Saturday, September 26, 2020

NMRAx: "Remote Operations at Silicon Valley Lines"

Today Dave Falkenburg and I presented a clinic on "Remote Operations at Silicon Valley Lines" at the NMRAx Virtual Convention. The session was live-streamed on Facebook and Youtube.

Regular readers of this blog will recognize some of the content of the presentation. There's plenty of new content as well, so I hope it was interesting in either case.

Here is the raw recording of the presentation of today's NMRAx linked to the beginning of our talk.

TSG Multimedia: Remote Operating Session Concepts

I've been waiting for a couple weeks now to be able to write this post. John Abatecola from TSG multimedia visited Silicon Valley Lines in August and filmed segments for this video before and during an operations session at Silicon Valley Lines. I explain various aspects of how we add remote operators into operating sessions at SVL, including an overview of the hardware, software, and systems setup, as well as pitfalls. This allows us to minimize the number of people in the layout room to enable social distancing.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Virtual Crew Lounge Discussion: Modeling During the Pandemic

I'm participating in a TSG multimedia virtual crew lounge discussion tomorrow afternoon at 4pm PDT. I'm planning to join from the Welztalbahn layout room. Camera, laptop, and props are in place. Looking forward to an interesting discussion.

Update 20/Sept/2020:
With the extra light I put on top of the garage cabinet it was getting toasty in the layout room. I very much enjoyed the discussion with the other panelists. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Fusili, Pancetta, Broccoli in Cream & Cheese Sauce

Dinner tonight turned out much better than I expected. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Wednesday Cake


I woke up today and had a craving for cake. Marmorkuchen would be nice. Instead of chocolate powder I found chocolate chips in the kitchen cabinet. That'll do. I could have used more.

The cake turned out a bit dark on the outside, but everyone approved.

Saturday, September 12, 2020


I'm using the opportunity that there is space in the garage to set up the Untergroeningen branch of the Welztalbahn. Today was the first time that I set up Slim Staging with the backdrop and the turnout control panel connected to the module.

The Welztalbahn hasn't run for almost a year and the modular extension so far hasn't run in operations at all. The track cleaning train has some work to do ...

Friday, September 11, 2020

Decluttering Under-layout Storage

Open floorspace below the Welztalbahn

The Welztalbahn layout frame is supported by only 4 legs, one in each corner of the layout. When I built it, I wanted to minimize obstructions under the layout to maintain maximum flexibility for moving about under the layout, as well as storage. That turned out to be a good idea. However, over time storage took over all open floor space under the layout. In the last year it got so bad, that I'd have to remove boxes from the layout room just to run a train. The activation energy to do something with the layout became too high and I didn't do anything, apart from storing more stuff in the layout room. Instead I focused on the Untergroeningen segments, which was good an enjoyable, but I do want to operate again at some point, too.

To reign into the clutter I had to move all the stuff stored under the layout somewhere else, sort through it, combine and optimize and then put it back. Which I did this week. I didn't take a photo before I started, but the photo above was taken when everything stored here had moved elsewhere. I used the opportunity to rearrange supplies, kits, project boxes, etc. to meet the storage needs I have today, instead of from 10 years ago when the layout was under construction.

Compact long-term storage

I'll have to see how well this is going to work, and I may end up rearranging a bit more, but for now I'm very happy that things I need access to are within easy reach, while other stuff is safely packed away.

Projects are easily accessible

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Pear Cake

Turning this ...

... into this.

I made my usual apple pie recipe, but used pears instead. Skinned pears are very slippery...

We can see the sun today


Still can't smell any smoke.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Mordor Smoke

Coyote Valley near Bailey Ave at 10:30am, looking West

Smoke from North Bay fires as now drifted south at high altitudes above the Marine Layer. Hence the sun is not burning off the fog. Sky, clouds, and light have an orange tint.

Interestingly, the air quality is almost good today with an AQI PM2.5 around 70. It's likely to get worse again through the rest of the week when the wind picks up.

Sunday, September 06, 2020


104.5 Fahrenheit. A late summer heat wave on Labor Day weekend.

No air movement. Smoke in the air. It's not healthy outside.

Friday, September 04, 2020

RSD5: Decaling for SVL

On the locations where the new decals would go I applied MicroGloss and let it dry. Then carefully and slowly, one after the other, for each decal I applied MicroSet while the decal wets in some water, apply the decal, wick the water from under the decal, let it dry a little bit, and carefully apply drops of MicroSol so that the decal softens and adheres to the contours of the locomotive body for a painted-on look. The MicroSol is particularly important for the large logo on the doors of the long hood. It usually takes multiple MicroSol applications for the decal to soften enough.

I'm working on both locomotives at the same time, so that I can continue with one locomotive, while the other one dries.

Once the decals were done, I taped the windows to prep for Dullcoat and weathering.

Morning Hike

Another Friday morning hike on the Fortini loop trail with friends.

The air is still crisp and clear. The smoke is gone and Mt. Unumhum is visible in the distance.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Lostentry Blog auf Deutsch

Ich schreibe hier überwiegend auf Englisch. Für meine deutschen Leser gibt es jetzt ein neues Feature: Das Lostentry Blog auf Deutsch. Einfach oben rechts auf den Link klicken und der englische Text wird automatisch auf Deutsch übersetzt.

Auf der übersetzten Seite sind oben rechts Schaltflächen zum Umschalten zwischen Übersetzung und Original.

Auch wenn die Technik beeindruckend ist, kann die maschinelle Übersetzung natürlich nicht an die Qualität eines menschlichen Übersetzers ran kommen, gerade auch wegen meiner Vorliebe für zuweilen blumige Wortspielchen. Ich hoffe aber, dass es die automatische Übersetzung einfacher macht meinem Blog zu folgen.

Apple Prunes Cake

Both work and hobby projects in the last few weeks required substantial amounts of screen time, so I made a cake for a change. We had left over Italian prunes. Not enough for a whole cake, but certainly enough for a different take on my usual apple cake.

For entertainment while baking, I watched a cab view video of a Metronom run from Uelzen to Hamburg Hbf. Kind of ironic when complaining about too much screen time, I know ...

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Weekend Smoke and Sun


SVL: Silicon Valley Lines Remote Ops Session


Another socially distanced ops session at Silicon Valley Lines. Most of the engineers participated from home using our cab view camera cars, and there was only a skeleton crew in the layout room so that we can socially distance properly. 

The Dash-9 dummy unit leading train 215-1 has a camera in the nose, but only a very small battery, so we set it up to continuously charge the locomotive battery from a regular USB battery bank mounted in a well car. All our tunnels are sized for double stack container trains. The battery pack in the well car is slightly higher than that, but fits everywhere. Sometimes with less than a quarter inch of space to spare ...

I spent the day mostly in front of a screen tending to Internet, cameras, and remote engineers. I tried to play with the settings so that we could live stream the session to Youtube. However, I couldn't get a stable stream out, as the video conference with engineers, video processing of incoming streams, and recording the session overwhelmed my laptop. I ended up cutting back to the bare minimum serving only the remote engineers, no live stream, no recording. That worked but left me unsatisfied at the end of the session. More fine-tuning is needed along with a bigger Internet uplink.

We also recorded footage for an upcoming video about our approach to remote operations.

This was a long day, at times stressful, but a lot of fun.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Smoke in the Mountains


The CZU fire complex in the Santa Cruz Mountains is still burning and contributing to bad air there and here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020


Huh? What happened to my "Halt für Rangierfahrten" sign?

Why is this dude laying on his back?

Who pee'd and poo'ed on my signal?

Aha! Fingerprints of the culprit.

For the first time in 12 years in the garage, the Welztalbahn was visited by a rat this week. That's a visitor I prefer to not have in the layout room. I see a deep cleaning session in the near future.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

ESU Lokprogrammer

A little while ago, I ordered a Piko BR221. Very nice model, but doesn't come with sound, so I also ordered a Loksound5 and asked the dealer to program it with the V200.1 sound package. Usually that works flawlessly, but not this time. I got an empty Loksound5 with only the default sounds, and a note that it was programmed. Urgh. No point to send this back to Germany.

To fix the programming I borrowed an ESU LokProgrammer from another ETE member. The unit had been rarely used and mostly sat on a shelf since 2011.

The LokProgrammer comes with a serial port. It took me a while to hash out problems with the USB/Serial cable that was in the box. ESU ships USB/Serial cables with a chipset from FTDI, but the cable I had came up as Prolific and the driver refused to function. I eventually determined that this was not an original ESU cable and tried using an USB/Serial cable with a FTDI chipset I had at hand. That worked and the LokProgrammer software was able to detect the LokProgrammer. The program's UI is functional, but not exactly user friendly or logical. It feels like 20+ year old software ... which it is.

Nevertheless, 30 minutes later the BR221 had the sounds programmed properly, and when firing it up I got the rumbling sounds of the two Maybach 12 cylinder diesels. 

More Smoke


The air quality is going downhill as the day goes on. Breakfast on the patio was quite nice, but the afternoon air is moving into very unhealthy territory with an AQI > 200.  The Mercury News had a very appropriate front page today.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

RSD-5: From CNW to SVL

[ RSD5 posts ]

The RSD-3/4/5 is one of my favorite American locomotives. Alco sound and the very distinctive cab shape come together for an unique locomotive. Atlas recently came out with RSD-5's painted and lettered for the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad with a built-in LokSound Select decoder. The CNW herald is only on the cab sides, and there is small CNW lettering on each end. A perfect starting point for relettering the locomotive for SVL.

Tonight I first played with the locomotive on the roller stand. Sounds good.

Next I took 1665 and its cousin 1667 over to the work bench and used a glass fiber pencil to carefully scrape off the CNW markings.


Finally, I mixed a green tone that's reasonably close to the CNW green from Modelmaster Coach Green, Engine Black, and Prussian Blue, and fixed up the shell areas where I scraped off not only the markings, but also the paint underneath. The brush marks are visible on the shell, but once the new decals are applied, and I weathered the locomotive, they'll disappear among the other gunk.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Smoke, Not Fog


Well, that's odd. Early morning encounter: What is all this ash doing on my car? We're downwind from the fires in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Smoke and ashes are drifting our way. The sky has an unhealthy yellow tint. Shortly after 7am, the sun is struggling to show its face.

On the way home I'm taking this grand view of the foothills east of San Jose from the 101/280 interchange. No filter. The sky was this yellow.

In the evening the air was a bit better and we took the dog for a short walk through the neighborhood.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Smoke and Sun


Several fires are burning in Santa Clara County started by lightning strikes from the unusually strong recent thunderstorms. The smoke creates a very weird and eerie mood outside.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

SVL: Done with Surveying


Over the last few weeks I recreated the raw track plans for Silicon Valley Lines. This took much longer than I anticipated.

To keep my sanity I drew the plans with a small set of turnouts (Peco Code 83 #5, #6, #8, plus a couple curved turnouts). This avoids having to identify the wide variety of turnouts from all major manufacturers, including some custom-built, found on a 20 year old layout. To my delight the plans capture the look and feel of the layout very well, even though there are some minor inaccuracies and simplifications here and there.

The layout is so big that I pushed RailModeller Pro to its limits. Using the parallel track tool slowed down considerably as I approached 1000 pieces of track per level. I worked on the two main levels in separate layout files to keep the tool functional.

Technically, Bakersfield staging is still missing, but that is easily added at a later time.

I'm taking a break on this before I consider making the plans look pretty ...