Thursday, August 23, 2007

Emsingen & Talheim

This is a variation of the original Emsingen layout.

Basically a (mostly) single track main arranged in a twisted loop.
I kept the main station on the upper level with a freight facility and angled at 30degrees. I dropped the single track "mountain route" as well as the upper level reversing loop.

The main line now loops around the Emsingen station on a steady downgrade and emerges in the south-east corner making its way to the Talheim branch station. North of Talheim the main enters a tunnel which doubles as a small staging area. Within the tunnel (and part of the Talheim branch) is a reversing loop. From hidden staging the line climbs around a mountain ridge in a wide loop to the South, back up to the east side of the Emsingen station.

The track layout of both Emsingen and Talheim is very preliminary.

The good news about this layout is that it actually functions reasonably well in 4.5sqm. It's definitely a good base to continue to work from.

Landscaping-wise, the north end around Emsingen could be a small down or even a bit more urban, with the south end being rather rural and forested. Talheim could be the station of a small village (not modelled) with some light industry and freight needs near the tracks. There could be a small creek or lake in the valley south of Emsingen, east of Talheim. Actually, in that same place an access hatch is needed to be able to work on landscaping in the north-east corner, as well as deal with "traffic problems".

What's wrong about this layout?

Both stations are not operationally interesting, or prototypical enough to make this layout entertaining. Talheim is very basic with only one industrial spur. Emsingen is too squeezed in.

I approached this layout making Emsingen the main station, but due to how the tracks end up, I'm having trouble finding good excuses or space for industry or passenger traffic.

Talheim has more track length in the station, but due to landscaping constraints, not much options to develop to the East. The mountain, and the line climbing back up to Emsingen, need to be somewhat believable. To the West sit the operators, and I don't want to skimp on that space either. I currently can fit two chairs in there which is just about enough. Might be able to take a small section of "air" just West of the tunnel entrance and add another industrial freight delivery option.

Not pictured above is the "basement" level with more staging capacity, and an opposing reversing loop accessed via the second tunnel track below Emsingen. Having that second reversing loop allows me to turn around trains without decoupling or non-protoypical backing up through the only loop, as well as more space for storing complete trains.

With some imaginative engineering when placing the room walls (well, basically pushing them out as much as possible into the surrounding garage), I could squeeze out roughly an additional 20cm on both sides. This would allow for a few neat options...

I could run part of the main (from Emsingen West to Talheim South) as double-track, or...

I could make the north loop around Emsingen wider, add more landscaping and industry/city, making this part of the layout more believable, or ...

I could make more use of wider curves, use some more flextrack in places where wider radi would look good (basically most curves that swoop from the back to the front of the layout), as well as provide more space for landscaping, or ...

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Installing DSL splitter in phone box

The phone wiring in my house is fairly ... adventurous. Obviously, various previous owners added to the existing cabling by running new cables, as well as extending from one jack to somewhere else. There doesn't appear to be any ryhme or reason to where you might find a phone jack. My master bedroom has 4 jacks nailed to the baseboard in various locations. Three of those jacks are even on the same phone line.

All this crazy wiring is adding echo effects that are less than helpful for DSL. DSL, like any digital signal, likes sharp edges and not blurry, echoy, line noise. Less outlets should translate to higher DSL speeds, because the digital signal is not as much degraded. Also, every jack that shares the line with the DSL signal, needs to have one of those DSL filter pigtail thingies plugged in, which tend to look ugly or be great toys, depending on who you ask. All good arguments for trying to install a DSL splitter as close as possible to the phone network hand-off point also known as demarcation point or "demarc". On the right is a typical phone network termination box as installed by Pacific Bell/SBC/AT&T for a while now. On the left is the original box from when the house was constructed.

The neat thing about these new boxes is that they have a RJ11 jack for your phone handset for each line, so it's easy to determine whether a problem is due to inside wiring or a problem for the phone company. There is some space in the customer accessible, lower half of the box where I'm going to put the DSL splitter.

Here is the splitter I'm using. It came with the house, i.e. the previous owner used splitters wherever they needed to terminate the DSL wiring. I'm not quite following the logic behind that, but oh well, easy enough, I didn't have to go out and get a splitter. It has a RJ12 jack on one side for the line to the phone company, and two RJ12 jacks on the other side, one for the DSL line, and one filtered for the phone line.

Here's everything put together. As you can see there is some space, but not a whole lot. Actually, it's quite tight. I didn't take a photo of my final arrangement, where I moved the splitter to the left half of the box in order to be able to close it reasonably weather tight. We'll see how this goes. If it becomes a problem, I'll place the splitter in the old phone wiring box, but so far it looks and works just fine.

When I moved in I measured DSL line speed according to Broadband Reports at 4.2MBit/s down and just over 600 up. With the splitter in the phone box, I now reliably get 4.9 MBit/s down and still around 600 up. Depending on the remote site, time of day, etc. some test sites even gave me 5MBit/s down.

Best Pizza Ever!

Toronado's is a very nice beer bar with huge selection of beer on tap. Lots of friendly people, too. The guys at the bar carded Christoph. It was hilarious to watch as they tried to figure out his German identity card.

Next door, however, is Mythic Pizza. I would have never put a foot in that joint, but the guys behind the counter at Toronado's recommended it wholeheartedly. Ok, so we tried. The slices are less than so-so, but if you are willing to wait 10 minutes for a real pizza you get the most awesome pizza I had so far on the West Coast. Yes, Toronado's beer might have helped, as did the time of night, but still...

Christoph had a most yummy straight Peperoni pizza, while I went for a Onion/Spinach/Feta Calzone. The dough has a nice crust, not too soft, not too hard, with a flavour of its own. The toppings are plentyful with quite a bit of cheese. Neither one of us managed to finish the "small" pizza we ordered. We took it home, and ate more the next morning. It still tasted good. The sign of an excellent pizza.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Installing Structured Wiring Center

It always kind of bugged me that my basic infrastructure was ... not very infrastructury.

For the new house I decidced I do this right. First off, get a wiring panel for the network wiring. At Home Depot I found a nice metal case from Leviton (SMC="structured media center"). Leviton is selling various plugin pieces that use the specially spaced holes in the case, and allow to pack the various parts (phone, switch, dsl splitter, cat5 jacks, etc.) very tightly. However, their stuff is ridiculously expensive (e.g. a no-name 10/100 hub with the special mounting bracket for the SMC, was $29 at Home Depot). No thanks.

Since most of my equipment doesn't have mounting braces or holes anyways, I mounted only the CAT5e patch panel for the home wiring directly into the case. The rest is mounted on a wodden half inch backing board using regular angle brackets and plenty of zip ties. Looks a little bit odd, but is very functional.

The case of course as a nice front cover as well. I mounted the wireless access point outside the case so that it doesn't inhibit reception. I have excellent connectivity throughout the house. As the various computer locations in the house become permanent, the number of wires running into the patch panel will go up...

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Meinsingen in 4.5 sqm

Meinsingen is my third attempt at squeezing a halfway interesting HO layout in 4.5 square meters, and the first that made it far enough to post here.

It's an "along the wall", two-level layout with hidden staging with reversing loop under the top left corner (not visible in the PDF). Contrary to other layouts I made so far, the operator is located in an aisle and surrounded by the layout. A single track runs along all 4 walls of the room and crosses the entrance on a removable bridge.

The main station of the town of Meinsingen is located in the middle of the room, dual-connected to the run-around track (so that trains can change direction), and represents the terminus of a rural branch line. North of the station is the small town/residential area of Meinsingen. To the West is a light industrial area with a few sidings, industries, and loading dock/ramp. There are minimal engine maintenance facilities in Meinsingen. Just enough to maintain the yard engine stationed here.
Traffic destined for Meinsingen consists of passenger trains and short freight locals that need to spot cars to the various industries, pick up cars and then leave again.
The part of the run-around track in the Northwest corner could be hidden behind trees. A tunnel would look tacky here, unless I spend much more space on a proper hill.

The Southwest corner is hills and a valley, maybe a small river or creek.

In the Southeast corner is the small station of Teilingen in the middle of the woods, with the branch to hidden staging. There is also opportunity for train meets here.

The scenery remains forested along the East side and over some meadows or maybe fields in the northeast corner, we are back at the outskirts of Meinsingen.

Operationally, I'm not too happy with this layout. Every train that comes out of staging has to cross the bridge along the door.

In order to get back into staging, each train either has to change direction in Teilingen (including potentially moving the engine to the other end of the train, or enter the Meinsingen station. In Meinsingen either the engine runs around the cars, or the cars are taken over by another engine. In order to turn around, steam engines need to back out of Meinsingen to the West, take the main line to the North side, then back up again into the station.

Spotting cars and operations within the Meinsingen station is not too bad, though, as long as the trains consist only of 4-5 2 axle cars, or at most 2 D-Zug cars. The station tracks only allow for short trains < ~40-60 cm.

Overall, there are too many compromises here to make this worthwhile in HO.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Our next house ...

A nice oceanfront property for sale in Carmel.

US Customs scrutinizing laptops

While browsing I found this blog about an experience when crossing the border into the US.

I'm baffled. Those customs folks are not looking for terrorism files (which I would kind of understand), but illegal porn. Also, apparently customs as the right to seize and inspect your laptop at will.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Oh SJC, I love thou

I spent the last 1.5 hours on the observation platform at Terminal C of SJC reading the paper. It's the only spot in this airport that is both outside and not ripe with Diesel exhaust. After finding out that Alaska 477 is (yet again) delayed, I tried catching a standby on the (also yet again) delayed Alaska 89 to Seattle. Contrary to last time the strategy backfired this time. All seats were taken and I got to enjoy the airport a bit longer.

In my rush to get to the gate counter, I accidentally left my rolling bag at the security checkpoint. ... and only noticed it as I just went back out of the secure area on my way to the observation deck. Thankfully, security here is a bit slow and didn't notice the unattended baggage until I came back asking for it.
AlaskaAir has (almost) their own security checkpoint that is in that weird corner of Terminal C with little to no services. At least the one and only restaurant there (Togo's) stays open to 9pm now. They used to close at 7pm which was really annoying, when you are booked on the 9:35 flight and forgot to take something to eat, or were thirsty.

Oh well, 477 should start boarding in another 15-20 minutes, so I should get on my way through security now....

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Emsingen is a goner

Arrgh! Remeasurement of the future train room revealed that I was working with 2 ft to much in length. The room is actually only 7.5 x 6ft. Also, the potential space in the garage turns out to be only 7.5 x 7ft unless I make access to the water heater really hard. Either one will make realization of the Emsingen layout impossible. I have to scale back and start over.

I really do want a loop, but it shouldn't look like a loop. I might not have the space to do a loop satisfactorily.

Bummer. I have to go back and review what I really want from this. Some ideas...

- Along the wall setup with a twisted, twice-around loop. Getting in and out of the room might be a challenge...

- A two level setup. The lower level, partially visible with continous traffic, and branch to a dead end station on the upper level with facilities. This way I don't need as many ramps that take up space and I could squeeze in some landscaping.

- A multi-level setup in out-and-back configuration. Dead-end main station with facilities on top level, a small way station with industry on middle level, a hidden turn-around loop with some staging on lower level. Neat. Possible? I have to try...

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Wow. 100 posts. When I started this, I didn't expect I would write about all the stuff I ended up writing about. Funny how things turn out sometimes.

More Living Room

Started with the accent wall in the living room and Christoph cleaned up the fireplace mantel.

The accent wall is kinda scary.

Mind you, the white beam in front of me is about 6 meters (~18 ft) up in the air, the ladder I'm standing on is wedged between that beam and the stairs to the upstairs bedrooms and quite wobbly. It's ok ... as long as I don't move.

I spent the afternoon at Home Depot getting more stuff, ranch-style shutters, kitchen faucet and the wiring center for the data cabling. That will be fun, too. Let's see if I get to that before I go to Seattle again next week.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Living Room & Spa

Today we painted the living room. Quite a big job. Primer and 2 layer of paint. Christoph did a very good job helping. Left to do are the fireplace mantel, base boards and the wall to the kitchen which will be in a different color than the rest of the room. However, it already looks awesome.

After a very good dinner courteously of Patricia we retired to the freshly cleaned spa (Sundance '97 Calypso) for the first time. Pascal was entertaining the neighborhood. Given how much fun he had, he was easily heard all over the place...

One thing to mention, however, is the power usage of that thing. When I turned on the heater the wheel on the power meter went crazy. I've never seen a meter rotate that fast. We turned on the solar power system (though we are not supposed to, since PG&E didn't come out yet), but it didn't help much, even with solar production of almost 3kW. Based on amperage ratings the spa consumed easily 8kW or more, just for heating...

I learned today that Pergo changed their program multiple times over the last 8 years and there is zero chance we will be able to match the installed Pergo laminate floor in the family room, where we currently have 30% Pergo and the rest carpet. The options are to replace all of the flooring and install new laminate that somewhat matches what we have in the kitchen, or replace just the carpet. We are likely going the "replace everything" route. Even though it's more expensive, the laminate area is just a tad too small when the table is pulled out for full size, and it gets annoying quickly. That's a project for in a few months.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Vacation ... sort of

I'm taking this week off from work to work on various projects in and around the house. Saturday morning was a lost cause, running errands and a 2 hour visit at the Home Depot, including getting carpet on order. Tuesday a guy will come out to measure it all out. I also picked up another set of shutters for the bedroom windows. Turns out that 68 inch (shutter width) is shorter than 70 inch (window opening). Gosh, where did I leave my glasses when measuring this? Sigh. I tried, and it does look a bit tacky if the blinds don't cover the full width of the window opening. I see another trip to Home Depot on the horizon.

At least I finished Patricia's workstation in the master bed room today, and organized all the moving boxes still stored in the garage (a lot of boxes). At least all the boxes are now accessible in case we need something.

The workstation is built into a closet. A small top shelf, a 1/2 inch laminated pine board accross the full width of the closet. I recycled the keyboard drawer from our IVAR shelving unit we had in the old place and mounted it under the new board. We don't have closet doors on most closet in the house anyways, and the Asbestos guys removed the rails from the ceiling as they scraped off the popcorn plaster before we moved in. With the new carpet the setup will look really nice. I've set up babybaer to connect via the wireless bridge for now until I run Ethernet throughout the house.

Finally, I removed lots of nails and screws from the walls downstairs and drained the spa, so we can clean it. Took only 3 hours, during which I moved the garden hose regularly, so all of the lawn gets some water.