sightseeing over paris

I’ve written quite a bit on x-plane lately. That was before I discovered a few good quality scenery packages. One of these packages is a 400 MB version of Paris, the capital of France. Wow. You can download it here, for free!
Here’s some screenshots (all running beautifully smooth). This is by far the most realistic and detailed scenery I’ve seen for any area in any flightsimulator. X-plane shows off it’s exceptional capabilities. Notice the detail in the background? All part of the scenery. This is typically where you’d see a mess of blinking pixels in ms flight simulator. It simply can’t handle that amount of detail. In x-plane all the screens below were with my default x-plane settings: render on graphics card, everything set to high except for roads and objects (default, see my earlier discussions), 4x anti aliasing. Framerate was excellent most of the time. I hit some bottlenecks while panning the view, otherwise everything stayed smooth and responsive.

Btw. this is a x-plane v7 scenery, not a v8 scenery. This means it is lacking some of the new features. Outside paris everything is the nice and default v8 scenery coming with x-plane.
arc de triomf.jpgEiffel tower and the SeineLe Louvre

Dutch Scenery for X-plane

NL X-Plane : a dutch scenery for X-Plane Sadly link now points to some shoe retail site. Obviously no longer exists 🙁

Just what I wanted. Nice scenery for x-plane. Despite weighing in at 60 GB, the world scenery coming with x-plane is a bit boring in some parts of the world. This is the fix for a small part of the world. The provided scenery for North Holland (region around Amsterdam) is quite well done. Flying at about 3000 feet lots of areas are clearly recognizable. Much better than the default scenery. Also quite nice compared to the nl2000 scenery for ms flightsimulator. Nl2000 is more detailed (in the number of objects mostly) and more polished of course. But then the ms flight simulator rendering engine is complete crap so you don’t actually see that much because everything is flickering all the time. X-plane on the other hand is above all smooth and allows you to see textured details in the distance.

reinstalling windows sucks

Luckily my parents laptop came with a windows xp pro cd and a valid product key. So, after backing up important files using ubuntu, I proceeded to install windows. I had forgotten how annoying installing windows can be.

After having seen ubuntu the experience is, well, extremely user unfriendly and extremely likely to end in disaster unless you know what to do. For the record, the ubuntu live dvd recognized all hardware out of the box without any intervention. Impressive.
The easy, but tedious, part is putting the windows cd in the tray. Then the installer gives you a few seconds to trigger it by hitting enter. Then you are confronted with a slowly loading text only wizard where you will have to do something very risky: removing a partition and creating a new one. The provided tool for this is outdated by the standards set by linux distributions. The point of this step is to start with a clean disk, so getting this right is important. 99% of the user population would at this point likely make the wrong choice and either end up installing a very old xp over their existing installation or installing it in some weird location on a harddrive that is still full of spyware. OK, been there done that so, clickety and nice clean drive.

Then it starts copying. It reboots. More copying and then some questions about where I am. More copying. Product key. More copying. Modem & Network settings. This fails but I end up being online anyway (network cable plugged in so how hard can it be)? Another reboot. Then during the first boot a wizard with an annoyingly loud shitty music in the background. At this point my laptop’s volume buttons are not yet operational (have to be logged in?). Activation and finally done. It takes about one and a half hours and it requires constant fiddling with wizards so you can’t just leave it alone to do its thing.
Oh wait. We’ve just started. This is an old windows cd, I do not yet have the billion security updates that are the whole point of this operation and that do not install themselves without manual intervention. OK, two hours later I’m patched all the way up to two years ago (sp2). Now the auto update finally kicks in. Another hour, three reboots and 50+ security updates (not kidding) later it is finally over, I think.

Oh wait. Much of the hardware is actually not working correctly. Stuff like my usb ports, pc card slot, video graphics chip are all not working correctly. Nor is my wireless card (smc pcmcia card, plugging it in hangs the system). And damn this internet explorer default page is annoying. And thanks for showing me this unavoidable welcome to windows promo again (you have to watch it to get rid of the annoying traybar icon). And no thanks for the hotmail msn thingy.
Turns out the compaq support site has a nice list of stuff you could install. The problem with this site is twofold: there are multiple things to choose from without any clear guidance on what to install and what not to install. Secondly, all downloads (and there are a lot) are conveniently named sp4325345345.exe where the number is the only thing that varies. The idiot who invented that naming scheme should be taken out and shot. Anyway, I installed half a dozen of their driver packs and everything seems to work now. At least several of the downloads there are crucial to the correct operation of the laptop.

No way my parents could have done all of this on their own. The sad truth with windows is that if it is not configured correctly out of the box, it is really difficult to get everything working correctly. My mother was asking me this weekend if she could do it herself or go to the shop to have somebody do it. If only that were possible :-). In terms of labour cost, the price is a nice low end PC just waiting for all of the above to complete. Of course there is plenty of opportunity for mistakes so realistically it is probably cheaper to just go to dell and buy new hardware & software.

spyware sucks, but ubuntu doesn’t

Last weekend (Easter holiday, long weekend) was a good opportunity to visit my parents in the Netherlands. Apart from beloved son, I’m also their system administrator. Last time I made a mistake, I left them behind with a partially secured windows machine. The thing was behind a router and they were using firefox (saw to that personally). Anyway, when I checked this weekend the machine was full of very nasty spyware. It was basically unusable and the spyware interfered with normal usage of the machine.
I tried to fix it using the usual tools (adaware, spybot) but this did not work 100%. Both tools managed (on multiple attempts) to identify and remove a shitload of spyware. But the remaining few managed to ‘fix’ this as soon as they were done. Eventually I thought the machine was clean but then the rebooting started. After booting everything would look allright, and then it would reboot. Effectively I only had a few minutes to figure out what was going on before this happened. That gets old real quick.
That was roughly when I decided to bring the laptop home and start from scratch. Of course before doing so, I have to make an attempt to back up my parent’s files and family photos. Accessing the laptop in its current state is pretty much impossible, hence the title of this post. I stand corrected: ubuntu does not suck after all. It’s merely very unsuitable for end users :-).

A few weeks back I posted my not so positive review of ubuntu. Currently I’m using it to rescue some files. I won’t bother trying to actually install it on the laptop for my parents. The main reason is that I have a hard enough job supporting my parents without them having to learn an entirely new OS. After years of practice they can sort of do things by himself now. Things like burning a cd, editing photos, doing banking, etc. I have no desire to start from scratch with them on all of that.

But the point is that it would work very well. I booted into the live dvd image. I actually mistook the dvd for my knoppix cd. I was pleasantly surprised to find a booted ubuntu desktop when I came back. All hardware, including smc pcmcia wireless card, onboard sound and display had been recognized. The wireless card needed to be configured for my network, which was easy once I had found the tool. Confusingly there is a system and administration menu that both contain network related tools.

Then I had to mount the ntfs partition. I tried to use the disk tool but it is useless (you can mount but not access the partition unless you are root which is not very convenient in ubuntu where you can’t log in as root). I had to do some googling to make the correct changes to fstab manually and then proceeded to mount using the good old commandline. That worked. Then I sshed (using nautilus) into my windows box (which runs cygwin) and I’m currently uploading some crucial files. After that completes, I’ll wipe the laptop and be sure to lock it down properly this time.

lessons learned:

  • no auto update + no firewall + unsecured wlan = very bad idea
  • firefox + router != enough protection
  • adaware and spybot are not good enough for recovery, these are fine prevention tools however
  • ubuntu doesn’t suck, it’s a nice addition to any system administrators toolbox 🙂

PDFCreator

Finally a nice, free way to generate pdf documents: PDFCreator. For quite some time now I’ve been doing essentially the same as this plugin does using a combination of tools (redmon and ghostscript) and printerdrivers (anything that outputs postscript). This tool is much easier to set up than that set of tools. The results should be about the same.