Book Recollection: Down Range

As much as I benefited from the long month in January, February is basically a cruel joke on my deadlines.  This being the 6th post of the month, I can rest a little easier now and start prepping for the next month of which I already have two of that set already identified.  But you don’t care about that right now, you want to see if my latest read is worth spending any time with.

Although not at a let down level as the US Women’s hockey team that was essentially owned tonight, Down Range: Navy Seals in the War on Terrorism was not as engaging as the previous novel I read from Dick Couch called Chosen Soldier.  The focus of this particular novel was the early efforts in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.  Chosen Soldier was a slight deviation from Couch’s normal topic in that it focused on the Green Berets.  However, in difference of sorts, this book focused more on the land engagements of the new transformed SEAL engagements as it extends its lethal capabilities into the heart of the enemy country.  Dick is still an excellent writer and is capable of translating the semantics and warrior mindsets into something desk jockeys can relate to.  I think the real let down is a result of the lack of good field examples.   This is largely due to the effectiveness of the SEALS in these environments and what appears to be a deficiency in the local defenses.  This has changed since this book was authored (2005) with the emergence of insurgency fighting, but definitely during the early engagements with the Iraq army it was a route similar to Canada over US tonight.  It also did not go as deep into the training aspects of an elite warrior which is one of the primary reasons I spend my wind down time diving into the chapters.  Note, it did give some excellent insights into the Close Quarter Defense system they employ to clear out hostile rooms which is quite fascinating due to the mental aspect of that.

As always, I was able to find some things in the book that make the precious time spent all worth it.  Take the jump to see a synopsis of those items

Continue reading Book Recollection: Down Range

Game Recollection: Dragon Age Origins

This is a first for the Blog.  Today’s post is a recollection of a PC game that I had been playing through and finally made it through the first time last night around 2AM.  It’s a rarity these days I actually feel I get my money’s worth out of a computer game purchase or the time invested in playing it.  After last night, I have to admit there is at least one game that met (actually exceeded) my expectations.  That game is Dragon Age Origins by Electronic Arts/BioWare.

This is essentially a role playing game (RPG) based in ancient times filled with knights, wizards, elves, dwarves and more evil creatures than you could think up on your own in a year.   In the genre of the Dungeon Siege series (which I really liked), this particular game allows you to control the characters in your party, manage their positions, decide their actions in an expansive world.  However, taking that a step further, Dragon Age almost feels like you are interacting with a movie as a result of hours of cut scenes woven into the game flow.  These scenes continually prompt you for responses and actions to take which directly impacts the storyline.  Maybe you want to play as a heartless champion who cares only about killing every evil doer he come across or someone who actually cares about gaining a better understanding of your companions.  As a result, my content requirement was easily met, but there are two other criteria I have that generally impact my enjoyment.  First of all, I do not want to read manuals to figure out how to play a game.  I spend my life reading technical manuals and research to be successful at work, I do not want to come home and tear into user manuals.  If it is not intuitive, there are better things to spend my free time like reading a book.  In this case, the only part of the Dragon Age manual that had to be read was the back panel with the license key.  Granted, it was similar to the Dungeon Siege game play, but there were numerous in-game hints/tips along the way to easily get you through the game.  The other requirements is ease of use.   I will say, if there is a negative it is the difficulty in getting comfortable with the camera movement.  Basically you can zoom in to be eye level with the surroundings or zoom out for a birds eye view to control the battlefield.  Both modes have a full pan feature which can leave you slightly nauseous  if you are sensitive to motion.  It took me 3 or 4 sessions to really get that down to the point it was fluid.  Beyond that, the two button mouse navigation and hotkeys were very effective.  Contrast that with the FallOut 3 game where I literally ripped out of the CD tray and flung it across the room after 30 minutes of playing the game due to having to designate which part of the enemy to target on every attack.

In almost all role playing games I try to assume the role of an archer.  I am not sure what my affinity is towards that classification, but I have been going that route since the first games that allowed you pick your character.  True to course, I selected an Elf for this time through the game:

Note, the screen captures in this post are not cut scenes, but rather in-game play graphics.  Oftentimes you get duped by the commercials that simply show a video and not the experience you get while interacting with the game.  This was my outfit while engaging other characters in a non-hostile environment.  When the whoop ass needed to be brought, the armor came out.  Here is the end of the game character record for my Jagger which shows some of the different items that can be purchased/found/earned/gifted during the course of the game.

Jagger was basically at one shot kills at the end of the game due to my approach at distributing skill points and item equipping.  Trust me, this came in very very handy at the end of the game when the darkspawn were swarming the castle.   While on the topic of skill points, Dragon Age incorporated the common feature of being able to control the character development through distribution of points across a wide variety of skill sets and special powers.  This actually provides an almost limitless game play characteristic due to how these points are utilized.  Being an archer class, I focused on those skills that gave me the greatest range firepower to compensate for the lack of thick armor.  Here is how my talent sheets turned out at the end of the game.

For those planning to play the game, the bottom two on the far right were the techniques that really got me to the end.  I’ll let you figure out what capabilities those have in battle.

I have a bunch more screen captures after the jump.  Be warned, this is labeled as a M (17+) game and it probably isn’t just due to the graphic violence that permeates the game play.  The graphic designer for some of the characters and clothing is definitely male (or possibly female with appreciation of the female form).  Let’s just say that this fictional world must have been experiencing an equally fictitious global warming.

Continue reading Game Recollection: Dragon Age Origins

Bringing out the Big Birds

Since no one has cried “Uncle” yet on the bird posts from the Yellowstone vacation last year, I’m bringing out another set of birds.  These are what I call the Big Birds of the water.  I actually have a better set of this particular bird from a couple of photo session in Lacon IL, but sticking with the theme, here is one I snapped on that particular trip.

This is the Great Blue Heron and to be honest, outside the Eagle, this is my favorite bird.  Not only is this a fascinating looking bird while on the ground, it has a truly majestic flight.  Along with the 72″ wingspan it has a flight form that recalls impressions of the pterodactyl.  Having stood less than 10′ from one while clearing the brush by our stream last year (recall Operation Parkify) I can assure you these birds are huge.  If I was to guess, this bird’s legs are the same length as body to head.  Obviously this particular fishing spot is a few feet deep.  It was interesting just how calming this setting was and it felt more like a painting.  And yes, that is snow in the upper left.  We were out there in the June timeframe, but snow was still melting off.   Don’t worry, I’ll zoom you in a bit.

Based on the plumage this appears to be an adult breeding male.  Interesting enough, I have never seen one nesting.  According to the field guides, they nest colonially in tall trees.  This one also has his head up pretty high which probably gives a better radius for finding  fish/frogs etc. swimming around him.  They will also fold their neck back on itself (as in pterodactyl)  which quite frankly when combined with that sharp long spear of a beak looks like a serious weapon.

Unfortunately, I did not get this in focus due to the low ISO being used for reduced noise, but at one point a bird (guessing swallow) cruised in next to the Heron momentarily distracting it.  This was the only time while watching him that a ripple appeared in the water.

You can make out the fuzzy image of the pesky swallow in the shot above.  Undaunted the Heron stiffened up again, the water calmed and soon he was back on his fishing game.  Expect to see more sets of this bird in the future.

An clever reader may have noticed I pluralized the title.  “Clearly the little swallow doesn’t count as a big bird and there is only one other bird in pictures -what gives blog boy?”  Well, it’s a bonus day because I am also highlighting another set of birds that managed to catch my attention while driving through the park.  My birding awareness must be improving.  As proof, Linda was driving through the park when this scene caught my eye.

Having never seen this particular bird before, I really wasn’t sure what I was looking at.  The legs were somewhat invisible which made it seem like a couple of ground hogs playing on the side of a hill.  Curious, I had Linda stop on the side of the road and walked back to the spot I saw them.  Still not sure, I focused the zoom and to my surprise it had a long neck and legs.   They were pretty far out there, but I’ll try to bring it in a little.

Pretty cool eh?  Hit the jump to see more pictures of these two Sandhill Cranes.

Continue reading Bringing out the Big Birds

It’s VDay and Love is in the Air

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone!  Hopefully you were able to spend some time with your significant others and remember the first time you knew she/he was the one to complete you.  In honor of “Couple’s Day” I bring you some water fowl I came upon while out on our Yellowstone trip last year.  I don’t think I am ever going to get through all the wildlife pictures we took while out there.  Thankfully we’re in the digital age or the film bill would have been horrendous.

First off is the Lesser Scaup.  Warning, these pictures are not tack sharp due to having to pull them in from so far away.  Based on the blurs, I am guessing I also did not have time to put the glass on the tripod either.

As you probably assumed, the male is the more colorful one.  His bill is actually a pale blue which blends in perfectly with the water making him look slightly odd from this angle.  Unfortunately, I cannot tell from the guide books the real difference between the Lesser version and the Greater version beyond the size (Lesser is ~1.5″ shorter and 3″ shorter between the wingtips resulting in about .5 lbs less in weight).  It does appear the Lesser’s have a more southern population during winter than the Greater.

Here is a better set of pictures from a small lake bordered by evergreens.  The trees gave an interesting green reflection on the water.

The green brings out the pale blue on the male much better.  The spooky aspect of the male is the yellow eyes.  In person they really pop against the dark purple head.  As you can tell the Lesser Scaup has all the standard male characteristics as he turns to check out the female’s tail feathers.  Clearly she is playing hard to get.

But in true Valentine’s spirit, she gave in to Cupid’s buckshot.

Just to contrast this romantic scene, there was another water fowl that wasn’t experiencing the joys of courtship.  This Western Grebe was trolling around all alone in a lake to himself/herself.

Unfortunately, once again I was pulling this fowl in from the extent of the glass.  The male and female do not seem to differ much from the pictures in the guides so I can’t tell if this lonely bird was a female or a male.  Following the trend of colorful eyes, this bird actually has a red tint and like the Scaup, really stands out against the darker head coloring.

This shot is pulled in a little more to help show the interesting coloring.  It is amazing how naturally camouflaged it is for his environment and when it moved out of the darker tree reflections you could barely distinguish it from the white clouds being mirrored in the water.   Based on the information in the Smithsonian Field Guide to Birds, the Western Grebe has quite the courtship ritual involving synchronized scooting across the water (just their feet touching the water) and a cute “weed ceremony”  where each bird dances upright with the other while holding water weeds in their bills.  I definitely have to try to get a shot of that the next time I am out West.  Here’s to hoping our little friend above gets his chance to experience this interesting courtship.

Gotta go now, the Olympics are starting up again and this is one sports junkie who never gets enough of athletes trying their best to represent their country… unless it’s figure skating in which case I’ll switch on over to Spike TV.

Get a Grip Irwin!

Today’s post falls into the PURE STUPIDITY category.  For Christmas, a good friend of mine gave me two vise grips from Irwin.  Whoa, before you jump to a wrong conclusion, this was not the stupid part, in fact, it was a great gift especially since I am always misplacing my wrenches.  No, the stupid description applies to the manufacturer of these products – Irwin.  Take a look at the side by side packaging for the two products:

I made it easy for you to see my issue with these two products.  One is supposedly SAE (English) and the other one is Metric.  Intrigued, I asked myself why an ADJUSTABLE wrench would need to distinguish between English units and Metric units.  Isn’t that the trade off between the skinny profile of crescent wrenches needing exact measurements vs. the more bulky but universal wrench.  Curious, I started comparing the packaging more and could only find two visible difference – that being a single digit off of the product number (2078601 – 2078602) and the SAE vs METRIC label.  They even doubled up the measurement indicator 8″ – 200mm on both packages. Turns out there was actually another difference underneath the wrenches, but I’ll comment on that in a little bit.

Somewhat surprised, I turned the packaging over assuming there had to a number of differences on the back to warrant all the duplicate packaging costs.

Unbelievable, there were only TWO differences.  One was the different bar code (one ends in 9 and the other ends in 8), and the span graphics has an SAE label on one and as expected a metric label on the other.  That’s it everyone, two completely different product packaging with 5 tiny differences.    If you were keeping score at home, you might have been surprised at the number 5 and not 4 per the images above.  There was actually another difference you couldn’t tell from the photo angle.  Underneath the tool was a matching picture of the wrench end.  Turns out, there is an engraving on the wrench end with the corresponding ruler increments.  The SAE one has an English scale:

It is very hard to tell from my photo, but there is a scale on the top of the wrench opening in 1/16″.  That engraving is actually on both sides of the tool.  Unfortunately, the metric picture is even worse than the SAE one.

This scale is in MM and as with the SAE one, is on both sides of the wrench.  Am I completely off base here, or is this as ridiculous as it seems to me.  Again, the exact measurement does not matter to me much when using an adjustable wrench other than if I want to take a measurement of the bolt in which case I’ll just slap a measuring tape across the nut.  That is the consumer view of this.  Let’s look at it from the manufacturer’s perspective.  They have to maintain two complete manufacturing product lines (well, at least the engraving step) , two complete packaging sets and keep two order/invoice sets for essentially the SAME product.  Carry this on to the reseller and now you have to have multiple tag sets, redundant shelf space and maintain two scanning/bar code price lookups.

And to top it all off, IT IS NOT A VISE GRIP (check the clamp teeth) it is a WRENCH.  Oh well, big thanks to Sung for getting me the gift, I can now keep one out in the garage and one in my toolbox to address my English and my Metric needs with the same tool.

That’s Racist

Holy Crap, I was called out by my brother tonight for my lack of post production this month.  Apparently he thinks I am slacking off and not delivering on my quotas this year.  I don’t want to let any of my thousands (ha) of readers out there to become disappointed so I ran to the keyboard to publish something I overheard at Granite Peak while boarding over MLK weekend.

Actually I overheard two things that weekend that made me practically laugh out loud.  While out on the slopes some fellow boarder friends and I came to rest part way down the hill.  I am sure it was to argue who was going make the first attempt at a  fakey inverter over the ramps in the terrain park.  As we were discussing this, three young kids came shuffling by on their way to another set of slopes.  It is hard to tell in all the snow gear, but I put their age in the 5th to 6th grade range.  They were arguing about something when the target of their ire looks up and says “Suck It!”.  I am not sure what made me chuckle more, the perfectly delivery of the response or the question as to whether this kid really knew what it meant.  I decided for my own peace of mind that he meant it referred to eggs or chocolate covered bacon on a stick.  Otherwise kids these days are getting a lot more action than one would expect.

Having heard this earlier on the slopes probably made me more sensitive to comments being made by kids while I was up there.  After a hard day of carving up the snow (okay, it was the Midwest so more accurate to say ice) we headed into the bar for a little Apres-Ski.  This being a French word for “after skiing” which basically consists of gathering with your friends and drinking alcohol until the aches and pains in your battered body disappear.  This was especially accurate that day since I had lost the feeling in the 4 toes on my right foot thanks to a couple of brutal falls racing my friend on a Snowboarder X course.  A month later and I STILL can’t feel them, but it was sure fun.  Anyway, while taking in the local beverages, I noticed a group of kids sitting at a table next to us.  I am not sure why they were actually there and even if that was allowed, but I’ll leave that quandary for those who have children.   At that table were two boys and two girls maybe in the 7th grade level or possibly 6th.  They were definitely trying their best to act older/mature than their appearance would suggest.  One of the boys blurts out “What a dumb blonde”  I smiled a bit appreciating the classic stereotype still lives on to this day.  As I took another drink I then overhear one of them say “That’s a racist comment” which nearly caused me to spill beer all over me from laughing.  What are they teaching kids in school these days?  If they don’t get this cleared up soon, our Census  forms are going to get very complicated.  The ACLU is going to be demanding the Mohawks get their proper entitlements and the Creased Ear-Lobers need to get extra points on the Firefighter tests.

By the way, I figured I’d make a comment on something that has always bugged me.  It seems like discussions come up around this time regarding someone offended by a classification or assessment effort that is taking place.  I would like to state for the record I am tired of having to refer to my heritage as “White.”  I’ve done a lot of tests and analysis on this subject (okay, that really translates to the last 10 minutes while writing this post).  Based on my findings I think a more accurate assessment would be a Khaki or maybe a Dullish Pink, but clearly not WHITE.  It’s time to stand up and stop this discrimination and I’m not going to stop until I get jus… ooooh cookies!

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