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Friday, April 28, 2017

Star Wars: X-Wing vs TIE Fighter - Balance of Power - Imperial Task Force Vengeance Mission #10

Another mission, another capture op. I chose the TIE Advanced, as usual. From that, your main role is going to be interdicting fighters before they can take out the capturing transports, and defending against reinforcements.

Roughly the same if you go the Assault Gunboat route, but you'll focus on disabling the two ships for capture before moving over to help the Brights as best you can.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Twin Cities Code Camp 2017 - After Action Report

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend Twin Cities Code Camp for the first time. Actually, despite being in the industry since before the Code Camp concept had even started, this was the first one I'd ever had the opportunity to attend. At the urging of a coworker who had attended a number of these events for the past few years, I loaded up my trusty steed and made my course north-east towards Minneapolis.

While the ride up and back is beyond the scope of this discussion, I do want to note that this was the first trip longer than a single tank of gas that I've made on my motorcycle. At almost two hundred and fifty miles each way, this made a good shakedown run for some of the longer rides I've got planned for later this year. I came away with a couple of items that I definitely want to adjust for next time, but overall the ride went well.

For code camp, I attended five sessions: Building C# and iOS apps with Xamarin, Augmented Eyes = Azure Cognitive Services + Hololens, Scratch: Programming for Kids (and Adults), The Importance of Networking (human, not computers), and Cool SQL Features Everyone Should Know About. Having previously worked on HoloStudio and Robo Raid, the Hololens talk was a personal highlight. The post talk Hololens play session where people were trying on the devices for the first time and experiencing Robo Raid was great. Watching other people have those "Whoa!" experiences for the first time is fantastic.

The Xamarin talk was another excellent one for me. I've been hoping to work on a personal project for mobile devices later in the year, and Xamarin is sounding very promising as a technology for me to use. Since I'm primarily a C# developer these days, the promise of being able to use what I already know to develop for multiple platforms sounds like a great time saver.

The most humorous moment for me came at the start of the Networking panel. Let's be honest, most of us in the software industry are introverts to one extent or another, and it was never more obvious than before a panel about talking to new people, when literally no one in the room was talking to each other! No wonder we need an extroverted placement specialist to help remind us why we need to be talking, making new friends, and keeping our personal networks up to date.

This isn't meant to slight the other two panels I attended either. While the SQL talk was a bit over my head (I'm still working on better understanding SQL), there was some excellent advice there. The Scratch panel was also fantastic, introducing me to a programming language I'd never heard of before,that it sounds like some of my kids will really enjoy.

It was a great use of a Saturday. I met some new people, learned some things, and came away with a cool new t-shirt. I'll definitely be back next year. If you're even tangentilly involved in software development, or interested in writing code, I highly recommend finding out if there's a code camp near you.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Backlog Burndown #22 - Highschool Possesion

Today on Marooner's Rock I take on one of Dharker Studio's earlier visual novels: Highschool Possession.

After coming home from school with a massive headache and laying down for a rest, Hikaru wakes up the next day to an unfamiliar ceiling. Even more shocking, he's inhabiting a familiar, yet very unfamiliar body: Akiko! As Hikaru tries to navigate Akiko through her day, he finds that rather than having a perfect life, she's got some serious problems. A bad boyfriend is trouble enough, but Akiko has some serious depression issues that she's been hiding from everyone. But as night falls and Hikaru goes to sleep, this will have just been a bizarre one-off event, right?
Check out the whole story here: Backlog Burndown #22

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Star Wars: X-Wing vs.TIE Fighter - Balance of Power - Imperial Task Force Vengeance Mission #9

Another intercept and destroy! This time I ended up taking the Assault Gunboat. Ion cannons and Proton Torpedoes are a lot more useful when a bulk of the enemy craft are capital ships or heavy freighters.

Monday, April 24, 2017


In Southern California, the weekend's box office numbers make the front page (usually below the fold, to be sure) of Monday's newspaper. In Seattle, the latest moves by Amazon, Boeing, and Microsoft are reported at the top of every news program. In South Dakota, no news broadcast is complete without a list of prices for major crops and cattle.
Photo Credit: South Dakota Magazine
 Priorities reveal what's important to the soul of a region. Southern California thrives on the movie biz. Seattle views itself as a tech hub. South Dakota, despite a vibrant and growing tech and banking industry, has its heart in the farms that start just past the city limits.

I can't say whether one is better than the other. I remember as a teen, hating the superficiality of SoCal's news, and counting the days until I could finally leave. To be free of the valley whose buttes and mountains felt like they hemmed me in.

As a game developer at the start of my career, Settle's tech obsession intoxicated me. The pace, the changes! But the rain, the gloom, and the traffic all combined to wear me down year after year.

South Dakota is growing on me. The wide open spaces, a sense that my future is wide open again, and boundless possibilities for my family and me are right on the horizon. Seeing four actual seasons is different. The biting cold and snow of winter give way to green and the new life of spring. New life blooms into fullness in the heat and humidity of summer. The adventures of summer are celebrated and memorialized in the fireworks of autumn, and we breathe in the crisp air that presages another rest, another blanket of snow from winter once again.

Still, I find myself missing California. I miss mountains covered in snow, salty sea air, and cold Pacific ocean waters. Perhaps someday, California will right itself from the political disaster that it's become, and in my later years, I can return.
Image source
Perhaps not. Maybe, like a teenage first love that's long past but never forgotten, I can't go baqck again. That doesn't mean I'm not happy or in love now, just that memories of the past can co-exist with a happy present. Maybe, to borrow a classic song lyric: "If you can't live in the place you love, love the place you live."

Friday, April 21, 2017

Star Wars: X-Wing vs.TIE Fighter - Balance of Power - Imperial Task Force Vengeance Mission #8

Time to try out the new hotness! I recommend the TIE Advanced for this one, although the gap between the Bright and the Assault Gunboat is a lot lower for a lot of missions. Still, this one has a lot of fast inspections and fighter killing, so the Bright is usually the best choice.

Roll in fast, and try to get your inspections done quickly. Note that the two Corvettes are hiding inside the repair yard, so either wait for them to come out, or fly close (or inside) the repair yard to get your inspection goals done. Just try not to crash into anything.

After that, it's mainly just another round of killing overmatched enemy fighters, and making sure the Rage doesn't take too much damage from attacking Rebels.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Community Surprises - Pinny Arcade and Baseball Card Traders

Fake items. Sharks taking advantage of people who don’t know the value of what they’re trading. Aggressive traders trying to wring every cent of value from a trade. I should have been prepared. After all, I’ve been in in the baseball card hobby a long time, and learned my lessons the hard way there. But this wasn’t sports or collectable cards of any kind, this was pin trading, and it was supposed to be fun.

Official PAX South 2017 set. Or "con fodder" to some.
A little background: In 2013, The Penny Arcade guys started a pin trading brand called Pinny Arcade. Official pins have a stamp on the back, and can be acquired in a variety of ways. Some are sold online, sometimes for a limited time only. Others are show exclusives, available only at a particular booth or dealer. Still others are giveaways, promotions for a game or brand, and might be purchased, or given away for completing a demo or something.

The only official rules are that that limited-edition pins and sets are limited to two purchases at a time, Penny Arcade Staff and Line Entertainment Enforcers can’t deny trades, and that pins should be undamaged for trading. Simple, right?

Not so fast. As always, where there’s collectables and a market, there’s value. This one is just a bit more… fluid. Pins that you can buy as sets (the cheapest way to acquire single pins) are categorized as “fodder” and there’s a whole exchange rate of fodder for more desirable pins. Want that Fallout 4 pin that Bethesda gave away at their PAX Prime booth in 2016? You’d better be willing to part with a C-Note’s worth of fodder for it if you don’t have anything better to trade. Such is capitalism, and turning four hours of waiting into $100 of merchandise is a pretty good hourly wage.

Fake pins, where someone has gone to the trouble of making their own look-alikes and passing them off as the real deal, are also apparently another problem. Imagine someone making their own off-brand of Magic or baseball cards, then trying to pass them off as just as valuable and worth trading as the real thing. Reactions would not be good.

One of these is a fake. Guess which one?

The peculiar contrast is that I’ve also come back to baseball card trading, at least through, and found the community there to be helpful, generous, and easy to work with. Perhaps it’s the ease of making trades from the comfort of your own computer. Almost certainly the fact that there’s a recognized authority on value, which both parties are visibly aware of, helps to ensure that trades are fair. Oh, there’s counterfeit cards at the high end being passed around on eBay sometimes, but no one is wasting their time creating batches of cheap rookie cards from the ‘90s to trade around.

Perhaps it’s a bit ironic then, that the community I thought was “just for fun” is the one filled with piranhas, and the one I expected to be filled with sharks turns out to be populated mostly by harmless, friendly guppies. I’m not going to quit pin collecting, but I will probably keep most of my trading restricted to places where there’s an agreed upon, authoritative value for things.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Star Wars: X-Wing vs.TIE Fighter - Balance of Power - Imperial Task Force Vengeance Mission #7

They're almost here! It's nearly time to upgrade from your shielded Squint, Dupe or Eyeball if you've been flying one of those instead during this campaign. This mission has you escorting replacement fighters from a carrier to the Imperial Star Destroyer Rage.

Unfortunately, the fighters are unarmed and defenseless during this transfer. The Assault Gunboats launch first and are easy enough to see over to the Rage, but the TIE Advanced are another story. You'll need to watch these like hawks, and defend them as much as you can against Rebel attacks.

Even more importantly, if any of the Brights get disabled by attacking B-Wings, you need to prioritize taking out the capture shuttles ASAP! Once everything is clear, two tugs will launch from the Rage to slowly make their way to any crippled Brights, re-activate them, and let them complete their missions.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Virtual Wings: Sienar Fleet Systems TIE/ad PIREP

"You've got a what?" I was incredulous. The TIE/ad, also known as the TIE Advanced, TIE Avenger, or "Bright" to Rebel/Republic pilots, was one of the rarest finds outside of Imperial remnants. There were two others even more rare, but this...

The tech grinned. "Right this way. They never bothered to put environmental systems in these either, so you'll still need your EV suit, but I think you'll get a kick out of this one."

He wasn't kidding! Originally based on Darth Vader's one-off TIE Advanced x1, production Avengers used radically cut wing panels with a quartet of wingtip lasers, built in warhead launchers, and provision for a small hyperdrive. It also sported shields similar in strength to an A-Wing, but could out turn and out run any fighter fielded by the Rebellion/Republic during the Galactic Civil War. It had originally be slated to re-equip all TIE squadrons operating the TIE Fighter, however cost and Imperial doctrine dictating unshieled short-range fighters meant that the TIE Interceptor went into high rate production while the Avenger was restricted to a few elite unites.

Initial start-up and launch was standard for the type. The engine howl was as familiar as always, but once clear of the hanger pattern, what a difference between this and the other TIE variants I'd flown! At full throttle, the Bright tore through space like a scalded Gundark, leaving my A-Wing chase bird rapidly in its wake. Maneuvering was similarly aggressive. At 90% throttle, the Bright could practically turn on a ten credit chip and give you back nine credits of change.

Setting up some simulated threats in the practice area, the Bright could easily hold its own in 4-on-1 dogfights against A-Wings. Where things got dicey was when enemy pilots started bringing advanced missiles to the party. The Avenger's shields could shrug off a few laser hits, or even a standard Concussion Missile, but an Advanced Concussion Missile was a killing shot the moment it hit.

Common tactics for the Imperial squadrons that equipped the Avenger with to slash in, kill a few enemies with missile shots, dogfight if the odds favored them, and if not, throttle up and disengage. The Avenger's superior speed made it easily possible.

Cockpit comfort was typical TIE, however, which was to say minimal. I couldn't imagine spending hours stuck in one of these EV suits on a multiple jump hyperspace patrol. Then again, had I been an Imperial Navy pilot, it would certainly have beaten most of the alternatives I could be flying.

The Rebellion was fortunate this ship hadn't reached wider use before the Battle of Endor. Going up against squadrons of these, rather than TIE Interceptors, could have been absolutely disastrous for Rebel squadrons.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Star Wars: X-Wing vs.TIE Fighter - Balance of Power - Imperial Task Force Vengeance Mission #6

Another capture operation. This time there's no Interdictor cruiser to back up the Rage, however, so you'll have to be more aggressive. As usual, your main goals are to keep the attacking fighters away from the capturing stormtrooper transports and Cargo Ferries. Just be fast about it!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Youtube Changes - Where Now?

The news last week that Youtube is demonitizing firearms channels, coupled with their announcement of Youtube TV has me wondering about the future of small broadcasters on that platform.
I'm hardly first on this topic. Game Theorists have been talking about this for two years now, Blonde in the Belly of the Beast covered the removal of ads from conservative and controversial media a couple of months ago, and even Simone Giertz the "Queen of Sh**ty Robots" talked about it in terms of her channel scaring off advertisers last year.

Meanwhile, log out and look at the Youtube front page. It's filled with videos from channels and artists with massive corporate backing. Saturday Night Live, Wired, Buzzfeed, all of it pushing independent channels down and off the page. Unlike the early days of Youtube, where sharing some amazing talent was usually enough to go viral, now the kid with a golden voice in Topeka is competing with artists from every major record label for play time.

But that's still not the worst problem. You can be a niche interest and still survive, provided you're making a product that some people care about. You may not get much play beyond whatever that interest group is, but if those revenue checks keep coming in, it's fine, right? Sure. Right up until Google decides that your niche shouldn't be monetized either.

It's not difficult to see what could happen. Forget advertisers not wanting to have their commercials shown ahead of certain videos, if NBC gets tired of Saturday Night Live being mocked by a bunch of piss-ant little satirists who are funnier than SNL's been in two decades, who's going to win that one? Why should "real musicians" have to share a platform with a bunch of cover-singing kids?

Maybe I'm wrong. I really hope I am. But, as I see it, there are four options for those of us who post videos on youtube.

1. Blow it all up. If you've already been demonitized, and you just want to burn it down, deleting your channel might be an option. Maybe with a note, gone to [INSERT OTHER VIDEO SITE HERE]. Problem is, Youtube is still one of the world's biggest search engines, and much like Google itself, a lot of people simply aren't going to see you on or because they won't search there. Furthermore, what would it really accomplish? If PewDiePie deleted his channel tomorrow, sure a bunch of his fans would miss him, the gaming press would run a few articles, and then? The Tonight Show tosses up a bunch of new clips and life goes on. I honestly don't think a bunch of independent creatives leaving would generate much more than a blip at this point. It might harm Youtube long term, but probably not.

2. Clip shows. The way I figure it, if your channel is already being demonitized, you might as well move to another platform for most of your content. But, don't ignore Youtube. Again, the giant search engine needs to be considered. If this is your boat, then I would be thinking about making a clip video or two every week, load it up with keywords, and post that to your channel. It may not get you any direct revenue, but it's more likely to drive at least some viewers to your new home.

3. Multi-platform. This is what I'm doing, starting with adding all my good gameplay videos to and eventually getting caught up with where my Youtube channel is. I doubt gameplay videos are in danger of getting demonitized anytime soon, but covering my bases and trying to get ahead of the exodus trend I expect to happen seems like a good plan.

4. Ostrich Algorithm. Do nothing and ignore the problem. Honestly, if I were just a Youtube viewer, or only interested in sharing an occasional cat video or sharing something cute my kids are doing for a select audience, this is a perfectly valid thing to do.

One thing's for certain,Youtube five years from now will be a radicially different place than it is now. Then again, Youtube 2017 is far different than Youtube 2012, and that's far different than Youtube 2008 (which was when I uploaded my first video. My how time flies).

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Backlog Burndown #20 - Flicky Bird

Over on Marooner's Rock, this week's Backlog Burndown focuses on an old arcade classic called Flicky. Not the most well known product, its SEGA Genesis port, from which this game derives, is probably most notable for the Easter Egg of a topless woman shaking her booty at the player for achieving an extremely high score on some levels. Not that I was able to achieve that.

Check out the whole thing here: Backlog Burndown #20 - Flicky Bird

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Star Wars: X-Wing vs.TIE Fighter - Balance of Power - Imperial Task Force Vengeance Mission #5

Back on the offensive again! This time the target is a stationary target. Take out the fighter defenses, protect the capturing transports, and win the day!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Virtual Wings: Sienar Fleet Systems TIE/IN Interceptor PIREP

Finally, we were getting into the interesting portion of the Imperial ships! While the TIE/ln Fighter and TIE/sa Bomber were certainly interesting from historical perspectives, the next ship, the TIE/IN Interceptor, or "Squint", was well known as a hot-rod to match the classic A-Wings. I hoped I wouldn't be disappointed.

The Squint had been designed prior to the Battle of Yavin, but was not yet in heavy use at that point. Afterwords, given the superiority shown by the X-Wings and A-Wings of the Rebel Alliance, production of the Squint had been increased. By the time of the Battle of Endor it constituted roughly twenty percent of mainline Imperial fighter squadrons.

With its bent wings and visibility cutouts, plus heavier armament and greater speed and maneuverability, the Interceptor certainly looked as though lessons had been learned from the design of the Eyeball. Unfortunately, the Empire had once again chosen to streamline production by forgoing shields, life support, and hyperdrive assemblies. This decision meant that most Squint squadrons were still reliant on external motherships for support, wore bulky environmental suits in the cockpit, and were still seriously vulnerable to any stray laser blasts during combat.

After the now familiar procedures to access the cockpit of the TIE series fighters and start up, I made my way out of the hanger by and towards the corporation's practice zone once again. With a speed of 111 MGLT, the Squint could run away from anything in the Rebel fleet save the A-Wing. Even slowed slightly for maneuvering and cannon recharge, it was still more than a maneuverability and speed match for the X-Wing, much less Y-Wing or B-Wing strike fighters.

The corporation's version had been retrofitted with shields, which was a common field upgrade even in Imperial task forces where resupply was limited and a Star Destroyer's supply of advanced fighters was a precious commodity. A slightly boosted reactor allowed both shield and laser recharge rates to be maintained without loss of speed, however, in heavy combat, speed definitely began to suffer as shields and lasers began drawing more power. Another common retrofit, a beam weapon, would further exacerbate the problem when used.

In the practice area, I matched up against a few A-Wings for some simulated combat. Without shields, I could manage 1v1 and 2v1 combat pretty well, but found myself quickly overwhelmed beyond that. With shields, 4v1 was managable.

To my mind, there was no question that had the Empire begun fielding this ship earlier in the Galactic Civil War, or perhaps had they been willing to invest in widespread adoption of shields for their Squints, the GCW might have had a dramatically different outcome.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Star Wars: X-Wing vs.TIE Fighter - Balance of Power - Imperial Task Force Vengeance Mission #4

Of course, it couldn't be all offense missions. The Rebels are going to come after Interdictor Compellor hard. Once again, the TIE Interceptor is the best choice. You'll mainly be focusing on taking out what's attacking the Interdictor.

Good luck!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Mystery Solved - Positive Identification for the A-7D at Y14

70-1050 from another angle
A few weeks ago I wrote about a bit of a mystery concerning the A-7D on display at the Tea (Y14) airport. It seems that Wikipedia, Joe Baugher, and Million Monkey theater all list A-7D S/N 70-1050 as having been destroyed in 1981, while the dedication plaque at Tea states that the airframe in question is the one on display. Surely they can't be one and the same, right?

This led to an inquiry sent to the Air Force Historical Research Agency. A few weeks later, I had a response! According to official records, while 70-1050 was assigned to the Puerto Rico ANG, it was not written off following the 1981 attack. And while the AFHRA didn't send me the rest of 70-1050's records, it seems likely that it served out its days with the Puerto Rico ANG, until that unit switched to F-16 ADFs. When the Air Force needed an A-7D to put on display as a representative for the South Dakota Air National Guard, 70-1050 happened to get the call.
70-1050's manufacturer data plate.

In the end, maybe not much of a mystery, other than Wikipedia getting something wrong. But it's interesting to get information that's a primary source, and gives me the chance to help out a couple of cool websites and people who've put a bunch of time and effort into tracking a vast number of serial numbers.

Official Air Force inventory sheet scans showing airframe numbers. ZB means "Loss due to Ground Accident" according to the Air Force code guide.

Official Air Force inventory sheet scans showing airframe numbers. ZB means "Loss due to Ground Accident" according to the Air Force code guide.

Official Air Force inventory sheet scans showing airframe numbers. ZB means "Loss due to Ground Accident" according to the Air Force code guide.

Official Air Force inventory sheet scans showing airframe numbers. ZB means "Loss due to Ground Accident" according to the Air Force code guide.

Neat shot of the destroyed and damaged aircraft.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Backlog Burndown #19 - Kansei Feel The Love Tonight? on Marooner's Rock

It's Backlog Burndown time once again! This week I tackled Kansei, a mystery Visual Novel from sakevisual.

Like its predecessor, Kansei features full voice acting, a rarity among the short VNs I've played. It's also longer and less linear than Jisei, featuring three endings. One ending only unlocks after completing the other two paths. Players who haven't gone through the previous game will miss some context for character dialog, but Kansei really stands on its own merits. If this is your entry point to the series, Jisei could be played later and treated as a prequel.
 Check out the full story on Marooner's Rock!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Star Wars: X-Wing vs.TIE Fighter - Balance of Power - Imperial Task Force Vengeance Mission #3

Ah, here we go. Task Force Vengeance is really going on the offensive now, interdicting a Rebel convoy. As usual, the TIE Interceptor (with shields and a jamming beam) is probably the best choice. You'll need to dump power into the engines to get close to the freighters at the start, then let the TIE Bombers take out the transports as you ID them. After that, it's back to trying to defend Interdictor Compellor from Rebel attacks.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Virtual Wings - Sienar Fleet Systems TIE/sa Bomber

After my adventure in the TIE Fighter, the next ship on my list was the twin-hulled TIE/sa Bomber,known to Rebel and Republic pilots as the "Dupe". LIke nearly all TIE series craft, the Dupe features a common cockpit layout, engine systems, and lasers. It's also unshielded, lacks a hyperdrive, carries no life support, and requires a significant amount of external support to be effective.

Imperial Star Destroyers would typically carry a squadron of Dupes for heavy attack roles. This slow speed made them vulnerable to attack, necessitating a fighter escort. However, when loaded with Concussion Missiles, sixteen of which could be carried in the internal weapons bay, the Dupe could be highly effective at standoff ranges. As a last resort, the Dupe was also equipped with a pair of wingtip mounted lasers. As I would see later, these were best reserved for strafing vulnerable targets.

Ingress was typical of the series, requiring ground support and a launch gantry to exit the hanger. Start-up was simple to accomplish and the Dupe shares the trademark TIE howl with its faster siblings. Max cruise topped out at 80 MGLT. Full throttle with max charge was 60 MGLT, with standard combat configuration yielding 70 MGLT. Essentially the Dupe shares identical performance figures with the later single-seat Y-Wing variants, though without the latter ship's shields, ion cannons, or hyperdrive.

Engaging static targets in the corporation's practice area revealed the Dupe's major flaw in laser placement. Positioned at the center of the Dupe's bent solar panels, the unzeroed laser spread is worse even than that of the X-Wing, without any of that fighter's benefits. Against fighter-sized targets, the Dupe is effectively guaranteed to miss at least fifty percent of its shots. It's only when engaging static or slow-moving targets that the laser armament is effective.

Combat maneuverability was roughly as expected. Turn and roll rates were slow, but the Bomber did provide a stable , sturdy platform for deploying various ordnance types. Given the typical training and replacement rates of Imperial pilots, common controls and ease of use were helpful factors.

Its size, particularly compared to other Imperial fighters, also lent the TIE Bomber to be adapted to a variety of other rolls. Troop transport, crew shuttle, and additional hulls for greater weapon capacity were some of the common modifications. Much like the Y-Wing, the venerable Dupe outlived many of its replacements by being an adaptable, easily modified platform.

Even modified with a hyperdrive, shields, and life support it wouldn't be my choice for touring the galaxy, but at least you'd find common parts nearly everywhere.