Audio for VATSIM

Unless you either have no clue what VATSIM is, don’t use VATSIM or have been hiding under a rock for nearly two decades, you know the audio codec which VATSIM has been using is truly the weakest link of the entire VATSIM system. 

While I absolutely love flying on the VATSIM network, in recent months I’ve almost preferred not to have ATC controllers logged in and just let us pilots announce our intentions on UNICOM to avoid the awful VATSIM audio.  While most ATC positions seem to have OK sounding audio, the majority of pilots out there simply DO NOT!  A new audio codec system has been needed on the VATSIM network for a very long time and I believe the future looks sounds very good. 

Audio For VATSIM

OK…you gotta love how we love to acronym everything that has to do with technology.  Audio For VATSIM (AFV) was first announced a few years ago.  Or at least, VATSIM acknowledged the need for an updated audio system and audio codec a few years ago.  I’m not exactly sure when the powers that be at VATSIM actually kicked off the project, but we all were able to hear the results of a test conducted late last year (26 September) and released in the form of a YouTube video on 26 September.  During the first 25 seconds, the video includes the poor audio we’ve had to endure from 2001 – 2018.  Then the video spends the remaining time showcasing the new Audio for VATSIM. 

I’m not sure when we can expect the new Audio for VATSIM to become available for all virtual pilots. The past several weeks VATSIM has been conducting various small scale testing sessions and from all accounts, these sessions have been very positive. 

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There is an upcoming large scale test being planned to take place on 8th & 9th June where anyone who manages to pre-book a flight will have access to AFV beta during this event.  The pre-booking system opens tomorrow (Saturday, 1 June at 1900z) and I’m sure these slots will go fast.  You can learn more and book your slot here

Again, I’m not sure when VATSIM plans to flip the switch and implement AFV for all. If I were a betting man, I would suspect it will happen sooner rather than later. I believe POSCON will be providing an update during FSExpo.  I wrote about POSCON last year.  You can read those postings here and here.  I’ll be honest, I haven’t really followed the POSCON news since I wrote those articles.  I believe a lot of the drama is over and I look forward to hearing their news during FSExpo. 

Until next time….

Happy Flying!

JT

New REX Environment Force

As most will already know, the new REX Environment Force add-on was released a few weeks ago.  Over the course of this article I’m going to share some opinions, show some evidence and basically discuss how I moved from the Envtex/Envshade products to REX and what my overall impressions are.  Spoiler:  I’m happy as a pig in mud!

If anyone tries to tell you the industry built around and supporting the flight simulation hobby is dead, dying or even stagnant…..they are wrong.  In addition, if anyone tries to tell you the industry supporting Prepar3D is dead, dying or stagnant….They too are WRONG!  The level of creativity coming from our 3rd party developers is very much alive and kicking.  The proof is certainly in the pudding and boy does this pudding taste good. 

I’m Getting Old

I can’t remember much about the selection of add-ons available for Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 (FS9) nor my direct involvement with them.   When FS9 was the sim of choice, I was super busy traveling and had many irons in the fire.  But I do know (at least for me) with Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX) and certainly through each of the iterations of Prepar3D I’ve owned (P3D 2.x, 3.x and 4.x) I’ve literally poured hundreds of dollars down the ole proverbial rat hole in an attempt to achieve maximum eye-candy.  It’s truly a constant struggle and balancing act as I explained in a recent writing titled “Flight Simulation – The Struggle for Balance”. 

Choices & Decisions

In the area of visual add-ons to help stimulate your visual senses, there’s a lot of choice out there.  This is certainly the case for Prepar3d version 4.4/4.5, slightly less for earlier versions of P3D and FSX.  But still a lot of choice in this category of visual enhancing add-ons. 

There was a time (not too long ago) where I pretty much believed they all did just about the same thing.  Of course, each camp will have their fanboys and each will have their haters.  Remember, “haters gonna hate”, right?

I’ve honestly tried them all…well, most of them.  For the record, as I pointed out in a recent article titled, “Shaders – What’s the big deal?”, I haven’t tried Tomatoshade.  While there are plenty of Tomatoshade fanboys singing its praises…there are many others who are sitting in the corner crying because something catastrophic happened to the their sim.  I discuss some of these pitfalls here.  Yes, yes…ABSOLUTELY YES…I agree that most who are sitting in the corner crying either didn’t read the “destructions” or have/had some other issue going on which became a bigger issue when they attempted to implement a product they didn’t understand in the first place.  Bottom line for me, I just don’t like Tomatoes  LOL  and I guess I’ve never taken the time to fully understand and embrace its use and full potential.  Anyway….I digress.

Should I Stay or Should I Go…

You know how I like to intermix popular 80’s music lyrics into my writings…I had my own decisions to make and I spent about a week reading the accounts from others and literally drooling over the images I was seeing as a result of this new REX Environment Force add-on.  However, I kept flying with my previous setup using Envtex/Envshade along with ASCA/ASP4 and closely comparing what I saw on my own screens versus what others were showing in their screenshots.  The results/comparisons were almost night and day differences.  I couldn’t resist and I shelled out my hard-earned money and purchased both the new REX Environment Force and also REX Sky Force 3D.  These were on sale in a bundled deal direct from the REX store

Out With The Old…

and in with the new.  While REX Environment Force states it supports and will work along side all add-ons, there’s always a risk.  I also truly wanted to see exactly what my sim would look like with only the REX products installed and without Envtex/Envshade etc.  So the task I set out to accomplish was to remove Envtex/Envshade from my sim without blowing a hole in P3D as a result.  I said a quick little prayer and got to work. 

Step 1.  Removing Envtex/Envshade

I had done my research and had read accounts from others who had done the same thing I wanted to accomplish.  The first step was to restore the original P3D textures.  This is easily done from the Envdir program by clicking the Restore button.  This process re-installs your old textures from the backup made when you first installed/configured the Envdir/Envtex/Envshade programs. 

Step 2.  Delete P3D Shader Folder and start P3D

After restoring the P3D textures in the above step, I located my P3D shader folder (located under Users\YourUserName\AppData\Local\Lockheed Martin\Prepar3D.  Just delete the entire folder.  Launch P3D and in the process P3D will add a new shader folder and will reset shaders. 

Step 3.  Install REX Products

I installed and activated both my new REX Sky Force 3D and Environment Force products.  While REX Sky Force has a built in weather engine, I wanted to continue to use Active Sky.  So once Sky Force was installed, I simply deactivated the real-time weather function in Sky Force. 

Step 4.  Reinstall ASCA

If you’re using ASCA (Active Sky Cloud Art) with Envdir, you’ll want to reinstall it as it will error when it can’t locate certain files related to Envdir. 

Step 5.  Read, Read and Read

Both the REX products have comprehensive documentation found in the .pdf files which accompany both products.  If you’re anything like me, you want to get going as soon as possible.  But I would encourage you just the same to do some reading about these products, their settings and how to use them.  But hey…I get it. 

Step 6.  Launch REX products before P3D

I know there are various schools of thought on this.  But it’s just a habit I’ve been doing for many years.  I first launch REX Sky Force, then REX Environment Force, then ActiveSky (ASP4)/ASCA and then finally P3D v4. 

Step 7.  Fly and enjoy….

Obviously some configuration is required with the REX products.  But the real beauty of REX Environment Force (EF) is these tweaks and changes can be made while P3D is running.  So you can choose if you want to run EF in auto mode or in manual mode and tweak to your heart is content.  I’ll be honest, I’ve done a bit of both and will play around more in the manual mode.  But here’s a series of screenshots I captured on a recent flight from Miami down to St. Maarten. 

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Taxing out to the active runway (08R) while watching a company 738 land on runway 12. 

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Blasting out of Miami.  The weather is perfect for testing the new REX products. 

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Beautiful clouds and water textures.

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The PMDG Boeing 737-800 decked out in the American Airlines livery.  This is my favorite add-on aircraft.

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Getting ready to punch through the clouds.

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One of my favorites.

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Just another minute before we fly over Maho Beach and land safely at Princess Juliana International Airport.  I love this approach and landing. 

Well there you have it.  I’m truly pleased with the experience I’m getting from the new REX Environment Force and REX Sky Force products.  I’ve used REX products in the past.  Specifically REX Soft Clouds and the older REX Texture Direct.  While I moved away from these older products for something better, I believe the best at this time is these new REX products and I’m happy to be a REX Customer once again. 

Until next time…

Happy Simming!

Jerry

Return of the Flight Sim Storyteller

Once upon a time, a few of us flight sim bloggers were into storytelling through our writings and images. This was really before the YouTube thing took off.  A few years in, I took the turn down the path of Twitch and YouTube and mostly used the blog for “how to” type articles.  Essentially I sort of shelved the storytelling articles a few years ago.  My other blogging friends also seem to have dropped out of the blogosphere.  That’s sad….as several of them were really good at what they did.  But I suppose the trend is more towards watching flight sim livestreams, requesting songs via YouTube and watching someone fly from point A to point B.  Nothing wrong with that….at all!  I just learned it wasn’t my cup of tea to be that type of content creator.

A few days ago I posted a couple of screenshots over on the “A Pilot’s Life – SimBitWorld” Discord server regarding my quickly approaching promotion to Sr. First Officer.  At the time I was less than one XP point away from the promotion and would certainly secure it on my flight from Oakland, CA back to SeaTac.  If you haven’t heard about “A Pilot’s Life” by SimBitWorld, then please read my review of this add-on application which has been developed for all major flight sim platforms including Prepar3D, FSX and X-Plane.  Anyway, one of the other APL pilots commented “Love your stories, maybe you should write a diary flying APL and the adventures you are facing.”  Actually…I agree!  So let’s do this!

Is the Blogosphere Dead?

A couple of thoughts come to mind when I ask myself that question.  First, my long-term readers will know how I often like to intermix music lyrics or song titles (especially from the 80’s) into my writings.  Has blogging suffered the same fate as that of the radio star (Video Kill the Radio Star)?  My second thought has to do with the decline of the book store.  The major shopping mall I visit regularly is one of those massive double-decker types.   When I first moved to the area over 20 years ago, this shopping mall had 2-3 book stores. One of which took up both floors.  Today…there are none.  Not a single one.  We have to drive a few miles down the road to find one of the last major brick and mortar book stores.  But….the stats on my website still tell me that I receive plenty of visitors each day.  The vast majority of these visitors show up for my flight sim content, so I’ll give it a whirl.

Return of the Flight Sim Storyteller

Before I get going with the first entry (coming next week), allow me to bring you up to speed on my APL career thus far.  I feel this is necessary just to bring things current.  I purchased APL back in mid April.  So at the time of this writing, I’ve been logging hours for about 6 weeks.  As I explained in my review, everyone starts off with zero hours and the rank of Junior First Officer.  I was hired by Sun Country Airlines (SCX) and based in Minneapolis KMSP.  I flew mostly the Boeing 737-700 and 737-800 on routes in the eastern portion and Midwest of the US. These routes took me to cities like Chicago, Memphis, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Atlanta, Washington DC, Cincinnati and Denver. 

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After working my way through two flight schedules, and accumulating 50 XP I was promoted to First Officer and after fulfilling the terms of that new contract, I wanted to make a change in the hopes of gaining a higher hourly wage and different routes.  I was offered the current job I have now with Alaska Airlines and moved to Seattle. 

I began my work with Alaska Airlines on 10 May and my first flight was from Sea-Tac down to Las Vegas.  My flights with Alaska has taken me to Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland in the Southwest portion of the US.  I’ve also had flights up to Juneau, Sitka and my favorite Alaskan airport of Ketchikan.   I hope to return to Ketchikan very soon.

Upon recently arriving into Oakland, I was less than 1 XP away from my promotion to Sr. First Officer.  I had a overnight layover in Oakland and returned back to Sea-Tac the following morning.  Upon landing and arriving in the crew office I was presented with my Sr. First Officer certificate and a new contract guaranteeing me a new salary of $39.39 per hour.  The terms of the contract state I must continue to work for Alaska Airlines for another 7 days.  I didn’t have much time to celebrate as I was due to fly back down to California soon after signing my new contract.

What’s Next

Initially when I began typing this article, it was going to contain the first installment of my “A Pilot’s Life” Storyteller series with a flight from San Francisco back to Seattle.  But I realized it might make for a really long first edition, so I will use this post to just bring you up to speed and I’ll return with the first edition early next week.  As for how frequently these will come out….for now, we’ll just have to see. 

But until next time…

Happy Flying!

Jerry

Flight Simulation–The Struggle for Balance

While I’ll be the absolute first to tell you that Prepar3D, Flight Simulator X (FSX) and X-Plane are NOT video games…they are computer based flight simulators!  It certainly didn’t start out this way.  As I often show my age when I speak about the fact that I’ve been flying computer based simulations since the early 1980’s…really and truly at that time, the ancestors of P3D, FSX and X-Plane were just simply games.  At that time, I really don’t think anyone (perhaps other than the developers) could imagine what these games would become and the industry which would rise up to support it. 

A Picture is Worth…

They say “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words”.  The top image is what things looked like back around 1984 on the Commodore 64.  I spent hours upon hours and a few hours more sitting at my desk flying around Chicago Meig’s Field. 

Advance the calendar some 35 years and this is what the above evolved into.  The image below is from my own Prepar3d version 4 setup and the PMDG 747-400.  I believe I captured this screenshot on a flight from Denver to London late last summer (2018). 

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The stark contrast between those two images is truly amazing.  From a very basic 2D cockpit with very limited controls to the flight deck of the Queen herself where just about every button, every switch and every dial does something is again just simply amazing.  While I often envy the younger generation who have basically grown up with only knowing the more modern of things, I do consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to witness this first hand. 

There’s an interesting backstory with the above image.  I have this image on my work laptop and Windows 10 automagically changes out my desktop image every 15 minutes.  I have two very large external monitors in my office and they are situated where if someone stops by to visit, they can see the desktop image if I have my applications minimized.  One of my co-workers stopped by one day, saw the image and asked me where I found it.  I explained that I captured the image (that’s all I said), he looked at me and said “how the hell did you manage to convince the pilots to A. let you onto the flight deck, and B. convince them to step out so this picture could be taken.  LOL  I explained this was a screenshot from my home flight simulator setup.  I think we spent the next hour discussing the hobby.

The Struggle is Real

While I can’t speak for all who are involved in the hobby of flight simulation, I would wager to guess that most (at least some) struggle with the balance between ultimate realism and beautiful/stunning eye-candy.  Which is more important and does it really matter? 

As Microsoft Flight Simulator evolved over the years, there was still a time where third party add-ons were somewhat rare.  Especially what I would refer to as complex versions like we have today from the likes of PMDG, FSLabs and A2A.  So I would say (for me), as the complex aircraft were slowly starting to come onto the scene, I was still stuck in the “I care more about eye candy” mode.  What I wanted was simple.  I wanted an aircraft which closely resembled what ever I wanted to fly (Boeing 727, 737, 757 etc.), I wanted it to have decent flight characteristics (meaning perform better than a brick) and I wanted a livery for which ever real world airline I was simulating at the time.  Again, at that time….all the rest wasn’t a concern.  I also wasn’t all that bothered if the aircraft didn’t have a virtual cockpit.  I would guess this was the time frame of about 25 years ago. 

The turning point for me was sometime after the dawn of the SATCO/VATSIM age (circa 2000-01).  Of course, this is also around the same timeframe when internet based virtual airlines began popping up and the interwebz made the world a much smaller place. 

Immersion is Key

I think with any simulation based title, the immersive experience is due part from the software itself and also from ones own imagination.  While I’m not suggesting any of us sim gamers go around thinking (or certainly not pretending) we’re farmers, truckers or pilots…but I believe, our own imagination certainly makes up a small (perhaps larger) part of our overall experience. 

For example, I have my own rules for how I enjoy flight simulation.  First, I almost always begin a flight from the last airport I previously landed at.  There are a few times in my mind I will just say “jump seat” and start off from an airport I hadn’t just flown into…but that’s rare.  Second, I’m also not the type of virtual aviator who fires up a flight and then either goes to bed, goes to work or goes shopping.  While I’m not going to lie and tell you that my rear keister is always firmly planted in my chair for every minute, every hour of a flight….I’m generally not far away.  After all, pilots in the real world will get up and stretch their legs and go to the toilet.  Finally, when I was single…I would often heat up a “TV Dinner” which I would eat on longer flights.  But hey…I was eating a lot of these types of dinners when I was single. 

The Trade Off

Unfortunately, it wasn’t that long ago most of us had to make a decision.  Did we want the experience which the complex, advanced simulation add-on aircraft would deliver…OR…did we want the breathtaking visuals?  Because it wasn’t always money that determined the path. 

Before P3Dv4 was finally capable of taking advantage of a 64 bit architecture and move beyond the 4 GB virtual memory limitations, we all found it hard to mix both together.  You’ll find older writings of mine on this blog site where I attempted to marry the complex and the stunning visuals….yes it was doable, but it required significant compromise. 

It’s All a Balancing Act

Today, I enjoy a perfect balance between the more advanced simulation add-on aircraft and the stunning visuals.  With the advancement of hardware, software and the financial ability to marry both together…I can finally shove those graphic sliders to the right and enjoy the challenge of learning and flying some of the greatest machines ever invented and experience the visuals as if it was really happening.  My friends…that’s how you define the tagline “As Real As It Gets”. 

Until next time…

Enjoy the experience however you define it.

Jerry

Political Division–No Place in our Hobby

I participate in two different hobbies which in the past have always promoted good will towards mankind.  The first is amateur radio (ham radio) which brings likeminded radio/electronics enthusiasts from around the world where we find each other on the airwaves and use our common interests to bridge the issues that divide us.  In this hobby, I’ve talked to fellow hams all over the world.  From someone a few blocks away all the way to hams in England, Japan, Australia, China, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq and Israel.  We exchange our thoughts, ideas and our dreams for a peaceful and better world.  In my over 10 years of being an FCC licensed amateur radio operator, I’ve never heard anything other than positive vibes regardless who is talking and regardless of where they are talking from. 

Years ago, the flight simulation hobby was just like this.  VATSIM, IVAO and the internet in general has brought many of us from differing cultures together for a common interest and that is aviation and flight simulation. 

Last week on one of the Facebook groups I belong to, a fellow flight simmer posted a series of screen shots he had taken from his flight simulator to showcase a flight he had recently enjoyed.  The pictures showed an aircraft from the Israeli airlines El-Al.  The image was simply celebrating the history of Israel.  The image, nor the typed message from the original poster didn’t contain any hateful, hurtful or political remarks.  Yet, just a few minutes after it was posted….several members began sharing their hateful, spiteful and dangerous comments. 

Thinking back to the immediate days after September 11, 2001….VATSIM shut down their network to coincide with what was happening in the real world.  I was extremely proud that something which is just a hobby, made the decision to also cease operations during the timeframe where no other commercial aircraft was flying around the world.  I received messages from fellow flight simmers who also were members of the same virtual airline I was flying for at the time (American virtual Airlines) offering their condolences for the tragic events that took place that day.  Some of these fellow members were from the Middle East.  They realized this hobby has no place for hate and political BS.  We just want to fly our virtual aircraft. 

Our world and our hobby is not the same as it was on the 10th of September 2001.  The internet and social media has unfortunately created a mass of “keyboard warriors” who spew their hate, spew their political agendas and their absolute ignorance.  I’m not being naïve about this, I’m simply saying that this hobby doesn’t have room for this behavior.   The good news????  The admins of this Facebook group did quickly act, they shut down the post and they banned those who were spewing their hate towards the El-Al photograph.

I’m a fan of all airlines and while I mostly fly American Airlines, Southwest and British Airways….I also simulate operations for airlines such as Emirates, Etihad, Royal Jordanian, Gulf Air and YES…I also fly El-Al from time to time.  I’m not planning to stop and I’m not planning to stop sharing screenshots of these flights.  If this happens to become the new norm (and I don’t think it will), I’m not sure I want to remain participating (at least not publicly) in the hobby any longer. 

For the most part I realize the overwhelming majority who participates in our hobby will agree with what I’m saying.  However, there is that old saying which reads, “a few bad apples can spoil the entire barrel”.  So I hope you’ll join me in ensuring the bad apples never make it into the basket.  If while on social media you see the type of behavior I’ve described, say something…report it.  I’m not suggesting you act the same way (two wrongs don’t make a right), but stepping in, reporting it and I’d even go so far as insisting the admins do the right thing and place temporary or permanent bans on the offenders is really the only way this can be stopped. 

Next week I’m going to discuss the struggle for balance between between performance of the sim versus maximum immersion.  The following week I’m going to give an overview and some tips if you are planning to move away from Envtex/Envshade to the new REX Environment Force.  Then if nothing happens, the week following I plan to share with you my “Top 10 Payware Aircraft for Prepar3d/FSX”.  I hope you’ll take the time to read.

Until next time…

Be Kind to each other….

Jerry

Introducing Flight Sim Helpers

I’ve created a new Facebook Community for like minded flight simulation enthusiasts with a focus of helping others get the most from the hobby.   The plan is to support all major flight simulation platforms including FSX, FSX Steam Edition, Prepar3D and X-Plane. 

Backstory for anyone interested.  I’ve been involved in the flight simulation hobby since the early 1980’s.  In those early days, support was often only found in a few BBS (bulletin board systems) and on early computer networks like Compuserv, PlayNET and later AOL.  It truly was member helping members back then. 

Today’s Internet has most certainly helped to both grow our hobby and aid in spreading knowledge.  However, its also given rise to the amount of “keyboard warriors” who simply prefer to disrupt, agitate and ridicule those who are seeking assistance.

I grew up being told there was no such thing as a stupid question and sometimes even a savvy Internet/Google search pro like myself may still have a question or two after spending time trying to find the answer myself.  The focus of Flight Sim Helpers is to help those who need it without the attitude found in other support groups. 

If you’re new to the hobby or a seasoned pro, please consider joining Flight Sim Helpers.  I’m looking to add new moderators who can help keep everything with the group running smoothly and smartly.  If you’re interested in helping, please message me. 

Thank you for your time and I hope to see you in the new Facebook Flight Sim Helpers group.   

Jerry

A Gamer’s Healthy Life

I began working on this article to publish on my GrizzlyBearSims gaming blog over two months ago.  I also talked about my weight loss and exercise journey on one of my last YouTube Videos before my break.  As I had over 90% of the article written, I didn’t want it to go to waste so I’ve completed it and it’s ready to publish.  While this won’t be a regular topic on my gaming blog, it is something I’m passionate about and something that many of us truly can benefit from.  So perhaps every few months I’ll throw together some health related topics and include them here.  But it will certainly be less than 25% of my normal content.  If you’re interested in discussing more about this, you can reach me via Discord message. 

We’ve all seen and heard the typical stereotypes regarding the un-healthy lifestyle of most gamers.  Let’s face it, if you consider yourself a gamer…well, you probably enjoy spending many hours sitting while enjoying what ever type of game you enjoy.  It’s just the way it goes!  Of course, perhaps this article already finds you also living an active lifestyle.  If so, congratulations and you can probably stop reading.  But if you’re like me and spend 50+ hours a week at a high stress desk job, sometimes arrive before the sun comes up and usually leaves after the sun has set and the amount of exercise you achieve is the quick walk to the vending machine and back.  Then perhaps this article might interest you.

Go See Your Doctor

Now before I get started allow me to just say this.  Before starting any diet/exercise program you really should consult with your primary care or family doctor first.  In addition, for those of us who have experienced more than a few trips around the sun…this should be done once a year.  Some insurance providers even cover these “Wellness Exams” 100% with no co-pay.  But the important take-away from this is to consult with your doctor just to be sure you are safe to begin an exercise program.

I’m Not a Doctor…

…and I didn’t stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night either.  I’m also not a dietician, fitness expert or anything else related to this subject.  I’m just a regular guy who once was overweight, out of shape and decided to do something about it.  Then a few years passed and I almost let it all go down hill again.  The topics I’m going to cover are simply what have worked for me.  Will they work for you?  Most likely they will…but my method does require some commitment and yes…a lot of hard work.  Again, go see your doctor and remember this is just my method.

How Weight Loss Works

A friend of mine posted the below “How to Lose 10 lbs. in a week” meme on Facebook the other day.  Despite what you might see on TV, this meme is 100% accurate.  Simply put…you can’t lose 10 lbs.  in a week.  Once you accept this fact, it makes the true understanding about how weight loss through diet/exercise possible.

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In simple terms, a normal/healthy human body will lose weight when the amount of calories burned through some form of exercise is greater than the amount of calories consumed.  Said in the opposite way, a normal/healthy human body will GAIN weight when you sit on the sofa all day and eat nothing but cheeseburgers and barely move.

While the concept of losing weight by burning more calories than you consume is relatively easy to understand, this is where the discipline comes into play.  The only way to really make this work is to monitor your exercise and count calories.  But fear not…there are some wonderful tools that will make this easy peasy and I’ll tell you about the tools I use in just a moment.

But What About Those Fad Diets

Oh…you mean the ones you see on TV?  Like Jenny Craig, SouthBeach Diet, WeightWatchers etc.  Yes, these will work…but have you checked the price of those meals?  WOW!  These programs work (if you adhere to the program) by simply limiting your calorie intake.  But you can achieve the exact same thing by shopping at your local grocery store and preparing your own meals.  Plus you’ll save hundreds of dollars in the process.

Now I do typically keep a few Healthy Choice (or other brand) frozen meals in my freezer.  These are for when I just don’t have the time to cook.  The reason I do this is as a safety net.  If something is keeping me from cooking, then the typical default plan is to go get fast food.  WRONG!  So I keep a few frozen meals in my freezer and will eat these instead.  While these are not as healthy as fresh cooked food, these are far better than fast food.  Plus it’s really easy to know just how many calories I’m consuming and can add that to my daily plan.

The Basic Numbers

Like most things…the science with weight loss through diet/exercise is a numbers game.  As I’ve already pointed out, a normal/healthy human body will lose weight when the amount of calories burned through exercise is greater than the amount of calories consumed.  But to really understand how this works, we need to know a few numbers.  These numbers may vary depending on the source.  The numbers I’m listing below are from a website I’ll talk more about later called MyFitnessPal.  Also, these numbers are based on my age, height and gender.  For the record, I’m 52 years old, 6’0” and I’m a guy.

Based on the info I mentioned above, I would need to eat/consume 2,250 calories just to maintain my weight.  Or 1,750 per day to lose one pound per week or 1,500 calories per day to lose up to two pounds per week.

Just for comparison, looking at the numbers for a 6’0” tall, 52 year old woman the numbers would be 2,060 calories per day to maintain current weight.  Or 1,560 calories per day to lose one pound per week or 1,200 calories to lose up to two pounds per week.  As you can tell, the differences between the male and female body as it relates to metabolism are quite different.

So yes, in theory….you could simply just consume the above mentioned calories and still stay seated on the couch and either maintain or lose weight.  But that’s no fun and it’s not healthy!

The Benefits of Exercise

When I was a young boy, I absolutely hated calisthenics.  That’s what our exercising program in elementary school was called.  I just wanted to go out to the playground and run, jump and chase the girls around the playground.  The end result would most likely have been the same…but instead we had to line up in the gymnasium and do all sorts of things.  But now that I’m older and of course much, much wiser…I fully understand the value of getting my butt up and moving.

For me personally, I have elevated cholesterol numbers (used to be very high) and I have above normal blood pressure readings and also suffer from acid reflux.  Most likely the recent stress of my job and a few other things that have been going on is contributing to the above normal BP readings.  While I’m not in the danger zone, my doctor wants me to reduce the numbers AND SO DO I!

Regarding my cholesterol.  About 15 years ago it was sky high.  My primary care doctor at the time prescribed me one of the popular statin drugs and I popped a pill every day for about 8 years.  The statin drug did what it was supposed to do, but I began suffering from the side effects after using it for that many years.  I had to do something and thankfully I changed doctors and found one that helped motivate me to exercise more.

So in my case, the exercise (and diet of course) eventually allowed me to lower my cholesterol to safe and normal levels naturally.  Unfortunately, I got lazy again. But I’m back in gear and working the numbers back down to safe levels.

So that my friends, is one of the benefits to exercise.  There are many others including actually getting a better nights sleep.  I sleep so much better when I’m exercising.

As I also mentioned acid reflux.  When I was really heavy (several years ago) I took prescription Nexium daily.  When I lost all my weight, I was able to quit the Nexium.  I should have listened to my body as a few months ago as I allowed my weight to creep above 200 pounds, I began having acid reflux symptoms again  and had to go back on Nexium.  Lesson learned!  Always, listen to your body.

My Exercise Program

Once again I’m going to encourage you to visit with your doctor before starting any form of exercise.  I’m also going to remind you of what I’ve already said regarding these are the things that work for me.  With that out of the way, an exercise program can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it.  For me, I absolutely love walking and walking is what I do and it’s just about the only thing I do for my exercise program.  Yes, I do occasionally lift small weights…but generally I just walk.

My daily goal is 10,000 steps per day.  10,000 steps per day is roughly (give or take) about 5 miles.  As previously stated, I love walking.  While I will walk on my treadmill during inclement weather, I much prefer to be outside.  I have a park across from my neighborhood which is safe and I can walk and listen to the birds sing.  I also have areas around my office building where I can also safely walk and on warm weather days see many others out stretching their legs and taking in the fresh air.  But yea…I just simply walk.

But…I walk at a fairly fast pace.  The courses I typically use will have varying elevation to them.  Some flat, some downhill and some uphill.  I like the variety as it really gets my heart pumping on the uphill segments, but then allows for a bit of a cooldown on the flat and downhill segments.  I can generally cover a mile in just under 16 minutes.  Just walking…no jogging.

Gadgets Are Cool

What can I say?  I love gadgets and many times gadgets truly help make our lives better.  Of course there are a ton of different gadgets related to fitness.  I’m going to share with you what I use and how I use them.

As I mentioned earlier, my daily exercise goal is to walk 10,000 steps.  While there are many different pedometers available I invested in a Fitbit about 5-6 years ago.  I use the Fitbit One model.  Unfortunately, the Fitbit One is no longer in production and Amazon sellers are charging an arm and a leg for new ones.  But the reason I chose the Fitbit One was I don’t typically wear a watch and I wanted something I could just clip to my belt loop and off I go.  I wear it every day, all day.  It counts every step I take regardless if I’m intentionally exercising or just walking down the hall.  But generally…even if I’m walking down the hall to a meeting, I’m doing that at a fairly brisk pace.  Folks in the office used to stare at me.  But then they began noticing the weight falling off and I’ve converted many to my lifestyle.  The Fitbit One model is fairly basic as it only tracks steps and sleep tracking.  Some models will track heartrate and most likely someday I’ll upgrade to a more fancy model.  But for now, my Fitbit One is all I want/need.

The Fitbit devices will automagically sync up to the Fitbit website via a smartphone app.  This website tracks my steps, active minutes, number of floors I’ve climbed and calories burned.  Pretty much all the info I need to monitor my daily exercise goals.

Counting Calories

I know….I know!  Counting calories is a pain.  But hey…there’s an app for that.  When I began my weight loss journey (the first time) over 5 years ago, I not only used the Fitbit I mentioned above….but I also used a website (and app) called MyFitnessPal.  MyFitnessPal or MFP for short is truly a thing of beauty and best of all, the Fitbit website and MFP can be integrated in such a way that your fitness tracking will sync to MFP (and somewhat vice versa) so you easily watch and control all your important numbers.

MyFitnessPal also has a sleek smartphone app which makes it super easy to update your food diary when on the go.  I personally love the bar code scanner feature of the app when cooking.  I can quickly add items to my food diary or even build up complete recipes.  The MFP website also contains an extensive database of food items including everything from fast food down to individual ingredients.  Super, super easy.

Counting calories is just as important as your individual exercise program.  In my opinion, if you are putting in the effort to burn calories and you are not taking the time to carefully count your calories, then you will fail.  Everything you consume needs to be accounted for.  EVERYTHING!  Otherwise, you will fail.

Moderation is Key

The word moderation is your friend especially when it pertains to what you should and shouldn’t eat/drink when on a diet and exercise program.  Remember….this is just how I do things.  But quite honestly…if you want to eat a Wendy’s Triple burger when on your diet, go for it!  Just understand this one triple meat burger weighs in around 1,090 calories, want to add large fries to that order, that’s an additional 530 calories and while we’re at it…let’s finish it off with a small errr I mean large Frosty at 590 calories for a grand total of ……(drum roll please)…..2,210 calories.   You better do a whole lot of walking to burn all those calories.  But I suppose it can be done.

But seriously, eating the foods you love “in moderation” is still doable while on a diet and exercise program.  Unless your doctor specifically tells you to watch your sodium intake…you can still enjoy “in moderation” just about everything from time to time.  While I love cheeseburgers as much as the next guy, I would much prefer to cook my own, on my own grill than blow my calorie budget on fast food.  But that’s just my opinion.

Speaking of moderation.  I’m partial to bit of Bailey’s a few times a week.  A one ounce shot of Bailey’s is 98 calories and if I can work it into my dietary budget, I’ll do it.

Speaking of Budgets

I just used the word “budget” when I spoke about working that shot of Bailey’s into my dietary plan.  In my earlier failed attempts at trying to make a diet/exercise plan work I never thought of it as a budget.  I often had “free days” built into my plan and didn’t accurately count calories or track my workouts.  These “free days” were days where I didn’t exercise and I ate whatever I wanted.  Free days often turned into back to  back free days which often turned into free weeks, free months…..I failed each time.  It wasn’t until 5-6 years ago when I bought my Fitbit and signed up for MFP that I truly began to look at things as a budget.

Just like my wife and I operate our household from a budget, you need to think about your diet/exercise program as a budget.  The exercise is the income and the food/drink you consume directly comes from that budget.  Nothing is free…there are no free days.  I’m not saying you have to workout seven days a week.  But I am saying you have to be conscience of what you are consuming and how that will impact all your hard work.  If you slip, don’t beat yourself up…rather…pick yourself up, dust yourself off and resume the work.

In Summary

I realize this is a lot of information and a lot of words to read.  I also realize this really has nothing to do with simulation based gaming other than, as gamers, we run the risk of not properly looking after ourselves and I’m sharing this with all of you to be helpful.  I firmly believe that if you devote just a few hours a week to getting some exercise, getting some fresh air and eating correctly…you’ll feel so much better and possibly add years to your life.  The alternative is to continue to feel poorly and in time lose a possible few years.  It’s up to you.  Just do it!

Until next time…

Stay Healthy My Friends!

Jerry

ProMods coming to ATS

I’ve been a BIG fan of the ProMods development team for many years.  Around the time SCS was releasing American Truck Simulator, there was some discussion in the ProMods forums about the possibility of some ATS development work.  But that was over three years ago and I personally hadn’t heard a peep from them regarding their plans. 

Last week when I published the Washington State – I’m Excited blog post, a PC-SG member alerted me to the news of Promods beginning development work on version 1.x of a British Columbia map.  As you can see from the map below, it appears that ProMods will tie into Interstate 5 in NW Washington and most likely again with US 97 to the east. 

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Map courtesy of ProMods

While I salute all modders who have been working to provide modded maps for ATS, none that I’ve seen will compare with the quality of ProMods.  At the time of this writing, there is no release date.  But then again, the ProMods team typically doesn’t commit themselves to a release date.  In other words, ProMods Canada will be ready, when it’s ready! 

If you want to follow along with the progress of ProMods Canada, please follow this forum posting.  On a somewhat related note, I also heard from one of my Twitter followers the next US State after Washington might be Utah. 

Until then…

Happy Trucking, Eh!

Jerry

A Pilot’s Life – Review

Something very cool has recently made its way onto the flight simulation scene and I’m truly excited to have the opportunity to showcase it here for your review.  It’s called A Pilot’s Life.  A Pilot’s Life is a payware software application available from SimMarket which was developed by Simbitworld.  The cost of the software is $19.49 US (15.05 GBP, 16.75 EUR).  The description as stated on SimMarket reads “A Pilot’s Life application has the aim of giving purpose to flight simulation enthusiasts.”  In the short time I’ve had access to it, I can certainly say that it lives up to that claim 100%.

Before I start this product review.  Please allow me to get the fine print out of the way.

The product I am reviewing was purchased by me and for my own personal use.  I receive absolutely no compensation of any form (cash, credit, discounts, promises) for reviewing this product.  I have not contacted, nor have I been contacted by the vendor to provide this product review.  The opinions expressed (good or bad) are my own, your mileage may vary.

I’ve been involved in flight simulation since the early to mid 1980’s.  I’ve talked about how in the early days (before the Internet as we know it) my friends and I would fly our aircraft on our Commodore 64 computers and track our flights on a Big Chief tablet, using a #2 pencil. (Hey it beats slate and chalk)  As the Internet age developed, Virtual Airlines (VA’s) roared onto the scene which (at the time) also “gave purpose” to the hobby.  Over the years I’ve been involved with many great (and some not so great) VA’s and held just about every staff position from Pilot to CEO.  Virtual Airlines are a fantastic way to experience the life of an airline pilot and also meet likeminded individuals who in my case have become dear friends in the process. 

A Pilot’s Life

I’ve thought a lot about how I would attempt to describe A Pilot’s Life.  While it’s not a virtual airline in the way you may think and it’s also not an airline simulation type program similar to Air Hauler 2.  In very simple terms, it’s a personal virtual aviation career simulation.  But I might be placing the cart ahead of the horse…allow me to first talk about the system requirements, purchase, setup and use of A Pilot’s Life.

System Requirements

Of course you’re going to need a flight simulator.  A Pilot’s Life supports FSX, P3D and X-Plane.  The only add-on that’s required is FSUIPC (FSX/P3D) or XPUIPC (X-Plane) and the free versions of both will work.  Finally, a permanent internet connection is required which is pretty much standard flare when using ACARS type programs.  The only current operating system supported is Windows. 

Purchase

As previously mentioned, the A Pilot’s Life application is available from SimMarket.  The cost as mentioned in the first paragraph is (in my opinion) fair for what you get and for what it offers.  Keep in mind that the price includes both the software and the services behind the scenes that essentially drive the mechanics of the program. 

Download/Installation/Activation

If you’ve purchased add-ons from online retailers before (especially SimMarket) then you already should be familiar with how it all works.  Basically you purchase A Pilot’s Life via SimMarket and after the financial transaction is complete you’ll be able to download the application from your SimMarket account.  The application download is just under 4 MB in size.  Once downloaded, just launch the installer.  During the installation process a shortcut icon will be placed on your desktop.

Once the installation process is completed (don’t blink, because you’ll miss it), just launch A Pilot’s Life via the desktop shortcut.  The application will prompt you to enter the serial key to validate and installation and activation is complete.  A Pilot’s Life will proceed to request a few additional pieces of information so an account can be setup.  This includes you selecting a username, adding your email address and setting up a password.  Remember, A Pilot’s Life is both a software front-end with a supporting web accessed back-end. 

Support

Support is available via their homepage or email address simbitworld@gmail.com.  An active Discord Channel is also available which has been setup by the developer.

Initial Setup

Hats off to the developer for developing an easy and intuitive setup process for the application.  Being the typical guy who refuses to stop and ask for directions, when I see a software application that I can setup without having to read a manual, I’m a very happy person.  A Pilot’s Life is just such an application. 

Really the only initial setup which needs to be done is to tell the A Pilot’s Life application which type of aircraft you desire to use with the system.  For obvious reasons, only tick the boxes for the aircraft you have in your virtual fleet of aircraft.  All the common types of aircraft which are represented in the payware and even some freeware types are available to select.  This includes aircraft such as the Boeing 737, 757, 767, 777, 787 and 747 (including all variants).  In addition, the popular Airbus aircraft including A318, 319, 320, 321 etc. in all variants are also available to select.  Just select the aircraft you desire to fly and that’s about all there is to it. 

The main settings screen where you can change password and other account variables.  Click the “SET” button to access the licensing and certification screen.  See next screenshot.

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The Pilot Licensing and Certification screen is where you select the aircraft you would like to use with the application.  For obvious reasons, only select the aircraft you have in your sim and those you desire to fly.

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After completing the aircraft selection, click Save and really the setup is all complete.  It’s time to go get a job!

A Pilot’s Life – Your New Career

A Pilot’s Life career system assumes you’ve already completed all your flight training and considers you as a junior first officer.  So there is no requirement to further grind the hours away in a Cessna as you work to get your PPL.  You already have been there, done that and have the t-shirt to prove it.  But you are unemployed and most likely need to start paying off those student loan debts.  Great News!  Employment offers await you. 

Unlike your typical virtual airline where you move up the ranks based on flight hours alone, A Pilot’s Life is based on XP or Experience Points.  XP is earned (or lost) based on flight time, pilot rank and landing rate.  The longer the flight the greater the XP earning potential.  In addition, the higher the pilot rank you have, the more XP you’ll earn.  But keep in mind that landing rates will also influence XP gain per flight negatively.  Basically, keep those landing rates under –300 ft/min and your XP modifier will be 100%.  Anything greater than –300 and your modifier percentage drops.  This is all covered in the user manual. 

In the screen below, just click View Offers.

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Now here’s where things became slightly confusing for me.  Because I’m the typical guy, I do first and read the manual later.  By the way, the user manual can be found by clicking HELP or via this link.  Anyway, I wanted to start my career with a US based airline.  Ideally that airline would have been American Airlines.  American would give me the complete line of aircraft options I enjoy flying and as I’ve been involved with American VA’s in the past, I’m fairly familiar with their route network.  However, I failed to remember that I’m a junior first officer and not only that, I’m an un-employed junior first officer.  The system considers American Airlines to be a full five star airline and again…I’m just an unemployed junior first officer.  So come on Jerry.  Let’s work our way up. 

When you first get started, you’ll always have a few offers available which you can apply for and start your career immediately.  I really wanted to start with an airline where I could fly at least the Boeing 737/738.  I don’t own any descent regional jet payware aircraft and I didn’t want to spend the money and take the time to learn any just to get things started.  So I kept restarting my career (this option is available in Settings) until I had a US based airline which operated the Boeing 737-700 and 737-800.  This US based airline is Sun Country.  I also found a Sun Country livery for both the 700/800 variants via PMDG’s livery manager.

From what I was told on Discord, if you apply for an airline which you haven’t received an existing offer for, these applications are reviewed every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.  So the likelihood of a one star pilot being hired by a 4-star or 5-star airline was highly unlikely.  Understandably so!

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After accepting the offer with Sun Country Airlines, I was presented with a contract of employment (see below).  While there’s really no “fine print”, one very key point to understand is you can’t apply for, nor will you be offered any additional job offers for a period of 7 days. 

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With a signed employment contract in hand, I was eager to get my first flight underway.  As my time is somewhat limited, I selected the option for “short-haul” flights for my schedule.  My first schedule was assigned to me and as I’m based in Minneapolis KMSP the first flight is a flight down to Atlanta and back. 

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The SimBitWorld – A Pilot’s Life application is basically an ACARS system and tracks all aspects of your flight via the FSUIPC integration.  It works just like any other ACARS system where you’ll need to click a button on the application to start the flight tracking (typically done while at the gate, engines off and parking brake set) and then click a button at the completion of your flight (again typically done once you arrive at the gate, engines have been shut down and parking brake set). 

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As you can see from the image below, I’ve completed my very first flight with Sun Country airlines.  I operated this flight in the Boeing 738, had a landing rate of –89 ft/min, earned 2.99 XP. 

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Below is my overall career progress with Sun Country.  Pay checks are issued at the first of each month.  So I may need to survive on pretzels and water…but I think I’ll make it.

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As I arrived into Atlanta a bit late, I’ll layover in a hotel and fly the flight tomorrow back to KMSP.  Then it looks like I’ll be going to Denver and back, then Dallas/Ft. Worth and back and so on and so on.  From what I understand, you can skip next flight only 5 times per month.  As I typically always fly from the last point I landed, it’s unlikely I’ll cancel flights returning back to base.  However, I might skip flights to airports from time to time where I don’t have any add-on scenery.  We’ll see….

As I stated near the top of this writing, A Pilot’s Life is like a virtual aviation career simulation more than it is a virtual airline or complete airline simulation.  While I used Air Hauler 2 for a few months, I neglected it and didn’t make any money as I forgot to keep my hired pilots busy.  SimBitWorld’s – A Pilot’s Life is just about YOU and your career!  

As for me and my career?  I’m going to spend the next week flying for Sun Country and see what offers I  receive.  My ultimate goal will be to work hard and get hired at American Airlines.  How long this takes is unclear at this time.  But I’ll certainly update you as I progress.  I suspect I’ll need to just pay my dues and grind it out by either staying at Sun Country (pending I continue to get the type of routes I like) or bounce around based on pay/route opportunities as I continue to progress from JFO, FO and SFO.  Remember, it’s all about the immersion.

Until next time…

Happy Career Building!

Jerry

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