Penguins in Space: Running Orbiter in GNU/Linux

There are quite a lot of space flight simulators, but most of them are purely science fiction games and don’t always respect physical law.  Orbiter, on the contrary, was invented as a scientifically and technically correct simulator.  There are no space wars or interstellar flights there, but the real behaviour of a spaceship on orbit is shown authentically.  The distribution includes digital models of the Earth, the Moon, all the other planets of the solar system and some of the satellites.  As to spaceships, Space Shuttle Atlantis is available, as well as the International Space Station and the Russian Mir station (in the virtual universe of Orbiter it’s still on orbit, one of the training missions is to undock from the ISS and to fly to Mir).  In training missions, a futuristic Delta-glider rocket plane is used, with atomic engines, that is more easy-to-learn than Atlantis.  The same spacecraft is used for interplanetary flights.  Technically the program allows the users to develop their own spaceships and even their own planetary systems.  Collections of addons are available in the Internet, with those addons one can ‘drive’ virtually everything that has ever flown.

The game therefore is written more for education than for entertainment, so it’s free of charge, but the source code isn’t available and the developers have no plans to support operating systems other than Windows.  Nevertheless, the program runs quite correctly in GNU/Linux via WINE.  It means by the way that it should work also on a Mac, but I didn’t try.  The current version was published in summer 2016, after a seven-year delay.  As it turned out, the developers have been going on to work hard all this time.

You can download the game from its official website.  Two options are available: a MSI installer for Windows and a ZIP archive.  It’s the latter one that should be used in GNU/Linux, but it’s more convenient in Windows as well because it doesn’t need any installation.  It’s enough just to unpack it into any directory you prefer (better not into c:\Program Files) and to run the orbiter.exe file.  The only useful feature of MSI installer in comparison with the ZIP archive is that a desktop shortcut will be generated automatically.

On my own computer, Debian GNU/Linux 8 and WINE 1.6.2 are installed.  The CPU is Intel Core i5-3570K with integrated graphics.  I used an installation guide from here, in short it’s very simple:

  1. Install GNU/Linux and WINE.
  2. Download a ZIP archive with Orbiter and unpack it, for example, into ~/.wine/dosdevices/drive_c/orbiter.
  3. Download from here the file and unpack it into the same directory where you have unpacked Orbiter.
  4. Run the command:
    winetricks d3dx10 d3dx9_36 vcrun2005 corefonts
  5. Run the Orbiter_ng.exe file (unlike orbiter.exe it uses an external graphics engine).
  6. Click Modules, and click Expand all twice.  Enable the D3D9Client checkbox.
  7. Check the other parameters and enjoy the game.

My own experiments, however, had different results.  The Orbiter_ng.exe file runs correctly, but any time I try to launch a scenario the game immediately crashes with a message about a fatal error in D3D9Client.  The orbiter.exe file, on the contrary, runs without any errors and doesn’t need any D3D9Client.  There are several issues, but within reasonable.  Both window mode and full-screen mode are available, you can play Orbiter on one virtual desktop (even in full-screen mode) and work on another one, no discrete graphics is required (I play with a maximum resolution for my monitor, 1280×1024).  Hope you will enjoy it, too :-)

Orbiter 2016 Delta-glider

Learning to fly…

Orbiter 2016 Delta-glider

Flying over South America.

REVIEW ARTICLE: Contemporary historiography of the GULAG: new approaches (in Russian)

Published in Sotsial’nye i gumanitarnye nauki. Otechestvennaia i zarubezhnaia literatura. Seriia 5, Istoriia, no. 4 (Moscow, 2016), 112–129 (in Russian).

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PHOTOS: Bulgaria-2016

Long Russian New Year holidays is a good time to put photographs in order.  I was in Bulgaria from 22 to 30 June.  My former Washington housemate invited me to spend there several days together, she was born in Bulgaria, she has relatives and friends there and comes to see them each year.  Her friends took us almost all over the country in five days—from Sofia to Varna through Veliko Tarnovo, Silistra and Kaliakra.  Then already the two of us came back from Varna to Tarnovo by bus, and I went to Sofia to my plane back home.

The country is very nice, although one can see it’s not too rich.  As to the economy, the locals complain of almost the same problems as in Russia: the heavy industry doesn’t work, it’s difficult to find a job outside Sofia, salaries at academic institutions are the same microscopic as in Moscow (literary the same: €300 a month is all right).  The main difference that can be seen immediately are fields in cultivation.  After abandoned Moscow area it makes an impression.  They say, however, that most of the fields belong to big agricultural holdings, there are not so many small farmers.

As to living conditions, it was a surprise for me that there are no baths in bathrooms, both in hotels and in houses: all four bathrooms I could see had only shower, and the floor of the shower was not even separated from the rest of the bathroom’s floor.  Seemingly they have no tradition of taking a bath.  One more interesting thing are small room woodfuelled stoves, usually metallic; we don’t use anything like that in Russia.

The sights are numerous, Bulgaria even officially is older for centuries than Russia, and has a rich antique legacy.  We saw a lot in a week, but one can come here for a month if desired.  I rented a room at a three-star hotel in Sofia for 60 Bulgarian leva a night (lev has a fixed exchange rate, just under two leva for one euro).  For the same price we rented an apartment in Varna with two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and a balcony for four adults and a child.  I can imagine a dinner for 15 leva, but I could never ‘eat’ more than 10 leva myself ;-)  Intercity buses are rather cheap as well.

The language is more different from Russian than, for example, Ukrainian (there is a difference in grammar, not only in vocabulary), but written text is mostly quite understandable.  As to oral speech, I could understand it only in TV news ;-)  Bulgarians seem to understand Russian better than we understand Bulgarian, I don’t know why.  In older generations, one can meet people who have learned Russian (this is one of those few parts of the Soviet legacy that’s really a pity to lose), but to younger people, you’ll have to talk in English.

Now the photographs.  The first two days I spent in Sofia.  The historical centre remained mostly uncorrupted, but there are modern buildings nevertheless, in place of those destroyed during the war.  Local volunteers, by the way, organize walking excursions in the centre of the city in the evenings.  They are free of charge and quite informative, the only problem is that it’s not convenient to take photographs in such a regime.  So I have only a few pictures from Sofia:

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, serves as a cathedral church of the Patriarch of Bulgaria, designed in Russia and built in 1904–12 in honour to the Russian soldiers who died during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78, as a result of which Bulgaria was liberated from Ottoman rule.

I don’t know who is this, but it looks wonderful ;-)

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