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  • Archive for January, 2013

    Going Kit Crazy!

    2013 - 01.28

    I’ve been busy with a slew of RR projects recently, mostly completing a series of kits. There were three Branchline 50′ NP boxcars in the dark green w/ white stripe scheme, one Intermountain GN boxcar in “bankruptcy blue”, and one Red Caboose Milwaukee Road flatcar. There’s a few more still in-progress: a Red Caboose “Bear Creek Vineyards” (yeap, just couldn’t resist that one) reefer car, and a Front Range Milwaukee Road centerbeam flat car which is quite cool (reporting marks still need to be decaled on):

    Since the GN boxcar was dated to ’69 (the last year the NP existed), I sprayed it with hi-gloss to give it that ‘fresh-from-the-RR-paint-shops’ look. An Atlas caboose from the same year got the same hi-gloss treatment, along with my whole fleet of NP passenger cars, to prepare them for decaling. I thinned the hi-gloss 50/50 with floquil thinner and airbrushed it at 35psi. I think next time I will use a lower pressure and a more gloss-rich mix. Maybe like 20psi and 75/25 gloss/thinner. I got decent results with the cars standing upright as the paint went on, but in a few spots I got a little trigger happy trying to get it shiny enough, and that did cause some subtle pooling at the bottom edge when the thicker paint was drawn there by gravity. The surface texture came out mostly smooth but there were a few spots where ‘gunk’, presumably dust or debris from older paint residues, did show up. I need to clean out the airbrush. Again, not bad, but I want to avoid that kind of thing as much as possible. Perhaps lower pressure might help there…

    A few observations about the kits: cutting parts off the sprue is the most dangerous part. I used a very sharp razor, and there were still parts that broke apart as I tried to cut them free. The Intermountain kit was the most forgiving with this and the Branchline kits were the most fragile. Best advice I can give is place the sprue on a flat tabletop and whenever possible, lay it so that the piece you’re cutting off is making contact with the tabletop, so it can’t bend or flex. Use a sawing motion on delicate parts and use the sharpest blade you can. Cutting away extraneous bits of the sprue to give better access is something I do a lot.

    The Intermountain kit was the easiest to build overall, and the Red Caboose reefer car was the most laborious. It’s just a gajillion parts. Some of which beg the question, why did they not mold this part into the roof? Red Caboose also likes to make you drill out holes so that grabirons will fit in. I really hate that. Yes, technically that gives you a better adhesion because you effectively remove the paint from that area. But man, it’s a pain. Intermountain and Branchline don’t force you to do that, and those kits stay in one piece just fine.

    A few tips for any fellow kit builders: anywhere you see the words “pin-vise”, forget about the pin-vise and use a “yankee screwdriver” aka spiral hand drill (pictured atop the MILW flat). They are literally 2-5 times faster and just as effective. I despise the pin-vise with a passion and plan to never ever use one again. Also, using CA adhesive (aka cyanoacrylate aka super glue) to build kits will leave behind ugly, white, chalky residue. CA bonds the fastest, and I do use it in places where warped plastic parts might demand a hard and fast bonding. My local hobby shop guy talked me into trying out this styrene adhesive (which ONLY bonds plastic-to-plastic). I didn’t have good luck with it. The stuff evaporates nearly instantaneously after you brush it on, and it works by actually ‘melting’ a small bit of the plastic. In theory that should give the best bond possible, but in my experience, it didn’t work that well. I was able to pull off grabirons the next day, which should not be possible. Maybe the painting on the (Intermountain) kit may have gotten in the way, but again, scraping paint off adds another step, and we hate adding steps. And the styrene adhesive has fumes.

    Cutting to the chase, the best glue in my opinion is called “Gator Glue”. It behaves a lot like good old Elmer’s white glue that you used to make macaroni artwork in kindergarden, only it dries up clear. This glue is the most forgiving for exposed areas like single grabirons on the side of cars. Best part about Gator Glue? Not only does it dry transparent, it’s non-toxic. No more noxious fumes and headaches. Just say NO to that masochism. Building kits is a masochistic enough activity as it is. I once made myself quite ill by supergluing in a poorly ventillated hotel room. Those toxic vapors do have consequences, and it’s worth it to avoid them.

    Gator Glue can be ordered online direct from the guy who makes it. Buy a lot and support him because it’s an awesome product. Skip the precision applicator, which must be cleaned every time (and mine STILL got clogged). Just use a wooden toothpick to apply tiny dabs of glue. A box of 100+ cost me $1 at the grocery store.

    “You just like it because it has Galaxy in the name”

    2013 - 01.15

    Continuing the march of super awesome new gadgets in my 2013 life, & as foreshadowed previously, I am now the happy owner of a Samsung Galaxy Note II, my first Samsung phone ever.  I’m sporting it au natural (sans case) thus far, but eventually I’ll get something to protect the fantastic plastic.  First impressions: Holy smokes.  Sammy sure does know how to build a screen–the display on this thing is eyeball-popping.  Vivid, bright, saturated, & rich are all suitable adjectives to describe the picture quality.  I need to get some sweet games on this baby, starting with EDGE.  An official Rockstar port of Vice City is dropping soon too.  Y-y-y-y-yessssssss.

    Of course the most exciting thing about this phone though is the stylus.  I’m going to try to use it on a regular basis to create sketches of anything and everything.  At this point I’m still learning all the tricks this Note has to offer, which are legion.  I’ve created a few drawings while experimenting with the S-Pen software… so far nothing worth crowing about but hey practice makes perfect and I’m a pretty un-practiced doodler.  Maybe this will change?

    Other thoughts:
    * Its main camera is like, super wide-angle.  No dedicated camera button; I know I’m going to miss that.  But on the positive side, maybe this fresh start will encourage me to use Instagram more, which is just another way of saying ‘take more random pictures’.  Overall, it’s a respectable cell camera so far.
    * The giant screen real estate is glorious.  Yes, it is quite a stretch for those moments of one-handed wrangling.  But most of the time, two hands are free and the extra space does pay.  Text is bigger.  I notice that I hold it further away while reading, which is probably easier on the eyes.  So far no pockets have been overstrained.
    * Google’s “Project Butter” added vertical-sync, triple-buffered, 60Hz refresh to Android.  Although it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison with my outgoing Droid X, I’ve got to believe that the buttered-up screen makes it easier to look at.  Without a doubt, I do feel less eyestrain during a long reading session.
    * Sammy sweetens the deal further with an option to invert the display color, which can convert anything to white text on black background.  NICE!!  Good frickin call.  I never understood why black background isn’t the prevailing text format for computer displays.  It’s just better.
    * Another brilliant Samsung customization: frequently used settings like GPS, airplane mode, bluetooth are all located in the notification tray when you expand it.  Very useful.
    * 1.6GHz Quad core and 2GB of RAM.  Jeez.  These things really are becoming pocket computers.
    * About that pocket computer thing: I got the “Smart Dock” accessory which adds HDMI output and three USB ports, to which you can connect mouse and keyboard.  I’m tying this on my phone, using a full-size keyboard, and it’s SWEET.  There’s a mouse cursor.  Scroll wheels work, forward and back buttons work, and there’s keyboard shortcuts, even.  Impressive.  Haven’t tried the HDMI yet…
    * Dropped in a 64GB MicroSD card and loaded this baby up with like 15 gigs of awesome music.  My phone is ready to tackle the longest of roadtrips.
    * I wonder if there will be any extra S-Pen/stylus-centric apps still to come?  The included drawing app is quite solid, but already I can see how it’d be nice to have more Photoshop-esque functionality, like layers and opacity control for all brush types.
    * Rephrased: When is Adobe going to make ‘Photoshop Mobile’ or whatever?
    * There’s an option to change the default system font to Helvetica.  Rock on, you typography nerds.

    Impressions on the Velodyne vPulse

    2013 - 01.06

    This year for christmas, I received a gift from my lovely fiancée that I’m pretty excited about: vPulse in-ear headphones made by Velodyne.  These things are an interesting product: Velodyne is almost exclusively a subwoofer manufacturer, and a pretty good one.  It’s a bit random that they decided to come out with some headphones.  It’d be like if the people who make Swiss Army Knives, a renown and very specific product, were like, hey, let’s make a circular saw.  Those guys probably have a good idea about what specific attributes would make a good circular saw, but it takes a different set of expertise to actually manufacture that.  Can they pull it off?

    I get the distinct impression that Velodyne’s designers had owned and lived with in-ear headphones for a decent amount of time before coming up with the vPulse.  I’ve had a set of Etymotic Research ER6i in-ear headphones for many years now and they’re a great set of headphones.  But they embody many of the pitfalls characteristic to in-ear headphones: the cables easily get tangled up when you store them, those same cables tend to make noise if they brush against anything (read: your shirt) when you’re listening, the rubber noise-isolating tips can get uncomfortable in longer listening sessions, and of course: the bass is literally absent.  Not just crappy bass–NO bass.  I imagine two Velodyne engineers having a conversation: “Hey, how do you like those Etymotics?” “They’re pretty nice.  No bass at all though.  I usually listen to them with my subwoofer running too.  Kinda defeats the point of in-ear, but I gots to have them low notes.”
    So how did they do?

    Amy Winehouse’s voice sounds rich and present on “Tears Dry on Their Own”, a favorite song of mine from her album Back to Black.  I can hear some subtle phasing effects I’d never noticed before on the opening synths from Llorca’s “The End”; that’s maybe a simple byproduct of the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever listened to that tune on in-ear headphones before.  Different listening setups, without question, will emphasize a different set of nuances in any given recording.  I hear the backup vocals a lot more on Eric Krasno’s “Be Alright”.  A large number of previously obscured details pop out on “ReEmergence” by Sound Tribe Sector 9.  And the elephant in the room: all this stuff has bass!  Specifically, the basslines are well defined and full.  There’s no bloated resonances of particular notes.  Pitches and key changes are distinct.  Sometimes bass-heavy setups can sort of smear that low-range into a nebulous barrage of noise, which is not the case here.

    Of course the lowest of the lows are still missing, which is only logical.  Deep, deep bass is felt more than heard.  Bass drum is the most apparent manifestation of that fact.  Basslines definitely have the juice in these babies, but the forceful punch-in-the-chest of a kick drum is something that’s intrinsically reproduced only by Velodyne’s main product, a subwoofer.  That said, the vPulse are extremely capable.  If you’re looking for some noise-isolating headphone with real kick to them, this is IT.  These things are going to be heavenly next time I ride an airplane: they’ll totally block out all the annoying kids, the overly loud intercom announcements, and the obnoxious business travelers yapping about synergy.

    A few other listening notes for anyone who might be interested in a pair of these:

    • For anyone who’s never had in-ear headphones before, note that you will hear NOTHING happening outside of your music.  Someone could be sitting right next to you, loudly calling your name and you will be oblivious.  You would not want to use these, say, going for a jog down the street.  They would be perfect for a quiet office or a loud subway train though.
    • I listened with a mild EQ: a dip of maybe -3dB at around 2kHz.  Maybe my ears are especially sensitive at those frequencies, but I think anything and everything always sounds better with a small midrange cut.
    • The cables on these things are flat and thin, which I like.  Only time will tell if they resist tangling or become permanently bent-up like the Etymotics did.  I have a good feeling about them.  The hard case which comes along will help keep them in good shape I think.
    • Best way to avoid cable noise is to use the clip on your cable and hook it on your shirt close to the neck, so that both sides have plenty of extra room to make a wide swing around before reaching the ear.
    • I was actually made aware of these headphones by this review.  Says something strong if you’ve got a hundred pairs of headphones to listen to but you keep coming back to these…
    • The rubber ear tips are comfortable!  If I listen to my Etymotic ER6i’s for more than an hour or so, my ears start to feel sort of sore.  I’ve yet to experience that with the Velodynes.
    • The basslines on “To Feel Good” (accessible in the navigation bar music player from this website, or for download in the music section) sounded authoritive, powerful.  Those basslines were some of the most challenging low-frequency material I could throw at the vPulses and they handled it great.  There’s some strong sub-bass sine waves in there which simply aren’t present listening back on other systems without the proper bass-response.  Color me impressed.  Velodyne hooks it up!