Friday, 27 June 2014


Another of those non-train related interludes.

One of the great things about my job is that I cover the Nordic countries as well as Europe. This week I made a quick dash over to my office in Stockholm and managed, for once, to build in some sightseeing time.
There is a lot to love about Stockholm especially if, like me you, you like old boats. So here is a selection of photos from the trip.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Getting up close

Whilst I'm still getting to know my new "proper" camera, a Fujifilm XE-1 I've also just said goodbye to my old Leica D-Lux compact camera, which has found a new home with my step-daughter.

My compact cameras have a hard life.They usually live in my pocket or thrust into a bag and get used pretty much every day. The D-Lux has stood up to it well, and bears the scars to show it. In four years it has only let me down once. It sits in the select group of compact cameras I've owned  that produced photos that punched above their weight.

However, technology moves on, and earlier this year I realised that I was using the camera on my Galaxy S4 phone more than the D-Lux, even when I had the D-Lux with me, as on the  Crich grice.

With a  lot of travel planned for the rest of this year I decided it was time for a new travel camera. As usual I went for last year's model to get a good price, and opted for the Panasonic TZ40 I've been using Panasonic compact cameras for ten years now and they've all been good. Even the D-Lux is a Panasonic under the Leica branding.

After the D-Lux, it does feel rather light and plasticky and although it promised a massive 20x zoom range I wasn't expecting most of that range to be usable. It has built in GPS, which I find useful when taking photos on cycling trips and WiFi, which perhaps is a bit of a gimmick.

Or is it?

One thing you can do is link it with your mobile phone and as well as using it as a remote viewfinder and shutter release you can also use the phone to operate most of the other camera functions. Combined with a surprisingly good macro capability and touch screen focusing this suddenly opens up the possibility of taking some interesting layout shots with the camera crammed into otherwise inaccessible positions. Like this one taken with the camera right against the backscene.

I'm still getting to grips with it as a general purpose camera, in particular trying to work out the limits where image quality starts to suffer. The large zoom range is more usable than expected, thanks to good image stabilisation. In fact in good light even the further extended  "digital zoom" is usable sometimes. On the downside low light performance isn't anything to write home about, and the in-camera processing of the JPEGs is a bit extreme for my liking, especially since saving images in RAW isn't possible.

Although as usual I went for a camera that allows full manual override I have been very impressed with the Intelligent Auto setting that chooses settings for you and I'm beginning to trust it. Oddly using the XE-1 I find myself setting everything but ISO to manual but I'm not proud and don't mind using automatic settings when they are available.

All in all I'm relatively pleased with it, whilst sad to see the D-Lux go.

Monday, 23 June 2014


OK, confession time. Not my first and it won't be my last.

I've often remarked that what catches tyro modellers out is the silly stuff.

Building the baseboards for Upwold had gone really well, and I was congratulating myself on the legs being relatively sturdy and how easy the adjustable feet made it to get the boards level. Not only that but I was also really happy with the working height I'd chosen.

Then I decided to take the boards down so I could work on them as individual units

Which is when I realised the implication of having decided to make the layout semi-portable.

Many years ago my brother was helping my parents move some furniture out of our house in Herefordshire. In those pre-Ikea days I think it had probably come from Waring & Gillow, but it was still intended for home assembly.

But not for home dis-assembly, as my brother discovered when by removing one part he caused the whole wardrobe to collapse around him.

Gentle reader, you will be ahead of me by now.

Suffice to say as I lifted one of the boards I had a brief Wile E. Coyote moment of utter calm just before the rest of the layout crashed to the ground.

Looking back I can see where I went wrong. OK a child of five could see what I got wrong, but probably not why I got it wrong. To accommodate the existing furniture in the office I abandoned my original plan to use trestles. Instead I decided to use simple plug in pairs of legs. To be quite honest if I'd put the layout up in the intended semi permanent home the unexpected consequences of taking it apart wouldn't have been that bad, because the units it is fitting in around would have kept most of the pieces in place. But setting it up on the (patio/terrace/slabs - delete as appropriate) meant the safety net wasn't there.

So back to the drawing board. I suspect it might just mean building a different set of legs if Upwold ever goes on the road.

In the meantime I've not been making much other progress to report on. Once again lots of disparate jobs are progressing slightly rather than having any single project making significant progress. I'm hoping for some big news on the building front very soon though.

As a taster the guys at Lcut have taken on board some of my comments about their small signal box kit and both increased the size of the door to 4mm proportions and, much more impressively, managed to cut recessed windows.

This remember, sells for the pocket money price of  £6.00 when other laser cut buildings are being sold at premium prices.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Jigsaw Puzzle

Building a model railway, particularly a finescale one based, be it at best loosely, on a real location, feels a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle with only some of the box art in front of you.

This, let me be clear, according to "18.2mm and All That" is largely a Good Thing. It is part of the fun.

I can while away happy hours in a departure lounge trying to work out how the elements will fit together. I can even while away happy hour in a  lounge before departing and trying to work out where the door is.

Like doing a jigsaw puzzle often the moment a difficult piece is finally found is followed by the thought that it was so obvious you don't know why it was such a struggle to find it earlier. Answers to most questions are easier with hindsight.

However, I'm not at that stage yet, I'm still struggling to get the edges in place having hopefully correctly identified the corners.

Two things have brought this to mind. The first is assembling the 3D jigsaw that is a bullfrog manual point motor. I can't remember who first suggested I try these but I'm sure when they did there was a UK distributor. Ordering from the USA meant I ended up with both a hefty shipping charge and a £19 VAT/Royal Mail handling fee.

This is probably a good example of a product where overseas sales might best be handled as a downloadable file for laser cutting/3D printing and a parts list for the locally sourceable components.

The other is trying to finalise the timbering arrangements for Upwold in Templot. This, I suspect, could take some time, but will be worth it in the end. I think a little knowledge, garnered from David Smith's excellent book, is turning out (sorry)  to be a dangerous thing. I'm just not sure where I should be interlacing sleepers and where I should be using timbering.

Hopefully this link might take you to the Templot file. Otherwise here is a screenshot.

Obviously all offers of help will be gratefully, indeed grovellingly, received.

Once I've got the timbering sorted I can think about designing the point rodding and signal cabling, and in case anyone wants to help with that the intention is the groundframe will be placed on the platform opposite the entrance to the loop.

Meanwhile if you are thinking this is just more procrastination can I just say that  construction of the goods vehicles is coming along well. What isn't is my confidence level that I have the right braking arrangements for ex-GWR vehicles in the late 50's and early 60's. Yet more parts of the jigsaw.....

Friday, 6 June 2014


In my professional life I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about motivation. Not, or at least not always, in the very American sense of Motivational Speaking but more in terms of why organisations and people aren't motivated to do things differently when that would ultimately benefit them.

Part of my personal motivation is to create a  believable but attractive representation of a scene I would have enjoyed seeing if I'f been there for real at a specific location and vague time. I'm also motivated because modelling is a way of relaxing, or at least experiencing another kind of stress.  But it is a dynamic. Sometimes my motivation takes me down different  roads and leads to my focus being on other hobbies and distractions like work.  I accept that as part of the ebb and flow of life. It is probably a healthy thing because, like family life, it stops me getting too obsessive.

Conventional wisdom has it that people lose interest in the hobby when they don't see rapid progress. I'm not sure that isn't a viewpoint that doesn't need challenging, or at the very least re-examining. The argument goes that new modellers want to see trains running ASAP and that will then spur them on to finish the rest of the layout.

I'm not sure I buy it.

Apart from anything else I know many people who have put track down and are then content to play trains with no real attempt at building the rest of the layout.

I don't dispute that new modellers want to see progress, what I question is what form that progress need to take to keep people engaged for both the short and long term.

I'm not building a layout to play trains on it. If I want to play trains I'll open one of the train simulators on my PC. My sense of progress comes from seeing a scene slowly become alive and  believable.It also comes from a sense of achievement and of learning.

So something that has motivated me recently has been reading  David Smith's "GWR Switch and Crossing Practice"  Not perhaps the most thrilling read, but it has made me think about what I can do to make my track work look  more believable.

I've also been thinking about the buildings for Upwold. Instead of my beloved corrugated iron Upwold will mostly feature brickwork, so I've been experimenting with some left over sections of an Lcut model. This is the first pass, using Humbrol acrylics for the woodwork and mortar, and sepia, venetian red, burnt sienna and copper beach Derwent drawing pencils.

A lot of tidying up still to do, these larger than life size photos are both cruel and useful.