Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Goodbye KDE

After getting fed up with KDE, we switched to Gnome. While some things took some getting used to (again, mostly around dealing with digital photos), overall the experience is a lot more pleasant.

The UI doesn't get nearly as much into the way as KDE does. Gnome has less bells and whistles, but things mostly just work, and on top of that, it's much, much faster than KDE4.

F-Spot is ok, but also suffers from the "hey, you didn't do anything, so I won't write that photo to disk when you tell me to save it after I rotated it for you automatically". One day I'll write (or find) a simple shell script that'll go through a folder and correctly rotate the photos on disk based on EXIF information.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Over the air HDTV - figuring out the basics

I'm sick and tired paying $50 a month to a company I despise. Comcast got enough money from me over the years and our TV viewing habits have changed enough that I don't value the cable-only channels nearly as much as I used to.

So over-the-air HDTV it is. My hdhomerun box supports both cable and over the air HDTV (even at the same time...) I went to the local Fry's and found a shelf full of indoors antennas. Wow, quite a selection. I pick one that sounded decent, went home, set it up in the garage and ... only got channel 36 "Action 36". Urgh.

That's when I learned about AntennaWeb. Plugged in my address and ... oha, all the major stations in the Bay Area transmit from San Francisco (50 miles away). Except Action 36, which has an antenna in downtown San Jose (18 miles) and is rated as the only station I should be able to receive with a simple indoor antenna.

Accoding to AntennaWeb, I need an antenna with the "blue" and "violet" color codes due to my location and distance from the broadcast towers, which require an amplified, large directional outdoor antenna. In other words, a commonly known "TV antenna".

Fry's doesn't have any (!) outdoor antennas, nor does the local Walmart. Both carry lots and lots of indoor antennas ("perfect for HDTV"), which are barely suitable to receive TV signals from up to 20 miles away. The vast majority of the South Bay doesn't fit that description. No wonder half of the boxes were returned...
Radio Shack had outdoor antennas, but not amplified, they weren't even rated for "blue", and still cost over $70, plus $35 for an amplifier.

In the end I ordered a Terk HDTVo antenna from Amazon, which showed up this week.

Today I went on the roof to test reception with that antenna. I used the hdhomerun_config_gui application running on my TV computer in the living room with the X Window output redirected to my Mac laptop, which I carried on the roof with me. Must have been quite a funny sight. Me on the roof, with an antenna in one hand, typing away at laptop in my lap with the other...

I'm able to receive all major broadcast networks, FOX, CBS, ABC, NBC, PBS, plus a bunch of local independent stations. KTVU, the local FOX affiliate, comes in weakest of the bunch, so I'm using as my guide when directing the antenna.

I planned to mount the antenna to the eaves board of my roof, so that it overlooks the neighboring house. Turns out that the signal of KTVU severely degrades about 1 feed above the roof line, and is reasonably strong at about 3 feet above the roof line. So I need (at least) a small mast. I don't feel like penetrating my roof with mounting a TV antenna. Instead I will likely mount the mast on a side-wall on the left side of the house above the master beed room, where the roof is not quite as high above the ground.

Of course I need to ground the antenna mast, as well as the antenna cable. I'm going to use the electrical conduit of the solar PV system for ground, and reuse the grounding block installed by my dear friends at Comcast for grounding the antenna cable.

Now, where do I find a suitable 5-6 ft long antenna mast and appropriate mounting hardware nearby?

Friday, October 16, 2009

The creek is done

I spent months on getting the creek under the bridges in Talheim right. It's finally done, and I'm very happy with the result. Click the picture. Seriously.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Lots of water

We had lots of rainfall today.

This is Permanente Creek at Charleston Road in the late afternoon of October 13th.

And this is what it looks on normal days...

Friday, October 09, 2009

Peace Nobel Price for Barack Obama ... Really?

I couldn't believe the news this morning. Really? No, seriously? Obama has been in office for a mere 9 months and is already receiving the Peace Nobel Price? What will he get after 4 years?

I am very, very happy for our President to be the recipient. It's a great honor. A huge surprise. Apparently, even the White House initially had only a single word comment: "Wow". How many sitting presidents have received the Nobel Price while in office? It's a very small club.

However, I believe Obama should choose not to accept the price.

It comes too early. Much too early. While he is doing many good things in international relations, he doesn't have measurable results to show. ... He's on a great trajectory. The scores look good. His work and projects are showing great promise. He should re-apply for promotion next year when the tricky projects are rolled out and he has shown this great performance over a longer period of time. ... whoops, it's performance review season at work, and my committee notes provide just the right vocabulary ;-)

It's been reported that Obama accepted the price. The Washington Post has a nice summary mirroring my sentiments.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Layout updates

Over the last couple months I spent a lot of time experimenting with track alignment and options for Emsingen. My updated requirements list is roughly as follows

  • passenger station for a small city (it's ok to have a semi-rural/small town look & feel)
  • ability for train meets (i.e. at least one siding long enough to hold a decent sized freight train)
  • single through track (I'm building a single track main line after all)
  • proper signals for two direction operation on at least two tracks
  • enough sidings to allow for terminus operation (i.e. some passenger trains end in this station, the locomotive runs around the cars and the train later leaves in the direction it came from)

    Now the list of nice to haves:

  • "lok station" (i.e. small coaling/operations/service facilities for steam + diesel locomotives to service locomotives of trains ending in Emsingen)
  • engine shed (for one or more locomotives)
  • 2+ industrial spurs or loading options
  • some multi-use yard tracks to break down/shuffle car cuts left for Emsingen and Talheim by a freight train passing through

    When I started tearing up the original plans, I relatively quickly came to add a couple more nice to haves:

  • lokstation/engine shed needs to be on the near end of the station from the controls (what's the point of e.g. a turntable, if it's hidden behind the engine shed/roundhouse and servicing facilities)
  • a (small? how small?) turntable would be really cool.
  • sorting of cars needs to happen on near side of the station, too. You need to see what's moving where
  • yard tracks need to be straight

    ooops. Here's my first try:

    The location of the station building is pretty much set on the city side of the tracks. I converted the former freight area to become the lok station, including a 3 stall round house, and turntable. The round house, as a side-effect, conveniently hides the tunnel entrance of the ramp to the middle level, so I'm hoping that the effect will be "train enters the stage" instead of "train exits yet another tunnel". The space for the service area is tight but workable, given it's a small terminus with only a few road locos to service, as well as 1 or 2 locomotives stationed here.

    On the other side of the main track is an open air loading ramp, or maybe I put some oil tanks in that corner on the inside of the right turn towards the bridge.
    The yard tracks are a bit odd, and too short for any real work. There is a limit on how deep the station area can become without encroaching on space needed for the middle level. However, they correspond well to the available length of the yard lead. One problem I have with all approaches is that I'm having trouble properly operating the arrival/departure track without using the main line track. I kind of want to maintain the ability for fairly busy operation on the main line (either automated, or by a second operator), as much as that is possible on a single track ...

    A simplified approach for the yard tracks. Basically, I left enough track to shuffle cars for switching and local deliveries.

    I also re-aligned the tracks in the lok station a bit. I'm not happy with how the switches to the lok station clog up track 1 in front of the station building. I want servicing to be located between the tracks and the turn table. The setup is a bit loose here, since I don't have a turntable (yet), and most roundhouses require a certain distance between turntable and doors, which is larger than what I accounted for here. I might have to circle the round house to the right and potentially move the turntable more to the left further into the curve, which would affect the arrangement of the servicing and access tracks. Clearly more accurate planning is needed for this area.

    A sneaky approach to get more usable length for the yard tracks by using slim switches with a small angle, and allowing the tracks to encroach on middle level territory. The lead track is to short to hold a full cut of cars from the longest yard track, plus locomotive.

    Here I attempted to address the problem of "how do I get a complete train from the yard onto the main line with no switching maneuvers". As a side effect the industry track on the right gained some space. Unfortunately this also meant more encroaching on middle level territory.

    Same idea, with longer yard tracks and simplified trackage, no dedicated yard lead.

    A variation on the theme that leaves much more space around the industry track, but again requires somewhat odd movements for yard operations.

    Going back to basics. Instead of trying to squeeze a lot of yard operations into an impossible space, I just go with two storage tracks, making them as long as I possibly can. The alignment of the mainline track slightly changed by removing the curved switch, which leaves space to arrange the two storage tracks more neatly.
    What I like about this setup is that it allows me to do some switching operations, without eating into space I had originally allocated for scenery, industry, and roads.

    Less is More.

    This plan is also updated with the actual track layout I'm using on the middle level around Talheim station and on to the tunnel.