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Comment Welcome to the hobby (Score 2) 149

First, I've been a model railroader and general railfan for most of my 38 years. I took a bit of a break from modeling myself during my 20s on account of wife / career / etc, but during the whole time I was working on other layouts. I dug back in with a passion about four years ago, ripped out the abortive start of a layout from a decade prior, and started construction of a new layout. I'm an N scaler myself, but most of the other layouts I work on or operate on are HO or O.

Model Railroader is good for beginners. Also be sure to check out Model Railroad Hobbyist, which is a free (er, advertiser-funded) online model railroad magazine. It's aimed a bit more at experienced modelers, but there's still lots of layout tours and the like in there that will be of interest and inspiration. Besides, the price is right to try it out.

One thing you'll start to figure out fairly quickly is what interests you and what doesn't, and that will start to steer you towards certain things. Some of us are interested in exactly replicating some prototype area and railroad down to the most minute detail, whereas some are more interested in just running trains through fantastic scenery that is purely a work of imagination. There are segments of the hobby who enjoy scenery, others that are fascinated with equipment or structure modeling, some that like to create accurate operating practices, and some that really like control systems.

My starting recommendations would be:
  - Just get something running so that you can start figuring out what you like and what you don't, with the full anticipation that it'll be temporary. If you start too big of a project on your first try, you'll lose interest before you get enough of the pieces together to make it run smoothly.
  - Go find a local show and see what others are doing
  - Talk to your relative and learn from him, particularly if he's a relative you like. (And, well, skip this if he's equivalent to my weird uncle Gary.)

If you're interested in the controls side, there's a decent DIY electronics community within the hobby. Two Yahoo email groups I'd recommend are mrrelectronics (general MRR electronics) and Arduini (focused on Arduinos in model railroading). There's Digitrax's Loconet, CMRI, the NMRA's new LCC standard, and a couple dozen other ways to connect a layout to the computer. Then there's things like JMRI, which you've already found, which are great for linking everything together.

Comment Re:Is there a browser that doesn't try to be a nan (Score 1) 199

I'm okay with the warning/enable system in FF, but I really wish they'd add a global button of "yeah yeah, fuck off and enable it because I said so and I'll take the risk" for when I really need to get stuff done and I'm tired of having to click on the flash box on every damned site.

Comment Re:Keep it simple (Score 5, Funny) 479

Honestly, as a last resort, it's not a bad idea. I have a fair amount of ESD test gear at work, including a bunch of static discharge guns and the like that can be dialed up to some crazy levels. I was once stuck in a situation much as you - they controlled the modem/router and it was crapping out every few hours, and they were the only game in town for non-dialup access (this was 15ish years ago). I'd already replaced it with a spare that did not have the issue, but since it wasn't provisioned, the only place I could go was their internal pages.

I spent probably two hours going through L1 support, L2 support, and then had them tell me that "oh, sometimes the boxes just do that". So I took the box to work, fried the shit out of it, plugged it back in to let it power up and do real damage to itself now that half the fet gates were probably cooked, and then called them back to tell them that the box had finally crapped out and started smoking. They promptly sent me a new one, and told me "must have been lightning or some sort of power surge."

Yup, a power surge indeed.

Comment Re:It's just joule thief (Score 3, Informative) 243

Leaks and corrosion isn't "fail catastrophically", and typically happens after the battery has been dead for some time and the seals fail. Taking them to zero wasn't the problem - not removing them after they were dead was where the problems started. Many rechargable lithium chemistries, however, will generate oxygen and/or pure metal in bad places if excessively discharged (or charged), which then can translate into burning and toxic gases. Now that's catastrophic.

Comment Re:1.5V alkaline vs 1.2v NiMH (Score 1) 243

Yeah, the 1.35 or 1.4 number is total bull$#@!. Almost everything these days will run on the 1.1-1.2 of NiMH, as you point out. Even at that point, the remaining energy in a common alkaline (manganese dioxide) AA cell is nowhere near 80%. Alkaline goes "over the cliff" - the sharp point at the end of the discharge curve where there's no energy left and the voltage plummets - at about 0.8-0.9V. Even at 1.1V, there's only about 10% of the energy capacity left for a typical alkaline.

Look up "alkaline discharge curve" pretty much anywhere. Typically these will plot output voltage on the Y axis and amp-hours on the X axis. The energy remaining is the area under the curve to the right of where you're looking (because energy is measured in watt-hours, and voltage * amp-hours remaining is watt-hours). As you extract more energy (move right on the X), your voltage drops. When you hit a certain point... boom! straight to the floor.

Most battery powered devices these days either have a switching regulator that deals with this issue, or they use a low quiescent current, low dropout regulator and a big enough battery stack that can keep the supply rail where it needs to be until the batteries hit their dead point. While not strictly a scam, it won't do much good in most modern devices (and will actually decrease performance in well-designed ones, as I'm sure the switcher in these has a non-zero quiescent current, and an efficiency below 100%).

Comment Re:It's just joule thief (Score 4, Informative) 243

Carbon-zinc and alkaline (MnO2) batteries will go to complete discharge without any danger. You're thinking of various rechargeable chemistries that either suffer loss of capacity from excess discharge (Pb Acid, NiCd, NiMH, etc.) or have the potential to fail horribly (lithium chemistries).

Lithium AAs, while they exist, are fairly rare and not the same chemistry as the rechargables. As far as I know, there's no danger in taking them all the way to dead either.

Comment I actually agree, but not to what he meant (Score 1) 2

I couldn't agree more - we've traded off a great deal of liberty and gotten jack shit in return.

Are there bad guys who want to cause death and destruction in the US? Yup. That's neither new nor interesting. Just because the bad guys got one high impact win, we've uprooted every damn principle this country was founded on. Apparently we don't believe in those principles enough to trust they can get us through the trials and tribulations. It's truly sad.

Comment Re:Easter liability (Score 1) 290

Actually a friend of mine used to have just such a car. This was back in the 1990s, so I don't remember the exact make and model. We never realized that until we had to remove one of the interior door panels one day, and on the inside of the door panel was written "Last XYZ built 1988" (I may be off on the year) and then there were a whole bunch of signatures, presumably the guys who built it. Very cool.

If you're designing security critical stuff, then yes, by all means either avoid the eggs or make sure they're really as absolutely hardened and harmless as possible. However, lots of software exists outside this environment. Easter eggs are fun. They're officially against policy where I work, but more than once we've added one in. Usually with tacit management approval. Basically don't do anything stupid. The day stuff like that goes away, we're just more plug compatible programming drones rather than creative professionals with a quirky side. And that's the day I leave the industry, because the fun of it is gone.

Comment Re:And why not? (Score 1) 227

Nuclear power but government owned and controlled and publicly audited

Yeah, because government institutions are always so much more competent and trustworthy than large corporations. Lemme see - post office, DMV, CIA/NSA... Shining examples of what can be done by government, but in wholly different ways. I'll also say corporations are no better. The US federal government is little more than an extremely large corporation with a guaranteed revenue stream and all the evils that go with that.

The correct answer - no matter who is in charge - is first and foremost proper, safety conscious engineering, and then followed up with a culture of accountability and transparency *to everyone*. That means that there aren't reports that are "secret" because of some security theater. Everybody sees it, everybody knows what's going on.

Comment Re:Don't Waste Time Making films (Score 1) 698

As someone who will lose his father in the next couple years, there aren't enough mod points in the world for the parent comment. Go do things together. The memories of doing stuff together are more valuable than any amount of messages he could leave me. I've watched his health decline steadily for the last five years, knowing that eventually it would kill him (and since it's genetic and I'm also a carrier, it'll kill me in about thirty years as well), and I've realized that I wouldn't trade the memories - vacations, fishing, hell, even building fences - for anything. I live about a thousand miles from my parents at this point, but I still make an effort to talk to them at least once a week and spend a few days with them every month or two. His breathing has now gotten bad enough that he can't travel, so I'm glad we did so much while he was able to get out and do things.

I'd spend time with her now while you're still in good condition and able to do so. The months of watching you get worse are going to be very hard for her, and the memories will be worth their weight in gold. Don't delay until you're too sick to make it happen.

If you want to leave her with a few thoughts, I'd write a letter or two. Those will be far more durable than any digital form, and will be a tangible object to tie the memories back to.

Comment Re:Insteon Experience (Score 1) 248

I'm like you - started with X10 stuff and went to Insteon about five years ago.

My big thing is that my house was wired by idiots, and the switches aren't ever where you'd want them. Hell, the ceiling lights and fans in the bedrooms aren't even on the same circuit as the wall switch. (The wall switch used to feed a switched outlet, as the house was built without ceiling lights in the bedrooms.) Much of the split-level house is such that you're stumbling up or down stairs in the dark before you get to the switch you need. The ability to control a bunch of stuff from a single keypad at each room entrance was the one overriding feature. It's awesome, and I couldn't be happier with it.

My ex-wife never had any issue with the system (and in fact, actually installed a good chunk of it, being a fellow engineer). My current girlfriend, who is significantly less technically inclined, figured it out in about ten seconds with no explanation. But that's because it doesn't require web browsers or smart phones or other crap - everything you need is right there, right beside the door where you need to interact with it. Oh, and it's got labels, and lights up in the dark, so...

A few thoughts:
- One downside is that I had an entire generation of Keypadlincs go bad after about 3-4 years. All v5.x units, all killed in the course of a few weeks (power quality issues). Had six of them, so there's a chunk of change. Ouch. I found it interesting it only affected the 5.x units, however. Everything from earlier and later generations survived just fine.
- Insteon is unmanagable without an ISY-99 or 994. It just is. Best money I ever spent - now I just fire up a java app and can reconfigure anything I need in a few minutes.
- It's proprietary. If Smarthome ever goes under, I get to start over.

The rest of my automation is mostly telemetry. Temperature, leak monitoring, furnace monitoring, security cameras, etc. It's almost entirely based on embedded Linux boxes (RPis and older hacked Seagate Dockstars) scattered around, feeding data back to a central house server that then monitors things.

Live within your income, even if you have to borrow to do so. -- Josh Billings