Thursday, December 31, 2015

Christmas Puzzle: Challenge Accepted

"Wow. You're almost done...
You can finish this before the end of the year, right?"
..., said my lovely wife in the evening. Challenge accepted!

It is now one hour past midnight on the morning of December 31st, and I'm indeed done with the puzzle. For those of you getting bored and tired of me posting puzzle progress over the last few days, rest assured this will likely be the last puzzle related post for a while, and we'll soon return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Bearded Dragons: Furnishing the Terrarium

The Bearded Dragons need a home. We could just stick them into the larger terrarium, throw in some sand, a few stones, and branches and off we go. ... Or we make this a bit more interesting ...

After reading through several descriptions on the Web on how to build terrarium "furniture", we settled on the styrofoam + grout method. I wasn't quite convinced how well this would work, so we first built a test piece: A couple pieces of styrofoam glued together and then coated with sanded grout. We chose sanded grout because it is supposed to be less susceptible to develop cracks. Of course I mixed waaaaay to much grout, and most of that first batch ended up in the waste bin as leftovers when it had dried.

The grout coat  took a day to harden, but looks very solid now.

With that experience under our belt, we started building the real thing. Ah yes, working with styrofoam is so much fun. The little white balls are going everywhere! ...

Pretty quickly the left side was built up enough that we decided to test the fit in the terrarium.

Approved! From then on out we went into high productivity mode, and maybe went a little bit over the top.

The concept is pretty simple: a cave on the left, a overhang on the right, and two potential basking spots on the second level. While Artemis and Apollo are quite small today, they will add a foot in length over the next year, and gain quite a bit of weight, so everything needs to be solid and well supported. We built up the land forms from layers of styrofoam board of various thicknesses, and then attacked the edges with a knife and a basket rasp (more white balls flying around, the shop vac got a good workout).

Another test fit, and then we attacked the rear wall to add a pattern for visual interest, instead of having a plain flat background. The result can be seen at the top of this post. Next up is coating everything, except bottom and outside rear wall, with several thin layers of grout.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christmas Puzzle: Out in the Woods

I filled in some more sky, and then turned my attention to the hills over the trains. It's coming together now.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas Puzzle: Trains on Ice and Snow

I made pretty good progress today, about one third done. The snow is now spotless.
If I keep going at this rate, I will finish the puzzle before the end of the week.

Bearded Dragons Terrarium Pedestal

Santa Claus arranged for two new family members: Artemis and Apollo, two bearded dragons. They moved into our house with a large terrarium.

However, it turns out that the large terrarium will need more proper landscaping than Santa Claus had set up, before it becomes a nice living space for Artemis and Apollo. So for now the two live in temporary housing on our dining table.

While we hash out where exactly in the house the dragons are going to live permanently, Pascal and I built a sturdy pedestal for the large terrarium.  We used a bunch of wood left over from other projects (mostly 2x4's and plywood), so the pedestal has a somewhat utilitarian look, but that's alright with us.

We started by making a plan. Primarily, so that we both agreed on what we were talking about. The frame was to be made from 2x4's and legs attached with plywood gussets. Of course, the plan changed when construction began. Nevertheless, a little while later we had made something that had a faint resemblance with the thing in the drawing.

We tested stability and fit by putting the large terrarium on the frame, and realized that ~1mm tolerance when cutting wood is not tight enough for this kind of project, not even talking about the slight warp in the 2x4 beams. I'm still amazed that they're building whole houses from this stuff ...

However, since the terrarium is quite heavy from the glass alone, it pushed the wood into position and we just had a little wobble to deal with due to some slight remaining warping in the beams.

Looking pretty good already. The dragons are getting anxious to move into their new home, but we're not quite done yet.

Since the terrarium will be filled with sand and stones (easily another 150+ lbs), I was worried that the bottom glass pane won't be able to support the weight just from its edges where it is glued with the other glass panes. With the terrarium still in place we cut three more cross-members, raised them to the bottom glass pane, and screwed them to the frame, so that the terrarium floor is well supported.

Finally, we added a fir trim along the edges of the pedestal, so that the terrarium can't slide off in any direction. It's highly unlikely that it is going to move anyways, but the trim also hides some exposed rough cut surfaces of the wood we used.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Puzzle: Trains on Track

Yep, this puzzle is quite a bit harder than the previous one. In my spare time I again spent a few hours on and off on the puzzle today.

The tracks now have trains on them.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Puzzle

Apparently I managed to convince my family that I enjoy doing puzzles and we all know I like trains. There must have been sufficient approving grunts while I was working on recent projects, so what better present to give me for Christmas than to combine these two?

Lovingly selected by my family, what's not to like about this 1000 pieces puzzle? I will probably go mad over the 100's of pieces with roughly the same color (pieces with white snow, or dark-blueish locomotive, or green-darkish sky), or roughly the same pattern (bare tree forest).

I started off with finding most edge pieces, and then moved on to form piles of "roughly the same color or pattern" pieces. Since the tracks are thankfully a very distinctive color, and conveniently disect like-colored/patterned parts of the picture, I chose to start the puzzle with the tracks. Besides, it's always fun to build tracks and put trains on them...

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Monday, December 21, 2015

Emsingen Nebengebaeude: Painted

Current state of the outbuilding
I feel like I'm on a roll tonight...

After looking at the primed outbuilding for 10 seconds, I turned around and pulled out the paints. A short while later, I had the color matched to the wood siding of the goods shed (it's Testor's Model Master "Leather")

I decided to paint the doors green following the Wuerttemberg color scheme, though I'm likely going to tone them down a lot more.

Next, I cut the roof sections from a Vollmer roof sheet. Of course, I couldn't resist and managed to break the roof sheet in a pretty arc instead of making a straight snap. Thankfully, I was able to fix it up. Once painted it should be practically invisible.

Emsingen Nebengebaeude built

Today I put the remaining doors and windows on the Emsingen outbuilding.

First, I cut out the opening for the restroom windows.

Next, I cut and glued the window frame and fitted the wood siding.

The door got its remaining details, along with a good portion of swearing about glue going to where it wasn't supposed to. Yes, it would have helped if I had used less glue...

That concluded the raw construction of the outbuilding. Here are the views of the building.

I primed the outside with a thin coat of Testor's Light Sea Grey spray paint, which mercifully hides all the ugly glue spots. Time to start working on the roof.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Friday, December 18, 2015

Hallelujah Papermill: Operational

On the surface nothing changed at Hallelujah Paper since my last post. All of the work happened under the benchwork. Installing Tortoise switch machines, turnout decoders, and wiring everything together.

Tonight everything came together and we could operate the turnouts from the brand new soft panel for Hallelujah. A year after I started work, the paper mill has progressed enough to participate in Operations.

Tortoise switch machines underneath Hallelujah Paper
NCE Switch-It Mk2 stationary turnout decoders

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Welztalbahn: A few impressions ...

260 417 and 86 167 in the Emsingen engine servicing area
Tonight I continued the solo operations session I started a while ago.  After completing its work, 260 417 returned to the Emsingen servicing area where 86 167 is getting ready to take the last train of the day to Prechtal staging.

Earlier in the session 260 417 delivered a cut of cars to Talheim which still need to be distributed to their respective industry spots. I very much like the side-by-side view of advanced scenery and background work with stand-in cardboard low-relief buildings and unfinished walls in the photo below. This will be fixed in due time when I start work on the industrial district in Talheim.

A cut of cars sits on the siding in Talheim waiting for the Koef crew to start work

Saturday, December 12, 2015

German Holiday Market in Mountain View

The annual German Holiday Market in Mountain View is a fundraiser for the German International School of Silicon Valley.

All booths get false fronts to evoke the feeling of a real German Christmas market. Here's the booth of my favorite vendor.

Some evening shots after dusk. Great atmosphere and the crowd obviously was enjoying themselves, despite the long lines for food and drinks.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Railroad Quiz on Spiegel Online

Spiegel Online had a railroad quiz today. The Quiz is in German, and covers geography and locations in Germany. Of course, I had to try it and got
Sie haben 9 von 10 Punkten.
Abgefahren! Sie kennen sich wirklich verdammt gut aus auf deutschen Schienen zwischen Nord und Süd und Ost und West. Uns würde es nicht wundern, wenn Sie auch ein Faible für Kursbücher hegen und heimlich Fahrpläne auswendig lernen.
 Rough translation:
You got 9 out of 10 points.

Great! You know German rails damn well between North and South and East and West. We wouldn't be surprised, if you'd like studying "Kursbuecher" (the complete schedules of German railways), and secretly memorize train schedules.
Hmmm in fact, I do like digging through my 1979 edition of the Kursbuch for Baden-Wuerttemberg, and I do know the schedule of passenger trains (Caltrain and Amtrak) through south San Jose by heart...


Riding in a Caltrain gallery-style car yesterday and today evoked memories from a job I had with a startup in South San Francisco, and the associated 2 hour one-way Caltrain + shuttle bus commute (door to door) between home and the office.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015


One last view of the Bay Bridge from the office, and off to the elevator to meet co-workers for dinner. Hey, look at that. Another display that crashed. Though I suspect this one has a bad disk, and thus doesn't manage to boot.

Food at the Slanted Door in the Ferry Building was excellent, and because the group was too big for our reservation we ended up sitting outside on the patio with a view of the Bay Bridge, and being able to hear each other...