Monday, March 30, 2009

M4.3 earthquake near San Jose, CA

This earthquake just happened less than 15km from my house.

What I found interesting (and how I noticed this in the first place), is the chatter in the discussion channels at work went up immediately as the quake happened. Cool.

Also, I didn't notice the waveforms feature at USGS yet.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

What you don't expect to find in a computer

A spider's nest, or ... actually ... I'm not quite sure what this is.

I brought chef outside for the half-yearly dust-bunny cleaning, and was quite surprised when I saw this thing. They yellowy stuff is quite solid and sticks very well to the case. Here's a close-up.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Coffee table 1:160 N track test fitting

I finally managed to make it to The Train Shop in Santa Clara to pick up a few supplies, as well as some N track for the coffee table layout. I'm going to use Code 80 Atlas track, as it's cheap and reliable. The section ends are a bit odd looking. Seems there are some "snap" pieces that would hold the sections together. I'll either live with the look, or "fix" them, but that seems more work than it's worth.

The curves are the minimum radius Atlas offers at 9 3/4" (24.7cm), which is what I used when I planned the size of the coffee table. While wider curves would have been nice, I just don't have the space for a huge coffee table, and it's already quite big as is. Any bigger and I might as well convert the living room into the layout room.

Aside from confirming sizing, I also wanted to see my little Bachmann 2-6-2 Prairie run and see how it navigates the curves. Full score on both counts. The loco looks nice, is extremely quiet (especially compared to my HO Maerklin locos), and runs just fine. It seems it prefers to go forward though, as the speed with tender forward is a tad slower at the same voltage setting. This is an analog DC locomotive. I'm not planning to run the coffee table layout with digital control anytime soon.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Done with taxes

Phew. I never did my taxes as quickly as this year. 1 day prep-work (basically filing away a year's worth of bills and paperwork) and a long afternoon for the actual return.

Most of the work consisted of copying what I did for last year's return, and TurboTax Online makes this really easy. I've been using TurboTax Online for the last couple years, and every year it becomes more slick and less clunky. I don't miss the videos of the desktop version, never watched them anyways. Don't want to go back to pen and paper either. My situation is complicated enough now, that I'd rather have an accountant do it for me than trying to figure this all out without the guided interview style TurboTax uses.

So, I'm happy the pain is over for now, and I'm curious when the California refund is going to show up in my bank account. There was some rumbling during the recent budget mess that they would delay processing refunds.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

To use a computer for controlling your railroad or not

Let's face it. I want to build and run my model railroad. I don't want to program a computer and debug all the little problems that pop up when you make things complicated. Over the last few weeks I spent several evenings trying out various free Linux programs for controlling a model railroad (srcpd/spdrs60, jmri, rocrail), and all of them leave something to be desired. Be it the UI (jmri), or communication with the Intellibox (srcpd, jmri, rocrail), or (in)stability of the program (rocrail, srcpd) , or complexity of figuring out how this is even supposed to work (jmri).

Especially since I don't want to do everything on a computer screen. There are parts of my layout where automated control makes sense, especially the hidden staging area. There are several parts (especially tunnels) where feedback sensors make sense, so I can display track occupancy somewhere.

However, I also want my kids to be able to just play with the railroad. Turn on the control station, pick a locomotive with a train and drive it. This is naturally easier if they don't have to fire up a computer and restricted themselves to the visible areas (and the connecting tunnels, of course), and not necessarily venture into the dungeons of staging.

Running trains digitally is a given for me. Even for the relatively short time I had with the few locomotives I converted so far, the experience of actually driving a train over a piece of track independently from everything else that's going on around it has been very positive.

However, doing this on the naked staging tracks and ramps that will be hidden later is not exactly satisfying. There's still quite a bit of work left to do in staging, though it's details. Most of the basic electrical and track work is done.

Now that I finally have most of the parts I need to start building Talheim station, I'm longing for making some progress there, build some scenery, and take a break on the topic of computer control, and ripping my hair out out.