Wednesday, October 1, 2014
The Flying Plank RR is operational!
Most of the track is down, and in its final positions. I still have some wiring do to, and some fine tuning on the track. However, I can run a long train thru the whole layout without any drailments or odd behavior.
And (insert drum roll here) the suspension bridge is open for traffic! It is made from roughly 600 Lego bricks, two blinking red leds, and several yards of 80 pound braided fishing line. The cables (fishing line) actually support the weight of passing trains. Before I tensioned the cables, a train would cause enough sag in the bridge deck to loosen the electrical contact with the track at one end. Now, there is no movement on the deck at all. The cables run underneath the layout, and are tied together below. That way I can adjust the tension later on, or as the cables stretch out over time. The cables on one end of the bridge go into the ground far too close to the tower, so I will be moving that back soon. The blinking LED tower lights are powered by the track power circuit, so anytime the track is on, so are those lights. As I wire up the lights in buildings, I will be adding a second circuit on a switch so that interior lights can be turned on and off.
Now I move on to touch up paint, then trees and turf and some silly things I have in mind.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
On with the pictures!
Sunday, September 7, 2014
This weekend I painted 1/4 of the area, including Mt Boulder. The mountain is designed to lift off the layout easily in case of a derailment in the tunnels. This seemed the most straightforward approach, and was kinda fun to build up. The basic structure of everything is pink Foamular board from Home Depot, and cans of ‘Great Stuff’ expanding foam. The spray foam was applied very carefully, and sometimes I used plastic sheets to cover everything I didn’t want to get foam on…
The middle layer is simply lightweight spackle compound you buy by the tub at any hardware store. After that I used a coat of white latex primer and the spray cans of grey primer, rust primer, black primer, and a couple of different browns from a camouflage line of paints
Obviously, there is touchup remaining on this section, and some adjusting of track positions, but its good to see some progress after much tinkering. I will have to restrain myself from applying grass, shrubs, and trees until the whole layout has been painted.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
A few months ago, I was given an opportunity to rescue some headphones that had been used as part of an audio display at a big box electronics store. I was surprised to find a pair of Sennheiser’s in the box. They were a bit dusty, and the cord was a tangled mess, but I knew they at least deserved a chance. The offer on the table was to pick one of the sets of headphones in the box, and let the others go on so somebody else could have a pair as well. I immediately untangled the Sennheiser HD 380 Pro and gave them a shot.
To be fair, I have never owned a pair of headphones in this performance class. So I had no idea what to expect. Simply put, I was blown away. The sound is crisp and detailed, while still having plenty of bass. The sound isolation from the environment is near complete. These are not noise cancelling, yet they insulate to the sides of your head to an extent that you may not need noise cancelling technology anyway.
They do require more power than the el-cheapo cans I have used before, and anyone looking at going to this type of headphones should also consider grabbing a small headphone amp to go with it. I am currently watching the market to find such an amplifier that I can afford. A point of caution about this, closed in earphones are more likely to cause hearing damage when cranked way up because all the energy from the driver is pointed right down your ear. If you power something like this with too much juice, or crank the volume all the time, then expect to invest in hearing aids in the near future. Instead, you should view the isolation from outside sound as an opportunity to enjoy the fine detail in your music without the need for eardrum shattering volume. Adding more power should not be done simply to get the noise levels up, but should be done to improve the quality of the signal being rendered.
The earcups are slightly angled and frankly, gigantic. That is one of the best parts of the design. They completely surround my ears, and hold in the sound quite well. I can listen to whatever I want, and my wife seated at her computer next to mine cannot hear a thing. They are circumaural, closed back headphones, and the cord (attached to the left ear) measures at 56” lying on my table. The 380’s are not heavy, and only slightly bulky when wearing them. Sitting at the computer, riding my bicycle, or outside working in the garage, I have not yet found an environment unsuited for these headphones. I have been told I look silly, with big cans on my head. I don’t care! The sound quality is plenty to make up for any perception of silliness……
These headphones also fold down fairly small, and Sennheiser sells a nice little flat zipper case you could store them in. I have found that simply folding the earcups up against the headband allows them to sit in the corner of my desk and be totally out of the way.
The Final word is simply “Excellent”. These headphones are a bit pricey, listed on Amazon for $135.00 as I write this review. However, the next time I am looking to buy headphones, this is my starting point. I never would have expected to own headphones worth more than $50 or $60, but now I understand. I still do not believe that I would ever agree that headphones could be worth thousands, but with the HD 380 Pro at it’s price range, Sennheiser has made a believer. And if the pair I got sound so good, and came to me as a used display model, how much better is a new set?
That box of headphones rescued from the store display had two pair of Sony and one set of “Beats by Dr. Dre” cans. I did give each of them a brief listen, but there was no contest. If you are looking for headphones, these should be on your short list. Near the top of that list.
Monday, November 25, 2013
Some time ago, I noticed that the wooden structure under my hanging train set was beginning to buckle under the load. Once it became apparent that the condition was getting worse, then it was time to plan its replacement. The previous design used 3/8 plywood on 2 2x4 studs. The landscaping was made of a collection of whatever materials I had on hand, mostly blocks of wood and wadded up newspaper. Add in some chickenwire, and a thick layer of plaster cloth and you get a lot of weight very quickly. This heavy, patchwork construction was more than those 2 2x4’s could handle, and I was very nervous about walking under when it was retracted to the ceiling. And the thought of parking under it to work on the car made me have bad dreams! Looking around at the materials available to me, and reading the blog posts and experiences of many other modelers, I quickly came to the conclusion that it would be best to use steel studs and foam boards. Design took a little while, eventually leading me to use Google’s SketchUp tool to make a rough mockup. The 3D models here turned out to be fairly close to what got built. Its dimensions are 5’ x 8’, a little larger than the wooden layout from before. This one will also eventually have side panels to provide a nice even trim/border. That should look very nice when complete.
The differences from the final product are mainly the diagonal cross brace which was not needed, and the cable lift points that were moved outside the frame body on a couple long of pieces of angle metal. I did find that putting forth the effort to make this model in the SketchUp tool really made me think about structure and load bearing and such. I am not an engineer by any means, but I think this system will work out pretty good. Once the basic steel structure was built, and the two layers of 1” foam board were glued onto it, I could still easily pick the whole structure up and hold it with one hand while moving my sawhorses around with the other.
In the following pictures, you will note two types of foam in use. The white foam ramps are Woodland Scenics 4% grade kits. And the pink foam boards are 1” Foamular brand insulation from Home Depot. So far the Foamular material is pretty easy to work with. I have been shaping it with a small keyhole saw, and a “cheese grater” rasp of the type that is used by sheetrock finishers. It should accept paint easily, and being able to carve and work the textures with simple hand tools makes this an art project as much as it is an engineering project.
The track plan is pretty simple, 4 loops in a gigantic oval. Most of the interesting bits of the track plan on this layout involve elevation changes. The climb up the hills to the small town near the red trestle bridge, and (not visible yet) the elevated train station on the opposite side of the layout from the existing overhead station. The other feature that will not be visible until well into the project is a suspension bridge! Actually a “cable stayed bridge”, it will span 2.5 to 3 feet from the end of the ascent across the valley to the hilltop town. Under that long span at ground level will be a small industrial yard and some container freight handling equipment. The current plan is to build the bridge from a single piece of flextrack, and use balsa to build the bridge deck around it. The weight of the bridge, as well as the weight of engines and rolling stock crossing it will actually be held by the cables, just like the real thing! Very cool if it works, and still fairly nifty if it fails and I have to go back to the drawing board….
More pics later, as progress is made.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
The Tamron 70-200 f2.8 Di
This is the lens I have been lusting after for a few years now, and it was completely unexpected for one to suddenly land on my table. So, of course it is time to take some more pictures!
Sadly, my first few attempts to use the new lens were less than spectacular. Birds are hard to keep up with, and I have not had time to visit any interesting places for photography. But tonight the moon is full, and the clouds are interesting. This moon picture is un-edited, taken from RAW into Lightroom, and right back out as a JPG for the blog. With the exception of the green lens flare (which might be the UV filter), this is really awesome!
I will not be writing a long drawn-out review of this lens, there are plenty of them online already. Suffice it to say that I look forward to spending as much time learning this lens as I can.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
In the past few years, I have been searching for a way to keep a few specific folders synchronized between my desktop machine and my laptop, and more recently adding my smartphone into the mix. Also I wanted to use a similar system to back up data for my dad’s computer and laptop. My big “eureka!” moment was the discovery of Windows Live Mesh, a wonderful tool that gave me a decent amount of online storage, but more importantly allowed me to define folders as pc to pc, that is not stored online at all. This is important, not just for capacity issues but also for privacy reasons. Some things just don’t need to be stored out on a server somewhere. Sadly, Microsoft in their usual amazingly perceptive behavior picked out the most useful tool they had on offer, and then killed it. In December of 2012 they announced that Mesh had a few months left and then they would shut it down. Those jerks……
This led me to start searching for a replacement. I tried the usual suspects first; Dropbox, SugarSync, and most recently Cubby. All are reasonably good systems, but none of them support the one feature that means the most to me. That is direct sync between my machines and not in the cloud. I will detail the pro’s and cons of each contestant that I really put some time in with. There are others, but I thought these are the best candidates.
Dropbox: Pro – Ubiquitous, every platform has pretty good support. Plus this is the one my employer uses for company documents. Also Dropbox has developed quite a reputation for reliability. Con – 5GB of space gets eaten up quick, and no consideration at all for direct sync.
SugarSync: Pro – More space than Dropbox, 7GB. Con – Mobile app support is not really there yet, and no direct sync.
Cubby: Pro – Direct Sync! But only for a paid subscriber Con – the mobile apps are really not very good, particularly the android app which will not allow you to store the data on the SD-card, but instead eats part of your main system memory. The iPad app was better, but still not as smooth as Dropbox.
Later on I tried to roll my own solution with an FTP server running on my Windows Home Server box. I used Syncback’s free version which allows you to schedule syncing between folders, mapped network drives, online file storage, and also ftp servers. This system actually had some promise and may lead me to implement it as a backup solution for some of my customers. But nightly backups wasn’t really what I was after, and it’s a rather clunky solution.
Enter AeroFS! My hero! I had read about Aero during my search for things to try, but it was a private beta at the time and I couldn’t get in. About the same time that I was seriously experimenting with Syncback and ftp, I found an article on a blog about this one guy’s experience with AeroFS and noted that they had given him some invitations to spread around. I immediately hit him up for one, and next morning Viola! I was in! His website is NerveSocket.com . I doubt he has anymore invites, but his content is interesting.
On the surface, AeroFS works just like Dropbox. But there is one key feature that makes it a whole different animal, no cloud storage. That’s right, zero, zilch, no storage space in the cloud for your stuff. “But wait, that’s a bad thing?” you may ask. No, its perfect. Zero cloud space means that the only limit to your storage is the space on your hard drive. Most of us nowadays leave our home computers on all the time anyway, so why not let it be the repository of your data? In my case, I have installed Aero on my desktop, my laptop, and my server. The server holds copies of every folder, including the ones I have shared with dad’s computer. The desktop and laptop have both been set with the “selective sync” feature in the AeroFS settings menu to only hold copies of the data I may need for that machine. They also offer the ability to share selected folders with others. Simply create a folder and then right-click and share by entering an email address.
AeroFS entered the scene just as I was about to commit to Cubby and pay the annual fee. But I kept hem-hawing because I wasn’t convinced that I needed too, and because Cubby was less than perfect. I don’t want to pay for a solution unless it is the perfect fit goldilocks-awesome. Aero looks as though the direct sync feature will be the basic free system, with a collection of workplace team sharing and highly supported features for paying customers.
If you need direct file sync, you need AeroFS.
Sunday, February 17, 2013
After nearly 1.5 years of tinkering, failing, and backing up to fix it, The Flying Plank RR has reached the stage of “mostly complete”. Both the mountain line, and the outer line are running. The upgrade to Kato Unitrack is done, and the wiring has been pretty much cleaned up. As per normal, clicking on any of these images will open up the larger resolution version. Now, on with the show….
Throughout most of the layout, the Unitrack is not actually glued down. It lies there so nicely and the power cables hang through holes drilled in the deck which keep it from sliding about more than a tiny bit. There are power leads connected to the track every 2-3 feet, and the ones on the mountain line are powered Unijoiners, so they are completely re-useable. The outer line has had red and black leads soldered onto the bottom of a track segment every couple of feet. All that adds up to the fact that my whole layout could be dismantled and every single piece of track could be re-used on the next system. Also, all the newer modular wiring would come off intact as well. Someday when I want to go through the building process again, I wont have to re-invest in track or wiring. Hooray!
The only section of track that is not Unitrack is the arched bridge. That is a piece of code 80 Model Power flextrack. I was lucky that the flex and snaptrack from the first buildup was all code 80, and so it was a clean match. The balsa structure of the bridge is ever so slightly higher than the plastic base of the Unitrack, but a dab of hot glue under each Unitrack transition piece holds it in place nicely.
In a layout decorated with “boulders” from my driveway, Micro-Machines, and a Millenium Falcon, having a space shuttle on the hill seems completely appropriate. One of my friends has suggested that I find a tiny little Godzilla toy and put him up the volcano. An alternate idea is to run a power wire into the volcano and setup some flashing red and orange LED’s to simulate a pool of lava.
The small herd of cows and horses, and the flock of sheep on the ridge lead me to believe that a small livestock loading ramp would be a good thing to install. There is room for it in the pasture.
You may also notice that rather than having a completely landscaped and scaled little kingdom, what I have done here is to suggest the overall scheme and have areas that look good on their own as the train moves through. At least that’s a good excuse for having steel cables rising from the ground, and the wooden support structure hanging out here and there.
Upgrades that are on the radar: 1- Replacement trucks and couplers for my set of old timey passenger coaches. They are Union Pacific coaches with the yellow paint scheme. They will match up nicely with the U/P caboose and the U/P diesels to be the initial passenger service for this layout. 2- DCC (digital command & control) probably a Digitrax Zephyr. That particular unit lets me continue to operate one of my current locomotives at the same time as I run another train that has the digital upgrade. 3- Shinkansen, hopefully a jr-500 series. The 500 series may not be the newest or the fastest of the bullet trains, but it looks cool! 4- A switching yard added to the layout. I left space for it on the main deck just below the little orchard.