Thursday, September 28, 2017

Weathering Maerklin 4694

I picked up this model of Kbs 443 stake car for a couple bucks at a 2nd hand store when I was in Germany the last time. What I didn't notice at the time was that the car deck was buckling because someone must have hit it hard enough that the weight sandwiched between the plastic layers for the deck and the frame had become dislocated. When I took it out of the box and put it on track, it was obvious that the car geometry was off. It took complete disassembly of the car and removal of two bent metal clips to get that straightened out.

While I had it on the workbench I figured it would make a good candidate for a light weathering experiment with PanPastels. I started with the deck, mucked it up a bit with various shades of brown, umbra, and burned sienna, then went around the outside with burned sienna to both tone down the stock color of the car, as well as take off some of the plastic shine. Finally, I applied umbra around the axles, bearings, and springs.

It took me longer to reseat the weight and fix the buckling deck than to get to this state of weathering. This is good enough for my purposes with this car. I'll seal it with a flat clear coat and it's good to go.

Ubiquiti Networks Unify AP-AC-Pro and MacBook Pro (Retina) with OS X El Capitan

My Unifi AP-PRO died last weekend with a whimper (*).

I liked the relative uneventfulness of the AP-PRO deployment, so while my RMA request made it through Ubiquiti's Support department, I ordered a AP-AC-PRO, which arrived today. Plugged in and configured within a couple minutes, it just worked.

... well, except for my MacBook Pro, ... and only in the living room. Despite the MacBook Pro showing strong wireless signal, a ping to the default gateway got 100% packet loss. What the heck? Walking around the house, the Wifi signal as reported by the Mac was consistently strong, but as soon as I walk into the living room I get 100% packet loss, while maintaining that strong Wifi signal.
I had occasional episodes of this behavior with the AP-PRO before. However, with the AP-AC-PRO it's reproducible 100% of the time.

After reading lots and lots of MacBook Pro vs. Unifi AP horror stories from 2 to 5 years ago in various forums, the one advice that helped was to consider 2.4GHz interference,  channel changes, and the MacBook Pro radio backing off too much. I created a 5GHz-only Wifi network on the Unifi controller for the MacBook Pro to use. The result: Strong Wifi on the MacBook Pro with no packet loss anywhere in the house.

Next, I'm planning to experiment with the band steering feature on the AP-AC-PRO. Maybe that will make the second SSID unnecessary.

(*) It turned out that the POE injector is bad, while the AP-PRO is just fine. A replacement POE injector should arrive tomorrow.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Panther Beach

Just before Davenport, north of Santa Cruz, lies Panther Beach. Access to the beach requires climbing down the cliff in what's basically a dry creek bed.

The currents are very strong here, but that doesn't bother the birds.

It was high tide, access to Seven Mile Beach was difficult, and we saw a bunch of people get very wet.

There was some good wave action.

A pretty beach and a nice place to hang out.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Standalone Timesaver puzzle using Raspberry Pi3 + JMRI + Engine Driver

The Timesaver module forms the heart of the Greenly Northern, my office layout. Today I pulled it from storage where it had been since a desk move left me with no space to set up the trains to much sadness in the team. My current desk location has sufficient space along the window sill to do something with trains again. I cleaned the tracks, rearranged electrical hook-ups a bit, and a short while later the little GE 70-toner was up and running again.

For the puzzle web page to work, I need a computer nearby. Everyone has a smart phone, but I can't guarantee Internet connectivity to my server at home. Also, many switching moves take time, so the screen saver turns on while we run the train and having to unlock the phone all the time to plan the next move is annoying.

What if I used the phone to operate the train? Been there, done that. JMRI  and Engine Driver are well-known solutions for that. I already have the NCE USB adapter for use with my NCE PowerCab. Connect that to a computer and Wifi, and we're done. However, I can't just connect anything I want to the office network at work.

So, the whole thing needs to be stand-alone. The Raspberry Pi 3 with built-in Wifi came out last year and fills that gap nicely.

Here's a quick overview of what I did. If you are unsure how to do any of the steps: I generally followed instructions I found on the Web as needed.

I started with the Raspberry Pi 3, installed Raspian and ran through the usual system upgrades. Next I installed the hostapd and dnsmasq packages. I switched wlan0 to static configuration, and configured hostapd to use wlan0 for the Access Point and serve up the SSID "GreenlyNorthern". I configured dnsmasq to serve DHCP on wlan0. It's a good idea to use a private IP range, e.g. for wlan0. After a reboot I had my own private Wifi network hosted on the Raspberry Pi 3.

Moving on to JMRI. I downloaded the lastest production version of JMRI, ran PanelPro and configured it to use the NCE USB interface, as well as start both the Web Server and WiThrottle Server automatically. I added the switcher engine to the JMRI engine roster, taking care to make the function button assignments reflect reality. I added JMRI/PanelPro to the program list in /home/pi/.config/lxsession/autostart, so that JMRI starts as soon as the user pi logs in after boot, which is the default behavior for a Raspberry Pi setup.

On the next reboot I could take my smart phone, connect to the GreenlyNorthern wifi network, start Engine Driver, select the Greenly Northern layout, select the switcher engine from the roster, and control the switcher from the smart phone.

The last piece of the puzzle was adding the Timesaver puzzle web page to the Engine Driver Web pane. I installed lighttpd on the Raspberry Pi 3 and configured it to run the little Python script that produces the puzzle Web page. That required adding a scriptalias entry to map /cgi-bin/ to /usr/lib/cgi-bin where I copied my script, and assign /usr/bin/python to run .py scripts. You can enable the debian documentation config snippet in lighttpd to get the settings, or just add them to the cgi config snippet under /etc/lighttpd/.

Finally, I added a link to the puzzle script (e.g. , there's no DNS in this wifi network) to the main web page served up by the JMRI Web Server.

Next I changed the preferences for Engine Driver on my phone to show the Web pane on the throttle window and only use one throttle. Engine Driver loads the JMRI web page by default, so a tap on the puzzle link is all that's needed to get the puzzle shown on the lower half of the Engine Driver screen. The upper half has the throttle.

I'm using an old Android phone as throttle in this picture. I don't know whether a similar trick can be done with the WiThrottle app on the iPhone.
The general approach works just as well with JMRI's web throttle from any Web-capable device, by embedding the puzzle on a web throttle page. Use e.g. an iframe, but pretty much anything goes, including creating the puzzle generator in Javascript.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Coyote Creek

The summer is over. Coyote Creek is back to its normal flow for this time of year.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Taking the train

After a team dinner tonight, I took Caltrain home for a change.
Still the same. Can't wait for electrification.

Contrary to most American passenger trains Caltrain is usually on time (unless it's not), and while old, the trains are well maintained and clean.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Kitchen Faucet

Our old kitchen faucet wasn't that terrible, but it had a few problems. Today I replaced it with a Moen Arbor with Motionsense. The whole thing is pretty easy to install, with control unit mounting under the sink. Franziska helped with the installation.

It looks really nice and feels solid (despite various plastic parts).

Of course, the real fun part are the motion sensors:

Fun at Silicon Valley Lines

Bayshore Harbor. The water is green and the bridge is back.
Murf in Nowheres
Climbers at Mt. Nicholls
The main line near the foot of the water falls at Mt. Nicholls. 
AC-12 4275 cab-forward in Victoria
The Bakersfield staging "Mega-Drawer"

Saturday, September 16, 2017

TSG multimedia at Silicon Valley Lines today

TSG multimedia was at Silicon Valley Lines today to film the layout. This was a very productive, yet tiring, day and I'm very much looking forward to the finished video. Stay tuned!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Weather, too

Tatjana and I went into the hills in Santa Teresa County Park to try and shoot some lightning. Possibly successfully.

"ARRRRRGH, that flash is bright!"
We got up there relatively late, so we caught the storm only from behind and didn't catch a lot of nice photos. This is one of the nice ones. (Photo credit: Tatjana)


While there's a massive hurricane on the East Coast, Californians are getting excited about thunderstorms.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum

The San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum is located in the former freight house of the SLO station. A very nice railroad museum with neat local exhibits, like this reconstruction of the freight house agent desk.

A restored caboose and former club/diner/observation car are outside located on a track outside the museum. They also are building a very nice model railroad depicting scenes of the narrow gauge Pacific Coast Railway between Avila and San Luis Obispo, as well as the Southern Pacific through San Luis Obispo between Santa Margarita, CA and Surf, CA. While a good part of the layout is under construction, multiple scenes on the lower level are (mostly) finished.

I very much liked the Pacific Coast Ry scenes around Avila. The backdrop paintings are exceptionally well done.

PCRy train on the wharf at Avila Beach
Pilings! A lot of work and patience required. 
I spent quite a bit of time chatting with one of the docents there. When I inquired about their plans for operations, he showed me around behind the scenes, and over chatting I completely forgot to take more pictures. Here are two more scenes I photographed on the lower level before I distracted myself.

A nice museum. A nice model railroad. Very nice people. Very much worth a visit, if you are in the San Luis Obispo area.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Dave Parks' Cumberland West - Evitts Tower

I'm working Evitts Tower tonight. The phone system is a critical part of the job. If and when I ever build a large layout, I want phones.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Dirty Air, Pretty Sunrise

We're having a heat wave with limited winds, which traps smog in valley. Additionally, smoke from the wild fires in Oregon and Northern California is drifting into the area. The result is a very colorful sunrise.