Monday, November 25, 2013

The Flying Plank RR Rises from the Ashes……

  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patchwork construction was more than those 2 2x4’s could handle, and I was very nervous about walking under when it was retracted to the ceiling.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 thelayout from below 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.
rr reborn-6rr reborn-1rr reborn-2
rr reborn-4rr reborn-3rr reborn-5

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

A Gigantic Lens

      This past weekend I received an unexpected and awesome gift.
Tamron SP AF 70-200mm F/2.8 Di LD [IF] MACRO
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!
the moon-1
     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

The Battle of File Sharing. Or, “How I came to loathe size limits”.

       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 .  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

Flying Plank RR–Phase1 Complete!


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.



flyingplankrr-11In 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.