Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The MD-11 presentation

No, this isn't going to be a zipped-up Powerpoint file for anyone to download, simply because I never could do it that way... All my presentations up to date have been based on notes that I write to remind myself of what I want to talk about, while showing the true star of the presentation: The product itself.

The MD-11 presentation at Paderborn was no exception to this rule. With so much new stuff to show, all I had to do is point to the projected laptop screen on the wall and showcase the new features Michael, Bill and Vin are putting in place... and the audience of 200 or more fans of the MD-11 would react to the fun we're promising this to be.

What would this include? Well, new, standardized ways of clicking on panel instruments, for one. Michael Frantzeskakis found a neat new way of making customized cursors that are clearly indicating whether the click-spot allows for left- or right-clicking, wheel rolling, new panel popping, etc. You'll have to see this to understand, but suffice it to say, it's going to be really neat!

The 2D art is also very well done, with Bill Grabowski shining once again in demonstrating his talent for rendered art that mixes with photo realism. With his emphasis on real-world eye perspective, he mastered a 2D main panel view that encompasses all the gauges and displays that an MD-11 pilot would want to look at when flying the bird. Add the foldout popup panels to that, and you have yourself a very handy and quickly accessed panel.

I would do us a disservice if I didn't mention Vin Scimone's absolutely stunning 3d external model of course, which takes advantage of all the new capabilities that FSX has to offer (bloom, specular and bump mapping, etc) while maintaining the degree of clarity only found in PMDG products.

Last, but certainly not least, comes the amazing 256 new levels of lighting that can be found for night flying that add a never before found ability to control light ambience on your panel instruments. Separately rendered as in the real bird, they allow the pilot to set the perfect combination of shine and darkness required for any flight conditions... (wow - this definitely sounded like a marketing blurb ;-)).

Here's a link to some pictures, hidden in between the nice happenings that took place in Paderborn. With those, I'd like to extend once again a heartfelt thank-you to Markus Burkhard who was kind enough to sit next to me and provide commentary on those items that I might have missed or needed further clarification. He's a real expert when it comes to the MD-11!

Thoughts on FSX (a developer's stand point)

I've been promising myself (and a good number of friends who've been asking) that I'll post my views on the newly released Flight Simulator X product by Microsoft, but until now, it's always been difficult to find the bracket of time required to do so without interruptions and phone ringing off the hook... so now that I can catch my breath after just coming back from the Aerosoft Conference in Paderborn, here are my thoughts on this subject.

First off, I'd like to say that it's always a breath of fresh air to see a new release of Flight Simulator. With each one, there's progress, so it keeps the hobby alive and well. Furthermore, it's interesting to see the public's attitude before, during and after each release, as I am beginning to note a trend that's similar to what happens when we release something... at first, there's wild speculation and anticipation of what the new product will include, with opinions running rampant on why this time, it's going to be the best thing since sliced bread. Then, there's the glorious yells of success from people who rush to buy it, followed eventually by cries of annoyance and anger because it didn't do exactly what they felt it should do, it was released prematurely, etc. Eventually, all this dies down only to be followed by the calmer realization (every time) that it's "the best product release to-date". It is interesting to note that it's the same small fraction of people who are the most vocal and they always go through the same cycle. I guess you can't please everyone all the time.

On with FSX:

--The good --

a) Can someone say "Graphics"? If what we saw now is followed by a further update when D3D10 comes out (and we plunk out another $1000 for hardware), I can only say "Wow!" - this is amazing. Waters that are realistic and move with wind... Ships that even move on predetermined routes... Gates that come out to our aircraft when you park at the ramp... All around Nice!!!

b) When you're done saying "Graphics", can you also say "Missions"? I never thought I would have such a feeling of newly discovered fun with a product that I've been working on for the past five years. I particularly love going through those green circles... Kudos, Microsoft guys. Very well thought out and highly recommended!

c) Can you also say "SimConnect"? As a developer, I am so VERY glad that our good friends at Microsoft have opened up the platform in a way never before attempted, and while doing so, they gave us a chance to communicate beforehand what we wish to connect to. SimConnect is not a product, it's not an SDK - it's a means of sending and receiving lots of information back and forth from our addons to FlightSim, so that we can do more with the platform, rather than rely on hacking into the executable and DLLs (and one of the biggest is my good friend Pete Dowson's FSUIPC module that we were greatful to be able to use for the past five years).

d) Finally - Microsoft FS Developers opening up to the public. Blogs, forum posts, developer conferences, meetings - you name it, they now participate! While this isn't strictly a "good" of FSX itself, it means that there's fresh air blowing from Redmond - glad to see it, guys!

-- The bad ---

a) BSOD. For those uninitiated to the term, it means "Blue Screen of Death" and I used to get it every single time I'd try the flour bomb mission (#7) on my 6600GT VGA equipped PC. The error message (after the obligatory reboot) was a cryptic reference to "some drivers causing this problem" but there was no offer or resolution there. My solution? Plunk 350 Euros for a 7950GT 512MB card that allows video memory to fill up with textures so the mission can continue uninterrupted. FS Devs, this is your window of opportunity for a fix - if you want my VGA, let me know and I'll even pay for shipping!

b) Scenery. While the world is now round and the North Pole can be overflown for the first time, I'm still going to wait for some addon to come on top of the vast yellow sandy areas that my home base of LGAV (Athens Int'l Eleftherios Venizelos airport) now sits on. Yes, guys, we have yellow sand... but it's AT THE BEACH :-).

c) SimConnect. It seems that with all the greatness it provided, it still requires more work to be complete. I've already shared my wishes and complaints with Mike Z, Brett S and Dave D, so I am hoping this will move once again in the "good" category.

-- The ugly --

Only ONE item here: Frame Rates, when you haven't yet tweaked. However, I am only mentioning this here as an opportunity for you, my fellow readers, to visit our PMDG wiki center which includes a very well drafted article on how to improve your experience, by my friend Ryan Maziarz. He assembled and will be maintaining a list of all the currently known tweaks and fixes so that you can also turn your sluggish tortoise of a PC into the rocket that he has. You can find his article here.

As I've been working closely with some of the Flight Sim devs in the past (via the beta forum that I was previously not even allowed to mention ;-)), I can only offer an opinion from inside the curtain. I'd really be interested to see some commentary though, on things I might be forgetting to mention, so by all means, add some here... I'll revise the post when I see things I missed!

Aerosoft Flight Simulator Show in Paderborn

Once again, it was time for me to attend the Aerosoft Flight Simulator Conference that took place in Paderborn last Saturday, October 21st. This has quickly become an annual tradition which I find very enjoyable as it gives me an opportunity to meet face to face with friends and developers who I don't often get a chance to see, other than online on our messenger systems.

This year's event turned out to be the biggest so far, with over 800 people in attendance. It was even more significant because it was the first show in Germany that had Microsoft Flight Simulator X on display, after its release last week. As expected, the Microsoft stand was impressive, with two desks fully equipped with Saitek joysticks and throttles and large wide screens displaying an immersive view into the new product (More on FSX in a bit).

While walking around the stands, I also noticed some new offerings in the hardware and cockpit building category - I missed our good friends from Engravity who had some conflicting schedules and couldn't attend, but I had a glimpse of the CockpitSonic 737NG and Airbus offerings that show some promise in that aspect.

VATSIM and IVAO were there manning their respective virtual skies, and so were Just Flight and Flight One with their wares on display.

I am sure I am forgetting others, but I didn't have too much time to roam around, as I was busy putting the final touches on my presentation of the brand-new PMDG product, the McDonnell-Douglas MD-11 aircraft that we're going to release "some time very soon" (tm).

I already knew that many of our customers have expressed interest in the MD-11, but I didn't know exactly how passionate many of you are on this large ocean-crossing aircraft. Well, it turned out to be a packed conference hall with no empty seats and some of you standing around wanting to catch the first glimpse of what our product looks like - I was really impressed by the attendance!

I'll post a separate article on the MD-11 as this one focuses more on the conference in general.

The day ended with the Captains' dinner, an event that's quickly becoming tradition for the conference. It included (apart from a very well prepared buffet meal) the presentation of the SimFlight 2006 Awards. PMDG were once again contenders in the voting and I was very pleased and honored to receive the award on behalf of our team for the 747-400 Freighter, which won the 2006 Airliner Aircraft award. I only wish I were a bit more photogenic (and I promise to start my diet again ;)). Perhaps next year we'll hire Jennifer Aniston to receive it on our behalf :-).

Next, I'll be posting my thoughts on FSX and a recap of the MD-11 presentation. To end this, I'd like to thank Winfried, William, Mathijs and the rest of the Aerosoft team for a nice weekend. It's great to see you guys again in person!

(For more information on the Flight Sim Conference, head over to FSKonferenz and Aerosoft).

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Now the FSX NDA ban has been lifted...

I can finally post a couple pictures of what I've been working on through the summer - the work had started before I left for the honeymoon and continues since I came back.

(Click on each picture for a larger version)

For those of you who'll be quick to say "but nothing seems to be changed!", believe you me: There's SO MUCH that had to be upgraded and/or gutted in order to transition to Flight Simulator X that I've been working almost non-stop since May so that the 747-400 (and Cargo) can be released for FSX. At the same time, I've been reworking our code-base to take full advantage of SimConnect, rather than depend entirely on FSUIPC. Unfortunately, since the good guys at Microsoft are now slowly wrapping up their release, there are some parts of SimConnect still missing before we can safely say that we'll transition completely to it, but I have full faith in Dave and the rest of the team that their post-RTM updates will include all our wishes and expectations.

So... what have I been doing?

Actually, there were a couple very good excuses for the apparent inactivity in my blogging:

I got married! Margarita and I have been living together for quite some time now, so we decided we would make it official! The wedding took place at a very scenic location underneath the Akropolis, among only our kids, closest friends and relatives - it was idyllic! The right season, the right time of day, the right temperature - seems that the world was conspiring to make for the perfect wedding! We couldn't resist making the perfect pictures, so here they are:

After the wedding, it's only natural to go on a honeymoon, right? We travelled to Sri Lanka where we spent eight beautiful days in a fantastic villa resort called the "Saman Villas". The resort is designed especially for people on honeymoon - a private beach, individual pools in front of each villa and romance all around. Highly recommended!
On the way back from Sri Lanka, we had a three-day layover in Dubai, for the requisite shopping and all-around tourist action. Those who think Dubai is "cheap" - think again: It offers exquisite comfort and luxurious accomodation, but it all comes at a price, however it's well worth it, especially if you're on a honeymoon and feel you can spend the extra couple Dirhams.

I've been back now for two months, so further news about what I've been doing, next!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Outlook replaced... at last!

I've been wanting to do this for the longest time... ever since it started becoming a real pain in the @$$ to have to wait 2-3 seconds everytime I wanted to read a new incoming email, or a new newsgroup posting.

I am assuming it has to do with how Outlook organizes its .pst file - all the entries in your Inbox and local folders are kept inside the one .pst file, in my case resulting in a behemoth of a .pst measuring almost 1.3GB in disk space.

I finally had enough and moved all my stuff over to Mozilla Thunderbird. I am a HAPPY CAMPER now! No longer do I have to wait, no longer do I need extra plugins for RSS feeds and NNTP news reading and most of all, the CPU usage is now negligible!

Oh- and for those Outlook die-hards who can't have it any other way: There's a neat Theme (skin) for Thunderbird called Outlook 2003 SilverTB that makes it look JUST like my Outlook looked before!

Call for MD11 advisors... wow!

I had NO idea I would generate such response through my call for more MD11 advisors. I just wanted to mention that we got some very exciting people joining the team. Thank you guys! (You know who you are!).

If there are more, please don't hesitate to contact me - we still want some!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Visual What?

I haven't written in quite awhile... I wish it was because I had been on vacation... far from it, though. The reasons were other:

1) Not much to write about (there is quite the calm before the FSX storm) and
2) Getting ready with our code conversion (we're moving everything from Visual Studio 6 to Visual Studio 2005).

Reason 1 isn't exactly true - the MD-11 is progressing very nicely and I've been trying to find some new technical advisors to complement the existing team, as we're going into beta status soon (I'll be posting a couple pics of the MD-11 panel once I get my hands on a stable alpha release).

Reason 2 is a bit more special: Being spoilt by Microsoft, I wouldn't have expected that the transition would have been so... um... not fun / easy. This was almost senseless - or I haven't found the easier way... :-) To explain:

All our code is written in Microsoft Visual Studio 6 / C++. We had skipped the transition into Visual Studio .NET / .NET 2003, as the Flight Sim 2004 SDKs were still written in VS6 C/C++ and it seemed quite unnecessary to have to bother (let alone find / schedule the time to do it).

Now that FSX is coming out, it appears that the SDKs are going to only support VS2005 - so we had to finally bite the bullet.

One might think - what's the problem - copy the code over to a different hard disk, open the workspace in VS2005 instead, and viola! (sic). Errr - nope. The workspace / project files are seamlessly translated into solutions and vsproj files, but the code itself doesn't compile out the box. In fact, it takes lots of effort and pain to translate: Apparently, the VS6 version of C/C++ wasn't exactly conformant... so there are TONS of warnings / errors that occur...

The main ones: C4244 (arithmetic conversions - float/double, int/short etc. etc.) which are a pain, but at least make sense (if you were bad enough to blindly pass one to the other indiscriminantly) and C4996 - and this one is silly, IMO: It's a warning about the deprecation of all printf/sprintf etc. type commands and their replacement with buffer overflow-safe equivalents, named _s - i.e. sprintf_s etc.

So- instead of a global setting (so we can maintain the code and allow it to also compile well under VS6) to turn those C4996 warnings off, I had to visit all the files and issue #pragma warning disables... Fun.

Anyway - rant off for now, but if someone knows how I could have skipped this pain, let me know too - at least I'll let our friends know as well.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Is YOUR product PMDG-certified?

This post made me laugh...

"I rarely post on forums so forgive my lack of fancy banners etc but I do have an opinion I wish to share. For those at Micorsoft working on the next release of Flight Simulator - your product is no longer the mainstay of the flightsim world - PMDG has become the primary product such is the excellence of the 737 and particularly the 744/F. As far as I am concerned and I urge other PMDG fans to join me on this - any future versions of MSFS should be PMDG compatible or I won't be buying it. Why should PMDG have to re-work perfection just to suit the entirely non perfect Flight Simulator software?

The days of developers modifying their products to suit Microsoft have gone - its time for Microsoft to work with companies like PMDG to ensure compatibility.

Well done PMDG, the 744 is now perfect! To Microsoft - make sure the box on your new versions of Flight Simulator carry a PMDG compatible sticker or else!"

Is YOUR product PMDG-certified compatible? :-)

Monday, March 20, 2006

Ooomph-carrying laptop

I've been promising myself to write about my new laptop - a Fujitsu-Siemens M1437G (Amilo series). It took a little bit of research to finally decide to get this one, so I wanted to explain the thought process a bit, as I went through it:

Background, first: I wanted a laptop that will support both demonstration and development purposes. Since the main work I do is Flight Simulation aircraft addon code (99% of it written in C++ on Visual Studio - all flavors), I had to find a lappy that will support debugging with Microsoft Flight Sim open as a (smaller) window. At the same time, it should be able to run Flight Sim in full screen, with as little performance degradation as possible.

All this meant two things: a) CPU, b) Graphics Card, c) RAM :-).

Reading through the web, it looked as though I should go for the most CPU I could find, which would be the new dual core ones coming out. The question was: Are they available? Well, not today, not in Athens, not yet. Also, reading along, I discovered that they suffered from a (fatal, IMO) flaw: if you plugged any USB2.0 device into them, battery time would be reduced, sometimes by 80%. Well, that's no good... scratch dual core laptops (for now).

What about a video card? Well, availability dictated decisions here as well... the "best" card available today for laptops was the ATI x700, unless I wanted to lug around a 17" beast (at 4Kg NOT the easiest thing to carry through airports, if you consider that the bag would be another 0.5 to 1kg.)

The M1437G has a 2.13GHz Centrino CPU, with 2GB of (pretty fast) RAM, a nice 15" screen (wideview, unfortunately - seems the market's saturated with those nowadays - I looked and looked, and couldn't find any "regular" screens) and an X700 VGA that would most likely run MSFS "adequately".

These are the results (for the newly released 747-400F Queen of the Skies Cargo):

Not half bad, it seems :-). I am happy with it. If you read this description and want further info, don't hesitate to contact me about it!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Gettin' ready...

(A picture is worth a thousand words)...

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Relax times

Francois' comment in my Comparisons article triggered another synapse in my neural pathways :-). He mentioned that he loves to ride his BMW motorcycle with his wife Nina along and go cruising the highways... I got a bit jealous, because lately the only relax time for Margarita and I comes when we go see a movie, have a nice dinner somewhere or visit a couple friends. No longer are we willing to endure the smokey, jam-packed claustrophobic rooms that are called night clubs here in Athens, to get ripped off with overpriced, diluted alcoholic drinks and bad music.
With a seven-year-old child, it's all but impossible to think about a weekend escapade, not because we don't have "baby parking", thank her parents, but because we already see him little during the week (school, work, all) so leaving him with the grandparents for a whole weekend is a big rise in the guilt-o-meter.
Some might say "take him with you". I am sure you don't have kids, do you? :-) It will certainly be very enjoyable, but it will definitely NOT be relax time.
So- what to do? Comments welcome!

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Something that happened last night got me thinking...

We were visiting my godmother when Margarita reminded me that we had forgotten to ask her parents to tape a show she likes to watch on TV, as we'd be out for the evening. She wanted to call, but to ask them a third Friday in a row might be considered indelicate, so I suggested that I remotely log on from my godmother's PC onto the home PC, from there onto the sat dish receiver (it's based on Linux) and, through its web connection, program the timer to "tape" the show onto its embedded hard disk.

Just a measly two years ago, this wouldn't have been possible: My house didn't have a permanent Internet connection (now we have ADSL), we didn't have a remotely accessible sat dish receiver (most dish receivers were using proprietary software written just for them) and there was none of that "connectivity" that makes the world a much smaller place...

Yet, this connectivity doesn't necessarily provide the requisite freedom, does it? Since my computer is always on the Internet, my friends bitch more when I am not online, because they know that I work from home, so I have no excuse for not opening Messenger to chat.

If anything, it provides even less freedom than before: My guilt levels go up anytime I consciously turn it off so I can relax and watch a bit of TV or play a game. So I've resorted to taking Margarita out to the movies, as a means of not feeling so bad about not being on the computer working, if I am at home...

What's the point of having so much "help" from gadgets and technology, if all it does is make us less free?

Sunday, January 22, 2006


[Rant mode ON]

I cannot figure out any good way of making users READ the friggin README.TXT file. You know, the one that BEGS you: READ ME! READ ME! READ ME!

Some installers will automatically open the README.TXT file as the last step before finishing the product installation, but even then, the user is not guaranteed (read: 95% of the time, won't do it) to actually put some effort into making sense of what's been written in there.

Can we get an installer that will pop out a semi-automatic, point it to the PC and play a .wav to say "If you don't ACTUALLY read the stupid thing, I am PULLING THE TRIGGER"?

Actually, bad idea... we'll get even more support calls that way, with people bitching that there was a huge explosion and a hard disk fragment popped their eye socket out or something...

[Rant mode OFF]

If anyone has any good solutions on this, I am all ears...

Friday, January 06, 2006

I'd like to go flying again...

The weather around Athens has been so bad lately (25-30kt winds blowing constantly, drizzle, cold weather and general misery) that I had to unthink my desire to go flying these past two weeks. This is bad for a variety of reasons: a) I will have to spend an hour with an instructor again, as it's been almost two months since last time I flew, but more importantly b) I don't get to reset the craving levels, so the amounts of craving are increasing to almost unbearable limits. ;-)

Meanwhile, Margarita and I are keeping ourselves busy watching the entire second season of 24 - the TV series,
that we got on DVD, all in a period of a week or so (yes, that's 2-3 episodes per night). There's something to be said about good TV series productions and this is one of them. One major complaint though, now that we've finished with the second season series: Could they not have ended it without a cliffhanger this time? We'd watch Season 3 anyway :-). (Well, I can't complain - we've got Season 3 on DVD as well - starting next week).

Why next week? Well, we're going to spend the weekend at Euro-Disney with the kids. 4 days, in fact. Hopefully, this will be an unforgettable experience to them: at 10, 9 and 7, they're at the right age to enjoy this as thoroughly as possible - hopefully the weather forecasts will turn to be wrong (-3 degrees projected and rain/snow for the entire duration). At least the crowds will choose not to go :-).

Lastly, this is something I've wanted to do for awhile: Post a picture of myself and Robert Randazzo, so PMDG customers can put a name to a face. (I am the guy in the white shirt / blue shorts).