Caster's Corner - Livestreaming on Twitch

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas 2017!

From all of us (okay, it's still just me) here at the tiny corner of the internet tubes that is this blog, plus my Youtube and Twitch channels, I hope you all have a Merry and blessed Christmas.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Marooner's Rock Game Review: Heliborne

I really wanted to like Heliborne, the first game from fledgling developer JetCat Games. Casual survey-sims are rare enough for any subset of aviation these days, helicopter focused sims even more so.

"Play Ride of the Valkyries!"
Screenshot via JetCat Games

Unfortunately, what I found was a game that tries very hard to lock all its fun moments behind an aggravating progression system and inexplicable limitations on user choices. There's plenty of enjoyment to be had by players willing to invest time into unlocking the game's best moments, too many flaws to recommend it as a starting place for new fans of the genre.

Heliborne review on Marooner's Rock.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Monday Vlog: Amateur Journalist

I got to wear my real journalist hat and do journalist things! Er, except I didn't sexually harass anyone, so I guess I'm still a rank amateur.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Let's Play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - Battle 3, Mission 4

After a rather long intermission, it's time for another X-Wing Alliance mission. This time you're in an A-Wing, tasked with a "simple" recon and capture mission

Of course, it's never that simple. If it were, this would just be training. Recon should go smoothly enough, but once the Python arrives to board the Comm Station, you're going to find yourself very busy.

Fortunately, the Escort Carrier doesn't carry anywhere near the numbers as an Imperial Star Destroyer, so successfully destroying all the fighters can leave the carrier open for attack. With a bit of time and patience, it's not too difficult to whittle away the shields and hit the squishy center.

Monday, November 27, 2017

November Burnout

It's been a very slow period on the blog this month. I noted in Monday's youtube vlog that there's a lot of reasons for this, with a bit of burnout and a total lack of buffer being the chief ones. I pushed really had to hit my 10k race goal, but the comedown was more difficult than I anticipated, and I definitely took more time off to refocus than I had planned.

But that's behind me, and what's in front is a refocused schedule, and some goals to get things back on track by New Year's. That's going to still be a challenge, but I think it's achievable.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Six Years

November 4th, 2011 is a date that will always stick with me. It marks the day I was told that my services would no longer be needed by WB Games, Inc. at Monolith/WB Games.

The day had started like any other Friday, with me dragging into work after the quick drive from my condo near Lake Washington, anticipating another long day as pre-production on Monolith’s next bit title slowly came together. An odd email from HR telling me that I hadn’t yet filled out my annual health insurance enrollment (I had) was dismissed as a paperwork error, one of those things endemic to large soulless multinational corporations. The surprise urgent, all-hands mandatory meeting could not so easily be ignored.
Three weeks prior to the end. Fat, dumb, and happy,
enjoying the team's victory lap celebration as
Lord of the Rings: War in the North finally shipped.

I knew what was coming. But I’d dodged so many of these layoffs over the years, that I thought I was bulletproof. It was always a miserable day to say goodbye to friends and comrades, start sending out LinkedIn requests and updating email contacts, but at the end of the day I always came out unscathed. We filed back to our desks to await the emails announcing who was staying and who was going. But this bullet wasn’t one I could dodge. After seven and a half years at a company that I had convinced myself I could somehow stay with for decades, my employment was at an end. It was one of the worst days of my life as my cozy, well ordered career plan tumbled down around my ears in an instant.

Except, that whole plan was a lie, built on a shifting foundation of quicksand. My world had been slowly falling apart for years. We were deep in debt. I was practically wedded to the harsh mistress of overtime, which was the only thing keeping us financially afloat. Our cozy two-bedroom condo was unsellable after the housing crash, but also unlivable in the long term for a family of six. My mental health was slipping from too many nights of minimal sleep, and my fitness, well, let’s just say I wasn’t headed in a good direction there either.

But just like that, with a corporate decision made that I was expendable, we could no longer sustain even the illusion that everything was okay. It turned out to be one of the best days of my life.
Of course, recovery wasn’t an instant process. In the span of almost four years (November 2011 – October 2015) we moved four times. I changed jobs four times too (six counting contractor agency changes). Twice more I’d get surprise layoff notices as studios reduced headcount. The condo got foreclosed on. We defaulted on a few credit cards. I’m an incredibly stubborn, hard-headed person sometimes, but I finally gave up on game development after fourteen years.
I had a lot of fun at Monolith, and sometimes I miss it. But
having the time to spend regular evenings with this crew
is well worth all the trouble.

We moved to South Dakota. I took a job in the Financial Technology sector, doing work similar to what I’d done for most of my career, but with better pay, and sane hours. I bought a motorcycle and started getting in shape. After two years of stability, we decided to commit to this state and buy a house.

Which brings me to now. Six years after a layoff shattered my world and forced me out of my illusory comfort zone, both my family and I are happier, healthier, and better off financially than we were. Two years into my stint at my current employer, maybe this will be the place I make thirty years at. If not though, if I’ve learned one thing from the last six years, it’s that through perseverance, with the help of family and friends who stand by your side, and by the grace of God, all things are possible. Life is never a straight line, but as a motorcycle rider, we learn to flow with the curves and enjoy the road’s journey, not fight for a single direction path where none exists. Not all worst days can become best days, but turning points aren’t things to be feared. In via praemium sum est – The journey is its own reward

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Light Blogging, Continued

Still working on getting my schedule back to normal. Too many little disruptions, still trying to find my proper groove, and running with no buffer. Regular content back Soon(TM).

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Light Blogging, Very Tired

Who know waiting to audition for a future season of Survivor would be this tiring?

Actually it's not that which has knocked me out, it's the running, and a couple of late nights. Back tomorrow with more, and trying to get back on track next week.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Let's Play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - Battle 3, Mission 3 - Blow The Doors Off

It's a small taste of how things are going to be later. A recon mission that turns into the destruction of a small space station. All you have to do is destroy the exit hatch, fly inside, destroy the reactor core, and then get out before the whole station blows up.

That plan might sound vaguely familiar for some strange reason...

Friday, October 6, 2017

Let's Play - Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance Battle 3, Mission 2 - Balmer Peak!

It's back! Finally! After an almost two month hiatus for moving, I finally got back to playing X-Wing Alliance. It only took me a total of four game nights to finally beat the mission I left off with...

The big trick with this mission is to not get greedy. Save the bonus score heroics for running later in the sim with a better ship than Aeron's beat up YT-1300 the Sabra.

 Get the containers inspected before you take out all of the defenses, because once the Razor fighters and gun platforms are gone, Black Sun shows up with a bunch of Supa fighters. These things aren't particularly maneuverable, but they pack a wallop!

Fortunately, the Sabra can easily outrun the Supas, so as the Container Transports head out to the rendezvous point, make your own escape. If all goes well, you'll have another mission successfully completed.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Survivor Season 35 - Episode 2 - It's All Fun and Games Until You Lose a Challenge

The following blog post contains spoilers for Survivor Season 35 - Heroes, Hustlers, and Healers - Episode 2.

Episode 2 finds the Heroes tribe coming back from their first tribal council. It's pretty clear that Alan put a pretty big target on his back, but tribal seems to have given everyone a resolution to not go back for as long as possible.

After this we get a lot of Day 4 scenes of what seem to be generally happy camp life for all the tribes. On the Healers, Probation Officer Joe is idol hunting, again, and comes up big with a little help from Cole the Rock Climbing Guide. If Joe can back off from his early aggressivness that'll help him a lot.

Lots of concentration on Patrick the Small Business Owner and Simone the professional B.S. peddler (Sorry, "Diversity Advocate) which tipped the hand too early that these two were on the chopping block.

Sure enough, come challenge time, the Hustlers blew a massive early lead, and lost out to both the Healers and the Heroes. Simone tried to hustle her way out of trouble, but once again goes to show that the biggest danger in early Survivor gameplay is standing out from the crowd.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Tom Petty - Around the Clouds

Farewell Tom Petty. I can't say I was a huge fan who knows all his songs, but two of them always resonated with me.

"I Won't Back Down" has been one of my anthems ever since I heard a cover of it (by some band I don't recall). The original is so much better.

Singing this song at karaoke with my fellow soon to be unemployed coworkers after getting laid off was remarkably cathartic.

"Learning to Fly" I shouldn't even have to explain. Yes, I realize the song can be read as being about the ennui of growing up, or maybe drugs, or all sorts of things, but when you're in flight school, finally learning to soar around the clouds, there's only one reading that's obvious.
I'll miss his voice.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Road to 10k - Training Week 11

Making progress this week. I had to take a couple of extra days off because of weather and final cleanup of our rental, so my overall timetable got pushed back a couple of days, but I'm still on track for a 10k at the end of October.

Next year I'm starting my training earlier. 5k races are easy to find. 10k races a little tougher, but still not too difficult to find. But getting into the half-marathon length like I want to do next year, there's fewer of those. It's going to require a lot more training to be prepared for thirteen miles in September.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Let's Play: Minecraft: Story Mode - Season 1, Episode 8 - Let's Get Ready to Rumble

It's a battle to the finish line as our heroes are forced into a battle royale to escape back to their own world. Can they really beat the competition, or is there another way?

My playthrough of Minecraft: Story Mode Season 1 is complete. As a confirmed non-fan of Minecraft (but a big fan of Telltale's adventure games) I found it a surprisingly fun experience. Once Season Two is complete, I'm fairly certain I'll play through those episodes too.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Survivor Season 35 - Episode 1 Thoughts

I really enjoy Survivor. I've watched almost every season, save for a few of the early ones, and the intermix of game strategy, personal interaction, and sheer craziness always manages to stay fresh. This season I'm going to try and blog about it a bit.


Season 35's theme is Heroes, Healers, and Hustlers. Heroes are people who are generally looked up to for their service - we've got an ex-Marine, a lifeguard, firefighter, and others. Healers have a nurse practitioner, and a urologist among others. Hustlers have a bellhop, a small business owner, and a variety of other occupations know for their hustle.

Right off the bat, the Hustlers are in a bit of trouble. They don't look like they have the physical skills that the Heroes and Healers bring to the table, but one of their members does manage to grab a Secret Advantage.

From both the Healers and Heroes tribes, we get examples of people coming out of the gate too aggressively. Bob is a Parole Officer on the Healers. Confronting the urologist over a perceived idol is a risky move this early in the game. But then NFL player Alan goes way over the top on the Heroes tribe. Accusing the firefighter of hiding an idol (on apparently no information, did we miss something in editing?) seems like a good way to start drama between a potential power couple, but mostly makes Alan look kind of crazy.

Good thing the Heroes have the most physical presence. They're a sure bet to win immunity. Except... well... Despite literally leaving it all on the field, taking the safe strategy burned them. Oops.

Finally, we get a massive scramble as Alan's crazy accusations provoke a bunch of drama. What should have been a simple four strong alliance picking off a couple of weak links (I'm sure Katrina and Chrissy are perfectly nice, and Katrina was an Olympian, at one point) turns into a ton of drama.

But in the end, none of it, not the super idol, or Alan's drama, manages to stop the logical, obvious conclusion that the weakest link needs to go.

At least the Heroes are smarter than some of the past teams.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Video Game Review: Auto Age: Standoff

Another Marooner's Rock review! This time I got a chance to check out post-apocalyptic wasteland automotive combat game Auto Age: Standoff, out now on Steam for PC.

Combining classic gameplay elements of Twisted Metal with a retro 80's neon cartoon art style, it's a game well worth checking out.

You can catch the full review over at Marooner's Rock.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Let's Play: Minecraft: Story Mode - Season 1 Episode 7

Final week of these. Things get interesting as we close in on the final episode and meet a Redstone AI. What could possibly have gone wrong?

Monday, September 25, 2017

Road to 10k - Week 10 - Fastest Mile 8:23

A very good week this time. Finally powered through the next training week. The twenty-minute high intensity run turned in my fastest mile thus far at 8:23.

At the end of the week, my distance run for 4.5 miles went fairly slow, but I managed to stay under ten minutes per mile. Not bad. On to the next week of training!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Pride Goeth...

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. - Proverbs 16:18

A few years ago, Kitplanes Magazine published an article looking at the accident rate for homebuilt aircraft.  One of the most interesting data points was that the accident risk is not a straight decreasing slope: accident risk starts high at the first flight, decreases gradually over the first forty hours, then spikes again before decreasing!

You'd think I'd be able to handle one of these by now.
I don't have statistical data to back it up, but I suspect there's a similar trend among motorcyclists. The first year sees a gradually declining accident rate, followed by another spike from overconfidence and cockiness as riders start writing checks that they don't yet have the skill level to cash.

At least, that's what happened to me. They say confession is good for the soul, right? Here we go: it started with a partial drop on the way home from working a new story for Airline Reporter (story coming soon). I was tired, and distracted, and forgot to put the kickstand down before reaching for my wallet. I was saved by the gas pump, and the only damage was a bit of skin scraped off my left thumb.

Lesson learned, I had my first drop, no more, right?

Two weeks to the day later, I rolled into the parking lot at work, executed a tight right turn to drop into a parking space, and just kept leaning farther right. There was nothing to catch me this time. It was one of the slowest, gentlest drops you could possibly manage, but it still saw me ending up with a motorcycle on its side, puking half a quart of oil onto the asphalt.

At least there wasn't any further damage.

A week later, I was at a Harley Demo Fleet event, test riding most of the new 2018 models. I figured I'd give the Sportster 1200 Roadster a try. I know the Sportster, how much different can this one be? I forgot to put it in gear, then dumped the clutch too fast and stalled it trying to roll out of the parking lot. Oops.

Properly chastened, and hopefully with my major incidents out of the way, here's to a plan where my accident rate can start declining again. Ouch.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Backlog Burndown #25 - In the Army Now

Marooner's Rock took a week off due to technical issues, but we're back! And it's Wednesday, so it's Backlog Burndown time! This week I took on Army Gals, a visual novel from Dharker Studios.

I guess the pants have something to do with the Army? Sort of?

Monday, September 18, 2017

Road to 10k - Week 9 - Back on Track!

Back on track! That took a couple more weeks than I would have liked, but I can finally move on to more challenging training!

The four mile run actually felt pretty decent. With an average mile pace of 10:14, it wasn't fast by any stretch of imagination, but I definitely could have pushed harder. That wasn't the point though. The point was to get the distance. Pushing faster will come later.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Let's Play Minecraft: Story Mode - Season 1, Episode 6 - The Great Youtuber Massacre

The most irritating episode of the season. Or the best, if you love cameos by popular Minecraft youtubers. I guess it's really just not my thing.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Let's Play: Minecraft: Story Mode - Season 1, Episode 5 - New Adventures?

Gameplay videos are back! We pick up with Episode Five of Minecraft: Story Mode, with The New Order of the Stone seeking new and exciting treasures! What could possibly go wrong?

Find out over the next two weeks!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Road to 10k Week 8 - Maybe Fewer Beers?

10k Training Week 8 came in with a my renewed determination to get back on track. I kind of got there.

Along the way though, there were free motorcycles to ride, beers with brothers to drink, and still some general slacking.

But most importantly, new Harley motorcycles!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Dryer Repair - Or How To Turn a 15 Minute Job Into a Five Hour, Four Day Task

One of the first tasks in the new home was to hook up the dryer. Simple, right? Just plug the cord in, tighten down the vent hose, and walk away.

Ah, not so fast...

This is not going to work. Ever.
Problem Number One, the dryer has the wrong cord. The last two houses I've lived in had dryer outlets installed after new codes went into effect in 1996, mandating a four-prong grounded plug. The Hydra House was built and set up well before that, so it has the old three-prong outlet. No problem, just go buy the correct cord from your favorite big box home improvement store. Remove the cover on the back of the dryer to reveal the connections for the plug, unscrew the old cord and screw in the new cord.

Finally installed and buttoned up.
Mind you don't drop one of the screws somewhere inside the dryer where you can't ever get it back. Definitely don't do that when the stores have all closed for the night.

Problem Number Two, you've lost one of the screws you need to attach the new cord. No major issue, just go to your favorite hardware store and purchase a replacement of the correct threading and length. Don't drop that one in the same spot you dropped the first one. Whoops.

Problem Number Three, you've dropped the replacement screw inside the dryer as well. No trouble, remove the top and of the dryer and the rear access plate. Hey, this one fell somewhere you can reach it! Great! Finish installing the cord, plug it into the outlet (AFTER SWITCHING THE BREAKER OFF, JUST IN CASE!), turn the breaker back on, and make sure the dryer works properly. Great! Oh, better plug the vent back in. Oh, that doesn't fit at all. Definitely don't do your first test fitting of the vent after 10pm, when all the hardware stores have closed for the night.

DO NOT, and I cannot emphasize this enough, attach fittings that are going to take heat with regular Duct Tape and most especially not packing tape! These are not heat or flame resistant, and dryer lint is seriously flammable.

Problem Number Four, the previous homeowners decided that the proper solution for attaching the dryer vent was a combination of aluminum pipe, duct tape, packing tape, and prayer. No sweat! Remove the layers and layers of tape with the handy box cutter knife that you bought at your favorite home improvement store. Now add a proper 4" connector fitting to the new aluminum vent hose you also purchased, connect the two with heat resistant dryer tape, tighten the fittings down at the connection and at the dryer, and viola! Simple!

There we go, no longer a lint trapping fire hazard.
And that's how you turn a fifteen minute job into a four day task. At least my Smarter, Prettier Half was happy when it was done and she could run laundry again.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Backlog Burndown #24 - Duke Nukem Forever

Backlog Burndown is back!

After taking the summer off, it's time to start clearing out the backlog once again. What did I start with? Duke Nukem Forever.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Four Years...

I can scarcely believe it myself, but my little girl, the one responsible for more missed PAX Primes than anyone else, my only child born during baseball season, the apple of her Daddy's eye, is four years old today.

Little Miss at One.
Little Miss today.

Who knows what the future holds for her, I'm excited to see who she's growing into.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Slow Blogging Break

Going to be limited blogging for a couple of weeks. I'm busily trying to get the new (old) house all set up, move gear around, etc.

I'll try to post a couple of blogs, but priority is getting things settled in before I drop back into my standard routine.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Let's Play Minecraft: Story Mode, Season 1, Episode 4 - Victory

And here we come to the end. Of the beginning, at least. It's time to destroy the Witherstorm thing for good. How exactly that happens though, is up to you...

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Oh, New Harleys!

The only 2018 vehicle lineup I care about, Harley-Davidson released their new bikes today.

I think I may have mentioned after my test rides that if they put a Milwaukee Eight engine in the Dyna chassis, I'd be lining up at my dealership to buy one... I may have to put my money where my mouth is. While the Dyna chassis is dead, Harley did the next best thing and stuffed the M8 engine into a totally reworked Softail chassis.
It's like a Road King that went on a diet. Photo credit Harley-Davidson
I think I may have found my next bike. Now to pay off the current ride before upgrading...

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Adventures in Homeownership - There Was an Eclipse?!?

The eclipse came and went with booming fanfare here in town. Unfortunately, the booms were all from thunder, a rather aggressive series of storm cells moved through town during prime eclipse time, bringing darkened skies and torrential rain with them.

I watched the sky get extra dark from a window. I had quite enough rain in Seattle, thank you very much.

Coworker discussions made me realize that I really needed to find the sump pump in my new house. This was not something I grew up dealing with in California. In our slightly odd home, the pump turned out to be hiding under the downstairs bathroom vanity. Go figure. That'll be a fun one to inspect.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Let's Play: Minecraft: Story Mode Season 1, Episodes 2 & 3 - Get the Band Back Together

It's time to get the band back together in Minecraft: Story Mode! In an uncharacteristic decision, I chose brains over explosives, meaning that I got the Episode 2 quest to save the brainy mage, rather than the TNT obsessed troll.

Then things got weird...

I'm sure this will work out fine, and that the remaining five episodes are just happy fun times, right?

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Road to 10k, Week 5 - Fastest Mile Yet!

Week Four of this training plan is proving a tough nut to crack. My second attempt went even less well than the first go around.

It started well, with me putting down my fastest sustained mile time during the high intensity run that starts the week. After that through, a combination of bad weather, moving obligations, and family stuff meant I didn't do any of the other three runs I needed to get in this week.

Moving forward, and taking another shot this week. At the very least I want to make three runs this week, and I'll hit this week again once the kids are back in school and I don't have to get them to baseball practice!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Book Review - Strip Mauled, Edited by Esther Friesner

I love a good short story collection. While the genre has had its ups and downs over the years, for my money, there's nothing like a set of nice self contained reads for lunch break reading, or any other reading sessions that are limited to a half-hour or less.

Strip Mauled, a collection of comedic stories focused around the lives of werewolves in modern suburbia, fits the bill nicely. Edited by Esther Friesner, who also edited the Chicks in Chain Mail series, this volume contains a total of twenty-one stories. While there are a couple of steaming ploppers best cleaned up with a plastic bag, for the most part these are a mixture of clever or laugh-out-loud funny stories.

A personal favorite was the Desperate Housewives inspired "That Time of the Month" by Laura Underwood. Containing some of the best wordplay this side of a Robert Asprin novel, Underwood absolutely nails the suburban jungle, just with werewolves. Another standout is Sarah Hoyt's "The Case of the Driving Poodle" a detective story featuring a most unusual femme fatale.

Definitely a good read. This has been sitting in my To Read pile for years since rescuing it from a closing Borders. I'm glad I finally found the time to read it through.

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.