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    First IR light for the XTi


    2013 - 03.31

    So it’s nothing too amazing yet, but here is the first alright looking shot from my Canon XTi which was recently modified with the removal of the internal Infrared-block glass that covers the sensor.  I used a 720nm filter to block all visible light.  So nothing but infrared here.  Not really an amazing shot but I’m pleased with how the plants look nice and white.  I need to play with it more and maybe try a timelapse if I can find a cool subject.  But hey, it’s working, neat!!

    I did a relatively mild post processing on it.  Since it was at sunset, it wasn’t a good candidate for the red/blue channel swap like people do to make the sky look blue.  That’s more suited to afternoon images.  I still have a lot to learn when it comes to the subtleties of IR post-processing.  But I’ve started learning and that’s sweet.

    What’s redder than red?


    2013 - 03.02

    Ever since I got my wonderful Canon T3i a couple years ago (which I STILL think is the sweet-spot in DSLR price/performance/features), I’ve had a perfectly good 10MP Canon XTi body which has been essentially gathering dust.  What to do about this…. I could sell it, although unfortunately, older generations of DSLR bodies depreciate pretty severely  in spite of the fact that it’s still eminently capable.

    A better option: convert it to an Infrared body.  This procedure can be a DIY modification, although it is NOT for the faint of heart.  I’d been thinking about this for a long time so I was excited when it came up in conversation that a coworker of mine repairs/resells DSLRs as a hobby.  It sounds like this might actually happen sometime in the next few months.

    In the meantime, I noticed this really badass timelapse video shot with an infrared DSLR:

    There’s a great explanation on Bad Astronomy of why thing appear they way they do in infrared.  Basically plants reflect a lot more infrared light than any other color–including green!  When you get these photos out of the camera, they appear almost all red in color, so heavy-duty post-processing is needed to get these greyscale scenes with blue skies.  I’ll need to learn about all that to get to the point of making videos like the one shown above, but I don’t think it’s anything beyond my abilities.  Time will tell, but it’d be awesome to make something like this…

    Pacific Coast: Roadbed down, key players showing up


    2012 - 12.02

    Man. So much stuff has been happening on the model railroad lately that I’d be at risk of turning this site into nothing but a railroad blog if I posted it all individually. This also partially explains the plummeting number of posts on here. Writing for the site is fulfilling, but I will say it is energizing to work at a hobby where your efforts are rewarded with something physical. Railroading is fun!

    The biggest undertaking since I last posted was removing *all track* from the layout (gasp!), putting down recycled 1/4″ rubber for sound-deadening roadbed, and then rebuilding not one but TWO loops around the whole layout. That one sentence was mammoth amount of work. I also reworked some of the benchwork in the process. This time I built the tracks a lot slower and was doggedly vigilant to get perfect connections between sections. It can’t be overstated how much that pays off, even if it’s excruciating to move slowly while you’re itching to run trains. You gotta fight that urge to rush it. In the construction photo here, you can see the new roadbed:

    That photo distorts the size of the staging end of the layout a bit as it was taken at 10mm.

    A few construction secrets I’ve figured out:
    The rubber roadbed is made of sections cut from a large 4x10ft roll I bought off Amazon. I figured out the best way to cut it is with a boxcutter moving away from your body. That way you push with the meat of your palm, instead of struggling to push down with your thumb and fingers which quickly gets fatiguing. Getting a deep cut on the first pass is essential to making the repetitive job of cutting the rubber go faster. Then you can easily peel the strip loose without fighting. You need to make <1″ wide strips to go around curves, because the rubber does not bend much. I found it’s also easiest to do this right on the layout, where the height is about elbow level. Doing it on the ground is tedious. I went with rubber because it’s cheaper than cork.

    My trackbuilding around all curves has been dramatically aided by using flex track “end ties”. These allow the ties to hold the rail separation constant right up until the end when building a curve. They’re not 100% perfect, but they do go a long way toward avoiding that dreaded slight “V” shape where your rails join up. In my experience, small V’s which are scarcely even visible can be an endless source of derailments and frustration. The end ties work out to about $0.33 each, which is completely worth it when you consider how much hair-pulling they’ll spare you later on. Another thing which is maybe common sense but still bears mentioning is the importance of checking the previous track connection before you finalize the one you’re working on. Flex track does slip around inside the ties and a small gap at the far end can easily appear when you’re not paying attention, causing extra noise, wheel wear, and maybe derailments later.

    With the new and improved mainlines I can now run my Hiawatha Super Domes without being plagued by constant derailments like I was before. Success! Time to bust out my notorious “Mister Super Fussy” flatcar and see how good I really did. The amount of derailments he produces is incredulous. Apocalyptic.

    In other news I broke-in my new Harbor Freight deluxe airbrush and so far it is working great. I got a tip from the dude at the hobby shop that you can thin Floquil paints with Xylene thinner (super cheap) so I’ve been doing that and it seems to be working well. Only advice there is wear nitrile gloves and keep extras handy; Xylene is some serious business. Spill it on your gloves and it will actually eat through them in maybe 10 minutes. Protip: pour some Xylene from the giant gallon jug into something like an old glass pasta sauce jar, then pour that into your airbrush paint jar to avoid spilling all over. Use it outdoors and stand upwind. I don’t even want to know what might happen to someone using this stuff in a confined space with poor ventilation. A 50/50 paint/xylene mix has worked well for an initial coat of Floquil Grimy Black onto my Micro Engineering steel viaduct parts. I’ve been airbrushing them while still on the sprues, with most of the flash already cleaned off. We’ll find out later if that was the right call or not…..

    But enough about the rails–onto the trains. Two big stars of the show have arrived:

    1.) the Milwaukee Road E-2 & E-3  Bi-polar Electrics in the 1955 black, orange, & maroon stripe paint scheme, as built by MTH

    Scored both of these on eBay in the last few months, and ended up paying the full retail value for one of them despite the fact that the eBay auction started quite low. That means street value isn’t budging, even 2 years after their release. Huh! One thing which may factor in here is the apparent desirability of this particular paint scheme. The ‘bay is completely flooded with MTH Bipolars wearing the “cat whisker” paint scheme, and those seem to be the least valuable scheme. When I bought my 2 units at release in 2010, I picked the E-1 in the experimental Olympian scheme and the E-4 in the 5-stripe cat whisker scheme, thinking that those two schemes would be the hardest to find later on down the line. Boy was I wrong about that!

    The simple maroon stripe scheme that my new E-2 is wearing has proven to be the most popular. Weird! Perhaps that can be explained by the era: the cat whiskers, while awesome looking, didn’t appear on the real thing for very long, and if you want to run the super domes (which of course you do), that means you need a paint scheme that is kosher for late ’52 and up: the maroon stripe. That, or UP yellow, which everyone knows is perverse and revolting.

    And their competition:
    2.) the Northern Pacific F9A/B North Coast Limited engines in the “Lowey” paint scheme, from Athearn’s Genesis series.

    I don’t even know how, but somehow I scored these models on eBay for the buy it now price of $60 for the set. And they said you can’t get a good deal on the ‘bay anymore! Pshaw.

    These are my first “Genesis” models and jeez, I now understand why people praise this line as the alpha wolf of plastic trains. The etched see-through grilles on the sides are impressive in person and the fans on the roof are an actual separate part beneath a fine screen; that detail is always super sweet. I’ve had Walthers Proto 2000 E6s for a long time and I always thought those were quite nice. These NP engines are a cut above that. Extremely nice. Although the Bipolars remain my ‘favorite’ engines, these units do capture the crown of ‘most detailed’ on the layout.

    The Genesis Lowey units run smooth and quiet. Only bad thing is that they’re strictly DC while the Bipolars are dual-mode DC or DCC. (fast explanation: in DC all trains go “the same” speed, and DCC is like “multiplayer” where different trains can be doing different speeds, or stopped, all on the same track) Either due to the gearing ratios or simply due to the MTH control setup, the Bipolars run WAY slower than the Genesis units at a given voltage. So the North Coast Limited is screaming around the layout while the Hiawatha leisurely moves through. This fact may push my timetable forward on acquiring a DCC setup, which has always been an inevitability for the future of this layout.  For now I just have two separate DC power packs.  The switch visible in the image of the roof of #6701A there is a fast-tracks #6 curved turnout, made by hand.

    I’ve also been slowly picking up minor pieces of rolling stock when I can find them for cheap. A stock car and a few boxcars. And a Proto 2000 GP-30 for cheap too! That was another lucky find, and he represents the nascent beginnings of a Thunderhawk consist. These are some badass, speedy diesels. I still need at least 2 more GP-30s and a Joe for the motive power… so a loooong way to go still. But this is the “moment of genesis” for the Thunderhawk, which is exciting.

    One cool thing about this image (and the bipolar image too) is that they’re actually made of 2 separate photos with a different focus, spliced together in Photoshop.  I gotta do more of this composite focus thing, it makes for great shots…

    A vista that knocked my socks clean off


    2012 - 09.23

    Took a visit to Wisconsin to visit family last week and took a bunch of pictures…. more forthcoming, but I thought this one deserved its own posting: A spectacular view of the Baraboo hills with Lake Wisconsin off in the distance. I’d never been to this spot before and wheeew. Literally stunned me.

     

    Armstrong’s gone & the full moon’s blue


    2012 - 09.03

    Still ruminating on the passing of Neil Armstrong.  As my tiny tribute to him, I decided to take a photo of the first full moon after his death, which also happens to be the last blue moon until 2015.  I added the blue coloration in post… the blues for one less moonwalker among us.

    The Plastic Fan Appreciation Society Strikes Back! – aka “In Which I Almost Win The 2012 Nobel Prize In Rhyming But Get Disqualified For Taiwanese Mispronunciation”


    2012 - 08.07

    So feast yo eyes on this, fellow fan enthusiasts: The Kuo Horng 12″ oscillating desk fan, in the most arresting color scheme of green & grey:

    Them Hardcore Metal Fan Loverz are gonna hate, but I think this fan is totally radish. Ahh. It’s like a metaphorical cool breeze for my eyes and then like an actual real-life cool breeze for my airhairs. Because actual real-life cool breezes sometimes don’t feel so good on your eyeballs so that’s why I had to clarify by saying it that way.

    I’m going to call her GG for green & grey, since I don’t actually know how to pronounce “Horng”. (woah, holy shit you guys, I think I might have just discovered a word that rhymes with “Orange”!! …Wait, no, that can’t be how you say it, false alarm.) I think this might be my new favorite fan, at least stylistically. Functionally, my Dayton 12″ at the office is the MVP. That guy has some serious responsibilties, keeping me cool throughout the 9-5 workday, particularly when there is a garage door nearby which is frequently left open to the searing Texas summer heat. It’s also astonishingly quiet too, which is great for a fan that you have to sit and listen to all day long. A loud fan can make you feel like you’re getting yelled at, my girlfriend tells me. Something the Dayton made me realize though, is that 12″ is really the ideal size for a desk fan.

    I’ve got a XL-sized 16″ Galaxy which works the night-shift in the bedroom, keeping me and my lady cool as we snooze. And man, that thing’s got some oomph–no joke! I think I can count the times over the last year that I’ve had it on medium speed on one hand. (And no, I will not be providing an explanation for why such excessive fan power was required on those occasions. Use your imagination. Or scratch that, maybe don’t.) A 16″ fan is really only necessary for someplace where you need airflow that would compete with a strong box fan, like in a garage or a workshop. Or maybe the Galaxy is just that much of a badass? In any event, I think I’ve solved the cosmic riddle, that 12″ is just the right balance between noise, size, and power.

    Through my previous post(s) about the dangers and/or the awesomeness of fan collecting, I was made aware of the svelte stylings of the Taiwan-based plastic fan manufacturer Kuo Horng. Their simple retro designs with hip’n’with-it looking speed controls caught my eye. Those monochrome lines in various colors have a retro-fetishizing sheen to them that appeals to me somehow. It’s like something from the 70s that never went out of style.

    And of course it goes without saying that any fan that uses piano keys for speed control is automatically super sweet. Or as the kids like to say, über diggity-dank. Every time I press them, either in the office or at home, I just enjoy the simple act of setting the motor to a different speed. The click of the mechanism as it responds to your finger, the snap of the adjacent key popping back up again, all subtly reminiscent of an old-school tape recorder from your childhood–it’s an intrinsically satisfying thing. Sometimes I reach back and change the speed of the fan just for the sake of pressing the keys. (Really!) Maybe it’s some odd type of nostalgia or the plain enjoyment of something mechanical in these days of capacitive touchscreens and digital everything.

    So GG is sort of taking over main fan duty in the computer/model train room. There’s a ceiling fan in there, which is pretty effective, but it’s also somewhat noisy, so I find myself opting for the oscillating fan instead, especially when I’m playing records. That, and I also find the oscillation refreshing, the way it hits you with a breeze which goes away for a moment and then returns, over and over. GG does make some quiet grinding and whirring when you first fire her up, but after maybe 5-10 minutes she gets into the groove and purrs along pretty much silently. I also have some downward angle going right now, which is probably partially accountable for the rougher startup. In my experience it seems like oscillating fans tend to prefer moving on a level axis, rather than aiming up or down where they start making more odd noises.

    In any event, this fan is a welcome addition to my arsenal (see how I avoided calling it a collection there?) and totally an enabler in my dedication to living the ‘cool’ lifestyle here in hot Texas. It’s not a household appliance people, it’s a way of life. (Troof.) I will admit that I do sort of wish the blade itself was a nice translucent green, the same way my Dayton and Galaxy have transparent blue blades. A nice “kelly” green too, not a lime or a forest green. So maybe my quest for the ruthlessly, absolutely perfect oscillating desk fan isn’t fully complete yet, but I will say the main chassis on GG is, for my twenty-eight buckaroos including shipping (take that you metal fiends) about as cool as it gets. I think if I were able to find a green blader and swap them out, we might have such a dense singularity of plastic fan stylishness that it might have, in the words of the G-Man, ‘unforseen consequnces’….

    Count it!

    And on the fans taaaaag, JB OUT!

    Primo Vino Art: Rockus Bockus


    2012 - 07.09

    I totally love this frigging artwork. Bombz.

    Also, I blended 2 images together so you can see the whole label in one picture. This has the awesome side effect of looking like you’re seeing double, which you might be from this Rockus Bockus!

    Primo Vino Art: Vinaceous Snake Charmer


    2012 - 05.29

    Chillin out grillin on memorial day weekend, and I busted into a bottle of this, pretty excellent stuff!  Would get again.  I tell you those Aussies have got the Shiraz mastered.  No one else does it better.

    Chicago Metra


    2012 - 05.18

    Took a real short trip to Chicago and brought the Casio along.  I always liked the red stripe nose and the chrome cars of the Metra.  The city skyline and the signals in the background are a nice bonus.  And the heat rising off the tracks.

    check out this 100% resolution crop:

    Primo Vino Art: Proyecto Garnachas de España


    2012 - 05.09

    A totally beautiful image on the front of this bottle.

    Here’s a more digital version, definitely from before the printing press: