Caster's Corner - Livestreaming on Twitch

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Demo Fleet Day - Five New Harleys in Four Hours

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to go to my local Harley-Davidson dealer and participate in their demo days. Especially with my one year anniversary with my Sportster coming up, this was the perfect opportunity to sample some of the newest offerings from H-D, get some ideas for my own bike, and maybe find something else that fit me better.

I rode five different motorcycles, good representatives of most of Harley's general classes. Two in particular I was really excited to ride, but I'll get to those in a moment.

First up was the Street Rod. This bike has gotten really good reviews (this one from Ride Apart is one example) and I was excited to try it out. A high-revving street fighter, from Harley? Maybe this would replace the Sportster!

Picture from Harley-Davidson
High revving and fun it was. Sounding like nothing else in the Harley line-up, it felt perfectly flickable, begging for a test ride with more curves than our dealer approved route. Engine screaming up to 9,000 RPM, it had no trouble keeping up with the bigger bikes. It's the only Harley I rode that felt like with a few modifications, would have been at home at a track day.

Unfortunately, at 6'1", I felt really uncomfortable with the riding position. I don't know how Chris Cope did it in his two-day review, my hips were screaming for mercy after five minutes, and the cramps I got from fifteen minutes on the bike had me walking stiffly the rest of the day. So much for the Street Rod, it's never going to be the bike for me.

After that I moved up to my first big twin. The Road King is the least expensive of Harley's touring lineup, and thus the least costly bike equipped with the new Milwaukee Eight engine that was the other thing I desperately wanted to try.

Picture from Harley-Davidson
Now this was a ride! My first encounter with floorboards (my Sportster just has pegs), a comfortable, wide seat, and high bars. Of course those high handlebars turned me into something of a human drag chute at speed, but what arm position! I'm definitely going to be looking for some different handlebars for my Sporty.

Next came an Ultra Limited, the most expensive two-wheeled machines Harley makes. What a machine! With the big bat-wing fairing in front of me, I barely felt the wind, so much so that 60mph barely registered, nor did the fact that I was still in 2nd gear at the time. If I had the money to do so, this would absolutely be my choice for tearing down the highway for miles and miles at a time. The Milwaukee Eight engine is at its best here, giving a little bit of Harley rumble and shake when stopped, but buttery smooth once you're up to speed.
Picture from Harley-Davidson

Rounding out the Milwaukee Eight tour, I jumped on a Road Glide Special. Falling somewhere in between the Road King and Ultra Limited in terms of pricing, the Road Glide is also unique for its fixed fairing. Where most other Harleys have their fairings mounted to the handlebars, causing them to move with the front wheel, the Road Glide mounts its big fairing to the chassis. After getting used to having my windscreen pointed in the same direction as my front tire, my first couple turns on the Road Glide were a mite disconcerting. Certainly nothing I couldn't get used to though.
Picture from Harley-Davidson
The aggressive, forward leaning look is definitely a love it or hate it kind of proposition. It also made reaching the radio/navigation touch screen somewhat difficult, as it was positioned much farther up the dash than on the Ultra Limited. I think if I had my druthers, I'd probably just put a big windscreen on a Road King and do without the Road Glide's toys, but who really knows?

Finally, I jumped on something from the Dyna line, a Fat Bob. I was particularly interested in this because the Dyna series is the common step up from the Sportster 1200 that I own now, as they mark the least expensive chassis to carry one of the Big Twin engines. However, where the Touring lineup now mounts the Milwaukee Eight, the Dynas are currently still running the older Twin Cam, with its "paltry" 103ci displacement. For those keeping score at home, that's still about 25% more displacement than my Sportster has.

Picture from Harley-Davidson
Unfortunately, this one left me a bit disappointed. The big twin shook even more than the smaller V-Twin on my Sportster, but the power feel wasn't much different. Oh, I'm sure after a full Stage One upgrade (new exhaust, new air intake, and an ECU remap) I'd feel a difference, but stock and still having to add all the go fast parts that my Sporty already has? It basically felt the same. A fun, powerful ride, but not what I was looking for. Now if Harley ever fits the Milwaukee Eight into the Dyna chassis, I'll be waiting for my local Harley dealer to open for business in the morning so I can throw money at them. I'm serious. That stripped down, lightweight chassis, plus that big, smooth engine is a combination I would buy tomorrow if the opportunity was there. Here's hoping that's one of the fifty models Harley has promised to introduce in the next five years.

Overall, what did I learn? That the Street Rod is I bike that I want to love, but am too big for, that the Ultra Limited is what I want when my kids are grown up and I'm leading a little fleet of family around, and that a new bike with a Twin Cam engine is not for me. I also figured out that I want to add a bat-wing fairing to my Sportster, plus my helmet buffeting is caused by my windscreen being at exactly the wrong height. And maybe get some new handlebars that raise my arms up an inch or two.

Mostly it turns out that somehow, despite being a total newbie when it came to motorcycles, I made a pretty good choice the first time around. My Sportster may not be excellent at any particular thing, but it's pretty decent at quite a few things. But that's something I'll be talking about more next month, after I've officially been riding for a year!
Still my favorite. Mainly because she's mine.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Let's Play - Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - Prologue Mission #2

Gunnery training! This is probably the most time you'll spend in a turret throughout the game. The sad truth is that while manning a gun turret is kind of cool, it's far more effective to just set the turrets in defensive mode or to attack a specific target, than it is to turn piloting over to the droid and jump in a turret.

But it sure is fun to feel like Luke Skywalker or Finn and blast TIE Fighters from a quad laser battery!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day

I'm not a veteran, and I count myself fortunate that the people in my life who are currently or have previously served in the military all came back safely. So today I'll take a short morning run with the ghosts where my city's Memorial Park stands, on the grounds of a training facility that once sent thousands of men younger than me off to war. I'll grill hot dogs, drink a beer, hug my kids, and reflect a bit on words written my someone a lot more qualified to talk about this stuff than I am.

You should go read his blog today instead. Words of Wisdom.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Let's Play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance - Prologue Mission #1

Here we go with Mission #1. Like most games, this starts off as a glorified training mission, teaching you how to pick up cargo, dock with stations, and get in a fight. Nothing too complex. It's your first look at the inside of a YT-1300 transport though, so that's something.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Book Review - Scaling the Rim by Dorothy Grant

Dorothy Grant's debut novella weaves a sci-fi tale of adventure and romance set against a stark battle with the elements to accomplish a nearly impossible task. A former resident of Alaska, Mrs. Grant definitely took "write what you know" to heart in choosing her setting. The descriptions of arctic cold and conditions practically freeze the reader's hands, and if the action wasn't demanding pages be flipped, my hands would have been frozen to my Kindle.

As a novella, this is a fairly short, but the action doesn't let up. For fans of character drama and romance set against a science fiction backdrop, this is definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

New Life, Part 3

The babies have feathers now. The nest looks like it's getting rather small for all four of them now. By next week they'll probably be hopping along on the ground behind Momma!

"Mom! He's touching me again!"

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Here We Go Again - Let's Play Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance

This is it, the final game in the classic X-Wing series. While Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance may not be the best game in the series, it did bring a few new things to the franchise, specifically the opportunity to fly light freighters such as the YT-1300 and YT-2000. The addition of rudder support was also a long-overdue improvement, allowing a finer control layout.

The campaign begins shortly after the Battle of Hoth, and proceeds through the climatic battle of the Second Death Star. For today though, here's the opening that sets the scene for things to come.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Review - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Got the chance to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 last week. Full review is over here on Marooner's Rock.

Great film though I hope that Vol. 3 will have at least a couple less end credit scenes.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Let's Play: Flicky

Finished this out a few weeks ago for Backlog Burndown #20, but the video took quite some time to edit. For a video LP that clocks in under thirty minutes, this took over three hours of gameplay time to get through.

This definitely isn't one of those games I'd recommend as a big classic playthrough, unless you have really fond memories of it from childhood. It's just sort of there. The art style is unique, but the gameplay is definitely more on the frustrating side of challenging.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Fifteen Years Ago...

Fifteen years ago, a younger me married the prettiest girl I'd ever dated in front of our gathered family and friends. We had no idea what the future would hold for us, but we knew we wanted to have that future together.

I've made a lot of dumb, selfish, hasty, poorly planned decisions over the years, but that was definitely not one of them. Truth be told, a less patient, godly, and forgiving woman would likely have decided at some point that years of sixty-hour work weeks was more than enough, and either forced me to make a choice I would resent, or simply dumped me for someone who actually understood the concept of "Work/Life Balance." I'm very grateful that she didn't do either of those things.

I'm pretty slow on the uptake about a lot of things, but eventually (after getting metaphorically whacked over the head with a 2x4 enough times) even I get the message. I have a life now that twenty-two-year-old me would never have dreamed of, and I couldn't be happier. I hope I have a lot more anniversaries and adventures to celebrate.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

New Life, Part 2.

The babies have hatched! The kids are absolutely entranced, as the baby birds have gotten big enough to hang their heads out of the nest and wait for Momma to come back with a juicy worm or a big tasty bug.
Hard to see all four, but that one guy really likes to hang his head over the side and be the
first one fed.

We thought there were only three, but this evening we saw four little heads all poking up, beaks in the air, waiting for food.
Poor Momma, the only way she gets any peace and quiet is to just sit on the nest for a bit.

According to Wikipedia, they won't be in the nest for more than another week or two.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Star Wars: X-Wing vs.TIE Fighter - Balance of Power - Imperial Task Force Vengeance Mission #15

This is it! The final mission in the Imperial campaign. There is a lot of stuff going on here, and in many ways this is a mirror image of the final Rebel campaign. You'll be fighting off waves of Rebel fighters, kamikaze attacks by remotely piloted Dreadnoughts and Y-Wings, and assisting in the capture of a Rebel cruiser by defending a few Assault Transports.

Just keep shooting.

Monday, May 15, 2017

First Ride

She'd been waiting for this day to come for months. The anticipation had started when we bought a helmet, a smaller, full-face version of my modular HJC. It had been followed a two months later by a pair of Ladies' size 6.5 motorcycle boots during a spring sale. As the weather turned warm and spring finally took hold in South Dakota, I finished the ensemble with the purchase of gloves, a multi-layer textile jacket with built-in CE armor, and a pair of armored riding jeans.

The sound of the UPS man dropping the final Revzilla box into the garage signalled that the day was here. The Wing-girl was ready. A bit timid though. As we scooted to the edge of the driveway, she wrapped her arms around me and asked if we had to go down the hill? Yes, my child, we did. There's no direction off the top of this small hill that doesn't lead down.
Happy new rider.
 We rolled into the parking lot for one of the local parks and practiced slow speed maneuvering for a few minutes. I wanted her to get the feel of leaning with me, and learn to trust that we weren't going to suddenly tip over. I asked if she was ready to go farther, to take a ride out to one of my favorite burger joints.

Pulling away from stoplights gave her a taste for acceleration. After dinner, she asked if we could take the freeway home. "Okay." I can't hear a whole lot at freeway speeds beyond wind and engine noise, but I could sure hear some musical tinkling laughter every time I goosed the throttle to get up to freeways speeds. Someone is hooked, and I've got a new passenger, at least until she's old enough to get her own ride.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Star Wars: X-Wing vs.TIE Fighter - Balance of Power - Imperial Task Force Vengeance Mission #14

This is it, the penultimate mission in the Imperial campaign! Oh boy is it a doozy. The mission objectives don't seem all that tough, just inspect some ships and destroy some mines and gun platforms, but there's a fifteen minute time limit that makes things extremely unforgiving. Unlike almost all the other campaign missions where getting your ship destroyed is a temporary annoyance, in this mission the distance from your spawn point to your objectives basically ensures that a single death will doom the mission.

With the time limit, this is probably the toughest mission in the Imperial campaign. The best technique seems to be picking one of the TIE Avengers that is armed with Advanced Concussion Missiles, and save those for firing in pairs at the gun platforms. Inspect the Nebulon B cruiser as it flies past you, then you can get the rest of your inspections (save for the reinforcing Calamari Light Cruiser) done in one pass.

Have your wingmen focus fire on the minelaying Escort Transport, and take down the gun platforms, followed by the mines. Don't forget to keep your decoy beam charged, otherwise you'll almost certainly end up eating an enemy missile. Finish up by scanning the Rebel cruiser. Good luck!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Spring Baseball

The scent of fresh-cut grass in the air.

"Ping!" as aluminum bats making contact with softly tossed baseballs from volunteer coaches.

Cheering kids as one of their teammates rounds the bases to score a practice homerun.

A blob of kindergartners leaving their positions to chase a ball (except the right fielder who's busy watching an airplane, and the shortstop who's digging a hole in the dirt with her cleat) while their coaches just sort of sigh and suggest that the catcher doesn't need to chase the ball into left field.

a pre-schooler's laugh as her father pushes her on the swings while they wait for her big brother to finish practice on the nearby field.

These are a few of my favorite things that are eating my free time right now.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Book of Face helpfully* pointed me to a December article from PC Gamer for their Top 25 Best Space Games on PC. Not that I have too many issues with their choices (although how System Shock 2 didn't make the cut is beyond me) but man is it ever kind of depressing that the majority of the good space combat sims are all from the '90s.

Although I'm an original backer of Star Citizen, I wouldn't say it belongs on the list either. It's still too far from finished. Hopefully it's going to be a worthy successor to the Wing Commander throne someday...
This is the cockpit view that made me fall in love with space games.
Screenshot from

Independence War really belongs on there too. A game with full Newtonian physics more than fifteen years before Elite: Dangerous, and one of the few that really made you feel like you were captaining a bigger ship. Also, what's a list of space games without a single Star Trek game? Granted a lot of those have been hot garbage, but Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force was excellent, even if it did have a pretty weak source show to work with. At least it wasn't based on Enterprise.
I-War isn't all that complicated. Okay, it is.
Screenshot via
For my (admittedly biased) money though, I would have included Star Trek: Starfleet Academy as the representative for that franchise. Not the most polished space sim, but the only one that gave you the chance to stand on the bridge of a Federation ship and resolve conflicts with violence, or occasionally diplomacy. Also included a fair number of cameos from members of the original Trek cast.

That's your captain (on the right) and part of the crew though. You're
definitely more of a Kirk than a Picard.
Screenshot from

*Not actually helpful

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Star Wars: X-Wing vs.TIE Fighter - Balance of Power - Imperial Task Force Vengeance Mission #13

Ambush! On the way to the final confrontation with the Rebel starshipyard, the Rage gets intercepted by group of Airam capital ships and fighters. To make matters worse, Rebel reinforcements arrive soon after. It appears that the Rebels have developed an Interdictor-type cruiser of their own!

Essentially this mission boils down to a clock management battle. In the TIE Avenger, focus on knocking out the R-41s of the Airam fleet, then intercepting Rebel B-Wings, preferably before they can get into torpedo range of the Rage. By the time the B-Wings have all been destroyed, the Calamari Cruisers will likely be in direct fire range of the Rage. Use your Mag Pulse warheads to prevent the cruisers from finishing the job that the B-Wings started.

Eventually the Assault Gunboats and the Rage will start having an effect on the Cruisers. Right about this time reinforcements, in the form of Super Star Destroyer Vengeance will arrive. Hold out until the last few Rebel ships withdraw or are destroyed, clean up the disabled dreadnoughts, and the mission is over. Congratulations! On the the penultimate test!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Book Review - Airman's Odyssey by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I really wish teenage me had discovered Antoine de Saint-Exupery. I read a lot of Gordon Baxter's and Len Morgan's columns in Flying Magazine back then (which definitely influenced my writing style), but Saint-Ex is in a league by himself. Airman's Odyssey is a collection of Saint-Exupery's three most well known non-fiction works: Wind, Sand and Stars, Night Flight, and Flight to Arras.

Of the three, Wind, Sand and Stars is something of Saint-Ex's autobiography. Night Flight gives a sometimes harrowing account of a single night in the early days of mail runs in South America, and Flight to Arras is a shorter, philosophical volume inspired by a combat flight during the fall of France.

P-38L Lightning and F-16C
Antoine de Saint-Exupery died while on a reconnaissance flight in an F-5B (photo-recon variant of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning in 1944. The most recent work in this volume was Flight to Arras, written in 1940, seventy-seven years ago. Even so, these are words that reach across time to ring true today.

The descriptions in Wind, Sand and Stars are what I want my writing to sound like. When Saint-Ex describes laying in the sand in the Sahara watching the stars come out, you feel as though you're there, pinned to the ground with all of space hurtling towards you. You can practically feel your own hands going numb as he describes fighting with a massive storm across the Andes mountains. When in Flight to Arras he describes people of France retreating to nowhere, the sorrow and desperation is palpable.

"A chief is a man who assumes responsibility. He says, 'I was beaten.' He does not say, 'My men were beaten.' Thus speaks a real man."
     - Flight to Arras
Do any words ring truer to many of the situations we find ourselves in today? Millions of people point fingers, blaming one group or another for their problems, while never once looking inward to ask if they themselves are part of the problem. Saint-Ex saw two World Wars decimate his homeland. In between he flew airmail across some of the most rugged places on the planet, doing constant battle with his aircraft, and with the elements themselves. When his words speak as loudly as they do today, we would do well to listen.

"I understand why an equality that was founded upon God involved neither contradiction nor disorder. Demagogy enters at the moment when, for want of a common denominator, the principle of equality degenerates into a principle of identity. At that moment the private refuses to salute the captain, for by saluting the captain he is no longer doing honor to the Nation, but to the individual."
     - Flight to Arras

Friday, May 5, 2017

Star Wars: X-Wing vs.TIE Fighter - Balance of Power - Imperial Task Force Vengeance Mission #12

Trickery! Deception! Not exactly the Imperial way, but certainly effective when they work. This time out you're defending a resupply drop for the Rage. The TIE Advanced is almost always going to be the right choice here, because you're going to need all the speed you can get to put yourself between the vulnerable transports and the Rebel X-Wings and B-Wings that are firing torpedoes.

The good news is that the first two waves of enemies will explode after you get their hulls to around fifty percent, a result of the sabotaged warheads they're carrying. The bad news is that you still need to intercept a bunch of proton torpedoes, then make sure that fighters making gun runs don't destroy the transports either.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

New Life - Spring in South Dakota

It appears that we are going to have some house guests for the next few months.

Mama picked a sheltered spot on our back porch that's protected from both of the common wind directions around here. The concrete block pillar also ensures that cats and local creatures that like eggs or baby birds aren't going to be able to climb up.

Given that she's on the nest almost all the time, I'm fairly certain there are eggs in there, though I haven't gone up to check. Hopefully I'll have some baby bird pictures next month!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Virtual Wings: Cygnus Spaceworks Alpha-class Xg-1 Star Wing Pilot Report

“Okay, now this is something different.” I’d test flown the four TIE variants that had comprised the vast majority of the Empire’s forces during the days of the Galactic Civil War. Of the four, the TIE Fighter (TIE/LN or “Eyeball”) was as expected, the TIE Bomber (TIE/sa
or “Dupe”) was a slug, the TIE Interceptor (TIE/in or “Squint”) was a hotrodded deathtrap, and the TIE Avenger (TIE/ad or “Bright”) was a world beater. But the Empire hadn’t exclusively fielded TIE series craft.

While rarely seen in line forces, the Imperial procurement groups had recognized the need for a hyperspace-capable fighter armed with warhead launchers and ion cannons to serve a role analogous to the Y-Wing. Assigned primarily to scout squadrons, the craft would be used for advance scout duties and during rapid capture operations where ion-cannon armed transports would prove impractically slow. Cygnus Spaceworks, designers of the Lambda-class T-4 shuttle and Sentinel-class landing craft, answered the procurement call with the Alpha-class Xg-1 Star Wing.

Utilizing a folding wing system similar to the larger shuttle designs, the Alpha-class, commonly known as “Assault Gunboats” was able to have a shipborne footprint similar to a standard TIE/ln design. Armed with two laser cannons, two ion cannons, and a large warhead launcher bank, the Assault Gunboat was more than capable as a heavy scout or long-range escort. The Assault Gunboat also carried heavy shielding, and was often equipped with a beam system.

It was also designed to operate semi-autonomously, with landing skids, and a pressurized cockpit that eliminated the need for the TIE pilot’s bulky environmental suit. Entering the craft was much closer to entering a Y-Wing cockpit than a typical Imperial fighter design. After verifying my familiarity with the controls, we closed the canopy and I powered the ship up.

After experiencing a series of TIE craft, the lack of the engine howl was jarring. I had to double check that the engines were even running given that only a quiet hum reverberated through the craft. Unlike the TIE engines, the hum was the extent of engine sounds during normal operations. While the Assault Gunboat could rack launch like a TIE craft, the corporation’s examples were kept in the simpler and more maintainable grounded landing section. Takeoff was a simple matter of calling for clearance, gliding out of the hanger bay on repulsors, and transitioning directly into spaceflight as the wings lowered to flight position and the gear retracted.

Powering into the practice area, the Xg-1’s biggest flaw became readily apparent. Much like the Y-Wing, it was slow and especially ponderous in comparison to the fast as thought maneuvering of most of the TIE series craft. Small wonder that the Gunboat generally fared poorly against X-Wing and A-Wing starfighters, but was more than a match for the typical pirate forces.

Engaging targets showed off the design’s strengths. With ion cannons and lasers mounted above and below the cockpit, respectively, maximum firepower could be brought on target quickly and accurately. The gunboat’s multipurpose weapons bays could normally house a load of sixteen concussion missiles, or twelve proton torpedoes. The cockpit itself had excellent visibility, which came as a relief after hours in TIE cockpits.

Combat proved my earlier theories correct. Against slower, less maneuverable legacy fighters, the Gunboat could easily hold its own. However, faster, more maneuverable foes could easily hit and run, wearing down the massive shield shell without taking more than a stray hit or two. Only advanced units equipped with a tractor or decoy beam stood a chance under these conditions.

The Gunboat was much more like the Rebellion/Republic fighters that it opposed than like most other single-seat craft in the Imperial arsenal. That the design largely dead-ended there, save for some rumored extremely advanced prototypes spoke more about Imperial procurement priorities than it died about the performance of the Xg-1 itself.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Star Wars: X-Wing vs.TIE Fighter - Balance of Power - Imperial Task Force Vengeance Mission #11

Let's welcome the Compellor back to the fleet, shall we? Unfortunately she's still undergoing repair/refitting and is a sitting duck for a Rebel strike force. Fortunately, however, now that we've got fighters with hyperdrives, we can combine with the Rage to hit targets from multiple directions.

TIE Advanced or Assault Gunboat, either way your job is basically the same. Kill the enemy Assault Transports once the Compellor is disabled, then kill the B-Wings and anything else trying to destroy the Compellor once the boarding and capture attack fails.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Missing Content Monday

Seriously slammed last week. Still behind from all the things that my previous weekend riding my motorcycle and hanging out at Code Camp meant I left undone.

Next PIREP will wait until Wednesday, and I'm so glad that my Youtube/ videos are running with a buffer, or I'd really be hurting.

Until then, please enjoy some of the sidebar bloggers.