Saturday, September 29, 2012

How I Know You're Cheating At Words With Friends

I've been silent on this for way too long.  I play a fair deal of Words With Friends
It's actually one of my favorite mobile games.  However, there are very specific situations where it's painfully obvious your opponent is using an anagram solver or one of the many site set up to allow people to cheat at these games.  So let's count them down:

1.  Your Every Move Is Perfect

Making perfect moves every turn is statistically impossible in this game.  There have been turns I've gotten nothing but consonants and nothing but vowels.  In any given game there's a chance you'll get a hand like that and there's usually nothing to do but play a crappy 3 letter word and hope you get some vowels or consonants in your next turn.  However in the wacky world of words there are options if your vocabulary is large enough.  But the only way the average person is going to know where to place them is using a site like this.  I know they exist.  I just don't use them.

2.  I Know You Personally

There's a random player option in the game.  I've used it a total of once.  The person I did pick up doing that is an pretty good player too.  The rest of you guys I know personally and some of the words you're using have never ever come up in regular conversation.  I've seen your Facebook posts.  I've went to school with a number of you. I'm not implying you don't have a large vocabulary.  Just that next time we talk feel free to dazzle me with it. :)

3.  It Takes You A While

If I'm really into playing a game (and you are too) I play within a minute of getting a turn.  Sometimes I'll take longer because I'm REALLY having trouble trying to form at least one viable word from the tiles I got.  However, I notice when after every turn I play it takes you 5 minutes to return and in which case refer to item1.

4.  You're Greedy

This is the biggest telltale on the list.  Anagram solvers and scrabble cheating sites give you all the viable options given the nature of the space you want to play in.  Now lets say you have IASHTEZ.  Now you could easily spell "haze" or "size" and not rouse my suspicion.  However there is a 7 letter combo for this word and it's "haziest".  But you probably didn't see that right off the bat.  It turned up at the top of your word search and it's worth a bingo bonus.

Another good one is playing more letters than they really needed to play.  An example is playing "embolden" instead of just "bold". 

Now if you play the game straight, well bravo for you.  If you cheat, then so be it.  See even though I took the time to write a lengthy blog article on cheating in Words With Friends it doesn't affect my decision on whether I enjoy playing the game or not.  In fact, I often welcome the challenge.  Granted, at least 90% of the time the computer is going to beat me...but by how much?  I don't mind coming in a close second to a machine that's capable of absolutely decimating me depending on how I play.  It only makes me a better player in the long run.  BTW, you guys really shouldn't be teaching me these words.  They WILL come back to haunt you. ;)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Taming Digital Music

Would you believe it's been 18 years since the MP3 digital music format went public and forever changed the way we look at music?  It probably seems like a shorter span of time but digital music has been a mainstay on the Internet almost for as long as the Internet itself has been publicly available.  The small file size made the MP3 format ideal for sharing online and it wasn't long before that became a problem.  It only took 5 years before the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) started cracking down on file sharing.

I really didn't want to get into the legal history of digital music though.  The good news is there are now many avenues available to purchase music legally online; much more than we had back in those days.  However, that doesn't mean our digital music lives are hassle-free.

In this post I want to point out many of the most common annoyances your average digital music enthusiast would face in this day and age.

1.  Ripping Music (aka taking music from a CD and making it into a computer file)

Yes, they still sell physical compact discs with music on them.  I don't think they'll ever be as vintage as vinyl or the 8-track though.  That's because they're so incredibly easy to make.  What I find though is many people don't know how to rip a CD and add digital music to their collection.

Here's the good news.  The major brands of operating systems support an embedded mechanism to rip audio CDs (sorry Linux users, you've got some extra work to do there).  In the MacOS you've got iTunes (which is also available for Windows).  In Windows you've got Media Player.  The problem with the embedded audio rippers is they want to default you to their audio format.  iTunes likes their AAC format while Media Player likes WMA format.  Why the different formats?  While I like to think it's to lock you into using their products the more prevalent reason is digital rights management (DRM).  True these formats can be shared with a variety of music managers but some are designed to be played only the device you downloaded it on.  Ever tried to share a song you downloaded from iTunes?  It won't work.  If you move the file to another device the only way to play it there is to "authorize" it to.  For example, if I transferred an iTunes downloaded song from computer A to computer B I would have to go into the iTunes Store on computer B to tell Apple that computer B is now authorized to play the same songs I downloaded on computer A. I don't know about you but that's just a pain the ass to me. That's why I work strictly with MP3 which is open and doesn't have an DRM restrictions. 

Ripping music with either iTunes or Windows Media Player is easy enough.  You just pop in your CD with the programs open and they guide you through it.  You've going to want to go into your setting though and change your default ripping format to MP3.  Trust me on this.  It'll make life simple.

You want it to be MP3.  Seriously.
2.  Tagging Music

Now, you're probably all eager to rip after going through all that but you might want to be connected to the Internet before you start.  Why?  Because iTunes and WMP will connect to the Internet and look up what it is you're trying to rip.  Don't worry, it's not a bad thing.  See if you weren't connected these programs would have no choice but to use it's generic naming schema while ripping.  You ever try to manage a music collection made up of Track1.mp3 and Track2.mp3?  It's a nightmare.  That's why you should tag your digital music right from the onset.

If you didn't get your music tagged when you first ripped it you can also use these programs to tag music you already have.  In my opinion though they don't do it very well.  You best option for tagging your music is MediaMonkey.

One more thing about tagging and naming music files.  Watch out for foreign characters.  Recently I added Gangnam Style to my collection only to discover that all the Korean characters in both the file name, the path name and the tag did NOT jive with my DJ software.  After I edited it it works fine.  And just because I can:

3.  Finding Music

Remember when I mentioned legally downloading music.  Well there's a really good reason for doing that and it's not avoiding a lawsuit from the RIAA.  I'm talking about viruses.  I too used to avidly troll file sharing programs but I haven't used one since Limewire shut down (it's been almost 2 years now).  It got to a point where it seemed like every search I did lead to downloading a virus.  Fortunately I'm no sucker and I had up to date antivirus.

My main source of music these days is eMusic. I mostly jumped on because I kept getting offers for a massive download if I joined.  When I jumped on, eMusic wasn't really all that great but they've since improved their site and selection.  A big plus is they don't give me hassle for downloading in the US Virgin Islands (unlike AmazonMP3; someday I'll try you guys again).  There are tons more you can try out though. And if you do come back and tell me about them. :)

4.  Fixing Music

Ever get a song and there's an annoying pop or skip somewhere in the track?  Well you can actually fix that with the right software and a little patience.  I've been using Audacity for years to clean up music files.  I'm a do-it-yourselfer so I like to isolated the exact pop and erase it but if you're not so confident in your editing skills there's a built in click removal tool among many others.

5.  Backing Up Music

If you've spent a lot of time and money on your music collection you should do your best to ensure it's longevity.  That means backing up your music to alternate media.  I say this often but it's true: It's not of matter of if your computer crashes, it's when.  With proper care and regular maintenance your standard computer can last you a good 5 years or more before it finally craps out but it is going to crap our eventually.

These days your average CD isn't going to cut it.  The maximum they hold is 700 megabytes.  Your average mp3 song clocking in at around 3.5 minutes takes up just that many megabytes so expect a CD to be able to hold 200 songs in their raw format (audio CDs clock in by the minute which for a CD is 80).  A Data DVD is a better option as it stores up to 4.7 gigabytes (that's 4700 megabytes or just over 1300 songs).  Your best option though is an external hard drive.  These badboys are available in terabytes.  1 terabyte is equal to 1000 gigabytes.  I'll let you do the math on that one.  That's a lot of storage!

Want another option?  Online storage is very reliable.  One of the big names out there is Carbonite, but it's an emerging market so lots of other companies are joining the fray like Google and Amazon.  The good thing about online storage is it's offsite so if anything happens to your physical property you know your data is available to you from an offsite location.  Pretty handy on an island in the midst of hurricane season.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ask A KJ

I've been a KJ (Karaoke Jockey) for longer than I care to recall.  There aren't that many of us around these parts because karaoke is such a niche venue on a small island (that's why we all know each other).  Karaoke has had some great runs over the years but times change, people change, technologies change and that brings us to today.

Hoped you like my opening spiel.  I know I discontinued The Karaoke Report but since karaoke is still on my list of things of like occasionally I'm going to blog about it.  This is one of those occasions.

I was reading forums on a site I pass through everyone once in a while when I want to be reminded that my issues pale in comparison to KJs who do this sort of thing as their full time job. Based on my experiences in the biz I'd like to answer some of the questions and statements I get most often about being a karaoke host.  Should be a fun ride.

You don't have anything by *insert name of soca artist, calypso artist or any reggae artist who isn't Bob Marley*?!

I usually have to shut this question down the moment I get it especially if they just heard me play a soca song, a calypso song or a reggae song by an artist who isn't Bob Marley.  Karaoke makers don't just up and translate every song known to man ever to karaoke.  There has to be sufficient enough demand for it.  If a song isn't hitting the Top 40 in the US or the UK chances are it's not getting a karaoke version.  While I do have SOME songs that fit this bill they were mostly homemade by enthusiasts who shelled out the money to build their own karaoke songs.

So why don't you make your own karaoke songs?

I have in the past.  And let me tell you it's a pain the ass.  I literally have to learn the song myself to make an accurate port.  It takes many, many hours to get it right.  Not to mention that I have to find a decent instrumental version of the song too.  I haven't done it recently because I have yet to find a format I'm comfortable building songs on.  I'll keep it in mind for future projects though.

Why can't you be more entertaining?

You're missing the point of karaoke.  I'm not here to amuse you.  I'm here to provide you with the means to amuse yourself.  I don't make the show.  YOU'RE the show.  It's all about YOU.

But this other host I know is soooo funny...

That's nice and I hope that's working out for them.  I run a simple show and I do it on purpose.  Once again, the show isn't about me. It's about YOU.

Really?  So then why are you singing?

If you host a karaoke show singing songs is unavoidable.  It's like being in kindergarten, bringing a huge box of toys to school, dropping them all on the floor for your classmates to play with but not actually playing with any of the toys yourself.  Now most hosts realize that (you're already tired of reading this but) the show isn't about them.  It's about YOU.  These days I only insert myself in the rotation if there's a lot of slow songs back to back or if it's a slow night.  When it gets busy I don't sing at all.

Hey, it's getting late and I've got to get going.  Is it cool if I get my turn now?

No.  It's not cool.  I publish rotation rules in my songbooks for a reason.  Yes I can and have bent and broken those rules but it depends on certain factors. 

Ok, how about if I drop $10 in your tip jar?

That'll do it.  LOL!  I'm not ashamed to admit I can and will accept bribes to bump you up in a rotation.  It would be nice if you were just tipping me for a job well done but realistically people rarely tip their KJ.

Hey, I've been keeping track of the rotation and I don't see how *random guest* got ahead of me!

Ok, first off arguing with the KJ is a bad idea.  When customers get irate I tend to give security the nod.  Just sayin'.  But to answer you, see the previous question.  I never said my rotation rules are infallible.  Also, are you sure you read my rules.  There's one in there that says if someone is new they get placed at the top of the rotation.  If you've already had 4-5 songs for the night you really shouldn't be complaining because someone is getting to sing their first song of the night.

Can I just hold on to this microphone and be your co-host?

No.  Kindly return the microphone to where you found it.  How would YOU feel if I was running around and interrupting your song and acting a fool on the microphone while you were singing your song?  All I ask is you extend the same courtesy to the audience that they extended to you.

Well screw you and your equipment I'm taking the microphone anyway.


Your microphones aren't that great anyway.

I know.  I'd love to have some awesome expensive microphones but anything can happen when you mix alcohol and expensive equipment.  Trust me, the bar isn't going to replace my stuff if you break it.  I think in my experience I've had to replace my mic systems at least 10 times.  My current mics have lasted the longest.

I don't want a karaoke song.  Just put something on so I can freestyle.

Usually I frown on this.  It can get out of hand and I've seen it happen.  I tend to be cool about it as long as you don't hold up the show being picky about your background music and you take your leave when the song is over.  I'm not giving you a concert.

Do you have *random song*?  Yeah!  I wanna sing it next!

While I appreciate your enthusiasm (probably assisted by a few libations), you aren't singing next.  The only way you sing next is if there's absolutely no one else on my rotation list.

So how long is the wait?

It's *random number* songs.

I can't wait that long!  I'm leaving!

See ya. *ignoring the sour look as they leave*

*Me announcing my list is closed for the night* Can't we just do one more song?

*sigh* Closing time is the roughest time for me.  People are grooving and getting into things but all good things must end...and I have an 8-5 to get to in the later.  Now the reason I close my list at a certain point is that I've estimated what songs I have left in my rotation to the time I'm supposed to end the show.  However, despite announcing quite clearly several times in that interval that my list is indeed closed I still get people who want to play what I call "The One More Game".  The reason I have to play that game sooo hard is because the minute I let someone actually have one more it opens the floodgates for extra requests.  It can easily add and extra 30 minutes of time I'm not getting paid for to my schedule.  So if you're going to be for just one more it would really be in your best interest to drop something in my tip jar.

Please give me one more song.  I promise I'll tip you.

You're not fooling anyone.  I've only seen this happen only about 20% of the time.  I've seen people pretend to drop money in my tip jar.  There's only one thing I hate more than the One More Game and that's being lied to.  Don't make promises to me you have no intention of keeping.  That especially goes to the ladies who promise sexual favors (yes, it's really happened; no I've never taken a single offer seriously).

Why are you stopping so early?  Last week you went until 2.

I'm aware that my hours aren't exactly published but I'll tell anyone who asks that it's a 3-hour show.  Hour 4 is a gift that YOU the audience must earn either by vigorously patronizing the venue I'm working at or meeting my minimum tip requirement (I'm not telling you what it is but I can tell you it's more than $10).

I can't hear myself singing.

You should try singing INTO the microphone.

Ok, I still can't hear myself singing.

Oh, let me turn up your volume. :)


You shouldn't sing so close to the speaker. :)

I don't sound very good.  Is your equipment working?

I don't know.  When you get that recording contract have your sound guys come down and check it out for me.  Seriously though, don't expect too much. It's karaoke not Springsteen Live.

What's that song by what's her name?  I want to sing that.

Help me out here, people.  I need a name or an artist.  If you have neither I can't help you.  Fortunately I can even work around mismatched songs and artists but I gotta have at least one to work with.  If you don't know then be prepared to sing some of it for me.


I'm sure I'll come up with more.  I'll save those for another day.

Friday, September 14, 2012

How to Make Science, Math and Technology Too Cool For School

Last night me and some friends from our online tech group (you didn't think I was the only one did you?) met up to weigh in on with ideas for the draft VI Science and Technology Plan.  One of the topics was how to get various age blocks to embrace technology.  So I've had and idea gnawing at me since last night and I want to get it written down before I forget it.

My answer is trading cards.
Gotta catch 'em all!

Ok, not THOSE kind of trading cards.  I mean sports trading cards like basketball or football.  Here's how it'll play out.  The project is to build trading cards for a whole sports team with stats and all for the season.  This activity would incorporate the talents of various types of students.  First we've got the mathematicians.  They'll be the ones actually taking and compiling the numbers.  The computer science students would come up with a way to automate the data collection and compiling.  The photographers' jobs would be to collect a winning photo of each and every player.  Graphic artists would cobble together the actual card images.  The athletes would also be involved since they're the subjects and really, how cool is it that you'll get your own trading cards with real statistics on it.  I think that sort of project would be a win-win for everyone and as a promotion the cards could be packaged and sold in the community to raise funds for the school.

Think it could work?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Time to Hero Up!

Hey, remember this guy?

That's my old phone.  If you've been following my blog you'll remember that I recently shelved this for a Motorola XPRT.  Since then Hero here has been sitting in a box collecting dust.  So I figured since I'm stuck with it I might as well find a way to make it useful.

I searched for ways to breathe new life into this thing.  I learned a lot of things.  Did you know that by law even phones that have no carrier service still have to be able to call 911?  So emergency phone is on the list.  Turning it into a GPS device?  Um, no.  I live on an island.  GPS isn't very useful to me here.  Still, something to keep in mind as my device is indeed equipped with a GPS receiver.  Alarm clock?  My current phone is already on that.  Oooh, a wireless router...nah.  Right up this geek's alley but at the moment it's of no use to me. 

Right now I'm somewhere between portable media player or just using it for games.  I know, it doesn't sound very glamorous but I'm still working on this.  I might change my mind and do something else with it.

Step one, the OS had to go.  Don't get me wrong here.  Android is awesome.  But the Android that Sprint  foisted on me is full of bloatware that I don't need and can't get rid of.  My searches led me to discover the joys of modding the Android ROM.  I settled on CyanogenMod and got to work.
It's Android on a SKATEBOARD!  I was powerless to resist!

In order to even dream of modding the phone I had to root it first.  In layman's terms, I needed the master key that opens all the locks.  When you have root you have total control over Android.  Why isn't this a regular option you ask?  Well first the phone carriers frown upon it (hence the immediate voiding of your warranty should you choose to root your phone).  Secondly it's for your own safety.  That kind of access can be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing (as in totally bricking your phone dangerous).

CyanogenMod's instructions for rooting your phone is long, download intensive, and actually didn't work even after I followed all the instructions.  So I said poo on them and turned to Android Central who gave me an awesome 1-click rooting solution.  Rooted the phone: done. 

Now the first time I applied the CyanogenMod, it spent forever just trying to start up.  I had to pull the battery, wipe the ROM and then re-flash the ROM.  Yay!  That seemed to do the trick.

My first impression of CyanogenMod was how clean the interface looked.  The mod for my phone is CyanogenMod 7 so it's running based Android 2.3 Gingerbread.  I've never seen Android look so...simple.  Not a bad thing.  I've always though the Android packaged with my phones were kinda busy.  So time to do some tests.  Then the awful truth hit me: no Google Play.  A quick search showed that Google doesn't let modders package their stuff with the mods.  I'm making it sound worse than it actually was though because I just needed to re-flash CyanogenMod with a Gapps file (Google Apps) and boom there's Google Play.

So far I've only tried a couple things on it.  First I installed Netflix (I couldn't even install this app on the phone as it was before).  Unfortunately, the playback was terrible.  I tweaked the CPU performance to the max (yes, you can do that in CyanogenMod) and it helped playback only slightly.  It was still pretty much unwatchable.  Next I installed YouTube.  YouTube played very well; no complaints there.  Then I installed Angry Birds (another app I couldn't even install on the phone before).  It was a little jerky but not enough to be truly annoying.  Next I wanted to see how it would handle a standalone video file so I installed MX Player (it has support for more video formats).  It performed well there too.  Finally, Pandora.  Sound quality sounded ok too.  Overall it's preforming way better than the packaged OS did.

For now I've got it running as a portable media player (kinda like an iPod Touch).  I've put it on Airplane mode so it doesn't try to sneak any Sprint or roaming usage out of me.  I'm still trying to decide if that's the direction I want to take this in though.  At least now I have the flexibility to experiment and try different things with it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Karaoke Report No More

Some of you will be sad to hear that I'm no longer doing the Karaoke Report.  Alas, Karaoke Report No More.

The reason I'm not doing it any more isn't for the reason you're probably thinking: that nobody reads it anyway.  Well, readership IS pretty low on the Karaoke Report...but I digress.  The reason I'm not doing it any more is that it stopped being fun.

See, when I started this blog I promised myself it would be all about the stuff I liked.  Now I LOVE karaoke, but having to write a regular segment on it was kinda bumming me out.  It doesn't feel spontaneous.  It feels like...a chore.

So maybe in the future I may post another Karaoke Report but only if I really, REALLY feel like doing it.

Stay frosty.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Why Apple Is Suddenly A Target

Ready for a little nostalgia?  Here's an ad from Apple that used to be part of their famous Apple vs. PC campaign.

Seriously, that was only 2 years ago.  Wanna go back further in time?

Yeah, that's Apple taking a swing at Vista when it came out.  It's especially taking aim the User Account Control that was introduced in Vista but toned down a bit in Windows 7.

Ok, so why am I bringing up the past you ask?  It's because it leads up to 2012 where all of a sudden Apple is much more frequently being targeted for hacking and viruses.  Earlier this year, half a million Mac users were subject to Flashback.  Last month, a Wired reporter excruciatingly detailed how a hacker was able to hack his Apple ID and erased his iPhone, MacBook and iPad.  Today a hacker group called AntiSec released to the public 1 million Apple IDs that it hacked off an FBI owed laptop.  They claim to have 11 million more where that came from.  If you're an avid Apple device user, you'd probably be right to be a little nervous right about now.

I don't want to start a Mac vs. PC (STFU Linux users!) flame war.  Truth be told I want you guys to be safe whatever you're using (Seriously Linux users.  STFU!).  I don't blame you.  I blame Apple.

See, in their attempt to push their product (which they've done exceedingly well at thanks to the late, great Steve Jobs) they forgot to warn you that there's a whole world of hurt waiting outside your cute, cuddly little iPad.  The reason nobody really wanted to hurt Apple was because it wasn't big enough to take seriously.  That is until 2012.

Take a look at this chart I snagged from Wikipedia.
Windows right now owns around 69% of the market share.  Apple is pushing 18%.  18% isn't chump change though.  In fact, the Mac platform has been booming since late last year.  And the iPad has to date been practically untouchable in the tablet market.  This, my friends, is why Apple is now a target.  There are now enough people using the platform to make messing with it worthwhile.

What we're slowly discovering though is that unlike Microsoft and Google who are used to being the target of malfeasance, Apple is only just coming to grips with their surge in popularity.  Apple's like that nerdy girl with the glasses that got a makeover.  Now all the football players want to take her out and all the cool girls hate her guts. The more popular you get, the greater that pool of people that wants to take a crack at you.

Is Apple ready to take on the cyber-miscreants?  Well they better be if they want to protect their market share.  Part of the reason Apple has such huge following is that they've always pushed the security of their products.  That carefree ain't-no-bugs-on-me attitude is what brought in all the cool kids.  In truth there was no security.  Everyone simply thought it a better use of their time to target the bigger guns.  Guess what Apple?  You're a big gun now.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Karaoke Report 9-3-12

So I'm using my Andriod app just for kicks.  I skipped this last week because it was such a dismal night.  Well last night made up for it.
Epic Awesomesauce Moment of the Night
Bohemian Rhapsody.  'Nuff said.
Buzzkill Moment of the Night
Random drunk people doing various buzzkillington things.  Abusing my microphones.  Won't get off the microphones.  Calling people out as bisexuals on the microphones.  I'm sensing a pattern here.
WTF Moment of the Night
Fatty's has more drama than people realize.  The whole calling out a dude as a bisexual?  WTF!  Um, I can't comment if there was any truth to that statement but somebody had to have be burned bad to get on the mic to say that.
Random Party Pics