Friday, October 30, 2020

SVL: Transitional Ops October

Silicon Valley Lines ran another operations session with remote operators and a socially distanced skeleton crew in the layout room. This time around the technology worked smoothly. The upgraded Internet connection performed well and we had sufficient bandwidth to run video conference sessions and Youtube Live stream in parallel. The screenshot above shows the cab view perspectives from passenger train 18 in Igo controlled by a club member in the UK as its getting passed by passenger train 111. High priority train 104 is holding in Jacksonville for train 18 to get moving again. Meanwhile train 102 is ready to depart in Windsor pending assignment of a remote operator. 

Two local operators took care of switching assignments. An on-site brakeman worked with remote operators to assist with easy switching chores, or if there were derailments. The Nowheres Yardmaster set up or broke down trains. I worked the A/V job and helped out with brakeman duties as necessary. I spent most of the evening in front of computer screens.

I went back to the control stand setup I used in June, since that proofed to be the approach with the least problems. The 17" MacBook Pro in the middle is running OBS, acts as the hub for all the cameras, and feeds the layout views to the participants on Google Meet via the OBS Virtual Camera, streams to Youtube Live, and keeps a local recording of the session. This laptop also bridges the audio from Meet into the Youtube stream and the recording.
The old Dell Inspiron on the right is also logged in to Google Meet and acts as the bridge for the FRS radios. After lots of trial and error I determined that the TRRS audio socket on the MacBook Pro does not activate the microphone input when I plug in the radio, probably due to the radio output not matching expected impedance. The Dell has separate microphone and speaker sockets and doesn't try to do anything fancy. This setup also allowed me to wear an ear bud for radio communication, while at the same time listen on the video conference with another ear bud and debug problems bridging the audio on the fly.
Finally, the 15" MacBook Pro on the left is set to the Youtube Live Control Room. I can observe stream quality, concurrent viewers, etc. as well as watch and add comments on the live stream.

The recording of the live stream is linked below. Watch it on the Youtube site to get a playback of the live comments, too.

The technology worked. What can we do better next time? Watching the stream it's pretty obvious that we need to be a bit more formal in our communications protocol to allow for effective radio traffic.
The lag between the FRS radio VOX feature to enable / disable the radio transmitter is causing confusion. 

For the next session and the Open House in November we will need to think some more about how having a host for the event.

Overall, this was a fun session. We had many participants both on the live stream and the video conference, and I'm particularly pleased that with the upgraded Internet capacity a lot of the the technical problems we had in earlier sessions got addressed.

Mt. Umunhum Hike

Today's hike takes us to Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve, better known as Mt. Unumhum, the mountain with that big cube on top, visible from all of the South Bay.

This used to be a military installation with a big radar antenna on top providing the U.S.  between 1957 and 1980 with early warnings if invaders were to arrive from across the Pacific. Modern technology has rendered the radar station on the mountain useless and the military left in the early 1980's. The Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District acquired the land. After years of cleanup, the mountain opened for public use in 2017.

Because we had never hiked this trail before, didn't know how steep it was, and didn't want to make this a day hike, we decided to leave our cars at the Bald Mountain parking lot, car pool to the top of Mt. Unumhum, and hike from the top down to the parking lot. The trail has an elevation difference of 1150 ft and is 3.8 miles long.

The view from the top in the shadow of the cube is gorgeous, but obviously having a clear day would help.

The trail is mostly shaded for the upper 3 miles, many switch backs with an easy, but steady elevation gain.

On the lower elevations, there's less shade, but still nice views.

A very nice hike. Next time we'll do it in reverse and hike up to the top.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Big Trees & Pacific 2600 at Henry Cowell State Park

The Beach Train returns from Santa Cruz to Roaring Camp in Felton and has almost reached its destination. Ex-ATSF CF7 #2600 is leading today's train.

San Lorenzo River Bridge at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

The San Lorenzo River bridge at Henry Cowell Redwoods is part of the original rail route from San Jose over the Santa Cruz Mountains to Santa Cruz opened in 1875. The current steel through truss bridge was built in 1909. Today the route is owned and operated by Roaring Camp.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Hiking Fortini Trail

Most of the usual crew got together today for a round on Fortini Trail in Santa Teresa County Park. Some of the switchbacks can be seen in the photo. below. It was a perfect day, nice and cool, yet sunny, with nice views. What else can you ask for?

When we got back to the parking lot we watched a group of fire engines from Milpitas, San Jose, Santa Clara, and Palo Alto. They were prepositioned in the park due to the bone-dry conditions and high winds warning this weekend, so that they can respond to any fire quickly. Since there was no active fire, they took the opportunity to train together, and practiced driving their engines in steep terrain.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Reading Material

These days cross-Atlantic trips are a rarity. We used the opportunity of my wife's family visit to bring along some of the items that had accumulated at my parent's house over the last 9 months. I now have plenty of stuff to read over the upcoming winter ..

Zugschlusssignal (2)

A week ago I showed an actual prototype Zugschlusssignal ("end of train signal"). Here's the HO version attached to a short train leaving Emsingen.

The effect is very subtle, but significantly increases realism. Making these is an extremely fiddly task. I hope to get better at it with more practice. The etching is from The etched parts need to be folded and painted. To mount on a car, the part merely gets hung over the buffers and pushed towards the car body. That makes the mount pretty much disappears from view as it lines up with the black running gear of the car. Painting the red and white signal cleanly is difficult. Even though the signal has etched paint guides and I'm using a toothpick instead of a brush, my painting accuracy needs more work. There's plenty of opportunity to practice: I have 20 parts, with 2 signals each, front and back, so I'll need to paint 80 signals... I should have ordered the decal sheet.

Friday, October 16, 2020

JMRI WebThrottle on Steroids

I'm toying with integrating a video view into the JMRI Web Throttle. This is currently very much a proof of concept. After an evening of messing with JavaScript, which I haven't done in many years, it's working reasonably well. The throttle pane is the box on the left (or on the right, depending on personal preferences). The video window is in the middle under the function buttons. The function buttons are basically useless for a remote operator. You can't see the locomotive and you can't hear it either.

The idea is to use this interface for remote operations in situations where I want to limit which locomotives remote operators are able to control, e.g. in a Virtual Open House setup. This is to limit potential abuse by visitors from the Internet, where it is easy to hide. Since it is difficult to kick people off a public Web site without shutting it down for everyone, I'd like to avoid giving people full control of the layout through the Withrottle API. The Web Throttle is nice because it only gives access to locomotives that are included in the JMRI engine roster. By controlling what's in the roster, I can control which engines are shown to to remote operators.

The video stream currently comes directly from the camera. I need to find a way to proxy the video stream to the engineer to mimize lag, while providing an overview of what's going on for everybody else.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Outdoor Office Companion

These days, due to COVID-19, I'm working from home. I'm trying to spend at least some time working from the backyard patio each day. This guy and his friend keep me company all day long.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

SVL: Annotated Track Plans

For the last couple days I've been working on annotating the track plans for Silicon Valley Lines with industries, buildings, scenery features, etc. in preparation for publication. That was a lot of work, but I finally got it done tonight. Just in time for the deadline I was given. Phew.


The Zugschlusssignal ("end of train signal") must be mounted at the end of the last car of a train. It is made from metal and there are usually two such markers at the end of the train. Station agents and operators along the tracks observe passing trains and note the complete passing once they see the Zugschlusssignal.

This marker is commonly used on freight trains, while passenger cars usually have lighted red end of train markers.

Wouldn't it be interesting to include proper placement of such signal in the operations scheme of our model railroads? 

Monday, October 05, 2020

Ops session with the modules

After the arrival of Dg 6946 in Horb (active staging) the local switcher is sorting cars

Among many other things, over the last few weeks I worked out an operations plan for the Welztalbahn with the modular extension. Tonight I tested out the first part of that hampered by many technical issues. I need to operate the layout more often and more regularly.

Thursday, October 01, 2020

The Orange Haze is Back

The smoke from the fires in the North Bay his turning our skies orange again. Not as bad as a few weeks ago, but bad enough. Yesterday evening we could smell smoke while walking the dog.

Sunset in Coyote Valley