Monthly Archives: March 2015

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.