Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Keeping It All In Proportion

HO Scale, 1:87, 3.5mm to the foot etc etc, it all seems rather simple if you have even the most basic grasp of maths. However there seems to be more to scaling something down than simply reducing dimensions eighty seven times., and even if we do that exactly, does it mean it will look right?

Part of the problem with the scaling issue is how our brain perceives the objects we have scaled in relation to each other. And this is where my problem appears to be.

I'm as much of a car nut as a train nut, I've rebuilt a few in my time, done a little bit of racing them around the track, have worked in the automotive industry for twenty one years, and have a very good idea about how they look and how big they are relative to other objects.

However, I have had a long term problem with 1:87 scale model cars and trucks and the way they look relative to my HO scale trains, in short, they always look slightly undersized to me. I can't explain this phenomenon, and I don't know if anyone else has the same affliction, but it got to the point this afternoon that I had to prove to myself that I was right and there was a world wide conspiracy that has meant that 1:87 scale automobiles are indeed not 1:87.

So armed with a set of vernier calipers and some dimensions for a few vehicles I have models of I got to work (and I wonder why layout construction is going nowhere!).

First cab off the rank was a lovely two tone aqua and white 1955 Chevrolet Belair two door made by Model Power Minis. I picked up this one at Train Trader at Pymble for about $8.00 and it is a seriously nice mode for a very cheap price. I know that 55 Chev's were not plentiful in Australia but they were here, so it's perfectly suitable for my late 1950's to 1960's era.

So armed with the verniers and some dimensions on the internet, I was forced to accept that this model, whilst looking too small when sat aside my 35 Class, was spot on for length, width and wheel base down to a poofteenth of a mm, and the only dimension I could fault was the track, that is the wheels are about 1mm too close together. This however does not cause the out of scale problem.

Next cab off the rank is a very cool VW Type 2 Samba Bus, complete with Caravan no less. This was also by Model Power Minis and was a ridiculous $9.25! Anyway, once again I ran the verniers over it, and double drat, it was within a couple of tenths of a mm in all dimensions except track once again, but none the less it was almost spot on.

Third cab off the rank was one of the new Road Ragers range, the FX or 48/215 sedan. By my measurements it was about 0.8mm too short although the bumper bar projection could account for this, about 0.3mm too narrow, and once again the track was about 1.2mm too narrow, but overall we are talking about it being almost spot on.

Getting sick of reading the vernier scale I came to the sad realisation that my perception of automobiles against trains is wrong. I assembled my group of cars and took a couple of shots (blury) against my 35 class. Too me they still look too small, but armed with the sad facts that they are indeed correct this is something I'm going to have to simply accept.

Still, I look at those photo's and refuse to accept that a VW Kombi looks that small next to a 35 Class ..................................

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Getting Back Into It All

Time seems to go by at a rate unproportional to the speed it takes me to perform a given task. I'm finding this somewhat frustrating I have to say, but, I don't think I'm Robinson Crusoe in that regard.

Just over eighteen months ago we moved into our house, and in my mind within six months I would have been starting on the big layout in the garage, that "empire" that most of us dream about having. Well here we are a year and a half down the track and quite frankly the garage is still in almost as much of a mess as it was when we moved in. Sure a lot of boxes have been unpacked, but I seem to have accumulated a few things along the way as well. In general though what it really needs is to be fully unpacked, sorted, and repacked in a more efficient manner. With the warmer weather and daylight saving it's only a matter of getting a weekend without rain, and the past few haven't been rain free.

In any case Gunnedah is still a while away from beginning, and in some ways that is a good thing, because it is a massive undertaking, and quite frankly some of the things I have learned in the past eighteen months will make for a much better layout when it actually begins.

Last November my wife suggested repainting the spare room and using it to set up a permanent desk for modeling and after that I thought a shelf layout around the walls would be much simpler to do initially, I could try out a few ideas, and overall it should be a quick'ish project. Well twelve months later apart from getting some brackets up and some basic timber modules built, not a real lot has happened.

Sure I've built some more sets of points, done some random modeling on some bits of rolling stock, gathered some more bits and pieces and done a lot of research and played with some ideas I'd like to implement.

Whilst one part of me is frustrated at the lack of real progress, I'm glad that I have taken this time to experiment with different things. The latest "thing" is hooking up a new Mac laptop installed with Decoder Pro to the Power Cab, and installing WiThrottle on the iPhone. It may not seem like that big of a thing, and certainly hasn't made the layout progress in any meaningful way, BUT, it has given me a seriously big shot in the arm enthusiasm wise.

I spent an hour or so today adjusting the various sound levels on my 35 Class to get it all "proportional" to what my brain tells me it should be based on the scale distance I view the trains from. I don't like the idea of some of the sounds being loud enough to be as they would be heard from the footplate or directly beside the engine. I figure that a metre or so viewing distance is similar to being fifty or so metres away from the real thing, and so I will set up the volumes to try to replicate this. Obviously this will be a very personal thing that other people will have differing views on, but I tend to like my trains a little more on the quiet side.

Shown is a pic of my 1,200mm test track with two sets of points sitting upon a set of book cases I knocked up the other weekend, which sits below where the shelf layout will run. Hooked up to the track is the Power Cab, USB adapter, Macbook and iPhone with WiThrottle running.

Already having an iPhone and a now a laptop, makes for a very easy and cheap way to have a radio throttle, because the USB adapter is only $51 from the Model Railway Craftsman, JMRI is free, as is WiThrottle Lite which has a few less features than the full program (which is only $13 anyway) but lets you run a train and perform most functions you'd want to anyway.

Having all of this stuff sitting there now has given me a real shot in the arm and I'm going to make a concerted effort this summer to use the longer hours of sunlight to do what I need to do in the shed construction wise, and use the nights better by making track and points instead of just sitting and reading what everyone else is doing (I follow too many blogs I think!).

Lets hope in twelve months time I'll have photo's and some video of trains running around the room on a scenic'd shelf layout!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Success vs Technology!

Well, thanks to a phone call this afternoon from Marcus Ammann, and some plain old fashion pressing buttons until something happened I now have Decoder Pro talking t the Power Cab, reading decoders from trains on my test track, and iPhone WiThrottle control.

It appears that I'd done everything correctly, except pick the right option for the Serial Port in the Settings section when you go into Preferences and then Connections in Decoder Pro. There was a choice of six, and the option it ended up being was "/dev/cu.SLAB_USBtoUART", who would have guessed? So for anyone using a Mac, try that one first if it is there.

So with that set Decoder Pro happily connected to the Power Cab, read the decoder on my Austrains 3531, and basically did what it should.

The next step was getting my iPhone to see the Mac using WiThrottle. Not much luck initially. I looked into the phone settings, it all looked ok, I mean my phone switches from 3G to my home wireless network once I get within about 50-100 metres or so of the house, and it was showing a full strength signal so that wasn't the problem.

Marcus and I had looked at the popup that Decoder Pro puts up when you launch WiThrottle and the I.P. like address it shows, but had not needed to use this at his place the other week so didn't look into it any further. After eating tea however I got it all up again and launched WiThrottle on the iPhone, and this time entered the numbers using the Set Server Manually option, and after putting in the into the appropriate four spots and then 49158 into the Port spot, what do you know, connection, and train control!

I wandered out from the spare room into the lounge room to demonstrate how I could blow the whistle on 3531 whilst equipped only with the iPhone. I was well impressed, but my wife gave me "that" look followed by "gee, isn't that great" in a not quite as impressed as I was voice. Having said that the new laptop was an unexpected surprise from her, bought because I'd been talking about down the track setting up Decoder Pro and the wireless iPhone control, so whilst she doesn't share the same excitement for it that I do, she is quite happy to let me have my toys.

I had a bit of a fiddle and then switched it all off, and then a little bit later launched Decoder Pro again to check on something. Upon picking up the iPhone and launching WiThrottle I didn't need to manually put in the address this time, it saw the laptop and connected straight up. It will be interesting to see if it automatically connects from now on. Oddly enough the I.P address Decoder Pro was generating was now and 49162 instead of 49158 the previous time. So it appears to generate another five digit code each time it is launched, but maybe once a connection has been made the iPhone connects anyway? I'm sure over the next few days I'll see a pattern, but either way I now know how to make it work.

All in all apart from figuring out that I needed to use the
"/dev/cu.SLAB_USBtoUART" in the settings and manually enter the I.P. address into WiThrottle on the iPhone it was a fairly straight forward job to get it all going thanks to Marcus's very clear instructions here ..... http://www.members.optusnet.com.au/nswmn2/DCC.htm#USBSerial

Hopefully there will be some info in this post to help others.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fail vs Technology!

It wasn't that long ago (ok it was about twentyfive years ago!) that I was connecting up my EDA Throttle Power Pack #222 to my 4mx2m layout. Two wires, one to each rail, plug it into the power point, slide the slider and my newly acquired Lima 42213 started on it's journey, slide the slider back and it stopped, pretty simple really.

Fast forward to today, and things are not quite so simple. Sure I manages to hook up my NCE Power Cab to my little test track complete with a couple of points, and have set the four digit adresses on the loco's I have, but today I have bitten off more than I can chew for now.

Armed with a new Mac laptop and an NCE USB adapter which turned up today at my P.O. box after ordering it from the Model Railway Craftsman yesterday (outstanding service I must say) I downloaded the JMRI Decoder Pro and attempted to get it to all work together.

I followed the instructions to the letter, and whilst the installation of the software seemed to go ok, and I got the USB adapter all hooked up without any drama's, do you think I could get it to talk to the Power Cab? I have a feeling it has something to do with choosing the "port" (Microsoft term really) or USB output, all of which have rather complicated names and I can't seem to find any references to them anywhere for now.

I'm sure given a few more hours, some Google searching, and randomly trying every option available it will work fine in the end.

Apart from the obvious advantages of using Decoder Pro for programming the loco's as opposed to the Power Cab throttle, one of the main reasons for all of this is so I can use the iPhone as a wireless throttle using the WiThrottle application. I had an opportunity to use this at Marcus Ammann's layout last weekend and it works very well on the whole and if you've already got a laptop and iPhone it's a lot cheaper than buying a designated wireless throttle and the transmitter receiver.

I'll be making plenty of notes and when I get this working I will attempt to put up what setting work which may help someone else using the same bits and pieces as me.