Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Runescape - Journey to 99 Runecrafting

After several weeks of grinding, I have achieved level 99 Runecrafting.



When I got falsely banned for botting while training magic, I decided to take a break from my high level alchemy grind and do something else that doesn’t take much attention. The most afk training method I could think of was Runespan. It doesn’t yield any profit, but it only takes 1 or 2 clicks per minute, and it is considered by far the fastest Runecrafting experience.

At first, I didn’t care about going for level 99. I wasn’t doing Runespan because I wanted to train my Runecrafting. I was doing Runespan because I didn’t want to get banned again. It was easy to do while working on other things because it didn’t take much attention. Even if I couldn’t pursue 99 magic, I could at least work on something without fear of getting banned.



I started training at Runespan on December 5, at level 85 and around 3.5M xp, from when I started playing again in October. By December 6, I was up to 3.7M xp and got Rue, the Runecrafting skill pet, after only a short time of training. Maybe getting level 99 Runecrafting wouldn’t be so bad.

I began monitoring my progress consistently on December 9, to get a feel for how quickly I gained xp and how much I averaged per day. Crunching the numbers, I discovered that I could maintain a rate of just under 50k xp per hour when I was on a roll. On a good day, I could get upwards of 300k per day. My average was a little closer to 250k per day. Either way, I was getting a quarter mil experience per day, easily.

From my starting point of 3.5M xp, to the level 99 requirement of about 13M xp, getting 9.5M xp would only take a little over a month. That wasn’t bad at all. Even if I hadn’t originally planned to go for 99 Runecrafting, I may as well get it while I was there.



Anytime I was doing something that didn’t take my full attention, I was training at the Runespan on my phone. While most of my time was spent afk, I did make a few friends while I was there. Harmoncorp was a few levels ahead of me, so it was an unstated competition for a while of who would get 99 Runecrafting first. Toward the end of the journey, lingling209 and I would have discussions about how working conditions differ between different regions of the country. I’d speak to DarkPegasuS whenever I saw him around. Several players came through, but a few of them were there more regularly than others.

Before long, I was within range. From level 97, I got to level 98 and then 99 in consecutive weeks. In the low 80’s, level 99 feels like forever away. When 99 is just a few levels ahead, that last 2.5M xp or so just seems like a challenge. Can I make it? Of course I can. Let’s see how long it takes.



On February 8, 2018, I finally hit level 99 Runecrafting. I started the day with just over 200k xp to go, and I knew that was completely feasible. In order to commemorate the event and keep the tradition of my previous level 99 skills, I took a video of hitting the skill mastery milestone. After I reached my goal, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I stayed at the Runespan for a while, to the confusion of many players there. Several asked me what I was still doing there, and I couldn’t really give a definite answer. Part of me wanted to reach virtual level 100, just because I haven’t hit that for any skill yet. Another part of me just had no idea what to train next. I wasn’t quite ready to go back to training magic yet (and I’m still not). The inertia gained from training Runecrafting so consistently made it easier to keep doing it than to figure out something else to do.



Eventually, I decided to look into what other skills have afk training methods available. Several players mentioned using Artisan’s Workshop to train Smithing, so I may try my hand at that. Even if I don’t go for 99, I could at least get level 80 to knock out another requirement for unlocking Invention. After that, who knows? I’ll eventually get back to grinding out magic, but that could be in a few days or a few months.

It may be a long road, but I’m well on my way to "Lvl 99 Everything." I don’t know if I’ll ever get all skills to 99, but I’m certainly not stopping any time soon. We’ll see where my travels in Gielinor take me.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Going Camping

I’ve never really been a huge fan of “the great outdoors,” but I really want to plan a camping trip.

My past experience with camping has been… minimal. I went most recently around 5 years ago, a trip that I have described in slightly more detail before, but still never gave a full tale of, and probably don’t remember well enough now to flesh out all the details. I went with my now wife and a group of friends up to Pisgah National Forest. While I won’t say this trip was awful, it could have gone significantly better. I sliced my finger open while trying to to split some wood into tinder. We went hungry the first night, because I never got a fire going to actually cook dinner. The next day, we bought some duraflame logs to get a fire going, but we still didn’t really have all the supplies and tools we needed. It was an interesting experience, for sure, but a little preparation and expertise would have made the trip much more pleasant.

Before that trip, I haven’t stayed outside overnight in a long time. I stayed in a tent outside a friend’s house one night, but that was because of a 2 day bachelor party, and all we really did that even resembles camping was sleep in a tent. I’ve made several attempts at camping forays with friends who had more experience camping, but each of those ended fairly early in the evening because we didn’t manage to get the tent up, or build any sort of sustaining fire.

The one camping trip in my memory that was an honest success was a church camping trip that I went on back in my childhood. We had probably somewhere around 20 to 30 people gathered in a field near a river. With so many people involved, we had at least a handful who really knew their stuff, so we had a pretty good fire going the entire time and it certainly felt like a temporary home in the outdoors. Then again, I was also a kid at this point, and my role in this trip was just going and having fun with the other kids while the adults did all the hard work. One other kid did slip into the freezing cold river while trying to catch a Frisbee, so that was some terrifying excitement, but he got out alright and everything went better than expected.

Otherwise, the closest thing to “camping” that I regularly had was staying in an old Airstream camper at Lake Murray every weekend during summer vacation. Those were some incredible memories, but to call it camping is a stretch. A fire was completely optional, since we had a fully functional range in the camper. Lodging consisted of comfortable beds and air conditioning, as well as a working TV that we had my PS2 hooked up to most of the time. This was far less primitive and far more comfortable than tent camping.

Now that I’m a little older, I’ve got kids that I think would enjoy camping, I’d like to try a proper camping trip again. Obviously, I would start slow. We’ve planned to take the kids out one evening in our own backyard, just to see how they do with sleeping in a tent. After that, we could try them down behind my grandparents’ house with the goal of not leaving the woods once we go down. If things get hairy, a warm bed is only a 10 minute walk away. But if they can successfully stay in the woods overnight without coming back inside, maybe we can see about going to an actual camping location. Pisgah would be nice if we could line up a better spot, or maybe doing a weekend on Lake Jocassee in combination with a boat rental.

Before we do a bona fide camping trip, I would definitely want to do some research and plan it out. What tools do I need? What sort of bag or storage options should I get to haul everything out there? I’ve got no shame using duraflame logs to get a fire started, but I may also need to bring some of my own firewood with me. In short, I have so little practical experience with camping and no learned sources available that I’d feel sorely unprepared to go in my current state. Perhaps the backyard camping with kids would give me enough exposure to figure things out on my own. Still, being an hour and a half away from home gives a lot more gravity to adequate preparation than being literally right behind my house.

If any seasoned campers out there have advice, I’m all ears. I’m going to make my own mistakes and learn from experience, but I would love to hear some of the problems that other people have had in order to anticipate and prepare for them.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Problems with Research

In pursuing my master’s degree, I have become more perceptive to numerous forms and sources for research, both academic and less scholarly. While consuming these materials, I have become significantly more critical of the sources of my information for my academic purposes, as well as my non-academic learning. While I am by no means an expert on scientific research, there are a few examples I have recently discovered that stand out as surprisingly misleading or downright wrong.

Lack of a Sufficient Control Group
Having recently cracked down on my diet and exercise habits, I started incorporating chia seeds into what I eat. They mix well into a number of different foods, and pack an objectively impressive dietary and nutritional punch. Lots of fiber, lots of protein, and relatively few calories. Investigating further, I learned that some (https://runnersconnect.net/chia-seeds-running/) runners use chia seeds as a means of carb loading for long distance events. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research even (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21183832) published a study on the effects of chia seeds for long distance runners.

The odd thing about these studies, however, was that they seemed to compare 100% gatorade to 50/50 gatorade and chia seeds for the purpose of carb loading. While that’s all well and good, it seemed to lack a true control group. In my mind, a control group for this study should observe runners without any sort of carb loading techniques, and then compare the gatorade and chia seed techniques to that. Sure, there was no statistical difference between the performance of runners using just gatorade versus the gatorade and chia seed mixture. But what about runners who didn’t use anything at all. Did either form of carb loading have any effect on the runners?

Maybe the control of 100% gatorade is sufficient for the study in question. Admittedly, adding in a group without any sort of carb loading technique broadens the scope of the study considerably. No longer is the study simply comparing two different techniques of carb loading. It begins to question the validity of carb loading at all by adding a group without that method.

At the same time, the study feels biased in favor of traditional runner techniques. It doesn’t even seem to acknowledge the possibility that removing the gatorade altogether would have no significant effect on the performance of the test subjects. Maybe this was considered in the full text of the study, and there could be a sufficient reason for the exclusion. With access to just the abstract, I can’t fully analyze how thoroughly they considered the possibility of removing carb loading practices entirely. With the information that I have, however, I genuinely feel as though the researchers left out a genuine control group, and thus reduce the validity of their findings.

Number Conversions
I frequently see number conversions in sources. Usually, these conversions are between different units, frequently imperial to metric or vice versa. Occasionally, they may convert a figure to a more colloquially anticipated phrasing. In either case, I expect these conversions to be equivalent. To err in conversion gives me the impression that the author didn’t proof their work, as well as introducing doubt in which figure is the correct one.

“According to research from Gallup, 69% of employees are either not-engaged or actively disengaged on the job. Further research from the organization estimates that over £185,000 million (£0.19 Billion) is lost annually due to lower productivity from actively disengaged workers alone.”

I encountered the above conversion while doing research for a paper. The study indicates financial loss from decreased productivity. However, the two figures aren’t equivalent. To make the contrast more obvious, I’ll remove the verbal qualifiers from both. “£185,000 million” would be £185,000,000,000. The other quoted figure of “£0.19 Billion” converts to £190,000,000.

Even besides the strange change in significant figures, these values are 3 orders of magnitude different. Which is it? As much as this faux pas is unacceptable enough, the reader might be able to discern the intended value from the linked research. Nope, the link goes to a completely unrelated page that makes no mention of the financial loss of decreased productivity.

So this article managed to get a number wrong by 3 orders of magnitude, AND the link they offered gave no more clarity to the issue. How many other links on the page fail to address their context? Is anything on the site accurate or backed up with science. It is at this point that I write off a source as unreliable and move on to the next item in my search results. I’d advise you to do the same.

If you want your content to appear accurate and reliable to your audience, maybe try to include a valid control group and get your number conversions right. Even if there are valid reasons behind your decisions, explain them in a way that someone outside your field would understand. Maybe maintaining a carb loading method of gatorade would make sense to those inside the endurance exercise field would understand, but it doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe “£185,000 million” and “£0.19 Billion” are equivalent in some strange world (they aren’t), but if you don’t explain how, it makes me severely doubt your credibility.

Resources:
Illian, T. G., Casey, J. C., & Bishop, P. A. (2011). Omega 3 Chia Seed Loading as a Means of Carbohydrate Loading. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(1), 61-65. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181fef85c

RapidBI. (2016, April 30). How to write an internal communications plan and strategy. Retrieved December 16, 2017, from https://rapidbi.com/write-internal-communications-plan-strategy/

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Runescape - Journey to 99 Magic and Ban

I mentioned before that I started high alching on Runescape again. I apparently did this so consistently and mechanically in my drive to get 99 magic that I got banned from the game.

As I discussed last November, high level alchemy was an attractive prospect for my current situation. It yields a net profit, the materials buy pretty easily and quickly, and it requires very little attention. I figured I would keep going as long as I can. In the process of making money, I would surely hit 99 magic eventually.

Per my post back in 2016 when I started playing again the previous time, I had 3,934,074 experience points (xp) in the magic skill. I know for sure that I didn’t do much magic training during that few month span of playing, especially not the magnitude of grinding that I had been doing lately. So I would ballpark and say I was still under 4,000,000 xp when I started back on October 15, 2017.

On November 8, I started actually recording my current magic xp periodically, to keep up with my pace and see how quickly I was coming along with the skill. On that day, I had reached 6,629,620 magic xp. Given my starting day of October 15, and my starting xp estimate of 4,000,000, I had gained 2,629,620 xp in 24 days. That came out to an average of just over 100,000 xp per day, even including weekends when I didn’t play as much.

With the level 99 requirement of 13,034,431 xp, I was well on the way. To get from where I was to 99 would take about 65 days of my 100k xp per day average. Just about 2 months. Getting 99 magic was no longer a pipe dream that I figured I would never actually obtain. It was perfectly within reach, and in a reasonable time frame at that.

After I started monitoring my xp pace, I noticed a marked increase in my gains. I could do 5,000 casts of high level alchemy on a good day, which came out to a little over 300k xp. Even on a slow day, I could manage at least 2,000 casts to get 130k xp. At the rate I was going, I could easily have 99 Magic by Christmas.

Though there was nothing officially holding me to that estimate, it became my goal. 99 magic was all but in the bag. I even came up with a chart to show how many casts of high level alchemy I needed between each level, so I could buy up my materials in bulk and know that I had enough to reach the next level. This may be a video game, but I had turned it into a science.

On December 4, I had just started branching out into items beyond my standard materials when I noticed that I couldn’t log in. After entering my login credentials, I got a message indicating that my ban had expired. What? I wasn’t banned, though. There’s no way I was, I have always played legitimately. In my 10+ years playing Runescape, I have never cheated in any way. No real world trading, no botting, no scamming, nothing. How would I have gotten banned?



I went to the Runescape website and logged in to check the status of my account. Sure enough, it claimed I was banned for botting or macroing. Supposedly, it was only a single day ban, but another area of my account summary indicated that the ban would expire in a year. Which one was it? Even if I was wrongfully banned, 24 hours wasn’t that big of a deal. A year, though? For something I didn’t do? I’d be livid.



On the account summary page, I requested evidence of my ban. According to Jagex, they do not release evidence for that specific type of rule breaking, “as to do so may compromise our detection methods.” I understand that they need to be able to ban actual bots, and releasing their methods would equip bot developers to circumvent these methods. However, I WASN’T BREAKING THE RULES. I wanted to know what I did that was flagged as botting to at least know that I should avoid that behavior.



I appealed the ban, since I obviously hadn’t committed the infraction that they were accusing me of. I learned that a ban appeal can take up to 28 days to process. A possible 28 day waiting period for a hopefully 1 day ban. Tell me that isn’t irony. (Actually, I genuinely don’t know if it is irony. I have a hard time discerning true irony from other literary devices. So if it is or isn’t irony, I would actually like it if someone would tell me.)

After a little bit of pouting, I figured there was no sense in worrying about it until 24 hours at the earliest. If it was indeed a 1 day ban, I assumed it would either be 24 hours after the ban was administered, or date change at 00:00 game time or 7:00 pm EST. And if it was a year ban… well, I didn’t want to think about that.

The following day after the time that I noticed the ban was in place, I tried to log in again. I didn’t really know what to expect. I crossed my fingers that I would be able to get in, but at the same time, I was trying to prepare myself for disappointment if it was a full year ban. If it was, I wouldn’t be able to play the game until nearly Christmas 2018. That idea hurt to consider.



Fortunately, I was able to log in again. I assume the “ban has expired” notification shows up during the last 24 hours of a ban, but while it is still active. To call it expired seems misleading to me, but that’s neither here nor there. I could log in, so the ban was only for a day. As for the “expiration date” of 04-Dec-2018, I assume that is how long the ban shows up on my account. So if I were to get banned for the same offense before then, I would get the doubled punishment, but if I were banned after that date, it would be as if it were my first ban. Something of a probation period, if you will. That’s my understanding of it, at least. I don’t plan on finding out for sure, as I won’t start botting now, and I certainly hope Jagex doesn’t falsely ban me again.



After this was all said and done, I got an email from Jagex Mod Selfie on December 8. He wanted to let me know that Jagex saw “no evidence to suggest the ban was applied in error” and that they would not be reversing their decision. Ah, that’s great. The ban has already been served, but it’s nice to know that you wouldn’t have reversed it anyway. To paraphrase Lynyrd Skynyrd, “only me and Jesus know that I never broke the rules of Runescape.”

The fact that my appeal was rejected was insulting. I was not breaking the rules. I realize there isn’t any way that I could prove this to Jagex or anyone else, but I was playing legitimately. The principle of the matter that they would uphold a ban and suggest that I was using a bot is infuriating.

At that point, I was afraid to continue alching. I couldn’t discern what had flagged me as a bot, or how likely it was that I might get flagged again. If I already had a botting ban on my record, would they be watching my account more closely? I hated to abandon my goal of getting 99 magic before Christmas, but it just wasn’t worth the risk of another ban because of their overzealous bot detection methods. Specifically, I didn’t want to get banned again during the Advent event. Considering the free stuff that the event gives out every day, missing anything would suck.

Instead of continuing to work on magic, I decided to go to the Runespan and work on Runecrafting. It is similarly easy to absentmindedly work on, compared to high level alchemy. I considered maybe returning to magic training after the beginning of the year, but it is now well into January and I haven’t bothered yet.

Most of all, getting banned took the wind out of my sails. I was on a roll, but getting banned and forced to stop training for fear of getting banned again was just crushing for my grind morale. I may have made it to level 97 magic, but those last 2 levels feel like forever away now. Eventually, I’ll get back to training and finish out 99 magic. For now, I’m just not up to it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Moto 360 (2015)

After a few years of consistent interest in wearable technology, I finally own a 2nd gen Moto 360 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moto_360_(2nd_generation)) from Motorola.


I first mentioned my curiosity in smart watches (https://jakehennett.wordpress.com/2016/03/09/2016-03-09-the-smartwatch-conundrum/) back in early 2016. My sentiment from then remains the same. The cost of a new smart watch is high for what you get. Most of them run something north of $200, which would get a pretty nice analog watch that would last far longer than a smart watch. However, picking up a gently used one for a discounted price (like I did) puts them at a much more reasonable value.

Two of my conditions for purchasing a smart watch were that their usable life span needed to be at least 3 years, and their price needed to drop below $150. At $100, I got in the price range that I wanted, but I’m still not certain about life span. It seems pretty resilient, and Android Wear updates seem less consequential than full on Android updates to a phone’s OS. We’ll see how it does with moderate use over time.


Bad Stuff
I’ll get the bad stuff out of the way first. This isn’t a productivity device. When I first started looking into smart watches, I thought how much more efficient they would make me. With notifications on my wrist, I wouldn’t have to interrupt my current task to take my phone out of my pocket. At the same time, I would be able to more quickly respond to urgent notifications. A smart watch would make be a better user of my mobile device, I thought. I was wrong. It’s nice to get notifications on my wrist, but it doesn’t make me any more efficient at responding to them, and I still let several of them pile up before I actually do anything about it.

The functionality is extremely limited. In much the same way that I would rather do more complicated tasks on my laptop instead of a phone or tablet, there are many things that I would rather do on my phone or tablet than on the watch. The screen is very small, the apps are very pared down, and typing on it is… tolerable at best. I’ll use it to maintain tasks that I have already started, but I still do most of my heavy use on my phone.

Somewhat related to the limited functionality is the learning curve. With such a small screen, there are fewer dedicated buttons for functions. More of the watch’s controls are based on gestures. The problem with gestures is that you have to know them already. When setting up the watch for the first time, you get a crash course in the main gestures. I think you can also go through the training again from the settings menu. And admittedly, they aren’t terribly unintuitive. Swiping down from the top of the watch loads the settings menu. Swiping up from the bottom loads your notifications. Swiping left or right on the home screen changes watch faces. Swiping from left to right steps out of your current location, much like the back button in Android. They make decent sense, but I still occasionally find myself using the wrong gesture for what I want to do, or forgetting how to do something entirely.

Possibly the most frustrating thing is less about the watch specifically or Android Wear in general, and more about apps available on the platform. Some of the apps, most notably the first party Google apps in my experience, are designed pretty well. The rest of them are hit or miss. Specifically, I was tremendously disappointed in the Facebook Messenger app. Hangouts will allow you to look through your existing conversations and respond to them. You can’t start a new conversation with someone, but that is a limitation that I’m fine with on a watch. Facebook Messenger won’t even let you open existing conversations or respond via keyboard to new incoming messages. You can respond with emoji, or by voice to text, but that’s it. As someone who never uses emoji and rarely uses any form of voice to text, what’s the point? Is it so much to ask that I be able to look through my existing conversations? Again, I can’t really blame that on the watch or on Android Wear. That is a problem with Facebook, one of many, but it does affect my satisfaction with the device. Something to consider, for sure.


A slight inconvenience is that you can’t add wifi networks directly from the watch. You have to add them from the connect phone first, before you can access them from the watch when out of bluetooth range. Obviously, this isn’t going to be something that will affect most people. I only discovered it because my phone was unavailable, and I was going to try to get onto my wife’s mobile hotspot with the watch to access my messages. Since I had never signed into her mobile hotspot before, I was unable to get online just through the watch interface. Not a problem many people will encounter, but it would have been nice to know beforehand.

Good Stuff
As much as the Moto 360 isn’t a productivity device, it is a very cool gadget. Many people aren’t, but I am one who is fine with technology for the sake of technology. Tech devices do not have to be a means to an end. I’m genuinely cool with having a gadget just for its entertainment value. Being able to respond to messages, change my music, and navigate to a destination, all from my wrist? That kinda makes me feel like a secret agent. And I’m good with that.

The biggest benefit of the Moto 360 for me personally is the ability to get notifications and some basic features when my kids are watching cartoons or playing games on my phone. I realize that not everyone fits into this scenario, but for someone who does, it is absolutely invaluable. Usually, I get my phone back after a road trip and I have a notification bar full of messages. Ok, so maybe that’s the case even when my kids don’t have my phone, but I can at least see urgent stuff immediately. When they have my phone, I don’t get to see anything until well after the fact. If I do need to use my phone to make a call or send an important message, I have to pry it from their unrelenting grip, and deal with them screaming until I return it. With the watch, that is no longer the case.

In addition to messages, an even more valuable tool in certain cases is navigation. With Google Maps on the Moto 360, I get next step instructions, as well as a smaller image of the map on my wrist. When I admittedly don’t really need a lot of details, that’s great. I can start navigation to a place, give my phone to the kids, and I get updates on my watch. Having recently taken a vacation to Pigeon Forge, that was a great boon. I don’t need any sort of crazy depth, I just need to know how far to my next turn, and which direction I’ll be going.


More of the same vein of technology use when my phone is unavailable, I can control my music playback from the watch. This one isn’t quite as important when the kids have my phone, since they’re usually doing something with audio anyway. Moreso, this is when I have my phone playing music from a bluetooth speaker or Chromecast, but it isn’t on my person. We were putting together a bunk bed on Christmas eve, and it was so nice to be able to just tap the next button on my wrist to skip through songs. I didn’t know where my phone was for most of the process anyway, but I didn’t have to look for it just to access my music controls.

The modular watch faces are neat. I like that you aren’t limited to just official Google faces. There are tons of faces available on the Play store, and many of those can be customized with exactly what information you want to include. The one I use most just has the time in 24 hour format, and the date. If I wanted to change that up, there are so many options available. That sort of customizability is nice.

In my experience so far, the fitness tracking with Google Fit seems to work pretty well, at least for treadmill running. It isn’t perfect, but it was surprisingly close to my pace considering there is literally no input from moving around. I’m not sure if it uses the movement of my arms to estimate a pace given my height or something, but it gets close enough to give me an idea. I’m sure that actual runs with GPS logging would give more accurate tracking data, but I haven’t yet tried it out to see for sure.

Use Case
So who would make use of a smart watch, and who wouldn’t? Parents are obviously a prime candidate. If you frequently let your kids use your phone for entertainment, it’s nice to still have access to some functionality without dealing with the headache and bargaining with them to let you have it for just a second. Call me a bad parent, but I pick my battles with my kids. If I don’t have to deal with them pitching a fit, and just send a quick text from my watch, it’s worth the preservation of my sanity.

Another great use case is people who keep their phone in a purse, backpack, or somewhere else not easily accessible. I keep my phone in my shirt pocket most of the time, so it really isn’t that much more of a pain to pull it out, than it is to look at my wrist. Someone who doesn’t have shirt pockets for their phone would benefit more from getting notifications without having to actually pull their phone out. I’ve noticed that if I’m wearing a polo or t-shirt, and don’t have my phone in my shirt pocket, I use the watch more for notifications and such.

People who like playing with gadgets are obviously going to be inclined to get a smart watch. Even beyond the practical uses, it’s fun to play with. The novelty wears off after a while, and I’m sure I will eventually start wearing my analog watch here and there again, but it’s still neat to use for simple tasks.

All in all, I’m happy with the purchase. If you fit into one of these categories, I would definitely recommend trying one out. It may not be a productivity tool, but it is a fun gadget.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Hardware Failure and Missed Blog Post

It was bound to happen eventually. I missed a Words on Wednesday post. What’s worse is that I missed the first post of the year. Not some random Wednesday in the middle of April. I missed the first Wednesday of the first month of the year. Fail.

While I am disappointed that I missed a Wednesday, I do have a good excuse. For one, I was on vacation, without having queued up a post beforehand. Plus, my laptop crapped out while I was out of town (more on that in a moment), so I had no way of writing up a post anyway. I can’t go back and change the fact that I missed a week, but I can at least give you the story of how I broke my laptop (again).

Breaking the Laptop
To get a break from the day to day grind, we decided to rent a cabin up in the Appalachian mountains to bring in the new year. While I was able to take PTO days from my day job, I still have school and side hustle responsibilities that I always seem to be behind on. As such, I decided to bring my laptop with us and catch up on all my other work.

On Monday afternoon, we wanted to watch the NCAA college football bowl games and playoff semifinal games. Since the cabin didn’t have any sports channels, we decided to stream the games from my laptop. What better place to watch the games from, than in the hot tub? I sat my laptop in the rocking chair while we tried to get the kids into the water. Unfortunately, I bumped the chair in the process, and my laptop dumped out onto the deck. The screen went immediately black.

Having just taken my laptop to be repaired back in November, I really didn’t want to have to pay for it to be repaired again just a month and a half later. I brought the laptop inside, and started trying to diagnose the issue. I could remote in from my phone, and everything seemed to still work alright. Even if the screen was fried, I could at least hook it up to a monitor when we got home and use it like a faux desktop. Since I didn’t want to let such a minor nuisance ruin my vacation, I sat the computer aside and went back outside to relax.

That evening, I decided to work on the laptop a little more. I pressed the power button and the HP logo flashed on. Hey, maybe the problem had resolved itself with a restart. As soon as the thought crossed my mind, the screen went black again and stayed off. While the screen still wasn’t working, I at least knew that the display itself wasn’t broken. The HP logo looked fine for the few seconds that it was on screen.

Using remote desktop to access the laptop again, I noticed that it appeared to be the windows default resolution. It was almost as if the screen wasn’t connected to the computer. The screen was clearly getting power somehow, but the video output wasn’t coming across. Maybe the cable had disconnected inside the body of the laptop? Several possibilities crossed my mind, most of them far less severe than what I originally anticipated.

While I would liked to have popped the laptop open then and there, I didn’t have the tools available to disassemble it. Sure, I could’ve bought a screwdriver set from a local store, but working on a hardware issue ruins the point of going on vacation. I wanted to relax, and repairing a laptop is far from relaxation. I decided that it wasn’t a big enough deal to worry about. The laptop itself still worked, and I could see about tinkering with the screen when we got home.

Repairing the Laptop, Round 1
Once we got home, we unloaded all of our luggage and I sat down to work on the laptop. Since I’m more comfortable seeing something done before I do it myself, I started looking for disassembly videos. Every video that I found appeared to be for an older model of 15” HP laptop, since they weren’t quite the same build. These all had a bay on the bottom of the laptop that popped off, and the keyboard came off to reveal more internals. My laptop had no bay on the bottom, and the only seam on the top of it went around the outer edge.

I searched for manuals or disassembly instructions. Using both the model number of 15-BS016DX and the product number of 1WP58UA, I looked all over for any shred of information. Everything that I found either described another model, or gave me nothing useful. There were plenty of product pages and reviews, but nothing indicating how I might access the internals.

While I was far from certain in my ability to strip down the laptop, I figured it was worth giving it a shot. Surely, I would know enough not to break anything. Even if I couldn’t manage to fix it myself, I could try to figure out what was going on.

I powered the laptop down, removed the battery, and started taking off all of the screws I could find on the bottom of the body. The only seam appeared to run along the outer edge of the top of the body. Figuring that had to be where it came apart, I ran a card along the seam and felt as connections popped apart. So far, so good.

Getting mostly around the perimeter of the laptop with the card, the top and bottom of the body still felt securely in place. I didn’t want to risk breaking it by pulling it apart when I still needed to take out another screw or something. Since we still had to get dinner and run some errands, I decided to set the laptop aside and come back to it later, hopefully with some sort of documentation available.

Repairing the Laptop, Round 2
After getting back home for the evening, I decided to hook up the laptop to my monitor like I had done the previous time I broke it. Having a stationary but working computer was better than trying to fix it myself and having a severely broken computer. I put the screws back in, replaced the battery, and took it to my computer desk in my bedroom.

I plugged the HDMI cable from the monitor into the laptop, turned on the monitor, and powered on the laptop. Immediately, the monitor displayed some weird, glitchy lines that looked almost like a CRT television turned to a static channel. Well, that was significantly more broken than I hoped or expected it would be. I thought I had just disconnected the display from the body of the laptop. Turns out I made it where the video output won’t even screen mirror across HDMI. With the monitor displaying that jumbled mess, it could be something like the graphics card or motherboard. Those components were far beyond my ability to repair.

At that point, I was just dejected. I knew I would have to pay to have it fixed, probably a lot more than what I had paid to replace the screen. No longer having the mountain view to distract myself from the hardware problem, I just went into the living room. I at least didn’t want to dwell on the fact that I had broken my laptop again, this time even worse than before.

Eventually, I passed by the bedroom door again and looked in to notice that the laptop screen and connected monitor both showed my login screen. Uhhh… what? It was showing some weird glitchy mess just previously. I hadn’t done anything to it since before. How was it suddenly working just fine?

I disconnected the HDMI cable from the laptop, and the display stayed on. I logged in and clicked around for a bit. Everything seemed to be working fine. I closed the screen and opened it back up. Like clockwork, the display blacked out as the lid closed, and came back on when I opened the lid again.

I have no idea what tech wizardry I did, but I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth. The laptop continued to work, and still is working some days later. I’ll certainly be more gentle with it now, but I have no idea what was broken before. The problem resolved itself by plugging in a monitor and leaving it alone for a few minutes. If anyone has any theories as to how that fixed it, I’m all ears.

Now that I have a working laptop again, and I’ve missed my first blog post, hopefully I can keep a working laptop and post consistently for a while. If I break the laptop again, I’m giving up on technology and shutting down Words on Wednesday for good. Clearly, I am not capable of taking care of my devices well enough.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

2017-12-27 Discovering Rock Music: The LA Lloyd Rock Countdown

When I say “rock music,” you say… Lorde?

At least that’s what people said about “Royals” back in 2014 when it won the VMA for Best Rock Video. I understand that was 3 years ago, and people made plenty of jokes soon after, but it still stands as a shining example of how rock as a genre has had its lines blurred to the point that it doesn’t mean anything anymore. Even the other nominees for the rock category seem like a stretch. Imagine Dragons, Arctic Monkeys, and The Black Keys all fit into a weird area of… yeah, I guess I could maybe call it rock, but it’s more of like an indie sort of rock. The only nominee in 2014 that I would genuinely consider rock would have been Linkin Park, but I certainly wouldn’t have considered them the only rock band with a song in the running for “Best Rock Video” of that year.

What is Rock Music?
Suffice it to say, “rock music” doesn’t mean much anymore. I understand that with all the sub-genres and combinations within rock, it does encompass a rather wide range of musical styles. Still, there is at least a tentative boundary in my mind of what IS rock and what ISN’T rock. I can’t exactly give qualifications or firm conditions, but it is evident when I hear it what counts as rock in my opinion.

Now, with my criticism of the rock genre explained, I am left in a predicament. I don’t listen to FM radio much anymore, and I refuse to pay for streaming services when I already own a huge library of music. Between the garbage that passes as music, the annoying talk shows that play on my way to work, and the “HEY FRIENDS, JAY GILSTRAP HERE” commercials, I just can’t do radio. As such, I don’t really encounter much new rock music. Genuine rock music, I mean. The stuff that I actually enjoy listening to.

WTPT 93.3 The Planet Rocks
One tactic I’ve employed recently is looking at the station log for WTPT 93.3 The Planet Rocks. The problem there is that The Planet is notoriously bad about playing the same handful of songs over and over. Not quite as bad as people joke about, but there are a few songs that get played entirely too often. Specifically, songs that I already know about, and either own, or know that I don’t like. I want to learn about new rock music. If I want to listen to music that I already know I like, I’ll just play it from my collection.

Another issue with rock music (and I suppose any genre) is that the 1-hit wonder, flash in the pan artists make it into the charts for a few weeks, only to die back down and fade away into obscurity. Any of you remember “My Demons” by Starset? Probably not, but even if you do, that was one among many. A stellar song, one that stayed near the top of the charts for a few weeks back in November 2016, and subsequently disappeared. Those crop up so often, and disappear so quickly, it is absurdly easy to miss some real gems just because you didn’t catch them for the short time that they were popular.

I had an idea for a pet project at one point to combat this permanent disappearance. My plan was to create a little utility that would activate once per hour or so and scrape the HTML for the station log of WTPT. From there, it would grab the song and artist information, and pump these into a database or spreadsheet. Songs that were already stored would be omitted, while new songs would be saved. If implemented properly, this would yield a log of every unique song that has played on The Planet since I started running the utility. Sure, most of it would be those songs that they play over and over again, but mixed in would be the one-off songs that you rock out to when they play, but forget about in a few months. I never went through with creating the program, but it is still on the backlog of neat programming projects I would like to work on eventually.

LA Lloyd Rock Countdown
A few years ago, I would regularly listen to the LA Lloyd Rock Countdown for the latest top songs and artists. The music featured on the show fit much more into what I would call “rock music,” while still giving more variety than just a very specific sub-genre. However, see above for why I don’t bother with the radio. Plus, I can’t exactly sit down for hours at a time just to hear the top rock songs for the week. I’m busy enough doing everything else, and any spare time that I do get can be better spent doing more entertaining things.

I had all but forgotten about the countdown when I searched for it and found a full-fledged website. It seemed odd that the archives for previous weeks only went back to November 4, 2017. After tweeting LA Lloyd directly, he explained that this was when he revamped the website. In the future, each week should be archived.

With a consistent and arguably superior way to discover new rock music, I don’t have to listen to the radio and deal with the ads and junk. I can go straight to the top 30 each week and get the good stuff directly. Anything I don’t recognize, I can look up on YouTube and listen to it specifically. Perhaps I’m putting too much analysis and work into music discovery, but I love hearing new music that I enjoy. I really think that the Rock Countdown is the best way to do that.