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 D3D9ClientR7.zip 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.

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One More Annotation

I added one more annotation into my collection of annotations of new books on Soviet history: A. I. Shirokov, Dal’stroi v sotsial’no-ekonomicheskom razvitii Severo-Vostoka SSSR (1930–1950‑e gg.) [Dal’stroi in Socio-Economical Development of the North-East of the Soviet Union (1930s1950s)] (Moscow: Politicheskaia Entsiklopediia, 2014).

Download the collection of annotations (PDF, 112 Kb).

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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).

Continue reading ‘REVIEW ARTICLE: Contemporary historiography of the GULAG: new approaches (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 😉

Continue reading ‘PHOTOS: Bulgaria-2016’ »

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A New Annotation

I added one more annotation into my collection of annotations of new books on Soviet history: N. Lebina, Sovetskaia povsednevnost’: normy i anomalii. Ot voennogo kommunizma k bol’shomu stiliu [Soviet everyday life: norms and anomalies. From the War Communism to Stalin’s years] (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2015).

Download the collection of annotations (PDF, 103 Kb).

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A Map of Middle-earth

Dmitrii Godkin aka Arthoron and I have finally finished our map of Middle-earth.  Its current version looks like this (the picture is clickable):

map of Middle-earth in the Third Age

You can also download a PDF version here.  We used Inkscape to draw the map, I can send the source file in SVG format personally, if anybody is interested.  I don’t want to post it here in open access because it contains scans of several other maps by other authors.

A detailed rationale for the map is still available only in Russian, unfortunately, it can be seen in the Russian version of this post.  We presented the map at the Tolkien Seminar organized by the St. Petersburg Tolkien Society on 23 April, then the discussion went on in Arthoron’s blog.  The final version of the map which you can see above is drawn according to the results of those discussions.

Our main goal was to map all the geographical objects outside the West of Middle-earth, i.e. outside the territory shown on the well-known map of Middle-earth published in The Lord of the Rings and in Unfinished Tales.  We also tried to correct some calculations of Karen W. Fonstad because on her maps of Middle-earth as a whole the world looks very small, almost as small as Mars (see her The Atlas of Middle-earth (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991), pp. VIII, XI, 4–5), although we know that J. R. R. Tolkien regarded his own fiction as a kind of mythological past of the Earth.

For our own calculations we used first of all map V  from the Ambarkanta which we superimposed on a map of the world in polyconical projection.  We also used map IV from the Ambarkanta and the map of Middle-earth by Pauline Baynes for additional information.  What was a result is mostly a product of our own imagination, but we did our best to prevent any contradictions between our fantasy and known Tolkien’s works.  That is why the eastern and southern parts of the map look rather schematic.  Several most important moments should be noted:

  1. We had to ‘sink’ the north-western part of Africa/Harad as if it went into the sea at the end of the First Age; otherwise the contours of Harad would contradict to the known maps of the West, especially to the map of Pauline Baynes.
  2. The Sea of Helkar is rather small on our map and is separated from the Sea of Rhûn that corresponds to the later texts, but contradicts to map V from the Ambarkanta.  We decided that map can be seen as a map of Middle-earth in ‘prehistoric’ times.  So on our map we marked the borders of the Sea of ‘Paleo-Helkar’ which correspond to the coastline of the Sea of Helkar on Tolkien’s map V.  Its contours are also quite similar to those of the Paratethys sea about 7–9 million years ago.
  3. We divided the Southland into two parts in order to make our map a bit different both from the real map of the world and from the map in Ambarkanta, as the geography of Middle-earth in the Third Age should have differed both from the First Age and from the today’s geography of the Earth.  In the real geological history of the Earth, Tolkien’s Southland corresponds to the continent that existed approximately 90–40 million years ago and then divided into Australia and Antarctica.  In Tolkien’s world, the Southland could divide in the days of the downfall of Númenor.
  4. Although we have drawn a coordinate grid on our map, our superimposition of the map of Middle-earth on a map of the world is an approximate one, especially as there are no exact maps for the eastern and southern parts of Tolkien’s world.  So our map cannot be used to calculate exact geographic coordinates for any places in Middle-earth.  It was probably Brandon Rhodes who made the most correct superimposition of the map of the West on a map of Europe (see http://rhodesmill.org/brandon/2009/google-earth-and-middle-earth/), but even his method raises doubts.
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A New Annotation

I added a new annotation into my collection of annotations of new books on Soviet history: B. N. Kovalev, Dobrovol’tsy na chuzhoi voine: Ocherki istorii Goluboi divizii [Volunteers in the War of Someone Else: Essays in History of the Blue Division] (Veliky Novgorod: Yaroslav-the-Wise Novgorod State University, 2014).

Download the collection of annotations (PDF, 98 Kb).

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Once More about a New Building for INION

An extended version of my post about the architectural competition for the best design of a new building for my Institute has been published in Troitskii variant newspaper that specializes in news about science in Russia.

The text of the article can be found here (in Russian).

The website of the newspaper is http://trv-science.ru/.

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A Collection of Annotations on Russian History

This year, our Department of History began to publish, along with detailed abstracts of new publications, which used to be our main ‘product’, also shorter annotations. We are still working at their format, but it is already clear that they will only contain the most important information about an article or a monograph, without any detailed retelling of its contents. We hope it will allow us to reflect in our abstract journal much more new publications than we were able to do previously. Such an opportunity seems to be quite significant, as in the Soviet time there were some thirty employees at our department, and twelve issues of the abstract journal were printed a year, whereas now we have only fifteen researchers and are only able to publish four issues of the journal a year, so the selection of sources for abstracts is actually rather far from following any regular criteria. Writing annotations along with detailed abstracts is still an experimental work, its perspectives are rather unclear, but the annotations which I have already written are worth to publish them in the Internet.

As the annotations are rather short, I will post all of them in a single PDF file with a set of bookmarks instead of a table of contents. As soon as new annotations appear, I will update the file and announce this in the blog.

My own main field of research interest is the history of the Soviet Union, especially before and in the time of the Second World War; so here I am going to post mostly annotations of books on the Soviet history or on history of post-Soviet Russia. I also decided to limit myself to annotations of books published in Russian. There are quite a lot of reference resources in the English part of the Internet, and they are much more informative than my personal Web site. On the other hand, the most part of Russian academic literature still remains almost unknown for the international research community because only a small part of papers is translated into English. I hope my collection of annotations will become one more bridge, although a bit narrow, between Russian historians and their colleagues in other countries.

Download the collection of annotations (PDF, 79 Kb).

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Presentation of the Projects of a New Building for INION

Last Friday, a presentation of architectural projects of a new building for my Institute took place at the Shchusev Museum of Architecture in Moscow.  The event was a bit funny, but to the same extent senseless, as the Federal Agency of Scientific Organisations (FANO) still tries to make all the decisions about our future building without our participation.  For instance, we only found out in mid-July that a public contract for designing of the building had been already signed (‘we’ means the whole Institute, including the administration).  The tendering process took place in late June.  It was the Giprokon company that ‘won’ the competition; the same company did this in spring when the previous tendering process was declared void due to infringements of the procedure.  The preliminary specifications were also written at the FANO, and the result was quite predictable.  They suggest to make the book storage almost three times as small as it was before the fire—it’s an old idea of the FANO that books are no more necessary in the computer age.  Of course it’s completely unacceptable for us as there were already not enough space in the book storage before the fire; if a new storage will be smaller than the problem will soon arise again.  We tried to explain all of this to representatives of FANO in May, they promised to take our criticism into account, and now we can see that they really did it, but in an unusual way: they organised a new tendering process in secrecy and simply ignored all our proposals in a new edition of the preliminary specifications that were included into the final text of the public contract.  The current competition for the best architectural design was organised by Giprokon according to that contract.

On Friday we could see the results of such an approach.  Fourteen projects were presented altogether, including seven ones developed at Giprokon; they said that according to the law they had to make as many projects as the independent architects did.  One could see, however, that five of their projects were made quite formally; only two projects seem to be a real working design.  One can also suppose which project they will most probably try to defend, as in their presentation they used an image which we first saw as early as in January.  It means, by the way, that Giprokon was already working at a project of a new building for us in winter, although no tendering process had been announced and no preliminary specifications had been published yet.

The quality of all the seven Giprokon’s projects is the same poor.  One can see that they correspond to the specifications from FANO and that the authors can hardly imagine how an academic institution works, especially an institution for social sciences and humanities.  As a result, all that they could produce was a purely speculative decision that didn’t correspond to our needs at all and looked more like an entertainment centre or a shopping plaza, but not like an academic library.  This can be said about all their seven projects.

Three of the other seven projects looked like diploma works; unfortunately, they were no better than those developed at Giprokon.  There were also three more or less interesting projects.  The author of one of them proposed to reconstruct our building exactly as it looked like before the fire (it was an interesting piece of the Soviet architecture of 1960s and 1970s), but using modern technology.  He didn’t change the size of book storage and suggested to construct an additional section of book storage on an underground level and several more underground levels under the yard, also mostly for book storage.  The project as a whole is interesting although requires some improvement; the problem is that it’s a project of conservation of what had existed previously, not designed for the future development of the Institute.

The authors of one more project proposed to make the new building twice as big as the old one; the project therefore doesn’t correspond to the official specification, as well as the previous one.  The authors also suggested to increase the size of the book storage and, that was the most interesting, proposed to assign their copyright for the project to our Institute.  The project, however, looks to be incomplete, it raises doubts from the aesthetic point of view, and it’s rather difficult to understand how we will use such a big building (and whom else FANO will ‘settle’ there together with us).

One more project is interesting aesthetically and includes two stages of construction, that can be seen as a base for the future development.  But the plan of indoor premises is not developed in detail, as I can understand, so this variant can be acceptable only if it’s possible to make the book storage large enough without compromising the other rooms.

The results of competition are to be announced on 16 August.  An exhibition of the entries will be organised at the same Museum of Architecture; they also promise to post them on the official website of the competition, http://www.konkurs-inion.com/.

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