Saturday, November 14, 2020

SVL: Fall Open House

Remotely controlled train 4837 entering Kaos Jct on a green signal

The Silicon Valley Lines Fall Open House is in the box. I had a lot of fun, but as such events go, it was also stressful. The video-enabled Webthrottle worked well for remote visitors, once we got over a major mistake I made when sending the throttle URLs to the first visitor group.

After that I got more into a rhythm: Send emails with personalized throttle links to confirmed visitors, have them join on the video conference, give introduction talk, hand off to train master, and while the session is running work on the next batch of emails.

At the Audio/Video control stand preparing email notifications for the next session (Photo Credit : Josh)

We had planned for running a round-trip session every 20 minutes. That was a bit too aggressive, since it takes a train about 15 minutes to drive the Open House loop. We had pre-staged trains around the layout, so 3 visitors could start with running their train right away. However, 5 minutes was not enough to get operators on the video conference, familiarize them with the throttle control, and oriented on the layout.  Including an occasional break for the crew would have been nice, too. When we do this again, we should clock the departures on half hour increments, but otherwise can use the same process. 

I lost all audio output on the main computer controlling the Youtube Live stream for a while, and couldn't get the audio working again, so I substituted with a room microphone. However, audio quality on that microphone was very poor. Now -- with some distance -- I'm thinking I should have restarted the computer at the cost of dropping the live stream for a while. That would have been better than having the live stream with no usable audio.

Train 161 rounding the curve at Bayshore

The crew in the layout room was great. The cameras and the trains worked really well. The DSL connection held up well with only minimal drops affecting quality, even though we had the upstream bandwidth maxed out at times. 

We learned a lot during this Open House, which was probably the first time ever multiple remote operators ran trains on a club layout in parallel with individual video feedback. We have a long list of things we can improve on, but we'll get to that another time.

As we shut down the layout in the afternoon and closed up shop, everyone was tired, but happy. I got only positive feedback from visitors during and after their sessions. This was a long day, but totally worth it.

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