Piloting, from hercs to mechs.

Piloting, from hercs to mechs.
A running recap of what I'm doing for fun, between active duty flying, technology, gadgets, and some of my favorite games.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

My newest gadget! Jaybirds Bluebuds X wireless BT earphones review!

MP got me an awesome set of bluetooth wireless earphones for an early Anniversary present!

Here is what I think of the Jaybird Bluebuds X so far!

Battery: Excellent battery length for the minimal body of the headphones.  Supposedly they will last 8 hours, but even a couple hours is remarkable considering the earbuds themselves contain the battery.  I was very impressed by this.

Fit: I will run with them tomorrow and update this post, but so far I can say that the "normal" fit is quite nice once you get the earpieces set up correctly.  The "sport" fit goes in then around and over your ear, which I will try second.  So far, so good.  I hope it is snug and stays put during a run.

Quality: I was not hoping for outstanding volume or quality from bluetooth headphones this small, but they are very good!  I have been spoiled by Bose in years past, but these Jaybirds hold their own ground.  I will comment further when I have used them while running.

Pairing: This is one of the easiest and best integrated Bluetooth devices I have used with my iPhone to date.  They pair easily, and when you turn them on, they auto-pair again, which is phenomenal!

Use: The standard buttons on the headphones are up/down volume and a "start" button.  The center button turns them on, pairs them, and can start, stop, and select next track.  This is the standard, but the on/off and pairing function is very well done.  The earphones even talk to you to tell you that they are pairing/paired, powering on/off, etc.  I am a big fan so far!

Packaging/components: The packaging was hard to get apart.  However, it comes with 3 different sizes of earbuds and 3 sizes of the arc fit connections for your ears.  It also has a proprietary USB charging cable and a rather small hard case.  Very adequate peripherals, in my opinion.

Price: These were on sale at Best Buy for $45 off the normal price of $170.  That is a huge discount!  I highly recommend these so far, and they are now at a very competitive price point.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Guest writing for Kai...check it out!

This week I submitted a post to Kai on his blog page.  Check it out here!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

New dad gaming...a pseudo how-to for Blizzard fans with a newborn kiddo

Have a kid and your world will be rocked...certainly for the better.

If you're like me, you'll be very focused on that child, helping out the wifey, and you'll probably still have to go to the old J-O-B.

C130J...if it ain't rainin', it ain't trainin'

This post is for you, if you still want to get your gaming fix in, especially if you are an avid Blizzard fan.

1. Hearthstone is now on your iPhone.

I played the entire Blackrock Mountain campaign on my iPhone.

2. 5-minute gaming strategies for WoW on your laptop.

I get to add captions to any pictures of my kid.

3. Mobile Warcraft options using Splashtop.

This is a screenshot from my iPad, which plays at about 15 fps with a 1 second lag.

Those are a few of the good options available...I'll expand on each of them, some now, and some in future posts.

First of all, if you have ever played a CCG, you will likely enjoy Hearthstone.  It is a particularly well-done game, and the iPhone port is phenomenal.  It runs better on my iPhone 6 Plus than it does on my iPad 2.  It was an absolute thrill to start that game, btw...the campaign unlock portion I found to be very fun.  Even now, my go-to form of playing Hearthstone is playing against the innkeeper with fun decks I create.  I'm not a particularly competitive person.  So, if you like CCGs and you enjoy Warcraft, you simply must try this free-to-play masterpiece out.  Admittedly, after I got into the game I spent some iTunes cash to get some new decks, but you can have a ton of fun without spending a dime.

"5-minute gaming" is kind of a play on words from a good book "One Minute Manager," which I read because I like leadership and efficiency books.  There is a way to play WoW five minutes at a time, although this is an idea that I have yet to truly flesh out into a real method.  I can tell you that some aspects of WoW are entirely exclusive to those people who have huge chunks of time they can spend gaming without major interruptions.  I am no longer one of those people, and I have not been since I stopped serious raiding during TBC.  While I miss raiding, I still enjoy the game.  Therefore, I have to find ways to play that don't take a ton of time.

What can "5 minute gaming" NOT do for you?  You won't be able to raid, run 5-mans, complete lengthy quest chains at one time, or even

How do you play WoW five minutes at a time?  I think the answer begins with some basics.  Have small objectives that cater to a larger goal you've set.  For example, if your goal is to have a level 100 of a certain class, you can level that alt five minutes at a time.

Want to get more out of your five minutes?  Get a leveling addon, such as Zygor, WowPro, Dugi, etc.

Other helpful 5-minute leveling tips: choose "exit game" when you have to leave quickly, instead of hearthing.  (You can zone back in and pick up where you left off, instead of having to travel back...the slight rested experience accrued is NOT worth the travel time.)  Pay attention to opportunity costs while gaming!  Addons can really help you be more efficient.  Here are some addons I love: Master Plan, Topfit, RealUI (stay tuned for a full blog post on this gem), and EasyMail.  Also, have a bank alt that is in a major city!  Simply send your sellable items there and don't bother trying to move your current levelers or garrison players to those cities...not worth your time.  Some other things that "5 minute gaming" can really apply to: reputation grinding for bodyguards or factions in WoD, garrison chores, and social conversations.

Finally, there is a particularly unique way to transport World of Warcraft over to the world of mobile gaming.  No, they have not created a playable WoW port on your iPhone or iPad, although that would be FANTASTIC.  However, a streaming app called "Splashtop" is very capable of controlling your WoW characters with a surprising level of fidelity.  Splashtop has a feature you can pay for that allows you to create your own overlay controls, and this can make WoW into a console-ish game where you control your movement with one thumb and your camera angle with your other thumb.  I also added buttons that would function as keys, such as 1-4, Q, E, R, Enter, Escape, etc.  With these basic controls I can get around, even collect the ore and herbs in my garrison.  I intend to improve and validate my design by doing some leveling using only my iPad.  Oh, by the way, those essential splashtop controls are only available for their iPad app, not their iPhone app.  But anyways, it is pretty cool to be able to sign on my iPad and play WoW at all.  The lag between your control input and the character response is dependent on the connection.  If you are playing on the same Wifi network, it's about a half-second delay.  The video on the same Wifi, by the way, is stunning...it's about 15 fps on my iPad!  Over the internet (another service in Splashtop you must pay for), it's certainly lower fps.

Here is the Splashtop setup: WoW must be installed on a computer, either PC or Mac, and the Splashtop Streamer app must be running.  (This works best with only one active monitor.)  You log into Splashtop Personal on your iPad and choose "native resolution" for the computer.  When you connect to that computer, you should put it in trackpad mode for best use, then activate the gaming controls if you bought that feature (which you should if you intend to play WoW).  You are essentially using a VPN to access that computer, and you can do anything...one of the things it does well is WoW.  That screenshot above shows you how it can look.  Configure your Splashtop buttons to include the important keys you would find yourself pushing.  The left-most circle is the movement button, which allows for WASD-type movement.  The red button on the right is my solution to camera angle problems.  I configured it to "right click then drag," and then I turned the Splashtop sensitivity all the way down.

If you jailbreak your iPad, from what I hear, you can actually get a bluetooth mouse to work with your iPad...THAT would be the best of all worlds, but I have not even tried this yet.

OK...so these are some different methods I use to still get my gaming fix in while living a very dynamic life which requires my attention minute-to-minute.  Let me know if you have any other ideas!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Balance. How to win at RL and WoW. Can it be done? Episode 1.

I wrote the following segment while cruising at FL290 on autopilot on a 6 hour flight returning from Cuba to home station.  This is the start of a segment about gaming with priorities.  It was prompted by listening to the Convert To Raid podcast, which made me wish I could get back into raiding.

What is it like to be a "former raider"?
Caution: podcasts like Convert to Raid will make you want to do it again.  What is it that causes a WoW player, former or present, to miss raiding?  The sense of achievement, the thrill of a hard-earned victory, and the addictive elements of gear progression.  Also, inevitably, with consistent raiding will necessarily come a sense of community and personal connection.  If you stop raiding, you will absolutely miss the conversations on teamspeak/ventrilo, you will inspect high level raiders and feel an acute sense of envy, and you will find yourself underwhelmed by less challenging forms of gameplay.  Some people are treating "raiding withdrawals" by starting up new games, such as Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm.  Others quit the entire MMO scene cold turkey.  They will literally find themselves missing it so much they dream about it for a while.  Some people seem to shuffle around guilds in an effort to find a raid team that meets the fun quota without the time obligation.  Those folks might find it by raiding at lower difficulty, but at the expense of some of the sense of achievement.
I found myself in the "cold turkey" category when I started pilot training in late 2006.  Earlier that summer, I had been the top priest of a successful 40 man raiding guild that claimed a US 3rd kill of the final boss in AQ40.  When pilot training began, needless to say, I had almost no free time during the week, and often I was too tired on weekends to play at all.  They call this "RL," real life, which should always be a priority over hobbies.  From 2006 on, I made a conscious effort to prioritize my RL career responsibilities, then my family responsibilities when I later met my wife in 2008.  I do not regret that one bit!  Now, we have a daughter, and I'm learning how to be a husband, a dad, and an Air Force pilot and officer all at the same time.  I have continually reinstalled WoW after various leaves of absence, and I dabbled in other games such as Star Wars: The Old Republic, miscellaneous RTS games including SC2, Hearthstone, Clash of Clans, and others such as Borderlands and Skyrim.  Bottom line: nothing had me like WoW.  I would miss every aspect of the game that I wasted time on over the years...farming mobs, leveling, gathering professions, PVP, 5-mans, and of course, raiding.
How, then, do you do what you like and prioritize what's more important?
My hypothesis is that you outthink the problem.  What are my limitations?  Money? No. Skill? No. Hardware? No, although my rig is aging.  My limitation is time.  I do not have the quantity nor the consistency required to raid by most standards.  Heck, I have trouble finding time to even level my toons.  But, before I outthink the time problem, I must define with what I really want out of WoW now.

So, what do I want?
I want to have that sense of achievement and challenge, to have a group of people that I can get to know and enjoy in game, and to have at least one character that is clearly geared due to skill and effort over time.  That last part means this: a set of gear that is at least above average, which indicates a level of progression and achievement in relevant raid zones.  I would like to fill a niche in some community, but I can not have a group of people depending on me to log in before they can raid.

Why do I want these things?  The sense of achievement is that basic addiction...it's called fun in non-gamer vernacular.  It's the reason people play any game, start any craft, or play any sport.
The group of people is important to me because the community of players provided a substantial addition to the fun I had during my first years playing WoW.  I played with actual friends often over the years, and made new ones.  These people were constantly engaging me in conversation, linking sites and videos online, developed a unique and exclusive common ground for humor, and even helped form my experience as a user of the internet as a form of networking and communication.
The actual character development is important because every piece of gear you work hard for will carry great memories.  I can relate stories for almost every piece of the Tier 2 Transcendence gear I acquired during Vanilla.  The shoulders took me 3 or more months to get, raiding 3 nights a week.  The staff Benediction was a huge accomplishment.  Etc, etc.  It is hard to describe this to a non-gamer, but there is a sense of pride when you log in to an MMO and see your character at the initial screen wearing exclusive gear.  WoW players get this...a hard-to-earn set, or an exclusive title or mount, says, "I am good at this, I am above average."  It's a point of pride.  It's something I miss.

Ok, we started with why...but HOW do I do it?  I'm not sacrificing meaningful time with my wife or daughter, nor am I going to slack off as an instructor pilot in the Air Force. I am still going to work out and run and stay in shape, and I am still going to prioritize my faith.  That's a lot of stuff on my plate that comes before hobbies.
I doubt anybody will ever read this far, but we have just drilled down to the meat of what this blog was intended to be.  I suspect that there are a lot of people who will fit in this category, or at least should.

So, here we go...maybe I should make this a podcast.

Problem #1: How to raid with little overall time in small increments.
LFR is the simplest answer, but it's worth noting that LFR contradicts Problem #2 (developing and playing with a group of friends).  The newest option available to WoW players is the revamped LFG feature which allows a player to search for a specific group as a certain role.  I will likely heal, but might choose to tank some too, because the DPS role is not in demand and I have no time to waste waiting for a group to form.
LFG will allow a player to plug into groups that are pre-formed, and if you look for a "custom group," you are not necessarily just joining a complete pug (pickup group made entirely of strangers).  Instead, you might be the one person who is augmenting a guild raid night.
Before I go into Problem #2, however, I still need to solve #1.  How do I find time to raid?
I can not realistically set the same time aside on a schedule, because that does not fit with the way my family works. I need to be available to hop up and help with our kid during most evenings, and my wife deserves my time and attention, especially on those weeknights when I've been at work all day.  What about late night hours?  Maybe in the future, but not right now.  Our daughter wakes up at night and sleep is currently at a premium, especially during the week.  I can squeeze in some mindless garrison work or some AH time (if I learn how to AH in WoD), but I can not level (much), quest, or raid.
That means I basically have weekends when I wouldn't automatically feel like I was compromising as a husband and dad.
How, then, do I arrange a raid "block" on the weekend, and what will it look like?  I think my best bet is probably late Friday night, Saturday afternoon, or Saturday late night.  If I can set aside some time, how much do I need, what do I need to do when I log in, and what can I do throughout the week to prepare?
Those questions can be answered later, but the simple solution to Problem #1 is: plan a few hours of hobby time late on Friday/Saturday and raid.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Back and blogging...RL upgrades include: fatherhood, masters degree, and instructor status

I am back in action.  My blogging hiatus is complete.  I finished my masters degree in Theology (inadvertently boosting the "priest" element of this blog), completed the USAF's instructor pilot course in the C-130J, and (most importantly) we had our first kid, Molly.
This blog will henceforth be exclusively pictures of my adorable daughter.

Just kidding.

Fatherhood and instructorhood are treating me well, although my sleep-to-wake ratio seems to have changed forever.

I now play WoW and Clash of Clans, and only in-between time spent with my wife and daughter, and when I'm not on base.  I no longer raid, but I am an avid garrison developer, and I am leveling my fourth character to 100.

Remarkably, I recovered my oldest WoW account, the one I played when vanilla launched!  My original priest is still there!  That means I now have a character with full Tier 3 (Transcendence) gear and the ultimate priest mantlepiece, Benediction/Anathema.  I am in priest transmog nirvana.  So few priests can tout those old pieces, and almost none can claim that they got Tier 3 when it was the top gear in the game.  Ahh, the old days.

I will be blogging about gaming with sporadic schedules, mobile gaming with Clash of Clans, and a LOT of WoW strategies for "fire and forget" gaming.  "Fire and forget" is a reference to air-to-air missiles which a pilot can launch and then ignore due to autonomous guidance systems.  In WoW, this includes follower missions and garrison buildings.  In CoC, just about everything other than active attacking is considered fire and forget.

Stay tuned for more updates!  I'll be sharing about my first paladin, Smoogepal, which was my first character to hit 100 thanks to the free character boost which came with WoD.  I'll be talking about the fantastic crafted items which are making my hunter, Smoogehunt, a force to be reckoned with.  And, I'll be talking about the best ways I've found to capitalize on the WoW economy when you only have minutes to log in at a time.

And, in my normal fashion, I'll weave in parallels from my career as an Air Force pilot, where I am now an instructor, flight commander, and soon (hopefully) to be a Major.

Signing off...


Monday, February 24, 2014

High latency DPS observations

The internet is down completely here in Afghanistan today, so I took this opportunity to write a few letters home and construct a new blog entry.

Since moving to location B on this deployment, my internet connection has been stable, running about 400ms latency with a cap of 128Kbps download rate.  This has been nice for applications like FaceTime, which seem to be optimized on the military and paid networks.  The internet costs $130/month for that “faster” speed, but over here I think that’s about as good as I could ever expect.  I've been able to communicate with my wife daily, and in some of my spare time I've been able to even do some light raiding in WoW.
My most recent enjoyment in online gaming has come from a surprisingly fun class to play in WoW, the hunter.  Mine has been 90 for a while, although I merely used that toon for professions.  However, I was relatively diligent in downing Ordos and Celestials each week for a total of 4 chances at high item level gear, and that paid off (this only takes about 10 minutes if you use oQueue, or accomplish it on a Tuesday after server reset).  I ended up with four pieces of “warforged” 559 gear, which tops out at 567 once upgraded using valor points.  For Smoogehunt, I started sensing that his DPS might actually be competitive in raids at a higher item level, even with the taxing latency that slows ability use.

And so, this is what I’ve learned about playing DPS classes with high latency…

BLUF (bottom line up front): Let your UI do some of the thinking for you, because you have less time to think.
In WoW, bandwidth is generally not your biggest limfac (limiting factor).  Your super awesome hacker university-level mega internet pipeline doesn’t necessarily perform any better than my in-home $50/mo cable internet.  In reality, latency plays a much larger role in your ability to complete raids or farm mobs.  (Don’t even try to compete in PvP with high latency, at least in arenas.)  As far as I know, there is no way to queue abilities for use, so every time you want to cast Explosive Shot, you have to press a button.  For every DPS class I've seen so far (DK, rogue, hunter, and warlock), this means your triggered abilities will always be delayed by your latency + reaction time + physical cast time.  So…with 400ms latency, it takes .4 seconds at least for my system to receive the notification that Lock and Load has procced, then I have to mentally react and decide to cast Explosive Shot, and then I have to physically push my “1” key.  Now, my reaction time is decent, but this delay is simply unavoidable over here.  How, then does a DPS player compete when he is at a near half-second or greater disadvantage?
Select the right spell at the right time.  i.e. Don’t bother with Serpent Shot when a lot of low-HP mobs are in front of you…use your Glaives.
The only thing I've found so far to help with that is User Interface improvement.  Simple addons such as TellMeWhen and SpellFlash will quickly cue your attention to upcoming and high priority abilities.  For instance, I found a pre-made string that I imported into TellMeWhen for my Frost DK.  It provides some centrally positioned icons that show when I can use an ability.  It does the checking to make sure I have adequate runes or energy, and it highlights procs when they happen.  For my DK this helps me anticipate which abilities I need to use.  Even with latency, if you are selecting appropriate abilities based on energy and procs, you will suffer less DPS loss because you are never capping in any of your resources. 
Capping your resource is an automatic loss of DPS.  For a DK, you have two resources (runes and energy).  Rogues simply have an ever-regenerating energy bar, just like a hunter, and casters have mana.  My warlock also has an energy resource that can be spent to transform, which is less time critical, and my priest stores up charges that I can consume to increase my healing throughput.  If you ever have 100% energy or all of your runes (rogue/hunter/DK), and an enemy is standing, you are losing DPS.  If you capped your focus as a hunter because the game was ticking away while your connection slowly registered your actions, you lost DPS due to latency.  However, if you have 500ms latency, you can still keep your focus below 100% almost all the time.  The only exception I occasionally see is when a Lock and Load procs when I already had about 50% focus.  I might hit 100% focus while I’m dumping Explosive Shot, but the next ExS that requires focus always brings me down quickly.
The universal cooldown seems longer when you have higher latency.  OK, maybe not mathematically correct, but I can tell you that you have to wait for the UCD (the natural recharge rate before you can cast any other ability) before you can select your next attack.  With high latency this often means that you accept an additional delay between instant casts.  I notice a much faster attack pace on a faster connection with my rogue and hunter, because each of those occasionally spams instant attacks to dump energy/focus.  The good news here is that most of the time you will be selecting abilities based on procs and cooldowns, not just spamming one key waiting for the UCD.  When I do need to dump energy/focus, it simply takes me longer than a player with 30ms.  Best advice here: don’t fixate on spam abilities…the chances are that you have a proc or a cooldown you can use to fill that time instead.  Try not to ever cap an infinite resource when in combat.
Targeting makes a huge difference.  In some fights, such as Garrosh, I have noticed my DPS goes far below normal.  That’s because I don’t have a great way to target new enemies when they pop up.  I still use my mouse wheel “up” as my “target next enemy,” which I’m finding to be entirely inadequate.  I’m rarely selecting my intended target on the first single scroll, so entire seconds are lost just trying to find something new to shoot.  This is not good, and it’s even worse if you are on a melee character such as a DK or rogue!  With a hunter you should have almost zero downtime because you attack at range and you can cast all of your shots while moving.  No excuses for a hunter, so I’m going to try to find a good addon for target selection, perhaps in the form of nameplates.
Be ready to use your big abilities.  Know which key to hit when your 2-minute DPS cooldown is up, and quickly fit it into your rotation.  I now use “Q” “E” “R” and “V” more than I ever used to, because they are relatively quick to strike.  The primary numbers I use are 1, 2, and 3, and I do use shift some.  I currently have some cooldown abilities tied to the F-1 through F-5 keys at the top of my keyboard, but I find myself reaching for those and using my cooldowns a lot less frequently than I otherwise would.  I am not sure where to fit those abilities, since I also don’t naturally use the Ctrl button.  I’m constantly looking for good keybinds to improve my speed when it comes to ability selection.  The first step is definitely getting to know which spells are your character’s most important.

I recommend Icy-Veins as a great first stop.  I probably spend about 15% or more of my time “gaming” actually reading forums, tutorials, and other people’s advice.  I have been told that Noxxic is grossly inaccurate, so I went back to Icy Veins for my theorycrafting and to simply learn basic rotations on new specs.  This is where I figure out what my important spells are, and I assign the most common ones to the easiest keys to reach.  For instance, Explosive Shot is “1.”

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

New base, new options, new problems

So, as we transition to a new location, I am fortunate to now have a few different internet options available to me.  So far, the free network seems about the same as the expensive paid network, in bandwidth and latency.  While I seem to no longer have to worry about disconnects due to router hopping, I now have to contend with a very consistent 300ms latency.  And, from the limited time I've had to log on so far, I can tell that bandwidth will make that even worse in raids for some reason.  That being said, I'm always impressed by how little bandwidth WoW actually requires to be playable.

Now that I have tasted the flex and LFR raids, I am usually disappointed when I don't have enough time to actually log on for a couple hours and join raids.  My recently leveled DK is specced for DPS, so the queues can be upwards of 30 minutes.  I don't have a high enough item level to join flex raids using oqueue yet, so I'm in the middle area of limited loot and long waits.

Every week I use a bonus roll for both Ordos and a Celestials boss, on each of my four level 90 characters.  Including the default drop, that comes out to 16 chances to loot a high level item off those bosses.  Two weeks in a row I have stuck out entirely.  RNG is quite frustrating.