Friday, December 25, 2009

Bergensbanen - Breathtaking 7-hour cab-view HD video of the NSB from Bergen to Oslo

Anyone interested in an amazing Norwegian prototype for modeling, or just enjoyment? Click here.

Do note that this is a huge download, with some technical restrictions. A BitTorrent client is required.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Quick Review: AnyRail free layout design software

Great free software for designing your layout.

Pros: very easy to use, fast learning curve; built-in template libraries for just about every track manufacturer and scale; free!

Cons: built-in templates for structures and scenery are very limited; drawing/graphics limited to polygons or compound curves filled with solid colors

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fantastic resource for printing out custom wood, masonry, and other tileable textures

Spiral Graphics is offering two free programs that generate seamless tileable textures. If you model with card or paper, or want to print your own texture sheets to cover other materials, you must have these.

The first program is the Genetica Viewer, which has a built-in library of textures, including many of interest for structures, floors, roads, etc. Though the free viewer version of Genetica does not allow you to create new textures from scratch (a rather complicated process involving defining and connecting algorithmic units together), you can alter quite a few parameters of the inbuilt textures including the density, hue, contrast, and the random seed which varies the patterns. Your customized texture can then be output to a .jpg or .bmp file, in many different pixel resolutions, for use in drawing, word processing, or illustration software. You'll want to make sure that the file's pixel resolution, once scaled, yields around 300 dots per inch. For example, if the printed texture will have tiles that are each around two inches square, your resolution should not be less than 512X512 pixels. Finally, note that many more free textures can be downloaded one by one from their user forums. If you use BitTorrent, many of these additional textures have been put together in this torrent file.

The second program is their Wood Workshop, which works similarly to the Genetica Viewer but which focuses exclusively on wood textures, with many more customizable parameters. Clapboard and board-and-batten are only the beginning.

The primary users of these programs are those designing 3D objects for computers games or art, but the possibilities for card modeling and texture sheets are truly extraordinary.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Blindingly Obvious Car Routing

I've been doing this for years, and now it has a name. No interest in car cards and waybills, but want to operate? Read all about BOCR over at Carl Arendt's fabulous micro layout site.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Better sound for model railroads

I like sound a lot. Sound is a big part of the railfanning experience, and it can also be an important part of model railroading, but there are problems.

Not that I’m opinionated or anything, but the sound on DCC decoders is just awful. David K. Smith wrote an eloquent piece on this a couple of years back, and I’m going to second and third his motion. There are basically two problems with onboard loco sound: the earbud-sized speakers on the boards aren’t capable of reproducing sound with any kind of fidelity, and even if they could (or even if you piped the sound output of a decoder through a separate amp and speakers), the 8-bit sound digitization on the board is akin to the sound in a plastic child’s toy.

I think it’s easy to get hung up on the idea that a loco’s sound must originate from exactly the same place as the loco, and I’d like to refute this notion. As modelers, we don’t duplicate reality exactly, but rather we design and build heightened and augmented versions of it, with certain things emphasized and other things de-emphasized. Next time you watch a movie, note how the synced sound consists mainly of dialogue and Foley (footsteps, explosions, etc), with much of the sonic environment being “wild” or unsynchronized.

So, what to do if you’re interested in a realistic, high quality, immersive sonic atmosphere for your pike? You can make (if you’re handy with digital audio software and have access to a sound library) or buy a basic environmental sound mix containing country, city, and industrial noises, have these on audio CDs or other playback hardware, and reproduce them through a decent amp, with decent speakers behind or below your layout.

But what about the loco sounds? Time to think outside the box:

  1. If your layout (or one part of a large layout) is a yard or industrial switching area, augment your environmental sound mix with occasional and random slow-speed loco movements, brake, coupler, bell, and horn sounds, so that the loco you’re controlling becomes just part of a larger sphere of activity. This can be amazingly effective, even though there is no loco “sync sound.”
  2. If you must have specific sync sound for the loco you’re operating, you could compile a collection of around a dozen key loco sound sequences (station halt, comin’ ‘round the bend, distant and close horn blows, etc) as audio files on a computer. Then use software to trigger these sounds; do this concurrently while you operate the loco. Combine the computer’s sound output with the basic environmental mix, and route this to two good speakers in a stereo pair under the layout, or above it. Again, the overall psychological effect of good, balanced, immersive sound far outweighs being able to have the sound come from a precise location of the layout.
  3. Don’t use loco sounds, make do with the natural clickety-clack on your model rails.
Remember that, like everything visual on your layout, sound also needs to be to scale. This means using very low volume levels: imagine that as you peer down at your layout, how loud would the sounds be if this was the real world and you were floating in the sky looking down?

Finally, note that our ears are much less sensitive to bass and treble at lower volume levels. Your amp (or CD player) may have a “loudness” function, which compensates for this by boosting bass and treble. This keeps the sound fuller without making it louder. Use it if you have it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

My favorite electronics vendors

Here is a short list of electronics vendors that sell items of interest for hobbyists. If nothing else, the sites are fun to browse. Note that I am not financially affiliated with any of these vendors.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cheap alternative to Silflor

I just love learning about cheap and creative approaches to scenery. I recently heard about craft store pot toppers as a much-cheaper-than-Silflor material for vegetation. Neat!

LED "rosettes" to light structures

I wrote earlier about using yellow LEDs to light structures internally. Having just started construction on a new module, I've decided to apply this technique, and have sorted out some better specifications than the ones I previously posted.

The advantage of LEDs is that they are dim enough that, with proper positioning, they won't make the structure walls "glow" in the dark, even if you don't paint the insides of the structures black (a chore I despise, and one which presents many opportunities for accidentally painting over places that need to be glued). Their dimness also means you pretty much need one LED per window, sometimes two for a big window.

So, because even a simple structure usually requires several LEDs, I've been constructing circuits of 6 LEDs. I bend the leads of 6 LEDs, solder them positive-to-negative in series, then solder a 220-ohm resistor to the positive end (a value that will give the right current to the LEDs using most transformer accessory power), and two wires to the opposite ends, making a kind of circle I call a "rosette." This rosette/array of LEDs can then be arranged inside the structure, so the LEDs are a millimeter or two behind each window, pointing right at it ... of course it's a good idea to diffuse the light by backing the window with vellum, frosted mylar, paper, etc.

Each of these circuits will consume 20-25ma, depending on transformer voltage. I use a single full-wave bridge rectifier to feed the circuits (since the LEDs only conduct in one direction). As you can surmise, you can power a large number of LEDs using only a fraction of the power from one transformer.