Thursday, June 28, 2012

VirtualPilot3D: Not from Australia anymore

When I first started sniffing along the trail of ProFlightSimulator, it appeared to be "owned" by somebody in Australia, at a bogus address along the Sydney waterfront. My original "whois" on the URL showed it registered to a known Internet scammer in New Jersey. Now it points to an anonymous hosting service in Los Angeles, California

This latest version, VirtualPilot3D Tee Em, hides its tracks very well. A "whois" query points to a P.O. box in Denver, Colorado. The disclaimer claims that VirtualPilot3D is "governed by the laws of Sweden".

Never, ever, buy from anybody online if you don't know who they are, and where they are, in the Real World. (Especially if they claim to have FAA Certification.)

VirtualPilot3D is NOT "FAA Certified"

I may be going out on a limb here, but I really doubt it.

In my previous posting, I noted that VirtualPilot3D Tee Em claims to be
FAA Certified And Used As A LIVE Training Platform For Actual Pilots.
 It takes a lot of guts, or a startling absence of brains, to make a claim like that if it isn't true.

I searched online for VirtualPilot3D's FAA certification. Couldn't find it.

I searched online for "faa certified flight simulator". I found a lot of products out there, matching this description. One costed US $5995; another costed US$7500. Compare those prices with the US$289.95 price of VirtualPilot3D, and you start wondering what the catch is.

The catch is simple: it's not FAA Certified. They're lying.

How can I be so sure? It's simple. I went to the FAA's website and looked at National Simulator Program's list of certified Flight Training Simulation Devices. If you want to duplicate my research, you can start at .

If you want to see what a real FAA certified flight simulator looks like, have a look at this system from Elite. Note that I'm not endorsing Elite here; they just turned up on my Google search.

Look at the list of aircraft that the Elite system supports. Then look at the list of aircraft that VirtualPilot3D supports. I don't know why the FAA would certify any simulator that included "Santa's Sleigh" or a "Willys Jeep" in its list of supported aircraft.

For the sake of curiosity, scroll down to the bottom of the Elite page, and look at the heading "Compatible Software". Microsoft FS and X-Plane are both listed there, but as far as I've been able to determine, neither MS FS nor X-Plane claim to be FAA certified. They're compatible with Elite simulators, that's all.

(Yes, VirtualPlane3D really is $289.95. That's the full retail price for the VIP Premium Package. When you place an order, they'll start at $67.00 and work their way up.)

VirtualPilot3D: Same Scam as Before

Less than two months after they re-re-re-re-released their scam under the name "Real Airplane Simulator", the ProFlightSimulator people are back with "VirtualPilot3D™". I thought the was a particularly nice touch. It pretends to add credibility to the product. I mean, nobody would trademark a scam, right? That's right. They didn't trademark it. They just added the ™ to the name.

The VirtualPilot3D website looks just like all the other websites: bogus testimonials from people who don't really exist, screenshots swiped from FlightGear and other simulators; Ron-Popeil-worthy prose; a deeply discounted price (for free software published by somebody else and essentially stolen by these guys); a promise of free lifetime upgrades (which the free software also provides); and a 100% satisfaction guarantee which, according to the poor suckers who have tried to exercise it, isn't worth the paper it's (not) printed on. And just like all those other websites, it's a scam.

I've written about this scam several times on Zyzmog Galactic Headquarters. It's a pernicious thing that I know I won't be able to eradicate, but if I can save at least one person from being fooled and ripped off by these crooks, then it's worth the effort.

There's a flood of ads for VirtualPilot3D on Facebook. I encourage you to click on the "X" or "Hide this Ad" for each ad, and tell FB that it's "Misleading". FB hasn't figured out yet that it's a scam, but if they get enough feedback from their users, they might catch a clue.

In the meantime, if you click through on one of those ads, and end up buying VirtualPilot3D Tee Em, then good luck to you. I warned you.

UPDATE: I just reread the VirtualPilot3D webpage and noticed they're trumpeting the product as "FAA Certified." I'll be posting something else about that.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Contempt of Congress

The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, John Boehner, is moving ahead with plans to charge U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder with "contempt of Congress", for his refusal to cooperate in the Congressional investigation into the horribly mismanaged, criminally botched, gun-running program the Justice Department was running on the Mexican border.

That's what the papers are reporting.

But hey, if you want to charge someone with "contempt of Congress," then you're going to have to charge me too. The archives of Zyzmog Galactic Headquarters show just how much contempt I have for the currently seated Congress of the United States.

In fact, if the honorable Speaker is going to charge me and AG Holder with contempt, he might have to charge 240 million other Americans with the same offense. According to the latest polls, between 75 and 79 of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job right now, and it would be fair to say that most, if not all, of those 75 to 79 percent have nothing but contempt for today's U.S. Congress.

Here is a measure of our contempt:

Dear Senators and Representatives: have you stopped being idiots yet? How's that budget coming? How about that tax code rewrite? Social Security reform? Have you stopped messing with our schools? Have you stopped catering to the banks, the insurance firms and the other too-big-to-fail companies that do more favors for you than we, the average Americans, can do for you?

Are you still blindly voting the party line? Are you still spending money that isn't yours to spend? Are you still voting to give to the military, things that the military has said they don't want, and don't need? Are you still filling the pork barrel for your state, for your constituency, even to the point of making "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" deals with your colleagues who have their own pork barrels to fill?

Have you rewritten things so that your families and fortunes are subject to the same challenges and difficulties as the rest of America, or are you and yours still exempt from so many of the rules and regulations the rest of us have to live under?

Are you still quietly voting yourselves pay raises or other emoluments that the rest of us cannot get? Especially those of us who are still without a job, even though we voted to send you to Washington?

Do you feel even the slightest twinge of guilt after reading this, or do you instead feel as much contempt for the American people as they feel for you?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Another School District Run By Idiots

It looks like Central Bucks East isn't the only high school with sawdust-for-brains administrators. Ross Sheppard High School, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada appears to have gotten their admins from the same place. Here's another article about choices, consequences, students who are learning the wrong lesson about the two, and a teacher who got in trouble because of it. This article is from the National Post, a Canadian newspaper. I'm reprinting it here in toto, just in case the online story disappears. (They do that, you know.) 

Let's make this clear: Mr. Dorval had been a teacher for 35 years. This is not a case of a teacher who, after 35 years, slacks off and coasts into retirement or, on the other hand, becomes a curmudgeon because he doesn't care anymore. This is a teacher who, after 35 years, still cares about his students and wants to see them succeed. He takes a stand against a wrongheaded policy that is destined to turn them all into failures, and he gets punished for it. Give him credit for having the courage to take a stand, and give the school board  a collective thump on the head for their STUPID policy.

Now, here's the article.

Edmonton teacher may lose job for refusing to let kids skip assignments
Joe O'Connor Jun 2, 2012

Lynden Dorval tried to talk himself out of it. He understood the stakes.

You push back against school administrators, swim against school policy and you become a marked man, an “insubordinate” problem teacher with a bull’s eye on your back.

But the problem was the more he thought about it, the more Mr. Dorval, a physics teacher at Ross Sheppard High School in Edmonton with 35 years’ experience, became convinced of what he had to do — even if it cost him his job.

“I knew it was going to be a lot of stress,” he says. “But I just couldn’t talk myself out of it. It was the right thing to do.”

What he did, over the past 18 months, was what he had done for over three decades when a student didn’t submit an assignment, skipped a test or missed an exam: he pulled out his red marking pen and gave them a zero.

It was a lesson in consequences, one contrary to the school’s no-zero policy, an official dictum Mr. Dorval willfully ignored.

After repeated warnings from the principal to toe the line, the renegade was hauled before a school board hearing. Three days later, on May 18, he received a letter informing him he had been suspended indefinitely. He suffered the consequences.

Mr. Dorval fully expects to be fired in the coming months.

“It was against my principles not to give zeros,” the 61-year-old says. “Through experience, I found that giving a zero — a temporary zero; the students could come to me to make arrangements to do something to erase that mark — was the most effective way to get students to do the work.

“It put the onus on them. I could see some other method working with younger kids. But these are high school students. They are becoming adults. They are getting ready to step out into the real world and it is time for them to start taking responsibility for their own actions.”

The anti-zero argument goes something like this: Getting a goose egg discourages students. Zeros are not a measure of intelligence but a matter of behaviour. Kids should only be graded for what they do — not for what they don’t do.

So … why do anything?

Mr. Dorval gives the example of a student who transferred to his class from a non-zero class. The student completed six of 15 assignments for his previous teacher and, since he was only graded for what he did, had a 63% average. Mr. Dorval made it clear to the boy that missed work meant zeros on his watch.

“With me, he did seven of seven assignments,” he says. “It is right there in black and white.”

Other teachers at Ross Sheppard expressed support for Captain Zero, telling him they wished they had the courage to do what he did.

And he understood why they didn’t. Being younger, they had a career to think about. After 35 years, his career was nearing its end.

Ron Bradley, principal of Ross Sheppard and the man responsible for adopting the No Zero Rule, declined to take my phone call Friday. A school secretary directed me to the local school board. The board did not return messages.

In the vacuum, however, is the voice of common sense. We all have it, those of us who somehow survived high school. And we all know the voice speaks the truth: Life is about consequences.

It is a series of tests.

Don’t submit the job application and you won’t get the job. You get a zero. Skip work, tell the boss to shove it, neglect to file your taxes, miss a mortgage payment, bounce a cheque or get a speeding ticket, and what happens? You pay for it.

‘When I was a student it never occurred to me that if you did not do something that you wouldn’t get a zero’
It is Newton’s Law: for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. Unless, of course, you are a student at Ross Sheppard high or some other institution where every missed assignment is met with an excuse.

And not from the kids, but from an apologist administration that encourages serial irresponsibility by offering second, third, fourth — and 10th chances — but not zeroes, never a zero.

Lynden Dorval knew it was wrong. He had had enough. So he picked up his red marking pen and stayed true to his conscience. It is a choice, he says, he would make again.

“When I was a student it never occurred to me that if you did not do something that you wouldn’t get a zero,” he says.

“Things like exams — I would never think about not writing an exam. I would never think about asking a teacher to write it later.

“It was just assumed, even if you were sick, that you went to school and wrote the exam. You went to school and you did the work.”

National Post

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A School District Run by a Bunch of Idiots? Maybe.

You may recall the case of Natalie Munroe, the Central Bucks High School East teacher who was nearly fired for some coarse and uncomplimentary blog entries about her students, blogs that were supposed to remain personal and confidential but somehow got sniffed out. When the Central Bucks School District determined that they couldn't fire her because she hadn't broken any rules, they set her up to fail at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year.We summarized her unfair treatment at Zyzmog Galactic Headquarters.

She made one blog entry in October 2011. After that, the school board passed a rule that effectively muzzled teachers, forbidding them from blogging about their students or their classes. So she didn't blog again until this carefully worded entry...

... an entry which repeated the unsettling, but unsurprising, news that the school administrators intend to follow through completely, by recommending to the school board, on June 26, that Ms. Munroe be fired. It wasn't Ms. Munroe that broke the news. She says that somebody else leaked it to the media first. In her latest blog posting, she says that although the administration and other detractors are prepared to say a lot of nasty things about her, "... I know the truth, my colleagues know the truth, my students and their parents know the truth. I stand by my work this year, and every year before."

Ms. Munroe and her lawyer are prepared to take the district to court if the board votes to fire her. She doesn't deserve this, and neither do (many of) the students at CBE. I wish her (and her lawyer) lots of power, and lots of success.

POSTSCRIPT: Her unlikely defender continues the good fight. Some of her attackers are amazed at his tenacity and his, um, ferocity. Many of them are dismayed and wish he'd just lay off. They are learning the hard way, just as Ms. Munroe did, that every choice comes with consequences, and that you can't make a choice without accepting the consequences. To use the vulgar but succinct expression, karma's a bitch.

POST-POSTSCRIPT: I have been feeling a little guilty about the title of this entry. Maybe the CBSD administrators don't deserve to be called "idiots". But then I remember the way they have played this thing out in public, the things they have said to the news media, and the heavy-handed way they have managed it, and I don't feel guilty anymore.

Ray Bradbury, the Martian chronicler, is gone

Ray Bradbury, one of the masters of science fiction, passed away Tuesday night, at the age of 91. The writer of The Martian Chronicles has gone on to his next adventure, and I  hope it's everything he imagined it would be.

When I call him a "master" of the genre, it's only because I can't think of a more superlative word.

Bradbury's style was different from most other scifi writers. The others delved into the machines, the technology of scifi, and often into the politics or the social implications. Bradbury, instead, climbed into the minds of the characters in his stories. The machines and everything else were there, but only as props for the real story, which was happening inside the heads and hearts of living, feeling human beings.

My favorite Bradbury short story was "All Summer in a Day," about a children's school in an earth colony on Venus, and a tragic event that happened there on the one day when the clouds parted for an hour so the sun shone through. "All Summer" was first published in 1954, republished in one of the many Bradbury anthologies in the 1970s, and is now available for free online.

I first read "All Summer" as a teenager. When, as a young father, I moved my family to Oregon, we experienced a sample of the weather Bradbury wrote about in "All Summer": nine continuous months every year of overcast skies, and day after day of endless rain. When the children were sitting inside one day, lamenting the rain that kept them from playing outside, I remembered "All Summer." I dug the anthology out of a box in the garage, looked up the story and read it to my children. It became a family favorite.

(My daughter took the book with her when she married, to read to her own children. I didn't mind a bit. Everybody should read Ray Bradbury to their children.)

Bradbury cited Edgar Rice Burroughs as one of his influences, telling the New Yorker magazine that he memorized all of Burroughs' Tarzan and John Carter stories when he was a boy. Yet Ray Bradbury himself was an influence on two — no, three —generations of writers, in both science fiction and other genres.

Stephen King once channeled Ray Bradbury beautifully. In his short story "The House on Maple Street," published in his collection Nightmares and Dreamscapes, King weaves the story of a dysfunctional family with an abusive stepfather and a house that is growing a spaceship in its innards. King insists that he was inspired by an illustration created by fantasy artist Chris Van Allsburg (in whose book, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, the story is also published). But the voice in the story, the interactions between the characters, the exploration of their minds and their psyches, and the role played by the technology in the story, is clearly influenced by Ray Bradbury.

In a discreet homage to the master storyteller, King gives the children in the story the surname "Bradbury."

Monday, June 4, 2012

In Praise of Corporate Citizenship

My employer, a small but successful business in a small Colorado town, has long had a generation of giving back to the community and supporting good causes. Their charitable giving doesn't really follow a theme, unless the theme is "keep it local." I'm proud to work for a business that cares about their community like this.

Many large corporations have the same sense of corporate citizenship. I would name names, but the list would be prohibitively long. I applaud all of these corporations for doing something that they don't have to do, something that they are not legally required to do, but for which they feel a sense of obligation - even a sense of mission. And most of these companies do not make a big deal about their goodwill efforts; they keep it pretty quiet.

Rather than name names, I will give you an example of one such corporate citizen. Browse the "Community and Development" section of the ExxonMobile website to see what this large, multinational corporation is doing to make the world a better place.

After reading that, you may be tempted to pen a response, about how this example directly contradicts the Big Bad Oil Company's bad behavior elsewhere. Please resist the temptation to do so. Instead, take that energy and do one of two things with it: (1) investigate the goodwill activities of your own favorite for-profit corporation, and write something about it; or (2) find something that you can do, in your own community or sphere of influence, to make the world a better place.

POSTSCRIPT: Some people will also point out that none of these corporations are doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. In some cases they are right, but in the case of my employer, they are wrong. My employer gives, sometimes anonymously, just because it's the right thing to do.

In the cases where the skeptics are right, I would suggest that the corporations are taking a long-term view on their bottom line, believing that promoting K-12 math and science education, malaria prevention, or women's economic opportunities, today will lead to more skilled employees in a decade or more.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

About Funerals

At my grandmother's funeral in 1993, my uncle gave the eulogy. He prefaced his remarks with this little lecture, aimed at certain members of the congregation:

"It has come to our attention that some of you were offended by the goings-on at the viewing last night. We make no apologies for our behavior. It was just the way Grandma would have wanted it; and if she had been alive, she would have been right there in the middle of it."

It's better if you go back and reread it in my uncle's soft Scottish brogue.

The offensive behavior he was referring to? Well, let's see. My aunts and my adult female cousins were chasing each other around the funeral home, snapping each other's bra straps. My younger, teenage cousins were in the kitchen, playing poker for Smarties (M&Ms, for the Yankees reading this). The preteen cousins were playing sardines or freeze tag or something. And the rest of us were laughing and telling stories about our time spent with Grandma.

In my religious tradition, we weep for the temporary separation from our loved ones, but we rejoice that it is only temporary, and we look forward to a happy reunion with them upon our own death, with all family relationships restored. So we wept at Grandma's funeral; but before and after the services, we enjoyed each other's company at the massive family reunion that her passing had occasioned. And like my uncle said, we had nothing to apologize for. Grandma would have loved it.