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Main South – June 2018

I had to drive to Sydney for work.. so I via'd Canberra and the railway line. Didn't get to see much as I was mainly on-the-clock and had places to be... but fluked a few sightings. First up was perfect timing with the Harefield shuttle. Whilst waiting for it, there was (as there always is) amazing cloud formations to drool over. Not so easy to capture on an SLT though.

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The light is never in the right area in the afternoon and so I've got a favourite place at the top of the climb from Harefield to Junee on an S-Bend. It gives you a minute possibiliy of having the loco on a good angle.

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It also lets you take a photo of the train seemingly driving on the road...

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And then some great angles of the consist traversing the curves...

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There's always a good lash-up on this train. Qube run the shuttle and, since it's such a short trip between Harefield and Junee, use a miriad of vintage locomotives.

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There wasn't much else happening on the rails, so I bolted through to Harden and caught a northbound PN intermodal trying not to roll too fast down the hill.

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The leg from Canberra to Sydney was a little quieter, but I did manage to intercept a northbound SCT service just near Bargo. SCT have recently acquired a bunch of LDPs from QR who no longer do southern intermodal trains, so this was an interesting lash-up.

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Next is the Griffith Explorer passing through Galong. This is train has an every-second-day timetable and isn't an easy one to catch. The weather was also disturbingly cold and wet.

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A few KMs down the track I intercepted the northbound Melbourne-Sydney XPT. It absolutely flew past me!

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Further down in Yerong Creek, I intercepted a north-bound Steel Train.

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In Culcairn I thought I found one of the ex-ARHS Canberra passenger cars, but alas, supposedly it's been here for years. I'm usually too distracted by the local bakery and don't actually check out this corner.

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The weather stayed absolutely awful...

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But I hung around in the cold for the southbound XPT.

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And then continued home through a heavy downpour... car needed a wash anyway.

13Jul/180

Melbourne Randomness – 2018

How do you post photos that (are really cool but) really don't relate to eachother and have been taken over a large period of time? You start a randomness-post! ...And so I present the following...

Here's Steamrail's Y112 passing through Hawksburn Station. Fortunately, I guessed the correct tracks and was in a good location.

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A regular in my area, the steel train is always trundling past. Here it is traversing the mudholes below Cromwell Road.

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And then again.. with an XR up front, this time.

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Now we're off to Flinders Street Station. Here we get to see Steamrail up to mischeif again with a double-ended heritage passenger train. They were running shuttles in all sorts of directions.

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One of the shuttles was off to Essendon, so I made my way to Kensington to see it fly though. Fortunately enough, SSR had their grain rake stabled there.

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A further shuttle then saw the consist pass through Hawksburn twice.

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Hanging around North Melbourne Station saw a newly refurbished Comeng set shunt around. These have had face-lifts, amongst other changes. The gangways between carriages are also now covered.

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Finally, another Steamrail shuttle was captured up north.

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And then... another steelie, from the other side of the tracks... with my old apartment in the background. Boo hoo.

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...the end.

26Jun/180

VC Redist (x86 or x64) 2015 vs 2017

I've got a brand new laptop at work and I didn't bother installing archaic versions of Visual Studio. Instead, VS Community 2017 was installed and, as part of it's due dilligence, it installs the prior VC Redistributibles to allow older applications to run. Think of these as dll-hell packages that provide the supporting libraries (glue) that VC++ compiled programs need to interface with the current Windows OS.

Anyway, when trying to install MySQL Workbench I was presented with the following pane:

install-mysql

Sure, I'll install VC 2015 redist, I'm obviously missing it! Oh wait.. I'm not..

install-redist

0x80070666 - Another version of this product is already installed. Installation of this version cannot continue. To configure or remove the existing version of this product, use Add/Remove Programs on the Control Panel. Nice. Another version is actually NOT installed... another 'newer' version is, but it's an entire major version apart! Anyway, let's go see what we have installed...

installed-redist

VC Redist 2017, of course... thanks to VS 12017 itself. What happens if I remove it? Good question... regardless you can re-download the 2017 redistributibles here. I therefore removed the 2017 and then successfully installed 2015!

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And the world was a happier place... then again, with MySQL Workbench installed I still couldn't see the database I was expecting... but that's another story.

10Jun/180

China, 2018 – Shanghai and Guangzhou

China Southern had a great deal on return flights to Amsterdam, but the return leg included an inconveniently-timed 10-hour stopover in Guangzhou. Instead of this, I re-routed via Shanghai and decided that an overnight bullet train trip was in order. It's really the only thing that China has done over Japan, the building of high-speed beds! Well.. I lie. I wrote that last sentence prior to going and now that I'm back I'm seriously impressed with the culture, technology and overall livability of China. It was very different to when I was there 15 years ago!

Getting a Tourist Visa

So, Australia ain't on the cool-list. As an Australian, you'll have to fill out the application form and either post it to the consulate or deliver it in person to the application center. I chose the latter and, expecting that I had all the correct information, rocked up without an appointment on a Thursday lunch-time. After a 2.5hr wait, I was told that I needed print-outs of my hotel reservations. I'd totally neglected to read the requirements.

I returned to work and decided to choose some hotels later that night. Once done, I made the smart move and actually booked an appointment. DO THIS! DO NOT VISIT THE CENTER WITHOUT AN APPOINTMENT! With everything on me, I rocked up the following Monday and still had to wait for around 40 minutes. Once called up, all information was accepted and I was handed a receipt with an expected completion date. This was the following Thursday and, upon arrival, I waited in line to receive my passport with its pretty new Visa installed. AUD$109.95 later and I was set!

So, the basic idea is: Book EVERYTHING before you go and apply for a Chinese Visa. The form actually requires you to record where you are each night of your trip, so make sure you have the appropriate evidence per day.

Shanghai

This city is crazy... I stayed right in town at the Raddisson 'Tru Blu' and enjoyed it. The location was great for walking Nanjing Road to the Bund and also for getting a train to the computer area. Unfortunately the markets were really only full of new stuff. The area was pretty cool though with the overhead metro lines and grotty markets/streets. Check this link at Wikia for more information.

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I had a friend help me work out cool places to check out trains. We were advised that the station platform at Lianhua Road Station on Subway Line 1.

The line parallels the actual main railway and there are two flat concrete platforms out from the station roof that you can use as viewpoints. Either gives a clear view in one direction and not the other. I was really happy though, there was a good mix of loco-hauled and high-speed trains through in the 30 minutes we hung around.

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After this is was shopping, shopping and more shopping. Oh, and eating! Go to Da Dong for the most amazing Peking Duck.

The Overnight Bullet Train

After travelling on the Twilight Express, Kitaguni and Hokutosei... even the XPT in Australia and the Bangkok - Chiangmai Sleeper Train, it was time to ride the 'Deluxe Sleeper' from Shanghai to Guangzhou. This was going to be a 1400km coastal trip (not unlike the Twilight Express) with very convenient departure and arrival times.

This service only runs on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays, so make sure to plan your trip around the timetable. It seems that there's no demand mid-week and therefore does not run. Here's a recent Friday timetable.

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The trains and stations were enormous and astonishing (that first photo above is from the mezzanine in the waiting area of Shanghai Hongqiao.) Just the sheer scale made them impressive. I must admit that the passengers were also very well behaved, when compared with normal public interactions. Everything felt a lot more like an airport than a train station. Most stations also had 16-or-more platforms with trains heading in numerous directions. Unfortunately, the waiting area was above the platforms and you only got to see the trains when you were called to board.

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The consists were clean and tidy. It was funny looking at each of the models and thinking like I'd seen them before. Some were kawasaki-styled, others siemens-styled. Either way they all (well, except the very latest with its red livery) had the same white/black/blue colour schemes. Train after train departed and arrived at Shanghai and it was amazing to watch.

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The cabins themselves were very similar to those of both Thailand and Japan. Everything was very shiny and new, but the tech wasn't overly 'premium'. The beds were already down and made, although it was already 2030.

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Each bed had a TV, reading light, control panel and ample bedding. It was all looking very comfortable, except for the couch, which was a little hard and facing backwards... but that was luck of the draw as even-numbered cabins would've had the couch facing the other way. Anyway, it was dinner time...

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The buffet car was next door and felt comfortable enough. It actually reminded me of my KTMB trip from Butterworth to KL. Nice and clean, boxes of stock piled high, very spartan outfit but functional and a simple menu. All items were 'bento' style and re-heated in the industrial-strength microwave. I chose the fish and suffered through a lot of tiny bones; still delicious!

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Back to the cabin via the cute decor... there's a temperature control next to the door to make sure you have a comfortable sleep... although the upper berth may receive the majority of the aircon. Note that cabin number one (and the other end, I think 10? or 12?) are right next to the toilet. They're airplane toilets as well... so thanks to thin walls you can feel when people flush next to you.

The trip was fantastically timed and really easy. There was only one really major fault that I believe I may still be suffering from. The pressurisation of the carriages wasn't working. You could tell as soon as we were entering a tunnel as your ears would start to pop. And I don't mean just once... I mean about 5 times on entry and twice on exit of each tunnel. Worse when there was an opposing train! Even when lying down and sleeping I was awoken to aching eardrums once or twice.

Guangzhou

We arrived into Guangzhou at 7am on a Tuesday and dumped my bags at the hotel. I ended up staying at the Royal Mediterranean Hotel in the Gang Ding area of Guangzhou... nice and close to all of the IT markets! It was too early to go shopping, so we ventured for the Canton Tower. This had an awesome observatory with a freakin' ferris wheel on the top!

Anyway... the days were mainly spent scouring through IT markets... but, of course, the effort was put in to ask the community where a good photography point would be. Turns out this one was a bit dicey. My friend was a local and declared that we could enter the area... but I was a little wary. We ended up taking Didi (Chinese Uber) and then riding the rental bikes to a rural area.

This area was known as the Xinshi Residential Area, or so I think? The maps are a little hard to work out. Either way, it was a side-road to a depot for track machines.

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So.. yeah... after checking out the wagons, we *ahem* 'navigated' a fence and were presented with a fantastic line-side opportunity. Here's the northern view...

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And then the southern view...

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From here it was train-after-train-after-train. Seeing the signals helped a lot too. And this time there was freight! No high-speed though.

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Lots of passenger consists... going to (or coming from) some very far reaching places!

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Ahhhh... diesel freight... nothing better...

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The passenger consists were actually seriously long. Turns out there was a bit of congestion too.

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And then a final freight...

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And finally... a puppy in a box...

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...he wasn't a happy camper.

China Southern

One final note.. China Southern is a fantastic airline. Three of the four legs of the trip to Amsterdam were on seemingly-brand-new Airbus A330s and the staff and food were fantastic. The leg from Amsterdam to Shanghai was actually operated by KLM, so that was also a nice surprise.

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The final surprise was having the pilot draw a ring around the word 'Guangzhou' on the map as we departed for Melbourne. Things were amiss when we started heading west... I nearly thought I was in for another European holiday. We then veered south and I assumed we were to loop back and land in Guangzhou. But then as we swung around, out to the east was the most amazing storm-cell, smashing lighting in every direction. Fortunately this was well away from us and was exactly what the pilot was trying to avoid!

8Jun/180

Arduino – How to save power (and control 5v+)

For the first time ever, I get to play with Arduino at work! We're doing a little bit of work on tracking and the goal is to acquire as much data as possible and report it to a webserver. Therefore I've got sensors, GPS and GSM. As one can imagine, this consumes a lot of power, and as one can also imagine: the goal will be to obtain as long of battery life as possible.

Each of the modules requires either 3.3v or 5v and these are usually hardwired into the power supply. They also require anywhere from 50mA to 2A (GSM when sending data or searching for signals) and therefore can't be controlled directly from pins on the Arduino. Due to this I'll explain a proper mechanism to switch their power supplies on and off. Also, we'll then want to dig into power saving on the Arduino itself, so stick around.

Controlling modules from Arduino digital pins

Digital pins on the Arduino are only good for 30mA maximum. In fact, you shouldn't even be going anywhere near this. Hence, using one to provide +5v or GND to a module will cause that module's current needs to flow through the pin. For example, the GPS module I bought from Jaycar needs anywhere from 0-70mA. Although low, this is still too high for a digital pin.

The goal therefore is to use an electronic switch. You might be thinking 'relay', but you'll also need to note that they require current which can peak above the digital pin tolerance! You'll find that relay modules don't connect the relay actuator to the input.

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The answer here is to use a transistor to allow current to flow to your modules. Depending on your current requirement, I can either recommend a 2N2222 (for anything up to 600mA) or a TIP31 (good for 3A.) I also want to switch my GSM module, and that needs 2A, so I bought a handful of TIP31s.

Using them is very straight-forward. Connect your VCCs up to whatever power source is needed and embed the transistors in the ground path. From here, switching the digital pin high will let current flow and complete the circuit for the module. Make sure you set your digital pinMode to OUTPUT.

Ideas for saving power via code

The basic idea is to put the Arduino to sleep whenever there's nothing to do. My device only needed to report every 15 minutes, so in the meantime I tried to make it snooze. It turns out that, based on internal timers and interrupts, you can only get a maximum of 8 seconds power down out-of-the-box. This wasn't quite the 15 minutes I was looking for, but numerous sources online said to just keep putting the unit to sleep for 8 seconds over-and-over.

There's some great reading here by Nick Gammon on power saving. Anything from lower frequencies to shutting down certain parts of your project. You'll also find a blog post here at the Arduino Playground describing other options. Just make sure you read that entire second article as other contributors have made corrections or other important points. Tis great to see the community involved.

...I'll come back to power saving once the project gets started up again. The proof-of-concept worked and now we need to convince the powers-that-be to let us continue.

Filed under: Arduino No Comments
7Jun/180

Arduino – Don’t buy the SIM900A for Australia!

tl;dr = This is a 2G-only device. There's only one network left, which shuts down on the 30th of June, 2018!

...but I needed a connection for work and I bought this unit from a seller on eBay without researching... so... compounding the error, I then also bought a SIM card for the network that'll still work: Vodafone. Thanks to Happymacer on Instructables who posted an article discussing how to use this device in Oz!

Note that I'd previously tried to use both Optus and Telstra SIM cards and got the following output when running the COPS command.

AT+COPS=?
+COPS: (3,"VODAFONE","voda AU","50503"),,(0-4),(0-2)
OK

Yey! Vodafone! But I'm on Telstra/Optus? So I can see a Vodafone tower, but it's prepended with 3 which actually means I'm not allowed to use it. Sorta makes sense as Optus and Telstra switched off their 2G networks ages ago and Vodafone must have decided that lingering devices on other companies' plans aren't allowed to use their towers.

I bought a Vodafone SIM and ran the commands again...

AT+COPS=?
+COPS: (2,"VODAFONE","voda AU","50503"),,(0-4),(0-2)
OK

Woweee! It's there. 2 means Roaming... which is a little weird, but it must be trying to hint to my device that 2G isn't the best method and that there should be a 3G tower around somewhere. Of course, even if there was, we couldn't connect to it. So I forced the connection with the following command...

AT+COPS=1,2,"50503"
+CREG: 2
+CREG: 1
OK

Those CREGs afterwards were output because I had previously run AT+CREG=1. This command tells the device to report any changes to the carrier connection. What you can see is it connecting to the tower in roaming mode (aka 2) and then connecting correctly in local mode (aka 1.) We're on!

Testing SMS

If you wanna test an SMS, then you can do so pretty easily. Rig up a SoftwareSerial example in Arduino and make sure you can send commands to the SIM900A via the Serial Monitor. From here, you can use the following script to send an SMS.

AT+CMGF=1
OK
AT+CMGS="+61xxxxxxxxx"
>

Note above ... you'll get the > prompt to enter the message. Once you're done, the unit requires a CTRL-Z control character to realise it's the end of the message. To do this, you'll need to open your favourite text editor, type ALT+026 (hold down ALT and type 0 then 2 then 6) and then copy the resulting character. It will be a black SUB if you use Notepad++. Now paste this into the text entry field in the Serial Monitor and hit enter.

Sending Data

From here, Jens Christoffersen at All About Circuits has helped us greatly with his article: Using a SIM900A to Send Sensor Data to a Website. Scroll down far enough and you'll find his code to send data to a server. He uses printf statements, as he's using a PIC and talking direct to the serial port... we'll have to use SoftwareSerial and print(ln).

AT+CGATT=1
OK
AT+SAPBR=1,1
OK
AT+SAPBR=2,1
+SAPBR: 1,1,"100.84.75.204"
OK
AT+HTTPINIT
OK
AT+HTTPPARA="URL","http://www.website.com/index.php?data1=1&data2=4"
OK
AT+HTTPPARA="CID",1
OK
AT+HTTPACTION=0
OK
+HTTPACTION: 0,200,0
AT+HTTPTERM
OK

Above is an example chat with the unit to send data. Paste each AT line into the Serial Monitor first to make sure you get the expected responses. The URL above is rubbish, so put one in that'll work properly instead. The 200 in the HTTPACTION response is the happy HTTP code.

Filed under: Arduino No Comments
1Jun/180

Germany, 2018 – Kassel and Leer

Thanks to hiring a car and touring Germany, I was able to visit some cool places like Miniatur Wunderland! Smashing the rental Jaguar XF on the autobahn was also fun... I was actually a little disappointed that the diesel didn't want to push much faster than 220km/h. The tour also took us on some back-roads as there were bridgeworks east of Bochum.

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I can't even tell you where the above photo was taken as I was too busy negotiating bumper-to-bumper traffic on tiny country roads... but a freight passed a few seconds before and I was hoping to catch another.

Kassel

The first night of the roadtrip was spent in Kassel. We hadn't booked in advance, so I chose the hotel closest to the station. This turned out to be a Best Western housed in a beautifully historical building. I assume it was actually once just the Hotel Kurfurst Wilhelm I?

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It didn't have a railway view, but the station was right next door. We also didn't get much sunlight, but I managed to snap a military train the night we arrived!?

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The next morning saw one freighter.. I got up and had breakfast as early as I could to then spend time down on the platform. The station is huge and has a tram interchange in the forecourt. The trams also take you right down into town. For some reason I didn't even take a photo of them!?

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Leer

This was a very happy and random fluke. Turns out Leer (Ostfriesl) is on the mainline between a car plant and Emden Port and so there is a constant stream of traffic. Once again, we stayed in the hotel right next to the station, known as Hotel Frisia, which seemed to be very popular with the military.

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The station itself probably has a lot of stories to tell. One of them might be that it's sick of looking at that weird yellow rocket on the round-a-bout out front.

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So, where was I? Oh yes... the trains. As mentioned, there's a lot of freight traffic involving the transportation of new automobiles to the port in Emden. This comes from both directions, with the northbound trains turning on a siding just north of the station. You also get a lot of passenger trains. There's the Westfalen Bahn and the standard Deutsche Bahn. The former runs off to regional areas and the main company runs everything from long expresses to a Norddeich Mole which actually uses Leer as a turn-around station.

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The Westfalen Bahn runs very regularly with 3-car EMUs. They're quite recent and in great condition. The colour scheme is also a nice change from the standard red of DB.

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The Norddeich Mole runs from Norddeich via Emden through Leer to Hanover. It usually pulls into the third platform to keep the mainline free for all the other ICEs and freighters.

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But then, sometimes another passenger train is on three and the Norddeich was on 2. Slightly confusing, but nobody seemed to miss their trains.

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There's also an hourly ICE through to Stuttgart. But enough with the people carriers...

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Turns out DB has their own Doctor Yellow and it, at this point in time, was diesel-powered and went for an excursion. It had actually been stored in a siding just north-west of the platforms.

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From here, we'll talk freight. There were a lot of light engine moves and the drivers were in no mood to hang around. The engines happily went track-speed when they could. There were also a few loco shuffles.

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Yeah... I know... you can hardly see there are two locos... you'll just have to trust me. Anyway, back to the actual freighters... from Platform one, if you look left (north), you'll see a branch that heads off right (east). the line heads off to Oldenburg and a lot of freight use Leer to get onto it.

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For example, the above tanker consist had to snake its way across to the southbound rails, but proceeded south. The next snake didn't.

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This train made it south of the station and into the yard. It then ran around and crossed back onto the northern line before continuing.

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Finally, the fun part: the auto-carriers...

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Both Volkswagen and Audi passed through the station... I still haven't quite worked out where their factories are. Numerous cargo companies were used to pull the services.

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Meanwhile, the station has an amazing restaurant/cafe in it. Great pastries and breads... and coffee!

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And here's a video of the view whilst I was sipping coffee.

And here's another freighter.

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Oh! And a little diesel came through with parts of a wind turbine?

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Finally... don't forget your snacks...

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It's amazing seeing this much action in one place.

Filed under: INTL No Comments
28May/180

Visual Studio 2017: Error Deploying to Raspberry Pi 3

Any chance you've just opened up sample code to deploy an ARM-based project to a Raspberry Pi and you get this error?

DEP6100 : The following unexpected error occurred during bootstrapping stage 'Connecting to the device 'IP ADDRESS OF PI'.': 
MissingMethodException - 'Microsoft.Tools.Connectivity.RemoteDevice.Ping()'

Did you just install the Windows 10 SDK? My first recommendation is to reboot your machine! ...but actually, you don't really have to do that. Just restart visual studio. And yes, I know you closed it when you were installing the SDK... for some reason even opening it up straight after didn't work. A second restart of just VS2017 worked fine.

Also.. the default screen resolution is wrong on the PI when with a 7" 800x480 LCD. It really screws with the touch-screen input. Thanks to this article, we only have to do the following:

$username = "administrator"
$password = "[YOUR PASSWORD]"
$securePassword = ConvertTo-SecureString $password -AsPlainText -Force
$cred = New-Object -TypeName System.Management.Automation.PSCredential -ArgumentList $username, $securePassword

$pstimeout = New-PSSessionoption -OperationTimeout (1000*60*5)
Enter-PSSession -computer [IP OF RASPBERRY PI 3] -Credential $cred -ErrorAction Stop -SessionOption $pstimeout

Save the above as a script and run it in the PowerShell ISE.

[IP IF MACHINE]: PS C:\> SetDisplayResolution.exe 800 480
Set Display Resolution and Orientation

replace line: gpu_mem=32                  # Set VC to 32MB, ARM DRAM to (1008-32)MB
append line: hdmi_mode=87
append line: hdmi_cvt=800 480 60 6 0 0 0
append line: lcd_rotate=0
Success! - You now need to reboot the device
use "shutdown -r -t 0"

Reboot!

25May/180

Germany, 2018 – Miniatur Wunderland

Miniatur Wunderland is nothing short of crazy. Two levels of HO scale model railroading at its finest. It's been around for over 10 years and has nearly seen the population of Australia in visitors! We were on a road-trip in a beautiful XF Jaguar (man, the Autobahns are fun) and I made sure we detoured via this monument.

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Miniatur Wunderland is located in Hamburg in a converted warehouse. Actually, they were still converting the warehouse (or the lower levels) when we were trying to enter and had to walk around a team angle-grinding the staircase... Regardless, we made it inside and even beat the queues. As we were leaving it turns out there was a wait to get inside!

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The place is split up geographically, but all layouts are completely connected. It then turns where's-wally style with all sorts of trinkets to find. You also then get pushbuttons on the railings to activate random animations on the layout. In the last shot above, the conservatorium, which is a scale model of the actual building in Hamburg, splits open and the orchestra plays. It's pretty damn amazing!

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Day and Night are modelled... snow as well! As you traverse the layout you end up going through America and all of the Europes... The model then gets two-level and you get a chance to watch trains tackle some serious terrain.

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There's even a train elevator working automatically behind the scenes!

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Of course, a lot of people come for the airport. The planes even take off and land! Also, keep your eyes open for whacky vehicles... which also take off and land... and even play appropriate theme songs when doing so!

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The control room is also crazy. There were at least 5 full-time staff watching cameras and reports. Some were even sending rescue locos in to bump trains.

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And finally... don't forget to shop and eat.

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The cafe at the end is modelled as per the internals of a buffet carriage. All train nerds should visit this place!

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24May/180

Amsterdam, 2018 – Northern Metro Extension

With my brother living on the northern side of the Ij River, I was happy to see (via google maps) that there was a newly built station just near his house! Turns out that it's opening soon... and isn't actually ready for passengers. Regardless, they had constant EMUs in test, up and down the line seemingly running to the timetable.

This line will really help my family! I'm looking forward to riding it next time I'm in town... will also really help getting to the thrift stores in the south!

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