Friday, March 31, 2017

Star Wars: X-Wing vs.TIE Fighter - Balance of Power - Imperial Task Force Vengeance Mission #2

Ah, now we're talking. The thing that sets the Imperial campaign apart from the Rebel one is that the Imperial side spends a lot more time on offense. Starting right here, with taking over a supply yard.

This is the template that a lot of the following missions will run - play a little bit of defense for some capturing transports or other ships, but mainly blow up a bunch of stuff! There's plenty of challenges ahead, but this is where it starts get fun.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Guns on a Fighter - How Hardware Problems Became Software Problems

In my professional guise as a Software Test Engineer, I sometimes run across stories that make me wish I could spend a few hours picking the brains of the test lead on some project or another. The recent articles about the F-35B/C’s gun pod, and last year’s articles about the F-35A’s internal gun issues were one such example. How far we’ve come in a hundred years or so, that the function of a fighter aircraft’s most basic weapon can be impeded by software problems.
The Fokker Eindecker, the first successful fighter fitted with Interrupter gear. Despite its spindly appearance, it gave rise to the "Fokker Scourge". Source

It certainly wasn’t always this way. In World War I, when pilots abandoned their handguns, grenades, and rifles in favor of fixed machine-guns, the first problem was where to mount them? Two-seat aircraft mostly began by giving the weapons to the observer. Single-seaters tried mounting them above the wing, firing clear of the propeller arc, or placing the engine and propeller at the rear to allow a clear forward firing position.

Largely through trial-and-error, it was discovered what seems obvious in hindsight: that for a single-seat, maneuverable fighter, the best place for guns to be placed was in the direct line of sight of the pilot, firing over the nose of the aircraft. “All” the pilot had to do was point the nose of the aircraft where he wanted the bullets to go. Unfortunately, since most aircraft of the time also hung their single engine and propeller on the nose, placing machine-guns behind the propeller tended to have negative consequences once bullets started impacting the spinning propeller blades.

Solving this clearance problem was a hardware issue, not software. Interrupter gear, a clever mechanical system of synchronizing a machine-gun and propeller so that the gun fired only when the bullet would not hit a propeller blade, was the ultimate answer. Other options were tried, however, particularly by the British and French forces. Most famously, Roland Garros equipped his Morane-Saulnier Type L with steel wedges on the propeller to deflect bullets which otherwise cause damage. This worked as well, but the degraded propeller and engine performance meant that the solution was abandoned for synchronization gear once it became available.

The gun remains an integral part of almost every fighter and attack aircraft’s arsenal. The experiences of the Vietnam War, where gun-less F-4 Phantoms found themselves in knife fights with cannon-armed MIGs seared the requirement into the institutional memory of the U.S. Air Force. No USAF fighter is likely to be without a gun for a very long time to come.
Despite being primarily a attack bomber, the gun equipped F-105 scored 24 of its 27 kills in Vietnam with its internal 20mm cannon. Source

That being said, it does seem that the gun has become less vital than ever. Where the F-16 has the capacity for up to 511 rounds for its M61A1 20mm cannon, the F-35A carries only 182 for its 25mm GAU-12. This decrease in capacity means that every shot needs to count.

And thus we come back to the software problem. Where WWI pilots used a basic aiming reticle and fought at slow speeds and point-blank ranges, the F-35 uses a helmet mounted sight and integrated aiming to assist with accuracy. That takes targeting software. The gun itself has to be hidden behind a small door when not in use, that too requires a software solution, not mechanical, to ensure that the shutter is always opened before the gun fires.
F-35A near a refueling tanker. The internal cannon is hidden inside the bulge on the upper fuselage ahead of the wing root. Source

That’s a lot of unit testing. That’s a lot of systems integration testing. That’s a whole lot of regression and halo testing, because the targeting system is concerned with a lot more than just the gun, and the flight computers have to be involved too because the position of the gun causes a slight yawing motion when fired.

My hat’s off to the QA department at Lockheed Martin.

Research aided by Wikipedia, and

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Backlog Burndown #18 - Invisible Zero on Marooner's Rock

Thanks to some help from some alert developers, my Invisible Apartment playthrough got back underway on Marooner's Rock.

"Invisible Apartment Zero is the prequel episode to Invisible Apartment, tells the story of how our protagonist Kacey became a hacker on the run in the megacity. Originally, the four total episodes were released separately, however a 2016 update rolled them into a single launcher. Under this format, the first chapter appears on Steam as the game, with episodes Zero, Two, and Three showing up as DLC."
Click the picture to check out the full story.

Invisible Apartment is available on Steam.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter - Balance of Power - Imperial Task Force Vengeance Mission 1

We're finally back to Star Wars missions on Youtube! Assuming I've done math properly and can hold a timetable, this should* be a consistent run for the next seven weeks!

Today we start with Mission #1, an remarkably difficult start to the Imperial campaigns. There's ships to inspect, pirates and Rebels to destroy, and two friendly capital ships to protect. The Imperial Star Destroyer Rage is helpful enough, but the Interdictor Compellor is remarkably fragile - a problem that will come up a few more times during this campaign.

In fact, I would definitely recommend playing through the Rebel campaign first. Not to say that the Rebel campaign is easy in the slightest bit, but the difficulty curve doesn't start with a massive spike.

*Provided nothing crazy happens.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Virtual Wings - Sienar Fleet Systems TIE/ln PIREP

The company had invited me back. This time, I’d be sampling their aggressor birds, ex-Imperial craft that were used primarily to provide dissimilar craft training for client contracts, but also led a second life teaching pilots the ins and outs of these lethal craft.
First up was the standard bearer of the Imperial Fleet, the TIE Fighter. Nicknamed “Eyeball” by Rebel/Resistance pilots, the scream of its twin ion engines was known throughout the galaxy. Produced in massive quantities, it could still be found equipping backwater garrisons, forming the basis of various ugly hybrids, and in the hands of private militias and collectors.

While not produced with hyperdrives, life support, beams, or shield systems, various field modifications adding some or all of these systems were also common. However, without an upgraded reactor, performance suffered with these modifications. Provision for mounting warhead launchers was standard, and since these did not degrade the flight envelope, they were fitted often enough in Imperial service that their presence could never be discounted.

The cheap, spare design was completely intentional. It made it possible to mass produce the fighters with low-skilled conscript labor forces, and minimally trained pilots flying their expendable ships were a core Imperial doctrine during the rule of Emperor Palpitane. No hyperdrive meant those same pilots would be unable to escape during deployments.

Entering the TIE Fighter was an experience unto itself. Unlike Alliance snub fighters which were designed with landing gear, TIEs were designed to sit in racks and be launched via an external controller. While the wing panels were reinforced to allow them to be used as landing skids, this was largely an emergency-only procedure, save in some ground-based garrison locations. As such, ingress required the assistance of a crew chief to help me get into position, and ensure that my life support systems were properly connected.

Once inside, visibility was appalling. The huge front window gave excellent forward visibility, but everything else was only visible through monitors connected to external cameras. Beam and warhead warning systems provided some threat detection, but pilots lost a lot of their situational awareness by not being able to see behind them.

Start-up was quick, with the twin Ion Engines providing their characteristic shriek as soon as they were throttled up. We cruised out of the traffic pattern at half power, then throttled up the engines up into a scream to clear into the practice area. Through all this, the cockpit was surprisingly quiet. The engine scream reverberated throughout the hull, but the lack of cockpit air provided a significant deadening effect despite the lack of sound deadening. I found the seating position significantly less comfortable than Alliance fighters, however, likely another artifact of a ship designed for short range use.

In actual combat testing, the TIE Fighter’s biggest advantage was the close grouping of its dual laser cannons. Much like the Y-Wing, the close grouping maximized hits when dual linked. The Eyeball’s legendary maneuverability failed to live up to expectations though. Only slightly better in turning than the X-Wing, the TIE managed only the same max speed while being unshielded and vulnerable. While it was certainly a superior fighter to the Y-Wing or Z-95 Headhunter, it was clearly outclassed against later Alliance craft, and only its massive production quantities and overwhelming numerical advantages had kept it somewhat relevant.
 After returning to base, being helped out of the cockpit by the crew chief, and finally taking off the bulky environmental suit, I mainly felt sympathy for the beings who’d been required to fly these things for the Empire on a regular basis. Every design element seemed to emphasize that the pilot was merely an expendable cog in a massive machine, as mass-produced and replaceable as a Stormtrooper’s blaster, and equally lacking in individual agency. And unlike me, who had a comfortable bed and personal ship to be able to return to, regular TIE pilots had no such luxury. Life in an Imperial squadron or garrison was even more soul-sucking and regimented than flight-ops could ever be.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Backlog Burndown: Telltale Texas Hold'Em

Backlog Burndown's Let's Play takes on Telltale Texas Hold'Em, Telltale Game's first version of what became a very fun single-player poker series.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Book Review - Dresden Files #4 - Summer Knight

There was quite a pause for me between reading the first three Dresden books, and finally getting back into the universe with book #4 (and we’re up to fifteen now, with a sixteenth still on the horizon… somewhere). Fortunately, Summer Knight had just enough reflection on the previous books to jog my memory, but really, a new reader could jump right in with this book and not miss a beat.

Save for some deep insight behind the depth of Harry’s brooding, backstory on his werewolf comrades, and more understanding of why so many people seem to want him dead, Summer Knight is basically a self-contained adventure.

For those unfamiliar with the series, the Dresden Files books are urban fantasy set mostly in and around modern day Chicago. With the first book written in 2000, there’s a solid argument to be made that it was one of the series at the forefront of what has become a very popular sub-genre. Our main protagonist, Harry Dresden is Chicago’s only advertised wizard, and is something of a supernatural detective noir who compliments his pistol with a blasting rod and staff.

Summer Knight revolves around a fae-world mystery – the Summer Knight, the Summer Queen’s right-hand, has been murdered, and the Winter Queen wants the murder solved before the imbalance of power forces both sides to war. Since, in the Dresden world, the fae are actually the ones who control the weather, having Summer and Winter rebalancing their power in a knock-down, drag-out war would be a Very Bad Thing for every human hanging around Planet Earth.

Naturally, Harry has to solve this murder in three days, while dodging murder attempts, a Wizard’s council that mostly also wants him dead, and dealing with the re-appearance of his first love as the Summer kingdom’s representative in the investigation. Naturally things do not go smoothly. But then, it would be a pretty short book if they did.

As always, I enjoyed Jim Butcher’s foray take on the unseen world. The Dresden universe is well thought-out, with details that feel perfectly plausible. Harry is an excellent main character, skilled at what he does but hardly hyper-competent. The action scenes fly fast, and I came to the end of the book far sooner than I would have liked. Then again, a Dresden book is one of those series that will get me to stay up late reading just one more chapter.

For those who’ve never gotten into the Dresden Files, Summer Knight is a great place to start. Perhaps better, actually than Storm Front, the first book in the series, since Butcher’s style has evolved and gained polish as the series goes on. Any way you choose though, the series won’t disappoint.

I was not compensated in any way for this review. Amazon links are affiliated, I will make a small pittance back if this review motivates someone to buy the book.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Backlog Burndown #17 - Telltale Texas Hold'Em on Marooner's Rock

The backlog battles continue with Telltale Texas Hold'Em, today on Marooner's Rock.

The game, as the name suggests, a single-player Texas Hold’Em simulator. You play against four opponents, each with their own personality and tells. There’s Harry the professional-ish player, with a by-the-book strategy; Boris the most-likely a mob hitman who plays aggressive but calculated; Theodore the fratboy who plays dumb and aggressive; and Grandma, who plays a slow, calculated game right up until she crushes you.
It's not a terrible game, it's just... those jaggies. Ouch.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Logitech Mouse Double-Click Fix Attempt - New Youtube Video

A bit different video today. Last fall I made an attempt to fix my favorite mouse, a Logitech G700 that had fallen prey to the double-click problem that seems to plague older mice in this series. It... well, let's just say it didn't go precisely by the numbers and leave it at that.

Monday, March 20, 2017

More Marooner's Rock - Lightspeed Frontier EA Preview

Over on Marooner's Rock, I take a longer look at Riveted Games Lightspeed Frontier. Now that it's out on Early Access on Steam, I can go much more in depth with the game. I'm genuinely excited to see where this one goes, I feel like it has a lot of promise.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Backlog Burndown: Streets of Chaos

Backlog Burndown takes on Streets of Chaos. Billed as a sort of turn based city conqueror thing, it may well be the most boring game I've played during the burndown thus far.

Read the full Backlog Burndown column on Marooner's Rock.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Airport Explorations #1 - Y14

It started with an unseasonably warm weekend in March. In South Dakota, when the weather gives you temperatures in the 60s on a Sunday afternoon, with clear skies and dry roads, you have to take advantage. Out of the garage came the Sportster, for the second time this year. But unlike the first ride of the year, where I had no destination or plan, this time I had a goal.

Roughly fifteen minutes south is a small general aviation airport (Y14) where I hope, one day soon, to complete my Private Pilot’s license. That day hasn’t come yet, however I had it in my mind to at least find the airport that I’d only seen from the freeway and see what there is to see.

The A-7D, and my ride.
I got a Cessna on final approach crossing above a two-lane county road at less than fifty feet. I found my local EAA chapter (maybe it’s time for me to get my EAA membership and start attending meetings, considering my future plans!) I found an A-7D Corsair II serving as an airport mascot and guardian, and a mystery.
Dedication plaque

According to the dedication plaque, the A-7D standing its silent, final watch is Air Force S/N 70-1050, flown by the South Dakota Air National Guard from 1977 to 1991. One can only imagine the lack of enthusiasm that greeted the news in 1977 that these fighter pilots would be trading their sleek, supersonic, delta-winged F-102 “Deuces” for the attack aircraft nicknamed “SLUF” for “Slow, Little, Ugly Fellow (or usually a more vulgar F-word)”. The A-7 didn’t even have an afterburner!

The mystery however, comes from a bit of research about the actual history of this specific aircraft. According to Wikipedia’s sources, A-7D S/N 70-1050 was destroyed during a terrorist attack in Puerto Rico in1981, making it rather unlikely that the same airframe was restored and placed in South Dakota sixteen years later.

What airframe is actually displayed at Y14? I have no idea. Clearly a return visit to look for more information is in order.

All of this has given me a great idea though. According to the current FAA sectionals, there are at least fifteen or twenty GA airports within a two hour riding radius of me. Exploring more of these during the riding season, sounds like some great destination plans. Who knows what other cool things I’m going to find!

Edit (4/6/2017) - See New Post for the solution to the SLUF's identity.