Reality Bites – Flight Simulation – Part 4 – VATSIM

Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) night flight on Vatsim with a Diamond DA40. Autopilot is active.

In episode 3, I’ve looked a bit on how flight planning and navigation software for ‘the real world’ can be used in a flight simulator. Using such software is a huge step beyond the built-in navigation tools when it comes to flying in the simulator as realistically as possible. Next in my list of things to improve was radio communication with Air Traffic Control (ATC). MS Flight Simulator 2020 has built in Air Traffic Control, and interaction with it is done by selecting pre-formulated requests and answers from a drop down menu. That’s not very realistic and lightyears away from the challenge of talking to real people at the other end of a radio channel. But there’s a fix for that: VATSIM.

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Things That Moved Me in 2022

Another crazy year, both good and bad in so many ways, is coming to an end, so here I go with time honored tradition of looking back to what moved me this year in tech!

In The Wireless Domain

Obviously, there’s been a lot going on in the wireless domain again. While some parts of the 3GPP 5G standard still struggles a bit to see the light of day, there have been very interesting advances in the real world despite of it:

LTE 5-carrier aggregation is now out there in the wild now, and network operators have started to use somewhat less mainstream spectrum and aggregate it. An interesting example was the TDD-TDD carrier aggregation of LTE band 40+40 I noticed in the UK.

Also, cellular coverage along railway lines in Germany has improved quite a bit in recent years, and I’ve written about my experience on a trip from Cologne to Hamburg here.

I’ve known for a long time that LTE has re-introduced a timing advance again, but it was only this year that I actually found out how to get to this value in the tracing tools I use. It’s perhaps a small thing, but it definitely helps to get a general idea how far a cell site is away.

This year, I’ve also been traveling a lot again, and I was delighted that I could use 5G NSA networks in most countries I traveled to. In some countries like Sweden, the Netherlands and Austria, networks were stunning, while in countries like Italy, networks have lost a lot of their luster in recent years.

And while I’m talking about roaming: I’m delighted that some device manufacturers have now also noticed that their network discovery algorithms in manual network selection mode took far to long and changed them to list networks immediately after they are found. This way, one can get online again significantly faster after crossing a border.

One more thing on roaming: While having become a pretty seamless affair in the EU these days, eSIMs for roaming elsewhere have become an interesting option. After having written about the technology many years ago, the technology has finally arrived in the main stream. So while traveling, I used the opportunity to play around a bit with downloading eSIMs for roaming and was surprised on the one hand how easy it has become, and on the other hand just how many different companies are involved in the process.

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Reality Bites – Flight Simulation – Part 3 – Real World Apps in the Simulator

Flight Planning with SkyDemon – Open image in new tab for a full resolution version

In part 2 of this series, I’ve been looking at resources available from books to videos on Youtube to learn flying in the virtual domain. For me, a mix of real world examples and examples shown with a simulator made most sense. So for a couple of months I was flying happily on the simulator on the X-Box and picked up some interesting apps along the way that people use for flight preparation and during flight in the real world. As my goal is to fly as realistically in the simulator as possible, I had to change tactics a bit to also use those tools in the virtual world.

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Reality Bites – Flight Simulation – Part 2: Books and Manuals

There are many different ideas and reasons to pick up flight simulation as a hobby and I’ve laid out mine in the first part of this series. While most people seem to be interested to fly airliners and start right in an Airbus A320 cockpit, I was much more interested to make the experience as ‘real’ as possible. The appeal of flight simulation to me was to get as close as possible to flying small planes, so I started in a small Cessna with a classic ‘six-pack’ instrument panel. After a week or two, I moved to a Cessna 172 with a a Garmin G1000 ‘glass cockpit’, i.e. electronic instruments. Again a few weeks later, I ‘upgraded’ to a Diamond DA 40 NG 4 seater, also with a Garmin G1000 instrument panel and full autopilot. The flight lessons provided in MSFS2020 are very good for the basics, but to fly as realistically as possible, there’s a lot more to learn. Fortunately, there are many resources, both for real and virtual flying out there and in this episode, I’ll have a look at the classic approach: Getting some books on the topic.

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Reality Bites – Flight Simulation – Part 1

I’ve had a fascination for flying pretty much for as long as I can remember and some years ago, I bought my first book that taught me the theoretical knowledge required for a private pilot license. But for a number reasons, flying a small airplane in reality hasn’t been in the cards so far. Also, I was not very interested in exploring the possibilities of a flight simulator, so the dream remained a reading exercise. However, several things have changed my mind about flight simulators recently.

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The Rise Of The Bluetooth Mouse

Some trends in the tech industry can be rather slow. Take wireless mice, for example. I’m pretty sure that for more than a decade, wireless mice with a Bluetooth air interface have been on the market. I bought one 3 years ago but couldn’t use it because Ubuntu 16.04 would not support it. I tried again using it after upgrading the OS, but I didn’t like the hard to press buttons and the loud clicking sound of the model I bought. The Bluetooth link itself was working nicely, though. Recently, however, I had to come back to the topic when a USB port on my Lenovo X13 stopped working and I couldn’t connect a USB mouse dongle anymore.

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Ubuntu Linux on the Bleeding Edge: Performance on a Notebook with an Intel 12800H and an Nvidia GPU – Part 2

In the previous blog post, I’ve been taking a look if and how well Ubuntu Linux runs on a high performance notebook with a state of the art Intel 12800H processor and an Nvidia RTX A2000 8GB GPU. While it took me a bit to set up the system so it wouldn’t sporadically freeze and use the GPU, the performance compared to ‘standard’ notebooks is quite stunning.

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Running Ubuntu Linux on Bleeding Edge Hardware: Dell Notebook with an Intel 12800H and an Nvidia GPU

Normally, I’d say that raw computing power should be in the cloud, or perhaps under my desk, but definitely not in my backpack. That’s because computing power comes at a price: The notebook gets heavier, battery life becomes shorter and the power supply that has to supply at least 120 Watts of power is a heavy brick on its own. Unfortunately, I do have an application I use almost every day that is very much single threaded and behaves sluggishly even when using up to date standard notebook hardware. So I relented and got a state of the art notebook with one of the fastest CPUs currently on the market, and, as it came as part of the package, a dedicated Nvidia GPU. That definitely fixed the sluggishness of the application. The next question that obviously came to my mind then was how well and how fast this notebook with its latest and greatest hardware would run with Linux!?

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Improved Network Selection Speed When Roaming

One thing that always bugged me when crossing a country border is that my mobile devices took endlessly to select a new network. That was probably because the device first searched all frequency bands for all available network and only then presented the results. One way out was to temporarily switch to GSM only mode, select a network and then switch LTE/5G back on. But it seems that finally the problem was recognized and addressed! While automatic network selection still takes ages, my current mobile presents the networks in manual network selection mode as soon as they are found. This way, selecting a roaming network just takes a few seconds. Very nice, thanks you!

When All Else Fails – The Garmin InReach Mini 2 – Part 9 – More Iridium Tech Stuff

In part 8 on this series on the Garmin InReach Mini 2 and the Iridium network behind it, I’ve assembled a summary of the few pieces of technical background information that is available on the Internet. Iridium offers a number of different services such as voice telephony and SMS, and quite a bit of the higher layer protocols seem to be adapted from GSM. Looking at the messaging service provided by Garmin’s InReach Service, I came to the conclusion that it is most likely NOT based on Iridium SMS. Instead, it looks like the service might be based on the Short Burst Data (SBD) service. I can’t be sure because there is no documentation, but here’s how SBD works:

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