Words On Wednesday

Words on Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A switch to WordPress, plus a few more topics. And now supporting Twitter and LinkedIn!

 

WordPress

Though it’s probably obvious if you’re reading this, I’ve moved Words on Wednesday to WordPress.

 

Reasoning

I’ve kept the blog solely on Google+ so far, but it seems the time has come to change platforms. There aren’t necessarily any problems with Google+ as a blogging platform, I just feel as though I could have everything more streamlined and cohesive by posting to WordPress and simply pushing links and descriptions to other social media outlets. In addition to cohesion, WordPress makes it far easier to keep up with an archive of sorts and allow readers to access previous blog posts more directly.

 

Sharing and Cohesion

I am a forgetful person. I can usually remember to work on the Words on Wednesday post throughout the week and I do post it at some point during the day on Wednesday, but that’s about the extent of my reliability. I’ll post links to Facebook about once every 3 or 4 weeks, but I’d like that to be more regular. I would post to Twitter for the few followers I have there, but I can rarely even remember my login information, let alone post every week. WordPress has an awesome feature that allows you to post links to any social media immediately when you publish a post. This takes away any need to remember where to post things, it happens automatically. You can manually write in a small description to go along with the link. It’s perfect for what I originally wanted with the blog.

 

Switching to WordPress gives readers a common area for discussion. Posting originally to Google+ and then sharing to Facebook kept comments in two distinct areas. Those who came across my post directly from Google+ would of course leave comments directly on the post. My Facebook friends would typically just comment directly on my status after reading a post. With this sort of division, discussion is only half as integrated and far less interesting. Plus, as far as I know, WordPress doesn’t require a user login to comment so I don’t have to force people to create an account in order to interact.

 

Archiving

Keeping an archive of posts was and is a nightmare on Google+. All of my posts can be viewed together directly from my profile, but this view also includes posts not related to Words on Wednesday. I try to include a link to the previous post from every new post, but this requires grabbing the link from the previous post. I also try to edit old posts with a link to the next post, but I usually either forget and grab the wrong link. Even in a perfect world where I always remember to update posts with a link to the previous post and the next post, readers can only see 1 post at a time. What’s worse, there is no way to go directly to a specific post; readers either have to shuffle through my profile to find the post or follow link by link until they reach the desired date. Heaven forbid they hit a broken or incorrect link, because then the chain is broken and the only way to reach the post is from my profile.

 

With WordPress, archives are conveniently kept in a sidebar. Posts are sorted by month, so everything after November will be in a tidy little container. New readers that want to read through everything can simply scroll through and read post after post without clicking any links. Far easier to navigate than Google+, far easier to maintain than Google+.

 

Summary

All in all, I think this is what’s best for Words on Wednesday right now. There will be some growing pains, no doubt, but I’d rather make the move now than wait until I have a ton of posts to move over. I should be able to include some pictures now, maybe make the formatting a little better. If anyone has some WordPress pro-tips or tricks, I would greatly appreciate the help.

 

Florida Man Charged for Feeding Homeless

Helping those in need gets you in trouble with law enforcement?

 

According to the latest news headlines, an older gentleman in Florida has been charged for giving food to homeless people. As ludicrous as it sounds, I had to read up on the topic to get more information. While I can understand the reasoning behind the charge, I find this fact to be extremely distasteful.

 

From what I can gather, the guy was charged because offering food to homeless people in the area propagates the gathering of more homeless people there. It makes sense, people are going to spread word if they get help and others will congregate receive help as well. The city doesn’t want a massive influx of homeless individuals, so cutting off the food supply is the best way to prevent it. If there is no benefit, they probably won’t gather.

 

I understand the goal, but is it really necessary to be so brutal? Sure, there are probably some people in the crowd who could help themselves if they really tried. There are some drug addicts, but there are also some who are just down on their luck. Ideally, helping these people will facilitate getting them back on their feet. When they get back on their feet, the city prospers by having more individuals capable of work and contributing to the local economy.

 

Perhaps I have a soft spot for true homelessness because I have encountered it in my own family. I rarely give out money to those who beg, but I am fully in favor of helping out those who truly need it and are trying to fend for themselves. A hot meal, a roof overhead, and a bed to lay on at night while someone is putting in job applications and trying to get hired is perfectly acceptable in my eyes.

 

Hopefully this story will bring attention to an area that vastly needs improvement. There has to be some sort of regulation that helps those in need without encouraging laziness. To mooch for drugs and alcohol is insulting when some people genuinely need help.

 

Audio Equipment Study

So many people brag about having high end audio equipment and demanding only the highest quality files, but does it really matter?

 

I don’t consider myself an expert on audio, but I do feel that I have a somewhat keen ear. I rip all my music as 320kbps mp3. I don’t go any higher because of storage space and file compatibility, but I don’t go any lower because I genuinely feel I can hear a difference. Having upgraded my music library from a few 128kbps songs of questionable origin, the 320kbps versions sound far better. The difference begins to blur at 192kbps for me. Depending on the song and how closely I’m listening, I can sometimes hear a change in quality.

 

Some individuals only rip to FLAC because they insist that they can hear a difference in quality. This is where I have my doubts. Were I an expert on the matter, I could almost certainly tell the difference between 192 and 320kbps mp3, but the increase in fidelity to FLAC really doesn’t seem to be noticeable. Even if the improvement were more than slight, the difference in file size between 320kbps mp3 and FLAC is absurd. While many claim “storage is cheap,” I have a music collection of something over 20,000 songs and there are plenty of other things that I need storage space for such as photos and software. Storage may be cheap, but it isn’t plentiful enough to rip so many songs at such high quality.

 

On the hardware side, self-proclaimed audiophiles will spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on all the best equipment: high fidelity headphones, finely tuned speakers, the works. I question how necessary this is. Some equipment for some professions I can understand. If you mix albums for a living, you need to hear the sound as true as possible to make sure you get the proper cut and everything sounds spot on. If you listen to tunes while you’re hacking code together (not like I’d be familiar with that at all), you really don’t need to hear every minute detail of your music.

 

I keep a pair of Skullcandy Uprock on-ear headphones at work that I got from Radio Shack for $20 on clearance. These work perfectly for me. Are they high end? Absolutely not. I don’t need high end. All I need is something to drown out the oppressive silence of a floor completely dedicated to programming. At home, I have a pair of Turtle Beach over-ear headphones. The sound from those is much better than my Skullcandies. I grabbed them a while back for something under $60. Finally, I have a pair of cheap Gumy earbuds for use when I’m working out or walking on my lunch break. Between the 3 of these, I have pretty much what I need. I might upgrade my work headphones soon to something more comfortable, but the sound quality is fine.

 

If you’re interested in my equipment, see links below:

Skullcandy Uprock Headphones

by Skullcandy

Link: http://amzn.com/B0071369K4

PS3 Ear Force PX21 Gaming Headset

by Turtle Beach

Link: http://amzn.com/B002BU0DPE

JVC HAF160B Gumy Ear Bud Headphone Black

by JVC

Link: http://amzn.com/B00DSTBMPC

 

The Study

I mentioned a study before, and here are the details.

  1. Collect a sample of people, preferably 100 or more from a variety of fields and professions. Ideally, the study would range from people who rarely even listen to music all the way to music industry professionals.
  2. Ask each individual for a brief analysis on their ability to discern audio quality, as well as how much music they listen to.
  3. Decide on a collection of audio tracks considered to be perfectly mixed. Bitrate is only the end of the line, music that is recorded badly will sound terrible at any bitrate.
  4. Collect a variety of audio equipment with extreme price and quality ranges. Each type of equipment would have 3 levels of quality. For example, earbuds could contain the low end Gumy, mid end Beats, and high end Bose.
    1. Earbuds
    2. On-Ear Headphones
    3. Over-Ear Headphones
    4. Generic Speakers
  5. Have each individual listen to the same track, or same portion of the track across all quality levels of any one type of equipment with no knowledge of price or brand.
  6. Repeat as long as participant is willing across multiple equipment types and tracks, for greater quantity of information.
  7. Gather results to see if higher end equipment is regularly picked over lower end.

 

As an alternative or addition, any one track could be included at multiple bitrates. Any bitrate would have to remain constant across quality and type of equipment, but I’d be interested to see if the average listener could discern a difference.

 

Maybe there is a noticeable difference between mid end and high end equipment, as well as between 320kbps mp3 and FLAC quality that I just can’t hear. I never claimed to be a professional. I do want to see results proving such a trend before I accept such claims, though.

 

Kingdom Hearts Final Mix

I’ve been playing Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, working toward the platinum trophy. Note: Please be aware that I will be discussing the storyline briefly, but enough that may spoil parts the game for some. If you haven’t yet played through Kingdom Hearts and want to, proceed with caution. I’ll try not to reveal any critical plot details, but something may slip.

 

Proud Mode

When I last left off playing (a few months ago before the Final Fantasy X remaster was released), I was trying to finish the game on Proud mode (the hardest difficulty) with no continues. I stopped at the end of Neverland, just before Hollow Bastion. For those who have never played the game, this is easily the last quarter of the game, if not closer to the end.

 

Fortunately, picking up the controls and mechanics again took almost no time, despite having taken such a long break. I went to the Coliseum so that death wouldn’t penalize me and spent most of the time dodge rolling around and teching attacks for practice. When I felt good enough to continue the game, I returned to Neverland and resumed the main storyline.

 

Neverland didn’t take long to finish, since I stopped right before the boss of the area. I polished that off and went to Hollow Bastion. Home to some of the toughest boss fights, I wasn’t looking forward to the last stretch of Hollow Bastion and End of the World. The final fight against Riku is brutal and Maleficent as a dragon gave me a lot of trouble on normal difficulty.

 

I geared up with plenty of elixirs and went headlong into the world. Traversing the maze of Hollow Bastion took far less time than I expected and I quickly reached the last string of boss fights. Defeating Maleficent was a cakewalk, but it usually is. I tried dragon Maleficent once to get a feel for the fight and adjusted my abilities accordingly. When I went in for the second time (going from a new save, so that I didn’t use a continue), I took her out with relative ease and no items. Surprising, but I had been playing the game for a good while and clearly gotten better than I was on my normal run.

 

I then faced Riku’s last fight. On normal mode, I easily fought him 3 times or more before I successfully defeated him. The fight is very technical and takes flawless timing to avoid taking too much damage. I stayed cautious and kept my distance from Riku and took him down first try, far more easily than I remember his normal fight being. Maybe the end of this Proud run wouldn’t be as hard as I thought.

 

I played through the rest of the game, hitting a few tough spots but never anything I couldn’t handle. When I reached Final Rest, I saved and took time to mentally prepare myself. The last stretch of the game consists of numerous boss fights (at least 4, no matter how you count them), and I was trying a no-continue run.

 

I defeated the first form of Ansem with relative ease. When I fought his second form, I regretfully died. Deciding to play a few more times just for practice, I abandoned my no-continue mentality just to see if I could master the fight. Eventually, I noticed that most of my deaths were due to using the wrong spell when trying to cure. This struck me as odd, since my cure shortcut was L1 + [], which is not a difficult button combination to press.

 

After blaming myself for the incorrect spells for several tries against Ansem, I noticed that the controller would randomly press buttons when I squeezed on the left handle. A few weeks ago, I had to repair the controller after it was pressed underneath a recliner. It worked properly for a while, but apparently one of the screws had come loose or wires were crossing somewhere in the controller. Clearly, I wasn’t the source of failed healing magic. I gave it up for the night to avoid becoming any more frustrated and decided to try again in the morning.

 

Saturday morning came and I started up the game. I filled my inventory with elixirs and a few megalixirs and began the fight. Ansem’s first form fell effortlessly to my keyblade. The second fight initiated and something magical happened. When I tried to cast cure, I was actually healed. Every. Single. Time. It was a beautiful thing. Not only was I healing myself properly, but I suddenly realized that one of Ansem’s particularly devastating moves could be teched with proper timing (and my timing in the game is phenomenal, I must say). First try and he was down for the count.

 

Though I got past my previous night’s bane, the game wasn’t yet over. I kept fighting the phases of the final boss fight, all successfully. One of the last segments is particularly frustrating as I haven’t yet found a good way to avoid taking damage. My entire methodology is to simply deal damage faster than I take it and hope I have enough healing magic and items to last until the end. Eventually, my perseverance paid off and the ending credits began to roll.

 

Overall, Kingdom Hearts Final Mix Proud mode was less difficult than I predicted it would be. It was certainly harder than normal mode, but nothing posed a challenge that I found insurmountable. I am certainly glad that it wasn’t any harder, and I believe either the Leaf Bracer or Second Chance ability (both of which I completely abused) was excluded from the original release and would have thus made the game far more difficult. I also avoided fighting the optional bosses of the game, opting instead to fight those and play through to 100% completion on Beginner mode.

 

Beginner Mode, No Equipment Change

As part of the final stretch of my Kingdom Hearts platinum, I have to finish the game on Beginner mode without changing equipment. I also have to finish the game within 15 hours, but I have plans to possibly cheat on that.

 

Playing through Beginner mode will be cake. I just finished the game on Proud mode and the enemies will all be far less powerful than the ones I’m used to facing. Finishing without changing equipment shouldn’t be bad, considering I can grind levels in order to better prepare myself. I eventually have to reach level 100 anyway, so I have nothing to lose by spending some extra time preparing. The issue comes when some people try to take care of beating the game in under 15 hours while also not changing equipment. This gives far less time to grind and thus you typically reach the end of the game far lower in level than usual. Couple that with extremely basic equipment and this makes the last stretch of the game extremely difficult, even on Beginner mode.

 

The way I plan on cheating the time trophy is based on the way the game detects play time. The clock that displays play time only allows 2 digits for hours, maxing out at 99 and then rolling over and changing the color of the clock to indicate 100 hours plus the current time. According to numerous online forums, the trophy does not check for rollover. Hence, beating the game between 100 and 115 hours is treated the same as beating the game between 0 and 15 hours.

 

My plan is to play through the game rather directly, grinding where necessary but not taking an excess of time in any particular area. I may work on synthesis along the way for those related trophies, but I won’t make a point of grinding rare drops until I’m sick of it. I will grind until I feel comfortable with the endgame bosses and then beat the game without changing equipment. Being able to then go back and change equipment, I will work on synthesis trophies, Jiminy’s journals, and any other miscellaneous trophies. After I have synthesized Ultima Weapon and reached level 100, I will attempt to defeat the optional bosses. If my play time reaches 100 at any point in this endeavor, I will go immediately and beat the final bosses again. If I finish all this before 100 hours, I will simply leave the game running and check up on it occasionally until the clock is within the necessary time frame.

 

While I haven’t seen any evidence that this oversight has been patched, I could be extremely disappointed if I do not receive the trophy upon beating Beginner mode the second time. If the requirement is truly 0 to 15 hours, I will bite the bullet and play through the game again. The game is fun, and I refuse to allow myself to quit with only one trophy left before platinum.

 

Cover Songs

I’m a fan of music. I like old music, I like new music, I like numerous genres… I like music. Lately, I’ve been on a kick of cover songs. I’m not immensely picky when it comes to cover songs, but I do know that some people are very particular about what makes a “good” cover.

 

Some people are adamant that if a cover doesn’t hold tight similarity to the original version, it sucks. Others are determined that if the cover doesn’t add something new to the song, it’s unnecessary. I can appreciate both. If a new artist does a skillful job of replicating the original, but with slight tweaks to incorporate the new artist’s style, that can be awesome. An example of this would be Puddle of Mudd’s cover of Rocket Man, originally performed by Elton John. If a band takes an older song, keeps most of the original lyrics and basic riffs, but presents it in a radically different style, that too can be super catchy. One such situation that comes to mind is Five Finger Death Punch’s cover of Bad Company, first performed by… well… Bad Company. These artists take far different approaches to songs, but the end results are both fantastic.

 

I’ve found, what may be my favorite style of cover is something entirely different. Instead of covering a certain song artists will pay tribute to another artist by fusing multiple songs and creating an entirely new song. Two examples would be Mercyful Fate by Metallica and Living After Midnight by Disturbed. In the former, Metallica pulls references from 5 different songs by the band Mercyful Fate. The latter, a title originally by Judas Priest, incorporates the intro of Painkiller and the bulk of Living After Midnight, all very true to the style of Judas Priest. In my opinion, to be able to construct a new song from bits and pieces of another artist’s work reflects an impressive amount of musical talent by the cover artist.

 

Android Phone Recommendations – November 2014

In the wake of helping my brother-in-law decide on what phone to buy, I’ve decided to put together a list of phones at different price points that I feel to be good choices for different budget ranges. I will not say that these are the best at any price, nor are they a proper fit for everyone. These are simply phones that I would personally recommend, provided the individual do some of their own research before making a purchase.

 

Also, please do not tell me, “But Jake, you can get the Samsung Galaxy S5 for $200.” No you can’t. You can get the phone and a 2 year contract for $200. We’re just talking about phones. If you don’t understand the difference, either ask or refrain from commenting. I have a particular vendetta against phone service carriers and their shenanigans.

 

$600+

If you’re on the market for a new phone and only the newest and best will do, you’re looking at something north of $600 easily. At this point, the world is your oyster and there are a plethora of options, pretty much all of them being very good devices.

 

My loyalty lies with the Nexus line, primarily, so my first recommendation would be the…

Motorola Nexus 6

http://www.gsmarena.com/motorola_nexus_6-6604.php

Powerful specs, software straight from Google, awesome all around. My personal gripe with the phone would be the large screen.

 

If you’re looking for something a little more easy to fit in the hand or pocket, the…

HTC One M8

http://www.gsmarena.com/htc_one_(m8)-6074.php

An extremely capable phone, easily one of the best out right now.

 

At this price point, there really aren’t many limits. All the latest devices from Samsung, Sony, LG, Motorola, HTC, and others have their pros and cons. The best thing to do is figure out what sort of screen size you want, which software you like the best, and other differences between manufacturers. These are 2 of many great devices.

 

$400-$599

You’ve got a decent chunk of money saved up, but you do have some restraint and don’t want to go all out with the most expensive devices on the market. There are still plenty of steller devices available within this price range.

 

HTC One M7

http://www.gsmarena.com/htc_one-5313.php

The prequel to the M8, this phone may be dated but it is still a great piece of equipment.

 

LG G3

http://www.gsmarena.com/lg_g3-6294.php

Novel button placement, but overall a powerful device.

 

$300-$399

This is the middle of the road. Devices in this price range are the lowest of high end or the highest of mid end. Considering my own financial situation, this is where I look for a new phone.

 

LG Nexus 5

http://www.gsmarena.com/lg_nexus_5-5705.php

A generation behind, but honestly what I’m looking at purchasing when I want to upgrade from my current Nexus 4. It fits well in the hand and it has stock Android software.

 

OnePlus One

http://www.gsmarena.com/oneplus_one-6327.php

Currently difficult to acquire, the One packs high end specs and CyanogenMod software into a low price. Keep an ear to the ground for pre-order events, purchase invitations, or some other means to buy one. Otherwise, just hold out until OnePlus opens up purchasing to the public.

 

$200-$299

Price is certainly an issue, but you want something powerful for your money. There are options that hang with the higher priced devices, you just have to know where to look.

 

Motorola Moto X (First Generation)

http://www.gsmarena.com/motorola_moto_x-5601.php

When the Moto X was first released, it made waves. Nearly stock Android, with several cool features. While I feel that the 2014 Moto X is too expensive to really be worth the investment, its prequel is spot on with price vs performance.

 

LG Optimus G Pro

http://www.gsmarena.com/lg_optimus_g_pro_e985-5254.php

A slimmed down version of LG’s higher end devices. Not quite as powerful as the G series, but nothing to turn your nose up at.

 

$100-$199

You need to aim low with price. You have the budget for something better than the bottom of the barrel, but those shiny new toys on display at Best Buy are simply out of your reach. Fear not, there are still some devices within this range that even I would have no qualms using.

 

Motorola Moto G

http://www.gsmarena.com/motorola_moto_g_(2014)-6647.php

An enigma of a device, this phone is practically a Moto X without the extra features. If I were to need a new phone immediately without time to save up any money, this is what I would buy.

 

Motorola Moto E

http://www.gsmarena.com/motorola_moto_e-6376.php

Basically the little brother of the Moto G. Perfect if you’re trying to keep the price under $150, but I would go with the Moto G otherwise.

 

Less than $100

You’ve reached this category because you’re either less than 18 years old and your parents won’t buy a phone for you or your current financial status is tight but you feel as though you need or desperately want a smartphone.

 

My simple advice is to wait. There are Android phones less than $100, but the choices are limited and most are complete garbage. Unless you have a specific need for a smartphone immediately, save up money over a few weeks or months. Getting a device in the next category up will give you far more value and a much better phone.

 

If you absolutely have to have an Android phone right now, I would tentatively recommend the BLU Advance 4.0:
http://www.gsmarena.com/blu_advance_4_0-5908.php

It’s a cheap device: it feels like a cheap device, it runs like a cheap device, it looks like a cheap device. Think about purchasing a used phone from the $100-$199 range before you buy this phone new

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