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Z Scale Layout – Gambling With Rolling Stock

After sourcing a lot of both track and rollingstock locally (Thanks Tony!), I realised I had to put in an order to Buyee to get the rest of the parts I wanted. I could've just gone to HobbySearch, but I also needed some parts for my PC-9801. Hence, an order was placed, expensive shipping was paid and a box'o'magic arrived! I'll discuss the contents later... today I'll just talk about two of the components that were included.

Takara Micro Gauge

In Japan, at some point, next to the register in (I actually don't know which) stores, there were trains + chewing gum offered for cheap prices. The contents of these items were meant for display, but supposedly some of them actually came motorised. Per box, you received at least got one item of rollingstock, one item of track and a piece of chewing gum! This is actually how the sets I've already received were 'built up'. The goal, just like the magazines that used to offer part-by-part components to build a greater model, was to collect enough boxes with the intention to complete a set of ... something!? So, without further ado, I bring up the first item into evidence.

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This is a shop-ready counter-ready box of Takara (Yes, the Takara Tomy brand) Micro-Gauge rolling stock + gum. It's unopened and ready to be explored. The theme is based on the EF-81 locomotive and associated sleeper trains... let's open it...

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Awesome! Ten chances to win. I do love my Twilight Express, so let's see if I'm lucky!?

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The end result? Two locomotives and two night trains! One of the twilight carriages is duplicated, but that's OK.

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Note that each box comes with a postcard of the locomotives and some cute information on the back. Meanwhile, back to the locomotives... one of them was a little heavier?

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Oh nice, it's actually got an engine... but it's battery operated! The chassis just pulls apart... an AAA battery was inserted and, well, the train ran like shit on the plastic track. The locomotive's coupler was also around 3mm lower than the carriages, so I couldn't even get it to pull anything. No real loss as this box was an entire gamble and I'm just super stoked to have two night trains in the mix!

Akia ZJ Gauge

The other box was exactly the same shape/size/form. Instead of targeting EF81s, it instead provided a chance to complete a 485-series EMU set.

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So, this is the Akia ZJ Gauge series. It's actually the same as the rollingstock you see inside my coffee table, so I was happy to gamble with this box and see if I couldn't get another engine or, at least, make my consists a little longer.

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The box actually looked like it had been re-taped shut... I wonder if someone opened it and scanned for motorised cars? Are they heavier?

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Each box contained one car, one piece of track, a liquid sachet of candy and, for the cab cars, a replacement coupler.

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In the end, I ended up with one cab-car of each livery and a mix of intermediate cars. No motors! It's OK, I purchased motors individually on Yahoo Auctions and they came in the box'o'magic from Buyee as well. No loss here, lots of fun gambling!

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Z-Scale Layout – Perspex Box/Case

So this was ready today and I didn't hesitate to go and pick it up! SC & F Plastic Fabrication took my order last Thursday and had the unit ready in 2 business days! Awesome!

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Disregard the weird shadow in the middle, above. It's from the cookie packet! There's a white protective sticker on the base, but the whole unit is actually clear. I don't think I'll remove it as the whole internal area will be filled with scenery.

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Meanwhile, the case didn't slide perfectly into the table's open space. Turns out the front-left vertical area of the table is less than 150mm! Somehow the whole table is actually slightly wonky.

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I had the option to file down the square case or the table, so I chose the latter as it's the one that's not plumb. I initially tried to smack the supporting bar with a hammer, but the spacing difference seemed to be in the actual weld where the bar joins the leg. 3mm was taken off to have the whole drawer area sit flat.

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DataStor Commuter Parallel Port IDE HDD

This came in a bulk eBay purchase months back but I only just re-discovered in a box today. I love surprises! I've recently been going through all the boxes'o'shite and so I'm sure there'll be more surprised to document.

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It came in a pleather pouch with a manual, floppies and all required cables. Below you can see the DC power adapters actually piggy-back onto either an AT Keyboard socket or a PS/2 port. Very handy! I am still trying to work out if plugging my mouse into the piggy-back pushed pins inside my mouse's plug, or if it was just ready to break. Either way, had to fix that also.

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The unit actually allows the printer port to pass through, but I didn't test this. I might grab a parallel port Zip Drive and see if you can daisy chain them. Otherwise I assume you can put a printer on the end.

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As for operations, the floppies included had expired, so I downloaded the driver package for Windows/NT/OS2/DOS and created a bootable floppy disk image with the required DOS tools. The main driver is CDISK.SYS and this just needs a standard DEVICE line in CONFIG.SYS with no arguments. It's all on the floppy image above.

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With the floppy in the drive, the disk came straight up and prompted me to partition/format it. It saw a 3.2gb HDD inside and told me to make two separate partitions of 2048mb and 1248mb, as the OS doesn't support disks bigger than 2gb! Ah, history.

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Z-Scale Layout – Coffee Table

After another round of impulse purchasing on eBay, I've ended up with a new fleet of Z-Scale Japanese EMUs. As per that previous plan a glass coffee table was ordered and has now arrived and been built!

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The table fits well in the lounge room and, more importantly, the dimensions for the layout have increased! Glad I waited for it to arrive prior to ordering the Perspex insert to build the layout inside.

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Hello Z-Scale!

I can't see this ending well (nothing went well for the previous coffee-table layout), but let's give it a go anyway! I was randomly browsing eBay and saw a few un-powered sets of Kansai-coloured 485-series' and couldn't resist!

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Before I know it, I've bought a new glass coffee table and have scoped out Perspex manufacturers in melbourne to create a super-sized 'chinese container' to slide in the open area under the glass.

Oh, and if you're wondering about the Kitaguni's warpage above...

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It was purchased from a flea-market in Laverton in such state. We can only thank the Australian sun for doing the best it could. The seller wanted AUD$20! WTAF. I paid $5 just because I've been on the train in the real world.

What can you fit in 1160mm x 460mm x 110mm?

I've gone bonkers on AnyRail, trying to jam as much rail as I can into this area. It's actually not a good idea... I suppose... I should pay more attention to scenery...


I then google'd a whole lot and got a bit of inspiration from Marklin:


That station under the bridge is a great idea!



I'm pretty happy with that last evolution. The top-left to bottom-right will be ground-level with a station in the middle under the bridge flying over. There's also a balloon loop to allow trains to be reversed. Anyway... more news on the coffee-table-layout as it happens.

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Repairing a faulty AppleDesign ADB Keyboard

After setting up my G3 266mhz, I found that I couldn't play Transport Tycoon. The game worked perfectly, apart from very soft music volume, but I couldn't work out how to actually move around the map. In DOS or Windows TT, this was a right-click-and-drag, which was obviously not a thing on a single-buttoned Mac mouse. I tried opt/cmd-click to no avail.

I then realised that the UP cursor key worked, but no other directions. Back in Finder... only UP also worked. Trying a little harder, I then found that the outer-ring of keys on my AppleDesign ADB Keyboard failed to respond at all!


I mean... you only have to look at it externally to see that it's had a hard life! Stickers... yellowed-plastic.. time for an autopsy.

Opening it up...

There's 6-or-so screws underneath, and a few clips along the bottom which'll need to be prized open. There's then 6000 screws holding the black metal plate to the back of the internal keyboard frame. Enjoy.

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The first obvious-ness was blistering contacts. This damage happened to be exactly on the cursor keys which didn't work... but a continuity test showed that this wasn't actually a problem.

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The next obvious-ness was a serious amount of water damage on both sides of the membrane.

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The real damage was black/broken traces. These are painted onto the plastic, so there's no soldering here, unlike when I fixed the eMate 300.

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Yeah, you'll just have to pretend the silver parts above are black. They were black. Unfortunately I didn't take a photo prior to fixing the bloody things! Actually, you can just see an example of the-blackening on the traces over on the far-right.

Fixing it

As you can see, I failed to take a 'before' photo, but whatevs. I first tried to use my Circuit Pen, but it turns out it had dried up all by itself. I had done everything right, the lid had been securely on during storage, but the pen was somehow rendered useless. Just for fun, I cracked it open and tried to use the contents, but they were taking WAY too long to dry on the plastic.

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Instead, I went back to Jaycar and bought a vile of silver conductive varnish. On the rack in the shop, this product looks like clear resin.

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The silver-ness of it actually settles to the bottom of the vile and I had a hard time finding it.

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A quick shake fixes that tho! Once shook, I used a toothpick to bridge all busted traces...

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Unlike the circuit pen, you can lather this shit on. It takes no time to dry and the resistance dropped to ~0ohms very quickly!

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In no time, many games were played.

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Handy Portable Ethernet Pocket Adapter

Aaand another impulse purchase from eBay: a Handy Portable Ethernet Pocket Adapter. What a name? Turns out this is a clone of the Accton EN2209. Finding software wasn't the easiest, but somehow a university in Taiwan had the required file.



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Installation on a 486

My IBM PS/1 486 received this unit (after a WFW311 upgrade) and worked perfectly with it. Installation was very straight forward! Just download TCP/IP for WFW and install it as an additional protocol. DHCP worked fine.

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Installation on a PIII-500mhz

Things got awry from here. Firstly, running WFW311 on a PIII-500 with 512mb RAM is probably not a recommended thing to do... but... it installed so quickly... it was lovely. The adapter drivers installed and came up on a reboot. As soon as TCP/IP was installed, the whole machine froze!


That second transmission light just stayed locked on and the whole machine actually became non-responsive. Seems to be some kind of race condition with the device... so... what to do? After thinking it was Parallel port settings, I changed them all to no avail. I then guessed it was clock speed, so I down-graded the 500mhz to the slowest setting possible: 333mhz.


At 333mhz, the unit worked perfectly! WFW311 on this hardware is lovely! :) I then upgraded to 375mhz (75mhz bus), but it was NOT stable. WFW311 would lock every-other-time when booting? Seems 333mhz is the magic number.

What about Linux?

I started digging around for a Linux driver and found a few hits on the parport mailing list. These then lead me to harshman's archived page containing a driver! Seems it needs Kernel 2.0.30, so I went back to le'googs and started hunting.

Since I love Red Hat Linux so much, I jumped over to their page and checked the version history. Nice, we have a matched kernel with Red Hat Linux Version 4.2! Back to the Red Hat Linux Archive and there's a 4.2 folder... but wait, there's no ISO in the expected folder? Fortunately, the main guts of the OS are still available and we can then make our own installation media. Download that folder and copy it ALL onto a blank CD. Then jump into the images folder and write boot.img to a floppy. Special thanks to grem75 in this reddit thread for pointing out the required steps.

But that actually didn't work... No matter what I copied over, the installer baulked with an unrecognised Red Hat CD. So, I then downloaded the ISOs from I'm surprised that didn't come up as a first search result, but then it occurred to me that never does? Has it blocked google?

Meanwhile, no amount of burning that image under Windows would work! I even tried to boot up an old ThinkPad with Linux Mint and wodim to try and get it to burn successfully. It didn't... it seems there's an issue with those images on Finally, I used the FTP method and an NE2000 compatible card I had lying around to install RedHat.

Once RedHat 4.2 was up, I followed the instructions on harshman's page and, after a first failed insmod, the unit came up on the second attempt, received an IP and I was able to ftp into redhat! Amazing! This was also on the 500mhz at 100% speed, so no race conditions here!

Finally, if you check harshman's page, you'll note that he notes that there's already an updated version whilst he was making his... I wonder if a newer version of RedHat will support this unit?

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Covox Voice Master Key

This item came up on eBay a long time back and went straight into the 'projects' box. Thanks to a newfound push to clean up the spare room, that box has been turned upside-down and dealt with. So, without any further ado, I present to you a 1988-vintage COVOX Voice Master Key.


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The box was well-worn, but all text can be read. Of interest is, in the second-last paragraph, the redacting of the quote "Plays back through optional COVOX Speech Thing". Was the redaction done by a child with a marker? Or from the factory? Finding information on this card online is pretty difficult. First hit was this Korean blog post on and you'll notice that the redacted sentence is totally removed from their version of the product. Their version seems to be a lot newer, but only of box design, not product name or quality.

Nerdly Pleasures also has a post on COVOX devices, but was very light-on for info on this card. I hope I can help them with their photo of the card as well. Also, the I/O for the DAC can be gleaned from the jumper setting above.

So what does it do?

First and foremost, this is one of the first pieces of hardware to let you control an IBM PC via voice. If I had the software, I'd test this functionality out... unfortunately I don't and no amount of searching has dredged up the installation disks. There's a disk image listing here, but no actual disk image? I messaged the author of that post and he just silently stepped out of the conversation... he must have the actual image to take those screenshots from DOSBOX? I then started by own thread, but no one cares.

A little more digging brought up this request post on Amibay for the same software. I posted a bump reply and got in trouble for hijacking someone else's thread... didn't realise that was a rule. I then PM'd the author, but no response as of yet.

So, without any software, I can't do the voice recognition/control stuffs... but can it play audio?

Audio output hardware

This unit does have an output port and the included head-set is just that; a speaker and a microphone! There are two microphone ports on the card, but we don't actually care about them as we don't have any software that'll make use of them. The headphone port interests me though as, with the redacted text on the box, there must be some way to use the 'included' COVOX Speech Thing functionality. The directory listing of the installation disk above even has a THING.EXE which must enable this card as a sound output device.

The output circuit includes an LM386N amplifier that's fed from the resistor bridge. That bridge is fed directly from the ISA bus data lines, so it must do something if data is fed in. The I/O Address jumper selections allow settings from 0x22f through to 0x28f. I initially thought that was 0x0220, thinking the F was just some naming style, and, after taking out my SB16, tried to get my machine to output sound via FT2 on 0x220... this was entirely fruitless and entirely wrong! I mean, come on, the jumpers don't lie... the I/O ranges really are all based with an 'f' on the end!

So, what to do? First up, anything that wants to use a COVOX Speech Thing as a sound output device will expect it to be on LPT1 or LPT2. These ports are configured via your BIOS and, well, it just wont work adjusting BIOS settings as anything configured there will just send data out the existing configured printer port. I went googling around and found that people had built their own DACs back in the day and someone even has a project for a DAC that sits in an ISA slot known as ISA-DAC-r0. Further on from that, I then found instructions on how to use it on the DOS Re-loaded forum.

There's a really interesting screenshot half-way down that forum topic where the user has used the DOS debug command to hack a memory address. This address contains the I/O register of your machine's LPT ports. Hilariously, you can actually tweak these addresses live when your machine is running!? The basic idea is to type debug, hit enter, then type the following:

-e 40:08 78 03 2f 02

then press enter and then type q and enter to quit. Above, you've entered the bytes 78 03 2f 02 into memory address 40:08. It turns out that that memory address is the system configuration area for the IO base address for your LPT ports and you can chain as many as you want together to pretend you have LPT ports. In the case above, the first port is 0x378, written as high-byte low-byte and then 0x22f, again as high-byte low-byte. Entering the command above will configure your DOS session to have LPT1:0x378 and LPT2:0x22F. Does it work? I configured Fast Tracker II to have a SoundPlayer on LPT2...




Actually... here's a proper demo of its capabilities:

Woah! The audio quality was as-good-as any original SB2.0 that I remember... but it's probably worse... and MONO. Seems can you have two DACS and have FT2 run LPT1+LPT2 for stereo sound. More games were downloaded and tested and all worked fine! Amazing.

Now to just find the actual software!

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NEC PC-9801VX – Video Output

After getting the PC-9801VX up and running via the monochrome output, it was time to get the RGB signals properly-connected to a real monitor. Thanks to previously playing with Amigas, I actually have an LCD on-hand that can do 15khz via a standard VGA cable. What to do? Hack together a cable that would interface with the DB-15 port on the PC-9801.


As mentioned, this unit uses a DB-15 Analog port which looks exactly like a Macintosh Video port. Of course, it's not, so you can't just use a Mac adapter, but you can refit one, thanks to this blog. You can also just roll-your-own-cable, using the pinout here. Jaycar has the necessary DB-15 male port with housing and the cable above was built.

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Plugging it in saw the picture work beautifully... but the fonts were still out. A-Train was also still scaling off the bottom edge?

Front-Panel Dip-Switches

Turns out there's display configuration options on the front-panel to configure resolutions and font-sizes. As seen above, the DOS installation screen looked OK for the most part, but the selectable menu options showed stretched/cut-off fonts!? A quick read of the the dipswitch descriptions pointed to items that may help.

SW1-1 sets the output resolution from 640x200 to 640x400 and this helped a bit, but the fonts were still wrong. I then also toggled SW2-3 and SW2-4 to enable both 80-character screen width and 25-character screen height. After this? Perrrrrfect!

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Very similar to the version from the MSX.

You don't have a 15khz monitor?

No fret! This is the internet and someone has already done this before. To make this work, you'll need a GBS8200 video adapter. Once you have this in-hand, you'll need to either wire things in directly, or build a circuit such as antarcticlion's GBHV_RGBS_CONV adapter. I've had a few PCBs printed for me...


... and I intend to build them up and test them. If anyone wants one, then contact me here. I'll post again once I've built one and got it going.

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Twilight Express Mizukaze – Virtual Railfan

Whilst still stuck on the wrong side of the globe, having to watch borders closing again thanks to new variants, I decided I'd make the most of the plethora of live cameras popping up in Japan to chase the Twilight Express Mizukaze on one of it's current round-trips. It's actually really sad to think that I first virtually chased this in 2017, saw it in 2019 and then haven't been able to go back since!

But enough of the whining, we're here to chase it virtually. The official journey starts at Shin-Osaka Station, but since the consist is stored in the yards just south-west, there is no direct route to the platform it's meant to pick up passengers on. Instead, it runs a huge loop via Osaka Station! This is a bonus for us as it means it passes more cameras.

Shin-Osaka: Dead-head to Kyoto

As mentioned, the train has already done a loop via Osaka Station and can be first seen exiting Shin-Osaka Station at 0933, heading north on the Shin-Osaka Webcam.

Mukomachi: Dead-head to Kyoto

Instead of turning at Suita, or even at Mukomachi?, they run the service all the way to Kyoto! Is this some kind of shake-out? It passed the Mukomachi camera at 0952 heading north.

Kyoto Station: Dead-head back and forth

Thanks to the Kyoto camera just to the east of the station, it's easy to watch it bounce back and forth. Here it is passing at 1010...

And then back again at 1023...

Mukomachi: Dead-head to Shin-Osaka Station

The goal is to arrive at Shin-Osaka at 1114, for a 1147 departure. The train is seen passing back past the Mukomachi camera at 1032.

Arriving at Shin-Osaka for departure

Finally, the train is seen on the Shin-Osaka Webcam one more, arriving back in to Shin-Osaka Station at 1113 on the correct platform.


Another user has set up a webcam in Nishinomiya and the train can be seen passing at 1202.

Base of the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge

There's some amazing cameras mounted on one of the supporting piers of the bridge to Shikoku. At least one of these point towards the railway and the train is seen passing at 1225.

Okayama (x3)

The train's route is quite random this time around... it passes Okayama to Nakashou, goes back to Seto via Okayama, then westbound once more to Kurashiki. It therefore passes the Niwase webcam three times! Here it is on the way to Nakasho at 1432...

And then back to Seto @ 1550...

And then back to Kurashiki @ 1733...

Unfortunately the Okayama Freight Terminal webcam is offline. There was also the meant to be a camera overlooking construction at Hiroshima Station, but that's now changed to a view over Kure Port and Pachinko Parlours.

Amarube Viaduct

I haven't been able to find any other webcams for the train's western leg, so its Day Two journey around Matsue and Shinji will be if-a-tree-falls-in-the-woods style. Fortunately, on Day 3 it passes the Amarube Viaduct at around lunch time. The viaduct's camera is some kind of older security camera and only produces singular frames. Fortunately it does refresh relatively quickly! I wrote a bit of code to continuously poll the image, check if there's a difference and then save the files. From here, I then filtered out the boring parts and turned the rest into an animated gif.

Above you'll see some beautifully-orange KIHA 40s running the local services, tour buses delivering hoards of ants, KIHA 189s running the Hamakaze and then finally the KIHA 87 Twilight Express Mizukaze bolting through, heading east.

Back via Kyoto

After meandering back through Fukuchiyama and Funaoka, the train passes the Kyoto Railway Museum and arrived into Kyoto Station. Thanks to the Kyoto Camera, we get it heading in...

And then heading back out on its final leg to Shin-Osaka...

And then, via the Mukomachi camera...

And finally back via the Shin-Osaka Webcam...

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