Nootropics – Bacopa Monnieri

I suppose I should preface this review of Bacopa with reason as to why this is showing up on my blog out of nowhere. Over the last year I’ve taken a strong interest in the emerging study of nootropic substances and have been experimenting carefully with a variety of different supplements and compounds. Initially I was spurred by an interest in self-treating my mild case of social anxiety and depression and that lead to me researching quite extensively for a chemical key to the door that I had locked between the world and my experience of it.

After getting these issues more or less resolved, however, my interest in chemical human enhancement remained in their absence. Nootropics are drugs or supplements that enhance various aspects of human performance with no or very mild side effects. Despite their obvious benefits, the scientists studying them are often unsure as to why they provide these enhancements. This has led to many communities of people across the internet to assemble to begin rote experiment on themselves in lieu of more controlled environments. Unfortunately, research money is not given often to studying nootropics as their is much more financial incentive in creating new anti-depressants or drugs that can actually save lives rather than just merely improve upon them.

My level of adventure isn’t quite at that level (perhaps, wisely.) Even so, I have experimented with a great deal of substances although I restrict myself to those that have had at least a few clinical trials. About a month ago I began experimenting with an ancient Ayurvedic herb, Bacopa Monnieri. Touted as improving memory by the companies that market it, I was initially skeptical (as I always am) but upon doing further research I found that the claims did have some, albeit minor, merit. After a month of taking Bacopa, however, my doubts have been obliterated. I have found that not only has my memory improved slightly, but my depth of thought and focus have increased quite unexpectedly! I have been taking a dosage of around 500mg daily with my morning coffee and after a week I started to notice improvements to my cognitive profile.

In the last month I have probably learned more about computer science than in the last two semesters of college. Granted, my interest has been higher but also I am just finding learning much more fun in general! It’s almost as if Bacopa improves the ability to retain memories and focus through a sort of reward increasing mechanism. Multiple nights I have spent hurdled over my computer devouring knowledge and yet my energy levels don’t wane! I still need to sleep 8 hours a night, but it’s as if the energy levels that regulate the amount of effort that I can exert in an intellectual pursuit have increased by a large factor.

I intend to keep taking this herb and I recommend anyone else who is in college check Bacopa out for themselves. It’s definitely changed what I thought I was mentally capable of and has even removed such an idea from my mind for the time being. I’ll certainly update my blog in a month or two with an update on the nootropic situation. Take care!

Pianoteq 4.5 Review

I’ve been craving a new piano VST for quite some time as my current go-to piano VST, Steinberg’s The Grand 2, just wasn’t cutting it anymore in terms of expressiveness. After finally deciding to put in the research time I set about searching the forums and reviews of the internet in pursuit of a VST that would sound great and be affordable. There are actually quite a lot of piano VSTs out on the market which made it quite hard to decide upon just one of them. However, I eventually downloaded the demo of Pianoteq 4.5 and I was instantly blown away by the sound. Upon hitting the first chord I was overcome by how rich sounding and dynamic it sounded. To be honest, I had expected it to sound very artificial due to it being a physically modeled instrument, but it was unlike any sampled piano I’ve heard in a great way.

Amazingly, this VST weighs in at a staggeringly low 29.3 MB, because it doesn’t rely on samples of any kind unlike traditional piano VSTs. Also, most sampled pianos only offer 16 sampled velocity levels whereas Pianoteq has 127 (although if MIDI were capable of more, I’m sure they could expand that as the simulation is programmed from the ground up.) The price for the PRO version is quite steep so I settled on the STAGE version (the budget offering.) Modartt offer a demo for both the STAGE and Standard versions of the software and although the bonus features in the Standard version were enticing I couldn’t warrant the additional cost with my current budget. Luckily, they do offer upgrade options if you want to upgrade to a better version down the road.  Needless to say, I ended up buying a license. I’ve probably spent a good 6 hours today just lost in music, and it’s been amazing! Definitely recommended to those that are first and foremost pianists but don’t have the greatest sounding virtual piano equivalent yet!

There are some drawbacks to this VST (as with anything.) First of all, the license is only valid for 1 year of upgrades on the software. I can understand why they would do this (as the software has become much better sounding over the years that it’s been in development) but at the same time I think it would be perhaps better if they only charged for additional addons. Secondly, the price is quite a bit higher than Native Instruments New York Concert Grand and other piano offerings. Depending on the type of music you are interested in writing/playing one of those sampled offerings may be a better option. However, they don’t offer any kind of demo to try which is why I personally ruled that option out as I won’t buy any VSTs unless I can play with them hands on first (otherwise, I have no idea if I will enjoy using them and feel inspired by them.)

Here’s a sample of me playing Pianoteq 4.5 using the D4 Grand and R2 Electric Piano models:

And what the heck, I’ll give this software a rating: 9.2/10

Mini-Review of the Blue Snowball Microphone

I recently purchased the blue snowball from Amazon and I thought I would collect my thoughts on the product here.

Build Quality: Overall the microphone is very sturdy and the stand is not wobbly on my desk at all. The stand screws firmly to the base of the microphone and can be adjusted for height in a range of about 3 inches. The USB cable included is very thick and feels high quality as well. Also, it fortunately uses a standard Type B to Type A termination USB cable (similar to those used by printers and cable modems.) I always appreciate when companies use universal standards for cables as replacing them should something happen becomes a lot cheaper and easier.

Sound Quality: Very high quality. I admit my ears are not tuned to the wide range of condenser microphones out there but I would say that the sound quality is more than adequate for pod-casting, commentating, and bedroom studio production. A pop filter may be well advised if you use it in a semi-professional setting as with most condenser microphones.

Drawbacks: There aren’t many drawbacks to this microphone (given its price at the time of writing this article is around 65 dollars.) However, the primary downside is lack of zero latency monitoring. If you are someone who needs to hear yourself play or sing in your headphones while recording then I can’t recommend this microphone to you. Due to it being USB there is a noticeable delay which makes it hard if not impossible to record while listening to yourself. However, every other microphone I’ve listened to in the sub-100 dollar range that had zero-latency monitoring sounded subjectively worse in quality than the blue snowball which is why I went with it over its competitors (like the Audio Technica ATR2500 which has ZLM.)

Overall, I’m glad I finally decided to buy a “real” microphone and my friends are too as they can actually hear me over voice chat now! I would give this microphone an 8.2/10. If ZLM was added I would revise my score to a 9.1/10.

My Review of ValhallaRoom

I recently purchased a copy of ValhallaRoom. This is actually the very first VST I’ve ever purchased. It only made sense after my foray into commercial music production software began with the purchase of Reaper about 6 months ago. I still would like to get around to writing a review of that at some point (hint: I love it.) Anyways, my initial impressions of ValhallaRoom were great. I demo’d the software for about 3-4 weeks and during that time I found that I could use this plugin on most sounds (at varying levels) to add a much more lively quality to the instruments. Most reverbs have this airy wall of white noise feel that occurs on long delays, but in ValhallaRoom it is surprisingly absent. Instead, very sweet tones can be heard even after long decays. On the other side of the spectrum, there are quite nice “Ambiance” presets that allow you to have very little decay but they widen the sound and give it that extra flavor feel of a chorus without the distortional qualities that usually entails. On top of this, the VST supports 32 or 64 bit. This is wonderful for us that use 64 bit native hosts. I would definitely recommend this VST to anyone looking to widen their horizons with commerical VSTs as a good first choice. I know it will provide me with hours upon hours of use in my home concoctions.

Minecraft: Thoughts

Minecraft took the indie gaming crowd by surprise by reintroducing the sandbox theme to many people, and also being a runaway success for the creator, Notch (aka Markus Persson.) What started out as a small project shared among peers on javagaming.org moved quite rapidly to having a budding community. Even when I first played the game, I (like many people I suspect, based on the amount of suggestions for the game) saw the grand potential of such a simple yet open game that Minecraft was, and is.

At the time of this writing, the game has sold over 30,000 copies, and without any decline in view, things are looking good for the Minecraft community. Although the game is only in Alpha currently, it already has quite a bit of polish and hours and hours of gameplay to give, and for a very reasonable price as well. I would recommend anyone who has not tried the game, to head over to http://minecraft.net/ and try out the free version of the game. One issue I’ve thought about, however, is that since the Alpha version of the game is much more exciting than the creative version, people not intrigued by simply building structures, etc will overlook the title. Hopefully once the game is released, there will be a way to try out the survival elements in the game before purchase.

Overall, I would say Minecraft is one of the best purchases I’ve made recently. It gives me joy to be able to check the development log and read about all the effort being put into the game constantly, and get to try out new features and the like as they come. Really, I wish more devs would have this kind of raw communication with the community while the develop the games, instead of wondering why certain games are flops and others are so successful. You don’t need luck to create one of the most riveting sandbox games ever made, as evidenced by Minecraft. So get out there and start diggin’!

When will Windows XP be useless?

So, with Windows 7 now live, one has to wonder: when will Windows XP finally kick the bucket for good? Windows 7 is poised to get at least a few of them to upgrade, but will it really be the bombshell release Microsoft needs to get windows users to be paying windows users? In my opinion, there are 3 changes that would be beneficial in getting more people to switch to windows 7 from XP.

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