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!