For The Glory Of The Empire

I got a huge nostalgia hit, recently, in the form of a fan video. One person spent over four years hand-animating a tribute to Star Wars, but not the side of Star Wars most people are familiar with. No, this short film chose to focus on the Empire, as seen through the lens of the classic flight simulator TIE Fighter.

If you haven’t seen it, take a few minutes and watch it below:

When I was a kid, I loved Star Wars (still do, to a certain extent). But I was also really in to video games. There are several Star Wars games that stand out to me: Droidworks, Episode I Racer (which I played to the point of wearing out my joystick). But none stood higher in my mind than TIE Fighter.

Somehow (I forget the details), my family ended up in possession of the X-Wing Collector’s Edition game, which included three different flight simulators: X-Wing, TIE Fighter, and the multiplayer-focused X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter: Flight School. In fact, I still have the discs.

Like any good Star Wars fan, I started playing with X-Wing, which took me through various scenarios from the films, including (of course) the Death Star trench run. But for me, TIE Fighter was always the better experience. The Empire had better technology, a wider reach, and I loved the mystique of being able to complete secret mission objectives to gain acceptance to the Emperor’s secret society. The thought of playing as “the bad guys” very rarely crossed my mind; I took great pleasure in shooting Rebel scum and Imperial defectors out of the sky with my increasingly-powerful ships and abilities. There’s nothing more satisfying than latching on to an A-Wing with your fighter’s tractor beams so the quick little bugger can’t escape and pumping wave after wave of proton torpedoes into its backside.

As mentioned above, I still have the original game discs. But the game is old enough (1998!) that it’s difficult to get running on modern computers. GOG recently re-released the game, however, tweaked and reformatted to run smoothly on new operating systems. But I had resisted the urge; after all, why buy the game again when I already (or still) had the CD-ROM?

Well, after an attempt at tweaking and optimizing, nostalgia got the better of me. That, and the $10 gift-card-cum-rebate burning a hole in my pocket. So in probably less time than it took my 1998 PC to boot up (maybe an exaggeration), I had downloaded and installed the best flight sim I had ever played.

It’s amazing how quick things started coming back to me. Sure, my skills are a bit rusty (yeah, that’s it, not the fact that my reflexes have dulled with age), but TIE Fighter scratches an itch in a way very few other space flight sims can. My fingers found the shortcut keys and commands with uncanny familiarity, and while I still remember some of the mission details, the experience is as amazing as ever.

So if you don’t hear from me for a while, it’s probably because I’ve taken to the stars, trekking across the galaxy for nostalgia and the glory of the Empire.

Unintended Hiatus

Holy cow, it’s been almost two weeks since I’ve posted something. I’m sure I could come up with some excuse, something to justify the lapse to myself, but to be honest the reasons are pretty mundane: work’s been really busy, I haven’t had anything that I want to write about, and I just plain haven’t felt like writing.

It’s amazing how much easier things go when you actually have something to say. Those posts about my car trouble? I cranked those all out in one evening… and then promptly squandered my shiny new buffer playing Saints Row 2.

Work’s been crazy, too. A project we thought was ready to start construction got pushed back because it turns out that the base plans we were given had one of the key walls in the wrong place. So not only is that project delayed, but it’s pushing back everything else I need to work on with it. It’s left me so drained that I have very little motivation to do much of anything, let alone write.

This week isn’t shaping up to be much better. But I really don’t want to go even further without writing. What does this mean for my once-a-day posting goal? I don’t know. I’m not going to tackle that question just yet.

Forensic Drafting

I’ll admit it: the reason I didn’t post yesterday is because I simply didn’t feel like it. Sure, I could have ranted about Daylight Saving Time, but I’ve already done that. Instead, I just didn’t. Mostly because the aforementioned DST stupidity and my responsibilities at work combined to put me in a decidedly foul mood.

I’ve been tasked with putting together a drawing set for one of our clients, which is fairly typical. What is not typical is that I have to use their drawing formats and standards, which are pretty much completely foreign to me and incompatible with the office standards I’m finally growing accustomed to. Compared to what I normally use, this format is woefully convoluted and inefficient.

At least I’ve been given a prototype set: an example project that serves to illustrate a typical iteration of the concept in a fairly common, simple space. The prototype set, however, is about twice as many sheets as our office’s usual format, with complementary information (say, for example, equipment plans and equipment schedules) separated by several pages, necessitating flipping back and forth every time you want to check what piece of equipment goes where. And to make matters worse, the space the prototype is laid out in is completely unlike anything that might be even cautiously described as “typical,” which makes it really hard to implement for the actual project space.

And while I was given CAD files of the prototype, that only goes so far; layering and layout conventions differ so greatly from our format, I’m basically having to recreate everything from scratch. Equipment blocks, title sheets, everything. And the format is so prescriptive, I feel like there’s no room for flexibility or creativity. I truly am just a CAD monkey.

Oh, and it has to be done by the end of the week. And it’s not like I haven’t had anything else to work on, either.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time I’ve had to jury-rig a design into some other office’s format. Believe it or not, this time is actually going more smoothly. And if we end up doing any other work for this client, those projects will go even faster. It’s just frustrating. I feel like I’m having to give a presentation in a language I’m struggling to learn along the way, without being able to use my native tongue that I know completely well everyone would understand just fine.

But no, it has to be in this super special (stupid) format, otherwise the Powers What Is might pop a monocle.

On The Road Again

This is the last part of my weekend misadventure I started recounting on Tuesday.  Parts 2 and 3 are here and here, respectively

So if you’ve been following this misadventure, you’re probably wondering what the issue with my car ended up being. Well, I couldn’t have told you to save my life. But the various people I talked to, including the CDOT employees that rescued us, thought it sounded like an alternator issue.

If that’s all it turned out to be, while I wouldn’t say I’d be happy, I’d at least be relieved. I mean, a new alternator is an easier fix than a whole new engine. And like most things, once a problem has a name, it’s easier to deal with.

The shop across the way was able to take my car, started looking into the issue. Long story short (ironic, I know), the alternator was fine. The belt, however, was not. Apparently the “thunk” I heard was a bolt breaking. I’m not sure if the bolt knocked the belt loose, or vice versa. But looking back, I think it was the belt. I had noticed some squealing earlier, like several weeks ago. But only when the mornings were cold and wet. I thought the problem might go away on its own, but of course it didn’t.

Once the problem was fixed, I was on the road shortly. I also had the mechanics throw in a new battery; turns out my 10-year-old car was still running on its original battery. And since I didn’t want to get stranded yet again, I traded money for peace of mind, like a real adult!

Hopefully I’ll learn something from this. Something like “Don’t wait to take care of weird automotive sounds” or “Ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away.” But in the end, everyone was fine, the dog was a trooper, I’m out a bit more money than I planned, and got to spend some time in hot water. Honestly, it could have been a lot worse.

Out Of The Woods?

This is a continuation of Tuesday’s story.  Part 2 is here.

The people that tow us back to Glenwood Springs are really nice, letting us bring the dog into the back of the cab, where we finally start to warm back up. We find a hotel, drop the car off, and start trying to wind down and crash for the night.

Of course, nothing in this saga so far has been simple. It is Saturday night, and even upon brief research (much as I’d rather just deal with it all in the morning), not a single auto shop is open on Sunday.

Further research in the morning (I didn’t sleep very well, as you might imagine) confirms this. So I suddenly find myself in sudden possession of a bunch of free time I can do nothing about. And while I have personal days to burn at work, this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. Neither did my brother: work concerns for Monday prompt him to catch a shuttle all the way down to the airport, and then a taxi to his car.

I try not to brood too much. I walk around Glenwood Springs a lot; it’s cute, but not that big a town. Eventually I convince myself to partake of the local hot water for a couple hours. It does seem to help me relax.

I pass my time mostly sitting on the bed with the dog, watching Doctor Who. I find a few auto shops that look promising, including the local Subaru dealership. But most promising is the fact that there’s a maintenance shop right across the parking lot from the hotel I got my car towed to. I would love to not have to have my car towed again (to say nothing of paying dealership prices for parts and labor), so I vow to check with them as soon as they open the next day; maybe they can push the car across the street if they need to.


This is a continuation of yesterday‘s post.

I am not a mechanically inclined individual. Sit me at a computer, and I’ll get in there and tinker, getting it to do what I want the majority of the time. But cars? Definitely not where I put my skill points. So when my car died in the middle of nowhere, I was at a complete loss as to my options.

It turns out, luckily, that CDOT staffs the mountain tunnels, and we were only on the side of the road for a few minutes before someone came to check on us. I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier to see my tax dollars at work. In short order they had us towed off the highway (complimentary, even!) and into an emergency truck turnoff a few miles down the road.

It was about this time, as I started making phone calls, that I realized how low on battery my phone was.

So not only are we stranded in the middle of nowhere, but now the sun is starting to set and both our phones are starting to die. One of the family members I’ve been updating on our situation gives me the idea, and I finally do what I should have done in the first place: call the 24-hour roadside assistance number from my insurance provider.

I swear, I got the slowest, least engaged technician possible.

So there I am, with a smartphone that’s almost dead, and the guy on the other end of the line is taking forever to read off his script and find out where I am so he can dispatch a tow truck. Seriously, no sense of urgency at all. Admittedly, I wasn’t feeling very charitable at this point, but even so. Eventually he agrees to dispatch another tow truck, but insists on need a final destination before he can finalize things. Standard procedure, probably, but put yourself in my shoes: it’s cold, both phones in your group are almost dead, you have no idea where you are, and some minimum-wage call center jockey in a nice, bright, warm cubicle is insisting you tell him where you want to go. When he’s the one with access to a computer and maps and all that jazz.

Well, eventually I get him to find a hotel in Glenwood Springs, and he finally dispatches the truck. Which is of course late. At this point, my phone has been at 1% battery for what seems like several hours. I’ve given them my brother’s phone number as a backup, but that’s also in the red. I’m worrying that both phones will die, leaving us completely stranded in the mountains in winter. I decide to crawl into the backseat to keep the dog company.

Eventually, the tow truck does arrive, and things start looking up.

Dead In The Water

So I had quite the adventure this weekend. Last Friday, my brother, my dog, and I drove to Grand Junction to visit my mom and her husband. It was a fun trip, and largely uneventful. Until the drive home, that is, when my car decided to die.

Now, my car is about 10 years old, and has over 134,000 miles on it. It’s no spring chicken, but Subarus seem to do well even at high mileages. And like a lot of people, I’ll readily admit that I could be more diligent with maintenance. I tend not to think about these things until they become a big issue (and they inevitably do; you’d think I’d learn sooner or later).

Anyway, we were driving back Saturday afternoon, and were outside Glenwood Springs when I heard a loud THUNK. I was a little concerned, but didn’t think much of it at the time. I figured I had tossed up a piece of debris on the road, or a large chunk of ice had finally worked itself loose. Well, shortly after that I noticed the steering wheel started to feel a bit stiff: the power steering had gone out. This gave me more pause, since steering is just after breaking on the list of “Things That Need To Work.”

Of course, I’m nothing if not adept at self-deception. It’s okay, I thought, I’ll just take it easy until we get back into Denver, and then I’ll take my car into the shop. Nothing to panic about.

Yeah, well…

Gradually, dash lights started popping up in odd combinations. First was the BRAKE and battery lights, blinking in unison. Then the ABS light. But I didn’t really become worried until the speedometer died.

You have no idea how creepy it is to be driving a car with a completely dead dashboard.

Well, the rest of the car soon followed the dash into oblivion. We coasted to a stop about 10 miles west of Gypsum, luckily in a place where there was enough shoulder that we could pull completely off the highway. But there was no denying it at this point: we were stranded.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

EDIT:  I just saw that the practice site is closed, so I get to make the long, arduous trek to my warm abode.  My point still stands, though, so I’m going to keep this post up.

It’s currently snowing in Denver.  It’s about time for me to leave for heavy practice, and I don’t know how many people are going to be there.  I could struggle through traffic for an hour just to find myself the only one there.  Or I could call it a day, head home, and prevent the people who do show up having enough bodies there to make armoring up worth it.

I really hate days like this.

It’s a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.  And there’s no way to know if it’s going to be worth it before I get there.  I’d love to not have to drive on snowy highways surrounded by other travelers who have forgotten how to drive since our last snow.  But I also want to hit my friends with sticks.  To make matters worse, the weather isn’t the only reason practice is sure to be thin: Estrella is this week, which means a bunch of people have gone down to Arizona (myself not included, obviously).

*sighs*  Let’s be honest, I’m most likely still going to make the drive out to practice.  I’m hoping I won’t be disappointed, but I have my doubts.

It’s All Relative

One of the downsides to my new desktop is it isn’t exactly what you’d call mobile. I guess I was spoiled with my laptop; even though I didn’t drag it around much, I always had the option of unhooking the extra peripherals and plopping down on the couch next to my girlfriend. With the tower, not so much. This means that if I want to use the not inconsiderable computing power that is now at my disposal, I have to sequester myself in my office.

Every once in a while I’ll get fed up with this arrangement and drag my laptop back out. Sure, I won’t be able to play the newest games, but it’s much easier to type on than my tablet, and we can spend time together even while I’m blogging.

But holy cow does it seem slow now.

I know that it really hasn’t slowed down that much since I built my new computer. It just seems like it. Windows seems to take forever to load, programs respond more sluggishly (or at least seem to), et cetera. And it’s not like this is a new experience for me. This inevitably happens every time I upgrade my hardware. Maybe it’s exacerbated by how long I generally wait between upgrade cycles; intermediate upgrades would be less drastic, but are extremely hard to do on a laptop.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that I was able to build my own computer. It’s just that I miss the portability afforded by the laptop form factor. I’ve experimented a bit with network streaming and remote desktop applications, but either the technology isn’t there or our wireless network backbone just isn’t sturdy enough.

But even as I write this (on my laptop, sitting on the couch), I can feel the keyboard warming up, the battery running down, and I am reminded why I upgraded. I just wish the change in performance wasn’t thrown into such sharp relief.

Maybe I should install Linux?

Where Does The Time Go?

Where does the time go, when you’re an adult? Take tonight, for instance. It’s about 7h30 as I write this. All I’ve accomplished so far after work tonight is to do my grocery shopping, heat up some leftovers for dinner, and finalize my hotel plans for the coming weekend. I still have to write, and I’d also like to get a shower in. What I had hoped to do was to have a nice quiet evening, one where I could kick back with a video game. That is, if I could decide what I wanted to play. By the time I finally get around to what I “set out to do,” it’s likely to be three hours after I got off work, and I’ll have a good hour or two (if I’m lucky) to relax before I have to go to sleep if I want to be any sorts of functional for the work day tomorrow.

Intellectually, I know this feeling of not accomplishing anything is irrational. Like this weekend, for instance. I recently picked up a new pair of gauntlets for SCA heavy combat, and I got them padded up and re-gloved for use at practice this week. In the grand scheme of things, the turnaround on this project was lightning fast; I still have components for a new breastplate I’ve been meaning to assemble for the past six years. But I still feel like I’m wasting time, like I can’t accomplish all the things I want to, no matter how hard I try.

How can I fix this? Do I need to carefully audit what I’m doing every minute of the day? That seems like it would take a lot of mental effort, not to mention more time. Do I just need to adjust my expectations? Probably; if you figure out how, please let me know. I guess one of the costs of being a responsible adult is all the time you spend on things you need to do, at the costs of things you want to do.

If so, that’s really a downer, and I wish there was a way around it. Maybe with enough money one can buy time, but I’m nowhere near that threshold. For now, I guess all I can do is just soldier on, letting the slight resentment towards my obligations build up over time, until it overflows into a weekend where even less gets accomplished than usual as I binge on some book or video game.