Who-da thunk it: Garfield is funny without Garfield

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Case in point: http://garfieldminusgarfield.tumblr.com/

As a kid, I’d read Garfield. Heck, I even watched the animated TV show. Looking back on it, my parents must have been spiking the punch or something to that effect.

Flight Simulation

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Among the computer hobbies that I’ve picked up, Flight Simulation has been one of my passions. Although I have very little time to devote to this hobby, it has nonetheless been the source of many hours of challenging fun. In fact, my interest in flying began with Microsoft Flight Simulator for the IBM PCjr.

Microsoft Flight Simulator for the IBM PCjr

You can reach a high degree of realism in Microsoft’s Flight Simulator line of products, but one area that has consistently been lacking in all flight simulation programs is accurate air traffic control (ATC). This, as you obviously may know, is a vital part of the global air transit community. Talking to an actual person on the other end of your COM radio rather than punching buttons provides another level of complexity and realism to the simulation experience.

Fortunately, you can achieve this by using online multiplayer networks such as VATSIM. Using this system you can use voice, obviously the preferred and more realistic method, or text to communicate with air traffic controllers watching the traffic in their virtual scopes. VATSIM aims to be as realistic as possible, so you must file flight plans, use DP (Departure) and STAR (Standard Terminal ARrival) plates, and get required clearances to guide you from point to point in your flight path. Through VATSIM you are afforded a rich and vibrant community of avid flight simmers devoted to achieving the highest realism while also being extremely helpful and patient.

For all the fun this provides me, it still is a time consuming process; flights on VATSIM must be flown in “real time” (rather than using the time acceleration capabilities of the simulator); a 5 hour flight from KSFO to KJFK really must take 5 hours in the simulator as well while you’re on VATSIM. Of course, when you’re offline you can use whatever time shifting you like, but I feel it highly diminishes the entire simulation experience.

Ultimately, there are two roles you can play on VATSIM: Pilot or ATC. If you’re into flight simulation, then you can fly on your own, or find a Virtual Airline that fits your requirements. (I am currently AFA4431 at American Flight Airways.) If you’d like to try the scopes, you can get in touch with a specific virtual air traffic control center and use their documentation and guidelines to train you.

If you’re interested, here are some links for more information:

On one of the forums that I visit, a user has the signature: “If you think Flight Simulation is a game, then get out of my airspace.”

Virgin America vs. JetBlue

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On Friday, February 1st my wife and I had the experience on traveling via Virgin America from KSFO to KJFK. They just recently started providing domestic service and tout such amenities on the plane as mood lighting, power at every seat and an interactive seat-back entertainment system. AFAIK, this is the highest level of technology implemented in coach class at-seat amenities to date. I have also flown JetBlue (albeit from KSMF to KJFK) which provides a TV at every seat as well, although it acts as a standard television rather than an interactive system.

Red, the name of Virgin America’s seat back system, is novel at first, but my excitement faded as the interface was laggy and the TV quality was quite low. Both my wife and I had issues receiving some live television stations, and other stations were pixelated and annoying to watch. Perhaps the difference in signal quality is that Virgin uses Dish Network and JetBlue is on DirecTV. Red also offers an array of on-demand videos (tv shows, music videos) to be streamed to your seat, as well as a wide array of music stations to listen to. You can order snacks, meals and drinks right from your screen, and, by using the included controller, you can chat with other people on the plane, or play some of the included games.

If we consider that the price to fly these two airlines is generally the same (give or take a bit), the seats in coach are just as cramped, and the flight times are exactly the same, I’d still take Virgin America over JetBlue only for the fact that it has power at every seat. This means that no matter what kind of entertainment they provide on board, as long as I can plug in my laptop I can watch any entertainment that I bring along. This past trip we watched a few episodes of Futurama and Good Night, and Good Luck. Once they were completed, I was still able to use my laptop to do some programming I wanted to get done.

The Virgin America crew was friendly, the plane was clean, and it was about as enjoyable as a coach class flight across the country could be. With any luck the airline will be around for a long time and will expand its array of electronics and connectivity enabling it to be on the bleeding edge of technology at 35000 feet.

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