Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Don't Fear Automation

I've seen a lot of blogs and news reports recently discussing the impending job apocalypse that robots and automation are going to create. No more truck drivers! No more fast food workers! No more warehouse workers! A massive, consumption based underclass surviving on a Basic Living Subsidy produced by a small technical elite! Call me an optimist, but I'm not buying it.

Now part of this too is that I write automation code for a living. Here are the three most frequently asked questions when working with automation: "What did it just do?", "How did it do that?", and "What do you think it's going to do next?". The day may come when AI drivers can deal with the vagaries of road construction, distracted drivers, and unpredictable weather, but I suspect it's a lot farther away than the proponents would like everyone to believe.

But if automation does put a swath of people out of work, what then? Are they doomed to a life of watching bad TV and eating government cheese? Only if they want to. I think the automation wave is going to inspire an explosion in handcrafted, traditionally produced goods of which we've as yet only scratched the surface.

Just look at the explosion of craft beers for an example. Big, automated macro brewing companies produce more than enough beer to sate the world, but that doesn't stop small creative breweries from experimenting, creating better products, and bringing them to market.

Or what of home furnishing? A desk from Walmart or IKEA performs just as well as a beautiful, hand-crafted piece, but the work of a skilled craftsman demands a much higher value than a mere assemblage of pressed particle boards and screws. Most people may never approach the artistry of a master, but with time and practice good results are absolutely obtainable. The time just has to be there.

Other current examples can be found all over Etsy and in the Maker spaces. Go to a Civil War Reenactment and check out the care that the blacksmiths have taken to master an almost lost art. A knife bought from Amazon may be functional, but one hand forged by a local smith is functional art with a story.

The real question, is if a majority of people return to hand-crafting unique items for each other, will the government get out of the way, or regulate this new market underground? Selling goods is easy, but make the paperwork and regulation too onerous, and more people will go back to quietly trading services with each other to get around the bureaucrats.

The lazy will always be with us. But for the diligent, automation isn't something to be feared. It's freeing from repetitive, monotonous work, and the opportunity to pursue new skills and opportunities.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Let's Play Minecraft: Story Mode - Season One, Episode One - Blocked Out

Taking a break from the Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance vids for a bit, due to life complications. Houses and packing are work, y'all.

So here we are with Telltale Games' Minecraft: Story Mode series. I'm not a big Minecraft fan, but this series surprised me with how much I generally liked it. The characters are fun, the voice acting is solid, and the plot is good enough to draw me in, despite knowing next to nothing about Minecraft (other than that my kids are always yelling at each other about it). Here's Episode One.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Road to 10K - Week 4, Failure and Redemption

Week Four of 10K training didn't go according to plan. What was supposed to happen was that after Week Three's distance run, I'd kick off the next week with a short high intensity run, follow that up with two interval sessions later in the week, and wrap up with a 4.5 mile distance run.

I got through the first two days just fine, but then I bought a house. That may have been a little distracting. Add in a full day family gathering on Saturday, and I failed my training plan for the week.

Thing is, failure is okay. Life happens. The important thing is in not letting a single bad day become a bad week, or a bad week become a bad month, etc. I got back on the trail on Sunday with my Little Running Buddy. It wasn't the 4.5 mile distance run I originally planned, and I only managed an 11:15 per mile pace (while pushing forty-five pounds of kid and stroller), but it was important to get out, run, and not make excuses for another day.

I'm planning on getting back on track this week. My 10k race timetable may slip a bit, but I'll get one in by the end of the season!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Let's Play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - Battle #3, Mission #1 - Slave Rescue!

Apparently all of the Liberty's B-Wings are down for maintenance again, because all they can scramble to interdict an Imperial convoy is a handful of battered Y-Wings. This isn't an especially difficult mission, but you need to be sure to inspect and disable the transports carrying slaves before they get too close to the defense platform. The Assault Transports won't last long while docked if they're within gun range.

The Y-Wing's a lousy dogfighter, but at least it has good weapon spacing. Leave most of the TIEs for the X-Wing escort group, but if something gets close go ahead and break off for a kill.

The real trick is going to be the bonus objectives, which require taking out both the Golan platform and the Imp Star Deuce. Good luck with that.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Putting Down Some Roots

Today is one of those milestone days in life. For the first time in five years, we're homeowners again!

I never expected I'd be putting down roots in South Dakota, but there it is. A good state with reasonable taxes, good government, that mostly stays out of its citizens' lives. More importantly, it's time my kids have some stability in their lives, and we stop moving around all the time.

Coming soon, Hydra Home Tales, wherein I start fixing all of the things that are inexplicably messed up in this forty-four year-old house.

Book Review: The Captive Bride

Second novel in the House of Winslow saga, The Captive Bride picks up roughly eighteen years after the close of The Honorable Imposter, with Gilbert and Humility Winslow's only son Matthew. A strong-willed young man who takes heavily after his father, Matthew dreams of adventure far greater than what he can find in the New World. With the help of his Uncle Edward, now a successful trader and businessman, Matthew finds his way to England to make his fortune.

Almost from the start I had problems with this book. While I realize that the focus of the stories is on Gilbert Winslow and his descendants, what happened to his brother Edward in the intervening years? At the end of The Honorable Imposter, Edward was happily married to a widow with four children of her own - what happened there to make Matthew the last of the Winslow line, and transform Edward into a seagoing bachelor merchant? We have no idea. The whole family just vanished into an inconvenient plot hole.

A more serious issue is the book's pacing. Where The Honorable Imposter took a couple of years, The Captive Bride powers through a span of around thirty-five years. The disconnected nature of the time skips makes it feel as though the novel is really just a collection of three short novellas, each connected only by a few familiar characters.

The first story takes place primarily in Restoration England as Charles II returns from exile. It is there that Matthew meets and marries his bride, Lydia, though the story is far more interested in portraying a young John Bunyan in the years before he writes Pilgrim's Progress. But by the end of the story, Matthew is gone and presumed dead, and a heart-broken Lydia is on a boat bound for Plymouth, accompanied by her father-in-law Gilbert.

The next story takes place fifteen years later, during the first year of King Philip's War. Here we meet Rachel, Matthew and Lydia's daughter, now a young woman of fifteen. This story has the most action, as Rachel goes through a trial that shapes the direction of her life. Finally, the third story takes place during the Salem Witch Trials, some seventeen years after Book Two.

The biggest problem this book runs into is that the main characters just aren't that interesting, and they don't actually do much. Outside of the denouement in Book Two where Rachel makes Major Life Decisions while a captive of King Philip's band of marauding Indians, the Winslows largely serve as bystanders. They witness the actions of historical figures, but they don't really have any impact by themselves.

It's also interesting that for a book largely read by conservative evangelicals, the depictions of faith are remarkably charismatic and literal. Lydia almost literally hears the Voice of God. Rachel anoints the sick with oil and heals by faith. They portray a remarkable, vibrant Christian faith that's alive in every aspect of their life (which is historically consistent with a log of writings by early American Christians). It's a faith that's far different than the tired, cold Christianity that's displayed in too many churches today.

I can't give this book an enthusiastic recommendation. It's interesting for the historical aspects, although it plays fast and loose with the Salem Witch Trials, but it's really bland. It's not a bad read, just kind of mediocre.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Let's Play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - Battle #2, Mission #6 - Research Facility Attack!

It's time to put an end to the experimental TIE threat in this sector. You're in a B-Wing for this mission, which means your focus is on heavy attack. Most of the enemy TIEs will be launching from the Hanger containers, so if you don't enjoy dogfighting, make those your priority targets. Two torpedoes a piece should do the trick. Or play it my way and fight all the enemies out in the open!

Once the fighters are gone, knock out the platform and research vessel. Use your remaining proton torpedoes, plus linked weapon fire. Hitting with three lasers and three ion cannons at once tends to have a good effect on knocking down enemy shields.

Once the area is cleared, it's time to head back to the Liberty. It looks like you're in line for a medal. Those experimental TIEs definitely won't be showing up again. Or will they?

Monday, August 7, 2017

Road to 10k - Week Three

After failing out of my distance run during Week Two, my third week of training became Week Two Redux. I'm okay with this. Thanks to my Runkeeper app, I know that I ran father during my interval sessions this time than the first go around, so progress!

My final test for the week, the four mile distance run, went much better. Huge success!

I think two things helped me this week. First, the extra week of training. My times and distances were consistently faster this week over the previous week, so I know that helped. Second was reducing the time between pace updates on my Runkeeper app. Dropping down to updates ever quarter mile helped me maintain a more consistent pace and not burn myself out early like I think I did the previous week.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Let's Play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - Battle #2, Mission #5 - Scramble!

Looks like you didn't get away as cleanly as you thought from you last mission. The Imperials have followed your flight group back to the Liberty and are attacking! All pilots to your ships! Emergency launch! This is not a drill!

You're in combat the moment you leave the Liberty's hanger bay. Just stay alive, shoot whatever's closest to you, and try not to die!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Game Review: Futurama Worlds of Tomorrow

Over on Marooner's Rock I take a critical review look at the new Futurama game. I'm a big fan of that franchise, and was really excited for the new game.

I may have been a little disappointed.

"The gameplay itself breaks out into two different segments. The general world map of New New York allows access to various character missions, and a city-scape that the player slowly builds up, adding buildings and decorations while clearing fogged areas. Buildings provide money (Nixonbucks) and experience at timed intervals. Character missions are unique activities performed by each character which also provide money and experience. While most character missions take place inside a building and are unique in name only, a handful contain unique animations that show off each character’s famous (or infamous) qualities."

But you can always check out the whole review for yourself!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Road to 10k - Week 2 Training Complete-ish

Two weeks down, and what should be four to go. Except that it isn't. I did fine all week, chugging through my interval days and one "easy run" day, but the final day was the distance run. I've got a feeling this is going to be my continual nemesis.
My happy running place. Finished, showered, and beer in hand.

Putting the distance run at the end of the week makes it the culmination of the week's effort, the final test to see if you've built up enough endurance to make it through. Every week the distance gets a little longer, until at the end of the final week you're running a full 10k. It may not be a fast 10k, but it'll make the distance.

This week's distance wasn't 10k. It was four miles, or 6.8km. I ran out of gas at the 3.3mi mark. On the plus side, I cleared 3.1mi/5k thirty seconds faster than before. But I couldn't pass the test.

So for next week, it's the Week 2 program, again! And hopefully by next Sunday I can make it through and start the Week 3 program.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Let's Play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - Battle #2, Mission #4 - Raid Production Facility

All right, with that latest bit of family business out of the way, it's time to get back to the Rebel job of tracking down and eliminating the source of these mysterious experimental TIE craft. High Command has traced the production facility, and your squadron is tasked with escorting the assault ship of commandos who will board the station, dump the data from the computers, and place demolition charges.

The basic mission isn't that difficult. Opposition is fairly light, and provided you can track any threats to the Assault Transport, ensuring that the commandos get in and out is not tough. Wracking up the bonus points can be difficult, there's a lot of containers to inspect and destroy.

The biggest challenge, though, comes from the pair of TIE Defenders that get launched to engage you. Taking those things on in an X-Wing is tough! You're outgunned, outmaneuvered, and your wingmen will probably be toast. May the Force be With You if you try to take those things on.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Remote Work is the Future

As previously mentioned in my little note about not missing game development any more, a major factor in my quality of life increase has been the removal of long commutes and heavy overtime from my life. Now comes a Wall Street Journal article about how companies are cutting back on remote work. To my mind, this is movement in precisely the wrong direction.

Speaking for myself, I won't be going back to a long commute unless I'm desperate. The quality of life increase realized by not spending two to four hours trapped in a car is something that mney just can't buy. Meanwhile, tech hubs like San Francisco , Los Angeles, and Seattle keep having their average commutes get longer, sometimes while passing laws that directly make commuters' lives more miserable and expensive.

And what are the main reasons cited for shoving these remote workers back into their cars every day? The near-mythical hallway conversations revered by productivity consultants everywhere, and the far more tangible managerial oversight beloved by insecure control freaks. If only there were some way for groups to have conversations together while in separate locations, and for managers measure productivity without needing to hover over their employees' shoulders!

Oh wait, there are. Slack, Skype for Business, even Discord can provide remote collaboration for groups. To say nothing of email and even that old classic, the telephone. (Remember telephones? And voice calls? They still exist, and still work for people who don't want to type!) Given a few more years, I expect that the HoloLens or other similar Mixed Reality devices will make effective telepresence a much closer reality too.

For managers, the answer is objective, measurable performance indicators. A manager who doesn't know or understand what his workers are doing, needs to fix his ignorance, not pull workers back into the office.

Don't get me wrong, physical presence is nice for some people. Folks who enjoy the social aspects of an office, find the home office too distracting, or simply don't have the space or hardware to work at home need an office location to go to. But for many others, there's just no reason to go into an office location every day.

If I have my way, I'll never work a job that's more than twenty minutes from my house again. I don't mind going to work with a short commute, but if I ever have to leave my current company, it'll have to be for a place that's either local, or offers a remote option.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Let's Play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - B2M3 - Kill K'Armyn Viraxo

Like MK says, it's time for some payback! This mission puts Ace back at the controls of the Otana, headed for a rendezvous with the infamous head of the Viraxo family.

Of course, things don't quite go smoothly. As Admiral Akbar would say, "It's a trap!" K'Armyn Viraxo's yacht is unmanned, with a half-dozen R-41 Starchasers waiting to pounce on you!

Fortunately, the R-41s, and the follow-up Z-95s and Muurian Transports, are no match for a YT-2000 like the Otana. It's a relatively simple mission to make quick work of the enemies, destroy Viraxo's yacht for good measure, then get away before Imperial entanglements arrive.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Navy Blows Stuff Up Good!

When my siblings and I were all in our teen years, our long-suffering mother decided she needed to better understand these strange, smelly, awkward things that infested her house, ate all her food, and generally acted like half-feral savages with alarming regularity.

She turned to The H.I.M. book, a guide to Highly Identifiable Males, a seriously tongue-in-cheek (but still highly accurate) book for dealing with men who are, well, men. Anyway, it starts off with the theory that part of what makes H.I.M.s the way they are is that sometime around age three, we lose part of our brain (probably the unimportant part that deals with processing lots of emotions) in an explosion. We spend the rest of our lives looking to get that part of our brain back, usually by viewing (or better yet, creating) bigger, and better explosions.

I don't know if that's true. What I do know, is that the Navy sure knows how to make, and film, some good explosions.

(h/t to for showing the original video.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

I Don't Miss GameDev Any More

I'm as surprised as anyone. We're hosting two camp councilors for our church this week, and one of them asked me if I missed being a game developer. If she'd asked me a year ago she would have gotten a different answer.

Almost two years of short commutes and predictable hours have had a pronounced effect on my attitude.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Let's Play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - Battle #2, Mission #2 - Ensnare Imperial Prototypes

Time to start hunting down a few of those weird TIE variants that popped up in the last mission. For this run, you're going in with Z-95 Headhunters armed with Ion torpedoes. Why they couldn't have sent some old Y-Wings rather than burning through their limited stock of Ion torpedoes is a question for high command. We just do as we're told.

The mission is to disable at least one each of all enemy craft attacking the bait convoy. Keep in mind that this includes the Escort Transports! The modified TIEs go down easily, so you'll want to save at least three or four torpedoes for the ETRs. Those things will chew your ship up with alarming speed!

Take your time, and be patient making runs at the ETRs, and you'll eventually get their shields down. Then close to point-blank range, and fire a pair of torpedoes to disable them.

All that's left then is to wait for the Heavy Lifters to haul one of each type out of the combat zone. Clean up the rest of the disabled fighters, and head for home to learn what secrets have been found out about these craft.

Monday, July 24, 2017

10K Training - Week 1 Complete

One week down, five more to go before I'm "ready" to run a 10K race. My Runkeeper app failed to capture one of my training days this week, but it looks like my best day was 6.35km, or 3.94 miles. The grand finale of each training week on this program is a distance run of increasing length, culminating in the sixth week where you're running a full 10km. For the end of Week One, though, the distance is "only" 5km. I'm pretty pleased by the fact that I ran at close to last October's race pace, finishing at 31:18.

Not especially fast by pro-runner standards, but a good mark allowing me to aim higher.

Not me, and not how I feel when running. (Image credit Runners World)

I can't say that I enjoy running, so much as that I endure it for the sake of amazing post-run beer. However, seeing visible progress and becoming more proficient at something physical and tangible always feels good.
Me after a run. I am not smiling, but I am better at running this week than I was last week. Next week I will be better at running than I was this week.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Let's Play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - Battle #2, Mission #1 - Flight Staff Transfer

It's moving day! You're being transferred from the Defiance to the Liberty and going anomaly hunting in the Outer Rim. Your first task is to ferry a replacement fighter over, while flying cover for the shuttles carrying staff members and squadron gear. Don't think too hard about how the Otana gets there.

On your way to the Liberty, your group receives a distress call from a convoy that's under attack by unidentified fighters! Your flight of four splits off, with you and one wingman jumping to the aid of the convoy.

Once there, you find some odd looking new TIE designs. Destroy them, defend the convoy, then jump back to the Liberty to complete your mission. The one difficult enemy will be the Escort Transport. Some hit and run maneuvers will allow you to take it out without too much difficulty. Just be patient and avoid being too aggressive.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Twitch Fitness FAQs

Below are a few common questions that I get during Twitch fitness streams. I figured I'd run them down here (and reprint them on my Twitch channel) for general reference purposes.

Q. Why do this to yourself?
 A. Short answer: Because I want to keep doing things that I enjoy for as long as I possibly can. Longer answer: I enjoy reading, playing video games, riding motorcycles, flying, and spending time with my kids. Devoting a few hours a week to fitness helps increase the likelihood that I can continue enjoying these activities longer, and hopefully give me a better quality of life down the road. None of that is guaranteed, of course, but the odds get better.

Q. What do you do?
A. I run during the part of the year where the weather is conducive, and have started supplementing that with a weightlifting plan geared around building running strength. My main focus right now is building strength and endurance for distance running. In the winter off-season I focus on strength training. I follow Running Mate for my running plans, and use the classic Weider system for weightlifting.

Q. How about diet?
A.  There's a saying that goes "You lose weight in the kitchen, you gain strength in the gym." I'm currently following a modified low-carb diet that includes a Bulletproof Coffee-style breakfast. I've lost twenty pounds in 2017.

Q. What are your goals?
A. I want to run two marathons before April 2021, when I turn forty-one. I also want to be benchpressing my own bodyweight within two years, and weigh around 180lbs.

Q. How are you progressing?
A. I ran my first 5K race last year and am training for a 10K this year. I plan to end my running season with the same 5K race as last year, and see how I've improved in a year.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Book Review - The Honorable Imposter

Continuing my summer church reading challenge, I picked up the first volume of a very long series by Gilbert Morris. While I'd not heard of Mr. Morris before, he was apparently quite the prolific author, publishing 283 books during his lifetime, according to Goodreads. His longest series, the House of Winslow novels, spans forty volumes, and is an historical fiction series following the lineage of one family throughout history.

Naturally, I started with Volume #1.

The Honorable Imposter takes place in the early 17th Century, as we meet our hero, Gilbert Winslow. An unenthusiastic divinity student, he is recruited by one of the English lords to infiltrate the Separatists in Holland, learn the whereabouts of William Brewster, and turn him over to the British Crown for execution.

Naturally, things don't go entirely according to plan. Gilbert finds himself falling in love with the young woman he planned to use to find Brewster, and at a critical moment suffers a nasty bout of conscience. This leads into the second half of the book, with Gilbert finding himself on the Mayflower, headed to Plymouth colony with the rest of the Separatists (or Pilgrims, as we have come to know them).

As a piece of historical fiction focused on a very religious historical group, the Christianity on display here makes perfect sense. The book also avoids the pitfall of all the good people being Christians while all the bad guys are not. As was historically true, most of the Mayflower's crew was not Christian, or at least not nearly so committed as the Separatist passengers. Some of the crew are good and helpful, others, less so.

It's clear that Morris did a fair bit of research before starting this series. The backdrops in England, Holland, and America are well described, and the actual historical characters such as William Bradford and William Brewster really come alive in the pages of the novel.

The weakest point, honestly, is Gilbert Winslow himself. Aside from remarkable fencing skills, he has very little to recommend him, and many of his major decision points seem forced. Where the surrounding historical characters live and breathe, Gilbert's plotline tends to run on rails with supernatural intervention making decisions for him.

Overall, it's not a bad book, just with a few problems. There's certainly far worse historical fiction out there. I'm going to give the next book in the series a shot and see if things improve.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Let's Play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - Battle 1, Mission 7 - Destroy Imperial Sensor Net

Finally the fleet gets the chance to make its escape. Just an Imperial sensor net stands in the way, so all fighters are launching to simultaneously strike multiple targets to obscure the primary vector.

This isn't an especially difficult mission. You're just flying escort for the primary attack birds, so kill the fighters and static defenses. Keep an eye out for the escape shuttle launching from the control station, if you don't kill it quickly, it will jump and you'll lose the bonus points.

After that, it's time for a cinematic, and a chance to see the results of your interdiction actions on the ISD Corrupter.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Halfway Through - Progress Check

At the beginning of the year, I put down a few goals. Since we're now halfway through, it's probably a good time to make a progress check, and see how I'm doing so far.

Still one of my favorite bike photos this year.

1. Motorcycle Stuff: Turns out there's no Experience Rider Courses in South Dakota this season. So much for that one. I did manage my first Iron Butt ride, though, so that one's complete!

2. Health and Fitness: Making progress. I'm just a few pounds away from being under 200lbs, and was lifting weights consistently for the first five months of the year. I'm currently taking a break from lifting to focus on 10k training with Adventure Girl, but the weights will come back in the fall.

3. Youtube/Twitch: It turns out a fair bit of people enjoy talking workout streams! Those were pretty popular, and will be back, again, in the fall. Followers are slowly increasing, and I hope to hit affiliate status soon!

4. Writing: I mean, this blog is getting updated regularly, and my Marooner's Rock byline is showing up regularly, so I guess that's doing all right.

5. Reading. Finished Atlas Shrugged. Finally. Jumped into a bunch of other books too.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Let's Play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - Battle 1, Mission 6 - Stop The Resupply Convoy!

Time for some serious work! The Imperial Star Destroyer Corrupter, which you discovered in your previous recon mission, was badly damaged during the Battle of Hoth. Your mission today is to interdict an Imperial resupply and repair convoy to prevent the Corrupter from getting back on its feet.

You'll be flying a B-Wing for the first time in this mission. While not a dogfighter like the X-Wing, the B-Wing can hold its own well enough against most Imperial fighters, and carries a massive torpedo load. At your first jump point, concentrate on taking out as many of the convoy ships as you can. Don't bother firing on the Monitor, it's going to jump away before you can do much damage.

In the second area, your priority is to clean up any remaining convoy craft that you missed previously, plus intercept shuttles carrying repair teams from the Monitor to the Corrupter. Beware of getting too close to the Corrupter, although it's damaged, there's nothing wrong with its turbolaser batteries.

Once the shuttles carrying the repair teams and all of the resupply convoy craft have been destroyed, you can leave. Destroy the Monitor if you're feeling aggressive.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

I Think A Trimming is in Order

Barring any late breaking surprises in the next few weeks, it appears that all my stuff is going to go into boxes once again for (hopefully) one last move for a long time. Given that the plan is to be in this new location for quite sometime, it feels like a perfect opportunity to take a hard look at some of my collections, sell off a few things that aren't needed, and then sell/donate/trash a bunch of other things that just take up space.

Not this, this is organized. Other things, however...

We'll see. More to come.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"Hey, Cool Prius! Rev it up for us, will you?"

- Said no kid ever. Motorcycles, on the other hand...

Light content day. Adventure Girl got her first group H.O.G. ride, a fifty mile jaunt through the countryside, surrounded by the thundering roar of twenty Harley V-Twins.

A scattered storm front turned the ride home a bit more exciting than I would have liked, however, as we ran from lightning behind us right into lightning ahead of us. I don't think I like getting caught in thunderstorms on a motorcycle.

Home safe though, with naught but a sore neck from high speeds, and a good story about a lightning strike close enough to light up the sky all around us.

More tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Let's Play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - B1M5 - Imperial Probe Droid Recovery

Back to take care of some more family business. Aeron has found a rogue Imperial Probe Droid that she thinks she can use to further the Azzameen family campaign against the Viraxo. All you have to do is pick it up and bring it to her.

There are a couple of other interested parties that you're going to need to diplomatically persuade to leave you alone, but that's not too difficult. The most important thing to remember is to drop your cargo (CTRL+R) before going into combat. Otherwise the unshielded probe droid capsule may take a couple of hits, and you fail your mission, plus it blocks the Otana's ventral turret.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Virtual Wings: Corellian Engineering Corporation YT-1300 Light Freighter Pilot Report

Ah, the YT-1300. No other antique hunk of junk has as wide a following, or as much remaining aftermarket support as these relics.

 Of course,the most famous YT-1300, the Millennium Falcon, has a lot to do with that.But even much less modified examples trade at higher values than their intended replacements, as these freight workhorses are gradually retired to museums and private collections. The example I would be flying was one of the latter, a mostly stock example belonging to an Outer Rim located enthusiast.

Visibility. The first thing you notice on entering the cockpit is the total lack of left-side visibility, a consequence of the YT-1300's off center cockpit position. Although the design offers easier cargo loading, and the ability to double as a cargo tug, it definitely causes some maneuvering challenges in close quarters.

The second thing to notice is the size of the cockpit area. Pilot and co-pilot sit side-by-side, with sufficient room behind them for a pair of jump seats ahead of the tunnel leading to the main cabin. Although single-pilot operation is possible, sentients lacking either Wookie-like stature or quad arms would be ill advised to make the attempt.

In flight, the YT-1300 handles better than most other light freighters of similar size. Speed is decent, though not enough to outrun a TIE Bomber or Y-Wing. Heavy shields, a dorsal gun turret, and a single fixed forward laser provide sufficient punch and survivability to dissuade casual piracy. No one will confuse stock or near stock examples with a snubfighter, however, and combat is something that should be avoided when possible.

The offset cockpit is generally not a problem, provided the pilot remembers that the bulk of the craft is off to the left. Total hull loss incidents have occurred, both with the YT-1300 and YT-2400 series, when this has been forgotten. The main effect of the offset is felt during hard, rolling turns. The internal gravity doesn't always keep up with the motion, causing centrifugal forces to push cockpit occupants towards the right side of the pod.

This disconcerting feeling of being shoved in two directions at once was what the B-Wing designers attempted to alleviate with their rotating cockpit design. Having flown both solutions, I find the each equally unpleasant. The YT series at least benefits from simplicity when compared to the B-Wing, but occupants of a YT series cockpit don't tend to be as well restrained as B-Wing pilots either.

For light freighter owner-operators, the choice of the YT-1300 is driven more by image than practicality. There are newer, more reliable ships. There are less expensive classics from the same era that will get the job done. But none of those freighters helped kill two Death Stars, or set a long-standing Kessel Run record.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Let's Play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - Battle 1, Mission 4 - Rescue Echo Base Prisoners

After the previous mission's recon, Alliance intel has discovered a prisoner transport taking some of the captives from Hoth to an Imperial prison. The Alliance fleet is going to execute a hit and run operation to rescue these prisoners!

Back in an X-Wing, you'll be flying fighter cover for the Y-Wings and Assault Transport as they disable and board the Imperial Dreadnought. Keep the fighters busy and be prepared to bug out when Imperial reinforcements arrive.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Book Reviews - Danger Close & Kiloton Threat by General William G. Boykin and Tom Morrisey

It's been a very long time since I've read any modern "Christian" fiction. The last series I read was the first few books in the Left Behind series, and that was enough to keep me away for a decade and a half.

However, with the arrival of my church's Summer Reading Challenge, I figured I should set a good example for my kids and participate as well. Our church has a small, but well stocked library, but while I love biographies, I didn't want to spend my whole summer reading them. Nor did I have much interest in romance novels, Christian or otherwise. Danger Close, however, caught my eye.

Co-authored by retired Army General William G. Boykin and Tom Morrisey, Danger Close follows the story of Blake Kershaw, a former Special Forces operative drawn into the secret world of CIA black ops and tasked with infiltrating an Al Qaeda cell to stop a plan for a major attack on American soil. It's difficult to determine how much of the writing was done by either author, but it's clear that General Boykin provided a lot of technical details - combat sequences, tactics, and weapon and equipment use all have an accuracy that many civilian authors struggle to find.

Kiloton Threat follows a similar arc to Danger Close, sending Blake back into harm's way on another extremely dangerous mission. This time the location is in Iran, and Israel is squarely in the crosshairs.
They also avoid another major problem in a lot of Christian fiction, one I like to call the "Every Secret Christian" trap. There's a tendency for some authors, when writing towards this specific audience, to make every good an helpful person a Christian, no matter how improbable that may be. Both Danger Close and Kiloton Threat avoid this pitfall. Blake and many of the people he works closely with are Christians, true, but members of other faiths, including Jews and Muslims, also prove to be trustworthy allies. In this regard, these two books are often more reflective of the real world than a lot of mainline fiction from authors who seem to conveniently forget that most of the world's population does believe in some form of religion, and that their religion does effect their daily lives.

These books aren't classic Tom Clancy levels of plotting or characters, however, I would definitely stack them up there with some of the second tier (but still quite interesting) authors like W.E.B. Griffin. In a lot of ways, since these books don't feature the sex and foul language often found in techno-thrillers, they have a lot more in common with YA novels. Good plot, interesting characters, but nothing you'd feel uncomfortable reading with an inquisitive 11-year-old reading over your shoulder. Highly recommended, and don't let the "Christian" imprint put you off.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Saddest Story I've Read in a While

Captain Capitalism likes to talk about good retirement, and about having a life that's worthwhile.

And then there's this guy: Meet the man behind the billboards. Worked hard, retired reasonably wealthy, decided that his retired life would best be spent putting up billboards around Sioux Falls and alienating literally everyone. Two ex-wives, no kids, and so out there that the actual local Democrat, feminist, and humanist groups don't want anything to do with him.

Don't end up like this guy. Make friends, find things that make life worth living.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Let's Play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - Battle 1, Mission 3 - Reconnaissance of Imperial Task Force

Alliance Intel needs to know what the main fleet in this sector is, so that we can work on making our escape. This means an A-Wing and a recon mission past a bunch of Imperial capital ships.

The main trick here is to fly evasively to evade the heavy fire coming from the various Corvettes, Battle Cruisers, and Star Destroyer. Get close enough to make your inspection, then move on to the next target. Use the A-Wing's speed to keep out of too much trouble.

Once you've inspected all the major Imperial craft, a few of them will launch probe droid capsules. By this time you've probably got some enemy fighters chasing you, so keep evading, but fly towards the various probe droid launches and destroy them with guns. Don't go for a missile shot, because the amount of time you have to hold still to get a lock will probably cause you to take a bunch of hits.

Once the probe droids are destroyed, it's time to go. Dogfight whatever fighters you need to to make your escape, or you can always try your luck at killing a few of the capital ships for bonus points.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Game Review - Everspace

Over on Marooner's Rock, I got the chance to review a new hybrid space sim/roguelike called Everspace!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Let's Play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - Battle 1, Mission 2 - Rescue Uncle Antan

Time to take care of some family business. It seems that your brother and sister have located the whereabouts of your Uncle Antan. Apparently the Rebel Alliance doesn't have any kind of strict policy on time off, because it's time to jump into the Otana and take care of business with the Viraxo.

Ignore the briefing suggestion to head straight for the platform, and take a bit of time to kill the Planetary Defense fighters. The Otana's turrets will make quick work of them, but you'll be a sitting duck on the platform if they're not all dead when you dock to have MK rescue your uncle.

After that it's just a matter of blowing up as much stuff as you're comfortable with, up to and including the Imperial reinforcements.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Fantasy Four Garage

CycleWorld asked "What four motorcycles would you put in your Dream Garage?" I might have given this a bit more thought than necessary while riding my jack-of-all-trades Sportster, but here goes.

The Daily Rider - 2017 Harley-Davidson CVO limited
Official Harley-Davidson photo

My Sportster is a great all-around bike, but if I had a garage for four, then all-around is out, and purpose built is in. The CVO Limited is a bike built to eat pavement miles by the hundreds, and do it in comfort and at speed. You get all the creature comforts, with performance to hang with a Camaro or Mustang. This would be my daily commuter, and my perfect choice for racking up Iron Butt tours.

The Sportbike - Ducati 998
I definitely want to try a sportbike. Maybe not own one, lest I acquire far too many "Performance Driving Certificates" from the local constabulary, but if it's my dream garage... I'll be honest though, the choice of this specific bike has to do with a single influential scene form the mediocre sequel to an great movie.

The Mountain Goat - Ural Gear Up
Photo credit IMZ Ural
 The "Perfect Year" is close to impossible in South Dakota. I'm not saying completely impossible, because I'm sure some hearty soul might do it, but when snow and ice show up, pretty much everything with two wheels goes into hibernation. Not the Ural. Built to handle Siberia, a South Dakota winter is nothing. Just throw on the two wheel drive, plug in your heated gear, and away you go!

The Classic - 1942 Harley-Davidson WLA
Photo via wikipedia
 No complicated reasoning here. I'd love to own a classic Harley, and I'd love to own a running piece of military history. This would be the bike for summer evening rides, for small town parades, for car shows and airshow displays. Ridden enough to keep in condition, and always forgiven for marking its spot in the garage.

The best thing about this list? All four of these could be reasonably acquired for under $100,000. A lot of money, sure, but far less than a super-car dream garage would run. Who knows, maybe someday this dream will be a reality.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Backlog Burndown 23 - Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter - Balance of Power

I haven't forgotten about the Backlog Burndown. However, things have been a bit hectic, what with summer schedules, and it's mostly going on hiatus until fall, when weather turns colder and darker.


 I must be getting older, because sitting inside playing video games on a sunny June day has a lot less appeal to me than going outside and riding my motorcycle somewhere, or taking my kids to a park.

Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter - Balance of Power, however, is a game that was part of my #ForceFriday streams. I finally finished it a couple months ago, and got around to publishing the Backlog Burndown column for it.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Let's Play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance Battle 1, Mission 1 - Convoy Attack

Finally, some real action. Granted this mission is as close to a Milk Run as you're going to get, but at least you're finally up against real opposition. Kill a few fighters, try to ID the convoy craft before the Y-Wings turn them into so much space dust, then annoy the Strike Cruiser until it either dies or runs away.

Monday, June 26, 2017

One Year In - Thoughts on My Sportster

Much like last week's gear review, a year of riding is also a good time to reflect a bit on my choice of steeds. After five thousand miles, I've kind of gotten a feel for what I like and don't like. Is it time to dump the starter bike for something else? Maybe a street bike or dual sport?
The day I picked her up.
The short answer is "No!" I won't be changing rides anytime soon, well, unless H-D announces the Milwaukee Eight engine coming to the Dyna chassis in 2018, that would change my mind right quick, but barring that, I'll be sticking with my Sporty for some time to come, possibly until Adventure Girl is old enough to have it passed on to her.

The thing is, when I picked out a bike, I wanted a good all around ride. Something that I could commute comfortably on, with room to pick up a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread on the way home if needed. I wanted something that would be able to handle an occasional road trip, let me ride two-up with my kids around town, and with enough power to put a smile on my face and pass traffic at South Dakota interstate speeds.

My Sporty does all of that. Sure, she's a little short-legged for long trips, but after a hundred miles or so, you kind of want to get off and stretch anyway. There are faster bikes, there are bikes that carve up corners better, but I'm not going to track days anyway, so those capabilities aren't very useful to me.

Now, there are a few things I plan on changing. The wind protection is a bit lacking for my six foot, one inch frame. My current solution proved itself out on my Iron Butt ride, however, it's definitely a function but ugly solution. I'd like to go to a batwing fairing, possibly over the winter.

Ugly, but effective. Like an A-10 Warthog.

It's a similar story for my handlebars, they're just a little too low and far away to be comfortable over distances. There's probably a set of mini-apes in my future.

Still, long distance comfort changes aside, the Sportster has proven a solid, reliable choice. Fuel economy is usually more than 10mpgs better than my Saturn, and maintenance has been limited to normal wear items.

There's enough power for me to throw it around a bit in sweeping highway on-ramps, and if I look a bit silly hanging half off a cruiser in the turn, well, I don't care, because I'm smiling and gunning the throttle the whole time! That's really the most important part. Every time I put my gear on, go outside, put the key in the ignition, flip the fuel injection switch and flick the start button, I get a big smile on my face. It doesn't matter whether I'm riding five miles, or five thousand, the moment I hear that "Doom, da-doom, da-doom, da-doom" sound booming from the tailpipe, I know I'm going to have a good time.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Let's Play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - Joining the Alliance, Mission #2

This is one of those fairly standard dogfighting missions. Starts off easy enough, with a 1v1, progresses to 4v1, then you start adding wingmen.

It can be a little glitchy at times, but basically just fly normal, and shoot anything hostile.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sorry Tested - Testers are Makers Too!

The Tested channel on Youtube is a very cool channel run by former Mythbuster (yes, I know he's done a lot more than just Mythbusters, but that's what everyone knows him from) Adam Savage. This week, in celebration of National Week of Making, they've been running video essays from various makers.

Now these are very cool, and inspiring, but one of them kind of set me off a little. Here it is below.

Let me preface this by saying that what this woman is doing is fantastic. I'm glad that she loves coding, got into game design, and is encouraging more people to follow her path.

But, I have a huge issue with the idea that game testers, or testers in general, can't be makers. Now I'll admit, I'm a bit biased, what with being a tester for most of my career. But that's kind of the point. I'm a tester. I'm also a maker, specifically in the professional sense that she's talking about.

Okay, entry level game testing isn't much of a maker position. You're given a game, provided a series of test cases to execute, and if you have any decent amount of initiative, you'll soon be ad-hoc testing other areas when you have nothing assigned. However, anyone who can get past their first month in QA will quickly find that they're making things. It may just be bug reports at first. Then it moves into test cases, area test plans, and eventually test plans for an entire game!

Testers with coding aptitude often migrate to QA Engineering (like I did) where you're building entire small scale programs to solve problems encountered by other members of QA, and to automate some of the worst drudgework in testing. THAT'S MAKING!!!

One of the big tenets of the Maker community is having a curiosity for how things work. A lot of people talk about this manifesting for them in a fascination with taking things apart, and putting them back together again. Testers take things apart. We look for new ways to take things apart, new ways to combine things that developers haven't thought of yet, but that some user out there will.

Testers absolutely are makers, and I very much hope that this video doesn't discourage some brilliant future tester (who may go on from testing to be a fantastic game designer, programmer, artist, or any number of other paths for which QA provides an entry point) from going into the industry because "I guess testers are just consumer-grade controller monkeys."

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

One Year In - Riding Gear Review

After celebrating a year riding by accomplishing one of my long-term goals, I figure it's time to take a good look at my gear. I ride ATGATT (All The Gear, All The Time) both for reasons of personal safety, and because I will require my kids to ride that way while they're under my roof, and I don't want to have any more "Do as I say, not as I do" arguments than I'm going to end up having anyway.

Let's start with my helmet.

Helmet: Harley-Davidson Branded HJC IS_MAX 2

Pretty much this one, only with the H-D logo on the forehead rather than HJC. It's not a super expensive helmet, but seems to work well. It's broken in to be pretty comfortable, enough so that I was perfectly fine having it perched on my head for all the riding I did for the Bun Burner 1500. The visor is pre-drilled for Pinlock, which is an absolute necessity for riding into the fall, and the integrated sun visor works well without interfering with my prescription glasses

I do wish the chin vents had a screen of some sort though. I've enjested a couple of bugs onto the inside of my visor that had to be dealt with by quickly flipping the visor up to clear them. Not my favorite kind of surprise!

Overall though, this helmet has been a good performer for me. It's reasonably quiet, and the modular design comes in handy when stuck in traffic or needing to take a drink of water on a long ride, without compromising my overall safety the way a half- or three-quarter helmet would. I should have bought it in white though. Black cooks my head in the summer

Jacket: Harley-Davidson FXRG Switchback Textile Riding Jacket

This thing is brilliant. Definitely my favorite bit of gear. It breaks down into four separate layers, with built in CE rated elbow and shoulder armor in the base mesh layer, plus a pocket for a back protector. I do wish the back protector came with the jacket, because it was a $65 extra item, and a bit of a squeeze to get into the pocket.

In the summer, the mesh layer gives pretty good protection, while allowing plenty of airflow to stay cool once you're moving. In the spring and fall, I gradually add/subtract layers as need. With the windshield on my motorcycle, this keeps me comfortable in 30 degree freeway riding, and becomes my winter coat when it's January and -15 degrees. When this jacket eventually fails, I'll buy another one. It's well worth the money.

Gloves: Alpinestars SP-2s
These are great summer gloves. Well vented, pre-curved for less hand fatigue on long rides, and I'm very confident in their protection level. My only issue is that ventilation gets severely excessive when the temperature drops below about 60 degrees. A good set of thermal liners helps, but I need to find another pair of gloves for approximately October - April.

Pants: Spidi Motorcycle Jeans & Strength & Tourmaster Pants
 My ride everywhere pants in the summer are Spidi Motorcycle Jeans. They're reinforced for better durability, and have CE rated armor in the knees and hips. They're well ventilated, but they get heavy when you're off the bike. Certainly better protection than just a regular pair of Wranglers, but not a lot of fun to wear when you're off the bike in the summer.

When colder weather hits, I throw a pair of overpants on. This makes commuting a lot easier, since I just keep my work pants on underneath rather than changing at work. They're also nice for freeway riding in cooler temperatures. I pull the hip and knee armor out of the overpants, leave them in my Spidi jeans, and am decently warm at high speeds.

Feet: Milwaukee Motorcycle Boots
They're boots. They do the job, they're reasonably durable, and they seem like they'll stay together pretty well. I really wish I'd bought a pair with a side zipper, which would have been much less of a pain in the ass put on and off all the time.