Friday, March 1, 2013

Part 2 of ’A Review of Model Railroader’s 75th Anniversary Collection’ and Art Curren's nearly omnivagant BTR RR

Back in part 1 I promised a follow-up post where I’d take a look at the collection’s search function. I’ve been putting it off for a while and some people have been asking me where it is. I guess the short answer is, although I had a plan to do a detailed examination of the search function, after trying it for awhile, I didn’t think it was worthwhile – the follow-up post that is. Although I like the content of this collection a great deal, I’d rate the search a C+: it’ll find things, but it left me with an uneasy feeling that it wasn’t finding everything it was being asked to, and it has some rather annoying quirks.

First a quirk:  the pamphlet included with the DVDs states that some searches will result in a search finding being a couple of pages away from the returned search result that is displayed to you. This in fact does happen quite often. So, if you’re looking over some search result pages, and you don’t see your search term on a displayed page, open that page anyway and then go a couple of pages further into the issue. You will eventually see a page with your search term. It does work as described, but it isn’t that acceptable given the de facto standards set by the likes of Google, Solr, Bing, and the other mainstream search engines in common use today. It's this quirk that downgrades the feature for me from a B to a C+. I’d encourage the publisher to fix this behaviour if they have a plan to release a 2nd edition; say, an 80th anniversary collection in 2014 that updates the library from where it ended in December 2009. 

And now for the feelings part. I’m working on some posts about E. L. Moore’s work and its legacy in the 21th century. I’ve used the Model Railroader 75th Collection to search for his articles and any other material by or about him. I think I have a good understanding of all the articles he published in Model Railroader, so I tried to find them with the search function and see what turned up – it seemed like a good test for both it and me :-) It did find all his articles when I entered E. L. Moore into the author search function. To find articles about him, or referenced him, or mentioned him – as well as Trackside Photos – I had to use the full text search function. I should also note that the full text search – where it searches the entire textual information of the collection – takes much longer to execute than keyword, title, or author oriented searches.

Going a little further afield, I performed some searches to look for articles by Art Curren. He was a Model Railroader staff member and writer from the late 1970s until his death in 2000, and his specialty was kitbashing plastic structures. Back then I greatly admired his work, but I never had the cash to buy plastic kits and build his projects. E. L. Moore's scratch-built projects were more economical for me to try since they typically cost only a few dollars in materials. For an introduction to Mr. Curren's work, Mike Hamer has an excellent post at his blog. Mr. Curren didn’t just write about structure kitbashing, but ranged into other areas of model railroading as well: I have a copy of Mr. Curren’s article, Kitbash a rail bus - along with parts I’ve collected - on my shelf patiently waiting for me to get around to building the vehicle. Well, I typed Art Curren into the author search function and many articles were returned. The first one was from February 1979, Kitbash a doodlebug. But, if one does a full text search on Art Curren instead of an author search, an article called Perry Shibbel Fruit & Produce Co-Op, from January 1979, appears to be his first article, but it didn't turn up in the author search.

This seemed rather odd. Mr. Curren was a prolific and high profile writer at Model Railroader during his tenure there, so an author search should have found everything he wrote. I suspect the collection's tagging, which author searching likely makes use of, is not completely accurate. My tip is: if you're concerned about completeness of your searches, use the full text search.

So, that's my anecdotal story; search does work, but it’s a bit quirky. 

[Snippet of the trackless main street from the BTR RR, September 1980 MR]
Post Script:

While doing some searches on Art Curren's work, I came across his article, The BTR RR., which appears in the September 1980 issue. The 'Break The Rules' RR is a plan for a 5 foot by 9 foot HO scale layout that "has none of these 'standard' features: no yards, no engine facilities, and no stations… and to cap it off it is just a simple oval on which the trains go round and round" because "I wanted to design a small layout that would be fun to operate, and I also wanted room for lots of structures." I like those sentiments and, given that, and looking closely at the trackplan and geography, it could readily form the basis of a streetcar oriented layout. One difference between it and those of Linn Westcott that I've previously discussed is that the BTR RR isn't truly omnivagant although it's pretty close. Take a look down the un-named main street, there's no track there even though it runs everywhere else. With a little addition in that area and this could be an omnivagant Linn Westcott ancestor.

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