Sunday, August 29, 2010

Talheimer Bote, 25. Juli 1971

While going through some old stuff, I found this newspaper photo of a heavy German freight steamer at Abzweig Talheim.


The BR50 is my latest digital conversion, including a working smoke generator that I can turn on and off using a decoder function output.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Goodbye DSL. Hello Cable.

I would have never imagined I'd give up on the small guys and get Internet service from a large faceless cooperation. Yet I did.

Yesterday, I canceled my Sonic DSL connection (5.0M/768k down/up) which has served me very well over the last 3 years. The line was stable and I rarely had to call tech support (I only remember doing it once). I investigated ADSL2 and other wired options, but apparently the only high-speed providers in my neighborhood are Comcast and AT&T U-verse.

Now I'm getting Internet service from Comcast Business through a discounted group plan at work. I'm paying slightly more per month for a whopping 22M/5M down/up. Since this is Comcast Business (and not consumer Comcast), there are no download caps on the account, and it comes with a static IP and explicit permission to run servers. Also, the tech support experience when calling them is surprisingly pleasant. The person you talk to, can actually help and doesn't have to assume you did something wrong. Mistakes I make myself, I usually notice and fix myself...

The 10x improvement for upload bandwidth is quite noticable when browsing pictures on the family Web site. Browser pre-fetching used to regularly clogged up the DSL upload bandwidth.

Installation of service was quick and fairly uneventful, though it took them a day to "tune the network" so that I got the full advertised speed. is hosted on the new IP, though with a 2 week TTL. Interestingly, the DNS gtld-servers are still handing out the old IP address. As a consequence many DNS servers will have the old IP cached for another 2 weeks. That's not the end of the world since my secondary DNS provider (RollerNet) is reasonably stable, so I'll fully rely on them during the transition period.

Monday, August 23, 2010


When I got home today, a package from a Tony's Trains was waiting for me. The Locobuffer USB had arrived.

The Locobuffer USB from RR-Cirkits is a nifty little device that connects Digitrax' Loconet to a USB port so that my train laptop can talk to the layout. While my Intellibox has a serial interface, and I spent quite some time on trying to get it to work reliably with the laptop and various software packages, I eventually gave up and ordered the Locobuffer USB.

What a difference. Plug in the provided Loconet cable to the layout, and the provided USB cable to the computer. Fire up JMRI, configure for Digitrax Loconet and Locobuffer USB. Exit and start JMRI again. Bring up a throttle window, type in a locomotive ID, pull up the speed slider and ... the locomotive starts moving. It took me longer to plug in the cables than configuring the software.

Nice. But what I really want is a wireless throttle, so I can control the locomotive without having to be near the computer, or the Intellibox. In JMRI select Start WiThrottle, and on my G1 phone download EngineDriver for Android from the Android Market. Reconfigure the firewall to allow connections to the train laptop from the wireless LAN. On the phone, type in the IP address and port of the train laptop. Connnect. Select the locomotive, pull the slider and ... the locomotive starts moving. It took me slightly longer to type this all up, than to do it.

It worked out of the box.

I'll have to spend some time to familiarize myself with all the options this opens up, and I'm sure I'm going to find some bugs along the way, but this looks very promising.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Finally some more scenery is in the works.

The mountain in the corner is becoming a reality.

I start with a cardboard basket weave, secured with hot glue. Covered that with masking tape and sculpting plaster.


I like the irregular look of sculpting plaster. There will be connifer trees along the top ridge of this hill, with some dark green forest shading on the wall. Also, some smaller deciduous trees along the edge of the "forest". Between trees and the tracks grass with bushes and some rocks peaking through the ground. To the left this will turn into an overgrown rockwall.
The tunnel portal on the right is just a stand-in. This will become a rock cut after I realigned the track to allow for better switching in Talheim.

Here's the corner between the tunnels at Abzweig Talheim in the masking tape stage.

Finally, some areas have very low clearance inside tunnels, so I need to occasionally catch pantographs and push them down, to avoid interference with scenery, or structural, features. After all I want to eventually build catenary in the visibile sections of the layout, but not in the tunnels.

This catch was made from 12AWG copper wire, and simply screwed to wooden blocks. The overgrown rockwall I mention above will sit atop of this.

I created this whole "tight space" situation because I didn't properly take the width of scenery into account when planning the layout. I have a couple more of those cases, and will attack them in due time.

I should start naming everything on the layout. Not only towns. But also streets, stores, industries, tunnels, and scenic features. That would make it so much easier to talk about things.