Monday, January 22, 2007

Flying and music performance.

I play classical guitar, mostly at home but have recently began playing prelude music before church services. I realized the other day that there is a similarity between performing music in public, and flying.

The similarity lies in the dynamic-- you have a start, a middle, and a finish. More to the point, once you start, you have to finish. As the old aviation axiom goes, "takeoffs are optional, landings are mandatory". The difference, of course, is that performing is safer, unless one believes it is possible to die of embarassment.

Before starting to play, I have to go through a little preflight checklist. Do I know this piece well enough? Am I warmed up sufficiently? Oh, yeah, have a tuned the guitar to my satisfaction?

Then, the takeoff run. It's important to make a good start, because this is the first impression on your listeners. You don't want to start to slow or too fast because you'll be more or less stuck with that tempo for the remainder. Nerves can make you go fast,which can be disasterous if there are trickier parts ahead.

In cruise, typically things are easier. There may be a few bumpy spots, but things usually chug along without too much sweat. But you can't lose track of where you are--you have to know your exact location. One of the biggest disasters while playing is losing your place. Then you have to rely on your memory (mine's not the greatest), make something up until you find a place to re-enter the sheet, or worse of all, come to a dead stop. An analogy for the last case would be ditching in a field becuase you've run out of fuel and don't know where you are.

As one approaches the landing/ending, one feels some relief but also has the awareness that a mistake here could spell disaster. In the case of flying, this is obvious. For the musician, the danger is that a major foul-up is going to be the last thing the listeners hear, and will be the impression they take away. (The object when playing at church is not to make a good impression, but to facilitate prayer and meditation; a "bad landing" is going to be very disruptive in that sense).

There's a bit of an adrenaline rush when I begin playing, and a sense of relief when it is over. If I've done my proper flight planning before takeoff, I also have time to enjoy the view (sound) in the middle.

(Note: sorry for the sparse postings lately-- busy-ness and a bad head cold are to blame. Hope to have more posts (with pictures!) soon.)
(Note 2: I talked to Dad the other day and he is having a blast with the new computer!)

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dad's computer, part 3

I delivered Dad's computer last week. I planned on spending some time showing him what's new, which is not much, except everything runs faster. Actually, Golden Wings was new to him, but it works the same way as default FS.

I thought that I would let Dad do all the flying, while I gave tips, with the idea that you remember things better if you do them yourself. However, I soon found myself sitting in the pilot's seat and giving him the tour. Dad is very intelligent, but not too computer savy. At his age his ability to pick up new skills has slowed a little bit. He learns enough to get along, but mostly by remembering a sequence of actions. In other words, many things that become second nature for us younger folks are not second nature for him. The breaking point which made me jump in was when I wanted him to try out F1view, which requires depressing the middle mouse button, which in this case is a scroll wheel. He kept clicking the right button instead, which pauses the sim brings up that darn menu.

I'm sure by this time he's having a blast (and gotten comfortable with the middle mouse button). I mean to check in soon to see if he ran into any snags. Although I insisted he call me if he has any trouble, he's more likely to write a bunch of questions down and ask me next time I visit.

By the way, all of the screenshots are from the new rig. Extra-observant readers may note the low frame rate in the Sabre shot and think I'm exagerating how well the rig performs, but this is an atypical moment, and is a shot of a fast plane at Grimshaw's highly-detailed Logan Airport, with traffic! Mostly this machine gives solid mid to upper twenties.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Dad's computer, part 2

I ran into a little frustration trying to aquire the computer. I called my local Microcenter store, and it was out of stock. I asked if she knew when it would be in, and she said she didn't know, that they had deliveries every day and they never knew what was coming in. So, I called every day for a week with no luck. Then I called last week, got a different person, and found out that the model was discontinued!

Anyhow, I ended up ordering it online. They no longer had a special on it, and I had to pay shipping, grrrr. However, even with the standard shipping option, I was pleasantly suprised to find it was delivered by Saturday. I spent a good part of the weekend getting it ready.

The computer (a Powerspec 6002) seems to be a good machine given its low price, ~ $350. I threw in another 512MB of RAM (total 1 gig now), put in my old Radeon 9600XT, and recycled a CD/RW drive. My only complaint with the quality (so far, and hopefully forever), is that the ribbon cable for the optical drives was rediculously short. I barely got it to plug into the second drive. When I booted up the computer, it didn't see either drive! After a moment of panic, I reopened the case and determined that the ribbon cable had pulled out of the mobo. Fortunately I found a better ribbon cable in the deceased machine, and was soon back in business.

One other thing I liked is that, as a bare-bones system, it wasn't cluttered up with a lot of try-me software or useless Info Center stuff.

Once I got FS9 installed, I found it ran quite well. With all of the display sliders on highest or next-to-highest settings, I usually get frame rates in the mid to upper 20's with traffic, in all but the most dense areas. In rural areas it can run at 32 FPS (which I have it locked at).

Then it was tweaking time! My plan was to put some addons in, then make a copy for a Golden Wings version, and then put more addons in the separate versions. For the general addons, I put in reduced cloud textures, Freeflow New Enland, improved mesh for the northeast, the RealAir 172, and some Cub repaints. A couple of my favorite freeware planes (Eckert's Stearman, Lyons' Tripacer, etc) were installed so they would be available in both versions. Also, two indispensible utilities, F1view and the Recorder Module.

Next, I copied the whole shebang, renamed the copy to Golden Wings, and added that package and its updates. Then, I installed more planes to both versions. I added some AI airplanes and some traffic I had created for southern New England where we live. Finally, I added the superb Boston Logan airport scenery by George Grimshaw to the modern version.

In case you are not aware, all of the above is freeware.

I am very pleased with the end result. Both versions of the sim run well at fairly high settings. It runs at least as well, if not better, than my own system. In my next post I will report on the delivery and include a few screenshots.