Posts tagged ‘model railroading’

Diamond Age

3D desktop printers are really making progress.  My sense is that soon this will be absolutely essential for my hobby (model railroading).

Update:  You don't have to own one, a number of companies emerging that will print your designs for you.  About 5 seconds after I posted the hypothesis that I would soon need a 3D printer for model railroading, I read a model railroad blog post about ordering a custom locomotive shell from this site.  From that site saw an idea I had not thought of - custom Legos!  How often in my young Lego-obsessed days did I long for a special piece of a certain shape that did not exist.  Now, make your own!

Great Model Railroading

For those of you who, when I mention model railroading, think of Lionel trains on a grass mat with a few plastic buildings, check out some of the examples on this site.  In particular, you can't get a much better introduction to fine model railroad craftsmanship than the work of Karl Osolinski.  Enjoy.

Perhaps No Longer the World's Geekiest Hobby

I make no appologies for how my geeky model railroading hobby.  But here is Rod Stewart, fellow model railroader, standing up for the hobby:

So now TJIC will have to go scrambling through his back issues of Anvil Weekly to see if maybe Katy Perry made the cover.

One Lab Left Out

Glen Reynolds linked this gallery of 30 awesome college labs.  My favorite at Princeton was our Junior year mechanical engineering course which was basically interfacing micro computers to mechanical devices  (which was a non-trivial task in 1983).  There were two one-semester courses.  The first was mostly software, and involved programming an s-100 bus computer in assembly language to do various things, like control an elevator.  My final project was a put one of the first sonic rangefinders from a Polaroid camera on a stepper motor and built a radar that painted a blocky view of its surroundings on a computer monitor.

But the really cool part for me was the second semester, when it was software + hardware.  We had to build a complete electronics and mechanical package to perform an automated function on ... a very large n-scale model railroad.  Well, readers of my blog will know that model railroading is my hobby anyway.  My team built a coal loading facility where the train was stepped forward one car at a time and a hopper filled each successive car to the right level with coal (or actually little black pellets).  We had sensors to be able to handle certain problems the professor might throw at us, like a car that was already full, cars of different sizes and lengths, etc.  That lab with the big model railroad was easily my favorite.

In retrospect, I almost miss programming in assembler code, trying to cram the code into 4K EPROMS, etching my own circuit boards....  Almost.   Now my only use for circuit boards is to shear them into strips to act as railroad ties when I hand-solder track work and my only use for etchant is weathering scale sheet metal to make it naturally rusty.  Pictures of the latter in a few weeks.

Tilt-shift Photography

Never heard of tilt-shift photography until today, but it is cool.  Here is an example - real scenes are digitally manipulated to look like it is a model.  Which in fact is exactly the opposite of what I try to achieve with my model railroading.

Update:
The video seems to have left the building.

May still be linked at engadget

Coolest Stuff I Have Worked With In A While

Electro-Luminescent wire.

el-wire-light

I am a little late to the game on this stuff -- apparently hobbyists have been using it for crafting.  For example, who wouldn't want a Tron outfit?

To date, I have mostly sheltered readers from the geekiest of my hobbies: model railroading  (Yeah, I know what you are saying -- how can anyone who spends hours a day at a computer writing on arcane bits of business and economics issues possibly be anything but cool?)  This may soon change, as I am starting a new N-scale layout and I will probably inflict some in-progress photos on you folks.  To get an idea just how crazy I am, I build my own track from wood strips and bundles of rail and tiny, tiny spikes -- so we are not just talking about putting the old Lionel out on a green table cloth.

Anyway, for some time I have wanted to build a layout that is primarily meant to be run in the dark as a night scene.  So I am experimenting with a lot of technologies, from florescent paint to tiny LED's to small bulbs to get ideas for various scenes.  The EL wire turns out to be a dead ringer for scaled down neon, so I expect to use a lot in the city part of the layout.

I will leave you with a photo of the layout that probably inspired more people (including myself) into the hobby than any other  -  by the master, John Allen:

s1_020_b4squaw_sep64

If you get intrigued with his work, more photos are here.

I wish I had more pictures of my old work, but they seem to have been lost in a move.  All I have left is a few poor-quality, poorly-scanned under-construction photos of my first layout from years and years ago.

rr3

rr1

Postscript: Can a hobby be geeky if Rod Stewart shares it?  He has built an absolutely stunning layout - one photo below and more herestewart-layout

And yes, the work really is his own, he didn't just pay someone to build it for him.

I Beat the Market

Almost exactly 10 years ago, on my son's 5th birthday, I bought him some large scale (G-scale) trains and track.  It was a logical present given that I have always been a model railroader myself, though with smaller scale trains (HO and now N) and a different approach (for example, I fabricated my own track rather than buying it).

Anyway, I bought 4 boxes of track from the leader in large scale, LGB, for $85 a box  (I know because the price tag is still on the boxes).  We used the track only lightly and indoors.  Over the holidays, 10 years later, we decided to get rid of it.  I almost just gave it way, but put it on eBay instead.

Well, apparently LGB went out of business, and its track is still very much in demand on eBay.  I sold the boxes for an average of $200 a box.  That is an annual return, even leaving out the use we got out of it, of 8.9%.  Compare this to the 10-year return of the S&P500 index as of 1/2/09 of -1.4%.  Can you say, "found money?"

Cool Automation

My independent work in college was on interfacing micro computers with mechanical devices.  Most of the work was in assembler language on an S-100 bus CP/M computer tied to some simple devices.  In one project, for example, I used an ultrasonic range-finder stripped off a Polaroid camera (brand new auto-focus technology, for the time) and put it on a stepper motor.  I wrote a program to turn it into a radar that painted a picture of the room on the screen.  In the next iteration, I experimented with having it control a "gun"  (a pencil on a stepper motor) and keep it locked onto a moving target in the room.  Seems pretty basic but it was not that easy in 1982  (also, coincidently, the last year I ever ran a mainframe computer program from a card deck).  In the spring of 1983, we programmed electronic devices that managed various functions on an N-Scale model railroad, a dream class for me given that model railroading has always been my preferred hobby.

Anyway, in this context I thought this was really cool:  A Lego robotics machine that solves the Rubiks cube.

Cubesolver1_sm

My First Wikipedia Post

I find I link to Wikipedia a lot for explanations of terms I use that people may not be familiar with (the most recent being "badger game" in this post).  So, to return the favor of all those who have written the Wikipedia, I wrote my contribution, adding an entry on Workamping.  It required about an hours worth of time invested learning their formatting commands and best practices, but it turned out to be pretty easy.  It was kind of interesting to see the other niche areas I have knowledge about but for which there are no articles yet.  I am currently adding and editing content for model railroading.