Computer Work Ongoing

There’s more to this railroad than just the layout.   On a Prototype (real) railroad, much goes on in offices and on computers around the country and around the world.  There is also much going on off the layout with the CH&FR.  Here’s a taste of some of the ongoing work.

I’ve already posted, I think, about how we do “virtual interchange”  through the MRICC Virtual Interchange facility hosted by Jim Stanford.  He has a nice web-based system that allows folks to send railroad traffic back and forth between our model layouts, without actually mailing the cars around the world.  I’ve been working on using JMRI‘s operations package to track those cars, along with cars from my friends at nScale.net and the somewhat more old-school Virtual Interchange setup we have going on there.  That keeps the cars going.

I have gained lots of friends in model railroading, but unfortunately many of them live in other states or countries, and will not likely ever be able to visit for an operating session, let alone do so on a regular basis.  So one of my goals is to use my computer skills to set up a system whereby a selected person can fill the Dispatcher role, directing which trains may go where on the mainline and when, over the computer.  Lately I’ve been making several strides in that direction.

First, I’ve set up an Apache Web Server on one of my computers, and I’m in the process of building and publishing a “CH&FR Employee Website”.  This is set up just like it would be if the CH&FR were real, and has information that Dispatchers, Conductors and Engineers would need in order to operate trains on the “real” CH&FR, along with model-specific info where necessary.

In order to do the actual dispatching, the crews need a way to communicate with the Dispatcher, so I’m also installing a Murmur Server for Mumble  to provide voice chat capability during the ops sessions.  With headsets and microphones, everyone will be able to talk to each other, just like the MMO gaming guys do.  I’ll probably also add a text chat tool to the website as a backup and “sidebar”, but that’s in the “extras” list.

The Dispatcher will need a track diagram, with occupancy indicators and turnout (track switch) controls.  JMRI has some powerful tools for doing just this with its PanelPro and underlying features, so I’ll be leaning heavily on that capability.

And then, just so the Dispatcher can see what’s going on — not that he needs to in order to do his job — I’ll be setting up a couple of webcams around the layout and streaming the video out to the website.  This should allow a handful of spectators to enjoy the session as well.  I don’t think the video stream will be “real-time” enough for train operations, but it should provide a fun addition to the whole package.  I’m still learning how to do this part, but right now it looks like I’ll be using VLC to create the video streams.

Add all of this to the powerful layout control, operations, and dispatching support capabilities built into JMRI, and I hope to provide a very exciting experience for my remote friends.  Stay tuned. I’m making steady progress, so I hope to be getting this deal off the ground and running in a few months.

Thank goodness for “Find my iPhone”!!

Well, this is rather tangential to the usual topic of this blog – if not outright off-topic! – but I consider it relevant because (a) I use my iPhone a lot for capturing photos and video of my trains, and (b) replacing it would be a major setback to the train budget.  Besides, it’s my blog, eh?

Last night I went to the grocery, and as is my usual habit I had the grocery list in my Paperless app.  So I plopped the phone into the little “coupon basket” on the handle of my cart, shopped, checked out, and returned home.  A few hours later, I patted my pockets only to find them phone-less!  I quickly realized that I had left my iPhone on the cart in the parking lot!

Fortunately for me, Apple has made their iCloud “Find My iPhone” service free… I was able to log in to my iCloud site on my computer, locate my phone on a map (it actually showed that the phone was sitting in the “cart corral” at the store!), and LOCK IT remotely.

As soon as I could, I drove to the store, checked the cart corral, and retrieved my phone, much to my own relief.  I was rather impressed by how accurate the location on the map was.  At my home it usually shows the phone is somewhere in the back yard (off by ~50 feet or so), but at the store, it was almost dead on.

Find My iPhone is both an app that can be used from another iOS device, or through the iCloud website.  And it’s no surprise that there’s a comparable app for your Android device as well.

Thank goodness for “Find my iPhone”!!

Well, this is rather tangential to the usual topic of this blog – if not outright off-topic! – but I consider it relevant because (a) I use my iPhone a lot for capturing photos and video of my trains, and (b) replacing it would be a major setback to the train budget.  Besides, it’s my blog, eh?

Last night I went to the grocery, and as is my usual habit I had the grocery list in my Paperless app.  So I plopped the phone into the little “coupon basket” on the handle of my cart, shopped, checked out, and returned home.  A few hours later, I patted my pockets only to find them phone-less!  I quickly realized that I had left my iPhone on the cart in the parking lot!

Fortunately for me, Apple has made their iCloud “Find My iPhone” service free… I was able to log in to my iCloud site on my computer, locate my phone on a map (it actually showed that the phone was sitting in the “cart corral” at the store!), and LOCK IT remotely.

As soon as I could, I drove to the store, checked the cart corral, and retrieved my phone, much to my own relief.  I was rather impressed by how accurate the location on the map was.  At my home it usually shows the phone is somewhere in the back yard (off by ~50 feet or so), but at the store, it was almost dead on.

Find My iPhone is both an app that can be used from another iOS device, or through the iCloud website.  And it’s no surprise that there’s a comparable app for your Android device as well.

 

You can’t have too much rolling stock!

Well, I suppose when it overflows into the living space, or impinges on the food budget… but really…

I thought I would share a few of the latest additions to the rolling stock fleet, including a few units of particular interest.

First up is a coal hopper from the WP&P, a freelance railroad situated in central WV and owned by an nScale.net friend of mine.

A coal hopper from the WP&P

Next up is… another coal hopper!  This one has wandered all the way from North Dakota, and is lettered for the Dakotah Western, another freelance railroad owned by another nScale.net friend of mine.

A coal hopper from the Dakotah Western RR

These two “kittens” were a surprise gift from yet another nScale.net friend, a particularly generous fellow who has supported the CH&FR on a number of occasions…

Two more kittens to add to the Chessie fleet

One more for today.  This car isn’t exactly new.  It’s been more than a year in the making.  It is a MicroTrains boxcar kit that my son and I designed, painted, built and added custom decals to.  I offered him the opportunity to have a counterpart to the “Bessie Car”, and he decided that the local video store was going to need a way to get their inventory.

A CH&FR Boxcar painted for GameStop

I should note that this sort of “billboard” boxcar is very rare to nonexistent in the 1:1 world, as it violates FRA regulations about advertising on freight cars, but in the world of Glover’s Bend, if it puts a smile on my kid’s face, it’s probably going to pass muster!