Later), it was meant for you” encourage viewers to watch the whole thing by drawing out the speed at which the slides switch. This is a simple but clever reimagining of the chain letters promising something good will happen, mixed with classic fortune telling tricks. Convince someone that they are meant to watch the entire video (which means your video is ranked more positively) and give generic advice at the same time. For the people it applies to, this reinforces the feeling that they were supposed to see this video, watch it, like it, and share it with other people – they associate the positive feelings they receive from being acknowledged (even digitally, by a stranger who couldn’t possibly know they were watching) with the video. It’s how IRL psychics work, too, and this particular trick works across the entire age spectrum so long as the person watching is receptive to that sort of spirituality. By evolving to incorporate new tricks, the engagement scam has gamed the system once again.

Will It Ever Stop?

As long as there are entities willing to beg shamelessly for votes or likes (or manipulate people into giving them those things) these chain letters/videos/images/reblogs/retweet chains will continue to evolve alongside whatever new trendy social media springs up next.

If you want to see less of them, don’t even downvote or hit the dislike button – block the accounts responsible and move on. You can only counter these accounts by not providing them their fuel – engagement.  

What is a DOS Attack, Really?

Elizabeth Technology January 26, 2023

DoS stands for ‘Denial of Service’. What this means is that someone plans to deny service to and from a website by crashing it, or making it run so poorly that it may as well be offline. As for ‘why’, there are many reasons – someone could be ‘disagreeing’ with the content of the website or it’s discussions, they may be attempting to drive viewers elsewhere, it may be political, it may be simple trolling, the list goes on.

So, how is it done?

The How

Denial of Service is just that: a denial of service. Any means may be used to get to that point. If it’s a poorly secured website, getting in via hacking or password stuffing and changing the contents on-site could be a DoS. If it’s a poorly balanced website, and if it’s one that allows for posting of pictures and memes, sending an image that’s too large for the website to handle could do it. Similarly, sending too much text, animate gifs, or other content that the website wasn’t prepared for could shut it down. Requesting too much data and opening several tabs at once of a big image that did load could simulate an http attack, although that may be equally hard on the computer that’s doing the requesting. It’s possible to DOS a site accidentally!

Inputting code into poorly made text entry spots can also crash the website, if the owner didn’t know how to prevent SQL injections. Dinging the website too many times in one go can crash some websites, although that usually requires things like bot nets, which turns it from a DoS to a DDoS.

In that same family, SYN flood attacks can also deny service by requesting information over and over until the website is so overloaded that it can’t respond. In a SYN flood, the computer sends requests to connect to the server repeatedly, but never actually completes them. If it’s done right, the server runs out of ports to take the requests, and legitimate requests mixed in with the faulty ones now have to wait much longer.

Preventing it

Many of these are simple issues of preventing out-of-format content and slowing down users requesting to visit. If a posting box has a hard limit of 10,000 characters, the DoSer could whip up a bot to post over and over, but the website owner would be able to tell that something was going on before it crashes the website. Many picture-printing places won’t allow photos over a certain size or resolution to be sent over the web, because it can clog the intake – especially places like drugstores that aren’t set up for large high-quality images. If the network isn’t prepared, it’s entirely possible for photographers to DoS them (at least in the photo station) by accident! Instead, it’s much easier to keep these incidents out at the gate: configuring comment sections and image requirements for size is a bare minimum.

As far as SQL injections go, we have a whole article on sanitizing inputs (here) – the essence of prevention is keeping data inputs and the command to get it to the database separate from each other. This prevents a number of issues by itself, but is good advice to avoid DoSing via SQL as well.

For SYN floods and other brute-force attacks, configuring the firewall and installing an IPS (Intrusion Prevention Software) are what security vendor PurpleSec recommends. In the olden days, attacks like these may not have crashed the site, but they could still drive the hosting costs through the roof – the owner is then incentivized to pull the plug themselves so they don’t drown in fees from their server company.

To prevent breaches, use two-factor authentication when building your site. Please. Microsoft reports that it stops 99.9% of fraudulent login attempts. It is one of the easiest ways to improve your security.

How is it different from DDoSing?

DDoSing relies on multiple computers to get the desired effect; DoSing takes much fewer. This has many benefits for the person trying to wreck a website. Firstly, DoSing doesn’t involve gathering other computers to attack with – you already have all your resources at your fingertips! However, that’s a double-edged sword, as you can’t attack with more than you have.

DoSing is also easier to coordinate as other people are (usually) only minimally involved. Getting other people to DDoS a site organically is difficult because it requires organizing strangers, and doing it with a botnet requires buying a virus or making one yourself and then distributing it. DoSing with a SYN flood or with SQL injections is hard – but it might be easier than trying to get ever-more-wary strangers to click a suspicious link. Outsourcing to a hacker group, of course, is easier than both unless the malicious party lacks the funds to do so.

On the other hand, hacking into a website that’s only password-protected with a password stuffer (or doing it semi-manually by guessing passwords yourself) is probably easier than any other method. While this carries some risk (if they can tell where the login came from, they may be able to find the attacker), it also has a lot of potential for damage if the website owner hasn’t backed up the website. The problem with this method is that the website has to be poorly secured for it to work – 2FA stops the vast majority of these attacks, and being smart with who gets admin permissions can limit the effectiveness of the attack.  


Is It True Macs Don’t Get Viruses? Short Answer: No!

Elizabeth Technology January 24, 2023

Absolutely not. Here’s why!

Apple devices are slightly harder to weasel into from outside, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. A virus has to be crafted differently to even function on an Apple computer. For the same reason that Apple needs its own version of browsers and games, it needs its own version of viruses, and with Microsoft being the default for most ‘sensitive’ systems, like pharmacies, school networks, and hospitals, hackers and other malicious individuals just don’t seem to care that much about Mac devices.

But not caring that much is not the same as not caring at all.

Apple’s known virus count is slowly creeping up, although viruses that use weaknesses in the system to get in are quickly made obsolete by updates. Apple viruses are a special kind of pain to deal with because the person who made them surely made them out of spite – as said previously, Mac’s system is not compatible with Microsoft’s, so viruses are custom tailored.

Their recommendation is to completely avoid third party apps – for good reason. The primary way that malware ends up in the computer’s system is via scam downloads. Those can look like a couple different things. Everybody (or almost everybody) knows not to click those flashing banners at the top of blog sites that advertise “FREE iPAD! CLICK NOW!” because it used to be the most common way to steal information from non-tech-savvy people.

“Free Flash Player!” “Free Game! Connect With Friends! Download Now!” are it’s equally outdated cousins. Anything that tells a Mac user that they need to download it has the potential to be a virus, and if the user is unlucky enough to get a virus prepared for a Mac, they’re in for a headache. But it’s tough to trick people with those flashing banners anymore, right? So…

The next easiest way is to fake an email from an app publisher, or even from Apple itself! This still won’t get a lot of people, but the people who fell for the flashing banners the first go-round might fall for an email that looks juuuuust official enough to make them doubt themselves.

One version of this scam involves sending an email with a downloadable attachment to ‘fix’ a ‘virus’ that ‘Apple’ has detected on the device. That’s not Apple, and there’s no virus until the recipient downloads the attachment. That was the goal! And now the virus is on the computer. Oh no!

Alternatively, if you’ve downloaded some game or another that you trusted, even though it was third party, and then received an email about a big patch that needs to be downloaded, you might fall for it! Depending on the game, they could have your email to send patches to, right? Official platforms like Steam certainly have their user’s email.

And that’s not even the game download itself! Downloading a game off of third party websites can lead to some nasty results, which is why Apple goes out of it’s way to warn you every step of the download, and also warn you off of third party downloads in every help forum. The risk that what you downloaded could be malware is just not worth the inconvenience of waiting for that game to come out on an Apple-licensed platform.

Long story short: it’s very possible, albeit difficult, to get viruses on a Mac computer. Don’t download attachments from strangers!

Source: resources

Only Confidence

Elizabeth Technology January 19, 2023


At this point, you’ve probably heard of Theranos, a company whose wondrous technology could have made blood testing less of an expensive nightmare for the average patient. Essentially, it would take a fraction of the amount of blood typically needed for a full panel, dilute it a bit, and then test that for all of the things it needed.

The dilution isn’t actually the suspicious part, at least not on its face. A lot of tests can handle dilution, so it made sense to professionals advising investors at the beginning. The suspicious part was that Theranos was only taking a few drops to run that full panel, and also running that panel in an absurdly quick time frame. At the ratio Theranos would have had to dilute, some of the tests would have become impossible because blood is more than just liquid, it’s also platelets, proteins, sugars, and cells. When you add saline to that, you’re not increasing any of those, just the liquid. This methodology increases bad results on a number of the tests using the traditional methods, but Theranos seemed to have decreased the margin of error somehow and promised it would get even better with time. Anybody buying the machine would have had to have some disclaimer that it has a higher failure rate than the original methods, but hey – it’s new. It can get better with time and money.

Obviously, all of this was later revealed to be a fraud. They never could get the error down enough for the machine to be a better alternative to standard methods, and reducing expectations to ‘it only tests some things’ or ‘it takes more blood than we promised, but less than the original tests would have’ didn’t come soon enough to prevent a lawsuit.

The issue here I think is not in trying to make the machine. It’s in trying to make the machine work miracles right out of the gate. It’s possible to make life easier for the patient without promising Star Trek level technology. A lot of the expense and difficulty that comes with running these tests is coming out of inefficiencies that are held in place by the hospital taking the blood and the insurance paying for it. If it were possible to streamline this and make it take fewer steps, it would naturally be cheaper and easier for the patient because there’d be less arguing between all parties at every step.

Look at the Instapot, for a much simpler example that isn’t tied to insurance profits: it was a simple pressure cooker with few features that could cook on the countertop instead of the stove. It reduces the risk of the customer hurting themselves because it pressurizes itself and monitors the temperature internally. That’s a cool thing! And at first it was all that it did. But then it also added a yogurt setting! And it can cook rice now, too! The newer models keep getting better and better, and it didn’t have to start off with the promise of being able to make whatever you want right off the bat to be worthwhile.

Perhaps the blood machine could have taken the same amount of blood as traditional tests do, but done all the tests within the machine. Perhaps it could have narrowed its scope to use less blood in the first place, and left the specialist tests to specialist labs. Maybe it could have even built its own pipelines to those places. Now we’ll probably never know. Investors have had their feelings hurt, and the next Theranos may have to crowdfund.

No Man’s Sky

Investors can really screw up a development path no matter what the product is. To go completely digital and talk about the same phenomenon elsewhere, there’s video games. Look across the gaming news headlines for games that came out waaay before they were ready: there seems to be more than ever. Everything from Pokemon to DOOM Eternal comes with bugs that must be patched out in updates after release.

               The problem happening here is that the game designer has good ideas, the development team is skilled, but the people funding the game want it now. They want it yesterday. They’re paying for these people to pursue a career that many people only dream of, and by golly do they expect those teams to be grateful to work 80-120 hours a week based on a completely arbitrary release date. Pokemon Scarlet and Violet is fun but buggy; Overwatch 2 has poorly optimized features that the original game did really well. They are not rare exceptions anymore. Triple-A games are being strangled by a need to get investors and their owning company a lot of money really fast.

Worse, sometimes it’s not even the investors – sometimes it’s the fans themselves. No Man’s Sky is a good game now. But during the press circuit run up to the game, the head developer and manager of the project was being pressured not only to increase the scope of the game, but also keep the same strict timeline they’d had when they initially announced launch. It’s not unusual for games like that to be delayed a bit or longer – it was putting a lot of pressure on the team, who ultimately ended up releasing a project a little bit worse than what they’d set out to make (with quite few bugs making it feel worse than it really was even at that point in time – it needed polishing) but way worse than everyone was expecting. No Man’s Sky was supposed to be a magnum opus of indie gaming – it only lived up to that years down the road after a lot of hard work and patches made by the original producers.

The Horizon: Prince of Persia

In a rare example of refunding money for an as of yet incomplete project, Ubisoft has announced that people who paid for the Prince of Persia pre-order will be getting a refund. The game isn’t ready, yet, and they don’t know when it really will be.

This is a fantastic step towards slowing the self-destructive cycle of shoving incomplete games out the door. It turns out the product doesn’t need to be exaggerated to get it to sell, and it doesn’t have to ship incomplete. Those are choices, usually choices not made by the people assembling the game, or the blood testing machine, or any number of products that have come out and promptly flopped.