March 27

The Many Faces of Pacific Northwest Raptors

One of my favourite places to visit on Vancouver Island, Pacific Northwest Raptors, otherwise known simply as The Raptors, is a raptor sanctuary located in Duncan, BC. It is a place I have visited multiple times in the past, and I keep going back to it for one simple reason: every time I go to visit, I fall head over heels in love with the unique personalities on display.

It is difficult to pick one bird to talk about, or one species, as any parent would say when talking about their children (although deep down, most parents tend to have a favourite, and I would be lying if I said I did not have a particular bird that I am drawn to more than others). I love each species for different reasons: from the sleek, efficient, and graceful Bald Eagles; the powerful and majestic Golden Eagles; the adorably tiny, yet unexpected deadly North American Kestrels; the incredibly social, and easygoing nature of Harris’ hawks; the blazing fast Peregrine Falcons; the fast and unrelenting Gyrfalcons; the rich history and ancestry of Saker falcons; the clever and intelligent Common ravens and Crows; the whisper-quiet and breathtaking flight of Owls; to the vibrantly beautiful Red-tailed hawks, and Ferruginous hawks. These are just a few of the qualities of different raptor species that come to mind, and I am sure there are many more reasons that words simply cannot express.

The birds living at The Raptors are the source of inspiration for my life’s work, and the legacy I want to leave behind for the future generations. Without realizing the significance of my choice, I had decided to become an Aerospace Engineer when I was in high school, a field of study heavily influenced by studying the flight of birds, and particularly, raptors. It comes as no surprise to discover that I had a natural affinity with birds, and that falconry would be a large part of my life. The more I learn about these amazing birds, the more hands-on experiences I have, the more I fall in love, and the more I want to do for them. This post is dedicated to the birds who have inspired me, and an opportunity for me to share their stories, in the hopes that they inspire others.

Theia, Juvenile Bald Eagle

Theia is a more recent addition to The Raptors, having been born during the last 2 years. She may look bigger, but that is likely a result of her age – she certainly likes to flaunt. She weighs about the same has the more experienced Hera, at about 12 lbs. This was my first time ever seeing her fly, and the difference in experience really shows: her attempts to fish out of a pool turned into a quick shower, as she has not figured out how to keep going upon catching the fish (she slows down before she reaches the pool). The result is quite comical.

Hera, Bald Eagle

She is a little difficult to see, but the difference in appearance should be immediately apparent. She looks visibly smaller, sleeker, and more experienced, something that is very noticeable with Manwe as well. Unlike the younger Theia, she has no reason to flaunt: she knows that she is a seasoned veteran and is a sight to behold when she’s flying.

Hawks (Harris’ hawks, Red-tailed hawks)

Pictured here are a group of hawks, or better yet, a caste of hawks. The Harris’ hawks are a chatty group, as there is usually at least one bird squawking its lungs out every few seconds, while the others squawk back, asking them to shut up. Both Harris’ and Red-tailed hawks are beginner-friendly birds for aspiring falconers; Harris’ hawks because of their incredibly social and forgiving nature, making them very easy to train in a matter of 2 weeks; Red-tailed hawks, though less forgiving, allow you to learn from your mistakes and improve as a falconer. The Harris’ hawks are the perfect companion for a hike in the woods, otherwise referred to as a hawk walk. The bird follows along overhead, while the falconer hikes long, and can occasionally call the bird down for a treat. This takes full advantage of the acrobatic abilities of the Harris’ hawk, as they maneuver around the trees and branches.

Falcons (various)

Pictured here are quite a few of the falcons living at The Raptors. I do not remember all of their names, but in the first picture, we have Ruby, a white-morph Gyr/Saker falcon hybrid, and Arrow, a pure Saker falcon (in the middle). In the second picture, we have Kessy, the most adorable little North American Kestrel, and Murphy, a pure white-morph Gyrfalcon in the far back. Kessy’s brother Twain, another American Kestrel, is not pictured here. In the third picture is Fraction, another Gyrfalcon hybrid (hence the name, though it is uncertain as to what the other species is). Fraction is quite the flyer, and it was quite the challenge keeping up with him. In the final picture, we have Bell, a 21-year old Saker falcon and perhaps my favourite bird of the bunch; she is the sweetest old bird, and still eager to fly (despite knowing she is not able to). She usually has Arrow sitting next to her, but due to a slight disagreement (Arrow and Bell are supposed to be a couple), Nitro has taken his spot. Nitro is one of the fastest birds at The Raptors, being a Peregine falcon. If you thought Fraction was an amazing flyer, Nitro takes it up a few notches.

Kessy, North American Kestral

I do not have the words to describe Kessy, though I will try to. Kessy is a bird who needs to be experienced up close. She is the sweetest little bird (weighing in at 100-120g), and is an amazing flyer. She loves to fly through the audience, and occasionally land on a person’s hat (she sees it as a perch). She captures my heart every single time, and if I could pick just one bird to be THE face of The Raptors, it would be Kessy. It is no surprise that everyone who sees her, and holds her, falls in love instantly.

Inspector, Spectacled Owl

Inspector is one of the Spectacled Owls living at The Raptors. Spectacled Owls get their name from the pattern of white feathers around their eyes. Elton is the other Spectacled Owl who lives at the Sanctuary, and there’s a funny story behind why she (yes, she) is named Elton. When she first arrived at The Raptors, she had been DNA sexed as male, but a few years later, she decided to lay eggs. This is a common occurrence among raptors, that it is difficult to determine the sex of the bird, and the only way to know for sure is if they lay eggs. There are other trends though; for instance, female raptors are typically about 30% bigger than the male counterpart.

Altani, Golden Eagle

People tend to focus more on Bald eagles when talking about eagles. That is not surprising, as bald eagles are a well known symbol in North America (particularly as the symbol of freedom in the United States). Golden eagles on the other hand, are bigger, more powerful, and in my opinion, far more majestic than bald eagles. Golden eagles have a wide range, and can be found around the world, and are one of the largest eagles in existence (the now extinct Haaste eagle is the largest known species).

Winston, Crow

Winston is one of my favourite birds at The Raptors, and the only crow who lives there. His story is a sad one. Winston was found on the side of the road, injured, and rescued by an elderly gentleman. In order to care for Winston, he quit his job and took care of the bird full-time, and Winston had partially imprinted on to him. Over time, Winston became too loud and required much more effort to take care of, which is when he moved into his current home at The Raptors. Due to his partial imprinting (he considered his previous owner as a “mother” basically), he has particular preferences in people he likes, and is usually agitated when a large group of people is nearby. He does appear to like me though, coming up close for head scratches (he loves his head scratches). This time around, he did something different: he picked up random objects (a stick and a tiny rock, on different occasions) and offered them to me, though when I go to accept the objects from him, he would not let go. It was as if we were playing a game of tug-o-war. Every time I visit The Raptors, I make sure to stop by and say hello to Winston.

Kyle, Common Raven

Kyle is a character. He is one of the many un-releasable birds living at The Raptors, having had one wing removed. I cannot remember the exact story of why his wing was removed, but due to that, he is not able to fly. He more than makes up for it with short hops instead, and is quite active. He has some of the most amazing vocalization, and loves to “talk”. His playful nature draws a lot of attention, and boy does he bask in that attention.

I could probably say more, but I will stop here in the interest of keeping this short. Much more can be said about the many birds at The Raptors, but the words cannot do them proper justice. It is well worth the visit, and participating in the close-up encounters. For the serious falconer, the week-long Apprenticeship program is money well spent, as it will teach all of the basic knowledge needed to get into Falconry.

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October 3

A quick update

So, it’s been a while since my last blog post, and I haven’t really been keeping up. A lot has happened in the last few weeks, which has kept me busy, so thought I would give a quick update on where things are right now in my life.

Work has been keeping me pretty busy. I’m close to finishing the first half of my practical training, and am slowly starting on the second half. Upon completion of both parts, I will be ready to do the final phase of my training in Borden Ontario. I still have lots of time to complete it though, as I won’t be going to Borden until next October, so I can take my time with the prerequisite training.

I also had the opportunity to go on an exercise up in Yellowknife NWT. The purpose of the exercise was the validate the CAF’s plan to respond to a major air disaster (such as a plane crash). I was one of 40 or so individuals playing the part of casualties, providing training for Search and Rescue Technicians (SAR Techs) who did the initial first aid and transported them to a medical facility, where Med Techs provided additional treatment. It was an absolute blast, spending 3 days in Yellowknife (and a good 3-4 days getting to and from Yellowknife, because of the timing of service flights).

A picture from the last day. I had a possible spinal injury and a burn to the face. The picture does look … uncomfortable, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it looks, though that’s probably just me. And yes, I was briefly duct-taped up as well.

After coming back, it’s taken a couple of weeks to adjust back to normal life. During that time, I finally got my Ontario Outdoors card and Small game hunting license, and am in the process of applying for a Falconry apprentice license. It’s coming together and if all goes well, I should be starting my apprenticeship officially in January, when my sponsor will be available to help train me. I did also visit Muskoka Birds of Prey, a falconry centre near Barrie. As it turns out, the bird I will be working with for my apprenticeship lives there, and will be re-trained by my sponsor, so I had the opportunity of meeting the bird. He was quite the handsome ferruginous hawk, and I am very excited to work more with him!

I’ve made a bit of headway with my Minecraft mod too. The design document is at the point where I can start adding in items and blocks in the simplest form, then add more complex functionality such as tile entities, multiblocks, etc. Texturing and models can be made as I hit various checkpoints in the roadmap. As I progress, I’ll have to incorporate all of the features I want to implement gradually. I can then focus on the planetary dimensions (I want to be able to create them in a way that doesn’t require much code, by using json definitions for the planets, for instance). Just Enough Dimensions might be a source of inspiration for that, as it’s similar to what I want to do. I also want to add an in-game manual that takes its content from a github repository, which I can then use to display the exact same content on a website. 2 birds with 1 stone.

Other less important things to accomplish: create a logo, develop a website (with a roadmap initially, tracking development progress) for the mod.

There’s still quite a lot of work to do, so I will keep posting fairly regular updates as I make progress.

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August 26

Know your limits. Understand them. Then surpass them.

That is how you become stronger.

This past weekend, I had what I can only describe as “an experience”. Not necessarily a good or bad one, though realistically a bit of both. It was one of those experiences that I tried to plan for, failed miserably due to the uncooperative nature of reality, made the best of the situation, and ended up overcoming the challenges that it presented.

I decided to go on a backcountry camping trip to Algonquin National Park. Of the many campsites available, I chose one that seemed relatively close and didn’t require much traveling to get to. Here’s the fun part though: the site I picked required canoeing and hiking to get to (that part was deliberate, I wanted a site that I can only access by canoe). What I didn’t quite expect was how much canoeing and hiking I would need to do. Turns out, the site I picked required multiple portions of hiking and canoeing to access, which would have taken nearly 7 hours at the rate I was going (considering it was my first ever serious camping trip, in hindsight, a backcountry canoe site was probably not the best choice). Since the canoe was a rental, we had to carry it and all of the gear until we reached the campsite. The canoe alone weighed 52lbs (15′ Standard), and I had a 30lb backpack with additional gear and clothing. That equated to about 82lbs or more of weight between canoeing portions of the trip (the total hiking distance was about 3km, give or take).

Setting off from Canoe lake access point, it didn’t take long to figure out where we needed to go. This was the longest canoeing portion, taking approximately 2 hours. When we arrived at the first portage, the most significant hiking portion of the trip began, totaling approximately 1.5-2km. Between having to stop occasionally to make sure we were going the right way, and due to needing to take breaks, it took approximately 1.5 hours to reach the next canoeing portion of the trip. This portion of the trip came with another unexpected challenge: a shallow portion of the lake barricaded by many fallen trees, requiring wading through waist-deep water while pushing the canoe along and above the logs. Luckily, that portion was a short 56m, followed by another short canoeing portion (I use the word “short” loosely, it still took about 30-45 minutes to cross that smaller lake). The next portage is where we hit a snag: multiple obstacles, and that fact that it had been nearly 5.5 hours of travel time at that point forced us to consider stopping (we weren’t confident about the state of the trail past that to continue onto the campsite I had reserved, as there was still another canoeing portion and another short hike left in our trip). Since it was nearly 8pm at that point, we set up camp, had a quick meal, and went to sleep. The mosquitoes, though plentiful, didn’t do much to keep us awake all night.

When we woke up the next morning, the clouds had rolled in. The previous day had been beautiful and clear, but that gave us false hope. It started raining by noon on Saturday. We decided pretty quickly that we should leave the same afternoon, instead of staying the extra night as planned, since we weren’t sure how long it would take to make the return journey. The rain wasn’t letting up, so we took down the campsite around 3pm and set off on the return journey to Canoe lake. The return journey was less eventful and far less challenging, since we knew where we were going, and I needed to take fewer breaks once I’d figured out a comfortable position to hold the canoe. That was really the toughest part. Between the weight and the constant shifting of the hiking trail (resulting in the canoe shifting around), it was a challenge to maintain the delicate balance required for a comfortable and relatively painless hike (I still required occasional breaks to give my shoulders a rest).

I shouldn’t really say the return hike was uneventful. We did spot a young moose along the way back. It was curious, observing me in particular due to the odd shape I presented (with the canoe on my shoulders). It took a few minutes, but the moose eventually lost interest and moved on, allowing us to progress. We didn’t take any chances, as it looked young and hungry. Getting attacked by a moose (and a black bear, for that matter) was not on my list of things I wanted to do on this trip. Hunting a moose is definitely on the bucket list, but that’s a long term goal (I need to get my hunting licenses in order before I even consider attempting that).

I conquered the hike in a lot less time than the previous day. It went far smoother. Then came the final canoe back to Canoe lake access point, which was mostly against the current and the wind, making the journey last nearly 2 hours. All said, the total journey back took about 4-4.5 hours. We returned the canoe, had a quick shower (backcountry canoe sites do not come equipped with shower or toilet facilities), ate dinner, and started the drive back. Since it was getting late, we stopped at a rest area near the highway and slept in my car.

My body still hurts. My shoulders are killing me, as is the rest of my upper body. Taking deep enough breaths sends spasms through most of my muscles. I’m also covered in mosquito bites (the itching is annoying, it’s been a while since I’ve dealt with mosquito bites of this scale, especially considering I grew up in Sri Lanka, where mosquito bites were mere trifles).

Looking back though, it was a good experience. It taught me that, despite my initial limitations, I was capable of conquering them. It reminded me of the most important lesson I’d learned in basic training: your body can overcome any limitations if you set your mind to it. Instructors at basic training knew that too, and knew our limits, knew just how much they needed to push to allow us to surpass those limits without breaking us. The canoeing and hiking was definitely beyond my limits (the canoeing was easier, and I barely felt the soreness in my muscles as I paddled; the hiking was harder due to the weight on my shoulders, but not too bad with occasional breaks), though not that much further that I couldn’t overcome them with willpower. Every time I took a break and had to reload the canoe onto my shoulders, it took longer and longer as my arms screamed in pain, but once the canoe was on my shoulders, it was smooth sailing until my shoulders complained, which was the right time to take a break.

Know your limits. Understand them thoroughly. Then push yourself to do something that’s slightly beyond those limits, or even further beyond. Convince yourself that your body will take whatever you throw at it. Then, conquer those limits, and set yourself a new limit. Minor injuries in the process are easily dealt with, just tough it out and keep going, and your body will recover from them. Every time you do that, your body becomes stronger and more resilient. And, above all, you become more mentally resilient, understanding that all it took was willpower to surpass your limits.

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August 22

A More Immersive Space Mod – Orbital Mechanics (Part 3)

To add more realism to a Space mod, it would be interesting to consider some measure of realistic orbital mechanics. This is something that other space mods lack, in that they don’t consider the planets orbits to determine the optimal time to launch a rocket or spacecraft. You simply launch, and can travel to your destination planet, consuming a bit of fuel in the process.

Lets start with considering the most realistic scenario: planets have elliptical orbits, and aren’t co-planar. The reference orbital plane is known as the ecliptic, that is, the orbital plane of the Earth around the sun. All other orbits of planets are inclined relative to the ecliptic plane, by what’s known as the inclination angle (one of the orbital elements used to describe a Keplerian orbit). For most planets, this inclination is small enough that they can be considered co-planar, with the exception of Pluto, which has a high inclination angle (and also a bizarre orbital shape that occasionally brings it closer than Neptune). Other orbital elements define the elliptical nature of the orbits, as well as their orientation.

The problem isn’t necessarily with the orbits themselves. They are well defined, the orbital elements are known, the changes in the orbital elements over long periods of time are also known, and all of these parameters can be used to determine a planet’s position at any given time in the future.

The problem arises when determining the most optimal trajectory between two planets. The most fuel efficient trajectory is known as a Hohmann Transfer – an elliptical orbit that has one planet at its periapsis (the originating planet, which is closer to the sun) and the other planet at the apoapsis (the destination planet, which is furthest from the sun). The limitation of a Hohmann Transfer is that it only really works between two circular, co-planar orbits, which is not the case for all planets in our solar system. Because the distance between the planets and the sun varies with time, determining the optimal distance between the two planets that will minimize the travel time required in an elliptical transfer orbit is non-trivial (side note: minimizing the size of the transfer orbit is important to minimize velocities, or changes in velocities, which is proportional to fuel consumption; that is, the higher the increase in velocity required to achieve a transfer orbit, the more fuel is consumed). The problem cannot be solved analytically by solving a series of equations – it needs to be solved numerically using supercomputers.

The obvious simplification that can be made is to treat all planetary orbits as circular and co-planar, with a radius that is the average distance between the planet and the sun. These numbers are well documented. The calculations required are vastly simplified, as the orbital velocity of a circular orbit is easily determined. Defining an elliptical transfer orbit between two circular orbits is easily solved analytically, as the semi-major axis of this elliptical orbit is constant, and the change in velocity required at the different points of the transfer orbit (one at the originating planet, and one at the destination planet) is easily determined analytically. The orbital period of the transfer orbit is also easily determined from Kepler’s third law, which can then be used to calculate the travel time between the planets. This will become important.

Launch windows will still be important though, even when considering the simplest case of circular orbits. Because of the different orbital periods, it is important to predict where a planet will be some time in the future, to ensure that both the spacecraft and the planet arrive at that point at the exact same time. The other way of looking at it: knowing the starting position, the ending position, and the travel time, we can determine where the destination planet needs to be at the time of launch in order for it to be at the destination location at the end of the travel time. The optimal launch window may only occur once every few “Minecraft” years, which will need to be monitored and tracked in order to achieve a successful launch. Some scaling factors may need to be applied, as a Minecraft year is 121 hours, or 5 days. Saturn’s orbit would be 27 Minecraft years, or 135 real days. The numbers are much higher for Neptune and Pluto. How often this happens can be calculated knowing the relative positions of the originating and destination planets based on their orbital periods. This can be part of the research aspect involved before traveling to a destination planet. A probe can be sent to the planet, and by monitoring the position of the probe (approximately the position of the destination planet), it would be possible to determine the information needed to calculate the launch window.

Once we have launch windows, and a means to define the elliptical transfer orbit, the fuel consumption is fairly easy to compute. The velocities at the periapsis and apoapsis of the transfer orbit are easily calculated from the orbital parameters, which can then allow us to easily determine the change in velocity at both points of the transfer orbit (assuming that the velocity of the spacecraft is equal to Earth’s velocity at the periapsis, and the velocity of the spacecraft needs to be equal to the destination planet’s velocity at the apoapsis). This is directly correlated to fuel consumption, and for the sake of the transfer orbit, we will consider parameters in a vacuum to calculate the change in velocity (example, specific impulse and effective exhaust velocity are different in a vacuum vs. in an atmosphere – that is a separate topic in itself).

It’s unfortunate having to make that many simplifications, but the math is far too complex to be properly simulated in a video game. Especially for a game like Minecraft, where simplifications need to be made for the sake of sanity.

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August 22

Long overdue update and various odds and ends

It’s been a while since my last blog post, so figured I might as well write something and provide an update for those who may be following.

I have been having internet issues in my room. Living on base, and restricted to using the internet connection on base, which isn’t exactly the best connection (barely enough for watching Youtube, network ports locked down, etc). The past week, the internet has been completely down, forcing me to use public wifi instead, which requires me to actually go out (the introvert in me barely tolerates that). Hopefully that gets fixed soon, but I don’t see it happening for at least another week.

I have made quite a bit of headway on the Minecraft mod, to the point where I can start working on getting the basic blocks and items in the game; this shouldn’t be too difficult to do as the process is simple enough, once I have the textures made. I can then start working on the more complex features, such as multiblock structures, machines, world generation and other dimension tinkering, various systems to deal with gameplay mechanics (orbital mechanics and planetary simulations, rocket equations), etc. The complex features will require a fair amount of coding, so it will be a significant undertaking.

Work has been keeping me busy. Between working on my practical training, and being tasked with organizing a Squadron-wide family day event, I’ve been all over the place with little time to focus on anything else. Most days, I’ve just been exhausted with the amount of effort required to plan the event and weave in bits and pieces of my training in between. I am close to completing the first phase of my training despite that though, and on schedule. The family day event is tomorrow, so once that is over, I will have fewer obligations.

As a much needed break, I will also be going camping on Friday, to Algonquin Park. The campsite I selected is one of the backcountry canoe sites, requiring a canoe to get to. I would have to carry all of my gear with me, as well as the canoe, which should be a fun experience. Luckily for me, the total distance I need to walk is only about 3.8km, which is well within what I am capable of with a lot more weight than what the canoe and my gear will weigh.

Camping is a great way to de-stress, so I am definitely looking forward to the unique experience. I will hopefully be back Sunday, if I don’t get eaten by a black bear (Algonquin supposedly has a population of approx. 2000).

That’s all for now. I’ll have more to talk about when I get back from camping.

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August 11

A more Immersive Space mod (Part 2)

One of the main challenges of an immersive space mod is having meaningful and uniquely challenging gameplay. The mistake that’s made by Galacticraft is that each planet is essentially just a re-skin of the moon, and the dungeons and mobs are uninspired. The gameplay and exploration is incredibly bland, and once you’ve completed the dungeon for the next tier rocket schematic, as well as collected enough Desh (which is plentiful), there is little reason to return to Mars and establish a base there.

I have had some time to sit down and work on what I would like to see in terms of unique challenges. This is just the bigger picture; naturally, it will require a lot of refinement and tweaking in order to make sure it isn’t frustrating for the player. The gameplay needs to be challenging, but not frustratingly so, which is the case with many games that are “challenging”.

When I posted the idea to reddit initially, someone suggested that the environment should be the challenge. This is a brilliant idea, as one of the key things to remember about space is that every little thing can and will kill you. Andy Weir said it quite eloquently in The Martian:

“When I was up there, stranded by myself, did I think I was going to die? Yes. Absolutely, and that’s what you need to know going in because it’s going to happen to you. This is space. It does not cooperate. At some point everything is going to go south on you. Everything is going to go south and you’re going to say ‘This is it. This is how I end.’ Now you can either accept that or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math, you solve one problem. Then you solve the next one, and then the next and if you solve enough problems you get to come home.”

That sense of danger, of being in the harshest environment known to man, must be ever present in a realistic space mod.

Of course, it will need to be somewhat forgiving: instant death won’t be a thing, but there will be a short window of opportunity to allow players to recover if they do the right things (all of which the mod will provide). Certain actions taken will have consequences, though not life-ending ones.

Without further ado, these are some of the ideas I had in mind.

Story progression and rewards can be heavily tied to the Advancements system that many modpacks use to gate progression. This allows for meaningful quests to tell a story.

The first part of the progression will involve building infrastructure to launch the first rocket. This involves building the core machines necessary to craft the basic blocks necessary for building rockets, engines, fuel tanks, and potentially cargo. The moon is automatically available without having to research the location beforehand, so all that is required is to build a rocket, fuel it, and launch it. Of course, the process to accomplish those 3 steps will be involved.

The progression to get to the moon will involve a branching Advancements system, which will converge to the final objective: travelling to the moon. Upon reaching the moon, a new Advancement section opens up for various tasks to be done on the moon.

While on the moon, there will be unique environmental challenges to overcome:

Meteorites will constantly strike the surface, and will destroy anything within a chunk, including any structure that is built on the moon. This destruction is completely unavoidable, but easily salvageable. Note that damage is done to only a single chunk, and only on a chunk without any player in it, so a cleverly designed moon base will allow for safe areas. The bear essentials for surviving the Moon’s environment will need to be on the player at all times, so as to quickly recover from the damage (the minimal survival equipment is dangerous to use long-term though, so always have proper protective equipment close). This destruction of blocks can trigger an advancement, requiring certain objectives to be completed in order to complete the Advancement. Example, if particular machine was destroyed (one that produced oxygen), then rebuilding that machine and infrastructure will grant the achievement.

The meteorite can also fall in a neighbouring chunk while the player is out exploring. This can result in debris being scattered and hitting the player, which will result in minor damage to the spacesuit and or any vehicle the player might be in. Frequently being hit by the debris will result in more lasting damage, requiring rebuilding the equipment in question. There will be Advancements for repairing or re-building the damaged equipment. If, for example, a piece of debris hits the helmet hard enough to break the helmet, the player will rapidly lose oxygen and start to suffocate. This will give players a few short minutes to get to some form of safety: a sealed vehicle, or structure, or even just enough time to quickly swap to a new helmet, which drastically reduces survival time. Eg. With a damaged helmet, it’ll be possible to survive for 5 minutes to get back to safety. Removing the helmet reduces that to a mere 15 seconds during which time, you can re-equip a helmet. To make things fair, the damage done to equipment will be minimal due to various events, and won’t break too quickly – the chances of breaking go up significantly the longer players spend out in the open environment. Removing other parts of the suit, for instance, just the forearm and wrist portion, will not be as damaging. This will allow for minor rips and tears to be instantly repaired, either using needle and thread, or using duct tape. Needle and thread will extend the durability of the item by a larger amount than duct tape (meaning that the item is guaranteed to break after a fixed amount of time, enough for the player to get back to safety). Emergency life-support equipment can be produced in a Life-support workstation (details to follow) with all items fitting inside a single Life-support kit (pouch).

In order to be able to establish a proper colony on the moon, a farm will need to be set up with the right environment to support life. This includes artificial atmospheres, a proper “greenhouse” setup (which can break due to meteor events), means of shielding from radiation (to increase the longevity of crops). Plants will eventually die out completely, resulting in no seeds being dropped (trees/saplings will not be able to grow on the moon). The chance of death is high, unless reduced through proper techniques. Artificial atmosphere will need to be created using liquid nitrogen and oxygen, which will last a sufficiently long time on the moon. The moon doesn’t have its own atmosphere, so regular supply missions of nitrogen and oxygen will need to be conducted to keep the atmospheric system running (plants will die immediately without an atmosphere, which will occur as soon as the greenhouse structure is destroyed). Plants may be grown on the moon using soil (specifically treated with nutrients for it to grow) or using hydroponics (with a constant supply of fertilizer being supplied to the water).

Any enclosed structure on the moon or any planet will require a double airlock system, requiring 2 sets of airlock doors, with an area in between for pressurization and depressurization. The structure can get damaged and lose its sealing capabilities after a random number of cycles (the failure won’t be catastrophic), and the chance of failure increases after a particular number of cycles. Failure will mean 1-10 blocks of the structure will disappear, requring the blocks be replaced to re-form the multiblock. Airlock systems will need to be supplied with a portal atmospheric regulator used specifically for each airlock, while the main structure will have a larger atmospheric regulator. Airlock systems will have a minimum and maximum size, which will change the amount of gases required to pressurize (gases lost due to opening airlock to the moon’s near-vacuum atmosphere).

Enclosed structures do not explicitly require an atmospheric regulator – it will only be required if the player wants to remove their spacesuit while inside an enclosed structure. A single regulator will be able to seal a large structure; the larger the structure, the more liquid nitrogen and oxygen will be needed to maintain the atmosphere, requiring a larger supply of both gases. The consumption rate of gases will be proportional to the size of the structure. Atmospheric regulators can be set up inside or outside of a structure. If outside, sealable piping blocks will be provided to pipe gases into the structure. Atmospheric regulators may accumulate its own gas if enough concentrations of the gas is available, to supplement the liquefied gases (though this will be minimal enough that liquefied gas will need to be supplied). Atmospheric regulators can take inputs in the form of gas, liquid, or a mix of both (eg. can be combined with an electrolyzer that can split water or CO2 into oxygen as an input, reducing the requirement for liquid oxygen; water may be accumulated from the environment if it exists in the form of vapour, and so can nitrogen).

Upon completion of various challenges on the Moon, players will be awarded with an item which will allow them to start building more advanced rockets, specifically, 3-stage rockets (payload + first + second stages). The Advancement will unlock the second stage items to be crafted (key components needed to build the second stage, such as the stage controller, stage engine, etc). This gates progression until completion of the Moon Advancements.

Upon building a 3-stage rocket and traveling to Mars, players will not be able to immediately land on Mars. They will need to establish an Orbiting station around Mars, and launch probes to research the Martian atmosphere. The other thing that will be required before arriving on Mars would be sending supply missions to Mars, with enough materials to build infrastructure (fueling and launch) on Mars. This will allow players to get back to the Martian spacestation. From there, they will need to figure out the best way to travel back to Earth.

Interplanetary travel will depend on the rocket equation, and calculated values of deltaV . Escape velocity for planets will be important, as well as the deltaV required for transfer orbits to destination planets. This will also affect fuel use (higher deltaV requiring longer burn times, which means more fuel used). Traveling to more distant planets will require even more fuel and other considerations. This may also require things like cryostasis for deep space missions (the technology and research on it is still in its infancy). Details and calculations to follow.

On Mars, different challenges await. Instead of meteorites, Mars will be affected by periodic dust storms. These dust storms aren’t particularly damage or catastrophic, but they can cause damage in the long run. Dust storms will randomly form, and can be tracked (using satellites on Mars). Dust storms will gradually wear down structures, as well as player space suits while outdoors, reducing the durability of the items. Items will need to be repaired or replaced.

Mars has a very cold environment, meaning that it will not be possible to stay on the surface for long, even with proper thermal gear. Thermal gear is effective for certain temperatures, but when temperatures dip below that, the amount of time players can spend outside will decrease. It is technically possible to go to Mars without thermal protection, but that reduces the amount of exposure to only 1 minute. With thermal gear, the time limit will depend on the temperature (the lower the temperature, the less time you can spend on the surface; as little as 5 minutes, to as much as 60 mins). Extended trips on the surface will need to be planned ahead of time. An achievement can include surviving on the Martian surface longer than 65 minutes (there will be a way to do so). It will absolutely not be possible to remove the space suit on Mars – doing so will result in instantly freezing and dying.

In addition to temperature considerations, radiation exposure will also be a problem. Mars is exposed to much more ionizing radiation than Earth, due to the weaker gravitational field. Structures can be build with radiation shielding to minimize exposure, but this will still be a problem. Space suit will need to be made to account for radiation shielding. Small amount of exposure can be treated by taking a thorough shower with soap and water (in a decontamination chamber). Specific medication can be used to treat various symptoms from the sickness, to allow for future trips. Players will need to manage their radiation exposure and treat radiation symptoms with various medication (Potassium iodide, Prussian blue, DTPA), before they develop Cancer, or reach too high of an exposure (which will result in death – decide on severe penalty for dying of radiation exposure, but not severe enough to halt progression).

Other challenges, such as structures/airlocks getting damaged due to pressurization and depressurization, will also occur on Mars.

In order to traverse the surface of Mars, it will be required to build a Mars rover. This vehicle is fully enclosed and will need to be supplied with its own oxygen supply, as well as have an airlock system. The vehicle components may be built on Earth, then sent to Mars to be assembled, or built directly on Mars if the infrastructure is in place. If equipped with a heater, it’ll be possible to remove the space suit while inside the rover, but heating would require additional power, reducing the travel time. Without a heater, it would be possible to travel a long time on the surface, but with the heater, that time is reduced by a factor of 4 (eg. 2 hours becomes 30 minutes). Vehicles can climb relatively steep hills, but frequent ups and downs may damage components of the rover, which will reduce the speed of the rover, requiring repair or parts replacement.

Resource gathering on Mars will be different too. Martian soil gets its reddish colour from Iron oxide, which can possibly be refined in large enough quantities to produce small amounts of iron. Martian soil also contains TiO2 (titanium dioxide) which may also be refined into Titanium, to be used for building rockets. Aluminum oxides also exist in the form of Al2O3, which can be refined into Aluminum, and between the two, it should be possible to set up some sort of infrastructure on Mars, without the need for supply missions. There’s also silicon dioxide in small quantities in martian soil, which can be processed into glass and related materials. Of course, it will not be possible to produce these resources in any meaningful quantities, so it will need to be supplemented by regular supply missions to Mars.

Frequent travelling in space, and more time spent on foreign planets, will start to result in bone deterioration, due to the differences in gravity. This will be visible through UI elements. In order to cure the damage, it will be required to take supplements, while other supplements may be taken to prevent bone loss to begin with.

Occasionally, snow storms can occur on Mars, containing no water. These snowflakes are solid carbon dioxide, which can be collected and turned into gaseous carbon dioxide, and then further processed into rocket fuel. These snowstorms don’t occur too often though, and isn’t a reliable source of CO2. These snowstorms can create piles of CO2 around structures, which will require clearing in order to uncover the structures.

Olympus Mons will be a discoverable location on Mars. Although, danger awaits. It’s possible that the volcano is active, due to being a young volcano. It may occasionally spew molten martian rock, after the location has been discovered. This molten rock may be harvestable for a richer source of various resources, though it will only be temporary (factoring in the short amount of time players can spend on the surface of Mars). As soon as the molten rock cools, it’ll turn into regular martian soil, resulting in the usual amount of resources. Once discovered, there will be the unique challenge of climbing up to the top … for those daring enough to attempt it.

There is still a lot more work to be done, especially for other planets (Mercury and Venus will require their own specific considerations, especially Venus, where the day-night cycle is very unique, and Mercury’s proximity to the sun will be an interesting challenge). Getting past the asteroid belt and onto the gas giants will require specific thoughts and consideration as well, as it will not be possible to land on the surface of gas giants (most don’t even have a discernible surface to begin with).

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July 22

A more Immersive Space mod

Currently, we have two good Space mods in Minecraft: Galacticraft, and Advanced Rocketry. I’ve played extensively with Galacticraft (minus Extra Planets), and have done a fair bit of research on Adv. Rocketry, enough to know what it involves. I like the look of both mods, don’t get me wrong, but I find that there are certain things lacking. So, here are my thoughts on both mods, and what I would like to see from a future space mod.

A bit of background on myself: I’m an Aerospace Engineer by trade. I’ve studied the subject extensively. At the end of this post, I will post my proposal for a Space mod, which I’ve been conceptualizing the last couple of weeks.

Galacticraft is the simplest of the two, and probably the least involved to get into. It can be a bit frustrating initially, with building up your first rocket, but it’s not too long to actually get to the moon. It simplifies the rocket building process to a single crafting bench (NASA workbench), which is capable of producing all of the necessary vehicles.

Planetary progression is also pretty simple: you go to the moon to get a schematic that lets you build a rocket to get to Mars, which then lets you get to the Asteroids, and perhaps beyond.

Extra Planets adds many more planets to explore, but falls into the same issue as Galacticraft – there’s not that much to actually explore. Afaik, Extra Planets also lets you land on the gaseous planets which is … immersion-breaking for me.  It also adds more tiers of rockets, which is one way to deal with going to more distant planets, but not realistic either.

Advanced Rocketry

Advanced Rocketry, on the other hand, takes realism to a much greater degree. The progression to get to building the first rocket is much better designed, the infrastructure necessary to launch a rocket is also more realistic and inspired. I like the multiblock processing machines, even if some of the models aren’t particularly consistent. The animations are fantastic. The overall aesthetic design of the mod is well done.

The fueling system is also more in line with the Space industry, where rocket fuel is either liquid hydrogen or methane (which is similar to what the Chemical reactor does for producing fuel in Adv. Rocketry).

My issues with Adv. Rocketry though, is it’s starting to delve into the realms of Science fiction. Example of this would be the Warp controller, which is supposed to allow travel between planets within the solar system, and on top of that, between solar systems. The other issue I have with Adv. Rocketry is the lack of … structure for actually building rockets. Rockets can be literally any shape or size, and can be made using any type of blocks (as long as they contain the minimums required for launch, filler blocks from other mods can be used). This is perhaps my biggest gripe that takes away from the immersion of Adv. Rocketry.

So, my proposal …

I want to see a Minecraft mod that combines some of the best aspects of Adv. Rocketry and Galacticraft. I want to see a mod that stays true to current and near-future science, without delving into the realms of science fiction. I want to see large multiblock rockets and structures, and meaningful planetary exploration. I want to see gameplay where it’s not easy to leave a planet once you’ve reached it, and that leaving a planet requires specific preparation (with the exception of leaving the Moon, or returning to Earth from orbit). I want to see planet’s escape velocity play a part on return trips.

I want to see multi-stage rockets used for deep space missions (closer planets require a 2-stage rocket consisting of a one-use or re-usable stage to get to orbit, and a payload stage to reach the planet and be used for the return journey, while further planets will require a 3-stage rocket to get to orbit, and the return journey would require additional considerations). I want to see a more flexible payload system, as opposed to just building many tiers of rockets. I want to see rockets have a well-defined cylindrical structure (with height being the key variable to increase fuel and cargo capacity, and also determining thrust requirements, which in tern determines engine design). The well-defined structure can then be activated to form a properly connected rocket multiblock (with the appropriate number of stages).

I want to see realistic planetary exploration. No landing on Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, or Neptune, with the exception of being able to land on their moons. I want realistic planetary atmospheres, requiring specific preparation before visiting (Galacticraft has this in the form of requiring thermal clothing for Mars). Different planetary atmospheres will mean different infrastructure for leaving said planet (eg. fuel production on Mars, Venus, or Mercury). I want planetary orbits to play a part in space travel where fuel consumption on rockets depend on how far away the planet is (launch windows determine the optimal time to launch a rocket to reach your destination), which changes based on realistic planetary orbits, scaled down to match Minecraft’s day-night cycle.

In terms of planetary progression, it will be something like Moon -> Venus -> Mercury -> Mars -> Asteroids -> Jupiter and beyond. Jupiter and beyond will require a space station to be built around the planet to be used as a launching platform for exploring the planet and its moons. Before that can be done though, satellites will need to be launched to enable some form of communication between planets and space stations, to allow for automated space travel (requiring preparation to properly automate). Satellites will also be needed to relay information from probes (more on that later). Planets will have a specific reason to visit, beyond just schematics for rocket parts. Specific resources will need to be found on different planets. Automated missions can be set up for various purposes because of those unique resources on different planets. Planetary exploration will definitely need to be well-thought out, as it’s one of the main things lacking in Galacticraft.

Life support systems will be standard. Oxygen, space suits, airlock systems for structures on other planets and space stations. The one difference I’d like to see is a proper airlock requiring 2 sets of doors and proper pressurization and depressurization.

Before being able to visit a planet, it will be necessary to build a probe to explore the planet and relay back any information on the planet’s atmosphere, essentially “discovering” the planet.

All of the processing machines will also be multiblock structures, borrowing from Adv. Rocketry’s design. Base materials needed for building the machines and rockets will be simple (Aluminum, Titanium, Al-Ti alloys, ceramics for heat-shielding, carbon fibre for specific components and heat-shielding, special types of glass, composite materials used to make fabrics for space suits, etc). A series of assembling/processing machines will be required to assemble specific parts for the rocket, such as fins, nozzles, nose cones, rocket engines, planetary exploration vehicles (eg. moon buggy), etc.

Fueling infrastructure will be similar to Adv. Rocketry, producing liquid methane from hydrogen and atmospheric carbon dioxide. For planets low in CO2, a gas accumulator will be necessary. For planets rich in CO2 (Venus), a gas accumulator will not be necessary. For planets with no CO2, liquid Hydrogen may be used as a propellant, but will have different properties to make it less effective as a fuel (I need to do more research on the different rocket fuels).

Rocket launch pads will be similar to Adv. Rocketry, without the scanning feature. The multiblock itself will determine if the rocket is valid, and the launch pad will just be a structure that different things can attach to (launch computer, scaffolding to climb to the top of the rocket and enter the payload rocket, fueling infrastructure built into the scaffolding to refuel the rocket, etc). All of these will be multiblock structures that interact with each other in some form.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten so far. I have a word document that goes into a bit more detail on how I envision the mod will be implemented, but this is a broad overview of what I would like to see in a space mod. I am still working on developing some of the core systems and gameplay features.

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July 19

One project at a time …

Many people probably suffer the same way I do: I start too many projects, or want to accomplish many things, but don’t actually accomplish much. I find that the more projects I want to start, or start, the less time I have to focus on each individual one, and most of my projects and goals remain unfinished or untouched.

Time for a change.

Personally, I think one of the best things I can do is to focus my attention on one project at a time, and set myself a rigid deadline that I follow. That way, with something in place, I’m more motivated to keep working until I accomplish said goal.

I have decided that the first project I want to work on and complete is a book. I have often struggled with ideas for a book, but this time, plan on taking a more structured approach using the principles taught in John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story. The book is intended for screenwriters, but the theory should be applicable to novel writing as well.

One project at a time …

I won’t set a deadline just yet. I know, I’m going against what I just said. When I begin working on the project, I will set the deadline and meet that deadline to the best of my ability.

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July 14

Bucket list … or things I want to do and never seem to get around to it

Typically, a bucket list is a list of things someone wants to do before they die. This can range from things like traveling the world, writing a book, learning a language, starting a business, or something a bit more specific and meaningful.

Well, I have a list too. Frankly, this post will not even begin to scratch the surface of everything I want to do before I die. Some of these, I’ve started to make some headway; others are merely dreams.

So, the list: 

  • Travel the world
    • Yeah, I know. Pretty basic. Of course, my own version of it involves taking anywhere between 6 to 12 months to travel to at least 15 different countries, spending a minimum of 1 week in each location. A good 1-2 months of that dedicated to traveling around Europe.
  • Write a book
    • This is one of those goals I’ve tried to make some headway on, but haven’t quite settled on an idea. Perhaps I have too many ideas, or too few. This is also an on-going learning process for me, as I want to become a good storyteller. Writing  a book is easy enough, it’s just words on paper. Telling a good story is what sets apart good books from the bad ones.
  • Learn several languages
    • Growing up, I spoke English, Tamil, and was conversational in Sinhalese, the latter two were spoken while I was living in Sri Lanka. Since moving to Canada, I have lost touch with some of my Sri Lankan roots. I can still hold a conversation in Tamil, but am usually reluctant to do so. That being said, the list of languages I want to learn, and eventually become fluent in, are: Arabic, Hindi, Japanese, Vietnamese, French, and Italian. Arabic, because I was born in an Arab country, and as a Muslim, would like to understand the Qur’an as I read it; Japanese and Vietnamese specifically to cover the far East languages, perhaps including Mandarin at some point; French, to be considered bilingual in Canada, which will help propel my career in the Canadian Armed Forces; Italian, because it’s a lovely language, and I’ve wanted to spend some time in Italy for a multitude of reasons. I’m fascinated by languages, although I do have a … specific motive. I like the thought of going to a foreign country, having a complete stranger talking about me in a foreign language without realizing that I understand what they’re saying, then speaking to them in said foreign language, only to see their facial expression change to one of utmost horror. It would be immensely satisfying.
  • Become a falconer
    • This is something that I’ve taken great strides in. I completed a week-long Falconry course in BC about a year ago, and learned a lot in the process. Since moving to Ontario, the process is a fair bit more involved. I would need to get a hunting license (shouldn’t be a problem, as I possess credentials in BC, and transferring that to Ontario should be quick), for starters, and do a 15-month Apprenticeship program covering two hunting seasons from October to October. As part of that Apprenticeship, I would be required to own my very first bird. Unfortunately for me, my living situation at the moment won’t allow me to possess a bird – I would need to have my own place, in order to build the necessary facilities to keep a bird. I will also be transient for the next two years, spending 15 months in Trenton and another 8 months in Borden, which would mean less time to dedicate to the care and training of a raptor. Perhaps once I’m done with my training and am trade-qualified, I will know if I am able to settle down long enough to participate in the falconry apprenticeship program and become a Falconer in Ontario.
  • Become a pilot
    • Something I’ve wanted to do for many years now. A Private Pilot’s License (PPL) should be very easy to obtain, requiring very little flight time. And since I will be in Trenton for 15 months, I can easily obtain it by flying on the weekends. There’s a flying club located in Kingston, conveniently located only an hour away. Frankly, 15 months should be sufficient to meet the requirements for a Commercial Pilot’s license, but I personally think that’s excessive. At the very least, I want to work on various ratings, such as IFR, VFR, Night, and Multi-engine. That should keep me busy.
    • I’ve harbored thoughts of becoming a pilot in the RCAF too. I passed Aircrew selection for all of the three Aircrew trades (Pilot, Air Combat Systems Officer, Aerospace Control Officer), but unfortunately, didn’t meet the vision requirements for any of them. Of course, the ball has started rolling on my career as an AERE Officer, so I have to see that through before I can consider an occupational transfer (also assuming I’ve fixed my eyesight through surgery sometime before that), and probably have to redo Aircrew selection depending on how long my current results are valid. Redoing Aircrew selection shouldn’t be a problem: I already know I can pass it with minimal preparation, and knowing what the test involves, I can be adequately prepared for the next time.
  • Own a property
    • This is a long term plan. I want to own a massive property that’s at least 20 acres or larger. The location is undecided. BC would be ideal, especially somewhere on Vancouver Island. Interior BC would be perfect, especially if it’s a forested area near a lake. The vision I have is a small house in a forested property, with areas of land cleared out for camping out, or places to have an impromptu picnic. An area dedicated to falconry (flying birds, training birds, hunting with birds, weathering areas, mews, etc), somewhere near the main household.
  • Build a house
    • This ties into my other goal of owning a large property. The house will be a blend of old fashioned and modern. The interior needs to be open, minimal, and elegant. I enjoy the simplicity of wide open spaces. I want at least one floor to be a dedicated library, study, and media center (a home theater and gaming area). One of the ideas I had for the house would be a smaller footprint above ground, with the majority of the house being subterranean with skylights, to allow for as much natural lighting as possible.
  • Go skydiving
    • Pretty self-explanatory. I want to experience the adrenaline rush.
  • Cross-Canada railway trip
    • This will be a 2-week long trip across Canada, by railway, starting in Vancouver and ending in Halifax, making several stops along the way. Perhaps not as flexible as a road trip across Canada, but it’ll still be a great way to see much of Canada (with the exception of the interior provinces, where there’s very little to see. Lame.). This can be combined with my round the world trip, where I can travel from East to West, starting in New Zealand, and upon completing the Europe portion of the trip, fly to Halifax and start the cross-Canada trip from there (the trip can be done in reverse as well).
  • Create a Minecraft mod (or modification)
    • Modded Minecraft is immensely popular due to the sheer range of things you can do with it. Mods range from something as similar as minor enhancements to the base game (or Vanilla Minecraft) to full-blown Tech mods adding a wide range of machines (a good, immersive Tech mod, aptly named, is called Immersive Engineering), power generation/storage/transport, to space exploration. My own idea is to expand on the space exploration mod, making it an immersive and realistic experience based on current and near-future technology. There are already two space mods for Minecraft, called Galacticraft and Advanced Rocketry. Galacticraft is simple and charming, while Advanced Rocketry is complex, but also unrealistic as it dips into the realm of science fiction (traveling between Solar systems, galaxies, warp drives, etc). A third, more realistic option would fit well with the Minecraft ecosystem. Of course, the project is large, and quite complex too, and will require quite a bit of Java wizardry to accomplish (which would mean learning and mastering Java).

That’s a pretty exhaustive list. I’ll leave it at that, and add onto it in separate posts as time goes on. I’m sure there are many more items that should belong on the above list that escape my mind currently.

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July 14


It’s been a long time coming, but I finally got around to setting up a blog. I will be using this to share my thoughts and ramblings from time to time, as a creative outlet, sharing my life’s adventures, etc.

The last 6 months has been pretty turbulent, and I have discovered more of myself during that time than the past 20+ years combined. My simplest, go-to explanation: basic military training changes people. I hadn’t quite expected that to be the case for me (in fact, I’m still mostly the same person), but a lot has changed in the short amount of time I spent in training. Enough to leave a lasting impact.

I can go on and on about my experience at St-Jean Garrison, but I’ll save that for a later date. For now, that chapter is behind me, and a new one begins with the Royal Canadian Air Force, as an Aerospace Engineering Officer. The next chapter of my life will be more rewarding and satisfying, as it is the realization of a dream, and the start of a career I had imagined for a long time. Imagination doesn’t often turn into reality, but this one has.

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