Flight Simulator gets its wings clipped

Horrible news out of Redmond, Washington this morning, if you’re a flight sim geek like I am:

Redmond, Washington-based ACES Studio, the Microsoft-owned internal group behind the venerable Microsoft Flight Simulator series, has been heavily affected by Microsoft’s ongoing job cuts.

Development sources have told Gamasutra that a large portion of the dev house’s staff has been let go – with multiple reports indicating that the entire Flight Simulator team has been axed.

Microsoft Flight Simulator is one of the most long-running and successful entertainment PC software lines of all time.  Since Bruce Artwick first put together SubLogic Flight Simulator sometime back in the Jurassic period (the mid-1980s), there have been ten versions of Flight Simulator put out by SubLogic and then Microsoft, each more successful than the last.  And one thing you can count on with each new release–on the day it comes out, you can take the most powerful computer you can get at that time, and you won’t be able to get good framerates with it.  MSFS has always pushed beyond the boundaries of then-current hardware.

If this turns out to be true, not only will it mean a loss of hundreds of jobs, it’ll be the end of a 25-year era in PC software, and it’ll also be the stake through the heart of high-quality PC flight simulation, except for Laminar Research’s X-Plane.  I remember when flight sims were the hot PC title, back in the days of Dynamix and Lucasarts, EA/Jane’s and iMagic.  Those days are long gone.  Now it looks like ACES Studio will join them.

Thousands Standing Around, for your safety!

This is last week’s news, but I just now got around to blogging about it.

Everybody’s favorite government bureaucracy, the Transportation Safety Administration, stepped in it last week when it was announced that one of their agents may have damaged at least nine American Eagle commuter aircraft at O’hare International Airport by attempting to gain entry from the outside using sensitive probes as handholds to pull himself up.

The TSA agent, as part of spot inspection of aircraft security, climbed onto the parked aircraft using control sensors mounted on the fuselage as handholds, according to a TSA official in Chicago, Elio Montenegro.

“Our inspector was following routine procedure for securing the aircraft that were on the tarmac,” Montenegro told ABCNews.com.

One small problem.  The agent climbed up grabbing on to something called the total air temperature probe, or TAT probe.  The TAT probe is part of the sensor system that feeds into the aircraft’s computers; it measures outside temperature, used in the computation of airspeed and determination of whether the plane is in icing conditions or not (at least, that’s how I understand it).  TAT probes are marked “NO STEP”–meaning, durrr, grabbing onto them is a Really Bad Idea that might damage the probe.  (They are also electrically heated to shed ice, which could be interesting if TSA Drone tried that on a plane with the probe heat turned on.  “Say, Harry, is somebody screaming outside on the tarmac?  And what’s that smell?”)

Well, leave it to the TSA.  Their response to totally screwing up AE’s schedules out of ORD for a day?  Accuse American Eagle of security violations!

TSA, however, strongly defended its inspector’s actions, noting in a statement that he was able to gain interior access to seven of the nine aircraft he inspected, which was an “apparent violation of the airline’s security program.” TSA said it encourages its inspectors to look for such vulnerabilities and after reviewing the inspection results, the agency “could take action against the airline, up to and including levying civil penalties.”

Insult, meet injury.

New computer tiemz!

I don’t replace computers very often–after all, they’re fairly big-ticket items, and money’s been tight the past few years.  The systems that Wife Unit and I both run are five years old and close to identical:  Athlon XP 2500+ processors on Asus A7N8X motherboards, 1 GB of RAM, and currently, Geforce 6600GT AGP video cards.  Mine has 100GB and 40GB hard drives; hers has a 70GB hard drive.  Both have floppies salvaged from our old Gateway Pentium III boxen, and both sit in attractive Antec Sonata gloss-black cases.

These are basically the computer equivalents of a ’72 Dodge Dart.  They work…barely.  They weren’t even cutting edge five years ago when I built them, and nowadays, they’re so far behind the curve that they’re off in the median somewhere.  Both of them are having significant issues.  Mine doesn’t like to reboot.  My wife’s won’t power off.  Both of them will frequently drop ground textures in World of Warcraft, and screw up running other games.  My main 100GB hard drive is down to 4 GB of free space.  Hers has eaten its BIOS settings a couple of times.

Well, thanks to the magic of having a daughter and getting those tasty child tax credits (om nom nom nom), plus the $1500 stimulus payment we got back last week, our computer problems are, hopefully, about to be over.  I’m building us two new machines this week, out of these bits:

– Motherboard:  Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3L.  A cheap, reliable, simple motherboard for those of us not really interested in running SLI/Crossfire.  This seems to be a frequent hobbyist and overclocker choice.

– Processor:  Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 “Wolfdale”.  The E8400 was the first of the new 45-nanometer process line of Core 2 Duo chips.  I don’t know what that means, except it runs cooler and pulls less power than the previous Core 2 Duos, and is supposed to be one mother of an overclocker.  Even if I don’t overclock, it’s an excellent gaming chip, and at $200, is cheaper and easier to work with than the quad-cores that start with the Q6600.  I ordered them with the stock heat-sink and fan, but then decided to add an Arctic Cooler Freezer Pro 7 CPU cooler on.  Cheap at $26, and very good for the price.  And if I have trouble fitting it in the case, I can always go back to the stock fan.

– Memory:  4 GB (two 2 GB sticks) of G.Skill DDR2 800.  Relatively inexpensive yet solid memory that’s gotten good reviews, is supposed to work well with the picky Gigabyte motherboard, and still lets me push a 20% overclock out of the E8400 if I feel frisky.  Plus, since I’m getting 64-bit Vista Home Premium, I definitely want at least 4 GB and the ability to go to 8 GB later–hence, 2 GB sticks.

– Video Card:  ECS Geforce 8800GTS 512MB PCI-E x16.  I was originally going to get one of Geforce’s newest cards, the 9600GT, but users on Tom’s Hardware Forum convinced me to go with the 8800GTS; same core processor, slightly more oomph, and better cooling.  The ECS is a brand I’ve never heard of before, but good Lord, I couldn’t ignore the price–$219, and a $50 mail-in rebate on top of that?  Yes plz.  The only thing that scares me is that this card looks bloody gigantic, as all the dual-slot 8800GTSes do.  I sure hope it fits.

– Hard drive:  Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 500GB SATA.  500 gigs should hold me for a few months.  I think.

– Optical drive:  Asus DRW-2014L1T SATA DVD burner.  I know damn all about optical drives.  It’s SATA so it should be fast, and it’s fairly cheap.

– Case:  Antec Sonata 550 Plus.  The current rage is what I call “riced-up” computer cases–lots of clear side panels and blue LEDs and stripes and weird shapes and whatever the geek equivalent of “GT-R” stickers are.  The Sonata is the antithesis of that.  Deep gloss black on the sides and top, brushed metal on the front with copper highlights around the bezel and the drive bays.  And it’s built like a tank…cold-rolled steel and heavy as hell.  It’s an S-class Mercedes in a world of Honda Civic DXes with coffee-can fart mufflers.  Plus it comes with a good quality 550-watt power supply already installed.  That’s more than enough oomph to run all this stuff, and I’m adding on one or two extra fans in the front for better cooling.

– Monitor:  Chi Mei CMV221D 22″ widescreen LCD.  I’ll admit, I’d never heard of Chi Mei before.  And color me skeptical about cut-rate monitors, especially if I’m going to be spending a few hours a night staring at it.  But those reviews on Newegg are awful positive, and the price is hard to ignore.  $240 for a decent 22″ widescreen monitor is mighty hard to pass by.  If I had unlimited money I’d think about one of the Samsungs that get absolute raves, but this looks pretty good for now.

Hopefully all this stuff will be arriving at the Landfill of Love tomorrow.  I’ve already asked my boss for Wednesday off…I expect I’ll need it, since I’ll be up half the night assembling my machine, and will need some sleep before I tackle my wife’s on Wednesday.  Watch this space for updates.