Wednesday, December 28, 2005

When depressed, shop for toys...

Well, it was either that or eat some more chocolate. But I had already eaten my quota for the month last weekend. Yes, I know there are other choices as well, but today I decided to treat myself.

I purchased a Saitek X52 HOTAS (Hands on Throttle and Stick), as well as Falcon 4: Allied Force.

Now the long wait until the two packages arrive. It has been many years since Falcon 3, but I still remember those days fondly. To think back then I has a single joystick to fly with. I am still wondering how I will set up my desk to fit the new gear in. But I am sure I will manage.

You know, there is one thing wrong with making these spur-of-the-moment decisions: None of the two packages will be here before the long weekend. And they will arrive just in time for me to head off to China the week after. Bad timing on my side, mate. Really bad timing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

This bird can party

Raised as one of the family, this bird belongs to my friend Lynne in South Africa. It likes to smoke (well, eat the tobacco), and loves drinking beer. It is also convinced it is one of the children of the family, and highly intelligent. Hmmm, smoking, drinking, and intelligent. Hey, that gives me an idea! Now where did I leave my smokes. Probably next to my beer...

Another public holiday - 27 December

I went to work this morning, only to find the city deserted. Seems that it is yet another public holiday. So I have a resolution for 2006: I am going to mark every single public holiday in my electronic diary, so I will not be caught again.

Monday, December 26, 2005

My year 2005 in review

Work this year had its high and low points. After completing a very successful project at the end of 2004, and successfully selling it to our customers, life settled down to more mundane things, such as model development. And although the model development resulted in a very competent, simple to use, yet sophisticated model, not everyone appreciates the amount of work that went into making it so simple to use.

My daughter had a wonderful year of ballet, and she was the most popular student at the end-of-year ballet concert. As she received her second certificate of the evening, she held it up for the audience to see. They all cheered her on, so she held it up again. And to an even louder cheer, she walked back to her seat. And by the way, my daughter is still three years old.

We bought a house this year, even smaller than the place we were renting (again). Our last two moves have been to smaller places, and every time we had to part with precious pieces of furniture. If you purchased a nice piece of furniture from the Salvation Army this year, who knows, maybe it once belonged to us.

At the end of 2004 I took up music again, after 11 years of drought. And that has been great fun. I still have not performed live on stage, but even that has worked out well. The year has been quite busy at work, and many weekends I just wanted to do nothing. And after playing with my daughter, there was precious little energy left to do anything else.

It has also now been 15 months since I last exercised. I did purchase a bicycle a few months ago, but seldomly use it.

I wanted to exercise yesterday (Christmas day), but had no takers. Some idiots were playing cricket in a park, with a proper cricket ball. And there were many people sitting in close proximity, and enjoying the sunshine. So the ball came toward our group once. And then a second time. And that was where I lost my temper. Such irresponsibility. No thought or consideration of the safety of others. With the ball in my hand, and ready to indulge in fisticuffs, the person collecting the ball soon lost his sense of humour, and the cricket game did not last for too long after that. And all this in front of our friends. Must have been quite a shock to them to see me behave like a hooligan. But if somebody does not stand up, someone innocent (like my daughter) may get hurt by a stray cricket ball. But why does it always have to be me?

And this makes me think about what 2006 as a year will hold in store for us as a family. We will hopefully become Australian citizens, I will hopefully get on stage, my current large project at work will most likely make or break my career, and I will hopefully travel a bit less.

There are so many more things I want to write, but some things are better left unsaid...

My Flight Simulation History

Before we venture deeper into this exciting world, I thought I'd share a bit of my history. I grew up in Valhalla, Pretoria, South Africa, about 700m west from the Swartkops Air Force Base. And further to the west was a famous (shhh, secret) South African Army recon unit training area. So watching aeroplanes, helicopters and parachutes for many years, I, like many young boys, dreamt of flight one day.

In my first year of university I purchased a Sharp calculator. This was required for our science class. The next year I upgraded to another model, which could solve a 3 x 3 matrix. Awesome! In my third year, a Hewlett Packard Scientific calculator, which could solve a 10 x 10 matrix. Finally, in my fourth year came the creme de la creme, a personal computer. It was a 80286, with an EGA graphics card. (For those of you not in the know, EGA could display 16 colours, and VGA at that time was just too expensive for me.)

A computer-savvy friend gave me some software, which included Microsoft Flight Simulator version 3. I was hooked from the start, and my feeble excuse that I was going to use the computer for my university studies, well, seemed very feeble at the time.

Version 4 was purchased not long after, as was the Aircraft and Scenery Designer, and the Graphics and Sound Expansion pack (when sound cards came out). Version 4 also had the unique feature to fill in the wireframe mesh, so the sky was blue, and the ground was green.

Version 5's scenery actually looked like scenery, and FS95, FS98, FS2000, FS2002, and lately FS9 (FS2004 - A Century of Flight) followed suit.

Intermingled with Red Baron and Falcon 3, I built up thousands of flying hours in front of the computer.

In a mere ten years since starting my illustrious flight simulator hobby, I ventured into the world of online flight. You connect to the internet, and fly online with other people on the or the VATSIM network. I am specifying for a reason that will still follow...

And not long after that, I started controlling. First as FACT_GND (Cape Twon Ground), under the helpful guidance of Jannie Roelofse, and quickly upgraded to FABL_CTR (Bloemfontein Centre) in South Africa. And whatever night of the week you were flying, you would most likely find FABL_CTR manned by me.

With the purchase of FS2000, I took the conscious decision to fly like one does in real life. Speed is controlled by pitch, rate of descent is controlled by throttle position. And so I had to undo years of bad flying habits.

But it was worth it. My first real-life flight was performed at FAGC (Grand Central) in a Piper Cherokee 140 (ZS-FMV) with AVEX Air Training. On the way to the plance, I boasted about my countless simulated hours, and after taxiing past the other aircraft, my instructor handed control over to me, and there I was, taxiing a real airplane. We were cleared for takeoff, and I handed back control, fully expecting never to be allowed to take off on my first flight. But my instructor said, no, you take off. And I did. We did stalls and spins, circuits, and finally I landed the aircraft all by myself. It was the only greaser I ever had.

My instructor commented on my excellent radio skills for a rookie, and I was able to share about my vast controlling experience. I never completed my training, as my daughter was born, and we moved to Australia.

No more time to sit in front of a computer screen for hours on end ensuring the virtual safety of other pilots. Finding time to fly nowadays is hard. But some days I still manage. Saturday was a good example. I managed four hours in Dreamfleet's new Cirrus SR22, as well as two flights for my Virtual Airline in a CRJ200 (Canadair Regional Jet 200). Phew. No more explaining of acronyms.

What will the next version of Flight Simulator bring? A good place to keep an eye on is Microsoft Insider, as well as the blogs of the next version's developers. This one has links to many interesting blogs, and other sites.

And for military aviation simulation, there can be only one: Falcon 4 Allied Force. Fox Three!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

My flight simulation world - Part 1

Many years ago I started with Microsoft Flight simulator version 3. As processing power increased, so did the complexity of aircraft, and the beauty of scenery. Just a short note today on beta-testing of aircraft. I am currently of the team for the Flight Factory Simulations Saab 340 turboprop.

Yesterday we received a new model to test, and it is flying better and better. Very unique turboprop, in that the propeller RPM is quite low. Thus the noise level is low, but since turboprops are not well-modelled in FS9 (Microsoft Flight Simulator - A Century of Flight), it takes more effort to get the model to fly like the real thing. And all credit to the programmers, they have cracked it.

On a lighter note, this describes a few people I know!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Sawasdee krup

Sunday I am off to Thailand for two days. Again no time to explore Bangkok, but there will always be a next time. I hope! This should be a very nice trip. Interesting technical meeting awaiting me. I wonder what questions I will be asked. But it does not matter much, I am prepared for almost anything.

Bought a new projector yesterday, a Proxima M2+. Much lighter than the state of the art Compaq MP1600 we have (state of the art when we purchased it some years ago).

One of the interesting features of the M2+ is that it is Liteshow compatible.

So now I have the M2+ on my desk, and will be taking it along to Thailand for its first use. Pity I do not have the Liteshow adaptor yet. But patience is a virtue.

My boss was so excited yesterday. He is in Brisbane at the moment, and he is much more of a gadget freak than what I am. So I derived some pleasure in telling about all the nifty features of the projector, and he has to wait a few weeks before he can see it - LOL.

Another thing I will be taking along is my brand new Canon A610 digital camera. Not the best looking camera out there, and quite bulky by today's standards, but I am more interested in picture quality than form factor.

So that took up an hour of my morning, mostly based on the New York Times Circuit email I received this morning. It seems that size does matter when it is about picture quality. And I am not referring to Megapixel count... But read the New York Times review by David Pogue, and you will see why my choice in digital cameras was easy.

Monday, December 05, 2005

A Weekend in Tokyo

It sounds so romantic, does it not. Except if you have to work... I arrived Saturday morning, had a bath, lunch, and walked straight into a meeting. And the whole of Sunday also disappeared due to work.

So today I wanted to go to the Earthquake House, where you can experience a level 7 earthquake in a simulator, and learn some useful techniques in dealing with experiencing an earthquake. Alas, I spent the whoel day in bed, trying to give my back muscles as much rest as possible in preparation of the flight back to Perth tonight.

Narita airport is so quiet tonight. There are about fifteen people in the ANA lounge, where it is normally full.

The visit itself was quite interesting. We had a large internal technical meeting on Saturday, and I chose to stay at a different hotel to everyone else. I like my normal hotel, and it is within walking distance of the office, very practical. And there are few things so nice as to have breakfast, whilst looking at the koi dams outside the window.

Anyway, the main reason my colleagues prefer to stay in another hotel range from screwed up bookings (smoking / non smoking) to "ordinary". Imagine my horror on Saturday just after arrival, and I phoned the concierge. The phone rang for at least 30 seconds before someone answered. The same happened with room service, and with housekeeping.

Had I been blinded by the proximity of the hotel? Was I wrong, and everyone else correct? How could that be?