Caster's Corner - Livestreaming on Twitch

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day 2016

Enjoy a day off, and remember those who paid for this freedom with their lives.

Spend some time reading stuff by people smarter, and more articulate about it than me.

This Weekend - Chant du Depart

Decoration Day - Roberta X

My Heroes - Bayou Renaissance Man

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Museum Stories - The Laser 200

In 1992, 1994, and 1996, my family made the long road trip from our home in Southern California up to Reno for the annual Reno Air Races. I don’t remember which one Leo Loudenslager performed at, maybe it was all of them, but I remember that very distinct name, and seeing him fling his little custom aerobatic aircraft through an amazing set of maneuvers.

What I didn’t know at the time, was what a pioneer Leo had been. The only person to win 7 World Aerobatic titles, his custom Laser 200 was cutting edge for its time, and practically the grandfather of the Edge 360s and similar aircraft that are flown by many of today’s top aerobatics performers, and of course in the Red Bull Air Races.

Leo Loudenslager's Laser 200 as it's displayed at
NASM's Udvar-Hazy center

I love that the NASM hung the aircraft vertically. The Laser was built for unusual attitudes, and standing a few feet away, it’s easy to imagine that your perch is an impossible one in the clouds, as you watch Leo dance his aircraft across the sky.

The Laser 200 in flight.

And for a bonus, here's Leo's routine from Reno 1993.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Introspection - Doing Things Half-Way

When my family moved to your new location, we got a rental house in one of the city's historical districts. Built sometime around 1904, it's a classic home with a lot of, let's call it character.

The problem with character though, is that it takes a lot of work to maintain properly. And while this is a rental, it's pretty clear that not only has it not always been maintained well, but sometimes people came in with some big ideas, and didn't really follow through.

For example, the Second floor used to have carpet. How do I know? Because the baseboards are a half-inch or more off the floor, set up for carpet that someone ripped out at some point to expose the nice hardwood floorboards underneath.

Of course those floorboards are also pretty scuffed and scratched from decades of use, to say nothing of the carpet laying on top of it for who knows how long. They really need a major resurfacing (if they can be salvaged at all), and the baseboards need to be redone and lowered to eliminate the gaps in the flooring. Then you'd need to repaint.

But for the person who ripped out the carpet, that's where they stopped. Why did they leave the job half-done? Who knows. Maybe they ran out of money, or time, or interest. Maybe all three. I may never know.

What I do know, is that living in a constant reminder of what half-done looks like has been motivational for me. It's a problem I've been guilty of far too often myself. Major hobby projects get half finished, and left, to eventually be either redone, or tossed, depending on the project in question. I should put the coffee down, I'm not a closer.

But I'm getting better. When I think about starting a new game, adding another project to my overloaded TODO list before I remove two, I walk up the stairs, and take a long, hard look and the floor, and the gap between the baseboards. And I remind myself of what not finishing what I've started looks like.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Night Fighters - WWII Pacific Theater

The Japanese military never really caught up to the other major players in terms of Radar development during World War II. This meant that American (and British) night fighters operating in the Pacific theater had a lot less work intercepting enemy fighters, and a lot more time dealing with night bombing raids, and conducting air to ground and anti-shipping attacks, tasks which their heavy cannon armaments made them well suited for.

In the American Army Air Force, the primary night fighters were the P-70 Nighthawk, a development of the A-20 Havoc attack bomber, and the P-61 Black Widow. It was a P-61 Lady in the Dark that is unofficially credited with making the last kill of the war, forcing a Japanese fighter into the ocean.
P-70 Nighthawk in flight. Introduced in 1942, it was totally supplanted
by the P-61 Black Widow by 1944.
P-61C (flying model) in flight. Because I can never have enough
Black Widow pictures

For the Navy, another solution was required. The medium bomber sized night fighters of the AAF simply wouldn’t work on a carrier. Fortunately, the AN/APS-4 (and later AN/APS-6) radars were sufficiently developed that the F6F-3 and F6F-5 Hellcats could carry them in a set of fairings in the belly and right wing. It wouldn't win any beauty contests (not that the Hellcat ever would anyway) but it was effective. So effective in fact, that the replacement for the F6F-5N would be the radar equipped F4U-5N Corsair, which would serve through the Korean conflict.
F6F-5 Hellcat. Note the telltale fairing on the right wing containing sensors.

Monday, May 16, 2016

What I Got From Sixteen Years of Baseball Card Collecting

Yes, sixteen years. I don't know the exact day when my grandmother first gave me a couple packs of 1988 Donruss Baseball, a small shoebox, and some rubber bands, but it was definitely some time in '88, and it helped kick something off that's still going today.

Judging by their condition, these are probably two of the first cards I got.

A lot of people my age and older talk about how reading the stats on the backs of baseball cards was the first time they really understood math concepts like percentages, averages, and ratios. When you figure out the formula to calculate a batting average or an earned run average for yourself, it suddenly makes more sense than all the dry story problems about "Suzy bought 20 apples for $1.26, 10 oranges for $1.87, 2 kiwi fruit for $4,38, and 7 kumquats for $0.68. What is the average cost of each piece of fruit Suzy purchased?"

For me, later, there would be other benefits as well. By the time I'd graduated college with my shiny new Computer Science degree, I'd accumulated a decent sized collection. Not any particular great shakes, but big enough to make tracking what I had somewhat unwieldy.

I tried using duplicates of the set checklists to see what I had (assuming the set had checklists and that I had them in the first place.) I tried using paper checklists. (Too many cards to be effective, and the lists had to be kept updated with new sets.) I tried a spreadsheet (in Excel '97. Enough said.)

But hey, I had a CS degree, I had a copy of Microsoft Access '97, and I knew databases. How hard could it be to make my own Access/SQL database to track my inventory?

As it turns out, rather more difficult than I thought. However, the protracted side development (and eventual abandonment of the project) taught me several lessons in software development that I've never forgotten. Things about scope creep, and estimation of effort were lessons that I learned before I knew the proper terms for them. Add to that some valuable SQL experience that stood me in decent stead on my resume.

Who knows, maybe one day I'll tackle that development project again. There's certainly enough things that bother me about Beckett's Organize system (and especially their barely functional iOS app) that I'm certainly tempted to roll my own again at times.

But perhaps not. If I've learned one thing over the years of trying to find solutions to this particular problem, it's that an 80% solution that you have now, is far, far better than a 100% solution that you'll have eventually, some day, maybe.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Night Fighter History - World War II European Theater, German Aircraft

German night fighter development in WWII largely followed a similar path to that of British fighter development. For the bulk of the war, the primary night fighters were the Ju-88 C/R/G, a conversion of the Ju-88 fast medium bomber, and the Bf-110, a twin-engine heavy fighter which, though too slow for day use, was able to loft the heavy early radar sets and attack the British bomber raids.

One of the chief innovations of the the German night fighters was the Schräge Musik (translated to "Jazz Music") weapon mounting, where one or two 20mm or 30mm cannon were mounted at around a 70° upwards angle in the mid-fuselage. This allowed the aircraft to fly underneath enemy bombers and attack with less risk.
Messerschmitt Bf. 110G night fighter
Radar equipped Junkers Ju-88
A number of other aircraft were deployed as night fighters, however most of them were either not sufficient improvements over the Ju-88s and Bf-110s, or not produced in sufficient numbers to make a difference. One of the most interesting one, however, was the Heinkel He 219. First operational in June 1943, it was the only German night fighter capable of matching the Mosquito.

Looking somewhat gangly on its tricycle gear, the Uhu (Owl) generally carried an armament of six 20mm cannons facing forwards, and a pair of 30mm cannons in the Schräge Musik position.

NASM's He 219 in July 2015.
Engines and wing panels. Hopefully it'll be fully assembled next time I visit.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Game Review: ChromaGun

This plot may sound a little familiar: Mysterious corporate entity invites you in as a volunteer "test subject" to test their new prototype gun. You progress through a series of white-walled chambers, sometimes encouraged by a semi-snarky voice.

Okay, it's basically the plot of Portal. But, in a well executed game, with enough of a different hook to make things interesting, that's not really a bad thing, now is it?

ChromaGun is essentially a Portal-style game, where you solve puzzles by mixing colors. Your only weapon is the eponymous ChromaGun, which fires blobs of super adhesive red, yellow, and blue paint. Combining two colors will give you orange, green, and purple colors as well, combining all three colors (or hitting orange, green, or purple painted objects with any color) will give you brown.

Using these seven colors on the walls, ceiling, and worker bots, you progress through eight chapters (roughly fifty rooms total) of puzzles.

The puzzle rooms are, with a couple of exceptions, well thought out, and gradually reveal new mechanics as you go. The plot, well, the announcer talking to you throughout the puzzles is male, so that's different than Portal at least. Plot isn't really that important to a puzzle game though, provided the game is fun, and this is.

Overall, I definitely recommend this game, it's a fun 3-5 hour set of puzzles, challenging enough for adults, but also kid appropriate. In fact, I'm probably going to let my ten-year-old have a go at it next week.

You can find ChromaGun on Steam.

Schedule This Week:
Mechwarrior Misadventures returns to Twitch on Monday night, 9:30-ish and running for a half hour.
Star Wars: TIE Fighter playthrough continues on Saturday

More World War II aviation history coming on Thursday.

Pixel Maniacs provided me with a free key for ChromaGun and asked me to play it. No promises of positive reviews or anything else were provided in return, I just really enjoyed the game.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Night Fighter History - World War II European Theater - Allied Aircraft

As the Battle of Britain ended, and the German Luftwaffe moved to night raids on British cities, it became apparent that using ground radar guidance and mostly obsolescent day fighters, or unsuitable oddballs such as the Boulton-Paul Defiant, was inssuficient to deal with the German bomber streams. What was needed, was something that could carry a more powerful armament, while still being able to lift the heavy early radar systems.

Enter the Bristol Beaufighter. A successful development of the Beaufort torpedo bomber, Beaufighter Mk. I and Mk. II models carried a quartet of 20mm cannons in the lower fuselage, and had sufficient space in the nose to mount a radar. Beaufighters served in this role until mid 1942, when they were replaced by the ultimate British nightfighter (among its many extremely successful roles) the de Havilland Mosquito.
A Merlin equipped Beaufighter Mk. II
Beginning with the Mosquito NF MK II, and progressing through the NF Mk 30, the Mosquito was the primary night fighter of the RAF. It carried four 20mm cannons in the belly, and four .303 (7.7mm) machine guns mounted either in the nose, or under the forward fuselage depending on the model. They carried a variety of radars as the technology improved, and were said to have been so successful against both German bombers and night fighters that kill awards for shooting down a Mosquito were double that of other night fighters.

A well preserved Mosquito NF Mk II

The only American built night-fighter to serve in the European theater was the Northrup P-61 Black Widow. Armed with four 20mm cannons in the belly, and four .50cal (12.7mm) machine guns in a dorsal turret that was left off some of the -B models due to buffeting, the P-61 served in both the European and Pacific theaters.

In Europe, the P-61s served as both as a night hunter, and with its heavy cannon armament, also served as a night intruder attack aircraft in the last phases of the war.
A pair of P-61As (notable for the lack of dorsal turret).
Next week I'll get into the German night fighters, which showcase some fairly interesting problem solving.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Quantum Break Review - All I Wanted Was a Sonic Screw(driver)

Quantum Break. So much hype, so much promise. Let me say first off, I'm a sucker for a good action game that does weird things with time. F.E.A.R. was one of my favorite games of all time (I may be a little biased on that point though) and I've had a soft spot for games with time powers ever since.

Quantum Break really focuses in on those time powers too. As the game progresses, your character gets a larger, and more varied set, until he can stop time in local areas, sprint up to an enemy and melee kill him, launch a bomb (of time particles or something) and various other powers. I'd almost call the powerset too varied, because there's two or three other powers I didn't list, because I couldn't remember them and rarely used them. Combat is just sort of there. To me it felt like pretty generic 3rd-person run & gun fighting, with time powers layered on top. Think of the combat in Uncharted, give Nathan Drake the ability to stop time and dodge bullets, and you've got Quantum Break's fight sequences.

Far more interesting to me was the story. Remedy's writers had a lot of fun hiding little side story bits around the world (one in particular involving a programmer and his terrible screenplay had me laughing gleefully and inspired an impromptu dramatic reading) and for a main story that could have turned out awfully generic, they did an excellent job of fleshing out the world, and actually raising some interesting questions about predestination and free will.

Then there's the much publicized "TV Episodes" that integrate with the end of each chapter. Basically, they'll be slightly different depending on the choices you've made throughout the game, but overall, the plot doesn't change much. They're perfectly serviceable TV, but feel more like really extended cutscenes than actual episodes of a semi-standalone series.

Overall game length for me was about 10 hours. I'm a completionist though, someone less inclined to try for 100% without using any guides could probably do it in about 8. Add in four 45 minute TV episodes to get the full experience.

There are definitely a few issues with the game, particularly with some of the later game save points. I have something of a personal pet peeve about save points placed before unskippable loading sequences, which Remedy does on at least two occasions.

Overall I enjoyed the game, and the lack of multiplayer achievements means I'll probably go back in and try to 100% it, something I don't even bother to try on games with multiplayer. A Hard mode run will be interesting.

I recommend it, but probably not at full price. Remedy's games really hold up well over time, and when you see it on sale, I'd definitely recommend picking it up.

Hardware: Xbox One (streamed to Win10 PC for streaming/recording purposes)

Microsoft in no way compensated me for this review, and the copy I played was purchased with my own money.

Schedule: May 2 - May 8

Finishing up ChromaGun on the nightly Power-Half Hour stream, then going back to Mechwarrior: Online for a while.

Special May 4th Stream! For Star Wars Day, I'll be doing a TIE Fighter marathon all day! Prizes and giveaways will be had!

And of course, come back to the blog on Thursday for the next post in my aviation series!