Sunday, December 16, 2012

Year end wrap-up

This’ll be the last post of the year. Looking back, I’m rather surprised at this year’s projects and posts. I start each year with big plans to do certain things hobby-wise, but as the months roll on, many of those get abandoned and replaced by new ones that I hadn’t thought of earlier and seem more interesting than my previous plans. Same thing again this year. I have lots of ideas for new projects, but how things will roll-out is anyone’s guess :-)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 
 Purple haze
 Night at the Bookery
 Stella's stop
 Long walk
 Waiting at the library
 if (FORTRAN) then Stop
 "Just chill"
1 am at Grille's
"Baby it's you"
Sounds good from the parking lot
Next year I'm gettin' a power-mower
Sunny day
Day at the beach
Midday freight train
Planning for next year

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Reassembled layout

I rather like the above view of the layout after all the buildings and scenery have been re-installed. This view emphasizes that the layout is completely flat - that was done on purpose to maximize the possibilities for installing buildings.
Below is a video of a test run of the Bachmann Birney. It runs quite well since it went through the cleaning and adjustment earlier in the year.
I was fiddling with lighting and saw these interesting shadows. I had to snap a picture. I'm not completely happy with the final image, but it seems to suggest other pictures that could be taken.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Pictures from a weeknight and day

 Homeward bound
 Waiting at the library
 Just in time
 Late night at Archie's
 Coming to an arrangement
 Day at the beach
 Picking up
Dropping off

Saturday, December 8, 2012

More photos from around town

 Down the street.
 Testing the waters.
Home after a long day.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Omnivagant layout design

[Section of the Decatur, Jackson & Newton trackplan, Model Railroader, May 1940]

I’ve been fiddling with my copy of Model Railroader’s 75th collection to try and evaluate its search capabilities.I got a little sidetracked when I came across the May 1940 Layout of the Month feature about the Decatur, Jackson & Newton, an interurban and street railroad designed by Mr. Linn Westcott. I was struck by the word ‘omnivagant’ in Mr. Westcott’s description of the 4‘x8’ layout he had designed, “Provision is made for point-to-point, once-around, triple loop, omnivagant (wandering anywhere and everywhere), and switching operations.”  I’d never heard of the word omnivagant before, but I liked the concept he described. 

Mr. Westcott declares that “model interurban and street railroads have it all over regular model railroads when it comes to getting a lot of operation in a small layout without cramping.”  About the same time I came across the Decatur, Jackson & Newton I also stumbled across this slot-car video - shown below - on youTube. It struck me as very omnivagant. I don’t know if the Decatur, Jackson & Newton could actually be built; regardless, omnivagant is a concept that seems worth exploring.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Downstairs comes upstairs

 The layout board came upstairs from the basement last night.
That's the support stand. Diagonal cross-pieces have been added on all four sides and concrete blocks were used to give it some weight. A dark brown sheet was draped over the frame to hide it a bit.
When I was carrying the board upstairs the only part that got broken were the crossing-gates when I accidentally wacked them against the car - don't ask :-(  Some trees that weren't glued down too well wobbled a bit, but didn't fall out.
And there it is. In the living room. Safe and sound waiting for the scenery to be reinstalled.

Monday, December 3, 2012

spacing, Noir, and a display stand

I was Christmas shopping on the weekend and saw the above pictured issue of spacing magazine (fall 2012) at a local bookstore. It’s a magazine about urban life, design, architecture, art, and planning in Canadian cities written for – I think – non-specialists who have an interest in those areas. I’ve only purchased just one issue a long time ago as I didn’t think it was aimed at the likes of me. This issue was another story. The cover photo caught my eye as it more or less said to me ‘streetcar noir’ with its blue-tinged, gritty cover photo. I bought it just based on the strength of the cover. I was pleasantly surprised to see it had several items on streetcars in Canada – mainly Toronto - and overall I found it quite interesting. I’ll have to take more note of future issues.

Also on the weekend I started to assemble the temporary stand I’ll use for the layout when it comes upstairs. That’s it in the photo below before I’ve attached the diagonal braces. It’s just an Ikea shelf unit we had left over from a re-arrangement of basement shelving. It’s 4 feet tall, so it’ll provide a rather interesting viewing perspective on layout operations that I haven’t yet seen.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Pictures from around town

 [Old days]


 [Making a delivery]


 [Where are my keys?]

[Boat and canoes]

The Interview

The goalies were taken to hospital. The police apprehended the runner and later brought him to the Davisville office. Our constables dropped him in a small interview room. Adams and I had been grilling him for an hour. More Adams than me. I was just there for continuity. The runner  was silent. Perfectly silent.

“We are done,” announced Adams looking the runner in the eyes. He had finally given up. Adams looked at me and nodded that I follow him to the door. We got up and went into the hall, closing the door behind us. We walked  down the corridor to the stairwell, away from the posted room guard.

Adams leaned against the wall, staring back at the room, “He is a professional. His background is spotless, but his overall behaviour gives him away. Something is not right.  The complete silence and submission to the process speaks volumes. It is very rare for anyone to remain completely silent during detainment or interview. He knows that we do not have any charge against him.”

“Can’t you use your ‘I’ll ask the deputy minister for a security certificate’ line?” I offered,

“It only works on people like you. Hardened professionals who know when there is no basis for the certificate will not bite. If I had solid evidence, I would use it.”

“He ran away from the scene of a crime,” was my next uneducated suggestion.

“His representation would argue – correctly – that he merely witnessed a disturbing event at Stop 23 and did what any innocent bystander would do, run away.”

Adams looked down at the floor for a moment and then walked back to the guard. “Return him to processing. I’ll have his discharge papers there in 15 minutes.” Adams came back to me, “Let’s go to my office.”

We took the stairs up a floor, turned a corner after the landing, and disappeared into the past.

Adams plopped into his big chair. He motioned me to the seat in front of his desk. The last time I had a private audience in his office was just after he had corralled me off the street during the botched ray-gun affair that lead to me becoming an agent. It had only been seven months ago, but it seemed like a million years. The office seemed older too. More down on its luck. A bit disheveled. Dusty. Paper strewn. Paleozoic coffee cup rings were fossilized on the desk. 

Adams stared at some pristine papers that a secretary had carefully placed on top of the desk rubble.

I was anxious. I jumped in, “That’s it? We can’t hold him?”

“I’ll have him discretely followed for a few days.” Adams glanced at me and saw my face light up, 

“But not by you.”

I dialed back my beam and cautiously asked, “What’s the status of the goalies?”

“The one with the cracked head is in a coma. Constable McFarland is in surgery. He is in a lot of trouble.” Adams stared way beyond me and told the back wall, “McFarland is a traitor.”

Traitor. Barry White and Darth Vader were gone; Adams spit the word out.

“I’m afraid he might be the tip of an iceberg,” came the reply to the unasked question.

I didn’t ask anything more. Didn’t seem too wise.

Adams’ vision refocused on me, “The reason I asked you here is to inform you that you are now assigned to level three activities until the inquiry into this incident is resolved. I will need to ask you to give me your sidearm and any related weapons paraphernalia you have on your person.”

I knew this was coming, but I hoped I was special and could avoid it. No such luck. I placed my gun and holster on his desk. I was glad to be rid of it. But apparently not Adams, he looked even unhappier.

“Since you have been with us for less than a year, and the incident involved discharging your sidearm, and later using it to coerce a suspect, I have to downgrade your responsibilities and confiscate your weapon while the inquiry is underway.”

“I know the procedure,” I replied.

“I think you will be cleared regarding the events at Stop 23. However, you later used your weapon for intimidation of a civilian. Luckily, you did not let your sidearm be seen by members of the public; otherwise, the consequences would be more serious. As such, you will probably only receive a class 3 reprimand on your record, and be required to complete additional training. None of that is overly concerning.”


“Strictly speaking, yes. A regular citizen might try to charge us with harassment or abuse of some sort after such a confrontation”

“Do you think he’ll do that?”

“No. He is going to try to disappear.”

Adams straightened up in his chair and continued, “The incident investigation team will speak with you briefly tonight, and then all day tomorrow. After that, you will start a new assignment until your case is resolved,” explained Adams. He reached into his desk drawer, pulled out a paper, and slid it to me across the desk.

I read it. I couldn’t believe it. They were putting me on UFO duty: near daybreak on the 17th a large, fast moving object was seen in the western skies above the dunes at Molly’s Beach on Ward’s Pacific Island, and I was being sent to investigate. I’d probably only confirm that stoned, New Age hippies smoke pot in the early morning and hallucinate before harmonically converging with Mother Nature.

“Is this a joke?”


“I’ve been told me about these assignments.”

Adams gave me a blank stare, “We investigate these not because we are looking for extra-terrestrial visitors, but because they are often signs of other activities of concern. If this not suitable for you, I have some office oriented activities that might be of interest.”

reconsidered my position, “No, this will be fine.”  Chasing hippies outdoors was better than cajoling beauracrats indoors.

“Good. It will likely  turn out to be a just balloon.”

The next instalment can be found here.

The Chase

He was running pretty fast. But so was I. Since Jess left I’ve had lots of spare time to catch up on exercise.  He was way ahead, but not for long. 

The problem wasn’t so much his speed, but his direction. He turned the corner and was running down Mount Pleasant straight for Eglinton. There was an eastbound streetcar waiting there with its front door wide open. 

The driver rang last-call on the car’s gong to round up stranglers before he left. 

Maybe his speed was a problem. I was starting to lag. And pant. Maybe eating donuts while exercising wasn’t such a good idea after all.

He poured on the gas for the last few feet and leapt onboard the idling streetcar just as the doors were closing. The car majestically pulled away, insulting my exercise regime by flashing its ParticipAction ad card.

A maintenance shorty pulled up on the rails right behind the streetcar to take its place at the intersection. The light was red. The shorty was stopped. Maybe I did have a chance.

I got to the shorty’s door just as the light was turning green. I hammered on the door with my fist as it slowly pulled forward. I kept hammering. Finally it stopped and the doors snapped open.

“What the hell’s going on!” yelled the driver.

I flashed my ID card and jumped on, “Follow that car!” I looked down Eglinton and pointed to the departing streetcar.


“Just do it!” I shoved my ID into his face, just inches from his eyes.

“Ok, you’re the boss.”

He stomped the accelerator.  I stumbled backward. He chuckled. 

We picked up speed.

The car was only a couple blocks ahead. Still in sight. And he hadn’t gotten off. 

“Won’t this thing go any faster? Shift over to the express track.”

“That’s not for maintenance cars.”

“Do it anyway!”

After half a block, the driver switched the shorty over to the express track and pushed the speed lever forward. Surprisingly the shorty seemed to double its speed. The streetcar was now almost out of sight and lost in the gathering traffic. 

But the gap started to narrow.

The streetcar was approaching a stop and slowing.

“Slow down!” I cried.

“Fast. Slow. Make up yer mind.”

We slowed, they slowed, we slowed some more.

The streetcar stopped and he got off.

We drifted by. 


“Fer chrissakes.”  The driver mashed the brake.

We stopped almost on the spot. Good thing I was holding onto a pole, but it felt like the deceleration was going to rip my arm out of my shoulder.

The driver opened the doors. I ran out. Jumped over the half-wall separating the express track from the mainline and tried not to lose sight of him in the crowd. 

He wasn’t running, just walking and merging with the flow of pedestrians. He thought he’d escaped. I followed him, trying to stay out of his view, mingling and moving. I got closer. He had to stop to side-step a mother and stroller coming in the opposite direction. That was my chance. I caught up, veered a little to the side of him, and pushed the muzzle of my gun, still concealed in my coat pocket, into the small of his back.

“Don’t move.”  I cautioned.

He did. He started to run. He knew I wouldn’t shoot in a crowd. 

He didn’t know I knew he knew, so I also knew to trip him.

The next instalment can be found here.

Introduction to InterTrack Routing Protocols

The lecture hall was full. That wasn’t to last long. After a few lectures it would be down to a quarter of the students here today. On the surface, this subject seemed simple: shunting little trains here and there, what could be easier? Many things actually. 

David got started, “How many of you have taken a train somewhere?”

Everyone raised their hand.

“And how many of you have ridden the InterTrack network?” 

Only a few students raised their hands in response to that one.

“One last question, how many of you have some sort of railrider? Powered, pedaled, or pumped, doesn’t matter.”

Better response this time: maybe three-quarters raised their hands.

Ryan pointed to a student near the front who had raised his hand to all questions and asked, “Where did you access the IT?”

“We’ve got a stub at our house.”

“Must be nice. How’d you arrange that?”

“My dad works at homeRail.”

“Nice. You have tensegrium based rail for your stub?”

“Yeah, with the new Snellsonite alloy.”

“Very nice. Have you taken your railrider through a router?”

“Yeah, once. Sorta weird though.”

“How so?”

“When you show up, punch in the place you’re going to, and you know you’re headed in some direction, you’d think a simple turn would send you the right way, but the router takes you on all kinds of twists and turns before putting you on the right track. It’s weird.”

A wadded up paper ball arced from the back seats and expertly bounced off the front row student’s head. The offended student’s returned glare was met with a casual wave from the back row paper pitcher. 

“Thanks.” Ryan suppressed a smile, straightened up and shifted from addressing that one student to the entire class, “It’s that weirdness we’re going to be untangling in this course. We’ll look into the mathematics and algorithms that govern the switches, turn and transfer tables that make up a router region. We’ll study the protocols, scheduling, prioritization, overload handling, and the other details that routers use to get you to where you want to go.”

Ryan shifted back to addressing the student, “Along the way we’ll see that a lot of router weirdness is simply due to misconfiguration or unsophisticated setups…, “ he shifted his gaze back to the lecture hall, “…you’ll be able to fix. So without further adieu, let’s get started.”

The next instalment can be found here.

If you go down to the woods today

There was a knock at the door. 

Leslie was writing at the cabin’s kitchen table. It was late afternoon. She had been working all day on the fusion reaction stabilization equations. Her pen was nearly dry, her coffee mug was almost empty, but her gun was fully loaded. 

She carefully lifted it up off the side table. She didn’t budge from her seat. She didn’t answer. 

There was a second knock. 

“Leslie, it’s David Ryan,” called the visitor.

Leslie leaned forward to look into the mirror she had attached to the wall by the table that allowed her to see who was at the door without leaving her chair. It did look like David, but it had been so many years since she’d seen him. And what would he be doing out here in the middle of the woods in this part of the country? 

“Leslie, I saw you a few days ago at the grocery store. I tried to say hi, but you ignored me and kept on shopping,” continued the visitor from the other side of the door.

That guy did sound like David. Maybe it was him. She cautiously got up and went to open the door, keeping the gun in her hand, out of sight, but ready. She flipped off the safety.

Incredibility, it was David. Older, but there was no doubt it was him. Leslie unlocked the door and let him in.

“What are you doing here?” asked Leslie.

“I could ask you the same question.” David glanced down at Leslie’s other hand, “Is that loaded?”

Leslie flipped the safety back on.

“What’s with the gun? That’s a tough way to greet a long lost friend.”

“I’m sorry to be so rude. It’s quite a surprise to see you.”

Leslie put the gun on the entryway table and gave David a hug, “I thought I was dreaming. It’s been such a long time.”

After a deep breath, “Why don’t you go in the kitchen and make yourself at home. I’ll get some coffee.”

David went inside and sat at the table across from Leslie’s place. He spun around her notebook to see what the scrawled equations were about. They looked familiar, but he wasn’t sure what they had to say.

Leslie got two mugs from a cupboard and proceeded to fill them from a restaurant sized coffee urn on the small counter. “Do you want milk or sugar?” she called over to David,

“If you’re still making coffee like you did in the lab, I’ll need a litre of each.”

Leslie came over to the table with the filled mugs and placed one in front of David, “Wise guy. Try it black.” She cleared away some of the nearby loose papers and made a place for the coffee.

“What are these about?” asked David nodding towards the open notebook pages.

“My current project,” replied Leslie as she glanced sideways at the pages. She looked back at David, “I can’t quite believe this. Are you going to tell me how you found me?”

“I wasn’t actually looking for you. I saw you – although I didn’t really know it was you – at the grocery store and then saw you again out here in the forest when I was on a walk. I thought the next time I was out here I’d see if it really was you.”

“Do you live in this area, or is this a vacation?” Leslie took a sip of her coffee.

“We live here now. It’s a bit of a long story. The university was doing a round of cost-cutting and I was offered early retirement. I hadn’t done real physics in years. I was just an administrator, so I took it. My grandmother had left me her house in town many years ago when she passed. The boys had their own lives, so Helen and I moved out here.” 

Ryan took a long look out the window beside the table, The big pond was just as he remembered it.  So were the trees. Time moved a lot slower back here.

“When I was a boy I’d stay a few weeks every summer with my grandmother. I’d  play out in these woods all day. I knew them like the back of my hand. I still like to come out here. It’s surprising how little things have changed in these woods after all these years. Even these old cabins are still standing.”

David turned away from the window and back towards Leslie, “Imagine my surprise when I saw you in the window of one, and saw you buying groceries in town. You must remember that I tried to talk to you in the store?”

“Yes, I do, but I didn’t look too closely at you. I thought it was just some old hick trying to pick me up,” said Leslie with a smile.

“Well, the ‘old hick’ had to see if it was you. What about yourself?”

“I’m on the run.”

“What?” David put down his coffee.

“I’ve been on the run for over a year. Some friends told me about a project they were working on and offered me this cabin to stay in, so I took them up on the offer.”

“Who’s after you?”

“I think it’s the government, but I’m not really sure.”


“Well, that’s my long story. Could you stay awhile and talk?”

David glanced at his watch, “I don’t think I can stay much longer. It’s a long walk back home, and it’ll be getting back in the dark if I don’t leave soon. Helen will get worried. Why don’t you come over to the house tomorrow night for dinner?”

“Don’t you remember those nights in Montreal?”

“Yes, but that was a long time ago and she doesn’t know. It was a youthful indiscretion.”

“You weren’t that ‘youthful’,” replied Leslie peering over the edge of her mug,

“That hurts,” said David with an expression of mock woundedness.

It was summer, but a chill was developing.

“She knows. Trust me,” continued Leslie. 

“No. You’re very different now. You’ve cut your hair. It’s dyed brown. Your clothing style has changed to - how shall I put this - the rustic.” David leaned closer to Leslie until they were almost nose to nose. “And I think you’re wearing brown coloured contacts.”

“And what colour were my eyes before?” asked Leslie with an accusatory tone.

David paused a second. “They weren’t brown,” was his smug reply.

It didn’t matter if they were blue, brown, green, or hazel, a black storm was moving in behind them deepening the chill.

Leslie slowly leaned in a little closer and released the first thunder clap, “God damn it! Do you think she’s a fool! I’m not going to your house pretending to be someone she doesn’t know. I don’t even want to see her on the street or anywhere else! I wish I hadn’t seen you.”

Leslie leaned against the chair back, rubbed her forehead with her hand and looked away from David into the little kitchen.

David was silent.

This wasn’t the brilliant and insightful Leslie Warden from the lab, nor was this the elegant and vivacious Leslie Warden from Montreal, this was the hard-edged and suffer-no-fools Leslie Warden of legend.

The storm had only just begun. Leslie turned back to face David, “Do you know how hard it is to be constantly moving from one place to another, always looking over your shoulder wondering who’s an agent that’s going to arrest you. And to add insult to injury, my wimp of a husband left me at the first whiff of trouble. Now my’ life-mate’ is named Glock. I’ve crash landed in a backwoods cabin without hydro, phone, terminals or stubs. And even this hole isn’t safe now that you’ve found me. I’ll have to move again.”

“What can I do to help?” was David’s response. Smug David was gone. Chastised David was in his place.

“Get out,” was her exasperated reply. “She’ll be sending a posse to find you.”

David didn’t move. “You haven’t told me any details. How can I help without knowing what’s going on? How about this, I could come back the day after tomorrow? We could have lunch here. I’ll bring something. I’ll have lots of time and you could tell me the whole story.”

Leslie was unmoved.

David continued. “Look Leslie, I’m the only person who knows who you are and that you’re here. No one follows me or pays me much notice. I’m just eccentric furniture; an odd outsider. As long as I don’t deviate from doing what I usually do, stick to my routines, people will continue not to notice, even Helen. Don’t do anything rash. I’ll take another of my ‘walks’ on Thursday and come back here. Ok?”


The next instalment can be found here.

Safe Landing

“Leslie, look over there”, prompted Cathy as she pointed to the sky just above a distant dune.

“I don’t see anything,” replied Leslie lifting her binoculars and scanning the horizon,“ it’s still a bit too soon. He’d call if he was approaching.”

Leslie lowered her binoculars and turned to Cathy, “Try to remember to call me Donna, not Leslie. It won’t become automatic for either of us if we don’t use it all the time.”


“Andy should be within range of our walkie-talkies in a few minutes,” continued Donna glancing at her watch.

Sunrise was still a few minutes away and there was an onshore breeze blowing across the beach. The distant trackmobile’s idling diesel was still faintly discernible above the screeches of circling seagulls and the white-noise of waves washing up on the beach.

“Do you think this wind will slow him down?”

“No, I re-checked the power system this morning and he has plenty. The wind should be a good test of its control capabilities.”

The sun was just peeking above the horizon. 

“There he is,” reported Cathy.

A black blob had appeared in the previously vacant spot in the air above the dunes.

Donna took another look through her binoculars and nodded confirmation. Cathy went on the walkie-talkie, “Andy, we see you.”

“I hear you,” came the faint, staticy reply.

“How’s your steering?”

“Excellent. Bit of a cross-wind. I’m holding course without much trouble. I’d rate it an eight.“

The black blob started to take on features. A big cylindrical gas-bag. A lengthwise beam slung below. Several propellers on struts sticking out at strange angles from the beam.  Andy Dumont was strapped into a seat right in the middle of this aerodynamic confusion.

The speed was good. Surprisingly so for a blimp.

“Do you see the flat car?” Cathy asked the radio.

“Yes.” The static was gone.

The blimp started to turn inland and head for the flat car.

“I’m going to get the grapple ready,” announced Cathy, who then ran for the train.

“Ok,” replied Andy from the radio.

“Ok,” replied Donna from behind her binoculars, still tracking Andy’s flight path.

The landing flat car was coupled to the trackmobile in the tall-grass siding on the other side of the dune ridge where the surfers usually parked. 

Cathy deployed the flat car’s grappling mast.

Andy was on a perfect approach. The flat car was broadside to the wind and the blimp was on a steady descent in line with it. It was unfazed by the ocean breezes. 

Donna lowered her binoculars and ran over to the flat car to watch the landing up close.

Andy got the blimp positioned over the grapple, stopped, lowered the landing cable and the grapple did what the grapple was supposed to do: grab the cable and pull the blimp down. Propellers slowed. The blimp wobbled a little. There was a soft bounce when it hit the deck.

“Come fly with me, let’s fly!” sang Andy in a pathetic Sinatra imitation as he unstrapped himself from the cockpit, jumped from the flat car’s deck, and bestowed a kiss on both members of the ground crew.
Whatever you installed in her, it did the trick. Perfect control. Lots of power. Like riding on rails!” Andy was ecstatic.

“Don’t run off and join the comedy club circuit just yet. Pull the gas release and let’s get out of here.”

Andy did as he was told. A big seam opened up on the top of the gas bag and let loose all the hydrogen. In a few seconds it was just a big sheet draped over the car. Within minutes all three had it tucked in place and were ready to leave.

Cathy got into the trackmobile’s cab and put it in gear.

Andy had climbed onto the flat car.

Donna started to enter the trackmobile’s passenger door.

“Let’s look at the flight recorder!” called Andy, waving Donna to come back. She stepped down from the cab and motioned Cathy to start the train.

The trackmobile slowly started to pull forward. Donna stepped onto a flat car rung as it passed by. 
Andy grabbed her free hand and helped her up onto the deck. 

From up there she was rewarded with a panoramic view of the ocean and dunes and birds and tall grasses. All glorious in the glow of the rising sun. Maybe this was the place to stop running.

The next instalment can be found here.