Monday, November 23, 2009

Some nifty additions to blog

I wasn't too happy with my blog stats counter before, so I decided to replace it with Google Analytics (it's invisible to readers and allows me to see cool information on where my readers come from - I already filtered out my dad's IP address, because it tended to skew the numbers :)).

Adding Google Analytics involved making a small change to my blog template, to add a tiny bit of JavaScript at the bottom. While doing that, I noticed that Google has added a bunch of "gadgets" which can be dragged and dropped into the template - a couple of them were cool enough for me to add.

As a result, now you can "subscribe to" my blog using various methods and also become a "Blog Follower" - cool stuff! Good job, Google!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Artisteer - how wonderful - and EASY - it is to design web sites now!

As a current Microsoft MVP, I sometimes receive offers to test and endorse various products, as their developers believe my word carries a bit more respect than usual in our community (are they crazy? :-)).

Generally speaking, most of the products are descent and relatively bug-free, but they don't fit my short-list of "stuff I *really* recommend".

I'd like to devote a paragraph, though, to a product that really stood out from the competition, and that's Artisteer.

As I mention in my previous article below, Flight Sim Labs just unveiled the new web site design we were working on for quite some time. We had been using DotNetNuke since the "start of time", but we weren't 100% satisfied, as it was slower than expected and had some issues with finding plugins that would fit the needs of our company. As such, we turned our sights onto Wordpress, a Content Management System that is lightweight but very powerful at the same time, giving our developers and management a lot more bang for the buck (well, it had to: It's free :-)).

Rather than designing things from scratch, though, our graphics designer / guru, Margarita Fiotaki decided to take advantage of the offer for an Artisteer license, as it was promising to ease the transition into a Wordpress skin / template theme that would match the look&feel design requirements of the company.

And boy, did it help!

As such, I am very happy to promote Artisteer as a quality product which really has the capacity to dramatically transform the ease of use of creating websites based around WordPress and other CMS packages. Well done folks!

Flight Sim Labs unveiled a new Web Site look and new Forums!

It's been a year since Flight Sim Labs was formulated by a team of individuals who have a common goal: To produce the best quality add-ons for Flight Simulator that they can!

Since then, FSLabs released a few specialized products for their customers, mostly focusing around interfaces and drivers for specialized hardware, such as the Engravity CDU, the CPFlight MCP product family and the GoFlight instruments.

Fslabs developers also very close to wrapping up development of the Concorde-X flagship add-on product for Flight Simulator X, an aircraft that's been anticipated by thousands of simmers globally. The Concorde-X has already been receiving very favorable reviews by those who've had the pleasure of previewing it in various simulation shows around the world so the team is sure it will set new standards on how to enjoy simming beyond the speed of sound!

That's not all the team has been busy with, though! In the meantime, the crew has been developing a new web site and forum system behind the scenes and they're all too happy to announce that it's going live very soon! Some new content was added too, but the primary goal was to enhance functionality so the audience can browse more easily and enjoy some of the most recent advancements in "Web 2.0" technology.

I am proud to be leading this team of experts and I am sure the Concorde-X release will be enjoyed by a lot of people globally! But that's not all that's coming from FSLabs...

The next product is already in development... it's smaller, but not less recognized, has two engines, flies at lower than the speed of sound, but has carried a LOT more passengers over the years...

Can you guess what it is? :)

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Concorde-X *live* at the Lelystad FS-Weekend Show

At 7th & 8th November 2009 this big Flight Simulation Event will be held in the Aviodrome at Lelystad Airport. All aspects of flight simulation will be shown to big crowds traditionally attending! You'll find all kinds of participants such as FSclubs, flightdecks, real motion stands, sales of parts and software and many demonstrations and you will have full access to the exhibition of the museum.

Flight Sim Labs will be there, demonstrating the Concorde-X, on two PCs, for the first time LIVE for our audience. The latest alpha version of the aircraft addon will be available in all its glory for you to play and experiment, under our guidance and supervision as we are still putting the finishing touches together.

If you wish to speak to me or the other attending members of the team, come on Saturday, when you can find us at the FSAddon booth that our own Francois Dumas is hosting - Andrew, Margarita and I will be there to answer any questions you might have!

See you there!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

FSX - Best hardware combination of the day

I've decided to blog about this, as it's a question that people ask me from time to time and I keep changing my views depending on what's available at the time.

A couple clarifications first:

1) Obviously, the absolute-best hardware for FSX would be the most expensive hardware you can buy today, with the possible exception of a graphics card, as FSX is not so GPU-dependent as it is CPU-dependent.
2) We're going for bang-for-the-buck here, so I'll list my choice of what you *should* get, in order to have the best combination for the least-crazy money spent. Obviously, a 1TB solid-state disk that costs $25,000 in itself would be awesome, but it falls outside the normal-people category :-).
3) This list is already obsolete by the time you read this post. Yes, the minute I post it, it's obsolete. Such is the nature of the beast, such is the name of the game. If you want up-to-date, do your own research.

That said, here are my picks:

0) Software (yes, I know "best hardware combination", so let's get this out of the way first): Windows 7 x64. Hands down, the best OS to-date. I've been a beta tester since its early days - it's stable, drivers work for 99.95% of the stuff out there and if you like learning new things, this will reward you handsomely. Yes, there are some quirks (and a small issue with adding scenery for FSX, which has a workaround), but there have been quirks with XP too, and once you learn them, you'll coast.

With the Windows choice out of the way, let's make sure we set the stakes for what it is we're trying to define:

On the one hand, we can be looking for a "pure" FSX box, which will run Flight Simulator, possibly a couple FS-related utilities (Squawkbox) and *nothing* else. On the other, we can be looking for a power-user PC which is FSX-oriented, but will also run other software (possibly do some video conversions from DVD to AVI, etc.). Keep this in mind, while you read on...

I came into this article thinking I had a very clear view of what is "out there today" - only to be very surprised in the end. Only just a month ago did I read an article by Hilbert Hagedoorn of, comparing the latest batch of processors Intel had come out with. In there, it was clear that the i7 870 was better, euro for euro, than the i7 920, which was the price-point comparison at the time.

Now, things are different: The i7 870 (Socket 1156), combined with a decent 1156 motherboard is priced at around the same price-point as the i7 950 (Socket 1366) with an X58 motherboard. As such, I'll give both the same mark, as speed-wise, they perform almost identically.

The only differences I could decipher from reading a lot about them are:

1) The 870 runs at a 95W Thermal Design Power, as compared to the 130W TDP on the 950. In the long run, this *will* affect your out-of-pocket electricity expenses. (Score 1 for the 870).

2) The 950 runs 133MHz faster than the 870, non-overclocked. (Score 1 for the 950).

3) The X58 chipset allows for a triple-DDR3 RAM slot combination, with a max 24GB of DDR3 RAM, where the X55 allows dual-DDR3 RAM slots only (max 16GB RAM). (Score 1 for the 950 again).

Are any of the above making a difference when it comes to PURE FSX performance? No, not really. Even the max RAM comparison, which could
theoretically affect performance here makes little difference with FSX being a 32bit application, thus only taking advantage of up to 4GB of RAM. As such, the winner can only be judged on technicalities... and mine will be the 950, because since I am a developer, I tend to have a bunch of other apps running at the same time, and memory becomes a crucial factor in my day-to-day.

For the hard-core FS simmer reader, though, I'd bet my money on the 870, as the power consumption economies are far more important in the long run (one to two years of average expected usage before PC upgrades).

With that out of the way, let's list some more hardware picks of the day:

- Motherboard: Anything ASUS or GigaByte. For the 950, grab a triple-slot motherboard (the ASUS P6T Deluxe v2 is a good selection). For the 870, any of the high-end models will do fine - no big differences there, so whichever you find the cheapest at any given day is good.

- RAM: Here also, speed is important, but more so is budget. Grab the MOST and FASTEST memory you can afford - make sure that you pick reputable brands, if possible go with the motherboard's
compatibility list as these chips will have been tested to comply with standards. Be careful to buy memory that runs at lower voltages, as power consumption (and heat dissipated) play a role here too.

- Graphics card: Flight Simulator X is CPU-bound. This means that there will be VERY little difference observed (perhaps a half-frame or so) if you go from an 8800GT 512mb card you bought awhile ago to a GTX295. Disclaimer: This is NOT true for other games which are GPU-bound, so choose depending on whether you intend to play other games at high-resolution too.

- Hard disk: You will have read in my previous blog posts that I have become a big proponent of Solid State Disk technology. This is more true than ever today, especially since I recommended Windows 7, which is the first OS tuned to work directly with SSDs, using the TRIM command (go here and here if you like further reading about this feature).
For Flight Simulator X, go with a dual SSD disk combination: One for Windows 7 (64GB should be adequate) and one for FSX (128GB for those among us who like LOTS of sceneries loaded). Pay particular attention to SSD speeds- not all disks are created equal, though lately MLC technologies have been coming closer and closer to SLCs (which remain very expensive). A good pick are the Corsair CMFSSD-128GBG2D and its smaller 64GB brother, clocking at 220MB/s read / 180MB/s write speeds, almost twice as fast than their older MLC brethren.
For movies and other data, use your older SATA regular hard disks - they're good enough for me :-).

The above are the most critical parts when building a PC especially for Flight Simulator X. Various other components (DVD recorder drive, Sound cards, etc.) are secondary and this blog post is too focused to talk more about them. I will, however, make an exception and dedicate a line to water cooling, which I've found to be much less problematic than people had described it in the past. If you check your system every six months to make sure the coolant levels are maintained (the liquid does tend to require refills every so often), the system will run better than the equivalent air-cooled one (as fans tend to collect LOTS of dust and cleaning them is far more complicated - for me, anyway - than simply refilling a cooler tank).

Well, there you have it. Please let me know if I've forgotten anything you consider crucial for your Flight Simulator PC and I will try to accommodate!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Windows 7 RTM Annoyances Part #1- Matrox TH2G

Spent the summer in Gytheion - that was both a blessing and a curse in disguise, as the summer house is about 50m from the beach, but it's also fully equipped with a beefy PC and a (slow, but steady) ADSL connection. This meant I had a 'holiday' in reach, but I could also work in the same manner as I could in our home. Guess what ended up happening.

Yes - I worked. Every day, all day. I went to the beach maybe 3 times all summer long. Meh - it's OK - after all, I don't like swimming that much (not in the sea, anyway - too much salt, sand and mess to clean up afterwards).

Why this prologue? Well- I wanted to artfully mention my beefy PC there of course :). And what best to install on a beefy PC over the summer, than the all-new RTM of Windows 7 x64. The PC had previously been running Windows 2008 Server (made to look like Vista), but boys love toys, so Win7 was installed. Without a hitch. And ran beautifully. Just like it has been running on the laptop - but that couldn't have been a comparison, so I had to know.

One note here though: The PC at Gytheion runs on a dual-monitor configuration, using both DVI outputs of a semi-recent NVidia card. Thus, it runs well, really just as expected.

The summer ended, so we returned back to Athens - our son had to go to school, etc.

My beefier PC at home patiently waited its turn. I had been running Vista x64 before, and with all the software that one tends to install over time and since Win7 showed no problems whatsoever on the other, less beefy PC, I was really itching to install here.

And I did.

And after a week, I am reinstalling.


Because no matter how much I've tried since, I simply cannot convince it that I am not SERIOUSLY myopic and entirely disabled, so I want my system fonts to look NORMAL, not HUGE. Because, you see, when Win7 was installing, it discovered that I was using a Matrox Triplehead2Go device, so it thought my monitor was really 3x1280x1024 - i.e. 3840x1024. And what does that mean? Well, it thought that it's a SUPER-wide screen resolution, which merits MEDIUM size fonts by default. Not Small, as per the normal configuration, on 1280x1024.

Guess what. It's HORRIBLE. You can't see ANYTHING. Even though I resized, told it to use Tahoma, set it to 8pt, went into the registry - nothing I could do would help.

So now I am reinstalling. This time, I've unplugged the TH2G. And now Windows7 thinks I have regular monitors. So my fonts look the right size.

Please, Redmond, next time you think you know what's best for the user - by all means, keep thinking it, but OFFER A CHOICE. Or, at least, allow that choice to be changed later...

I'll report back with more annoyances if/when I find any. Right now, I am simply reinstalling everything on the PC.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

My MVP award renewed for 2009

The good folks at Microsoft thought it wise to renew my MVP award for 2009. I'd like to thank them for the honor - hopefully, I am doing a little bit still for the community, even though most of the new things to come are things I can't discuss - yet? :).

Monday, June 08, 2009

For some, this is already old news, but for those of you who are not developers or too intricately involved with Flight Simulation, I'd like to announce that I'm now one of the administrators at, the premier web site for developers of Microsoft Flight Simulator and addon products.

Part of the reasons I became administrator was that I've always felt I've received a lot from the developer community by reading contributions and posts in such forums, so this is a way of giving back.

Another part was that my friends Arno, Nick and Jon needed someone else to assist with moving the site to a new location, as the previous ISP was no longer able to offer supporting the site - and we wanted to move it to a Windows-based server too.

We took some time to find a new ISP who offered us the server specification we felt most appropriate and I am pleased to report that we have completed the move this past weekend - it was as straight forward as they come!

Since is now on a new, more capable server, we're planning on additional goodies for all of its readers, so do stop by and participate - it's very interesting!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

AVSIM destroyed...

I was stunned and entirely saddened to receive this news from Tom Allensworth, owner of AVSIM - one of the biggest online flight sim news web sites in the world...


AVSIM Hacked

Tom Allensworth, CEO and Publisher of AVSIM, today issued the following announcement; “We regret to inform the flight simulation community that on Tuesday, May 12, AVSIM was hacked and effectively destroyed. The method of the hack makes recovery difficult, if not impossible, to recover from. Both servers, that is the library / email and web site / forum servers were attacked. AVSIM is totally offline at this time and we expect to be so for some time to come. We are not able to predict when we will be back online, if we can come back at all. We will post more news as we are able to in the coming days and weeks.


Best Regards,

Tom Allensworth

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Microsoft File Transfer Manager

I wanted to blog today about something that had been nagging at me ever since I started being a beta tester for some of Microsoft's products.

Those of you who participate in one or more of the beta programs will have noticed how the only way to download products that are larger than a set size (I think it's 100mb) is through the Microsoft File Transfer Manager.

I've never grown too accustomed to that download manager - it's clunky, quirky and more often than not, way too slow (I know - that's because of throttling done on the server side to allow for more concurrent downloads, especially when the item is, say, the new Windows7 beta and the number of downloaders can be over a million).

Lately, though, I've been pestered by another unwelcome FTM trait: No matter how many times I'd hit Cancel, the download candidate file would be temporarily removed only to come back in force after FTM was restarted. Multiply this with many aborted download attempts and I was suddenly faced with having to hit "Cancel" and "Yes, REALLY" for all my previous canceled items every time a new beta was out that I wanted to test. This quickly turned out to be more than I wished for (twenty repeat "Cancel" and "Yes" kinda wear you out after awhile) and I was pushed to look for a solution.

No amount of googling would point me to the right direction though: How to REALLY delete those old, aborted download items so they will not reappear at next FTM start.

Then I remembered Mark Russinovich and his very cool toy: Process Monitor. A bit of filtering for "transfermgr.exe" showed that when the app starts, it looks in %appdata%\Roaming\Microsoft\File Transfer Manager\RequestQueue for its list of download candidates. Where FTM would fail to delete the ones I'd hit "Cancel" on, I would NOT. I removed the contents of the RequestQueue folder and Presto! problem solved!

Gotta give it to Mark Russinovich... Good work man!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

International Flight Sim Consortium

News of this is already circulating around the web, but I also wanted to inform my faithful readers that there's s global effort being put together to promote flight simulation, the community and organizations in support of our hobby - and it's already got a name: The International Flight Sim Consortium.

There will be more news upcoming on this organization, its goals and membership requirements, but I wanted everyone to start feeling good about it already. Expect more soon.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A flight simmer's wet dream...

(Reported from The Associated Press and the Naples Daily News)

In the twenty-plus years that I've been a flight simulation fan (and the six-plus that I've been a licensed pilot) this discussion has been coming up time and again: "I'm an avid flight simmer - would I be able to land a plane if the pilots were incapacitated?" (also in various flavors, like "If the pilots died and there was rapid decompression..." or "if the pilots were passed out..." etc etc.)

I hadn't thought this could actually come to be a reality though... however, stranger things have happened, and according to this news item, a passenger was, in fact, able to land a plane in Florida, after the pilot died... granted, the plane was climbing on autopilot, and the passenger was a licensed (albeit single-engine rated) pilot... but still - in my book, this is worthy of a note!

So now we know! (I guess I'll start going on King Air rides more often now!)

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The future of Flight Simulation

I guess everyone knows by now (unless you were hiding under some tree, vacationing in New Zealand or spending your winter sleeping in a cave like a bear) that Microsoft in a bold move, decided to close up ACES studios, the team responsible for development and publishing of the Flight Simulator series.

Lots of people have been asking me to comment on this, both as Microsoft MVP (Flight Sim) as well as because of my friendly relationship with several of the ACES developers.

I have to be particularly careful of what I say, not only because I've signed various NDAs, but also because I don't want people to be taking my words the wrong way or misinterpreting any comments to mean anything hidden behind the words.

If I were to venture a guess, I'd say that nature hates voids so there will be something to fill the empty space in the simulator market that the ACES closure left. Whether that will be by Microsoft (the official statement said they'll be considering all options) or by some other entity (lots of rumors about several ideas floating about), it remains to be seen.

I am confident, though, that Flight Simulator X (the product) has a LONG way to go still - the hardware is catching up already with the product, making more and more people appreciate the new and improved components that were its acceptance hindrance in the past, and frame rates are now above the specific point where people will start enjoying it rather than be annoyed by it.

As far as Flight Sim Labs goes, we feel that there's lots of undiscovered ground still to be seen - there's more sceneries coming out and with Mega Airport Heathrow X, Charles De Gaulle X (SimWings / Aerosoft) and JFK X by FSDreamTeam, already available in stores, our upcoming Concorde X aircraft will shine in its majestic glory!

(There are lots of other smaller airport sceneries available too - for our other - still unannounced - upcoming projects - hint hint!).

My advice, thus is this:

Sit back, relax and enjoy FSX! It will be around for a long time to come, still, so there's gobs of pleasure still to be found in flying it. If you haven't, yet, also take a look at the missions and try some flights by sharing your cockpit with a friend over the internet (yes, that's possible with FSX).

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

FSX on SSD - it's official!

I've been running FSX on an SSD drive for over two months now and the results are nothing short of spectacular: Stutters are gone, performance has increased about 20% and the beauty of it all is that I don't see any of the rumored problems with SSD drives (fragmentation causing tons of delays and eventual hard drive death). Granted, we're still in the early days of the disk's lifetime, but I am confident this technology is here to stay, particularly for us simulator users. I am also confident that as technology improves (I own an older-gen SSD drive which isn't the fastest in the market by a long shot), performance will increase linearly.

One note: This wouldn't be possible without our friends at Diskeeper with their Hyperfast technology. Where other defrag tools fail (SSD drives aren't designed to be defragmented with traditional software due to design differences), Hyperfast excels. I am very happy to plug that technology from these pages...

Monday, January 19, 2009

FSX on SSD drive - preliminary results

Well, my preliminary, not-very-scientific, eye-witness results are back and the story is good, so far. While I am seeing lots of fragmentation on the new SSD drive that I now use for FSX, loading times have improved anywhere from 30 to 40 percent at least (and that's with some added gigabytes of terrain installed).

The more important non-scientific observation, though, is the significant reduction of "the stutters" which I attribute to the much lower read access times on the SSD (~ 0.2 ms) compared to the traditional hard drives which are anywhere from 5 to 12 ms (for some older disks).

I'll report more results as I see them. One other consideration to be made here, though, is that this generation of SDDs is still "the slow one" - there's a new one coming out (at higher price tags, though, so it might be directed to enthusiast-simmer levels and above, for the moment), with double the existing read and write abilities. The future's interesting, to say the least!

PS. I am waiting on Diskeeper corporation - they have promised me a license of their new Hyperfast product which integrates with the main Diskeeper 2009 application and allows SSDs extended lifespan and faster performance. Testing of Hyperfast will commence shortly!

Friday, January 09, 2009

New experiment: FSX on SSD drive

I had to place an order to an online computer store a couple days ago as a request from my not-so-computer-literate godmother for (here it comes!) - a VCR player (she still has lots of old video tapes that she likes to record on and watch).

Since I couldn't find any model worth mentioning around the local stores (they wanted to charge >100 Euros for crappy models because they could!), I decided to shop around, so I found one on PixMania that seemed half-way decent.

Obviously, being a consumer-nut, I couldn't stop from noticing the first-page "fire-sale" (uh huh!?) of OCZ's latest SSD (solid state drive) - namely, a hard disk without mechanical components. 30GB for E 59.95 - not a bad deal, I thought, so I ordered one.

It arrived today, so I am copying my FSX installation (all 25GB of it) over and renaming the new drive back to G: so the registry will think FSX is in its proper location. From various tests I've read around the net, it's supposed to be a great improvement on loading times (and possibly, on performance, if one flies around in supersonic speeds which require scenery to be loading faster than normal).

I'll report back...