Monday, May 31, 2010

Last summer ...

... I spent a very enjoyable 20 minutes on top of the west exit of the Rosensteintunnel in Stuttgart which has a great view towards Bad Cannstatt across the Rosensteinbruecke.

Watching trains is so much more fun if there is heavy traffic and you don't have to wait for hours for the next train, as is fairly common here in California. Above video covers about 10 minutes of elapsed time.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


While I'm not going to build a specific location on a specific rail line (maybe I should, ... next time :-), I do like the idea of setting my layout in a general location. So the Black Forest it is. I'm going to ignore the fact that the Schwarzwaldbahn exists, in fact I'm probably going to settle on a fictitious valley with fictitious place names. However, I am trying to evoke the feeling of the place, so I'm going to use scenes and scenery one would reasonably find in the general area of the middle black forest.

This applies both to look and feel, but also train destination and car routing once I get to that stage...

In other words I'm not going to model a specific prototype, but I'm trying to be faithful to what the prototype might have looked like.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Kitchen countertop - installed!

After much delay, yesterday (Wednesday) the countertop guys finally installed our new maple butcher block countertops in the kitchen.

Here's how things went down... Tuesday evening after work I started removing the plywood sheets we have used as temporary countertops for the last few weeks, taking out the sink and the cook top, as well as several drawers that were in the way.

There were a couple work-items I wanted to do while the tops were off.
  • Build simple shelves between the cooktop cabinet and the corner cabinet for storing cutting boards.
  • Properly align the false drawer fronts on the sink cabinet.
  • Install filler pieces to the left and right of the dishwasher.
A couple hours work I estimated. Unfortunately, that didn't work out. First off I failed at building a jig to allow me to make perfectly straight cuts for the filler pieces with my jigsaw. The jigsaw didn't want to go straight along the ruler I set. I bent and almost broke off the blade along the way.

Next I tried with the portable circular saw, but quickly realized that the left over cover pieces I'm cutting the fillers from are too narrow in order to both guide the saw and provide sufficient support to put it on.

Which means I had to go back to the table saw. Since by that time it was way past 9pm, I left the table saw in the garage, cut one piece, and ... bad idea. Not only was this really loud (and the kids sleeping), but the air in the garage was filled with saw dust. Those boards are made from a fairly soft material (I think it's Masonite), which produces ridiculous amounts of dust.

At that point I gave up for the evening and vowed to get up early on Wednesday to get everything done before contractors show up around 8am.

... and I did get up early. By 7am I was outside with the table saw cutting pieces, and fitting them around the dishwasher. The corner piece turned out to be not perfect, but I'm out of left-over pieces with a finished corner, so I installed it with a cut corner facing the dish washer and figured that'll work.

Next I built the cutting board shelves. Sounds fancy, but in reality those are just rectangles cut to the right dimension and installed with screws through the side panel of the adjoining cabinets. Again, those didn't really satisfy me, since there are gaps between shelf and cabinet wall, and I had to cut them slightly crooked because the cabinets are not at an exact 90 degree angle. Lots of swearing, freehand sawing, and filing to make them fit. Another Thank You to the crooked walls in the kitchen...

Shortly before 9am I had the second shelf in, and was just about ready to install the backstop, when the countertop guys showed up. Thank you for arriving towards the end of the promised window.

While I got out of their way and devote time to my regular day job, they installed the countertop with some fuss (thank you to crooked walls...)
We did expect a bit more overhang around the sides, but it actually looks really good the way they built it. [Yes, there will be photos]

Once they were done, I started hooking up the dishwasher and water to the sink and ... ooops, the drain pipe between sink and the wall no longer fit, since the sink was installed about 1/2 inch closer to the counter top edge to allow space for the new window sill in the back.

After some flailing around, I loosened all the fittings, pushed and shoved the plastic pipe pieces around, and ... voila, was able to connect it back together, tighten the fittings, test for leaks, ... and found none. Phew.
Later I talked with our general contractor and he confirmed that this will work at least until they come out next week to attend the final inspection.

So I turned my attention back to the dishwasher and ... Patricia points out that the cut corner looks bad. At the very least it needs to be white. What the woman wants, the woman gets (she's right, it did look crappy). So I went back in the garage to find the laminate strips that were originally meant to be installed on the sides of the toe kicks, but I didn't need them there.
Hmmm, after trying for 5 minutes to remove the backing paper, I concluded they are no self-adhesive. Looking at the instructions confirmed this. They are supposed to be ironed onto the pieces with a warm iron and then trimmed to fit with a sharp knife. I'd have to remove the dishwasher completely from its nook under the countertop to gain enough space to get to that corner with a cloth iron and laminate the strip to the corner piece. Which also means releveling the dishwasher afterwards in a really tight space now. Urgh.

Heat glue ... hot glue ... hot glue gun! Hah! I can do this without pulling the dishwasher out! I used the hot glue gun we normally use for arts and crafts (and the model railroad) to laminate the cover piece on. It actually looks reasonably nice now, especially since it's mostly hidden by the dishwasher.

Fixing the dishwasher in position and installing the last filler piece was easy in comparison.

Strangely enough the false drawer fronts I set straight on the sink cabinet Tuesday evening are now slightly crooked again and I can't get to the screws without removing the sink. I have to keep that in mind and do another try on Thursday next week when the sink is out for the last time.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Riding in the rain

It's almost June for heaven's sake, and it's raining outside. Good I took the bike to the office shuttle this morning. What was I thinking? ... Probably nothing, since I also left both my cell phones at home.

Extending Elztalbahn to Hausach?

How would this geography map to my layout? Let's follow a train from Hausach to Freiburg.

Hausach is represented by hidden staging. Train takes the right track on the ramp, passes the tower and the creek bridge (which would be crossing the river Elz) and arrives in Oberprechtal (or Unterprechtal), formerly known as Talheim. As we continue south, the train is passing through Elzach (not modeled, represented by the fairly long tunnel along the wall), and arrive in Gutach (formerly known as Emsingen), which is also the overnight point for commuter trains from/to Freiburg. We pass over a stone viaduct, and downgrade over the large S curve until we're down at the tower and take the ramp down into hidden staging which represents Freiburg.

Now, ... this is really doing things backwards, one should find their situation to model, then build it, not the other way around. Also, Gutach and Elzach are down stream from Oberprechtal, so it doesn't make sense to have a grade going up the hill. Further, the actual Elztalbahn track is running at the bottom of the valley, so having a viaduct doesn't make sense. Maybe I'll find myself a Black Forest valley that doesn't have an actual rail-line to compare against ...

Emsingen & Talheim in Elztal?

I've been reading a lot lately about operating model railroads. I had a chance to operate on Robert Bowdidge's Vasona Branch layout which was a first for me to actually operate on a layout that was built for operations. It was a very nice experience, and got me even more interested in adding car routing and switching to my own layout.

Speaking of which, I'm seeing light at the end of the tunnel for the control console in Talheim. I replaced the ESU Lokpilot stationary decoders with Digitrax DS64, and rewired the dual-coil switches for them.

Regarding location I always planned to set the layout in the Black Forest area of southern Germany, but couldn't quite settle on where exactly. Since the trackplan already exists, I didn't bother modeling an actual location, but I want to capture the feel of being in the Black Forest. While reviewing several options of existing railways that could be suitably modified with some modeling license, I also took a look at the Elztalbahn, running from Freiburg to Gutach and Waldkirch, ending in Elzach. What made this particular line interesting, was a comment that there were plans to extend the track beyond Elzach to Hausach on the Schwarzwaldbahn. Looking at the map such a connection would be a fairly direct route from Stuttgart to Freiburg/Basel via Gaeubahn and Kinzigtalbahn to Hausach, continuing via Elztalbahn to Freiburg. If we'd imagine for a second that this connection actually had been built, it would likely be a single track secondary  railway. However, I could make it an electrified main line, still single track, take the location names and get some inspiration for local industries, passenger service, and/or regional through traffic. There we go, we have an excuse for running first class trains, and/or heavy freight traffic over this line. Talheim would be "Oberprechtal" (because I like the town name) on the imaginary line between Elzach and Hausach, and Emsingen would become Gutach (or maybe Waldkirch), which are towns on the actual Elztalbahn.

Having a location sets the tone for the look and feel of the scenery. I have plenty of photos to look at...

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Last weekend I bought a new laptop. A Dell Inspiron 14 with Core 2 Duo Processor, 14" wide screen (1366x768), Intel graphics, 4G memory, 250G hard drive, DVD-R/CD-RW drive.
All in all a nice package for the price. There are cheaper notebooks. There are larger screens. There are bigger drives. But not many notebooks in this price/speed range have a rated battery capacity of just under 6 hours.

So far, so good. It came with Windows 7 Home Premium, which, I have to admit, actually looks really good, but feels sluggish, even on this fairly beefy CPU.

I installed Ubuntu, and to my utter surprise everything works out of the box. Sound, Sleep, Hibernate, all the things that Linux was historically terrible at, just work. I was floored. Well, almost everything. Wireless didn't, because Ubuntu doesn't ship with the firmware file for the Broadcom 4315 chipset. apt-get install b43cutter from a wired connection fixed that problem. Gnome's Network Manager is very nice. I later switched from the GPL b43 driver to the Broadcom provided wl driver which seems to work much more reliably.

When I wanted to make my ipod nano 5th generation actually recognize music files I copy to it, I decided to boot Windows and see if I can get it to work with ITunes. Big mistake.

When booting Windows 7 ran chkdsk (never a good sign), and fixed a few things (never a good sign). Next I downloaded iTunes (65+ MBytes , seriously?) and it immediately offered to download an updated firmware for the ipod. I accepted (bad idea). Now when connected to USB, the ipod is in a constant reboot loop. Thanks, Apple.

Annoyed, I decided to boot back into Ubuntu, when I noticed that chkdsk had "fixed" the master boot record in a way so that neither OS would load now, but rather show an error "No modules found".

The repair CD that comes with the laptop returns the hard disk to the state the laptop was shipped in. Not useful.

I ended up fixing the MBR by reinstalling Ubuntu. I could have done it manually, but was too lazy to bother.

Windows 7 is now deleted from this hard drive.