Caster's Corner - Livestreaming on Twitch

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Motoring my Way To Better Health!

Throwback Throttle Thursday will (hopefully) be back tomorrow. I really want to do that Northrup F-89 story, but am out of time for the week. So, instead, let’s talk more about motorcycles! Specifically, the unexpected health benefit I’ve found in the couple weeks I’ve been riding and commuting on two wheels.

Here’s the thing. I have a bad fast food habit. Specifically, I have a bad fast food breakfast habit, which has cultivated over fifteen years of commuting. I’ve spent way too much money, and eaten way too many calories, because a McDonalds/Burger King/Taco Bell breakfast is convenient, cheap, and easy to eat while driving. Even with my current and much shorter commute, five minutes to roll through the drive-thru and bolt down a breakfast burrito before I hit the office parking lot is usually less time than actually sitting down to a bowl of cereal and an English muffin, much less actually frying up a couple of eggs or something.

And then there’s lunch. Now I really, really should pack a lunch every day. It’s cheaper, healthier, and since there’s no restaurants or food trucks within easy walking distance, slightly more convenient. Still, there’s plenty of options within a five minute drive, and sometimes I just don’t feel like making a sandwich ahead of time, or containerizing a batch of leftovers.

But now I have the bike, and that equation has changed. Have you ever seen a motorcycle at a drive-thru window? I mean, clearly people have done it, and have the youtube videos to prove it, but it’s not exactly an everyday occurrence. For me, as well, there’s the issue of where to put the paper sack of calories. I have saddlebags on my motorcycle, so that’s easy enough, but accessing them does require dismounting from the bike. And if I have to get off the bike anyway, then I might as well just go inside to place my order, and not paddle through the drive-thru lane.

But now we’re into convenience issues. That five minute drive-thru stop now takes longer, because I have to park, get off the bike, go inside, order, come back outside, put the food in a saddlebag, start up again, and roll out. So although I’ve done it a couple of times in the past couple of weeks, my fast food breakfast consumption is way down.

Lunch is a whole different problem. Breakfast, at least, I’m already dressed, since it’s on the way to work, but lunch? I ride ATGATT (All The Gear, All The Time) so “let’s go out for lunch” means “Hang on, let me change into my riding pants, then don jacket, gloves, helmet, and boots” before heading out to my bike. Actually, if I’m going with a group, I’ll probably just catch a ride from someone, but if I’m going alone, all that gear is a necessity, and turns a quick 15 minute run through the nearest drive-thru into a 30 minute mission that’s consumed half my lunch break! I’ve done that precisely once, and that was probably enough.

The health benefit is pretty simple, really. I’m eating better, and cheaper, basically because I’m lazy. Score one for basic human nature! Let's be honest here, should I be hitting the gym, running, or getting some other kind of physical exercise regularly? Absolutely. But there's also a saying that goes "You gain fitness in the gym, and lose weight in the kitchen." Improving my diet is a good place to start.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Motorcycling and Risk Management

Since taking my MSF class and getting my motorcycle license a couple of weeks ago, I've had this idea kicking around in my head, about the similarities and differences in risk management in my professional career, motorcycling, and flying.

Then a very smart project manager (whom I've never met) wrote that article for the Airline Reporter website. Although she's a helicopter pilot (I was working on my fixed wing license) and doesn't ride around on two wheels, she covered a lot of the same ground. In particular this section here:
No matter how much you train (or how excellent your school is), how well you pre-flight, the amount of sleep and nutrition you get, or the thoroughness of your planning and backup plans, there is risk involved when taking off and throughout the flight until the wheels are on the ground, key is out, and the blades stop turning. Risk will always exist, and as pilots we work to manage and mitigate this risk as much as possible. The only way to have zero risk is to never try and, well, that’s just failure.
However, no matter how much we mitigate, by nature of the job as a pilot, as you gain more experience, you take on more risk. When you start bringing passengers, you’re adding distractions. When you have advanced training, such as long-line or firefighting, it’s normal to advance in your career and do more risky things. Taking on more risk (in a responsible manner) equates to you achieving more – ultimately, literally saving lives.
You can apply exactly that to saddling up a motorcycle and riding. We can work to mitigate the danger by having more situational awareness, wearing protective gear, avoiding high risk situations such as drinking and driving, but there's still always risk.

Different people have different levels of risk tolerance in their own lives. I wouldn't try to fly a wingsuit through a two meter hole in a cliff, for example, but some people do. I won't ride without a full set of gear, which puts me in a distinct minority riding around in my home state. I'm not in favor of mandatory laws, just that you make an informed decision about whatever level of risk you choose to tolerate in your life.

Applying the same principle to work, some people stay with a job they hate, because the pay's good, the benefits are good, and the chance of leaving and failing is too great. Other people bet everything on succeeding in a start up. Nobody's wrong, and if they're making informed choices, good for them.

Ride safe, fly safe, and make smart decisions.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

F-89 Scorpions and The Battle of Palmdale

Too many posts flittering about inside my brain, not nearly enough time to actually write them.

Next week I'll try to do a decent write-up on the Northrup F-89 Scorpion, as it's actually one of my favorite relatively obscure early Cold War fighters.

But for now, please go read an account of The Battle of Palmdale the one battle the F-89s participated in.

Monday, June 20, 2016

One Week Later - Motorcycle Adventures #2

Still having fun. I rode the bike, named Kristi by Oldest Daughter, to work Tuesday through Friday. No chances to get out and ride on Father's Day weekend, so only forty miles or so ridden, and practically all of it on city streets.

Here's the thing: while I'll admit that I'm still in the new toy/honeymoon period, so far this motorcycle has done something I wasn't sure was possible: make the five or so mile trip to work not only fun, but something I look forward to doing every morning simply for its own pleasure. It's shaping up to be a hot midwestern summer, but in the morning it's been a pleasant 70 degrees, just perfect for riding.

The other riders I see in the morning seem to agree. I try and drop a wave to any other rider I see, and I feel like I get a lot more return waves in the morning than I do in the afternoon. Maybe that's just perception though.

The other thing I want to note is that the folks at J&L Harley-Davidson have taken excellent care of me. The purchasing process was excellent, and made me feel like a valued customer the whole way through, but what really impressed me was their post-purchase follow-up. The day after I finally picked up the bike last week, the sales manager called to make sure everything was all right and that I was enjoying my purchase. I told him I was, and that was it.

Until about two hours later, when the bike wouldn't start. No ignition, nothing. One of the owners of the dealership (The 'L' in "J&L") came out personally to check things out, and helped me push my new bike into a trailer to haul back to the dealership when he couldn't find the problem in my office parking lot. Two hours later, the service department called to tell me they'd found a bad starter relay, and that I could come pick up my bike. No charge, and back on the road.

No other issues other than that. On Saturday I checked the tires, finally got around to setting the clock, and figured out a better way to wedge the bike in my one car garage. I'm looking forward to another new week of commuting!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Motorcycle Endorsement and First Ride - I Got Two Wheels! (Motorcycle Adventures #1)

Content has been a little sparse around here and on my youtubes of late, but with good reason. As referenced last week, I got a motorcycle! And after a weekend spent learning to ride properly, I picked it up today!

First, a few words about the MSF class. I took the Basic Rider Safety course, which I would highly recommend to anyone looking to start riding. It gave me a lot more confidence, particularly at the low speed handling stuff that frequently causes embarrassment to new riders. That said, the step up from the little 125cc Kawasaki Eliminator I rode for the weekend, and the 1200cc Harley-Davidson Sportster I picked up today was like night and day.

The little Kawasaki was almost like riding a heavier, slightly faster bicycle. With my size, I felt like I could pretty much just fling it wherever I wanted with a flick of the wrist. Great maneuverability, but power? Not so much. At 6'1" and a solid 200 pounds plus all my gear, most of the lessons in clutch control were totally lost on me. Let the clutch out half-way? Find the friction zone? I basically had to dump the clutch and feed in throttle just to get the wheels rolling.

That said though, I really did feel the class was invaluable. More than that, it was just fun, and something I'd recommend to people even if they aren't particularly interested in owning or regularly riding a motorcycle of their own.

Then I picked up my Harley. My particular bike is a 2008 model, with 19k miles on the odometer. The previous owner made some interesting component choices, making it part go-fast race bike, and part cross-country tourer. There's the aftermarket exhaust, intake, and ECU tune that added 15hp at the dyno. Coupled with the digital RPM gauge and shift system, it screams "Go faster!" On the other end of the spectrum though, there's the big windscreen, wide touring saddlebags, comfortable seat, and GPS wiring.

Decision time. The dealer handed me the keys, pointed out the controls and shook my hand. My wife and the three younger kids were watching from the car. Time to throw a leg over and fire it up.

She's built to go far and fast. Which suits my plans just fine.

First impression: this thing feels angry. At idle she shakes and rattles. The RPMs twitch and it feels like you're sitting atop a very upset, very wild fire-breathing monster.

Let the clutch out. 10mph? I don't even have the clutch all the way out yet? The Eliminator was screaming for 2nd gear at this point! 15mph. The clutch is out, and the engine's finally ticking over at 2k RPMs. I shift around 3k and 20mph and everything smooths out.

Some around town riding shows that she's happiest in the cruising band of 35-50mph. Any faster and the wind starts rolling over the top of the screen and slapping me in the head. Cruising down the street though, the engine smooths out, and the pipes growl my presence to any cagers around me. Especially the ones driving with their windows down on this warm June day.

I find a country road with a 65mph speed limit and see how freeway speeds feel. Shaky from the wind coming off the fairing, but the engine's perfectly happy to rumble along in 5th gear at 3k RPM. If I tuck in behind the windscreen like I'm on a sportsbike and not a cruiser/wanna-be tourer, and scoot my butt back into the seat a bit, the wind goes away completely. I don't know if I could keep that position up for hours, and it's tough to see the speedometer, but I suppose I'll find out.

I had a really good first day of riding. Carving circles in parking lots, blasting down an empty country road, and rumbling through town, all of it was great. I know there are lots of bikes that are more composed to ride, are better at one thing or another than mine is, but for now, at least, I don't care. This one is mine. And we're going to have some adventures!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Where Did This Come From ?!?

I'm going to take a break from the usual Throttle Thursday aviation posts for a different, but still throttle related, kind of post.

This is happening.
Okay, it's more racer boy than Harley rider,
but I'm okay with that.
The gear is bought, the MSF class is paid for, and the motorcycle is (hopefully) coming home with me next week. There will be a post about that once I get it.

But how did this happen? What makes a married guy on the second half of his thirtieth decade, with a stable job and five kids to take care of go and buy a motorcycle? Okay, actually that's a fairly common scenario, let's be honest, most people call this a midlife crisis. And maybe it is. However, the seeds were planted several years ago...

Actually, if I'm being honest, motorcycle inception for me probably came from a childhood watching CHiPs reruns and M.A.S.K. Throw in some Top Gun for good measure.

No question about it, the CHP was never this cool before or since.
Okay, mine won't convert to a helicopter, but still...

Obviously a fighter pilot rides a bad-ass motorcycle

Anyway, that's probably where the seed got planted. But nothing really started to come of it until 2008.

On August 20th, 2008, I took off from Boeing Field (KBFI) in Galvin Flying Services' Diamond DA40 N856DS. It was my third solo flight, and my first without my instructor watching me from the ground. My logbook shows I spent 48 minutes in the air practicing touch and goes, making five landings. It was my last flight.

Shortly thereafter, I came to grips with the financial reality that the plan I had been working towards was not going to happen, and that with a third child on the way, driving my family further into debt to chase the goal of becoming a pilot was a wildly irresponsible plan.

It wasn't too long after that that I heard someone refer to riding a motorcycle as being "the closest thing to flying you can do on the ground."

That sold me right there. I missed the sky. I missed the freedom of feeling the earth fall away from you, of sharing camaraderie with the eagles. I wanted to fly again, but my wings were clipped. Where to go?

Oh, practical reasons were had as well. Motorcycles are much more efficient commuter vehicles being the primary one. But the truth is, the most fun I've had on a vehicle was when I was commuting on my bicycle, and had the opportunity go go screaming down a hill at ~30 mph. Not a great speed on a motorcycle, but sufficiently exhilarating on an 18-speed bicycle, particularly when the car traffic next to you isn't going as fast. I am very much looking forward to that again.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Every Once in a While, QA Gets a Trophy

They don't give out many trophies in QA. Oh sure, if you're with a company long enough, you might get a plaque or something for various work anniversaries, maybe something that says "I shipped this!" when a project ships, but awards are being handed out, there's nothing for "Excellence in Quality Assurance" or "Best catches of bugs so the public never saw them."

By its very nature QA is largely invisible to the consuming public, unless we fail at doing our jobs. There's an argument to be made that when something gets an award for excellence, QA shares in that award, but even so, that's not on the trophy/plaque/whatever.

But sometimes, we do get a personal achievement trophy.
Probably the closest I'll ever get to owing a Viper.

It was what the company called a "Bug Bash" with prizes for things like most bugs found, and best bug. I don't remember exactly which category I won in, but this was my prize. To be honest, I'd forgotten I still had this car until I unpacked it in a box that'd been sealed for the last four years.

This week, the car's going on my desk at work. Quality Assurance may not get much glory, but it's nice to have visual reminders of times when we do get positive recognition.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Another Christian Defense of Fantasy

On a Facebook group that I'm part of, someone posted a link to something called Faith and Gaming Settings from a website called the Christian Gamers Guild. The post itself is excellent, and has some very good points about world view.

This provoked a bit of discussion within said Facebook group, and while it's pretty obvious where I stand on the whole argument (I'd be pretty hypocritical of me to come down any way but on the Pro Fantasy side, considering my gaming and writing) I do feel it's worth getting into a bit of a longer discussion about the philosophy of why.

Let's start with agreeing on a definition of fantasy. While the word in modern connotations is heavily linked to Sword & Sorcery types of entertainment, I'd argue that in a broader context, fantasy can really be any kind of fiction, especially if it's asking a "What if?" question and positing some element of reality different than our own.

Fantasy was the story of Icarus, and the human dream of flight, for centuries before it became reality.

Fantasy is an eight-year-old boy in his backyard with a bat and a ball, dreaming that he's driving in the winning run in the World Series for his team.

Fantasy is, dare I say it, a story about a man who finds a great treasure in a field, and sells everything he owns to go and buy the field.

Fantasy asks questions, posits answers, and lets us put ourselves in someone else's shoes. What if I could fly? What would I do if I found that treasure? It can be an escape, a teaching tool, and everything in between. It's a gift, and we are fools if we dismiss it as mere child's play, or worse, a tool of the enemy.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Night Witches of World War II

The German sentry stands at his post, trying desperately not to doze off. He’s cold, hungry and tired, the combination of Russian winter, lack of food, and lack of sleep making him wobble on his feet.

A whisper of wind brushing through wires is the only warning he gets, before a series of six explosions light up the night around him and a blast wave slams him to the ground. Ears ringing, he gets up to try and sound an alarm, train a searchlight, shoot something!

In the distance, a 110hp radial engine coughs to life, and the fragile Po 2 biplane, freed of its bombload, slips away from the chaos and into the cold Russian night, heading back towards its home base for another bomb load and another target. There will be no sleep in the German camps tonight, for the Night Witches are on the prowl once again.

In writing about night fighters, I’ve largely focused on their origins, and use in the European and Pacific theaters by British, American, and German forces. Most of these aircraft share some common traits: heavy cannon armaments, radar, multiple crewmembers, and twin engines (exceptions being the U.S. Navy’s F6F-3N and -5Ns). They swept the skies for enemy bombers, engaged other night fighters, and employed their heavy armament as the first in a long line of “All-Weather” attack aircraft.

But on the Russian front, while not technically a fighter group, there’s one specific unit I want to highlight: the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, the only all female air combat unit to operate in frontline service during World War II.

They didn’t fly advanced, all weather, radar equipped aircraft. In fact, the Polikarpov Po-2s were obsolete by 1930s standards, much less by the 1940s. Flying in crews of two, pilot and navigator, they operated their old, slow, open cockpit biplanes exclusively at night, sometimes flying eight or more sorties a night, flying low, cutting the engine near the target to glide in, release their bombs, then restart the engine and escape.

The Germans gave them the name “Nachthexen” or “Night Witches” for the sound the wind made whistling through the bracing wires of the Po-2s while the pilots glided in for an attack. They said it sounded like broomsticks, and thus the nickname was born.

Polikarpov Po-2

Their primary defensive tactic against the much faster, well armed BF-109s and FW-190s was a series of tight circles. The Po-2’s top speed was below the stall speed of the German fighters, and German pilots found it difficult to keep the slow, wildly maneuvering aircraft in their sights long enough to bring them down.

This isn’t to say they didn’t try. The Night Witches’ aircraft often returned with bullet holes punched through the fabric of the fuselage and wings, and thirty members of the squadron died during combat.

It’s a fascinating and largely untold (in the West) story. This unit put together a record that would be a credit to any air combat unit, and did so under some of the worst possible conditions, using antiquated aircraft, against some of the best pilots the German Luftwaffe fielded.