Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Why I won’t use DCC.

One of the joys of working for a non-profit is that you have to do everything. For example, look after the web site, I have to update the files now and again, which is generally a disaster.

This morning I was about to write a witty and amusing post about something or other on my work blog and the admin page flashed a little message along the lines of ‘Update 2.5.230473623 is available, please download now.” I groaned: I do something quantum to computers that makes them crash. No matter how carefully I follow the instructions, how many times I click on the button saying “Click here to make the computer do what you want” I always seem to get the “Error 543725643725632: What the heck are you doing?!” message, and today was the same as ever.

Knowing full well it was an exercise in futility, I clicked on the “Famous 5-minute install” link. This is a hilarious set of instructions. I’ve used them about 27 times, read them very carefully and I practically know them by heart. The reason for this is that every time I use the instructions something goes wrong, so I have to start all over again. Usually the ‘famous 5-minute install’ takes about two hours. I don’t know why: when it says ‘click here’ I click here, when it says ‘write this here’ I write this here. The instructions usually say: “Now your screen will look like this” and have a nice little friendly graphic showing what to do next. Unfortunately my screen doesn’t have a nice little friendly graphic, but a rude message. Or it just hasn’t done anything. This time it was “File transfer unsuccessful”. which could mean anything. I got the same result the next time I did it. After that it went for “Server Timeout” by way of variation.

Remind me again why I should start using DCC?

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Door stop

Yesterday we recieved a package about the weight and shape of a paving slab, courtesy of Deutsche Post. It turned out to be a copy of the ‘Conrad’ electronics catalogue, full of wonderful electronic items that I never knew existed or needed. They even have a model railway section, and when a major chain retailer stocks model railway bits it shows how much money there is in the hobby in Germany. This is the country that gave us HO scale digital automated fairgrounds with go-kart racing tracks that you can actually race the cars, and companies like Märklin and LGB, whose cheaper models cost upwards of €500.

The sheer mass of stuff you can get to jazz up model railways here is amazing, yet people buy them, filling the space between the tracks with all manner of whirring, whizzing or rotating wonderments. At the Sinsheim exhibition I went to, one model even had a castle with a long piece of stiff wire coming off the roof and an aeroplane on the end which was rotating slowly.  At the same exhibition one company was demonstrating a cassette style fiddle yard that stored full-length gauge one trains in a magazine and automatically gave you the train you selected to run.

I’m not saying that these things are somehow ‘bad’, (although having worked in the third world, the amount of money in the industry does make me wonder) or that there are no ‘realistic’ model railways -There are many Germans making models from the simplest materials, which are historically accurate works of art and far beyond my abilities- just that the amount of readily available bells and whistles are quite mind-boggling for someone from outside of this culture.

The Conrad catalogue was at pains to point out that this was merely a ‘selection’ of what they produced: for a small fee you could order a variety of other paving slabs specialising in electrical gubbins for lighting, model making, or even model railways, but as I seem to be doing well without knowing half these things exist, I’m not too bothered. I used the catalogue to prop the door open and let the breeze in, and went off in search of some old cornflake packets and my craft knife to build something…

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Well, it turns out that travelling across Europe by train was easier than we dared hope. The bus, tram and trains generally behaved themselves and worked reasonably to schedule, the station staff were friendly, we could carry food and water, go for walks along the train and see the view (except in the tunnel). it was far, far better than flying.

The only slightly stressful part of the journey was the change from the Cologne-Brussels train to the Eurostar. Normally the procedure for changing train was pretty simple: get off train, follow signs to platform, find the approximate place for our coach and wait until the train pulled in. Eurostar insists on shoving its passengers through all manner of checks, and on top of this the British Immigration service checks our passport here, it seems a bit odd to be checking passports for the UK when we have to cross the border to France first, but there we go.

After that it was pretty easy: we shot through the tunnel, arrived in London St. Pancras and ambled over to King’s Cross. Our train was listed, although without the platform details. This was encouraging but only to a point, so I went and asked at the information desk if they knew where the train would come in. They were surprisingly cheerful considering they are probably being asked this question 37 times each shift.
“Well, we know, but we don’t advertise it until 15 minutes before the departure”
Interesting. Why would that be?
A grin: “Well, it’s pretty hard to get on a train full of rubbish.”
Fair enough. Anyway the number came up then and we joined the swarm running for platform 8.

To be fair to National Express, the train left on time, and two hours and twenty minutes later we were in Northallerton. We’d travelled half way across Europe and arrived within two minutes of the planned time- earlier, as it happens.

Try that in a car.

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Modern Railway Modelling asked me to write an article last year and they seemed to like it, as it’s in their spring 2007 edition, and the editor has asked for more material. Specifically they are interested in reviews of models not available in the UK. I have a agreement with a local model shop to take pictures, but as it’s several kilometres away I’m trying to get a small portable photo studio together… Anyone with ideas, let me know…

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I’ve had another article published. This time it’s in the January issue of “Continental Modeller” Magazine, about the Tälesbahn, a privately owned standard gauge branch line near here. CM used it as their “Plan of the month”. Living here gives me the advantage that I can research and visit these little-known places that almost no-one has heard of, and CM has two more articles waiting in their files which will be published when they are truly desperate for something to fill space. Another magazine has said that they will probably print an article in the spring. I’ll keep you posted…

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I’ve got articles about local railways loafing in files of several different magazines, and this month “European Railways and ER Modelling” issue #174 (Oct/Nov 2006) has published one about the tram/metro rebuilding in Stuttgart over the summer, with layout suggestions. It’s based on the slightly chaotic conditions in Stuttgart and the ways that the Stuttgart tram company is making a gauge change in the middle if the city. Others have been sent and I’m told they will be published soon.

At the same time I’m translating a German website about the beautiful and varied, but almost unheard of railways of the North German islands. The project is long-term because I’m doing it as and when I can but I’ve done three of the Islands so far.

Well, it keeps me out of trouble…

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