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  • Planet or not…

    2015 - 09.09

    So obviously I haven’t written much about space exploration in quite a while. Some of the projects I wrote about long ago have pretty much fulfilled their missions; the planet-hunting Kepler space telescope is now thousands and thousands of exoplanets deep, and the ice-cube neutrino observatory has found its high energy neutrinos. I haven’t lost my love for all-things space related, but I have had somewhat of a philosophical shift on this site that what I write about here is more focused on either my own creations or journaling for myself, rather than reporting the current news.

    But there was one thing that happened recently which was pretty amazing: the New Horizons space probe finally reached Pluto! (talk about earning that “tremendous voyages” tag) Dwarf planet or not, this is a new achievement in the exploration of distant worlds. This mission’s a high water mark in terms of pure kilometers that, let’s be real, won’t be exceeded in my lifetime. And that’s awesome to think about. Seldom do we get to watch something happen and know within that very moment that history is being witnessed… but this is one of those times. These pictures are a kind of rebuttal against that refrain “born too late to explore the Earth, born too early to explore the galaxy.” Well here’s a new part of your galaxy to admire:


    New Jams

    2015 - 09.03

    I’m tossing up a quick post here with links to two soundcloud pages for my musical projects:

    The Acropolis of Soul

    100% Juice

    Check ’em out!

    PS3 Round II

    2015 - 07.31

    So for many years now I’ve been playing games on my Playstation 3. It’s an original 60gig “fat” system, the very first model introduced. Sadly two months ago it gave me the so-called “yellow light of death” which means that the main BGA inside it has cracked solder balls from a slow temperature stress over time. I was able to use the so-called hairdryer-trick (which is exactly as scientific as it sounds) to briefly revive it; enough time to copy over my save games, eject a disc, and get a little nostalgic.

    The oldest save file? Ratchet and Clank from 4/17/07. Wow. Eight years. Has it really been that long? Though it sounds odd to say it, rewinding through the save files and being reminded of all the games I had played over the years was quite a trip down memory lane. Certain games I maybe only played for a short time, and carried a strong association with whatever else was going on in my life at the time. It’s a bit like hearing a song you haven’t heard in forever… something that reminds you of a smell or a place you once lived, or the way life used to feel back then.

    It’s sort of funny, the way your mind forms these connections and loops nostalgia through it. I also feel some connection to the system itself because in my last job I had taken a business trip to Japan and the two weeks I spent there were visiting Sony and Toshiba, working for the manufacturing plants that were building the Cell processor (CPU) and the main graphics chip for the PS3. And this was during the early days of their manufacturing as well, so it would have been these “fat” systems they were struggling to build, with all the growing pains of scaling production up on a system destined to sell millions of units.

    But all things have a season and the fat PS3 has served me well. When it went down, I decided to go on a videogame sabbadical until after the MRHA conference, since I knew I wanted to focus my free time on some model RR work for their model contest. Now that this is complete, I went out to buy a new PS3, only to discover that new units are no longer being produced. I settled on a used “SuperSlim” unit–the 3rd generation of the console.

    My videogame pace seems to grow slower and slower with each passing year but I gotta admit it was very exciting to get a new (to me) console! I’m sure it will provide many nights of enjoyment……

    Major Trackwork: Complete.

    2015 - 07.28


    IMG_9319 BLOGSIZEOver the long 4th of July weekend I took the two afternoons of free-time needed to do something I’ve been procrastinating on for a long time now: complete the short stretch of track needed to join the upper and lower decks of my railroad! This required the installation of three switches, five transitions from code 83 to 100, three rerailers and assorted wiring/soldering. So it was somewhat of a busy little stretch in terms of trackwork and attention needed for the actual construction even though it is not very long in size.

    As part of this construction project, I also completed what I’ve been calling my level 1.5 staging tracks. These are three very long, single-ended staging tracks that can accommodate a huge train, like a 12 car North Coast Limited. Since the passenger cars and engines that compose a big train like that will draw a lot of current from my DCC system, I also installed a light switch under the layout that can switch power to that section of track on or off.

    My layout wiring has been largely improvised with little to no foresight or planning which has resulted in an increasingly gory spectacle of wire madness for those brave enough to venture beneath the layout. There’s one particularly bad spot where several levels of track wiring all join together, combined with an autoreverser and a circuit breaker. It’s pretty much disgusting but that’s what I get for a lack of wiring planning.

    When I designed my layout I knew that if I had an upper level and a lower level there were only 2 choices of how to join them: a helix or a long steep grade. I’ve never been a fan of the helix since they take up a huge amount of space and can’t be included into the layout as anything remotely realistic. So a steep grade it is. It turned out mostly around 3% although it does approach just under 5% at the steepest point, which is somewhat beastly of a slope.

    In real life when trains encountered an unavoidable mountainous grade, the train crew would split the train in two and take it up the hill in smaller pieces in a move called “doubling the hill”. So this same behavior is required on my layout since the engines won’t be able to pull a huge train up this grade. After performing this maneuver a few times over the weekend, I think I actually enjoy this operational requirement. It adds a bit of challenge and reward for sending trains up and down. This forces some “operation” on the layout rather than running loops, which is still the main thing I enjoy.

    Pre-Release Hype: No Man’s Sky

    2015 - 07.27

    I just want to go on official record as having raised my alert status to super-mega-stoked for this PC/PS4 game which might get released later this year called “No Man’s Sky.” For anyone who hasn’t heard of it, the game is a sandbox/exploration game where you begin on a generic planet and start hunting for resources. Eventually you find a weapon and a ship, which frees you up to either explore more of the planet… or leave and go find another planet to explore. It is an incredibly open concept just at this level, but here’s the kicker: everything in the game is procedurally generated. That loosely means that your computer is “inventing” everything on-screen as you go. It has a broad set of rules regarding what types of air/plants/animals/stuff should appear on a given planet which is situated a given distance from its star, but that’s it. No one has “designed” these worlds–they are the output of a complex mathematical system.

    The information (and the names of all the things you encounter) are cataloged on a central database that all the other players are feeding into, so effectively a whole universe (yes, with multiple galaxies) is being created/populated by the players of this game as they explore it. Hooooo. I mean, there’s an idea that’s never been done before in gaming, at least not on this level. It’s a heady concept and I’m captivated by the idea.  And the scale of it all is preposterous: the creators estimate the universe contains 18 quintillion planets.  That’s 18,000,000,000,000,000,000… and no that’s not a typo.

    At this stage there’s still a lot which is unknown about how the gameplay will flow, but it seems heavily influenced by the game Journey… a sparsely populated but strikingly beautiful landscape that appeals to explorers and open-world fans. That’s me! I eagerly await this one. There’s a lot of great videos including long gameplay ones if you search on youtube but I really like this one for the pure excitement value:



    Photographing the Milwaukee Road right-of-way in Washington state

    2015 - 07.12

    On June 17th 2015, a nearly cloudless day, I set out for a bike ride of the former Milwaukee Road railway between Easton and Cedar Falls in Washington state.  It is now the Iron Horse state park AKA the John Wayne trail.  This album shows the best of the many photos I took along the way, documenting the area for the purposes of reconstructing it via model railroading.  Hence there is a heavy emphasis on tunnels and bridges, rocks, and small details that may only be of interest to railroad fans.  There are also several large panoramas which you’ll need to download to view full size.  I may use these to build a photo backdrop.  There are 217 photos and I highly recommend viewing them on flickr if you want to enlarge anything.  There’s a slideshow below which gives a preview but here is the full link:


    Photographs of the model contest from the Milwaukee Road Historical Association 2015 conference in Yakima

    2015 - 07.09

    As the title suggests, I recently attended the Milwaukee Road Historical Association 2015 conference in Yakima Washington.  I’m really glad I did this, since it was centered on the region where my model railroad is located and there were lots of former railroad employees, historians, and fellow modelers in attendance.

    As part of the conference, the MRHA held a model contest to which anyone could submit as many entries as they liked.  I brought along several models and there were lots of excellent submissions.  Naturally I had my camera along so I took lots of photos of all the models that were there.

    The winner of the contest was Mr. Noel Holley, author of the book “The Milwaukee Electrics” which is widely regarded as the authoritative volume on the railroad’s electrified operations.  He brought a superbly impressive model of the Hyak substation modeled in HO scale.  To accompany the substation he had brought along a 2-3 foot section of track with his custom built catenary wire above it.  We had an excellent conversation about how he had built his catenary (since I will be following in his footsteps to build my own) and he was kind enough to let me pose the two Creek series observation sleepers on the electrified track for some photos.  He had brought along a 1952 maroon-stripe bipolar which is posed with the Coffee Creek and I had brought my E-1 in the experimental Olympian Hiawatha scheme, which is posed with the Gold Creek.  I saved the best photos until the end in this slideshow.  Click the title of the image if you want to go to flickr and view it in full resolution.  Enjoy!:

    More models from the MRHA conference

    2015 - 06.27

    Okay, I’ve got a few more photos worth sharing that show the models that I had been working on to take along to the 2015 Milwaukee Road Historical Association 2015 conference in Yakima.  As seen previously, here is Bipolar E1 in the experimental Olympian Hiawatha paint scheme, this time from a different angle:

    Bipolar E1 in the experimental 1948 Olympian Hiawatha scheme

    And here’s his buddy, the Skytop sleeper/observation car #16 “Gold Creek” in the 1948 paint scheme with gold lettering, additional maroon band and gray roof.  I did a lot of work on this car: decals, dull coats, gloss coats, added stainless fluting to the rear, etched stainless lettering for “Olympian Hiawatha”, painted grabirons, interior partition, window glazing with Lee Filters #730 Liberty Green, and lightly weathered the trucks, which I swapped in from a Walthers car for better looks.

    IMG_7458 v2

    When running around Seattle’s Union Station on the unelectrified tracks, the fellow below would do the pulling: an NW2 switcher.  It’s a custom painted (not by me) Kato shell on a Broadway Limited SW2 frame which has sound and DCC.

    IMG_7426 v2

    Below we have some trailers for TOFC service (Trailer on Flat Car), as they would have looked in 1980, right at the end of the Milwaukee.  I did all decaling with Microscale decals, dull coat, light dirt weathering, and black diesel exhaust.

    IMG_7415 v2

    And one more close-up of Gold Creek.  Check out that stainless lettering.  Sharp!
    IMG_7465 v2

    All aboard for Yakima

    2015 - 06.15

    This week I’m heading to Yakima Washington to take part in the 2015 Milwaukee Road Historical Association conference, which will be focused on the very area where my model railroad is set!  As part of the convention there is a modeling competition, so I decided to polish up a few models and be a part of it.  Here is probably my favorite, Bipolar E1 in the experimental Olympian Hiawatha scheme.  Weathered the trucks with Tamiya desert yellow, black weathering chalk to fill in surface details then wiped off, floquil hi-gloss over the whole body, added wires to the bells, white flags to denote a passenger extra.  I’ll have more photos down the line…..

    Bipolar E1 in the experimental Olympian Hiawatha paint scheme, circa 1948

    Electric Trumpet pedalboard snapshot: 5/22/15

    2015 - 05.31

    Here’s a few more photos to document the transitory pedalboard setup of the month. I’ve continued borrowing pedals from the fantastic service PedalGenie.com and this month I’m enjoying three new ones: 1. The SolidGold FX Apollo Phaser 2. The SolidGold FX Funkzilla envelope filter and 3. The Electro Harmonix Pulsar Tremolo. Here’s an overall shot of the board as she appeared for the 5/15/15 and 5/22/15 sessions:

    The board: 5-22-15 edition
    A few observations about each:

    1. The SolidGold FX Apollo Phaser is a decent-to-good phaser packed with some totally amazing features. What I mean by that is, purely as a phaser, I still prefer the 1970s Maestro Phaser also seen in the overall photo, BUT the Apollo has some super creative ways of applying the phase that I’ve never seen on another phaser. First off, you can connect an expression pedal and use it to control the position of the phase combination. They describe it as an interesting take on the wah, but since a phaser is totally different than an envelope I’m going to say that the similarity ends with the fact that both are controlled by your foot. This was the feature that drew me to the pedal and I will say that it delivered, conceptually, on what I envisioned when I read the description. In use, the expression control seems to be subtle in the context of a full band. Turning up the resonance of the filter makes it cut a bit harder, and it is quite captivating to mess around with. Matter of fact I have held onto this one from PedalGenie for two months to give myself more time to see what plays out with this expression pedal control.

    SolidGoldFX Apollo Phaser

    It took me a while to figure it out, but the expression pedal control is best used slowly, to create a textural metamorphosis rather than quickly, like you’d “waka-chicka” on a wah.  With that approach a ‘bigger’ sound is yielded, one which allows more subtlety to come out.  Surprisingly, in the context of improvisation the feature I find myself reaching for more than the expression pedal control is the randomizer function, which bounces the phase position all over whimsically. This, combined with the tap tempo control allows you to create a rhythmic texture that sounds similar to a step filter. I really like that effect.  The randomizer and the expression control both do a lot to make this pedal something special. I know I am going to miss this one a lot when it’s gone.

    2. The SolidGold FX Funkzilla Envelope Filter–with a name like that, how could it be bad?! It might be the coolest looking pedal I’ve ever seen with the Godzilla graphic and the sparkly purple paint job. It also has expression pedal input although I couldn’t seem to make it do much that felt interesting. Last month I had tried the Voodoo Labs Wahzoo pedal which is a wah, step filter, and autowah all in one. Regretfully the attack range of the autowah on that pedal was simply out of range for what my trumpet produces, and it literally did nothing. So the Funkzilla is the autowah sound I was wishing for! When you play a very fast phrase you can feel it getting slightly behind on its attack but for the most part it keeps up well even through brisk phrases. This sound is a lot of fun.

    The first session I Funkzilla’d (YES!) I had the ‘Zil after the wah pedal which I think was a mistake. On the second one I used it before the wah, which allows me to slowly sculpt the tone without losing the Funkzilla filter attack. So this guy belongs early in the signal chain I think.

    The SolidGoldFX FUNKZILLA.

    One thing I despise about both of these SolidGold FX pedals is the footswitches they use are hard as a rock and click very loudly when you engage them. Even if I was a guitarist and these were on the floor, I think I’d still dislike that. In our recordings you can hear them click on and off loud and clear. Why anyone would prefer this type of a switch, I do not understand. I’m very biased since most of my pedals reside at waist height and I actuate them with my hands, but were I to buy either of these pedals, I think I would open them up and rip out these awful switches to replace them with soft ones.

    3. The Electro Harmonix Pulsar Tremolo is the most complicated tremolo I’ve ever seen. Complexity is a double edged sword of course, and I feel like I’m stumbling through hallways in the vast mansion of what it can truly do. Right away the coolest feature seems to be the fact that this tremolo offers a few rhythmic patterns besides a constant on/off cycle. Those patterns can also be adjusted to have a different attack with the waveform style knob, swapping from a hard-edged square wave to a smoother triangle wave, to the smoothest sine wave setting. There is a ton of variety in here. I’m blown away by the possibilities that it offers but I’m also left wondering how many people ever touch the bottom on this thing. One dangerous aspect of a very complicated pedal is when you’re in the heat of a cool moment and you reach for it, expecting, you know, a tremolo–but instead it’s still set to that weird-ass setting from earlier in the jam that you were playing around with and was cool at the time but is totally out of place now. The Eventide Pitch Factor has burned me a few times in the same way. Awesome pedals, and they do so much, but they demand your attention to really control them.

    The Electro-Harmonix Pulsar Tremolo

    4. The TC Electronic Flashback Delay–I got this pedal as a loaner from PedalGenie and I liked it so much that I had to actually buy one to keep full time. This now makes 3 (yes, three) delay pedals on the board, which is getting a little bit ridiculous, but wow, it has such a tremendously big soundstage when used in stereo that I was instantly hooked to it. Vince (our guitarist) commented on a portion of our jam “that’s quite a trumpetscape”… any pedal that can coin a new word deserves consideration as a permanent member, I think.  Besides it’s giant stereo field which immediately makes it presence known, the Flashback also has a host of varied sounds which each have their own appeal.  I’ve been digging the LoFi mode and the Ping Pong most of all, but the mod has quite a pleasing modulation sound as well.  And the Tone Print setting lets you add in pretty much anything else you can think of using the very comprehensive editor which runs on your PC and transfers new settings over via USB.  That’s a brilliant idea.

    So full-time TrumpetScape™ Technology is now on hand and life is good. Having these extra pedals around is a lot of fun and stimulating.

    TC Electronic Flashback stereo delay modeler.  With my gaffer tape snake proudly carrying all signals in the background.