Quote of the Moment

"Beep Industries currently has no openings. This is a good thing. Any number of career paths are better than game development. Lots of jobs are more lucrative and far less work. We hear marketing and animal husbandry are filled with potential."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Low and Slow in a Big Airplane

Watching an expert airshow pilot do a controlled, slow pass in a small aircraft is an interesting thing. Watching an expert airshow pilot do a controlled, slow pass in a military jet fighter is loud and interesting. But watching an expert do a controlled, slow pass in an airliner? Well, it's very loud, and also extremely impressive.

I found this clip last night thanks to the AvWeb newsbrief, and thought I'd share it.

In other news, I should be back to a more frequent blogging schedule now that my side project has ended. Now I just have to figure out what topics I want to write about.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Rockin' Review: Guitar Hero III (PS3)

Last weekend, I picked up Guitar Hero III for my PS3. It's the first GH game I've ever owned, and if a picture is worth a thousand words, I think this says it all about my response:

Face obscured to allow the victim some semblance of remaining dignity.

For those who are currently scratching their heads going "What's a Guitar Hero, and why is this grown man holding a child's toy guitar?", I'll give a bit of explanation. Basically, the Guitar Hero series is karaoke for people who'd rather play an instrument than sing, or Dance, Dance Revolution for those who would rather play an instrument than dance. The guitar has five buttons on the neck, plus a strum switch and whammy bar. Notes cascade down on the screen, and timing a button press on the neck with a flick of the strum switch does a pretty good approximation of playing a note or chord.

That's kind of a long-winded explanation, but here's a video example, courtesy of YouTube:

You'll have to imagine the person on the other end jamming on the guitar controller to get a near flawless playthrough there.

So that's the explanation, and for me, at least, it's a lot of fun. Really, one of the bigger difficulties I run into while playing is that I'll sometimes get a little too into the music, and miss some notes because I stop paying close attention to the note cascade.

In the interest
of full disclosure, I should point out that I have previously spent a little bit of time learning to play real guitars, and that I was, in fact, in a bad garage bad while in high-school.

The song list strikes me as being a good blend of old-school rock standbys from the late 60s, 70s, and early 80s, plus some grunge from the 90s, and modern rock groups like The Killers. Not having been raised on these particular brands of music, it's almost all new to me, and that's allowed me to discover some new favorites, Eric Johnson's White Cliffs of Dover in particular. On the other hand, it's caused me to wonder who enjoys some of this stuff and actually thinks it's music (I'm looking at you, Slayer and Sonic Youth).

The periodic boss battles are also somewhat frustrating, as they amp the difficulty way up, and for me, were little more than mostly un-fun progress blockers that kept me from enjoying my pretend guitar playing while I completed the very videogame task of defeating a specific boss. There also seems to be some problems with the PS3 online connections, where it takes about ten tries just to find one live match.

Still, the three boss battles, occasional dreadful song, and online weirdness aside, it's a game I'll be enjoying for quite a number of hours yet. While I doubt I'll ever be completing Through the Fire and Flames at 95% on Expert anytime this century, I'll still be having fun.

Bottom Line:
Playstation 2, Playstation 3, PC, Xbox 360, Wii
T for ages 13+. Some songs, Talk Dirty to Me for example, contain sexually suggestive lyrics that definitely aren't appropriate for children. Also, the avatars are dressed like, well, hard rock musicians. The women's outfit options are generally tight and revealing, while the men's outfits are also mostly tight and revealing, with a dash of hideously ugly to boot.
You'll Like it if: You've ever played air guitar to your favorite rock songs.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Five Airplanes

Ahab tagged me for a list of my five favorite airplanes, and aside from a lot of difficulty in picking only five, I'll give it my best shot, but I still had to include one honorable mention, making it a list of six.

Honorable Mention -- ViperJet

A high-school fantasy come to life, the ViperJet has the kind of profile I used to doodle in my school notebooks. Pay no attention to the fact that once you get an engine and avionics, this will still cost more than a million dollars, the fact remains that it is (at least in theory) a kit aircraft that can be purchased and built in your garage. As such, it's like a fantasy that's almost attainable: not the movie star you'll never meet in a million years, but the girl down the street with whom you might just have a shot if you could only make the football team.

#5 -- Piper Cherokee 140

It's not particularly pretty, and it's not particularly fast, but the old PA28 Cherokee 140 is on the list for one simple reason: it's the airplane that taught me to love flying. Back in my early teen years, my dad knew an airline pilot who owned one of these, and for two successive birthdays I went flying. After the second year, overflying the Southern California Poppy Reserve and seeing the most amazing carpet of orange, yellow, and purple rolling under my feet, then looking ahead and seeing the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevadas, I knew I would be a pilot someday.

#4 -- Corvair F-106 Delta Dart

It's really difficult for me to pick a favorite from the Cold War era jets. There's so many that I find fascinating, like the F-104, F-89, and the F-8 Crusader. But of them all, the Dart has to top the list. There's just something about that tailless delta shape. To see one of these in person is to imagine scenes of aircraft sitting on alert through cold, dark midwestern winters, their pilots shivering in the alert hut while drinking endless cups of coffee, waiting for an alert siren that could come at any time, sending them scrambling to their jets to ward off a massive wave of attacking Soviet bombers.

#3 -- Consolidated B-24

The forgotten bomber of World War 2, you really have to see one to really experience its power. The B-24 flew faster and dropped more bombs than her prettier sister the B-17, but where the B-17 is curved and delicate, the B-24 is all business. She's a big, slab sided box with wings, four huge round engines, and a massive tail. In flight, she makes a sound that has to be experienced to be understood.

On my nineteenth birthday, the one pictured above (the only flyable model still in existence) was at the local airport. My birthday treat to myself was to go visit. I tread carefully around a few gray-haired gentlemen, most there with their children, grandchildren, or even great-grandchildren, for whom this aircraft brought back memories of a time long ago, when they were little older than I was at the time. I peered at history standing before me, and imagined what it must have been like when aircraft like this formed a swarm a hundred strong or more.

#2 -- North American XB-70 Valkyrie

The supersonic bomber that never was. A contemporary of the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the XB-70 was meant to be a bomber capable of Mach 3 high-altitude attacks into communist Russia. Canceled due to budget cuts and lack of suitability for the low-level flight, only two were ever built. Still, it's fascinating to look at this aircraft and wonder what might have been if she'd been built in numbers. Plus, just look at those lines. More even than the Blackbird, this is an airplane built for speed, but that looks pretty in the process.

#1 -- Northrop P-61 Black Widow

Ask most aviation buffs what their favorite WW2 warbird is, and they'll probably say the P-51. Some may throw in the P-38, or the P-47, maybe you'll even get a Zero, BF-109 or FW-190 thrown into the mix. I'd probably be the only one to mention the P-61. The Black Widow was a night fighter, and as sizes go, she was the biggest fighter the USA had during the war, almost the same size as the B-25 medium bomber. She carried a crew of two or three (pilot, navigator/radar operator, and rear gunner depending on model), had her own radar in that massive, bulbous nose, and was armed with four 20mm cannons in the belly, and in the A and C models, four .50 caliber machine guns in a dorsal turret.

They operated almost exclusively at night, hunting other night fighters and bombers in a time before GPS, when most navigation was still done with stopwatch, compass, and map. The C models also participated in ground attack raids, dropping bombs and strafing targets, for which their massive firepower was well suited.

In my early teens (funny how so many life-effecting experiences happened here) I was introduced to a gentleman who along with his wife, lived in the retirement community where my grandfather preached. He had been a P-61 pilot during WW2, and I was in awe of this quiet, older man who had once flown these big birds in combat. One of my most prized possessions is a lithograph he gave me called Symphony in Black and painted by Dan Kelly. Mr. Stewart was one of the five pilots who had signed the copy I have. That piece hung in my bedroom at home for years, and when I grew up, got married and got a job, it moved with me, to our first apartment. Now it hangs in my kids' room, and someday, I'll explain to them what it is, who signed it, and why it means so much.

Monday, November 5, 2007

More Proof the Squirrels are Gonna Get Us

Apparently the squirrels have now taken a page from the terrorist handbook in their attempts to kill the humans.

From the UK Register, we have an example of why the Fluffy-tailed menace and high-voltage powerlines don't mix:

Flaming kamikaze squirrel torches car

Sciurine death dive does for Toyota Camry

Published Wednesday 24th October 2007 09:55 GMT

A New Jersey woman's Toyota Camry last week suffered a sciurine kamikaze attack during which a flaming squirrel fell onto the vehicle, slid into the engine compartment and provoked an explosion which destroyed the parked vehicle, the Jersey Journal reports.

Lindsey Millar, 23, and bruv Tony, 22, were at home in Bayonne last Wednesday lunchtime when the incident occurred. The animal had apparently decided it was a really good move to chew through overhead powerlines directly above the motor, and was duly fried for its trouble.

Tony Millar explained: "The squirrel chewed through the wire, was set on fire, fell down directly to where the car was. The squirrel, on fire, slid into the engine compartment and blew up the car."

He added: "They're always coming around here, chewing through the garbage."

Ms Millar is apparently fully insured for incendiary squirrel strike, although her brother concluded: "It's something to laugh about once she has a new car. It's not funny yet."

As a rather poignant footnote, the Jersey Journal notes that the Millars' house is fully decked out in anticipation of Halloween, "complete with a tiny plastic tombstone on their front lawn". Tony Millar said the family "will consider dedicating the tombstone to the squirrel". ®

Seriously though, when I eventually buy an actual house, if we live somewhere it's an option to do so, I am buying a varmint gun to deal with these things. I do not want a flaming squirrel doing a dive-bomb into the convertible I'll hopefully own as well.