Thursday, February 21, 2008

A new N scale Layout

Well I've been thinking a lot about what I want to do with my own little model railroad. While my current BendTrak modules are nice, they are big, flat, the track work is on the poorer side and they loud while running (gluing the track down was NOT a good idea). I've been toying with the idea to build a 4 foot straight module that would go between my current modules, but after evaluating the track work I just can't justify that. The track work is bad in some places and needs major repair (more like rebuilding). So I am left with the option to rebuild the two existing balloon modules or to work on something completely new.

At this point in time I do not have any local hobby groups building modules, and the one person I knew who was building modules has moved away and was using a different standard than me anyway. After seeing some of the great non module displays that folks are making in the class I’m taking, and in Model Railroader magazine I’m leaning toward a small (3x5 foot/ 91x152 cm) semi permanent layout. Now the question is do I model part of the NEC to justify having the GG1 when it comes out, do I model a part of the PRR main line or do I do a Pennsy themed freelanced layout?

I think I’ll make up some sample track plans in XTrkCad and see what works.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Paper Train?

While sitting in on the model railroading class I have been taking I learned that during WW2 the Lionel company released a paper train for around the Christmas tree. This sounded neat and I went looking for such a thing, I was also searching for a cheap Acela model also as I just don't have the cash to pick up the Bachman one right now (who knows maybe I'll luck out for my birthday). Those two searches converged to one place:

While not the Lionel train (although the above picture is showing the N-scale paper version next to my Lionel Pennsy set), and not a running N-scale Acela this was sure a fun little project. The Instructions are very detailed and very well written, and with a good hobby knife and some craft white glue this went together quickly. I would say that the first power unit took me a bit more than an hour to complete, and the remaining cars all took me much less time. In fact the more I built the faster I got. I built the final 4 cars in just a couple hours by pre-scoring the parts, cutting them out, and finishing with the glue.

In the end I wound up with a very nice display piece and several evenings of entertaining projects that kept me off the laptop. All in all I can't complain about it. Time well spent.

Wooden Train Layout

So I've wanted to build one of those wooden railways layouts for my kids (you know Thomas the Tank Engine/Brio). I remember when I was a kid seeing those in the stores and wishing I could have something like. Well now I can, although I'll let the kids play with it to.

The Table

My Father-In-Law built the table for the kids a while back, it's a nicely made wooden table with just a plywood top and what I think are oak sides. It's survived my three kids for at least three years now. It was originally built to hold a wooden train but it was very useful for other stuff too. So we never wound up installing the wooden track onto the table. The end result was that the kids ripped it all apart and after a few days we would shove it into a box and say screw it.

The Track

After a quick trip to a few toy/hobby stores that all had fixed wooden track layouts my wife one evening setup a few loops of track onto the floor for the kids to use. That lasted about an hour before the youngest had the whole thing destroyed. My wife rebuilt it to surprise the kids the next morning. To none of our surprise once again my youngest destroyed it within a few minutes. So I decided that since they liked it so much it was time to stick the track to the top of the table. This of course involved a few trips to the hobby stores to pick up those few missing track pieces and some glue. After reading the back of the Gorilla/Rhino glue I wasn't sure I wanted to use that in the house (and being all of 8 degrees F outside I figured working in the open garage wasn't going to be pleasant either), so I opted to try out some plain old yellow wood glue. Which worked at first but only lasted a few days before, yet again, my youngest destroyed the whole thing.

Finally, I broke down and started using the Rhino glue. It didn't have that bad of an order to it and it certainly seems to hold well. The only downside is that you have to keep clamping the whole thing down (I used cans and jars as weights) so that it can cure properly. We also used some kids paint to cover the wood with greens and blues and once I am sure that they can't destroy this version I'll start gluing down the trees, buildings and signs for them.

Monday, February 04, 2008

I just upgraded from Vista to XP!!

So I got my new laptop a few months ago, it's a work PC that I use everyday. It came with Windows Vista Business on it, and I have to say that as doubtful as I was of Vista I do like it. Vista can be best summed up by saying "It's Pretty". While there are other great features of the OS, there are a lot more detractors in my opinion.

Visual Studio doesn't work right
How do you sugar coat this one? Microsoft's own IDE doesn't work well with Vista. I managed to get mine to work, but you have to make sure to always run it as an Administrator. For some reason there is no OS patch to fix this! While this wasn't a huge problem for me as I do have admin rights to my notebook, I have a lot of friends at other companies who don't have those privileges on their local PCs. In fact most users at my company except I.S. don't have even power user rights to their PCs. In this setting Vista just won't work for IT.

2003 Server Admin Pack
Don't bother. It's not really worth the headache. I got AD Users and Computers working (mostly, don't bother with Exchange). In the end though it was just easier to RDP out to the server and do my work there.

On the lighter side I like Microsoft Train Simulator. It's fun. It was also written in 2001 and requires less than 128Meg of RAM. Why on earth does it run slowly on my Duel Core laptop, with 2 GIGS of RAM and more VRAM than was ever thought of in 2001! Why? It's not to the point of being unplayable but it's annoying in that it's so choppy.

File Copy
If you watch your network monitor you will quickly see that as soon as your PC starts playing any sound files your network bandwidth drops to less than 10% capacity. I run on a Gigabit network, why doesn't my laptop take advantage of that? Oh, it doesn't because Microsoft thought it more important that my MP3s sound good than I be able to copy an ISO image to the server in a timely fashion. Oh well, at least I can listen to the latest Big and Rich while I copy my files.

I checked out my laptop when it first came from the factory, granted it had a bunch of utilities from Dell pre-installed, it would idle after boot at around 1200 Megs of RAM in use. I understand that this is some sort of Pre-Cache method to make sure that the apps I need stay in memory, but it caused my PC to seem to do a lot of swapping. The HDD ran nearly constantly. Under XP with all the Dell tools re-installed the PC idled at 380 Meg

In the end what pushed me over the edge was a co-worker of mine saying that he loved his Vista laptop, and that he had very few problems with it. So I asked what issues have you had?

"Well iTunes crashes a lot and my MS Keyboard causes a BSOD when it gets plugged in. I live with that because I love how it looks. If XP could look like Vista I'd switch in a minute."

This is the guy who loves vista in my office. All that he really liked was the Look, and our Network Admins hate it and don't want it on the network at all. So I started poking around for XP to Vista total conversions. I went with a Brico Pack from called Vista Inspirat Ultimate 2. It's neat in that when turned on to Ultimate it really makes XP look just like Vista. It's really missing on a few things and there are other utilities that make up for that.

Visual Tool Tip gives you the Vista like window icons when you mouse over the task bar. VSE makes the XP Start Menu minic the Vista version. While cool I did not use it as I liked the XP menu, the only thing I really miss is the search box built into the vista menu. VSE does have the search box but you have to make sure that all links are in your local Profile and not the "All Users" profile. Finally Vista Drive Icons gives you that nice windows explorer drive icon with the blue full/empty thermometer bar.

There are lots of other options, I went with good looks for the lowest price. Most if not all of these are free. Some of my co-workers chose to use StyleXP or WindowBlinds, both good products and both worth the $20 registration fee. I just didn't feel like dishing out more money for something that really should be a MS utility built into the OS.

In the end, yes I lost a touch of functionality, primarily in the start menu search box, but I gained a great deal of performance. My hard drive no longer churns constantly, and all of my apps work. Which at the end of the day is really the most important thing to me. If I can't admin my databases and apps effectively and efficiently then my PC is getting in my way. There are plenty of obstacles in business to overcome. My OS shouldn't be one of them. So I'm proud to say that this week I Upgraded to XP!